Recrafting of Pakistan’s peacekeeping foreign policy emphasised

Islamabad : Pakistan has missed out big time by not capitalising on its peacekeeping missions to African countries and its diplomatic support for the right of self-determination of many in 1960s and 70s. The need is now to revitalise that social, political and diplomatic footprints in the region, while creating new economic opportunities for sustaining mutually beneficial ties.

This was the crux of the thoughts shared by panellists during a roundtable organised by Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) here on ‘Connecting with Africa: Prospects and Opportunities for Pakistan’.

The event was chaired by IPS Executive President Khalid Rahman, who asked policymakers in Pakistan to focus on Africa in a constant and coherent way by facilitating and strengthening social and mental connectivity between the two regions.

Former ambassador Tajammul Altaf said the continent of Africa had so much to offer but there were a lot of gaps in Pakistan’s foreign policy to benefit from that potential. He said the region had a collective GDP of more than $3.4 trillion and had an import market of approximately $4500 billion.

“The entire continent is abundant in natural resources including oil, making it a storehouse of strategic raw material, and that is why the world powers are trying hard to create their space in the continent.”

He, however, said though Pakistan supported many African countries in their freedom struggle in 1960s and 70s and despite having solid relations with them following that, the bilateral ties gradually weakened.

“We [Pakistan] once had 27 embassies in Africa but now there are only 15 missions due to economic constraints. Also, only 12 African countries have embassies in Pakistan,” he regretted.

Associate dean at the Centre for International Peace and Stability, National University of Science and Technology, Dr Bakare Najimdeen shed light on different geo-political, geo-strategic and cultural dimensions to approach this issue while maintaining that there was a lot in between Pakistan and African countries to collaborate on. “There could be $3-4.6 billion of trade between the two regions. African Free Trade Agreement is also a big opportunity for Pakistan. Gwadar, too, could benefit considerably from the trade of oil from the countries like Nigeria, Mozambique and Angola whereas the pharmaceutical and engineering industries are some of the other areas to look upon.”

He said Pakistan needed to diversify its strategy by availing higher education opportunities on offer in many African countries and try to contribute to the social development of the continent in the process.

Senior researcher at the East West Institute, UK, Dr Tughral Yamin said Pakistan had deployed over 5,000 troops in Africa to date which go there, build good relations, build hospitals, parks, schools, etc., but come back without capitalizing on these contributions.

“Pakistan needs to recraft its peacekeeping foreign policy and try to make best use of these opportunities before these missions die out. Similarly, Pakistanis live in African countries and we need to tap on the potential of their regional knowledge,” he said.

Head of the department at NUST CIPS Dr Bashir Bahar pointed out that Pakistan was a second home to many African students, who come to the country in big numbers every year to pursue their higher education and then go on to serve in their home countries on important positions.

“This important pool however instead of being engaged after that, gets disconnected and the huge potential of this sustainable resource is sadly lost. Pakistan needs to capitalize on this resource pool and come up with a comprehensive strategy like China to turn it into an asset,” he said.

Associate professor at the National University of Modern Languages Farzana Yaqoob said there was a need for looking at Africa from a perspective of bilateral relations and not that of a colonial mindset.

She said people-to-people contacts, business-to-business connectivity, collaborative research endeavors and effective diplomatic engagements could help improve relations. Senior associate at IPS Dr Najam Abbas said the two regions had quite a few similarities like both of them were rich in crude production but lacked sorely in value addition. He said the transfer of health education, medical knowledge, training and capacity building activities were the other areas, where Pakistan can contribute significantly to the African continent’s socio-economic development.

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