WPK 220317 Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood 1-1647531261999
Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi meet in Islamabad on March 17, 2022. Image Credit: Pakistan Foreign Office

Islamabad: Pakistan and Austrian foreign ministers said that the two countries have agreed to strengthen bilateral ties, especially in the economic sphere.

Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg is currently on a visit to Pakistan (March 16-19) with a business delegation at the invitation of his Pakistan counterpart. Schallenberg’s visit to Islamabad is the first by an Austrian foreign minister in 15 years after March 2007.

Regional situation and Afghanistan

During the detailed talks held in Islamabad, the two foreign ministers focused on “huge economic potential” in bilateral relations as well as the regional and global security situation including the war in Ukraine and Afghanistan crisis. The Austrian foreign minister said that the dire humanitarian crisis should not be forgotten as the world’s attention is focused on the war in Europe. He thanked Pakistan for extending support in the evacuation of Austrian citizens from Afghanistan last year during a joint press conference with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Thursday.

Conflict in Europe

“We are facing a situation where Europe is at war again,” he said citing UNHCR that it may lead to “the biggest migration movement since the second world war.” Expressing fears that there could be 10 million refugees fleeing Ukraine, he said: “We don’t want other migration flows to add to this.” Pakistan and Austria have a common approach as “We want security and stability in Afghanistan” to create a situation so that people “see some sort of prospect within the country.”

The neighbouring region, as well as Islamic countries and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) forum, which is meeting in Islamabad next week, can play an important role in the return of normalcy and security in Afghanistan. “Pakistan and Austria stand side by side in the fight against international terrorism and extremism,” he said, expressing condolences to the families of the victims of the recent Peshawar mosque attack that killed 62 worshippers.

Boost economic ties

On Thursday evening, the Austrian foreign minister also held a meeting with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan “to explore ways to enhance bilateral relations, especially in the economic and educational sphere.” They also discussed regional and global security issues, especially the Russia-Ukraine situation.

The Austrian foreign minister is accompanied by a business delegation of 20 people who would also visit Lahore to discuss prospective business opportunities with the Pakistani business community. “We are looking for new markets” and Pakistan in South Asia offers new possibilities for collaboration in areas such as hydrogen power, tourism, green technology, infrastructure, the Austrian minister said.

Pakistani foreign minister said the talks were focused on the possibilities of trade and investment cooperation to expand bilateral ties. He invited Austrian companies to invest in Pakistan in the fields of renewable energy, technology, tourism, housing, agriculture, especially in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) special economic zones that offer attractive incentives and tax concessions. “Austria is a valued partner of Pakistan” and the current visit of Austrian foreign minister would further strengthen the multifaceted Pakistan-Austria relationship, Pakistan foreign office said.