Pak-Qatar Bilateral Ties

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“The era of cutting diplomatic ties and closing borders is over,” as once said by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. This statement underscores the changing dynamics that the contemporary world is going through where international relations have become more cooperative and increasingly interdependent. Meanwhile, the only thing that remains constant is states pursuing national interests in their relations to other states, and in this regard, Pakistan’s foreign policy outlook is no exception. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is acclaimed to be the architect of Pakistan’s close relations with the Arab states of West Asia that have continued to prosper after his removal from power. Pakistan has always sought to balance its relations with all the Gulf countries that have the capital credential of owing huge oil wealth. The journey of Pakistan-Qatar relationship began in 1971 right after Qatar gained its independence from Britain while formal diplomatic ties were forged in 1972. From 1973 to 1976, Qatar was among the other gulf countries to dispense Pakistan with loans and credits of worth $993 million in total. In 1984, both states established a Joint Economic Committee (JEC) with the aim of institutionalizing and promoting economic collaboration. However, it became quiescent—after its first meeting was convened —for more than 14 years. On the invitation of PM Nawaz Sharif, Emir of Qatar visited Pakistan in 1999 and they reestablished the economic ties via the formation of a Joint Ministerial Commission (JMC) to enhance bilateral trade and investment. Since then, several high-profile visits have been exchanged and multiple MOUs have been signed to augment bilateral economic cooperation in diverse fields and interaction between private sectors of both states. The strategic significance of Pakistan and Qatar’s possession of huge oil and natural gas reserves, and its expanding macro-economy have brought the two closers together based on their mutual economic and strategic interests as well. Pakistan has always tried to maintain a balanced foreign policy in the gulf regional political dynamics keeping in view its interest but it has been tough and challenging. It is treading a careful path to keep its neutrality intact and maintain cordial relations with Sheikhdoms. But still it is heavily inclined towards KSA and UAE owing to its special nature of strategic partnerships with both the Arab states. However, notwithstanding the romanticism of Islamic bonds, significance of tiny Doha was never lost to decision-makers in Islamabad. Pakistan has been striving to broaden its portfolio of alliance and economic opportunities, especially to resolve its economic woes. It is in desperate need for gas. Despite obstacles set by the US ahead of Iranian gas line to Pakistan, Islamabad still insists on importing gas from the Islamic Republic. But it has turned to Qatar for a short-term solution as the US pressures continue on the Pakistani leaders. No doubt, Qatar holds a significant place in Pakistan’s foreign policy but the decision-makers in Islamabad have to view Doha as more than just a LNG exporter. Tiny Qatar has assumed a strategic dimension that defies the old traditional thinking of size and population. Pakistan can widen the scope of its relationship with Qatar by extending the economic partnership into a long-term strategic relationship. In the last few years, Pakistan’s policy has been to broaden its strategic engagement with multiple actors in various regions including China, Russia, and Turkey rather than limiting it only to its traditional allies in the Arabian Peninsula. In this regard, Qatar can also be taken into the picture. Doha is interested as it seeks to increase its influence in Pakistan as the Muslim world’s second-most populous country and only nuclear state, while Pakistan can also benefit from deepening ties with Qatar. Because Pakistan’s excessive reliance on KSA and UAE has always cost certain constraints in pursuing an independent foreign policy so a more balancing approach is mandatory in the Gulf. Since, Qatar is also a candidate just like KSA and UAE that seeks to fill the leadership slot in Gulf region which was vacant after the removal of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 1990’s, each of the Arab state has their own vision regarding their region. Pakistan has to further enhance its relations with Doha while delicately balancing Qatar’s new vision for the Gulf region with its old GCC partners since now some serious fault lines have developed among the Sheikhdoms. Hence, both Pakistan and Qatar can use the economic forum to further strengthen their ties and collectively achieve their respective economic and strategic objectives. In this regard, improving ties with Qatar provides Pakistan an opportunity to make itself relevant again within the Gulf as well as a chance to bring in much needed foreign investment. Similarly, due to its strategic location and competence in the domain of agriculture, Pakistan holds tremendous opportunity for Qatar to realise its national rejuvenation plans. If Pakistani-Qatari ties maintain their current course of communal collaboration, keeping in mind the domino effects of globalisation, their alliance will herald benefits for the region at large.

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