By Ansar Mahmood Bhatti
ISLAMABAD, FEB 06 (DNA) -Mr. Lars-Hjalmar Wide, Ambassador of Sweden has said his country wished a peaceful transition of power from one civilian government to another through elections.He said this while giving an exclusive interview to DNA here on Wednesday. The Swedish ambassador said elections were the only means for any change as no one would allow and accept any change facilitated by undemocratic forces.
Sweden Wishes Peaceful
Ambassador of Sweden talks to Centreline and DNA
Mr. Lars-Hjalmar Wide, Ambassador of Sweden gave an exclusive interview to Centreline and Diplomatic News Agency (DNA), in which he talked about various aspects of Pakistan-Sweden relations. In addition, the ambassador also talked about the regional situation with particular focus on Afghanistan. Here are excerpts from his interview.
Let us begin with bilateral relations between the two countries. How would you describe these relations in terms of political, economic and trade cooperation?
The bilateral relations between Sweden and Pakistan are very good and they have been so throughout the years except some shorter periods when these relations saw some hiccups for example when Pakistan carried out nuclear tests, Sweden, Pakistan ties witnessed some difficult times however right now I can say our relations are very well on track and progressing with each passing day, I must say. Many high level Pakistani dignitaries have visited Sweden including former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and President Pervez Musharraf. These visits contributed greatly towards strengthening relations between the two countries.
Likewise Swedish foreign minister was here one year ago and he had very good talks with his Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar. During his visit he also met with President Zardari and other parliamentarians. Let me share with you the fact that whenever I meet with Pakistanis, especially those who have a little bit of knowledge about Sweden, I find in them a unique sense of love and friendship for Sweden, which ostensibly makes me happy. I am always very well received here. Since Sweden is also member of the European Union so this particular aspect has added another dimension to our relationship.
As regards your question about trade and economic activity between the two countries, let me tell you in 2011 our exports to Pakistan were about 200 million euros and what we are selling is paper, paper products, telecom equipment, vehicle mainly Volvo trucks etc. We import from Pakistan rice, sports equipment, leather goods etc. I believe there is scope for much more trade between the two countries. As you know, European Union has offered to Pakistan special trade concessions in the wake of floods however GSP plus arrangement is still under process and it will take some time when Pakistan qualifies for this facility. There are certain criteria which have to be fulfilled among those are human rights; environmental issues etc. As far as I understand Pakistan government is looking into this seriously. It will take time but I am confident Pakistan can get this facility in the coming days. Sweden is a small state within the European Union but even then we on our part will try best to help Pakistan in this regard.
Through a Chinese subsidiary, Volvo designed buses are now plying in Lahore under the name of Metro Bus Service. Then Tetra pack has established state-of-the-art factory in the outskirts of Lahore. I have personally visited the factory and can say confidently that the factory has been established as per the world standards. There are certain other big Swedish companies that are actively involved in huge businesses in Pakistan.
We are aware of Pakistan’s energy crisis and therefore trying to help Pakistan in this sector as well. We are expecting a delegation from Sweden that will visit Lahore and other cities in order to exchange views with Pakistani counterparts and if the delegation is able to find some common excuses for cooperation in energy sector then a bigger delegation will visit Pakistan.
Security situation in Pakistan is ostensibly a source of concern for foreign investors. There is no second opinion that foreign investments in Pakistan can increase if the security situation improves. I think Pakistan government is also aware of this fact and are trying to bring security situation under control. Here let me say Pakistan, India relations have also to do a lot with the security situation and if Pakistan and India are able to improve their ties, it will certainly augur well for the regional peace.
There is no doubt that Pakistan has suffered a lot in war on terror. The international community is also very well aware of this fact and is making efforts to help Pakistan.
Military cooperation between Pakistan and Sweden has also been deep-rooted. Can you share with us any latest initiatives that two countries have undertaken in order to strengthen these ties?
Well, military cooperation for the moment is not intensive but there have been Swedish defence companies that worked together with the armed forces of Pakistan. Recently, as you know, Pakistan bought from us AWACS, which is a state of the art surveillance system. That agreement has already been concluded. However I don’t see any projects between the two countries at least in the near future mainly because of the regional situation as the Swedish legislation would not allow any new projects for the time being. But exchange of high level visits of military officials, of course, will continue.
As an ambassador ostensibly your first and foremost priority will be promoting people to people and business contacts. Can you share with our readers your plans and initiatives in this regard?
We are always more interested in having high level political relations but as you know Pakistan will undergo elections drill so all politicians will be busy in that. Apart from political contacts, both countries cooperate with each other at various international forums such as the UN. Last year a delegation of young promising participants of youth parliament got an invitation from Sweden. These young people went to Sweden, visited Swedish cities and interacted with their Swedish counterparts. It was, I think, a nice project in terms of people-to-people contacts and we would make sure that such contacts continue to take place in future as well.
Culture is yet another field where we can explore more avenues of cooperation. We have already done a few things. The president of the Arts and Crafts University of Sweden visited Pakistan last November. She was also invited by the Satrang Art Gallery to deliver a lecture with a lot of young people attending. Art, music and fashion, I think are the fields where we can find more common grounds.
Then a good number of Pakistani students are studying in Sweden. We may say, number of Pakistani students seeking admissions in Swedish institutions has decreased mainly because of fees. As you may know, in past the Swedish institutes used to offer free education but from some time they have started charging certain fees, which has made education expensive. We are mulling over some sort of scholarships in order to enable more and more Pakistani students to pursue education in Sweden and I am sure we would be able to do something in this regard.
How optimistic you are that the upcoming elections in Pakistan will ensure strengthening of true democracy? Do you share the popular view that electoral reforms are direly needed?
The European Union, and we as a member of the European Union, have a close dialogue with Pakistan on election issues. In 2002 and 2008, EU had sent an election observer team, which put forth many recommendations. Some of the recommendations were accepted, some remain to be accepted but it is encouraging that some legislation has already been carried out in the light of those recommendations. If invited, we will again send an election monitoring team. One should hope elections will take place on time and transition from one civilian administration to another civilian administration takes place smoothly and peacefully thru elections.
What is your assessment of the Afghanistan situation and how a sustainable peace can be ensured there?
Sweden is part of ISAF forces. We have 500 men and women soldiers mainly deployed in Mazar-e-Sharif and surrounding areas. The foreign forces would withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014 and a small contingent would be left to help Afghan forces in training. At the same time as we drawdown on military front, the civilian development cooperation will increase. And taking together the Nordic countries, i.e Sweden, Norway and Denmark, we will be the major partners in development of Afghanistan. It’s a long term commitment. We have learnt from past mistakes, when the international community left Afghanistan alone, which created unstable situation. We will stay on with civilians in the shape of development programmes for a longer period.
Pakistan and other regional countries have a role to play to bring back peace and normalcy to Afghanistan. Ultimately it will depend on the Afghan people as to whom they pick up but as I said earlier the international community will help Afghan people in this exercise.
Sweden happens to be a key EU member but still out of euro zone. Any plans to join euro and if you could share with us Swedish concerns that have kept you out of euro zone?
We had a referendum in Sweden whether to join Euro or not and quite a large number of people said No. People think they may lose their independence in framing financial and other policies if they join euro. They also fear Brussels will have more say even in the internal affairs of Sweden. But let me tell you it is not an issue in Sweden right now and I don’t see any other referendum coming up on this issue. Even without Euro Sweden economically is doing well even in the crisis.
If you ask my personal opinion, I would say all European countries will have to have single currency. Euro is of course under criticism but I as sure Euro zone will survive although there are big problems in Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal.
Would you like to share your impressions about Pakistan?
I have been here for more than one year now so I know a little bit of Pakistan. I took my family to Northern areas last autumn. We were amazed to see mesmerizing landscape of Northern Areas. We also visited the historic city of Lahore. There are a number of places to visit in Lahore. Then Karachi is also a wonderful city. As regards Islamabad, it is a good place for diplomats. It happens to be a seat of government besides being hub of vibrant media. Before coming to Pakistan, I though I knew something about this country but now having spent a year here I think I did not know much. In the end I would again say Pakistan is well on track and coming days will bring peace and prosperity here.