KARACHI: “In my several years as a diplomat in Pakistan, I have found the citizens here to be very passionate people; it is very essential for this passion to be harnessed and their willingness to do things put to good use,” said Ambassador of Belgium Frédéric Verheyden on Tuesday at a local hotel where he shared his personal impressions of his years in Pakistan, and offered an outsider’s perspective about the country and the many paradoxes it presents.
“It is my fifth visit to Karachi and I feel confident about speaking about the country having accumulated years of experience in the region. Pakistan is a society that is divided and there is a need to identify the pressing challenges it is faced with and work together to address them. I agree with Prime Minister Imran Khan that one of the country’s biggest assets is its youth, which is correct provided the right investments on health and education are made.”
The talk by Mr Verheyden was organised by the English Speaking Union of Pakistan which was founded in 1961 to develop friendship and goodwill between the English-speaking people of Pakistan and other countries.
Mr Verheyden gave a candid perspective of what he had observed so far in his stay in Pakistan.
Highlighting different challenges in particular with regards to scarcity of resources, disrupted water supply, water safety, energy security among others, he explained that all these have a direct bearing on the security environment of the country.
“When I speak to the older generation, I realise there is a lot of nostalgia prevalent among them about the good old days when public services were efficient, clean water was available, when public education was doing well. This raises the question of whether the trend in Pakistan of privatising large aspects of daily life such as security, education and health is sustainable.”
There is a security paradox too, according to Mr Verheyden. “I have served in a number of countries and have observed that with the exception of a few, I have never witnessed a culture where security consciousness was as high as is in Pakistan. With regards to the control of information, readiness of the armed forces, importance of the intelligence community, these are all national priorities.”
Mr Verheyden also shared that he has been closely following the interesting developments in the country of the Supreme Court and would be observing in the future if they are followed up by concrete measures. “The reason why this assignment to Pakistan is so exciting and never boring is because things here are difficult to decipher and constantly change. Political and other developments are very frequent and hard to read at times. One example is the negotiation and deals made between the state and certain groups which definitely are good for security but what are the implications in the longer term?”
There is a paradox related to the international image of Pakistan too, said Mr Verheyden. “The citizens are aware of the negative image promoted and so always go the extra mile to make foreigners feel comfortable. The paradox is that when you are dealing with the officialdom here things can become very tricky and difficult.”
Mr Verheyden also spoke about Belgium. Despite being a small country that became independent in 1830, located in Western Europe, due to the presence of the European Union [in Brussels] there are a lot of lobbies and related groups present, he explained.
“In economic terms we have a high level of GDP per capita and rely heavily on exports as they are vital to the health of our economy.”
Belgium, he informed the audience, was also elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council for the next two years.
Published in Dawn, November 7th, 2018