French senators’ visit: ‘The world is evolving, we must as well’

Visiting senators discuss war on terror, trade, secular values

Vaqas April 12, 2016
Minister of state Chairperson Benazir Income Support Program (BISP), MNA Marvi Memon hosts French Senators on Behalf of France Pakistan Friendship group. PHOTO: ONLINE

ISLAMABAD: It took three wars and millions of deaths between France and Germany for us to understand we need to live together. I wish [Pakistan and India] success in [getting to] the same type of relationship.

This explanation of how the worst of enemies can become the best of friends was provided by French Senator Pascal Allizard, chairman of the France –Pakistan Friendship Group in his country, to a question on why France does not push the subcontinent rivals to meet halfway.

He was speaking to members of the media on Tuesday as part of a four-day visit to Pakistan by a French Senate delegation, the other members of which are Senate Vice-President Senator Françoise Cartron, and Senator Patricia Morhet-Richaud.

Senator Allizard, speaking through a translator, explained that the purpose of the visit was to improve relations via the friendship group, which he was elected president of last year.

He spoke of the good relations between diplomats and academics from either country, before outlining major French businesses operating in Pakistan, such as oil-and-gas giant Total.

Having met with social scientists and archaeologists, among others, “we felt from our contacts, a strong affection for Pakistan.”

“We have been in Pakistan since [Monday morning], and every meeting in the past two days confirm it was the right decision to [reinvigorate] relations between France and Pakistan,” he said, before noting that they had already met with Pakistan’s Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani, gone to check out BISP with Marvi Memon, and others including the head of the foreign affairs committee.

“We talked about terrorism, which is a subject for both countries. Both have suffered because of is an unacceptable thing we must both fight against.”

He said the first point of cooperation between the two countries must be against terror, adding that terrorism “is even more unacceptable when it targets women and children”, a reference to the Lahore park attack two weeks back.

“On a positive note, we want to develop business and economic ties” between the two countries, he said, shifting subjects.

He noted that security problems are a hindrance for foreign business, but also noted that red tape and banking issues also come into play, while admitting that the latter two issues occur in both countries.

“We also want to cooperate on education and health... we can have very positive exchanges on these,” he added.

Later, the discussion returned to terror and radicalism. As the senator noted, “There is strong determination from Pakistan to fight terror and radicalisation. Pakistan is sending a strong message, [which] is important for France as [we are] also exposed to terror.”

He said that in general, French people do not understand why France is targeted. “When the French government says ‘war on terror’, many don’t get what it means.”

He also admitted the problem with certain anti-terrorism measures which may infringe on liberty, and noting that the same issues arise in Pakistan.

On Islamophobia

“There is some Islamophobia in France, but it’s not a mainstream opinion,” said the senator, who then explained what France’s secular values mean. “Religion is a private matter in France, a subject for every individual. We draw a line between the public and private spheres,” he said, before adding that France is an “old democracy but needs to remind the people of the principles on which the republic is based — the separation of church and state.”

He said the French government wants freedom of culture for every culture, and that a lot work is being done in France to explain the difference between what Islam stands for and what radicals stand for.

On economic ties, he said fiscal policies on both sides must stabilise to enhance investment, while giving the example of a French company that needed to borrow from a German bank because French banks were unwilling to finance projects in Pakistan. “But we will talk to our banks,” he added.

On secularism

To a question from The Express Tribune on the misinterpretation of secularism in some circles, he said, “Education is the only solution. Secularism is a faculty for everyone to believe or not to believe. This concept must be shared among everyone.

He then added that they had discussed such issues with the Turkish envoy in Paris — Turkey being a secular country.

“Concepts must be clear. Secularism is western-born, but can be adapted by the Muslim world. We must work on this kind of subject with education. This is also why terrorists attack children in schools, it is not a coincidence.”

Senator Cartron later spoke of avenues for collaboration in education, including fields such as fashion and culinary arts, along with curricula and quality improvement measures.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2016.

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