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Sweden-Pakistan Relations: A Historical Overview, Current Conundrum, and Future Prospects


Sweden and Pakistan, two nations geographically distant and culturally distinct, have shared transformative relations since Pakistan’s independence in 1947.

From the inception of mutual diplomatic acknowledgment to navigating the nuanced terrain of International Relations, this alliance has traversed through various socio-political and economic contours. This multifaceted relationship now teeters on the precipice of a significant diplomatic test.

Historically, Sweden-Pakistan diplomatic ties have been consolidated through trade partnerships and developmental cooperation. Bilateral trade statistics from the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs was worth approximately about USD 350 million in 2021 which were just USD 62.8 million in 1995.

In the people-to-people realm, Sweden is home to a vibrant and integral Pakistani community that has over time, established itself as a dynamic part of Swedish multicultural society. As of 2023, over almost 30,000 Pakistanis are residing in Sweden, serving as a vital human bridge between the two countries.

This year, Sweden experienced an unpleasant incident that sent ripples across the globe, the burning of the Quran – a highly venerated religious book for Muslims worldwide. The incident was followed by violent riots, leading to several arrests and heightened domestic tension. Across the globe, Pakistan, an Islamic republic, saw massive protests against the Swedish government’s perceived inaction concerning the incident. Not only in Pakistan but throughout the Muslim world the anger and protests were recorded against the act. For instance, protestors set the walls of the Swedish Embassy in in Central Baghdad and after that Iraqi Government expelled the Swedish ambassador from their country as well.

When words failed to soothe the inflamed sentiments, Pakistan, endorsed by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), took to the international stage – the United Nations. Pakistan’s Permanent Ambassador to the UN Munir Akram along with the envoys of Saudi Arabia, Turkiye and Mauritania, Morocco etc. met UN General Secretary proposed a resolution against hate speech and desecration of religious sites, an issue holding potential repercussions for Muslim communities worldwide.

In a landmark move, the UN adopted this resolution by Morocco, co-sponsored by Pakistan. This critical step seeks to enforce international norms that underscore respect for religious beliefs and practices.

Historically, shifts in international relations and global consciousness have often been attributed to catalyst incidents, such as the one seen in Sweden. When viewed from a historian’s perspective, it’s evident that societal change may be slow, but step-wise advancements, like the UN’s adoption of the resolution, can compound over time to achieve meaningful transformation.

Such incidents also create a unique opportunity to learn and respond effectively to the destructive patterns hindering peace and harmony. In this instance, it serves to underline the shared global responsibility fostering tolerance, respect, and inclusivity among diverse belief systems.

The current affairs landscape, one acknowledges that today’s events serve as a prologue for future narratives. The diplomatic strain in the Sweden-Pakistan relationship provides a juncture for both countries to introspect, dialogue, and chart a way forward that respects religious freedom and bolsters societal unity.

Looking forward, it is evident that the road to recovery will be one paved with determination, resilience, and mutual understanding. The immediate priorities should be to quell inflamed sentiments, ensure the safety of the Pakistani diaspora in Sweden, and strengthen community bonds.

Simultaneously, it is vital to leverage international platforms to address the more extensive issue of religious intolerance and build a framework for safeguards not just against Islamophobia but of every other society, community or religion. For Pakistan, it’s about being a beacon for Muslims globally while maintaining its diplomatic relations.

Sweden, on the other hand, must handle this situation with deftness to uphold its image as a tolerant, multicultural society. It’s an opportunity for them to set a global precedent in managing religious crisis. To conclude, it’s a crucial juncture for both nations that requires a delicate diplomacy dance to re-negotiate their mutual ties while also contributing to the broader narrative of global inclusivity, peace, and mutual respect.

Abdul Rafay Afzal
Author is from Pakistan and a law student at Liverpool John Moores University, UK. He writes perceptive columns on geopolitics, international relations, and legal affairs etc. providing unique insights into the global landscape in different National and International Newspapers and Media outlets in English & Urdu languages.

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