An Exclusive Interview with H.E. Piotr A. Opalinski Ambassador of the Republic of Poland
Author : Raja Aamir Mahmood Bhatti
Q: Pakistan was one of the first Muslim states to establish diplomatic relations with Poland. How would you estimate the future diplomatic ties between Pakistan and Poland?
A: On December 17, 1962, Pakistan became one of the first Muslim countries to establish relations with Poland. Poland opened its embassy in Karachi in 1962, then moved it to Islamabad in 1965. The Pakistani Government opened its embassy in Warsaw in 1969. Poland also maintains an honorary Consulate in Karachi and is going to re-establish its honorary Consulate in Lahore. Both countries have a long and successful history of cooperation dating back to foundation years of your country, when in 1948, Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan sanctioned a three-year agreement with exiled members and officers of the Polish Air Force to build the Pakistan Air Force.
I strongly believe that investing in Poland is worth considering
In my opinion the relations between our countries are already very good, also due to the efforts taken by my predecessors, yet my main objective in here is to make them even better. Our mutual goal should be to further strengthen the political and economic cooperation. In political terms I would like to invigorate the dialogue on highest political levels with government and parliament of Pakistan. I see the future diplomatic ties between Pakistan and Poland in bright colors.
Q: Poland has a diversified and developed economy, do you suggest Pakistani investors to invest in Poland or is there any investment opportunity for Pakistanis?
A: I do agree with what Minister of Commerce, Mr Khurram Dastgir Khan had said recently – Poland is a market with huge potential, not yet explored enough by Pakistani business. Establishing a company on a Polish market means an easy access to the rest of European markets, as our country is a part of European Union and Schengen zone.
Many world class concerns often choose Poland as an investment destination in Europe. According to up-to-date rankings Poland is the best CEE country for business. We can boast as being chosen one of the best quality location for manufacturing projects, also due to the stable macroeconomic situation of the Poland. As the strengths of Poland, other than a stable macroeconomic situation one need to mention the availability of well qualified and productive employees, business friendly climate and transparent tax and legal systems. The business climate in our country is improving. We enhance the ease of doing business through making it easier to register property, pay taxes, enforce contracts, and resolve insolvency.
The country offers a wide range of investment incentives. Investors are invited to locate their projects in 14 Special Economic Zones i.e. special zones where economic activity may be run in favorable conditions. Polish SEZs offer attractive tax exemptions, employment incentives and well-prepared investment lots. Some new investors have already benefited from the Programme for Supporting Investments of Major Importance to the Polish Economy for 2011-2020. Support is provided to entrepreneurs investing in the following priority industries: automotive, electronics, aviation, biotechnology, modern services, R&D and food processing, and also to those planning significant investments in other industries. At the end of the day every Pakistani entrepreneur needs to decide for himself where to put his money, but I strongly believe that investing in Poland is worth considering.
Q: What would be the future of economic ties between our countries? Do you see any improvement in export sector in recent years?
A: The trade exchange is improving, in previous year being on a level of 397,5 million dollars. Still the import from Pakistan to Poland is significantly bigger than Polish export to Pakistan. We would like to make it more balance, by strengthening ties between Polish and Pakistani businesses. We are hoping for further development of the polish companies working in an energy sector in Pakistan. Keeping in mind the importance of improving this sector for the whole Pakistani economy I believe that it is of our great mutual interest. The latest signs show that we might be positive about the outcomes in this field. On 17 November biggest Polish company in Pakistan, PGNiG (Polish Oil and Gas Company), inaugurated the new Rehman Processing Facility located in Kirthar concession, where our company is operating since 2005 in cooperation with PPL. As a result of this new investment 8 times increase in production from the Kirthar license is expected. This event shows successful expansion of Polish company in Pakistan. Such success also prompted the Polish Company to expand its activity outside of Kirthar license and search for other concession areas on the Pakistan market. Pakistani authorities perceive the development of energy sector as a crucial factor for country’s growth.
Our mutual goal should be to further strengthen the political and economic cooperation
Q: What possibilities do exists to further the defense cooperation between our countries?
A: The greatest opportunity when it comes to defense cooperation in my opinion is in the fostering the collaboration of defense production sector. Poland may offer to Pakistan the equipment which is of good quality, and still at reasonable price.
Q: Does the Embassy is engaged with in any humanitarian assistance program in Pakistan?
A: Embassy in cooperation with local Pakistani partners implemented two development projects , which started in 2014, in the field of health and education.
The first project has taken place in district Dir, KPK and is aimed at enhancing capacity of the local rehabilitation centre for handicapped children and violence hit women. The Embassy allocated funds that were used by ASRO (Armaghan Special Rehabilitation Organization) to buy physiotherapy equipment, sawing and knitting machines. The equipment helped violence hit women to learn useful skills and handicapped children to be rehabilitated to the level that allowed them to rejoin normal schools. As the result of the project 40 children have been rehabilitated to the level that made it possible to attend normal schools so far. Centre run by ASRO in Dir is the only one of that kind in the whole Hazara Division.
Second project aimed at improving the quality education in religious schools in Pakistan (madrassahs) run by Muallana Tahir Ashrafi. The Embassy provided funds for printing a book about women’s rights and polio in Islam. The book is being used in the education process in madrassahs. The Embassy was carrying its development work in 2015.
Q: What strategy you are employing to safeguard the human rights in your country?
A: Poland can be proud of the long historical tradition of religious and ethnic tolerance. As early as the 13th century, religious freedom was protected by Polish law, making it a haven for minorities being at the time prosecuted in Western Europe. In 16th century the religious freedom of all residents of Poland had been confirmed, which was of great importance for the multi-ethnic Polish society of the time. Although I believe that most important part of safeguarding the human rights is the shift of mindsets of citizens achieved by the proper education – this is the role of public school and every single parent to teach basic respect for a human being – the adequate law and institutions are also necessary. Basic act of law which guarantees the human rights nowadays in Poland is the second chapter of the Polish Constitution. Moreover, Poland is a party to all important international agreements relevant to human rights, to name only the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
What I would like to say at this point is that human rights are the universal values. Who benefits most by safeguarding them are obviously the common people. Safeguarding human right is also a constant and never-ending process. I’m proud to say that according to the latest reports Poland is ranked among countries with the highest levels of human rights.
Q: What kind of role Pakistan and Poland can play together in order to counter terrorism?
A: This question in fact closely correspondents with the previous one on human rights. Poland in its recent history have been successfully fighting against totalitarian regimes and extremists ideologies in Europe. What we have learned from that lesson is that it is always a long process, which must involve not only the government but what’s even more important, the involvement of citizens, the “common people”. We must constantly promote, through public education, government institutions and civil society the respect for others and minorities. Project aimed at improving the quality of education in religious schools, which I mentioned before, may be an example of how we can support this process in Pakistan.
Terrorism stems also from the economical hardships of the unrepresented classes. I hope that through closer economic cooperation between the countries we could also create some workplaces, for instance by welcoming more polish investments to Pakistan.
In terms of more specific actions we should work together to fight the current biggest terrorist threat, which is Daesh. Without Pakistan it is impossible to fight the terrorism and religious extremism globally, and taming the spread of Daesh to this part of the world is of utmost importance.
Q: What educational opportunities Pakistani students do have in Poland for instance Scholarships, exchange programs etc?
A: Poland plays an active part in the Bologna process – we already introduced three stage education model (Bachelors/Masters/Doctor) and the (ECTS) European Credit Transfer System. Due to this reform Polish students and foreigners studying in Poland may easily continue their education elsewhere in the European Union, within the Erasmus Programme now running for 25 years. During this period almost 30,000 foreign students have come to study in Poland.
A range of well-established universities offer bachelors and masters degrees as well as research/PhD taught in English covering almost all fields of interest.
To name only a few universities – Jagiellonian University, University of Warsaw, University of Silesia, University of Wroclaw, Bialystok University of Technology, AGH University of Science and Technology, University of Lublin – they are all good choice to make.
An average international student will need to pay 2,500 to 3,500 Euros per year as tuition fee for undergraduate or a postgraduate degree, depending on the course and the university. Living expenses range between 2,500 to 4,000 Euros depending on the type of chosen accommodation.
Poland offers very economical study packages that seems to be affordable for the grooving number of Pakistanis. I encourage them to look at what Poland has to offer when making their s plans to study abroad.
Q: On which issues during your services in Pakistan you would focus more in order to strengthen the bilateral ties between the two countries?
A: As I already mentioned, fostering the institutional dialogue and enlarging the trade exchange should be most vital areas of our mutual cooperation leading to strengthening of the bilateral ties.
Q: How we can improve the diplomatic relations through cultural diplomacy?
A: I believe that one of the pillars of good diplomatic relations is the genuine interest of common people to know and appreciate the different country with its different culture and our mission is to make it easier to make it easier even without the expense of travelling to other continent. Cultural diplomacy is the great way of presenting the best of what both countries has to offer when it comes to art. Embassy had organized an event “Poland – Pakistan. Music Without Borders” which met a great interest in Islamabad, as well in Warsaw. Polish singer, songwriter and talented multi-instrumentalist, Karolina Cicha along with her band visited Pakistan to perform with Ustad Shafqat Ali Khan, one of the most renowned classical singer from Pakistan.
Joint concerts were held in Islamabad and an Audio CD was released in February 2015. Polish and Pakistani musicians, representing two different, but unique and reputable traditions performed together at Pakistan National Council for the Arts and Serena Hotel. They met a very warm welcome by the gathered audiences.
This are the initiatives that creates good climate for strengthening the diplomatic relations.
Q: What impression do you have of Pakistan as a state, its political system, culture, education and people?
A: As you know, this is the second time I have the pleasure of working as a diplomat in Pakistan. Previously I was serving here between 1999 and 2005, so the overall impression and experience of Pakistan must have been good enough from the start, since I decided to come here again. Now I have a great opportunity to compare what had changed. Political system and culture of Pakistan is quite different from the one we have in Poland, so it’s very interesting to observe it from the professional point of view, but also on everyday basis. Even though I spent a fair share of my life working in this country and learning about the region there is always something that can surprise me. I’m still enchanted by its abundant culture, especially diverse food and music.
Q: What message would you like to give to the youth of Pakistan?
A: Pakistan is a country where half of the population are children and youth. This youth will basically shape the future of Pakistan and it is their effort and great responsibility to use the country abundant resources well. What is necessary to succeed in this matter is the good education. The role of the state is to provide this education, but youth shall also demand it, seek for it, and never stop learning. I’m sure, that youth itself is one of the Pakistan greatest resource.