Pakistani President Nawaz Sharif met with Uzbek President Islam Karimov and signed a series of documents aimed at closer cooperation with Uzbekistan. The two leaders signed multiple memorandums of understanding, and finance ministers signed a protocol to increase bilateral cooperation and prevent double taxation. Sharif met last weekend with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon to reach tentative agreements on three road projects that would ease transport between Pakistan and Tajikistan, and the two leaders signed deals aimed at increasing defense cooperation and their trade relationship up to $500 million in the next three years. Sharif stressed cooperation with Central Asian states as a key aspect of Pakistan’s foreign policy.
Cooperation with Central Asia is a crucial part of plans to build the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, an offshoot of China’s New Silk Road project for Central Asia under which Pakistan is slated to develop into a transport hub for the region. Proposed by China in 2013, the corridor would run from Kashgar in China’s west to Gwadar, Pakistan, expected to develop into a major free trade port on the Arabian Sea with assistance from China. Pakistan and China signed an agreement in April for China to finance Chinese companies to complete $46 billion of energy and infrastructure projects along the proposed corridor, including the renovation of the Karakoram Highway this year linking western China with Pakistan through Tajikistan and Afghanistan. For its part, Pakistan has taken further steps to strengthen ties with Central Asian states, including Sharif’s current visit to Tashkent and an August visit to Kazakhstan, where he agreed with President Nursultan Nazarbayev to boost cooperation in the defense, energy, science and information technology sectors.
Sharif thanked Uzbekistan for its support of Pakistan’s candidacy for accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), in which Pakistan is slated to become a full member in 2016. An Express Tribune article observes that the two countries, both run by secular governments with invested interests in preventing terrorism in the region, intend to work more closely through international organizations on matters of trade and security. Sharif also commented to Rahmon that the new infrastructure projects would increase trade between the two countries and change the region’s economic outlook.
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