Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s visit to Iraq is significant in the context of bilateral relations and finding ground with Muslim states globally. Pakistan’s relationship with Iraq after the US-Iraq war has been virtually non-existent—besides the perfunctory connection, there has not been much contact. But it looks like the government is attempting to change this since the beginning of 2023.
Overtures were initially made in January, and the FM’s visit is an important step forward in only six months since the last engagement. Importantly, it is positive to see that agreement has already been voiced on opening a Pakistani consulate in Najaf. Having diplomatic representation is a fundamental step in improving bilateral ties and allowing for cultural, economic and social exchanges between two states.
The next step in improving ties is to allow for more travel between the two countries, and the two MOUs signed to enable cultural exchange and remove visa restrictions on diplomatic and official passports will naturally help achieve this. Allowing Shia Muslims from Pakistan to visit sites in Iraq such as Karbala on a pilgrimage is also an important move that should help movement between the two countries even further.
Naturally, there are also mutual concerns to figure out, such as resolving the cases of Pakistanis imprisoned in Iraq for minor crimes without documentation. The government has a responsibility to identify this issue bilaterally and look to secure the rights of all Pakistani citizens, even those that have been imprisoned abroad.
Finally, there are always avenues to explore for trade that can help both countries profit. 2021’s numbers show that Iraq exported commodities worth an estimated $106 million to Pakistan, while Pakistan sent goods worth $44.3 million the other way. Around 80 percent of Iraq’s exports to Pakistan consisted of petroleum products while Islamabad sent agricultural products the other way. It is important to expand this connection and allow for greater trade and mutual benefits.