Why Uzbekistan is at the centre of Pakistan’s ‘Vision Central Asia’

Prime Minister Imran Khan is on a two-day visit to Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, to attend a conference on Central Asia-South Asia connectivity. This event follows the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Foreign Ministers’ Council meeting in the capital of neighbouring Tajikistan earlier in the week. The connectivity conference is of prime importance for Eurasian geopolitics, particularly Pakistan’s, and therefore deserves to be analysed more at length.

The South Asian state is pioneering its ‘Vision Central Asia’, which aims to connect Pakistan to the Central Asian Republics (CARs) via Afghanistan. Islamabad aspires to comprehensively enhance ties with its northern neighbours. It appreciates the close cultural, historical, and spiritual bonds that connect these regions. The flagship project of this initiative is the trilateral Pakistan-Afghanistan-Uzbekistan (PAKAFUZ) railway project that was agreed to in February. Khan described it as mutually beneficial during Thursday’s speech in Tashkent.

Uzbekistan is the most populous of the CARs and also home to some of its most important civilizational heritage sites. Khan, who’s a lifelong student of history, told his audience how excited he was that he’ll be visiting Bukhara and Samarkand the day after. Although well known within the region, outside observers might not be aware that Central and South Asia have centuries of shared history. This was emphasized by Pakistani Ambassador to Uzbekistan Syed Ali Asad Gillani in his article that he published for The News International.

There’s no question that Uzbekistan is the centrepiece of Pakistan’s ‘Vision Central Asia’. The two civlisationally fraternal countries are complementary in all respects. PAKAFUZ will enable Uzbekistan’s access to the rest of the global economy through CPEC’s terminal port of Gwadar while it’ll also open up the CARs and beyond to Pakistan. Accordingly, both countries have a shared interest in promoting a political solution to the on-going Afghan War. In fact, that conflict’s recent escalation served as an impetus for strengthening their ties.

Connectivity is among the most important trends of the 21st century, and PAKAFUZ is its embodiment in the Central Asian-South Asian space. It’s historically inevitable that civilisationally connected societies will continue enhancing their relations in the emerging Multipolar World Order. Although some third parties have temporarily disrupted this process in other parts of the world such as Eastern Europe when it comes to Russia and Ukraine, they’ve failed to do so with in Central & South Asia with Uzbekistan & Pakistan.

Uzbekistan is especially important for all regional players because it’s geo-strategically situated smack dab in the middle of Central Asia, which therefore makes it the literal centre of what Sir Halford Mackinder rightly described as the Eurasian Heartland. He theorized that this was the most significant space in the Eastern Hemisphere since control over it would enable whichever party to exert influence over the rest of the supercontinent.

America completely failed to accomplish this during its two-decade-long War on Afghanistan, which in turn created exciting new opportunities for regional players to replace it, albeit for non-hegemonic ends. Instead of exploiting the Eurasian Heartland for the purpose of controlling the supercontinent, regional players want to use it as the platform for bringing everyone together in a new era of International Relations characterized by win-win outcomes instead of zero-sum ones.

This vision has seen Pakistan, China, and Russia pay much more attention to Central Asia in recent years, especially since all of its states except for Turkmenistan are part of the SCO. This makes it much easier for them to coordinate their connectivity projects. The end game is to build what’s been described as the Golden Ring between those three, the CARs, Azerbaijan, Iran, and Turkey. This concept refers to a collection of multipolar countries that closely cooperate on trade, security, and people-to-people ties.

PAKAFUZ’s grand strategic significance is that it’ll run right through the Eurasian Heartland due to Uzbekistan’s participation in this project. In other words, this initiative is integral to the Golden Ring’s success. Without it, comprehensive integration between this concept’s many countries would be much more difficult. As such, observers can say that Pakistan and Uzbekistan are playing a leading role in reshaping Eurasia’s future, which imbues these fraternal countries with premier strategic importance in the emerging Multipolar World Order.