Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, visited the UK in May for annual talks with his counterpart and great friend of Pakistan, Prime Minister David Cameron, as part of the Enhanced Strategic Dialogue (ESD) programme between the two countries.
On arrival, Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani was given a rousing reception as the only foreign head of government that was invited to attend the State Opening of Parliament on the occasion of Her Majesty The Queen’s Speech. Later, the Prime Minister attended the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association reception attended by the members of House of Commons, House of Lords and Ambassadors to the Court of St James’s. I also hosted a reception on The House of Commons’ Pavilion Terrace in Prime Minister Gilani’s honour. We had a spectacular cross-party turn-out, with over 60 MPs, five Ministers and other dignitaries in attendance. Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, Rt Hon Alan Duncan MP, Rt Hon David Miliband MP, Keith Vaz MP, Advocate General for Scotland Rt Hon Lord Wallace of Tankerness QC, Shadow Lord Chancellor Rt Hon Sadiq Khan MP and many other friends of Pakistan joined us to meet the Prime Minister and his cabinet colleagues.
On 10 May, the two Prime Ministers and their senior colleagues met for the ESD’s First Summit Review. Established during Prime Minister Cameron’s visit to Pakistan in April 2011, the ESD is designed to intensify cooperation in areas of shared interest between the two countries and has five main strands: (i) trade and business relations; (ii) financial, macro-economic stabilisation and development cooperation; (iii) education and health; (iv) defence and security, and (v) cultural cooperation.
During their intense discussions the two Prime Ministers reiterated that Pakistan and the UK were bound together by longstanding ties of shared history, values and the enormously rich people-to-people links that were sure to continue to grow from strength-to-strength.
Both Prime Ministers were satisfied by the progress made in bilateral trade and investment and expressed confidence that the two countries would achieve the mutually agreed target of £2.5 billion in bilateral trade by 2015. Prime Minister Gilani acknowledged the UK’s support in achieving the WTO tariff waiver for Pakistan. He thanked the British Prime Minister for his pledge to continue advocating Pakistan’s case for increased trade access to the EU. He also spoke of the enormous success of the visit to Pakistan by British Trade Minister, Lord Green, which went a long way in removing many misconceptions about the country. A three year road map to provide a focused approach to accelerate bilateral trade was also established.
The two sides also agreed that the global economic crisis required both countries to make tough decisions in order to deliver future growth and prosperity. In this regard they agreed to a regular dialogue between the two governments, and further visits to exchange information and opportunities for businesses were welcomed by both Prime Ministers.
The two premiers welcomed the implementation of the National Declaration on Education which commits all stakeholders to undertake the necessary steps to develop education and tackle malnutrition. The two leaders also welcomed the growing cultural exchange between museums and in academia. (Last year 17 new agreements were signed between universities in the UK and Pakistan.) A cultural cooperation road map was launched during the visit to pave the way for bringing the people of the two countries closer together.
The two leaders also discussed their ongoing cooperation on shared national security challenges, including their work on counter-terrorism through the Joint Working Group and National Security Discussions. While acknowledging the huge sacrifices made by ordinary people in Pakistan, Prime Minister Cameron assured the UK’s complete support of Pakistan as a partner against the menace of militancy, terrorism and extremism.
In addition to the ESD deliberations, Prime Minister Cameron acknowledged Pakistan’s tremendous sacrifices in the ongoing war on terror. He was confident that the resilience shown by the people and armed forces of Pakistan would soon triumph over extremism, opening the gates of prosperity for both Pakistan and Afghanistan. He congratulated Prime Minister Gilani for highlighting the strength of democracy and taking the responsibility to secure political reconciliation.
This reminded me of Sir Winston Churchill’s saying: ‘the price of greatness is responsibility.’ Indeed the Pakistan People’s Party government’s struggle to establish the rule of law, invoke transparency and protect the freedom of institutions is a huge achievement in these times which are tempered with a slow domestic economy and the fettering effect of our participation in the war against terror. Prime Minister Cameron also expressed satisfaction over recent developments to improve ties with India especially in the area of trade and economic co-operation.
Aside from these discussions, the Chairman of the British Pakistan Foundation, Mr Asif Rangoonwala, hosted a spectacular cultural evening and dinner at The Langham hotel, in Prime Minister Gilani’s honour attended by many eminent British Pakistanis. The following day, the Chairman of Standard Chartered, Sir John Peace, hosted a meeting for the Prime Minister with seven large British companies from the retail, energy, steel, pharmaceuticals and oil and gas sectors. These companies presented an overview of their work with Pakistan and expressed their desire to further increase their investment and brand presence in the country.
The Chief Executive of the London Stock Exchange (LSE), Mr Xavier Rolet, also hosted the Prime Minister and his senior cabinet colleagues for a roundtable discussion with various British investors. The Prime Minister expressed his appreciation to the LSE for their commitment to providing a global platform to raise investment for Pakistan.
Before he left the UK, Prime Minister Gilani and Prime Minister Cameron together launched the Conservative Friends of Pakistan at The Savoy hotel. The forum is an important initiative that seeks to build bridges of understanding between Pakistan and the UK. Although Prime Minister Gilani came to London during a challenging domestic environment, his visit was considered a resounding success. During his time in the UK, six Cabinet Ministers including Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary, DFID Secretary, Defence Secretary, Secretary Energy and Climate Change and Minister for Trade individually called on the Prime Minister Gilani to discuss the cooperation in their respective areas of responsibility.
Prime Minister Cameron’s supportive remarks on a number of occasions that ‘Pakistan’s friends were Britain’s friends and Pakistan’s enemies were Britain’s enemies’ and his appreciation for Prime Minister Gilani’s efforts for strengthening democracy in Pakistan was both heartening and reassuring. The visit goes a long way in improving UK-Pakistan bilateral cooperation in all areas of common interest for the mutual benefit of the two countries and their people.