Pakistan should engage with African Countries!

In our daily discourse when we talk or think about the foreign relations of Pakistan with other countries we usually think about India, China, U.S.A, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. Relations with other states normally have been considered as less important for us and least of those are the African countries. African continent consists of at least 54 countries and yet we do not show any concern about our relations with those countries. This depicts our sheer carelessness and ignorance. African continent does has image problem. African countries have been traditionally been considered as unstable, warn torn and not important enough to see them as diplomatic and trade wise important. This scenario has changed and is changing continuously. Countries have grown very much and have established a kind internal stability with varying degrees. African countries have grown economically now the combined economic size of top 10 African countries is up to 2 trillion US Dollars with Nigeria and South Africa on top. Countries of this continent are usually rich in oil, gas and minerals.

This situation has compelled many powers to look toward them from investment and trade perspective. Big powers like America, China UK, and France are now the biggest investors in the continent with USA and China on top. Bilateral trade has increased. China’s bilateral trade with African countries now stood at 200 billion US Dollars. China is now the biggest importer of the African oil which has struck deals with many African countries as favorable rates in return for investment and good bilateral relation. Nigeria and Angola are the biggest exporter of African oil. There are number of countries in Africa whose economic size is bigger than Pakistan’s economic size. These countries include Nigeria South Africa and Egypt. African countries are the exporters of oil, gas, minerals and some agricultural products such as tea olives cotton and some dry fruits. Their international profile and presence on diplomatic horizon is increasing. These countries are the big importers of cars, electrical devices, basic food items such as wheat , rice and dairy products, pharmaceuticals and machinery. India has made good relations with these countries and now taking benefit by exporting different products specially pharmaceuticals and food items.

Pakistan should come out of its long slumber. India is increasing its diplomatic presence there. We currently have embassies/ high commission in only up to 14 countries. We should overcome our deficiency in this regard. Currently Pakistan has very low diplomatic presence there. It does not even have embassies or high commission even in half of the African countries. Pakistan has good potential/ chance to form good relations with African countries . Pakistan should increase its number of embassies. We have to improve our bilateral relations with African countries and form new bilateral relations with those countries with which we do not have any working relationship. For this Pakistan should increase its number of higher state level visits to African countries and invite them to Pakistan and have continuous bilateral engagement with them. Foreign office had announced its “Look Africa initiative” but that has large remained on paper and very less practical steps on ground. 54 countries are not less and if we have good bilateral relations with them, it could be useful to us at different forums to get diplomatic support at international forums i.e U.N. African continent has large number of important Muslims countries with good enough Muslim population. North Africa consists up of almost all Muslim countries. Egypt, Sudan, Algeria, Morocco, Nigeria, Tanzania, Mauritania, Ghana are the biggest countries in the continent. Major non-Muslim countries are Congo, Kenya, Angola, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia etc. So we can use the similarity of religion (Pan Islamism) to ease our way to form good relations with Islamic countries. Other diplomatic tools can be employed to form good relations with other countries especially with non-Muslim majority countries. Cultural soft power can be used in this regard. African countries are good export destination for us specially to export our agricultural, dairy, textile products and other services (especially I.T related). Secondly we should also look for cheaper sources of oil from African countries. We should also work toward s making a good trade deals with African countries. Pakistan’s trade with Africa has remained stagnant at $3 billion/year from 2012-13 to 2016 -17, which has increased to $4.6 billion in 2018-19. Pakistan’s share in total trade of African countries is 0.4 percent. So it’s time for Pakistan to consolidate and diversify its footprint in Africa and make up for its previous negligence in this regard.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Dunya News’ editorial stance.

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