Remarks by the Foreign Minister at the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET) May 26, 2021
Honourable David McAllister,
Distinguished Members of the European Parliament,
Goodmorning from Pakistan,
It is indeed a great pleasure for me to address this prestigious forum and interact with you to share Pakistan’s perspective on issues of importance.
The AFET Committee has a significant role in shaping the European Union’s policies on foreign, security, defence and economic affairs. I hope that today’s interaction would enable you to better understand Pakistan’s perspective on a host of issues. I am sure that you would have many questions and observations to which I will be happy to respond after conclusion of my remarks.
Let me begin by stating that Pakistan highly values its relationship with the European Union and its member states.
The EU is a traditional friend and a major economic partner of Pakistan. Our cooperation is based on shared values of democracy,pluralism, mutual understanding and respect.
The Pakistan-EU Strategic Engagement Plan, which I had the distinction of signing with former High Representative Federica Mogherini in Brussels in June2019, has ushered in a new phase in our relationship. It provides a solid foundation and framework for cooperation in multiple domains, including: (i) political and defence; (ii) trade and investment; (iii) promotion of democracy, rule of law, good governance and human rights; (iv) migration and mobility; (v) sustainable development; (vi) education and culture; and (vii) science and technology.
We are satisfied that our relationship is moving steadily in a positive direction in all spheres of cooperation. We are keen to further deepen our partnership with the EU. I had a fruitful exchange of views with High Representative Josep Borrell during the last session of Pakistan-EU Strategic Dialogue last November, where we discussed the entire spectrum of our relations. We continue to remain engaged to further expand our multidimensional partnership.
Pakistan is one of the few countries that has signed a Readmission Agreement with the EU. Illegal migration is a concern being mutually addressed and the agreement is being implemented. The SEP vividly mentions that two sides would engage in a Migration and Mobility Dialogue to kick-start the process of legal migration which is important to address the issue of illegal migration.
It is also our earnest desire to strengthen inter-parliamentary linkages. I hope that these ties would contribute to further deepening of the Pakistan-EU friendship.
We appreciate the EU’s efforts and contributions to fight the COVID-19Pandemic. We are also grateful for the assistance the Unionhas provided to support Pakistan in tackling this pandemic.It is extremely important that we continue our cooperation on this vital issue as we all will be safe, when everyone is safe.
Trade is an important aspect of Pakistan-EU multi-faceted relationship. While the GSP Plus has supported our exports, we have introduced reforms to attract foreign direct investment to maximally utilize this facility. Pakistan offers an open and deregulated market with 100 percent equity ownership and repatriation of capital and dividends. Our IT sector is brimming with talent. Over the last five years, IT exports have increased by 151 percent. The EU can benefit from Pakistan’s human resource in the IT sector to realize its goals of Digitization.
We have recently established the Special Technological Zone Authority with relaxed regulations and incentives that will create massive investment opportunities for domestic and foreign investors. Investments from the EU member states in Pakistan’s export promotion zones could create a win-win proposition. Continued cooperation in this arena would facilitate further nurturing economic and trade ties between Pakistan and the EU member states.
We remain committed and closely engaged with the European Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) for the effective implementation of the GSP Plus related twenty-seven international conventions.In this regard, we have established Treaty Implementation Cells at the federal and provincial levels, which have avital role inoverseeing and facilitating the government machinery in implementation of these conventions. Ministry of Human Rights is establishing a human rights management information system to strengthen data collection for treaty bodies and GSP Plus reporting.
New legislations have been introduced to strengthen the human rights regime in Pakistan. Earlier this month (May 6), the federal cabinet approved the Journalist and Media Protection Bill and the Forced or Involuntary Disappearance Bill (criminal law amendment). The Journalist and Media Protection Bill has been introduced in the National Assembly.
In our multitiered engagement with the EU, unlike others, we have always been forthcoming in discussing all issues and never shied away from engagement. In this context, we were disappointed at the adoption of a resolution by the European Parliament on blasphemy laws in Pakistan.I am afraid that the discourse in the European Parliament reflected a lack of understanding of blasphemy laws and associated religious sensitivities in Pakistan and in the wider Muslim world. We need to appreciate the religious sentiments attached to the personality of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and other religious symbols.
Like every other democratic and free society, we value freedom of expression. However, it should not be abused to hurt religious feelings of others.Wilful provocations and incitement to hate and violence must not be allowed andbe universally outlawed.
Our government has taken concrete steps to de-escalate the situation arising from the publication of hurtful sketches and desecration of the Holy Quran in Europe. We have firmlymoved against the radical groups after the recent protests.I can assure you that no armed orpressure group is being allowed to challenge the writ of the state and dictate government policies.
The world is witnessing rise in xenophobia and Islamophobia.We should show common resolve to fight intolerance and incitement to violence on the basis of religion or belief.
The geo-political fault-lines are not only reviving but are getting deeper; strategic stability is threatened in almost all regions; mutual trust and respect among states is eroding; existing conflicts are getting complex and new disputes are emerging; threats from terrorism are ever evolving; and challenges emanating from hybrid and cyber threats are reshaping the security paradigm across the world. Disinformation and fake news is being spread as tools of statecraft.
Pakistan believes in the policy of restraint and peaceful coexistence. Hence, our regional perspective is guided by the principles of the father of the nation, Mr. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who said, “Our foreign policy is one of friendliness and goodwill towards all the nations of the world.”
Pakistan is well poised to assume an even greater role as a responsible and responsive member in the comity of nations. We want to anchor our international engagement in economic cooperationand the inextricable link between peace and development. Our focus is shifting from geo-politics to geo-economics.Asan emerging market of 220 million people, 60 percent of whom are below the age of 30 years, Pakistan offers a multitude of opportunities for trade and investment. Anchored in economic security, Pakistan is focused on: (i) connectivity by promoting trade, transit and energy flows among Central and South Asia and Middle-East; (ii) providing economic bases as a development strategy; and (iii) peace within our borders and beyond.
Peace and stability in Afghanistan are paramount in realizing our vision of regional economic integration and trans-regional connectivity.Pakistan wishes to see an end to the Afghan conflict through a negotiated political settlement.
We have long maintained that there is “no military solution” in Afghanistan. We remain committed to an “Afghan-owned and Afghan-led” peace process. Pakistan has consistently supported the peace process and our facilitation culminated in the US-Taliban Peace Agreement and subsequent commencement of Intra-Afghan negotiations. We believe a negotiated political settlement is the only way forward.
Pakistan and the EU have a common interest in bringing peace and stabilityin Afghanistan. As a shared responsibility, Pakistan will continue to playa role in facilitating the Afghan peace process.
The current peace process is a historic opportunity for a political solution; all Afghan parties must seize it to end the conflict and bring sustainable peace to Afghanistan. There are elements,both inside and outside Afghanistan, which do not want peace and security. We should remain vigilant of machinations of such ‘spoilers’.
The high level of violence in Afghanistan remains a major concern. All parties to the conflict, including the Taliban, must agree on reduction in violence leading to a comprehensive ceasefire. Continued violence following withdrawal of the US and NATO forces could potentially lead to rise in drugs production and exodus of Afghans from their country. Pakistan stands as a gatekeeper in stemming the flow of illegal migrants and narcotics from Afghanistan.
We have been hosting millions of Afghan Refugees for over four decades now; the longest protracted refugee population of modern times. We look forward to an early, dignified and sustained return ofAfghan refugees to their homeland through a well-resourced and time bound roadmap supported by the International community.
We recognize EU’s consistent efforts as well as stakes in the Afghan peace process and its future role in the reconstruction and economic development post-withdrawal. Pakistan-EU cooperation would be important in preserving the political, economic and social gains of past two decades, as well as rehabilitation of the Afghan refugees.
Announcement of withdrawal of international troops by 11 September 2021 has created a situation where Afghanistan will need ever greater assistance and support by the International community. Pakistan will continue to assist Afghanistan for post-conflict development and reconstruction. We reiterate our hope that the Afghan parties will seize this historic opportunity to establish inclusive, broad-based and comprehensive political settlement among them.
Pakistan remains firmly committed to improving relations with all its neighbours, including India. Unfortunately, our overtures for peace were not reciprocated by India. Instead, it unilaterally and illegally moved to change the status of Jammu and Kashmir – a UN recognised disputed territory, and vitiated the environment for dialogue. The onus is now on India to create an enabling environment.
The Jammu and Kashmir dispute is indeed the single biggest obstacle in the way of building a durable and lasting peacein South Asia. A solution in accordance with the relevant UNSC resolutions and the wishes of the Kashmiri people is indispensible.
The region’s strategic stability is threatened by the growing conventional asymmetry between Pakistan and India; pursuit of discriminatory approaches by certain states to supply advanced military hardware and sensitive technologies; and adoption of offensive force postures and doctrines by India vitiate the atmosphere.
EU disinfo lab unearthed India’s nefarious activities and we continue to urge EU authorities to take notice of this massive misinformation campaign against Pakistan and not let third countries misuse the name of EU institutions.
Wefirmly believe that there is enormous potential in further expanding Pakistan-EU partnership in diverse fields. If I were to identify potential areas for future cooperation, they would include:
i. Trade and Investment;
ii. Climate Change and Sustainable Development;
iv. Migration and mobility;
v. Afghan peace process, preserving political, economic and social gains of past two decades;
vi. Reconstruction of Afghanistan post withdrawal;
vii. Science and Technology;
viii. Education and Culture;
ix. Parliamentary exchanges and people to people contacts; and
x. Joint Efforts to promote inter-faith harmony and tolerance.
Pakistan remains ready to play its part for positive and productive partnership with the EU. I would like to conclude my remarks with the message that Pakistanconsiders the EU a highly valued partner and remains open to engagement on all issues.
I would also like to extend an invitation to the AFET Committee under your leadership to visit Pakistan at an early date where a warm welcome awaits.
I thank you for this opportunity to interact with this august forum.