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British High Commissioner addresses Oxford and Cambridge Trust

ISLAMABAD, JUL 21 (DNA) – Thomas Drew CMG, the British High Commissioner, addressed the Oxford and Cambridge Trust in Islamabad.

The High Commissioner talked about the closeness of the UK-Pakistan relationship as we approach the 70th anniversary of the birth of Pakistan. He addressed the closeness of the relationship – including the key role British people of Pakistani descent play in UK life – but also the opportunity for greater trade, more regional connections and the UK investment in education in Pakistan.

Thomas Drew, the British High Commissioner, said:

“Three weeks before the 70th anniversary of Pakistan’s birth, I thought it a good time to reflect on the shared history of the two countries and also, more importantly, to look ahead.

I spent the first half of this week in Quetta – my first visit, and the first by a British High Commissioner for over 7 years.

What a place – capital of a province with borders with Iran and Afghanistan, the centre of CPEC and Pakistan’s route to the sea.

 There were plenty of very contemporary challenges and opportunities.  But I was most struck by a sense of history.  It was not just from seeing the trees planted in the Governor’s garden by the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh during their visit in 1961.

What felt more real was visiting the Army Staff College with my Defence Adviser, Brigadier Murray Whiteside, who pointed to a plaque on the wall bearing the name of his grandfather – a former student of the college.  Just along the corridor was the name of the grandfather of my predecessor, Philip Barton – another graduate of the college.

“I can’t claim that pedigree myself – and certainly not the pedigree of another one of my recent predecessors, Mark Lyall-Grant, who, like his parents and grandparents, met his wife in Pakistan, and whose grandfather helped found Lyallpur (modern day Faisalabad).

But I am proud of my own connections with Pakistan, which extend for the last 11 of its 70 years.  And some of you know that it was Pakistan that brought me together with my wife Joanna – a fellow diplomat who served here independently.

“We are not, of course, alone in having these connections to Pakistan.  More important are the close connections of today.

More than 2% of the UK’s population now trace their roots back to Pakistan.  Brits of Pakistani origin play a prominent role in the political, economic, sporting, academic and cultural fabric of the country.

 Last month’s general election saw a record 12 Members of Parliament of Pakistani origin taking up their seats in the House of Commons.  The links are being renewed at every generation, not least through education.  It is a pleasure to see so many who have enjoyed a British education here this afternoon.

“This 70th anniversary of independence is an occasion both to remember the founding spirit and ideals of Pakistan, set out so eloquently by those two giants of the Independence movement – Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Sir Allam Mohammed Iqbal; and to celebrate the extraordinary links between the United Kingdom and Pakistan, links which Jinnah and Iqbal benefitted from in their own formative years, and of which they were both firm advocates.

“Both men shared a vision of an independent, democratic state with freedom of expression and religion, equality between men and women, and above all a country at peace with its neighbours.  As Jinnah himself said two days before independence in August 1947:

“Our object should be peace within, and peace without.  We want to live peacefully and maintain cordial friendly relations with our immediate neighbours and the world at large.”

“Few would deny that Pakistan has not always been able to live up to all of these lofty ideals over these first 70 years of its existence.  It is perhaps not surprising that the international media coverage has not always been positive.  I think we all sometimes struggle with perceptions back home.  As diplomats, too much of our agenda over the last 10 years that I have been working with Pakistan, has been defensive – the management of downside risk or put simply to help stop bad things from happening.  The closeness of our relationship means that what happens here often has a real world impact back home.  When I returned to London at the end of my last tour here in 2008 to work on counter-terrorism in our Home Office, a very high proportion of our active terrorism investigations linked to Pakistan.

“There is, however, a huge amount to celebrate – particularly when you get to know the country as well as I feel privileged to have been able to do.  When I first served in Pakistan in 2006, there was an unelected government in place.  This year, Pakistan marks the longest continuous, uncontested period of democratic government since independence.  For all the ups and downs of Pakistani politics, I still sense a much greater sense of political space for politicians to think about the real issues that will shape Pakistan’s future.  The economy is on the rise.  The number of terrorist incidents, though still too high, is on the decrease, and the tribal areas on the Afghan border are gradually being brought under central government control – something the British never attempted before 1947.  Indeed the expulsion of Al Qa’eda from these areas has had a significant positive impact on the security of the UK.  On the cultural side, I hope that the staging of the Pakistan Super League Final earlier this year in Lahore will lead to an early return of international cricket to the country – not least as we Brits have some ground to make up after our ICC semi-final defeat last month.  More fundamentally, my long association with the country has left me with an enduring belief in the Pakistani people – that their overwhelming moderation based on Sufi traditions of Islam, will defeat the small minority who promote more extremist ideologies.

“I will go one step further.  Of course, as with all big, close partnerships, we are still in the business of managing risks.  But the UK’s focus today is much better described as “helping Pakistan to unleash its potential”.  It is a much more positive vision.  It is good in its own right for Pakistan.  It is, in my view, the best guarantor of the UK’s defensive interests.  And most importantly, particularly in the post-Brexit world, the UK and Pakistan can benefit from each other’s economic success.

“In our view, that potential is huge.  Many people forget that Pakistan is the 6th most populous country in the world – and growing fast.  If Punjab were a country, it would be the world’s 11th biggest.  We don’t always think of Karachi, the world’s 6th biggest city, as in the same economic league as Shanghai, Mumbai or Sao Paolo.  But we should.  I predict that we will.  And the ties that I described beforehand make us uniquely placed to work alongside Pakistan, and to benefit too from its success.

“An economist’s reading of this would have us look at the graphs of future projections for the growth in population, of economic growth, of energy supply, of water, or of places in education.  Pointing in the right direction, Pakistan will be veritably booming in 15 years time – by which stage its population will have reached a quarter of a billion.  Great for Pakistan, great for the UK.  If they point in the wrong direction, there is a real problem.

“So what do we think will make the difference?  I listed earlier some of the areas in which Pakistan has come along significantly during my own association with the country – from security to democratic governance.  These are crucial.  But I will, if I may, highlight two areas.

“The first is education.  With 60% of Pakistan’s population under 25, education (and particularly education for girls) is critical to Pakistan’s future.  I think many would agree that, for all the excellent work to improve things in recent years, the 50% illiteracy rate is not nearly good enough for a country of Pakistan’s standing and potential.  It is no coincidence that education is the biggest thing that we do here.  The value of DFID’s investment in education to 2020 will be £800m.  This is in addition to the excellent work of the British Council on schools, vocational training and universities.  One of the things I did in Quetta this week was to announce the return of English language testing by the British Council through IELTS after an absence of 10 years.

“The second is regional connectivity. In trading terms, South Asia remains one of the least interconnected parts of the world.

“Pakistan is at the geographical heart of Asia.  India, with over a billion people lies less than 200 miles away from here to the East.  To the West are Afghanistan and Iran, with a combined population of over 100 million.

Further north are the energy rich states of Central Asia.  Pakistan is the natural junction between all of these huge markets and the vast resources at their command.

Yet we must accept that neither Pakistan nor the region has in recent years been able to match its historical past by constructing the modern links from East to West – and West to East – that are so sorely needed.

CPEC offers great potential to Pakistan.  But it should be part of a more ambitious vision that would see the wider opening of trade.  South Asia has so much in common, yet its nations cooperate relatively little.  We all know the reasons – and British history comes in here too.  But the price is high.

“As I said, get it right, and the potential is huge.  And the British Government is committed to helping Pakistan to unleash that full potential.

We have a shared history, but more importantly a shared future.  We share a joint vision of a peaceful, stable and prosperous Pakistan becoming once again the vibrant hub of trade and commerce that its geography and size demand.

“Our commitment to that ambition goes beyond rhetoric.  The British High Commission in Islamabad is the UK’s second largest diplomatic mission and DFID’s development programme in Pakistan is the largest UK bilateral programme in the world.

“As Pakistan’s economy grows, our bilateral relationship will increasingly focus on trading links.  The opportunities here will only grow as we prepare to leave the European Union.  As Britain looks to develop its ambitious and confident global outlook, we shall be aiming to build ties with new friends, but also to reinforce our ties with longstanding friends and allies around the world, such as Pakistan.  This suggests an even more dynamic bilateral relationship in the future, based on the twin pillars of trade and investment – as befits Pakistan’s location at the heart of Asia – to complement the already strong links between our two peoples.

“That really is a vision worth celebrating as we mark 70 years of friendship and look forward to the next 70.”

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