Hungary sees Pakistan as regional partner

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Feb 24, 2014.

Islamabad – Hungary views Pakistan as an important partner country in its bid to build stronger ties with Asian nations, according to a top Hungarian government official.

Szabolcs Takacs, the Hungarian Deputy State Secretary for Security Policy and the Political Director of Hungary’s foreign ministry, was on a brief visit to Pakistan to meet government officials and push for increased bilateral cooperation.

The Hungarian official, who has visited Pakistan before in 2010, sat with The Express Tribune to discuss potential opportunities for Pak-Hungary collaboration and to address multilateral regional concerns.

During his visit, Takacs said he met with the Pakistani foreign secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry, officials from the ministry of petroleum and other foreign ministry officials dealing with Europe, Asia and Afghanistan.

He said officials from the two countries meet annually but now they are trying to “elevate” the meetings to a higher level.

“We would like to realize high-level visits this year,” Takacs said. “We would like Sartaj Aziz to come visit Hungary.”

Aziz, the Pakistani Prime Minister’s special adviser on national security and the country’s de-facto foreign minister, met with his Hungarian counterpart at the UN General Assembly in September 2013, according to Takacs.

Takacs said the Hungarian government announced a new doctrine of its foreign policy called “Eastern Opening” in 2010, to “relaunch and rejuvenate” Hungary’s ties with countries around the world especially in Asia and the Middle East.

It is a divergence from Hungary’s initial focus to establish itself in Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now, as a long-standing member of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the European Union (EU), the Central European country is looking to increase its sociopolitical and economic activities through eastward partnerships.

“Pakistan is definitely one such partner,” Takacs said.

He said he believes the Pakistani officials understood Hungary’s “genuine commitment to the Eastern Opening policy” during his meetings with them.

“They understand it is a mid-term or long-term project, and if we are both consistent in continuing down this road of cooperation, we need to make it more substantive in terms of trade, investment, education and people-to-people interaction,” he said.

One such substantive attempt is a Pakistani business delegation which visited Hungary during the second week of February, Takacs said.

The development follows from the EU granting Pakistani companies duty-free access to the European market under its Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) Plus status in December 2013.

Takacs said the GSP plus status will increase opportunities for business-to-business links between Pakistan and Hungary, but public awareness should be raised about the market access by engaging the business community.

The political director said he handed over a draft of cooperation between the chambers of commerce of Hungary and Pakistan to Pakistani authorities and is expecting a counter-draft from Pakistan.

Other areas of Pak-Hungary include technology transfer, agriculture and pharmaceuticals, but most notably, the energy sector, according to the Hungarian official.

“We have a comprehensive and deep cooperation in the energy field,” Takacs said.

MOL Pakistan, a Hungarian multinational company, has been active in the oil-and-gas sector in Pakistan for the past 15 years.

Takacs said the Hungarian government, which owns 25 per cent shares in MOL, is committed to further enhancing MOL’s activities in Pakistan, which will be a “win-win” situation for both countries. He said Europe can also offer technology assistance to Pakistan in the renewable energy sector.

The Central European country is looking to establish cultural and education ties with Pakistan, as well. This includes the Hungarian government’s decision to provide 80 grants for higher education to Pakistani students, Takacs said.

With NATO and US troops expected to complete a military draw-down from Afghanistan by summer 2014, Pakistan is perhaps the most important country in the region when it comes to the post-2014 Afghanistan situation, Takacs said.

Pursuing a political solution for Afghanistan, he said Hungary and the international community is appreciative of Pakistan’s efforts and they expect it to build stronger ties with its neighbours for regional stability.

“My message to our partners in Pakistan was that regional cooperation is of utmost importance, it is unavoidable,” he said.

Takacs also acknowledged the May 2013 transition of government in Pakistan and said it was not only a democratic example for regional countries, but also beneficial for the Pakistan’s own socioeconomic development.

The Eastern Opening policy will remain undisturbed by the results of Hungary’s upcoming general elections, Takacs said. Improvement in Pak-Hungary bilateral relations can essentially strengthen both countries and their respective regions, he said.

“I believe if we jointly identify and address those areas where there is a genuine possibility (of bilateral cooperation), then in the coming years, the Hungary-Pakistan relationship will further flourish,” Takacs said.

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