Sun, 07 January 2024
Bahrain and Pakistan enjoy a long-standing diplomatic partnership, with the South Asian nation being one of the first to establish relations in the Kingdom in 1971. Kristian Harrison spoke to the Ambassador of Pakistan to the Kingdom of Bahrain, HE Saqib Rauf, about his diplomatic career and his plans to bolster ties between the two nations.
Your Excellency, thank you for sitting down with us! Firstly, can you give us an overview of your career journey to date?
I joined the diplomatic service of Pakistan after completing my Master’s in Economics from the University of Sindh. Along the way, I did another Master’s in Diplomatic Studies and Public Administration from the Australian National University.
In my foreign assignments, I’ve served in New York, Tehran and Brussels. I spent one year in Italy as well for my language learning module.
What are your initial impressions of Bahrain now that you’ve had a little time to settle in?
I’ve been in Bahrain for two months now. I must say it is one of the most hospitable countries that I’ve seen. The people are very warm, polite and highly educated. Bahrain has a well-developed physical and industrial infrastructure and is taking serious steps to stay ahead of the curve by focusing on emerging fields of artificial intelligence and cyber security. This reflects the visionary leadership of HM King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and HRH Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Crown Prince and Prime Minister.
Bahrain and Pakistan have a long and strong diplomatic relationship. How proud do you feel to be one of the custodians of this relationship and what are your immediate plans to bolster ties through 2024?
Pakistan was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with Bahrain. The relations between our people, however, go centuries back. We share a number of similarities in our language and culture. For me, it is a great honour to act as a bridge between our two countries. This is a serious responsibility, but the ambassadors have a very elaborate network of support from their colleagues in the diplomatic circle. So with the cooperation of my team at the embassy, our colleagues in Bahrain’s Embassy and Consulate General in Pakistan and our Ministries of Foreign Affairs, we strive to perform this responsibility.
In 2024, according to the vision of our leadership, we plan to take stock of what we have achieved so far and how we can build further on our existing ties. Once this plan of action is discussed and agreed at the start of the year, we hope to work towards implementing this plan. This was something which was suggested by diplomat par excellence, Foreign Minister HE Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani.
What are the longer-term goals you wish to achieve by the end of your tenure in Bahrain?
I believe in building things gradually. At the moment, we have identified some concrete proposals, which are under discussion. These cover cooperation in various fields ranging from economic and trade cooperation, law and order and issues related to Pakistani labour. I am sure these discussions will lead to some fruitful outcomes and pave the way for further cooperation.
What is the current state of relations between Bahrain and Pakistan? What are some of the key areas of cooperation between the two countries?
Our two countries have close political, commercial and defence relations. There is regular interaction between our respective leaderships. We have a large community in Bahrain, which is generously hosted by our brothers and sisters in Bahrain. This community plays the role of a bridge between our peoples.
What are some of the challenges facing the Bahrain-Pakistan relationship, and how do you plan to address them?
I don’t see any challenges as such. However, there are always opportunities to build on an already-solid relationship. The two countries, for example, can work together in emerging fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics and cyber security. Similarly, in traditional areas of economic cooperation as well, we always have room to broaden bilateral cooperation for mutual benefit.
What are the trade figures between Bahrain and Pakistan? What are the main imports and exports?
Bilateral trade is in the vicinity of around USD1 billion. From our side, we mainly export agricultural and food items such as meat, fish and vegetables to Bahrain. From Bahrain, we are primarily importing oil and petrochemical products. However, there is a surge in trade in services as well. Overall, the balance of trade has remained in favour of Bahrain by a considerable margin.
What can the Pakistan government do to support Pakistani businesses and entrepreneurs who are interested in expanding into the Bahraini market?
Interestingly, we are already working on it. One of the key challenges for Pakistani exporters to introduce and distribute their products in Bahrain has been the absence of any major Pakistani supermarket in Bahrain. Similarly, Bahrain offers a very attractive investment regime. We are approaching Pakistani businesses to inform them of these opportunities and intend to get them in touch with the relevant Bahraini agencies here.
Approximately how many Pakistanis reside in Bahrain and in what fields do they work?
By our estimate, there are approximately 80,000 Pakistanis in Bahrain. They are working as professionals including doctors, engineers, bankers, chartered accountants, businessmen and labour workers.
What are your ideas to boost tourism between the two countries and are there any cultural exchanges planned?
Gulf Air has regular flights operating to and from Pakistan. Similarly, there are some flights of Pakistan International Airlines. In the past, we have been in touch with these airlines to see how this easy travel between the two countries can be leveraged more for tourism.
As for cultural activities, you’ll see the Pakistani diaspora in Bahrain actively celebrating Bahrain’s National Day. These events are a venue of projecting and introducing our younger generations with culture of both countries. Some performers were recently invited by Pakistani doctors for a music event and similarly, Bahrainis in Pakistan have been invited to their events by the respective embassy.
What is your message for the Pakistani community in Bahrain?
Our community is fully aware of the generous hospitality which is extended to them by our Bahraini brothers and sisters. They as a community, and we as their embassy here, are grateful for the opportunity that Bahrain provides to these people to work productively to the benefit of both countries. My message to them, I am sure though that they are already doing it, is to work with dedication for the progress and prosperity of Bahrain.
Outside of your ambassadorial duties, what is your main hobby?
I try to work out, though it is not very regular! Reading, however, is a life-long hobby and I enjoy a mixture of both fiction and non-fiction.
Anything more to add?
I’d like to thank Bahrain This Month for this opportunity to discuss the beautiful relationship between our countries, and I also extend our felicitations to our brothers and sisters in Bahrain on their recent 52nd National Day and wish them a prosperous New Year for 2024.