Pakistan seems to have increased its allure for the UK. Greg Hands, UK’s International Trade Minister, hosted a trade roundtable in London to help British businesses secure contracts for Chinese investment in Pakistan. The CPEC’s (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) infrastructure is supported by $54billion from China in the hope it will modernise Pakistan’s economy and nuclear power sector. The construction of the CPEC is believed to present big opportunities for UK businesses in the next few years. At the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 4 April, Hands met with Syed Ibne Abbas, the Pakistan high commissioner to the UK; Thomas Drew, the British high commissioner to Pakistan; Liu Xiaoming, the Chinese ambassador to UK; and participants including experts from City UK, Royal United Services Institute and the China Britain Business Council. International businesses including HSBC, Deloitte and Standard Chartered also discussed how they could support the delivery of CPEC. Hands said, “As part of an outward looking Global Britain, we have a clear ambition to increase trade with both China and Pakistan and UK businesses are well placed to capitalise on the new opportunities in the region.”
The discussion will inform a larger CPEC conference taking place in Islamabad in May 2017, hosted by the UK government and the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI is currently working on a project funded by the UK government on the CPEC). UK has expressed its desire to become a key partner in CPEC, to show how the UK’s world-leading expertise in areas such as financial and professional services, energy and infrastructure can support China and Pakistan’s economic vision.
This follows on from Boris Johnson’s, UK’s Foreign Secretary, visit to Islamabad and Lahore last year.
Trade opportunities are what Britain seeks and Alok Sharma, UK’s Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific, visited Pakistan in January to discuss intensifying cooperation under the Enhanced Strategic Dialogue Framework.
It is worth noting a significant adjustment is being made by MSCI (the world’s stock market index) to Pakistan’s economic status, in that Pakistan will be reclassified from “Frontier Markets” to “Emerging Markets” effective from May 2017. The UK is apparently standing by to offer experts in construction, services such as project management, consultancy, legal and financial, as the City of London has 30 years plus of experience in providing Sharia compliant products.
Britain has seemingly become more engaged with Pakistan, as 1.2 million of its people, circa 2% of UK’s population, are of Pakistani heritage. As Westminster Bridge was attacked towards the end of March, Amber Rudd, UK Home Secretary, was concluding a three-day visit to Pakistan, meeting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Interior Minister Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan, among others. The two sides signed a memorandum of understanding for enhanced cooperation in the realm of security, counter-terrorism, organised immigration crime, extradition and border security. Pakistan’s Special Envoy on Counter-Terrorism will soon be visiting UK to expand bilateral cooperation.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Pakistan, consisting of seven Conservative MPs, has just returned from an excursion to Pakistan. The members of the delegation included Rehman Chishti, Chair of the APPG, who is from Patika-Muzaffarabad, Matthew Offord, Nigel Huddleston, Mark Pawsey, David Morris, Royston Smith and Henry Smith. The MPs visited the Wagah border and Muzaffarabad, interfering in the Kashmir issue and demanding the implementation of UN resolutions. They said they were all on the same page regarding Kashmir.
Under the auspices of the 70th anniversary of British-Pakistani relations, Dr Andrew Parmley, Lord Mayor of London, visited Pakistan to strengthen trade links and plan for the City of London to work more closely with Pakistan’s financial and professional services industries to help the development of a world-class infrastructure, alongside the CPEC.
Meanwhile, General Qamar Javed Qamar Javed Bajwa just made his first visit to London, as Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, where the Coldstream Guards provided him with a guard of honour. UK’s Air Chief Marshal, Sir Stephen Hillier, was guest of honour at a graduation ceremony held at the Pakistan Air Force Academy, “Asghar Khan”.
Priti Patel, Secretary for International Development, has attributed a budget of £435,906,975 for 2016-2017 to Pakistan (a 1/3 increase over the previous year) with 29.07% for education, 14.78% for government and civil society and for 13.74% health. In February, Patel visited Islamabad to congratulate Mohammad Ishaq Dar, Finance Minister, on his tax reforms and to announce that Dfid’s Pakistan aid programme is its largest worldwide. Patel’s department has been criticised for careless investing, particularly with the BISP cash payment scheme, whereby villagers in Peshawar are able to collect their subsistence payments in cash from local cash points. Nigel Evans, Conservative MP complained the system was “clearly open to fraud”.
On 28 March, Westminster Abbey organised an Evensong service for Pakistan’s National Day and the Crescent and Star flew from one of the Abbey’s towers.
Despite the apparent importance of the relationship between the UK, Pakistan (and China), there is next to no reporting in the British mainstream media on this. Even government websites have scanty information on ministerial visits. This camaraderie with Pakistan comes hot on the heels of the unpopular January debate on Kashmir in the House of Commons, led by Conservative MPs David Nuttall and Nusrat Ghani alongside Labour MPs Robert Flello and Fiona Mactaggart, where a motion was approved to raise the matter of self-determination at the United Nations. Seeing it was only six years ago that Osama Bin Laden was found living in Abbottabad and in reality there has not been much change in that state’s apparatus, this shows how forgiving Her Majesty’s Government is.
In India this week, Sir Michael Fallon, UK Defence Secretary, has made the most of a difficult task of balancing India with Pakistan-China.