The European Union (EU) has told Pakistan that it will review the preferential trade deal unless the country implements UN conventions linked to protection of minority and women's rights.
European Parliament Vice President Heidi Hautala, who is in Islamabad, said that Pakistan’s duty-free market access could be in jeopardy unless Pakistan quickly implements various laws related to anti-torture, sexual violence, protection of women and children rights.
In signs of increasing global visibility of the deteriorating human rights situation in the South Asian country, Hautala added that the European Commission Monitoring Mission will soon be quizzing the Pakistani government over the implementation of these laws, says The Express Tribune.
Hautala said: “We would like to see a bit more rapid implementation of the laws, particularly anti-torture law, sexual violence, and protection of women and children rights".
Europe had in 2014 accorded the Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) to Islamabad under which it enjoys zero per cent duty on hundreds of products that it exports to the EU. The trade pact is coming under review as it expires in December 2023.
In the last six months, the European Parliament has passed two resolutions to review Pakistan’s GSP Plus status owing to its poor rights record. The country came under the limelight because of gross misuse of the blasphemy laws and lax implementation of civic rights.
If Pakistan cannot convince the European Commission Monitoring Mission over human rights accorded to its minorities, women and children, the GSP Plus will expire in 2023. If unconvinced, the EU may even withdraw the preferential trade laws before the expiry date.
Withdrawal of the trade law will hurt Pakistan as the EU is Pakistan's largest export market. Also, Pakistani exports have been steadily increasing in the European market.
Hautala also said that if Pakistan expels the French ambassador under pressure from the country's right-wing elements, relations with the EU will certainly deteriorate. She added that the Pakistan government shoulders the responsibility to ‘cool down the groups’ asking for the expulsion of the French ambassador.
The European Parliament VP said that there are nearly 27 UN conventions that relate to minority rights which Pakistan should observe.
The EU is also looking at decreasing media freedom in Pakistan.
Pakistan has seen a rise in fundamentalist forces over the past couple of years. The Imran Khan government has mostly capitulated to the demands of the ultra-orthodox groups. Prominent has been the group Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), which has indulged in large scale violence over its demand of expelling the French ambassador.
Simultaneously, the country has seen several cases where blasphemy cases have been filed against members of minority communities on false or trumped-up charges.
The Taliban’s ascension to power in Kabul after the withdrawal of US and NATO troops too has emboldened fundamentalist forces in Islamabad.