Ambassador of Finland to Pakistan Hannu Ripatti talked exclusively to Daily Islamabad POST, Centreline magazine and Diplomatic News Agency (DNA). Ambassador Ripatti explained closure of the Finnish embassy back in 2012. He also talked about business potential of Pakistan and Finland. Here are excerpts from his interview.
Ansar Mahmood Bhatti
On Bilateral Relations
Finland closed the embassy about 10 years ago and the reason for closing was for finances basically after the so-called dot com crisis. At the same time security cost was also a reason not just Islamabad but in other countries as well. We closed 10 missions and Islamabad was among them. Our then foreign minister had said that these are bad decisions but you have to do it when running short of money. We have reopened Manila, Islamabad and Doha missions and the only reason Doha was done before Islamabad was the football world cup so we wanted to have a resident consul there before the start of the mega event.
At this moment we are at the temporary location at the Serena Business Complex but the idea is that in about a years’ time we will have the old premises and start routine operations including the issuing of visas. For issuing visas we have to put in place certain mechanisms including establishment of a secure telecommunication system. Then, arrangements will have to be made to conduct interviews of the visa seekers. So I think we shall be able to put our house in order by October 2023. For the moment the Dutch embassy in Islamabad is taking care of our visas for 90 days.
However the big problems are for the students because they need longer term visas for which applications have to be forwarded to Abu Dhabi which takes time. That is why we want to bring our visa system here in Pakistan in order to not only cater to the needs of the students but the permanent residency seekers as well. I am pleased to share with you that Pakistani students are keen to pursue their studies especially in the field of IT and Forestry. According to the Pakistani Council General in Finland there are about 1,000 Pakistani students studying in Finland. Pakistan does not have an embassy in Finland and the mission in Sweden takes care of Finland as well. Things would become much easier if Pakistan opens an embassy in Finland.
On trade and economic relations
As you know the trade is done by the companies and the companies need to have a good product so that people could buy those products. Then ostensibly they need to have good connections as well. We can help them get in touch with relevant people, but the most important thing is to get the right contact to make the trade. We have several ways of helping them. We have Fin Partnership which can facilitate and help imports and exports on both ways.
The Business Council has promised to host a business summit here in Pakistan. This has been dormant during the time of the Covid pandemic and there were no big meetings during that time. We rely very much on the people who know more about the trade such as the Fin Partnership and the business council. We are trying to make sure that this kind of thing does take place periodically.
I plan to visit various chambers of commerce and industries. I have already visited Lahore. Once our place is ready then of course we will be able to do such activities in a planned and much better manner.
On cultural relations
We plan to promote cultural linkages as well. You are right, in the past the Finnish embassy used to host cultural events on regular basis and it is my plan as well to revive that tradition. Another area where we can have enhanced cooperation happens to be the hospitality industry. There is a possibility that the Pakistani students seeking studies in the hospitality industry can go to Finland for this purpose. In Kuopio we do have institutions that have been imparting training and higher education in hotel management etc. If the Pakistani students have a diploma in this field they can pursue further studies in Finland. Student visa allows students to work in Finland but at a limited scale.
Studying in Finland is not an expensive thing as compared with the US or other countries. We do not have a scholarship program for students but there are some specific foundations that offer scholarships. The students can log on to specific websites and get further information about these foundations and facilities they offer. As I said, education in the Finnish institutions is not very expensive. There are certain facilities such as subsidized food, sporting facilities etc available at extremely nominal charges. This system is still in vogue in most of the institutions.
Pak, Finland business council
The business council is very much there. It has meetings as well. I met with one of the co-directors of the council and discussed with him as to how we can give impetus to the activities of the Business Council. We need to expand the ambit and base of the council with a view to enlarging its scope and utility. That is how a business council should work or such councils work everywhere. One way of promoting trade and economic activity between the two countries is holding business summits. We are already onto it and hopefully shall be able to do it sooner rather than later. As you know Finland is a country of five and half million people so comparing with Pakistan it may be a small country however the advantage which the Pakistani businessmen have is that they can reach out to the European Union markets through Finland. A product when registered in any of the EU member countries can be marketed in all the EU member states.
Nokia is doing quite well. Nokia as you know is basically a handset maker and not a software company. With the advent of lifestyle smart phones it was perhaps difficult for the company to match challenges posed by other operators such as iPhone, Apple etc. Nokia’s decline in the mobile device industry, culminated in the sale of the handset division to Microsoft. But that was only one of the divisions of Nokia. Nokia primarily makes networks. Nokia and Siemens used to work together but then Nokia bought Siemens and quite recently they have bought Alcatel as well. As you know Alcatel is a famous French company dealing with networks. Nokia handsets are still available in the market but another company is manufacturing these handsets under the brand name of Nokia.
Cooperation in tourism sector
Tourism is yet another area where both countries can cooperate. I visited Lahore some time ago and was amazed to see the grandeur of the city. The Walled City was a marvel to see. Then the Waziri mosque is yet another attraction that immediately attracts the visitors. In Taxila too there are quite a few places that attract the visitors.
In Finland as well we have a number of tourist attractions. Finland as you know is well known for its Archipelagos. People who wish to explore natural beauty must visit Finland.
Anything you would like to add
It is an interesting experience to be in Pakistan. I am very thankful to the people who have been helping me all along. Before coming to Pakistan I was told that Pakistani people are ever ready to help you and that is exactly what I have witnessed here in this country.