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ISLAMABAD: The Oxford Cambridge Trust hosted the Oxbridge Lecture for July at the Serena Hotel with the British High Commissioner Thomas Drew as the guest speaker to talk about ‘Pakistan and the UK – 70 years on’.

Oxbridge Secretary General Irshad Ullah Khan said the British High Commissioner had been the Patron of the Society since 1947.

“Pakistan and UK share more than any two countries because we share a common history with the British rule in the Subcontinent. Even after Partition in 1947 resulting in the creation of two sovereign and independent countries, we continued to share a past with a legacy of bitterness and a future that we needed to build by working closely together,” said Oxbridge Society President Usman Aminuddin.

More than 2pc of Britain’s population traces its roots to Pakistan, says UK envoy

“The theme of my talk, ‘Pakistan and the UK - 70 years on’ will allow us to range fairly widely. Three weeks before the 70th anniversary of Pakistan’s birth is a good time to reflect on the shared history of the two countries and also more importantly to look ahead,” the British high commissioner said.

He went on to say: “I spent the first half of the week in Quetta – my first visit and the first by a British High Commissioner in over seven years – and what a place! The capital of a province on the border of Iran and Afghanistan, the centre of CPEC, Pakistan’s route to the sea – Quetta is a place with plenty of very contemporary challenges and opportunities.

“What I was most struck was by a sense of history, not just from seeing the trees planted in the governor’s garden by the queen and the duke of Edinburgh when they visited in 1961 but from visiting the Army Staff College with my defence advisor who pointed to a plaque on the wall bearing the name of his grandfather, a former student of the college.”

Speaking of the many connections past and present between Pakistan and the UK, he said that more important are the close connections of today, adding that, “More than 2pc of Britain’s population traces its roots back to Pakistan. Brits of Pakistani origin play a prominent role in political, economic, sporting, academic and cultural fabric of the country. Last month’s general elections saw a record 12 members of parliament of Pakistani origin taking their seats in the House of Commons and the links are being renewed in every generation.”

The high commissioner went on to say that: “The 70th anniversary of Independence is an occasion to remember the founding spirit and ideals of Pakistan set out so eloquently by those two giants of the Independence Movement – Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Mohammad Iqbal – and to celebrate also the extraordinary links between the UK and Pakistan, links that Jinnah and Iqbal benefitted from. Jinnah himself said two days before Independence in 1947, ‘Our object should be peace within, with our immediate neighbours and the world at large’.

“I think few would deny that Pakistan has not always been able to live up to all of these lofty ideals and it is perhaps not surprising that international media coverage has not always been positive. We all struggle with the perceptions back home.”

He added: “As diplomats frankly, too much of our agenda over the last ten years I’ve been working in Pakistan has been defensive, as a management of downside risk or simply to stop bad things from happening in both of our countries. The closeness of the relationship means that what happens here has a real world impact in the UK. Nevertheless, there is a huge amount to celebrate.

“My long association with the country has left me with an enduring belief in the Pakistani people, that their overwhelming moderation based on Sufi and other traditions of Islam will defeat the small minority promoting extremist ideologies.”

He highlighted two areas that are critical to Pakistan realising its full potential – education and regional connectivity. By 2020, the DFID investment in education in Pakistan will be £800 million and CPEC should be part of a more ambitious vision for the wider opening of trade.

Mr Drew said: “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.”

Published in Dawn, July 22nd, 2017