18 May 2022


Prospects for Academic cooperation between South and Central Asia

By : Hira Atia





The relations between South and Central Asia are on a new road to development and innovation under the umbrella of regional connectivity, a concept that got proposed by Uzbek president Shaukat Mirziyoyev at the International Conference. New economic and political corridors got established between the two regions under the framework of CPEC but there have been fewer efforts on Academic Cooperation between the states, thus there were many proposals proposed by the president of Uzbekistan that aimed at the setup of joint collaborative research centers and joint international forums to propagate free flow of knowledge. South Asia’s scholarly output has been increasing recently, about an 8% increase was observed from 2012 to 2016, which determines the increase in publications among South Asian countries. The statistics suggest that south Asian research generates usually high investments also proving the Intellectual productivity of south Asian researchers. This makes it imperative for central Asian states to join in such scholarly outputs and garner the benefits through joint publications and student exchange programs, workshops and training, etc. Increasing investments in the research and development sector could motivate domestic, intraregional and extra-regional collaboration to encompass a more diverse range of institutions and researchers. Competitive funding mechanisms are imperative to enhance the quality of research collaboration on common priorities such as Agriculture, public health and infrastructural development, etc. Much of the South and Central Asian economies are focused on low-skilled, labor-intensive production models which bring structural transformation to deal with high tech, knowledge intensive industrial and service sectors. Knowledge is power and, in a world, where the war of narratives is the new norm, South and Central Asian states should look forward to their academic cooperation, a strategy that would lead to the future prosperity of the states


  • Historical background of relations between South and Central Asia

There’s an unprecedented history of strong ties between these two regions which culminated through the connection of many aspects like economic and political cooperation, socio-cultural and religious influences which occurred due to the migration of people from central to South Asia.

Both regions have deepened socio-cultural and Geoeconomics ties due to the historical heritage they share that goes back to 1500 BC; Central Asian and South Asian states share historical contacts that date back to antiquity. Modern Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan have been mapped out due to earlier movements of Indo-Aryans in the subcontinent.

Indian traders along with the evolution of the old silk route were able to cultivate trade and cultural exchange relations in the areas of Central Asia including Kashgar, Murum, Qara Shahr, Khotan, Yarkand.[1] In the 7th century AD, Islam was introduced in central Asia which led to more cooperative mechanisms between the regions. Historical legacies and heritage played a fundamental role in shaping the future relations of Central and South Asia. Both regions through mutual incentives like trade and economic ventures have been engaged together.

Central Asian states produce a large amount of raw material, industrial goods and have great prospects in contracts of power supplies, etc. Turkmenistan has the world’s fifth-largest reserves of natural gas and oil output is approximately 48 million tons a year. Central Asia is an energy powerhouse for Pakistan and other South Asian state, Pakistan on the other hand acts as a gateway for central Asia as it provides access to water to this landlocked region.

  • Regional connectivity between South and Central Asia: 

Active dialogues are taking place at the crossroads of the Great silk road, Central and South Asia are connected through dialogues and civilizations. Through cooperation between the two regions, the flow of knowledge, philosophical ideas, development of ties, significant attainment in medicine and astronomy, arts of diplomacy and public administration, and spread of high cultural and spiritual-moral values is occurring. The people of both these regions were once connected through common state formations, as well as political, economic, and humanitarian space.

To further increase the prospects of cooperation between the two regions Shavkat Mirziyoyev, President of Uzbekistan; proposed the initiative to strengthen regional connectivity between South Asia and Central Asia as part of Tashkent’s new foreign policy strategy aimed at security, stability, sustainable development, one that is integrated into the world economy.

This initiative is appreciated by many states and efforts are being made to increase scientific, cultural, and humanitarian exchanges as well to strengthen trust and cordial relations between states.

  • Prospects for Academic cooperation between South and Central Asia: 

Due to the progressive initiative taken by Uzbekistan, many projects and proposals are under process such as the joint programs like the international forum which is to be conducted in Termez city of Uzbekistan and is entitled as the ‘heritage of Central and South Asia’ under the auspices of UNESCO. Similarly, other such programs would be pertinent to increase the flow of education, scientific knowledge, and cultural sports through the youth’s active participation in such programs, between the two regions.

Youth from generation to generation becomes the source of strengthening the relations between states as they are the human resource, fate, and future of our countries. Their issues should be recognized and resolved by common efforts of our states, programs like permanent youth council of Central and South Asian countries should be established.

Similarly, education facilities and opportunities for youth should be the prime concern of states, as only an educated nation could lead to future prosperity. Achievements in science, technology, and innovation and the spreading of this knowledge from generation to generation are pertinent factors in the accelerated development of our countries.  It’s also necessary to promote joint collaborative research and innovation, exchange programs academic and training fellowships, etc. For these initiatives, states must propose a facilitated visa regime for scientists and researchers, promote the creation of online platforms for cooperation between universities and scientific research centers of the countries of south and central Asia. Even in the past close contacts between the public of these regions paved the way to vibrant intellectual and spiritual progress.

It was because of these connections, brilliant scholars like Charaka, Sushruta, Brahmagupta, Al-khorezmi, Al Fergani, Farabi, Biruni, Avicena, etc predetermined the development of scientific and philosophical thought for several centuries to come.[2] Other well-known classics of Uzbek literature including Khosrow Dehlavi, Alisher Navoi, Abdurakhman Jami, Muhammad Haydar, Mahtumkuli, Mirzo Golib, Abay, Rabindranath Tagore, Sadriddin Ayni, and Chingiz Aitmatov are well known to the world as they successfully made enormous contributions in the development of ideas of peace, freedom, humanism, friendship and, mutual understanding among various nations.

The work of Great scientists is a true encyclopedia on the history, science, and culture of both of the regions, these scientists include Abu Raihan Beruni, Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur. Babur was a charming person, a typical king of the Renaissance as characterized by the prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Baburnama, the fundamental work of Babur included the caravan routes in the 16th century between central Asia and India through the territory of Afghanistan where camels were used to transport various goods every year. According to his orders caravanserais were improved alongside trade routes and wells were constructed. Then Akbar continued this cause, and a bright and visionary ruler left an imprint on India’s history. It should also be noted at that time trade relations of central and south Asia were undertaken with Iran, Arabia, the Ottoman state, china, Russia, and other states, etc. however due to historical circumstances in the 19th century, connectivity between the two regions got disrupted.  Obstacles were faced in form of closed borders; tensions arose which led to internal and well as external conflicts. However, they started cooperating for mutual benefits. Likewise, at present moment there’s a need to discover our potential for regional connectivity through sound solutions based on a systematic study and analysis of the development trends. President proposed the creation of a permanent expert panel of prominent scientists and researchers based on an analytical center to promote regional cooperation.

Educational Exchange Programs: Case Study of Central Asia and Pakistan:

In exchange programs students and teachers who travel abroad interact together and are allowed to integrate with the lifestyle followed in their institutions. Students actively get engaged in different activities organized by the host university. The period ranges from 3 months to a couple of years, one such beneficial exchange program is the Erasmus student mobility program. Milton Friedman stated that this era is the most unique not because of the states or its companies set up but because of the human resource as it’s built around individuals who are the dynamic agent and can, globalize in small groups.[3]


Educational exchange programs not only harness the critical thinking ability of the students but also play a great role in the growth and character building of their students. Most prominent of its advantages are assimilation and diffusion of different cultures as students learn new traditions and socio-cultural dynamics of their host country. Other benefits of such programs include.

Personality development:

Students when leaving their comfort zones and travel to foreign states for their higher studies, it’s a great challenge for them to adjust to the new and unknown environment but still, they are committed and devoted to learning new things and challenge their limitations which grooms their thinking and critical capabilities. Globalization has also led to increasing in such programs as there is more awareness among the people regarding the prospects of such intellectual programs. During the EEP, students get familiarize with the culture and history of different societies.

Career opportunities: 

Career opportunities always attract the attention of young individuals as they dream of an ideal lifestyle and want to earn good salaries, in such a scenario they get easily motivated to find jobs in foreign countries. As there are fewer job opportunities in states like Pakistan or other third world countries like the Central Asian states; the individuals over there always through cost and benefit analysis go for scholarship and exchange programs for greater educational prospects.

Make new friends: 

Exchange programs would provide golden chances of assimilating one’s own culture into different cultures, individuals mind sometimes get manipulated through negative propaganda of media for instance Pakistani societies are considered as conservative and backward, however, when different students from Central Asian republics would visit Pakistan once, they can build their perspective based on their personal experience. Such initiatives can make students more adaptable to different cultures and change their biased perspectives. UN secretary Kofi Anan stated that interregional understanding leads to world peace, economic integration, migration, globalization, etc. which helps in connecting different civilizations, cultures, and ethnicities, furthermore, he adds that combining the familiar with foreign can be a powerful source of knowledge and insight.[4]

Educational Exchange programs in Central Asia: Prospects for Pakistan:

Many Central Asian states such as Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are taking initiatives for exchange programs and scholarship ventures as they are staunch promoters of such educational programs. Kyrgyzstan took its first educational exchange program initiative in 2000; by inaugurating its university in Bishkek and then also signed a treaty, in which the university funded regional campuses in Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. The geographical impediment makes mobility difficult between the central Asian states like the distance separating them from each other due to high mountain ranges. However, now the scenario is changing as economic investments are being made in infrastructural projects in these regions under the umbrella of CPEC, thus enhancing the regional connectivity between them, China investment in this region is resolving the issues of mobility thus creating prospects for students to travel towards Central Asian states. New investment projects in the region will enhance collaborative research programs between the states. Due to shared cultural and historical ties, South and Central Asia are aiming to connect people through business-to-business connections and people-to-people exchange. Kyrgyzstan is known as the Switzerland of Asia and is an important state in terms of Tourism. Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan enjoy good political, economic, cultural, and academic ties. Almost 7000 Pakistani students are currently studying in Kyrgyzstan. Similarly, the landscapes and sports of these states are really popular, like 94% of the total land of Kyrgyzstan is mountainous hence the people of Kyrgyzstan are very much interested in venture sports. Some of the venture sports include skiing, mountain climbing, hunting via eagles, etc. Out of the 4 million foreign visits 15-20 % visit Kyrgyzstan for venture sports.

Section of Public affairs in Uzbekistan administers a various range of educational exchange programs which are designed for the free flow of knowledge, ideas and for enhancing mutual understanding, etc. Such programs include the Fulbright specialist program, Fulbright visiting scholar program, Humphrey fellowship program, the study of US Institutes for secondary school education, and many other. Uzbekistan offers 149 plus scholarships for Pakistani students from 2021 till 2022. The most important prospects for Pakistani students are that Central and south Asian states share a common language in some areas and religious affiliations, as all CA states have a Muslim majority population. Similarly, CA states are fluent in the Russian language, so they show a trans culture and diverse which they inherited when they were a part of the Soviet Union. Due to the Belt & Road initiative, Pakistan has a role in prosperity and development of Central Asian states as it provides the shortest route to the Indian ocean for trading facilities to Central Asian states. Similarly, communication networks and transportation, logistics improved between the two regions. Kyrgyzstan is also facilitating Afghan students for the acquisition of technical and medical education.[5] Various research collaborations and interactive intellectual programs, workshops over-tourism, Agriculture, environment, sports, etc. are held among the two regions. Different MOUs are signed to increase the scope of the state’s multilateral relations.

Policies recommendations:

In the era of globalization, media shapes narratives thus electronic media can be used as a tool to enhance the cooperative relations between the two regions through the transmission of cultures, traditions, religious practices etc. Similarly, we are in dire need of young scholars, which have the intellectual power to motivate and influence others through their literature and writing. For this purpose, there’s a need of research think tanks that can harness the qualitative writing skills of young intellectuals that can bring a change through the stroke of their pens. Such institutions can develop friendly relations among the south and central Asian states as they can challenge and change the negative narratives which diverts our interests from each other. Some of such think tanks include center for global and strategic studies; CGSS, CISS, Pakistan academy of regional studies etc.   More collaborative and join research and exchange programs are the need of our times as it lets the free flow of knowledge and develop the critical and creative thinking of our youth. Such collaboration is vital to scientific innovation as it enhances the exchange of ideas and influence our perspectives, it widens our scope of thinking and let us think out of the box by making our people more innovative, we should not only be focused on economic and political relations but also should enhance the academic cooperation between the two regions under the umbrella of regional connectivity. Economies of these regions are in rapid progress and evolution, thus the adaptability with the technological advancements and innovations is also vital for sustained growth and competitiveness of firms and different sectors across the region. National efforts to improve the scholarly research is pertinent for sharpening competitive advantages and to explore new ideas. To exploit the new technological gadgets, our research and development departments should have the ability to exceed the capacity of domestic resources in developing countries. The extent to which states succeed in supporting technological innovation have critical implications to create job opportunities, as pace of innovation determines how new sectors counterbalance the old ones.[6] Collaborative research is increasing through collaborative publications facilitating comparisons between countries and regions.  Countries having low GDP can greatly benefit from research collaborations as it enables them to leverage the resources of the countries with more developed research bases.


n.d. Best Destinations in Asia – Travelers’ Choice Awards – TripAdvisor. Accessed 9 6, 2021. http://www.tripadvisor.com/TravelersChoice-Destinations-cTop-g2.

Farooq, Omair. 2019. Strafasia.com. August. Accessed September Monday, 2021. https://strafasia.com/educational-exchange-program-case-study-of-central-asia-and-pakistan/.

n.d. World Bank report. Accessed september monday, 2021. https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/735021553593295199/pdf/South-Asia-Challenges-and-Benefits-of-Research-Collaboration-in-a-Diverse-Region.pdf.


[1] Shavkat Mirziyoyev, “ International conference on Central and South Asia: Regional Connectivity, Challenges and Opportunities”, Address by H.E. President of the republic of Uzbekistan, https://www.vifindia.org/article/2021/july/20/uzbek-president-s-call-for-connectivity.


[2] Ibid

[3]Omair Farooq,  “Exchange Program: Case Study of Central Asia and Pakistan”, Strafasia.com, August 21, 2019, accessed on September 6, 2021, https://strafasia.com/educational-exchange-program-case-study-of-central-asia-and-pakistan/.


[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] “South Asia: Challenges and Benefits of Research Collaborations in a Diverse Region”, World Bank Report, accessed on September 6, 2021, https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/735021553593295199/pdf/South-Asia-Challenges-and-Benefits-of-Research-Collaboration-in-a-Diverse-Region.pdf.