“Shared threat of terrorism, worsening COVID-19 crisis in Europe and around the world, and growing international tensions make it more important than ever to deepen our ties with Pakistan. And this is what we will do.”
Josep Borrell, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy / Vice-President of the Commission, wrote this in his blog on 6 November.
Borrell wrote this after his virtual meeting with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who led Pakistan side at the fifth round of the EU-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue held on 3 November via video teleconference.
A Joint Press Communique and Declaration on Afghanistan were issued after the dialogue. Borrell’s blogs, as he says on his website, reflect his views on the main issues at stake for Europe and its global role.
The recognition of importance of Pakistan - EU relations is growing with the realisation of mutual benefits to both sides; shared problems and convergence of approach to tackle issues such as peace and security in the broader context, taking into the loop importance of economic stability and impact of environmental and health issues like COVID-19 Pandemic.
The grant of European Union’s General Scheme of Preferences (GSP+) to Pakistan in 2014 and signing of the Strategic Engagement Plan in 2019 are among the examples of ongoing cooperation in a number of diversified areas.
While highlighting the factors that make EU-Pakistan relations more important. Borrell, in his blog, introduces Pakistan as a country which plays a central role in a critical region involving China, India, Iran and Afghanistan. The country is a nuclear power and one of the world’s major Muslim-majority countries, with population of around 220 million people.
Pakistan’s location vis-à-vis geo-strategic and geo- economic developments in the region makes it an important player in the realm of peace and security and socio-economic progress. Its position and role in Afghan Peace Process and the War on terrorism can’t be denied or under rated by anyone.
During the 5th EU-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue the security situation, in the region, and particularly in Afghanistan was discussed at length and a joint declaration between the EU and Pakistan on Afghanistan was also issued, which reads:-
“The EU and Pakistan reaffirm their determination to strengthen in a strategic way their long-term, forward-looking and broad-based partnership for peace, development and prosperity. The Strategic Engagement Plan that the two sides signed in June 2019 provides a framework for their bilateral engagements and ambitions in this area.”
Significance of the Pakistan- EU relations is further highlighted as the Declaration further affirms wishes of the EU and Pakistan to jointly reflect on the current state of play of the Afghan Peace Process, and encourage its unwavering continuation.
Both sides reaffirmed their strong support for an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process and welcomed the progress made in the last two years, including the signature, on 29 February 2020, of the agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban and the parallel Declaration between the Government of Afghanistan and the U.S., in Doha and Kabul respectively.
In the sphere of tackling terrorism EU appreciation is reflected in the Joint Press Communique of the Dialogue, regarding significant progress made by Pakistan in addressing 21 out of 27 items of the Pakistani action plan. “At the last review of the FATF, the EU had advocated for a positive tone of the statement on Pakistan. I asked our interlocutors to complete quickly its implementation and offered EU technical assistance”, Borrell affirms.
In terms of economic ties, the EU is Pakistan’s second largest trading partner, with 35% of Pakistan’s exports going to Europe. The grant of GSP+ (a custom’s regime that removes import duties from products from developing countries) has benefited both the sides. Currently 60% of products imported into the EU under this custom’s regime come from Pakistan.
According to the website of the European Commission, trade between Pakistan and European Union increased from 6.875 billion Euros in 2013 to 10.763 billion in 2019, where besides exports from Pakistan, exports from the European Union have also seen a significant increase.
Although, like other parts of the world , the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis are heavily affecting the economies of countries of South-Asia including Pakistan, the European Union is exploring the ways of making full use of GSP+ to alleviate the effects of the COVID-19 crisis. “We have spent €150 million in assistance to Pakistan in response to the COVID-19 crisis”, writes Borrell.
In one of his earlier blogs published on 17th October Borrell had expressed deep concerns over the consequences of COVID-19, that has affected not only the developing countries but also advanced economies, in particular Europe. “COVID-19 is reshaping the entire world economy and changing the balance of wealth and power”, Borrell wrote.
With its commitment towards issues of climate change and environmental protection, the EU also recognises a role of environmental factors for peace and security and acknowledges Pakistan as one of the countries in the world most affected by climate change. The Indus River is the key water artery for the agriculture and economy of the country but with its sources in the Himalayan triangle between India, China and Pakistan, it is quickly becoming a major point of tension in regional climate geopolitics.
“We hope to develop our cooperation with Pakistan on energy and climate related issues and count on Pakistan to help enhance the commitments made by the different countries in the framework of the Paris Agreement next year”, Borrell writes in his blog while reflecting on dimensions that make the Pakistan - EU relationship even more important in the future.
The present government of Pakistan also has a strong commitment towards protection of the environment and mitigating climate change. The country has potential to absorb cooperation from the countries of Europe, having advance technology and commitment in the areas of clean energy and conservation. Besides, Europe can also play an effective role in solving disputes like Kashmir, which besides having political significance are also relevant in the realm of climate change and natural resources.
Foreign Minister Qureshi expressed Pakistan’s concerns about human rights violations by India in the region of Jammu and Kashmir, and its attempts to change the demography of the disputed territory. “As EU, we are following the situation in that region closely and I underlined the need for restraint, a de-escalation of tensions and the resolution of the dispute through dialogue and diplomatic engagement”, Borrell writes.
European Union has also partnered with the United Nations for action on environmental issues in the broader framework of peacekeeping and peacebuilding strategies and ensuring conflict prevention. Environmental actions are being cosidered as part of peace and security measures, keeping in view the fact that there can be no durable peace if the natural resources that sustain livelihoods and ecosystems are destroyed.
In 2021 EU and Pakistan will hold the first meeting of the EU-Pakistan Security Dialogue foreseen in the 2019 Joint Strategic Engagement Plan. The recognition of shared problems and convergence of approach to resolve issues at the regional and global level will definitely strengthen Pak-EU relationship with greater momentum leading to cooperation for mutual benefit of both sides.