Pakistan, Uzbekistan pledge to boost ties in all sectors: DAWN

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Uzbekistan on Thursday vowed to expand multifaceted bilateral cooperation to all areas of mutual interest and stressed the need for resolution of the Afghanistan conflict through an internal political process imperative for peace and progress of the whole region.

The two countries made these commitments on the first day of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s two-day official visit to Uzbekistan where they jointly hosted Uzbekistan-Pakistan Business Forum on ‘Central and South Asia 2021: Regional Connectivity Challenges and Opportunities’, in the Uzbek capital.

PM Khan, while addressing the business forum, expre­ssed the hope that Pakistan’s connectivity (through rail, road and aviation) with Uzbekistan in trade and bilateral spheres would open up new avenues of prosperity in the region. “Pakistan has immense potential to connect Central Asia with the rest of the world and become a hub of trade,” he added.

Several MoUs and agreements were signed to strengthen cooperation between the two sides in diverse areas. These include a protocol on exchange of pre-arrival information on goods moved across the state border, an agreement on transit trade, cooperation in the field of military education and an agreement on simplification of visa procedures for businessmen and tourist groups. An MoU between Pakis­tan’s Foreign Service Academy and the University of World Economy and Diplomacy of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan was also signed, in addition to a cultural exchange programme 2021-2026 and an MoU on tourism.

Two states sign several agreements to strengthen cooperation; Imran says Pakistan has immense potential to connect Central Asia with rest of world

Prime Minister was received by Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev at Koksaray presidential palace and given a guard of honour. National anthems of the two countries were played on the occasion.

Mr Khan laid a wreath at Independence and Humanism Monument of Uzbekistan as a gesture of respect to the history and culture of the Uzbek people. Uzbek Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov accompanied Mr Khan.

The business forum was attended by a large number of businessmen from Pakistan and Uzbekistan, besides the prime minister’s delegation, including Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Haider Zaidi, National Security Adviser Dr Moeed Yusuf and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Minister for Information Technology Atif Khan.

Speaking at the forum, Prime Minister Khan assured the businessmen and traders of Uzbekistan that Pakistan would extend them every possible facility in promotion of trade. “I want to assure the business community of Uzbekistan that this relationship is just the beginning of the journey of development and prosperity.”

He said the railway project between Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan would prove to be a revolution of development, adding that peace and security in the neighbourhood was essential to exploit the region’s potential.

Mr Khan said peace in Afghanistan was important to ensure materialisation of development projects in Central Asia. “Pakistan is keen for peace in Afghanistan and considers it vital for trade connectivity among the regional countries,” he said, adding such trade linkages helped in raising the living standards of citizens.

Mr Khan referred to the cooperation among neighbouring countries of the European Union that focused on bilateral trade arrangements for the benefit of their peoples. “With the support and will of the regional states, the situation in Afghanistan would lead to improvement,” he hoped.

Speaking to the media, Foreign Minister Qureshi said Pakistan and Uzbekistan had vast potential to explore the opportunities of bilateral trade and investment for their mutual interest.

He said the Pak-Uzbek business forum was attended by around 130 representatives of leading companies and business houses from Pakistan. The activity resulted in signing of agreements worth $453 million, he said.

Fawad Chaudhry said two important objectives of the prime minister’s visit were to ensure travel facilities between Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan and deliberate upon ways to ensure peace in Afghanistan. “We want an effective transportation infrastructure so that the goods loaded from Pakistan’s Karachi and Gwadar seaports could reach Uzbekistan’s Tashkent,” he said in a video message from the Uzbek capital.

Joint declaration

A joint declaration, issued at the conclusion of the business forum, said Prime Minister Khan and Uzbek President Mirziyoyev agreed to strengthen their multifaceted ties in political, trade and economic, energy, communication, science and technology, education and cultural spheres, and fighting Covid-19.

The two leaders expressed satisfaction at the continued progress in bilateral relations and announced the establishment of a strategic partnership for mutual benefit of the two countries.

Noting that Pakistan was among the first countries to recognise the independence of Republic of Uzbekistan in 1991, the leaders congratulated each other on approaching the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two brotherly countries and agreed to celebrate it in a befitting manner.

They agreed on the regular exchange of parliamentary delegations to deepen bilateral ties. The Uzbek side confirmed the invitation to Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani to pay a visit to Uzbekistan.

The leaders expressed satisfaction at the level of bilateral cooperation within the framework of international organisations and reaffirmed their commitment to continue supporting each other in the UN, SCO, OIC, ECO and other international and regional forums on issues of mutual interest.

The Uzbek president highly appreciated the role of Pakistan in promoting the peace process in Afghanistan and its contribution to socioeconomic development of Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Khan hailed Uzbekistan’s efforts for socioeconomic reconstruction of Afghanistan through the implementation of a number of significant projects.

Both leaders expressed readiness to maintain a regular dialogue and build constructive cooperation in the field of security and defence and to expand cooperation between law enforcement agencies of the two countries, particularly in the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking.

The two leaders welcomed the signing of the agreement on transit trade as an important tool for expanding bilateral trade. They reiterated their support for the Termez-Mazar-i-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar railway project as an important initiative to create a rail link from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea through Afghanistan and Pakistani seaports of Karachi, Gwadar and Bin Qasim.

The two leaders also recognised immense potential of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor for the benefit of the entire Central Asian region and beyond entailing greater connectivity and trade linkages through a network of transport, fibre optic cable, energy pipelines, and investment opportunities in its SEZs.

The two leaders welcomed resumption of direct regular flights between Pakistan and Uzbekistan.

Both leaders welcomed the declaration of March 15 as International Day to combat Islamophobia, and agreed to work towards the designation of this day by the UN General Assembly.

The forum was attended by more than 100 top Pakistani businessmen and investors representing major export sectors and logistic services and Uzbek businessmen from corresponding sectors.

Interaction with Pakistani businessmen

In an interactive session with Pakistani businessmen, Prime Minister Khan said the government was committed to removing impediments in the way of various businesses and industries, including the pharmaceutical industry.

The prime minister said unnecessary regulations were being done away with to encourage and promote the Small and Medium Enterprises.

He said Pakistan and Uzbekistan had a lot of potential for joint ventures between their private sectors for mutual benefit.

Foreign Minister Qureshi and Adviser on Commerce Razak Dawood were also present on the occasion.

The prime minister told the entrepreneurs that the government was working to change the NAB (National Accountability Bureau) Law.

Prime Minister Khan, who gave a patient hearing to the proposals of Pakistani businessmen and entrepreneurs, agreed with a businessman that Pakistan had enormous potential in the pharmaceutical industry, which was not being tapped due to problems in the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan.

The prime minister also mentioned the NAB law and its fear as one of the impediments in attracting quality professionals required to head various institutions in the country.

He assured the Pakistani entrepreneurs that they would also be consulted before signing the Free Trade and Preferential Trade Agreements.

Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2021