Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey is in Pakistan to celebrate 40 years of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation's (SDC) presence.This content was published on May 4, 2006 - 08:18
Relations between Switzerland and the South Asian nation may have been clouded by the recent visa fraud cases at Bern's embassy in Islamabad, but Calmy-Rey could clear the air.
The minister's agenda includes visiting areas stricken by the October 2005 earthquake to view SDC-sponsored projects and meeting central and provincial government officials.
According to the Swiss foreign ministry, she will also be holding talks on the scandal, which broke in March, over allegations that an embassy official had demanded sex from two women in exchange for visas.
Earlier this week, Bern confirmed cases of visa fraud had taken place at its Islamabad embassy after Pakistan launched an investigation into embassy employees for allegedly issuing Swiss visas to locals immigrating illegally to Europe.
But the foreign ministry denied that any Swiss nationals were under investigation and said "local mafia had attempted to influence the Swiss embassy's visa department".
Pakistan's ambassador in Bern, Fauzia Abbas, denied the fraud allegations affected the two countries' bilateral relations.
"If criminal activity is going on, then we have to put an end to it, with all states cooperating," she told swissinfo. "Two mature nations will deal with it as two mature nations should, with everyone pulling together and sharing whatever resources they have."
Discussions during Calmy-Rey's visit – planned before the scandal broke – will focus on the development cooperation between the two countries, which began in 1966.
What started as technical assistance has branched into improving governance and increasing income. The SDC spent SFr25 million ($20.2 million) on projects in these areas in 2005.
It is also involved in rebuilding parts of the nation shattered by the October earthquake. By the end of 2005, it had spent $10 million on its response to the disaster and has earmarked a further $32 million for reconstruction work for 2006-2009.
As is usual for the agency, it works with both international and local partners on the ground.
Efforts to increase income are focusing on rural livelihoods and microfinance. The SDC is also working with Unicef, the Pakistani authorities and local NGOs to protect children's rights.
The Bern-based agency is also involved in helping institutions and workers' and employers' organisations to eliminate child labour practices in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).
Another programme in Sindh, Punjab and NWFP is aiming to ensure that women's rights are improved.
But it's not all about development aid. Trade ties between Pakistan and Switzerland have been going from strength to strength in recent years, especially where Swiss exports are concerned.
According to the latest figures from June 2005, Swiss exports to the South Asian nation increased by 68 per cent during 2003 and 2004. In the first five months of 2005, growth of 54 per cent was recorded, compared with the same period in the previous year.
Machinery accounted for the bulk of exports, followed by chemicals, pharmaceuticals, watches and precision instruments.
Pakistani exports to Switzerland also increased in 2004 to SFr42 million but the balance of trade increased by 143 per cent to SFr298 million in Bern's favour.
swissinfo, Faryal Mirza
The 141 Swiss missions abroad issue about 500,000 visas a year, while about 40,000 applications are rejected.
The number of visas issued is expected to drop to about 400,000 once the Europe's Schengen accord, doing away with border controls, comes into effect in Switzerland - at the earliest in 2008.
Switzerland is currently investigating cases of visa fraud in Oman, Peru, Russia, Nigeria, Serbia, Eritrea and Pakistan.
Pakistan was created in 1947 when British India was partitioned into a Muslim state and a largely Hindu nation.
Pakistan was divided into East and West Pakistan.
East Pakistan gained its independence in 1971 from Pakistan, becoming Bangladesh.
Pakistan's population hovers around 166 million.
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