Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told European Union lawmakers on Wednesday that no armed or pressure group would be allowed to challenge and dictate government policy and that the government had taken firm action against radical groups.
Virtually addressing the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, the foreign minister said: "We have firmly moved against radical groups after the recent protests. I can assure you that no armed or pressure group is being allowed to challenge the writ of the state and dictate government policy."
Qureshi said that the world was witnessing a rise in Islamophobia thus there was a need to show "common resolve" to fight intolerance and incitement to violence on the basis of religion or belief.
He expressed disappointment at the adoption of the resolution by the European Parliament on blasphemy laws in Pakistan and said the discourse on the issue had reflected a “lack of understanding of blasphemy laws and associated religious sensitivities in Pakistan and in the wider Muslim world”.
Qureshi stressed on the need to appreciate religious sentiments related to the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) and religious symbols, adding that while Pakistan valued freedom of expression, it should not be used to hurt religious feelings.
"Wilful provocations and incitement to hate and violence must not be allowed and be universally outlawed.
"Our government has taken concrete steps to deescalate the situation arising from the publication of hurtful sketches and desecration of the Holy Quran in Europe," said FM Qureshi.
The European Parliament had earlier adopted a resolution calling for a review of the GSP+ status granted to Pakistan in view of an "alarming" increase in the use of blasphemy accusations in the country as well as the rising number of online and offline attacks on journalists and civil society organisations
The resolution had called on the Government of Pakistan to "unequivocally condemn" incitement to violence and discrimination against religious minorities in the country.
'Policy of restraint and peaceful coexistence'
The foreign minister added that geopolitical fault lines were being revived and getting deeper and "mutual trust and respect among states is eroding."
"Existing conflicts are getting complex, new disputes are emerging, threats from terrorism are ever evolving and challenges emanating from hybrid and cyber threats are reshaping the security paradigm across the world. Misinformation and fake news are being spread as tools of state craft."
Qureshi said Pakistan believed in the policy of "restraint and peaceful coexistence" thus its regional perspective was shaped and guided by the principles of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah: a foreign policy based on friendliness and goodwill towards all the nations of the world.
"Pakistan is well poised to assume an even greater role as a responsible and responsive member of the comity of nations.
"We want to anchor our international engagement in economic cooperation and the link between peace and development. Our focus is shifting from geopolitics to geo-economics," emphasised the foreign minister.
He said Pakistan was focused on anchoring its economic security on the following principles:
- Connectivity by promoting trade, transit and energy flows among Central, South Asia and the Middle East
- Providing economic basis as a development strategy
- Peace within our borders and beyond
"Peace and stability in Afghanistan are paramount in realising our vision of regional economic integration and transregional connectivity," Qureshi said on the importance of the Afghan peace process for Pakistan's own goals.
He added that Pakistan had always supported a negotiated political settlement in Afghanistan through an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process instead of a military solution.
"Pakistan and the European Union have a common interest in bring peace and stability to Afghanistan. As a shared responsibility, Pakistan will continue to play a role in facilitating the Afghan peace process."
The foreign minister termed the current peace process a "historic opportunity" and cautioned vigilance against elements which would seek to destabilise peace and security.
He added that continued violence in Afghanistan remained a major concern and could lead to a rise in drug production and exodus of Afghans from the country after withdrawal of US and Nato forces.
"All parties to the conflict, including the Taliban, must agree on reduction in violence leading to a comprehensive ceasefire."
Recognising the EU's efforts and continued role in Afghanistan post-withdrawal to help in its reconstruction and development, Qureshi emphasised: "Pakistan-EU cooperation would be important in preserving the political, economic and social gains of past two decades, as well as rehabilitation of the Afghan refugees."
Qureshi also addressed Pakistan's broader regional aspirations and said it was "firmly committed to improving relations with all its neighbours, including India".
"Unfortunately, our overtures for peace were not reciprocated by India. Instead, it unilaterally and illegally moved to change the status of Jammu and Kashmir, a UN recognised disputed territory, and vitiated the environment for dialogue. The onus is now on India to create an enabling environment."
FM Qureshi stressed on the need for a solution to the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, calling it the "single biggest obstacle" for durable and lasting peace in South Asia.
"The region’s strategic stability is threatened by the growing conventional asymmetry between Pakistan and India; pursuit of discriminatory approaches by certain states to supply advanced military hardware and sensitive technologies; and adoption of offensive force postures and doctrines by India vitiate the atmosphere," said the foreign minister, further urging EU authorities to take note of the EU DisinfoLab report which had unearthed a massive misinformation campaign by India against Pakistan.
"The EU is a traditional friend and a major economic partner of Pakistan. Our cooperation is based on shared values of democracy, pluralism, mutual understanding and respect," said FM Qureshi, adding that Pakistan highly valued its relationship with the EU and its member states.
"We are satisfied that our relationship is moving steadily in a positive direction in all spheres of cooperation. We are keen to further deepen our partnership with the EU [...] We continue to remain engaged to further expand our multidimensional partnership.
"It is also our earnest desire to strengthen inter-parliamentary linkages. I hope that these ties would contribute to further deepening of the Pakistan-EU friendship," said the foreign minister.
Qureshi also expressed appreciation for the EU's efforts and contributions against the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly the assistance provided to Pakistan in tackling the pandemic. "It is extremely important that we continue our cooperation on this vital issue as we all will be safe, when everyone is safe."
Commenting on the EU and Pakistan's "multifaceted relationship", he said that trade was an important part of it and Pakistan had taken important reforms to capitalise on it and attract foreign direct investment. He also mentioned other measures and initiatives such as opening and deregulating markets and boosting the IT sector which he said would serve to enhance investment and cooperation between EU member states and Pakistan.
"We remain committed and closely engaged with the European Commission and the European External Action Service for the effective implementation of the GSP+ related twenty-seven international conventions," said FM Qureshi as he explained steps taken by the government to ensure implementation of various conventions.
He said there was "enormous potential" in further expanding the partnership to diverse fields and outlined the following key areas for future cooperation:
- Trade and Investment
- Climate Change and Sustainable Development
- Migration and mobility
- Afghan peace process: preserving political, economic and social gains of the past two decades
- Reconstruction of Afghanistan post withdrawal
- Science and Technology
- Education and Culture
- Parliamentary exchanges and people to people contacts
- Joint Efforts to promote inter-faith harmony and tolerance
"Pakistan remains ready to play its part for positive and productive partnership with the EU," said FM Qureshi and invited the foreign affairs committee and its chair to visit Pakistan “where a warm welcome awaits”.