Blazing Trails: Australia and Pakistan” was a letter written by Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Bob Carr, for one of the English newspapers in Pakistan in 2013. The writer celebrated the history of friendship between the two countries by writing that “our ties today are stronger than ever.” Similarly, in 2015 an Australian tourist Sophee Smiles travelled major Pakistani cities and explored the northern areas of Pakistan. Portraying a very positive image of Pakistan through her well known social media blog, she told the world that Pakistan is “one of the friendliest and most beautiful countries she visited.” According to Australian High Commission Islamabad, Australian visitor to Pakistan are 25, 300 currently.
Historically, Pakistan’s ties with Australia started in 1948 when a Trade Mission of Pakistan was established in Sydney. Since then the Trade Mission has remained functional in Sydney in one form or another to promote trade relations and to facilitate the businesses from both the countries. Australian experts have also been assisting Pakistan since the 1980s in water management including water harvesting and crop water productivity in Balochistan, irrigation efficiency for mango and citrus orchards in Punjab and Sindh and construction of community-managed drinking water and drainage facilities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Ever since President Pervez Musharraf visited Australia in 2005, the ties between the two nations have further shown an upward trend. Both countries signed a counter-terrorism pact which allowed joint training exercises between them. The former Prime Minister of Australia John Howard also visited Pakistan following the 2005 Kashmir earthquake. The two countries have been holding bilateral defence and security talks since 2006. In 2010, the 1.5 Track Security Dialogue was initiated. The Dialogue was an important mechanism for senior security decision-makers and strategists from Australia and Pakistan to share their perspectives on areas of critical importance to both countries. Australia acknowledged security challenges facing Pakistan and offered assistance to address the threat posed by violent extremism in the border regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The focus of defence cooperation has been on training programmes.
Australia also provides scholarships to Pakistani students every year to study at Masters and Ph. D level in Australia. Currently, there are more than 10,800 Pakistani students studying in Australia. Dr. Mehreen Faruqiwas a well known Pakistani student who received a Masters and a Ph.D degree from the University of New South Wales (UNSW). In 2012, she became the first Pakistani-Australian to be elected to Australian parliament. The biggest portion of “Australia-Pakistan Development Partnership Programme” during 2014-15 was in education sector. It was 33 % of overall aid and investment. The Pakistani diaspora in Australia has spawned organizations such as the Pakistan Association of Australia (PAA) which serves to raise cultural awareness of the Pakistani community. Pakistan Australia Friendship Association (PAFA) is also developing and promoting social, cultural and other related activities amongst its members with a view to promote a better understanding between Australians and Pakistanis. Another popular connection between people of two countries is through cricket.
Australia has 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 Australian Government’s aid programme in Pakistan works to promote prosperity, reduce poverty and enhance stability, with a strengthened focus on this region. According to Australian High Commission Islamabad, total Australian govt support for Pakistan during 2014-15 was AU$92.1 million. Two-way goods and service trade during 2014 remained AU$1.2 billion and Pakistan’s investment in Australia mounted up-to AU$51 million. Some other areas of collaboration are agriculture, dairy, livestock and mining. The Pakistan Australia Business Council (PABC) is a body which identifies potential business links, facilitates introductions and cements such connections between Australian and Pakistani business people.
The Australian Government also pledged that it will continue its assistance to Pakistan over the next four years to strengthen water, food and energy security. Such bilateral agreements would help to enhance the socio-cultural understanding of the two countries as well. In view of the growing interest and increasing interactions among the people and the businesses of the two countries, there are promising prospects for further strengthening of trade and economic relations between Australia and Pakistan. However, this bond of cooperation for better future must be secured through strong economic ties and by improving security situation in Pakistan.
—The writer is a Researcher at Islamabad Policy Research Institute, a think tank based in Islamabad.