Interview given by H.E. Mr. Régis de BELENET, Ambassador of France to Pakistan, to the Daily Times
1 / Pakistan’s relationship with France has multiple dimensions ranging from economic ties to a cultural exchange (Alliance française and scholarships programs to France). How do you perceive your role as Ambassador de France in the current global environment?
You are right to pinpoint that the role of an Ambassador has multiple aspects. This is what makes this job so original.
As every orchestra conductor, who has to lead all the different musical instruments in the orchestra, an Ambassador is provided, thanks to each of his colleagues, with a great range of qualifications. It is his mission to get the best out of them to achieve in the best possible way the common goal of enhancing mutual understanding, the basis on which the bilateral relations can develop.
In the same time, you appropriately noticed that wherever he is, an Ambassador cannot limit his actions to the framework of bilateral relations. He also has to contribute to develop common stands on major international issues: fighting against terror and proliferation, solving crises, reinforcing security, acting for promoting development, preserving the environment. On all these issues, Pakistan and France are constantly sharing their views and pursuing their cooperation.
Such a task requires the implication of civil society and the medias. This is what makes our relations so useful and important.
2 / Is Pakistan somewhat erratic political path at all problematic for France and what would be an ideal projection be for the next elections in Pakistan in your opinion ?
Democracy should never be taken for granted, its always remains a goal to reach as the ideal democracy is extremely difficult to achieve. This goes for every countries in the world.
We think Pakistani people are attached to democracy.
We also think that more democracy demands more education, less poverty, law and order , along with a reinforced role of the political institutions. We support everything undertaken in this direction.
Elections are the climax of the life of a democratic country. The only ideal projection is that the next series of elections in Pakistan will constitute a « free and fair » contest. The principle of democracy requires that the electoral outcome is the sole choice of Pakistani people.
The work of the Electoral Commission should also be highlighted. I was very pleased to recently meet its Chairman for a briefing with other European Ambassadors. Its task before the elections is essential as it has to update the electoral lists, train the elections officers and make sure that every polling station is given the appropriate equipment. How the elections are going to take place very much depends on this difficult mission.
In this respect, France and its European partners provide support to the Government of Pakistan through the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in various areas such as data processing systems and public awareness campaigns.
We appreciate the decision of the Pakistani Authorities to invite observers to monitor the elections. With our European Union partners, we intend to take benefit from this offer.
3 / Has the endless “war against terror” had any impact on the relationship between France and Pakistan given that France has been the voice of moderation in many regards?
Since 11th September 2001, Pakistan is fully engaged in fighting terrorism. This is important for two reasons :
First because anyone can suffer from terrorism. It is in every countries’ interest to take action against it.
Secondly because fighting effectively against terrorism requires international cooperation.
Pakistan has had major successes in fighting international terrorist networks like Al Qaeda : most of the high-profile terrorists part of this network have been arrested in Pakistan : Abou Zoubeida, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed and Abou Faraj Al Libi.
We are confident in President Musharraf’s determination to eradicate this plague and we fully support him in this battle, which remains a daily challenge.
4/ The trade between France and Pakistan has been copious and greatly beneficial to both countries with economic development and a more towards processed/manufactured value added projects in Pakistan export. What changes do you foresee in the trade portfolios?
As a matter of fact, the bilateral trade between our two countries has registered a tremendous growth over the last two years and had doubled to 1 billion USD.
This figure translates the outcome of the bold reforms carried out by Mr Shaukat AZIZ’s government : Economic growth that Pakistan is experiencing is underpinned by a new strong regulatory framework.
Moreover, Pakistan is located in the midst of a fast emerging region which reflects positively on its own economy. This global positive context will continue to boost the increasing trend of the economy.
The decision of the Government to increase substantially the development expenditures, in the framework of the PSDP (Public Sector Development Program) in order to improve the lot of common man and to favour the emerging of a middle class will result in numerous new infrastructures projects to which French entrepreneurs in partnerships with private local companies might take part.
I am referring particularly to the water and energy sector (Vinci, Veolia, OTV, Degremont, Veolia, Seureca), urban transport (Aéroport de Paris, Systra which designs the future Lahore Mass Light Rail System Transport, railways), urban planning in a whole, agrobusiness, railways transportation... In all theses fields, France possesses a worldwide expertise and a prominent technical know how which can benefit Pakistan.
The French Government is eager to accompany Pakistan in its development and in this regard has resumed its financial assistance through :
the support from the COFACE, the French export credit agency
. the financial reserve for emerging countries (soft loans) coherent with the strategies of multilateral development banks and also with the millennium development goals adopted by the UN ;
. the FASEP, a fund for the assistance of the private sector in order to finance feasibility studies ;
. the AFD, French Development Agency, a device for the implementation of the French public aid for development which will start to intervene in Pakistan in connection with the post-earthquake reconstruction.
5 / Does the France-Pakistan defence cooperation have an economic form?
The cooperation in the defence field includes various issues, from the fight against terrorism and proliferation to appeasement and stabilization policies with Pakistan’s neighbours.
Recently, there have been new achievements in the defence cooperation between our two countries. These are a few examples worth mentioning :
resumption of stops over of French warships
military exercises between French and Pakistani Navy and Air Force as it is ongoing taking advantage of the current location of the Aircraft Carrier “Charles de Gaulle” in the Arabian Sea
France’s open attitude to providing some military equipment to Pakistan. In this respect a special bilateral commission meets twice every year to assess the projects and the needs in this field.
Last but not least, the French Department for Armament provides each year full scholarships to Pakistani students to join French Engineering Schools funded by the Defence Ministry.
6 / How exactly does the French scholarship scheme work?
This Higher Education program has been in a constant progression during the last few years: in 2000: this year 2006, 147 Pakistani students left to France last end of June to perform their PhD. They were 17 in 2000, and from 2001 to 2005, their number has successively increased to 21, 36, 50, 75 and 92.
I am pleased with this constant increase, which shows the growing interest of Pakistani students and faculty members for the French higher education.
Students have to go through a tough selection process managed first by the Higher Education Commission and then through interviews with French professors. Finally, they have to take intensive courses of French at the French Centres in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, and Peshawar.
Only the candidates of an excellent level are selected and every year the average level of the candidates is increasing along with the popularity of the programme. The students mostly come from the top Pakistani Engineering Universities: UET, COMSATS, NUST, GIKIEST, NED, Punjab University, University of Agriculture Faisalabad, and the most popular areas of studies are Information and Telecommunication, Economics and Finance, as well as Life Sciences, Physics and Mathematics.
Before their departure to France, students can get quite a good command of the French language within 6 months of tailor-made courses at the Alliances françaises of Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar. Once in France, they attend again 2 months of very intensive French courses before joining their respective universities and studying with other French and foreign students.
The French Embassy funds the French language classes in Pakistan and in France, and thanks to the Government of France which allocates 23 per cent of its national budget to Education, the tuition fees are free whether the students are French or not. The French state pays a very large part of each student’s expenses, keeping admission fees among the lowest in the world. Last but not least, the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan provides to each student fully funded PhD scholarships for four years.
7 / Recently there has been a revival of traditional cultural art forms in Pakistan like classical dances, Sufi music. Which appeals to you the most?
Sufism has a longstanding tradition in Pakistan. President Musharraf recently called for a revival of this tradition. I think this is extremely important because Sufism is based on moderation and is consistent with the enlightened path that Pakistan has decided to follow.
I must say I particularly appreciate Sufi music, especially the poetry from Bulhe Shah and Sultan Bahoo. Singers like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Abida Parveen perfectly managed to add to these texts an enchanting melody. / .