‘Cairo can play role as pivot for Pakistan’s Engage Africa policy’
Pakistani investors exploring opportunities in SCZone
Talks underway to establish Azhar Centre in leading university in Islamabad
akistani Ambassador in Cairo Sajid Bilal asserted the depth of political, economic and cultural co-operation between Egypt and Pakistan and highlighted his country’s willingness to further boost co-operation with Egypt in various fields.
In an exclusive interview with The Egyptian Gazette, Ambassador Bilal said that after the inauguration of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in 2018, a new chapter in relations between the two countries was opened when the Prime Minister met President Abdel Fattah El Sisi twice in 2019 on the margins of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation Summit in Makkah and the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
They spoke again in 2020 to discuss the Prime Minister Imran Khan’s “Global Initiative on Debt Relief” for developing countries. They also reviewed ways to strengthen bilateral relations, he added.
As part of the roadmap agreed between the two leaders, Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi visited Cairo on February 16-18, 2021. The foreign minister delivered an invitation from the President of Pakistan to President Sisi to visit Pakistan.
The two foreign ministers agreed to meet again in Islamabad soon, to co-chair the Joint Ministerial Commission (JMC) focused on trade and economic co-operation.
Meanwhile, political consultations at the Assistant Foreign Ministers level were held in Cairo on March 24, 2021, to carry forward the discussions held between the Foreign Ministers in February and to prepare for their next engagement in Islamabad.
The two countries have signed 40 memoranda of understanding and agreements and there are a number of agreements under-discussion, which would likely be signed during the visit of Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri to Islamabad.
“Pakistan and Egypt are important countries in their respective regions and share similarity of perception on many regional and global issues. The two countries closely collaborate their position in the United Nations and other international fora,” the ambassador told The Gazette.
Pakistan’s vision for the Middle East, as well as South Asia, is of peace and development. Prime Minister Imran Khan, while stressing that war is in no one’s interest, has made it clear that Pakistan would not be part of any conflict in the region, but will be a partner for peace and would continue to make efforts to diffuse tensions, prevent conflict and preserve peace.
Diplomatic relations between Egypt and Pakistan have been established for 73 years now. Egypt is the first country in the Middle East to open an embassy for Pakistan immediately after it gained independence. The first Pakistani ambassador to Egypt was appointed on June 30, 1948. Moreover, there is extensive co-operation between the two countries in many fields.
Speaking about economic co-operation between the two countries, Ambassador Bilal said that the current volume of bilateral trade hovers around $365 million.
“At present, Pakistani investors have made investments in Egypt mostly in the textile sector and in the free economic zones providing job opportinities for Egyptian citizens. Likewise, Egyptian companies are also looking at investments in Pakistan’s power distribution and infrastructure sectors,” the ambassador said.
He added that there is huge scope and potential for the two countries to expand and strengthen economic co-operation.
“We are looking at opportunities for two-way trade and investment. Other important platform to deepen our economic engagement include the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Pakistan’s “Engage Africa” policy.
“Our two seaports, Gwadar and Suez, are piers on the maritime Silk Route and could serve as corridors for trade and energy between continents,” the ambassador said.
He also highlighted that Africa is an emerging economic bloc with immense potential to contribute to global trade and economy, adding that Egypt can play a role as a pivot for Pakistan’s “Engage Africa” policy.
The Pakistani ambassador also lauded economic reforms taken by Egypt since 2016. “The Egyptian economy is on an upward trajectory since 2016 when IMF-led reforms were initiated. It has maintained this upward trajectory despite the Covid-19 shocks, being one of a few countries achieving a positive growth rate amid the pandemic,” he said.
Investments in Suez Canal
The Pakistani envoy said his country’s leadership is focused on achieving economic security, which is predicated on connectivity and providing economic bases as a development strategy.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a transformational initiative for Pakistan’s economy and Gwadar port is its flagship project.
“The embassy is working with the Egyptian authorities to establish connection between the Suez Canal Economic Zone (SCEZ) and Gwadar Port Authority to explore possibilities for co-operation,” ambassador Bilal said.
“We are also sharing information and data with Pakistani investors to study the possibilities of investment in the SCEZ and to use Egyptian infrastructure to produce here and export to Africa and Europe,” he added.
The Pakistani ambassador also said that terrorism is an international phenomenon that transcends national boundaries and must be condemned in all its forms and manifestations.
“Pakistan alone has suffered over 83,000 casualties and economic losses of more than $126 billion. With the collective efforts of our security forces and the civil society, Pakistan was able to reverse the tide of terrorism,” he added.
The envoy asserted that Pakistan stands ready to share its experience and capability in countering terrorism with other states, including Egypt.
Combatting extremist ideology
On countering extremist ideology, Ambassador Bilal said Pakistan values the contribution of Al-Azhar in promoting the message of peace, understanding and inter-faith harmony.
“The association of the people of Pakistan with Al-Azhar goes way back in history …. Many Pakistani students have graduated at Al-Azhar, serving as ambassadors of peace and co-operation. Some 120 Pakistani students are currently studying at Al-Azhar,” he said.
He also highlighted that Al-Azhar enjoys widespread respect among different religious denominations in Pakistan.
“The two countries are currently in discussion to establish an Al-Azhar Centre in one of our leading universities in Islamabad,” the ambassador announced.
The Pakistani ambassador also said that Egypt and Pakistan enjoy many similarities in culture, customs and cuisines.
“The two countries are also home to hundreds of millions of people who offer a sizable touristic market to each other. We hope to revive the exchange of cultural troupes and people-to-people contacts, as soon as Covid-19 related restrictions ease,” he said.
At the Embassy level, the ambassador said that they are offering a liberal visa policy for tourists and business people.
“Egyptians can apply for E-visa from the comforts of their home and get visa within a few days in their emails.
“We hope that Egypt adopts
a similar liberal tourist visa policy for Pakistanis to increase people-to-people exchanges,” the ambassador said.
He added that his country is also working to restore air connectivity between the two countries by resuming direct flights between Cairo and Karachi.
“The embassy is participating in two cultural programmes run by the Ministry of Culture under the title of “Ramadan Evening”, to showcase Pakistani dress, music and cuisine.
“Pakistani delegates and cultural troupe have been participating in events hosted by Egypt in the past, including the SAMAA festival,” he said.