The UAE Pakistan Assistance Programme has been a lifesaver for impoverished families. Image Credit: WAM

Islamabad: Relations between Pakistan and the UAE are strong, cordial and of key importance for many reasons, Pakistani officials and analysts have said.

They added that Islamabad’s ties with UAE and the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) cannot be compromised, and expressed hopes of seeing them grow further in the near future and becoming institutionalised.

“Relations [between the] UAE and Pakistan are very, very important for us, for various reasons,” Fawad Hussain Chaudhry, Pakistan’s information minister, said.

Iran is Pakistan’s neighbouring country, so is China. So you can’t change neighbours ... but the kind of relationships we have with UAE, and the GCC are irreplaceable.”

 - Fawad Hussain Chaudhry | Pakistan’s information minister

He recalled the different occasions during which the UAE’s founding president, the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan had visited Pakistan, adding that “[if] you go to the archives of my ministry, you would see the most exclusive photographs of Shaikh Zayed,” he said.

For Pakistanis, there is plenty of affection, respect and love for the ruling families of the UAE, and for “their generosities and openheartedness,” according to Chaudhry.

Alliance and remittances

A strong and strategic alliance exists between the two countries, with the Pakistani community in UAE, estimated at 1.6 million people, considered the biggest expatriate Pakistani community in the world, officials said. Their remittances from working in the UAE amount to $433.42 million (Dh1.59 billion) annually.

In addition, many in Pakistan’s private sector have invested in Dubai’s real estate sector. On the other hand, it is estimated that UAE investments in Pakistan stand at $3 billion (Dh11 billion), according to Pakistani officials.

Pakistan exports $869 million worth of goods to the UAE, and imports goods worth $7.5 billion in return. While Pakistan’s exports to UAE include mainly rice, textiles and leather, Pakistani analysts believe this does not signify the “true potential” of opportunities between the two countries.

Setback over Iran ties

However, bilateral relations between Pakistan and Gulf states have been impacted over the past few years as a result of growing ties between Islamabad and Iran, which many Arab countries have repeatedly accused of interfering in their affairs.

When Saudi Arabia led an Arab-alliance into Yemen more than three years ago to reinstate the internationally recognised and the legitimate government of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who had been ousted by Iran-supported Al Houthi militias, Pakistan did not join the alliance.

Non-interference policy

Analysts said the position was taken out of Islamabad’s policy of non-interference in the affairs of any other country.

However, the Pakistani leadership pledged to stand up for Saudi Arabia in the event it was attacked and its territories were threatened.

“Iran is Pakistan’s neighbouring country, so is China. So you can’t change neighbours,” said Chaudhry. “So we have to have good relations with them also, but the kind of relationships we have with UAE, and the GCC, those are irreplaceable. So obviously, [the] relationship has different dimension. With GCC, we have very important strategic relationships, those can’t be compromised,” he said.

Talks planned

To smooth out an issues of concern, discussions between Pakistan and GCC states are expected in the next few weeks.

Syed Hassan Raza, Additional Foreign Secretary on Middle Eastern affairs, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and Legal Affairs, told a group of UAE media representatives in his office at the Ministry of Foreign affairs last week that the GCC Secretariat had proposed holding dialogue between Pakistan and GCC states.

“So we are working on that because this discussion will cover regional issues, international issues [and] trade issues,” he said. “Pakistan is very keen to have free trade agreement [FTA] with [the] GCC [bloc]. The [FTA] has been under negotiation for couple of years, and we want to expedite that and finalise the agreement from both sides, so we should increase the interaction, economic interaction, with all the countries,” Raza said.