Nepal, Pakistan ties poised for a quantum leap

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BHARAT RAJ PAUDYAL
Ambassador of Nepal talks to Centreline and DNA
Ansar Mahmood Bhatti
Let us begin with bilateral relations. How would you describe Pakistan, Nepal relations especially in the fields of trade, tourism and culture?

Nepal and Pakistan enjoy friendly relations. In the front of trade, we have Trade Agreement signed on July 28, 1982 and both the countries are party to the SAFTA. There is good untapped potential for the trade and commerce between the two countries. A Joint Business Council (JBC) was established in November 1996 between the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI) and the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI). Confederation of Nepalese Industries (CNI) has signed MOUs with Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore Chambers of Commerce and Industry to promote bilateral trade and investment. We expect holding of the third meeting of the JBC between the apex bodies of the private sector soon.

 In 2009, the two countries have concluded bilateral Agreement on Tourism Cooperation. The Agreement provides for mutual cooperation in the fields of tourism, exchanges between tourism organizations and travel and tour operators, mutual exchange of tourism information, materials and experience, production of tourism-related films and videos, and joint investment. As you know, Nepal is a premium tourist destination and offers range of touristic choices for the people of all age and taste. I have realized that a lot of potential higher-end Pakistani tourists have little knowledge about Nepal’s touristic attractions. The embassy has tried to promote Nepal’s touristic attractions to this group of people. The holiday makers from Pakistan, including corporate executives and businessmen, can find Nepal an attractive destination. There is direct flight between Pakistan and Nepal and duration of flight is short and cost relatively inexpensive.

A number of Nepalese students are studying in Pakistan particularly in the field of medical science, engineering and pharmacy. Cultural Agreement between Nepal and Pakistan signed on May 25, 1970, aims at promoting cultural relations, establishing inter-universities relations, and cooperation between radio and television. Nepal-Pakistan Friendship and Cultural Association exists for promoting bilateral cultural cooperation and goodwill among the peoples of the two countries.

 

Political relations between the two countries have also been strengthened. How do you intend to further cement ties in this particular field?

 

Relations between Nepal and Pakistan have been characterized by friendship and mutual cooperation. Our two countries share close social and cultural affinities dating back several centuries. Even before the creation of new States in South Asia in the mid-twentieth century, people to people contacts between Nepal and present day Pakistan were robust.

Diplomatic relations between Nepal and Pakistan were established on 29 March 1960. Nepal established a residential Embassy in Islamabad in 1962 and Honorary Consulate General in Karachi in 1975. Both the countries share similar views on many issues of common interests at various international and regional forums such as the UN, NAM, and SAARC.

Periodic exchange of visits has helped strengthen the relations between us. Pakistan’s Prime Minister His Excellency Yousaf Raza Gillani visited Nepal in April 2010 on his way to attend the SAARC Summit in Thimphu and held fruitful meeting with the Prime Minister of Nepal. Prime Ministers of the two countries met on the side-lines of the 17th SAARC Summit held in Addu City, Maldives on 10 November 2011 and exchanged views on broad areas of bilateral and regional cooperation. Finance Minister of Nepal Honorable Shanker Prasad Koirala visited Pakistan in August 2013 leading the Nepalese delegation to the 6th session of the joint economic commission. Such visits have contributed to strengthen the traditionally friendly relations existing between our two countries.

There exist bilateral consultation mechanism at the level of the Foreign Secretaries of Nepal and Pakistan and a Joint Economic Commission established in 1983 at the level of Finance Ministers. There also exist bilateral working groups on agriculture and tourism. These forums provide opportunity to discuss on issues of mutual interests and help promote economic and cultural cooperation between the two countries.

My effort has been to service to the existing bilateral mechanisms and promote exchanges and interactions between the two countries at various levels. I am also trying to promote bilateral trade relations and make efforts on how to promote cultural linkages between the two countries through establishing contacts between universities and promoting collaboration in the field of education.

  1. 1.      You have been meeting with various chambers in the recent days. What was the response of businessmen vis a vis investments in Nepal and vice versa?

 

I have been trying to reach out to the business and industrial community of Pakistan as much as possible. My meetings and interactions with various chambers in Pakistan have been quite useful to understand business opportunities and trade potentials. I have also utilized these occasions to explain about the investment opportunities available in Nepal. Industrialists and traders are the real linchpin of economic growth and prosperity. It has been my endeavor to promote exchange of business delegations between the two countries so that they could find possible business opportunities in each other’s countries. This is to promote bilateral trade and improve in the current level of trade.

In my experience there is a good response and interests shown by the industrial and business community here. They have been inquisitive of the facilities and concessions available to the investors and the potential areas of investment. Among others, Pakistan has expertise in agro processing industries and refinement of traditional artisan skills which is quite useful for Nepal. I can see good potentials for entrepreneurs to invest in those areas among others.

  1. 2.     Please share with our readers what kind of facilities your embassy extends to Pakistani businessmen wishing to have businesses in Nepal? In addition also share some salient features of your visa policy especially for Pakistanis?

The Embassy of Nepal in Islamabad always accords priority to the works related to the promotion of trade and commerce and stands ready to render services to the businessmen whenever they need us. We provide information on trade and business opportunities; priority areas of investment in Nepal; legal and procedural information; help establish linkages between the apex bodies of the private sector and their subsidiary associations. We also provide information on trade fairs and exhibitions to be hosted in Nepal and also disseminate among the Nepalese business community the information on trade and business fairs and exhibitions to be held in Pakistan and share information on how to participate in such events.

As you are aware, Nepal is a beautiful country known worldwide for its enormous touristic attractions. Holiday makers of all age group go to Nepal for tourism purpose. Both the embassy and honorary consulate general of Nepal in Karachi issue visas for the businessmen and tourists. Nepal has liberal visa policy for the businessmen from the SAARC countries, including Pakistan. The procedure is simplified and free from hassles. There is a facility for visa-on-arrival for genuine businessmen. One can apply for visa from 9 till 12 every working day and can obtain visas in a matter of two working days.

  1. 3.     Nepal is an important member of SAARC. It is said that SAARC has not been able to perform well in the past few years. What according to you may be the reason for SAARC’s below the belt performance? In addition how can SAARC made a vibrant entity?

I have slightly different perspective in viewing the performance of SAARC. In 29 years of existence, SAARC has moved slowly but steadily in institutionalizing our collective efforts. We have been able to set norms and build institutions and linkages in social, economic, trade and environmental sectors. Creation of SAARC Development Fund, South Asian University, SAARC Food Bank, commencement of SAFTA, SAARC Social Charter and conclusion and ratification of hosts of regional Conventions and Agreements in different fields constitute important milestones achieved. They all have expanded the scope and substance of cooperation providing a firm basis for genuine partnership in the region.

Our region is bestowed with abundant natural resources, the most youthful population, full of ingenuity and innovation, shared cultural heritage, geographic contiguity and vast network of social capital to build synergy and collaboration capable of changing the socio-economic landscape of the region. By optimal utilization of these resources together, SAARC has the potential to become one of the dynamic and prosperous regions in the world. The need of the hour is to chart regional strategy for addressing challenges, in which every member state has vital stakes.

I agree that the success of SAARC process has to be judged by what has been delivered to our people. Time has come to translate the ideas into concrete actions and deliver tangible results. For SAARC to be a vibrant institution requires consistent and collaborative efforts in undertaking the projects and programs with substantial capacity and resource backing. Here lies the importance of the need for investment in SAARC regional and sub-regional projects, which are result-oriented and directly beneficial to the people. As an embodiment of this sentiment, commencement of the SAARC Development Fund (SDF) has generated tremendous hopes and expectations among our people.

The next decade of SAARC should be focused in turning the commitments into action, building on the strengths and removing the barriers on the way to greater integration and connectivity. This can be achieved by improving and building infrastructures, investing in the people-centric projects, and creating an enabling environment so that the fruit of growth and development reaches to the people who need it most. For this requires revitalization of the institutions created and building those that foster greater cooperation and integration. Strengthening the governance of integration and implementation of more efficient, time-bound and people-centric projects should be in the priority. This should be complemented by internalizing SAARC decisions and commitments into the national policies and programs of Member States.

 

  1. 4.      Your impressions about Pakistan?

 

My family and I have a pleasant stay in Pakistan ever since we arrived here in May 2012. During this period we had the opportunity to visit a number of places particularly in Punjab and Sindh provinces and interact with people from different walks of life. We have been received very warmly everywhere. People of Pakistan are friendly and hospitable and that is there both in Islamabad and in the provinces. The country is endowed with enormous natural resources and human potentials that can transform the economy. I was positively impressed by the massive irrigation network in Punjab and Sindh provinces and level of agricultural productivity as well as by the impressive array of industries in Faisalabad and Sialkot that produce exclusively for exports. Another thing that has captured my mind is the rich cultural and civilizational heritage that Pakistan has within its territory. In addition to the treasure of the Indus valley civilization, such as Mohan-jo-daro and Harappa, Pakistan hosts rich heritage sites of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islamic and Sikhism as well as the relics of historical fortresses and shrines. These assets if preserved properly hold enormous potentials for the promotion of tourism and can work as powerful source of strength for fostering humanity, peace and tolerance.