Australia has amplified its commitment in South Asia since its engagement with regards to military forces in Afghanistan following the September 11 attacks in the United States. The center of Australia’s strategic narrative has inclined to center on Afghanistan, with reference to Pakistan inextricably linked to counteract the revolt in Afghanistan. However, Pakistan holds long-term importance to Australia’s interests in South Asia, and Australia must therefore have a separate policy for Pakistan.
The Australia-Pakistan relationship has been longstanding, with Canberra being one of the first to establish diplomatic relations with Islamabad after independence in 1947. These include political, security, developmental, economic and trade relations. Both the countries are in a formal bilateral trade agreement since 1990. When it comes to security cooperation, the bilateral relations date back to the Cold War period and expanded during this century as a result of Australia’s military commitment to the US allied forces in Afghanistan.
Since 2008, the Australian Government has intensified its relations with Pakistan, with a particular emphasis on economic modification, social development, democratic governance, and security cooperation with a key focus on defence and law enforcement.
The Australian Government has overtly affirmed that the stability and security of Pakistan is important to Australia’s national interest by mentioning that Australia is committed to support Pakistan as a partner and especially when it comes to the efforts to address security hazards, to build economic prosperity and to boost development and infrastructural projects. This assurance from Canberra is founded on the premise that stability in Pakistan matters because of its influence on Australia’s regional and broader interests.
Many notable analysts have likewise argued that the geopolitical situation of Pakistan is noteworthy to Australia’s interests specifically in the Indo-Pacific region and is important to the international community’s interests in South Asia. According to the Australian High Commission Islamabad, the Australian citizens visiting Pakistan are currently 25,300.
Pakistan and Australia have signed a counter-terrorism treaty, which permitted joint training exercises between both the countries. The former prime minister of Australia John Howard has also visited Pakistan following the 2005 Kashmir earthquake. Both the countries have been holding bilateral defence and security talks since 2006.
In 2010, the 1.5 Track Security Dialogue was initiated between both countries. This dialogue was an imperative mechanism for senior security decision-makers and strategists from both the countries to share their viewpoints on areas of sheer importance for Pakistan and Australia. Australia also recognized the security challenges which Pakistan is facing. Australia has offered assistance to address the menace of violent extremism in the border regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Another area of cooperation is education, one of the most important factors for Pakistan’s socio-economic development. Australia is providing scholarships to Pakistani students every year to study at masters and PhD level in prestigious Australian educational institutes. At present, there are more than 11,000 Pakistani students studying in Australia. Dr. Mehreen Faruqi who received masters and later a PhD degree from the University of New South Wales became the first Pakistani-Australian to be elected to Australian parliament in 2012.
Australia-Pakistan Development Partnership program during 2014-2015 mainly emphasised on the education sector, as it consisted of 33% of the overall aid and investment. The Pakistani diaspora in Australia has established several organizations such as the Pakistan Association of Australia. These organizations serve the nation by disseminating cultural awareness among their community. Pakistan-Australia Friendship Association also tends to work on social, cultural and other activities amongst its members. The aim is to endorse a better relation between Australians and Pakistanis. Sports collaborations such as Cricket series is another factor for a strong social connection.
Australia has a keen interest in Pakistan and its economic potential and strategic position in South Asia. The Australian government’s aid program in Pakistan works to encourage affluence, reduce poverty and augment steadiness, with a fortified focus on this region. According to the Australian High Commission Islamabad, the aggregate of Australian government assistance for Pakistan during 2014-2015 was AUD 92.1 million.
Two-way goods and service trade during 2014 remained AU$1.2 billion whereas Pakistan’s investment in Australia mounted up-to AU$51 million. There are many other areas of collaboration such as agriculture, dairy, livestock and mining. The Pakistan-Australia Business Council is another body which works to highlight the mutual potential business links as well as facilitates people on both sides.
The Australian High Commission in Islamabad, in a recent press release, revealed that Australia will invest AUD 11 million in phase-II of the Sustainable Development Investment Portfolio (SDIP). The focus of the program will be on energy projects and water management in the Indus Basin. This 12-year program named as SPDI began in 2013.
The projects related to water, food and energy security in South Asia through improved management of shared water resources, renewable energy cooperation, sustainable climate, resilient agricultural practices and strengthened national capacity and coordination are few of the evident features of this particular initiative. The government of Australia has also pledged that it will continue with their assistance to Pakistan as it would be a long term venture.
The High Commissioner of Pakistan to Australia, Naela Chohan is renowned as a strong promoter of women’s rights and recently touched many hearts in Canberra when she hosted Arise Woman, an exhibition of her own paintings. She is not only a good ambassador but is also gifted with immense qualities. She is indeed a substantial language accumulator as she has acquaintance with almost seven languages, including Spanish. Naela Chohan is a strong voice for women’s rights and their advocacy.
As a seasoned and veteran diplomat, Ms. Chohan has assumed leadership positions in multiple countries. Currently being a High Commissioner of Pakistan to Australia, she has a special emphasis on reinforcement of bilateral ties. She is strongly engaged in prioritizing the enhancement of trade, security, educational and economic relations. She has been a vocal proponent of stronger ties between Pakistan and Australia.
Speaking on the occasion of commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of Pakistan’s Independence and the 70th year of the establishment of diplomatic relations with Australia, Pakistan high commission to Australia, Naela Chohan said, “It is an important occasion to underscore the interest of the Government of Pakistan to further strengthen the relations with Australia and to promote bilateral trade, investment and increased cooperation in education, agriculture and health sectors.”
The Government of Pakistan has decided to establish a Consulate General in Melbourne, which was formally launched by H.E. Ms Naela Chohan, on 12 August 2017. All of these efforts demonstrate her commitment of establishing firm relations with Australia. She is indeed presenting a soft and beautiful image of a peaceful and prosperous Pakistan.