Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government is standing at another crucial juncture during its tenure – the decision for the continuation of the EU GSP Plus status pending in February. Currently, the country earns $7 billion through exports to the EU through the GSP Plus status every year. The status is reviewed every two years based on the human rights situation of a country to decide on its continuation or not. And things are not looking good for Pakistan. In the recently held meeting between the delegates of the European Parliament members and the ruling PTI ministers, concerns over the issues related to human rights were raised. Four areas of main concerns for the delegation in Islamabad were: the protection of journalists, religious extremism, misuse of blasphemy laws, and forced conversion in some parts of the country.
The Pakistan side, comprising of Law Minister Dr Farogh Naseem and Attorney General for Pakistan Khalid Jawed Khan, held separate meetings with the delegation and urged them to not abandon this country as otherwise extremist forces would be proactive in the country. While not much details have been made public about the talks between the two sides, it is unclear what the government means when it puts the engagement between EU and Pakistan as the sole factor that would avoid extremist forces from being proactive. It is after all the state’s responsibility to ensure the same.
But coming back to the main four concerns raised by the delegation, the reality is that Pakistan doesn’t fare well. That just last month a parliamentary committee rejected the anti-forced conversion bill doesn’t bode well for the country, especially when the beleaguered Hindu community, whose girls are often abducted, converted to Islam and married to their abductor, have protested against the same multiple times. More importantly, the ruling PTI has tried to pass a draconian law to muzzle the media – an attempt directly against the GSP Plus requirement of freedom of press. Thus, to say that “no journalist had gone missing during its tenure,” is a limited approach by the government.
One can also no longer shy away from the reality that religious extremism in the country has risen in the past decade. Desecration of at least four holy places of the minority groups were reported this year alone. This is not to say that Pakistan hasn’t passed laws for the protection of its minorities, but it is not enough. The government needs to amp up its efforts with more actions than words to ensure its GSP Plus status.