By Mariana Baabar
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan faced a tough time on Thursday at the ministerial meeting of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan (FODP) in Brussels when Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was clearly told that his government was not in control of the country rather it was the military intelligence structure that controlled Pakistan. Qureshi was also told that the time has come to sort out the issue of Kashmir.
The diplomats also raised their concerns about poor governance in Pakistan. The foreign minister was in a meeting with Members of European Parliament (MEPs) from the South Asian delegation and Development and Foreign Affairs Committees.
Ana Gomes, Member of the European Parliament (Portuguese Socialist Party member of the European Socialist Party), after hearing the remarks by Qureshi in which he pleaded Pakistan’s case, particularly in the aftermath of the floods, responded, “I can afford to be blunt. We have a big dilemma in Europe. Yes, we see the need to engage and help Pakistan in recovering from the floods, but we see Pakistan has tremendous difficulties in helping itself. It seems that those who are elected are not in control. Those in control are in the military intelligence structure.”
She further sought assurances of Qureshi’s support in fighting international terrorism. “More effort is needed to sort out the Kashmir dispute with India and bring stability to Pakistan’s border relations with Afghanistan,” she added.
According to the reports available on the European Union Parliament website, Qureshi’s reply to Ana Gomes criticism was, “Obviously, it takes time to change a culture of military government, all habits die hard. But we are in the process of doing that, and you need to be patient”. It is quite obvious the soft spoken and suave foreign minister was shocked to be addressed in this manner in the presence of the international media.
Qureshi had urged the MEPs to back plans to suspend EU tariffs on imports from Pakistan. In return, MEPs stressed that Pakistan must engage with the EU in fighting terrorism and bringing stability to the region, and specifically in Afghanistan and Kashmir.
Qureshi urged Foreign Affairs Committee MEPs to vote in favour of European Commission plans unilaterally to suspend duties on imports from Pakistan to the EU, thus liberalizing 75 tariff lines accounting for 27% of Pakistan’s current exports to the EU.
“These steps are highly appreciated in Pakistan, a very positive signal to our people in a country which is helping you to fight terrorism,” said Mr Qureshi. The tariff-cutting proposal, which aims to aid Pakistan’s economic recovery after devastating floods earlier this year, needs to be approved by both the European Parliament and the World Trade Organization in Geneva.
Replying to concerns expressed by Jean Lambert (Greens/EFA, UK), about the transparency and accountability of Pakistani government’s use of humanitarian aid, Mr Qureshi said that “oversight Council” had recently been set up to this end, adding that “we have created mechanisms to address this issue properly and you should have no fears on these grounds”.
According to these reports from Brussels, in this exchange of views with Qureshi, the minister spent most of his time stressing that his government is the first democratically-elected one in Pakistan after a military regime, and that for the last two and a half years, great efforts have been made to restore the independence of the judiciary, strengthen media freedom, change the constitution and engage in peaceful and more co-operative relations with its neighbours, thereby laying the foundations for a long-term partnership with the EU.