In the heart of South Asia and at the crossroads of Central and South-West Asia lie four Asian nations poised for infrastructure development and regional connectivity; Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and China. Despite their enormous commercial potential, these nations grapple with a multitude of challenges, ranging from militancy to border disputes. Yet, amidst these complexities, lies an opportunity to unlock economic growth and foster peace through collaborative endeavors. This article delves into the intricate fabric of opportunities and obstacles shaping the vision for regional cooperation among these four countries.

Recent years have witnessed seismic shifts in the South and Central Asia’s regional geopolitical landscape. The re-establishment of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan on 15 August 2021, presents multifaceted challenges for the region. The contentious issue of international recognition of the Taliban-led government underscores the delicate balance between sovereignty and human rights.

Pakistan, with its historical ties to Afghanistan, can offer to play a vital role in negotiating important policy decisions with the Taliban, advocating for inclusive governance, and championing the rights of women and ethno-religious minorities.

Through diplomatic channels and bilateral relations, Pakistan should engage more with the leadership of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan to prioritize education for females, and to enable the socio-economic growth and modernization of Afghanistan.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is central to regional connectivity, a flagship project under China’s controversial Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). CPEC has been instrumental in fostering the region’s economic integration and infrastructure development. The idea of an expansion of CPEC to include Iran and Afghanistan presents vast opportunities for further regional connectivity and international trade.

CPEC should be expanded to include Iran and Afghanistan as this holds immense regional potential. By extending the economic corridor, Pakistan can facilitate trade and investment between China, Iran, and Afghanistan, unlocking new markets and opportunities for growth. Additionally, the Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline addresses Pakistan’s energy needs and enhances bilateral cooperation between Iran and Pakistan.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), known for its focus on infrastructure development, is now in power in Pakistan. Whenever Nawaz Sharif was the Prime Minister of Pakistan, his government spearheaded numerous motorway and infrastructure projects that enhanced road connectivity within Pakistan. With the PML-N back in power, the Government of Pakistan can collaborate with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan to build a highway from Peshawar to Kabul. This initiative would not only strengthen economic ties between the two nations but also contribute to regional integration and stability.

Persistent security threats, exemplified by groups like the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), demand swift military action. Pakistan must spare no effort in combating armed insurgency, which tarnishes its reputation and deters foreign investments. Ensuring internal security is paramount for attracting foreign direct investments (FDI) and fostering investor confidence.

The security situation in the region remains a significant concern, particularly with the presence of militant groups like the TTP and foreign-backed Baloch separatist movements.

These groups pose a grave threat to regional stability and economic development, carrying out attacks on civilians, security forces, foreigners, and infrastructure projects. Pakistan has been at the forefront of efforts to combat terrorism, conducting military operations and intelligence-based anti-terrorist operations to root out terrorist networks even if it means intruding into Afghan territory or airspace to strike TTP-related groups seeking sanctuaries in Afghanistan. Pakistan should never be apologetic for doing whatever it takes to destroy these miscreant elements.

Enhancing cooperation and coordination with neighboring countries, particularly Afghanistan, is essential for effectively addressing security challenges. Cross-border collaboration and intelligence sharing can help disrupt terrorist networks and prevent attacks. Moreover, tackling the root causes of militancy, such as poverty, unemployment, lack of education, and extremist indoctrinations, is crucial for long-term peace and stability in the region.

To alter perceptions and attract foreign tourists, Pakistan must liberalize its visa policy and allow visa-free entry for nationals from a large number of friendly developed countries. This strategic move not only injects billions of tourist dollars into Pakistan’s economy but also repairs its global image of being a “dangerous country”. Increased tourism not only boosts the economy but also instills confidence and a sense of security among investors, paving the way for sustained economic growth and development.

Tourism has the potential to be a significant provider of employment and influx of foreign currency into Pakistan. The country boasts diverse landscapes, rich cultural heritage, and historical sites that appeal to tourists from around the world. However, cumbersome visa procedures and security concerns have hindered the growth of the tourism sector. Unilaterally liberalizing the visa policy and allowing visa-free entry for nationals from selected countries can tremendously boost tourism in Pakistan. Moreover, tourism in general plays a vital role in promoting cultural exchange and understanding, fostering goodwill, mutual respect, and friendship between nations.

Pakistan and India must reassess their relationship with each other.

The dire economic situation of present-day Pakistan and India should catalyze constructive dialogue and resolution of longstanding disputes. A peaceful and cooperative relationship between Pakistan and India will pave the way for increased trade, investment, and people-to-people exchanges, benefiting both countries and the wider region. Rethinking relations with India is essential for unlocking the full potential of regional cooperation and economic integration of South Asia.

In conclusion, my vision for regional connectivity between Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and China presents a pathway to economic prosperity and peace through trade. By embracing regional connectivity, fostering inclusive development, addressing internal security challenges, and recalibrating diplomatic relations, these nations can overcome hurdles and realize their full potential.

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