Imran Khan addressing the forum on Thursday. Image Credit: Supplied

Islamabad: Pakistan and Uzbekistan embarked on a new journey of prosperity, strengthening economic and strategic partnership, during Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s first official visit to the Central Asian state.

At the Uzbekistan-Pakistan Business Forum, jointly organised by the two countries in Tashkent, Imran Khan said that Pakistan government attaches significant importance to close ties and deeper engagement with Central Asia and particularly Uzbekistan, one of the biggest economies in the region.

Pakistan’s connectivity with Uzbekistan is of vital importance, as improved trade would open up new avenues of regional prosperity and development, Khan said at the forum where he was joined by Prime Minister of Uzbekistan, Abdulla Aripov.

In his speech on Thursday, the Uzbek prime minister highlighted strong ties between the two countries and multiple areas of cooperation and said that the Pakistani premier’s visit would usher in a new area of cooperation and joint ventures.

New infrastructure projects such as the 573-km trans-Afghan railway project, connecting Termez-Mazar-e-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar will be crucial in improving regional trade and connectivity, offering the landlocked Central Asian region direct access to the Arabian Sea through Pakistan’s seaports, PM Khan said. However, he added that peace in Afghanistan was of pivotal importance in advancing the connectivity agenda.

More than 100 top Pakistani businessmen and investors representing major export sectors also attended the business forum that aims to enhance and diversify the bilateral trade, identify new avenues of investment and business ventures. The massive participation of Pakistani businessmen offers a huge opportunity to forge a stronger partnership with Uzbek counterparts, he said. PM Khan assured every possible support to both Pakistani and Uzbek businessmen. “This relationship is just the beginning of the journey of development and prosperity,” he vowed, adding that Pakistan enjoys historical, cultural and spiritual connections with Uzbekistan.

Khan is visiting Uzbekistan after the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev extended an official invitation. The two leaders will hold wide-ranging talks with a particular focus on trade, economic cooperation, and connectivity and exchange views on regional and international issues of mutual interest.

The premier was accompanied by key ministers including Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, National Security Adviser Dr Moeed Yusuf, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid, Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Haider Zaidi, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa Minister for Information Technology Atif Khan.

Pakistan and Uzbekistan have also agreed to sign a Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA), said PM’s adviser on commerce Razak Dawood following his meeting with Uzbek Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Investments and Foreign Trade Sardor Umurzakov. Both officials also agreed to form joint working groups on agriculture, information technology, education and mineral sectors at the 6th meeting of the Uzbek-Pakistani intergovernmental commission on trade-economic and scientific-technical cooperation held in Tashkent. The two countries would also expand partnership in the field of industrial cooperation with joint ventures in the textile industry, assembly of agricultural machinery, processing and packaging of fruit and vegetable products.

During the two-day visit, a number of agreements and MoUs would be signed aimed at deepening bilateral cooperation in diverse areas. Pakistan is strengthening its partnership with Central Asia under its ‘Vision Central Asia’ policy focusing on these areas: political, trade and investment, energy and connectivity, security and defence, and people-to-people exchanges.