Today, Pakistan and Azerbaijan maintain friendly relations and develop ties in almost all areas, including military-technical cooperation, economics, information and communications, transport, aviation, cultural ties, financial affairs and education.
In February 2019, Azerbaijan and Pakistan are going to sign a commercial agreement for the supply of oil and gas. The basis for the implementation of this step was the intergovernmental agreement between Pakistan and Azerbaijan, which was signed in February 2017, for the supply of a number of oil and gas products, including heating oil, gasoline, diesel fuel and liquefied natural gas.
What does a commercial agreement of this nature mean? This agreement will allow oil and gas companies in both countries to begin negotiations. But trade can be carried out in the event that this proves to be viable from an economic and logistical point of view. In order to strengthen contacts in this direction, Pakistan and Azerbaijan will create a joint working group on energy. The new commercial agreement between Azerbaijan and Pakistan will reduce Pakistan’s energy dependence on countries in the Middle East. Pakistan imports oil from the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf – including the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia – gas from Qatar.
The cooperation of our countries in the field of energy will bring bilateral trade to a new level. Since the current volume of trade is rather low, it doesn’t satisfy Azerbaijan or Pakistan. The annual trade turnover between Azerbaijan and Pakistan is $10 million. Despite the fact that Pakistan and Azerbaijan maintain friendly relations, and the peoples of our countries are united by a common history, culture, traditions and religion, the potential of our countries hasn’t been realised at the proper level. Of course, the lack of direct geographic links seriously hinders bilateral trade and economic cooperation.
But even with the current dynamics, trade and economic cooperation between our countries could be much stronger. For example, there are countries with which Pakistan has no direct geographic links, but the trade turnover with them, in comparison with Azerbaijan, is quite promising. Pakistan and Belarus have many traditions and cultural practices in common. But the trade turnover between these countries is about $65 million. A few years ago, both countries agreed to achieve a turnover of $1 billion by the end of 2020.
Uzbekistan is the largest trading partner of Pakistan in Central Asia. Trade in 2017 amounted to $36.2 million. As for Kazakhstan, the trade turnover of Pakistan with this country between January 2018 and August 2018 amounted to $21.7 million – that is, the annual trade turnover in the range of $28 million-$30 million.
Azerbaijan is now taking concrete steps to deepen trade as well as economic and military-technical cooperation with Pakistan. I think that we will soon see the positive results of these efforts. First, the energy sector will benefit from the supply of Azerbaijani oil and gas to Pakistan, which I mentioned above.
Second, Pakistani JF-17 Thunder fighter-bombers are expected to be delivered to Azerbaijan in the current year. Azerbaijan is interested in these planes, as my country is in the midst of a war with Armenia, which occupied Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent regions. In addition, the Armenian Ministry of Defence recently reported that Yerevan had signed a deal to acquire four Russian Su-30SM aircrafts.
Azerbaijan is interested in the growing expansion of military-political ties with Pakistan, as the strength, experience and significant participation of the Pakistani armed forces in the UN peacekeeping mission throughout the world are widely known and recognisable.
Pakistan offers Azerbaijan its Al-Khalid I MBT tanks, Anza-II anti-aircraft missile systems and Baktar Shikan anti-tank missile systems. Given that the Azerbaijan-Pakistan contracts for the supply of JF-17 Thunder fighters will soon be implemented, this proposal is undoubtedly of interest. It is possible that after a successful transaction regarding the JF-17 Thunder, our countries can begin negotiations on the above-mentioned military equipment.
Third, this is a form of cooperation in the field of transport. Pakistan can join the North-South Project. I recall that in 2017, during a visit to Pakistan, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev suggested that Islamabad join the International North-South Transport Corridor. Pakistan can use the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway line to transport various goods. Islamabad is interested in participating in this railway project. It was not by chance that this issue was discussed at the trilateral ministerial meeting of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Pakistan in Baku at the end of November 2017, where the relevant agreement was reached.
“We would be glad to join Baku-Tbilisi-Kars,” said the then foreign minister Khawaja Mohammed Asif. Cooperation between Pakistan and Azerbaijan within the framework of international transport corridors will increase mutual trade between countries, Pakistan will be able to transport its goods to Azerbaijan, Turkey, Georgia and even Europe. With the help of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars project, Pakistan will be able to cut through a new window to Europe.
There are quite a few new issues that our countries should discuss. One such important issue, for example, is the opening of direct flights between Baku and Islamabad. The solution to this issue is beneficial to both countries, not only from the point of view of tourism development, but also from that of trade and investment.
All these issues will probably be discussed during Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Azerbaijan. True, the date of the official visit of the Pakistani prime minister has not yet been made public. But given the fact that Imran Khan made an official visit to Turkey on January 3-4 on the invitation of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he can visit Azerbaijan in the near future. Azerbaijan is looking forward to Imran Khan’s state visit.
The writer is the director of international expert club EurAsiaAz and editor-in-chief of the Azerbaijani news agency Vzglyad.az