THE European Parliament’s resolution calling for a review of the EU’s trade relations with Pakistan is deeply unsettling. Though not formally binding, the resolution was passed by an overwhelming number of MEPs and can prompt action from the council of ministers. It is also a reminder of the potential consequences of a ‘trade boycott’ of European goods — one of the demands of the TLP as it protested against the French ambassador last month.
The resolution was passed just weeks after the government and the TLP brokered an agreement to end a weeklong protest by the banned group that had paralysed cities — a protest that had made international headlines as the religio-political organisation led a massive anti-France protest.
Though the European resolution notes anti-French sentiment in the country, its major call is to review the preferential trade status granted to Pakistan since 2014 because of the country’s blasphemy laws and their alleged misuse. In fact, such misuse is very much a reality; far too many people have been falsely accused and incarcerated for years pending a trial and, in some ghastly cases, have been victims of vigilante violence. But while these issues very much stand, limiting trade with Pakistan will not resolve them. In fact, removing Pakistan — for whom the European bloc is its most important trade partner — from the list of GSP-Plus countries would hurt our economy and in turn the people. The prime minister raised this very point when he attempted to persuade the TLP to end their protest and said that ending diplomatic relations with Europe would badly hurt Pakistan’s exports. Though the EU is right in saying that it is in Pakistan’s own interest to review laws, protect minorities and promote tolerance, its parliament’s message to penalise the country hardly addresses the problem.
The key here is engagement — both internal and external. If this is the sentiment that has been expressed by lawmakers in Europe, our government must view it practically. The Foreign Office might have rejected the criticism of Pakistan’s judicial system and laws, but it would do well to highlight Pakistan’s commitment to ending terror financing under FATF obligations, and move to address the issues of religious intolerance. Stronger punishment and quick justice for those who take the law into their own hands is also key. And it should not take a threat from the EU for Pakistan to see how the blasphemy law is being misused.
Published in Dawn, May 2nd, 2021