The European Union is the biggest export market for Pakistani products, said French Ambassador Philippe Thiebaud on Wednesday while speaking at an informal discussion on ‘Evolution of Franco-Pak Relations 2000-2012’.
Two of Pakistan’s former ambassadors to France, Shahryar M Khan (1999-2001) and Musa Javed Chohan (2001-2003), were on the panel. The discussion was part of the French Week being held at the Lahore University of Management and Sciences (Lums) organised by Alliance Francaise and the French embassy.
In France alone, said the ambassador, imports from Pakistan increased by 27 per cent in 2011. Ambassador Thiebaud said that there were great opportunities for trade between the European Union and Pakistan. Many European countries viewed Pakistan as a potential market. He gave the example of French companies – Carrefour, L’oreal and Total – which have been operating successfully in Pakistan. When L’oreal, a cosmetics company, decided to launch in Pakistan in 2009, he said, many predicted that it won’t last for long but it did.
Talking about how Franco-Pak relations evolved over the years, the French Ambassador described 9/11 as a “milestone”, saying it had brought the two countries closer than they had been before because both countries wanted to avoid a “clash of civilisations”.
He said that together Pakistan and France could play an important role in ensuring peace in what he called “an arc of crisis – from the Middle East to Afghanistan”. France is close to several Middle Eastern and African countries, he said, as is Pakistan and both want to avoid confrontations. He said he saw Pakistan playing a “more active” role in the Middle East in the future. The ambassador appreciated “the high price paid by Pakistan [in the War on Terror]”.
He said that his country had opposed military intervention in Iraq and was also against attacking Iran to stop it from developing nuclear weapons. However, he said, France also did not want Iran to acquire nuclear weapons technology.
Former ambassadors Khan and Chohan reminisced about the time they had spent in France. Khan said his tenure in the European country was a “positive” one. The French gave Pakistan 40 fighter planes and submarines to strengthen its defences, he said. “[However] like all relationships there were ups and downs,” said Khan. He then talked about the Kargil War, which he called “one of the greatest disasters”. “Everyone saw us as the aggressor and our efforts for finding a peaceful solution to the Kashmir issue were damaged,” he said.
Chohan, who was the ambassador to France in 2001, described his tenure as ambassador as “difficult”. “I learnt a lot… I developed patience,” he said with a laugh. The killing of 11 French engineers in Karachi in 2002 did not make it any easier, he said. Those years, he said, were “sad and serious but they did not affect Pakistan-France relations”.
Ambassador Thiebaud hoped that events like the French Week could be held regularly. He advised students to learn French, “About 220 million people across the world speak the language”. When asked if there was anything being done to expose the French to Pakistani culture, he replied, “Several works of Pakistani literature, in English, have been translated into French but I must admit we can do more.”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 5th, 2012.