Pakistan needs trade not aid, says the Ambassador of the Republic of Poland, Piotr A. Opalinski, who recently sat down for an exclusive Q&A with The Truth International.
With all praise for Pakistan’s successful war on terrorism, Ambassador Opalinski sees plenty of room for enhanced cooperation between the two countries, particularly in the areas of trade, education, and filmmaking.
Given below for your reading pleasure is an abridged transcript of the interview.
TTI: Your Excellency please tell us about your experience as Poland envoy to Pakistan.
Amb. Opalinski: I started my first diplomatic mission as deputy head of mission in 1999 for six years in Pakistan; and from 2015, I have the pleasure and honour of representing Poland in Pakistan. Pakistan is a wonderful country of great people sharing lots of values like hospitali- ty. When Polish diplomats come to Pakistan, they feel surrounded by friends and family.
TTI: Which areas of cooperation are Pakistan and Poland presently focused on?
Amb. Opalinski: Today our two countries have much more to offer to each other. We are working on the exchange and enhancement of all our relations including the economy and trade. A Polish company was employed by Pakistan for research on the telephonic flow of data, and for the future 5G internet, Poland was also providing passport chips to Pakistan under a contract a few years back.
On the traditional side, we are a country of the centuries-old mining industry. We can provide green coal technology to Pakistan and also help in oil and gas exploration. A Polish oil and gas company is already working in the Sindh province for the last year and they are very successful in exploring and providing gas to the local networks. Another area is the food processing industry in which Poland has vast experience as well. When I see fruits and vegetables in Pakistan I believe we can cooperate in this area also.
TTI: What is the volume of trade between Pakistan and Poland at the moment and to what extent has COVID-19 affected it?
Amb. Opalinski: We had achieved half-a-billion euro turnover, more than 538 million euro annually by 2018-19. Right now, due to Covid-19 some of the contracts have been suspended but I do believe when this pandemic is over, we would see increased trade opportunities. Being part of the EU, we are also advocating and support- ing the GSP+ status for Pakistan which is very important for Pakistani exports to Europe, and like Pakistan we also believe that Pakistan needs trade, not aid.
TTI: What kind of defence cooperation do Pakistan and Poland have?
Amb. Opalinski: Yes, there is great scope for defence cooperation between Poland and Pakistan. Poland can provide Pakistan with equipment and technology both from modernised former Soviet Russian types and NATO as well. Some initial projects, in this area, have already been started. Poland and Pakistan have a shared defence history. Immediately after independence, the Pakistan Air Force was trained and developed by the Polish pilots. Poland also contributed to Pakistan Navy and Civil Aviation. So we have Polish heroes who are also heroes of Pakistan. Out of 72 pilots, aviation engineers and technicians who came to Pakistan in 1948-49, the most important was Air Commodore [Władysław Józef Marian] Turowicz who was appointed as the first executive director of SUPARCO Pakistan on 19 April 1967.
TTI: Please tell us about Poland’s visa policy for Pakistani visitors, specifically the students?
Amb. Opalinski: As we belong to the Schengen group, we are providing visas to the visitors under the Schengen Visa policy, but within the Schengen group we would like to be the most friendly country towards tourists and students. COVID-19 pandemic has badly affected all the Schengen countries. But once this situation is over, we hope to revive
normal working relationship with other countries. The universities in Poland which are among the best in Europe are ready to receive great and bright Pakistani students. There is a standard visa processing which differs from embassy to embassy but in our case it takes about two weeks.
TTI: An ordinary Pakistani would also like to know if Poland is a cheap destina- tion or otherwise.
Amb. Opalinski: Poland is much more attractive for tourists because it’s less expensive and it can offer beautiful landscapes – from sea to mountains, etc. And it’s very convenient for the airlines coming through the Middle East – and the travel is very short, an 8-hour flight. I know Pakistanis know a lot about Western Europe, about the UK but I am sure they will be delighted to see the Polish landscapes as well as its historical heritage. Poland also offers a considerable range of shopping and film-shooting. I remember a Pakistani film “zindagi na milegi dobara” was shot in Spain and [the settings were so much like places in Poland that] it could be in Poland. We are very lively and hospita- ble folks. Polish-Pakistani marriages are another testimony to our special connec- tion – many Polish-Pakistani couples are running restaurants in my city Warsaw, offering Pakistani cuisine, and now we would love to have our first Halal restau- rant from Pakistan.
TTI: Tell us about your own experience of Pakistani cuisine and travelling.
Amb. Opalinski: I love it and I wish I could travel more, though our work keeps us as diplomat to capital but I am not ambassa- dor to Islamabad, but to Pakistan so I wish to see each and every part of this country. Pakistani mountains are also legendary in Poland so our Alpine climbers are always eager to come to Pakistan, they want to excel in winters. I have been to Pakistan’s north and in Karimabad, Hunza I was shown the sword of Polish traveller Cap Gramchisky which he gave to the Amir of Hunza during the early nineteenth century.
TTI: Some of your climbers are still in Pakistan to scale Laila Peak in Hushe Valley near Gondogoro Glacier in the Karakoram Range in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Amb. Opalinski: Yes, we do have regular Polish expeditions in Pakistan, also recently for K-2 which was not quite successful, but in Karakoram Range, many peaks were already scaled by the Polish climbers. I wish these climbers a success and it’s also a very good message about Pakistan that goes to Poland – a beautiful country of wonderful, hospitable and friendly people with beautiful mountains and landscapes and historical sites thousands of years old.
TTI: Talking about great climbers, we recently lost our great climber, Muham- mad Ali Sadpara. Was he known in Poland for his expeditions?
Amb. Opalinski: Yes he was a great friend of Poland. As we climb together with our Pakistani friends and Ali Sadpara was helping a lot of our best climbers in the Himalayas. The mourning and compassion messages came from Poland after this tragedy. Polish climbers also contribute in the wellbeing of the local population. Some Polish climbers who have been to this area started school projects. One of them is in the vicinity of Nanga Parbat and another would be at K-2, and it’s all because our climbers were given a warm friendship by the local people so they felt like family.
TTI: How do you see Pakistan’s exertions to combat terrorism?
Amb. Opalinski: Yes as I said I came here first in 1999 so I have been in and around for all these years. And I have been witness- ing the great successful work which has been done and also the efforts to eliminate terrorism from Pakistan are commendable and something exemplary for all those nations who are fighting terrorism. Pakistan is located at a significant position in the entire region. The role of Pakistan is tremendous in keeping peace and stability in the whole region.
TTI: As a friend of Pakistan and a member of the EU, can Polish good offices be used for the resolution of the Kashmir issue between Pakistan and India?
Amb. Opalinski: I think it’s every body’s concern to preserve peace and cooperation. The European Union has very solid stand- ing on the human rights issues. There have been meetings in the European Parliament and European Commission on the issue of human rights. Peacekeeping is also part of our traditions, our history is a testimony to the victory of truth and fighting oppression by the foreign occupants. Poland was partitioned for 130 years within Europe but was reborn due to the cultural, moral unity and struggle of our forefathers for freedom, independence and self-determination.
TTI: What was the rationale behind creating the Vinegar Group or V4, comprising Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovak Republic?
Amb. Opalinski: I think within the EU, we as a group can promote our geopolitical interests, though all European issues are resolved through a negotiated process. And
we can see our cooperation helps a lot specifically pointing out economic and political matters in our area of Europe. It’s very significant that we are undergoing this development in our part of Europe which was cut off by the Iron Curtain for nearly five decades and also in terms of connectivity. Poland has changed a lot from the last thirty years, the progress we have made during all these years is unmatched in our history. Our EU membership was a significant decision we took for our generations.