Iqbal Haider It's not just rhetoric, when it is said that two peoples, sharing common religious, cultural and political values, can forge a natural alliance for mutual benefit. For a while Pakistan and Libya, during the 70's, building upon the so-called vague common values, managed to show the world, how the two nations could complement each other on their road to development. Despite losing their way in the 90s, the shared perceptions, now also complemented by historical ties, are still palpable on both sides. While people in Pakistan proudly name their sons after Qaddafi, Libyans have a vivid memory of Pakistani doctors and engineers, who dedicated their lives to lay the foundation of a nation emerging from Italian Imperialism. Though the new century brought many changes to both the countries, the common grounds of cooperation have not fizzled. The frameworks for moving ahead are well in place. What is required, is a watershed event that could bring back the heydays of Pak-Libya Friendship. Pakistan established its Embassy in Libya, in the late 60s. However, the relationship blossomed when the late Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the Libyan Leader, Col Muammar Al-Qaddafi developed a special relationship in the early 70s. After the debacle of 1971, Pakistan was looking to expanding and fortifying its relationship with the Arab world, which was in line with the dream of the Libyan Leader, to unify and strengthen the Islamic countries. In addition to the common interests, the two leaders shared the political vision of socialism, while keeping their unique ideologies intact. Above all, the two were not only democrats at heart, but were equally loved by their respective nations. This special relationship was consummated when Col Qaddafi visited Pakistan in 1974, ahead of the 3rd OIC Summit in Lahore. For the next five years, there was no looking back, as the respect which both leaders had for each other, flooded the hearts of their people. The manpower from Pakistan began to shoulder the responsibility of developing Libyan infrastructure. Both countries exchanged special favours, reflecting the brotherhood of their peoples. Pakistan was, however, soon to be caught up in domestic, regional and global turmoil, while the Libyan idealism had to face a stiff challenge from the West. The removal of Late PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto by General Ziaul Haq and his subsequent trial, estranged and disillusioned the Libyan Leader, whose heart bled for Bhutto. It is said that he had even asked General Zia to spare and extradite Bhutto, who was his personal friend. While the disappointment was fresh in Qaddafi's mind, USSR invaded Afghanistan and suddenly Pakistan figured much higher in the US 'tactical' goals for South Asia. It was a strategic compulsion of Pakistan to forge a common policy with the US and spearhead the Afghan resistance, as well as guard its borders against the Indo-Soviet nexus encircling it, both, geographically and ideologically. However, in the context of Pak-Libya ties, the new policy was bound to estrange Libya. The Libyan Leader had never minced his words against the Imperialistic designs of the US. The end result was a sudden stagnation in bilateral ties. Though the manpower continued to flow, yet the special status of Pakistanis in Libya dwindled. During the 80's, as Pakistan, due to its own regional compulsions, grew closer to the US, Libya, on the contrary, drew further away from the West. Having being blamed for Lockerbie bombings and bearing the brunt of direct US air attack in Tripoli, Libya had all the reasons to hate the Western policies, which seemed to greedily view its rich 'oil' resources and threaten the very existence of its leadership, at the same time. These local compulsions were topped up by the personal dismay of the Libyan Leader with General Zia for "assassinating" his beloved friend. The inertia of the cooperation of 1970s, however, did continue for a while but gradually diminishing. The next blow to the relationship came when the US imposed sanctions on Libya, creating Economic and Financial hardships on a country, which depended heavily on its oil exports. This was followed by an exodus of a massive number of Pakistani workers, gradually drifting to other locations in the Middle East, not because they desired so but only because they could not sustain. What is to be understood here, is the psychology of an expatriate. A skilled/semi skilled worker of a cash-strapped country, who emigrates to greener pastures, always does so to feed a large family back home. Pakistani expatriates faced the same challenge. As the foreign companies wrapped up their business and the income in the public sector in Libya dwindled sharply due to sanctions, Pakistani workers could no more support their families back home. Almost 90 percent of a 100,000 strong expatriate community of Pakistanis was forced to find jobs elsewhere. By the middle of 1990s, the relationship between the two countries reached its lowest ebb. During this time, the tide could not be turned despite a visit of Late Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto to Libya in 1990, during her first tenure as the Prime Minister of Pakistan. The international situation had not changed much and Libya was still under stiff US sanctions. No headway could be made also because of frequent changes in Pakistan's political fortunes during the 90s that ultimately rested again with the army, when Mr Nawaz Sharif was ousted from power in 1998. The estrangement continued during the era of President Musharraf, who visited Libya only once in 2000, while the seeds of friendship kept simmering in the hearts of the two peoples. Finally, the rapprochement between Libya and the West in 2003 ended the Libyan isolation and conditions seemed ripe once again to revive the friendly ties between the two countries. Unfortunately, Pakistan was too pre-occupied after September 11, 2001 and was at the forefront in the war against terror, again becoming a strategic ally of the US. Libya, despite its abhorrence to terrorism, was wary of the US designs, especially after the US invasion of Iraq. Equally important was Col Qaddafi's disappointment with Arabs' lack of unity that had already shifted his focus towards championing the cause of African Union. With Pakistan still embroiled in its regional quagmire and Libya looking Southwards, a lot of work was needed to bring the two countries together. At a lower level, the desire for reviving heydays of Pak-Libya ties seemed to re-emerge but it was not backed up by the will of their leaders. Pakistan, however, took the initiative and in 2006, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz visited Libya. The diplomatic presence of the two countries in each others capitals also increased. Pakistan looked to diversify its relations with Libya, especially in the commercial sector. A successful exhibition of Pakistani products was also held in Tripoli in 2007. The election of President Asif Ali Zardari, in 2008, was well received by the Col Qaddafi, most likely because he is considered to be a part of the legacy of Late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Currently, the situation is once again ripe to sow the seeds of a lasting and mutually beneficial relationship between the two countries. The opportunity must not go begging. When the regional and local politics created distances between the two countries, the religious, cultural and historical ties kept them together. Credit goes to Pakistan's hardworking labour class in Libya and the honest and steadfast friendship of Libyan people that has enabled this mutual reverence for each other to survive the toughest of challenges. It is time to harness this asset. The two countries have a lot to offer to each other. There can be a perfect partnership between the skill of Pakistan's manpower and the will of the Libyan people. Pakistanis, in contrast to other expatriates, tend to assimilate well with the Libyan culture, share the same Islamic values, and are better equipped to learn Arabic, a language that is revered by all Muslims and is an important factor in Libya. The similarity of the script of the languages of the two countries makes it quite easy for Pakistanis to grasp Arabic. They celebrate the same festivals, offer the same prayers and observe the same social values. Libya would never like to forsake its Islamic character and values on its road to development and, therefore, Pakistanis should be encouraged to play an integral role in Libyan development. The skilled workforce of Pakistan, well recognised in the US and the West, can best be utilised in the health sector, infrastructure development, engineering projects, information technology, education banking and finance. Pakistan cannot only help support projects within Libya but could also contribute towards Libya's various African Development programmes. The concept of South-South partnership is not only cheaper but carries with it empathy and an understanding of the problems of poverty. Libya can also look at importing commercial goods from Pakistan, as well as seek Pakistan's expertise in reviving the Libyan industries. Pakistan offers the best investor friendly policies for Libya to exploit. With Pakistan's interests firmly tied up in Libya, the Libyan investment in Pakistan can become progressive and diversified. The avenues of cooperation are many and the benefits unfathomable. The one who seizes the opportunity turns the tide. The question of enhanced relationship between Pakistan and Libya does not stem from "How?", it's embedded in "When?". The answer to this Million Dollar question, nevertheless, remains "Now" The writer is a retired air vice marshal and ambassador to Libya