EU in “fruitful dialogue” with leading Pakistan political party on trade, security and human rights
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EU in “fruitful dialogue” with leading Pakistan political party on trade, security and human rights

The rising threat of terrorism in Pakistan has triggered a new appeal to the European Union to combat extremism and help bring stability to the country. The appeal for support for such endeavours emerged from a short visit to the EU institutions in Brussels by a delegation made up of parliamentarians and senior party figures from MQM.

The MQM political party, the fourth largest in Pakistan is credited with being at the forefront of the fight against the Pakistani Taliban. Scores more lives have been claimed in a recent spate of deadly attacks by the Taliban in Pakistan.

The visit on Wednesday also comes after the European Parliament recently adopted a resolution on the deadly attack on the Peshawar Army Public School that left 143 students and several soldiers dead. More than 200 were injured in the eight-hour massacre.

The four-strong delegation from MQM met with their European counterparts to discuss the current situation in Pakistan and how the EU can support the party’s policies, especially in areas of human rights and counter-terrorism.

The day-long meeting comes as international pressure is mounting on Pakistan to implement a whole range of reforms, including in the field of human rights, in time for legislative elections in the country later this year.

The MQM, a liberal-leaning, progressive party committed to an independent judiciary and free press, and says that, in a country where many believe the abuse of religion has become the norm,it has taken a “lonely stand” against the Taliban.

It has, in particular, championed the rights of women in Pakistan and is also widely credited with having turned Karachi into an economic powerhouse.

One senior member of the delegation, MQM’s Senator Muhammad Saif, said, “It was very important for us to meet with relevant European officials in Brussels and discuss how MQM could help bring stability to Pakistan through its progressive policies.”

Saif, who is also a barrister, added, “Our discussions focused on the issues of trade, security and human rights and will hopefully facilitate fruitful dialogue between Pakistan and the EU in these challenging times.”

The MQM delegation met with senior representatives of the Brussels-based European External Action Service (EEAS), including Paola Pampaloni, who has been head of Division for Pakistan,Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka at the EEAS since 2013, and Tomas Niklasson, from the European Commission.

They also had meetings with several senior MEPs, including Michael Gahler, Ivan Stefanec, an EPP member from Slovakia, UK ECR deputy Amjad Bashir, Cristian Dan Preda, Afzal Khan and British Greens member Jean Lambert.

In February, German centre right member Gahler was in Pakistan  to discuss the political situation there. As the Chief Election Officer for the EU, he underlined the need for reforms to be completed in time for the next elections in May and reiterated the support of the EU in strengthening parliamentary institutions in Pakistan.

Dan Preda, an EPP deputy from Romania, is a member of the delegation for relations with countries in South Asia.

He was author of the European Parliament’s resolution on blasphemy laws in Pakistan and the prosecution of Christians which was adopted by the plenary in Strasbourg last November and also a signatory to the April 2014 resolution on prosecution cases in Pakistan.

Most recently, has was the author of the resolution “on Pakistan, in particular the situation following the Peshawar school attack”.

Bashir, meanwhile, is a foreign affairs committee member who, in the past, has called on the EU to demonstrate more sympathy to the people of Pakistan, while Lambert has visited the country several times, most recently in February.

Following their meetings with the MQM delegation, British Socialist MEP Khan, who has served as assistant secretary general of Muslim Council of Britain, said, “It was a great pleasure to meet with the MQM and to learn more about their record of opposing terrorism, strengthening rights for women and tackling the root causes of poverty and inequality. I look forward to working with them in the coming years to ensure that their voice is heard on the European stage”.

As well as Saif, the MQM delegation comprised Saman Jafri, Nadeem Nusrat, who is No. 2 in the party, and Wasay Jalil, one of the most senior members of MQM.

Jafri is one of the youngest MPs of the National Assembly of Pakistan  and has been particularly vocal against extremism and the growing threat of IS and “Talibanisation” in Pakistan.

They represent one of the largest parties in Pakistan, one “committed to a democratic Pakistan and education for all.”

The delegation said it was keen to emphasise that the party “stands side by side” with the EU in the fight against the Pakistani Taliban and other forms of terrorism, fanaticism and extremism.

The Pakistani Taliban is allied with Afghan militants and is focused on toppling the Pakistani state and establishing a strict Islamic rule in the country.

As well as the Peshawar attack on 16 December, the Taliban was responsible for an attack in March on two churches in Lahore which killed 15 people and a rocket attack in the southwest of the country which killed five police officers.

The delegation pointed out in their meetings with EU officials that it has “stood firmly against” the Taliban, saying that the MQM founder and leader, Altaf Hussain, was the first national leader in Pakistan to highlight the spread of the Taliban in the country almost a decade ago and the first to speak against the growing threat of Islamic State in Pakistan.

Karachi, a city of 23m people, has seen in recent years a huge surge in terrorism linked to the Taliban and other extremist group but MQM says that government security forces have “failed” to conduct any “meaningful” operations to combat the threat.

As well as the current security threats in the country, the visit to Brussels also focused on trade issues and the delegation was keen to stress that MQM “supports free enterprise and good governance and advocates increased foreign investment in Pakistan, both for the technical expertise it can bring and as a bulwark against corruption.”

The party is credited with generating the conditions behind the success of Karachi,now Pakistan’s economic hub and the most successful city in the country.

After the meetings, one EU source told this website that the meetings in Brussels were an opportunity to dispel “some misconceptions” about the party, saying, “One of the reasons behind this the fact that MQM has been very vocal against terrorism and any forms of extremism and is advocating for rights of women and minorities, which does not go down well with everyone in Pakistan. The situation on the ground is very complex.

“The main aim of the meetings with members of the External Action Service and MEPs  was to highlight the problems which Pakistan is facing and what MQM is doing, especially in Karachi, in order to help stabilise the situation, and how the EU can help.”

The delegation also stressed the importance of EU-Pakistan relations – the EU is Pakistan’s largest trading partner and the EU accounts for 20% of Pakistani external

trade.Pakistani exports to the EU are worth €3.4 billion (mainly textiles, medical equipment and leather products) and EU exports to Pakistan amount to €3.8 billion (mainly mechanical and electrical equipment, and chemical and pharmaceutical products).

In 2014, the EU granted Pakistan further tariff reductions (GSP Plus) on over 90 percent of all product categories exported by Pakistan to the EU. The EU estimates this will increase Pakistan’s exports to the EU by €574 million annually.

In return Pakistan is expected to ensure implementation of 27 international conventions, including seven human rightsconventions.

Since 1976, under a series of EU-Pakistan Cooperation Agreements, the EU (which, with its member states, is Pakistan’s largest donor) has provided aid for infrastructure and social development projects, as well as humanitarian assistance.

This was supplemented in 2012 by the launch of a new political framework in the form of a five-year Engagement Plan and a Strategic Dialogue covering a wide range of issues from security, including counter-terrorism, non-proliferation and regional cooperation, to human rights, migration and development cooperation.

The MQM, the only political party not formed and dominated by the ruling elite in Pakistan, says it champions equal rights and equal opportunity for all and that the “effectiveness” of its policies is seen by the “key” part it played when its candidate was elected mayor of Karachi from 2005 to 2010.

From its origins as the party of Urdu-speaking Muhajirs, the MQM is now seen as having grown into a genuinely national party.

It now boasts 92 representatives and 31 MPs and represents a “genuine grass roots political movement,” drawing its support from the poor, the working class and the aspiring middle classes whose interests, it say, are largely ignored by the other major Pakistani political parties.

By Martin Banks