Pakistan-Tajikistan Relations: Gateways to Central Asian & the Arabian Sea
By: Muhammad Fahim
By: Muhammad Fahim
After the collapse of the USSR, Tajikistan gained independence in 1991. Pakistan is one of the first countries that recognized Tajikistan. Subsequently, formal diplomatic relations between the two Muslim and brotherly countries were established in 1992. During the post-independence unrest in Tajikistan in 1992 and the Soviet-Afghan war, scores of Tajik refugees, around 1.2 million, settled in Pakistan. Although the accommodation of Tajik refugees cost billions of dollars to Pakistan, however, Pakistan has always extended her helping hand towards Tajikistan and always provided the latter land and sea routes. Tajikistan is a landlocked country that consists of 143,100 square kilometers and a population of 7.1 million. Moreover, China, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan are the country’s immediate neighbors. The 16 kilometers wide narrow afghan strip called the Wakhan Corridor, stretching westwards to render Afghanistan a border with China, is the only barrier between Pakistan and Tajikistan and the rest of Central Asia.
The narrow Wakhan Corridor is the leftover of the 19th century “Great Game” between the then superpowers of the world, the Russian Empire and the British Raj in India. Therefore, Afghanistan was acting a buffer between the two which separates then British India from Central Asia.
In order to access Tajikistan or the larger Central Asian market, Pakistan had to go through the Afghan Wakhan Corridor. However, with the emergence of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Pakistan is now able to bypass Afghanistan and access Tajikistan via China using the Karakorum highway. In addition, one can vividly see the economic and geopolitical significance of Gilgit-Baltistan for Pakistan to access Central Asia and China for her economic and political future.
Regular exchange of visits between two countries normally beckons warmth and progress in their bilateral relations. Similarly, the high-level regular visits between the two Muslim brotherly countries further cemented their cordial relations. To reinstall the CASA-1000 energy project and constitute a Joint Commission on Energy and infrastructure, Pakistan’s then Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif visited Tajikistan in 2014. In June 2015, PM Nawaz again visited Dushanbe on two-day official visits to attend International Conference on Water for Life 2005-25. During this meeting, both leaders of the two brotherly nations concurred to further enhance economic cooperation by harnessing the existing available mechanisms. Moreover, they agreed to establish a joint business council and enhance cooperation between the two countries in the field of science, technology and geology.
In 2015, Tajikistan’s President Mr. Emomali Rahmon arrived on an official visit to Pakistan to discuss matters of mutual interests. In 2017, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif again visited Tajikistan. Moreover, President of Pakistan Mamnoon Hussain visited Tajikistan in 2018 on the invitation of his counterpart, Mr. Emomali Rahmon. Last year, the incumbent PM of Pakistan Imran Khan met with Tajikistan’s President, Mr. Emomali Rahmon, on the sidelines of the 2nd Belt and Road Forum in Beijing.
Pakistan and Tajikistan share scores of cultural, religious and historical links. Modern Tajikistan and Pakistan were once under the Umayyad Caliphate in the 8th century. Later, parts of Pakistan and the entire landmass of modern Tajikistan fell under the Persian Samanid rule. Furthermore, the official language of the Mughal Empire was Persian, and then India was greatly influenced by the Arab and Persian cultures.
On the international stage, the two brotherly Muslim countries share common membership in several international and multilateral organizations such as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), United Nations (UN), Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), and the Heart of Asia-Istanbul process. Sharing such platforms render scores of opportunities for the countries to interact with each other and held a meeting on the sidelines of different summits. Therefore, it is a plus point in the warm and brotherly relations between Pakistan and Tajikistan.
The QTTA transit trade deal between China, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan is to assist and boost trade and traffic activities in the region. The Quadrilateral Traffic in Transit Agreement (QTTA) is specifically aimed at giving access to the central Asian states and China to Pakistani warm water ports. In 2017, Tajikistan approached Pakistan to join the QTTA. Moreover, in May 2020, the incumbent Deputy Premier of Uzbekistan, Sardor Umurzakov, also entreated Pakistan to help and support its accession to QTTA. Pakistan assured her support for the in-principle approval of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan’s accession to the Quadrilateral Traffic in Transit Agreement.
Tajikistan is the third-largest producer of hydroelectricity in the world. Therefore, Tajikistan provides myriads of opportunities to Pakistan in the energy sector. The CASA-1000 (Central Asia-South Asia Electricity Transmission and Trade Program) is an important project between Pakistan and Tajikistan. Moreover, CASA-1000 is a direct link between Pakistan and Tajikistan. Tajikistan is one of the biggest producers of hydroelectricity in the world. CASA-1000 is an energy accord between Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan. Under CASA-1000, Pakistan was supposed to receive 1000 megawatt electricity directly from Tajikistan. However, Afghanistan backed off from the agreement by saying that they no longer have a shortage of energy, therefore, upon the completion of the project Pakistan will now receive 1300 megawatt. The groundbreaking ceremony of the project was held in 2016 and it is expected to be completed in 2023.
Besides, in 2008, both brotherly countries inked an Inter-Governmental Agreement in order to expand cooperation in the field of energy. Furthermore, both countries agree on explorations, extraction, and processing of gas and oil products as Tajikistan is rich in natural resources having 40 different types of metals.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Pakistan’s Gwadar deep seaport will connect Pakistan with Tajikistan through different routes. One will be via Peshawar-Kabul-Dushanbe and the second will be via Gilgit-Chitral-Eshkhahim-Dushanbe and the third and most important route will be via Gilgit-Chitral-Kashgar-Erkeshtam-Dushanbe bypassing Afghanistan. Furthermore, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan have also inked the PATTTTA agreement. The CPEC and PATTTTA transit agreement will bring prosperity to the region by building and connecting the countries through direct rail, road and air routes.
To further strengthen and enhance Pakistan and Tajikistan relations, both the brotherly countries have to focus and complete the past projects and agreements. Furthermore, as stated earlier, the bond between the two countries can be further strengthened by constructing rail, road and direct air routes. Secondly, the CPEC project is a great opportunity for Tajikistan to get access to the Arabian Sea and the wider world via Pakistani warm water deep seaports.