Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan’s assurance to Uzbekistan’s Foreign Minister Dr Abdulaziz Kamilov of complete facilitation in accessing Pakistani ports is a step forward in the right direction. Our efforts to make regional cooperation a bigger component of the national foreign and economic policy can be truly realised if we open up our ports to Uzbekistan. The transit economy that we are hoping to expand will only work if the landlocked states in Central Asia utilise Pakistani ports. Thankfully, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the flagship project of the Belt and Road initiative, has undoubtedly lured many Central Asian Republics (CARs).

From strategic and economic perspectives, Pakistan occupies the centre stage among the countries in Central Asia, the Middle East and South Asia. Pakistan’s geographical location makes it the most economical strategic link between the resource-rich Persian Gulf/Central Asia and the energy scarce wider South Asia.

Islamabad offers the shortest route to China and CARs vis a vis Turkey and Iran that the central Asian nations are eagerly looking up to Pakistan. Uzbekistan has been busy expanding its transport infrastructure to become a transport and logistic hub for Central Asia. If Islamabad entertains Uzbekistan, Pakistan will become the first preference of all other CARs for transit purposes.

Besides, there are other benefits for Pakistan in establishing such connectivity networks. We can import cheaper energy that Pakistan needs to become the central cog in broader regional trade and commerce. Nevertheless, it is also a sad reality that our present transportation system is barely satisfying the current transport demands of domestic and regional and international transit trade.

Pakistan’s transit trade could not grow in the absence of a proper plan. Only a well-thought-out strategy can ensure the implementation of long-term policies that could bring us initial transit duties and later on encourage international investors to set up shop here for cheaper access.