EU Parliament Building, Brussels.
A discussion over a ratified European Union 5 year trade concession agreement with Pakistan, became an opportunity to vent frustrations over the ongoing issue of minority rights in Pakistan.
The EU delegation for relations with countries in South Asia held their meeting on Tuesday 20 March 2012, at the EU Parliamentary building in Brussels.
At the beginning of the meeting MEP Jean Lambert Chair of the group emphasised that the agreement was not simply a trade agreement but an opportunity for stronger diplomatic relationship and will contribute to the fostering of peace, security and human rights welfare in the region. Mrs Lambert expressed confidence in the relaxing of import restrictions between India and Pakistan
MEP Phil Bennion raised concerns about the level of Minority persecution in the country. In particular, he referenced growing reports of attacks on the Christian community.
Syed Moazzam Shah First Secretary for the Pakistan Embassy to the EU, spoke of the problems Pakistan faced in the wake of the inundation in 2010 and 2011. Millions had been affected, many were still homeless and existing infrastructure meant that aid provision is limited and often ineffective. He flatly denied that minority discrimination existed and implied that religious extremism in Pakistan affected all, including rival Muslim factions in the country. He said;
"The majority of attacks target Muslims"
No objections were raised over the new 5 year engagement programme that signifies a shift in EU Policy away from supporting the economy of Pakistan as "donor dependent" towards a more self reliant partner. The agreement will see 75 items including textiles exported to European Markets without duty, from 1st January 2013. The agreement was ratified by the World Trade Organisation February 14th 2012.
The European Union remains Pakistan's largest trading partner and is receiving over 27% of Pakistan's total exports, whilst providing 17% of its total imports.
At the end of the meeting Wilson Chowdhry of the British Pakistani Christian Association delivered a petition to Mrs Lambert from the free Sarabjit Singh Campaign calling for release of prisoners of war from both India and Pakistan, who have been incarcerated since 1971. He also submitted concerns of accidental border strayers imprisoned in Pakistan. Wilson said;
"The relaxation of import restrictions signifies improved diplomatic relations between Pakistan and India. I hope this will now lead to an end to the denial of long suffering POW's in their border prisons. Both countries must use this opportunity to free their national heroes and those that are imprisoned for spying after straying accidentally to bring succour to afflicted families." He added;
"First Secretary Syed Moazzam Shah is correct in his assumption that a larger amount of victims of extremism in Pakistan are Muslim, however he failed highlight that the standard of living for minorities is by far worse than the average Muslim, moreover the number of victims from the Christian community is disproportional considering our small demographic. Despite a weight of evidence, acceptance of minority discrimination in Pakistan is lacking within the country's politicians.