Uzbek Ambassador to Pakistan Aybek Arif Usmanov says Uzbekistan and Pakistan are intertwined in strong bonds of religion, culture and traditions and bilateral relations will further strengthen in days to come. Speaking in an exclusive interview with Radio Pakistan’s News and Current Affairs Channel in Islamabad, he said both countries enjoy strong cooperation and relationship in diverse fields.
Terming regional connectivity as the main driver of socio economic and regional integration, he said Tashkent and Islamabad have been bounded by historic caravan roads, industrial linkages, and integration connections. He said economic integration between Central and South Asia started even in 15th century and trade, transport and linkages via Afghanistan to present day Pakistan span many centuries.
The Uzbek ambassador said the connectivity strategy of Uzbek president Shavkat Mirziyoyev is to open borders with regional countries for trade, commerce and people to people exchanges. He said to use Afghanistan as a transit country between the two regions, Uzbek President hosted an international conference on South and Central Asian regional connectivity last year. Foreign ministers of more than fifty countries, including from the Middle East, Europe, the US and Australia attended the event to discuss regional connectivity. They agreed that regional connectivity is a great driver to bring countries together. The ambassador said both Pakistan and Uzbekistan can play a key role in this regard as the former is the hub in South Asia while latter is a key player in Central Asia.
Aybek Arif Usmanov said the first part of regional connectivity is the establishment of robust rail road links between Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. He said we are working on starting a rail link from Uzbek city of Tirmiz that will pass through Afghan cities of Mazar-e-Sharif, Kandahar, Kabul and Jalalabad to Pakistani cities. He informed that a state of the art cargo center has been established at Tirmiz for the benefit of companies from Pakistan and other regional countries.
The Uzbek ambassador to Pakistan said president Shavkat Mirziyoyev discussed with former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 2016 the ways and means to enhance economic cooperation and trade. He said relations between both Uzbekistan and Pakistan have reached at the level of strategic partnership. Giving details, he said, in 2015 our bilateral trade was to the tune of 20 million dollars, with half contribution from each side. After reaching agreements of regional and bilateral connectivity, he said, the bilateral trade has now increased to almost 60 percent. The ambassador said our bilateral trade in 2019 went to 119 million dollars. He said even during pandemic years, it saw an increase of 40 to 45 percent and now stands at around 181 million dollars.
The ambassador said in March this year, Uzbek and Pakistani leaders signed a preferential trade agreement in Islamabad. We are now moving to opening transport and logistics corridors. He said next is industrial collaboration in agriculture, industrial, chemical and pharmaceutical areas and both countries are looking towards joint ventures to start manufacturing in Pakistan.
He said some of the mega cooperation projects like TAPI, CASA-1000, rail links and power supply are the areas which have a long term scope. We need strong political will to find a win-win situation for our regional economies.
The ambassador said cultural cooperation is another area between our two countries. We have projects of exchanging students and enhancing collaboration between universities and institutions of higher learning of the two countries.
Similarly, he said, we can also enhance cooperation in the religious domain where people of the two countries can visit the holy sites located in Uzbekistan and Pakistan.
He said both Uzbekistan and Afghanistan are playing their role to help Afghanistan to cope with the humanitarian crisis in the war torn country. Pakistan is being used by UN agencies to provide relief to Afghanistan, while Europe based humanitarian agencies are utilizing the services of Uzbekistan to provide aid to Afghanistan.
Explaining cultural similarities between Uzbekistan and Pakistan, he said mosques and places of worship in Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva, and Tirmiz have striking similarities with those in Balochistan, Multan, Bahawalpur and Lahore due to shared culture and religion. He said one thing that is very common in both Uzbekistan and Pakistan is Sufi traditions. From Bukhara Sharif to Mazar-e-Sharif to Eidgah Sharif, we have very common links. He said similarly Allama Iqbal and Mirza Ghalib are very much known in Uzbekistan and even there are Mohallas on their names.
Host: Ali Jannat
Producer: Hamad Kiani
Executive Producer: Amanullah Sipra