Diplomacy Beyond Words

In a candid conversation with Ambassador of Italy in Pakistan H.E Stefano Pontecorvo

Ambassador Stefano Pontecorvo has an honest and straight forward perspective, who believes in action rather than mere words. Among the few times I’ve had the pleasure of meeting this dynamic, tall man he has not yet ceased to amaze me.

“Diplomacy was a natural choice of career for me the question wasn’t What but Where” he says with pleasant smile. The son of a veteran diplomat, he was born in Bangkok, spending the early years of childhood in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Srilanka, Bangladesh and several other countries before returning to Rome and completing his education following which he joined the foreign service 1986.  Reflecting on his stay in Pakistan from 1968-1970 whilst his father was posted in Islamabad, he still cherishes some fond memories of his stay that leaves him pleasantly nostalgic, this being one of the many reasons he says why he chose to be appointed in Pakistan in addition to a bet he made with himself to explore the untapped potential beneficial for both countries, with his trusted colleague Gianluca Rubagotti.

Discussing the challenges faced, one of the major challenges he said was to convince the Italian companies to visit Pakistan because of the negative hype created for which he feels the media is partly responsible. He further said that, “Convincing the Italian business community to come to Pakistan for the first time is quite difficult but once they see the ground realities that stand much different to what’s been portrayed abroad, their perception changes completely. Pakistan is a country with amazing potential and filled with opportunities. After the first visit the businessmen and companies feel excited by the enormous opportunities and wish they had come earlier”. On countless occasions he extended his appreciation on the performance of the Consul General of Italy in Karachi Mr. Gianluca Rubagotti who shares that same vision about Pakistan for playing an important role in promoting the real image of Pakistan in Italy.

Sharing his views on similarities of political instability between both countries he said, “It’s very difficult for a nation to have political instability and an exorbitant number of governments in a short period of time but the strength of both Pakistan and Italy has enabled the people to survive and progress despite difficult circumstances”. In response to a question regarding the security situation, he expressed his comfort regarding his experience during the past 18 months that he has been posted in Pakistan. “It has more to do with perception” he explained. Comparing his interaction with the governments during his diplomatic career he said, “Generally people are very critical of their bureaucracy, it’s a global phenomenon but in Pakistan I find them cordial, welcoming with a solution oriented approach”. Whilst talking about the bilateral trade between Italy and Pakistan he said that “The trade volume has increased by over 100% in the last year which is a great achievement”. One of the moments of pride for him was the participation of over 70 companies from Italy in the IGATEX 2017  which is almost three times compared to the earlier years.  “This provides a great opportunity for increase in bilateral trade.” Identifying the potential sectors he said that there was a great room for further collaboration in the fields of textile, energy, oil & gas, pharmaceutical, leather, sports goods, food processing & agricultural machinery industry. “As of today, Italy has 40% on-grid energy coming from renewable resources and there is a strong inclination for the transfer of expertise to Pakistan.” Looking back he said that Italy had been active in this region prior to the Afghan war and its consequences the concentration had deviated from this particular region. CPEC, he said, is a brilliant opportunity where Italy can contribute dramatically however not limited, he further stated that Pakistan has a lot more to offer and Italy is well prepared to assist Pakistan in its growth.

Sharing his vision in response to a question he said that “There are some uncanny resemblances between the Pakistani and the Italian culture I always say that we are the European Pakistani’s and Pakistani’s the Asian Italians.” He further suggested that small and medium enterprises contribute up to 80% of the Italian GDP and if this model were to be implemented in Pakistan it could lead to sustainable growth of the economy. “There is a strong and solid entrepreneurial culture in Pakistan and Italy has both the expertise and experience in this particular area.” Taking a step forward he said that the government of Italy would be delighted to transfer this know how to help accelerate the entrepreneurial process in Pakistan. Traversing deeper into the conversation he said that there has been an enthusiastic response on all levels, “It is by far the most business friendly country in South East Asia. The second largest population of Pakistanis in EU is in Italy and they have integrated quite well in to the Italian society thus acting as a showcase to Pakistan.”

As a demonstration of renewed Italian interest in Pakistan he quoted the examples of the recent visit of currently serving as the Prime Minister of Italy during his tenure as the minister of foreign affairs, the Minister for Defense and the Minister of Trade between 2016 and the beginning 2017 in addition to numerous governmental dignitaries such as the Trade commissioner, The Under Secretary of Trade and Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs. “The Italian Chief of the Army Staff also visited recently and we are expecting Naval and the Air chiefs in the coming future. Unfortunately after 2008 this process had come to a sudden halt but now the pace of the bilateral ties is increasing rapidly which is a positive sign for both countries.” The collaboration between the two countries continues as Italian universities partner with over 30 universities in Pakistan and most recently 400 students have gone to Italy to pursue higher education, with a lot more on the cards.

It’s impossible when talking to an Italian and not talk about food, hence I took the liberty of exploring Stefano’s favorite food he said he loved the Pakistani food, with his special favorites being Palak Paneer and kebabs in all their forms and glory.

In his message to the Pakistani people he said, “Believe in the country because it’s a great country and it’s becoming greater and greater.”