Multilayered cooperation between Pakistan and Azerbaijan gains momentum (ANALYSIS)
By Aynur Abbassoy
Azerbaijan and Pakistan have developed harmonious and mutually beneficial cooperation in multiple domains and chosen to act together against common political and security threats. The relations between the two countries proved itself important also amidst the Covid-19 pandemic which posed socio-economic challenges to most affected countries. Azerbaijan offered $1 million in humanitarian aid to Pakistan to fight the pandemic and relieve socio-economic pain it caused. The move was highly appreciated by Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan expressed in a letter to the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev (President.az, May 28, 2020). The two countries have also set a regular communication line for sharing experience in dealing with the pandemic, along with providing necessary medical equipment to each other. Apart from that, they are also seeking to develop a joint strategy to combat the COVID-19 threat together with other member states in the framework of the Non-Alignment Movement Contact Group.
The two countries have been developing close cooperation in many spheres, including political, economic, military, as well as people to people contact since the beginning of Azerbaijan’s post-Soviet independence. Most significantly, both sides use every single opportunity to support each other’s stance on the issues of critical importance, for example, the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict and Pakistan dispute with India over the Kashmir region.
Recently, Pakistan has condemned Armenian parliamentary and presidential elections that illegally held in the Azerbaijani territory of Nagorno-Karabakh (Azertac, April 9, 2020). Notably, Pakistan has no diplomatic relations with Armenia and has declared that it will remain unchanged, unless Armenia ends the occupation of Azerbaijani territories. Azerbaijan, for its part, is actively engaging in the works of the OIC Contact Group on Jammu and Kashmir, coupled with its efforts to bring the issue to attention at other international forums.
Particularly these days, Pakistan needs support more than ever, as India’s control in Kashmir is on the rise, following the abolition of its special status. Against this backdrop, border tensions between India and Pakistan are escalating, even though the two nations are in the grip of the pandemic. Not surprisingly, last month, President Ilham Aliyev reiterated Azerbaijan’s support for Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir in a phone conversation with his Pakistani counterpart (The Nation, May 9, 2020).
In terms of defense cooperation, the two countries have heavily relied on military-educational transfers in the past years. However, since 2018 there has been an initiative to extend military-security cooperation to the level of strategic partnership. Baku’s growing interest in the Pakistan army industry reveals its intention of building closer military-technical cooperation. For now, the two sides are holding discussions of purchasing Pakistan-China joint venture JF-17 Thunder fighter jet, as well as conducting joint military exercises in future. In these days, the importance of the above-mentioned strategic relations has upgraded, due to the emerging rapprochement between Armenia and India, which materialized with a fresh deal valued $40 million on purchasing SWATHI radar systems.
The oil-led economic boom of Azerbaijan has provided many opportunities for productive economic cooperation between Azerbaijan and Pakistan. Responding to Islamabad’s challenges with energy shortages in the country, Baku offered an open oil credit facility of $100 million in 2018 (The Express Tribune, October 12, 2018). Considering Pakistan’s challenges with the debt burden, the open-end agreement is of high importance as it will alleviate financial pressure.
Therefore, Pakistan as an oil-importing country welcomes investment from Azerbaijan. Indeed, according to a statement by Pakistan’s Minister for Power Division, the energy sector has the potential of over $100 billion investment (The Nation, February 24, 2020) In the meantime, Azerbaijan, as a potential investor, shows a genuine interest particularly in the Pakistan LNG market. In this regard, it offered LNG supply on a long-term basis to Pakistan alongside signaling the possibility of investing in LNG infrastructure during the visit by Azerbaijani delegation of businessmen last year (The News, October 9, 2019).
Moreover, throughout the years, Azerbaijan managed to strengthen its strategic position as an energy supplier and transporter, as well as the guarantor of energy security in the region. The designation of Azerbaijan as having economic potential and being a reliable partner also hints more space for Azerbaijan-Pakistan economic cooperation. It’s important to mention that the two countries share a similar vision for generating economic development also through cooperation in regional connectivity projects.
These developments have boded well for the bilateral trade turnover between the two countries which doubled over the last two years. Despite the fact the two are not on their respective top 10 trading partner lists, they are keen to boost trade volume as indicated in the recently signed agreements. To that end, both sides regularly host business forums to expand trade dialogue with a focus on pharmaceutics, tourism, and energy fields.
The people to people contacts between Pakistan and Azerbaijan are growing as well, as exemplified in the increasing tourist flows between the two countries. The governments of the two are working on a number of initiatives to further bolster these ties. For example, it has been recently announced that they are planning to start direct flights between Baku and Pakistani cities of Karachi and Lahore in the near future (Azernews, October 10, 2019).
In general, Pakistan and Azerbaijan are determined to strengthen mutual ties and cooperation in various spheres backed by strong cultural and historical bonds. The recent developments in the region and beyond demonstrate that these relations have a high potential, and the two countries are eager to build on this. Mutual support to their respective political standing in the international arena, on the other side, new economic configurations will present more avenues for cooperation in line with their mutual interests.
Aynur Abbassoy, an intern at the Center of Analysis of International Relations (AIR Center), specially for News.Az