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Polish-Pakistan relations: A need for understanding

13th June 2011
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Pakistan's ambassador to Poland, H.E. Murad Ali, talks to WBJ about relations between the two countries and Pakistan's continued involvement in the war on terror

Pakistani Ambassador Murad Ali believes there is "tremendous potential" for economic cooperation between Pakistan and Poland
Courtesy of the Embassy of Pakistan

Ewa Boniecka: How do you see bilateral relations, both political and economic, between Pakistan and Poland?

Ambassador Murad Ali: Bilateral relations between our countries date back to World War II, when over 30,000 Polish refugees migrated to the port city of Karachi in British India. Most of them became part of Pakistani society and never came back. This relationship was further strengthened when Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, father of the nation, met Air Commodore Władysław Józef Marian Turowicz in England in 1948, and invited him and 30 other Polish air force officers to Pakistan to lay the foundations of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF). These Polish Air Force officers built PAF by training 21 young Pakistani pilots over a period of nine years. A memorial to acknowledge the services of Polish airmen in laying the foundations of PAF was erected at the Air Force Museum in Karachi in August 2006 .

The first Polish trade mission was established in Karachi between 1948 and 1949. Diplomatic relations were established in 1962 and ever since, efforts have been made by both sides to explore fresh avenues for cooperation. These efforts have borne fruit, especially since 1989 when Poland joined the family of democratic countries. Poland, as an active member of the European Union and as future president of the EU Council, is important for Pakistan. The two countries enjoy a good understanding on international issues and often cooperate with each other in the United Nations. In addition, the visit of former Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf to Poland in April 2007 was the first visit by a Pakistani head of state to Poland. This generated a lot of positive energy in relations between the two countries.

Bilateral trade between Pakistan and Poland has grown steadily since 2005. Pakistan’s exports to Poland grew faster compared to imports. In 2002, total bilateral trade was $40.03 million before reaching around $206 million in 2008. The worldwide recession led to a decrease in trade. But in 2010 total bilateral trade was $210.56 million, an increase of around 22 percent from the previous year.

On the cultural side, we are pursuing the establishment of institutional linkages between research institutes and think tanks from the two countries, such as the Polish Institute of International Affairs and the Islamabad Policy Research Institute or the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad. We are striving to set up an Urdu Chair in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at the University of Warsaw. So in this respect we are making efforts to expand our relations in a variety of fields.

Do you think that there is an image problem in both countries that affects further strengthening of relations?

Pakistan is often in the news due to its geo-strategic location and the prevailing situation in the area. Pakistan is playing a leading role in the global war against extremism and terrorism and has suffered huge loss of life and damage to property. We have sacrificed more than 30,000 civilians and 5,000 security personnel, more than any single country in the world.

Poland can understand this as it has also suffered human losses in Afghanistan. The situation has adversely affected the inflow of foreign investment. But our strong democratic credentials, independent judiciary and open media have given the nation invaluable support and strength to face and overcome these challenges. Pakistan’s society is modern, forward thinking and democratic, with a thriving economy and huge potential for growth. As a result there is tremendous potential for cooperation between my country and Poland, which can contribute to the stability of the world in general and our region in particular.

What is your strategy for promoting Pakistani products in Poland?

Western European countries like Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the UK are Pakistan’s traditional markets. We are encouraging Pakistani exporters to use Poland as a regional hub to build trade with the whole of Europe. The strategic location of Poland makes it an ideal place to be used as a regional base. Moreover, Poland offers excellent business opportunities and the cost of doing business in Poland is considerably less in comparison to other Western European countries.

Additionally, we are focusing on products for which Pakistan is famous throughout the world, such as textiles, surgical goods, fruits and vegetables, rice, sports goods, marble and granite and furniture. We are also encouraging Pakistani manufacturers and exporters to visit Poland to promote their products.

Similarly, we are encouraging Polish businesspeople to visit our country and meet Pakistani suppliers. From October 20-23, Expo Pakistan 2011 will be held in Karachi. We are offering full hospitality to the members of the Polish delegation, including air tickets, lodging and local transportation during their visit.

What are the main stumbling blocks for the promotion of bilateral trade?

There are many issues that affect our bilateral trade. Firstly there is no direct flight between Pakistan and Poland; similarly cargo coming from Pakistan to Poland normally comes through a third country, which inhibits Pakistani exporters from trading directly with Poland. In addition, businesspeople can find it difficult to get a Polish visa. The Polish Consulate in Karachi was closed down in 2008, causing difficulties for the businesspeople in Karachi, the commercial capital of Pakistan. The Polish government can further promote trade relations by re-opening the Consulate in Karachi.

What are the main initiatives taken by the Embassy of Pakistan for the promotion of bilateral trade relations?

Promotion of trade is a continuous process requiring constant appraisal. Pakistan produces the best hand-stitched soccer balls in the world and we supply them to Nike, Puma, Adidas and other renowned sports firms. We intend to collaborate with the Polish Football Association to support the Polish team during Euro 2012, by joining their sports promotion events. A delegation of leading football manufacturers is also expected to visit Poland this year.

At Gulfood Expo 2011 in Dubai we coordinated a meeting of Pakistani food exporters with Polish Agriculture Minister Marek Sawicki. The meeting was fruitful as both sides agreed to increase cooperation in matters related to food trade. I feel that we need to create opportunities like Gulfood for our businesses to interact and discover products that complement each other, which will have a positive impact on bilateral trade and investments.

I am happy to inform you that our efforts are bearing fruit. More than five trade delegations from Pakistan have visited Poland in the last few months.

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