David Cronin

Pakistan is the world’s seventh largest country but it does not receive proportionate attention from EU officials dealing with foreign relations.

Between now and 2013, Pakistan, where a third of 161 million inhabitants live in poverty, is set to receive 200 million euros in EU aid. Though significant, this pales in comparison to the Union’s total allocated expenditure on development assistance of 40 billion euros over that period.

Alain Délétroz from the International Crisis Group, an organisation working on conflict prevention, says that the Union has also been “silent” on human rights abuses in Pakistan following the dismissal of Chief Justice Ifikhar Mohammad Choudry in March.

He says that Pakistan has been viewed by EU policy-makers as a security matter, given its proximity to Afghanistan and allegations that al-Qaeda and Taliban members are active on Pakistani soil. As a result, the EU has tended to leave deliberations over how Pakistan should be handled to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which also has its headquarters in Brussels.

Délétroz is calling on EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg Jun. 18-19 to condemn the crackdown on dissent by Pakistani authorities. This has included the mass arrest earlier this month of political activists protesting new legislation giving the country’s military ruler President Musharraf a greater say in regulating the media. Délétroz also believes that the EU should closely monitor general elections due later this year.

Choudry was removed from his position by Musharraf for alleged misuse of his authority. This sparked fierce protests from lawyers who insist that Musharraf did not have the power under the national constitution to sack a judge in this way.

Among the subsequent events that have destabilised Pakistan were the killing of 50 people, when armed party workers loyal to the Islamabad government blocked Choudry’s arrival in Karachi May 12 to address a demonstration called by barristers.

Amnesty International, meanwhile, stated in its newly published annual report that scores of Pakistanis suffered arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance during 2006. At least 446 people were sentenced to death and 82 executions were carried out last year, a sharp rise on 2005.

Musharraf was initially shunned by the EU when he took power in a 1999 coup. Yet his declared willingness to cooperate in the US-led ‘war on terror’ following the Sep. 11 attacks led to something of a rethink. In November 2001, Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt signed a cooperation agreement with Musharraf on a visit to Islamabad as head of the EU’s rotating presidency. The accord contained a clause committing the country to respect for human rights and democracy.

A Pakistani human rights activist said that the EU’s engagement with Pakistan has not led to improvements on the ground. An EU team monitoring allegedly rigged elections in 2002 made a series of recommendations for democratic reform. “None of these recommendations have been implemented,” said an activist.

The activist complained that the only real interest of EU policy makers with regard to Pakistan concerns its policies towards Islamic militants, particularly in areas bordering Afghanistan, and its dispute with India over the province of Kashmir. — IPS