Mutual strength: The special relationship between Pakistan and UAE
Shaikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the President of the UAE is currently on a private visit of Pakistan. In an unusual gesture, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif travelled to South Punjab to himself receive the important guest. The two leaders subsequently discussed the regional situation and important international developments. In the bilateral context, they exchanged views about economic co-operation, trade and development. This was their second meeting in a couple of weeks. During the earlier meeting in Abu Dhabi, UAE had agreed to roll over its given deposits to Pakistan and to supplement them with fresh assistance.
Pakistan was the first country to recognize the UAE after its independence in 1971. The UAE national carrier Emirates selected Karachi as its first destination when it became operational with technical support of PIA. The royal family members have visited Pakistan regularly for vacations in open areas that are abundant in South Punjab. Parallel to that, official visits have regularly been exchanged as both nations are located in the same region and there are shared concerns and interests. The UAE has been a prominent investor in the health, telecommunications and banking sectors of Pakistan. Over a million and a half Pakistanis are gainfully employed in the UAE and are the second most important source of foreign exchange remittances to their country.
Frequent meetings between PM Sharif and Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed should be viewed in that context. This friendship not only translates into mutual strength, but also promotes regional peace.
UAE is Pakistan’s third largest trading partner after China and the United States. In 2021, the trade volume was US $5.36 billion which represented a 23% increase over the previous year. Pakistan, realizing the importance of UAE as a trade hub, set up a large pavilion in the recent Dubai Expo. The short distance between the two countries limits transportation costs and facilitates commercial exchanges. Currently Pakistani exports to the UAE are mainly confined to textiles and various food items. There is a dire need to diversify traded items. Dubai Expo area has been converted into a free zone and this opportunity must be availed by Pakistani investors, for manufacturing and exports.
The UAE was one of the leading contributors to the massive reconstruction and rehabilitation effort in the northern areas of Pakistan in the wake of a disastrous earthquake in 2005. An important bridge in Swat has been named after Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Much earlier, an important public hospital in Lahore, donated by the UAE government, was also named after the founding father of the Emirates. Not long ago, the two countries celebrated the golden jubilee of their diplomatic relations. From the beginning in 1971, this has been a special relationship. The will and determination on both sides to take ties to new heights, has been palpable all along.
Defence co-operation has been the linchpin of this relationship and it began in 1968, even before the UAE was established. Initially, the chiefs of the UAE Air Force were Pakistani pilots. The Pakistan Army also imparted training to the special forces’ units in the Emirates. This reflected the depth and extent of mutual trust and confidence between the two brotherly countries. A formal bilateral agreement, signed in the mid- 1970’s, provided the basis for future collaboration in the defence field.
While this special relationship has had a glorious past and a fruitful present, it also holds lots of future promise. That promise is based on the bright prospects of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to open new vistas for north-south connectivity and boost regional trade. Pakistan will become conduit to the transfer of energy resources from the GCC countries, including the UAE, to the Western Chinese province of Xinjiang that is developing at a fast pace and its industries would require abundant and uninterrupted power supplies.
This reflects that the interests of the two countries overlap and hold great promise for future collaboration. The UAE’s quest for improved infrastructure, a better quality of life for its nationals and a Gulf region that is peaceful, continues. These objectives can be achieved through continued vigilance and a regular review of the pertaining situation with neighbouring countries. Frequent meetings between PM Sharif and Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed, the President of the UAE should be viewed in that context. This friendship not only translates into mutual strength but also promotes regional peace.
- 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. Twitter: @JavedHafiz8