What were your impressions of the country when you came here?
ARM: “The ties between Mauritius and Pakistan were established in the 1940s. Since then, these ties were kept at a figure-head level, meaning exchanging conventional diplomatic relations. For the first time in the history of Mauritius, we had a Muslim appointed as the Deputy Prime Minister who was very keen to boost these ties and not let them deteriorate. In the two years that I have been here, a lot has been accomplished between these two countries. But, when I came, the situation in Pakistan was not as volatile as it is now.”
Can you elaborate on that – the current instability in Pakistan – what sort of challenges does that pose?
ARM: “Definitely, in terms of security, it poses a big challenge for the region and the world and the ties between many countries. We have to take up the challenge, but it is not so easy. In fact, you have a population that is 98% Muslim. In Mauritius, we have Muslims, Hindus, Christians and others of different races and ethnicities all living together. Nothing is perfect but we are living in a society that has harmony and we are succeeding. But to be straightforward about the problem in Pakistan, it is that there is a lot of sectarianism. This is a problem. If you are Pakhtoon, you are devoted to and committed to your Pakhtoon cause; if you are Sindhi, etc. This needs to change and there are two solutions. First, there needs to be quality education and more people should be educated. Secondly, there is the need to follow the right Islamic principles.”
Pakistan and Mauritius enjoy a very close alliance. What are your plans for promoting trade?
ARM: “We have signed a preferential trade agreement and heading towards a pre-trade agreement. This is in process. At this level, we are doing a very good job.”
When was that signed?
ARM: “It was signed in 2007, and we are working on it. But, because of the situation here, we have had to delay some of the work. Other than that, we have been sending some surgeons to Mauritius to perform free surgeries over there. Corneal transplants and retinal surgeries are extremely difficult surgeries and there is a long waiting list. I have built good ties with the doctors in the Shifa Hospital and they went again in July; they were invited by our government. Also, we have approximately 100 students studying here even though the conditions are difficult. Your government has promised to finance the building of an Urdu house in Mauritius at a cost of $3 million. You have a group that wants to invest in the telecommunications sector in Mauritius. They have done feasibility and tests over there and they want to initially invest $20 million and they have also made a commitment build a multi-storey building in the city centre.
Two years back, I was saying to your businessmen ‘go and invest in Mauritius’ because it is the only fully functioning democracy in Africa and it is a gateway to Africa. It is stable and we have strong financial services. I said this to them then and now they’re coming to me and telling me that I was right. If you invest in Europe or Western countries, they might freeze your assets. You are investing in regions in the Middle East and one day it can collapse with the market. Now the businessmen are saying ‘let’s see what we can invest in the Mauritius market’. There are huge prospects for them. We are inviting them because Africa is a big market and Africa is no more a hopeless continent. We have many countries that are becoming rich. Oil has been discovered in many countries. There are many opportunities. Mauritius has been rated one of the best countries in the world to invest in. 70% of the population of Mauritius comes from the subcontinent and the Muslims over there identify themselves more with Pakistan than the Arab world because of this South Asian connection. So, we can build on these relations. It is a good thing that motivation is present. And hopefully, I’m going back…”
When are you going back?
ARM: “Next year, I will be contesting again for the elections as a candidate for minister. But, I hope this year I can complete some projects, and I think we can give a boost sp that the people who follow already have a foundation to work on, so improving further should not be a problem. My family is here and they like Pakistan.”
Getting back to trade and investment, you’ve spoken about telecommunications. What other potential avenues of investment are there that you can recommend?
ARM: “Mauritius is a small market. It is the size of Islamabad and the same population of 1.2-1.3 million, so as such Mauritius is not a big market in terms of its population and size. But, Mauritius has strong businesses and financial services and is also a gateway to Africa. It has a fully democratised system and you can start your business over there. Investments in hotels and textiles are also very popular, because the main industries are tourism and the textile industry – much like Pakistan. Factories can be started easily to export into Africa; they need your rice, textiles and medical equipments – sports equipment as well. There are strong banking regulations, so it is the occasion now more than ever to come to Mauritius, as there are many incentives for businessmen.”
What drew you to the diplomatic service?
ARM: “What I see today is that with diplomacy you cannot restrain it to rules and regulations. You have to try to overturn these rules and regulations in order to make things progress. We must be pragmatic. So, I think that as a non-career diplomat I have been successful, Alhamdolillah, by overturning certain rules and regulations.”
What drew you to a political career?
ARM: “I came into politics in 2005 and stood for the first time as a candidate. The Prime Minister told me to go and fight against the sitting prime minister and that it would be a very good starting point for me even if I lose. But this is destiny, it has been written that I should come here to make things better. Now, I’m going back as he needs me over there and Insha’Allah I will again be a candidate. The lessons one learns here will serve for a lifetime and it will enable me to help my country develop better help people understand each other.”
What will you miss most about Pakistan when you go?
ARM: “Pakistan is a big country and it has a large population with various types of people of cultures. What I will miss is the good heart of the people. People might be suffering, might be enduring insecure situations, but they always have this extra good heart to show and express. Secondly, you have everything here. You produce most of what you need and, to our standard in Mauritius, it’s cheap. Also, to have a scope of being able to dedicate ourselves to physical exercise to keep ourselves fit. Over here, we have the opportunity and space to do this.
The press over here is very vibrant and dynamic. The first time I saw this magazine, I found it very impressive for such a country to produce such material. It is all to your credit and your confidence, and I really appreciate it. What you need for the press to progress is a school of journalism and to train people to become journalists. What happens in Pakistan is that there are many rumors that are printed which is not a good thing. I told my 14-year old daughter to read newspapers and she said, ‘please papa, don’t tell me to read Pakistani newspapers, there will only be bad news.’ The contents of the newspaper don’t have a single thing that a child or student can get an inspiration from. You need to have a school of journalism and train people to become professionals. Your journalists should also have the opportunity to travel and get scholarships so they can get exposure, because in 22 years I have been to 30 countries.”
Please can you tell us a bit about that?
ARM: “I have been to many countries in Africa, Europe and South East Asia and I have learnt a lot from that. A journalist can’t stay in one area and they must travel. You must travel and be experienced and have contacts and this helped me a lot. To go from journalism to politics or into diplomacy, it is an easy transition. Not only have you criticised, but you have also learned how to propose ideas about how to make things improve and how to go ahead with reforms. This helped me a lot when I came here.”
Do you enjoy traveling?
ARM: “Yes. I enjoy traveling. Before, we didn’t have the Internet or computers, and we had to send faxes – communication was not good. There was great stress, but it was marvelous and exciting and it gave us experiences to remember.”
Do you write in English and French?
ARM: “Yes, mainly French. Our official language is English, but we speak in a native language called Creole, which is broken French. But, we write and speak in French also. There are plans of building a ‘media city’ in Mauritius. The concept has been successful in Dubai as it covers the Middle East region but soon they plan to start a media city that covers the whole of Africa and Mauritius is the best place for it. We are planning high. It is a new concept for Africa and will be a great thing.”