Pakistan’s ‘friends’ meet to prop up reform


Brussels : A group of countries calling itself the “friends of democratic Pakistan”, including the US and Iran, met in Brussels Friday to look for ways to help rebuild and reform the country in the wake of its devastating floods.

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The group was founded in 2008, after the restoration of democratic rule in the country, to help keep Pakistan on a democratic path.

Its members are now trying to balance that task with the need to help Pakistan rebuild after August’s catastrophic floods.

“This is about helping the people of Pakistan be able to have a viable country, get on with their lives and to move forward and rebuild in a way that protects them should the floods come back,” the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said.

The EU is a member of the group, as are a number of its main member states. Ashton hosted and chaired the meeting alongside Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

Ahead of the meeting, diplomats said that the focus would be on planned reforms within Pakistan, especially issues such as energy generation, water management and the state’s weak record on raising taxes — something Western states have regularly highlighted.

“The finance minister is examining a number of proposals (on tax reform), the government has undertaken some initiatives and more are in the pipeline,” Qureshi said as he arrived at the meeting.

Ministers were also expected to discuss the humanitarian situation in the wake of the floods, but not to offer concrete donations.

“This is a forum which has been established to create diplomatic support and space for Pakistan. So it’s not a donors’ conference here: political support is equally important,” Qureshi said.

After the floods, the EU offered to drop tariffs on 75 Pakistani products for three years in a move estimated to offer 100 million euros (about $140 million) a year in extra trade.

Member states have not yet approved the idea, with Italy, in particular, demanding that any proposals take into account its own industry.

“It depends on the list of products, depending on the guarantee that any kind of offers will not be extended to other countries in the region, except Pakistan … Under certain limitations we can go ahead,” Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said.

The group consists of the Asian Development Bank, Australia, Britain, Canada, China, Denmark, Egypt, the EU, France, Germany, Iran, the Islamic Development Bank, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the US, the United Nations and the World Bank.