Following the departure of Swiss ambassador Bénédict de Cerjat, the Swiss embassy has a lot of work to do
witzerland is not known in Pakistan for its cheese and chocolate. Nor has it been acknowledged for its neutrality, which has played a pivotal role in bringing peace to many global conflict zones.
Over here, it is known as some kind of a badland where corrupt politicians stash away their ill-gotten money. Secondly, most people think that Geneva is the centre of moves to push what they perceive as Western agenda that needs to be countered.
During his stay here, the outgoing Swiss ambassador, HE Bénédict de Cerjat, could not direct his energies towards Switzerland’s image building. There is a lack of awareness regarding Switzerland’s contribution to the protection of human rights, environment, world peace and stability.
Part of the reason for this failure is the Swiss policy of bracketing Pakistan with Afghanistan. Since 1979, the Swiss Embassy in Islamabad has also looked after most of the diplomatic affairs in Afghanistan.
Even Swiss citizens are advised to contact Islamabad in case of an emergency in Kabul.
In all these years, Pakistan and Afghanistan have been running in opposite directions.
All non-Taliban governments and factions have been fiercely opposed to Pakistan.
In addition, no European country is ready to build relationships with the current Taliban government due to its human rights violations, among other issues.
Switzerland is no exception. It still recognises the government of President Ashraf Ghani as legitimate and Swiss diplomats meet Abdullah Abdullah, who mostly engages them in his Doha office. While Ambassador Cerjat was having a farewell meeting in Islamabad, deputy head of mission Alberto Groff met Abdullah Abdullah to discuss the “current situation” and humanitarian assistance needed in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan needs its own Swiss ambassador. Afghanistan is the focus of international attention because of the changes occurring there with the involvement of world powers including US and China. It is the centre of global diplomatic activity.
Though Switzerland has achieved the seat for the year 2023-2024, there are some opposing voices among its academics and researchers, who think that sitting on such a forum amounts to doing away with the neutrality that has been the hallmark of the country.
Furthermore, Afghanistan and Pakistan cannot be usefully put in one bracket as the two countries are pursuing different paths. The Taliban regime in Kabul has its own designs to get recognition in the UN. They cannot be represented or administered diplomatically from Pakistan, where they have their first functional embassy.
Trade between Switzerland and Pakistan has been on the decline since 2016 when its volume was over $20 million. In 2021, it was about $16 million.
Last year, President Arif Alvi met Aamir Shaukat before his departure to Bern where he presented his credentials to Pope Francis. Though his party kept on claiming at big public gatherings that they will bring back the “loot” that their rivals have hidden in Swiss banks, President Alvi was explicit in instructing Ambassador Shaukat to explore avenues to enhance trade with Switzerland.
On his Twitter profile picture, Shaukat is dwarfed by the high bonnet of his black car.
Both Cerjat and Shaukat have celebrated the inclusion of Switzerland in the United Nations Security Council as a non-permanent member. The country got 187 out of 190 votes in an anonymous poll. Cerjat had meetings with foreign policy experts ahead of the poll in Islamabad to garner Pakistan’s support. Though Switzerland has won the seat for the year 2023-2024, there have been opposing voices among its academics and researchers, who think that sitting on such a forum amounts to doing away with the neutrality that has been the hallmark of the country. However, the Swiss foreign ministry states that the country could better follow its constitutional objectives of world peace and protection of human rights by being a member of the UNSC.
By and large Pakistani politicians have ignored this important country. According to data compiled by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, no civilian head of state has ever visited Switzerland. Gen Zia-ul-Haq visited Switzerland in 1986, followed by two visits by Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf was a frequent traveller to Western capitals. Most of his visits were to the US and Saudi Arabia. By comparison, Indian prime ministers have visited Switzerland quite frequently.
In recent days, HE Cerjat has been meeting with young writers and journalists in addition to government ministers. We bid him farewell and hope that Switzerland will consider unbracketing Pakistan and Afghanistan at the time of sending his replacement.
The writer teaches development support communication at International Islamic University Islamabad. Twitter: @HassanShehzadZ Email: Hassan.firstname.lastname@example.org