Q: Thank you for your consent to share with us your thoughts and insight on various issues on Pakistan-Australia bilateral relations. First of all let our readers know about your previous postings and brief profile.
Ans: It is my pleasure to share many aspects of Pakistan-Australia relations with your readers. I have been a career diplomat and remained as Assistant Secretary Africa Branch till June 2011 and prior to this I was Assistant Secretary, Consular Operations Branch. I remained as an Ambassador of Australia to East Timor, Brazil and also accredited to Colombia and Venezuela; Deputy Permanent Representative, Australian Permanent Mission to the United Nations, Geneva and Deputy Head of Mission, Australian Embassy, Argentina. It’s been a whole year now that I am here in Pakistan and it was a wonderful experience so far. Pakistan is an interesting country to be and during my stay I have witnessed democratic transition through elections of 2013. There is a bit security concern here in Pakistan but that does not keep us away from working in close cooperation with each other.
Q: How would you define relationship between Pakistan and Australia?
Ans: Our relationships are friendly and cooperative and are based on mutual assistance in all spheres including political, strategic, economic development. Our engagement here in Pakistan is more about focusing on building trust and connections through various development initiatives. Australia established diplomatic relations with Pakistan soon after the partition of British India (into India and Pakistan) in 1947 and has had a resident mission in Pakistan since 1948. Australia and Pakistan are both members of the Commonwealth. We share many commonalities including major passion for sports and arts. Australia supports Pakistan at every forum and fully acknowledges the role that Pakistan has played in war against terror. We have strong people-to-people links based on large number of Pakistani diaspora living in Australia. It can be estimated that around 34, 000 Pakistanis are currently present in Australia. Almost 7,000 Pakistani students are currently studying in Australia, which has become one of the largest markets for Pakistani students outside the United States and the United Kingdom. In addition, Pakistan received 110 Australian scholarships in 2011 and has been offered 143 in 2012. The scholarships promote knowledge, education links and enduring ties between Australia and Pakistan.
Our trade relationship is divergent and currently we have a trade with Pakistan is over $800 million which underlines the need for more interaction. Australian exports to Pakistan consist primarily of food products, cotton and coal. Australia imports mainly textile products from Pakistan (for example, 19 per cent of bed linen imported into Australia comes from Pakistan). Pakistan’s imports from Australia stood at $651 million a year whereas exports are at $200 million. Our geographical focus within Pakistan is mainly Balochistan and KPK. Around 18 million dollars have been spent in development cooperation in these areas.
Q: We would like you to reflect on Australia-Pakistan Development partnership?
Ans: The Australia–Pakistan Development Partnership is focused on a stable, secure, democratic country, through broad-based social and economic development and poverty reduction, in line with the MDGs. The program is based on four pillars: enhancing basic service delivery in health and education; increasing agricultural productivity and improving rural livelihoods; strengthening democratic governance; and supporting vulnerable populations through humanitarian assistance. Pakistan is a strategically important country, where the development challenges are considerable.
As part of the Government of Australia’s ongoing commitment to the human resource development of Pakistan, the Australia is assisting Pakistan in the development of its human resources through the commitment of 500 new scholarships for study in Australia over the next 5 years. Following the devastating earthquake of 8 October, 2006, Australia provided immediate emergency assistance, including the deployment of an Australian Defence Force Medical Team to the most seriously affected areas. Australia’s total humanitarian contribution for earthquake relief and reconstruction now stands at approximately $74 million. Through AusAID, the Australian Government is also supporting a 4-year, $6.6 million, Agriculture Sector Linkages Program (ASLP) with Pakistan.
Q: Currently Australian embassy is running a media campaign about giving awareness to general public regarding refraining themselves from illegal travel to Australia. What is this campaign and why now?
Ans: The campaign is actually launched in order to stop and lower the number of illegal travelers, mostly on boats, from various parts of Pakistan endeavoring to either take asylum in Australia or live there as illegal persons. But in this campaign we have clearly mentioned that even if you reach to your desired destination still you won’t be able to get an asylum there and will be deported back. We recently witnessed highest number of people going for this sort of venture. Almost 18,000 people and 10 per cent amongst them drown to the sea. The route these illegal immigrants take that first they reach to Indonesia and from their onwards they try to reach Australia. We are also in conversation with our partner countries in the region to stop this trend. We have shared our concerns with authorities in Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Malaysia and New Zealand. We are trying to discourage these kinds of asylum seekers through introducing new laws and with offering only to take more refugees who choose to enter the country legally.
To answer your query regarding the need of the campaign this time of year is that we have seen an upward trend in movement of people illegally through these routes. Few of the reasons include then troublesome security conditions in Afghanistan and in various part of Pakistan like Balochistan, KPK and Sindh.
Q: What is your message to the people of Pakistan?
Ans: First of all I would like to congratulate people of Pakistan for successfully and peacefully participating in elections and later smooth transition and change of government. I believe Pakistan and people of Pakistan are having tremendous explored and unexplored potential. Media has portrayed a negative image about it while the truth is totally different. Pakistan is blessed with huge natural and other resources which should be realized and explored, not by anybody else but by Pakistanis themselves. So my message to the people of Pakistan is to have a sense of ownership and engagement; ownership of whatever the country is offering to its citizens and engaging in finding inclusive solutions to the problems. Through this way the solutions to the problems will come from within the society and these solutions would last long.
*Arranged by Syed Jawad Rizvi for The Diplomatic Insight.