Her Exellency Seema Ilahi Baloch
How long have you been posted in Poland and where were you prior to this posting?
I have been in Poland since August 2006. Prior to this, I was serving as Director General in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Islamabad.
How would you define Poland and Pakistan’s relationship? How can this relationship be further enhanced?
Pakistan and Poland enjoy very cordial and friendly relations. Diplomatic relations between both countries were established in 1962. Since then there has been a steady and gradual strengthening of bilateral ties in political, cultural and economic spheres. The high point in our relations was the visit of the President of Pakistan in April 2007 to Poland, the first ever high-level visit from either side. This visit provided a strong impetus to enhance bilateral relations and a revived interest for the two countries to engage in a more meaningful way to expand interaction to the fields of education and culture.
Being the 6th largest country in the EU, located in the heart of Europe, Poland has witnessed a GDP growth rate averaging 5.6% over the last three years. Even to-day, it has withstood the global financial crisis relatively better than other members of the EU. Poland has a rich cultural heritage and a very well developed system of education at the under-graduate, graduate and postgraduate levels. It is still a country in transition moving rapidly to join the more advanced countries of Europe.
Poland has secured its place among the largest and most stable economies of Central & Eastern Europe. A proven member of EU, NATO and OECD, Poland is also a reliable, ever attractive partner for the international business community. With a population of just over 38 million, sustained domestic demand, GDP growth rate of 6.5% in 2007 and FDI in excess of US$ 11 billion, Poland has become an economic powerhouse in the region. It provides a very viable market for our trade diversification strategy.
The potential therefore of enhancing relations in all fields is tremendous. This potential can be harnessed to the mutual benefit of our two countries with the initiative of the private sector in both countries, whether it is in trade, education, agricultural research or cultural exchanges.
What specific initiatives are you presently involved in? Please tell us a bit about that?
On the political front we expect annual bilateral consultations between Pakistan and Poland to take place in the latter half of 2009. We have arranged seminars between Poland’s leading think-tank, The Polish Institute of International Affairs and the International Institute of Strategic Studies (ISS), Islamabad. We expect a team from the ISS to come to Warsaw later this year. Such interaction will help to convey our position on the issues confronting our region.
To my mind economic diplomacy coupled with cultural projection is a more effective way of enhancing cooperation since it encourages people-to-people contact, builds awareness of each other’s countries and becomes a foundation for bonding between two countries.
On the economic front, we are looking at the possibility of creating linkages between the SME sector of the two countries including the possibility of importing herbal medicines from Pakistan to Poland in addition to traditional trading in leather and textiles.
Frankly, most Pakistani missions abroad are not provided with a budget for cultural projection which in my view is one of the important vehicles for promotion of Pakistan. We had arranged a Pakistani Food Festival in Warsaw (April 2007) and the visit of a Sitar and Tabla trio to Warsaw (April 2007). We are interested in holding one again but have not been able to find any sponsors. We are in the process of arranging a Qawwali concert in June 2009 where we will launch a CD of Farid Ayaz, Abu Mohammad Qawwal from a Qawwali concert we arranged in Warsaw in December 2007. This will be their first album launched in Europe. An exhibition of paintings by contemporary artists from Pakistan in Warsaw is also on the cards.
What are Poland’s investments in Pakistan? What can be done to further bolster trade and contact between the two countries?
Since Poland’s accession to the EU, bilateral trade between Poland and Pakistan has been on the increase. In 2007 bilateral trade stood at US$ 104.88 million while in 2008, it rose to US$ 206.42 million, indicating an increase of 60.57 % y-o-y. The growth on both sides is clearly indicative of the increasing focus of businesses in both countries to develop mutually beneficial commercial relationships.
The growing interest has seen diversification in trading sectors; in respect of Pakistani exports this is characterized by increasing value-added exports such as textile garments, home-textiles, leather garments etc, while Polish exports to Pakistan are increasingly dominated by paper products, dairy products, iron and steel, specialized machinery and basic raw materials such as metallurgical coke.
As regards Poland’s investment in Pakistan, two leading Polish companies i.e. M/s Geofizyka Krakow and M/s Oil and Gas Exploration Company Krakow are operating in the Pakistani Oil and Gas Sector. Both these entities have invested 70-80 million US dollars over the last 7 to 8 years.
To ensure resilience in growth of trade and trade contacts, the Mission has focused on developing institutional arrangements in the form of MOUs/agreements between public/private sector organizations in both countries. Two important documents were signed in 2007, (i) The Memorandum of Understanding between Small And Medium Enterprise Development Authority of Pakistan and its Polish counterpart agency and (ii) A Memorandum of Understanding between the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) and Polish Chamber of Commerce.
In addition, we are working on a conclusion of two more agreements, (i) Bilateral Investment Treaty and (ii) Correspondent Banking arrangement between the Central Bank’s of both countries. Both these documents will further promote commercial interaction and ensure a greater ease of doing business.
To bolster trade, it is important to diversify our exports both in terms of markets and goods, we need to broaden the export spectrum beyond traditional exports to include non-traditional items such as furniture, marble, handicrafts, gems/jewellery and IT. It is important to participate in trade fairs in Poland. Currently, over 100 trade fairs are held annually in Poland, but Pakistan, at best, participates in one fair and that too in textile products.
How does the economic and political instability that has been plaguing Pakistan for the past couple of years impact Pakistan’s relationship with Poland?
The overall parameters of the relationship are not impacted negatively because Poland understands the predicament Pakistan is in. Poland realizes that Pakistan has a key role in ensuring regional stability and global security. The level of political dialogue has, therefore, matured and maintained its momentum while deepening of trade linkage is clearly visible. As mentioned previously, Polish business community continues to seek trading partners in Pakistan while Polish mountaineering expeditious remain regular visitors to our Northern Areas.
With the recent horrific execution of a Polish national at the hands of militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas, how has Poland’s relationship with Pakistan been affected?
The government of Poland recognizes the fact that Pakistan did everything possible to amicably resolve this dreadful incident, which unfortunately resulted in the ultimate death of the Polish citizen and the death of three of his Pakistani colleagues.
The gesture shown by the President of sending his body to Poland by a special plane accompanied by the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs was also deeply appreciated. The Polish government has requested that we undertake all necessary steps to severely punish the perpetrators of the crime. The people of Poland and the media have however, expressed their concerns. But the essence of the bilateral relationship has not been affected which is fortunate.
What is the general perception of Pakistan in Poland? Does it come as a challenge to do away with the stereotype presented in the media?
Overall, the perception among the Poles about Pakistan is mixed. I once met a group of ladies who were very appreciative of the fact that Poles – about 30,000 were given shelter in Malir/Karachi for a couple of years when they were forced to flee Poland in 1945 during the Second World War. Poles were sent to Serbia and many of them fled to other countries from where they returned after many years.
There is a greater knowledge of our country among the younger generation because of their exposure to the internet and global media. Poland’s soldiers are part of the NATO forces in Afghanistan which also generates interest of the public in our region.
It is however extremely challenging to counter the stereotype image of Pakistan presented in the global media and to project the true image of our vibrant culture and moderate society with its multi-lingual, multi-ethnic make up. It is equally amazing to observe how the local population here positively absorbs information, which conveys the true spirit of our cultural heritage. The Qawwali concert with its Sufi message of love for all humanity, held in April 2007 was re-broadcast on Polish radio due to popular demand.
I do hope that tourism will again pick up and a greater number of Poles will visit Pakistan to see for themselves our beautiful country in its many splendours. It is imperative to enhance contact of the people of the two countries through exchanges at all levels of private and public life to encourage a more objective understanding of the real Pakistan. This can help contradict the stereo type image that is seen in the global electronic and print media.
What are your plans for the future?
Our plans for the future involve greater interaction between the two countries with a focus on increased economic cooperation. We have recommended to our Government, the following course of action:
- Institutionalizing cooperation between private and public sectors.
- Increase cooperation in the field of Agriculture/ Biotechnology.
- Cementing trade/economic relations with greater participation in trade fairs in Poland, encouraging (and even supporting) participation of Polish companies in the coal sector due to their world-renowned expertise in exploiting lignite reserves. Poland produces over 80% of electricity from coal
- We would like to hold a Pakistani film festival and a cultural show depicting music and performing arts from Pakistan to correct the many misperceptions about our culture and society.
How has your experience in Poland been so far?
A pleasant one indeed. There is a feeling of openness even in the cities which are all shades of green during the spring and summer. The countryside is beautiful with lakes and forests in the north and mountains in the south. The people are friendly and our relations with Poland are on the right track.
A perfect blend of physical beauty, rich culture, educated people. The literacy rate is about 99% and almost every old and young person has learnt to play some musical instrument.
It has also been a great learning experience.Every student of history and international politics has heard of the Warsaw Pact and of Lech Walesa, the leader of the Solidarity Movement which eventually led to an independent Poland. Poland as a country disappeared from the map of the world for 123 years from 1796 to 1918 partitioned between three countries. By the noted historian, Norman Davies, it has therefore been called “God’s Playground”. But it was the resilience of the Polish nation, their patriotism, their ingenious ways to preserve their music, their books, their universities, their theatre, their language – in brief their cultural heritage which propelled them to rise again as a country which to-day is an important member of the EU. There is perhaps a lesson for us Pakistanis in this. Faiz sahib has eulogized this spirit of the Polish nation in his poem “Chopin ka naghma bajta hai”. Chopin as you know is a renowned composer from Poland famous for his music steeped in nationalism.