Pakistan-Iraq relations: What did Bilawal Bhutto Zardari's visit achieve?
Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s recent visit to Iraq is being credited with fostering stronger Pakistan-Iraq relations. Pakistan has always attached special importance to its bilateral relations with Iraq, valuing the long-standing brotherly ties based on shared religious, cultural and historical foundations.
Iraq was among the first Arab countries to recognise the identity and independence of Pakistan. Fortunately, Iraq has now achieved peace and is on a path of development. This has led to a significant increase in the movement of security delegations between the two nations.
Every year, millions of Pakistanis visit Iraq to pay homage to Imam Hussain (AS) during Arbaeen. Pakistan takes pride in its brotherly relations with Iraq, and the Pakistani people consider Iraq as their second home.
During Bilawal's recent visit, significant triumphs were achieved, including important diplomatic milestones and the signing of numerous projects benefiting Pakistanis. The positive outcomes of this visit are expected to manifest in the near future. Notably, three MoUs were signed, marking a significant step forward.
One of the MoUs focuses on visa waivers for holders of diplomatic and official passports, which will streamline travel procedures for officials from both countries. This development aims to facilitate smoother diplomatic exchanges and foster greater collaboration.
Another significant MoU was established to create a partnership between the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) and the Iraqi Chamber. This strategic partnership seeks to promote economic cooperation and bolster trade relations between the two nations. It opens avenues for increased business opportunities and sets the stage for mutually beneficial economic exchanges.
Bilawal emphasised Pakistan's commitment to exploring new and innovative ideas of cooperation with Iraq. This includes areas such as connectivity, port connectivity and defence production, where both countries can collaborate for mutual benefit.
The discussions also revolved around establishing a flexible visa regime for investors and facilitating the exchange of business delegations. The foreign minister highlighted that Pakistan has taken steps to ease the process of obtaining visas for foreign investors visiting the country. Furthermore, arrangements have been made for the issuance of long-stay visas, enabling sustained engagement between businesses and investors.
In addition to these economic aspects, a MoU was signed on cultural cooperation, aiming to strengthen cultural ties between Pakistan and Iraq. This agreement seeks to promote cultural exchange and foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of each other's heritage and traditions.
A significant moment during the visit was Bilawal’s attendance at the foundation stone laying ceremony of the Pakistan Embassy Complex in Baghdad. This gesture underscored the commitment of both countries to strengthen diplomatic ties and enhance long-term cooperation.
Another momentous highlight of the visit was the inaugural session of the Pakistan-Iraq Business Forum. This forum provided a platform for business leaders from both countries to explore opportunities, foster economic cooperation, and facilitate trade exchanges. It served as a stepping stone towards strengthening economic ties between Pakistan and Iraq. As part of this effort, the Pakistan-Iraq Business Council was established to provide a structured mechanism for enhancing business ties, encouraging investment and promoting economic growth.
While the focus of the visit encompassed economic, administrative and political matters, the significance of religious pilgrimages was also recognised. An important announcement was made during the visit regarding the establishment of a Pakistan Pilgrimage in Karbala. This initiative underscores Pakistan's commitment to facilitating and assisting Pakistani pilgrims visiting Iraq, ensuring a smooth and organised experience for them.
Another noteworthy achievement of the visit was the announcement of the opening of a Pakistani consulate in Najaf. This consulate will provide a diplomatic presence and consular services to the Pakistani community in the region, further strengthening ties and providing necessary support to Pakistanis residing in Iraq.
The Iraqi government's assurance of extending a flexible visa regime for Pakistani visitors and the business community has been well-received. This commitment will facilitate seamless travel for both groups, promoting people-to-people exchanges and fostering closer ties between the two nations.
Bilawal also engaged in extensive discussions with the Iraqi leadership. These high-level engagements demonstrated the mutual desire to strengthen diplomatic relations and promote cooperation across various fields. A significant religious meeting took place between the foreign minister and Ayatollah Sheikh Bashir Al Najafi. This meeting underscored the importance of religious and cultural ties between Pakistan and Iraq, highlighting the significance of mutual understanding and cooperation.
Throughout the visit, both countries agreed to expand their bilateral relations in numerous industries and sectors. Areas of potential cooperation included water management, agriculture, textiles, climate change, education, health, labour mobility, Pakistan's participation in the Iraqi Development Corridor, establishment of sister port cities between Basra and Karachi and Gwadar, defence production, as well as collaboration in the health and pharmaceutical industries.
The foreign minister expressed Pakistan's determination to support Iraq's reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts, particularly in infrastructure development. This commitment showcased Pakistan's solidarity with Iraq and its willingness to contribute to its progress and prosperity.
Bilawal visited the holy shrine of Hazrat Ali (AS) in Najaf. His knowledge and understanding of the significance of Karbala resonates with him due to his family's own sacrifices in the pursuit of national unity.
Bilawal also visited the shrine of Imam Musa Kazim (AS). At the holy shrine, he offered prayers for the unity of the Muslim ummah and the prosperity of the country. As a symbolic gesture, he also planted a sapling at the shrine, emphasising the importance of environmental conservation and sustainability. He visited the shrine of Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani, where the new gate of the mausoleum was especially opened for him. He paid his respects to the revered Sufi saint.
This visit demonstrated the Pakistani foreign minister’s respect for religious and cultural heritage and his engagement with spiritual leaders and local communities. It highlighted the importance of fostering unity, seeking blessings, and exchanging ideas for the betterment of society.
During his meeting with the Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, Muhammad Riqan al-Halbusi, discussions focused on bilateral issues and the relations between Pakistan and Iraq. Bilawal highlighted the importance of cooperation in the parliamentary sector, emphasising that it would further strengthen the fraternal relations between the two countries. He expressed the view that fostering high-level parliamentary relations between Pakistan and Iraq is crucial in order to benefit from each other's experiences.
In the meeting with Ammar Hakeem, the president of Iraq's Hikmat Party, the two leaders discussed matters of mutual interest, including the political relations between Pakistan and Iraq. Bilawal emphasised the significance of strong political relations between the two countries, as they play a vital role in promoting public relations and understanding between the nations. The discussion also touched upon the potential for increased cooperation between Pakistan and Iraq in the field of health, highlighting the importance of joint efforts to address healthcare challenges in both countries.
It is noteworthy that Bilawal follows in the footsteps of his mother, the late Benazir Bhutto, who also visited Iraq on May 24, 1989, and had a significant impact. His successful diplomatic visit further enhances his determination in his role as foreign minister, with his achievements contributing to the country's best interests and the wellbeing of the people.
Bilawal’s visit to Iraq and his engagement with its various leaders and holy shrines underscores the strong bonds between Pakistan and Iraq. His success in diplomatic endeavours reflects positively on the country and its people, carrying forward the legacy of his family's commitment to national unity and integrity.