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The quadrilateral agreement

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Yasmeen Aftab Ali
Tajikistan’s request and approval to join in the Quadrilateral Traffic in Transit Agreement (QTTA) as Kabul twiddled her fingers to enter into a transit agreement with Islamabad is a major coup. The deal originally between Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, China and Kazakhstan to facilitate transit of goods and traffic will offer a major boost to these Central Asia Republic Countries bypassing Afghanistan relying on the Karakoram Highway via China as an alternate route. Pakistan is placed in an advantageous position to have access to the Central Asian nations sans Afghanistan.Let the reader be reminded here that a narrow stretch of Afghan territory separates Tajikistan from Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The importance of this region for India’s security is huge. Tajikistan is in Central Asia, a gas-rich region in which India has developed growing interests. Tajikistan also happens to be extremely anti-Taliban. India, in order to gain strategic depth, focused on the Ayni Air Base, also called as ‘Gissar Air Base’ located 10 km west of the capital of Tajikistan-Dushanbe. In the post 1979 era of Soviet invasion of Afghanistan it had served as the key air base for Soviet military air transportation of its troops to Afghanistan. It fell into disuse and neglect later. Between years 2002-2010, India invested approximately $70 million in renovations, installing state-of-the-art air defence navigational facilities. The runway was further extended. This access offers immediate strategic depth in the region to India. The second place of Indian foothold is the Farkhor Air Base; a military air base located near the town of Farkhor in Tajikistan, 130 kilometres south east of the capital Dushanbe. In 1996-97, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) started negotiations with Tajikistan to use the Farkhor Airbase to transport high-altitude military supplies to the Afghan Northern Alliance, service their helicopters and gather intelligence. At that time, India operated a military hospital in the Farkhor region. Kabul seems to have axed herself on her foot by delaying an agreement with Islamabad by insisting inclusion of India in the agreement. Kabul has yet to think of independent policies that serve her national interests and break out of the proxy mould. This action is a tough call in light of her dependency on others. The longer Kabul delays, the more it gets entrenched in the quagmire of her creation.The CARs being landlocked countries need access to seaports. QQTA opens the door that links China’s Xinjiang region with Gilgit-Baltistan as a transit tunnel. In 2016, Pakistan had placed an official request to construct the route connecting Ishkashim with Chitral. Transport of goods to contracting parties is without any duties.Security of the route is well ensured by Transport Permits System, non-transferable, limited to 200 quotas per contracting parties. Only vehicles having valid documents including the permit, registration & fitness certificates and driving license are allowed to enter and perform traffic in transit in the territory of the Contracting Parties. For specific dates one permit per vehicle is issued. The permit holds good for vehicles for one trip including return load. Authorities at check post to check vehicles documents, posted by the contracting parties.

“Douglas (2008) reveals the role of international trade in Asia’s economic growth. He emphasises the role of infrastructure both hard and soft (governance is critical aspect of soft infrastructure). It played an important role in strengthening trade primarily by reducing the transaction cost. The author gives importance to soft infrastructure over physical infrastructure for increasing trade and its profitability, and equitable distribution of the income. Similarly, the authors conclude that regional cooperation in trade facilitation leads to economic integration. Finally, the virtuous circle between growth, infrastructure investment, trade expansion and regional integration is elucidated.” (Ahmed Vaqar and Samad Ghulam, Planning Commission of Pakistan, Pakistan Institute of Development Economics May 2011)

This regional connectivity besides bolstering Pakistan’s economy will not only strengthen her position in ECO as members of both are over lapping but also enhance Pakistan’s status in SCO. The connecting network is interesting and gets more so. Her strength in SCO will enable closer ties with CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organisation) led by Russia. This will strengthen the military relationship of both countries.

The connecting dot retraces its steps to Afghanistan. Russia has been looking for a role in seeking the mess in Afghanistan and a role for Taliban to play aimed to stop cascading of Islam State Group and ancillaries into the Central Asian arena. In a recent news report, Pakistan military has warned US of a mess in Afghanistan “unless the US and UK can halt the advance of IS and the Taliban.” Russia may just decide to step in to deflect a more lethal situation. Militants from Afghanistan are now attacking both sides of the border that Kabul has failed in eliminating.

The heat has been turned up for all stakeholders!

The QQTA, SCO and CSTO are organisations that help build the region into a secure one aiming to bolster economy, develop better understanding between states and mutual benefit to all.

The QQTA with CPEC will give Pakistan economic prosperity and great political outreach owing to its strong geographical standing if she plays her cards right. Strong leadership coupled with good governance is need of the day.

“Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.” Franklin D. Roosevelt.

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