Pakistan Day is celebrated every March 23 to commemorate the historic resolution that was unanimously passed in Lahore by a congregation called the All India Muslim League in favor of a separate homeland for the Muslims of Indian sub-continent. This was in response to the grievances of the Muslims under the majority Hindu rule of India following the elections held by the British Raj in the 1930s. This unanimous resolution paved the way for the declaration of the first independent Muslim state, Pakistan.
“We Muslims are proud of our forefathers’ vision and sagacity in carving out a separate Muslim state for the Muslims of India. It is a day of rejoicing and thanksgiving for all Pakistanis within the country and those residing outside of the country,” says Pakistan Ambassador to the Philippines Dr. Imtiaz Ahmad Kazi.
This year’s celebration also marks the country’s re-emergence from the Covid-19 crisis, as the public gatherings for Pakistan Day in the past two years have been canceled for safety reasons. Preparations have included drills by the Pakistani Armed Forces at the Shakarparian Parade Grounds and aerobatics maneuvers of fighter jets of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF). Special “dua” ceremonies are also being organized at the Mosques after Fajar prayers to seek solidarity, integrity, and prosperity of the country.
According to Ambassador Kazi, Pakistan Day will be celebrated in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad with an early dawn traditional 31-gun salute by the Armed Forces of Pakistan and in all provincial capitals with a 21-gun salute.
“Festivities will begin in Islamabad with an annual parade of our valiant armed forces from three services displaying their latest military and strategic acquisitions and indigenous productions attained for Pakistan’s impregnable defense,” he adds.
For this year, the parade which is attended by the President, Prime Minister and important dignitaries of Pakistan will also be graced by the leaders of some friendly countries. “We look forward to having an important ally of Pakistan in the region to be our Guest of Honor in this ceremony. Of special significance in this year’s celebrations is the hosting by Islamabad of 48th Session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on the same day. Thus, we will be joined by honorable Foreign Ministers of the majority of Islamic countries in our midst during this year’s National Day celebrations.”
In the Philippines, the Pakistan Embassy intends to hold a befitting Flag Hoisting Ceremony at the Residence of the Ambassador wherein the Pakistani community including their families are being invited at an open house event. This gathering will be served with traditional specialties of Pakistani food. The messages of the President and the Prime Minister will be read out on this occasion. Likewise, the Pakistani community in Subic Bay has arranged a grand event at a local hotel to celebrate the Day for Pakistanis living in the Olongapo area. The Ambassador will be there and is expected to join some local dignitaries during the event to be held in the evening.
Solid Covid-19 strategies
This is indeed good news as Pakistan has put up a brave and resilient fight against the pandemic despite being one of the most populous countries in the world. “Being a developing country, our government, from the very outset, devised a strategy to cope with the lockdown versus the negative economic impact. It was conducted in a balanced manner that the country went through smart lockdowns on a need basis and at the same time, the job opportunities and earnings for most of the masses, both in public and private sectors, remained largely open and vibrant,” says Ambassador Kazi.
He shares that in March 2020, the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme helped a big number of deserving masses through transparent aid in cash injections. “The Government of Pakistan delivered Rs. 179 Billion as emergency cash assistance to over 15 million families at risk of extreme poverty. Given the family size, this represents nearly half of the country’s population, representing the largest and most extensive social protection intervention ever in the history of the country. Each family was meant to receive Rs. 12,000 for immediate subsistence. The World Bank ranked Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme as the third largest in terms of percentage of the population globally and fourth worldwide in terms of the number of people covered.” In Pakistan, around 1.52 million cases of Covid-19 were reported so far and related deaths recorded were 30,287 in the past two years.
The global Covid-19 response spurred cooperation between Pakistan and the Philippines. “Both our Embassies in Islamabad and Manila remained engaged throughout the pandemic to facilitate the repatriation and provision of meals and medical assistance to their respective compatriots. In July, around 50 Pakistani nationals who were stranded in the Philippines were accommodated on a flight chartered by the Philippine Government for the purpose of bringing home Filipino nationals from Pakistan. Meanwhile, an estimated 194 Filipinos were repatriated from Pakistan since the start of the pandemic,” the Ambassador shares. “The Pakistan Embassy also distributed packet-meals and medicines through Pakistani philanthropic associations, namely Pak Welfare Association and the Pak-Phil Friendship Association.”
Through another cooperative act, the Department of Foreign Affairs welcomed a batch of 31 Filipino evacuees from Afghanistan who arrived in Manila on September 1, 2021. The Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs (OUMWA), in coordination with the Philippine Embassies in Pakistan and Qatar, assisted in repatriating the Filipinos who were mostly employees of various security firms based in Kabul. The group was initially flown to Islamabad before taking their flight from Doha to Manila. “Up until the end of August, 138 out of the 188 Filipinos had been evacuated out of Afghanistan back to Philippines, most of them through Pakistan,” he says.
He describes the pandemic response from both countries as “robust.” “Despite respective burgeoning challenges on multiple accounts, Pakistan and the Philippines acted in a reasonably robust manner and applied global best practices including timely use of vaccines from all available resources. Massive vaccination programs have ultimately resulted in significant lowering of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Trade and travel
The Ambassador says both countries look forward to pick-up the bilateral relations from pre-pandemic levels and forging stronger ties in the days ahead. “Just as an example, the two countries are expected to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on Defence Cooperation in the coming days at the Department of National Defence. Movements of our nationals between Pakistan and Philippines has started picking up and we see growing people to people contacts in a post-pandemic scenario.”
Pakistan and the Philippines have longstanding political, economic, cultural, defense and multilateral entity-related cooperation dating back to 1950s. “Despite the pandemic which started in early 2020, the total bilateral trade in 2020 increased from US$149.98 Million to US$21 5.95 Million in 2021. Pakistan has been allowed entry of its rice at ASEAN tariff rates, our cement exports have also found a good market in the Philippines. Likewise, Pakistan also imports machinery, food products, plants, and organic materials from the Philippines. There is lot of scope between the two countries, especially in Pharmaceuticals, textiles and the fruit sector which is expected to pick up in the post-Covid-19 global recovery,” the Ambassador says.
He adds that Pakistan signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Philippines on Agricultural Cooperation in 2018 which needs to be implemented following the improving post-pandemic situation. Another Memorandum of Understanding on Defence Cooperation is ready for signature in the coming days. He further announced that regular mechanism of bilateral Political Consolations (BPC) which held its last round in 2018 in Islamabad is also expected to be held at the Foreign Ministries’ level of the two countries during this year.
He also notes the coming May 9 elections in the Philippines. “The election year which comes every six years in the Philippines gives this valiant, brotherly nation an opportunity to elect their highest level leaders including Senators. The Philippines has a distinction of being a Republic with strong democratic traditions and values. We, as a member of the Diplomatic Corps, are watching these developments with keen interest and are confident that this great nation will be able to elect the meritorious, deserving candidates to serve them in the post-pandemic recovery times. The country seems to be on a good trajectory in terms of its growth targets and we wish the people and the government – the incumbent as well as the succeeding one later this year – the best in their endeavors ahead.” The Ambassador adds that he hopes whoever will win in the coming elections will pay a state visit to his country.