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True friendship reflects the past, present and future
August 14, 2017
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The UAE and Pakistan are bound together by deep-rooted bonds of religion, culture, civilisation and history. Contacts and kinship between the people of the two lands date back millennia. Pakistan emerged as a separate homeland for South Asian Muslims in 1947. With the establishment of the UAE as an independent federation of Arab Emirates in 1971, nearly a quarter of a century later, it was but natural that the two young nations would be drawn closer by the immense pull of altruistic affinities and multiple commonalities.

They complemented each other perfectly and very soon discovered in one another a natural partner. It should therefore come as no surprise that Pakistan was the first country to accord diplomatic recognition to the UAE. Even before the UAE’s founding, a Pakistan trade mission was active in Abu Dhabi.

The founder of the UAE and its first President, His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, had special love in his heart for Pakistan and its people, and this love was reciprocated in full measure. He considered Pakistan his second home, while Pakistanis held, and continue to hold, the UAE and its leadership with great reverence and in high esteem. In Pakistan, Pakistan-UAE ties have been described variously as a ‘special relationship’, a ‘community of power’ and a ‘transcedental partnership’ grounded in the spirit of mutual affection and deep trust.

Galvanised by this spirit, the relationship soon blossomed into a burgeoning multi-layered and multi-vectored partnership. A key element of this partnership was the camaraderie and close association between the leaderships of the two countries. Frequent contacts and consultations instilled in the ties a degree of informality and comfort rarely paralleled in the annals of international relations.

Flowing from this, the second key element was the complete identity of views on issues of regional and global importance. Therefore it was not just the meeting of the hearts, but also a synchronisation of minds. Today, Pakistan and the UAE both propound the same principles of tolerance, inclusivity, non-interference and a people centric development agenda as a guarantee for regional peace and stability.

Love and respect for the UAE transcends government-to-government, and official channels and is deeply embedded in the psyche of the Pakistani nation. The people of Pakistan have been recipients of generous development assistance from the leadership and people of the UAE. The myriad roads, bridges, schools and colleges, hospitals, clinics and water supply schemes bearing the familiar name ‘Zayed’ across the length and breadth of Pakistan stand as a lasting testament to this fact. As also the fact that the UAE has been among the foremost friends to come to the assistance of Pakistan in times of calamity and need, be it the earthquake of 2005, or the floods of 2011.

More recently, as Pakistan makes strides to eradicate polio from the country, perhaps no other person is more deserving of credit and gratitude for it than His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of UAE Armed Forces, whose generous funding and support for the polio eradication programme has ensured that the vaccination drops reach Pakistani children even in the remotest and most inaccessible parts of the country.

Another vivid manifestation of the people oriented relationship is the sheer number and diversity of Pakistanis living in the UAE. These range from labourers in the factory, to skilled workers, highly educated professionals, institution builders and entrepreneurs. Every region of Pakistan has inspiring stories of rags to riches of workers who came to the UAE to earn an honest livelihood, and were able to make a real difference in their own lives, as well as of those of their families. Remittances sent by them to Pakistan have been an important factor in the social uplift and economic success of entire communities.

It is in the context of multiple characteristics that the anatomy and structure of Pakistan-UAE relationship should be viewed. It rests on a tetrapod of political relations, economic ties, defence and security links and cultural cooperation.

We have already dilated the strong affinities on the political plane. Suffice it to state here that the relationship has withstood the vagaries of geopolitical flux. At its core, it has, and will remain, a strong and abiding equation.

Pakistan remains the largest economy proximate to the UAE outside the Middle East. The UAE is Pakistan’s largest trading partner in the Middle East. The two countries complement each other’s needs for food and energy security, and can act as springboards for one another, for investments and outreach in their respective regions. Already, the portfolio of UAE investments in Pakistan, in the fields of energy, telecommunication and finance, is impressive, as is the quantum of investments made by Pakistanis in real estate, and small and medium enterprise sectors in the UAE.

A bilateral annual trade of $7 billion, and annual remittances from UAE to Pakistan of around $4.2 are just two of the metrics of the strength and depth of economic relations. More than 200 weekly flights connect Pakistani cities with the UAE. Dubai, the regional and international hub for finance, is also home to a number of successful business ventures spearheaded by Pakistanis.

The third pillar of the relations are the Pakistan-UAE defence and security ties. Even before the UAE came into existence, Pakistan had been invited by His Highness Sheikh Zayed to begin imparting training to the troops of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. In subsequent years, a series of agreements and MoUs paved the way for the armed forces of Pakistan playing a role in helping establish training schools and build a capacity of commando battalions. It is Pakistan’s singular honour that the first few Chiefs of Air Staff of the UAE Air Force were Pakistani nationals. Upholding the long-held tradition, Pakistani officers from the army, navy and air force continue to serve in the UAE in instructional roles.

It is a manifestation of the close, cooperative ties that the two countries maintain high-level contacts and participate regularly and robustly in each other’s defence exhibitions and expositions. Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa recently visited the UAE and called on His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of UAE Armed Forces, and His Highess Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, who also holds the portfolio of Minister of Defence.

So what does the future hold for the Pakistan-UAE relations? For sure, the advent of the twenty-first century brings with it, its own sets of challenges but also great promise and many opportunities. The world is changing in profound ways, and so is the region around us. This means that the scope of Pakistan-UAE relations has to be further expanded and diversified to address common challenges and capitalise the opportunities.

The legacy of friendship affords a strong and abiding foundation to address contemporary challenges and build upon what has already been achieved.

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