Prime Minister Imran Khan was on a two day visit to Qatar to meet his counterpart in Doha besides meeting the Emir of Qatar His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. During the visit, the Prime Minister was accompanied by an entourage of ministers and advisors including Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Finance, Petroleum, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Commerce, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Overseas Pakistanis, Chairman Board of Investment, Chairperson Prime Minister’s Energy Task Force and the Foreign Secretary. Apart from meeting high level dignitaries at state level, Prime Minister Imran Khan also talked to the business and investment community based in Doha. Embarked on the mission to attract investment from foreigners, the Prime Minister addressed the Pakistani community during the visit inviting them to invest more in the country. Prior to this high level visit Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and General Qamar Javed Bajwa made exclusive visits to Qatar during the last month on different occasions with diverse motivations which included talks with Taliban, lasting peace in Afghanistan and strategic and military ties with Qatar. These high level visits reflect the significance the two countries attach to each other. Pakistan is trying to maintain a balance in the gulf regional political dynamics keeping in view its interest but though it is tough and challenging, it is necessary for Pakistan to keep its neutrality intact.
In Qatar, Taliban have an international office led by their new head, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was released from a prison in Pakistan in October, last year. He has been authorized to lead the political team and take decisions
Qatar has remained a very important country for Pakistan over the years as a result of the significant geographical location and its political dynamics in the Gulf region. Both states since the start have had cordial relations based on not only religious affinity and brotherly ties but also based on geostrategic dynamics of what each country is facing in its own region of influence. The relation deepened especially after the launch of the maritime route created between Karachi Business port and the Hamad Port resulting in an increase in the supply of goods and services between the two countries. However, after the recent gulf crisis and the boycott by Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain for the past 18 months, this visit of Prime Minister of Pakistan came as a watershed moment in the history of ties. Pakistan envisions building strong ties with Qatar. Keeping in view Qatar’s role in the global energy market by owning two percent of the global oil reserves. However, last December, Qatar also announced to leave the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to focus more towards production even though it was the founding member of the organization way back in 1961. The impact of this move is yet to be seen in the energy markets. Pakistan is attaching a significant importance to Qatar. It was in 2016, when Pakistan and Qatar signed one of the ‘game changing’ deals worth $16 billion for Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), for the next 15 years. During the visit of Imran Khan, the discussion was focused around promoting relations in the sectors of energy, food security, military to military ties and issues of bilateral, multilateral, regional and international nature. Pakistan is facing an energy shortage, as a result of the gulf crisis and boycott, Qatar is facing food security issues especially as the FIFA World Cup football is approaching nearer. Pakistan can be the bread basket in this regard, resulting in maximum for our agriculture and food related industries.
As a result of the downward trend of the Saudi economy recently, Saudi companies struggled to offer jobs to foreigners including Pakistanis. It was a difficult time for Pakistan as the economy faced a dent, however, Qatar came to the rescue offering 100,000 jobs for skilled and semi-skilled workers from Pakistan. This was again promised during the Prime Minister’s visit, however, it was confirmed later after the recent opening of the Visa Facilitation Centre in Islamabad. This has also resulted in alleviating Pakistan’s status as one of the eight countries to have a Qatari visa facilitation centre for swift processing of visa for the workers.
Over the years, from growing economic ties between Pakistan and Qatar, we have also witnessed a resonance of effective influence on the peace and security process in Afghanistan with significant influence over the war parties including Taliban. Pakistan and Qatar shared somewhat similar intentions of having a lasting peace in the war torn state with result oriented talks wherein Qatar is providing a neutral state to all the stakeholders for the peace talks. Qatar has taken a lead in playing the role of a peace mediator in this overall tough and complex situation especially being a Sunni Muslim Gulf State. In Qatar, Taliban have an international office led by their new head, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was released from a prison in Pakistan in October, last year. He has been authorized to lead the political team and take decisions. Taliban consider Doha as a neutral space where they can live peacefully and have discussions based on political grounds. Having world’s leading television network Al Jazeera, Qatar played a significant role as a mediator in regional conflicts. Apart from housing Taliban, Qatar tried to mediate in the Darfur, Syrian and Libyan conflict including settling the rift between Palestinian factions.
Pakistan needs to balance its relations with UAE and Saudi Arabia, where Prime Minister went before travelling to Qatar to invite investments from countries to resolve Pakistan’s economic woes. Qatar has supported Pakistan in its tough times and has made substantial contributions towards uplifting its economic worries by providing jobs to the unemployed workforce. Pakistan needs to have a clear and defining foreign policy towards the Gulf region in order to sail smoothly among feuding states.
The writer is Director, Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies
Published in Daily Times, February 1st 2019.