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Thank you [Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Pakistan] very much for inviting me and for receiving me with such a warm welcome, and for such a productive discussion that we have had this morning.
I am very pleased to be in Islamabad. It is the first time I visit and I am glad to be here for this 4th session of the Strategic Dialogue between Pakistan and the European Union - an exceptional one because, as you said, we agreed today our new Strategic Engagement Plan that gives us an even more solid foundation for our partnership, expands the areas of cooperation, puts no limit in terms of timing and that will, I am sure, constitute a sound architecture for EU-Pakistan relations and cooperation in the years to come. So I am very much looking forward to welcoming you in Brussels for the signature of this agreement that we have finalised today.
We have had very fruitful discussions on a variety of topics. For the sake of time, I would not touch upon them all; I would just highlight a couple. One of them is how important our partnership is for both of us. Let me mention, for instance, our cooperation on the priorities that are also the priorities of your government: poverty alleviation; investment in human capital; in education; in good governance; and in the fight against corruption, and how much we can work together to this effect.
Trade from Pakistan to the European Union for instance has doubled in the last few years. The European Union is now the first export market for Pakistan and this is also thanks to the preferential access to the European Union's market that Pakistan is enjoying since 2014. The fact that exports from Pakistan to the European Union have doubled is exactly linked to that.
The preferential market access is linked to the implementation of a certain number of international conventions: this is what we call the Generalised Scheme of Preferences. We have also discussed about the implementation of these international conventions, that are namely linked to the promotion of human rights, freedom of religion and belief, freedom of expression, the situation of women and the role of civil society in Pakistan. We have had good discussions and I have noticed the strong political commitment of the Minister [for Foreign Affairs of Pakistan, Shah Mahmood Qureshi] and this government to be very consistent with these values and push forward this agenda that is so important for your government.
We have a very important partnership on many different fields including, as you said, on migration. We have a readmission agreement in place between Pakistan and the European Union. We agreed to intensify our common work to implement it efficiently, to manage the migratory flows together, but also to support Pakistan in its very generous hosting of so many Afghan refugees. We know it is a challenge and you know that you can count on us to support your country in this respect.
This brings me to one of the most relevant issues that we have debated - with a good convergence I believe - today: our common support to the current Afghan peace talks. We have discussed ways in which the European Union and Pakistan can effectively encourage and accompany a process of talks that could eventually lead to peace in Afghanistan, which is so important for Pakistan, but also for the European Union.
Let me also mention before I conclude the fact that we have appreciated the fact that the tensions with India after the recent events in February have de-escalated. The Minister [of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan, Shah Mahmood Qureshi] informed me about the steps taken to address the challenge of terrorist activities. I have expressed to him all our support in trying to make this crackdown on militant and terrorist groups as effective as possible, for the sake of regional security and stability, but also for the sake of Pakistan itself. Pakistan knows that it can count on the European Union to support the country in this process.
I would like to end on a sad note. I would like to express my condolences and my sympathy, first of all, to those who are suffering from the severe drought that is affecting large parts of southern Pakistan, but also to the families of the victims of the terrorist attack that took place in New Zealand some ten days ago. I know that nine of the victims were of Pakistani nationality. As we expressed our full solidarity and sympathy with the authorities of New Zealand, I want to express our condolences and sympathy to the families of the victims and also to the Pakistani authorities for this loss, because for us, it has been a terrible terrorist attack. Every time that a place of worship is attacked anywhere in the world, no matter what kind of religion it is, it is an attack against all of us. We are in full solidarity in this.
Thank you very much.
Q. Regarding that OIC's [Organisation of Islamic Cooperation] recent decision to request the special session of the UN General Assembly regarding Islamophobia. What would be the EU's position on this?
First of all, I want to fully share the words that the Minister [of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan, Shah Mahmood Qureshi] said about the fact that the rise of Islamophobia is a threat for us all. It is not only a threat for Muslims but also for our societies. Because the strength of our societies lies in their diversity, and whoever attacks the diversity of our societies, attacks the entire society, not just one segment of it.
This is why for the European Union institutions, for me personally, for all our Member States, it is a priority to make sure that Islamophobia does not find any place in the European Union. This is why I fully share your words about the leadership shown by the Prime Minister of New Zealand [Jacinda Ardern] in addressing the terrorist attack that took place ten days ago there.
This is why the European Union was represented at the last meeting of the OIC to tackle Islamophobia, and obviously, we are more than willing to cooperate with our partners, not only in the OIC, but also in the UN framework, to make sure that not only Islamophobia, but any kind of attacks on anybody, especially on the basis of his or her religion or belief or non-religion, finds no place in our world.
We will be consistent in working together with single countries, with the OIC, in the UN framework, to make sure that this does not happen, as well as to make sure that no person, no man, no woman can be discriminated or under attack for anything that is related to his or her identity, his or her religion or belief, or his or her background of any kind.
This is the nature of the European Union’s identity, it is our DNA, and we will do our best together with our partners in the world to make sure that these values are protected in the world.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-170137