British High Commissioner to Pakistan
During recent years we have tripled the number of scholarships for Pakistani students.
Jahangir’s World Times (JWT): As you have completed first year of your posting in Pakistan, how would you describe your experience?
Philip Barton (PB): Well, this has been a wonderful experience and I had been having a very interesting professional time here in Pakistan. During the past twelve months, I have travelled to different parts of the country including cities like Karachi, Lahore, Sialkot and Mirpur — the city of numerous British-Pakistanis.
When I took up the assignment in earlier part of the previous year, I had three priorities before me; among them enhancing trade and commercial relations between the United Kingdom and Pakistan was my topmost priority. In this area, the year 2014 has been a very good year not only for Pakistan and the UK but also for Pakistan and the European Union. The GSP + Status has allowed greater access to Pakistani exports in the EU Market. The UK’s exports to Pakistan have also increased. The second area that I focused was education. We are running many major programmes in the country ranging from primary school level to the university level. My third priority area has been the security. We have been drawing up plans to enhance our bilateral security cooperation. I want to mention here that we want to continue working on these three priority areas in 2015 as well.
JWT: In recent months, there have been long marches on and sit-ins in Islamabad. What is your take on these activities?
PB: Actually, much before I came to Pakistan, I was told that there is no dull moment in Pakistan as a lot of activities are undertaken almost all the time. This proved to be quite true especially in 2014. The United Kingdom has always supported democratic development in Pakistan. We strongly support the peaceful resolution of political disagreements in line with the constitution of the country. We believe that people do have the right to protest peacefully. Barring some untoward incidents, it is exactly what happened last year. Nevertheless, we also believe that the way you choose for changing the governments should only come through ballot boxes.
JWT: During the sit-ins, a “London Plan” was the most- talked-about subject in Pakistan. How did you feel as the name of your country’s capital was at the centre of such accusations?
PB: See, if I take every rumour about me or my country as true, then I would waste a lot of time only in worrying. A lot of people come and go from London daily. Who meets who, is not the business of the British Government. I personally do not know anything about the so-called London Plan.
JWT: To fight the terrorism monster, Pakistan Army launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb in the North Waziristan Agency. Do you believe this action is a comprehensive one and addresses the concerns, if any were there?
PB: I think Pakistan Army is taking a determined action to eliminate the terrorists from Pakistani soil. These elements have been using North Waziristan Agency as a base for terrorism. I salute the bravery and valour of Pakistani soldiers who have been involved in such a difficult and dangerous campaign. The statements of the civilian as well as military leadership evince that they are out to cleanse the country from terrorists. We welcome these developments.
JWT: When the West needed Pakistan against the former Soviet Union, Pakistan was a major ally but now when the country is suffering at the hands of terrorists, we are left alone. How do you see it?
PB: First, it is important that I acknowledge the fact that no country has suffered more than Pakistan in this war against terrorism. You are quite right to point out that Pakistan had faced colossal losses. But, it is also true that we are extending our maximum support to Pakistan in curbing terrorism. For instance, we have imparted training to Pakistani officials on how to deal with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and how to build up abilities of the law-enforcement agencies. We have also been working to improve the civilian judicial system so as to prosecute the terrorists in a befitting manner.
JWT: After the Peshawar tragedy, Pakistan’s leadership chalked out a comprehensive National Action Plan to curb terrorism in Pakistan. How the UK is supporting Pakistan in this area?
PB: Peshawar attack, undoubtedly, has been the most horrific and the most barbaric incident. In this unbearable grief, we stand by the people of Pakistan. The 20-point NAP is a comprehensive policy and it would go a long way in eliminating terrorism from Pakistan. We have conveyed to Pakistani government our willingness to assist and support Pakistan in this Plan. Here, I would specifically mention that we are not only working with the Nacta to enhance the capacity of LEAs but are also working with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on ensuring that the government’s narrative does counter the extremists’.
PB: This, indeed, is a very good question, and an important one too. I got privy to this issue before my arrival to Pakistan. Actually, when I came here, I asked my team about the facts and figures regarding the matter. Actually, we have clamped down on the people who were either going to bogus institutions or were going to work, and not study, over there. Our policies always encourage Pakistani students.
JWT: Although the number of students is almost the same, yet it is also a fact that if heavy sums of money are required to be deposited, then how the students from middle and lower middle class would afford to study in the UK?
PB: I admit that these are quite large sums for the Pakistanis, yet the British universities are still a good value for money as compared to the universities elsewhere. Moreover, we offer scholarships and during recent years we have tripled the number of scholarships for Pakistani students.
Also keep this fact in mind that in a country like Pakistan, not everyone is going to study in the UK. However, we are working closely with the higher education authorities and are striving to strengthen the capacity of Pakistani universities. At present, more than 100 universities have links with the UK universities.
JWT: Daesh has emerged as a big threat to international security. How do you think this outfit is a threat to this region in general and Pakistan in particular?
PB: At the moment, our assessment is that given the little propaganda and making of allegiance by small groups only, we do not see Daesh as a significant threat to Pakistan. The terrorism challenge here is of a different sort. In fact, Taliban — who claimed responsibility of Peshawar massacre — and some other terrorist groups are a more immediate challenge to Pakistan rather than the one that may come from the Middle East.
JWT: The US and the UK share perceptions on many issues. The White House has recently refused to term Afghan Taliban as terrorists and has called them only “armed insurgents”. What is your approach?
PB: On the situation in Afghanistan, we partnered the US in the international force that came to Afghanistan on the request of the Afghan government. We have always supported the Afghan government for tackling the Taliban.