The PM’s visit to UK

Courtesy:- Dr Rashid Ahmad Khan

Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani’s just concluded visit to Britain is certain to further enhance understanding and cooperation between Pakistan and Britain

The dust raised by unremitting domestic political crises has tended to obscure largely from the public eye certain outstanding successes the PPP-led coalition government has achieved on the external front during the last four years. To bring India around to accepting Pakistan’s proposal for the resumption of stalled peace talks without any preconditions is not a small achievement. It has won Pakistan worldwide acclaim, and endorsement by almost all the mainstream political parties and business community of the government’s decision to expand trade ties with India is reflective of its success in pursuing the country’s foreign policy in the correct direction.

The increase in mutual understanding and growth in Pakistan-UK bilateral relations, particularly in trade, is yet another example of the successful foreign policy of the government. Prime Minister (PM) Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani’s just concluded visit to Britain is certain to further enhance understanding and cooperation between Pakistan and Britain not only in political matters but also in the trade, investment, security and cultural fields. PM Gilani undertook this visit primarily to review the progress under the Enhanced Strategic Dialogue (ESD) agreement signed between Pakistan and the United Kingdom during British Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to Pakistan last year. Under this agreement, the two countries committed themselves to cooperate closely with each other in the areas of counter-terrorism, security, trade, investment, education, health and culture. The two sides have every reason to feel satisfied over the progress achieved under ESD during the last year as there has not only been an increase in Pakistan-UK bilateral trade, British assistance and investment in Pakistan’s educational and health sectors is also on the rise. As the joint statement issued after a meeting between Prime Minister Gilani and his British counterpart David Cameron says, “Since its launch in 2011, the dialogue between the UK and Pakistan has become deeper and broader.” Over a period of one year since the two countries signed the agreements for comprehensive cooperation in multiple areas, Pakistani exports to Britain increased by 14 percent, whereas British exports to Pakistan grew by 16 percent. The total volume of bilateral trade between Pakistan and the UK at present is Pounds 1.4 billion annually. In their meeting held on May 10, the prime ministers of the two countries have agreed to take effective steps to increase it to about Pounds 4.1 billion in the next three years. This is not an insurmountable target as the prime minister had declared last year that there were ample opportunities for increased British investment in various sectors in Pakistan, particularly in education and health. As the British High Commissioner in Pakistan, Adam Thompson has stated, the UK is the second largest investor in Pakistan, adding, “There is no reason why the UK cannot become the largest trading partner of Pakistan from amongst the European nations.”

Pakistan and the UK have also established a National Security Dialogue to promote cooperation and exchange of information in the areas relating to national security. The two countries hold regular meetings to review the regional security situation and bilateral cooperation on Afghanistan and counter-terrorism. In March last year, the National Security Advisor to the British Prime Minister, Sir Peter Rickets had visited Pakistan and met the Pakistan Army Chief of Staff General Pervaiz Kayani to discuss Afghanistan, regional security and counter-terrorism. During President Asif Ali Zardari’s visit to the UK last July, the two countries had agreed to prepare a comprehensive action plan to intensify cooperation in trade, investment, business, defence, development, education, health and cultural ties.

The imperative for a close and friendly Pakistan-UK relationship could be stressed from a number of perspectives. Firstly, as Prime Minister Gilani has said, it will help diversify Pakistan’s strategic, economic and trade relations, which ensures national sovereignty and the exercise of independent foreign policy options. Instead of putting all our eggs in one basket, it is advisable to cultivate equally important relations in commerce, trade, economic cooperation and even in the security field with all the major countries of the world. Secondly, Britain is an important and influential member of the EU with which Pakistan has been very keen to expand trade and economic relations. Britain can provide critical help to Pakistan to achieve that objective. In fact, Britain facilitated the passage of the EU trade concessions package for Pakistan. Thirdly, Britain is home to over one million British citizens of Pakistani origin. This Pakistani Diaspora, particularly the affluent among them, can prove to be an important source of foreign direct investment in Pakistan. The Pakistan High Commission in Britain has taken an important measure by setting up a trade division to tap this valuable source for expanding trade and investment, but much better results can be achieved through the establishment of a formal institutional mechanism at the national level. Fourthly, England is the most attractive and convenient destination of Pakistani students for higher education in medicine, engineering, arts and sciences. At present, there are over 30,000 Pakistani students enrolled in British universities and other educational institutions. Pakistani students, according to the British High Commissioner in Pakistan, “are so popular in UK that in proportion to the population, there are more Pakistani students (in UK) than (students) from the US, China and India.” Fifthly, Pakistan and the UK have long term ties because of cricket. These ties are set to deepen further because of the upcoming Olympics in London and commitment through the British Council International Inspiration Programme to reach out to millions of Pakistani children to include sports education in the school curriculum.

Prime Minister Gilani’s meeting with Prime Minster David Cameron, the Leader of the Opposition, Edward Miliband, British secretary of defence, British parliamentarians, members of the business community and interaction with the Pakistani community during his visit demonstrates the seriousness with which the government of Pakistan plans to cultivate a close and cooperative relationship with Britain. As both sides are willing and keen to enhance the bilateral relationship in security, defence, trade and investment, education, health and culture, Britain is very likely to emerge in the near future as one of Pakistan’s most important strategic partners in promoting regional security and improving Pakistan’s educational, health, cultural and sports sectors.


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