Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi
A soft power European Union (EU) can influence translates into economic, political and cultural benefits. It turned out that promoting a nation’s culture and political ideals on the global stage brings significant economic and strategic advantages. Researchers have found that a state’s soft power has a significant impact on foreign direct investment (FDI), overseas student recruitment, tourism and international influence in forums like the UN General Assembly. The European Council states the EU’s willingness to engage with the new government of Pakistan to support its efforts in advancing social and economic reforms, ensuring access to education, and addressing poverty and inequality through good governance and the respect of the rule of law. The European Council urges Pakistan to live up to its international commitments with regards to the promotion and protection of human rights and the rule of law. The Council draws particular attention to the freedom of religion or belief, abuses of the blasphemy law, the freedom of expression and media, the shrinking space for civil society, the rights of the people belonging to minorities, and women’s and children’s full enjoyment of their human rights.
The Council also reiterates the EU’s wish to strengthen cooperation with Pakistan in the fields of security and defence, sustainable development, trade and migration. The Council calls on Pakistan to step up its engagement in constructive initiatives to support peace in Afghanistan and intensify its pursuit of cooperation with neighbouring countries, which would contribute to regional stability. The Council also expresses its expectation that the new framework for engagement with Pakistan, the EU-Pakistan Strategic Engagement Plan, will be signed at the earliest possible occasion. In response to the severe drought which is affecting large parts of southern Pakistan, the European Union is allocating EUR 100 000 in humanitarian funding to bring life-saving assistance to the most affected communities. The aid will directly benefit 15000 people in two of the hardest hit pockets in the region, namely Tharparkar district in Sindh Province and Naushki district in Balochistan Province.
The EU funding supports the Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS) in delivering immediate assistance through the distribution of cash grants, enabling affected families to purchase essential items like food and fodder for their livestock and the provision of safe drinking water through installation of solar-powered boreholes and storage facilities. PRCS will also conduct hygiene and water treatment awareness activities, and conduct a detailed needs assessment to determine the longer term needs of at-risk communities in Sindh and Balochistan.
In a meeting with President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani, Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari drew attention to the grave human rights situation in the India-occupied Kashmir and underlined the need for immediate action to stop the Indian atrocities. The Minister also called for steps to stem growing Islamophobia in Europe. She called on the EU to play its due role in this regard. During the meeting with the President European Parliament, she shared the government of Pakistan’s commitment to protection and promotion of human rights in Pakistan and highlighted gross human rights violations by Indian forces in the IoK. Dr Mazari also shared concerns over growing Islamophobia in Europe. European Ambassador Jean-Francois Cautain told media that 17 out of 27 member states present in Pakistan would participate in the event, which aimed to promote the European culture and values.
The main purpose behind holding the event at an open place was said to create people-to-people linkages with any EU country representative. He also maintained that the general public would be provided with multiple displays of Europe as a culturally rich and friendly place. Stands by the EU as well as the members’ states would showcase the respective cultures and traditions, languages, food and music as well as general information to Pakistan’s general public. The EU Ambassador noted that the economic bloc fully recognized Pakistan’s key role in promoting peace and stability in the South Asian region and beyond. The bloc was said to also support the government-declared goals of improving relations with its neighbours.
The Strategic Dialogue was preceded by the 5th Session of Pakistan-EU Political Dialogue in Brussels on 20 March 2019. The Strategic Dialogue encouraged for an open discussion on a wide range of areas of the bilateral cooperation as well as on regional and global challenges. The two sides duly reaffirmed their ardent commitment to the strengthening of multilateralism and adherence to the principles and purposes of the UN Charter as well as international law. Pakistan and the EU positively agreed the Strategic Engagement Plan (SEP), which intrinsically signifies the growing momentum of Pakistan-EU relations and sets the direction for enhanced engagement. The EU side welcomed the priorities tabled by the Pakistani government — focusing on poverty alleviation, investment in human capital, good governance and the rule of law. Consequently, the Pakistan side invited the EU side to take benefit of the improved security situation as an opportunity to improve their relations in the areas of trade and investment as well as people to people contact including tourism.
Brussels is a strong supporter of Islamabad’s democratic development, illustrated by four successive election observer missions from 2002 to 2018, and technical assistance provided to Pakistan’s Parliament and to the Election Commission of Pakistan to advance electoral reforms. The EU is also committed to enhancing its cooperation with Pakistan in its fight against the shared burden of terrorism and extremism. In addition, the EU supports Pakistan’s efforts to improve its human rights record, in particular in areas such as access to justice, freedom of religion or belief and the rights of women and girls, and provide education, vocational training and economic opportunities for all Pakistanis. Furthermore, Migration is another area of cooperation, where the two sides Belgium and Pakistan have concluded a readmission agreement. The EU also fully appreciates Pakistan’s vital role in promoting peace and stability in the South Asian region and beyond, supporting the Government’s declared goals of improving relations with its neighbours.
—The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of Washington Foreign Law Society and European Society of International Law.