Islamabad to set up forum to boost image in Middle East

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ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is setting up a Pakistan-Arab federation to strengthen Islamabad’s relations with Arab states, the Pakistani prime minister’s special adviser on religious harmony and the Middle East said on Sunday.

The establishment of the forum follows Prime Minister Imran Khan’s policy to improve Pakistan’s economic and strategic ties with all Arab countries. In October, the government founded a study center specialized in the Middle East at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad.

“The work on the Pak-Arab Federation has started with the basic aim of helping to strengthen the relationship of Pakistan with brotherly Arab countries,” the prime minister’s aide, Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi, told Arab News.

He explained that the federation will be an autonomous body, consisting of representatives of Pakistan and all major Arab countries.

“This forum will be an autonomous nongovernmental federation that consists of businessmen, chambers of commerce, religious scholars, intellectuals, academicians, journalists and other professional bodies,” Ashrafi said.

He said that it will serve as an advisory body to the Pakistani government to help it boost Pakistan’s image in Arab countries.

“This federation will also work as a crisis management forum to remove misconceptions that can hamper Pakistan’s bilateral relations with Arab countries,” he said, adding that it would act as a “back-channel diplomacy forum” to help to resolve important issues quickly through people-to-people contacts.

In addition, the body will form a close liaison with more than 5 million Pakistanis in Arab countries, Ashrafi said, and “will work to facilitate our Arab brothers to improve their people-to-people contact with Pakistan.”

He added: “This federation will work to further enhance relations between Islamic countries and will not be affected by changes of governments.”

Earlier this month, Ashrafi met the ambassadors of Oman, Kuwait and Iraq in Islamabad to start the initiative, and will bring the other Arab states on board.

“After completing the initial work, we will contact the embassies of all the Arab countries to brief them about the work and scope of the federation,” he said. 

“We will also incorporate their suggestions to make it an effective forum.”