Pakistan’s interest in importing Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) from Algeria marks a welcome deepening of commercial relations between the two countries. Looking to the North African energy powerhouse not only addresses Pakistan’s energy shortfall, Algerian oil and gas expertise could also help Pakistan in building up much needed energy self-reliance. Pakistan’s planned construction of a new regasification terminal in Karachi will also most likely involve technical collaboration with Algeria.
Political ties between the two countries have always remained strong. During the 1950’s, Pakistan was a staunch ally during Algeria’s struggle for independence against France. The Pakistan government provided diplomatic passports to prominent Algerians facing exile including Ahmed Ben Bella, who went on to become the first President of independent Algeria. Pakistan’s strong position in favour of Algerian independence placed a strain on bilateral relations with France. However, these were normalised with the signing of the Evian Accords in 1962, which granted independence to Algeria. Pakistan’s great jurist and Foreign Minister at the time, Manzur Qadir, publicly celebrated Algerian independence as a victory for freedom everywhere.
In spite of a close political relationship, the scope for commercial engagement remains vast and largely unexplored. Algeria is ranked among the top ten investment destinations in Africa, and so a more meaningful trade relationship with the country would not only be beneficial to Pakistan but could signal the beginning of a deeper relationship with the continent as a whole.
Pakistan also plans to start importing LNG from Nigeria. Like Pakistan, both Algeria and Nigeria have struggled with internal conflict and instability. In light of this, Pakistan and Nigeria cooperate closely in defence with Pakistan providing counter-terrorism training to Nigeria’s military.
Pakistan is not the only regional power placing its bets on Africa. With its wealth of resources and untapped potential, China has established an entrenched presence in Africa with over $38 billion of investments and bilateral trade worth $85.3 billion. India, too, has been actively strengthening its partnerships with African countries. The formation of the India-Africa Summit is just one example of this. Earlier this year, the African Development Bank held its annual meeting for the first time in India. Trade between India and African countries increased five-fold between 2005 and 2016, reaching $52 billion in 2016.
At present, Pakistan enjoys observer status in the African Union, the continent’s pan-African platform. Pakistan also plays an important peacekeeping role with UN forces in the Central African Republic and in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Notably, Pakistan was the first country to support Eritrea’s independence movement and also lent support to Kenya, Zimbabwe and several other African countries during their liberation struggles. Pakistan was also vocal in its condemnation of South Africa’s apartheid laws and only established a diplomatic mission in the country in 1994 when the apartheid state was dismantled. Today, South Africa’s diaspora Pakistani community have gained recognition for their contribution to business development and interfaith harmony.
These historic milestones could form the basis of a deeper engagement with Africa. This would allow Pakistan to diversify its markets at a time when the country faces fierce competition within its traditional markets in the West. This effort could start in Algeria, an Arab economic powerhouse in North Africa whose people appreciate to this day Pakistan’s support for their independence.
By Mashaal Gauhar