‘Why don’t we hear more about the good news coming out of Pakistan?’ As British High Commissioner, I often hear this question being asked of me both here in Islamabad but also back in the UK. Pakistanis at home and abroad are understandably concerned that the only news people hear about Pakistan is bad news. The news stories that dominate the headlines are, of course, important but surely there has to be room for some good news too?
At the British High Commission we have decided to play our part in presenting some of these positive stories by promoting the strong links between the UK and Pakistan. These ties are not just from our shared history but are between two modern vibrant societies.
Celebrating Connections is our campaign designed to highlight these ties. Its purpose is to inform people about the work that the UK does in Pakistan and about the unbreakable people-to-people links between our two countries. I hope it is going to get people in both countries thinking in a fresh way about our connections and about the opportunities these give us.
The campaign focuses on five main areas of shared interest: education, development, business, sport and cultural links. Of course, they are not the only areas but they are some of the most important.
Take education. The UK has stronger links to Pakistan in the education sector than any other country. There are more people studying for O and A levels in Pakistan each year than anywhere else outside of the UK and the British Council sends over 10,000 Pakistani students to the UK to study every year.
The second related area is the work of UKAid in supporting Pakistan’s development. Pakistan is one of the largest development programmes for Britain in the world. Working with local partners across the country we are improving the lives of ordinary Pakistanis, focusing on maternal health and education.
But aid can only do so much, which is why the third and vital area is trade and business. The UK is one of Pakistan’s largest foreign investors and both countries want to grow the trade between them. I am proud that the UK is the greatest advocate for Pakistan within the EU and that one out of every six foreign businesses investing in Pakistan is British.
2012 is the year of the London Olympic and Paralympic Games, so sport has to be one of our connections. That’s not to mention our shared passion for cricket and the excellent (for Pakistan at least) series currently taking place in Abu Dhabi.
And the fifth, but perhaps the most important area, is the people-to-people links and the cultural ties that bind us. Whether it is the authors I was privileged enough to hear at the Karachi Literature Festival or the musicians that are as popular in Leicester as they are in Lahore, there are literally countless links between our countries’ citizens.
So from the young Pakistani girls going to school for the first time thanks to UKAid, to our joint work in supporting Pakistan’s Paralympics team, and British companies investing for the future and creating jobs in Pakistan, there are many bonds that bind our countries together.
There is much to say and to celebrate, and I invite readers to share their personal stories on the connections between our two nations. (They can do this by visiting our Facebook page or by following us on Twitter.)
Published in The Express Tribune, February 22nd, 2012.