PESHAWAR -- Central and South Asian nations must utilise education as a means to permanently end violent extremism and terrorism in the region, said Uzbek Ambassador to Pakistan Furqat Sidiqov.
Uzbekistan has devised a multi-pronged strategy that includes both the strict implementation of laws and "education to end violence," Sidiqov told Pakistan Forward in an exclusive interview.
"One major step taken by the Uzbek government is the training and education of imams who were on a 'grey' watchlist," he said, adding that authorities have rehabilitated about 45,000 Uzbeks and removed them from the list.
The list contained the names of convicted or suspected extremists.
"Uzbekistan has other ways of fighting violent extremism -- through economic development and education," Sidiqov added.
While Pakistan has always been a victim of terrorism, Sidiqov praised the country's role in seeking to defeat extremists.
"Pakistan has proved by defeating the criminals that peace is the only road map for development," he said in the interview, adding that regional peace also will depend on efforts by Central and South Asian nations on both the economic and educational fronts.
"We have to open new economic avenues and boost our education programmes to end violent tendencies," Sidiqov said.
Uzbekistan is looking for closer relations with Pakistan to promote regional development and seeks to bolster annual trade with Pakistan from $90 million to $300 million within a few years, said Sidiqov.
He also expressed interest in exploring educational links that would be cost effective because of the two nations' proximity.
The countries already are enjoying a jump in joint business ventures, with 21 signed in 2018 from 47 such agreements inked over the last 20 years, Sidiqov said.
The Afghan conflict
Attaining peace in neighbouring Afghanistan is key to regional stability, added Sidiqov.
"Peace in Afghanistan is of utmost importance for Uzbekistan, and the recent Tashkent summit, which was also addressed by the Afghan government, is ample proof of its resolve of a peaceful Central and South Asia," he said, referring to an international conference in Tashkent on Afghanistan's future March 26-27, 2018.
Peace in Afghanistan is possible if all stakeholders, including the Taliban, come to the table, Sidiqov said.
"Education and economic co-operation with its neighbours will help bring back peace and development to Afghanistan," he added.
Uzbekistan will never seal its borders with Afghanistan in response to terrorism, he said, adding that such threats will not deter Uzbekistan's resolve to fight and weed out terrorists and restore peace in the region.
"Regional stability will come only when our brotherly country Afghanistan is peaceful," he said.
Focusing on regional peace
Peace in the region is dependent on Afghanistan, agree specialists in both Pakistan and Uzbekistan.
"It is up to regional states to maintain and sustain peace for the inclusive development of the region," said Dr. Azmat Hayat Khan, the former director of the Area Study Centre at the University of Peshawar.
"Pakistan and Uzbekistan can play a key role in stabilising the region as peace in Afghanistan is vital for regional stability," he told Pakistan Forward.
"Peace in Afghanistan will undoubtedly enhance Pak-Uzbek trade, tourism, and people-to-people contact via Afghanistan by developing a connectivity infrastructure" such as rail and road connections, Dr. Shabir Ahmad Khan, director of the Area Study Centre, told Pakistan Forward.
The distances from Peshawar to Tashkent and to Karachi are almost identical, with the route between Tashkent and Peshawar passing through "Jalalabad, Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif, Termez and Bukhara", noted Khan.
The strategic value of Pakistani-Uzbek ties will rise when the countries have both road and rail links through Afghanistan, he said.