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Ambassador Lecture on “EU-Pakistan Relations: Challenges and Opportunities”

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Post-event Report

Ambassador Lecture


EU-Pakistan Relations: Challenges and Opportunities


Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) held first of its “Ambassador Lecture Series” on Wednesday 4, July 2018 at IPRI Conference Hall, Islamabad. European Union’s Ambassador, H.E. Jean-Francois Cautain was invited as the first ever guest speaker to talk on the topic of “EU-Pakistan Relations: Challenges and Opportunities.” Ambassador Jean-François Cautain holds extensive work experience in the field of EU’s external relations. In his prestigious experience, he has been serving within EU institutions since 2001. In November 2011, he was appointed as the first resident European Union (EU) Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia. He left Cambodia in summer 2015 after being appointed as Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

The debate on Pakistan and EU relations has gained pivotal importance, primarily because of the economic and political importance of EU as a regional organization, and notably because of its role due to the prominent economic power houses in the regional body such as Germany, France, Italy and Spain. Given this importance of EU, Pakistan and EU have remained in bilateral engagement for long. The two sides undertook a five-year engagement plan in 2012, which successfully culminated in 2017. EU and Pakistan have now agreed to further this cooperation under a “Strategic Five-Year Engagement Plan” with the new government in Pakistan. Under the previous and ongoing engagement, both sides plan to further cooperation and gains in areas of governance, democracy, trade, and development cooperation. Moreover, EU’s extension and provision of Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) Plus status to Pakistan is instrumental in providing Pakistan’s business community access to European markets and business clientage.

Ambassador (R) Abdul Basit, President, IPRI delivered the welcome address. During his address, he welcomed and expressed his gratitude to EU Ambassador Jean-Francois Cautain for his presence, Ambassador Basit also informed the audience about the beginning of the new lecture series under the “Ambassador Lecture Series.” He said that the EU’s relationship with Pakistan was very important, not only politically but also economically. “Under the 2012 Five-Year Engagement Plan”, this relationship has moved from strength-to-strength, with GSP Plus incentives helping Pakistan build its capacity in order to become a more effective and competitive partner in international commerce. “The EU will continue to be important for Pakistan despite UK’s exit since it has been a trailblazing organization, creating new templates for regional integration and connectivity. We, in Pakistan can learn from the EU, especially in the context of CPEC, to understand how the incentive of regional economic integration can help resolve bilateral political disputes, eventually paving the way for viable cooperative, intra-regional and inter-regional structures”, he said. Ambassador Abdul Basit then requested his guest Ambassador Jean-Francois Cautain for delivering his talk on the topic. The main salient points of his talk are as follows.

Ambassador Jean-Francois Cautain began his discussion by highlighting the primary objective of EU as a regional body, which is to maintain peace in the integrated region of Europe and its states. While alluding to some of the basics on EU, he said, that the initiative of EU started as an economic project. At present the EU has transcended cooperation in trade and economics alone between member states. Emphasizing the ongoing international policy, he highlighted the role of EU’s global strategy, which has identified five important elements. The first and the most important of which is the security of the EU and the citizens of the region. This policy object will require cooperation with other states outside the region to maintain and ensure the security of the bloc. Second element is the state resilience in neighborhood of EU, there are some states that are struggling and how the region can support them to overcome crises imminent in form of economic, climatic, social, and political. Third, how EU can respond in an integrated manner to a crisis faced collectively by the region, or particularly other regions, by working with member states on particular strengths. Fourth, promoting and supporting regional blocs outside the EU, to this end, the EU helps in sharing the best practices in helping regions and regional organizations becoming more integrated. The fifth and the last element of the strategy is promotion of the integrated governance to help achieve an international order.

Ambassador Jean-Francois Cautain then centered the focus of his talk on EU’s bilateral relationship with Pakistan. He began his discussion on talk by alluding to the role of Ambassador Basit as being one of the articles of the strategic dialogue between the region and Pakistan, and five-year engagement plans between the two sides. He said that the two sides were working to develop the next strategic engagement plan, not only on issues of bilateral nature but also issues of global order. He also said that this time was the best opportunity to engage and undertake the “strategic engagement plan” between Pakistan and EU. This will be incumbent on the newly elected government to prioritize this undertaking with the EU.

Alluding to the GSP plus status and on issue of compliance particularly on human rights issues, which serves as a thorny factor between the two sides, Ambassador Cautain said that there were 27 conventions conditioned to human and labor rights which need to be complied by Pakistan for sustaining this cooperation. There are two review reports that came out in 2016 and 2018, and the assessment highlights that continued cooperation is in support of the region. He also pointed that the convention with respect to human and labor rights were consistent with the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan 1973. The GSP plus status has helped Pakistan in putting up mechanisms for the implementation and compliance of the 27 conventions. He stressed on the need to make progress with Pakistan on the next “strategic engagement plan”, particularly on the security issues. He also said that EU acknowledges the efforts and sacrifices made by Pakistan, however, the two regions can cooperate with each other for cooperation at the global level. We in the EU have grappled with the challenge of terrorism in the past as well; its form in the current stage has morphed. In Europe, threats of Daesh’s penetration of the educational institutes and in countering extremism, the two sides can share bilateral best practices with each other to make progress in this area.

Another area of cooperation will be support for education, governance, and development in Pakistan. Ambassador Jean-Francois Cautain said that Pakistan was the second largest recipient of cooperation from EU in Asia followed by Afghanistan. He said another important element was the connectivity. In backdrop of regional integration, not only physical infrastructure was important but also in terms of regional trade, this was also something that EU will need to work on. As member states of EU, it will be important for us to have access to information which in its current form exists in piecemeal approach, however, to undertake foreign direct investments (FDI) in Pakistan, it will be more important that more information be shared with the region to encourage FDI. However, connectivity cannot happen until there is domestic and regional stability. There are also states in the EU that are interested in Pakistan’s progress and engagement with Afghanistan. He said that on Pakistan’s eastern front, the situation remained much more difficult. They are waiting for the next elected government as to what policy it will adopt towards India. He gave his personal observation as a citizen of France and said that for centuries, French have fought with their neighbors particularly Germany, however, at present they have come to cooperate and the confidence the cooperation has generated is unparalleled. However, it is possible that the same can happen between Pakistan and India, when it could happen between Germany and France.


Question and Answer Session:

 After the talk, H.E. Jean-Francois Cautain responded to the following different questions:-

Question: How EU states can be instrumental in nudging India and Pakistan to revive, re-engage bilateral talks between the two countries, particularly on the dispute of Jammu and Kashmir?

Answer: Ambassador Jean Francois Cautain said that EU didn’t approach relationship with India and Pakistan as a zero-sum game. He said that being a strategic partner with India didn’t imply that the EU could not have strong relationship with Pakistan. However, on engaging India and Pakistan and particularly factoring in the dispute of Jammu and Kashmir, he stressed it was important to know what the desired goal was, particularly when diplomacy was the instrument of choice. He said EU believed in conveying concerns through bilateral engagements to India and Pakistan respectively. And he said that EU would continue to do its best despite the lack of access, given by India and Pakistan to their respective sides of the Jammu and Kashmir under their control.

Question: Ambassador (R) Ali Sarwar Naqvi, Executive Director, Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS), Islamabad said that the EU region had evolved in an effective regional body, he asked, what was EU’s position on nuclear powered generation, given the difference that existed between some of the member states?

Answer: There is no ban at the European level, particularly on the nuclear power generation. There is no policy in particular discouraging nuclear power generation. However, he said that the mood among the public in the EU was evolving. However, he said that there was some segment of the public in the region that wanted to discontinue reliance on nuclear power generation. To this end, Germany in particular will be cutting down Green-house Gas (GHG) emissions by 40 percent by 2020. However, decision to move to alternative and clean energy sources is a proposal under discussion in some member countries.

Question: Mr. Raza Khan, Reporter, Pakistan Television Network, asked Ambassador Jean-Francois Cautain, on EU’s silence on the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, while the EU stressed compliance of 27 conventions, particularly the issue of capital punishment?

Answer: The EU doesn’t compel Pakistan to terminate the capital punishment in entirety, however, EU is of the view that it should be applied as a punishment in heinous crimes only. EU respects Pakistan’s sovereignty, however, EU will continue to encourage Pakistan due to its commitment after ratification of the 27 conventions.

Question: Mr. Atle Hetland, senior Norwegian social scientist, asked a three-part question. Firstly, he asked if EU has any prospects to expand its regional bloc. Secondly; if there could be more sub-regional units in the bloc or there could be smaller units for cooperation within the larger region itself, thirdly; he enquired on the issue of illegal migrants and refugees in Pakistan and what steps were being taken to address it?

Answer: The recent state to join the EU was from the Balkan region, although it will take some more years for the region to become stable, but more integration of the states can be undertaken for the region. What is important to remember is that European member states are trying to promote mechanisms under EU treaty, which allows member states to come together on issues of common interest under EU umbrella. On question of migration and refugees, Ambassador Cautain said EU appreciated Pakistan’s efforts and hospitality in accommodating the Afghan refugees for over decades, however, as for repatriation of the Afghan refugees were concerned EU was working with Pakistan to address some of the issues concerning it.

Moreover, Ambassador Cautain said that at present the EU was not under any crisis on the issue of illegal migrants, however, it was still high on the political agenda. The issue is being misconstrued by some elements that are promoting xenophobic ideas in their respective countries, it also poses a serious challenge to the integration of the EU. Moreover, on the particular issue there is an agreement between Pakistan and EU, which facilitates return of illegal immigrants to Pakistan on a bi-annual basis. EU gives significant importance to this issue as illegal migration is the second largest illicit business in the world after drugs.

Question: What is the status of dialogue with Turkey on its integration in the EU, and on the issue of annexation of Crimea by Russia, and if you could elaborate on policy framework the EU is developing on the camps or retaining facilities in the African countries for the refugees or returning immigrants, has there been any headway on this?

Answer: It’s hard to give any remarks on Turkey, however, it is a democratic country, there is still a strong relationship on trade since 80 percent of the trade of Turkey is with European states. Migration is another important concern between Turkey and EU, given the increase in the number of Turkish migrants to other European countries. On the question of Russia, EU is cooperating with Russia on different issues, including Iranian nuclear deal, which also impacts Pakistan’s immediate neighbor. Ambassador Cautain also added that we were also cooperating with Russia on conflict in Afghanistan, particularly the negative spillover of terrorism to the European region. Moreover, Russia has clearly crossed a redline in certain areas, however, we cannot entertain such violations, such as in the case of Crimea, yet, in the long run, we wish to see Russia become more democratic and a stable country.

Question: Mr. Kamal Shah, former Interior Secretary, said that Pakistani people aspire to have cordial relations with EU. The question people ask here is that if EU is concerned with violations of human rights outside its own region, if so, then does it apply to the violations taking place in Indian-occupied Kashmir. Then, the question is, what is the contribution of EU to compel India to stop violations of human rights in Indian-held Kashmir? How can Pakistan wait, it has waited for more than 38 years, on issue of Afghan refugees? What support can Pakistan receive from EU to encourage Afghanistan in accepting their people back?

Answer: EU is having a dialogue with India on violations of human rights in the Jammu and Kashmir and for the time-being, EU’s commission is working to address this issue before India. There is also need for some more time to address this issue. On the questions of the Afghan refugees, we have observed that the support has been decreasing from Pakistan on refugees, because of its own genuine security stakes. However, we in the EU will continue to engage with Pakistan to support it in addressing this issue. This issue is also conditioned to stability of Afghanistan, the key is to stabilize Pakistan and Afghanistan, in order to solve the Afghan conflict and ensure the safe return of Afghan refugees. One of the keys in addressing the Afghan conflict is Pakistan. And in Pakistan, we have second and third generation of Afghan refugees that have integrated in Pakistan and have become familiarized with the Pakistani culture, thus it is also hard akin to returning to an alien country for them.

Question: How could EU help Pakistan with material support, particularly after Brexit to address the issue of Afghan refugees?

Answer: EU is in middle of negotiation with Britain, particularly with its views on determination of future relationship with EU. We are with 27-member states, despite having losing some of the capacities we still retain a significant strength of ours, as for the foreign policy cooperation on Eurasia, I don’t think there will be significant shift on how we will be dealing with the array of issues related to Afghanistan, particularly with respect to its stability. And it is also important to reiterate here that EU is one of the largest contributors of aid to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Question: In backdrop of the threat from Islamic State (IS) fighters returning to Europe from Syria and Iraq, what are some of the measures being taken by EU to de-radicalize the youth in Europe?

Answer: EU has introduced a host of interventions to address the issue of radicalization and particularly the risk of threat from violent extremist. Some of the interventions undertaken include introduction of radicalization awareness network at the EU level, which consists of practitioners, law enforcement members, psychologists, and activists, that share best practices on de-radicalization. On this area, EU would like to engage with Pakistan in addressing this issue by utilizing Pakistan’s experience. It was impressive to see the steps Pakistan has taken in Swat and former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) areas under Sabaon initiative in rehabilitating individuals, which have suffered with radicalization during TTP’s reign of terror.

Question: Since Pakistan has been facing a grave energy challenge, what EU can do to help or facilitate Pakistan in overcoming the crisis?

Answer: Pakistan has asked for cooperation on this issue, the first is energy efficiency and energy conversation, we are trying to encourage cooperation on this area, however, there is need for more progress in this area. There is immense scope for European cooperation, given European experience, and expertise of its corporations to help in area of alternative energy. Therefore, this potential area of cooperation remains open to be explored by Pakistan and EU. 

Major Recommendations: 

  • Since there is a vibrant imperative for greater understanding between the EU and Pakistan on a range of security concerns, therefore, Pakistan and EU need to work together to combat terrorism, both within and outside their borders for global peace and security.
  • EU’s model of economic integration is also a unique opportunity for Pakistan to support this operational engagement. Pakistan and EU can research together the technologies of tomorrow in the field of defence and develop together their defence capabilities.
  • Pakistan should follow EU’s crisis management structures including the EU military staff, planning and conducting its military operations, and the EU military committee. It would provide Pakistan, its government and citizens, with better knowledge of this particular dimension of the EU engagement for peace and stability.
  • Pakistan should learn from EU’s model to strengthen the resilience of states within and outside its borders by supporting good governance and accountable institutions.
  • Pakistan and EU should join hands in strengthening the internal and external issues such as counter terrorism, countering violent extremism, climate change, and cyber security collectively.
  • Pakistan should augment its efforts in terms of trade enhancement after the GSP Plus facility, and should make it a win-win partnership. To that end, a “New Engagement Plan” to further deepen relations between Pakistan and Europe was need of the hour. Pakistan-EU Engagement Plan will be an opportunity for both sides to benefit from multifaceted cooperation ranging from trade to security to numerous other issues, including terrorism.
  • EU is key trading partners of Pakistan owing to the largest share of its global exports, but to make this partnership more beneficial, EU member countries should invest in ventures like the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). On Pakistan’s part, it should bring greater clarity and more information about CPEC’s long-term vision as well as should enhance its efforts to achieve regional stability.
  • Peace in Afghanistan is a pre-requisite for smooth repatriation of Afghan refugees. The issue of third-generation Afghans born and raised in Pakistan, however, remains a complex matter that needs to be taken care of by the international community.
  • Pakistan and India should follow the example of Germany and France to bring about rapprochement for peace and stability in the region.
  • Strategic dialogue and five-year engagement plans between Pakistan and the EU is the best opportunity to resolve issues of bilateral nature as well as the issues of global order.
  • EU states can be instrumental in nudging India and Pakistan to engage in bilateral talks with each other, because, EU doesn’t approach relationship with India and Pakistan as a zero-sum game. However, on engaging relationship between India and Pakistan, and particularly factoring in the dispute of Jammu and Kashmir, it is important to know what actually is the goal that has to be achieved.
  • EU should not compel Pakistan to terminate the capital punishment in entirety; however, EU is of the view that it should be applied as a punishment in heinous crimes only.
  • In order to encourage FDI in Pakistan, particularly in projects being covered under the CPEC, information sharing and investment across different key areas should be enhanced between Pakistan and EU.
  • EU should augment its efforts for having a dialogue with India on violations of human rights in the Jammu and Kashmir.
  • There is also a need for some more time to address the issue of refugees. EU should continue to engage with Pakistan to support it in addressing this issue. This issue is also conditioned to stability in Afghanistan; the key is to stabilize the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan, in order to solve the Afghan conflict.
  • Pakistan and EU should work on issues, such as energy efficiency and energy conversation. There is immense scope for European cooperation, given European experience, and expertise of information technology corporations to help in area of alternative energy.
  • On global strategy, the EU and the citizens of the region require cooperation with other states outside the region to maintain and ensure the security of the EU.
  • State resilience in neighborhood of EU as well as Pakistan is a pre-requisite to overcome crises imminent in form of economic, climatic, social, and political domains.
  • EU and Pakistan can respond in an integrated manner to any crisis by working with member states on their areas of strengths. EU and Pakistan can cooperate in promoting and supporting regional blocs outside the EU by sharing the best practices in helping regions becoming more integrated.

Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the speakers and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.

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IPRI is one of the oldest non-partisan think-tanks on all facets of National Security including international relations & law, strategic studies, governance & public policy and economic security in Pakistan. Established in 1999, IPRI is affiliated with the National Security Division (NSD), Government of Pakistan.


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