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Views from the Field: In Conversation with the EU Ambassador to Pakistan

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15 April 2016

Created in 1947 from the partition of the Indian sub-continent, Muslim-majority Pakistan has been marked by regional conflicts and political upheaval. Jean-François Cautain, EU Ambassador to Pakistan, shares his experience working in the country and outlines the EU’s priorities, including education, rural development and governance.


Jean-François Cautain returned to Pakistan as EU Ambassador in 2015, having worked in aid agencies in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the 1990s. In the intervening years he was Head of Operations in the EU Delegation to Afghanistan in 2002, where he led policy dialogues on reconstruction following the fall of the Taliban. He was then appointed Head of the Political, Press and Information Section in the EU Delegation to Thailand from 2005-09, and EU Ambassador to Cambodia in 2011-15.


Capacity4dev (C4D): What are the main challenges facing Pakistan, and what are the key elements of the EU’s development cooperation?

Jean-Francois Cautain (JFC): What struck me when I moved Delegation from Cambodia to Pakistan last year was looking at comparative social data between the two countries. Cambodia and Pakistan had the same level 15 years ago. Cambodia made good progress on the Millennium Development Goals – it’s one of the best students in the class. Pakistan, due to difficulties in the last two decades with the rise of militancy and terrorist organisations, has had a difficult time. Since I worked in Pakistan in the 1990s in aid agencies it’s become much harder security-wise; it’s much more difficult to travel. The situation has had an impact on development, health and education. Pakistan is a middle-income country with the indicators of a least-developed country. There is a lot of work to do on development issues.

I think there is a strong will from the government’s side to catch up. Now we have seen in 2013 for the first time a transition from one democratically-elected government to another one. Pakistan is on the right track from a political point of view, and is now engaged on development - witness a number of initiatives taken by the government in terms of malnutrition. There’s political will, not only at a federal level, but at a provincial government level. I’m optimistic we should see positive developments in the next couple of years, and the EU is working to support this.

The EU’s relationship with Pakistan goes back many years before the first European Commission office in Islamabad opened in 1985, and it’s a cooperation that we’re trying to deepen. We have a five-year engagement plan with Pakistan [from 2012-17] with different elements, including political dialogue, trade agreement and cooperation activities. The main sectors we are working on are education, rural development and governance. Education is key. Pakistan is also an important partner for the EU on regional stability, peace and security.

C4D: The EU has allocated €635 million in development funds to Pakistan for 2014-20. What support is it offering in terms of education? Can it contribute to wider goals of peace and security?

JFC: The root causes of radicalization and militancy are lack of education, lack of opportunity, injustice and frustration among the young population especially. You have to tackle security issues, clearly, but that’s more dealing with the symptoms. The root causes have to be tackled, and they are linked to under-development. You have to make sure you give similar chances to everyone, the chance to develop, to go to school, to be educated, to feed their families.

Education is key for the development of Pakistan, and it’s a focal sector for us because it’s a priority for the Pakistani government. As in many developing countries, Pakistan has a young population. 70% are under 30 years old, and there’s a high birth rate. We give a broad range of support from primary school to university. We are also deeply involved on technical and vocational education and training (TVET), which is important for Pakistan which is trying to develop its industry. They are facing constraints in terms of having enough skilled people, so TVET is an important sub-sector, and helps create opportunities.

Beyond that the EU can provide the soft side on peace and security issues. You can develop projects on countering violent extremists. You can work with the media, with universities, with education ministries and the government to develop another narrative – as well as on the issues of religion, of culture, of women. We know that some terrorist organisations are very good at communication in terms of using social media. The EU and partner countries around the world have to cooperate and develop a smart counter narrative on these key issues.

C4D: How can the EU support regional cooperation to increase opportunities for Pakistan?

JFC: In this region the key players are not at all integrated for geopolitical reasons. There is a regional integration body, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), but it’s far from what we see in other regions in terms of integration. The region is a victim of lack of connectivity. If I want to go from Islamabad to New Delhi, I have to go through the Gulf countries, and it takes me one day to go there, whereas a direct flight would be two hours.

China is putting billions of dollars on the table to develop a China-Pakistan economic corridor. It’s important to have dialogue with them and Pakistan to see how our initiatives, like GSP+ [a trade agreement which allows Pakistan to export 90% of its product categories to the EU tariff-free], can help in terms of developing industries and exports for Pakistan. We must see how we can play synergies between this China-Pakistan economic corridor and what we are doing with the business community in Pakistan.

What is missing now in Pakistan is good linkages between big companies and the small business community. The dialogue has so far been between big business companies and the government and China, and what is missing in Pakistan now and where the government is trying to create initiatives is to develop a network of SMEs.

CFD: What impact has GSP+ had so far, both in terms of trade and the implementation of the human rights, environmental and labour conventions which are linked to it?

JFC: We have had the GSP+ since January 2014, but when I look at how it has helped Pakistan in terms of exports, it has had an impact, but not enough.


But it’s been positive - the other side of the GSP+ agreement is that the government of Pakistan agreed to fully implement the 27 international conventions it is party to on human rights, good governance, labour and the environment. Over the last two years Pakistan has improved in terms of reporting to different UN bodies. Pakistan was late on some reporting, and GSP+ has been an incentive to report properly and on time.

Practically, there has also been a positive impact on labour rights - it has been an incentive for Pakistan to implement the labour rights conventions recognized by Federation of Trade Unions in Pakistan, including employing more women and making sure there is no child labour. The Prime Minister has put in place a new mechanism to monitor the implementation of the 27 conventions. They’ve just decided a new human rights action plan, and we feel these positive developments are linked to the GSP+ initiative.

C4D: How much do EU Delegations in the region work together, and are there any lessons from your experience in other Delegations which are relevant for Pakistan?

JFC: There is a need, at the level of EU Delegations, to see how we can promote regional integration between countries. For example in Afghanistan we have peace talks, and we have to be close to our colleagues because Pakistan is also key to a peace solution in Afghanistan. We can share more in terms of lessons learned as we have similar issues in some of countries in the region.

I’d like to highlight an interesting initiative in Cambodia, called Better Factories Cambodia. It’s a tripartite agreement between workers’ unions, industry and government, managed by the ILO. The objective is to make sure all companies producing for export from Cambodia are monitored on a regular basis in terms of employment conditions, and based on this monitoring scoreboard, the company will keep or lose its export license, so there’s a strong incentive to comply. We don’t have that yet in Pakistan, where the textile industry makes up 57% of exports. For more on standards in the garment industry, look out for next week's Voices & Views article.

C4D: What impact has the EU’s five-year engagement plan with Pakistan had so far, and what’s next?

JFC: The impact has been we have deepened the relationship with Pakistan, developed good cooperation on the different sectors and had quite intensive political dialogue. We have launched the GSP+, which has clearly had a positive impact. I hope there will be a further stage, a new framework with Pakistan to deepen the relationship with the country.

What people have to see is that Pakistan is not what it’s portrayed as in the media. When I’m talking to friends and colleagues about Pakistan, they have a negative view of the country. People have to realize that Pakistan is a beautiful country, it’s a country with 200 million plus inhabitants, it faces challenges; and you can also find the most hospitable people in the region there. It’s striking how people open their homes to welcome you. That’s Pakistan. We have to change the narrative on Pakistan.

For more information on EU operations in Pakistan you can visit the website of the EU Delegation to Pakistan, were you can see a list of the projects they are implementing.

DISCLAIMER: This information is provided in the interests of knowledge sharing and capacity development and should not be interpreted as the official view of the European Commission, or any other organisation.

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