Amb. Ali Alizada is the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Azerbaijan to Pakistan. After serving at various prestigious positions in Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry, Amb. Alizada became the Consul General of Azerbaijan in Iran. He is Baku’s envoy in Islamabad since 2016. Pakistan Politico discusses the potential of taking Pakistan-Azerbaijan relations forward in times when economic connectivity and integration is gaining currency.
Q: You have been serving in the region since 2010. Tell us about your experience in Pakistan?
Allah has blessed Pakistan with everything, and a very hospitable nation. Our warm, close and friendly relations coupled with brotherly approach of the Pakistani nation towards us are heartening. Hence, I consider Pakistan as my second home.
Q: Pakistan has been long regarded as a strategically important country, but at a time when countries are looking at economics as a vehicle of power expansion, what does Pakistan offer to the region in terms of economic connectivity?
Pakistan is located at the crossroads of three geo-economically important regions of South Asia, Central Asia and West Asia. It also provides a sea route for Central Asian countries. As a member country of important organizations like the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO), Pakistan can play a significant role in terms of connectivity and integration of Central Asia, South Asia and West Asia. Pakistan can also join and benefit from different projects running in all these three regions in the fields of energy, trade, transportation and tourism. Pakistan can get easy access to eastern European states through different transportation corridors such as North-South, Lapis-Lazuli etc. Azerbaijan and some other countries are also a part of those projects and hence Pakistan, as a country located at vital geostrategic crossroads, can provide conduits to these countries to connect with China and other countries of the region. Pakistan is a globally and regionally connected transit country. This is why I feel that Pakistan’s transit advantages give it a chance to enhance economic connectivity. This comparative strength is something that should be one of the main pillars of Islamabad’s growth in the times to come.
Q: Pakistan was one of the first countries that recognized the independence of Azerbaijan in 1991. Also, Islamabad has supported Baku’s positions at multiple fora. What is your take on this 27 year old diplomatic relations between the two countries and what is needed to bolster them?
Azerbaijan and Pakistan, the two brotherly countries, have had very cordial relations. We have unique commonalities of historical, religious, cultural and political nature that cut across geographical distances and divisions. Since Azerbaijan regained its independence, the relations between our two brotherly states accelerated and now demonstrate a rare example of solidarity. Pakistan and Azerbaijan have time tested relations which are based on strategic partnership, confidence, mutual respect and trust. The leaders of both countries attach great importance to our relations. Political and military relations between Azerbaijan and Pakistan are being strengthened and reaching higher levels. It is necessary to make efforts to further boost the economic, trade and cultural relations between the two countries in order to bolster ties at the strategic level.
Q: Pakistan invited Azerbaijan to join the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). What are the likely pay-offs of Baku joining the project and increasing its even otherwise high stakes in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)?
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the flagship project of China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, and has huge potential of enhancing regional connectivity. This is the main economic project which Pakistan and China want to operationalize as smoothly as possible. The smart realization of this project can open up vast employment opportunities for Pakistanis and promote development of energy sector, infrastructure, industry and etc. Azerbaijan supports Belt and Road Initiative. At present, Azerbaijan continues to be one of the main bridges between Europe and Asia, implementing different regional transport corridors and modern infrastructure. Baku’s participation in mega international transport projects such as Baku-Tbilisi-Kars, North-South, East-West, Lapis Lazuli, the Baku International Sea Port, significantly expands Azerbaijan’s transport capacity, thereby creating new opportunities for the country in terms of implementing major economic and transport projects jointly with Pakistan and China as part of the OBOR initiative. All these projects have already increased the importance of Azerbaijan as a transit country, and are set to reduce cost and time of transportation of goods. All participant countries will get to benefit from the BRI. We invited Pakistan to join these projects as well, and I think joining CPEC can also be considered.
Q: Islamabad and Baku have signed various agreements in the fields of electricity, gas and petroleum supplies. When will those deals materialize and in what other areas can both countries strengthen their partnership?
We signed an inter-governmental agreement on cooperation in the field of energy, which aimed to supply crudes, refined oil products, LNG and LPG to Pakistan, in order to attract investments in the energy sector and infrastructural development. I hope we can start the implementation phase soon. Opportunities abound in the fields of banking, transport, communications and high technologies. Besides, there are profitable opportunities to further enhance cooperation on economy, trade and agriculture.There are a lot of potentials in these sectors which remain untapped. Azerbaijan created and is ready to further create more necessary working conditions for Pakistani companies in the country. Azerbaijan is a state which successfully continues its dynamic development for more than 25 years in all spheres, including socio-economic sphere. According to the World Bank report “Doing Business 2019”, Azerbaijan implemented a record number of reforms among the 10 top improvers globally, making it easier to do business in Azerbaijan and climbed 32 spots in comparison with last year and ranked 25th among 190 states in 2019 year. We have industrial, technological, agricultural parks where the investors are enjoying different tax holidays. We have a great potential for putting in place joint ventures in the fields of agriculture, pharmaceutics, weaving, textile, industry, production of agricultural equipment, accumulators, defence and energy industries etc. As I already mentioned, Azerbaijan has also a broad transit potential and Pakistani companies can take advantage of it too.
Q: Azerbaijan is fast-becoming a tourists’ delight for Pakistan. Also, Pakistan has recently given “free entry status” to Azerbaijan. What further steps are necessary to bolster two-way tourism between both countries?
Yes, Azerbaijan has a very good tourism infrastructure. The ancient and modern architecture, the unique nature, the rich historical, cultural and natural heritage of the country attracts visitors from all over the world, especially from Pakistan as people of Azerbaijan have great respect for Pakistanis. By the decree of President of Azerbaijan, visa procedures were simplified from 2017 for Pakistani citizen and now everybody can get visa online. Due to our relations, developed tourism and service infrastructure, stability and prosperity, and of course visa simplicity we achieved good results. The number of visitors from Pakistan to Azerbaijan has increased tenfold in the past two years. Recently, Pakistan also made a decision to simplify visa procedures and provide Visa on Arrival to citizens of 50 countries including Azerbaijan. It is a good step taken by the Government of Pakistan that will boost tourism from different parts of the world to Pakistan. I am sure our citizens would also love to visit Pakistan. Pakistan has a lot of historical, religious and cultural places. The rich heritage will be of interest to all. I think, in order to bolster two-way tourism, steps like the establishment of good infrastructure and service for tourism, positive promotion and presentation of Pakistan, are much needed. In addition, opening direct flights between our countries is also very important, and is an area in which we are working hard.
Q: Azerbaijan has been afflicted with wars and conflicts of similar nature that were faced by Pakistan. With both countries enjoying seamless defense relations, what is the scope of expanding them into a robust defense partnership?
Yes, Azerbaijan and Pakistan suffered a lot from terrorism and extremism throughout their history. As a result of Armenia’s military aggression against Azerbaijan, 20 percent of our land is still under occupation. As a result of this occupation and the policy of ethnic cleansing, more than one million Azerbaijanis became refugees and IDPs in their own land. Our historically native lands of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent districts were occupied by Armenia. War crimes like the unbelievable genocide of Azerbaijanis were committed against our people throughout history. Even as late as 1992, in the city of Khojaly, Azerbaijanis were killed by the Armenians. The Armenians have destroyed our historical and religious monuments including many mosques in the occupied lands. All international organizations and countries clearly support the position of Azerbaijan on Nagorno-Karabakh, and one of the strongest supporters is Pakistan. Pakistan and Azerbaijan always mutually support each other in international organizations, on the issues of Kashmir and Nagorno-Karabakh based on the relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions. Given that both countries have suffered a lot from terrorism and extremism we understand each other, cooperation in defence and military fields are important for both countries. We already have robust cooperation in military and defence spheres and enjoy a strategic partnership. However, we can further enhance defence and military cooperation in the spheres of science, research, design, production and sale of different types of military products. Our partnership can be more strategic, far-sighted, enduring and cooperative. And thanks to Almighty Allah, we are on an upward trajectory.