Pak-Egypt relations enter new phase
Both Egypt and Pakistan are important Muslim countries located in strategically vital regions. Both are developing nations that play significant roles in their regions. Both are beset with similar challenges like over-population, food security and militancy. While Egypt produces the finest cotton, Pakistan is an important cotton producer confronting declining yields. Both countries are home to some of the biggest rivers but are beset with the issue of water scarcity. The two nations are heirs to two old civilizations in the Nile delta and Indus valley. As the seat of the Arab League, Egypt has traditionally been regarded as an important Arab nation.
Bilateral relations have seen their vicissitudes. The cold war era was a period of geopolitics and defence alliances. Till the early 1970’s the two countries followed very different foreign policy trajectories. While Egypt was a leading light of the non-aligned movement, Pakistan was a member of two important west sponsored defence pacts. In the post- cold war era many equations have changed. The style and substance of international relations have undergone qualitative changes. A multipolar world is emerging. Conventional wars are being replaced by a hybrid version. Geo-economics receives more traction today than geo-politics.
Pakistan’s trade with Africa is yet to attain its full potential. Pakistan has recently launched the Look Africa Policy Initiative. Following this initiative, Pakistan organized a large trade development conference in Nairobi last year. Important African countries were invited and the results were encouraging. Egypt being a leading African nation is important for Pakistan in the context of the Muslim Ummah, trade potential and investment opportunities. Some years ago, an Egyptian business house had invested in the telecommunications sector of Pakistan. Such investments can be repeated from both sides. An Egyptian company, Elsewedy, has expressed its keen desire to invest in the energy sector in Pakistan.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi of Pakistan has just finished his official visit to Egypt. He went to Cairo at the invitation of his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Hassan Shoukry. During the visit, he called on President Abdul Fattah Al Sisi and apprised him about the current situation in South Asia with particular reference to Kashmir. He also held a meeting with important Egyptian businessmen and invited them to tap into the multifarious investment opportunities available in Pakistan. Since Egypt is the gateway to Africa, a boost in Pak-Egypt economic interactions will positively impact other African countries as well.
Since Egypt is the gateway to Africa, a boost in Pak-Egypt economic interactions will positively impact other African countries as well.
Earlier on the Egyptian economy-- following the socialist model-- had a huge public sector which inhibited its trade with Pakistan. Since the liberalization of its economy, the Egyptian market offers better prospects. But both countries have a flourishing textile industry and are therefore competitors as well. This is why Pakistan is keenly looking at other African markets as well.
The two countries have large professional armed forces. They can fruitfully cooperate in areas of defence production as was indicated during the Egyptian Defence Minster General Mohammad Ahmad Zaki’s visit to Pakistan last year. Pakistani security forces have successfully fought a war against terror. They are now tackling the residual threat in some areas. Terrorist groups in Sinai have been targeting Egyptian defence forces and tourist sites. Both countries can fruitfully cooperate to enhance their counter-terrorism capabilities as this scourge not only threatens economic activity and development but also inhibits tourism which is very important for Egypt. In fact, Pakistan can learn a lot from Egypt while trying to develop its own tourism sector.
Pakistan will host the 48th session of OIC member states at the foreign minister level this year. Both Egypt and Pakistan are founding members of this second largest international organization after the United Nations. This ministerial meeting will be immensely important as the foreign ministers of all Muslim countries will be in Islamabad to discuss the fast evolving regional scenario as well as the international situation. Foreign Minister Qureshi availed the opportunity of discussing OIC related matters during his visit to Egypt, which he described as an “important member of the Muslim Ummah.”
However, enhanced trade and economic interaction was the overarching aim of his visit. Before leaving for Cairo, Foreign Minister Qureshi said: “We want to re-engage with Egypt in order to enhance our economic diplomacy.” Pakistan’s current annual trade volume of about $4 billion with Africa leaves much to be desired. Egypt can help Pakistan enter North African markets for the promotion of items where the two countries do not compete.
A new warmth and desire to expand the scope of bilateral relations is now clearly visible. Foreign Minister Qureshi invited President Al Sisi to visit Pakistan and the invitation was accepted. This successful visit augers well for regional peace and will open new vistas of bilateral cooperation.
– Javed Hafeez is a former Pakistani diplomat with much experience of the Middle East. He writes weekly columns in Pakistani and Gulf newspapers and appears regularly on satellite TV channels as a defense and political analyst.