Revitalizing Pakistan-Syria Policy
the BOARD of EDITORIAL ADVISORS, Ms NASIM ZEHRA makes a case for improving
relations between the two countries.
June 10 a telex went out to Oman from the Pakistan Foreign Office advising
that a ministerial level delegation represent Pakistan at the Syrian
President Hafez al Assad’s funeral. The Foreign Minister who was
accompanying the Chief Executive General Pervez Musharraf agreed with the
recommendation. Pakistan’s four member delegation headed by the Minister
of Information was sent off. Naturally many in Pakistan and Damascus were
surprised by this decision. The Chief Executive was ill-advised by the
Foreign Office; his own uniformed advisors too chose not to question this
advice. Logistically the Chief Executive was in Oman, his arrival in Syria
would have been an easy affair.
contrast with our own past practices. In November 1982 Zia went against
the advise of his advisors and left for Moscow to attend Brezhnev’s
funeral. He cut short his visit to Singapore rushed from there to Moscow.
Interestingly he was one of the five world leaders to be received by
Andropov. In their meeting Andropov was tough. The Soviet army was facing
a tough resistance from the Pakistan-American supported Afghan resistance,
so an angry Andropov told Zia that Pakistan was a “tool in the hands of
the Americans.” Undeterred Zia again arrived in Moscow in 1983 and in
1985 to participate in the funerals of Andropov and of Chernenko. He knew
funerals had become power scenes; an opportunity to mix with important
the stature of Hafez al Assad in the Arab world, the increasing diplomatic
significance of Syria which extends beyond the Middle East and above all
the concrete opportunities that exist for vastly expanding Pakistan-Syrian
commercial ties, the presence of the Chief Executive or at least the head
of the State President Rafiq Tarrar would have been appropriate.
Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto did the correct thing by
arriving at the funeral. Syrians accorded her appropriate protocol due to
a former Prime Minister.
Pakistan’s past relations with Syria it is Pakistan’s need to be
forward-looking; work aggressively on developing economic relations as it
is doing in the case of Iran and Iraq. Minor issues that have kept
Pak-Syrian relations dormant simply need to be brushed aside. Pakistan
needs to be proactive and not dwell on past irritants which the Foreign
Office recalls: we have sent senior delegations without reciprocity from
Syria and Damascus has not been supportive on Kashmir.
these are small issues; ones that should be overlooked in the pursuit of a
broader strategic vision which should compel Pakistan’s managers to
actively develop economic and diplomatic ties with countries which we have
ignored while overlooking the economic dimension of our foreign relations
and by expending too much energy on opting for mere damage-limitation on
the Pak-US front. Meanwhile, fairly surprised by the level of
representation by Pakistan at the Assad funeral, many in Damascus
wondered, incorrectly though, if Pakistan is still sulking about the
support that Assad gave to the Bhutto family.
Syria there exists immense goodwill for Pakistan and for its people. It
exists at all levels. Assad personally had special respect and affection
for Pakistan. He saw Pakistan as a country that was principled in its
policies on the Arab -Israeli issue. “He has instructed all of us in the
cabinet that we must make special effort for cooperation with Pakistan in
any field, develop special relations with Pakistan” explained a Syrian
minister to the Pakistani ambassador in Damascus. Syrians maintain that
Pakistanis are “our blood brothers”, they fought alongside us against
the Israelis. They express their closeness to Pakistanis in graphic ways.
“We are two sides of the same coin”, remarked a senior Syrian official
in Damascus while advocating deeper Syrian-Pakistani ties. Not
surprisingly, the Syrian government is now weary of the Indian because of
the growing India-Israel connection. That, however, may not last long as
in the coming days the young Bashar will be forced to operate in grayer
Syria the only successful institution being run by the Pakistani
government is a Pakistani School. The ‘school connection’ is a
powerful one. In Damascus the Pakistan embassy runs a very popular and
well managed school where children of most of Syrian cabinet members and
top generals study. The Pakistani ambassador, therefore, enjoys a special
connection and leverage in Damascus.
Syrians have demonstrated their keenness to develop economic ties with
Pakistan by making concrete proposals. Syrians have sought Pakistan’s
help to operationalize a tractor plant for which engines, spare parts and
technical expertise is required. Also they have requested Pakistan’s
help to upgrade and revive their sugar, cement, fertilizer and paper
industry. Cooperation in agriculture has also been sought. Admission for
Syrian students in the Faisalabad Agriculture University has been
requested. In the Information Technology field negotiations are already
underway for Pakistan to set up an advanced institute for computer
sciences and informatics in Damascus.
illustrate Syrian political commitment towards improvement of Pak-Syrian
ties with Pakistan, in January Syrian officials received Tariq Ikram,
Chairman, Export Promotion Bureau, with all the protocol due to a
minister. He was merely passing through Syria since he could not fly into
Baghdad because of the UN sanctions on Iraq. Later during his official
trip to Syria in May the Syrian Prime Minister Mohammad Mustapha Miro and
six ministers including Dr Imadi Minister of Economy and Foreign Trade met
with the EPB Chairman Tariq Ikram. The Prime Minister, repeating
instructions issued by his leader Hafez al Assad, assured Ikram that he
would personally look into “developing relations with Pakistan.” The
Syrian requirements from Pakistan in the industrial, technological and
agriculture have injected energy into a stagnating relationship.
the Pakistani front the principle interlocutors with Syria, the Export
Promotion Bureau is engaging with the Syria case. The ball is now in
Pakistan’s court. With the expertise that now exists within the
government set-up rapid and concrete response to Syrian proposals are
required. How effectively can Pakistan respond to the Syrian requirements
will ofcourse depend on the extent to which various ministries can work in
a coordinated manner and can simultaneously develop effective partnership
with the Pakistani private sector.
the economic team undertakes to initiate a new phase in Pakistan-Syrian
ties a concrete step from the top level is also required. Having missed
the oppurtunity to attend the great Syrian leader’s funeral , the Chief
Executive should be the first leader to be received in Damascus by the new
Syrian President Bashar al Assad after he formally takes over as President
on July 24.