- Bilateral relations comprise three vital forms of interaction: Between leaders, institutions and people
- Trade between the UAE and Pakistan stood at $9 billion (Dh33 billion) in 2018
- Pakistan's embassy in Abu Dhabi is issuing 300-400 passports a day to its citizens in the UAE
For Ghulam Dastgir, Pakistan’s new Ambassador to the UAE, the fraternal ties between the two countries have evolved to a new level over the past year. “This bond of brotherhood has been transformed into economic partnership and economic development. On a number of projects, both countries are cooperating over multiple fields.”
In his first media interview following his appointment, Dastgir is keen to emphasis the number of meetings between Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, as a key factor behind their rapport. “Our prime minister made three visits to the UAE in just one year: In September and November of 2018, and then in February of 2019, when he came here to address the World Government Summit.” He also cites Shaikh Mohammad’s visit to Pakistan, where Khan personally drove him to a welcome ceremony at his official residence in Islamabad.
“When rapport is developed, you can discuss a number of things frankly. This interaction is now paying dividends as our relations go to the next stage.” Dastgir acknowledges the shared history of the two nations and the UAE’s importance to Pakistan. “My objective is to promote relations between the two countries, to further strengthen them and to have a strategic partnership, especially in the economic sphere.”
Politicians like to talk about relations and cooperation in different areas, but how is it actually carried out in practice? Dastgir lists three vital ingredients in the bilateral relations recipe: “Leadership interaction, institutional interaction and people-to-people contact”. He highlights the upcoming Joint Ministerial Commission, which will be co-chaired by both countries’ foreign ministers, as an example. “This is a forum that discusses all aspects of relations — investment, trade and political. The two foreign ministries are also interacting very closely because we are cooperating at the OIC, we are cooperating at the UN and are on the same page on major international issues — both sides have a convergence of interests and share opinions on major issues.”
In the scope of defence cooperation, Pakistan has sent a number of trainers to the UAE to offer military training to their counterparts over the years. Dastgir adds that his country’s naval, air force and army chiefs have all visited the UAE for high-level meetings.
Regarding the third item, people-to-people contact, Pakistan offers visa on arrival for Emiratis. “An e-visa system has also been introduced, while the process for obtaining a business visa has been further simplified,” adds Dastgir.
Trade between the UAE and Pakistan stood at $9 billion (Dh33 billion) in 2018, while trade in the first quarter of this year stood at $254 million. “I’m told that the second and third quarters are most important,” explains Dastgir. “These encompass the mango season — and a lot of mangoes are imported by the UAE — and rice. In the fourth quarter, new crops come up. I think the trade figures reflect that there is an upward trend. We will continue to work on this — our aim is to further enhance trade.
I think the trade figures reflect an upward trend. We will continue to work on this - our aim is to further enhance trade.
“Sometimes there are trade disputes between businessmen on smaller issues, and the embassy also helps to resolve these.
“Our commercial teams working in Dubai and Abu Dhabi have very positive interactions with the business people and chambers of commerce,” says Dastgir. “That is really helpful, because how is trade done? Through the private sector. Governments facilitate, and the private sector takes advantage of that. So the role of the embassy is to facilitate — for example, the assets declaration scheme announced by the government was immediately disseminated on our social channels.
“We do hope that with the number of measures being taken back home, this year we’ll have a higher number of exports.”
While Dastgir acknowledges that the UAE has a sizeable trade surplus with Pakistan — primarily based on oil — he notes that investors will ultimately look to place their capital into profitable venture. “When you have opportunities with a lot of potential and, yes, profitability, then geographical closeness is another aspect. In the UAE, you know that food and agricultural products are in high demand, because they import 80 per cent of food from outside. Pakistan does offer the agriculture field for investment. We have food processing — there’s a lot of potential there.”
More widely renowned is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is home to a number of special economic zones. “There are a lot of incentives the government of Pakistan will be giving for these economic zones, such as tax regimes and exemptions,” explains Dastgir, who singles out the deep sea port being developed at Gwadar as a particularly interesting opportunity, given its strategic location between the UAE and China.
A key role for both the embassy and consulate is looking out for the interests of the UAE’s 1.6- million-strong Pakistani community – the majority of whom are blue-collar workers. “Wherever these people are working, their employer should not exploit the terms and conditions agreed. Where there is a problem between employer and employee, our welfare wing interacts with both parties so the problem can be sorted out.
“They also need consular services: ID card issuance, renewal of passports, attestation documents – all of these are handled by the embassy. We have a dedicated NADRA [ID card] team processing their applications. I’ve met their officials who are here and instructed them that our primary objective is to facilitate as much as we can so that people should feel happy when they leave the embassy. This is an important responsibility for us – they should feel like they were treated well when they went to the embassy.
“Then there are passports. We are issuing an average 300-400 passports a day. The system works very well. The application can be done online here and the passport gets printed over there.
“My objective will also be to see if any further improvement can be done. I think a proposal is already under submission that we should expand the consulate hall so we can have bigger capacity and people can come and easily be accommodated.”
Ghulam Dastgir on Expo 2020
Can you tell us about Pakistan’s participation in Expo 2020 Dubai?
"The groundwork has been done. We are in touch with the Expo management. The design of our pavilion has been allocated. It’s a good-sized pavilion. The design has been submitted and approved by management. In Pakistan, the Ministry of Commerce and the Trade Development Authority are the focal institutions. The embassy is coordinating and working with them, so we are looking forward to having a good presence at Expo 2020. All preparatory work required is being carried out."
What do you hope will be the long-term legacy of the Expo?
"This Expo has a very unique theme. Usually, these highlight physical products. This is a different kind of exhibition — it’s more about digitalisation. For six months you can project and have your products seen through video. I think it’s a huge event. Major players from all over the world will visit. The Pakistani pavilion will project our potential and strength. Certainly, that will provide an opportunity to businesspeople from all over the world to interact with Pakistan, and I think that will open a number of opportunities for us."