One-Day IPRI-SAM Seminar
“Current Geopolitical Trends in the Region and Prospects for
Deeper Relations between Pakistan and Azerbaijan”
A one-day joint IPRI-SAM (Islamabad Policy Research Institute-Azerbaijan Centre for Strategic Studies) Seminar on “Current Geopolitical Trends in the Region and Prospects for Deeper Relations between Pakistan and Azerbaijan” was organized by IPRI on November 22, 2018 at IPRI Conference Hall, Islamabad. Ambassador (R) Fauzia Nasreen, COMSATS Secretariat, Islamabad chaired and moderated the working session, which covered different themes, i.e. (i) “Common Threats and Challenges to the National Securities of Azerbaijan and Pakistan under Current Geopolitical Trends,” (ii) “Pakistan-Azerbaijan Relations under Changing Geopolitical Realities (Pakistani Perspective),” (iii) “Azerbaijan Development as a Transit Country: Infrastructure and Logistics,” and (iv) “CPEC and ECO: Partners towards Regional connectivity and Prosperity.” Speakers from SAM included Dr. Cavid Veliyev, Head of Foreign Policy Analysis Department, Mr. Fuad Chiragov, Research Fellow, and Mr. Mahir Hambatov, Research Fellow. Speakers from Pakistan included Dr. Nazir Hussain, Director, School of Politics and International Relations (SPIR), Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU), Islamabad and Dr. Fazal-ur-Rehman, Director, Pakistan Institute of China Studies (PICS), University of Sargodha, Sargodha. The detailed deliberations/proceedings of the Seminar are as under:-
In his Welcome Address, Brig. (R) Muhammad Mahboob Qadir, Acting President, IPRI, said that Pakistan and Azerbaijan had been enjoying cordial and warm relations over the past twenty-six years. The relationship between the two states has transcended geographical boundaries and distance, characterized by shared values and mutual perceptions on various regional and global issues. He said that Azerbaijan resided deep in Pakistani romantic folklore along with the sublime splendor and beauty of the “Caucasus Mountains” and the “Caspian Sea”, the effortless speed of all the elegant Karabakh horse, lakes, rivers and sprawling lush green meadows. He explained that the relations between Pakistan and Azerbaijan were based on confidence, mutual trust and respect. Both countries support each other at international forums, including the United Nations (UN) and the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), which was a reflection of close and brotherly relations.
He went on to say that Pakistan and Azerbaijan were destined to play an important role in establishing peace, security and economic progress in South and West Asia. However, he warned that the emerging geopolitical and economic realities in the region offered both challenges and opportunities. The challenges stem from extremism, the indefinite presence of the United States (US) forces and strong footholds of the Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan, Indo-US strategic alliance, countering Chinese and Russian influence by the US in the region and creating instability in Pakistan by the hostile countries and their agencies, i.e. Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and National Directorate of Security (NDS).
He was of the view that the opportunities emanated from trans-regional economic initiatives such as Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Russia-led Euro-Asian community. He said that the present state of bilateral economic cooperation between Pakistan and Azerbaijan did not proportionate with their true potentials that required exploring future avenues for enhancing further strategic cooperation. In this context, the establishment of BRI and its pilot project China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) could offer mutual benefits in initiating new trade businesses. He said that at political front, the unique feature of Pakistan and Azerbaijan relations lied to support each other against their aggressors for solving the territorial disputes like Nagorno-Karabakh and the Jammu and Kashmir dispute. He concluded his speech with a hope that the trajectory of relations between Pakistan and Azerbaijan would show constructive outcome in coming years.
In his Keynote Address, Dr. Cavid Veliyev, Head of Foreign Policy Analysis Department, SAM, Azerbaijan, characterized the bilateral relations between Pakistan and Azerbaijan along strategic, cultural and religious lines, which presented common opportunities and challenges to both countries. To this end, joint research ventures between both states could play an important role. He informed that the SAM signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with IPRI in 2012 and since then, both institutes have conducted two joint Seminars/Conferences.
While explaining Azerbaijan’s reactions to geopolitical changes in the world, Dr. Veliyev said that geography determined the destiny of a country. Azerbaijan is landlocked and this has immense influence on the security and foreign policy of the country. Azerbaijan is surrounded by big countries such as Iran and Turkey, among others. However, despite being landlocked, Azerbaijan is a connection between the East-West and the North-South. It has the potential of becoming a trade hub for economic ventures, such as the BRI. On the foreign policy front, Azerbaijan has an independent foreign policy. It is part of the non-alignment movement and as a consequence, not part of any military bloc. The main principle of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy is trilateral relations. The country enjoys five such trilateral relations among which Azerbaijan-Turkey-Pakistan relations are very important as all three are strategic brotherly countries. These trilateral relations are project-oriented, which would assist in completing transport and energy projects, reaping dividends for the entire region and beyond. Promoting negotiations and talks between countries over regional issues has been another cornerstone of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy.
Dr. Veliyev expressed that Azerbaijan had three main foreign policy achievements in the last 27 years. First, Azerbaijan has been able to maintain an independent foreign policy. It is not part of any direct and active conflict with any country. It maintains good relations with Iran as well as Saudi Arabia; Russia as well as Georgia. Second, Azerbaijan has been able to use its landlocked geography to its advantage. It has been able to become a trade and transport hub, despite its geographic limitation. Third, it has been able to highlight and draw world attention to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Armenia has illegally captured twenty percent of Azerbaijan’s area, despite UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions. To this end, Azerbaijan has been able to successfully isolate Armenia diplomatically at international level.
Working Session: “Pakistan-Azerbaijan Relations”
Mr. Fuad Chiragov, Research Fellow at SAM, Azerbaijan, gave presentation on “Common Threats and Challenges to the National Securities of Azerbaijan and Pakistan under Current Geopolitical Trends” and said that the world had entered a state of turbulence and unpredictability since the beginning of the 21st century. Baggage of old conflicts along with new ones such as Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan have marred any progress made in achieving peace. It is evident that the world politics is witnessing transformative changes. Interestingly, these world transformations are not only affecting the foundations of the developing world, but also the socio-economic and political foundations of the Western world. As a result, the very countries which were considered to be the bastions of principles of international affairs, international economy and international trade are now pursuing policies, which have the cumulative effect of undermining, revising and even ripping apart the rules they promoted in establishing. Consequently, the world is witnessing rise of populists and nationalists, retreat of liberal democracies and replacing them with illiberal democracies.
He explained that revolution in technology and mass communications had further accelerated these processes. One the one hand, this technological advancement has assisted in the flow of information around the world; on the other hand, it has also enabled negative trends spread to all corners of the world in a short time. Technological globalization has also given birth to various non-state actors, players and variables which hold significance in international affairs.
He further explained that the world was currently experiencing a sort of geopolitical interregnum; the West was losing its leading role on the world stage, and the epicenter of world politics and economics is shifting towards Asia. He was of the view that certain countries in the West are driving the world towards confrontation and conflict along civilizational lines. With this respect, Azerbaijan and Pakistan have a common feature, both countries are on the front-line of the so-called civilizations and the decades-long conflicts, faced by both countries may turn to the conflict of the civilizations.
He also alluded to the double standards of international community vis-à-vis security concerns of other nations. Pakistan, too, is a victim of these double standards by international institutions and regional powers. The Jammu and Kashmir dispute is a glaring example of these double standards.
Dr. Nazir Hussain, Director, School of Politics and International Relations (SPIR), Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU), Islamabad, spoke on “Pakistan-Azerbaijan Relations under Changing Geopolitical Realities (Pakistani Perspective)” and emphasized that Pakistan was one of the few countries to recognize and establish diplomatic ties with Azerbaijan in June 1991, along with Turkey and Romania. He explained that both countries shared the same Persian culture and traditions. Pakistan is also connected through the old “Silk Route”, being used by trade caravans from both sides. Politically, Pakistan has been an ardent supporter of Azerbaijan on the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh and is the only country that has not recognized Armenia till now. In 2013, the Senate of Pakistan passed a resolution to describe Armenian attack on Khojaly in February 1992 as genocide and demanded Armenia to vacate the area. On the economic front, both countries have over 30 MoUs in different areas of cooperation and both countries have established a Joint Ministerial Commission to boost trade, which is just about US$ 20 million currently. Furthermore, both countries have been cooperating in the military realm since 2003. In 2015, a strategic partnership was started to boost cooperation in science and technology.
While commenting on the emergence of new inter-regional realities, he was of the opinion that there was growing regional connectivity between South Asia and Central Asia. As a result of the Chinese initiative of BRI and its offshoot CPEC, Pakistan will have an important part to play in this regional inter-connection. Also, with the emergence of China as a prominent stakeholder in the economic and security fabric of Asia, there is a change of pace for geo-economics. Another way, via which the regional dynamics are undergoing systemic change, is the energy and pipeline politics, which is becoming a reality now. Therefore, in the changing geopolitical milieu, Pakistan and Azerbaijan need to further strengthen their ties and forge sustainable relations with each other as there is great potential for the two states for the common benefits for each other.
Mr. Mahir Hambatov, Research Fellow at SAM, Azerbaijan, talked on “Azerbaijan as a Transit Country: Infrastructure and Logistics.” He said that having good transportation means and logistics was very important for trade these days. He highlighted Azerbaijan’s development as a transit country and shared details about its infrastructure and logistics projects. He said that Azerbaijan, with its favourable geographical position at the intersection of East-West and North-South international transport corridors, was making great progress along the road of development. There is no doubt that after the successful implementation of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) project, an alternative inland route will be created for better transit of goods in Eurasia. The BTK is considered a vital strategic objective that will pave the way for better trade conditions with Europe and ensure an efficient transit route between China and Europe, via Azerbaijan. The BTK railway line will expand multi-model transportation opportunities and ensure the growth of both passenger and freight transportation. He told that the BTK was also an extremely important route for Turkey, which wanted to create stronger ties with Central Asia as well as with the Gulf states. The implementation of international projects, connected to the BTK railway along with the construction of a railway tunnel across the Bosphorus, is of crucial importance to all the countries in the region. Carrying freight from European and Asian countries, the railway will increase the volume of inter-model and container transportation. Along with providing a connection to trans-European and trans-Asian railway networks and transporting freight and passengers directly through Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, it will also serve to increase the transit potential of other regional countries.
Like China, Azerbaijan has invested heavily in its own infrastructure as well that of the neighbouring countries, involved in the development of the railroad project. He said that the BTK railroad was playing a major role in connecting the East and West via the three countries, i.e. Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. After centuries of neglect, the land transportation corridors connecting Asia and Europe are on the brink of a rebirth. From practically nothing, a revived network of these land corridors is likely to generate sizable freight revenues from the increased trade between Asia and Europe.
He explained that the “Viking Railroad,” which connected Lithuania with Ukraine via Belarus, was not among the most well-publicized transportation projects in the former Soviet Union, but it is emerging as one of the most important ones these days. The Viking transport project is one of the best examples of cooperation among railroad operators and politicians in different countries in pursuit of the same objective, i.e. to generate income from transit. The success of the Viking project, however, lies in its cutting-edge supporting infrastructure, close cooperation between the neighbouring countries’ railway operators, attractive tariffs and successfully publicizing the project.
There are ten major ports on the Caspian Sea shore. Out of these ports, four belong to Iran (Anzali, Amirabad, Neka, and Noshahr), three to Russia (Astrakhan, Makhachkala, and Ola), and one each to Azerbaijan (Baku), Kazakhstan (Aktau) and Turkmenistan (Turkmenbashy). The leading countries in cargo handling are Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Iran. From a political perspective, these projects allow Azerbaijan to toughen its position towards conflict and increase its regional importance. The economic benefits, however, tend to be felt in the long-run, as the government has spent a huge amount of capital now and the ability to diversify the economy away from oil-gas sector will take time.
Dr. Fazal-ur-Rehman, Director, Pakistan Institute of China Studies (PICS), University of Sargodha, Sargodha, spoke on “CPEC and ECO: Partners towards Regional connectivity and Prosperity.” He explained that Pakistan had always been supportive of connectivity-related initiatives for achieving regional cooperation, be it ECO or CPEC. He said that although China was not a member of the ECO, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui participated in the ECO summit in Islamabad in 2017 and emphasized the need of connectivity for regional prosperity and convergence with China’s BRI project, and its flagship CPEC. He informed the audience that ECO region had enormous potential for enhancing regional cooperation, based on the solid foundation of commonality of interests, economic complementarities, common cultural heritage and geographical proximity.
He said that it was the time to reclaim ECO’s historic role as Asia’s center of economic and trade activity because CPEC was now also being recognized as a catalyst for energy infrastructure, transport connectivity and trade in the whole of South and Central Asia. He was of the view that ECO had the potential of becoming a strong and viable economic bloc, if it connects with BRI and CPEC; member states strengthen its Secretariat; increase funding; re- negotiate the ECO trade agreement and turn it into a Free Trade Agreement; focus on multilateral agreements; and increase networking of the ECO Bank with other International Financial Institutions (IFIs).
He said that regardless of the big power tussle in the region, the ECO states and Pakistan and China must continue to pursue the development of the BRI/CPEC with vigor and determination. He suggested that the ECO states and Pakistan must aim to synchronize and synergize efforts at inter-connectivity and economic inter-dependence in coordination with China. Russia must also dovetail its Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) with the CPEC to create a massive forum for extensive regional inter-connectivity and economic inter-dependence and prosperity. However, he warned that lack of capacity and strong political will on part of ECO member countries was weakening this organization.
The deliberations of the Seminar brought forth a number of following recommendations:-
- Pakistan and Azerbaijan are strategic partners. The defence agreement between the two states since 2003 has contributed towards bringing the two Armed Forces closer. The militaries of the two countries hold exercises. Pakistan Armed Forces’ experience in countering extremism and terrorism over the years has transformed it into a war-hardened military, making it a potentially unique partner and a source of learning for other countries. Therefore, there is a need to improve and diversify the defence ties between Pakistan and Azerbaijan.
- Pakistan and Azerbaijan share common approach on certain regional and global issues; in particular, both are ardent supporters of peace. The two countries have stood beside each other on issues of Nagorno-Karabakh and the Jammu and Kashmir. In view of the emanating transnational challenges and their regional impact, both Pakistan and Azerbaijan should collaborate and contribute to regional peace. Both the countries can set up a joint counter-terrorism mechanism, and together address the menace of drug trafficking and terrorism. The joint mechanism should include officials from the security agencies of the two countries.
- China’s economic growth, coupled with the BRI, has set the pace for regional connectivity. In the emerging geopolitical milieu with energy pipelines, the trend towards security cooperation is likely to grow. Pakistan and Azerbaijan, in view of their strategic location, have a common interest to promote inter-regional connectivity. The support of both states to BRI and CPEC is a proof of this. Pakistan and Azerbaijan are part of the regional connectivity projects, and together should build their transport infrastructure.
- The transport infrastructure is significant in the development of economy. Azerbaijan has built rail links, port and sea shipments and airways infrastructure. Pakistan needs to develop and upgrade the connectivity links too. The IT sector of Azerbaijan has also progressed, the country has its own satellite. Pakistan can cooperate with Azerbaijan in the field of IT and learn from its experience of satellite.
- There needs to be more people-to-people interaction between both the countries. Pakistan in collaboration with Azerbaijan can set up joint mechanisms to promote cultural exchange and tourism between the two countries. Azerbaijan has eased the visa procedures for Pakistanis so in the future, direct flights between Islamabad and Baku should start.
- The Azerbaijan government has offered scholarship programmes for Pakistani students. A similar opportunity should be offered by Pakistani side. Meanwhile, to enhance the educational exchange between the two countries, facility of video conferencing in schools, colleges and universities should be provided, wherein the students can interact and debate on education and beyond.
- Pakistan and Azerbaijan need to enhance economic cooperation. The bilateral trade between the two countries merely stands at US$ 18 to 25 million, which is very low. Through innovative practices and friendly trade policies (with less tariff barriers), bilateral trade can be improved. The business communities of both sides should be encouraged to interact freely. Meanwhile, oil and gas can be exported from Azerbaijan. Pakistan can also suggest the construction of a pipeline.
- The think tank community from Pakistan and Azerbaijan need to have regular exchange programmes, in which issues of regional and global significance should be discussed. Such platforms are essential to understand each other’s perspective on strategic issues and further explore the prospects of research.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the speakers and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.