(Written by Ali Basit)
Modern day navies are instrument of achieving States’ foreign policy goals through overseas deployments, port calls, multilateral/bilateral engagements and exercises.In a nutshell, modern States utilize naval diplomacy to increase their outreach in far areas of the world, wherein at times regular engagements are otherwise constrained, by promoting common security and prosperity initiatives. Recently, Pakistan Navy (PN), being the custodian of rich international engagement, is once again demonstrating its outreach in promoting shared good of mankind through PNS NASR’sHumanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) mission to African continent.
Pakistan Navy is envisaged to protect maritime interests of Pakistan, deter aggression at and from sea, provide disaster relief and humanitarian assistance.Under these guidelines, Pakistan Navy hasbeen engaged in regional task forces and providing humanitarian assistance to under-developed States of the world particularlythe African continent. Keeping its traditions alive, Pakistan Navy Ships namely PNS MOAWIN and PNS ASLAT paid port visits to 8 African states including Morocco, Mauritania, Ghana, South Africa, Tanzania, Seychelles, Nigeria and Kenya from Nov, 2019 to Jan, 2020. These port visits and diplomatic engagements were accomplished alongside organizing free medical camps to help further Pakistan Navy’s determination to bridge the gaps with African nations and operate together in pursuance of shared objectives.
Recently,Pakistan Navy sent its humanitarian aid ship, PNS NASR,to Africa in line with the government’s ‘Engage Africa’ policy that seeks to enhance bilateral relations and to explore new avenues of cooperation with African countries.PNS NASR is providing Humanitarian Relief Assistance to the visiting African countries including Djibouti, Sudan, Benin, and Niger. In its recent visit to Niger,Pakistan Navy Ship NASR, as a gesture of solidarity and friendship, delivered gift of food from the people of Pakistan to the people ofNigerduring the ceremony held at the Port Cotonou of Benin. Earlier, Pakistan Navy Ship NASR also handed over similar food assistance support for the people of Djibouti and Sudan. This ongoing deployment of Pakistan Navy Ship to African region is to further strengthen the bonds of friendship with African countries and hence, the continued PN’s engagements and HADR efforts are in a way contributing in Pakistan’s engage Africa foreign policy initiative.
Benin, Niger and Pakistan share cordial and brotherly relations as the countries are members of common international forums including Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)and Group of 77. Benin is bordered by the Niger to the north andboth countries have an estimated population of 12 million and 23 millionrespectively. Importance of these two countries lie more in their transit position than direct market of goods. Some companies of Pakistan, dealing in food items, have recently established offices in Benin to coordinate exports from Pakistan to the region. Benin is a potential market for rice, pharmaceuticals, beauty care, textile, chemicals fisheries, confectionary, agaric machinery, chemicals etc. Benin imported goods worth $ 45.938 million from Pakistan in 2018-19. Major items were rice and pharmaceuticals.
In line with the importance of African continent, Foreign Office has developed a long-term policy focusing on economic diplomacy, regular engagements of envoys posted in the continent and digital diplomacy. Foreign Ministry Shah Mehmood Qureshi also emphasized it frequently that Pakistan aimed to engage Africa as a key part of its foreign policy. Underlining the shift from geo-politics to geo-economics, the Foreign Minister emphasized the importance of economic diplomacy as a key component of modern diplomatic practice. In response, Pakistan has increased resident missions from 13 countries to more than 15 countries in African region and also cemented a very encouraging 7 percent growth rate in Pakistan’s trade with Africa, despite the Covid-19 related challenges. In the aftermath of this policy, there was observable increase in bilateral engagements with the African countries in various domains. Similarly, Pakistan, Benin and Niger relations were also improved in this context as sessions of dialogues and bilateral engagements are held in recent times. It is pertinent to note that successful diplomacy is the continuous process and needs frequent reappraisal of the situation. To this extent, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) is synergizing its efforts directed towards enhancing bilateral trade and economic initiatives with African States whilePakistan Navy,through its successful port calls and HADR missions abroad, providing MOFA a supporting hand in this regard.