We present the interview that Ambassador Safdar Hayat has given us:
1. What is the history of the bilateral relations between Romania and Pakistan?
Pakistan enjoys close and cordial relations with Romania since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1964. Our relations were particularly robust during the 1970s and 1980s, when there was sizeable barter trade, economic activity and exchange of visits between the two. There are prominent economic icons in Pakistan that trace their linkage to Romania. For instance, Romania assisted in the setting up of the National Oil Refinery at Karachi and also helped establish cement and fertilizer plants in Pakistan. Romanian tractors were very popular in Pakistan. Since its joining of the European Union in 2007, Romania has expressed considerable goodwill to further enhance its relations with Pakistan in all fields.
During the past few years, the high level political interactions between Pakistan and Romania have picked up pace. Former Speaker of National Assembly of Pakistan visited Romania in March 2016. Former Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, Mr. Sartaj Aziz held a meeting with the then Romanian Foreign Minister Mr. Lazar Comanescu on the sidelines of the 11thASEM Summit in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia on 16 July 2016. Minister for Defence Production of Pakistan paid a visit to Romania in August 2016.
The bilateral relations between Pakistan and Romania though wide-ranging, still lack depth and await full exploitation. There exists immense potential for cooperation in diverse fields. Pakistan desires to have a multifaceted and long-term relationship with Romania encompassing such domains as trade, defence, education & science, cultural, people-to-people- contacts, tourism etc. to name a few.
The two countries have a formal mechanism of bilateral political consultations that are regularly held between the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of the two countries on a biennial basis. The last round of these consultations was held in Bucharest in 2017. The forthcoming round is scheduled for Islamabad in 2019. The mechanism of bilateral consultations provides a unique forum for discussing multifarious issues of common interest between the two friendly countries. The two countries also continue to support each other at various multilateral fora as well.
2. What can you tell us about the present state of trade and investment opportunities between the two countries and future prospects?
The bilateral trade between the two countries currently stands at around US$ 70.52 million (2018). Pakistan is importing oil seeds and oleaginous fruits, machinery and its parts, petroleum & chemical elements as well as compounds from Romania. Pakistan's major exports to Romania include chemical material and products, material of animal origin, cotton fabric (woven), synthetic fabrics and manufactured textile goods. The existing bilateral trade is much below the true potential of the two countries. However, on a positive note, the commercial activity between Pakistan and Romania is gradually picking up pace and is likely to improve in the coming years.
Pakistan offers multiple opportunities to interested International and Romanian business enterprises. Since 2013-14, the Pakistani economy has witnessed a smooth upward trend in growth rate. Real GDP growth was above four percent in 2013-14 and has smoothly increased during the last four years to reach 5.8 percent in 2018. It is therefore, ripe time that as the business activity in Pakistan expands; the Romanian business community explores this emerging market.
Since the inauguration of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, new vistas of investment opportunities in Pakistan have opened up for the local and international potential investors. Valued at US$62 billion, this multibillion dollar infrastructure and energy project is envisioned to serve as a regional connectivity portal. As different allied industries have started gaining renewed vitality following this project, international investors including those from Romania can take advantage of this opportunity. Pakistan stands to offer a lot to Romania in terms of its impending labor shortages.
3. One of the major challenges being faced by Romania is the acute shortage of labour. Avenues are being explored to recruit the same from other countries. What role can Pakistan play in fulfilling this requirement in Romania?
Pakistan has the comparative advantage of having a huge reserve of low-cost trained and diligent labor. In specific, Pakistan’s textile sector labor has also marked its distinction around the world. This specific sector offers huge opportunities for Romanian textile sector that is facing acute labor shortage at present. As an instance, during an interaction with a textile sector entrepreneur informed me that his textile enterprise that was earlier employing around 200 individuals was today managing with hardly 50 individuals essentially owing to shortage of labor etc. It is such and other similar instances, where Pakistan could readily offer its labor expertise to Romania at much lower costs. Another area where Pakistani labor could be of utility to Romania is the construction sector. Pakistani labor have done marvels in the construction sector of Middle Eastern countries during the past few decades. As Romania gains momentum with its boom in the construction sector, Pakistan’s labor can be a cost-effective element for this purpose. We are delighted to note that recently, some prominent Romanian construction companies are already exploring the labor treasure trove in Pakistan and one Romanian company has already interviewed over 400 individuals for its construction-related ventures.
4. I remember in the past a number of Pakistani students were studying in different educational students in Romania. What is the situation now? How extensive is cooperation in the educational field between Romania and Pakistan?
In terms of mutual collaboration in the field of education, Romania’s renowned Polytehnica University is currently collaborating with different research institutions of Pakistan. Furthermore, a number of other Pakistani universities have also expressed interest in enhancing institutionalized collaboration with Polytehnica University of Bucharest. As another example, the Romanian Institute for Europe-Asia Studies (IRSEA) and the Islamabad Institute of Strategic Studies (ISSI), the Institute of Regional Studies (IRS), the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI), National University of Modern Languages, Islamabad, Preston University, Kohat as well as Society of Asian Civilizations (SAC), Islamabad have also established institutional mechanisms for mutual collaboration. In addition, ISSI has also entered into institutional linkages with the Middle East Political and Economic Institute, Bucharest.
While the above ongoing educational collaboration between Pakistan and Romania is commendable, it may be highlighted that the bilateral cooperation between the two countries in the field of education has remained much more than its current level in the past. You are right, there was a time when a large number of Pakistani students were flocking to Romanian universities for educational purposes. This was owing to the good quality and affordable educational opportunities offered by Romanian educational institutions. Unfortunately, due to visa problems being encountered by Pakistani students, the number of Pakistani students in Romania has drastically reduced. This has resulted not only in loss of some very bright students from Pakistan for Romania but also stress on Romania’s revenues from this domain. One of the reasons for this decrease is the stringent visa regime being adopted by the Romanian authorities.
5. You made mention of the visa issue. How much does the visa issue affect? What solution do you propose?
Romanian visa problems are not only reserved for Pakistani students but for Pakistani business community and families seeking reunion as well. Romania is currently following a stringent visa regime especially for Asian countries. This has adversely affected genuine Pakistani students and business community who intend to pursue their educational and business ambitions in Romania. It may be noted that Romania is itself losing on significant revenues as a result of the above policy. It is therefore expected that Romania will relax its visa policy towards Pakistani students and businesspersons in the days ahead. In this regard our request to the Romanian authorities is to at least relax visa requirements for genuine students and businessmen. This will help strengthen our bilateral cooperation in the fields of trade and education.
Related to the visa issue is the travel advisory issued by Romania against Pakistan. This discourages Romanians from undertaking visit to Pakistan. The advisory is rather discriminatory and not based on ground realities as the situation in Pakistan has improved tremendously in the last few years. Pakistan is as safe as any other country in the world. I may mention that despite the travel advisory, the number of visitors from Romania to Pakistan is rising. However, this number will further increase if either this travel advisory is altogether removed or at least revised in line with the ground realities.
6. People to people contacts play an important role in creating better understanding about each other’s culture and traditions. What steps the Embassy has taken to enhancing people to people contacts between the two countries?
It is heartening to note that despite challenges, important steps have been taken both by Pakistan and Romania in enhancing their cultural footprint in each other’s social milieu. Recent manifestations of these in Bucharest were the biggest ever Pakistan FlashMob in the world organized by the Embassy of Pakistan in Bucharest in 2017. Similarly, since last year, the Embassy of Pakistan, Bucharest has been arranging Pakistan Film Festival in Romania. Since 2018, two such festivals have been held in Bucharest. Both the events attracted huge Romanian audience and media coverage. The film festival has now become an annual flagship cultural festivity brought to Romanians by the Embassy of Pakistan in Bucharest.
A number of Romanian artists and musicians are increasingly performing in Pakistan nowadays. This is an extremely positive development and self-explanatory in terms of the role that Pakistan has now reassumed as the cultural centre of South Asia. In July 2018, the Embassy of Pakistan in Bucharest organized the first-ever Pakistan Golf Cup in Bucharest.
7. Romania possesses tremendous touristic potential. Likewise, Pakistan has also been bestowed with a lot of natural beauty. Can tourism be an opportunity for enhancing cooperation between the two countries?
Tourism offers tremendous opportunities for cooperation between the two countries. For Romanians, Pakistan offers a lot many touristic opportunities. Pakistan’s landscape features remarkable diversity and an unparalleled beauty with some of the highest mountain ranges and largest non-polar glaciers in the world, rugged plateau, sprawling deserts and verdant plains, large rivers, lakes and the sea. The variety of the topography is matched by the variance in climatic conditions and fauna and flora. Above all the people of Pakistan are famous for their hospitality like Romanians. They will receive their Romanian brothers with open heart.
As some glimpses of Pakistan’s touristic spots, Pakistan is truly the dream destination for those interested in climbing, rafting or trekking. Five of the world’s fourteen highest peaks above 8000 meter including the famed K2 are found in Pakistan. Pakistan is also home to 108 peaks above 7000 meters. The potential for mountaineering is therefore unprecedented for adventure tourists from around the world.
Pakistan’s well-preserved culture offers a unique opportunity for those interested in learning the ancient civilizations. Ranging from ‘Do Darya’ in Karachi and Gwadar Port in Baluchistan to the Badshahi mosque in Lahore as well as beautiful valleys of the north like Hunza and Sust, every part of Pakistan is an amalgam of history and culture in its own kind. If one is interested in trotting through ancient history, Mohenjo-Daro; Taxila and Makli are standing signposts to witness. If one wishes to stream through the Islamic architecture, Badshahi Mosque and Rohtas Fort are glaring examples. If one intends to meander through the British era or the phases of the historical evolution of modern of Pakistan, the examples and icons are innumerable. Cities and valleys of Pakistan are truly the spreadsheet of civilizational evolution unprecedented in nature and unique in character.
Tourism in Pakistan (Pictorial)
8. How big is Pakistani expatriate community in Romania? Can you inform us about their activities and the role they can play in boosting bilateral cooperation?
The narrative of Pakistan-Romania historic relations would be incomplete without the mentioning of the vibrant Pakistani diaspora resident in Romania. Though, a relatively small community of around 150-200 individuals, the Pakistani diaspora in Romania is a law abiding, hardworking, professional and enterprising group which is not only contributing towards the betterment of Romanian economy but is also bringing accolades for Pakistan. Many of these have married in Romania and are happily residing along with their families in Romania for decades. They act as a bridge between the two countries and can play an important role in introducing Pakistan’s culture, traditions etc. in Romania.
9. In the end what message would you like to give to the Romanians?
My message to the Romanians is that Pakistan and Romania have a lot to offer to each other. As the two countries expand their profiles on the international stage, they can synergize their capabilities to counter common challenges in the years ahead. If in the past, we had robust ties we can certainly have better cooperation in the future. I would request my Romanians friends not to look at Pakistan through the eye of media. The reality of Pakistan is much better than the perception it gets in the media. Tremendous opportunities are awaiting you. Visit Pakistan and explore the treasure trove of opportunities available there.