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Fresh Start in Pak-UK Relations

Cameron’s visit helps normalise their bilateral relations and lesson the heat between them. If the two countries want to move ahead, they should make a fresh start in their relationship.

British Prime Minister David Cameron made his maiden visit to Pakistan in April after assuming office. His visit was one of relatively rare trips to Pakistan by Western heads of government. He came to Islamabad nine months after he involved himself in a diplomatic row with Pakistan over his remarks in India last July that some elements in the Muslim majority state were promoting the export of terror.

After this diplomatic row, British PM Cameron and President Asif Ali Zardari met in London in August 2010, describing the bond between the two countries as unbreakable. Cameron at that time accepted an invitation to visit Pakistan and agreed to a yearly summit to strengthen relations. However, President Zardari later admitted that Cameron’s comments had hurt him. Earlier this year, the Cameron government moved to ban the Pakistani Taliban, making membership a criminal offence and rendering illegal any attempts to raise money for the group.

The British PM wanted to visit Pakistan to patch up relations with Islamabad, after what he uttered against Pakistan during a visit to Bangalore, India. He wanted to go to Islamabad, on his way to Afghanistan. But his attempt to invite himself ended in a refusal, as Prime Minister Gilani said he did not want to be ‘tagged on’ to a visit to Afghanistan. Cameron often tries to squeeze several countries into a single foreign visit, as he has to deal with the recession and cuts agenda at home.

Education was a key theme of Cameron’s one day visit to Pakistan. He announced that the UK would help to put four million children into school, train 90,000 teachers and provide six million textbooks as part of the largest overseas education programme ever funded by London.

On trade, they set a target of increasing bilateral trade in goods and services to 2.5 billion pounds a year by 2015. Cameron pledged to continue to advocate for Pakistan to gain enhanced trade access to the European Union. They agreed to a regular dialogue between the two governments on economic reforms, with an emphasis on trade and investment. They underscored the importance of supporting corporate sector interaction in areas of mutual interest and national priorities. Cameron recognised the sacrifices made by Pakistan’s military, civil law enforcement agencies and people in fighting extremism and militancy and appreciated the efforts of the present government. Both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to cooperate closely in combating terrorism and extremism.

UK considers its relationship with Pakistan to be of critical importance, especially for national security reasons. It has a significant population of Pakistani descent. Britain also is part of the US-led coalition fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Pakistan and UK have an unbreakable bond that can be strengthened through more cooperation on counterterrorism, boosting trade and other ties. Both countries should make regular high-level contacts which would help pave the way for further strengthening of bilateral ties and development of strategic partnership. Cameron’s visit helps normalise their bilateral relations and lesson the heat between them. If the two countries want to move ahead, they should make a fresh start in their relationship.

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