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Rivalries hamper regional trade

Turkmenistan has announced to start work over the TAPI gas pipeline project in December. It is most important and mega regional project that would feed the energy-starving industries of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. However, strained relations between Kabul and Islamabad are creating challenges. Despite repeated attempts of the Afghan government to improve ties with Pakistan, the two remained adversaries. The latter remained stick to its policy of strategic depth and harboring Afghan militants, though, claiming that it has been serious in the war on terror. The recent spate of terror attacks in Kabul has brought ties between the two countries to minimum level. Likewise, Pakistan is not interested in allowing Indian trucks to cross its territory and enter into Afghanistan.

There should be no confusion that Afghanistan is a close ally of India. Though, Pakistan is in the quest to establish its hegemony but for long it could not sustain poking others without reaction, both financially and politically. If Islamabad really wants to keep pace with the time then it will have to embrace friendly policies. To bolster economy and reduce poverty, the only option that the neighboring country got is to listen to others and resolve the disputes in an amicable way. A state cannot control another state through interference or hooliganism. The most viable option to find salvation is to set differences aside. Certainly, regionalism provides wonderful ways to Pakistan and other SAARC member countries to increase commercial activities and strengthen economy.

If the three SAARC members, especially Pakistan, focused on increasing trade activities then it would be easy to transform South Asia. The change in policies and mindset will usher a whole new era of peace and development, because energy-rich Central Asian states can prove as an elixir to the ailing economies of Pakistan and Afghanistan. For too long these three countries could not stand against each other because their citizens want peace, stability and improvement in their lifestyle, which is not possible without running the starving industries. The three countries can take advantage from energy diversification in the Central Asia Republics. Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan got largest natural gas deposits. Similarly, Kazakhstan is an oil producer.

This diversification should prod Islamabad to put an end to its policies of isolation and join hands with Kabul and New Delhi to take smart steps for mutual benefit. As a first step, Pakistan should allow Indian trucks to cross its territory. Second, India should be included in the APTTA, and last Pakistan should help in removing barriers that are preventing the SAARC from becoming free trade region.

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