By Muhammad Asif Noor
Prime Minister of Pakistan Muhammad Nawaz Sharif was in Azerbaijan on October 13-15, 2016 on an official state level visit to the country on the invitation of President Ilham Aliyev. He was accompanied with the highest level member delegation to the country. During the visit, the two state reiterated their political and economic resolve coupled with defense cooperation to enhance the partnership to the next level of congeniality of relations.
The visit is a reflection of Pakistan’s emerging new vision of enhancing and strengthening its connections and relations with the neighboring and regional countries. This visit was done in the backdrop that Pakistan is looking to revise and upgrade its relations with the neighboring countries in the wake of finding new grounds for cooperation to tackle the energy, economic and other domestic challenges.
During the visit, Prime Minister also met with the Prime Minister of Azerbaijan Mr. Artur Rasizade along with having bilateral talks with President Ilham Aliyev. During the talks, exchange of views on national, international issues and areas of mutual interest were given special attention. It is agreed that Pakistan and Azerbaijan will continue their cooperation in having joint military training and detailed cooperation in the military joint production options was also discussed. This will prove as another step towards the new dimension of relations. It was also agreed to transform the visa regime between the states and make it easier for enhanced connectivity between both states. During the visit, several important consents were achieved including working together in the areas of economy, investment, energy, defense, agriculture and connectivity.
Azerbaijan and Pakistan, the brotherly Muslim countries, have unique commonalities of historical, religious and political nature that are beyond the geographical distances and divisions. Pakistan recognized independence of Azerbaijan in 1991 (the second country after Turkey) and later the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1992. Pakistan was one of the first countries to open its embassy in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan. Ever since the first visit of the then President Farooq Ahmed Khan Lagari to Azerbaijani capital, Baku in 1995 and a reciprocal visit of Azerbaijan's late President Heydar Aliyev in April 1996 to Pakistan, lots of ground has been covered in terms of political and economic spheres. Both countries have supported each other in every international forum. Pakistan is the only country in the world that has not yet recognized Armenia as a sovereign state and till yet refuses to do so “until the liberation of Azerbaijan’s occupied territories”. In the gesture of reciprocity and as a brotherly Muslim country, Azerbaijan has still firm stance in regard to Kashmir conflict as once the founding father of Azerbaijan In Heydar Aliyev said, “Azerbaijan has always, and in all the necessary levels, defended, and is defending today, the just position of Pakistan on Kashmir issue. We strongly condemn and express our objections to the violation of human rights in Kashmir”. During the visit of Prime Minister of Pakistan, President Ilham Aliyev said that that the matter should be resolved through dialogue and peaceful means in accordance with the UN Security Council resolutions”. Both states have pleaded their case on International Forums and have supported each other at every podium be that UN or any other. Pakistan and the people of Pakistan can well understand and feel the pain of Azerbaijani people and sufferings of people of Nagorno-Karabakh as we are facing similar bloodshed in Kashmir since the time of our inception in 1947.
When Azerbaijan and Pakistan were elected as non-permanent members of UN SC for 2012-13, both supported each other’s position and candidacy at the forum and however, this was the first time for Azerbaijan while Pakistan has remained on several occasions as non-permanent member to UNSC. This created cooperation on several levels including Kashmir and Nagorno-Karabakh. Over the course of time, Pakistan and Azerbaijan have established firm ground for friendly and fraternal cooperation for years to come. Although the relationship are not passing yet to the economic litmus test since they are not up to the mark as yet but there exists huge potential between the two. The two countries also share common views on major regional and international issues and cooperate closely in the regional and multilateral forums, including the UN, the OIC and the ECO. As equally important development in the bilateral relations between the two states was the recognition of the massacre in the Azerbaijani town of Khojaly by the Armenians as genocide on February 1, 2012, by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations of Pakistan. With the political assessment to this tragedy Pakistan became one of the three nations that recognized this event as genocide.
The recent expansion in having an interest from both sides regarding improving economic and defense cooperation is a welcome development. Pakistan has a diversified economic base with huge market and attractive packages for the investors and importers. Recent improvement related to building capacity of the connectivity between the country and the rest of the regional market on the advent of China-Pakistan-Economic Corridor - an epitome of prosperity and regional connectivity, is something that Pakistan can be done. Both sides are eagerly looking towards opening up and encouraging the businessmen to partner with their counterparts in Baku. Although there is an issue of connectivity, fierce competition from regional and international economic players, but due to the love and affection coupled with will of the political leadership will create and build new avenues of collaboration.
Total trade turnover between Pakistan and Azerbaijan in 2011 stood at around US$3 million which is disproportionate with bilateral political ties. Governments of Azerbaijan and Pakistan are working on to explore new markets to boost exports and to create joint ventures between the counterparts from both sides.
The relations are not only reflected on several high level visits, as there are several joint groups including parliamentary friendship group, joint economic commission, joint inter-ministerial commission and other groups established to enhance partnership and create a base that lead to make the relations to level of people to people contacts. These groups meet on regular basis for the follow up of what can be done to improve the connectivity and activities for further enhanced partnerships. There are also several educational opportunities for students and faculty members that have begun recently when few of the young ones joined the faculties of ADA University and other Universities of Azerbaijan. However, there is less flow of students from the country to Pakistan which can be improved with joint working together. As the goodwill exists on both sides, more such people to people contact opportunities may be created.
It is phenomenal and important to note that First Lady of Azerbaijan, President of Heydar Aliyev Foundation; Goodwill Ambassador of UNESCO and ISESCO, Member of Parliament, Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva is one of those who with an influence is capable to capture the hearts and minds of people. The association of Heydar Aliyev Foundation with Pakistan started soon after the earthquake of 2005, when Mehriban Aliyeva took an initiative to construct a new modern school for girls in place of destroyed one in Muzaffarabad. The 500-pupil capacity school, located in a mountainous area, was built by 2007. The foundation regularly supplies the school with all necessary means as well as pays monthly stipends to 5 deserving students of the school. It is notable that after the complete reconstruction and renovation in 2012, the school was named after the First Lady of Azerbaijan. In 2012 and 2013, the First Lady of Azerbaijan initiated a series of healthcare, education and humanitarian projects in all provinces of Pakistan. Within the plan of action, the hepatitis B vaccination, check up and treatment were carried out in collaboration with Saif Foundation at Edhi Home, Akbar Care Institute for Cerebral Palsy in Peshawar and Women’s and Children Hospital in Lakki Marwat. In 2013 another donation was made to Saif Foundation which was used by latter in healthcare sector. It is remarkable that due to her activity in Pakistan Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva was conferred with Hilal-I-Pakistan Award by President of Pakistan during his historic visit to the country. This was given to the First Lady for her great philanthropic work in Pakistan.
There is enormous scope of cooperation between Pakistan and Azerbaijan especially after the visits of highest level to the countries and announcements of the cooperation, trade and development strategies of both states. But to make things happen, the need is to make all the bilateral agreements and institutional arrangements functional, if there are any. And if there are few agreements of cooperation between the two, then there should be taken initiatives from both sides to do so in order to get the fruit and benefits out of these warm and cordial relations. At present Azerbaijan and Pakistan have signed 32 documents so far, with another 13 documents are still pending. The current moves of enhancing trade and especially organizing defense production, cooperation and joint military exercises will be a booster for further cementing the ties. Most important thing is that there exists the political will to move beyond the informal cooperation and regular joint interaction not only in defense and economic cooperation but improve people to people contacts also.
Keeping in view the trajectory of relations between the two, it is wished that the bilateral relations will continue to flourish in days and months to come for mutually beneficial and stronger partnership.
The writer is Editor-In-Chief The Diplomatic Insight Magazine and President, Azerbaijan Pakistan Youth Forum.
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