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Islamabad and Asean

Islamabad and Asean

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Pakistan's Ambassador Mohammad Younis Khan on growing trade between the two nations and joint efforts to fight terrorism

TRACEY SHELTON

Ambassador of Pakistan, Mohammad Younis Khan, in his office at the Pakistani embassy in Phnom Penh last week.

Pakistan's Ambassador

Mohammad Younis Khan, Ambassador of Pakistan, previously served as ambassador to Vietnam from 2000 to 2003. When Islamabad decided to establish an embassy in the Kingdom, he was a natural choice. "Probably they thought I had some knowledge about Southeast Asia and thought I could come to Cambodia also."

When did Pakistan establish its embassy in Phnom Penh, and what made Cambodia an attractive location for a new mission?

This is our third year now [in Cambodia]. We established a mission by sending a charge d'affairs here in 2005, who was then upgraded to ambassador. In Pakistan, we feel we must start to look towards the east, and we see Asean as a very important body that is integrating and that is economically picking up its pace. We believe that Pakistan must have a share in this trade and development, so we have moved ahead in this region. We set up our embassy in Vietnam in 2000, and now we have embassies in [most of] the Asean  countries.

What level of annual trade does Pakistan have with Cambodia and with Asean as a whole?

With Asean I think the total figure is around US$2 billion. With Cambodia, our annual trade is about $14 million: $13 million of exports from Pakistan and around $1 million from Cambodia. It's small, but you must understand that it is increasing very quickly. Only a few years back our annual trade was only $5 million, so the growth has been very fast and within a few years, inshallah, we think we will reach a very respectable figure.

What products does Pakistan export to the region?

Most of the products are textiles, and textile make-ups. We provide the garment industry here with raw materials, and there are also pharmaceutical goods coming in from Pakistan. We are hopeful that very soon we will be able to bring in sporting goods and surgical instruments, for which we are known around the world.

WE ARE TRYING TO WORK OUT SOME AGREEMENT WITH THE cAMBODIAN GOVERNMENT TO ... SET UP AN

HONOuRARY CONSULATE IN KARACHI.

I understand Pakistan has been working to establish a free-trade agreement with Asean. What is the current progress on this front?
This is still in progress and it could take some time before we are part of something like that. But we are working on it.
How much Pakistani foreign direct investment is there in Cambodia?

There are a few Pakistanis running restaurants here. But the problem we face at the moment is that it is difficult for Pakistani businessmen to come here because of the visa restrictions, in the sense that there is no Cambodian embassy in Pakistan, so there is no easy way to get a visa. So we are trying to work out some agreement with the Cambodian government to see if they can set up an honourary consulate in Karachi, which would be a great help. If businessmen had less difficulty coming here, things would be much more successful. And if people are coming from Karachi to Vietnam, then they will also come here. Once the businessmen start coming, things will start to work much more favourably for us.

Has Pakistan provided any loans or other aid to the Cambodian government?

There was a plan in Pakistan to give Cambodia $10 million to build a reservoir for irrigation and drinking water. But it's still being looked at in Islamabad and it could take some time. At the moment Pakistan's own economy is not in good shape, as you know, but I am trying very hard to carry this forward and hope in future to have cooperation with the government in the field of irrigation.

In April 2004, Cambodia and Pakistan signed an agreement of cooperation, which included a joint effort to fight terrorism. What have the two countries done so far in this regard?

Well, we keep in touch with each other and inform each other of what can be done [to fight terrorism]. But we are working with the [Cambodian] chief of police, who will be visiting Pakistan for talks with our government, and that visit will help things get started. There have been so many changes of government and elections recently in Pakistan, but these are the areas on which we plan to focus.

In Islamabad on August 9, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi highlighted the shared values, history and culture that Pakistan has with the countries of Asean. Does the Pakistani mission in Cambodia have a cultural component?
Well, Pakistan was at one time a Buddhist country, and we had a great university of Buddhism at a place called Taxila, very near to Islamabad, which was the heart of Buddhist learning all around the world: The Buddhists who first came to Southeast Asia and other Asian countries had been taught in Taxila. One of the best-known statues of Buddhism - the "fasting Buddha" - is in Pakistan, and in Thailand and other countries you can find copies of it. Islam came about 1,000 years back, but the cultural heritage of Buddhism is very strong.

Does Pakistan have any cultural or economic links with Cambodia's Cham Muslim community?

Not as yet. Because we have just set up the embassy and are still learning who [in government] we can talk to. We have a system in Pakistan whereby we can give some charitable support to mosques, but not as yet in Cambodia.

What do you think has prompted the Cambodian government's growing relationship with the wider Muslim world, and do you think the presence of a significant Muslim minority here has helped that?

Muslim countries are looking towards Cambodia not because of the Muslims here, but because of Cambodia as a country. It is a country that is developing rapidly, and there are many chances for investment here. Because [Pakistan is] in a difficult economic situation at the moment, we don't have surplus funds and so are not in a position to offer investment abroad at this point in time.

What do you think has prevented a strong relationship developing between Cambodia and Muslim countries in the past?

Probably because there was no stability here. I am talking about the Khmer Rouge time: The whole country was in turmoil. Now there is stability, and the country has become very attractive for foreign investment. As a country stabilises, the rest of the world starts to take an interest in it.

How can the two countries gain from closer cooperation in future?

We are both developing countries and we can learn from each other's experience. We can share knowledge: Cambodians can come to study in Pakistan, we have good institutions there and there are scholarships for students to come and study. That should help Cambodians to learn about Pakistan so when they come back that should help trade and commerce between the countries. As time passes, we can probably do more, and if we can get this agreement going on building a reservoir here, that could build open up new ideas and establish us and our credibility in the region.

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