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On the 21st of July 2016, a discussion was held with His Excellency Mr Tajammul Altaf Chughtai, Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to the Czech Republic, about Pakistan and the current situation in the Middle East including the Syrian refugee crisis, at the Embassy of Pakistan in Prague, Czech Republic.

HE Mr Tajammul Altaf Chughtai began by speaking a little about Pakistan’s mission in the Czech Republic. It is a medium seized mission comprised of around fifteen officers who assist with the daily workings of the Pakistani Embassy. Pakistan and the Czech Republic have a very dynamic and forward-looking cooperation, particularly in economic terms.

The topic for the discussion was chosen by the Ambassadors, who have a special interest in the Middle East and the Syrian refugee crisis; His Excellency described them as a “burning topic”, comparing the current refugee situation in Europe with the clashes between Pakistan and India of 1947 which led to a million refugees seeking new homes.

Immigration is part of human nature and in the DNA of Europe and the USA. However, current large-scale resistance to immigration in Europe shows that it has become a divisive issue; there is no common approach on the topic. The flash point areas here include the refugee crisis, terrorism and populist parties versus mainstream politics. Populism presents the biggest challenging at present because of upcoming elections in European states.

Before analysis, a clear distinction must be made between two terms: immigrant and refugee. An immigrant is a person who is leaving his homeland for a foreign country in the hope of finding a better job. A refugee is a person who is leaving his country because of war, conflict, …

The worst refugee crisis of our time originates in Syria; it is also the biggest challenge that we have to solve. The whole crisis began when President al-Assad of Syria refused to relinquish his power. The Syrian population comprises approximately 22 million people, 12 million have fled their homes; 30% of the refugees are women and 50% are children. They see their journey as the only way to save their lives, but often subsequently fall victim to hate and fear (while also symbolising hope). Over 5 million refugees (50% of the whole refugee crisis – 2.8 million people – are in Turkey). There is no prospect of life in Syria, because of its collapsed infrastructure (healthcare, education system and the overall shattering of the economy), and this has led to the refugee crisis.

Syria is also the battleground for an ‘invisible war’, or proxy war, in terms of the current problem of many states who involve themselves in the conflict. It is very difficult to ascertain with certainty which states are involved; we have only suggestions to go on. There are states supporting al-Assad’s regime and also the opposition which includes DAESH, the radical Islamist terrorist movement which plays a key role and controls a lot of territory in Syria and Iraq.

The acceptance of the first refugees in Europe was determined by Chancellor Merkel of Germany, who announced the Turkish-German agreement of September 2015, to allow the first 150,000 refugees into Europe. Since that time, Europe has been divided by fears, phobias and reservations as, with the arrival of refugees into Europe, extremists from Europe and from terrorist groups can easily exploit the situation to exert their influence by spreading extremism and radicalism. There are also mafia smugglers who have shown themselves willing to kidnap children from refugees.

What risks are we faces with during the time of the refugee crisis? Principally, we may include: vulnerable people falling under the influence of extremists, disruption of international order and peace, widespread injury and harm to people through extremist actions and protests, terrorist acts and threats to children: combined these present a grave threat to international stability.

In order to solve the refugee crisis, we have to use hard power to dismantle the entire network of ISIS and replace al-Assad. At the same time, using soft power, we have to provide shelter, food and a decent life for refugees. Common responsibilities must be shared by all states in pursuit of a comprehensive – and global – solution. From this point of view, we are also talking about safeguarding Schengen borders while accepting refugees, which is a very important point. Legitimate refugees must be admitted legally, proceeding through security controls at the European borders.

The priority must be to establish the grounds for solving the refugee crisis. Firstly, the international coalition must be strengthened. Secondly, a new Syrian government must be installed and the conditions for a democratic election established. Thirdly, after establishing a new Syria, we will have to provide security for states such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Without security in these three countries, it will be not possible to have a safe Europe. All of these ideas will require a very smart policy for implementation, to prevent the eruption of subsequent potential crises. Peace processes and peaceful settlement of disputes in critical conflict areas will be required. This will take three to four decades to finally accomplish, and if we underestimate the scale of the challenge, this could lead to an even bigger and more chaotic crisis than that with which we are faced at present.

Pakistan, which has a population of around 200 million, is able to control terrorism and migration of refugee, because of their strategies and approaches to in the very short-term.

Lot of people in Europe are prejudiced and see refugees as radical Islamists, but this is not accurate. We have to bear in mind that the radical Islamists make up around 1% of 1,5 billion Muslims in total, giving a bad reputation to Muslim people around the world. We have to contain the likes of Daesh, Boko Haram, al-Qaida and other terrorist groups who are small minorities in terms of the global population, and we must not allow them to intimidate us into abandoning our values.

Another current problem from a different point of view concerns conflicts between mainstream political parties and populist movements. A related issue is the 24/7 coverage of terrorists in the media, which is what the radical groups want: spreading fear through the media. We have to find a new approach to adopt.

In our times, we are being presented with a new generation of leaders who will have to deal with the increasingly problematic issue of globalisation, which is proving not to be as smooth a process as was once anticipated.

Diplomatic Academy Prague