EDITORIAL: Window dressing days are over

European Union

Catherine Ashton, European Union High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy is visiting Pakistan for the first ever strategic dialogue between the EU and Pakistan.

In her meetings with government officials she reiterated the desire of the EU to have close ties with Pakistan. On the economic front the EU is ready to concede what Pakistan desires, at least on paper. Autonomous Trade Preferences will be resolved shortly and by 2014 GSP+ preferences will be granted to Pakistan. In the upcoming trialogue meeting between the European Council, European Commission and European Parliament in Brussels, the export ceiling for Pakistan will be revised upwards. The chances of a free trade agreement are also positive. However, now that the mode of dialogue between the two nations has transformed form mere trade to a strategic partnership, the new relationship calls for new terms of business. In her one-to-one meeting with the prime minister, Ashton clearly told Gilani that unless Pakistan improves governance and the human and labour rights environment, no progress in the relations between the EU and Pakistan would be possible. She stressed that democracy without the rule of law, accountability and protection of human lives has little value.

To bring more clarity to what the EU means by talk of initiating a new strategic relationship with Pakistan, Ashton said that politics and security would now be discussed more frequently between them. She described the relationship as that of a policy partner. This upgraded engagement brings counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation into focus. With these new terms of engagement, Pakistan is back to square one with the EU.  Our seeming indifference to human rights will end up making Pakistan pay. The situation of human rights is getting worse in Pakistan with each passing day. The entire country is engulfed in target killings, disappearances, abduction for ransom, honour killings and political victimisation. The informal economy has outpaced the real one owing to a difficult business environment and weak labour laws. Finding a gun, hand grenade or rocket launcher is easier than finding a job. No matter how loud Pakistan cries about its sacrifices in the war on terror, unless there is proof that Pakistan has learnt the lessons and is doing all in its capacity to turn the human rights situation round, favours and concessions from the EU are unlikely. The stress on human rights by the EU has its parallel in the demands the US has been making on Pakistan to change its policy and stop supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s insistence on continuing with its dual policy for some later victory could prove dangerous for us.  Ashton’s visit is a reminder to Pakistan that the days of ‘window dressing’ are over. In order to bring its economy out of shambles, Pakistan has to make real progress. It cannot have its cake and eat it too. Our economic progress is closely tied with our relations with the US. In the endgame in Afghanistan, the role of Pakistan is required to be explicit and open. In a fiscally delinquent Pakistan, this is a critical demand. On the face of it, in its plan to take the export target with the EU to 8 billion Euros from 4.6 billion, Pakistan is indeed trying to make things work for its people. Such efforts have been made previously without lending any real benefit to the ordinary person. It is this ordinary person that Ashton is referring to and unless our policies are tailored to benefit the masses, the prime minister will fail to impress Ashton or her likes with BISP, constitutional amendments or the NFC Award. * -Dailytimes