Sweden, Norway and Denmark, will be the major partners in development of Afghanistan; Volvo designed buses are now plying in Lahore; Military cooperation for the moment is not intensive; Sweden to support Pak bid for GSP plus- Mr. Lars-Hjalmar Wide

Founder Editor Tazeen Akhtar..

ISLAMABAD, FEB 08 (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 Ansar Mahmood Bhatti here the other day.

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.

He said, 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.

The ambassador said, 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.

Giving a brief account of bilateral relations the ambassador said, 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, he added.

“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”.

When asked to comment on trade and economic activity between the two countries, he “ 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”.

Mr. Lars said, 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”.

Talking about military cooperation he said, “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.

Culture, he added, 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.

About education system the ambassador said, 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.

The ambassador also talked about Afghanistan and said 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.