Stressing the need to shun stereotypes, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has called for having a fresh look at Pakistan and avail the opportunities which his country is providing.
“As a young political leader, I strongly feel that the world needs to have a fresh look at Pakistan, away from its stereotypical image,” Bilawal told The Strait Times – Singapore’s leading newspaper – during an interview.
Describing Pakistan as a promising emerging market, the foreign minister, said, “There are so many opportunities in Pakistan awaiting the world, for which the first step is to lift the travel advisories against the country. I strongly feel that the world needs to look at us more objectively as a promising emerging market.”
According to Bilawal, Pakistan has a young population, where 114 million of its 220 million people are under 25, with the fastest-growing middle class in the world after China and India.
He noted that relations with ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) were a priority for Pakistan – the oldest sectoral dialogue partner of the regional grouping – which wishes to upgrade to a full dialogue partnership.
The newspaper says Pakistan is also keen on forging closer cooperation with Southeast Asia’s digital economy and wants to build institutional linkages with ASEAN, especially in the technical and vocational education sector.
“Some recent initiatives of ASEAN are of great interest to Pakistan which we believe are bound to unlock immense trade and investment opportunities for emerging economies including Pakistan. We believe our start-up and fintech ecosystem can contribute a great deal by connecting with Southeast Asia,” the foreign minister said.
When asked about his mother Benazir Bhutto and how he might be following in her footsteps, he said she was a symbol of democracy and empowerment of women not just in Pakistan but also around the world.
But beyond a leader, she is also an inspiration in his personal life, he added.
“As a mother, she taught me compassion, humility and patience. And as I grow in my political role, I am reminded of her emphasis on the importance of dialogue, coalition building and basic decency. “She continues to inspire me every day.”
During his visit from Thursday to Saturday, he will meet President Halimah Yacob and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.
Bilawal said there was a great potential for Singapore and Pakistan to work together, particularly in trade, and entrepreneurs from both sides should continue to create opportunities to collaborate.
He pointed out how the two nations have exchanged high-level visits in the past, including the then prime minister Lee Kuan Yew’s visits to Pakistan in 1988 and 1992, and his late mother Benazir Bhutto’s visit to Singapore in 1995 as then Prime Minister of Pakistan.
“Over time, we lost the momentum in our bilateral relations,” said Bilawal, adding that he was coming to Singapore “to revive that momentum and intensify our bilateral exchanges. Pakistan is keen to strengthen this relationship in all dimensions”.
Meets Singapore president
Bilawal called on Singapore President Halimah Yacob and his counterpart Vivian Balakrishnan on Friday as both sides discussed enhanced engagement and mutually beneficial cooperation.
The Foreign Office in a statement said Bilawal, on the occasion, shared Pakistan’s desire to intensify cooperation with ASEAN.
In an earlier series of tweets, the Foreign Office had explained the objectives of his visit.