The European Union (EU) is going to have its first-ever summit with Pakistan on June 17 in Brussels. In Asia the EU has only three strategic partners, namely China, India and Japan, with whom it holds standard annual and occasionally half-yearly summits. Britain is the only country in Europe that holds annual summits with Pakistan. However, even these purportedly annual summits are irregular and have often been mired in controversy whenever a terrorist attack takes place in the UK or terrorist plots are unraveled and foiled by British agencies. Thus, the first summit between the EU and Pakistan is bound to generate interest in South Asia as well as in Europe.
The EU is hosting a summit neither with a country that is a strategic partner nor of significant economic importance. The newly announced EU-Pakistan Summit stems from the urgent concern of security, and more precisely counter-terrorism. The summit would be held under the aegis of the incumbent Czech presidency. Speaking in the British Parliament about the summit, David Miliband had stated that his government “strongly supports the proposed EU-Pakistan summit and continues to encourage the Czech presidency to set an ambitious agenda that will deliver tangible benefits to Pakistan. We believe the summit should focus on security, counter-terrorism, trade and building democracy.” In particular, the security community in Brussels and in other European capitals seems to have influenced the decision to hold this first-ever Summit. Gilles de Kerchove, the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, noted in May 2009 that “The security threat posed by Afghanistan and Pakistan to Europe is obvious. We had many cases in the recent past where either Pakistanis were coming to Europe or young EU citizens were going to Pakistan for training and being brainwashed in madrassas…” This view was echoed at the EU’s General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) meeting on December 8, 2008, which concluded that “Following the terrible attacks in Mumbai, the ministers underlined the intrinsic security issues in this region and the necessity for enhanced cooperation between all actors, particularly between India and Pakistan. They indicated their determination to reinforce cooperation between the EU and Pakistan, insisting both on political dialogue and trade. To this end, meetings should quickly be stepped up and a Summit organised under the Czech Presidency.” Apart from announcing an increase in aid to Pakistan in the area of rural development and education, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU External Relations Commissioner stressed the importance of fostering a stronger relationship with Pakistan in April 2009 at the International Donor Conference on Pakistan in Tokyo.
If this is a brief chronology of recent events leading to the first EU-Pakistan summit and increasing EU engagement with Pakistan, the most immediate rationale for the summit is primarily internal. Besides high-level European officials’ public statements on the unique challenges faced by Pakistan, the more pressing need of European policymakers is to keep European streets, vital installations and general populace insulated from terrorist attacks originating from Pakistan. Annual reports published by individual national intelligence agencies during the last few years consistently focus on the threat to Europe emanating from Pakistan. Successive European Police Office (Europol) reports have also been categorical about the threat. The latest Annual Report published by the General Intelligence & Security Service (AIVD) of the Netherlands notes that “The Pakistan-Afghanistan border region is an important base for internationally active networks which also threaten both the Netherlands and Dutch interests abroad.” The Danish security service (PET) has an identical assessment. For Germany the situation is even more acute given that German residents have been found to have taken military training in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region and formed sleeper cells.
A key finding of the 2009 TE-SAT (EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report) Report, which is essentially a compilation prepared by Europol out of the terrorism-related data provided by member countries, is that, “Afghanistan and Pakistan seem to have replaced Iraq as preferred destinations for volunteers wishing to engage in armed conflict.” However, the TE-SAT Reports of 2008 and 2009 do not contain the data from the UK, since British authorities did not provide data for the period 2006-2007 to Europol. It is more than certain that British inputs would have made the pan-European threat perception far grimmer.
The threat of terrorism and the phenomenon of Islamic radicalism, which has national variations in Europe, have undergone a significant change in the last few years. The earlier view was that the terrorist challenge in Britain has its origins in Pakistan, whereas this was not the case with other European countries. But this view has changed in the wake of several incidents in the last few years –the Barcelona plot, the Glasvej case in Denmark, in the case of the Sauerland group and Radicals from Ulm in Germany, the arrests in the Netherlands of those plotting terrorist attacks, etc. Besides, European terrorist networks involving a few radicalised students and professionals from Pakistan remain a continuing threat.
The EU’s decision to hold a summit with Pakistan indicates that it has accepted the obvious, namely that Pakistan serving as a frontline state against terrorism is no longer an adequate solution and that the threat radiating from Pakistani territory also has to be dealt with in a meaningful manner. So far, the focus of EU member countries was on Afghanistan and the on-going military operations there. And Pakistan was seen only from the angle of trade and other development assistance. The issue of security has so far been addressed only by major European countries, Britain, France, and Germany, who have appointed special envoys for Pakistan. But the growing Talibanisation of Pakistan and increasing terrorist attacks within Pakistan in which European nationals have also died have led the EU to realize that the mere provision of aid and augmentation of trade is not likely to suffice and that the Union as a collective has to engage Pakistan in a structured manner at the summit level where security is the main focus. It remains to be seen how the summit would address the strategic threat of radicalization of a section of Pakistani youth.