An hour with Ambassador - Interview with Mr. Bilal Hayee

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Axar.az presents the interview with Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of the fraternal Islamic Republic of Pakistan to Azerbaijan Mr. Bilal Hayee:

– Today, Azerbaijan and Pakistan have serious strategic, military, economic, and, moreover, fraternal ties. In general, what is the origin of this tradition of Pakistan-Azerbaijan brotherhood?

– Pakistan and Azerbaijan relations go back deep in history. Pakistan was among the first countries which recognized Azerbaijan as an independent state. Pakistan also played an instrumental role in the adoption of various UN resolutions at the Security Council which created a legal framework for Azerbaijan’s stance on the issue of Nagorno Karabakh. So, this is a relationship that has a long history based on mutuality of respect and mutuality of trust. Our two countries are also bound by a common faith, a common desire to progress and develop as strong, independent, and peace-loving nations.

– Nowadays, including in the streets and squares of Baku, and even in individual houses, there are 3 flags in Azerbaijan: the flags of Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Pakistan! Citizens of Azerbaijan, along with Azerbaijan, consider the flags of these two countries very dear to them. It is interesting for us: is it possible to see the Azerbaijani flag waving in Islamabad alongside the Pakistani flag?

– For me, it will be a great thing, a happy development that we could have similar sights in Pakistan having Azerbaijani flags flying alongside the Pakistan flag. I was indeed pleased, during the last few months, to witness Pakistani flags in the street of Baku, on the buildings, and on the cars, which reflect a deep attachment and affection between the peoples of our two countries. Let me tell you that the Azerbaijani flag is also, although not frequently seen, but sometimes seen alongside the Pakistani flag in Islamabad and other areas, and Inshallah in the times to come with more interactions between the two sides, between the two peoples, we will see the Azerbaijani flag more frequent phenomena in Pakistan as well.

– Our social networks pages reported that our famous philanthropist Haji Zeynalabdin Tagiyev sent 300,000 ampoules of vaccine to our brothers in Pakistan in the early twentieth century. Is there anything about it in your textbooks or books, or is this just a myth?

– I would say it is definitely much more than a myth. We have heard about Haji Zeynalabdin Tagiyev and when I came here, I realized that this famous philanthropist has a lot of respect in the Azerbaijani society. As the story goes about the provision of vaccines to the people living in today’s Pakistan about a century ago, this was indeed a great gesture of altruism and brotherhood. I hope that our two countries would cooperate and share experiences in the same spirit to ensure the provision of the COVID vaccine.

– There is a tripartite format between Turkey, Pakistan, and Azerbaijan. Is there a possibility of a military alliance between the three countries in the future? What is Pakistan`s approach to this issue?

– We have very strong relations among the three countries. We have met in the past for political engagement, for defense cooperation, for economic engagement. There will be future sessions of this trilateral engagement to further strengthen this cooperation. In short, we have a multifaceted relationship among our three countries. As far as your point regarding military alliance is concerned, when we have had cooperation in diverse fields and the military is automatically a part of that. But I would not characterize this cooperation as a military alliance because this cooperation is not intended against other countries. Instead, this aims to strengthen and deepen cooperation among our three countries.

– There are many frozen but active conflicts in the world. Karabakh and Kashmir were among them. Azerbaijan ended the Karabakh conflict with the support of brotherly Pakistan in some cases. Does Pakistan intend to take advantage of Azerbaijan's diplomatic influence in Kashmir? Because the role of Azerbaijani diplomacy in “melting the ice” between Turkey and Israel was great.

– First of all, let me congratulate you on the victory in the war of Karabakh, the second war. Azerbaijan has done a tremendous job. And of course, Pakistan stood by Azerbaijan along with Turkey in this struggle where you have done a great job.

As far as the issue of Kashmir is concerned, you rightly pointed out that this is one of the oldest agendas at the United Nations. It is an issue that has been festering for the last seven decades. We are grateful to Azerbaijan for the consistent support they have extended to the cause of Jammu and Kashmir, their political support, their moral support, and their diplomatic support at various international forums including the United Nations and the OIC. Azerbaijan has also made public statements, strong statements, in support of the people of Occupied Jammu and Kashmir. So definitely we would like to have continued support, more vigorous, more robust support of Azerbaijan because the struggle of the Kashmiri people has entered a decisive phase. Now they are battling and facing the most brutal suppression, the most brutal campaign, at the hands of Indian forces, in the occupied territory where their freedoms, their liberties have been severely curtailed. The bold and consistent support of Azerbaijan for the oppressed people of Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir is a great example that should be emulated by other countries, other peace-loving nations, and all those who believe in the dignity of human rights, in the dignity and worth of human beings. They should also come forward and raise their voice for the legitimate struggle of the people of Occupied Indian Jammu and Kashmir

– What is Pakistan`s approach to solving the Kashmir conflict? In your opinion, is there a need for an international format to resolve this conflict, such as the OSCE Minsk Group?

– We have seen the contribution and role of the OSCE Minsk Group in the resolution of the Karabakh issue. Your country, Azerbaijan, waited for 27 years, waiting for a political solution, a solution that could have been possible through negotiations. The international community has seen that the progress in the Minsk Group was not very remarkable. Ultimately that issue was resolved through a justified military campaign led by your Commander in Chief, your President, and the valiant forces of Azerbaijan. So, the Minsk Group may not be a great example to emulate but definitely, Pakistan wishes a peaceful solution to the dispute of Jammu and Kashmir in line and in accordance with the UN Resolutions. There are multiple Resolutions, more than 11 Resolutions, in the UN that talk about how the issue of Jammu and Kashmir should be resolved. The key area, the core aspect of these resolutions is to allow and facilitate what is the will of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. This was a promise made to them by the international community, by the United Nations, that they will be given this opportunity to decide about their future through the exercise of self-determination. India had agreed to these resolutions, the proposal, that the people of Kashmir would be given the option of holding a referendum in which they will express their will, whether they want to join India or Pakistan. So, we only say, we call upon the international community, that please give this right of referendum, of the plebiscite, to the people of Jammu and Kashmir and let’s see what the Kashmiri people want, let the people of Kashmir speak and Pakistan will respect the wishes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

– In a few weeks-time Pakistan will mark Kashmir Solidarity Day. What does your country aim to achieve through this annual event beyond showing your allegiance with the people of Kashmir?

– Every year on the 5th of February, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir around the world express their solidarity with the people of occupied Jammu and Kashmir. This is a day that marks the long struggle of the people of occupied Kashmir who have faced brutal suppression by the occupying forces of India. This year is particularly important because, since August 2019, Indian forces are trying to suppress the liberties and the normal lives of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. You may be aware that the Indian government has abrogated the special status of Jammu and Kashmir by changing the Constitution and they have enforced a lockdown, a very prolonged and strict lockdown in the occupied Kashmir. People cannot assemble for worship, people cannot assemble to express their anger against the Indian suppression. The Indian government has detained the Kashmiri leaders arbitrarily, they are killing indiscriminately the young population, the youth who want to express their anger and frustration against the prolonged occupation, so this is a very sad situation in the occupied Jammu and Kashmir. People of Occupied Kashmir cannot use internet facilities to convey their misery to the world outside. So, this a sad situation and we believe that all peace-loving countries should come forward to express their support for the people of Kashmir. Inshallah, we will celebrate this occasion next month and will hold multiple conferences and seminars to apprise the international community about the situation inside Occupied Jammu and Kashmir. We will try to poke the conscience of the international community that they should raise their voice against this suppression and gross violations of human rights in the occupied Kashmir.

– As you know there is considerable attention being paid to the education system in Azerbaijan not least because our country is modernizing its economy and is keen to create a generation of young people equipped with the skills to meet the needs of this new era. Is there anything you think Azerbaijan could learn from Pakistan’s own experience of developing its education system?

– Let me say that Azerbaijan has a good basic education system, you have an almost 100 percent literacy rate which is a great thing. But simply having literate people in the country is not sufficient. This is a time when knowledge economies are developing in the world. So, for progress and prosperity and development in this 21st Century, you need to equip your people with modern technological education, education which is in sync with the latest scientific developments in the world.

I agree with you that this an avenue where Pakistan and Azerbaijan can complement and cooperate. Pakistan has great expertise in information technology, computer software, in artificial intelligence. We have very good medical schools, engineering universities, universities where different technologies are being taught, and we know that Azerbaijan has a very good engineering university in the faculty of oil technology, so I believe that there are complementarities where we can work together. Our Education Ministries should work together to strengthen this cooperation. And I hope that someday Pakistani school chains are able to start their services here in Azerbaijan, not only in Baku but in the newly liberated areas and the people of Azerbaijan can benefit from the good education system available in Pakistan.

– Does Pakistan plan to cooperate with Azerbaijan in the field of energy supply and access to the European market?

– Yes indeed. Azerbaijan is blessed with the immense natural resource of energy, of oil, and gas. Just recently a very big project started its operation, the Southern Gas Corridor, which will supply gas from the Shahdeniz field all the way to Europe. This is a huge project and I believe your organizations like SOCAR, have ample scope for investment in the big Pakistani market. Pakistan is an energy-deficient country. We need more energy, more oil and gas to meet the needs of industry, and Azerbaijan being a friendly, brotherly country should come forward to engage with Pakistani stakeholders for the supply of energy, both oil and gas. I am happy to note that discussion is already going on between the two sides on this front. Pakistan is already buying gas from SOCAR but we would like to see a more long-term arrangement, a more regular supply of energy from Azerbaijan to Pakistan which will provide the necessary economic boost to both sides and bring the people of the two countries even closer.

– In one of your statements, you mentioned that we should be closer allies and cooperate more with brotherly Azerbaijan. What economic, cultural, and political cooperation is planned between the two countries in this direction?

– Yes, cultural and people-to-people contacts are an important facet of having strong and good bilateral relations between the two countries. You know we have commonalities in many ways. We are both Muslim countries, we have a common history, but one aspect that I feel there is room for further improvement is the need, for example, to familiarise both countries about the cuisine, culture, and languages in our respective countries. I think these are the avenues we need to work upon more. And a great example, a great tool, to bring the people of the two countries [together] is that we should have direct flights between Baku, Azerbaijan, and Islamabad, Pakistan as well as other cities of Pakistan. We are already working on that front and very soon we hope, Inshallah, during this year we will have direct flights starting between the two countries which will mean that a person traveling from Baku can reach Pakistan in less than three hours. That will provide a boost for cultural interaction, business interaction, trade, and people-to-people contacts. It will promote tourism between both countries – you know in 2019 more than 45000 Pakistanis traveled to Baku. In 2020, because of COVID restrictions, the number of travelers was less but, in the new year, we hope that as soon as travel restrictions are lifted, a large number of Pakistanis are waiting to come to Baku and other parts of your country, and we hope that also the people of Azerbaijan will like to avail [themselves} of the immense tourist opportunities in Pakistan. We have a simplified visa regime where people can have the benefit of travel to another country. We want to facilitate the travel of people exploring business opportunities, exploring investment opportunities as well as tourism. This will help the two countries to build a stronger relationship and a mutually beneficial, multi-faceted partnership.

2021.01.13 / 09:00
Rafiga Mammadzadeh
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