The European Union’s demand that Pakistan condemn Russia over its intervention in Ukraine is not only a veiled threat, but also a tactic to kill two birds with one stone. This diplomatic faux pas will neither work nor will it be productive. This demand-cum-threat came when the EU envoy Lars-Gunnar Wigemark urged Pakistan to condemn Russia over what he believed are “violations by a very aggressive Russia against Ukraine.”
The EU ambassador, who was invited by the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Committee in Islamabad to speak on how to strengthen Pakistan-EU relations, went a step further by saying Pakistan should condemn Russia “if it wants to make a real gesture towards [the] EU.” The European Union considers Russia’s intervention in Ukraine a “violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Such a demand from the EU has been made at a juncture when there is a thaw in Pakistan-Russia relations after decades of animosity and trust deficits. The two countries recently signed a military cooperation deal. On the one hand, the EU and the United States do not want to see growing Pakistan-Russia ties. On the other hand, they want to corner Russia into political isolation, keep Pakistan dependent on the EU and the US, and they want to weaken Russia’s economy.
In a first-ever visit of a Russian defence minister to Islamabad since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu signed what is being dubbed a milestone defence cooperation agreement last month. There are also reports that Moscow has approved the sale of 20 Mi-35 helicopters to Pakistan which will help Islamabad fight militants.
The deal is being considered a catalyst in bringing peace to the region, especially as US-led NATO forces drawdown from Afghanistan. Apart from military cooperation, Pakistan also aims to promote multi-dimensional cooperation with Russia, inviting investment in infrastructure and energy, and increasing bilateral trade.
While the new friendship with Moscow is attractive for Pakistan, Wigemark’s warning might put the South Asian state in a catch-22 situation. Islamabad has been a recipient of €600 million per year in bilateral and multilateral assistance from the EU and several European states. The Pakistan-EU trade volume, which stood at €8.35 billion last year, makes up 20 percent of Pakistan’s total trade. Pakistan’s export volume to the EU is also likely to increase this year following a much-awaited preferential market access, which came into effect this year.
The EU, obviously, kowtowing to its transatlantic partner – the US, has come up with this rather hawkish demand. While it could have negative geopolitical repercussions, especially in the region, the demand is bereft of logic. Moreover, it smacks of bias and double standards, raising several questions.
The 28-member bloc has added Russia’s condemnation by Pakistan to its wish list, but India and China – two of the biggest trading partners with the EU – have not been asked to do the same. The EU is wary of Russian interference in Ukraine, but has never condemned Indian political and military intervention in East Pakistan in 1971.
There have never been objections on the Indian intervention, although it embarked on a military offensive against Pakistan on the pretext that separatists had asked India to free them from the oppression of West Pakistan. Interestingly, Russia has intervened in Ukraine for the same reason.
Nor has the EU ever asked India for a plebiscite in Indian-administered Kashmir, which is a disputed territory. Instead, it emphasizes that Pakistan and India resolve the Kashmir issue by holding bilateral talks. But this is not the case when it comes to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Surprisingly, India has recently welcomed President Vladimir Putin in New Delhi instead of condemning Russia. Neither the EU nor the US raised alarms despite signing a series of major energy and defence agreements between Moscow and New Delhi.
The EU might not answer such questions, but it is obvious that the bloc does not dare hurt its financial interest by demanding that India or China condemn Russia. But in Pakistan’s case, the EU can make such a demand as it has been a source of financial assistance and now wants Pakistan to pay back.
In a show of self-aggrandizement, the EU may force Islamabad to buckle under pressure with this new demand. As they say, one does not bite the hand which feeds one. Buying allegiance this way may be an apparent victory for the EU, but, as in the past, it will be a diplomatic blunder and will unwittingly hurt its own interest.
And this is not the first time the EU has inadvertently done damage. The EU delegation, before including Pakistan in the GSP Plus scheme late last year, categorically said Pakistan would be considered for GSP Plus only if it kept its moratorium on the death penalty intact. This may be construed as a gesture of kindness, in keeping with the EU’s lofty ideals and emphasis on human rights. Ironically, the EU never chose to mount pressure on Pakistan’s government by asking for good governance as a prerequisite for GSP Plus.
The moratorium issue, however, has two negative dimensions. Firstly, despite being a major EU trade partner, Bangladesh has never been asked to abolish the death penalty. Dhaka recently sentenced some Jamat-e-Islami leaders to death for “war crimes.” The same could be said for the US, which still has capital punishment, but enjoys cordial relations with the EU. India too has capital punishment and hanged Ajmal Kasab for the Mumbai attack.
Secondly, the EU’s wish that Pakistan must continue its moratorium on capital punishment already has negative ramifications. For the last six years, thousands of terrorists are sitting on death row in Pakistani jails. These convicted terrorists were not executed by the Zardari government because of fears of retaliation, and now Nawaz Sharif government is against the EU’s demand.
Following the brutal massacre on the school in Peshawar on Dec 16 in which the Pakistani Taliban murdered 148 people, including 132 schoolchildren, Sharif is now lifting the moratorium. In fact, even if Pakistani politicians did not have the gall to execute Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and other terrorists, the EU’s demand gave them a pretext of holding the execution of these terrorists. The EU pressure can still provide a lame excuse to the Pakistani government to ban capital punishment in the near future.
Moreover, the EU’s demand of a moratorium on the death penalty is strange. Despite being ardent advocates of human rights, some European countries even served as secret Guantanamo Bay-style torture cells for the Bush administration in the mid-2000s.
This new wish of the bloc of condemning Russia will not facilitate Pakistani forces in combating terrorism. Russia is Pakistan’s new defence cooperation partner and incendiary rhetoric against it from the Pakistani foreign office will certainly fracture the relations between the two countries, ending cooperation aimed at combating terrorism. The EU should take its cue from Putin who also considers Pakistan-Russia ties focused on anti-terrorism and beneficial for all.
Terrorism in the name of Islam is a global menace. Pakistan, Russia, Europe and the United States have all been affected by it. Arm-twisting and forcing Pakistan at this critical juncture to criticize Russia when Afghanistan is about to enter a new phase after the drawdown, is naïve.
Pakistan had once been asked to fight a proxy war. It was embroiled in the so-called ‘war on terror’ by the US after Sept 11 and has paid dearly losing over 50,000 lives while fighting terrorism. And now the EU wants Pakistan to be sucked into yet another quagmire.
Such a dictatorial tone and unwarranted demands from Europe are potentially ruinous. It will also increase anti-Europe sentiment and subsequently encourage terrorism threats in Europe.
There might be a new cold war emerging between the West and Russia. Pakistan must put its foot down and not become a pawn this time. Pakistan needs to learn how to strike a balance. More importantly, Pakistan must learn to be self-reliant. There is no free lunch in international relations. The country will be forced to comply with ‘orders’ from those who offer financial help until it gets rid of economic shackles. It is time Pakistan revived its moribund economy and deliver good governance. That is the only way to become a free country.