Questioner for Interview:
H.E Mr. Mohammad Waheed-ul-Hasan
Ambassador of Pakistan to Uzbekistan
Q: Pakistan and Uzbekistan are two brotherly countries, how would you term the relations since the time of inception of diplomatic ties?
Ans: To put it simply,our bilateral relations are excellent. We are two brotherly and fraternal countries, who have enjoyed historical relations. Uzbekistan has been the cradle of a rich civilization. We have benefited from this region even before our independence. Central Asia and South Asia have shared history, faith, traditions, knowledge and language. Our societal norms, ethics, values, cultures, cuisine, clothing and many other aspects of life bear striking commonalties. Many of the well-known Sufis who had spread the message of love and universal brotherhood in our part of the world had their ancestry in Central Asia. Great luminaries such as Imam Al-Bukhari, Imam Al-Tirmizi, Al-Khorezmi, Al-Beruni, Amir Temur, and the founder of the Mughal Empire Zaheeruddin Babur, to mention only a few, are shining stars of our common history. Samarkand and Bukhara are known for their glorious past. Their cultural and historical links to Pakistani cities of Lahore, Multan and Peshawar stretch back to centuries.
Pakistan was among the first few countries which recognized Uzbekistan and the third country to have established an Embassy in Tashkent. PIA was the first non-Central Asian airline that started its services in this region. In early 1990s, Pakistanis were among the first expatriates who moved to Uzbekistan to help their Uzbek brethren build their country afresh. In early years of Uzbekistan’s independence, there were about 10,000 Pakistanis present in the country. They participated in trade promotion activities and shared modern technical know-how. Almost all the prominent leaders of Pakistan including Prime Minister ShaheedMohatarma Benazir Bhutto, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, President FarooqLeghari, General Pervez Musharaf, President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilanivisited Uzbekistan. President Karimov has paid two return visits to Pakistan – in 1992 and 2006. The exchanges at parliamentary level have also been initiated. A Pakistan- Uzbek Parliamentary Friendship League has been established in our Parliament. Our Speaker has invited the Speaker of Legislative Chamber (Lower House) of OliyMajlis of Uzbekistan and our Chairman Senate has extended invitation to his Uzbek counterpart. The Chairman of the Uzbek Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee is set to visit Pakistan soon. Defence relations are also progressing well.
In the regional and global affairs, we enjoy mutuality of interest. Both the countries are keen to see the peace and stability in the region including in Afghanistan. We support each other in the United Nations and regional organizations. Uzbekistan has been a great friend and great support to Pakistan in its various candidatures in the UN and other IOs. Pakistan, on its part, has also been supporting Uzbekistan in various issues in the international forum like labor issues and other important concerns of the country. In the nutshell, Pakistan and Uzbekistan enjoy excellent relations of friendship, fraternity, cordiality andcooperation.
Q: What are the various initiatives that have been taken over the years to improve the bilateral relations between the two countries?
We have signed almost 56 bilateral agreements and MoUssince 1991 to provide an institutional framework for expanding relationship. Thesedocuments encompass areas such as economic and trade; culture, healthcare,scienceandtechnology, customs, agricultural collaboration; tourism,sports and massmedia; ports and telecommunications; banking, transit and transportation: avoidance of doubletaxation; anti-terrorism; extradition,legalassistance;academic and educational field and military-technical sphere etc.
Some new proposals to augment commercial relations are in the works. For example, this embassy has taken initiative to try and sign a Pak-Uzbek Preferential Trade Agreement. Both the countries are discussing as how to go about that. We have also proposed a Pakistan- Afghanistan – Uzbekistan Trilateral Transit Trade Agreement. This is important as some difficulties are being faced by our traders due to various types of documentations required by various authorities. An agreement like this involving all the three countries would help remove wrinkles in trade promotion and all the parties would benefit. Various other initiatives, including Uzbekistan’s quest to use Pakistani ports like Gwadar for reaching out to international markets, are also under discussion. Pakistan would very much like that theproducts of a brotherly country find their way to sea via its ports, which indeed offer shortest route to high-seas from Central Asia.
Q: Quite recently both countries crossed 40 millionUSD trades. What are the various steps that can be taken in order to sustain this trade and continue growing in the upward direction?
Relations in the field of trade and commerceare excellent but potential is much larger. Uzbekistan is a rapidly expanding economy while Pakistan has a vast product base and offers a large market. The scope indeed is huge. To explore the market, several trade delegations from Pakistan visited Uzbekistan in 2010 and 2011 and reported highly positive results. It is a matter of satisfaction for us that that our trade promotion efforts paid and Pakistan’s export to Uzbekistan increased by 40 per cent in 2011 over 2010. As per the Uzbek figures, Pakistan’s exports in 2011 were US$14 million as compared to US$ 10million in 2010. This was first year after 2006 that Pakistan bagged trade surplus with Uzbekistan. The figure is small but given the lack of infrastructural linkages and institutional hindrances, I think our traders have done a marvelous job.Total volume of bilateral trade in 2011, however, has declined as due to price difference, our traders didn’t import a large quantity of cotton from Uzbekistan, which is Uzbekistan’s the principal export to Pakistan.
There is no doubt that the trade potential between the two countries is much higher. This fact is always highlighted in our high-level meetings. President Asif Ali Zardari and President Islam Karimov in their meeting in Tashkent in June 2010 and Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani in his meetings with the Uzbek leadership in Tashkent in March 2011, agreed that the trade potential was far higher than being witnessed. Areas such as pharmaceuticals and surgical products, textiles, leather, food products, transportation, tourism, light engineering goods,auto partsand IT etc. have ben identified as the one having greatest potential. In fact Uzbekistan is keen to learn from Pakistan’s experience in textiles and food processing. The Uzbek Chambers of Commerceis also keen to increase its interaction with their counterparts in Pakistan. The major problem that we face here is the volatile situation in our neighborhood. This is one big hurdle in promotion of our two-way trade. Obvious infrastructure and other issues are there. Cargo is difficult to move about and other documentation related problems exist as well. However, theseare temporary problems and can be resolved once peace and stability returns to the region. We remain highly optimist and look forward to the time when the situation normalizes.
Recently Uzbekistan has offered to provide electricity to Pakistan. A basic pre-feasibility study has been done on this project. Initial discussions on the transmission line that would pass through Afghanistan have been conducted. A transmission line up to Kabul already exists that carries Uzbek electricity to that city.The Kabul – Peshawar sector remains to be examined.Aview holds that the existing Termiz-Kabul transmission line is not enough to provide power both to Pakistan and Afghanistan so a new high-powered line would be required. The Uzbek side feels that this issue can be resolved easily. The matter is under discussion and hopefully some solution would be found soon to make a forward move.
A representative office of National Bank of Pakistan exists in Uzbekistan for the last several years. Efforts for its up-gradation to a full-fledged branch are afoot. Following our open policy, we have also offered the Uzbek side to establish their banks’ branches in Pakistan.
To monitor progress in agreed areas, Pakistan and Uzbekistan haveestablished a Joint Commission which convenes periodic meetings. Its 5th Session was held in Islamabad in March 2011 where both sides discussed various aspects of bilateral cooperation including trade, economic, culture, scientific- technical and agriculture etc.
Q: What are the other sectors where Pakistani businessmen must join hands with the businessmen in Uzbekistan to collaborate?
Uzbekistan has established Free Industrial Economic Zones for promoting FDI in specific areas. The Republic is the sixth largest cotton producer in the world and 3rd largest exporter of this commodity. Thereis an enormous potential of bilateral collaboration in this field. Uzbek Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations, Investments and Trade; and members of Uzbek Chamber of Commerce and Industries and other officials have been proposing joint collaboration in this field. Special incentives such as discounted prices on cotton raw material are provided to the foreign investors. Electricity is cheap and available in abundance. Leather and food products are other such lucrative sectors that the government is promoting here. In food processing, as I have mentioned earlier, the Uzbek industry is in developing phase and need technological knowhow. Pakistan is theworld’s fifth largest milk producer and has fairly developed food processing industry. We can provide help in food processing industry of Uzbekistan. Some Pakistani businessmen have setup leather factories in Uzbekistan and process the raw leather for export. Uzbekistan is also one of the largest auto makers in Central Asia. It is a biggest regional market and companies like General Motors and Mercedes etchave their factories in here. This field is also open for collaboration. Uzbekistan has offered to sell wires and cables for use in motor cars. Another way of collaboration is to transport Uzbek goods via Pakistan to the international market by building, for example, a railway line to Pakistan via Afghanistan. This is very much possible as the Uzbeks have already built a railway line from its border to Mazar-e- Sharif, a historic first in Afghanistan. Along with this, widening the existing roads, making new and safe tunnels and removing any tariff and non-tariff trade barriers is an effective way of promoting closer cooperation.There is no limit if the will is there.
Q: This year we are celebrating 20 years of diplomatic relations between Pakistan and Uzbekistan. In your opinion, within various spheres of cooperation, where you consider lacunas exist and how can these be removed?
I think among the most significant issues is that of capacity. Take any sector and you will find thatsomehow or the other, either of the country is facing the capacity problem.The problems may relate to both physical assets i.e. hardware and knowledge base i.e. software. Sometimes we lack proper machinery and sometimes technical know-how and human resources. Other issue is the level of interaction among the private sectors. Private sectors in both the countries are reluctant to go to either country as they are not familiar with each other. Here is the possibility that government can intervene and try to build public-private partnership in a way that both the sectors can increase interaction to better understand each other. Of course the security situation in the region is a big hurdle and is one of the key issues in the development of relations. The problem in documentation is another aspect that needs to be addressed. Simplified requirements and one window operations would help improve the situation. Language problem is another that creates barrier but due to similarities in Urdu and Uzbek languages, it is easy to surmount.One of the biggest problems relate to transportation and air linkages. As highlighted earlier, there are no satisfactory road linkages between the two countries. In air traffic also, the situation is not ideal. The Uzbek airline flies between Lahore and Tashkent but PIA is yet to resume it flight operations with Uzbekistan. A welcome development in this regard is the likely start of the Uzbek air flights on Islamabad- Tashkent sector. However, cargo flights are virtually non-existent. It is perhaps due to low volume of trade and high cost of air cargo. In absence of a sea link, the road and rail linkages would, in my view, provide the best option. However, these are big projects and would require big planning and finances but once in place, both our countries and the entire region would accrue great benefits.
Q: Is there any potential regarding developing educational linkages between Universities of Pakistan with academic institutes in Uzbekistan?
Like trade, there is huge potential in this area as well. As in other fields, we are intensely focusing on enhancing academic and educational relationship between our two countries. There is this well-known Tashkent State Institute of Oriental Studies, which has a South Asian Language faculty and an Urdu department. A Pakistan Center has been established by the Embassy within theUrdu department. Efforts are afoot to create another Pakistan Center at a Lyceum in Tashkent where, among other foreign languages, Urdu is also taught. So we have tried to build upon the relationship in this field by promoting learning of Urdu here at grassroots level. Two other projects with regard to academic exchanges are important to mention; one is publication of Uzbek translation of an Anthology of classic and modern Urdu poetry in Uzbekistan and the other is similar book of Uzbek poetry translated in Urdu for publication in Pakistan. Both the projects are work in progress.
A proposal to have a Pakistani scholar at the Institute to teach Urdu language and literature is in the works. It appears that funding issues at our end are causing the problem. This remains work in progress and hopefully would be materialized sooner or later. Another proposal was to send the Uzbek students to Pakistan for one or two weeks’ short term courses. Faculty-Student exchange program is yet another idea that is in the pipeline, but the main problem here too is that of funding. AnMoU signed between Tashkent Islamic University and International Islamic University in Islamabad continues to await implementation.
The Embassy has supported a renowned Uzbek expert of Urdu, Dr. Tashmirza, complete his work on producing a modern Urdu-Russian Dictionary in Pakistan. Not only people in Uzbekistan but also the whole Russian-speaking world is likely to benefit from this dictionary. I must acknowledge the support of our International Islamic University and National Language Authority to the Embassy in completing this project. On recommendation of this Embassy, Dr. Tashmirza has been awarded Sitara-I-Imtiaz for this outstanding contribution to the promotion of Urdu language and literature in Uzbekistan.
Q: How have been the linkages in terms of culture, sports and tourism?
Yes, these are other areas that have also been under our special focus. A certain level of interaction and cooperationin these fields exists. Uzbekistan has very good tennis players. Pakistani tennis teams have come here to play. Uzbek Kurash team, which is similar to Kabadi, and Uzbek boxing team went to Pakistan last year. Pakistani boxing team also came here. I think it is possible to further increase our sports diplomacy. Believing that health body is a must for a healthy mind, PresidentKarimov gives personal attention to promotion of sports in the country. Pakistani football team can come here to play with Uzbek team, which is quite good. We should also send teams from our strong areas such as squash,tennis and badminton etc. Cricket and hockey are not known here but can be introduced by us. Such exchanges would help develop relations at grass-root level and promote Pakistan’s soft image.
We are also working on promoting the culturalexchange. We are preparing to receive our famous pop singer AbrarUlHaq here for a music show in October to commemorate 20th Anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between Pakistan and Uzbekistan. Then we are expecting to hold an exhibition of Pakistani paintings here and Uzbek paintings in Pakistan soon.
In Tourism also we have enormous potential. Uzbekistan has many touristic attractions drawing tourists from all over the world. Pakistani tourists like to visit Samarkand, Bokhara and Khivaetc for their beautiful mosques and other grand and historical monuments of architectural importance. The Embassy is hoping to attract more Uzbek tourists to Pakistan and is considering organizing the visit of a group of Uzbek tour operators to our famous attractions as a part of our marketing strategy.
Q: What is your message to the people of Pakistan and Uzbekistan at the 21st Anniversary of Independence Day of Uzbekistan on September 1st, 2012?
In this year falls the 21st Anniversary of Independence Day of Uzbekistan as well as the 20th Anniversary of Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between Pakistan and Uzbekistan. We are very happy that our bilateral ties are on solid footing and improving. With the leadership of both the countries focused on further elevating the level of relationship, I see a bright future. I wish that both countries further expand the area of cooperation and come even closer. People are friendly to each other but there is always the room for deepening understanding. More exchanges and interaction at the official level, at the parliament level, in the business field, at the academia level, in the sports field and most of all at the people level would help expand relations in all sectors. My message is message of hope and wish of reaching at much higher level of cooperation and understanding to the mutual benefit of both our people.
*Exclusively by The Diplomatic Insight