Volume 23 Issue 8, August 2019


SouthAsia: How has been your experience in Pakistan?
Jean-François Cautain: This is not the first occasion that I have been serving in Pakistan. In fact, it is my second stay in the country. In my previous job, I was not a diplomat and was working for an aid agency helping Afghan refugees in Pakistan to go back to Afghanistan and re-settle there. From 1994 to 1999 and then from 2001 to 2002, I was mostly travelling in Afghanistan, particularly Eastern Afghanistan and visiting such provinces as Nangarhar, Kunar, Laghman and Nuristan on a frequent basis. At that time, I used to commute between Peshawar and Jalalabad almost every week. I think I have crossed the Khyber Pass two hundred times or even more. This had been my routine for almost 5 years, because my family was living in Pakistan during my job tenure. No doubt, it was an interesting experience. My current tenure as EU Ambassador to Pakistan is going to end in two weeks. I think this is the best time to describe how I found Pakistan as a country. First of all, I have had the opportunity to travel across the country and visited places I have never been before. For instance, I visited Peshawar, FATA, Quetta, Loralai, Pishin, Jhal Magsi, Chaman, Karachi, Sukkur, Jamshoro, Larkana and many other places. To understand Pakistan, I believe a diplomat needs to break the "Islamabad bubble", go out of Islamabad and visit the rest of the country to better know about it and its people.

Q: Keeping South Asian politics in mind, how important is Pakistan for the European Union?
A: In South Asia, Pakistan is the key partner of the European Union. Pakistan is a country of over two hundred million inhabitants and is the second largest country in South Asia after India. It is a country which has its own difficulties for the last 70 years and the EU has always been a close partner for Pakistan, especially in its democratization journey and will always assist the country in strengthening its democratization process.

Q: How are Pakistani immigrants contributing to the EU’s economy and in general?
A: Pakistan is a country which is important in terms of migration. However, there are two aspects here. There has been a large Diaspora of people from Pakistan leaving the country and many of them are migrating to the U.K., Sweden, Denmark, Germany and France. Most of them are dual citizens and have been contributing to the European economy and to the life of European countries in general. They bring to Europe a culture of hospitality that many of us, Europeans, have quite often lost, unfortunately.

There is also a less positive aspect I want to mention here. It relates to the trend of irregular migration, which is a serious issue. Pakistan is among the top five countries from where a large number of people have been trying to enter Europe through the illegal migration route. It is not only a very sensitive political issue in Europe but also it may have grave consequences for those people who put their lives at risk, mainly to reach other countries illegally. This leads to human trafficking and smuggling, an activity that is performed by a well-organized criminal network. That's something that both EU and Pakistan need to jointly tackle. I am pleased that we have started cooperating in this matter.

Q: Being a great advocate of democracy and human rights, how do you see the situation in Pakistan?
A: As far as the democratization journey is concerned, I think Pakistan is making good progress. Elected through democratic means, successive governments are being formed, which is a positive sign that democracy is taking roots in the country. Such things take time to flourish and there is always the risk of a setback. The citizens as well as the media have to be vigilant about that. We strongly believe in a democracy where people can express their views and where the media is always free to report on all subjects and also explain the views of all citizens. That is an important aspect that Pakistan needs to take care of.

Q: In what areas could Pakistan and the European Union cooperate further?
A: On June 25, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini signed a Strategic Engagement Plan for cooperation in several areas including peace and security, trade, migration, higher education and anti-money laundering measures. From 2012 to 2017, we had an engagement plan with Pakistan. During that term, we realized that it is an effective tool to improve our relationship to bring more confidence and trust between the two sides. Therefore, we decided to go for a new engagement plan, which is open-ended in nature. Through the Strategic Engagement Plan, we will open the doors to more cooperation on new issues related to security, promoting mutual peace and prosperity, sustainable development, energy, education and culture and addressing migrant issues. The recent agreement has been termed as the Strategic Engagement Plan, because it enables both Pakistan and the European Union to discuss bilateral issues as well as cooperate on non-bilateral issues in a wider perspective. It is a very positive development, which, I am sure, will contribute to strengthen our relationship with Pakistan.

Q: How do you evaluate the social, economic and bilateral relationship between the EU and Pakistan and what are your recommendations, if any?
A: In Pakistan, we have been running large-scale cooperation programmes. After Afghanistan, Pakistan is the second largest country in Asia getting assistance from EU in key sectors. As a top priority, we are working with Pakistan to uplift the country’s education sector so that it could provide quality education to all children irrespective of their socio-economic backgrounds. We are also working with Pakistan on vocational training and higher education, helping Pakistani students to get higher education in European countries by offering them well-funded scholarships through the Erasmus-Plus Scholarship Programme. It is a very competitive programme as students from all countries around the world apply every year. I am very pleased to say that this year Pakistan has emerged as the third largest country after Mexico and Brazil to have won a large number of scholarships offered by the European Union.

Q: Has Pakistan been able to take full advantage of the GSP+ status since it was granted in December 2013?
A: My short answer is ‘No.’ Pakistan has not been able to take full advantage of the GSP+ status to its full potential. In fact, Pakistan has been very good at using GSP+ to increase its traditional exports, such as textiles, footwear, sports goods and surgical instruments and the export rate has increased by more than fifty percent in the last five years. However, Pakistan, as yet, has not explored new business avenues, including value addition in agriculture and extractive industry. They should do it because the GSP+ status is a golden opportunity which is in place until 2023, but up till now it has not been exploited to its full potential.

Q: How do you view CPEC? Can the initiative be termed as a game changer, particularly for the South Asian region?
A: Connectivity has become a buzzword these days as everybody is talking about it. There is no doubt about its importance. If you look at the European Union, we are a prime example of regional connectivity. CPEC is a good initiative, which over the last years has helped Pakistan in dealing with its energy crisis in particular. However, there are two issues that I would like to mention. First of all, connectivity in South Asia should not be limited to CPEC alone. The region should think beyond CPEC and try to connect and integrate with other countries, such as Afghanistan, Iran, Central Asia and the West, as well as the East. On the Eastern front, I know it is more difficult, but it is the only option for regional development, modernization and prosperity. Secondly, any initiative regarding connectivity must be based on key principles. Connectivity should always be a two-way street, meaning both ends should equally benefit. Transparency in procurements must guide a project’s sustainability and its financial, environmental and social viability.

Q: How can Pakistan improve and promote its positive image internationally as a peace-loving country?
A: There is no doubt a discrepancy between the reality of Pakistan and its image beyond its borders. Pakistan needs to carefully deal with issues which are sensitive in nature. For example, some people see Pakistan as a place where minorities are oppressed. Therefore, Pakistan should be very vigilant on these issues and make sure that nobody can criticize the country for even a single case. Other examples would relate to extremism, women’s rights, democratization, and the like. Pakistan should be very careful, leaving no stone unturned in handling these issues in a very effective way so that the international community does not get a chance to raise a finger at Pakistan.

Q: Most EU countries have been grappling with the influx of illegal immigrants, mainly from the Asian and African countries. What is the overall stance of the European Union on migration and the refugee crisis?
A: We faced a migration crisis over the last years, mostly in 2015 and 2016. Most of those immigrants who were heading towards Europe were, in fact, refugees. As per the statistics, the overall number of people irregularly migrating to European countries is nowadays not really high and thus there is no such migration crisis at present in terms of figures. However, it is still a very politically sensitive issue and it tends to be an often-discussed matter that leads to heated debates in the EU meetings.

Of course, the matters related to irregular migration need to be effectively tackled. As I said before, there are some international criminal networks operating and irregular migrants are becoming victims of their illegal activities. So we are working with countries like Pakistan and sub-Saharan African countries to deal with the matter. And let's be clear that people are never happy to leave their home country, but they do so owing to severe economic crisis and hard living conditions back at home. Therefore, we have to help develop countries facing such situations. People will always be happy to live with their families and friends and will never endanger their lives to enter the other country irregularly when they can have a good life in their home country. In addition, developed countries face ageing populations and need labour forces to participate in their economies. Legal migration must continue to be developed. Overall, migration, even if it has existed since the beginning of humanity, has become today a very complex matter.

Q: How will Brexit affect the EU?
A: It is a very sad moment for the entire EU. However, it is the decision of the British citizens to leave the EU. I understand that British politicians are still figuring out how to go to the next phase. As far as the EU is concerned, things are very clear on our side and the deal finalized by the 27 EU member states is on the table. So now let's see how things take place in the U.K. in the coming months. But again, it's a very sad moment for the European Union to have one of its family members leave.

Q: Any message to the people of Pakistan?
A: Pakistan is a country with lots of potential, which could be unleashed if the country’s Constitution is fully implemented. For any nation, its strong democracy and profound respect for the rule of law and human rights always leads to economic development. This also helps in establishing peaceful relationships with neighbouring countries. For the South Asia region, a crucial organization like SAARC, which has been in a sleeping mode for long, should be immediately revived as it is regional integration that always brings peace and prosperity to countries.


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