Interview with H.E. Makhdoom Shah Mahmood QURESHI
Foreign Minister of Pakistan
Vasile SIMILEANU: Excellency, the relations between Pakistan and Romania now span over five decades of cordiality, mutual trust and support. Could you kindly brief us on the landmarks of this relationship and what prospects do you see for our bilateral partnership in the years ahead?
Shah Mahmood QURESHI: Pakistan – Romania relations, established since 1964, are marked by stability and cordiality. The robustness of this relationship picked up pace in the very early stages of our bilateral relations. During 1970s and 1980s, the two countries entered into sizeable barter trade, economic activity and exchange of visits. As for the living landmarks of our friendship, the National Oil Refinery at Karachi stands as an example. Romania’s support to Pakistan in terms of building up our economic infrastructure is also a perfect example of our bilateral relationship. With Romania’s help and assistance, cement and fertilizer plants were also established in Pakistan in the early phases of the establishment of our diplomatic relations. Since its joining of the European Union in 2007, Romania’s relations with Pakistan have continued to evolve with renewed synergies. We are now working on supplementing our bilateral relations with new dimensions and on a larger scale. While our high level political interactions have continued to evolve over these years unabated, we are now transforming our relations into a multifaceted and long-term partnership through mutual collaboration in such domains as trade, defence, education & science, cultural, people-to-people contacts, tourism etc.
V. S.: The essence of any bilateral relationship between two countries is contingent upon strong trade and economic collaboration. Where do Pakistan and Romania stand on this account? What opportunities lie in the offing for us for enhancing our economic and trade ties?
Shah Mahmood QURESHI: I agree that in modern day world, bilateral trade and economic relations constitute important factors for gauging the depth of a relationship between two countries. However, I may add that it is not only through the existing numbers on trade etc. that we can pass a judgment regarding the strength of relations between any two countries. It is also through the potential of bilateral trade relations that we can have a more farsighted assessment of future of any bilateral relationship between two nations.
As for Pakistan and Romania, the bilateral trade between the two countries currently stands at around US$ 70.52 million (2018). Pakistan imports oil seeds and oleaginous fruits, machinery and its parts, petroleum & chemical elements as well as compounds from Romania. Our major exports to Romania include chemical material and products, material of animal origin, cotton fabric (woven), synthetic fabrics and manufactured textile goods. These trade figures do not reflect the true potential of our bilateral trade. As a matter of fact, a considerable proportion of trade between Pakistan and Romania takes place through third country pattern and this does not factor into our accounts per se. Nevertheless, the existing bilateral trade much below the true potential of the two countries. Concerted efforts in this regard are being made and the commercial activity between Pakistan and Romania is gradually picking up pace and is likely to improve in the coming years.
I would also like to add a few words concerning, other aspects of economic activity that is picking up pace between Pakistan and Romania at present. As you are aware, Pakistan carries the unique comparative advantage in terms of low-cost, trained and diligent labor. Our labor force in the textile and construction sectors has marked its distinction around the world. It is heartening to note that as Romania gains momentum with its boom in the construction sector, Pakistan’s cost effective labor is gaining currency within Romania and some well-established Romanian construction companies are already exploring the labor treasure trove in Pakistan.
V.S.: People-to-people contacts and cultural bonds constitute the core of modern day public diplomacy and hold key to a long-term bilateral relationship. Could you kindly elaborate, where do Pakistan and Romania stand on this turf and what initiatives are being taken at the part of your Government for enhancing people-to-people contacts between the two countries?
Shah Mahmood QURESHI: Public diplomacy is one such element of our bilateral diplomatic initiatives that has received core attention in recent years. The enhanced educational linkages, collaboration between think tanks or cultural activities, people-to-people contacts between Pakistan and Romania are witnessing an upsurge that is unprecedented in character.
As an instance, in the field of education, Romania’s renowned Politehnica University is now collaborating with different research institutions of Pakistan. Similarly, such renowned think tanks and educational institutions as the Romanian Institute for Europe – Asia Studies (IRSEA) and the Islamabad Institute of Strategic Studies (ISSI); Institute of Regional Studies (IRS); Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPIU); National University of Modern Languages, Islamabad; Preston University, Kohat as well as Society of Asian Civilizations (SAC), Islamabad have established institutional mecha-nisms for mutual collaboration with relevant counterparts in both countries. ISSI has also entered into institutional linkages with the Middle East Political and Economic Institute, Bucharest. On the cultural plane, important initiatives have been taken both by Pakistan and Romania, in terms of enhancing their cultural footprint in each other’s cultural milieu. As an example, our Embassy in Bucharest organized the biggest ever Pakistan FlashMob in Bucharest City in 2017. Since last year, our Mission in Bucharest has been organizing Pakistan Film Festival in Romania. Thus far, two such festivals have been held in Bucharest and this event has now become an annual flagship cultural festivity in that city.
In sports-related activities, our Embassy organized the first-ever Pakistan Golf Cup in Bucharest in July last year. This is yet another manifestation of the wide scope of people-to-people activities that we are focusing on.
A number of Romanian artists and musicians are also increasingly performing in Pakistan nowadays. This is another positive sign and explains the role that Pakistan has now reassumed as the cultural centre of our region.
These are just some examples of our cultural linkages. I can assure you that in the years ahead, the pace and momentum of these activities will enhance further.
V.S.: Any bilateral relationship between two countries has its own challenges as well. What impediments do you see on account of the current pace of Pakistan – Romania relations? How do you think, can these problems be solved?
Shah Mahmood QURESHI: In our assessment, there are two major impediments in terms of increasing the current pace of Pakistan – Romania relations to its full potential. These include visa problems faced by Pakistani nationals to obtain Romanian visa intending to travel to Romania especially for educational and business purposes as well as Romania’s negative travel advisory on Pakistan.
I would like to highlight that at present, Romania is following a very stringent visa regime especially for Asian countries. This has negatively affected the genuine Pakistani students and business community who intend to carry on with their educational and business pursuits in Romania. Romania has also not remained immune from the consequences of this policy either. Romania is itself losing on significant revenues as a result of this policy and thus it is a lose-lose situation for both our countries. However, I am confident that in the days ahead, Romania will review this policy and relax its visa regime towards Pakistani students and businesspersons.
The other dimension which is affecting Romanian nationals more than anyone else is the negative travel advisory issued by Romania against Pakistan. This advisory actually discourages Romanians from undertaking visit to Pakistan, especially for touristic and business purposes. It is also not based on ground realities in Pakistan as our country has achieved remarkable improvement in terms of law and order as well as security since the last few years. Pakistan is now as safe as any other country in the world. I may also highlight that despite the negative travel advisory by Romania on Pakistan, the number of visitors from Romania to Pakistan is still rising and that too without any untoward incident. I am confident that this rising number of Romanians visiting Pakistan will get a further boost once this advisory is either removed altogether or at least revised in line with the ground realities.
V.S.: What, in your viewpoint, are the main areas where Pakistan and Romania can readily cooperate for a boost in their relations?
Shah Mahmood QURESHI: While the potential for improvement in Pakistan and Romania is multifaceted in character, I think that trade and educational as well as cultural linkages are some of those prominent areas where we can witness significant improvement over a very short span of time. It is only through our continued commitment and sound as well as wise decisions that we would realize the benefits that Pakistan and Romania stand to offer to each other. These areas are such that they can provide a boost to our collaboration in other areas on a long-term and sustainable basis as well.
V.S.: Turning now to the South Asian region, what is Pakistan’s vision for strategic stability in South Asia which is marred by different conflicts at present?
Shah Mahmood QURESHI: On 15th August 1947, our founding father Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah observed “our objective should be peace within and peace without. We want to live peacefully and maintain cordial and friendly relations with our immediate neighbours and with the world at large. We have no aggressive designs against anyone. We stand by the United Nations Charter and will gladly make our contribution to the peace and prosperity in the region and beyond”. These remarks of Quaid-e-Azam are our guiding principles in inter-state and regional relations.
Regional peace and stability is a common and permanent denominator for econo-mic development. Unfortunately, our region has not had this opportunity and remains mired in disputes and differences. The long standing issues including the core dispute of Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan has determined the nature of conflict and cooperation in the region.
However, in pursuit of regional stability and harmony, Pakistan attaches great importance to South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and remains committed to the principles and objectives of the SAARC Charter. Pakistan has always played a proactive role to make SAARC a successful vehicle for regional cooperation, based on the principle of sovereign equality. Unfortunately Indian intransigence and its dragging of bilateral issues into SAARC, against the spirit of SAARC Charter has hindered the progress of this organization, and the 19th SAARC Summit, which was being held in Islamabad remained scuttled since 2016.
On the other hand, China is integrating different regions through massive develop-ment project i.e. Belt and Road Initiative. Its flagship project CPEC could contribute to the further integration of South Asia. The core vision of CPEC is to improve infra-structure to facilitate interconnectivity. It will empower South Asia to enjoy the full benefits of region-wide trade, stretching from Iran to China and realize its potential for economic development.
Indian belligerence and massive annual defense spending of more than US$ 55 billion is hampering regional stability. Pakistan is concerned that it is detrimental for peace and stability in the region. Pakistan is also concerned at the Civil Nuclear deals signed by India with major world powers and its efforts to gain entry into nuclear regulatory regimes, allowing access to additional nuclear fuel, which can be diverted to its military program. This would result in disturbing the strategic balance in South Asia between the two nuclear neighbors.
Pakistan does not subscribe to any nuclear or conventional arms race. We strictly abide by the concept of credible minimum deterrence. Stability in South Asia is essential to save the region from turning into a nuclear flashpoint.
We need a conducive environment to focus on the economic development of the region. The resolution of the conflicts and outstanding issues in the region is a pr-requisite to that kind of environment. As a responsible state in the community of the nations, Pakistan has always preferred to resolve issues through dialogue. We shall continue to play our role for a peaceful and stable South Asia for the betterment of the people of this region.
V.S.: Pakistan has been playing a lead role in countering global terrorism. In its war against this menace, Pakistan has made tremendous sacrifices as well. What in your perspective are the main ingredients through which, we can get rid of this global menace?
Shah Mahmood QURESHI: Pakistan’s commitment and resolve to fight terrorism in all its forms and manifestations is firm and definitive. This is also in line with the vision of a different Pakistan, articulated by Prime Minister Imran Khan that with international security and a peaceful external environment, national goals of economic development could be effectively addressed.
In line with this vision, we have expedited implementation of comprehensive National Action Plan (NAP) to counter terrorism and radicalism in a holistic and sustainable manner. Moreover, our comprehensive and all-out law enforcement military operation like “Zarb-e-Azb” and “Rad-ul-fasad” have yielded extremely positive results. As a result of these efforts by our security agencies, we have managed to turn the situation around which have been fully backed by the nation. Accordingly, the security situation in Pakistan has consistently improved during the last four years. This positive trend has also been noted by international observers including Global Terrorism Index Reports. We are hopeful that the improved security situation will not only increase sense of security for the common people, but will also broaden the prospects for increased foreign investment in Pakistan.
We are aware that the battle against terrorism and extremism cannot be won by kinetic means alone. Therefore, the government of Pakistan is also working on educating the population through developing a counter ideological narrative by co-opting religious scholars. To this end, another hallmark achievement in our efforts is the recently issued Fatwa (religious verdict) “Peigham-e-Pakistan” by 1,800 religion scholars and clerics from various schools of thought, which unequivocally condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.
The global fight against terrorism is, however, far from over. The defeat of Da’esh in the Middle East and relocation of its fighters to our neighborhood is a challenge that the international community has to jointly address. Our security forces are cognizant of this threat and are taking all possible measures for countering it.
The fight against terrorism is multifaceted. Nations must develop partnerships for supporting each other in developing capacities for countering all aspects of terrorism. We believe that instead of playing blame games international terrorism requires a coordinated and cooperative approach from all states. Pakistan will continue to work with the international community towards the common objectives of defeating the forces of terrorism and to promote peace and stability in our region and beyond.
V.S.: Kashmir, we understand is the bone of contention between India and Pakistan. What is the current situation in the Indian occupied Kashmir and what, in your view, is the solution to this decades old problem? What role the International community can play towards the solution of this problem?
Shah Mahmood QURESHI: The most important thing to understand about the Jammu and Kashmir dispute is that while it is a grave human tragedy and a difficult problem, it is not a complicated one.
After independence, people of different regions were given the option to join either India or Pakistan. Since the majority of Kashmiris were Muslims, they overwhelmingly wanted to join Pakistan. The “K” in Pakistan’s name by the way is for Kashmir.
India however forcibly occupied the territory under a sham pretext and thus denied the people their right to choose.
When Pakistan objected, India itself took the matter to the United Nations which overwhelmingly favored Pakistan’s point of view that the only way to determine the future of the region was through allowing its people the right to choose whether they want to join India or Pakistan through a free, fair and impartial plebiscite.
India has not allowed that plebiscite to take place through the last seven decades and the reason is obvious. Because it knows that if it allows a fair election, Kashmiris will overwhelmingly choose to be a part of Pakistan.
To quell that movement, India has deployed 700,000 troops in a region with a population of 12.5 million. That’s one soldier for every 17 people.
Since 1989, India has killed over 100,000 innocent civilians, over 11,000 women have been raped or gang raped and more than 200 youth including infants have been completely or partially blinded. In 2018 alone, India killed over 500 people in search and cordon operations.
Recently, however, the international community has started taking notice of the inhumane atrocities in Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir following the publication of the Reports by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UK’s All Parties Parliamentary Kashmir Group (APPKG), with a categorical focus on the Indian atrocities in Indian occupied Kashmir (IoK). The Reports have documented in detail the gross human rights violations and brutalities experienced by innocent Kashmiris at the hands of Indian occupation forces as well as lack of access to justice.
The OHCHR has called for the formation of an impartial Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to investigate the gross and systematic human rights violations in Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
Moreover, the sub-committee on Human Rights of the European Parliament held a historic hearing on the human rights abuses in Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir on 19th February 2019. The members of the European Parliament called for the full implementation of the recommendations of OHCHR report and peaceful resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute in line with the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
Pakistan will continue to extend every political, moral and diplomatic support to the Kashmiris in their just and rightful cause, until they achieve the legitimate right of self-determination.
V.S.: You handled the volatile security situation in the wake of Pulwama Incident in a remarkable manner. This helped defuse the increasing tensions between Pakistan and India to some extent. What in your views is the situation at present? Do you foresee any improvement in the post-Indian elections regional political milieu?
Shah Mahmood QURESHI: Pakistan played a very responsible role during the recent tensions with India and emerged as a diplomatic winner due to its coherent and sagacious position aimed towards resolving the conflict through peaceful dialogue. Pakistan condemned all acts of terrorism and categorically rejected baseless Indian allegations after Pulwama incident. I was in Germany to attend Munich Security Con-ference. I immediately condemned and condoled on the incident, where a local Kashmiri youth, who was tortured by the Indian occupation forces earlier, attacked Indian CPRF convoy. On 20 February 2019, Prime Minister Imran Khan in his televised statement offered cooperation to India in investigation of the incident and dialogue on the issue of terrorism. He emphasized the need for India to share actionable evidence, if any for us to act in our own interest.
I wrote letters to the Secretary General of the United Nations, President of the United Nations Security Council, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Foreign Minister of Japan, Minister of Foreign Affairs of UAE, Secretary General OIC, and Foreign Minister of KSA highlighting the rising tensions in the region due to Indian war mongering and urged the UN to play its role in de-escalating the situation.
On 26 February 2019, 8 Indian military aircrafts violated the Line of Control (LoC), and intruded into Pakistan violating our territorial integrity and sovereignty. The Indian act of aggression was in blatant violation of UN Charter and all international law and norms. On 27 February 2019, Pakistan Air Force targeted non military targets in Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, avoiding human loss and collateral damage. Two Indian military jets were shot down by Pakistan Air Force for violating Pakistani air space. One pilot was captured. The sole purpose was to demonstrate our right, will and capability for self-defence. We have no intention of escalation, but are fully prepared to do so if forced into that paradigm.
Indian fighter pilot was released unconditionally and again Prime Minister Imran Khan offered cooperation in investigation of the incident and resolution of all outstanding issues including the Jammu and Kashmir dispute through peaceful dialogue. These initiatives of Pakistan aimed towards de-escalation have been admired by the whole world.
However, India has continued its aggressive policy and war mongering. At the core of all this is the domestic politicking of Indian Government which is banking on inflaming sentiments of Indian people by maneuvering the Jammu and Kashmir dispute and anti-Pakistan rhetoric to win elections. Long before Pulwama attacks, it was already believed that Prime Minister Modi’s 2019 re-election campaign would centre on his harsh stance against Pakistan and he will emphasize security over dialogue to deflect attention of the Indian people from his failed promise of economic development.
At present the situation in the region remains tense due to Indian threats of attack on Pakistan. We do not want war but are ready to respond in case of any misad-venture by India. We want to resolve all outstanding issues with India including the Jammu and Kashmir dispute through peaceful dialogue. We expect that after the elections, Indian Government will adopt a positive trajectory to resolve outstanding issues between India and Pakistan since peace and development in the region cannot be held hostage to the Indian belligerence. Indian intransigence remains the sole obstacle to the resolution of the J&K dispute. Until that is overcome, peace will remain elusive in the region.
V.S.: The Regional and global strategic alignments are currently undergoing a reorder. Where does Pakistan find itself in these global realignments?
Shah Mahmood QURESHI: The global environment is reordering and posing multiple challenges and, offering equal, if not overriding opportunities. While the core national interests of any nation remain constant, the process of executing the goals and objectives of foreign policy change in an evolving atmosphere according to developments in the domestic, regional and global platforms.
Like any other state, Pakistan’s foreign policy is focused on promoting its national interest in the global community. It seeks to safeguard its security and territorial integrity, building peaceful relations with all countries, especially neighbours and pursue the path of economic prosperity on the basis of sovereignty and mutual respect. Our geo-strategic and geo-political position comes with unique opportunities and challenges.
Pakistan believes that common problems require a mutually acceptable solution, which can be attained only through dialogue. With this in mind despite belligerent threats and Indian propaganda against Pakistan, we continue to offer India to resolve all issues through peaceful dialogue. Prime Minister Mr. Imran Khan indicated his intentions of taking two steps if India takes one towards improving the relations in his inaugural speech.
Pakistan will safeguard its core interests of economic development, resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute with India, peace and stability in the region by carefully navigating through the competing interests of major world powers. The vision of the founding father, improved relations with neighbors in the region; deepened friendship with East Asian countries, enhanced cooperation with China; relationship with the United States based on mutual respect; stronger bonds with the Muslim world; upgrading ties with Russia and West Asia; protecting interests of our Diaspora and changing the country’s image, guide Pakistan’s endeavours in foreign policy.
With our all weather friend and iron brother China, our friendship remains strong, consistent and time-tested. Relations with China remain the pillar of Pakistan’s foreign policy. China – Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is harbinger of regional connectivity and economic prosperity. Pakistan’s relations with Russia are also warming up and embarking on a path of economic and defense cooperation. We are committed to leverage our pivotal location for the benefit of the people of Pakistan and the extended neighborhood.
Pakistan is concerned at the increasing military assistance provided by USA and other countries to India which may trigger an arms race in the region. We are committed to the concept of minimum credible deterrence. However, we would like international community to play its role in conflict resolution in the region instead of adopting a bipartisan approach.
V.S.: Pakistan – US relations have remained interestingly complicated since their inception. Where do Pakistan – US relations stand as of today? How do you think, both these countries can get out of this perceived state of saturated relationship?
Shah Mahmood QURESHI: Pakistan – US ties are historic and longstanding and have withstood the intermittent challenges. The priority of our government is to broaden and strengthen the contours of this relationship to make it multifaceted, sustainable and mutually beneficial. We strongly believe that only a relationship that is based on mutual respect and common interest can withstand the vicissitudes of rapidly transfor-ming and challenging regional and global developments. It is time for US and Pakistan to revisit bilateral ties with a long term vision, independent of linkages to other issues.
With US position moving towards seeking a political settlement to end the Afghan conflict, there is now convergence between our two countries as Pakistan has always supported to pursue negotiations instead of imposing a military solution. President Trump, in his letter to the Prime Minister, has sought Pakistan’s cooperation in achieving a negotiated settlement of the Afghan war. Pakistan has demonstrated and followed up on its commitment to provide full support to the US in Afghan reconciliation process. We will continue working closely with US and regional partners, in good faith, to achieving durable peace in Afghanistan.
V.S.: Pakistan and China enjoy strategic and deep-rooted partnership. With One Belt Road Initiative as well as China – Pakistan Economic Corridor, this relationship has assumed unprecedented significance for the region. Where does this relationship stand under the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan and how in your view is this relationship likely to contribute towards regional stability?
Shah Mahmood QURESHI: Pakistan and China are “All Weather Strategic Coo-perative Partners”. Both countries have wide-ranging engagements in political, economic and cultural spheres. Our bilateral ties are based on convergence of interests and are rooted in common experiences of past, cultural affinity and mutual trust and understanding.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has visited China twice in 2018 and 2019. Chinese Vice President recently visited Pakistan in May, 2019. These high level exchanges have injected a fresh impetus to our bilateral ties and reaffirmed our strong commitment to working together for our mutual benefit and for regional peace and stability. We endorse Chinese vision of regional connectivity and integration for shared prosperity and progress.
Pakistan and China believe that all outstanding challenges faced by our region and world at large can be resolved by dialogue and diplomacy and enhanced exchanges at all levels. Both Pakistan and China wish to resolve all issues by building bridges of cooperation and integration across the nations and civilizations and demolishing the artificial divides of narrow national interest and indifference.
V.S.: Could you kindly brief us about China – Pakistan Economic Corridor? How can Romania take advantage of this huge project?
Shah Mahmood QURESHI: CPEC is the flagship project of President Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative and occupies a pivotal position in the development agenda of our current government. It has helped us to develop a strong infrastructure for subsequent development of our Industry, Agriculture and Human Resource.
During the high level interactions between Pakistani and Chinese leadership, both sides have reached consensus that Phase-II of CPEC would focus on timely completion of on-going projects and expedite joint efforts for realization of its full potential for socio-economic development; job creation; livelihoods and accelerating cooperation in industrial development, industrial parks and agriculture.
I welcome Romanian investment in Special Economic Zones being developed under CPEC and assure that my government is committed to providing all support and enabling environment to the prospective investors.
V.S.: Could you kindly brief us on Pakistan’s relations with EU and Russia?
Shah Mahmood QURESHI: Pakistan values its relations with the European Union (EU) and all its member states. The EU is a traditional ally and Pakistan’s major trading and investment partner. Pakistan – EU relations are moving in positive direction in all spheres of cooperation, which are based on shared values of democracy, pluralism, mutual understanding and respect.
The two sides have strong institutional base of cooperation in the form of Pakistan – EU Strategic Dialogue, Political Dialogue and Joint Commission as well as framework of bilateral agreements and MoUs, including Pakistan and EU Cooperation Agreement and Readmission Agreement (EURA). Pakistan and the European Union also engage in Defence Staff Talks; Counter-Terrorism Dialogue; and Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Dialogue. Meetings of these dialogues are being held regularly. Parliaments of Pakistan and EU also interact actively with each other.
The two sides have finalized the Pakistan – EU Strategic Engagement Plan (SEP). SEP is a forward looking and comprehensive framework for Pakistan – EU cooperation in diverse areas of mutual interest, including peace and security, trade and investment, migration and mobility, sustainable development, democracy, governance and human rights and education and culture. It is a comprehensive document for long-term coo-peration. The document was signed during my recent visit to Brussels from 23-25 June 2019.
Pakistan and Russia enjoy close and cordial relations with cooperation in a number of fields including, political, economic, trade and investment, energy, agriculture, etc. Prime Minister Imran Khan recently held an informal meeting with the Russian President on the sidelines of SCO Council of Heads of State in Bishkek on 14 June 2019. We hope to further strengthen our relations with Russia.
V.S.: Pakistan’s western neighborhood constituting Afghanistan and Iran holds special significance for your country’s foreign policy. These relations have had their unique challenges as well. Where do Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan and Iran stand today?
Shah Mahmood QURESHI: After independence, Iran was the first country to recognize Pakistan. Both countries are founding members of Economic Cooperation Organization, the erstwhile Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD). The Government of Pakistan, according to the vision of the Prime Minister, is engaging and broadening cooperation with Iran in all areas.
Pakistan considers Iran an important country especially both in regional as well as international context. It is an important neighbor as Pakistan shares 909 km long border with Iran. Bilateral relations between Pakistan and Iran are friendly and cooperative. There is energy and desire on both sides to work together on all issues of mutual interest. Both the countries are tied in strong historic and cultural ties.
Pakistan wishes to maintain cooperative relations with Afghanistan. Pakistan has contributed to the development and reconstruction of Afghanistan and will continue this support post-settlement as well. Pakistan stands ready to help Afghanistan through trade, infrastructure and human resource development, security cooperation and regional connectivity. The Afghanistan – Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) provided Afghanistan and Pakistan a useful platform to address all issues of mutual interest and concern under an institutional framework.
The first review of APAPPS was held in Islamabad on June 10, 2019. The two sides reviewed the progress made on the decisions taken during the meetings of APAPPS held at the inaugural session and identified ways and means for future cooperation in political, economic, and military, intelligence and refugees domains. Pakistan believes that the positive momentum in the Afghanistan – Pakistan bilateral relations would continue to grow in future.
V.S.: What is your Government’s vision for the current economic and social challenges confronting Pakistan? Prime Minister’s Imran Khan’s Government has always emphasized the importance of social development. In this context, what are your Government’s plans for providing better health and educational opportunities?
Shah Mahmood QURESHI: Pakistan is now the fifth populous country as population of Pakistan was approximately 207.774 million in 2017 with an additional 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees. Prime Minister has taken a number of initiatives to provide better health and educational opportunities, these include: National Health Program, focus on reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health and nutrition. The government has initiated various nutrition programs in the country to halt stunting in children below 5 years of age and avoid any cognitive abilities. The Government also plans to strengthen health governance, leadership and accounta-bility for improved financial, human and administrative resource management towards transparency and efficient use of resources. Pricing and quality of drugs will be ensured by enforcement of drug regulations at all levels of manufacturing, testing and sale.
Government is committed towards core capacity building for global health obligations including SDGs, International Health Regulations, Global Health Security Agenda and other Health Sector Treaties and Commitments.
V.S.: We have been scanning through global media regarding Pakistan‘s immense touristic potential in recent days. Could you kindly brief us on this hidden potential of Pakistan and the steps that your Government is taking for promotion of this Industry?
Shah Mahmood QURESHI: Pakistan offers immense touristic opportunities for world tourists including from Romania. Our country’s beautiful landscape features remarkable diversity and beauty. We pride ourselves in: having some of the highest mountain ranges and largest non-polar glaciers in the world, rugged plateau, sprawling deserts and verdant plains, large rivers, lakes and the sea. The beauty of any touristic destination remains incomplete without the hospitality of the local people. People of Pakistan are famous for their hospitality like Romanians: I can assure you that Pakistanis who are well known for their generosity and hospitality worldwide will receive their Romanian brethren with open hearts as well.
Just to give you a glimpse of Pakistan’s touristic landmarks, I am sure that you would be excited to know that five of the world’s fourteen highest peaks including the famed K2 are found in Pakistan. We are also home to 108 peaks above 7,000 meters. The potential for mountaineering is therefore unprecedented for adventure tourists from around the world.
Our country’s well-preserved culture offers an unmatched opportunity for those interested in learning the ancient civilizations. Starting from the vastness of Baluchistan to the deserts in Sindh and all the way up to lush green pastures of the Punjab and mountains in the KPK, Pakistan has it all. Not only this but the remnants of our ancient civilization, that are visible across the whole country in the form of Mohenjo-Daro; Taxila and Makli are standing signposts to witness as well. If one wishes to stream through the muslim architecture, Badshahi Mosque and Rohtas Fort are startling examples. If you intend to meander through the British era or the phases of the historical evolution of modem of Pakistan, there are icons galore.
Our Government is also opening up Pakistan to all those interested in touring Pakistan. We have recently revised our visa policies for this purpose and our provincial Govern-ments are also focusing on further improving their touristic infrastructure for making it more convenient for our foreign guests planning to visit Pakistan for tourism purpose.
- S.: In the end, what would be your message for the people of Romania in general. and GeoPolitica’s readership in particular?
Shah Mahmood QURESHI: My message to Romanians across the world and your readership is that of friendship and affection on behalf of all the Pakistanis. Pakistan is a peace loving country that is still a hidden treasure trove for those intending to explore, be it for touristic or commercial purposes. I would like to invite Romanians to visit Pakistan and see for themselves, the immense potential that our young nation carries. I wish and pray for the long-lasting and durable friendship between Pakistan and Romania.
This interview was recorded on 19 June 2019