In Conversation with RAINER SCHMIEDCHEN

Consul General of the Federal Republic of Germany in Karachi

“Schmiedchen is difficult for the South Asian tongue; call me Rainer,” Rainer Schmiedchen the Consul General of the Federal Republic of Germany in Karachi starts off the conversation shedding light on how people find it difficult to pronounce his name wherever he goes.

He likes to describe his city of birth as an ‘architecture museum’. “Potsdam is a nice little down in the south of Berlin, once the residence of former Prussian Kings; it was Potsdam that inspired me,” shares the nature boy who likes swimming, cycling and mountain climbing.

Rainer’s fondness for nature is so much so that he sees himself “like a stem which has little thorns from the outside, but on the inside is very soft.”

Being a sportsman, and a German, he didn’t mention the sport which is immensely popular in Deutschland. “Football is innate in us Germans. We all play it ever since we learn to walk,” shares the defender.

Rainer is a South Asian historian who was very much interested in Japanese technology, calligraphy, language and judo/martial arts while growing up. But it was a professor of his who introduced him to a coffee-table book on South Asia, and going through the pictorial realms of Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Nepal and Bhutan, the region worked its magical wand on him. “I had to learn the local tongue (Urdu) which was easier to learn than Japanese and had to go through the region’s vast history,” shares the chargé d'affaires. “I found my wife in the same department, so I never regret focusing on South Asia,” he reveals with a glee.

“My wife is an epigraphist and a language genius. The two of us are a good combination – a couple who understands the societies around them,” Rainer talks about his better half who is also the proud recipient of the Padma Shri award – India’s fourth-highest civilian honour.

He grew up with the conviction that everybody likes the Germans and wanted to represent his country abroad. After he completed his studies, an opportunity came his way to join the Foreign Service. “I would have become a good banker, as at that time I was offered an internship – a Deutsche Bank trainee programme – or I could join the German Federal Foreign Office,” he reveals adding that he ended up “opting for the latter, fulfilling his wish to travel.”

Rainer has been the German CG in Karachi since August 2015.

The first Saturday he spent in Karachi since he joined office, Rainer went to visit the late Dr Ruth Pfau who he came across in a 30-minute film back when he was vacationing in Germany. “It was in April 2015 that a 30-minute film was aired on a German TV channel,” Rainer animatedly shares the experience. “The first minute started off with a journalist in a little boat saying ‘dear viewers, it’s a nice sunny evening, it could have been a marvellous day at the seaside had it not been for…’ and the camera turns showing Karachi’s skyline, ‘Karachi, the most (dangerous) city of the world.’ The remaining 29 minutes showed a perfect Pakistan,” he talks about the clashing image the city developed for him. However, when he came here, “The contradiction labelled Karachi to be a very bad place, but I found the whole country to be so nice,” shares the CG under whose tenure “our travel advice was relaxed twice.”

The operation of the Rangers is what he believes has borne fruit in stabilising the city. “We believe there is no problem in bringing German businessmen and artistes (here). We have German weeks in the first and fourth quarter of every year where artistes, comic artists and pianists participate,” and as he speaks he mentions the forthcoming Karachi Biennale, “we are perhaps the strongest foreign nation participating in it and are proud of it,” Rainer opines that “Karachi is a nice place for mutual projects.”

To improve Pakistan’s soft image abroad, he suggests, “Fashion and textile is something Pakistan can build on. The textile industry is very important for Pakistan, and Germany is one of the biggest buyers of Pakistan’s textiles,” shares the fond attendee of Pakistan’s fashion shows.

Talking about German-Pakistan relationship, Rainer says, “Never before have the relations been this close. Business-wise it’s perfect; the Chinese are very active but German participation in China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is there and we are looking for a level playing field,” he expresses, further mentioning, “we have Siemens, Audi, Volkswagen and MAN is under discussions with our Pakistani partners; as for the energy supply, it is somehow supported in a commercial way by Siemens.”

Shedding light on German Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GPCCI), Rainer talks about the year-old bilateral chamber. According to the President of GPCCI, Qazi Sajid Ali, “The bilateral trade between Pakistan and Germany currently stands at $2.2 billion.”

Rainer talks about “The Senior Experten Service (SES) which provides experts from Germany to advise, evaluate, help, check and update people in the developing world.”

In his German National Day 2015 speech, he mentioned the active role the city’s ladies play in the society. “Never have I met before so many creative, dedicated and hard-working women,” he shares how Karachi is big on that front. And he puts it, “If we really need change in Pakistan then the ladies need to be involved and that’s the opinion of the German CG.”

Another area of cooperation as Rainer points out is in sustainable economic development, like vocational training. According to him, “Germans after the (Second World) War put up a brave front and overcame many challenges. Vocational training was given to blue-collar workers, which from my point of view was the basis of our economic success.” And this route to success is what he wants his Pakistani partners to take up too. “We are trying to help the trainers (here), for sooner or later a highly developed and educated workforce will be needed and that’s where the German concept of vocational training comes in.”

A centre that has culturally cooperated with Pakistan is Goethe-Institut. “Goethe-Institut has a special feature – it never closes down even in the darkest of times, and has continued connecting with the people,” Rainer highlights.

What is quite popular these days is learning the German language as the CG in Karachi states. And this has led to Pakistan’s socio-economic development. According to Mr Jauhar Saleem, the Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to Germany, “Around 5,000 Pakistani students are studying in various educational institutions throughout Germany.” With many citizens of the notion that higher education in Germany is free, Rainer sets the record straight. “German higher education is not free of charge; the cost is borne by the German taxpayer. But what we don’t usually charge is the student’s fee,” however, there’s one little problem which the CG points out, “most universities offer courses in German so the students have to know the language, but there are increasing number of courses now being offered in English too.”

With unrest in Catalonia, Spain, President Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche landing him the presidency of France, and the recently held German elections which Ms Angela Merkel won in a fourth consecutive term, does he see the dynamics of Europe changing? “A conservative party has been elected in the German Bundestag, but there will be no change in the German foreign policy. Countries who need our help, we will continue supporting them. We will continue supporting reforms in the United Nations and European Union (EU). Brexit is a huge challenge for the countries in the EU and we have to find solutions for issues such as energy supply, environmental problems up to questions on regional participation; tax evasion is a huge concern too and so is data protection, so there’s a lot to be done in the EU,” and Rainer mentions, “the four freedoms of the EU: freedom of movement of goods, people, services and capital over borders should be maintained.”

Closely following projects like the Karachi Circular Railway, Rainer shares he “has good relationships with the Mayor Wasim Akhtar and Deputy Mayor Arshad Vohra of Karachi, and whenever it is inaugurated I will pay a visit.” Keeping in mind the city’s traffic problems, the CG asserts, “I wish Karachi had a better public transport system,” and adds, “we have the technology and techniques and are here to help commercially.”

He is one who “feels at home in Karachi. I want the readers to know that my team and I are here to weave the fabric between the two countries.”