The Uzbek-backed proposal of a connectivity link via Kabul and Peshawar to the Karachi Port will get a leg-up with the presence of Pakistani PM Imran Khan at the mega meet. India, represented by the foreign minister S Jaishankar, is expected to pitch for connecting Central Asia via both Chabahar route as well as the INTSC — in which India play key role. Uzbekistan, organiser of the mega connectivity meet, in a class diplomatic balancing act backs both the routes led by India as well as through Pakistan, ET has learnt.
In an effort to ensure a broader international consensus, Uzbekistan, which in many ways view it as the Heart of Central Asia, invited delegations from the UN, SCO, Afghanistan, Iran, India, China, Pakistan, Russia and other states to take part in the international conference “Central Asia and South Asia regional connectivity: Challenges and opportunities” being organised under the initiative of President Mirziyoyev.
Uzbekistan has railway connectivity to Northern Afghanistan and has plans to connect it to Iranian railway via Herat that would facilitate smooth connectivity to Chabahar Port. India-Iran-Uzbekistan have also formed a trilateral for the use of Chabahar Port. Afghanistan may soon join this initiative. Uzbekistan is also connected to IOR via Turkmenistan and Iran routes. ET has learnt that India suggested that Uzbekistan also joins INSTC for wider connectivity in the Eurasian region-IOR.
Uzbekistan-Kabul-Peshawar route to the port of Karachi may be marginally shorter than the options via Iran, but is fraught with geographical dangers as it would have to pass through mountainous regions. The Uzbek government moved the World Bank as well as ADB for the nearly five-billion-dollar project. The Pak PM is expected to utilise his state visit to the Uzbekistan to showcase Islamabad’s grand vision for Afghanistan and Central Asia though Islamabad lacks financial resource to translate this vision into reality.
The connectivity meet has acquired a special significance amid the Taliban surge in Afghanistan. For many centuries, Afghanistan has been an important link in the regional trade, cultural, scientific and intellectual exchange, playing the role of a connecting bridge for Central and South Asia.
Besides the Iran and Pakistan routes, the Ashgabat agreement also offers huge potential. It is a multimodal transport agreement between the governments of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, India, Pakistan, and Oman for creating an international transport and transit corridor facilitating transportation of goods between Central Asia and the Persian Gulf.