Tourism Offer in the Land of State Sponsored Terrorism

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan has proposed that the European Union should “benefit [from] the improved security situation as an opportunity to enhance trade and investment, and people to people contact, including tourism.”

The 5th Session of Pakistan-EU Political Dialogue took place in Brussels, Belgium on 20th March 2019, followed by the 4th Session of the Pakistan-EU Strategic Dialogue on 25th March in Islamabad, Pakistan. It was at the meeting of the Pakistan -EU Strategic Dialogue that the Pakistani hosts offered the invitation to their European guests to partake in the benefits of the favourable circumstances in the country.

The EU delegation was headed by Ms Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission and Pakistan represented by Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Minister for Foreign Affairs. The dialogue, as defined by the press communications was respectful, and praised Pakistan’s progress in terms of human rights, security and the fight against terrorism.

However, it is difficult to speak about “improved security” when considering the terrorist situation in the country. In June 2018, Pakistan was re-admitted onto the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) list for State sponsored terrorism. A subsequent re-evaluation in February 2019 found minimal signs of progress and has decided to keep Pakistan on its monitoring list. The FATF therefore “urges Pakistan to swiftly complete its action plan, particularly those with timelines of May 2019.” Despite such findings, the EU “recognised Pakistan’s significant contribution in the fight against terrorism and renewed focus on the implantation of Pakistan’s National Action Plan and in this context reiterated the EU’s continued support.” Therefore, ignoring both the FATF’s report and the complaint of Afghanistan to the UN Security Council regarding Pakistan’s terrorism activities, lodged in February 2019.

The joint press release between the EU and Pakistan on Regional Peace and Security mentions the joint commitment of the two parties to genuine regional peace and stability. Both parties have recognised the need to seize upon the current, unique momentum to bring about lasting peace in Afghanistan, which is essential for social development and economic prosperity across the region. Furthermore, the EU stated that it appreciated Pakistan’s longstanding support in hosting millions of Afghan refugees during the last 40 years as well as its continued support for the infrastructure and human resource development in Afghanistan. This statement is at odds with reports from Human Rights Watch regarding one of the most significant examples of forced return of refugees and undocumented workers, even though Afghanistan is still considered to be an unsafe country by the international community. This violation of the non-refoulement principle has also been pointed out by several members of the European Parliament.

At the meeting, Pakistan and the EU agreed to join efforts to resolutely support the Afghan peace process, stressing that this process should be truly Afghan-led and owned. In that regard, they reiterated their interest “to uphold progress made over the past 18 years in Afghanistan, which should be irreversible, in particular on the fundamental rights of women as well as their inclusion in the broader peace agenda, children, minorities and vulnerable groups.” Although such statement may seem very promising, we ask ourselves how the Islamic Republic of Pakistan can commit to promote fundamental rights in one country when its own records in terms of women and minorities group’s rights are so dire.

The 2017 Global Gender Gap Index, ranked Pakistan 143 out of 144 countries due to prolific and systemic discrimination against women. Pakistan’s records in terms of women’s rights and women’s empowerment are disastrous. Women’s rights in Pakistan are condemned by international organisations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women as they have found that Pakistan repeatedly fails to fulfil its obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

In meetings Pakistan has said that its government was focusing on poverty alleviation, investment in human capital, good governance and the rule of law – but there have been few actions that define any commitment to these words. The Pakistani people, especially women and children, those of religious minority communities or those from tribal regions or provinces such as Baluchistan are pleading for international attention and an alleviation of their suffering. The European Union would do well to put aside the tourism invitation and to insist on evidence of Pakistan’s genuine commitment to good governance and peace and stability in the South Asia region.

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