THE visit of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to Qatar was primarily focused on participation in the 5th UN Conference on Least Developed Countries (LDC) and the PM shared Pakistan’s perspective on the socio-economic challenges facing LDCs in Asia and Africa but it afforded an opportunity to the leadership of the two countries to exchange views on different aspects of bilateral relations and how to promote them further. This is also evident from the emphasis laid on forging economic ties during the meeting of the PM with the host Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. The Prime Minister also held a fruitful meeting with CEO of Qatar Investment Authority Mansoor Ebrahim Al Mahmoud where various proposals were reviewed relating to investment in different sectors of Pakistan’s economy. The Qatar Investment Authority expressed a keen interest in investing in LNG power plants, airports and solar power parks in Pakistan.
Pakistan and Qatar enjoy deep-rooted and multi-faceted cooperation spanning over decades and the two countries always supported each other at regional and global forums. Their bilateral relations are governed by numerous agreements and MoUs covering the political, economic, commercial, cultural, scientific, technical, educational, health, security, legal, educational and media sectors. It is rightly pointed out by foreign policy experts that Qatar is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. It is the world’s largest liquefied natural gas producer and has become a major force in foreign investment, in addition to its achievements in political, cultural, social and legislative spheres. Despite some challenges Qatar has succeeded to maintain and sustain the economic independence and protected its national security and strengthened bilateral relations with all countries of the world. The country is small in size but its visionary leadership has carved out a place of eminence for itself on the global scene with a proactive diplomacy, constructive efforts made for dispute resolution including the longstanding conflict in our neighbouring country Afghanistan and its willingness to provide concrete support to other countries in addressing their economic problems. This is also evident in the context of Pakistan as the LNG provided at affordable rates is playing a crucial role in promoting economic activities and mitigating woes of different categories of consumers. Qatar also responded favourably to repeated requests by successive governments of Pakistan to increase the manpower import from Pakistan and during Shehbaz-Tamim meeting both the leaders also discussed investment, trade and export of further Pakistani skilled workers to Qatar. This assumes importance in the given situation when Pakistan is facing a serious foreign exchange crisis and increased manpower export could help find a way out on medium and long term basis. If followed up, there are bright chances of achieving this target, especially when the Emir of Qatar lauded the contribution of Pakistani manpower in his country’s development and especially referred to the excellent performance of Pakistani security authorities during the FIFA Football World Cup 2022 successfully hosted by Qatar. Pakistan also has robust defence cooperation with Qatar and this could be expanded further including initiation of joint ventures and expansion of production facilities within Pakistan to meet defence needs of not only our brotherly countries in the Gulf but also other countries. The two countries are also discussing aviation and naval cooperation which could take their ties in the defence sector to new heights if concrete plans are finalized to defend their economic and strategic interests through mutual collaboration. There is a great opportunity for the Qatari government as well as private companies to make investment in renewable energy in Pakistan, especially in solar, wind and hydro-power projects. The Government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has an active programme to add at least 10,000MW of solar energy to the national grid and Qatari investment could make a real difference in the sector. Software technology parks ICT cooperation would be game changer between both the countries as these could help them modernize and diversify their economies. There is already a Joint Ministerial Commission (JMC) in place with the function of reviewing existing economic relations and identifying new opportunities for mutually constructive cooperation between the two countries and hopefully the two sides would make it more relevant in the given scenario. Analysts also point out that Qatar’s national rejuvenation project, Vision 2030, focuses on developing local food and agriculture products, an avenue in which Pakistan holds a comparative advantage and the relevant ministries should take concrete initiative to exploit this opportunity.