Interview given by Mr. Régis de Belenet, Ambassador of France to Pakistan, to Monthly Defence Journal, Karachi
1. Would you please tell us about your upbringing and schooling ?
RdB : I belong to a family of military officers. It was the case of my father, my grandfather and so on, up to Napoleon’s time. Among my brothers, one is a Brigadier General (r).
I was born in Marocco where my father was serving as a specialist on North-African and Muslim affairs ; but I spent most of my youth in Normandy, in a city, Rouen, still, at that time, very much devastated because of the second world war.
I came to Paris later on to follow law and political sciences studies and then I was graduated from the " Ecole Nationale d’Administration" in 1969.
2. Would you please tell us briefly about your ambassadorial career ?
RdB : I started my mission, as French ambassador to Pakistan, end of September 2005. Previously, I was Ambassador to Djibouti and in charge of the relations with Erytrea ( 1992-1994), Ambassador to Switzerland (2000-2001) and ambassador to Denmark (2001-2005).
Before or between those appointments, my professional activities had mainly to do with political and military affairs, including in Paris as diplomatic adviser to the Chief of Defence Staff or as Director General for strategic affairs, or abroad, in the French diplomatic missions at NATO ( Brussels) or in Moscow for example.
3. Governor State Bank of Pakistan stresses the need to have closer technological cooperation between Pakistan and France . What are your comments and prospects ?
RdB : The Governor State Bank of Pakistan is right, of course : there is a need to have closer technological cooperation and a lot of possibilities do exist to do so.
1) My country is the sixth economic power in the world ; the fifth goods export country ; the fourth services exporting country ; the second for hourly productivity ; the first as a tourist destination with more than 70 million tourists a year that is to say more than the French population ( 62 million inhabitants). France is also one of the most advanced countries in terms of hi-tech, manufacturing, alone or in joint venture, some of the most famous contemporary internationally acclaimed achievements, such as world-standard cars manufactured by Renault and Peugeot/ Citroen all over the world, bullet trains (TGV) by ALSTOM, mobile telephone systems by ALCATEL, radars by THALES, satellites by ASTRIUM and EADS, missiles by ARIANE, aeroplanes by AIRBUS, not to speak of electronics with SAGEM or power production with companies like TOTAL and AREVA etc...
2) With such a solid and diversified expertise, France is capable of laying the foundation with Pakistan of a stronger and closer cooperation in acquisition of many modern technologies. This, in fact, is going to materialize, in the near future with the setting up of a new University of Technology in Karachi.
I would like to insist a little bit on this project which I consider as a flag one. A completely new University of Engineering, Science and Technology ( UESTP) will be set up in Karachi, on the pattern of the French University of Technology, from Troyes (France). This takes place under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan ( HEC ) and the French Government in April this year which, among many, commits the French Government in the creation of a consortium of top engineering French Universities to support the new UESTP.
This UESTP is likely to open its gates in October 2007, with a limited number of students and professors at the beginning, but the target is to take the number of students in Bsc, Msc and PhD levels to 5.000 within ten years. This will be the opportunity to welcome in Pakistan some six French professors in 2007, as they would be about 25 in 2017 holding the key faculty and administrative positions of the UESTP.
The UESTP curricula will include the disciplines of Mechanical Engineering and Industrial System, Computer Sciences and IT, Textile Engineering, Food Technology Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Alternative Energy, Marine Sciences. The medium of instruction will be the English language and French language classes will be part of the syllabus, in order to give to the students the opportunity to complete their six months internship in France.
Even if after ten years, the UESTP would be at the level to be handed over to Pakistan, the objective is to carry on the Pakistan-France cooperation in the fields of higher education, technological and industrial development. Indeed, Pakistan and France are strongly focusing on the involvement of the French and Pakistani industries from the very beginning of the project in order them to contribute to the curriculum in participating to the steering committee, being linked to the Technology Park and Business Incubator Center which will be established adjacent to the educational sector, providing internships and giving lectures to the students. I can also tell you, that our Pakistani-French Business Club ( Pakistani-French Business Alliance / PFBA) has already set up a committee to be involved as needed.
4. How do you evaluate the socio-economic bilateral relationships between the two countries .What are your recommendations to boast socio-economic relationships and volumes of trade in the future ?
RdB : Basically, I think our two countries have good economic reasons to pay more attention to the one an other, but, probably due to perceptions problems, we still have a lot to do to reach better results.
Our relations have been too much restricted to trade and not opened enough to investment :
The two-ways trade, according to French statistics, have reached last year around one billion US$, a figure which is not so bad and which is the result of a important increase in the last two years.
We have also a lot of French engineering teams present in Pakistan in Kamra for examplefor the maintenance of the Air Force "Mirage"( DASSAULT, SAGEM, SNECMA)or in Karachi for the construction of submarines
However, French investments, considered as financial flows able to modify the socio-economic fabric of your country, are rather low. The stock is mainly represented by eight companies of ours, seven major Groups (TOTAL in joint venture with PARCO,ALCATEL, ALSTOM and AREVA, SANOFI-AVENTIS, RHODIA, CONTINENTAL BISCUITS LU) and one SME (ARCHIFILES, a company specialised in digitalisation of land registration).
We have to work to build up a new image and, to do that, to interconnect better. Different tools exist, like the "Pakistani- French Business Association " ( PFBA ) or in Paris a "Pakistan Committee" launched last spring within the French Business Confederation ( MEDEF). It is also the role of the different Chambers of Trade and Industry, both in Pakistan and in France to organise appropriate events with the assistance of course of the economic mission of the Embassy as far as necessary.
5. Businessmen of the country urged France to give greater market access to Pakistani products as it would help both the sides to increase trade volumes. What are your suggestions in this regard ?
RdB : As you know, within the European Union, trade policy is a common policy. It is for the European Union to decide about tariffs and non-tariffs barriers and for the Commission to negociate on behalf of the member states .
When you speak of greater market access for Pakistani products, I am sure you know the European Union is, already, by far, the first trade partner of Pakistan and around 30% of the Pakistani exports go to the European Union’ members countries, that is to say 4,3 billions US$ in 2005-2006.
Probably your point refers to two issues : the fact that Pakistan is not eligible to the EU new Generalised System of Preferences ( GSP +) and the issue of anti-dumping taxes on Pakistani bed linen exports.
The explanations are in fact quite very simple :
on the first point, it is because those preferences are reserved to the weakest states, from an economic and trade point of view. It is not the case of Pakistan. Moreover to be eligible, it is necessary also to have ratified different international conventions in the field of human rights and good governance.
as far as textiles are concerned, you have to keep in mind that 81% of the Pakistani exports to France are made of textiles items. During the past ten years, the French textile industry in general , and bed linen activities in particular, have suffered a lot. At some point, anti-dumping duties have been decided by the EU due to some practices ; things might have turned differently with a better cooperation from the part of all the companies involved. Today the taxation system on bedlinen has been readjusted.
What can be done in the future ? I am sure new concepts might arise as Pakistan wants to be a global partner. To achieve such a target, the industrials should enter in joint ventures for the conception of the products, their design and their quality control. They should manufacture much than they do and enter progressively the international distribution by themselves .
6. What changes do you foresee the trade portfolios between the two countries ?
RdB : Exports’ diversification in the two ways trade, between two countries, depend mostly of the trends in the socio-economic development of those countries.
In the case of Pakistan and France, I noted, for example, 2004 and 2005 have been earmarked by a strong purchase of mobile telephone backbones from France ( Alcatel) due to the boom of the handsets all over Pakistan. In 2006 and 2007, imports from France and Italy will grow as PIA has decided to modernize its regional planes fleet with the acquisition of seven Franco-Italian planes ATR 42-500.
More generally, by ensuring a fast GDP growth, year after year, Pakistan’s needs will grow consistently and will be more diversified.
On the other hand, as long as Pakistan will implement its "Medium Term Development Framework 2005-2010", consisting in particular in the setting up of engineering and chemicals activities and of diversified exports, new fields of industrial products will be available. For example, new FDI in machinery construction, in petrochemical and plastic plants and from European car-assembling factories might participate, not only to the development of the domestic market, but also to the creation of new flows of export of high added-value products to the developed countries. In the case of the automotive industry (which I studied particularly), it would be particularly obvious.
As in any country, developed country like France or country in transition like Pakistan, the economic mutation is a progressive phenomena. I remember, when I was a student, forty years ago, the percentage of the French population working in agriculture was over 20% ; today it’s around 4%.
So to answer more directly your question, yes , I am convinced the Franco-Pakistani trade portfolios might be quite different in ten years time.
7. Pakistan has multiple dimensions relationships with France, ranging from pure economics to culture, technology to humanity, and from education to support. Please tell us how you perceive your role as ambassador of France to enhance the sustainable bilateral relationships between the two countries.
RdB : My role, as I see it, is two fold :
in the field of the bilateral relations, first and foremost, I contribute to the definition of the strategic vision : what do we consider appropriate to do and why ? That requires a lot of knowledge, of lucidity, a good sense of prioritization, a capacity to convince policymakers, and a good network too.
The strategy being defined, the ambassador is a sort of orchestra conductor who has to lead all the different musical instruments in the orchestra ( that is to say in the embassy), doing his best to give the impulsions at the appropriate time, to avoid the squawks and to get the best out of each of his collaborators which requires to pay all the necessary attention to the human dimension.
a French ambassador -and due to France’s role in international affairs, particularly in connection with our seat of permanent member of the Security Council-cannot limit his action to the bilateral relations. He has also to contribute to develop common stands on major international issues : the fight against terrorism, non-proliferation, illegal traffickings, reinforcing security, preserving the environment, acting for promoting development, management of regional crises.
8.What are your suggestions to improve the levels of good governance, democracy and human rights in Pakistan ?
RdB : First, on democracy and good governance, I would like to repeat what I said answering a partly similar question in an interview I gave during the last commemoration of our National Day, "Bastille Day ".
Democracy and good governance should never be taken for granted. It always remain a goal to reach as the ideal democracy and good governance are difficult to achieve. This goes for every country in the world.
I think Pakistani people are attached to democracy and good governance. I also think that more democracy and more good governance demand more education, less poverty, law and order, along with a reinforced role of the political and judiciary institutions. France supports 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 work of the Electoral Commission is crucial. Moreover, 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 of this offer.
I am pleased you ask a question on Human Rights because, as you know certainly, my country, for a very long time and with the accidents of History naturally, has been passionate about Human Rights , having concern for Human Beings and their dignity. A denial of Human Rights means accepting that which is irreparable. It’s why protecting all Human Rights is a legitimate concern for the international community.
In this spirit, we value the dialogue the European Union ’s Member States representatives in Pakistan have with the Pakistani Authorities on the issue of Human Rights, including a dialogue on specific points like the Hudoods Ordinances. We share the view that ensuring Human Rights for all is a necessary step in furthering President Musharraf’ policy of "enlightened moderation".
We attach also a great deal of importance to the normative work conducted by the United Nations : we call all the countries to be a party to all the Treaties promoting and protecting Human Rights ; we consider the dialogue between the countries and the independent expert committees charged with ensuring compliance with these international instruments to be fruitful.
9. Would you please tell about the chances of winning global war against terrorism and how you evaluate the role of Pakistan as front line state in war of terrorism ?
RdB : Today we have to face a global terrorism which involves a tiny minority but not a marginal minority. It is a lasting phenomena which constitutes a strategic threat. None of our countries is spared. Pakistan is not, neither is France.
Yes, we are convinced it is possible to win this fight ; but that requires a lot of efforts : technical ones, like the strengthening of international cooperation or a better control of movements of persons ; but also political ones.
Let me insist a little bit on this point :
counter-terrorism must, first and foremost, combine police, judicial and intelligence resources, with due respect for human rights and civil liberties and under constant control by civilian judges.
we have also to communicate better than we do. Frankly speaking, we do not consider appropriate the use of warlike terminology : the fight against terrorism is not primarily a problem of military means.
we have also to reject any conflation of Islam with terrorism : the fight against terrorism is focused on the groups which try to hijack Islam’s humanist tradition and pervert the religion.
we have to counter the rhetoric of hatred and intolerance.
fighting global terrorism, also requires a political approach. To reduce and ideally to resolve regional crisis ; to strengthen solidarity and development ; to consolidate weak states ; to give the priority to multilateralism : each of those objectives is important in itself . But those objectives are also important in the fight against terrorism because terrorism uses opportunistically regional conflicts, poverty, existence of weak states or absence of sense of otherness for recruitment and/or as a motor of mobilisation.
As to the role of Pakistan, it is crucial for the two reasons I have already mentioned :
first because anyone can suffer from terrorism, as we see it in Pakistan ; and it is obviously in every country’s interest to take action against it.
secondly, because fighting effectively against terrorism requires international cooperation.
Pakistan has had major successes in fighting Al Qaeda networks. Most of the high-profile terrorist’s part of this network has 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 struggle which remains a daily challenge.
10. We know, the France-Pakistan defence cooperation is moving in right direction. Kindly tell us how both the countries can increase their closed defence cooperation more in the days to come.
RdB : Defence cooperation between our two countries is a fact, especially in the field of Naval cooperation :
a major exercice involving the French aircraft carrier "Charles de Gaulle" and the French aircraft carrier group took place, in April and May, off the Pakistani coast and enabled the embarked air wing to interact with the PAF and the naval units to exercise with the PN.
next year, France will participate in the exercise "Amman 07 " in spring 2007 with several naval units.
Navy is obviously the easiest field of cooperation as France has a permanent naval deployment in the Arabean Sea, with a dedicated commander on board his ship. This Admiral has already visited Pakistan on various occasions and met the high ranking defence authorities of the country . But, there are also prospects to enhance the cooperation with the Air Force and the Army, with observers that could be sent to each others exercices.
In the field of armaments, France has been providing equipment to Pakistan, especially to the PN and the PAF, since the 60’s.France never hesitated to honour her commitments, even after their terrible terrorist attack in May 2002 against the DCN technical team in Karachi : all measures were taken to carry on with the construction of the Agosta 90 B submarines. Various new proposals have been made to Pakistan regarding new French equipment and are being studied currently.
11. President Musharraf and the government are making every possible effort to build the "soft image" of the country. Kindly give us suggestions to improve it.
RdB : Pakistan has been suffering and -it’s fair to say-is still suffering, from a bad image in some countries, including in European countries including , I have to say, mine.
This is partly a misjudgement, due to lack of knowledge abroad. We can adress this issue by developing an adequate information :
visits to Pakistan of foreign delegations including opinions’ makers are crucial . I noted that with different French delegations, a radical change did occur , due to their visit to Pakistan, in their vision of your country.
seminars organised abroad with participation of nationals living in your country can be helpful . In June 2006, I took part to a one day seminar for businessmen organised in Paris by UBIFRANCE (a French foreign trade organisation). The theme was : "Pakistan, beyond the clichés ". Books, like the one by Delphine Elvmoon " Pakistan, un autre regard ", are also quite useful as it’s the case of TV documentary films. I know the Franco-German TV channel ARTE has planned a nearly two hours documentary film on Pakistan to be viewed in 2007 during the commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary of your country.
there are also charismatic persons able to get the lines moving and the perceptions changing. Someone like Mehmood Bhatti is certainly a good example of those.
I am sure the very dynamic tourism policy your Government is implementing will help. I was informed recently your Minister for tourism, Nilofar Bakhtiar, has decided to invite foreign tour operators, travel writers, tourism experts and consultants for participation from the "target markets"( including France, by the way ) in the inaugural ceremony of "Visit Pakistan Year-2007" and it is , obviously, a very good idea.
we can also contribute in taking part to the extension of the network of hotels in Pakistan for leisure tourism and it is exactly what the French world leading company "ACCOR " has decided to do with the launching of a dozen of new high quality hotels, with two Pakistani partners.
But the bad image, mainly, is due to a tiny minority of criminal people trying to conflate Islam with terrorism, trying to hijack Islam’s humanist tradition and pervert the religion for their criminal goals .It is also from this point of view, the struggle against terrorism is so important and we praise the Pakistani authorities’ commitment in this regard.
I ’ll say a word on the "advice to travellers" we- as other countries- have to formulate to answer requests from our nationals. I know the role those recommendations can play in the perceptions of a country. I can assure you, we try to do our best to propose a fair and responsible assessment of the situation.
12. What are your comments about the Book of our President, "The Line of Fire" ?
RdB : A foreign diplomat living and working here, in Pakistan, by definition, is anxious to know and understand better your country, its History, the functioning of the Society, the inter-relationship between the key persons etc.... For all those reasons, I found very interesting indeed to read this book and I considered it as a great chance because, after all, it’s not so frequent for an incumbent President to issue his memoir. I can tell you, I have learnt a lot : this book, very clearly written, is really very informative.
It would be incongruous, from my part, to formulate appreciations on the personality of the author. Nevertheless, there is a quality which appears all along "In The Line of Fire", and I would like to mention it, courage. I have noted , by the way, nobody in the country, disputes that.
One regret if I may : my country is never mentioned in this book. But I know, of course, it’s not the topic and I am very much aware of the author’s deep feelings of friendship for France and for the French people.
13. President Pervez Musharraf ’s plea that Pakistan served as Bridge between the West and the Islamic World. Do you agree with it ?
RdB : First, I am not sure you can compare a geographic concept ( that is West ) to a religion ( that is Islam).Can you also portray " the West" as a whole or" the Islamic World "as a whole ? Can we also approach all the developments in "the islamic world" from the religious point of view, ignoring -it seems to me- the social, political and economic factors ? Do not forget also the fact that in the United States and also in Europe (specially in France, in United Kingdom, in Germany etc...) many Muslims live inside. In France, for example, Islam is the second religion and there is about 10% Muslim population.
That being said, and to answer more directly to your question, Pakistan certainly has a lot of assets enabling it to play a key role in "the Muslim world " and in the international dialogue and cooperation : its legitimacy due to its identity ; the fact Pakistan is the second Muslim nation by its population and is located at a crossroad between Middle-East, Central Asia and South Asia ; the importance of the relationship with Arab countries ; the attachment to Sufism ; the choice of President Musharraf to promote the "enlightened moderation policy" ; the commitment of Pakistan in the struggle against terrorism.
Pakistan is doing a lot within the Islamic Conference Organisation to promote those ideas and results have been achieved both at the ICO summit meeting of June 2004 and at the meeting of December 2005.
Obviously, it is not an easy task ; but possibilities for Pakistan to play fully the role you described do exist, in connection with what might be the internal developments in Pakistan and the capacity to assure a better regional stability.
14. France stands for its rich cultural heritage and performing arts. Pakistan has also been blessed with so many god-gifted performers and voices, larger than life. What are your favourite singers and artists of our country ?
RdB : I am aware of the very rich cultural life in Pakistan ; it was true in the past and remains true today.
You are a country of very old civilisations. Nobody can be indifferent to the Mehrgarh civilisation, not to speak of the Gandhara civilisation, this unique conjonction of Asian and Greek cultures. But your culture is very alive today.
It’s true as far as music is concerned, through this longstanding tradition of Sufism in particular. Singers like late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan or Abida Parveen perfectly managed to add to the poetry of the texts an enchanting melody. They have reached a worldwide audience. They have performed many times in France.
Of course, one can regret that dance- with exceptions, of course, like Khattak dancers as Fassi U Rahman and Nahid Siddiqui - and theatre have few visibility, but I have noticed that a Performing Arts Center will start to be built soon. It is a promise of revival for these artistic expressions.
Painting is also on the front of the stage. Pakistan has a very rich tradition in miniatures. Because we consider it important to contribute to the promotion of cultural diversity, we decided during this year to present an exhibition of miniatures by the Lahore NCA students and I can tell you this exhibition was quite successful. I visited recently in Lahore a gallery where very inspiring miniatures were shown, some from Abdur Rahim for example.
I am also impressed by the Pakistani contemporary painting. Someone like Gulgee is known all over the world.I like very much also a lot of others painters like Ejaz Ul Hassan or Mashkoor Raza, for example.
I think it is a very positive development a New National Art Gallery will be inaugurated very soon in Islamabad. You may know that French experts (on oil painting restauration and frame hanging) have been involved in this project.
15. Kindly tell us about the different socio-economic, cultural and educational activities and facilities offer by the French Embassy in Pakistan.
RdB : To avoid to be too long, I’ll limit myself to what we do bilaterally, without mentioning what we do in Pakistan through the delegation of the European Union ( as you know, our share in the financing of those activities is a little more than 16%).
Five activities have to be mentioned :
1) The cooperation which has an objective of contributing to the development of Pakistan, essentially by training courses. The most important activity is sending students for PhD in France and the next opening of a new University of Engineering, Science and Technology (UESTP) in Karachi, in the pattern of the French Universities of Technology, with the collaboration of the "Higher Education Commission".
2) The cooperation covers also other fields : scientific research ( geology, material sciences, information technology, biology...). Thus, French geologists of Grenoble and of the CNRS are working with their partners of the Geological Survey of Pakistan on a programme on the earthquake threat . Pakistani researchers ( National University of Computers and Emerging Sciences and Pakistan Science Foundation) and French researchers are working together with researchers of Malaysia and of Indonesia on a programme of developing data mining.
There is a new agreement between University of Agriculture Faisalabad and University of Rennes in biology.
There is also an important cooperation between the PIMS (Islamabad) and the "Hopital Saint-Antoine" (Paris) about intensive care unit (ICU).
We have also a cooperation in the field of governance (scholarships for training at the French "Ecole Nationale d’Administration"( National School of Administration), public security and civil affairs ( training for policemen and firemen), as well as cultural cooperation ( mainly with PNCA and NCA / Lahore).
3) We have four French Cultural Centers "Alliances françaises", (in Islamabad, Karachi, Peshawar and Lahore) which organise French language courses in their premises and also outside, according to the request : universities, enterprises. In 2005, they enrolled 3000 students.
For French courses, we have also agreements with the Institute of Business Management of Karachi, The National University of Modern Language of Islamabad, the Kinnaird College and the Punjab University in Lahore.
4) We offer a method to Learn French language by internet : "French on line" which is a method developed through a team of Pakistani and french educationalists (“email@example.com”). Presently, "French on line" enrolles more than 700 students. Allama Iqbal Open , COMSATS, Beacon House National University, Preston University, University of Agriculture Faisalabad and Punjab University are partners of "French on line".
5) A French school exists in Islamabad (“ l’Ecole Française d’Islamabad"). This school is also known as" Ecole Française Alfred Foucher ". Alfred Foucher( 1865-1952) worked a lot on Gandhara civilisation.
This school offers a quality education and is recognised by the French Ministry of Education. It is open to all children, whatever their nationality.
16. Are you satisfied with the role of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in Pakistan and especially in far-reach areas ?
RdB : Frankly speaking, I am not sure your question is addressed to the right person.
I understand the UNCTAD’s program in Pakistan consisted mainly of execution of a project entitled "national trade and transport facilitation" to be financed by the World Bank. I have been told, it was not a success ; but I am not in a position to formulate a personal judgement.
17. Kindly tell us about the French Republic’s Human Rights Prize : can a common man or NGOs of our country apply for it ?
RdB : The French Republic’s" Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" human rights prize is awarded annually by the French CNCDH(national advisory commission on human rights) to the five first ranking candidates selected by a jury of at least fifteen members of the commission.
The prize distinguishes field work and projects connected with the practical defence and furtherance of human rights, of an individual or collective nature without distinction of nationality or frontier. Each year, the CNCDH issues a call for applications, stating the themes for the year. This year, the closing time for applications was on the 30th of September. The CNCDH should have made by the 16th of November and the prize will be conferred on 10th of December on the occasion of the human rights day.
This year, the themes were :
combating forced disappearances, as the systematic perpetration of disappearances constitutes a crime against humanity ; it violates the rights to recognition of one’s legal personality, the right to freedom and personal security and the right not to be tortured ; it also violates the right to life or gravely jeopardises it.
social and civic education for women, as women’s participation in the life of society is one of the forces driving change. It is therefore important that women should receive the knowledge that will enable them to have a better perception of the situation around them and so contribute to the life and development of their societies.
Of course, Pakistani candidates can apply and actually we received one application this year.
18. We highly acknowledge the timely human response and financial assistance of your government in the times of crisis i.e. October earthquake. Kindly tell us your future diversified plans and programs for the uplift of the affected people in the country.
RdB : First on the earthquake and the emergency phase, I remember the famous sentence of Hazrat Ali ( RA) "if someone helps you at the time of need, must publicize ; and if you help someone, be silent" . It is a very appropriate sentence. In the times of crisis, friends have to be there. So the best should be not to comment what you are saying so kindly.
Nevertheless, as French ambassador in Pakistan , I must confess, I was proud a french specialised rescue team was able to land in Islamabad Sunday October 9th, in the afternoon and to start working in Balakot Monday October 10th, whereas an impressive medical and chirurgical team, with surgeons, emergency doctors, nurses and all the appropriate equipment arrived the day after and was able to be immediately active in Muzaffarabad.
Allow me also to mention the work done by French NGOs, a lot of them, around ten, are still working in the affected areas and performing an impressive work
Now, speaking of the reconstruction phase, the French Government has pledged 80 million euros at the donors conference, on November 18th, 2005, a conference which was attended by the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Philippe Douste-Blazy.
The first half- 40 million euros (soft loan)- is used for the financing of the reconstruction of houses in the rural devastated areas ; it is a contribution from the French Development Agency (AFD) to ERRA housing reconstruction housing programme. On behalf of the French Government, I signed the financial convention on this matter with the Secretary of the EAD Ministry on November 10th, 2006, that means a little less than one year after the pledge which is, in those matters, not so bad.
The remaining 40 million euros ( soft loan) will finance water supply, sanitation and solid waste management projects in urban areas, mainly Bakryial (the new Balakot), Muzaffarabad and Mansehra. The French Government and ERRA are in the process of launching feasibility studies for these projects.
I should like to add a very important point as far as AFD is concerned : the contribution to the financing of ERRA housing reconstruction programme is the first operation of the French ODA institution in Pakistan but it will not be the last one. The French Government has authorised the AFD to develop activities in Pakistan to help your country to reach the Millenium Development Goals and in early 2007, AFD will open an Office in Islamabad.
19. Would you please highlight the French scholarship scheme and its significance ?
RdB : The French scholarship scheme is a joint program managed by the Higher Education Commission ( HEC ) and by the French Government, with the support of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Through this program, the French embassy promotes the French higher education through fairs, forums, and university tours all around Pakistan and provides a comprehensive assistance to Pakistani students who come to France for their higher education with information and advice about orientation, applications, visas, housing.
The French Embassy has launched its program for postgraduate studies in France in cooperation with the HEC in 2004. The growing attraction of Pakistani students towards France, especially in the last three years, has led 102 students to start a Master degree and/or a PhD in France in 2005, and 147 students in 2006.
Students are first selected through the HEC selection process, on the basis of merit and then are interviewed in Pakistan by French professors. Selected candidates are undergoing French language training in Pakistan in one of the four Cultural Centers ( Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar). After the successful completion of training in French language by the end of June, the candidates travel to France where they again take-up an advanced level of training in French, enabling them to effectively and efficiently carry out their further studies in French language. Following the language training, students are ready to integrate one of the 87 public French universities for their post-graduate studies.
As you might know, the HEC scholarship program is targeted to develop a research base in the areas of key importance to the social and economical development of Pakistan and in areas where the relevant facilities are not available inside the country. Here, special care is being taken to ensure that the PhD scholars have a guaranteed employment on their return to Pakistan as well as to provide sufficient funds to set up a program of research and development in their respective areas after specialisation. Another really efficient feature of this program is the provision of travel and support funding for the PhD supervisors of the respective scholars to visit Pakistan as well as for scholar to continue interactions with the respective research group at his alma mater.
The HEC foreign scholarship programs are being concentrated in host countries having advanced standards of education combined with low tuition costs. In this regard, let me emphasize the fact that in France, education is a constitutional right with more than 20% of France’s national budget dedicated to education. Thus, the French government pays a very large part of each student’s expenses ( about 10.000 US$ a year), keeping admission fees among the lowest in the world.
As a concluding point, I may add that France has a long scientific tradition, internationally renowned contemporary researchers and research centers. An active policy on research and innovation has led France to be one of the most IT-oriented countries in the world. The French higher education system is of high quality, effective and easily accessible, courses are open to everyone, no tuition fees are charged to any student and foreign students are treated in exactly the same way as French students ( in terms of their status, housing aid and the fees they pay).
20. French youth is passing through a difficult time. They are unhappy about the issues of over racism, poverty and unemployment. Kindly, tell us what steps have already been taken to put an end to the increasing unrest among the youths in France.
RdB : I don’t think that the French youth as a whole is passing through a difficult time. But you are right if you mean some of them, particularly among the young people (12 to 20 years old), representatives of the second generation of immigration feel confronted to real problems. I think the key one is an identity problem : those young people do not know their country of origin and, at the same time, they have not necessarily the affective link with France, their parents who chose to come to France have.
You are also right, when you speak of " unrest". I remember in November 2005, some papers speaking of riots ; it was not correct : those events had nothing to do, for example, with the Los-Angeles riots of 1992.
Now, what have we done. I would like to address the different aspects you have mentioned : feeling of discrimination, poverty and employment which have been at the roots of this unrest. There was no ethnic or religious basis in this unrest ; it was connected to socio-economic problems (employment, poverty, housing ) and to a general claim to have equal chances and to be considered as one hundred per cent French. Basically, four decisions have been adopted in addition to the ones already taken before this unrest (plan for social cohesion and legislation against racism and discrimination) :
1) a new law for equality of chances passed on 2006, March 31. This new law notably includes :
apprenticeship for young as from 14 years old
fifteen new national duty free areas (corporate taxes alleviation) in deprived neighbourhoods
new agency aimed at fostering chances equality and social cohesion
more powers granted to the "High Authority against discriminations and for equality(competence to impose fines).
2) focusing more on urban policy through new kind of agreements signed between the Government and communal authorities to improve social cohesion in urban areas.
3) fostering diversity at the corporate level while encouraging companies to hire peoples from various backgrounds and fostering men-women wages equality
4) increasing the means granted for primary education.
Our policy is a very ambitious one : we have chosen the policy of integration ,because it is the only one fitting with our values, the Republican values of equality of chances. We intend to stick to this policy.
21. Kindly tell us the latest immigration policy of France and how, a common man from your country can apply for it.
RdB : The most recent text to date is the law on immigration and integration passed this year in July 24th . It provides for "chosen immigration" ,i.e. for the possibility of choosing to meet the needs of the French economy and welcoming aliens having an economic, scientific, cultural or humanitarian project . This law also promotes the reception of foreign students.
Concerning private immigration, the law strengthens the fight against marriages of convenience and changes conditions for family reunification.
Concerning integration, the law makes it a requirement to sign a “Reception and Integration Contract" (Contrat d’Accueil et d’Integration) instituted by the 2005 Social Cohesion Plan, I referred to previously.
Finally, concerning regularisation and the fight against illegal immigration, the law abolishes de facto regularisation after ten years of illegal residence on French territory and combines the refusal of residence and deportation order into a single decision.
22. The French constitute the most brilliant and the most hardworking nation in Europe and the best qualified people. How do you predict the future of France in the European Union ?
RdB : I am not sure, the French, as you say, "constitute the most brilliant and the most hardworking nation in Europe and the best qualified people". Let’s be more modest, even if it’s correct to recognise that we are able to formulate innovative ideas and that France’s productivity levels are among the world’s highest, superior even to those of The United States.
France has played a key role in the past in the construction of Europe. Think of Robert Schuman or Jean Monnet for example, but other leaders from other European countries, like Konrad Adenauer or Alcide de Gasperi, have also played a decisive role.
We believe deeply in the value and strength of the European project. Building Europe is one of the finest and more virtuous human enterprises serving not only all European populations but serving also the rest of the world, because a new "raison d’être " today for building Europe is, for Europe, to aspire to be a power in the globalised world.
More concretely, and keeping beside the issue of the reform of the institutions (quite necessary to permit the EU to function properly), we work, with our partners, in two main directions :
building the "Europe of projects" on issues like energy, R and D, environment, immigration, security
building a strong political Europe, capable to assume its international responsibilities, to fight hatred, to appease tensions and to work for peace in the world .
23. Why the EU 3-Iran dialogue on the issue of enrichment of uranium has been failed. Kindly tell us the specific reason of its failure.
RdB : Speaking end of October and ignorant of what may happen in the coming weeks, I prefer not to consider this dialogue has failed.
We still hope, our demarche will succeed, even if it’s not yet the case.
In June 2006, as you know, the EU 3 (France, Germany, United Kingdom) + 3 (China, Russia, The United States) made far reaching proposals that aimed to adress international concerns over Iran’s nuclear programme and to provide the basis for long term political and economic cooperation with Iran, including in the field of civil nuclear energy.
A proposal of "double suspension", suspension of sensitive nuclear activities in Iran ( enrichment and retreatment) and, in parallel, of the action which has started at the UN Security Council has been tabled, but has been rejected by Iran. So, now the UNSC is working on various measures under art 41 of chapter VII of the UN Charter as foreseen in SC reso 1696. But of course, the E 3 + 3 proposals are still on the table and the Six countries are ready to continue their efforts to find a negotiated solution.
24. Would you please tell us why allied forces in Iraq and Afghanistan have failed to establish peace, harmony and writ of the government ? Please also tell us any suggestion to achieve durable peace in these countries . Are you satisfied with NATO role in Afghanistan ?
RdB : It’s a fact that the situation in both countries is really complicated, even if the reasons differ.
Like Pakistan and the majority of the members of the S.C., we were not in favour of going at war with Iraq (even if we were conscious of the problems in Iraq). I am sure you remember that quite well.
Due to the present situation in Iraq, we are certainly not calling for an immediate withdrawal of foreign troops. A concerted process of withdrawal has to be defined, in parallel with the development of the implementation of the domestic political process.
With regards to Afghanistan, we are well aware of the different problems which do exist. Here, as elsewhere, the solution is certainly not a military solution. Military means are indispensable to create a situation which facilitates the search for a solution, but do not constitute themselves the appropriate answer. With our partners from the EU and from ISAF , we have permanently this vision in mind.
May I underline also the importance we attach to the quality of Pakistani-Afghan relationship, a factor of great interest for both countries.
25. Middle East is still a tough region and the ongoing confrontation between Israel and rest of the region has become the epicentre of global instability, the main source of incomprehension between the different worlds and an easy platform for all forms of terrorism. Would you please tell us any workable formula or strategy to achieve lasting peace in the region ? What are the prospects of democratisation drive in Middle East region ?
RdB : On the first part of your question, I’ll say first that the conflict in Lebanon has confirmed that there is no military solution to the crisis in the Middle East : the Israeli-Palestinian question is not an exception. A lasting solution will only be found through a negotiated process.
First, efforts to restore confidence have to be made from both sides and that implies the release of the Israeli soldiers kidnapped.
The Arab League, with its "Beirut initiative", has proposed the bases for a sustainable peace in the Middle East. We support it.
We consider a greater involvement of the international community is necessary. It is the reason why we have insisted for the resuming of the work of the Quartet and, as you know, it has been the case. Other steps must follow, such as the preparation of an international conference, as President Jacques Chirac has proposed. The aim of this conference would be to define the guarantees, especially the security guarantees, expected by the parties in the framework of a peace agreement.
Now, on your second point- the prospects of democratisation drive in Middle East region- we have to keep in mind several basic principles :
first, a strategy aiming at the implementation of an " all made model" as we ( western countries) see it, is certainly not the best thing to do. Let’s avoid the " enticement to good", to use the words of a book of a French philosopher of Bulgarian origin, Tzvetan Todorov ("Memory of evil, enticement to good").
then, we have also to keep in mind, democracy is, of course, "free and fair election", but it is also values shared by the citizens and a legal framework consistent with those values.
In other terms, I believe in a gradual process and I consider the populations directly involved have a key role to play.
26. How you analyse the emerging geo-political and geo-strategic scenarios in our region and in the Far East, especially the North Korea’s nuclear test and military coup in Thailand ?
RdB : You raise, it seems to me, a lot of different issues.
1)Regarding Thailand, France and the EU have expressed their attachment to speedy return to Democracy and constitutional order, legitimised by free and democratic elections to be held as soon as possible.
2 )If you speak of the geo-political and of the geo-strategic situation in Asia generally, I’ll say :
on one side, Asia appears today as the engine of the world economic growth and a linchpin of cultural diversity and cultural and scientific exchanges
but on the other side, there are a lot of real or potential dangers in Asia with unsolved territorial disputes, problems of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorist and illegal trafficking activities and, now, new risks of tensions linked to growing energetic needs.
Moreover, not so much has been done yet, in this part of the world, in terms of regional security cooperation.
It’s why the security and strategic dialogues with Asian countries has to play such a key role in our relationship.
3) About North Korea, I don’t know what will be the situation when this interview is published , but answering your question now, end of October, what I can tell you is it was very important the Security Council reacted rapidly, firmly and unanimously as it did with the resolution 1718.A very strong condemnation has been delivered and a list of sanctions aiming at preventing North Korea proliferation activities has been agreed upon by the Security Council.
27. The Nuclear Proliferation Treaty ( NPT) has become dead after the nuclear test of North Korea . What steps should be taken to make our planet arms free and safer place to live in ?
RdB : I do not share the view the NPT would have become dead. The NPT is closed to universality and if you consider the situation over the past twenty years, the support for the NPT has increased.
Right now, it’s true, we face two difficulties : the Iranian one and the North Korean one ; but that does not mean the NPT is dead : the UN Security Council intends to act in order to get the provisions of the NPT fully respected, including through the implementation of sanctions if necessary .I am sure you have noted the two resolutions of the S.C- reso. 1696 on Iran and reso 1718 on North Korea- both of them have been adopted unanimously and referred to chapter VII of the UN charter, that means contain mandatory provisions.
28. Are you satisfied with the role of UNO in the World and especially in Africa and in the rest of the world because humanity more than ever needs a strong and respected Unites Nations Organisation, the irreplaceable tool for shared sovereignty and responsibility.
RdB : It is very easy to criticise and, as any human undertakings, UNO can not escape to some critical remarks. Of course, the UN are far from being perfect. Nevertheless, the work undertaken so far has been , in spite of all the critics, tremendous. You are right to say "humanity more than ever needs a strong and respected United Nations Organisation" and the words you use ("the irreplaceable tool for shared sovereignty and responsibility") are exactly those used by President Jacques Chirac in his speech to the 61st session of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2006.
We need the UN ; we need the UN Charter. With 192 member states, it is the only universal organisation in the world ; it’s the adequate forum to address all the issues we have to face, from security and peace matters to poverty , economic development, human rights, education, environment etc.. We need the UN charter which provides the code of conduct every country has to respect.
I would be tempted to say, as Voltaire did , speaking of the existence of God, " if the UNO and the UN Charter did not exist, it would be necessary to invent them".
Regarding the specific issue of UN action towards Africa, we know much has been done by the UN. Keep in mind, for example, all the peace keeping operations (and I am well aware of the tremendous role the Pakistani Army has played and is still playing in those peace keeping operations in different African countries) or keep in mind the role of the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa(OSAA) in particular relating to the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). But we are also fully aware of the magnitude of what has to be done. Having in mind for example the situation in Darfour where millions of people are threatened, we can’t forget about the " responsibility to protect" which implies on our shoulders.
29. The EU is expanding in all respects day by day .But many regional experts say that France has some reservations about the membership of Turkey in EU. Is it true ?
RdB : The enlargement of the European Union to include the countries of Central and Eastern Europe has been a major historical event, a major accomplishment of the building of Europe, totally in line with Europe’s primary mission which is to entrench peace in a continent long devastated by war and to entrench democracy there when barely 15 years ago only half of Europe enjoyed it.
Obviously, enlargement carries with it far-reaching changes. Today, and looking at the future, the 25 have acknowledged that the speed of enlargement must take account of " the EU’s absorption capacity" : we need to be sure that the house is sound before we add any more storeys.
As far as Turkey is concerned, the negotiation for membership, as you know, has started last year. It will be a long process because, in addition to this absorption capacity dimension I mentioned (and not to speak of a more general issue which is " what does it mean to be a European country in the meaning of Article 49 of the Treaty ?) there are a lot of issues, of different nature- political, economic and technical- to be solved. Usually, it is considered those negotiations might last around ten years. It is at the end of the negotiations that the member states will have to take a decision. In our case, the decision for all the new memberships ( not only for Turkey) will be taken through a referendum.
30.It is seemed that we are living in imbalanced world and era of uni-polarity is creating troubles for the others. Are you agreed with it ; if not why ?
RdB : During the Cold War, the world was a bipolar one. Today, it’s right to say, we live in a monopolar world, with the United States as the only one super-power. But, it’s fair to consider also that :
first, the power of the United States meets some limits. Look at the situation in Iraq, for example.
second, within the international system, there is a "core" composed of several states, and not only of The United States. Those States belong to different continents, to different traditions. It’s no longer the rather simple structure of a world divided in two camps, we were used to know in the past.
So a multipolar world is emerging. We see illustrations of it in the economic field of course, but also in the political field. Look, for example, at how the crises with Iran or North-Korea are dealt with.
Consequently the problems we face, nowadays, as far as the international system is concerned, are twofold :
we have to improve the way this emerging multipolarity works, with the core’s members countries sharing common interests but being also, in some cases, rivals. It’s greatly a question of succeeding to increase confidence through dialogueanddevelopingtheworkingtogetherprocess.
another aspect is to succeed to combine multipolarity and multilateralism. The way to do so goes, in our view, through a full respect of the UN Charter and strengthening of the role of the United Nationsand of the U.N. Security Council .
31.What are your suggestions to resolve the long awaited issue of Kashmir ?
RdB : Both sides, Pakistan and India, would benefit a lot from the resolution of the bilateral disputes which still exist.
I come from a country, France, which has been at war with its neighbour, Germany, three times in less than a century. But our two countries, Germany and France, have been able, not only to reconciliate but also to develop the deepest cooperation which has never existed between 2 countries. We know well that reconciliation and cooperation between former enemies are possible.
In Lahore, we have a Franco-German cultural center run jointly. This summer, I came back from France with a scholar’s book of History ("Europe and the World since 1945") which has been written jointly by French and German professors of History and which is used , starting from this scholar year, in all the High school of both countries. Living here, in Pakistan, sometimes I dream of the day Pakistan and India will do something similar.
Do not tell me, it’s impossible. The "composite dialogue" is the proper way to lead to such results. It is why is so important this process goes on, in the interests of both parties. It is through this dialogue that, step by step, a bilateral, peaceful and negociated solution, taking into account the interests of all the parties will be agreed upon.
We have welcomed the joint statement by President Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in the margins of the Havana Summit meeting, to resume this dialogue. It’s an evidence not only of the courage but also of the sense of political vision of both the two leaders.
32. Pakistan has become hub of economic activities . Would you please tell us the chances of foreign direct investments of the French firms/companies in the near future in our country ?
RdB : Those chances are better than it was the case in the past, but you have to know nothing is granted : a foreign direct investment is , in fact, a two ways street.
What I can say is, till the beginning of 2005, the "new Pakistan" was quite unknown in France. However, in April 2005, a fact-finding mission of the French Business Confederation, MEDEF, an organisation representing almost one million companies in France came to Karachi and Islamabad. This visit has led French groups to start moving forward to Pakistan.
During the last eighteen months, this move has grown fastly. Leading world French companies in hypermarkets, hotel industry, car manufacturing, food processing, cement, banking, cast tubing, cosmetics, are part of this move. Other major leaders in infrastructures, in hydroelectricity, thermal energy, potable and waste treatment plant, urban mass transit, fast train systems, international airports are also interested .
It would be too early to say if this interest will concretise. I hope it will be the case, at least in some areas.”