HH Mohammad Bin Zayed with Imran Khan
His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nayhan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, discusses bilateral matters with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in Islamabad in January Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

For any ambassador, the promotion of political relations is the number one priority, explains Ghulam Dastgir. Having begun his tenure in August of last year, Dastgir says the next step is to build substance in the relationship via the promotion of trade and investment in a manner where both sides can benefit. “Since my arrival I’ve had close interaction with the leadership here,” he tells GN Focus.

Bilateral boost

Dastgir adds that high-level interactions make his job easier. In January, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, visited Islamabad for a day to meet Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and discuss ways in which to enhance the bilateral relationship. During his visit, Shaikh Mohammad asked the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development to allocate $200 million (Dh734.5 million) towards supporting SMEs in Pakistan. In the same month, Hamad Obaid Alzaabi, UAE Ambassador to Pakistan, announced that his country would be donating $200 million to Khan’s Kamyab Jawan programme for youth development. Additionally, the ambassador says the UAE has also supported polio eradication programmes in Pakistan to the tune of $100 million, which helped 20 million children. “These steps are very appreciated by the Pakistani people,” says Dastgir.

Ghulam Dastgir
Ghulam Dastgir, Pakistan's Ambassador to the UAE Image Credit: Supplied

“Likewise, under the UAE Pakistan Technical Assistance Programme, there are number of projects that have been completed in Pakistan under phases one and two, and I think around $356-million dollar projects over the past couple of years have been completed. These projects are in health, education and infrastructure.”

He points to a series of initiatives between the UAE and Pakistan’s foreign ministries as further evidence of strong relations.

Trade partners

On the economic front, there has been a substantial improvement in trade. While Pakistani exports to the UAE were Dh743 million from July 2018 to January 2019, the figure went up to Dh985 million year on year, according to figures provided by Dastgir’s office. “Our exports includes garments, food items - these can be processed and others, such as meat, cereals, agricultural products, fruits and vegetables. The services sector is also very important. I was surprised to see the figures for services. They are close to the trade in goods, and include financial and software-related products.”

Of the food sector, Dastgir says, “Meat is the number one item coming from Pakistan, specifically mutton and beef. Mangoes, oranges and Pakistani keenos are also popular due to the size of the expatriate community here – there are nearly 1.6 million Pakistanis in the UAE. Rice is popular too. At the recent Gulfood, there were around 100 Pakistani companies exhibiting, with some present through our trade development authority and some bigger names, such as Shan, exhibiting independently.

When someone enters the Pakistani pavilion at Expo 2020, they will go through a digital journey of the country.

- Ghulam Dastgir

“The food market is very good in the UAE because almost everything is imported.”

Another significant export from Pakistan to the UAE is products and services in the defence arena. “Pakistan has a potential of selling even the trainers aircraft, Mushshak. We also train UAE forces. I believe we have very good collaboration between the two sides we have we are helping their armed forces in different areas, maybe air force primarily and army as well.”

Tourism potential

One sector the Pakistan’s embassy in the UAE is keen to promote is tourism. “The Pakistani government has simplified the visa process for foreign nationals, while UAE nationals can apply for a free e-visa online. They can go online to complete and submit the application, so it's very quick.”

While the embassy is happy to assist groups visiting Pakistan, Dastgir says it isn’t necessary these days. “They go online and pick the companies and directly book but the embassy of course is providing them the systems.” One of the important prerequisites for tourism to Pakistan from the UAE is good air connections. “There are 200 flights operating between Pakistan and the UAE every week, so all major airlines, such as Etihad, Emirates, PIA, Flydubai and some private Pakistani airlines, such as Air Blue, are also operating from here.”

Expo journey

Like many of his counterparts, Dastgir is keen to highlight the importance of Expo 2020 Dubai to trade between the two countries. “Our pavilion is under construction and the work is progressing well. We have a pretty close interaction with expo authorities and we appreciate the cooperation we are receiving from the UAE and Expo authorities.

“When someone enters the Pakistani pavilion, they will go through a digital journey of the country. There will be culture, tourism, industry, trade, everything. For example, in fashion, our cultural projection when you have Pakistani garments and all this so that is also a huge market, not only here but globally.” Food is expected to play a big role too, he adds, with the presence of popular Pakistani eateries in the pavilion.