INTERVIEW: New prospects for Egypt-Pakistan cooperation

Tarek El-Sanoty, Thursday 18 Feb 2021

In an interview with Al-Ahram, Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi spoke about his country’s ties with Egypt, combating terrorism, the MENA region, and the Kashmir crisis

Pakistan FM
Al-Ahram: Egypt-Pakistan relations are deeply rooted. What is your evaluation of the bilateral political ties?
FM Shah Mahmood Qureshi: Relations between Pakistan and Egypt are based on bonds of common faith and culture and similarity of perception on many regional and global issues. The foundation of our relations was laid by the father of our nation, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah who visited Egypt in 1946, even before the independence of Pakistan.

Over the past 70 years, our relations have grown steadily, with institutional mechanisms set up gradually to foster cooperation in all fields.

A new chapter was opened after the inauguration of Prime Minister Imran Khan in 2018 and his meeting with President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi twice in 2019, i.e. on the margins of the OIC summit in Makkah, and the 74th session of the UN General Assembly in New York.

They spoke again in 2020 to cooperate on Prime Minister Imran Khan’s “Global Initiative on Debt Relief” for developing countries.

Our leaders also agreed on a roadmap for revival of traditional warmth in our fraternal relations.

I have also had the pleasure of meeting my Egyptian counterpart, His Excellency, Mr. Sameh Shoukry a number of times. My current visit to Cairo is aimed at preparing grounds for augmenting our bilateral relations.

Al-Ahram: The volume of economic and trade relations between Cairo and Islamabad falls short to the size of bilateral political relations. Why? And what is your vision to support economic cooperation?

FM Qureshi: Pakistan and Egypt have dynamic economies with robust rates of growth. Our emerging markets are poised to play a pivotal role in promoting global trade and economic cooperation.

Both countries are strategically located at the crossroads of continents where they serve as corridors for trade and energy. While Egypt is a pier on the maritime Silk Route, we have also established a deep sea port at Gwadar, which is ready to contribute positively to regional trade.

There is enormous potential for our two countries to collaborate under the umbrella of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Pakistan attaches great importance to developing trade and economic cooperation with Africa -- an emerging economic bloc with immense potential to contribute to global trade and economy.

We look forward to establishing collaborative mechanisms to promote trade and economic cooperation with Egypt. It is a pivot for Pakistan’s “Engage Africa” policy.

Al-Ahram: How do you see Egypt and President El-Sisi’s role in achieving security and stability in MENA?

FM Qureshi: President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi is an astute and accomplished statesman who continues to play an important role in promoting peace, security, and prosperity in the region.

This has been manifested in his chairmanship of the African Union in 2019 and hosting of the first Arab-EU summit in Sharm El-Sheikh in 2019. His initiative to organise an annual World Youth Forum was also commendable. Egypt’s deft handling of the COVID-19 crisis also won him laurels.

Unfortunately, the Middle East region is experiencing turmoil and instability. These challenges have overshadowed regional efforts to help the disenfranchised people of Palestine get their right to self-determination.

We hope that Egypt, under the dynamic leadership of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, will continue to contribute to promoting peace, stability, and cooperation in the region.

Al-Ahram: What do you think about developments in Egypt politically, economically, and on the security level?

FM Qureshi: Egypt is a vibrant nation. As one of the most ancient civilisations of the world, the country is blessed with strong traditions and institutions, which have helped it overcome internal and external challenges.

We are pleased to see political and economic progress achieved by Egypt over the past few years. I am confident that the Egyptian people would attain new milestones in their march on the road to peace, stability, security, and prosperity. We wish well for the country, and I am here with a message of friendship. Our governments and peoples can be partners in peace and development.

Al-Ahram: What is Pakistan’s vision for the situation in the Middle East?

FM Qureshi: The Middle East region faces turmoil primarily because of the denial of the right to self-determination to the people of Palestine. What is worrying is that the world powers, rather than resolving this fundamental dispute, are grappling with its political and security effects on the region.

This is very similar to the situation in South Asia, where the people of occupied Jammu and Kashmir regions are persistently denied their UN guaranteed right to self-determination for seven decades.

Pakistan’s vision for the Middle East, as well as South Asia, is of peace and development. It is rooted in a firm belief that disputes and conflicts must be resolved through dialogue, diplomacy, and within the ambit of International law, in particular the relevant Security Council resolutions. Prime Minister Imran Khan has stressed that war is in no one’s interest. He also made it clear that Pakistan would not be part of any conflict in the region but will be a partner for peace. We will continue to make efforts for peace on the basis of these principles.

Al-Ahram: Kashmir is one of Pakistan's key and thorny issues. In your opinion, what is the future of relations between Pakistan and India in view of the Kashmir crisis?

FM Qureshi: As I have mentioned earlier, the non-resolution of long-standing disputes, in particular the dispute of India’s illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir lies at the core of Pakistan-India relations.

The Kashmir dispute needs to be resolved in accordance with the UN Security Council resolutions and wishes of the Kashmiri people.

However, instead of granting Kashmiris their legitimate rights, India has resorted to illegal and unilateral actions. Particularly, in the past two years, there have been unprecedented human rights violations and attempts to change the demographic structure of the occupied territory.

Pakistan seeks peaceful and good relations with all its neighbours. Prime Minister Imran Khan has made special gestures for peace and prosperity in the region. Unfortunately, India continues to vitiate the environment. The onus is on them to create an enabling environment for a meaningful engagement.

We believe that the international community should play its role in facilitating resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute for durable peace and stability in South Asia.

Al-Ahram: How do you evaluate the UN and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation's (OIC) roles in the Kashmir issue?

FM Qureshi: Jammu and Kashmir is an internationally recognised dispute, and its final disposition must be in accordance with relevant UN Security Council resolutions and aspirations of the Kashmiri people.

The issue has triggered major wars. We believe that the only way to attain peace, security, and prosperity in the region is to resolve disputes peacefully.

The people of occupied Jammu and Kashmir have endured deprivation and denial of rights for over seven decades. Their suffering has been magnified by the imposition of draconian laws coupled with further denial of rights and information blackout, which have been documented and acknowledged by the UN Human Rights Commission and other human rights bodies.

The OIC in its 47th Session of the Council of Foreign Ministers in November 2020 called for resolution of the Kashmir dispute in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the United Nations Security Council.

We believe the wider international community must play its rightful role to urge India to abide by the relevant UN resolutions, and stop its egregious and continued violations of the fundamental human rights and International Humanitarian Law.

Al-Ahram: Pakistan has suffered from terrorism for many years. What is your vision to fight terrorism locally and globally?

FM Qureshi: Terrorism is an international phenomenon that transcends national boundaries and must be condemned in all its forms and manifestations. As a transnational threat, countering terrorism requires strong cooperation among states.

Terrorists usually operate locally but possess means to fund and recruit internationally for their organisations. It is important that countries closely cooperate and share information on terrorist networks to defeat this menace.

While countering terrorism, we must also remain cognizant that the phenomenon is not associated with any particular faith or region.

Pakistan has suffered over 83,000 casualties and economic losses of more than $126 billion.

However, I am happy to say that collective efforts of our security forces and the civil society have helped reverse the tide of terrorism. Having eliminated the terrorist hideouts in the remote areas, we are now in the process of reconstruction and rehabilitation.

Pakistan stands ready to share its experience and capability in countering terrorism with other states.

Al-Ahram: How can Egypt and Pakistan cooperate against terrorism?

FM Qureshi: Egypt and Pakistan have been victims of the scourge of terrorism and share the perception and concerns about the nature and causes of the menace. People as well as security forces of our two countries have made colossal sacrifices. Having achieved success at home, the security agencies of our two countries can work together to find collective solutions to this global menace. Pakistan wishes to further strengthen its counter-terrorism cooperation with Egypt.

Al-Ahram: What is the OIC's role in fighting terrorism and protecting Islamic minorities in different countries?

FM Qureshi: The OIC is an important platform for Muslim countries to exchange views on issues of mutual interest including terrorism. With regard to protection of Islamic minorities, the OIC member countries have always extended support both politically and diplomatically to Muslim minorities, in particular in India.

The OIC's Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC) has an important role to play in this regard. It has worked admirably thus far, presenting facts and reports on areas where the rights of Muslim minorities have been violated.

The OIC also has an important role of championing the common causes of Muslim Ummah.

Muslim communities around the world look up to the organisation to amplify their voice and concerns. I must appreciate that the OIC, in its latest session of the Council of Foreign Ministers in November 2020 in Niger, unanimously adopted Pakistan-sponsored resolution on countering Islamophobia. Pakistan-sponsored resolution on countering Islamophobia was adopted unanimously.

Al-Ahram: Pakistan is one of Asia's important and strategic countries, yet it hasn’t been able to overcome difficult economic conditions. What is your plan to support the Pakistani economy?

FM Qureshi: The current government of Pakistan has shifted the focus from geo-politics to geo-economics. Our leadership’s vision is centered around economic security, which is predicated on connectivity, providing economic bases as a development strategy and ensuring peace within our borders and beyond.

Under this vision, Pakistan’s economic indicators continue to improve as a result of a number of tough reforms undertaken by the current government. The steps taken have not only brought economic stability, it has put our economy on a path of sustainable growth. The IMF has acknowledged Pakistan’s economic reform program, which has remained on track and has started to bear fruit. On the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report, Pakistan climbed 28 places in 2020.

The international rating agency, Moody’s, has also upgraded Pakistan’s rating. After stabilisation, our economy is well poised for growth in the coming years.

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a transformational project for Pakistan’s economy. Over the past seven years, CPEC projects have created around 77,000 jobs in the power and infrastructure domain respectively.

Aimed at promoting regional connectivity, shared prosperity and people to people linkages, CPEC is open to third country participation. I would invite Egyptian investors to explore and reap the incentives being offered in the Special Economic Zones under CPEC.

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