KARACHI, Feb 17: Businessmen are disturbed by the demand of the leaders of religious parties on Thursday to boycott the products of European countries in protest against the publication of blasphemous caricatures in some European newspapers.

Their fear is of losing a four-billion-dollar export market which would immediately be grabbed by the Indians and Chinese. Hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis may be rendered jobless and there can be bigger hunger marches on Pakistan’s streets in future. The EU is one of the main donors for the relief and rehabilitation work of the Oct 8 earthquake in Kashmir and NWFP, with a commitment of over $96 million. According to latest reports, relief camps of the EU-based NGOs had suspended their relief and rehabilitation work.

Under a disaster preparedness programme of its humanitarian aid office (ECHO), the EU announced on Thursday a six-million-euro donation to the natural disaster-prone region of Asia that includes Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. The programme is third of its kind and aims at improving the response capacity of the local population in the region.

But fear of reprisals prevent these business leaders from offering, on the record, comments on the demand of the religious leaders made on Thursday at one of the big rallies on main road of Karachi. Earlier on February 11, Religious Affairs Minister Ejazul Haq too demanded “continuation of boycotting European products till there was an apology on the publication of blasphemous caricatures”.

Protest rallies taken out in various cities of the country during this week enjoy full moral and financial support of the traders as amply manifested in the banners hung in markets that carry protest slogans against Western countries. But the violence that erupted in Lahore and Peshawar and a few other places has frightened the businessmen who flourished and thrived during the last six years under the present government. They now fear destabilization of the political and economic order.

What needs to be conveyed to the people in Pakistan and other Muslims is that ultra conservative rightwing Christians in Europe are as full of venom as all religious bigots are. “All religious bigots derive a sadistic pleasure in hurting feelings of the people of other faiths”, a senior businessman said. The strategy should be to isolate these extreme right-wingers and solicit support of the sane, moderate and enlightened majority of the people in Denmark and other EU countries.

“And how should we forget that Europeans brought out big rallies against US and its allies’ attack on Iraq.” Only this week, an Australian television company exposed the excesses committed on Iraqi prisoners by the British soldiers. These footages have embarrassed the UK and the US.

Their complaint is that the foreign ministry in Islamabad and Pakistan’s missions in European capitals, particularly one at Copenhagen, should have taken up this issue with the missions of other Muslim countries to convince EU governments on how sensitive and explosive is the matter and that about one billion Muslims around the world are deeply hurt.

The apology offered by the Danish prime minister to Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz on the blasphemous cartoons is far too late. The religious parties in Pakistan are rich in resources and have a well-knit network of highly charged and motivated activists and supporters and have played the role of demolition squad in Pakistan’s politics in 1977 and afterwards also.

One of the top textile exporters say that it is the duty of the Pakistan government to explain to the people that the European Union of 25 countries, including Denmark, Norway and Italy, has been one of the biggest trade partners of Pakistan for the last several years. While exports amounting to over $3 billion (mainly textiles) remain one of the big avenues of employment, the main imports — textile machinery and chemicals — worth over $2 billion a year keep the factories running.

The poverty alleviation and social sector development received the top priority in EC-Pakistan cooperation since 1976 for which more than $300 million were given. For the last more than 50 years, EU countries have been providing economic assistance to Pakistan and continuing to do so.

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