Religious tolerance in Norway at its best, claims envoy

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Norway reducing military presence in Afghanistan; Pakistan India, Iran have central role to play for Afghan peace;

ISLAMABAD, JAN 06 (DNA) – Ms. Cecilie Landsverk Ambassador of Norway to Pakistan has said religious tolerance in Norway was at its best and all minorities were enjoying absolute independence in terms of exercise of their religion as well as cultural practices. She said this while giving an exclusive interview to Diplomatic News Agency (DNA). Ambassador Cecilie Landsverk has recently stepped into shoes of her predecessor and ever since her arrival, has devoted much of her time in strengthening especially cultural relations between the two countries.

“In Norway we pay great attention to human rights and we put great emphasis on the right to free exercise of religion. We teach children in school about different religions and how to show respect. However there are people in Norway that lack tolerance as you see also here in Pakistan there are people that lack tolerance for people who believe differently than themselves’.

The ambassador further said, in Norway we don’t burn mosques. It is not tolerated that Muslims or people from any other faith are attached physically. We welcome an open debate as long as it does not encourage violence.

Among political parties that are represented in Parliament in Norway there are none that do not accept a multicultural society. Some are more restrictive regarding the possibility to welcome new citizens and some want stricter guidelines for integration. However all parties welcome the important contribution that immigrants have made to the Norwegian labour marked not the least, the ambassador added.

While giving a brief account of bilateral relations she said, Norway established an embassy here in Pakistan in the 1970s. It was the time when Pakistanis started to emigrate to Norway. Since then our relations have only grown tighter. For us Pakistan is an important bilateral partner, but Pakistan, like many other countries of the world, is also important at the global political scene, and we relate to Pakistan in both capacities.

‘We thin the dialogue with Pakistan in multilateral foras also is important. Pakistan is both member of the UN Security Council and Pakistan has now been elected as member of the UN Human Rights Council as of January 2013, which is an important position and we welcome the election. Trade figures are not just fantastic between the two countries therefore we need to improve these figures’, she added.
Talking about trade, she said Norwegian exports in 2011 were worth 20 million USD while imports were worth 100 million USD. We sell steel, aluminum, chemicals and import textiles, cloths and leather. Our imports from Pakistan have increased.
When asked to comment on Pakistanis role in Norwegian development she said, since Pakistanis arrived in the early 70s in Norway there has been an interesting development. Norwegian-Pakistani kids and of course their families focus on education. The girls are best. They get the best grades and choose the most challenging studies like medical doctors for example.
Norwegian Pakistani live around Oslo mostly. They have now become prominent members of political parties and representing several of them in the municipal council of Oslo. We have a minister of culture with Pakistani origin Ms Hadia Tajik and one vice presidency of our parliament is also of Pakistani origin.
“I am also happy to see that more and more Norwegian Pakistanis are engaged in the cultural sector. They are actors, comedians, film producers etc. This is very important to be accepted, for what they are Norwegian citizens of a different origin, but fully members of our society. There are no exact figures how many Pakistani are living in Norway however according to a careful estimate there are about 33,000 Pakistanis living in Norway”.
To a question about their military presence in Afghanistan the ambassador said Norway has contributed to ISAF since 2003 with between 500-600 soldiers. We are now reducing our military presence and according to NATO decision, ISAF will be closed down in 2014.
Our last military contribution is to assist in the training of Afghanistan’s own defence forces. We will however give high priority to continuous civilian presence in Afghanistan and development assistance funds will be granted in many years to come. That is a promise. We are optimistic regarding Afghanistan’s ability to take care of its own future and we also look positively at the new increased bilateral engagement between Pakistan and Afghanistan to seek mutual understanding on how to build peace and mutual confidence.
The regional countries including Pakistan have also a role to play to bring peace in Afghanistan. I think the regional countries should sit together and try to help achieve in Afghanistan. Americans are taking interest in the issue but we need to take on board Iran, India and China as well.
About relations with the European Union she said, Norway has no plans to join the EU. We are fortunate to be members of Schengen and we are fortunate to be member of the European Economic Community that gives us an open marked more or less with the EU member states.
“Our people think, the EU is faced with particular problems. Those who want to join the EU are limited in numbers so there I don’t think there are chances of Norway joining the EU any time soon”.
She said we are fortunate to have no border problems. The only neighbouring state that is not an EU member is Russia. There we have good control on the border, both on the Russian and the Norwegian side, and we have good cooperation with the Russians. The closet other non-EU member, where you would not have to cross another EU state in between is Canada perhaps. That is a long boat ride and I hardly think Canadians would be interested.
As compared with Greece, or Malta we are fortunate that nobody can sneak into Norway through boats etc and we make sure that nobody is allowed to misuse our borders.
We want to see a good cultural cooperation with Pakistan and we try to accommodate al genuine visitors by issuing them timely visas. But at the same time we know there are a number of fake documents floating around but let me assure you we have a system in place to check all such documents, she concluded.- DNA