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A partner in progress

Article - April 29, 2014
Disaster relief, diaspora remittances and strong trade are just some of the ties that have kept Pakistan and the UK’s relations strong over the decades
MOHAMMAD IMRAN MIRZA, ACTING HIGH COMMISSIONER OF PAKISTAN TO THE UK
Tough times are when you find out who your friends really are. That old saying may be true enough, but it would be misleading to attribute the cordial state of relations between the UK and Pakistan solely to Britain’s timely and welcome assistance in dealing with the latter country’s recent run of natural disasters and terrorist outrages. There are reasons far more deeply rooted in a shared historical and cultural experience accounting for bilateral ties that have seldom been warmer, more extensive or on a more even keel, says Mohammad Imran Mirza, Acting High Commissioner of Pakistan to the United Kingdom.

Of primary importance, notes Mr Mirza, is the influence of some 1.2 million people with family ties to Pakistan now residing in Britain.

“Our strong diaspora contributes significantly to the British economy. It also has considerable political influence. We have seven elected MPs, six Lords, two Members of the Scottish Parliament, one in the Wales National Assembly, and one in the European Parliament besides over 300 mayors and councillors in local bodies.”

Trade and investment is another factor in maintaining this sense of common purpose, Mr Mirza says, with the balance of trade running strongly in Pakistan’s favour. Britain occupies fifth place on the list of destinations for Pakistani exports, and is by far its largest source of foreign direct investment, channelling $632.2 million into the country over the 2012-13 fiscal year. The challenge is to grow by diversifying, since at the present time 78 per cent of Pakistan’s total exports to UK consist of textiles and leather products.

Britain is also the largest of Pakistan’s European Union trade partners and as such, played a pivotal role last year joining with Pakistan’s other friends in the European Parliament to help the country achieve GSP Plus status, thereby ensuring preferential treatment of its exports and indirectly giving a much-needed boost to the creation of jobs for Pakistani youth.

Trade and commerce likewise play a key role in the “Enhanced Strategic Dialogue” signed by Prime Minister David Cameron during his April 2011 visit to Islamabad. The accord establishes a structured forum and institutionalised mechanism for the pursuit of joint objectives. Other strands of cooperation covered by the ESD include economic development, culture, health and education, as well as security and defence.

Mr Mirza is very emphatic that “the British government and its people have always stood by Pakistan in our most difficult times – both in the war against extremist terrorism and during the natural calamities that struck Pakistan in the recent past” and which drained nearly $100 billion from the economy.

By playing a proactive role in support of a negotiated end to the conflict in Afghanistan, and taking part in the trilateral consultative process hosted by Britain, the High Commissioner has good and solid grounds for pointing out that “there exists an excellent understanding at the highest political level on a host of issues of mutual concern.”

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