Pakistan Reader# 258, 15 December 2021
On 7 December, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Vice President Josep Borrel co-chaired the 6th round of Pakistan-EU Strategic Dialogue in Brussels. A joint communique issued after the dialogue stated that the two sides discussed the ongoing cooperation between Pakistan and the EU based on the Strategic Engagement Plan (SEP) and agreed to further enhance EU-Pakistan mutual engagement, specifically on security and regional cooperation. Additionally, they decided to hold the first meeting of the new EU-Pakistan security dialogue with sub-groups on non-proliferation and disarmament and counter-terrorism in 2022.
During the meeting, the EU welcomed the progress made by Pakistan in implementing the action plans of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and acknowledged the adoption of the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Bill by parliament. Additionally, FM Qureshi expressed concerns at the rising trends of Islamophobic acts, xenophobia and religious intolerance in the world, urging for a common resolve to counter the issues, while, VP Borrel raised concerns over the death penalty and the misuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. The two sides also discussed matters related to the GSP+ and the implementation of 27 international conventions on human rights, labour rights, protection of the environment and good governance.
This meeting was the first in-person session of the strategic dialogue since the signing of the SEP and was followed by the seventh round of Pakistan-EU Political Dialogue, which was held virtually by Pakistani Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood and the EU Deputy Secretary-General Enrique Mora on 3 December 2021.
During his visit, he also met with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg with whom he discussed the situation in Afghanistan and other matters related to mutual interest including the situation in the region.
Three takeaways from FM Qureshi’s visit and the dialogues
First, the focus on broadening the existing Pakistan-EU Strategic Partnership. As Pakistan and the EU mark 60 years of friendship in 2022, the frequent and close engagements have been seen through these structured dialogues. Through the SEP both sides have affirmed their determination to strengthen cooperation in areas such as peace and security, migrations, human rights, sustainable development, education, science and technology and trade.
Second, the focus on security. During both meetings in December, the two sides emphasised on the matter of security largely. The outcome of which was the decision to have the EU-Pakistan Security Dialogue in early 2022. Additionally, the emphasis on combatting counter-terrorism, especially action against money laundering and terrorist financing along with Pakistan’s FATF situation.
Third, the focus beyond trade. The EU is the second-largest trading partner for Pakistan. Currently, 35 per cent of the country’s export goes to the EU, and the majority of the exports benefit from the EU’s General Preferential Scheme (GSP+). However, the recent engagement between Pakistan and the EU such as the strategic dialogue has highlighted the decision to move beyond trade and develop a broader focus. This was seen during the dialogues, where the emphasis was not limited to trade talks.
Pakistan-EU ties: Far from consolidation
Although Pakistan and the EU have been engaging more proactively in the recent past, the relation between the two has not yet reached an optimum level mainly due to the difference in their approaches and functioning. While the EU tries to adjust its approaches to the different governments in Pakistan, it has not been able to leverage its ideas into Pakistan with relations ending at economic ties and not moving anything political. Meanwhile, Pakistan has tried to tap into the relations with the EU, however, due to its internal fault lines and external restrictions it has not been able to fully benefit from the partnership. Thus, the Pakistan-EU although progressing is far from its true potential.
“Foreign Minister Qureshi begins visit to Belgium today,” Dawn, 6 December 2021
“EU hails Pakistan’s progress on FATF action plans,” Dawn, 9 December 2021
“Pakistan, EU reaffirm resolve to protect religious freedom,” The Express Tribune, 9 December 2021
“Pakistan-EU security dialogue next year,” Dawn, 5 December 2021
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“European Union and Pakistan hold 7th Political Dialogue, EEAS, 3 December 2021
“Terrorism, Islamophobia dominate EU-Pakistan strategic dialogue, South Asia Monitor, 7 November 2020
“EU-Pakistan Relations: The Challenge of Dealing with a Fragile State,” The Palgrave Handbook of EU-Asia Relations