Last week European Union High Representative Vice-President and the person responsible for the Union’s Foreign Affairs, Ms Federica Mogherini, met with the Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, in Brussels. The Pakistani Foreign minister was invited to Brussels by Ms Mogherini for the purpose of signing of a new EU-Pakistan Strategic Engagement Plan.

The Strategic Engagement Plan has been described as a new “forward-looking and ambitious political framework” for EU-Pakistan relations. The Press Statement from the European External Action Service (EEAS) stated that “Traditional areas of engagement such as peace and security, democracy, the rule of law, good governance and human rights, migration and mobility, and trade and investment will remain prominent strands in the dialogue and cooperation between the EU and Pakistan. In addition, the Strategic Engagement Plan will also allow for cooperation in new and untapped areas such as energy and climate change, education, culture, science and technology, among others.”

Omitted from the discussions, and consequently from the press statement, was the ever increasing concerns over Pakistan’s state sponsored terrorism, its presence on the Financial Action Task Force (FAFT) list for terrorism financing and money laundering, and its multiple failings regarding its GSP+ (Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus) trade subsidy obligations.

Peace and Security is a crucial part of EU-Pakistan bilateral relations and the Strategic Engagement Plan foresees the establishment of a Security Dialogue that will allow for regular, high level, action-oriented discussions, and a comprehensive approach for the challenges experienced in this region. However, dialogue alone will not solve the current problems that Pakistan needs to overcome. Not only is it facing a significant debt crisis, unable to fund many of its public services, but it may also be facing political changes as the military increase their hold on the country’s power vying for a more hard line stance than Prime Minister Imran Khan may wish.

Financially, Pakistan has been on a winning streak as far as acquiring ever increasing debt. In the last days alone, Pakistan secured USD 518 million from the World Bank with the goal being to reform Pakistan’s tax revenue system and subsequently reduce compliance costs, and provide support for better public services. The World Bank said that whilst Pakistan’s revenue performance had improved, it is still lower than the required 15% GDP needed by developing countries to fund basic government functions and provide services to people. This week also saw Qatar deposit the first tranche of $500 million, out of a total $3 billion promised, with the State Bank of Pakistan’s foreign currency reserves.

High Representative Federica Mogherini did reportedly discuss the domestic political situation in Pakistan, as well as the implementation of the action plan under the Financial Action Task Force, but there were no concrete actions assigned to Pakistan’s usual promises of implementation mentioned in any of the communiques.

European citizens are seeking commitments, facts, and evidence of a valuable relationship with Pakistan that protects European values in the common bilateral agenda. There is no evidence that the increased concessions Pakistan has received from GSP+ and/or European projects , has resulted in any increase towards protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms. Whilst opportunities may be created for students, academics and researchers to come together, it is unlikely that many parents will be sending their children to the land of the Taliban, which ostensibly still controls not only large parts of Pakistan but also Afghanistan. Both parties did reiterate the need for regional and international issues to be addressed, as well as support towards the current Afghan peace talks, but even Afghanistan has complained to the UN recently regarding Pakistan’s behaviour.

During the press conference, journalists also raised the issue of Pakistan’s challenges to the High Representative: “Pakistan is facing a very big financial challenge at the moment, losing almost 10 billion dollar, being in the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force. Four European Union Member States (France, Germany, the UK and the Netherlands) and UNSC members are opposing Pakistan being taken out of the grey list. In the next meeting in Paris in October, will you help Pakistan getting out of the grey list and have financial caution?”

The response from Mogherini was polite and evasive on the concrete actions that the EU has been taking. “On the Financial Action Task Force, we acknowledge Pakistan’s efforts to implement the Action Plan. We will have an assessment that will be objective, technical, and based on performance. We are always ready to support the implementation of measures that are necessary and needed to solve this issue in the most constructive manner”.

In light of the mounting allegations regarding Pakistan’s persecution of religious minorities, and especially Christians in Pakistan, journalists also questioned the content of the Engagement Plan in relation to “human rights, in terms of the protection of minorities and rule of law and democracy?” The media were told that details would emerge over time.

Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the Pakistani Foreign Ministers, made his own statements during his visit and several European media have focused on these comments more than the Engagement Plan. In his statements Minister Qureshi actually dismissed the accusations made by the international community regarding the persecution of Christian minorities in the country. He claimed that although persecution cases do occur, those only represent ‘individual incidents’, comparable to knife attacks in the United Kingdom. He went on claiming that such accusations are an example of the West trying to ‘paint Pakistan in a particular way’ in order to serve its own interests.

For years, reports from international organisations, civil society and, more recently, from Members of the European Parliament have turned their attention to the situation of religious minorities in Pakistan, who are victims of direct and indirect discrimination at all levels of their life, something the Foreign Minister has now openly denied. His dismissive attitude, and attempts to distract with references to unrelated incidents in other countries is a common strategy of the Pakistan government. Unless the new EU-Pakistan Strategic Engagement Plan has concrete measurable and deliverables, it will remain just that – a strategic plan with no real impact on the Pakistani or European socio-economic, or on regional peace in South Asia.

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