ISLAMABAD, Nov 2: Pakistan and the European Union are in advanced stages of negotiating a bilateral agreement on repatriation of illegal immigrants.

Knowledgeable diplomatic sources told Dawn Sunday that EU was “very keen” to sign a treaty for “readmission” to stem the tide of illegal immigrants to its constituent states.

These sources said Pakistan appeared “receptive to the idea” but was still “far from having confirmed its readiness to sign such a treaty”.

Sources in the ministry of foreign affairs confirmed that Pakistan was engaged in discussions over a repatriation treaty with the European Union. Pakistan has been offered economic concessions in return for its assistance on illegal immigration in member states.

EU officials insist that such an agreement would spare Pakistani citizens the harassment at the hands of EU immigration authorities and, more importantly, discourage the racket of illegal immigrants.

The purpose of the “readmission” agreement would be to introduce an obligation on Pakistan to automatically readmit its nationals and stateless people coming from or having lived in Pakistan.

Legal experts believe such an agreement would expedite deportation of illegal immigrants and reduce the transaction cost for the EU members.

At present Pakistan does not have a repatriation agreement with any country, but may well be open to the possibility, to improve ties with the European Union.

The Pakistan-European Union dialogue that had slowed down as a consequence of October 1999 military coup is even otherwise gaining momentum with the revival of high-level official contacts between the two sides.

Interaction at various levels has intensified in recent months with signals from Brussels for the need of a sustained process of consultations, particularly at the higher level.

The arrival of the European Union Troika delegation and the European Parliamentary delegation here last month were the first signs of the re-activation of high-level contacts. The EU troika during talks with foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri and other senior officials had conveyed to Pakistan that the current level of exchange between the two capitals was not sufficient, sources said.

In the EU there are three tiers of consultations, ministerial, deputy ministerial and director. Pakistan had director-level consultations in June, deputy ministerial level in October and now Pakistan’s foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri will be heading to Brussels on Wednesday for further consultations with the EU officials including the Commissioner on External Affairs, Chris Patten and High Representative on Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana.

Meanwhile, Pakistan is hoping that after Ireland assumes the EU Presidency in January, a ministerial level delegation from Brussels will visit Pakistan to maintain the momentum for a steady progress.

While the EU is keen to constructively engage with Pakistan and the latter is equally eager to upgrade contacts, there is concern in the official circles about the “obstructionist” role that the opposition may play. This concern accrues from recent attempts by the opposition to block Pakistan’s re-entry to Commonwealth.

Democracy, human rights, non-proliferation and war on terrorism have been the European Union’s key concerns vis-a-vis Pakistan.

A delegation of the European Parliament came here last month to do a ‘ground check’ on how the new democratic setup was functioning and whether it was a good time for the EU to go ahead and engage with Pakistan. To gauge the progress the delegation met government representatives and parliamentarians belonging to the opposition parties.

The EU is extremely important for Pakistan because collectively it is a force to be reckoned with. It remains the biggest trading partner as well as the biggest source of economic and technical assistance to Pakistan. Latest figures show that one-thirds of Pakistan’s total exports go to EU member countries. From Pakistan’s perspective trade and aid are both important. Islamabad believes re-activation of dialogue with Brussels

can help raise access of Pakistani exports to EU markets and enhance technical and economic assistance to Pakistan.

The EU clout has increased since its adoption of the Euro, the single common currency. Next year 10 new member states will be inducted to the 15-member bloc, raising its strength to 25. This assumes special significance for Pakistan from the commercial standpoint given that all the EU members follow a common trade policy.

For EU Pakistan is also an important country because of its human potential, geographical location and market. Pakistan remains a good transit point to Afghanistan. Also, Pakistan is helping in the reconstruction in Afghanistan for which EU has given substantial humanitarian and economic aid. EU realizes that Pakistan is key to restoring peace and stability in the war-ravaged nation where NATO has now also deployed its forces.

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