BTM quizzed Pakistani Ambassador, His Excellency Afzaal Mahmood, on developments in business, VIP visits and how his community is dealing with coronavirus.
We are currently going through a period of great turbulence due to the coronavirus, how is this affecting the island’s Pakistani community?
Pakistanis in Bahrain are facing the challenge of Coronavirus with great responsibility by following government guidelines on social distancing and staying safe at home. So far, very few Pakistanis in the Kingdom have been reported infected with the virus. Some of our nationals, who were working with smaller companies have lost their means of livelihood. They are being supported by the embassy, with assistance from the Pakistani community.
How is the Embassy supporting and helping its nationals during this time?
We have set up a 24/7 hotline to allow access to our nationals. They can call us on 17 244-113 at any time. We also keep in close contact with them through social media. The Embassy is open as usual for consular services, five days a week, six hours a day. Relief efforts are also being made in collaboration with community members.
The Pakistani business community is helping jobless workers in paying rents, utility bills and buying essential items of day-to-day use.
A number of MoUs were signed during Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan’s visit to the Kingdom last December. Is work on these still progressing, despite the virus?
The signings were an MoU on Cooperation in the Field of Medical Sciences, MoU on Cooperation in Youth Affairs and Sports and MoU on Cooperation in Education and Higher Education and Science Research.
We are actively following up on theses despite the outbreak of coronavirus. A robust follow-up action plan is in play to boost Pakistan-Bahrain brotherly ties.
It was also announced that the Bahrain-Pakistan Joint Ministerial Commission’s (JMC) second meeting would take place in the first quarter of 2020. Has this been put on hold? If yes, when do you expect it to take place and what will it concentrate on?
The JMC’s second session is being planned for the last quarter of this year. The meeting will review all aspects and dimensions of cooperation on bilateral, regional and international platforms. Intensification of trade and investment will remain the main focus of the meeting.
His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa is due to visit Pakistan at some stage in the future. Is this visit still likely to go ahead?
The Prime Minister of Pakistan, during his last visit to Bahrain, extended a warm invitation to His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa for a visit to Pakistan which His Majesty very kindly accepted. We are making preparations for the visit at the convenience of His Majesty which will be conveyed by the Royal Court.
PM Khan’s visit included a vow to work closely to increase trade and investment between the two nations. What are the current trade figures between the two?
A good amount of goods and services are being traded between Pakistan and Bahrain, some directly and others through third countries. Under normal circumstances there are 32 weekly direct Gulf Air flights from Pakistan bring lots of fresh fruits, vegetables and meat. The latest bilateral direct trade figure is USD150 million.
I believe we can have greater trade in processed food, textiles, leather goods, sports goods, surgical instruments, home furnishings and in the services sector, including IT, banking, medical and engineering.
How will the Embassy work towards this?
We are utilising all available resources on both sides to put the business communities in contact with each other. We have facilitated visits of business delegations and participation of businessmen in trade exhibitions and conferences.
I came to Bahrain in August 2018 and feel very much at home. I find the people of this country very receptive, hospitable and helpful.
My wife and eldest daughter are with me in Bahrain. My son and younger daughter are pursuing their professional studies abroad.
I spend maximum time with Bahraini friends to learn about this country, culture and the potential to strengthen bilateral ties. I try to spend much time outside my office.
I will take this opportunity to convey my deepest gratitude to His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the Prime Minister, His Royal Highness Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the Crown Prince, His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa and HE Dr Abdullatif bin Rashid Alzayani, the Foreign Minister, for their consistent support to my Mission. I wish Pakistan, Bahrain and the whole world an early recovery from Coronavirus and peace and prosperity for everyone in the times ahead. May Almighty Allah bless us all.