ISLAMABAD, SEPT 15 (DNA) – Portugal’s superior seafaring expertise and maritime strategies combining naval power, trade, and religious and cultural aspects were its key foreign policy instruments during the exploration age. Portugal’s rich maritime legacy, the history of former Portuguese colonies in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and their role in world affairs today offer many lessons and insights for Pakistan.
The message emanated from an exclusive talk by H.E. Paulo Neves Pocinho, Ambassador of the Portuguese Republic, in his address titled ‘Navigating the Portuguese History and its Impact in the Indian Ocean Region with Special Reference to Afro-Eurasian Maritime Trade’ at the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS).
The interactive discussion that followed the ambassador talk was participated by Chairman IPS Khalid Rahman, Vice Chairman IPS Ambassador (r) Syed Abrar Hussain and IPS Associates Ambassador (r) Tajammul Altaf, Dr Tughrul Yamin, associate dean, Centre for International Peace and Stability (CIPS), NUST, Naufil Shahrukh, GM Operations, IPS, and Farzana Yaqoob, founder and CEO, Centre for Asian-African Studies (CAAS).
Speaking on the occasion, Ambassador Pocinho said that maritime and geostrategic thinking, and the science and the arts of sea navigation and international diplomacy practiced by Portugal in the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean regions were the key foreign policy instruments that equipped Portugal to become a prominent maritime power in the age of discovery.
Stressing that Pakistan can learn a lot from Portuguese experience in world affairs, especially in Africa and Latin America, the ambassador said: “When I came to know about the ‘Engage Africa Program’ of the government of Pakistan, I approached MoFA thinking it would be very interesting to share our experience in Africa with Pakistan, as well as to explore the potential of trilateral cooperation especially in the areas of science, technology, business, and education.”
He said that the Portuguese seized global advantage when it came to shipbuilding, navigation and mapmaking in the 14th and 15th centuries with their maritime strategy focusing on trading posts and building networks as key components, and the same ideas can serve Pakistan as well if it is to find more feet in international maritime trade and diplomacy.
Explaining his notions at length, the Portuguese ambassador said that in the Age of Discovery, the Portuguese started going to North Africa, Morocco, the East Coast and then came to South and then finally were able to reach Cape Town in South Africa, and that was the point from where they were able to navigate the Indian Ocean. Also, this was the same time when they went to the other side of the Atlantic, discovering Brazil, which later became the largest country of Latin America.
The ambassador said that there were many sides associated with these expeditions, including trade – as the world was looking for vendors around the region of the Indian Ocean, as well as the cultural side, but the Portuguese rise should also be credited to the scientific side as there was a secret, monarch-funded school in the south of Portugal which researched and taught marine science & technology: navigation, shipping, shipbuilding, etc., hence playing a massive role in the Portuguese discoveries that came forth.
Initially, it was a Portuguese fleet that crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and captured the heavily fortified Moroccan port of Ceuta, announcing Portugal’s arrival on the world’s political stage. In the decades to come, John’s son Prince Henry the Navigator financed numerous expeditions along the western coast of Africa, aimed at spreading Christianity and making Portugal rich with profits from gold, spices and slaves.
Prince Henry had surrounded himself with scholars, mapmakers, astronomers, as well as navigators, amassing knowledge and intelligence — the 15th century version of R&D. Like a venture capitalist, he financed expeditions intended to push the boundaries of the known world. The Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, later came to Nazare to find a sea route to India with its rich spice trade.
The mixing up of the Portuguese with other cultures after their colonization was another vital part of their diplomatic strategy. Goa was one of the important colonies of Portugal but they did not disturb the social structure in Goa. Bombay, too, was invaded by Portuguese before they moved on to conquer Gwadar.
In 1974, Portugal gave independence to its colonies and still continues to invest in Portuguese speaking African countries by helping them out. It is cooperating in social development, cultural development, trade relations, investment relations, tourism development, environment protection, capacity building, etc., trying to build something positive out of this cultural heritage which shares language as well as a few traditions.
The interactive session that followed the ambassador’s talk also covered many notable areas, including different aspects of Portuguese post-colonial era engagements and experience in Africa and their balancing strategy for the US-China rivalry in the Indian Ocean Region.
The session concluded with Ambassador (r) Tajammul Altaf thanking the Portuguese ambassador for a very comprehensive and insightful talk. He commended the Portuguese role in furnishing networks and building bridges through language, culture and communications, while helping out Africa through its post-colonial endeavors. He also endorsed the Portuguese ambassadors’ opinion on the need to find common grounds where the two nations can join their hearts and minds to shape a better future for Africa in particular, and for the world in general.