David Cameron’s recent visit to Pakistan has consolidated the historical relationship between Pakistan and the UK, can you elaborate on this landmark visit?
Wajid Shamsul Hasan: “Prime Minister David Cameron made a landmark visit recently to Pakistan. It has gone a long way in reinforcing and cementing the profound relationship enjoyed by the two countries despite a negative perception created in a section of media. His categorical pronouncement that “Pakistan-UK relationships are unbreakable” not only echoed the true feelings shared by the rationale minds in the two countries–it is rather a manifestation of confidence and trust shared by the two nations. With over a million Diaspora and approximately 1.4 million visits annually by the people on both sides how such a bonding can be ignored.
This visit had its importance in many ways in consolidating Pakistan-UK relationship. It was the first visit of Mr. Cameron to Pakistan after becoming Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. His meetings with President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani further reinvigorated the strong relationship between the two countries.
His meetings with the opposition leaders, chief ministers of the provinces and other coalition partners apart from a close interaction with students added greater strength to the long-standing co-operation between the two countries and its people. Second, Mr. Cameron’s visit at a time when the coalition forces have entered a crucial phase in Afghanistan whereby a drawdown would commence from July this year and that withdrawal of the British forces is likely to be completed by 2015-attached more significance to it.”
What will be the impact of the Pak-UK Enhanced Strategic Partnership Dialogue (ESPD)?
WSH: “Prime Minster Cameron and Prime Minister Gilani signed a highly significant Declaration on Pakistan-UK Enhanced Strategic Partnership Dialogue (ESPD) which has set the tone of future relationship of the two countries in a comprehensive manner regarding the security and stability in the region. It is no more fixated to security specific issues, but encompasses all areas of bilateral relationship.
The two sides agreed that the ESPD process will be actively driven forward by the President and Prime Minister of Pakistan and by the Prime Minister of the UK who would meet annually while the Foreign Ministers of the two countries will review the progress in the stipulated fields on bi-annual basis.”
How can trade ties between Pakistan and the UK be enhanced?
WSH: “Two countries have agreed to focus on enhancing trade relationship and raise the present volume of Trade from present £1.20 billion to £2.50 billion by 2015. Prime Minister Cameron also pledged to advocate Pakistan’s case for enhanced trade access to the EU markets including GSP Plus.
The two sides have also agreed that economic stability and socio-economic development were key priorities to ensure prosperity for future generations. In this regards close interaction between the two governments on economic reforms and enhancing trade and investment opportunities would have positive impact. It was also agreed to encourage the corporate sector of the two countries to enhance their cooperation.”
The UK has provided 650 million pounds assistance to Pakistan’s education sector, what are your views on this?
WSH: “Since Pakistan has declared 2011 as the Year of Education, Prime Minister Cameron’s announcement of enhancing assistance in education sector up to £650 million to get over four million Pakistani Children into School has been very well received across the country. Enhanced academic links and facilitation of Pakistani students proceeding to UK for higher education are the positives that would go a long way in further cementing the friendly relationship between the two countries.”
What effect will the deteriorating security situation in Pakistan have on our relationship with the UK?
WSH: “On security, the leadership of the two countries committed to address their shared national security challenges. In this regards the top security apparatus of the two countries met under the leadership of the two prime ministers and took important decisions in combating extremism and terrorism in a comprehensive manner. The two countries recognised the fact that peace in Afghanistan was an imperative for regional and global stability. Therefore, the need for it to be Afghan specific was amply emphasized.
You spoke of the horrific murders of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti at the hands of extremists and were a personal friend to both of them, can you elaborate on this and the recent spate of violence plaguing Pakistan?
WSH : “The ghastly assassination of Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer – Champion of Secular Democracy – is a great loss for the Pakistani nation, Pakistan People’s Party, President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and the government. He was brave, courageous and daring—a great man who spoke for the rights of the people including minorities. He was totally committed to the high democratic ideals and the egalitarian vision of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and martyred Benazir Bhutto.
Shahbaz Bhatti laid down his life at a time when he was most needed. In his official capacity, he represented the interests of Pakistan’s religious minorities. However, Bhatti also stood for the vision of Pakistan’s founding father, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, characterised by pluralism, freedom of religion and the rule of law.
Their tragic demise—a sacrifice in blood– at this critical juncture when Pakistan is carrying on a battle to do or die to defend Islam’s pristine values of compassion and tolerance, to save the county from falling a victim to extremism—have carved for them a permanent niche in the hall of fame of those great leaders who preferred death to surrendering to the obscurantist forces. As such they have become immortal.”
As Pakistan High Commissioner to the UK, what have been the highlights of your illustrious career?
WSH: “ With over a million Pakistani Diaspora in UK the job I have to render is onerous, demanding and full of challenges. As head of the biggest Pakistani diplomatic mission in the world I have to cater to variety of issues that include providing to the people of Pakistan heritage best possible consular services that include efficient and tear-free issuance of passports/visas etc at London and our four consulates at Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester and Bradford. And on top of it, help those Pakistanis who are caught in the rules/regulation of immigration web. For example when ten students of Pakistani origin who were arrested in April 2009 on charges of being involved in alleged terrorist activities, the Mission, its consular and political officers provided them all assistance including legal until they were cleared off and allowed to go home voluntarily with all charges dropped against them.
Besides, we have very vibrant Commercial and Trade sections at London and Manchester. London being the hub of all trading and commercial activities plays a major role in mobilising investment and trade. Their performance is reflected in enhanced trade and investment activities generating more business to and fro. Only last year we introduced marketing of mangoes in a big way at Harrods. This year our target has increased manifold and god willing, our high quality mangoes will be available at leading food halls.
We also add to country’s fortunes through growing remittances, enhanced export of Pakistani textiles, rice/food items, carpets, surgical and sports goods to name a few items. We also participate in trade fairs, road shows and other economic activities to enhance two-way business. In these areas our London Commercial Section headed by Commercial Counsellor Saira Najeeb Ahmed and Manchester office under M.Hamid Ali in collaboration with UKPCCI, Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, London Stock Exchanges and other Regional British chambers and trade organisations have performed tremendously well. They have successfully organised visits of British and Pakistani business entrepreneurs to do more for the country with the national objective of seeking more trade and less of aid.
Last but not the least, great efforts are being made to promote our culture, improve Pakistan’s image as a vibrant, dynamic, progressive and secular country as envisioned by the founder Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah opposed tooth and nail to obscurantism and determined with the help of a resilient nation to wipe out the scourge of extremism and terrorism.”
What drew you to a career in diplomacy?
WSH: “It was my over 35 year long association with martyred Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto that pulled me into the world of diplomacy in 1994 from journalism. She assigned me the task of building Pak-UK relations. During her second tenure 1993-1996 we developed trade, commerce and investment relations to newer heights. It was during her time that MOUs worth £ One billion were signed with UK and its companies especially in the field of power generation that made Pakistan surplus in power generation until mid 2005 when we had developed surplus capacity. After her departure not a megawatt was added that led to never ending power shortages to this day.
Besides trade and investment, solution of Kashmir issue was top of her global agenda. Our successful political lobbying convinced the Labour Party in 1995 to pass a resolution supporting the right of self determination for people of Kashmir in accordance with the resolutions of the United Nations. At Labour Party’s Brighton Conference Labour Party committed itself to resolving the issue since it was part of unfinished agenda of partition of the subcontinent in 1947 under a Labour government. The then Shadow Foreign Secretary Robin Cook spearheaded the unanimously passed resolution described by the India media as Pakistan’s singular diplomatic victory.”
How do you envisage Pakistan-UK relations evolving in the future?
WSH: “As stated by Prime Minister Cameron and Prime Minister Gilani in their joint press conference on 5th April, 2011, I am confident that this would be the start of a new era in the relations between Pakistan and the United Kingdom, our governments and our peoples. Both countries should clear up the misunderstandings of the past, work through the tensions of the present and look together to the opportunities of the future.”