Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is a man on a mission, and judging from the outcomes of his trip to Turkmenistan, he seems to be getting there according to plan. He did a convincing job of highlighting the countless benefits that could be accrued by the entire region from the two-mega projects – CPEC and the TAPI pipeline. He addressed the 1500 or so participants including heads of state, ministers and UN officials at the Global Conference on Sustainable Transport, being jointly sponsored by Turkmenistan and the United Nations in this capital city for two days.
Ahead of the conference, Premier Nawaz held a meeting with the Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov here Friday and discussed matters relating to the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline, and later announced Pakistan’s decision to join the Ashgabat Agreement and the Lapis Lazuli Corridor, a transport agreement between Oman, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan that seeks to create an international transport and transit corridor, and a trade cooperation between Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey to reduce barriers facing transit trade, respectively.
Pakistan is fast on its way to become a regional hub of connectivity, trade, and economic development, but do our future policy plans keep into account the hurdles that could possibly be created to achieve that? Harmonising the TAPI with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) works perfectly in the larger scheme of things, but how will Pakistan develop a route to Central Asia via Afghanistan’s territory, considering the diplomatic tensions between the two neighbours? Anti-Pakistan sentiments are already at a peak in Northern and Southern Afghanistan, and amends must be made to ensure that the projects are successful.
Russia, Iran but many other countries of the region have expressed their willingness to join the mega projects and Pakistan has welcomed their initiative. Pakistan has long faced upheaval and disturbances in relations with its neighbouring states and there is a need to counter these with stable strategic policies to secure Pakistan’s position in the region in order to fulfill the CPEC project. In theory, creating a rail and road networks that would allow cargo to travel all the way to Gwadar Port creating a solid linkage between South Asia and Central Asia, is just what Pakistan needs, but the fight against terrorism and poor diplomatic relations with the regions surrounding it, can prove to be detrimental.
Pakistan needs to stabilise its foreign and regional policies to minimise any future threat to these regional connectivity projects, and that starts with helping thy neighbours.