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Ashton lays stress on EU-Pak partnership

June 05, 2012

THE European Union is ready to offer support to Pakistan as it struggles to tackle a range of domestic and foreign policy challenges, according to Catherine Ashton, the 27-nation bloc’s “high representative” for foreign and security policy. In comments made to Dawn ahead of her first-ever visit to Pakistan, Ashton said she wanted to underscore the importance of the EU-Pakistan relationship.

“This year marks the adoption of a major new engagement plan, and the start of a strategic dialogue as the EU-Pakistan relationship graduates to the next level,” she underlined.

The year also marks 50 years since the start of EU-Pakistan cooperation activities.

“Much has happened over these 50 years, but crucially two years ago, European leaders agreed to upgrade the EU-Pakistan link, shifting what has been a traditional, more trade-oriented relationship to one that is more political. My visit is part of implementing that upgrade - a fitting way to celebrate our milestone of cooperation.”Asked by this correspondent about Pakistan’s place in the EU’s Asia strategy, Ashton said Pakistan played a crucial role in helping the region overcome some of its security-related challenges as well as seizing the opportunities especially the economic opportunities -- that should be obvious to everyone.

“One of our key objectives for Asia is to help the countries of Southern and Central Asia to cooperate in the interests of their future security and prosperity. Which is why the EU is seeking to engage with Pakistan in a number of ways in the coming period,” she said.

She added: “We have recently proposed to the Pakistani authorities Action Plans to counter violent extremism and support rule of law and access to justice while a forthcoming visit to Islamabad by the European Commission will discuss how to tackle migration and organised crime.”

Mutual security

While some Western governments may see Pakistan through the Afghanistan prism rather than as a stand-alone priority for the EU, Ashton told Dawn that the EU believed it had an important relationship with Pakistan in its own right, going back over 50 years.

“Whether the issue is our mutual security, the joint effort to tackle drug-trafficking, the drive to increase commerce or to meet the Millennium Development Goals, Europe's relationship with Pakistan is crucial,” she underlined.

“At the same time it is undeniable that Pakistan has an interest in and would benefit enormously from Afghanistan's stabilisation. It should be our common aim to promote a secure Afghanistan and a prosperous region as a whole. During my visit I will discuss with the Pakistani authorities the importance of everyone doing their utmost to facilitate the process of ensuring peace, security and development in Afghanistan.”

Looking ahead, Ashton said that she wanted the EU to develop a broader kind of relationship with Pakistan that also allows for a dialogue on a range of security issues.

“The EU is not just a trade partner, but is a policy partner. As part of our upgraded engagement with Pakistan, we are therefore focused on finding ways to collaborate on rule of law, counter-terrorism and counter—proliferation,” she insisted.

She added, however, that to ensure stability, “Pakistan must invest further in what I have called “deep democracy”: accountability, respect for the rule of law, and protection of human rights.

Elections are important, and civilian government is a prerequisite for democracy. But in themselves, these are insufficient conditions for democracy to be established and stability to develop.

As we have done before, the EU will continue to offer support in building a deeper Pakistani democracy.”

Asked about relations between Pakistan and India, Ashton said recent efforts to improve relations and the measures to liberalise trade between the two nations should go a long way to improve regional ties.

“It is very important that the rapprochement is supported by all stakeholders. Closer understanding between them is vital for the future of the region as a whole,” she said.

GSP Plus

As regards EU-Pakistan trade relations, Ashton said the EU is Pakistan’s single largest trading partner, accounting for 22 per cent of Pakistan’s external trade.

“The EU has already taken the unprecedented step of obtaining a WTO waiver for Pakistan, following the dreadful floods, and this will help Pakistan gain greater access to our markets,” she said.

Ashton also said that Pakistan had already benefited substantially from the EU’s Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) for some years.

“Pakistan will have an opportunity to apply for the enhanced GSP+ preferences if the conditions for the new regime are met.

These conditions refer to international conventions on human rights, labour rights environment, and good governance.”