ISLAMABAD: While India is making desperate efforts to seek Pakistan’s global isolation, the European Union (EU) has finalised a new ‘strategic engagement plan’ with Islamabad, laying the foundation for deepening trade and other ties.
The announcement was made on Monday at a joint news conference by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and the visiting the EU Representative for Foreign Relations and Security Policy Federica Mogherini.
The agreement was finalised after the fourth round of strategic dialogue between Pakistan and the EU. The visiting delegation was led by Mogherini while Qureshi led Pakistan’s negotiating team.
The development is seen as yet another blow to Indian attempts seeking Pakistan's global isolation in the wake of the February 14 Pulwama attack on Indian troops in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK).
“Today, I would like to announce that Pakistan and the EU have agreed on a new strategic engagement plan. This immense achievement comes after some tedious negotiations and, once further due process is completed, I will be heading Brussels to sign the agreement,” Qureshi announced.
The EU foreign policy chief said the new strategic engagement plan would lay the foundation for further deepening ties between Pakistan and the 27-nation strong economic bloc.
A joint statement issued said the EU side welcomed the priorities of the Pakistani government, focusing on poverty alleviation, investment in human capital, good governance and the rule of law.
The Pakistan side invited the EU side to take benefit of the improved security situation as an opportunity to enhance trade and investment, and people to people contact, including tourism.
Both the sides expressed a strong political commitment towards the mutually beneficial GSP Plus preferential trade regime provided by the EU and to utilise it to its full potential.
Federica Mogherini said Pakistan’s exports to the EU member states had been doubled since 2013 thanks to the GSP plus status is given to Islamabad. She hailed Pakistan’s progress towards democratic stability and the reforms agenda of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led government.
“We had very fruitful negotiations on a variety of topics. Our cooperation is very important for both parties, as evident by the fact that Pakistan-EU trade has doubled over recent years thanks to the preferential access agreement,” said Mogherini.
However, she noted that the GSP plus status is linked to Pakistan implementing certain international conventions on human rights, freedom of expression, women rights and other issues.
The two sides reaffirmed their resolve for the promotion and protection of human rights and shared their perspectives on issues related to freedom of religion or belief and the role of civil society. Pakistan and the EU agreed on the importance of further promoting inter-faith harmony.
The foreign minister briefed the visiting EU top diplomat about the steps Pakistan has taken to implement the guidelines of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Qureshi said Pakistan had drawn up a National Action Plan (NAP) to eliminate all forms of terrorism and extremism from the country.
The EU foreign policy chief appreciated Pakistan’s anti-terror measures and hoped that the ongoing crackdown on militant and terrorist groups would be effective.
The two sides besides reviewing the bilateral relations discussed a host of regional and international issues including recent Pakistan-India tensions, the Afghan peace process, and rising Islamophobia.
Qureshi told the EU foreign policy chief about the restraint Pakistan had shown in the face of Indian aggression. The Foreign minister told reporters that Mogherini was also convinced that Pakistan and India need to resolve all outstanding issues through dialogue.
He said Pakistan had always remained open to engagement with India and that was the reason it immediately returned the captured pilot and sent back its high commissioner to New Delhi.
On Afghanistan, both sides agreed that the use of force is not a solution to the lingering war. The EU official endorsed Pakistan’s view that the 18-year long war in Afghanistan could only see an end through the peace process.
The minister said both the sides also held discussions on the international non-governmental organisations (INGOs). He pointed out that 75 INGOs are registered and working in Pakistan.
Pakistan seals strategic engagement plan with EU
Islamophobia a threat to the entire society
Speaking with reference to the recent terrorist attack in New Zealand, Qureshi expressed "great concern" over the "rising trend of Islamophobia" and said it should be a cause of worry for the EU as well since the bloc houses a sizeable number of Muslims.
Mogherini acknowledged that Islamophobia is a threat to the entire society.
"The strength of our societies lies in our diversity, and whoever attacks the diversity of our societies attacks the entire society not just one segment of it," she said.
"This is why for the European Union, institutions, for me personally, for all our member states, it is a priority to make sure that Islamophobia doesn't find any place in the European Union," she added.
The EU foreign policy chief also extended her condolences to families of the nine Pakistanis who were killed in the Christchurch massacre. Mogherini shared Qureshi’s perspective that New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had shown the way to other world leaders how to tackle such tragic incidents.