As Pakistan and the European Union (EU) gear up to launch a ‘strategic dialogue’ on Tuesday, the foreign policy chief of the 27-member economic bloc is expected to use her trip to press the Pakistani leadership to reopen vital land routes for Nato forces stationed in Afghanistan.
For this purpose, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton arrived in Islamabad on Monday to formally launch a broad-based dialogue with Pakistan in a move that seeks to further consolidate their relationship.
However, since majority of the EU members are also part of the Nato/Isaf mission in Afghanistan, talks between the two sides are expected to focus on Pakistan’s continued suspension of vital land routes for the foreign forces stationed in the war-torn country.
Diplomatic sources said Ashton would urge the Pakistani leadership to lift the blockade as the six-month-old ban was not only causing problems for the US but also EU countries.
In her statement before leaving for Islamabad, Ashton hinted at taking up the issue with Pakistani authorities.
“We want to deepen our collaboration in many areas, including judicial reform, strengthening the democratic institutions but also work jointly on promoting regional stability and tackling extremism and terrorism,” Ashton had stated in her statement posted on the EU’s website.
The top EU diplomat will have formal negotiations with Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar on Tuesday. She will also meet Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, Chief of General Staff Lieutenant General Waheed Arshad and leaders of the parliamentary opposition.
“My visit to Pakistan is an expression of the EU’s support for the consolidation of democracy in the country,” she added.
“The launch of the strategic dialogue and the engagement plan is a chance to strengthen relations, build on the full range of EU-Pakistan cooperation — from foreign and security policy to development and trade.”
The dialogue aims to spell out how to work towards an ambitious five-year plan agreed in January that would culminate in a Free Trade Agreement and will include anti-terrorist measures and heightened development aid.
The strategic dialogue is being launched in pursuance of the decision taken at the first Pakistan-EU summit held in 2009, said a foreign office statement.
Last year, the EU and Pakistan signed a Multi-year Indicative Programme (MIP) for 2011-2013. Under the MIP, the EU would provide €225 million for rural development, education, health and governance.
In a ground-breaking move in February, the World Trade Organisation approved a waiver allowing 75 Pakistani products duty-free access to EU markets for two years to help textile exports after the devastating floods hit the country in 2010.
The EU is Pakistan’s largest trading partner, receiving almost 30% of its exports — worth almost €3 billion.
Pakistan’s trade with the EU consists mainly of textiles, which account for more than 70% of its exports to European countries.
Last month, Brussels announced a further €20 million in aid to victims of Pakistan’s 2011 monsoon floods, as well as people displaced by conflict — bringing the total funding this year to €55 million.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 5th, 2012.