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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » July 2, 2010
Pakistan in Poland
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The Real Pakistan
July 2, 2010   
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Pakistan’s ambassador to Poland, Seema Ilahi Baloch, talks to Ewa Hancock shortly before leaving Poland to take up a new post.

What is the state of bilateral political relations between Pakistan and Poland? In which areas do the two countries cooperate and where do they differ significantly?
It would be fair to say that bilateral relations between our two countries continue to move in a positive direction. There is a convergence of views on major global issues, and cooperation within the UN. Our president’s visit to Poland in 2007 generated a renewed will for enhanced interaction. Our Senate Speaker will be visiting Poland in the latter half of the year. But it would be equally fair to say that the potential for cooperation in political terms is not fully realized. If we look at the geo-political imperatives of each country, both countries have large neighbors, both have the opportunity of being energy corridors and trade routes, both believe in peaceful resolution of conflicts. Therefore both countries could be natural strategic partners.

I do not know whether we can specifically identify areas of differences, but we look for greater support from Poland within the EU for areas vital to Pakistan. We believe that Poland is an increasingly important member of the EU. I am also optimistic that institutional links between universities, our parliaments, our think-tanks which are in the process of being established will come to fruition soon.

Do you think that Poles have a distorted picture of life in Pakistan? If so, does this harm trade and investment?
Only those who have traveled to Pakistan can actually convey what life in Pakistan is like. Each country has its own peculiar problems and we have ours. Only, there is less of an understanding globally and in Poland that our problems have stemmed from the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan from 1979-1989. Sharing a border of 2,500 km with Afghanistan, Pakistan continues to bear the brunt of the West’s war again communism with 3 million Afghan refugees on its soil.

Some elements within our societies have been radicalized (as it suited vested interests, first to indoctrinate them to fight a “Jihad” or holy war, and then to portray them as the “enemies” against which the war had to be waged). But let us not forget that Pakistan has a population of 160 million people and is twice the size of Poland. The problem areas constitute perhaps 2.5 percent of the country.

The religious right parties have never won a single election in Pakistan. The party in power, the Peoples Party, is known for its moderate credentials, its commitment to democracy and its support for women. We need to see beyond the TV screens and the printed word to see the real Pakistan and its people who want to live life in peace and harmony with the world.

Trade and investment with Poland is affected to a certain extent because there are not many visitors from Poland. But there are 600 multinational corporations working in Pakistan. In 2008-09 Pakistan attracted foreign direct investment worth $3.72 billion from around the world. In fact, there is also a false image of Poland in Pakistan, which we must work on together to attract more business, more tourists and more students to Poland.

Fortunately, Pakistan-Poland bilateral trade has been steadily growing since 2005. In 2002 the total bilateral trade was $40.03 million, which grew to more than $100 million in 2004 and hit $206.14 million in 2008. Last year was an exception as due to worldwide recession and this trend was seen in our bilateral trade as well.

Polish businesspeople who were in Pakistan in February 2010 came back with a very favorable image of Pakistan. It is best to judge for oneself because in the world of business, it can be a win-win situation for both sides.

Are there any ongoing joint economic projects, either at state level or between private companies from the two countries?
There are three companies from Poland working on joint venture projects in Pakistan, PGNiG, Geofizyka Kraków and the Oil and Gas Exploration Company Kraków. We are motivating more companies from other sectors, especially power generation, auto parts, glassware and electrical machinery to invest in Pakistan. PGNiG has made a gas discovery in Pakistan and is in the process of expanding its operations in Pakistan. In total there is an investment of $8.5 million in Pakistan by Polish companies and there is an increasing trend which is very encouraging.

A number of Pakistani companies are opening offices in Poland to use it as a regional hub for Europe. We are facilitating these companies in every possible manner and I hope that it will go a long way towards developing sustainable trade relations between the two countries.

Global terrorism is a key issue for national security. With Pakistan on the frontline of the so-called war on terror, how are the lives of ordinary Pakistani people affected by this?
The Poles, more than any other nation in the world, can understand the destruction caused by war and the havoc it creates in the lives of innocent citizens. And this global war on “terror” is unique, in that the enemy cannot be identified as clearly as was the case with traditional wars where the enemy was on the other side of a physical border. Pakistan was thrust into the frontline of the war after 9/11 and has been compelled to carry out operations in the north of the country to weed out terrorists of foreign origin. The repercussions in the form of suicide and terrorist attacks fell on the ordinary Pakistani.

The 90 Unmanned aircraft attacks, killing 850 people, many of them innocent civilians, have resulted in 3,800 terrorist attacks since 2001, including suicide bombings. We have suffered over 30,000 casualties (military and civilians) in the last two years compared to 8,812 military casualties suffered by NATO in the last nine years.

The figures are mind-boggling but we do not see them on the media here. Some 2.5 million people were forced to flee from their homes in the Swat valley alone, posing a huge challenge for the government to settle them temporarily in urban areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; 119 girls’ schools and 86 boys’ schools and colleges were destroyed by the militants in Malakand Division alone.

Yet the implementation of Reconstruction Opportunity Zones, announced by the U.S. president in 2006 in the war-affected areas is still awaited, leaving large areas of debris and millions of jobless people from the affected areas for the government of Pakistan to take care of. The inflow of much promised assistance from the United States and Friends of Democratic Pakistan (FODP) is very slow.

So while Pakistan is being asked to “do more,” there is little understanding of the issues Pakistani citizens are faced with and the responsibility placed on the government to meet these challenges. There was a 48-percent increase in spending on public order and safety during the last two years.

Pakistan has therefore been urging the EU to give preferential access to EU markets to help us to overcome our economic problems through improving trade. So far there have been empty promises and the big question posed by the common man in our country as projected in our very free and open media is: Why should Pakistan continue to fight a war imposed on it since 1979 and continue to suffer its gravest consequences?

I recently visited Pakistan, and one of the things that struck me was how much women are engaged in areas such as politics, academic life and broadcasting. How easy is it for women in Pakistan to have a career?
The 1973 Constitution guarantees equal rights for men and women in society. There are also many rights accorded to women in Islam, including the right to choose her spouse, the right to divorce, the right to inheritance. In addition, societies in South Asia in general have produced some of the best-known women prime ministers, including Benazir Bhutto. Therefore women in Pakistan derive empowerment from our political, cultural and religious milieu. Women constitute an integral part of the workforce, be it in urban or rural areas. Their rights are protected through different laws, such as the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act 2008, the Protection Against Harassment Act, the Gender Reform Action Plan (protecting women’s right to economic, social and political empowerment), the new Land Allotment Policy under which a 10-percent quota is fixed for women peasants.

There is an allocation of quotas for women members in national and provincial legislatures and in local councils. There is no bar on women acquiring any type of education or joining any profession in Pakistan.

Female students are outperforming male students in all competitive/entry exams and female enrollment at the university level has increased manifold.

Some statistics may be of interest to you. We have 6 percent of women ministers in the federal Cabinet. Our Speaker of the National Assembly is a woman. There are 5 percent women judges in the judiciary at a reasonably senior level. There are 4 women fighter pilots since March 2006. There are 165 women police officers in Islamabad alone. We have 13 women ambassadors all over the world. We have 548 women employed in the national airlines, including six female pilots. We have 38 branches of the First Women Bank all over the country since 1989.

There are 1,464 newspapers in all languages published in the four provinces of Pakistan (including 133 English newspapers), seven public TV channels and 77 private channels. More and more women can be seen in the mainstream media in the country. The Pakistani media scene, in the aftermath of the privatization of TV channels and FM radio in the country, has brought in a lot of gender balance.

We have women’s hockey teams and cricket teams at the national level. The Pakistan Women Cricket Team played its first official match against New Zealand in Christchurch in January 1997.

So really, any career is possible for women in our country, from being the prime minister to a fighter pilot.

After four years in Poland you are leaving this country. What memories of Poland will you take with you?
When I first learned about my posting to Poland, I had a number of apprehensions including the news of minus 30 degrees in winter. But from Poland, including its winters, I will take back the images of the virgin beauty of Poland’s forests, its vast expanses of green, the Mazurian lakes and the quaint small towns full of history.

Poland’s rich culture in music and art, Chopin concerts in the Łazienki park, its educated and skilled youth, have all made a great impression on me.

The one dark event of the Smolensk air crash will not be easy to forget. Nor will it be easy to forget the calm outpouring of grief of the Polish people. As part of group of Muslim Ambassadors, I too prayed at our mosque in Warsaw to offer peace for those departed, and courage to those who must go on.

From both the sheer physical beauty of this country to its resilient and patriotic people, I take back what is most precious—friendship, which I will cherish for a lifetime.
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