Ambassador: Pakistani people will continue to be reliable and trustful friends of Azerbaijan (Interview)

Ambassador: Pakistani people will continue to be reliable and trustful friends of  Azerbaijan (Interview)

Baku, Azerbaijan, Oct. 16

By Gulgiz Muradova - Trend:

The Ambassador of Pakistan to Azerbaijan, Saeed Khan Mohmand, tells Trend about Islamabad-Baku cooperation, talks tourism development and business opportunities.

Mr. Ambassador what can you say about the current state of Pakistan-Azerbaijan relations?

You know, Pakistan was one of the first countries, rather the first country to recognize the independence of Azerbaijan. From that moment onward the relationships between the two countries have developed upward.

This year we have celebrated the silver jubilee of the Pakistan-Azerbaijan diplomatic relations. I think both countries have achieved tremendous progress in terms of political relations. There is tremendous goodwill at the leadership level. During the last 25 years, three presidents and three prime ministers of Pakistan visited Azerbaijan, which speaks of value where we place Azerbaijan in our foreign political affairs.

There is also tremendous goodwill at the level of people-to-people contact. Both countries have parliamentary friendship groups, which is also very helpful in building these relationships. As for official level, we have a big number of officials coming to Azerbaijan. This year we had a number of very high-level visits.

Moreover, both Presidents Heydar Aliyev and Ilham Aliyev had visited Pakistan. President Ilham Aliyev last time visited Pakistan to attend the 13th Summit of the Economic Cooperation Organization in February of 2017.

Of course, Azerbaijan has been a "secret" tourism spot, which is opening up to the world now. This year we have seen a large number of people coming from Pakistan. Around 20,000-25,000 Pakistanis have visited the country this year for tourism. I can say that every time in summer I went outside I saw a lot of Pakistani people. I had some friends visiting Azerbaijan. So a large number of people from Pakistan came here.

So we have a very good and strong foundation for building up on this relation. Apart from this, both countries are bound by religion, history and tradition. Azerbaijan is not new to us, it is the country, which we rate very highly. We have high regard for the leadership of this country similarly for the people of Azerbaijan. We feel here very warm and in high regard in Azerbaijan as well

Are there any plans to develop tourism?

Actually, since last year a lot of people come to Azerbaijan because of the situation in Turkey, Egypt and most of Arab countries, Middle East tourists come to the country this year.

Also, I think one of the most important aspects when you consider tourism between countries is connectivity. We have a large number of Pakistanis, who are living in Dubai, Middle East countries and because of connectivity and direct flights to Azerbaijan, these people are coming to your country. Pakistanis are using this connectivity, actually direct airlines, for coming to Azerbaijan.

As an ambassador of Pakistan, I’d, of course, like this connectivity to be between Pakistan and Azerbaijan. Until June last year, there were direct flights between Islamabad and Baku through Turkish Airlines, but unfortunately due to certain financial issues, or maybe the route was non-economical, it was closed down.

But I think time has come for direct connectivity, we need to establish a direct flight. There is a good connectivity between people and definitely we need to promote this. So connectivity is of utmost importance.

Azerbaijan and Pakistan successfully cooperate in military sphere. Could you please shed some light on the joint projects that are currently under implementation?

We have a strong military cooperation between the two countries and we have regular visits between the military leaderships of the countries. Recently Chief of Air Staff of the Pakistan Air Force Sohail Aman visited the country. We have cooperation with the Ministry of Emergency Situations and Interior Affairs Ministry as well.

Pakistan and Azerbaijan also cooperate in military training, Pakistani military comes here to hold training sessions. We have already established contact between the Ministry of Emergency Situations and the National Disaster Management. Its chairman Omar Mahmood Hayat was in Baku in July and held talks here. We expect another high level meeting again next month.

Should we expect any other visits any time soon?

We have an intergovernmental commission. The 6th meeting of the commission was held in Islamabad and we expect the next meeting to take place in Baku soon.

Azerbaijan and Pakistan have quite a big potential to increase their bilateral trade. What can be done to realize this potential?

Azerbaijan’s traditional partners have been Turkey, Russia, Iran and now the EU and China. And Pakistan is also trying to revive its trade with Azerbaijan and Central Asia as a whole. Of course, there is a tremendous potential and we do have a large number of agreements aimed to increase the commodity turnover. This summer our secretary of commerce was here for a two-day visit. He exchanged views on what we can export, taxation issue and connectivity, which are very important for trade.

In Baku we also mulled transport projects. Even during President Ilham Aliyev’s latest visit to Pakistan, the sides discussed linking the North-South Transport Corridor with the Port of Gwadar, and then with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, because this will allow access of Azerbaijani goods into China. The talks are ongoing on this issue and we have exchanged certain correspondence in this regard.

Pakistan exports a lot of goods to the Azerbaijani market, but the country can offer more. The export mainly includes rise, textile. As for textile, I think there is a tremendous potential to increase textile export due to growing tourism sector of Azerbaijan. With the rising tourism, the demand for cotton, fabric, towel and such kind of things will increase.

Textile is actually Pakistan’s biggest industry, export of which is around $19 billion. Azerbaijan can definitely use this opportunity.

Pakistan is also the leader in the manufacture of the sporting goods. Did you know that the FIFA World Cup balls were made by Pakistan? Pakistan is a sport loving nation and the country has a tremendous experience and potential in production of sporting goods. We have a city in Pakistan, which is well known all over the world for making sporting goods. Sports balls, including those for football, volleyball and basketball, come from the city of Sialkot in Pakistan, which is a global center for sport ball production. This is such a rich city that here every house is an industry. The Sialkot Chamber of Commerce also constructed an airport in the city.

The city is also well-known for production of surgical instruments and leather goods. So, I think there is a tremendous potential for exporting more to Azerbaijan, especially sporting goods and surgical instruments. Pakistan can also export machine spare parts.

Do Pakistani companies plan to enter Azerbaijan's pharmaceutical market?

Pakistani companies are eager to enter Azerbaijan's pharmaceutical market. Actually several pharmaceutical companies currently eye partnership with Azerbaijan. Pakistan's pharma industry is quite big and owns modern technologies and meets demand of the country population, whose number is over 207 million.

So I had some inquiries from Pakistan, and I invited the people to come and see opportunities of the Azerbaijani market. They plan to create a joint venture in the Pirallahi Industrial Zone, which offers tax reliefs. There is definitely opportunity for joint business here.

What steps does Pakistan plan to take to boost the trade turnover with the regional countries?

Iran is neighbor of Pakistan, and also is neighbor to Azerbaijan. We have deep historical, cultural, traditional ties with Iran. Because of sanctions on Iran, the trade between the two countries has gone down. Actually trade of all countries with Iran decreased due to the sanctions. And U.S. President Trump’s announcements on Iran may again affect the trade.

Central Asian countries, Iran and Georgia offer great potential for Pakistan’s trade as well. The only obstacle to this potential is Afghanistan due to security issues.

But all central Asian nations along with Pakistan and Azerbaijan are members of the Economic Cooperation Organization. All these countries are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization [Azerbaijan is granted dialogue partner status].

Also transport corridors link us. The North South Transport Corridor, as well as the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) provides wonderful opportunities for increasing the economic ties among the regional countries. Once we have the Qazvin-Rasht-Astara railway, a part of the North-South Transport Corridor, open, we will have a rail link right to Pakistan. Pakistan and Iran are already connected by railway. So once these railways completed, the trade and commerce will flourish.

How does Pakistan cooperate with the regional countries, including Iran and Turkmenistan, in terms of ensuring its energy security?

Pakistan is a big country and its population and demand is growing. The good thing is that Central Asian countries, South Caucasus, especially Azerbaijan, Caspian Sea are rich in hydrocarbon resources.

We also have Iran-Pakistan pipeline and Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India, TAPI, pipeline on agenda. Unfortunately, the gas pipe is being delayed for a long time due to security issues in Afghanistan.

We also have a Central Asia-South Asia (CASA) power project, which will link Pakistan with Central Asian states. And also we have the CPEC (China–Pakistan Economic Corridor) through which we can reach Central Asian states. The CPEC is also a flagship of the One Belt-One Road initiative of China. China has directed $3.2 trillion to realization of this project.

There is a political understanding between Pakistan and Azerbaijan. What can Baku and Islamabad play in ensuring the regional security?

Both countries are located in strategically important regions. Pakistan is located next to two nations, which are nuclear powers – China and India. Pakistan is itself a nuclear nation. The country’s location is also strategic as about 70 percent of the global oil supply pass through the nation. Pakistan is also close to the energy rich regions - Central Asia and Middle East.

Note that we have a problem of Kashmir with India. And on the other side we have got Afghanistan. Pakistan has got a stake for peace in Afghanistan. Our trade with Afghanistan is $2.5 billion, which is a large because Afghanistan depends a lot on Pakistan be it cement, steel, meat, oil, etc.

So we think that security in the entire region is prerequisite for development of this region and exploration of further potential.

As far as Azerbaijan is concerned, it has its own problem - Nagorno-Karabakh. That is similarity between Azerbaijan and Pakistan and we support each other in these issues. Azerbaijan is a member of the OIC Contact Group on Kashmir, and we always support Azerbaijan at the UN Security Council and other platforms . We do provide political, diplomatic and moral support to Azerbaijan.

Back in 2014, the Senate of Pakistan recognized the Khojaly genocide. This year the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs of Pakistan’s National Assembly has passed a resolution condemning the occupation of Azerbaijani territories by Armenia.

There are problems and we would like them to be eventually solved. I hope that one day Kasmir and Nagorno-Karabakh along the other occupied regions of Azerbaijan will join their Motherlands.

Mr. Ambassador, do you want to convey any message to the people of Azerbaijan?

My message is that the people of Azerbaijan are blessed with visionary leadership, which is very important, tremendous resources and beautiful country. I see very bright future for this country and its people. The country plays a very important role not only in the region but also globally.

Pakistanis who come here see Azerbaijan’s developments and security and are very happy for this. Pakistani people and me also as ambassador will continue to be reliable and trustful friends of the Azerbaijani people.

Follow the author on Twitter:@GulgizD

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