By Victoria Ojeme
In this interview, the Acting High Commissioner of Pakistan in Nigeria, Ahmed Ali Sirohey, explains what Nigeria stands to benefit from his country in the area of food sufficiency and infrastructure. On the very important issue of terrorism, Sirohey says dialogue alone will not solve the problem. He draws from his country’s approach to tackling a similar problem. Excerpts:
What is the state of relations between Nigeria and Pakistan
That is a very wonderful question. Actually Nigeria and Pakistan have excellent relations. If you rate that on a scale of 10, we have all the 10 numbers. We’ve had excellent relations since 1st October 1960 till date. We have never disputed each other.
We’ve always supported each other. We even supported on the platform of UN, OIC and so many international forums. Sometimes Nigeria supported our candidature sometimes we support Nigerian candidature. It is always like a brotherly relationship. So we have had excellent relations
Pakistan is one of the leading producers of rice in the world, how was this feat achieved?
We are the second largest exporter of rice in the world and we have achieved this by doing indigenous research, producing hybrid seeds according to the Pakistan legal system and supporting farmers through our Agricultural Development Bank.
Not only that, Pakistani agricultural infrastructure is also supporting Pakistani empowerment all over the country by giving farmers rice and the type of rice that should be planted on that land after taking the sample for experiment. So this will make them to be able to produce rice in such a quantity that after consuming within the country, we were able to export more than 4million tons of rice.
Does the government of Pakistan support the farmers financially?
We are supporting them financially by giving loans; these loans are popularly known as soft loan. It is being paid by the farmers; the loans are given according to duration. If it is for 6months it is free with no interest. But if it is for long term up to 10years, then there is something to be paid.
For instance farmers who have plenty hectares of land can apply for a tractor from government and will start paying in 10months with small interest of 8-9% Nigeria has vast and fertile land resources, yet it is one of the major importers of rice, what can Nigeria do right, drawing from the Pakistani example, with a view to being self sufficient in food production?
Pakistan is ready to support Nigeria because Pakistan has one of the largest irrigation networks in the world and Nigerian irrigated land is only 2,700squarekilometers and our irrigated land is around 400,000squarekilometers.
So, Nigeria has large resources, 267million hectare is more than double the Pakistani quantity. Pakistan has around 70million hectare of land for our cultivation. Nigerian has 90million hectare of land for cultivation.
And Nigerian soil is more fertile than Pakistani soil. We can support Nigeria in irrigation network, dam farming, biology farming, building dams and irrigation channels and then even produce some seeds for Nigerian weather because we also have similar weather in the southern part of Pakistan so we can support Nigeria in this area.
There are other seeds that are more nutritious which produce more yield per hectares than any other seed. And that can be done if only there is cooperation from the two countries. Nigeria can be a large exporter of rice because it has vast land and human resources. What is the volume of trade between Nigeria and Pakistan as we speak?
It is very small. Total volume Pakistan-Nigeria trade last year was about $76million. Out of Nigeria import was more than $74million. So it’s just small in terms of trade.
What areas of improvement is the Pakistani government looking at in its relations with Nigeria at the moment?
In terms of relations, we are looking at having a bilateral treaty and then we are also looking forward for cooperation in the field of health, in the field of education, in the field of agricultural development, agricultural research, irrigation, power distribution and even we are ready to offer our expertise in laying the gas pipelines, because Pakistan is one of those countries that is using pipelines to move gas.
We don’t have cylinders to supply cooking gas. We supply gas to the houses through pipes and it is metered and we have run hundreds of thousands of kilometers of pipeline along the country and so we can support this because this gas can initiate industrialisation in Nigeria. With the pipelines, gas is piped to different cities and in the states.
On the global stage, Pakistan belongs to the exclusive club of nuclear powers, what is the position of Pakistan on the opposition of western powers against Iran acquiring nuclear capability?
We are very logically disturbed by this. We again saying that it is time to find solution to this issue and this should be done through dialogue and we support that every country has a right to produce energy including Iran. To produce energy is permitted and even the international agreement on that, Iran is party to it.
Diplomacy seems to be failing in getting Iran to negotiate its nuclear ambition and military action has been muted in some quarters, will Pakistan support military action against Iran?
No. We don’t support that.
The US government recently declared one of your citizens wanted over the Mumbai attack, and the Indian government has also accused Pakistan of refusing to extradite him to India for trial, what is the view of the Pakistani government on this matter?
India has been in agreement for so many years. For centuries we have allowed India, we have turned India to the most favoured nation in trade and commerce and it was favorable in 2012. Our business relation has improved and now our business between India and Pakistan has stacked $3billion mark, so of course our business is growing everyday and we have been visiting India for the country to dialogue for the resolution of the Cashmere issue, for the resolution of certain population issue, so all these issues are done.
We are imposing the UN resolution on Cashmere and India is in breach of UN resolution on Cashmere. So we are asking that to come to the table so that we resolve issues to the benefit of both people, people of both India and Pakistan.
So if we resolve these issues peacefully, we would have offered our people more resources for our education, for health, for small micro-financing, small medium industries – the cottage industries, agricultural development, irrigation, infrastructures, telecommunication, IT and some other sectors to develop our livelihood and be part of the citizens of our respected countries. Pakistan has been wishing that and we hope that it will dialogue and we will work out these issues.
Pakistan and India have been in talks and hopefully the matter you raised will be resolved. We are hopeful.
Pakistani relationship with the U S government seems to be one of hot and cold every now and then, why is it so?
We have very good relations with the United States. Since 1947, we have been friends to the United State and the United States remain our friend. US supported us in so many ways and we have supported the United States in all levels and even when Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.
We supported the US to support Afghanistan and Pakistan became the frontline country and we faced the music. We hosted around 4million refugees and even then US left Afghanistan after the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989. Still we were hosting 3.2million refugees and we were left all alone to support them.
And again in 2001 when America toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Pakistan became the frontline state against violence of terrorism. Since then we’ve lost $70billion in our economy. So we are the docks because Pakistan wishes to resolve amicably, at equal footing, equal level because we are a sovereign state.
So we want certain guarantees that Pakistani sovereignty should be respected. We have been in alliance and we suffer the most because we lost around 40,000 people during this violence. No other country including the US suffers such huge casualties. So everybody should respect Pakistani sacrifices and this is the point we are making.
Do you think the tracking and killing of Bin Laden on Pakistani soil has in any way affected world view of Pakistan as a major partner in the fight against terrorism?
Pakistani intelligence agency and CIA were partners. And if you remember, Pakistan caught more Al-Qaeda operatives than any other country and handed them over to the international coalition. Pakistan has helped arrest very high profile people, so we have been cooperating. It is not an unusual thing because so many people wanted in the USA and the UK hibernated for decades untraced. .
You go on the internet now you will see certain persons who killed people, serial killers in 1970’s, went untraced and only caught in 21st century after 35years.
So it is possible, but there is no such thing, even President Obama and Hilary Clinton have appreciated Pakistan’s cooperation and they have declared that.
Nigeria is battling to contain rashes of insurgency across the country, what is the level of assistance the government of Pakistan is offering Nigeria?
First of all, Pakistani government has been offering the services of training and man power because what Nigeria is facing is unlike traditional war; it is an unusual thing, it is subtitled with terrorism. Terrorism is faceless, it doesn’t have a face; it doesn’t have head quarters, it doesn’t have directory, so you have to be properly trained to root it out. So that is one area where Pakistan can support Nigeria.
In 2009 we adopted a three-ground strategy: Dialogue, Economic measure, to provide them economic equality and opportunities to deprive the terrorist from repulse and the third one was to study those involved so that we take them home and we were successful within three months, we have rooted them out, they were routed completely. Now it is peaceful because tourism is again thriving and people are coming during summer vacations.
The diplomatic community in Nigeria seems to be divided on whether to negotiate with the Boko Haram sect or just take them on, what would be your suggestion?
Actually this is a complex issue. Dialogue will not resolve this issue. Only economic measure will not resolve this issue. Only military actions will not resolve it. The most important thing is confidence of local populace. If we have taking the of people of the surrounding areas into confidence, that government is their friend, that government will look after them, protect them, look after their needs, problems, communities’ problems, their children’s education, infrastructural problems, economic problems; when people saw that government is sincere in doing these things, the people will say “we are not with you terrorists, we are with the government”. Confidence building measures would be one of the important steps that government will have to take.
Do you think Nigeria is going the right way in handling this situation?
Right now, I have been reading the newspapers. That government is offering dialogue, and even contemplating on economic measures; hopefully government will be able to resolve this issue because Nigeria is one of the largest countries in Africa and we feel that Nigeria would have to find a resolution of its affairs by adopting the right measures. We are very positive about this that Nigeria will over come this
In general, what advice will you give to the Nigerian government?
Education is power. So making people literate will strengthen Nigeria. Literacy, literacy and literacy!