Question: Can you shed some light on the key areas of cooperation and engagement between Pakistan and Germany? Are there any initiatives (whether economic or political) to help with strengthening the bilateral relations between both countries?
Jauhar Saleem: The relations between Germany and Pakistan are long standing and multi-faceted. There is cooperation in areas of political, economic, commercial, development and cultural interaction. We also have a strong linkage of hundred thousand strong Pakistani diaspora in Germany. While there are around 5,000 Pakistani students studying in German universities.
The embassy of Pakistan is specially involved in the continuity of political dialogue and coordinating and facilitating of bilateral initiatives between both countries in the above noted areas. We are also deeply involved with cultural diplomacy to promote soft image and culture of Pakistan.
The embassy also helps Pakistan and Germany cooperate on a number of international issues. In the economic field, we have been able to organise a number of business conferences and cultural events to highlight the potential of strengthening the trade relations between both countries. The embassy, of course, also ensures Pakistan’s befitting participation in some of the largest trade shows that take place in Germany every year. Similarly, we have facilitated many high-level defense exchanges aimed at strengthening the ongoing defense cooperation.
Overall, the two countries have extensive ties, which the embassy endeavors to help sustain and strengthen.
Q: Just behind Yemen, Pakistan is ranked as the second-worst country in the world for gender inequality, according to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report 2016. Pakistan is among the most dangerous countries in the world for journalism, according to the World Press Freedom Index 2017.Internationally renowned datasets like the Fragile State Index categorises the country as on high alert. The Global Peace Index states Pakistan to be amongst the “least peaceful” countries in the world.
Given this background, how does the embassy of Pakistan work to project a positive image of the country in Germany?
JS: I have not seen some of the indices cited by you but as we know within the international community of experts, there are a lot of misperceptions about Pakistan. While some of the cited indices may carry a negative rating for Pakistan at times, however, I strongly feel that most of their assertions are misleading or constitute a gross exaggeration, representing a partial view or lack of understating of the culture and society of Pakistan.
Having said that, it is part of our job to address these misperceptions by projecting a balanced image of the country. For instance, when it comes to gender imbalance, many outside Pakistan forget that Pakistan is still a very young country. But even so it has made huge strides in addressing gender biases. We now have women working shoulder to shoulder with their male brethren in all avenues. From fighter pilots to police officers and from doctors to politicians it’s now hard not to find significant proportion of females in any vocation. In countless fields female participation can be seen in equal measure to men. In our parliament, we have a mandatory quote reserved for women. And we have had a female prime minister long before many western democracies had any female heads of government.
Similarly, in some of the other areas that you mentioned, Pakistan is undergoing some very positive transformation; and has made quite significant progress whether it is about women empowerment, countering the scourge of terrorism and resultant insecurity, entrepreneurship development, social media activism, human rights protection or education promotion, This embassy endeavours to show this true image of a dynamic Pakistan.
Unfortunately, biased reporting in international media poses a challenge that we face on a daily basis. Multifarious positive developments are often ignored by the media so we try to highlight these by various activities under the ambit of cultural diplomacy; such as organising art exhibitions, music concerts, fashion shows, literary events, cinema weeks, etc, to show the cultural richness and dynamism of Pakistan. And I believe that we’ve done that quite successfully. As a result, now there is this positive hype and increased curiosity in Berlin and elsewhere in Germany about the fashion, music, literature and art emanating from Pakistan.
Q: Misperceptions aside, there are a lot of domestic problems in the country that need recognition. For instance, earlier this year, the Supreme Court of Pakistan in a unanimous verdict on the political controversy over the corruption allegations unleashed by the 2016 Panama Papers leak removed the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, from office. Do you believe this kind of political instability in the political landscape of the country impact the work of the embassy here?
JS: Whatever has happened in Pakistan in the political arena in recent times has been within the ambit of the constitution and the democratic order. In fact, it speaks for the resilience of the democratic order in the country that even when a prime minster was disqualified the next one was elected in a smooth manner and the system continued functioning.
I would not qualify this as political instability since this is part of democracy. In fact, this shows the strength of democracy in Pakistan. And by the way, democracy in Pakistan is not just about elections and smooth transfer of power, we have one of the most vibrant media in the world — it is freer than many of its western counterparts.
As such, I would not say that those political events have impacted on our work here.
Q: The right-wing nationalist party has entered parliament in Germany for the first time, winning around 13pc of the votes. The political campaigns of such parties openly targeted Islam and migration. This trend has been prominent through-out Europe. Representing one of the countries with the largest Muslim population in the world what do you make out of the success of the ultra-right radicals in the recent German elections?
JS: As professional diplomats, we try not to get involved in the domestic politics of the host country since this is not our domain. At any rate, these are very stable and smoothly functioning democracies that we are talking about. In Germany, whatever happened in terms of radical parties getting more of a center stage is within the framework of their constitution and their political dispensation.
The recent elections results do suggest that the ultra-right parties have more support than many would have anticipated or felt comfortable with. This could be a concern for the Muslim populations of Germany, including the Pakistani diaspora, in terms of the Islamophobic ideas being propagated by some of these far right parties. However, it is still the mainstream parties that have mustered over 85 percent of the vote. And from what I have seen, the government is doing enough to address the concerns of minority communities.
Q: Talking about political challenges on the international front, the recent uproar in the region has been regarding the latest UN General Assembly session where the Indian external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, called Pakistan a “pre-eminent export factory for terror” and in response, the Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN, Maleeha Lodhi, used a false picture from Gaza while making a point about the Indian atrocities in Kashmir. Would you like to comment on the issue?
JS: Indian allegations are not only baseless but also totally misdirected. They have far more to explain themselves than Pakistan for terrorising their Muslim minority and, as a matter of fact, for oppressing other ethnic and religious minorities. The share of Muslims in India in parliament, businesses, government jobs and, in fact, in all spheres of society is a travesty of justice. It’s a systemic marginalization which is taking place there at the hands of the government of a party, which built its political support by promoting hatred of Muslims, and by a Prime Minster whose hands are stained with the blood of Muslims.
What is happening in Indian occupied Kashmir is a clear instance of state sponsored terrorism which requires international intervention.