ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and the United Kingdom will initiate ‘enhanced strategic dialogue’ on Tuesday, marking an intensification of their strategic engagement when British Prime Minister David Cameron visits Islamabad for a one-day trip.
Besides holding the inaugural session of the dialogue, whose format envisages an annual summit and bi-annual foreign ministers talks, the two sides will sign a declaration to formalise the upgradation of the engagement.
Prime Minister Cameron is scheduled to meet President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and other leading political figures.
The start of the new phase of bilateral engagement points to a major progress in ties that over the past couple of years saw quite a few lows beginning with visa woes, terrorism concerns and, more lately, the Tories’ tougher line with Islamabad on a number of matters.
Notwithstanding London’s lingering concerns about extremism, governance and security of nuclear arsenal in Pakistan and the government’s poor progress on reforms agenda; relations with Islamabad have remained a high foreign policy agenda for the UK government.
The 2010 Human Rights and Democracy report by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), which painted a dismal picture of the situation in Pakistan, however, wasn’t much helpful in improving atmospherics ahead of the start of the enhanced dialogue.
The report was dismissed by the Foreign Office as a worthless and skewed document that omitted the ‘positives’ of Pakistani society.
But, still Pakistani diplomats engaged in preparations for the dialogue are focussed on making it a success.
Sources said the upgraded dialogue covered the socio-economic aspect of the bilateral relationship and the security parleys that have already been dubbed by Prime Minister Gilani as ‘most important’ component of Pakistan-UK ties.
Enhanced strategic dialogue had been agreed during President Zardari’s meeting with Prime Minister Cameron at Chequers last August.
From the available details of the revitalised dialogue it is clear that it will focus on strengthening trade and investment links, helping sustainable socio-economic development in Pakistan, counter-terrorism cooperation, collaborative efforts for stabilising Afghanistan and helping Islamabad mend its relations with Delhi.
Mr Cameron is expected to announce further aid in education and health.
Britain has already announced doubling of its development aid over the next four years, which will make (Pakistan) the highest recipient of British aid by 2015, getting an annual assistance of £446 million.