Wakhan Corridor CPEC+ for Pakistan
Pakistan is an ideal country for the CARs to have strong trade and diplomatic ties with, owing to mutual interests, social linkages on the base of religion, topographical vicinity, customs, culture, and social and religious values to some extent. Absence of a common border with any Central Asian state was one of the principle obstacles to approaching this area for Pakistan. Topographically, Tajikistan is the state that is most closely located with Pakistan. The two countries are separated by a distance of only 14-16 kilometres of the Wakhan strip that is Afghan territory near its border with China. Pak-Tajik relations based on political, economic and strategic interests started on 6 June 1992. Tajikistan has a great potential to absorb Pakistan’s soft-power image due to mutual benefit of economic and social interaction using public diplomacy. For example, if Afghan peace process is successfully concluded, Pakistan will have the shortest access route to other Central Asian States like Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, through Tajikistan. Both Pakistan and Tajikistan have a great potential to engage with one another at public and private level through public diplomacy in the field of medicine, regional terrorism, religious radicalism, security, defence equipment-related trade, communications, energy, intelligence, banking sector, civil aviation, food industry, agriculture, science and technology, constructions of roads, education, tourism and culture in the form of bilateral trade. Pakistan and Tajikistan have more than thirty treaties, memoranda of understanding and conventions. Two major initiatives at government level can kick-start a new era of their relations; one is hydroelectric power-based and second is road access to Indian Ocean through CPEC.
To create soft power over Central Asia, especially Tajikistan, religion can be the best source as public diplomacy can be more effective through it. In the past, this experience brought promising result such as Sardar Asif Ahmed Ali, the then-Minister of State for Economic Affairs, who led the Pakistani delegation to Central Asia in December 1991, said: “They (CARs) have problems with Iran. Besides bitter legacies of the past, a majority of people living in Central Asia are Turks. Also 95 percent of them are Sunni Muslims of Naqashbandi order. So, they are uneasy with Iran because of these factors.” Leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami expressed similar views. In a press statement on September 2, 1991, Jamaat-e-Islami Chief, Senator Qazi Hussain Ahmed, stated: “Independence of the three Muslim states of the Soviet Union – Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan – is the realization of the dream of the Muslim Ummah at a critical juncture of history.”
In this age of competition and complex challenges, Pakistan needs to invest in its soft power potential to advance its interests and priorities. Neglect in this regard can damage our interests on the international front and will keep us embroiled in a chaotic situation of confrontations and fragile security. Only soft power can give the country political clout and economic prowess it needed to survive in this age of cutthroat competition.
The writer is the author of The Reforms. He is serving as a Strategic & Administrative Adviser to a
CPEC-based project in Islamabad.