Politics has always overshadowed economic growth opportunities in South Asia because for decades the former has been deemed vital than the latter. There is no denying to the bleak fact that there are more arch rivals in South Asia than any other region we could find on the world map. Most of the rivalries are byproducts of the unhealthy politics trends and upper hand of the military establishment over civilian government in some SAARC countries. The quest for regional hegemony and superiority prevent the SAARC members from coming under one umbrella for regional integration. It is regional integration that overcomes political differences, extremism and terrorism as well as increase trade activities between neighboring countries.
Indeed, it is welcoming to know that weather is changing on political horizons now and a bright day is ahead as the regional players could not afford more turbulence in their ties. Realizing this very indubitable fact, a Pakistani delegation comprising of Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Pervez Khattak, Federal Minister for Commerce Ghulam Dastagir Khan and other high-ranking officials are in Kabul to explore venues for enhancing trade and political relations. Implementation of CASA-1000 and TAPI gas pipeline projects and expansion of the Afghan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) were focal points of discussion. However, result is not so clear but encouraging, at least to some extent. At this point, there is need for greater cooperation to expedite work on the mega projects that could feed the energy-starving industries of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
Most importantly, these schemes shouldn’t fall prey to regional rivalries. Even in this geo-economic age we are in the shackles of geo-politics and détente. Future of the region and fate of these projects heavily rely on successful bargaining and deals that protect interests of all the parties. As a matter of fact, Islamabad has fixed eyes on the Central Asian countries to boost its export and find alternative to Qatar and other Arabian countries to import natural gas, but reluctant to provide the same opportunity to India. Pakistan has been eager to include Tajikistan in the APTTA but seemingly has no intention to convert the trilateral transit trade into quadrilateral. Likewise, Afghanistan has minimal export value as Afghan traders are struck by red-tapism and other issues in Pakistan. Snail-paced customs clearing process and corruption are the prominent barriers before Afghans.
Hence, cooperation should not be unilateral. Say of all stakeholders shall have equal importance. The more we move towards regionalism, we will discover more opened doors for economic growth. Trade incentives to other South Asian countries by Pakistan would pave way for rapid transformation.