Pakistan’s diplomatic wins in 2021
THE year 2021 was a busy one for Pakistan diplomatically, with a Taliban takeover in neighbouring Afghanistan, an upward trajectory in relations with Gulf countries and mixed signals from the new administration in the United States.
The Taliban took control of Afghanistan in mid-August as US-led foreign troops withdrew 20 years after invading the country.
The takeover prompted panic and chaos, and put the country on the verge of humanitarian catastrophe as the US and allied countries suspended billions of dollars .
Thousands of people had been airlifted from the country since August, with Pakistan facilitating the evacuation of 16,000 diplomats, foreigners, aid workers, journalists and vulnerable Afghans on its national flag carrier flights and through its land borders.
The evacuation efforts and later Pakistan’s humanitarian support for its war-battered neighbour have earned appreciation from the international community, as Islamabad made addressing the crisis one of the main points of its foreign policy and held a number of highest-level international meetings with regional countries and the world’s superpowers, including an extraordinary moot of the Organization of Islamic Corporation (OIC).
Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia have been on an upward trajectory and Prime Minister Imran Khan visited the Kingdom twice in 2021, in May and October.
After Khan’s second visit, the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD) announced a generous financial package of $4.2 billion to help the South Asian nation address depleting foreign reserves.
The SFD deposited $3 billion dollars into the Pakistani Central Bank and pledged it would additionally supply $1.2 billion worth of oil to Pakistan on credit.Home to over 2.5 million Pakistani expatriates, Saudi Arabia also remained Islamabad’s largest source of remittances, which during the first five months of the 2021 financial year reached over $3.2 billion.
The Pakistan Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai has received over 550,000 visitors and led to the signing of dozens of investment and cooperation agreements since the exhibition opened in October.
Most of the deals signed relate to the fields of infrastructure, housing, water management, waste management and trade in goods and services.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi undertook a number of bilateral visits to Middle Eastern countries in 2021, including Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, Iraq and Iran.
A number of bilateral visits at the ministerial and services chief levels were also undertaken.
After the visit of the Foreign Minister of Kuwait, Ahmed Nasser Al- Sabah, to Islamabad in March, Kuwait decided to ease visa restrictions for Pakistani nationals, which had been in place since 2011.
Additionally, under a government-to-government bilateral framework cooperation agreement on the recruitment of healthcare professionals from Pakistan, around 1800 healthcare professionals have travelled to Kuwait already.
Pakistan and Bahrain also convened the second session of the Joint Ministerial Commission in July 2021.
The militaries of India and Pakistan said in a rare joint statement in February that they had agreed to observe a ceasefire along the disputed border in Kashmir, having exchanged fire hundreds of times in recent months.
The nuclear-armed neighbours had signed a ceasefire agreement along the Line of Control (LoC) in the Kashmir region in 2003.
After the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in the public hearing in Congress in September that Pakistan had a “multiplicity of interests some that are in conflict with ours.
” He said the US would “recalibrate” its relationship with Pakistan in the coming weeks to formulate what role Washington would want it to play in the future of Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s relations with China faced a jolt after a blast on a bus killing 13 people in north Pakistan in July, including nine Chinese nationals.
Work on the project stalled for several months after the blast and the Chinese repeatedly called for foolproof security for their workers in Pakistan before they continued with the Dasu and other projects.
After extensive diplomatic efforts and the beefing up of the security of Chinese nationals, work on the project has reportedly resumed.
—The writer is contributing columnist, based in Islamabad.