Islamabad: With Pakistan being boxed in by intimidation, abuses and ultimatums from the Trump administration, will Washington’s new strategic policy towards Islamabad also affect other world players in their relations with the government?
Of importance are the European Union (EU), the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), on whom Pakistan relies for trade and monetary support. The News spoke to Jean-François Cautain, Ambassador of the European Union to Pakistan, in this regard. He returned to Pakistan as EU Ambassador in 2015, having worked in aid agencies in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the 1990s. In the intervening years, he was Head of Operations in the EU Delegation to Afghanistan in 2002, where he led policy dialogues on reconstruction following the fall of the Taliban.
It was clear from Jean’s replies that even though the EU has an ‘important’ decades-old relationship with the US, “…EU will formulate its own foreign policy priorities based on its values and interests”.
Even as the Trump administration shuts the window on civil and military aid till its conditions are met by Pakistan, the EU will not be influenced by Washington in the coming days but rather continue to work with Pakistan solely on its own condition in bilateral relations under the GSP trade programme.
Surprisingly, as the Foreign Office says it is unaware, the ambassador says that the 2016-2017 GSP Plus review report has just been made public. The European Union, says the ambassador, has its own interests to support Pakistan towards “long-term economic development and prosperity”.
However, when it comes to fighting terrorism, Jean complimented Pakistan for the huge price it has paid for this, but hastens to add that “more needs to be done”. This is the exclusive interview of Ambassador Jean-François Cautain to The News.
Q1: How is the EU looking at relations between Pakistan and the United States, though bilateral in nature, are bound to have a deep impact on Afghanistan and the continuous war against terrorism, the success or failure of which will have profound effects on the immediate region and beyond?
Jean: It is not for the European Union to comment on the bilateral relationship of two sovereign States. What is clear is that the European Union works tirelessly to address global security challenges like terrorism, nuclear proliferation and transnational crime. We do this in close cooperation with many partners around the world, most notably the United Nations.
The EU-US is an important relationship that has prospered for more than six decades on a solid foundation of common values, including a commitment to the rule of law, the democratic process, respect for human rights and alleviating poverty.
We view our respective relationship with Pakistan as serving the achievement of such purposes. We also share the ambition of supporting the stability of the region and more particularly the Afghan peace and reconciliation process and the fact that Pakistan has an important role to play in this respect, its stability being closely intertwined to the one of its western neighbour. We agree that succeeding or failing to eradicate terrorism and enter in a constructive and inclusive reconciliation process will be the key to pacify the region and to pave the way for economic development.
Q2: Pakistan continues to hear from world capitals about the presence of Afghan Taliban operating from its soil, something that Pakistan denies. How does the EU look at these allegations?
Jean: What I hear from my Pakistani interlocutors is that the country has made the eradication of terrorism one of its major objectives. Pakistan has and continues to suffer from this plague. There is no doubt that Pakistan has paid a price in fighting it and no one can deny this. But more needs to be done.
An important aspect of our bilateral cooperation supports this ambition in helping addressing the root causes of violent extremism. The EU’s main message towards Pakistan is to focus on the promotion of dialogue and make the best use of its capacity to reach out to relevant stakeholders within and outside its territory to contribute to peace and stability in the region. Pakistan has to make sure that its territory is not used to prepare terrorist attacks in the region. Suspicion must be eradicated from our relationship and for that reason, the goals we commit to achieve must be unquestionable. We have to understand that the tiniest doubts and misperceptions have the capacity to annihilate the greatest engagement.
Q3: For the sake of argument, if there is presence of the Haqqani network inside Pakistan, and Pakistan ensures that they are either taken out, or asked to leave, will this in itself bring peace and stability inside Afghanistan?
Jean: Although Pakistan is a key actor in the achievement of the Afghan reconciliation process, it is not the only one. This is a joint endeavour to which all stakeholders must commit. Afghanistan and other actors involved in international mediation will need to continue playing a constructive role. I have been working in the region long enough to understand that long-term solutions do not only depend on one factor or a declared goodwill. Peace and stability in Afghanistan is a long term objective for which the level of ambition of all actors must be sustained.
Q4: Talks between the Trump administration and the civil-military officials here are continuing. Worries are that if no meeting point is agreed upon, Washington could well carry out its threats of completely cutting off all aid, civil and military plus keep options of striking inside Pakistan. How does the EU see this scenario?
Jean: It is not for me to comment the ongoing Pakistan-US dialogue nor to anticipate the policy formulation of the United States.
Q5: Will the EU though independent from the US, support the Trump administration in the actions quoted above, and will the EU also put similar financial sanctions on Pakistan?
Jean: The EU has not waited for the US strategy on Afghanistan and South Asia to develop and announce its strategic orientations. Following its own interests and objectives, the EU announced the priorities of its partnership with Pakistan in July 2017 and its strategy for Afghanistan in October 2017, both made public and available on the internet.
Our bilateral relation with Pakistan goes a long way back as we have just completed our 5-Year Engagement Plan and look forward to endorse soon our new partnership framework. For the period 2014-2020, the EU has substantially increased the development co-operation funds allocated to Pakistan to 653 million euros for the whole period, roughly the double when compared to the seven previous years. The EU has demonstrated its commitment to build a solid and mutually beneficial partnership with Pakistan. As I mentioned earlier, while the US is our main strategic partner, the EU will formulate its own foreign policy priorities based on its values and interests.
Q6: What will be EU’s position if Washington prevails upon the IMF and World Bank not to cooperate with Pakistan specially while giving loans?
Jean: Again, it is not for me to speculate on the US’ policy or discussions it is having, but the European Union’s view is that it is in all of our mutual interest — the EU, Pakistan, the US and the international community more broadly — to support Pakistan in the consolidation of its path towards long-term economic development and prosperity.
Q7: What is the current position of the GSP Plus agreement with Pakistan? Is Islamabad on track with the conditions contained in this agreement, and when is it time to reassess this process?
Jean: The GSP Plus scheme thanks to which the EU is providing preferential market to Pakistani goods since 2014 has seen a 38% increase of our bilateral trade between 2014 and 2017. With this agreement, Pakistan has committed to endorse and implement 27 core conventions on human rights, labour conditions and protection of the environment. This is a “win-win” approach as Pakistan benefits from an improved market access in return for improving its record of governance for the benefit of all Pakistanis. The implementation of those international conventions is not something Pakistan is doing for the sole sake of the EU. It is done because it is in the long-term interest of the people and corresponds to the Constitution of Pakistan and government’s policy. We expect to see more progress on specific issues; there is no one-way benefit in our partnership.
The 2016-2017 GSP Plus review report has just been made public. This review does not only focus on Pakistan but to all countries with which the EU has concluded this scheme. It will be now discussed in the European Parliament and by the EU member states.
Q8: Finally, Pakistan has trade ties and agreements with the EU, including GSP Plus status. Will these be affected by the faltering ties between Pakistan and the US?
Jean: It is through the conditions set under our sole bilateral relation with Pakistan that the EU will judge, conduct and implement its cooperation. The review of the GSP Plus, which is based on accurate and already-defined criteria, enables the EU to assess its trade relations and the implementation of the 27 international conventions linked to GSP Plus.
Courtesy: The News