A protocol to improve transport and trade links in the region signed between Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan under the sponsorship of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) at a recent ministerial conference in the Philippines capital, Manila, is "a landmark achievement", according to a Pakistani analyst.
"Previous discussions on such a subject have been confined to a bilateral status. For an entire group of nations to sit down and chalk out a strategy like this is a very significant development, Dr Rasul Baksh Rais, a professor of political science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, told IRIN from the eastern city of Lahore on Monday.
"By promoting active cooperation in the transport and trade sectors, we are also providing the necessary foundation for effective economic cooperation," the ADB president, Tadao Chino, said at the high-level meeting in Manila.
The ADB is also keen to see improved subregional cooperation among countries in South and Central Asia, and has two major road projects under way respectively in the southern province of Balochistan costing US $150 million and in the North West Frontier Province [NWFP] costing $250 million.
The purpose is to link Pakistan and Afghanistan with Central Asia. Assistance is also being given to Pakistan to open the southwestern seaport of Gwadar, through which access to Afghanistan's southern Chaman border with Pakistan could be gained. This port is likely to become operational next year.
Shortly after arrival in the capital, Islamabad, on Monday to participate in a Pakistan-Afghanistan ministerial commission meeting, the Afghan finance minister, Dr Muhammad Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, told reporters that his government viewed Gwadar as an important peg in the scheme of things. "My country would like to see Gwadar port serve not only Pakistan and Afghanistan but act as a hub of trade and economic activities for this entire region," he said.
Agreeing, Rais said the new protocol would help improve Pakistan’s search for an alternative north-south corridor to the Central Asian states. "Pakistan’s ports are more developed, and they will eventually provide Central Asian states with outlets which will enable them to gain access to alternative markets for, among other things, their rich energy resources," said Rais, adding that the agreement would go a long way towards helping the Central Asian states develop nationhood and statehood.
"Pakistan’s interest lies primarily beyond Afghanistan, in the vast energy resources of the Central Asian states, which previously had to look to Russia and Eastern Europe for trade routes to world markets," he said, noting that seaports such as Gwadar would provide Central Asian states with alternative and more easily accessible trade routes in return.
Pakistani exports to Afghanistan during the last financial year touched $400 million. Imports from Afghanistan hovered around the $35 million mark, while overall Afghan transit trade totalled about $283 million in 2002-03.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions