With myriad trade opportunities, the UAE presents a natural gateway to the world for Pakistan, asserts Hassan Afzal Khan Consul- General of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in Dubai and the Northern Emirates
With the aim to strengthen the people-to-people connections between the UAE and Pakistan, the most important initiative that Government of Pakistan has taken has been the liberalisation of the visa regime, according to Hassan Afzal Khan, Consul-General of Pakistan in Dubai and Northern Emirates. “We have in place one of the most liberal visa regime for the UAE. For any¬one, whether its for business or tourism purposes, our visa regime allows us to issue a visa within a few hours. That definitely has played a significant role in enhancing the people-to-people connections. The same courtesy has been granted to us by the UAE government also as their visa regime is also very rapid and liberal for Pakistan,” he added. Khan said that for Pakistani businessmen and tourists, the UAE is the easiest destination to come to and they are very positive that things are moving in the right direction.
BUILDING NEW CONNECTIONS
On the topic of moving beyond the traditional business and trade connections, Khan was of the view that there has been a definite shift beyond the usual trade sectors, with new partnerships emerging. He further added: “As an example, there were more than 48 IT companies that participated in Expo 2020 Dubai. That was one of the biggest number of IT companies from Pakistan coming to the UAE. Out of those, almost 20 were startups. If we look at our IT market, we have almost gone above $2 billion in Pakistan and the number continues to rise, with experts predicting it to grow to more than three times in the short term. If we look at the UAE market and what they offer, it seems like a match made in heaven. The UAE market, with its infrastructure and access to international clients and brands, provides the perfect forum for our startups.”
Khan conceded that at present, there is an imbalance of trade between the UAE and Pakistan, but he said that there is huge potential for Pakistan to improve the balance by diversifying its product basket.
Coming again to Expo 2020 Dubai, Khan said that in the last six months there has been a significant increase in the number of cultural troupes coming to the UAE to exhibit Pakistan’s diverse culture. “It is a significant development, which owes all the credit to the successfully concluded Expo 2020 Dubai. It might not be replicated again, but it has laid the foundation in the minds of the people, who are curious and interested to know more about the rich and diverse offerings that Pakistan possesses. As a result, we are seeing more and more singers coming with greater frequency to the UAE. Even the film industry has made its foray with Pakistani films now being premiered in cinemas in the UAE. When talking about people-to-people contact, one cannot ignore sports, which play a huge role,” he said.
ROLE OF SPORTS
Sports, especially cricket plays the role of bridge, said Khan. “During the last one year, we had the ICC T20 World Cup hosted by the UAE and then the Asia Cup, which will take place in Dubai and Sharjah, starting August 27. These sporting events play a huge role as a bridge between various communities as cricket is keenly followed throughout the country. It is not just the expats but the Emiratis too who keep track and enjoy the rivalry and the friendly atmosphere that is created. It gives a chance to enjoy the sport in a very positive limelight.”
With the upcoming Asia Cup, Khan was positive that the level of excitement and the atmosphere of conviviality would further bring the communities together.
Speaking about steps taken to promote the tourism sector of Pakistan, Khan said: “There is no doubt that Expo 2020 Dubai has played a significant role in highlighting the positives of Pakistan and presenting the country in a new light. I must also acknowledge the efforts of the UAE government for hosting the Expo 2020 Dubai during the peak of the pandemic and then carrying the momentum for six months. So, that gave us an excellent forum where all the provinces came and displayed their strengths. And one of the sectors was the tourism sector. As a result, we have seen the numbers go up significantly with regards to tourists, both local as well as international.” However, he stressed that there is still a lot that can be done to improve the tourism market.
CONTRIBUTIONS OF THE EXPATS
For Pakistan’s economy, remittances are one of the strongest sources of shoring up the reserves. Acknowledging this, Khan said: “With around 1.7 million Pakistanis living in the UAE, they play a positive role, not only in the UAE, but also in helping the economy back home. It is the second Pakistani community outside Pakistan and their share in the remittances sent back is also the second largest, as more than $6 billion were received last year, playing a huge role in covering our trade imbalance.”
He also said that in recent times, there has been a positive trend of sending remittances through banking channels. He said that the government has initiated a number of steps in this regard. In this regard, Roshan Digital Account has been a source of great help for Pakistanis as it allows them to open a foreign currency account while living in the UAE.
Pakistan is the 26th largest economy in the world with a population of 220 million. Looking ahead to the next 25 years, Khan said that numbers do not matter. “What matters is to transform the country. The change will be gradual and will take time. It will require a continuation of policies over a longer timeframe. I strongly feel that if the government persists with the current policies, in the next 25 years, Pakistan will have all the amenities at par with the developed countries,” he added.
On the topic of future areas of cooperation between the two countries, Khan said that both countries are seriously are looking forward to signing the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) in the near future. “Other than that, in the last three months, our Prime Minister has been to the UAE and has met the UAE President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan on two occasions. This reflects a very close relation between the two countries at the very highest level. The Government of the UAE has supported Pakistan in many initiatives such as the polio eradication programme and technical assistance initiatives. There are a number of agreements that are in the pipeline, it is an ongoing process and we are very positive,” he concluded.
MESSAGE TO THE COMMUNITY
Khan was effusive in his praise for the Pakistani diaspora, saying: “I would like to felicitate the Pakistani community in the UAE and would also like to thank the positive role they have been playing in creating a positive image of the country, which has also been acknowledged by the leadership of the UAE. I would ask them to continue to play this role and to send their remittances through legal channels. Follow the laws of the UAE and support Pakistan always.”
The popular festival brings with it plenty of exciting and fun-filled events and competitions for the whole family