EU vows support for Pakistan’s anti-terror drive

BRUSSELS: European Union foreign ministers on Tuesday vowed full support for Pakistan’s counter-terror drive and said the 27-nation bloc was ready to help civilians affected by the military offensive in South Waziristan.

In their most comprehensive overview to date of relations with Pakistan, European governments also pledged to strengthen the EU’s emerging strategic relationship with Pakistan.

A second summit of the two sides’ leaders is expected to be held under the EU’s Spanish presidency in the first half of 2010.

Keeping to their promise to back democracy in the country, the EU said it welcomed the steps taken by the democratically elected government to meet the country’s complex challenges.

Ministers highlighted the need for swift action to begin reconstruction and development in the north-western part of the country, in accordance with the Malakand Development Strategy.

While no immediate trade concessions were promised, the EU reiterated support for Pakistan’s economic development and said the so-called ‘dedicated dialogue’ it had begun on trade with Islamabad would ‘enhance the bilateral trade relationship, including through a possible free trade agreement in the long term.’

Ongoing government efforts to re-establish full control over South Waziristan were an important step in countering instability, terrorism and cross-border insurgency, EU ministers said.

But Pakistan must also meet its obligations to protect the civilian population, they underlined. ‘The EU stands ready to assist all civilians affected by fighting in accordance with basic humanitarian principles and provided proper access can be granted and needs assessed,’ the statement said.

EU governments voiced concern at the security situation in Pakistan and regretted that hundreds of innocent civilians had become victims of indiscriminate attacks aimed at destabilising the Pakistani state.

‘The EU is firm in its support of the government of Pakistan and encourages it to adopt a comprehensive strategy to fight terrorism and address its root causes,’ ministers said.

They added: ‘A stable, democratic and prosperous Pakistan is also key to addressing global issues such as counter-terrorism, non-proliferation, counter-narcotics and human rights.’

In further planned initiatives, ministers said the EU was ready to assume a supportive role in Pakistani-led initiatives to reform its security sector, strengthen the rule of law and democratic institutions, including the electoral system, thus encouraging the government to produce concrete results.

The EU and European member states provide more than 300 million euros a year in economic support and development to Pakistan. More aid is expected.

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