Pakistan Time Zone UTC+05:00
Capital City Islamabad
Currency Pakistani rupee
National Day 23 March
PAKISTAN’S NEW High Commissioner His Excellency Mohammad Nafees Zakaria returns to the capital after a position as Deputy Head of Mission almost a decade ago.
Arriving in London in January, he says he’s found the UK to be “as welcoming and warm as I experienced during my previous tenure. Despite the headlines, I see a country in high spirits.” Of course, he’s referring to Brexit. “We are closely watching the developments and are in regular contact with British officials. In every challenge there is an opportunity. Both Pakistan and the UK may explore and benefit from opportunities that might arise from this situation.”
Mr Zakaria says his selection into Pakistan’s Foreign Service in 1988 matched “my aptitude and very nature.” He continues: “In Pakistan, a career in the civil service is highly desirable and considered with great pride. During the course of your service you acquire a reputation that precedes you – whether it’s good or bad – and remains instrumental in your assignments abroad or back home at headquarters. So, I am no exception.”
Besides the UK, postings have taken him to Pakistan’s missions in Abu Dhabi, Jakarta, Bangkok, Toronto and Malaysia. Back home at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad, he served in various significant positions including as Additional Foreign Secretary and Spokesperson, Director General for South Asia and SAARC and Director General for Europe. He recalls the former high-profile assignment being a huge learning experience. “Dealing with such a vibrant media – both our own and international – provided me with an opportunity to draw my own world map, as to how I should present the case of Pakistan on a variety of issues in keeping with the facts that people would tend to ignore that mattered so much to us.”
Prior to his current assignment, Mr Zakaria served as Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Malaysia. As a lead economy in South East Asia, his main focus was on developing economic relations. He noted that the Malaysian government and private sector had a good appetite for investment abroad, matching Pakistan’s desire for foreign investment. “I was able to gather a number of Malaysian investors who were interested in investing in Pakistan in areas where we needed it and Malaysia had expertise: education, energy, the Halal industry and infrastructure development.” Mr Zakaria explains that “the already established excellent relationship between the two countries gave me a head start. We were at the stage where both countries had a lot to learn (and benefit) from each other’s expertise.” In a short span of time, he was able to arrange an official visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to Malaysia.
“Similarly,” he says, “the UK is an important country for us – the relationship dates back to the creation of Pakistan. But I would like to further promote that bilateral relationship.” In terms of his priorities as High Commissioner to the UK, Mr Zakaria says: “All over the world, economic diplomacy takes the lead. Correspondingly, I would like to find avenues to promote economic partnerships between the two countries.” There is plenty of potential, he says, especially because Pakistan is in the process of developing nine Special Economic Zones, providing huge opportunities and incentives for investors. “The UK not only has expertise in the industrial sector, but also the technological edge. And the experience of British companies investing in Pakistan over the past six decades has been good. The benefits and returns they have experienced are high and ongoing,” he explains. “Of course, the strong support from both governments provides an excellent foundation for business.”
Furthermore, he says, the presence of a 1.4 million-strong Pakistani community in the UK “provides a solid bridge to help strengthen the relationship between the two countries. They are based here but are connected to their families back home. One and a half million people travel between the UK and Pakistan each year, which is a huge economic opportunity. From June onwards, British Airways will start direct flights, increasing, inter alia, business opportunities further.”
Pakistan, of course, is not without its challenges. As upbeat as ever, Mr Zakaria says “Pakistan’s motto is a desire to have ‘peace within and without.’ We want to have friendly relationships with all countries, especially our neighbours.” He continues: “Pakistan, by virtue of its important geostrategic and geographic location, is a natural economic hub and energy corridor. At the confluence of South Asia, West Asia, Central Asia and Western China, Pakistan provides the most economical route to connect Central Asia to the outside world. Once conflicts in the South Asian region have been resolved, we can pave the way for unlimited opportunities for people in the region to benefit.”
A self-confessed workaholic, the High Commissioner used to play cricket. “But ever since I joined the service, work has taken over. Work is now my hobby!”