DEAR Pakistanis, like so many diplomats posted to Pakistan, I have grown to know that yours is a remarkable country. On Aug 14, today, we celebrate 75 years since Pakistan’s birth, and of UK-Pakistan diplomatic relations. It is an honour to serve at this moment in your national story. I agreed with some trepidation to write a letter to mark this historic milestone. I write as an admirer, but with humility, conscious that I am an outsider.
Anniversaries are designed to make us reflect on the past. In August 1947, there is no denying that UK-Pakistan relations were tumultuous. The stories of Partition still need to be told and preserved. This is the history of both our peoples.
Today, we face challenges of economic instability and dynamic politics across the globe. Times are tough. Yet I have learned to be optimistic about Pakistan’s future and ability to rise to meet these challenges. Your resilience is legendary. When people ask me what this confidence is based on, I suggest three fundamentals.
First comes changing outdated perceptions of Pakistan. You are an incredibly vibrant and proud nation. Your security is better than at any point since 2004. Your outstanding heritage reveals a rich and diverse history of many peoples and faiths. The beauty of your mountains, rivers and landscapes is the envy of the world.
Your entrepreneurs have close ties to the UK, Europe and the West as well as the Gulf, giving untapped opportunity for trade and investment.
To boost all of this, I have been an unashamed advocate of more visitors to Pakistan, built on strong connections through British and other airlines.
Second come consistent efforts to support greater inclusion. Every week I meet talented Pakistanis, inspirational thinkers, businessmen, artists and activists. I see the power of unleashing the potential of the next generation through education: millions of Pakistani children have better opportunities through our collaboration on education and thousands of Pakistanis have studied at UK universities. I see the huge generosity of Pakistani society, including in hosting over three million refugees. And I see the vital importance of giving voice and choice to Pakistan’s women and girls. No nation can fulfil its potential without 50 per cent of its population.
And, third comes your ability to work together to overcome adversity. Politics the world over is getting more polarised. It might be said that the Quaid-i-Azam anticipated how damaging to Pakistan this could be if allowed to take hold. On Aug 11, 1947, addressing the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan tasked with the daunting challenge of writing Pakistan’s constitution, he famously told those gathered: “If you will work in cooperation, forgetting the past, burying the hatchet, you are bound to succeed.” Born of great experience, Jinnah’s advice to focus on what unites rather than divides is as relevant today as it was 75 years ago.
Internationally, you have deep connections with many countries, sitting as you do at a key regional hub between continents and cultures. For the UK, the dil of our relationship is our people’s ties. Over a 1.5 million Brits can trace their heritage to Pakistan and 100,000 Brits live in Pakistan. They are amongst your proudest supporters and advocates. Our Commonwealth bonds have brought our communities closer together, our scholarships promote mutual learning. We are working together to tackle climate change, to promote stability in Afghanistan, to double our bilateral trade, to ensure everyone in society has liberty and opportunity, to invest £130 million in girls’ education impacting 17 million children.
And we are four weeks away from the return of England men’s cricket team after a 17-year wait. From Bradford to Lahore, millions will be watching: as ever, cricket wins.
Our history unites us, but does not define our future. The UK and Pakistan are Ek Saath. Bahut Mubarak on your country’s 75th birthday.
British High Commissioner
Published in Dawn, August 14th, 2022