Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

EU concerned about extremism in Pakistan

Indo-Asian News Service - 12 July 2007

The European Union has voiced concern about the Lal Masjid episode in Pakistani capital Islamabad and has called on the government to take a position against extremists in the country, INEPNEXT news service said.

"We are worried about recent events in that country (Pakistan) and the attack on the mosque has occupied our minds. It is important that the government takes a position against radicalism and radical extremists," Manuel Lobo Antunes, Portuguese Secretary of State for European Affairs, said during a debate on Pakistan in the European Parliament Wednesday evening.

Portugal holds the current European Union Presidency.

There is a need to avoid a repeat of the violence in Karachi in May, he said. "We hope that both parties will show restraint and that those responsible for maintaining order will apply a minimum of force when dealing with the situation."

The EU is also following closely the process against the suspended Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, he said.

Antunes called for the holding of fair and free elections in Pakistan later this year.

"It is important that the next President of Pakistan is elected in accordance with the law," he stressed.

On her part, EU Commissioner for external relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner said she was shocked to see the scenes that took place in the heart of the capital of Pakistan. "I very much appreciate the patience shown by the government in trying to reach a negotiated solution in order to avoid bloodshed," she said.

"The episode has demonstrated to the world what dangers religious fundamentalism and intolerance can indeed pose to us," said Ferrero-Waldner, a former Austrian foreign minister.

EU policy is to stay constructively engaged with Pakistan to promote regional and internal stability and to consolidate Pakistan's position as a moderate Muslim state, said the commissioner.

But she noted that the political environment in Pakistan "is characterised by uncertainty" and that the country is rife with speculation on possible electoral scenarios.

"As Pakistan approaches crucial parliamentary elections later this year, I believe it is necessary to continue to put emphasis on the strengthening of democratic institutions.

"There are serious concern about the way the electoral rolls have been prepared. Several million voters seem to be missing from the list," she noted.

British member of the European Parliament Charles Tannock argued that the Red Mosque crisis "is a welcome distraction" for President Musharraf who is under pressure due to the judicial crisis and also to justify five more years in power and to keep the pervasive influence of the Pakistan army.

The Parliament will vote on a resolution on Pakistan later Thursday.