THIS past summer Italians watched TV broadcasts of the floods that devastated Pakistan's provinces. We felt very close to the populations of regions along the Indus River. The brutality of those images is still vivid. My first thoughts are of those who lost their lives, their families and of all those for whom the waters washed away everything.
Damage was also extensive in the camps where agronomists of the Italian Cooperation had been working on agricultural development projects. They had come to understand the needs of the local people. Our priority is to render them productive once again to advance the joint economic development and friendship with local populations that, from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to Punjab, from Balochistan to Sindh to Gilgit-Baltistan, takes the form of cooperation on agricultural development, vocational training, environmental protection and university collaboration.
Now that the floods have subsided we are obliged to look forward. To do so Italy wants see things from your point of view and trace a route for the most fruitful collaboration possible. It is now necessary to look to the future to lay the foundations of a sustainable economic growth in Pakistan and throughout the region. There can be no stability without prosperity.
We need to accelerate the transition to a phase of international investment that allows for the formation of a credible basis for the entire region's economic recovery, and that benefits Pakistan as a whole. The Italian government intends to maximise its efforts at steering the decisions made by the Friends of Pakistan in this direction.
The next step is to open up trade. Italy has always been a convinced champion of a free-trade agreement between the EU and Pakistan aimed at facilitating the export of Pakistani goods to Europe.
The Italian government has also promoted a plan to explain such an agreement to the Italian business community, assuring that such concessions to Pakistan would be of an exceptional nature. Fully aware that there are sectors in which our producers are competitors, Italy nevertheless remains firm in its intention to help Pakistani businesses achieve quality standards.
From Italy's standpoint Pakistan is not merely an economic actor, but rather a top political partner. Rome looks to Islamabad as a key player in the context of many international dossiers ranging from Afghanistan to non-proliferation to the fight against terrorism. The conviction that I formed during the Italian G8 presidency last year that the solution lay in the involvement of all regional players, makes Islamabad an obligatory crossroads for the solution to the Afghan question. Italy will continue to urge an EU-Pakistan political partnership envisaging regular summits and consultation on topics of mutual interest.
Pakistan is also important to us in the context of dialogue between civilisations and faiths, an international agenda on which Italy is certain to find a reliable ally in Pakistan. The spread of violence resulting from religious fanaticism has cast a darker shadow in recent times than ever before.
This is an era in which contact between peoples is the most frequent it has ever been; therefore what is at stake is peaceful coexistence itself. I am sure I will find a ready ear in Islamabad on this issue. I hope fruitful collaboration can be activated on this front. We cannot allow a few extremists to undermine the foundations of coexistence and mutual tolerance between civilisations and religions.
The writer is the foreign minister of Italy.