Rebooting Pak-Australia Relations By Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi

AUSTRALIA and Pakistan enjoy a long-standing strong and growing relationship underpinned by deepening people-to-people links. Australia established diplomatic relations with Pakistan after its 1947 partition from India and has had a resident mission in the country since 1948. Australia is committed to supporting Pakistan as a partner in its efforts to address security threats, build economic prosperity and enhance development. Recently, Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa visited Australia on a two-day official trip on the invitation of Australian Army Chief. During his meetings with Australian military and civilian leadership, the COAS highlighted regional security situation and Pakistan Army’s contributions towards peace and stability. Australia and Pakistan share a common heritage and bilateral interests. Both the states are members of the Commonwealth and are the defacto federations with bicameral legislatures. Pakistani people share a passion for sports and the arts, and Islamabad’s strong people-to-people links centre on an active and successful Pakistani community in Australia. The Australian Government remains concerned about the human rights situation in Pakistan, including the use of capital punishment and the treatment of ethnic and religious minorities.
Notably, the Australian Government’s aid program is committed to promoting prosperity, reducing poverty and enhancing stability, with a strengthened focus on our region— the Indo-Pacific. Australia weaves strong interests in Pakistan given its size, economic potential and strategic position in South Asia, and is committed to supporting Pakistan to build economic prosperity, and promote sustainable, equitable development. The 1.5 Track Security Dialogue between Islamabad and Canberra was initiated in 2010. The 1.5 Track Dialogue has involved a number of key decision-makers and think tanks from both sides thereby enhancing Defence cooperation mechanism between the two sides. The focus of cooperation remains pivotal for the training programme. Retrospectively in Feb 2015, an Australian delegation led by Chief of Defence Forces of Australia Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, visited Pakistan where he also met the then PAF Chief Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt and the then Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif.
Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s latest Australian visit has enhanced the scope of bilateralism including defence cooperation between Pakistan and Australia which could act as the impetus for broader cooperation, especially in fields of education, investment and regional connectivity. The COAS also affirmed that Pakistan will continue to support all peace efforts in the region. Both civil and military leadership of Australia appreciated Pakistan’s contribution and achievements in the war against terror and acknowledged sacrifices of Pakistani nation and its Army in this connection.
The Australian Government has publicly asserted that the stability and security of Pakistan are important to Australia’s national interest, saying that ‘Australia is committed to supporting Pakistan as a partner in its efforts to address security threats, build economic prosperity and enhance development’. This commitment from Canberra is founded on the premise that stability in Pakistan matters because of its influence on Australia’s regional and broader interests. Commentators have similarly argued that the geopolitical situation of Pakistan is significant to Australia’s interests in the Indo-Pacific region and is important to the international community’s interests in South Asia.
Kate Boswood of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute assesses that Pakistan is geopolitically significant due to four key attributes. Firstly, it is located at the crossroads of South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East, and is adjacent to the global energy supply artery in the Indian Ocean. Secondly, it has a large population base of over 170 million people, with a coming ‘youth bulge’ in the future. Thirdly, Pakistan is a nuclear-armed state. Fourthly, it has a history of being destabilized by the centrifugal actors in the region. Based on these attributes, The Australian government has had held the view that any foreign attempt to destabilize the Pakistani state has the potential to negatively impact the stability of South Asia and, indeed, the global order. Needless to say, as witnessed by China-Pakistan’s CPEC engagement, Pakistan is at the heart of a regional market with a large population, diverse resources, and untapped potential for trade. However, Pakistan faces a number of challenges to realising its true economic potential. Economic growth is constrained by energy and infrastructure deficits, skills shortages, regional instability and other barriers to trade. Pakistan’s access to a strong and healthy workforce is further affected by high malnutrition rates, poor water and sanitation practices and other health issues, such as polio. At same time, improving Pakistan’s education outcomes and increasing access to education is important for Pakistan’s human development. Nevertheless, the security establishment is highly concerned about the regional security since insecurity continues to undermine Pakistan’s stability and development, particularly in provinces bordering Afghanistan where economic and human development indicators are amongst poorest in country.
The Pakistan government estimates the direct and indirect costs of terrorism over the last 13 years have been USD102.51 billion. Frequent natural disasters further impede development outcomes and economic growth. The Pakistan-Australia Joint Working Group on Border Management and Transnational Crime Cooperation is strengthening cooperation to combat transnational crime, such as terrorism financing and illegal migration. The Australian Federal Police has a 27-year relationship with Pakistan law enforcement. Working together, Australian and Pakistan agencies have successfully disrupted transnational crime,
The Pakistani community in Australia plays a significant role. According to the 2016 census, there were more than 61,000 Pakistan-born people living in Australia. More than 13.000 Pakistanis are studying in Australian universities. In September 2018, there were 72 Pakistanis studying in Australia on long-term scholarships under the Australia Awards program. These awards promote knowledge, education links and enduring ties between Australia and Pakistan. Over 2019-20 the Australian Government will ungrudgingly provide an estimated $32.2 million in development assistance to Pakistan. This rightly includes an estimated $19.0 million through the bilateral country program. Islamabad faces enormous complex challenges for grooming its economic potential. Energy and infrastructure deficits, skills shortages and regional instability are the main impediments to economic growth. Today, Pakistan is determined to use all its potential to uplift its economy.
—The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of Washington Foreign Law Society and European Society of International Law.

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