PIOTR OPALINSKI Ambassador of Republic of Poland in Pakistan
EVOLVE: Please share with our readers about yourself and the efforts made by you towards the enhancement of a cordial relationship between Pakistan and Poland?
Mr. Piotr Opalinski: For about four decades now I have been keenly interested in Oriental culture, literature, languages, history and present day affairs. After getting Masters degree in Oriental Studies I joined the diplomatic service of Poland and served as charg daffaires in Bangladesh (1991-1997), as the deputy head of mission in Pakistan and Afghanistan (1999-2005) and also in India (2008-2014). It is now with great honour and privilege to me to serve as ambassador of Poland in Pakistan since the last two years.
The priority task of my mission is to strengthen the ties between our two countries in all areas of cooperation, mainly by enhancing political dialogue – as evident from the current exchange of the ministerial and parliamentary delegations – and encouraging development in trade relations. In working at it, I also aim at presenting Pakistan from a real, positive perspective, not always shown by the mainstream media, by sharing the knowledge about this beautiful country and its great people in Poland, and also by remembering our common historical achievements in Pakistan.
First and the foremost, we recollect the remarkable and extraordinary history of Polish officers who, from 1948 onwards have been contributing largely to the defence potential of the nascent state of Pakistan, its Navy and especially the Air Force. Their story goes back to the years of the World War II, when they gained the fame as brilliant pilots, who bravely defended the UK against Nazi German Luftwaffe forces. As the war ended with the division of Europe by the superpowers and Poland fell under communist regime imposed by the Soviets, our soldiers in the West could not return to their homeland, fearing persecution and imprisonment. In this situation about 70 of Polish airmen availed of the invitation by prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan to come and build up the Pakistan Air Force. Polish officers established the aviation institute in Karachi, helped restructure the Pakistan Air Force Academy and imparted specialized training to PAF personnel. They were led by young officer Wladyslaw Turowicz, who later rose to the rank of Air Commodore and Deputy Chief of Air Staff in the PAF. Some of our airmen served in the PAF for many years, defending Pakistan in the wars of 1949 and 1965, and also contributed to establishment of civil aviation. In recognition of their services Air Commodore Wladyslaw Turowicz and other pilots received honorary Pakistani citizenship and were decorated with Tamgha-e-Pakistan, Sitara-e-Khidmat Sitara-e-Pakistan and Sitara-e-Quaid-e-Azam. Turowicz also helped the country launch its space program, becoming the first director of SUPARCO. The most prominent Polish officer in the Pakistan Navy was Captain (later Admiral) Romuald Nalecz Tyminski, who hailed as a hero of Poland and Canada and was credited with saving many lives in the WW II. For his illustrious service in Pakistan Navy as commander of the flotilla of destroyers (1951-1958) he was awarded Tamgha-e-Jamhuria Pakistan.
Such is the historical background of our friendship. Nowadays, both our countries have much more to offer to each other in terms of economic cooperation which is of fundamental importance in the international relations overall. Recently, the trade turnover between Poland and Pakistan increased to the level of 400 million EUR yearly, but I firmly believe there is a scope for even more significant growth. The overwhelmingly large portion of Pakistani export to Poland consists of textiles, worth 237.6 out of total 277.5 mil EUR. The second largest group of exported goods are leather products worth 20.2 mil EUR. Polish export to Pakistan is more diversified and the main bulk of goods comprise of electric and mechanical machines (29.6 mil EUR), metallurgic products (27.8 mil EUR) and mineral products (12 mil EUR).
The recent predictions suggest that Pakistan has a very bright future and may soon become the fastest-growing economy among the Muslim countries. This idea is further reinforced by the rapidly developing infrastructure under the umbrella of CPEC.
In terms of investments, we focus on energy sector. The Polish Oil and Gas Company, operating in Pakistan since 20 years, is now assisting in developing the exploration of gas resources and supplies network in Sindh. Poland has also a vast experience in coal mining and Polish companies are keen to introduce
My personal, positive view on possibility of a peaceful resolution of even longest disputes is based on my countrys own experience in reconciliation with former archenemies, in bringing an end to hundreds years of hostilities and building good neighbourly relations
modern, sophisticated technologies to Pakistan with globally recognized standards.
EVOLVE: You have served in Afghanistan, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. In your opinion what is the solution for peace in this region?
Mr. Piotr Opalinski: As a member state of the European Union Poland supports the shared EU position on the need of a peaceful resolution of Kashmir dispute. The EU and its member states observe the situation in Kashmir very closely, and as evident from the consecutive resolutions passed by the European Parliament they appeal to the parties involved to come to a negotiated political settlement of the issue.
My personal, positive view on possibility of a peaceful resolution of even longest disputes is based on my countrys own experience in reconciliation with former archenemies, in bringing an end to hundreds years of hostilities and building good neighbourly relations. Such is the experience of Polish-German reconciliation, after horrific tragedies of the Second World War, in which Germany invaded Poland, both countries lost millions of people, while millions more had to flee from their homes or were forcibly resettled. Our two states can now serve as an example of how to build good relations between peoples, institutions and entire countries, in spite of traumatic moments in history. The Polish-German reconciliation process was initiated not by politicians, but by Polish catholic bishops, who in 1965 sent the letter to their German counterparts. In this letter, while recalling past events, the bishops stretched out their hands in forgiveness. The letter was answered in the same spirit, therefore, thanks to the efforts of people of goodwill, Poland and Germany have managed to change the course of their history and turn away from the difficult experiences of their past. Important role in the reconciliation process belongs to education towards the more open society, securing respect to the human rights and also providing social and economic development from which all citizens may benefit.
EVOLVE: Being sixth largest economy in the European Union, Poland had a very rapid economic growth even during the global recession; how did you make it?
Mr. Piotr Opalinski: I would say that when it comes to Polish economic growth its more about the persistence, then sheer rapidness. In terms of economy Poland can boast one of the longest periods of economic growth in the Western world – 25 years. Although many emerging economies had periods of the rapid growth, what sets Poland apart is the long period of steady growth. The only two other countries which can compete in this field are the Netherlands and Australia.
Currently Poland is a half-trillion-dollar economy, ranked 24th in the world. Starting from 1989 Poland has undergone impressive transformation securing its position among the European democracies and most promising economies of the world today. After the deep but short period of recession inevitable caused by the transformation from Communism to Capitalism
As a member state of the European Union Poland supports the shared EU position on the need of a peaceful resolution of Kashmir dispute
Polands economy has been growing since 1992, at an average annual rate of 4 percent. This steady growth is now getting noticed worldwide – according to recent prognosis (of New York Times) Poland can be the new economic powerhouse, building strong cluster of rising central-eastern European economies, following the success story of so called Four Asian Tigers. Poland can become next country, after South Korea 20 years ago, which will join the elite club of so called advanced economies, judged by IMF standards.
Historically what laid early foundation of this success was the sharp break with Communism, cautious fiscal policy and creating institutions which were responsible for maintaining the healthy rules on the financial market. Poland also decided early on to adopt the financial discipline and institutional reforms required to join the European Union. We also need to remember that the growth could never be achieved without the ethics of hard work and commitment of the Polish working class.
Growth in Poland specifically in times of economic recession in Europe was attributed mainly to the internal strength of the Polish economy and the relatively loose economic ties with the most troubled states. Poland remained attractive to foreign investors, with competitive costs of a highly skilled workforce and stable business environment. We cannot also forget about the help of structural funds from European Union, which greatly contributed to development of the economy. Polish central bank (National Bank of Poland – NBP), due to its conservative strategy not allowing banks to give loans on an uncontrollable scale allowed Polish taxpayers not to save banks with their own savings. To sum it up, the key to growth in Poland can be attributed to avoidance unnecessary public spending, opening economy to foreign investors, establishing good financial institution and work ethics of Polish people.
EVOLVE: During past some years, Business Service Sector has become one of the largest employers in Poland and it is estimated, that the total number of jobs in the sector will grow to 300,000 in 2020. What is the myth behind this unique sector?
Mr. Piotr Opalinski: Poland has established its position as a safe environment for developing business. Currently social and economic stabilization plays increasingly more important role on the global market and is one of the main factors taken into consideration when it comes to choosing where to place your business. The biggest growth in this sector is foreseen particularly in advanced, expertise-based services and added value services. This stems from the fact that Poland has large academic centres located in its main cities producing over 2 million students each year.
EVOLVE: What are the major areas where both the countries, Pakistan and Poland are working and can work together?
Mr. Piotr Opalinski: Since many years Poland was present in the oil and gas sector in Pakistan. This year Polish Oil & Gas Company Group (PGNiG) has celebrated its 20th anniversary of operations in Pakistan. We would like to continue this successful cooperation in the area of searching and exploring natural resources, but we would also like to enhance bilateral trade exchange in other fields, such as defence industry, mining, food processing and green energy, including solar and hydropower plants. We are also hosting political delegations of increasing level, which will constitute a good ground for positive shift in our relations.
EVOLVE: How do you opine about Pak-Poland trade initiatives and relations? What is the future?
Mr. Piotr Opalinski: Pak-Poland trade relations are in good condition and are currently growing. Still there is a lot of opportunities waiting for business from both countries to be explored as there is a growing interest from Polish companies in exporting and investing on Pakistan market. The main obstacle to successful cooperation, as perceived by most Polish entrepreneurs, is a question of security environment. Without solving this issue, attracting foreign investors may remain limited. We can attribute this approach partially to the lack of information about the real, on the ground situation in Pakistan, which we try to provide. This also refers to the whole business environment, making navigating through unclear local regulations difficult. Nevertheless, I see the future of economic cooperation in bright colours.
EVOLVE: What are your suggestions to improve the levels of good governance, democracy and human rights in Pakistan?
Mr. Piotr Opalinski: Let me share the experience of my own country. Poland has undergone a fundamental democratic shift in the last 26 years, completely changing its political and economic system. One of the key factors to this transition was the development of stable and impartial institutions dedicated to implementing certain international commitments and standards regarding democracy and rule of law. These institutions could not play its part without a strong political will, including agreement on important goals, and to a large degree, widespread social acceptance for necessary change. I think that crucial for Pakistan ruling class is to agree on a goal which they want to achieve in future and developing a certain vision of the country. Creating just a faade of the institutions to satisfy the requirements of foreign partners, without internalizing the necessity of change will not be enough to sustain the progress. In the long term Pakistan may achieve it through greater expenses for an education.
EVOLVE: Would you please tell about the chances of winning global war against terrorism and how you evaluate the role of Pakistan as front line state in war of terrorism?
Mr. Piotr Opalinski: I keep in my highest regard the efforts and sacrifices by which the Pakistani Army and whole society is contributing to winning this struggle. Obviously, defeating the terrorism menace requires a long term engagement and many issues at the grass-root level need to be addressed systematically. These challenges are not easy to address. Without proper education and economic progress terrorism may still have a fertile ground to flourish. This question in fact corresponds also with the previous one on good governance, democracy and human rights. Poland in its recent history has been successfully fighting against totalitarian regimes and extremist 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, more importantly, the citizens, the common people. We must constantly promote, through public education, government institutions and civil society the respect for others and minorities. 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.
EVOLVE: Kindly share the academic cooperation initiatives between Pakistan and Poland? Can we foresee Polish support for quality enhancement of Pakistani universities?
Mr. Piotr Opalinski: We can see Polish scientists regularly coming to Pakistan for lectures and seminars, contributing to intellectual discussion in University circles. Prominent Polish universities have already established direct links with Punjab University, Quaid-e-Azam University and other prestigious Pakistani universities. Moreover, about twenty leading Polish educational institutions have Pakistani students, who are performing well in their respective fields of study. Poland also plays an active part in the Bologna process and we have already introduced the 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 throughout the European Union, within the Erasmus Programme now running for 25 years.
EVOLVE: Which part of Pakistan do you like most?
Mr. Piotr Opalinski: I appreciate the beauty of entire Pakistan in its diversity, encompassing different climates and landscapes which makes it difficult to pick just one favourite part. If I had a chance I would like to travel up North again, especially to Hunza Valley and Baltit Fort, which was first visited by the end of 19th century by Polish traveller Bronislaw Grabczewski, famed for his participation in the Great Game. The description of his journey through the Pamirs and Hindukush to the springs of the Indus river was my first book found in my grandfathers library many years ago. Himalayas and Karakorum are definitely a unique region with not only the worlds highest peaks but also wonderful people living among them. Those mountains also were and still are an arena of the greatest achievements of Polish high altitude climbers. The last Pakistan Mountain Film Festival has awarded the documentary on the life and achievements of the famous Polish climber Jerzy Kukuczka whose career was strongly connected to Pakistan. He visited Pakistani mountains numerous times summiting Gasherbrum I & II, K2 and Nanga Parbat. He is still recognized by many as the best high altitude climber in history.
EVOLVE: You work very hard as an Ambassador, what do you do to relax? Do you have any hobbies?
Mr. Piotr Opalinski: I enjoy beautiful mornings in Islamabad by having a stroll before work every day. Moreover, I am huge fan of Urdu poetry and traditional Pakistani music. Mushairas, Ghazal singing and Qawwali are the most beautiful emanation of the culture of Pakistan. I also enjoy listening to fusion music, in which the East combines with the West.
EVOLVE: Your message to the readers of EVOLVE Publication.
Mr. Piotr Opalinski: Pakistan is a country where half of the population are children and youth. I am sure that youth itself is one of the Pakistan greatest resources. This youth will shape the future of Pakistan and it is their effort and responsibility to use the countrys abundant resources well. And, if the current economic growth momentum is maintained and sustained, the prospects for Pakistan are very bright and positive.