PM TRACKER
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Morale boosting visits of Davos, Brussels

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From SHAMIM AHMED RIZVI,
 Islamabad

Feb 07 - 13, 2005
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The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Shaukat Aziz, has played a very positive role in improving Pakistan's image abroad and promoting country's economic interest during a week-long visit to Belgium and Davos, Switzerland. He interacted with world leaders, addressed press conferences, participated in panel discussions and met chief executives of the multinational corporations.

The Minister focused on Pakistan's foreign policy objectives with commitment to world peace efforts and economic ambitions. On the situation in South Asia, the premier gave special reference to Kashmir issue. According to reports, the Prime Minister succeeded in projecting a new image of Pakistan as a modern and moderate Islamic nation working for global peace and good relations with its neighbours.

Shaukat Aziz left Pakistan for Brussels on Monday and on a four-day visit he had heavy schedule of engagements. He began Tuesday by giving interviews to Belgium leading French language newspapers and a telephonic interview to Wall Street Journal. He then began his meeting with various officials of the European Union (EU). He first met Peter Mandelson, EU Commissioner for Trade. Later in the afternoon, he held talks with EU Secretary General Javier Solana at the European Council Secretariat.

His next engagement was a meeting with President of European Parliament Josep Borrel Fontelles at the Parliament building. Later in the evening, the Prime Minister addressed members of Pakistani community at Hotel Conard. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Aziz attended a breakfast meeting hosted by Wallon Export Agency with the collaboration of Belgium business community. He then had a meeting with members of European Parliament's All Parties Group on Kashmir which was followed by meeting with Kashmiri delegation. This was followed by his meeting with Belgian counterpart Guy Verhofstadt. Later, the Pakistani Prime Minister held talks with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. His next engagement was with Mayor of Brussels, Freedy Thiemans at the City Town Hall.

The highlights of Prime Minister's visit was his address on the "Dynamics of Pakistan's Foreign Policy in the New World Order" at the prestigious Royal Institute for International Relations.

The Prime Minister wrapped up his day's engagements by attending a dinner hosted by Federation of Enterprises of Belgium. The Pakistani premier left for the Swiss resort of Davos in the morning of January 27 (Thursday).

At the end of intensive visit to Brussels, Shaukat Aziz in an interview with local daily correspondent in Brussels said that his contacts with key European Union, Belgian and Nato officials were part of a drive to reposition Pakistan in Europe. "The more exposure we get, the better it is. We repositioned Pakistan as a country which is enlightened, moderate, working very hard to improve the lot of its people and doing well but not short of challenges," Shaukat said.

The focus in discussions had been on a range of issues, including Pakistan's role in the world of tomorrow as a major Islamic country located at the crossroads of South Asia, China and the Middle East. "That struck a cord with many," he underlined. One sign of Pakistan's improved profile in Europe was that senior EU officials had asked Pakistan to "help bridge any gaps which may exits" in contacts on nuclear issues between the EU and Iran, he said.

"We have projected ourselves as an anchor for peace and stability in the region. As a peaceful and moderate country which wants to do better and can play a moderating role in our region," Shaukat Aziz underlined. His hosts were inevitably interested in Islamabad's relations with its neighbours, especially India. "The composite dialogue is moving ahead," the premier said, adding that while India's Baglihar dam project had created "some complications, we are hoping that this will resolve itself through dialogue. It is not the end of the world," "Luckily it is governed by a treaty which provides for dispute resolution. We now leave it to the experts to decide."

 

 

Relations with Afghanistan had figured on the agenda with EU officials praising Pakistan's 'responsible' role in helping organize 'seamless' presidential elections in the country, he said, adding: "Our role and conduct in the presidential elections is very much appreciated."

The prime minister said he had also underscored Pakistan's global commitment to fight terrorism and insisted that "we do also urged EU governments to address the root causes of extremism. "This is a complex issue solving Kashmir and the Palestinian question will help." "There is a broader view of this which is that we have to reduce the feeling of deprivation and hopelessness and create a sense of hope in people," Shaukat said. "The West has a major responsibility. They need to open their minds too," he said, adding that stereotyped views of Muslims must be replaced by a realistic look at Islam and Muslims countries.

Shaukat Aziz said his preliminary contacts with Nato Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer had been useful in view of the alliance military presence in Afghanistan.

His message to businessmen in Europe was that "Pakistan is an open economy. You can come and sell your goods. You can build factories there, you decide what makes sense for your business."

On Thursday, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz left for Davos (Switzerland) to attend the annual meeting of World Economic Forum (WEF). The WEF meeting this year has assumed special importance as it has taken place at a time when the global economic and trade environment is moving towards greater liberalization. This conference provided the opportunity to a large number of political and corporate leaders to exchange views on the possibilities of economic cooperation that might be lying ahead.

In the past few years, WEF has become an important occasion where the prospects of the world economy are discussed and the corporate world usually takes this opportunity to assess when and where it would be useful and profitable to make fresh investments. Seen in this perspective, the forum has acquired special significance for countries like Pakistan, which are focusing their attention on a accelerating economic progress.

Following a busy schedule in Davos, the premier met with various groups of participants on the sidelines of the forum, and has rightly emphasized upon good governance, conflict resolution and resource mobilization as some of the key factors for economic progress. He observed that a sustained process of reform could bring about a change for the betterment in Asia.

During his various meetings in Davos, the prime minister said that Pakistan was entering a new phase of economic development and growth. He said that it was expanding its ties with neighbouring countries to ensure regional peace. Pakistan government is committed to peace and progress. It is putting in place policies that will enable the private sector to take investment initiatives. "The government itself is concentrating on building infrastructure to facilitate investment inflows. Trade diversification is equally important."

Speaking at a panel discussion on "Modernization without Westernization", the Prime Minister urged the developed countries to provide generous assistance to the developing countries to overcome the problem of poverty and ignorance. Other panelists were Prime Minister of Egypt Ahmad Mohamoud Nazif, Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia Nabib Abdul Razak and Vice President of Iran Ms Masoumeh Ebtekar.

The Prime Minister regretted that there are misperceptions about Islam. He pointed out that there are many societies with a minority of people expressing their views violently. However, in the wake of 9/11 events only Islam became a target of propaganda. He said an extreme behavior is not restricted to one border or one region. Shaukat Aziz urged the international community to look at the root causes that lead people to extreme tendencies. He said apart from addressing the issue of misperception created by media and the root causes of extremism, there is also a need to focus on economic growth and prosperity to contain such tendencies. The problem of terrorism is not only ideological but also has economic dimensions, he added.

Addressing a gathering at a breakfast meeting hosted in his honour by Ikramul Majeed Seghal of the Karachi-based Pathfinder Group on the sidelines of World Economic Forum on Friday morning, the Prime Minister said there was a greater responsibility on the West to assist the poor Muslim countries in socioeconomic fields if it had to tackle the issue of terrorism in a comprehensive manner.

He said although no society is exempted from extreme behaviour, there is a need to focus on economic growth and prosperity to counter such tendencies. Prime Minister said terrorism has also links with the Middle East issue and unless the Palestine problem was settled amicably, the region would continue to remain in the bloodbath.

"Pakistan is undergoing through a political process and we need to have a strong leadership to oversee the economic development and put the country back on the road of progress and prosperity," he said.

The Prime Minister explained various measures taken by Pakistan for peaceful relations with India and said the composite dialogue will receive further impetus when he meets his Indian counterpart Dr Manmohan Singh in Dhaka during the SAARC summit next month.

Domestically, Aziz said the government was concentrating on three pillars on activities including restructuring of national economy to make it more vibrant and buoyant, credible political process and improving internal and external security environment. "The journey is far from over but we are determined to stay on course," he remarked, adding since last five years the country has moved out of morass and looks ahead with full energy and vibrancy.

Addressing Asian editors on the sidelines of World Economic Forum, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said that strong, stable and vibrant Afghanistan is important for Pakistan and for ensuring peace in the region. The editors belonged to Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Japan, India, Philippines and Vietnam. The Prime Minister spoke about the role of Pakistan in the reconstruction of Afghanistan and its support for the restoration of peace and stability in the land-locked country.

On Iran, he said it was another important neighbour of Pakistan and he is visiting that country next month for talks with the Iranian leadership on bilateral issues including the proposed gas pipeline project. He said Pakistan has offered "energy corridor" to Iran and other neighbouring countries to help promote peace and stability in the region.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said Pakistan's textile sector is fully prepared to meet the challenges of the quota free world and promised to pursue privatization and structural reforms. He said the sector is set to benefit from the new arrangement. Pakistan's strategic location makes it an ideal destination for investment and the government makes no discrimination between local and foreign investors, he added.

Explaining in detail Pakistan's economic policies and achievements, he said Pakistan is set to achieve the growth rate of seven percent this year, its foreign exchange reserves are comfortable and exports are going up. He said Pakistan wants to live in peace with all its neighbours including India.

The Prime Minister declared that Pakistan wants to settle all its disputes with India including Jammu and Kashmir through peaceful means. He, however, cautioned that progress on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir and other matters like trade and investment would have to be in tandem.

The visit of the Prime Minister to Belgium, EU headquarters in Brussels and the conference at Davos was both important and significant. The results of these visits should be visible soon.