On 25 June 2020, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, made a statement in parliament in which he described the former head of the terrorist group al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, as a ‘martyr’. Bin Laden was a UN designated terrorist and was responsible for several attacks in the USA, Europe and elsewhere in the world which have resulted in the deaths and injury of thousands of innocent victims. This astonishing statement was spoken by the Prime Minister of a country which benefits extensively from European generosity and prompted Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) of the Identity and Democracy Group (ID) to raise their concerns.
The European Union provides the Islamic Republic of Pakistan with substantial aid, alongside which Pakistan also benefits from the reduction of taxes on imports to the Union through the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP+).
Notwithstanding the above, Pakistan has been on the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey list since 2018 for non-compliance with recommendations on money laundering and the funding of terrorism.
On 9 July 2020, MEPs Julie Lechanteux, Dominique Bilde, Nicolas Bay, Gianantonio Da Re, Gilles Lebreton, André Rougé, Filip De Man, Annika Bruna, Virginie Joron, Elena Lizzi, Gilbert Collard, Bernhard Zimniok, Jean-François Jalkh, Jérôme Rivière and Markus Buchheit all raised a parliamentary question to the Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy asking about Pakistan’s future relationship with the European Union.
In light of the statement of Prime Minister Khan and Pakistan’s multiple violations of international conventions on human rights, labour rights, civil and political rights and gender equality rights, which have all been denounced on numerous occasions by the European Parliament and civil society, the parliamentarians asked “does the Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy intend to rediscuss relations with Pakistan and the financial aid it is granted?”
On 26 August 2020, Vice President Borrell formally responded to the MEPs question on behalf of the European Commission stating that “the European Union and Pakistan signed in June 2019 the EU-Pakistan Strategic Engagement Plan (SEP), a comprehensive political framework document, covering their bilateral relations, maintaining existing priorities of dialogue and cooperation and adding new fields of mutual interest”. He confirmed that “regional peace and security remain among the top joint priority areas” and that “in this spirit, the SEP establishes an EU-Pakistan Security Dialogue, a platform to address such matters in a wider sense while maintaining the established specific consultations on counter-terrorism, non-proliferation and disarmament”.
High Representative Borrell clearly underlined that “the EU also closely monitors Pakistan’s implementation of the Financial Action Task Force Action Plan and Pakistan’s status on the EU list of high-risk third countries having strategic deficiencies in their anti-money laundering and countering terrorist financing (AML/CTF) regime. He added that “regional peace, security and AML/CTF are standing agenda items of the EU-Pakistan Political Dialogue, the next session of which is tentatively planned for autumn 2020”.
High Representative/Vice President Borrell explained that “human and labour rights, fundamental freedoms and gender equality are cornerstones of EU-Pakistan bilateral relations and regular high-level political contacts, trade and development cooperation policies” and added that “in the framework of the GSP monitoring, the EU engages in regular dialogues with the Pakistani government over Pakistan progress to implement the 27 international conventions relevant to the GSP+”.
In closing, High Representative Borrell reassured the MEPs that “discussions on the programming exercise and country allocations under the next multiannual financial framework are ongoing and duly informed by security and human rights considerations”.
High Representative/Vice President Borrell likely offered little reassurance to the Members of the European Parliament. With a European multi-annual budget struggling to be funded or even determined in detail, it is essential that countries such as Pakistan, known to be funding terrorism and violating human and labour rights, are assessed before aid or trade are considered in the relationship.
Photo Credit : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osama_bin_Laden#/media/File:Osama_bin_Laden_portrait.jpg