Pakistan has a reputation for routinely breaking international agreements on labor rights, human rights, religious peace, and anti-corruption, while being a party to several of these agreements. Pakistan has started its application to extend its GSP+ status with the European Union for the years beyond 2023, despite its questionable past. The EU must take into account Pakistan’s appalling record on corruption and human rights when deciding whether to extend GSP+ status.
The Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program was introduced by the European Union (EU) in 1971 in order to provide developing nations simple access to the sizable market of the EU. It was based on the recommendations of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). For a period of ten years, developing nations that satisfied the GSP requirements were permitted to export their goods to the EU at lower rates. A unique incentive program known as GSP+ was developed in 2006 and focused on, among other things, sustainable development and good governance. GSP+ offered “more favorable tariff treatment for a range of products originating in those countries that meet certain conditions” as opposed to the GSP.1
Later, a significant change was made to the GSP system, which went into effect in January 2014. The modified scheme now consists of three arrangements, namely overall Arrangements, GSP+ Arrangements, and European Banking Authority (EBA) Arrangements, while still maintaining the overall architecture of GSP. To assure adherence to the main international accords, it increases its surveillance and offers greater incentives. Armenia, the Plurinational State of Bolivia, Cabo Verde, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Paraguay, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka are now among the GSP+ recipients.2 Before the EU decides whether to include or exclude these countries from the future list of beneficiaries for 2024–2034, a critical examination of the GSP+ term for these nations, which expires in December 2023, is necessary.
GSP+ Status and Pakistan
Since being granted GSP+ status in 2013, Pakistan has taken use of the possibilities provided by the program to improve its trade connections with the EU, resulting in significant economic advantages for its industry. Duty Free access is available for Pakistani products on 66% of EU tariff lines. According to figures provided by Pakistan’s Commerce Ministry, bilateral commerce increased by 78% from 6.9 billion euros in 2013 to 12.2 billion euros in 2021.3 Over the same time period, Pakistan’s exports to the EU rose from 3.56 billion to 6.64 billion euros.4
The two industries that benefited most from the growth in exports were apparel and clothing and home textiles, which made up 4% and 23%, respectively, of all exports to the EU. The exports of home textiles have increased by 141%, going from 696 million euros in 2013 to 1.6 billion euros in 2021.5 Similarly, within the same time period, exports of textiles, apparel, and hosiery increased by 150%, rising from 1.05 billion euros in 2013 to 2.62 billion euros in 2021.6
Pakistan’s Compliance with GSP+ Requirements
While Pakistan has fully benefited from the GSP+ program, a careful examination of the data and developments suggests that Pakistan has not been able to guarantee the implementation of all 27 UN Conventions pertaining to five critical areas, including climate change, interfaith harmony, labor rights, human rights, and anti-corruption. 15 of these treaties have a direct bearing on fundamental human and labor rights. Regarding the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948), the Convention Concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, No. 87 (1948), the Convention Concerning the Application of the Principles of the Right to Organize and to Bargain Collectively, No. 98 (1949), and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948), Pakistan has utterly failed
Furthermore, Pakistan’s predatory security apparatus often targets and tortures human rights advocates, particularly those from the Baloch and Pashtun groups. Manzoor Pashteen, the head of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM)—Movement for the Protection of Pashtuns—was detained by the security forces in January 2020 and accused, among other things, with sedition, criminal conspiracy, undermining Pakistan’s sovereignty, and inciting racial animosity.7 Other movement members were also detained on sedition-related charges after they protested Pashteen’s detention at the Press Club in Islamabad.8 The arrest of PTM’s civil rights activists was seen as a crackdown on the Pakistan Army’s detractors.9
The majority of the assaults against the Hazara Shias have been carried out by Sunni extremist organizations including Sipah-e-Sahba Pakistan (SSP), its branch Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which has close ties to Pakistan’s security apparatus, and the Islamic State (IS) of Khorasan. The Pakistani government does not take effective action to stop those who commit such acts of violence. On January 3, 2022, ten Hazara workers were murdered at Mach town’s coal mine.10 On March 4, 2022, a Shia mosque in Peshawar’s Koocha Risaldar neighborhood was attacked, resulting in 57 fatalities.11
Racial and ethnic discrimination
The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (1966) and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965) have not been seriously implemented by the Pakistani State. Even though racial discrimination is legal, it has been pervasive in Pakistan since its establishment as a state in August 1947. For instance, Pakistan’s declaration of the Ahmadiyya community as non-Muslim in 1974 led to a significant increase in the application of blasphemy laws against members of the nation’s minority communities.
Within ten years following their designation as non-Muslims, a formal ordinance was introduced making it illegal for Ahmadiyas to identify as Muslims. They must certify that they are not Muslims in order to access critical services, join national organizations, or get national identity cards. They are not permitted to openly profess their beliefs or refer to their places of worship as mosques. That might be considered blasphemy and result in harsh penalties including incarceration or death. These regulations “contribute to the systemic and societal discrimination of Ahmadis in Pakistan—discrimination that government officials often publicly support and enflame.”12
Other religious minorities, besides Ahmadiyyas, such as Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, and Sheedis (of East African heritage carried into the Indian subcontinent as slaves by Arab traders between the seventh and eighteenth centuries) endure daily racial prejudice. Their places of worship are often attacked by both ordinary people and the extreme Sunni groups that make up the majority.
Blasphemy laws are used against religious minority to satisfy personal grudges. No blasphemy case has ever been successfully prosecuted in a court of law in the nation to this day since the accused are often lynched in broad daylight. Ironically, the official narrative of Pakistan often appears in foreign reportage on such contentious matters. There are a number of ways to dispute reports that racial prejudice is “non-existent” in the nation.13
Pakistani government oppression
The Pakistani state has long oppressed the Baloch ethnic group. The Pakistani security apparatus often harasses Baloch activists and their families. The state hasn’t made any significant efforts to confront the problem, whether it involves widespread killings or forcible disappearances.14 Instead, with the huge increase in Baloch activist kidnappings by the Pakistan Army, a new round of state persecution is presently under way.15 The Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) took up16 Mahal Baloch, the late Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) activist Nadeem’s widow, together with her mother-in-law Mahnaz, three children (Nugrah, Nazeenk, and Banadi), and other others on February 17, 2023. While some were freed on February 18th,17 Mahal Baloch remained in custody without being officially charged. Later, she was labeled a suicide bomber and accused by CTD of plotting to assault significant security troops and sites in Quetta.
According to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984), there have been several instances of murders of Baloch activists and forced disappearances. According to the Paank annual report, the Baloch National Movement’s human rights group, the Pakistan Army forcibly disappeared 629 individuals in Balochistan in 2022 alone, executed 195 others without due process, and tortured 187 others.18
This is not exclusive to Baloch people, however. Minority Sindhis and Pakhtuns in the tribal borderland between Pakistan and Afghanistan have also experienced similar abuse. Such egregious misuse of governmental authority has largely gone undetected in the world media. Human rights organizations’ reports often go unheard.
Condition of Children’s Rights
The State of Pakistan has not fully complied with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) or the Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor, No. 182 (1999). Pakistani children are particularly susceptible to economic, psychological, sexual, physical, and trafficking abuse and exploitation.19
A public coordinated child protection case management and referral system that meets international standards has not been established by the state. On its official website, the National Commission on The Rights of the Child states, “In Pakistan, we are witnessing an increase in the rates of child rights violation cases across all sectors.”20 The International Labour Organization acknowledges that “child labor cuts across sectors but is largely prevalent in the rural economy.”21 The issue of child labor in Pakistan is one that the US Department of Labor is well aware of. It states definitely that “Pakistan made minimal progress in 2021 because it continued to practice practices that impede progress to end the worst forms of child labor.”22
Hunting for trophies and biodiversity
In Pakistan, the vast majority of the 12 agreements relating to the environment, good governance, and the fight against drug manufacturing and trafficking also failed. Pakistan flagrantly breaches the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity by formally encouraging individuals to go trophy hunting in Gilgit-Baltistan, which is unlawfully occupied. 47 places where trophy hunting is permitted are mentioned on the government of Gilgit-Baltistan’s Forest, Wildlife and Environment Department’s official website. Additionally, it includes the number of Markhors, 44 IBEX, and 8 Blue Sheep taken during Trophy Hunting.23 The Convention on Biological Diversity has been flagrantly violated.
One might assert that Pakistan has flagrantly violated the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988) in this case. A large portion of the world’s illegal opium is processed, transported, and to some degree produced in Pakistan, where thousands of citizens work in the lucrative drug trade.24 With three official crossing locations (Torkham in Nangarhar, Ghulam Khan in Khost, and Spin Boldak in Kandahar), Pakistan and its neighbor Afghanistan, the world’s top producer of illegal drugs, share a 2,430 km long border. The heroin trade, which Pakistani authorities aggressively supported across southern, central, and western Asia to keep the extreme group alive during the global war on terror in Afghanistan, is generally known to have been the Taliban’s main source of funding. Pakistani agents have made every effort to promote narcotics in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir by whatever means (including the deployment of drones) in order to revive bloodshed and terrorism in these two bordering provinces of India.
Numerous investigations conducted by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) of India, and other authorities show that Pakistan-based cartel kingpins are responsible for importing narcotics from Afghanistan via Pakistan.25 It is thought that a significant amount of the revenue earned by the illicit drug trade is used to fund terrorism.
There is sufficient documented evidence to conclude that Pakistan has flagrantly violated the majority of the international treaties it has signed and ratified. The EU must carefully consider Pakistan’s request for the renewal of GSP+ status given the rising EU commitment to implement 27 UN agreements pertaining to climate change, interfaith harmony, labor rights, human rights, and anti-corruption. There is a flimsy case that giving Pakistan this status would motivate it to gradually abide by these norms and assist it in managing its mismanaged economy in a way that would improve the state’s ability to provide public goods to all groups in Pakistan. According to history, Pakistan hasn’t taken its promise seriously and has often broken the rules. In light of this, any decision to grant Pakistan GSP+ will merely give Pakistan’s ruling class more confidence to pursue their well-known policy of discrimination against minorities and racial abuse.