CAIRO – 1 November 2017: Egypt and Pakistan have witnessed stagnant diplomatic and economic relations over the past years, compared to their defense cooperation that both deem as well-developed, especially amid both countries’ anti-terror fight.
The two countries witnessed changes in politics that have seemed to affect the historic relations that traced back to 1947; a short-lived tension was seen during Egypt’s transition period in 2013 following Pakistan’s criticizing remarks.
In 2015, the volume of trade exchange between both countries valued at $295 million, according to Cairo Chamber of Commerce, which cited a decline in the trade indicators between both countries. However, the inert economic ties between both countries are expected to see a leap thanks to China's ambitious Silk Road initiative.
Pakistani political strategist Maria Sultan discussed in a lecture organized by the Pakistani Embassy in Cairo Tuesday the possibilities of boosting trade cooperation between both countries through the initiative that aims to connect Eurasian countries and passes through the MENA region.
Director of South Asian Strategic Stability Institute Maria Sultan during a lecture in Cairo on Silk Road initiative on Oct.31, 2017 - Photo by Nourhan Magdi/Egypt Today
Announced in 2013, the Silk Road, also called the Belt and Road Initiative seeks to integrate the region into a cohesive economic area via building infrastructure.
The initiative consists of the land-based Silk Road Economic Belt, and the oceangoing Maritime Silk Road. The latter is where Egypt and Pakistan intersect.
“The initiative is an opportunity to see with our Egyptian colleagues the possibilities of cooperation and reliving that era in Pakistani-Egyptian relations we saw in 1970s, where we fought together with Egyptians against the Israelis,” said Sultan, who is the chairperson of South Asian Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI.)
Politics come with trade
Speaking on the sidelines of the lecture, Sultan told Egypt Today that “economic relations at this moment are not well developed, but we believe this is the idea we are bringing here,” referring to the Silk Road as the gateway to enhance diplomatic relations between both countries.
Responding to a question on the importance of political will in accomplishing such strong ties, Sultan said “political will is to come true, but it is a matter of progress, for that you need to come up with a strategic cooperation and strategic interest, which must overlap.”
“Politics always come with trade, and if trade is there, interest will come,” she continued. Sultan has been serving as a civilian war strategist at the Ministry of Defense.
In the same context, Ambassador of Pakistan to Egypt, Mushtaq Ali Shah told Egypt Today, “There are major opportunities for… both countries together to promote economic cooperation… and this Silk Road gives us opportunity to cement our economic and trade relations, which is not only for the benefits of the two countries but also for the regional and global trade.”
Ambassador Shah highlighted a common challenge to both Egyptian and Pakistani economies, which is fighting terrorism; relaying that both countries are cooperating in this regard.
A game changer
During the lecture, held at the Egyptian Cultural Forum in Cairo, Sultan went on explaining the new global economic order that took place since the cold war, highlighting opportunities for states on the Silk Road to speed their economic growth.
A “game changer” is how Pakistan considers the project for its positive impact on its economy; especially that Islamabad is also part of the land-based partition of the initiative under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
However, she stressed that CPEC “is not only about two states. It aims at regional cooperation and global trade transformation.”
Sultan talked about Pakistan’s geostrategic importance since it is the unique country that sits in five different major regions; neighboring China, India, Afghanistan and Russia.
Director of South Asian Strategic Stability Institute Maria Sultan (R) honors director of Egyptian Cultural Forum Amb. Ghamrawy during a lecture in Cairo on Silk Road initiative on Oct.31, 2017 - Photo by Nourhan Magdi/Egypt Today
Tracking the rise of Asian Tigers over the years, Sultan suggested that the century be named as the “Asian Century” due to the tectonic global trade re-shift, saying that the notion of an “Asian Century” is not only limited to Asian states, but also comprises developing countries like Egypt, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and China.
For Sultan, countries involved in the Silk Road should be aware of the great opportunities of maritime trade in the Asia Pacific area.
“There is a global trade shift, where 17.7 percent of the global trade passes through the Indian Ocean, and 8 percent of global merchandize trade comes through the Suez Canal,” Sultan added.
She further displayed a map showing that under the new initiative in the future “the Indian Ocean, Suez Canal and Asia Pacific will be hubs for the oil trade, and henceforth, the access to global commons shall become extremely important.”
Sultan warned that countries that are not part of this Silk Road initiative will try to resist the big project “as they see [the initiative] as a major challenge on the basis of creating competitiveness through changing the social and political dynamics of the region.”
Speaking about the project’s progress, she said that Pakistan has established an authority tasked with securing the China-Pakistan corridor from attacks by the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group or other militants.
Former Ambassador to Pakistan Fathy Youssef (L), Pakistani Ambassador to Cairo Mushtaq Shah (C), Director of Egyptian Cultural Forum Ghamrawy and Director of SASSI Maria Sultan during lecture on Silk Road Oct.31,2017-Photo by Nourhan Magdi/Egypt Today
Visiting Egypt for the first time, Sultan said that she will be speaking on November 8 at the World Youth Forum set to kick off Saturday in Sharm El-Sheikh city, in South Sinai.
Sultan spoke about her experience as a woman assuming several high-level positions at a younger age, stressing the importance of education for girls. Besides her work as a political scientist and defense analyst, she also worked as an anchor in her country’s TV and radio programs. Her commentaries focus on issues regarding nuclear issues and strategic stability.
Sultan concluded her words saying, “Nothing in the world can stop women who are liberated, educated and determined to stand for their country and for regional cooperation and global progress.”