By Kamran Rehmat Doha
Shahzad Ahmad, the outgoing Pakistan ambassador to Qatar, wore the look of a satisfied man, but if he could help it, he would push the boundaries. His avid interest in future events and expanding on the possible was evident in his oral note-taking and on-the-spot advisory to the embassy officials well into his third last afternoon in office.
But strictly speaking, this was not even office, just a luncheon for members of the print and electronic media to whom, he graciously said, he owed a debt of gratitude for their cooperation during his four and-a-half year stint in Doha.
He relinquishes charge on Wednesday.
During the course of an informal interaction with journalists from both English and Arabic newspapers and journals as well as Al Jazeera network, over a lavish spread at a local restaurant, ambassador Ahmad was particularly sanguine about the state of relations with Qatar.
“It is very important for Pakistan to work with Qatar, a very friendly and brotherly state. We have a lot in common. Despite a lot of things happening in the region, we feel we have a lot in common with Qatar, and we have supported it throughout this period — especially in the last year, all the initiatives we have taken whether it is the opening of shipping lines, or bringing business delegations to Doha. Our exports to Qatar have increased 63 percent. Our cooperation in many others fields — diplomatic, defence, commercial and aviation has been good,” he said.
Ambassador Ahmad, who holds an MPhil in Economics from the University of Cambridge, and has a high profile finance background, had no two opinions about where the crux of the bilaterals lay in today’s international diplomacy.
“For me, with my kind of background, to have a deep relationship, you have to have substance. You can have familiarity, you can have cultural attributes, have the same religion, but in today's complex world politics, you must have deep bonds,” he elucidated, adding, “so now, when we talk about substance, we essentially talk about more trade.”
Dilating on the economics, he said, “Our trade is straight a billion dollars. That's a five-fold increase (from the time when he assumed charge). There is better defence cooperation. On the shipping front, we have three dispatches a week. There used to be four flights a day. Today, there are 11 flights a day and Pakistan International Airlines in also increasing its flight numbers and we are just about to introduce our second route to Islamabad, the capital.
The energy ties also found a special mention.
“We have increased our energy collaboration with Qatar. We are not only buying gas, but now Qatar is exploring the possibility of building LNG terminals in Pakistan although that is still in a formative stage. There’s a big impetus on the trade front and more things will become evident very soon,” the outgoing envoy hinted.
Reiterating his two-way traffic principle for healthy bilaterals, ambassador Ahmad said, “It's not just us importing energy but us selling food, building materials, higher value added products and engaging each other for joint ventures as well. So we want to do lots of different things; that is where the relationship will grow. We have come a distance, but the team here (Pakistan embassy officials), they are all working towards the same goal.”
No social outing is without a word or two about Qatar’s resilience in the face of the unjust blockade and this rendezvous was no different.
“After a year, we have seen Qatar become a much stronger state by itself. Of course, there is the loss of the social fabric of the GCC and that is sad for all of us, but as a state, it is doing much better today. It has established new shipping routes and found alternative destinations for raw materials for food. It has become self-sufficient in many ways. Self-sufficiency is very important for any state. Even in Pakistan, we want greater self-reliance. We don't want to be importing things. We’d rather produce them. This event has just accelerated the development in Qatar. They have the 2030 Vision, but it just came forward. So that's great,” the envoy noted.
The talk predictably, veered to the ongoing Football World Cup and it prompted the distinguished host to remind the guests about where the football used in the ongoing World Cup (and more than 80% of international tournaments) was manufactured: Pakistan. The possibility of taking a media team to the manufacturing units was also envisioned in the distant future.
Before seeing off his guests, who praised the contribution of ambassador Ahmad in enhancing bilaterals and his hospitality over time, the outgoing envoy also took the opportunity to enlighten them about the attributes of his successor.
“(The incoming ambassador) is a man of great stature, a man of great experience and a man of great energy. He is going to take (the relationship) much further. I am happy that he is coming here because he is a man with a lot of achievement. He will gain a lot of respect,” ambassador Ahmad predicted as he signed off.
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