The UK is helping Pakistan in addressing low literacy levels with significant investments in Pakistan’s education sector. What are your views on this?
Adam Thomson: “That’s right. In fact, Pakistan faces an education emergency: more than 12 million children are not in school; half the adult population including two thirds of women can’t read or write; and Pakistan’s population of 180 million is expected to increase by half again in less than forty years. Education is one of the most important factors which can transform Pakistan’s future. It boosts the economy, broadens outlooks, and offers a brighter future for poor children who may otherwise be on the streets. That’s why education is the UK’s top priority for Pakistan. I am passionate about it.
Over the last few years the UK has helped millions of poor children go to school in Pakistan, provided them with textbooks and built political and social pressure for change. By 2015, the UK will have helped get four million children extra children into school since 2011; recruit and train an additional 45,000 teachers in Punjab province alone; and work with the Government and civil society to sustain commitment to reform the education system in Pakistan.
The UK will work with the Government of Pakistan at provincial level to deliver better quality and more widely available schools, and to improve management and accountability in the education sector. Existing support in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces is being expanded, and innovative new approaches are being developed in partnership with the private sector to get more children in to school in Sindh.”
Earlier in 2012 UK Minister of State for Trade and Investment Lord Green visited Pakistan and announced the UK’s commitment to increase the volume of trade with Pakistan to £2.5 billion by 2015. What are the challenges faced in achieving this target?
AT: “Both governments are committed to promoting investment, supporting business and achieving the target of increasing bilateral trade to £2.5 billion by 2015. In 2011 bilateral trade in goods and services was £2.1 billion. Earlier, in 2010 it was £2 billion and in 2009 it was £1.9 billion, so we are on course to meet this target.
Over 100 UK-based companies are already doing business in Pakistan. UK firms are engaged in Pakistan in education, retail, pharmaceuticals, banking and energy among others sectors. Unilever, Shell, GlaxoSmithKline, Standard Chartered and Barclays are working here on a large scale. British retail is also doing well in Pakistan with branches of Mothercare, Next, Accessorize, Toni&Guy and others in the market. Generally, UK companies report a good return on their investments in Pakistan, and it is a relatively open economy with a pro-business regulatory regime.
The Government of Pakistan has also pledged its full support in ensuring the business environment attracts and sustains UK trade and investments.”
What sectors do you feel hold the most potential for investment in Pakistan?
AT: “There are plenty of sectors that hold opportunities for UK investment in Pakistan. I think the real leaders are financial services, oil and gas exploration, petroleum refining, electricity generation, pharmaceutical, publishing, industrial chemicals, cement and FMCG. The education and retail sectors also attract a high level of British interest. That’s the reason why the UK is the second largest overseas investor in Pakistan.
Major Pakistani imports to the UK are textiles, rice, leather, carpets and fruit. Pakistani mangoes are popular worldwide, including in the UK. Our major exports to Pakistan include specialised industrial and power generation machineries, telecom and broadcasting equipments, chemicals, pharmaceutical products and metal scraps.”
Has Pakistan’s unstable law and order situation and the ongoing energy crisis been a significant impediment to enhancing trade and investment levels?
AT: “Although Pakistan suffers from unstable law and order situation and energy crisis; it still is a highly lucrative market with a growing population of 180 million that has a strong appetite for international products and services. The latest World Bank ‘Doing Business Report’ considers Pakistan in third place when looking at the ‘ease of doing businesses in South Asia’, behind Maldives and Sri Lanka. Pakistan’s ranking is higher than countries like Argentina and Brazil, and is better than that of India.”
The UK offered great support to Pakistan in the wake of the devastating floods, what are your views on the overwhelming response of the UK to the people of Pakistan during this difficult time?
AT: “This is the third year in succession that Pakistan has been hit by heavy monsoon flooding. The “mega-flood” in 2010 affected some 20m people across the country, and floods in Southern Sindh in 2011 affected over nine million people. The UK responded swiftly to the 2010 floods helping millions of people by providing shelter, food, healthcare, water and sanitation. This was the biggest UK Government response to a natural disaster ever, and the third biggest by the British public. That reflects our close ties. The UK is also funding the reconstruction of over 45,000 flood-resistant homes, and seeds and fertiliser to help restart livelihoods. Last year, the UK provided urgent emergency assistance to 146,000 people within days.
It is deeply concerning that families, women and children are living in temporary accommodation as the winter sets in. The UK is providing additional shelter, special winter kits, and access to water, health and nutrition, to help get those who are most vulnerable through these cold months. The UK and Pakistan share a deep bond and friendship – we will always stand by and support each other.”
How do you see relations evolving between Pakistan and Afghanistan and what would be the benefits of a strategic partnership agreement between the two countries?
AT: “Both Afghanistan and Pakistan recognise that their long-term prosperity and security depend on maintaining a good relationship with each other. Pakistan needs a stable Afghanistan otherwise it will face the mirror image of the current problems in Afghanistan: safe havens for people seeking to overthrow their state, including the Pakistan Taleban. And a stable Afghanistan requires a peaceful border between Afghanistan and Pakistan and security on either side of the border in which violent extremists are rooted out and prevented from operating.
Agreeing to negotiate a Strategic Partnership Agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan was an important step. The UK and Pakistan agree on importance of peace, stability and security in Afghanistan, and fully support an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation process. Both sides must now continue to make progress. As a first step, they agreed that the High Peace Council would visit Islamabad to discuss the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan.
What drew you to a career in diplomacy?
AT: :I was attracted to diplomacy because it was familiar (my father was also a British diplomat). I wanted to work in public policy. I found foreign policy so much more exciting than domestic. I’m still in it because it’s fun, and because I have learnt that individuals and good ideas can make an enormous difference in international affairs, and because the outside world matters more and more to a trading economy and open society like Britain’s. And I love my job in Pakistan because I believe I can make a positive difference.”
You came to Pakistan at a particularly turbulent time. What are your impressions of Pakistan so far?
AT: “I have four main impressions so far. First, that Pakistan is a gorgeous country, beautiful and rich in the natural wealth of its people and its land. Second, that ordinary Pakistanis are not just warm, open, hospitable and generous but also remarkably resilient – that resilience will help the country overcome all its present challenges. Third, the population is growing faster than the country’s ability to turn all those young people into assets rather than problems. That’s one reason why transformation of education matters so much. And fourth, closely connected to these other points, good governance is crucial. Pakistan needs more of it, which is why democracy must be allowed to settle down and institutions must be allowed to mature.
We really value our partnership with Pakistan with its many distinctive characteristics, including the close personal connections between our citizens, our crucial partnership against terrorism and our expanding trade ties. We think that by working well together, both countries can benefit.”
Pakistan and the UK have a special bond and a unique historic relationship. What is your vision for the future of Pakistan-UK relations?
AT: “We value our partnership with Pakistan with its many distinctive characteristics. We are an unswerving supporter of Pakistan’s development and its democratic future.
The UK can confidently and proudly call itself a friend of Pakistan. Our friendship will endure. As a friend of Pakistan, we want to urge a greater understanding of Pakistan and the challenges it faces. A prosperous and stable Pakistan is of course in Pakistan’s interests, and in the interest of the region and beyond.
Both UK and Pakistan’s governments are committed, through our Enhanced Strategic Dialogue, to strengthening the practical co-operation between our countries and unlocking the abundant potential in our relationship, particularly across the five keys areas of the dialogue: trade, economic growth and development, cultural co-operation, security and education.”