The recent lockdowns in Turkey due to the coronavirus pandemic have forced Pakistan’s envoy to the country to adjust the way he both works and socializes, but has also had an unexpected upside, the diplomat told Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview.

“One misses meeting and interacting with Turkish friends and diplomatic colleagues, and also going out and enjoying Ankara’s unique social and cultural ambience,” said Ambassador Syrus Sajjad Qazi, who works in Ankara, the country’s capital.

Stressing that the work of Pakistan’s government and embassy continues during the pandemic, Qazi said: “The pandemic has added another layer of activity to what the embassy normally does, since a number of Pakistanis in Turkey required help and guidance, particularly with regard to repatriation to Pakistan.”

He said Pakistani students at various Turkish universities need assistance on issues such as seeking embassy intervention over dormitory closures.

“The embassy has been busy almost round the clock in taking and responding to telephone calls, emails and WhatsApp messages from our citizens and their families in Pakistan and extending assurances,” Qazi said.

He also stressed that the weekend safety curfews that Turkey imposed “complicated the situation a little” in terms of ensuring the presence of staff at the embassy.

“Since I live in the embassy compound, sometimes I had to man the fort, particularly on the weekends,” he added.

Smaller social circle

Qazi said his social circle has narrowed down considerably since almost all embassy and other events in Ankara have been cancelled or postponed.

“Pakistan’s National Day Reception, which is held on March 23 and is one of the most popular national day receptions on the Ankara diplomatic calendar, also had to be cancelled.”

On the current Eid al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, he added that the embassy “organizes an Eid reception for the Pakistani community and students in Ankara each year where traditional Pakistani cuisine is served to commemorate the traditions of the Eid festival in Pakistan.

“Unfortunately, this year, due to COVID-19, it has been cancelled.”

Positive sides of lockdown

As for the lockdown’s silver lining, Qazi said the quarantine gave him more time to read and exercise “even if the intention did not always translate into action.”

“On the positive side, we are fortunate that all our children are with us in Ankara and we got to observe Ramadan together,” he added.

Robust bilateral ties

“Pakistan-Turkey bilateral relations are characterized by extreme closeness, by their great depth and spread, and frequent interaction,” said Qazi.

Telling how just this February Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan signed a Strategic Economic Framework (SEF) pact, Qazi said: “We will need to start work on it in great earnest as soon as the quarantine restrictions are eased.”

“However, the SEF is only one aspect of bilateral cooperation, and other areas will also need attention to make up for lost time. A big challenge will be to ensure that the pandemic does not adversely impact bilateral trade and to find opportunities for expanding it,” he added.

Qazi went on to say that the current Eid al-Fitr is a celebration of the purification that Muslims are supposed to go through during the fasting month.

He explained: “The COVID-19 pandemic affords us a unique opportunity to practice all that Ramadan stands for – compassion for those in need, gratitude to the Almighty for protecting us and our loved ones when so many are suffering and have lost their lives, and recommitting ourselves to Islam’s cardinal principles of peace and brotherhood.

“In this regard, the embassy of Pakistan and I wish our Turkish brothers and sisters all health, peace and prosperity. May both Pakistan and Turkey remain protected from the adverse effects of the pandemic and may both countries and people emerge from it stronger, more resilient and closer.”

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