ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Thursday he would work with the president of Tajikistan to ensure there was peace in Afghanistan and an inclusive government was formed in the war-torn country, adding that this was key to enhance trade between Pakistan and the Central Asian state.
World powers have told the Taliban the key to peace and development is an inclusive government acceptable to all people of Afghanistan, including women and minorities. But an all-male interim cabinet announced earlier this month saw key positions going to core, veteran players of the Taliban movement.
The Persian-speaking Tajiks of Afghanistan’s western and northern regions have long been opposed to the southern and eastern Pashtuns who make up the core of the Taliban.
The Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan states in Central Asia share a border with landlocked Afghanistan.
“We just wish and pray that finally after 40 years of conflict there will be peace in Afghanistan,” Khan said while addressing the Pakistan-Tajikistan Business Forum in Dushanbe, where he arrived today, Thursday, to attend the 20th Shanghai Cooperation Organization Council of Heads of State (SCO-CHS) summit.
“It’s extremely important for our [Pakistan-Tajikistan] trade for there to be peace there [in Afghanistan] so there’s better connectivity.”
He added: “I will be meeting your president. Your president and myself will be trying everything to make sure that there is peace, especially between the two major communities, Pashtuns and Tajiks. We will be doing our best that they get together and there is an inclusive government.”
This is PM Khan’s first visit to Tajikistan where he met and interacted with members of the business communities of both Pakistan and Tajikistan.
“I believe we have some 67 companies here from Pakistan today, in different fields of textiles, minerals, pharmaceuticals,” the PM said at the forum.
He praised Tajikistan for being a “very resourceful country.”
“You have cheap, clean hydroelectricity and in Pakistan, unfortunately, we have very expensive electricity,” Khan lamented.
“And so, we hope that CASA-1000 will be expedited so that we can also benefit from your clean and cheap energy,” the PM said, referring to a regional electricity generation project linking Central Asia and South Asia.
He said Pakistan, with its 220 million population, offered a “huge market” to Tajikistan and an opportunity to expand the existing “miniscule” trade volume of $80 million.
“We hope and I invite you [Tajikistan’s business community], our business community will invite you, and I assure you that we will facilitate you in every way,” he said. “I can assure you that we will be giving you all the incentives, the government will do everything to make it easier for you to do business.”
After attending the business forum, Khan had a meeting and discussed Afghanistan and other bilateral and regional issues with President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan.
“The Prime Minister particularly emphasized the importance of connectivity and Pakistan’s pivotal position in providing the shortest access route to the sea,” a statement from the Pakistani foreign office said. “The Prime Minister also highlighted the significance of Trans-Afghan railway project connecting Termez-Mazar-e-Sharif-Kabul-Jalalabad-Peshawar.”
In June, PM Khan attended the Pakistan-Uzbekistan “Silk Route Reconnect” Business Forum and signed a significant transit agreement with Uzbekistan to allow Tashkent to utilize Pakistani seaports for much of its trade, bypassing Iran.
Uzbekistan is a landlocked country that heavily relies on Iran’s Bandar Abbas port for international business and commerce. Islamabad wants to tap the unlocked states through its deep-sea Gwadar port in southwestern Balochistan to boost its geo-economic position in the region.
Central Asia also offers Pakistan a $90 billion export market.
Khan also signed deals for the transportation of goods, cooperation between chambers of commerce of both countries, education, culture and tourism during the June trip.
The Pakistani foreign office said on Thursday the PM’s visit to Tajikistan this week was part of Pakistan’s deepened engagement with Central Asia and its focus on enhancing political ties, trade and investment, energy and connectivity, security and defense, and people-to-people contact.
SCO, an eight-member permanent inter-governmental trans-regional organization, was established in Shanghai in June 2001. Pakistan became an SCO observer in 2005 and a full member in June 2017. Other members include Russia, China, India, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan.
The organization has four observer states, Iran, Mongolia, Belarus and Afghanistan, and six dialogue partners, including Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia, Nepal, Turkey and Sri Lanka.