Seeking closer cooperation with Greece, more trade and investment in agriculture and shipping

What are the goals of your visit to Athens and what issues did you raise during your meeting with your Greek counterpart Costas Karamanlis? This is the first official visit of any prime minister of Pakistan to Greece. We’ve been independent for 59 years but we haven’t had an official visit, so we were very pleased to get an opportunity to interact with the leadership of Greece, an important EU member state with which we share a cultural heritage that goes back to Alexander the Great and even earlier. There are parts of Pakistan where the influence of Greece is still apparent today. In addition, Pakistan is a country of 160 million people, a crossroads of the Middle East, and it has an important role to play as a stabilizing country in that region. We’re neighbors with Iran, Afghanistan, China and India, and the Middle East is down south. So we have a very geopolitically important location. And as a major Muslim country we also have a role to play being a calming influence in that whole region. The main purpose of the visit was to engage with Greece as an EU country, to increase trade and investment, to seek an exchange of views on major international events like Iran, like Afghanistan, like our situation with India. Also to explore avenues of cultural cooperation, of help from Greece on agriculture, particularly in terms of agribusiness, to seek investment in areas like shipping and petrol. Greece has a large number of world-class entrepreneurs who are active all over the world. Trade We also have limited trade: 120 million [euros] is very limited, we think the potential is much more. So we have decided to reactivate at the ministerial level our joint economic commission, to create an enabling environment for the two countries to increase their trade and that would provide more linkages between our two countries. We’ve invited some private businesspeople along; we’ve invited the Greek chambers to send their people there. But on shipping I’m ever optimistic. Many of the shipowners are interested in working in Pakistan, and as our economy grows, the trade numbers in Pakistan are rising. We have growth rates of 6-8 percent a year and that has attracted an increase in trade and an overall improvement in our microeconomic situation. Also the structural reforms Pakistan has introduced in politics and the justice system, in the security systems and in the trade, investment and economic areas are having a positive impact on the country. We are also working hard to promote the social sector. So putting this all together, between Greece and Pakistan we can have cultural cooperation, more sea links, more air links, more investment. We are working together for security and stability in Afghanistan. Greece has troops in Afghanistan; Pakistan is an important stakeholder in that region. We are promoting the cause of peace in Afghanistan; we want a strong and stable Afghanistan. And we still have 3 million refugees, so if Afghanistan becomes stronger, vibrant and more settled, these people will go back and that will obviously be good for both countries. The Pakistan economy has shown an exceptionally positive outlook in the past few years, partly due to measures taken by your government. What were the key reforms that led to this positive development and what have you done about poverty? Poverty in Pakistan is coming down due to consistently high [economic] growth for the past several years. We used to have a poverty index of a level of 32 percent; it’s down to 26 percent. So millions of people have grown out of poverty because of economic reform, but more, naturally, will be done, and we plan to work on it. Most of our people who are subject to poverty are in the rural areas, so we have focused on agriculture, to increase agricultural income and to link the prices of agricultural commodities to international prices. In addition we are providing input and techniques to farmers to improve productivity; yields have to go up and have gone up. The reforms we have introduced are very extensive. This is based on deregulation, liberalization, privatization, good governance and transparency – clean government. These are the five pillars of our reform effort. That has resulted in the improvement we got. And also we worked very hard to bring the debt levels down. Our debt used to be well over our total GDP, now debt is down to 61 percent of GDP and coming down further. We have increased revenue, we have contained expenditure growth, we have led the economy to grow. We have passed a law called the Fiscal Responsibility Law, which restricts the level of borrowing by the government at any time. The Parliament has to review this every year so that whatever we have gained as the result of reforms doesn’t get frittered away. It’s very important we do that. And with the debt coming down, the debt servicing coming down, we have been able to get our budget in better shape. The law is very important because it puts a permanence to the improvement in the situation. Otherwise things can slip back in any country, and Pakistan is no exception. These are some of the reforms. We have privatized the bulk of our state assets; whatever is left we are doing. That’s been a very successful program. The deregulation has allowed any foreign investor to come in with no approvals required. It’s a very liberal, open system. Reforms Political reform too. We have got elected local governments for the first time at every level. Every mayor of a town, village, city is elected now. We have special seats reserved for women, to get women into Parliament and local government. We also have a free press; 22 TV channels, print media, openly critical, constructive and critical of the government. And that has opened the minds of our people. Speaking about political reform, during the week ex-prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif signed a political agreement in London. Will they be allowed to return to Pakistan and participate in the 2007 elections? I think they are outside the country in line with their own requirements. Some have cases against them, so that is why they are not in the country. But their parties are functioning, they are active in Parliament, they are part of the opposition. And the parties are free to take part in elections, like any party. Practicing democracy Pakistan has moved a long way in terms of democratic practices and allowing freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of expression of views. I think that is healthy for any civilized society. So in terms of democracy we are practicing it, we are all elected people. We have a Parliament which is very active and anybody who qualifies under the laws of Pakistan to stand for election can do so. Before coming to Greece, you were in Bali for the meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, where you met Iran President Mahmoud Ahmajinedad. What was your personal impression of the president? And is he ready to compromise with the West over the Iranian nuclear program? On the Iranian nuclear issue, our view is that Iran should not proliferate and not produce any nuclear weapons. They should be allowed to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes under IAEA safeguards and guidelines. We believe the use of force will be very complex and will create a very difficult situation for everybody. We also feel that dialogue and discussion on all sides should be used to lower the temperature and find a negotiated settlement to what is a very complex issue. In my discussions with the Iranian president, this is what we explained and discussed, and we are hoping that diplomacy will prevail. The recent EU announcement can form a basis for a discussion but the devil is in the detail, and I haven’t seen the details yet, because I’ve been on the road. We hope that all stakeholders will look at this issue calmly, will look at this issue in a constructive manner and lower the temperatures, because that is what will be good for the cause of peace in the world. Your country is a nuclear power. Have you discussed a nuclear-free zone in the broader Middle East? Our nuclear discussions are more in the context of South Asia and Pakistan. Many times we have offered to India a nuclear restraint regime, and India hasn’t responded to that so far. We’re always willing to talk about it because if it can serve the cause of reducing tensions in the area I think a restraint regime would be helpful.