From Pakistan, a fruitful visit to Doha
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has wrapped up an official visit to Doha which was largely focused on economic cooperation. In Pakistan, Qatar is generally viewed as a prominent LNG exporter. However, it is likely to emerge soon as an important investor. There are about 200,000 Pakistanis gainfully employed in Qatar and some of them are impressive success stories in business. Bilateral trade has touched $2 billion annually. Qatar is building two berths at Karachi and Bin Qasim ports, to receive LNG cargoes. The fact that Pakistan has been asked to provide security personnel for the FIFA Cup, along with a few selected countries, indicates confidence in Pakistan’s security prowess.
While posted in the Gulf Region, I saw clearly the trust that GCC countries reposed in Pakistan. This was due to the fact that Pakistan has no political agenda there. All it has is goodwill based on historic trade links and common culture. After the oil boom of the 1970’s this region emerged as a strategic energy supplier for international economic activities. Consequent infrastructural development in GCC countries has been impressive and Pakistani workers have played their role in that monumental effort. It was a win-win situation for both sides as the GCC region emerged as a prominent source of foreign exchange remittances to Pakistan.
Pakistan has faced tight financial conditions in the past few years due to a variety of reasons. Its Gulf friends understand Pakistan’s financial challenges and tried to help with balance of payment support or energy supplies on deferred payments. Qatar has been one of those friends. The two countries entered into LNG supply agreements in 2016 and 2019. Supplies of gas to Pakistan under these deals continues. However, Pakistan’s energy needs have increased over time. And due to the current international situation, Qatari energy resources are in demand in Europe. Therefore, during the visit, the Pakistani Prime Minister focused more on Qatari investments rather than on new LNG deals.
It is peace and harmony within and the quest for a more secure larger region that led Qatar to play a vital role in the US exit from Afghanistan, through a dialogue with the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan appreciated that role and in fact, actively pleaded with the Taliban to join the talks in Doha in the initial stages.
During his visit, the Pakistani Prime Minister focused more on Qatari investments rather than on new LNG deals.
The synergy in the diplomatic field and imperatives of economic development on both sides have created common interests and mutual trust. Qatar has also announced its investing $3 billion in Pakistan. Though details are still sketchy, it is understood that $2 billion will be placed with the State Bank of Pakistan as balance of payment support while $1 billion will be invested.
The fields identified for Qatari investments in Pakistan are agriculture, the hospitality industry, renewable energy, aviation and information technology. Pakistan has the potential to produce a number of food items for Gulf states because of fertile land and abundance of water resources. Similarly, it has the capacity to raise livestock and produce cereals. The other promising field is that of tourism. Pakistan’s northern areas have some of the highest peaks, serene lakes and cool weather in summer. Moreover, Pakistan’s cultural environment is suitable for Arab family tourism.
Several LNG and LPG cargoes leave Qatar daily for westward and eastward directions. They pass through Pakistan’s territorial waters or its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Maritime security has, therefore, emerged as another vital area of mutual interest for the two countries. The Pakistan Navy has been an active participant in Bahrain based Combined Task Forces (CTF). This international force combats piracy, terrorism and drug smuggling on the high seas. Some weeks ago, Qatar’s Air Force Chief visited Pakistan to discuss regional peace and security with Pakistani officials.
Pak-Qatar co-operation is growing and that augurs well for regional security. Prime Minister Sharif asked Qatari investors to benefit from the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) where Pakistan will serve a route for the transportation of energy resources from its deep sea port of Gwadar to the Xinjiang province of China. Our Gulf friends could strengthen this trilateral co-operation through CPEC for the benefit of the three sides.
The Prime Minister’s visit has further cemented close bilateral relations with Qatar and given them a fresh economic dimension. It should now be ensured that decisions taken during this visit are followed through for mutual benefit.
- 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.