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Why Did European Parliament Pass A Resolution Against Misuse Of Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws?

At least 662 members of European Parliament have told Pakistan to change its religious laws or the EU will end its GSP+ status that helps Pakistani manufacturers cheaper access to the European markets. Senior journalist Khalid Hameed Farooqi tells Raza Rumi this is a serious blow to Pakistan’s image in European Union and the trade concessions under the Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+). The latter is a special incentive that slashes tariffs to 0% for vulnerable low and lower-middle income countries that implement 27 international conventions related to human rights, labour rights, protection of the environment and good governance.

Here’s the transcript of the interview.

Raza: Assalam o Alaikum viewers! Today Mr. Khalid Farooqi has joined us from Brussels, the capital of Belgium and the central headquarter of the European Union. As you know, the EU has recently passed a resolution to express grave concerns over misuse of blasphemy laws in Pakistan. The country enjoys special status in European markets due to its GSP plus status which allow Pakistani exports to have fixed quotas. Apart from the economic fallout there are also political implications of this resolution. On one hand, there is the response in Europe, and on the other is the internal politics of Pakistan where TLP and other factions are demanding expulsion of the French ambassador, as well as advocating a hard line towards Europe for its position on caricature and blasphemy issues. We ask Mr. Khalid what led to the resolution to be presented in the European Parliament, and how was it passed.

Khalid: Actually, back in 2008 when democracy got restored in Pakistan and GSP plus status was being negotiated, a condition was attached to it, which was compliance to some 27 UN human rights conventions that Pakistan is signatory to. Also, at the time PPP enjoyed a good reputation in Europe due to Benazir Bhutto who was widely respected there. Because of this they retained contacts with the PPP and made a comprehensive plan for a strategic dialogue. What Europe gave to Pakistan in those 5 years was unmatched to anything granted previously, at least in the past 30 years. Under GSP status, Pakistan’s exports were projected to grow up to $25 billion in 10 years. However, this status was subject to a yearly review on the state of human rights in Pakistan. The conditions attached were minority rights, press freedom, and ending of discrimination against women. EU gave its approval every year amid grievances and subsequent legislative assurances by Pakistan, which  reaped immense benefits as its exports jumped from $2b to $5b and then to $8b.

The tide started to turn when the recent government assumed power. Although when called for review, the incumbent government assured full compliance with human rights and made references to relevant legislation. One way or the other, Asia Bibi was released. But the Christian couple that has recently made headlines kept languishing in jail for seven years. Now the resolution has come at a sensitive moment when Pakistan is witnessing a right-wing wave and turbulence in relations with France. In return there is growing angst and anguish in European countries.

What they demand is not much, just the ending of discriminatory treatment of minorities. There are similar laws in Europe too, and 25 million Muslims live here. If laws were abused to target Muslims here, would Pakistan and the Muslim world realize then what it means to harm a group by misusing laws?

This is the first time in the 46-year history of EU that a resolution has been passed with such an overwhelming majority vote of 681 to 6.

Raza: Yes, Mr. Khalid, exactly. (In this regard) please tell us what would be the repercussions for Pakistan? What will be the economic loss and what other risks it entails, especially when something like this resolution is attributed to some kind of international Jewish conspiracy against Pakistan.

Khalid: The losses or the dangers aside, the response of the incumbent govt is risky and irresponsible. The government hardly has an IR expert who can respond to such events on the international front. Regrettably, it has been carrying a particular tone which I can recall from what Shireen Mazari said when she came here. I asked her how she in her capacity as human rights minister would respond to the demands of EU regarding human rights. She took a jibe at the EU instead: ‘What would they say to us? It is we who asked them why they mistreat Muslims, imposing bans on scarves, among other things’. I was highly surprised at her response for she had come to garner support. See the EU has given an extraordinary, out of the way, package to Pakistan…

Raza: Sorry to interrupt you here. I have to ask for how long have you been living here and how secure do you feel? There is an impression here, endorsed by the likes of Dr Shireen Mazari and PM Khan that Muslims are not safe in Europe.

Khalid: I, and another family, are living in a predominantly white neighbourhood and had I not felt safe, I would not be living here. Definitely, there is right-wing politics here too and anti-Muslim statements are made sometimes, but no one dares to go outside the sphere of law. On the contrary, in Denmark when Christmas trees were lit in every street, a Muslim neighbourhood objected that it was against their tradition. Here there is a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood and it used to be sort of a no-go area for also the media as CNN, BBC and other media agencies had their cameras snatched or broken for (allegedly) filming Muslim women. (I would say, in Europe) Muslims are equal, and kind of aggressive in propounding equality and tradition.

Raza: You have added to my knowledge as I also got to believe after reading several news items that Muslims were suffering in Europe. Anyway, coming back to the EU, GSP plus issue, what should be the response of Pakistan? Please summarize in two or three points.

Khalid: Pakistan’s status has been suspended temporarily by the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU. As conditions were imposed by FATF, similar would be the case with the EU And pressure will increase on Pakistan to comply with human rights conventions. Also, they have been stressing on Pakistan for seven years now. Pakistan will have to comply now. There was rigging in 2018 elections as noted by a European Union report. Regarding implementation of rights, the courts have been criticized in reports as well. So, the concerns and grievances had been piling up for quite some time, but Pakistan’s incumbent leadership paid no heed to make pertinent amends especially for minority rights’ legislation. Although the status was set to expire in 2023, but the image of Pakistan that has been tarnished in 27 European countries is a loss for us, and a plus for our neighbour, which despite being a fascist regime will secure preferential treatment.

Raza: The current events present a three-pronged crisis for Pakistan, internally, in foreign policy, and internationally on the diplomatic front. The narrative – on mainstreaming TLP – being fed to Pakistanis is contrary to actual circumstances, and the world cannot be blinded to it. The policy makers need to take proactive measures to defuse the situation and prevent further backlash considering that the economic woes of Pakistan will worsen.

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