Pakistan offers the shortest route to Kazakhstan to access the Arabian Sea – ambassador
Kazinform News Agency correspondent Yessimzhan Naqtybai sat down with Ambassador of Pakistan to Kazakhstan His Excellency Nauman Bashir Bhatti to talk about bilateral relations between the two nations, gradual growth of two-way trade, transport connectivity and why security situation in Afghanistan is of paramount importance both for Astana and Islamabad.
Do geopolitical conditions affect the fluctuation of trade between Pakistan and Kazakhstan?
Geopolitical dynamics and developments do have implications on trade and economic activities in a general manner due to their bearing on peace and stability in any region or country, production costs and supply routes security. Given that Pakistan and Kazakhstan do not share borders, peace and stability in Afghanistan has remained a major impediment towards ensuring robust connectivity between our two countries. Despite this, our bilateral trade has continued to increase – albeit gradually. However, we believe that it is still very far from its true potential and can be significantly increased. Recently, with improved security political and security situation in Afghanistan, and commencement of operations by Pakistan’s National Logistics Company for transportation of goods to Kazakhstan via Afghanistan and China, we witnessed a significant surge in our bilateral trade volume between July and November 2023.
Today there are three main directions. The first one is the Karakorum Highway, crossing the territory of Pakistan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan. This is the shortest and cheapest route. There are two routes through the territory of Afghanistan. You can get to them either through Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan. The third direction is Iran. We can go through the Caspian Sea through the territory of Iran from the port of Aktau to Amirabad, from Amirabad to Bender-Abbas, from Bender-Abbas to the ports of Gwadar and Karachi. The advantage of this route is that it has a complete railway line. The disadvantage is that it is the longest and most expensive route. Which of these three routes is safer and more profitable for the Pakistani side?
I agree that the shortest and cheapest route for connectivity and transportation of goods between Pakistan and Kazakhstan is the one through China and Kyrgyzstan using the Karakorum highway. It is also known as the Quadrilateral Traffic in Transit Agreement between Pakistan, China, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan or the QTTA Route. Goods can be transported through this route on trucks and containers directly from Karachi, Pakistan to Almaty, Kazakhstan and back, without the need to change trucks. It offers itself as the most safe, reliable, and economical route. However, at present the route cannot be kept operational due to closure of Khunjrab pass for 4 months in winters.
Recently, Pakistan and China have agreed to undertake efforts to keep the Karakoram highway, which is part of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, operational throughout the year. It would not only boost Pakistan’s connectivity with China, but also with Kazakhstan. We therefore need to work towards making the QTTA more effective. I already spoke about the Afghanistan-Uzbekistan route. Full realization of the Intra Afghan Rail Network would significantly boost connectivity between the two countries through rail network.
There is information that negotiations have begun with the rail beam plant in Aktobe. What product and in what quantity are you interested in receiving?
Earlier this week, Pakistan’s First Vice Minister for Railways visited Kazakhstan and met his counterpart at the Ministry Transport. A range of issues, including cooperation in various segments of Trans-Afghan Railway connectivity initiative were discussed. The two sides are currently looking into various aspects of cooperation in the transport sector, and I am hopeful that we are going to forge stronger bilateral ties in this sector.
Although Pakistan is close to Kazakhstan, it mostly receives grain from Ukraine. Are there any slight doubts about the quality of our grain?
Wheat which is derived from grain is a staple diet for Pakistanis. With Ukraine, Pakistan has a history of importing grain which makes it easier to import. The import from Ukraine is done through sea channels and consequently the grain can be imported in large quantities, which makes it cheaper. Pakistan also imported grain from Russia last year on G2G basis through similar transportation means.
We had explored the option to import grain from Kazakhstan. However, the logistics cost for overland transportation were very high, making it uncompetitive. If logistics costs can be reduced and G2G import arrangement can be worked out, Pakistan can explore importing grain from Kazakhstan as well.
We know that there are transboundary rivers between Pakistan and India. Experiments in this direction are very important for Kazakhstan where 40 percent of river water comes from abroad. How do Delhi and Islamabad share transboundary rivers? What positive experience can you offer to Kazakhstan?
The Indus Water Treaty of 1960 between Pakistan and India, of which the World Bank is also a signatory, sets out the rights and obligations regarding the use of six main transboundary rivers namely, Indus, Jhelum, Chenab, Sutlej, Beas and Ravi. The treaty established a Permanent Indus Water Commission for cooperation and information exchange between the two countries regarding the use of the rivers. It also established a mechanism for settlement of differences and disputes between the two countries concerning the interpretation and application of the Treaty, as well as the breaches to the treaty provisions. It is considered to be the most successful international treaty which has remained effective despite difficult relations between the two countries.
Like Pakistan, Kazakhstan is also a lower riparian state. I understand that Kazakhstan has mechanisms in place with the Russian Federation to promote cooperation on the use of transboundary rivers.
Kazakhstan wants to use the ports of Pakistan as a gateway to African countries through Arabian Sea. How feasible is this project? A Kazakhstan pavilion is about to be built in the Iranian port of Bandar-Abbas. Can the Pakistani side also allocate land to Kazakhstan for this purpose?
Pakistan offers the shortest route to Kazakhstan to access the Arabian Sea. Pakistan remains keen to strengthen its connectivity with Kazakhstan in multiple ways and through multiple channels. The two sides are already working towards this end. We hope that through our collaborative efforts, we will able be to create mutually beneficial opportunities for both our countries and peoples. We haven’t yet received any specific request regarding the establishment of an off-dock terminal or pavilion at our ports, from the Kazakh side.
However, like I said, Pakistan is very open for collaboration if such a request is received and consider the request in a positive manner. Taking this opportunity, I must highlight that Pakistan has established a Special Investment Facilitation Council and has opened priority sectors for investments. We have invited Kazakhstan to benefit from the conducive investment opportunities offered under the SIFC framework.
We are re-exporting surgical instruments manufactured in Pakistan at 10 times more expensive. What measures should the authorities of Kazakhstan take in order not to be an intermediary? How interesting is it for Islamabad to open a joint venture in this direction on the territory of Kazakhstan?
Our surgical instruments are of very high quality and are exported around the world. They are mostly manufactured in the City of Sialkot. Sialkot already has an established cluster of production of surgical instruments.
Skilled labour and raw material supply chains have already been established. A joint venture between our private companies is an interesting idea and can be explored to scale the production and serve the wider EAEU and beyond. Sufficient skilled labour force is available in Pakistan which can also be brought to Kazakhstan to work in the joint ventures.
What are top 5 goods that Kazakhstan exports to Pakistan, and what are the top 5 goods that Kazakhstan imports from there?
Exports from Pakistan to Kazakhstan include rice; medicinal and pharmaceutical products; dates, figs and mangoes; tarpaulins; and citrus fruits, especially, oranges.
Imports from Kazakhstan include dried leguminous vegetables such as peas and chickpeas; unwrought zinc; sulphur; cotton yarn; and minerals.
Thank you for the interview!