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EDITORIAL: The Khan administration plans to take European Union envoys in Islamabad into confidence on the resolution tabled in the National Assembly as a consequence of the agreement with Tehrik-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) - a decision necessitated by a resolution passed by the European parliament on 29 April 2021 which: (i) decried deterioration of what was alleged to already be a terrible record of religious persecution in Pakistan (reflected by previous resolutions dated May 2010, October 2013, April and November 2014, June 2017) with 662 voting in favour, 3 against and 26 not voting; and (ii) calling for “Commission and the European External Action Service to immediately review Pakistan’s eligibility for GSP+ status in light of current events and whether there is sufficient reason to initiate a procedure for temporary withdrawal of its status and the benefits that come with it, and to report to the European Parliament as soon as possible” - voted for separately with 678 votes in favour, 8 against and 10 not voting.

The resolution calls for continued support to Pakistan with judicial reform, capacity building to ensure lower courts are equipped to promptly hold trials for those detained and to dismiss blasphemy cases that are not supported by sufficient reliable evidence, and strongly rejects the reported statement by Pakistan’s Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, Ali Khan, calling for people who commit blasphemy to be beheaded, but welcomed the recent judgement of the Supreme Court of Pakistan to ban the execution of prisoners with mental health conditions and reiterated the European Union’s strong opposition to the death penalty, in all cases and without exception. However, what was perhaps the trigger for this resolution was the following: “considers the violent demonstrations and attacks against France unacceptable; is deeply concerned by the anti-French sentiment in Pakistan, which has led French nationals and companies to have to leave the country temporarily.”

Ali Khan, a long time party loyalist, tabled a private member’s bill to parliament on 20 April 2021 - the deadline agreed with the TLP - calling for the expulsion of the French Ambassador after it went on the rampage for failure to adhere to the November 2020 agreement in which the government had pledged to bring a resolution to parliament on the French envoy’s expulsion within three months. It is therefore going to be a challenge for the government to distinguish itself from the bill presented by Ali Khan.

While one can understand the government’s capitulation to TLP demands given the destructive havoc its members wrought on this hapless nation - with fatalities, many seriously injured, hostage taking of law enforcement personnel by the TLP, massive losses due to the closure of business activity, as well as destruction of government and private properties – yet one cannot possibly condone the tactics they have consistently employed albeit successfully. And to challenge the writ of the state to formulate foreign policy based on national interest through the use of brute force cannot possibly be justified on any count.

It is important to note that administrations signed an agreement with TLP – once by the PML-N government and twice by the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf. While successive Pakistani administrations have rarely, if ever, learnt any lessons from their predecessors yet the TLP has made the Khan administration capitulate twice and therefore it is rather baffling for the administration not to have taken mitigating measures to forestall the scale and extent of the TLP destruction that this country was subjected to. One would sincerely hope that the Interior Ministry takes appropriate measures to ensure that there is no fourth capitulation to TLP demands.

The resolution by EU parliament seeking a revisit of the GSP+ status poses two significant threats to the Pakistan economy. First, GSP+ was extended to Pakistan by the EU in 2014 and accounts for a rise in exports from 4.5 billion Euros to 7.4 billion Euros in 2019 – a rise of over 66 percent. Taking away the GSP+ would therefore hurt our exports as we would be competing with other players in the market and the country would be unable to meet the rather ambitious export targets. Needless to add, from 2020 onwards the pandemic hurt exports of other regional countries, particularly India, and European buyers also began to place orders to Pakistani manufacturers which is a key to the recent rise in exports.

And secondly, the sword of Damocles in the form of the Financial Action Task Force’s scheduled meeting within a month or two, remains dangling over our heads, with serious implications on our capacity to access loans from abroad. France is a major player in the FATF and one would hope that the government can make a successful diplomatic effort to deal with its concerns over security of its nationals in Pakistan.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021