x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Zardari visit to focus on energy ties

Pakistan's president is greeted by Sheikh Khalifa in Abu Dhabi at the start of his two-day official visit to the UAE.

The president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari.
The president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari.

Asif Ali Zardari, the president of Pakistan, described the UAE as his "second home" yesterday after arriving in Abu Dhabi for a two-day state visit. Welcomed at the airport by a high-level delegation led by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, Mr Zardari was taken to Al Mushrif Palace, where his arrival was marked by a 21-gun salute. He later held talks with Sheikh Khalifa. Mr Zardari's visit will focus on boosting economic and strategic ties between the two nations and seeking further investment in critical infrastructure in his home country. It follows recent attempts by his nation to garner support and funds through Friends of Pakistan meetings held in the UAE. Dr Zafar Iqbal, press consul at the Pakistani consulate in Dubai, said Mr Zardari had noted both nations were in harmony on strategic and economic issues and had described the Emirates as his second home. The president's priority during his first visit to the UAE will be to boost bilateral ties in the oil and gas, power and telecommunications sectors. With 70 per cent of Pakistan's oil coming from the Arabian Gulf, it will be important for Pakistan to maintain its strong links with the region through its current transition of government. Mr Zardari was elected in September. The leaders discussed relations between the two countries and ways to enhance mutual co-operation and partnerships in different sectors, the state news agency, WAM, reported. Other regional as well as international developments were also discussed. Khurshed Ahmed Junejo, Pakistan's ambassador to the UAE, said there were several topics on the Pakistani president's agenda. "The discussions would be mostly economic, in the area of energy and land [agriculture] and infrastructure development in Pakistan." Security, strategic co-operation and economic development would also be raised. The visit comes after a crucial Friends of Pakistan meeting in Abu Dhabi earlier this month, when representatives of 14 nations pledged support to stabilise Pakistan's ailing economy and to protect it from terrorism. Mr Zardari is the widower of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister who lived in exile in Dubai before her return to Pakistan and her assassination last year. Mr Zardari was also expected to meet heads of UAE-based companies to seek investment in Pakistan. "The UAE and Saudi Arabia have always assisted us in bad times," said Tanvir Khwaja, the director of the Pakistan Business Council in Dubai. "UAE is one of the biggest foreign investors in Pakistan with almost US$5 billion (Dh18.3bn) of investments in Pakistan, so it is a brotherly and friendly relationship." Pakistan is facing a balance-of-payments crisis and has just a few weeks to raise billions of dollars to meet debt payments. It is currently trying to seal a $7.6bn bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund. This would provide a much-needed boost to its ailing economy, forecast to grow at its slowest rate in seven years, weighed down by an inflation rate of around 20 per cent and a slowdown in industrial and farming sectors. The UAE's International Petroleum Investment Company has teamed up with the Pakistan-Arab Refinery Company to develop Pakistan's oil sector. Last year the companies embarked on a joint venture to build a $5bn refinery in Baluchistan province. Also in 2006, UAE-based DANA Gas signed a memorandum of understanding for the construction of a liquefied natural gas terminal in Pakistan. Mr Zardari is also scheduled to meet officials from Etisalat, which in 2005 bought 26 per cent of the Pakistan Telecommunications Corporation. More than 850,000 Pakistanis live in the Emirates, sending $1.3bn back home each year, although the global financial crisis meant the amount sent last month was significantly down. Despite economic weaknesses, Pakistan has sought to capitalise on its agricultural industry, upon which the GCC increasingly depends. The UAE recently announced a $40 million agriculture project in Baluchistan, which will enable the Government and Al Dahra farming company to cultivate 18,000 acres of land for wheat, cotton, pulse and other grains. Mr Zardari is accompanied on his visit by Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, his foreign minister, Shaukat Fayaz Ahmed Tarin, a financial affairs adviser, Abdul Rahman Malik, an internal affairs adviser and Saleem Mande, a minister of state, WAM reported. pmenon@thenational.ae vsalama@thenational.ae