Italy has applauded Pakistan’s role in the war against terror, what are your views on this?
ACC: “Italy recognizes the sacrifices made by Pakistan in the war against terror, with the loss of nearly 40000 civilians and soldiers and huge damages to the economic and social life of the country. Terrorism is a common enemy affecting the whole International Community and we stand together against this scourge. We believe that education, development and employment opportunities are crucial in keeping youths away from militancy, that’s why the Italian cooperation is funding relevant activities in these sectors in particular in conflict affected areas of Pakistan.
Italy, also in the framework of the European Union Counterterrorism initiatives (this week an EU mission is in Pakistan to share views on the issue with the new Government), continues to follow very closely and with the utmost attention every development in this domain.”
Italy has played an important role in helping Pakistan to gain access to European markets, can you expand on this?
ACC: Italy has played an active role in support of promoting a greater market access for Pakistan. In particular, together with other Member States it supported the EU concessions on the wake of the tragic floods of 2010 and is amongst the sponsors of Pakistan’s accession to the GSP+ program.The new “Generalised System of Preferences +” (GSP+) is an EU trade instrument that can help support Pakistan’s economic growth by bringing new export opportunities to the country, in particular in the value-added textile sector. Pakistan’s exports to the EU are heavily dependent on textile (41.8 percent) and clothing (33.6 percent) products. The country is therefore likely to benefit considerably from GSP+ preferences. In fact, under GSP+ there will be less competition from more advanced emerging economies, it can thereby generate important additional space for Pakistan exports as well as create thousands of jobs in the country. As GSP+ countries will no longer be graduated, this may bring further significant new export opportunities in Pakistan in the long term, in particular to the value-added textile sector.”
Italy is generously supporting Pakistan in many sectors, can you elaborate on this?
ACC: Italy has always stood by the friendly people of Pakistan in time of need. We were among the very first to intervene after the 2005 earthquake; as soon as the floods magnitude became clear in 2010, we immediately sent two relief flights. We committed over 80 million euro to the flood emergency, through bilateral and multilateral contributions. Responding to the request of the Pakistani Government, we earmarked 57.75 million euro to the Citizens Damage Compensation Fund.
Emergency relief is just one component of the Italian cooperation in Pakistan. The Italian cooperation portfolio has reached about 210 million euro worth of projects implemented in all Provinces and sectors. The most relevant ongoing programme is the debt for development swap programme, worth about 100 million USD and including projects implemented mostly by Government institutions, but also by Italian and Pakistani NGOs. The Debt Swap Programme is considered a best practice and some of the projects under its umbrella are truly unique. Among other examples, an 850 million rupees project for the revitalization of the ancient Walled City of Multan, or a major project in Swat focused on archaeology but also vocational training in the field of tourism. Under Debt Swap are also relevant projects in the health sector, such as a project to fight against Thalassemia and the equipment of a major Burn Centre in Multan aimed at treating acid victims.
Agriculture and rural development make up for a relevant share of our portfolio. The main individual project, worth 40 million euro, is implemented through the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund. But we also have Italian institutions, such as the Agricultural Institute for Overseas, implementing projects in the field of horticulture and olive cultivation. The olive tree is a symbol of peace in the Mediterranean culture and olive oil is a staple in the Italian diet; now we are sharing this with Pakistan.
Cooperation has been increasing also in the cultural field. The Italian Embassy is following very closely the Italian Archaeological projects in Swat and Sindh and the project which has brought to the rebuilding of a brand new construction, through a debt swap project, of the 1958 Saidu Sharif Museum, previously damaged by a blast
Can you elaborate on Italy’s assistance in restoring and preserving Pakistan’s unique Gandhara heritage in Swat?
ACC: A permanent Italian Archaeological Mission in Swat, was established by Prof. Tucci in 1956, but the Italian presence in the area dates back to 1933.The Mission has obtained, along the decades, great results, with the successful excavations in Buddhist sanctuaries. Soon after the mission opened other important digs, uncovered proto-historic graveyards, early- and late-historic settlements, and Islamic monuments.In 1984 the Mission started the exploration of Bazira (Barikot), a fortified city of Indo-Greek times; in 1986 the third oldest mosque in Pakistan, founded by a general of Mahmud of Ghazni, in Udegram was discovered; in the year 2000 it was launched the Archaeological Map of the Swat Valley Project (AMSV) whose 1st phase was concluded and published in 2006. Finally in 2012 a 3.000 years old necropolis was unearthed.
As early as in 2007 the Mission conceived the idea of a comprehensive project focusing on archaeology, sustainable enhancement of the territory, as well as on employment creation. The Mission’s standard model of operation was planned to be replicated on a larger scale, and to serve as a model for future enterprises, in Swat and elsewhere. An important lesson from the Mission’s continuous work in the area, even during most difficult times, was that wherever the local communities were engaged in the Mission’s work, they managed to defend and preserve their local archaeological sites. This model of a sustainable protection proved to be successful even under the most challenging circumstances.
With this in mind, the Mission together with its then counterpart, the Department of Archaeology and Museums, Government of Pakistan (Federal) drafted a new project, named “Archaeology-Community-Tourism Field School” (ACT). Funding for ACT was obtained through the financial instrument provided by the “Pakistan-Italian Debt Swap Agreement” (PIDSA).
A “debt-swap” is a financial tool that allows a Country to exchange its debt for development projects and it is one of the most flexible instruments of bilateral cooperation. In 2006 Italy and Pakistan agreed to a debt swap of 100 millions US dollars corresponding to 50% of Pakistan’s debts. The other 50% had already been cancelled.
The ACT project aims precisely at proposing a model of intervention aiming at contributing to economic revival through the development of archaeological tourism that involves local communities. In its initial concept, the project included the acquisition of the archaeological sites, a crucial component for a sustainable protection of the sites. Even if later on this task was entrusted to the government departments, it remains an objective that has to be achieved by the end of the project, since it is a factor necessary to give continuity/sustainability to the initiative.
From 2011 on the responsibility for the protection of the archaeological patrimony has been shifted from the central government (Federal) to the provinces (following the implementation of the 18th Constitutional Amendment or “Devolution”). However, the Federal role of custodian of the “National Heritage” is still regulated by the Federal Antiquity Act 1975, and by the Ministry of National Heritage and Integration. Following the Devolution, the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa became the new Pakistani implementing partner of ACT. As a consequence, the acquisition of the sites is now a responsibility of the K-P Archaeological Directorate.
ACT has a double scope, a socio-economic one and a scientific one. The scientific scope is mostly based on the programs and targets of the Italian Mission. The socio-economic scope is based on the participation of local communities. In order to achieve both objectives the project focuses on areas where the Mission has been most continuously active with important works: Barikot and Udegram.
A significant number of migrants from Pakistan are working in Italy, have they integrated well?
ACC: A very active 150.000-strong Pakistani community (II largest in Europe after the one in the UK) lives and works in Italy contributing to the growth of the Italian economy. The “Pakistani-Italians” are mostly from Punjab (in particular from the area of Gujrat) and live predominantly in the Northern city of Brescia, in Bologna and Rome. Most Pakistanis in Italy operate in the fields of textile or agriculture. A number have built for themselves successful commercial activities with hubs both in Italy and Pakistan, hence contributing to foster bilateral trade.
Italy is Pakistan’s third largest trading partner in the EU, what is your vision for the future of commercial relations between the two countries?
Italy and Pakistan enjoy close economic ties with Italy being Pakistan’s Tenth commercial partner with a bilateral exchange of about 1.5 billion Euros in 2012. The economic and commercial relations between our two countries are therefore very good, but they could grow, in numbers, much more. In fact, the economies of Italy and Pakistan complement each other in many ways, with Italy being a World leader in sectors such as machinery, automotive, infrastructures, energy, textile, leather, jewelry, fashion and agriculture. All areas in which Pakistan a key interests. The scope of bilateral collaboration in the economic sector is therefore very large.
In the light of the aforementioned, to further encourage business links between Italy and Pakistan and promote bilateral trade, the Italian Embassy in Islamabad and the Italian Consulate in Karachi have invested on reinforcing the economic and commercial dimension. This has been done also by promoting the process for the creation of an officially recognised Italian Chamber of Commerce in Pakistan.
On this issue, the efforts of the Italian Authorities in Pakistan have led, three years back, to the creation of the Italian Development Committee (IDC) in Karachi, which is currently undergoing the procedures for the official recognition from the Pakistani and Italian Authorities. Once the IDC is formally recognized as the Italian Chamber of Commerce it plans to organize itself in several chapters in the main cities of the Country in view of further enhancing ties between economic entities of both countries.
I am convinced that an enhanced direct interaction between the business communities of the two countries can make it possible to materialize a quantum leap in trade figures. They should keep on exploring the opportunities of mutual interest. Moreover, business delegations composed of sector-specific participants or product-specific groups of entrepreneurs should be organized on a regular basis.
What drew you to a career in diplomacy? And where did you serve before Pakistan?
ACC: I have joined the Italian Foreign service as a career diplomat in 1984 and since then I’ve served in Turkey, Poland, Switzerland and Germany. My last experience abroad before being appointed Ambassador for Italy to Pakistan was in Munich as Consul General, in an area where over 100,000 Italians live and work. As you know Bavaria has very close cultural and trade links to Italy.
During your time in Pakistan, what aspects of the country have been of special interest to you?
A few days ago I celebrated my first year in this wonderful country. During this time I have started discovering the richness of the Pakistani culture and history, its delicious gastronomy, very generous and hospitable people and beautiful cities.Since my arrival in mid June last year, I have visited several times, apart from Islamabad, also the port city of Karachi, the financial and economic hub of the country, and, in many occasions, the beautiful city of Lahore, with its rich history. In the next months I plan to visit also Multan, Peshawar, Sialkot, Faisalabad and the valley of SWAT, where, amongst several projects in the area financed by the Italian Development Cooperation, Italy has recently completed the construction of a Gandhara Art Museum in Saidu Sharif.