Pakistan, EU sign new strategic engagement plan: FM Qureshi

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and the European Union inked their Strategic Engagement Plan (SEP), which is expected to provide the framework for greater cooperation and stronger ties between the two sides.

The SEP was signed by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and EU High Representative Federica Mogherini at a ceremony in Brussels.

The new strategic engagement plan for steering their bilateral relationship was agreed upon after protracted negotiations at the fourth round of Pakistan-EU strategic dialogue held in Islamabad in March.

Addressing the EU’s Political and Security Committee, Mr Qureshi shared Pakistan’s perspective on regional security and hailed the new engagement, saying it would bring about qualitative change in ties.

“The SEP will usher in a qualitatively new phase in our relationship, and further deepen this partnership through an all-encompassing framework of cooperation,” the minister said.

Mr Qureshi added: “Collaboration in the sphere of peace and security, through a structured security dialogue, is an essential pillar of this plan.”

The new security dialogue under SEP has replaced the earlier series of annual counterterrorism and non-proliferation and disarmament dialogues.

Recalling that Pakistan and EU were maintaining high-level military-to-military contacts, the foreign minister said the new format would build upon previous engagements and help the two sides engage in a more comprehensive manner.

“Pakistan-EU Staff Talks provide the framework for this engagement; and enable both sides to understand respective threat perceptions, challenges and regional security dimensions,” he added.

A third round of Pakistan-EU Staff talks also started in Brussels on Tuesday.

Sharing Pakistan’s perspective on regional security, the foreign minister said the country was pursuing the policy of cooperation with all neighbours including India. In this regard, he reminded the EU committee of the initiatives undertaken by Pakistan including work on the opening of the Kartarpur corridor and expression of readiness to discuss Kashmir, terrorism and all other matters. On Afghanistan, he said operationalisation of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity reflected Pakistan’s foreign policy vision.

Any move towards improvement in relations, he maintained, should be on the basis of mutual respect, sovereign equality and mutual benefit.

He apprised the committee about threats to strategic stability in South Asia due to growing conventional asymmetry between Pakistan and India; supply of advanced military hardware and sensitive technologies to India; and adoption of offensive force postures and doctrines by India.

“Under these destabilising circumstances, Pakistan has no option but to maintain a minimum credible deterrence, while aspiring for a Strategic Restraint Regime in South Asia,” he emphasised.

He rejected the concept of India serving as a “Net Security Provider,” “Economic Anchor” or “counter weight to China”, harboured by few in the West.

Doing so offsets “the strategic balance in South Asia, undermining regional stability. At the same time, enhanced strategic space for India in Afghanistan seriously impacts Pakistan’s security,” Mr Qureshi cautioned.

Kashmir dispute, he said, was the single biggest obstacle towards peace and stability in South Asia.

He expressed concerns over the escalating tensions in the Middle East between Iran and the United States.

Touching upon the efforts for a peaceful settlement of the Afghan dispute, he said Pakistan was extending full support to the peace efforts in Afghanistan. “Pakistan, through its limited role and influence, facilitated direct talks between the US and the Taliban through authoritative representatives. We also released Mullah Baradar and other Taliban prisoners to provide impetus to this process,” he noted and added that Pakistan contributed to bringing synergy to the peace process and overcoming deadlocks.

COAS meets UK officials

In his meetings with British officials, Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Bajwa, who is on a visit to the United Kingdom, also spoke about the situation in Afghanistan.

Military spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor tweeted an update on Gen Bajwa’s visit. “COAS interacted with Sir Mark Sedwill NSA & Cabinet Secretary at the Cabinet Office and Mr Stephen Lovegrove Permanent Secretary at Ministry of Defense,” he said.

“Regional situation including Afghan Peace Process was discussed. Both dignitaries acknowledged Pakistan’s contributions towards regional peace,” he tweeted.