Visiting Belarus visa-free

Interview by Andrei Yermolovich, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Belarus to Pakistan, to the Belarusian Telegraph Agency (August 7, 2015)

Not long ago the Belarusian mass media reported on the first ever official visit of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko to Pakistan. The visit took place on 28-29 May this year. Not much time passed and Belarus is hosting Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who is in Belarus on an official visit on 10-12 August. Obviously, such dynamics of contacts shows that there is a mutual interest and that the current bilateral agenda includes a list of long-term plans on development of the cooperation. In fact, this is Belarus' strategy to strengthen relations with the countries of the so-called ‘distant arc' in action. Pakistan is one of the key states of Southeast Asia with a population of almost 200 million people. In an interview to BelTA Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Belarus to Pakistan Andrei Yermolovich talks about the opportunities and plans for the development of the Belarusian-Pakistani interaction. 

What has been done in the Belarusian-Pakistani relations since the opening of the Belarusian Embassy in Islamabad in November 2014?

In short, we have formalized, in the shortest time possible, the new intentions of Minsk and Islamabad to move towards each other.

Pakistan organically takes a certain niche in the structure of our foreign policy interests. A nuclear power, with a nearly 200-million strong population, with the heroic history, ambitious plans to revitalize the domestic economic potential, rich human resources, Pakistan was undeservedly overlooked by Minsk for far too long.

On the other hand, Belarus, a state strategically located in the heart of Europe, an active participant in the economic processes in the post-Soviet and European spaces, undeservedly remained beyond the scope of Islamabad “direct action”.

Belarus and Pakistan have already adjusted their policies, and I think that we can expect good results.

The recent events in the 12-month bilateral relations includes one round of the political consultations at the level of Ministries of Foreign Affairs, the sessions of the economic and scientific-technical commissions, a session of the working group on agriculture, two business and investment forums, the first session of the Belarusian-Pakistani Business Council, and finally the exchange of visits at the highest level and the signing of more than 30 bilateral documents.

We needed to pass this stage of extensive growth and we did it in an extremely short span of time. 

At the same time we should understand that putting this boat afloat we should maintain its movement gradually adding momentum to our mutual relations. We will need a lot of effort, efficient management, and nonstandard solutions to fill the bilateral cooperation with concrete content.

How will Belarusian-Pakistani relations develop in the near-term and distant prospect?

The bilateral legal framework allows the two countries to develop bilateral relations in every area, i.e. politics, economy, science, education, and culture. The main principles of the political dialogue laid down in the Islamabad Declaration of Belarus-Pakistan Partnership signed on 29 May 2015 will be further developed in the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between the Republic of Belarus and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The document will be signed during the forthcoming visit. Similar views on bilateral political relations and the international agenda allow the two countries to make advances in other vital areas as well.

What are the prospects for trade and economic cooperation between Belarus and Pakistan?

The only possible alternative here is an active trade with a gradual shift to mutual investment and cooperation projects.

Belarus and Pakistan should make the maximum advantage of its naturally developed economic formula of bilateral relations which centers on the complementarity of the two economies. Belarus traditionally imports Pakistani textile products, rice, vegetables and fruit. Mango, a high-quality product and pride of Pakistan, is very popular on the Belarusian market. In turn, Pakistan buys Belarusian tractors, tires, and petrochemical products. Today it is important to turn the existing cooperation formula into a system, increase and diversify mutual trade.

There are big prospects for Belarus on the Pakistani market in what concerns the supplies of heavy-duty dump trucks, road construction, utilities and agricultural vehicles, petrochemical products. The parties will also look into possible cooperation in gas and oil production, participation of Belarusian design and construction organizations in Pakistan's infrastructure projects. 

Belarus has been selling tractors to Pakistan for dozens of years. Our national brand does not need special advertising as it is already ‘embedded into the unconscious' of Pakistani consumers. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the word ‘Belarus' in Pakistan is first of all associated with our tractors and only after that with the country. This is a great example of effective economic diplomacy. As for our export of tractors, our main task here is to bolster it and prevent a slowdown.

Apart from the bilateral trade, we should also work hard to develop our cooperation in other areas. For this purpose, Belarus and Pakistan signed agreements in May 2015 to set up two commissions, one for industrial cooperation and the other for cooperation in agriculture. Our economic results during the next two to three years will depend on the bilateral cooperation in these fields.

In Pakistan there are many well-off people ready to share their experience, technologies, and capital with Belarus. The picture is mostly the same in Belarus, a country with great industrial, agricultural, and intellectual potential. The main thing here is to create an effective negotiation platform for the enterprises of the two countries. Such a platform will be created.

What can we expect from the development of Belarus-Pakistan humanitarian cooperation?

Taking into account the potential of Belarus and Pakistan in science, technologies, culture, and education, the prospects and very promising. We organized an exchange of delegations of our national academies of sciences this year. A number of agreements on scientific and technical cooperation were concluded. The agreements are mostly related to construction of farm vehicles, geodesy, biotechnologies, and other fields.

The heads of the Education Ministries of Belarus and Pakistan held a series of negotiations in May-July 2015. We are much willing to tap into the potential of the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan, an institution with an annual budget of $700 million, in order to organize training of Pakistani citizens at Belarusian universities and vocational schools.

We also have agreements on culture and information cooperation that will help us put the bilateral cooperation systematic. It will be enough to mention the recently signed agreement to set up a Belarusian culture and information center at the National Library of Pakistan. The project will be implemented in the near future.