This article was published in European Voice on 12 March 2009.
The EU’s current policy is an example of its old technocratic and apolitical approach.
Pakistan is the pivot around which revolves not only peace on the Indian subcontinent but also the success of NATO’s mission to Afghanistan.
With 160 million inhabitants, a nuclear-armed government, a raging Islamist insurgency and a volatile political scene, it is also an unstable pivot.
Helping Pakistan to become more stable is therefore a key priority. But the responsibility is one that European governments are shirking. The US may in the past have focused on counter-terrorism at the expense of democratic progress, but at least Washington has sought to engage with Pakistan.
The contrast with the European Union is striking. The EU is Pakistan’s largest trading partner. It receives 27.4% of Pakistan’s exports and provides 17% of its total imports. In 2005, EU imports from Pakistan totalled €3.4 billion, almost double the goods and services that Pakistan sent to the US. In 2002-06, the EU provided €125 million in aid to Pakistan (a figure that does not include the €93.6m in aid it sent after the October 2005 earthquake).
Yet it is hard to escape the conclusion that the EU’s role in Pakistan bears all the hallmarks of the pre-Maastricht entity that it no longer wants to be: technocratic, apolitical and marginalised by the US. Though the EU’s aid to Pakistan is significant, it is small compared to the Union’s total development budget of €40bn. It is also dwarfed by the contribution from the US.
Safety and security
In the coming weeks, as US President Barack Obama grapples with what has been dubbed the ‘AfgPak problem’, Washington’s think-tanks will be abuzz with ideas about US policy towards Pakistan.
On this side of the Atlantic, although the EU has talked about hosting its first EU-Pakistan summit, there is no such buzz. Pakistan does not register as a European foreign-policy priority. That needs to change.
To improve counter-insurgency operations in the Afghan-Pakistani border provinces, the US is assisting the Pakistani army and the locally-recruited Frontier Corps forces with training, equipment and intelligence. But this is unlikely to provide more safety and security for the local population – and they must be brought on board for any counter-insurgency effort to succeed.
Here, the EU could help by training the Pakistani police. EU leaders could offer a comprehensive assessment, carried out jointly with the Pakistani authorities, of the various police forces, much as the international community did with the Internal Security Sector Review in Kosovo.
Increasing security is not enough. The EU should lobby the UN secretary-general to appoint an ‘assistance envoy’ and, if need be, the EU should fund the envoy’s office. The envoy could organise a donors’ conference, which could be held in Islamabad later this year and take over the development of strategy for the border areas, which must include security, development, economic and other measures.
With the EU talking about hosting an EU-Pakistani summit, it will be key to lay out a clear map of obligations that Islamabad needs to meet to gain preferential access to EU markets, something Pakistan has long sought. Here the EU can bang the drum on the need for democratic progress.
The EU would then need to facilitate a broader set of regional confidence-building measures. The Commission is making a start: it plans to spend more than €60m on regional initiatives. But this sum could easily be doubled, and spent on kick-starting trade rather than on funding another list of ‘white elephant’ projects.
Finally, the EU should appoint its own, high-level European envoy who could work with Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy for the region.
The simultaneous appointment of British, French and German regional envoys is unlikely to improve collaboration with the US and the three jobs should be merged into one post for Europe.
The EU needs to develop a long-term Pakistan strategy – and it cannot come soon enough. Developments in Pakistan will affect more than Asia’s security; they could endanger European soldiers in Afghanistan and hopes for an expanded European foreign policy. Summits are good, but without a clear EU policy they usually achieve little.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of its individual authors.