Britain in great debt to Muslim soldiers from Pakistan: British defence minister

Event held on the occasion of Remembrance Day

Our Correspondent November 12, 2020

"Great Britain's victories in World War I and II are indebted to the Muslim soldiers from the areas constituting Pakistan that raised the world's largest volunteer army. Before the United States of America and the USSR joined the forces in World War II, these Muslim soldiers had made unparalleled sacrifices."

"These poignant and profound contributions set a great backdrop to build our relations on shared history and humanity," said British Defence Minister Johnny Mercer MP while speaking to an exclusive seminar organised by the Conservative Friends of Pakistan on Remembrance Day.

The seminar was organised in league with the 'Forgotten Soldiers of the Empire' initiative led by author Arif Anis who is campaigning to highlight to the sacrifices made by the 400,000 and 600,000 Muslim soldiers that fought in World War I and II respectively while protecting the British Empire.

November 11 Remembrance Day is a Memorial Day observed in Commonwealth member states since the end of the First World War to remember the members of their armed forces who have died in the line of duty.

Lord Zameer Chaudhry CBE, the Chairman of the Conservative Friends of Pakistan (CFoP), welcomed the audience and apprised them of the importance of the event. Syed Qamar Raza, Vice Chairman of the CFoP said, "Until recently, however, the acknowledgement and remembrance of soldiers from Pakistan and their sacrifice in the war was an extremely delicate subject because it was so entangled with painful memories of the empire. However, in my view, it can be a great way to trace our roots with pride and encourage our young British Pakistanis to join the Royal Army and Navy in the footsteps of their proud forefathers.'

Muhammad Ayub, the Acting High Commissioner of Pakistan, paid tributes to the soldiers laying down their lives, their sense of duty, willingness to fight in cold Europe.

He recollected how sepoys from Punjab and then the NWFP fought for the cause that brought the culmination of the human rights and protected freedom in other parts of the world along with thousands of comrades with the strength of character.

He also emphasised on Pakistan's role in the UN peacekeeping forces as the largest contributor since 1960s.

Dr Robert Lyman, who is one of the most renowned British historians and author of 12 books on the subject, delivered the keynote address with a thesis statement that said, "It was impossible for the UK to win the war without the Indian army and soldiers from the areas constituting Pakistan." Lyman observed that the Muslim soldiers were the backbone of the British Indian Army and they also became the bedrock of independent Pakistan.

He shared details how the 14th British Indian Army defeated the Japanese in 1944 and turned the tide of the war. He stressed that the role of these unsung Muslim soldiers must be highlighted to combat Islamophobia. He also shared the citation of Nike Fazal Din, a Muslim soldier who received Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

Ian Duncan Smith, a former British minister and Chairman of the Conservative Party paid rich tributes to the heroism of the Muslim soldiers, in particular, sating the modern world owed them a lot.

Lord Stephen Greenhalgh, Minister of State jointly at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Home Office remembered the gallant soldiers and officers who received 17 Victoria Crosses while paying homage to the 87000 soldiers who sacrificed their lives in the trenches.

Lieutenant-General Sir Barnabas William Benjamin "Barney" White-Spunner, KCB, CBE commented on the shared heritage of the UK and Pakistan that is "owed to the sacrifices of the Muslim soldiers from the areas constituting Pakistan". He stressed that these unparalleled tales of courage must be told.

Shared heritage

Major General Jonathan Shaw observed that the UK and Pakistan "are joined at the hip". He lamented that Pakistan didn't get the credit it deserved for the part it played for global peace. He commented that any Remembrance Day will be incomplete without remembering the brave Muslim soldiers who served, got wounded and died in the line of duty in World War I and II.

Brigadier Fuad Hafeez, from the Army Institute of Military History, explained that recording, preserving and archiving history is at the heart of the institute. He shared that the Pakistan Army was made of the same valour and grit that was displayed by the gallant soldiers in World War I and II, before the birth of Pakistan.

He quoted Field Marshal Sir Claude John Eyre Auchinleck and Sir Winston Churchill who praised the brave Muslim soldiers for their extraordinary courage and bravery. He also highlighted the Pakistan Army's role in the UN peacekeeping operations.

General Zia Ullah Khan, a former officer from the Pakistan Army also shared his memories. Lord Sarfraz of Kensington, Col Azam Qadri, Andy Knott MBE and Aliya Afzal Khan also spoke at the occasion.

Commenting on the event, Arif Anis, founder of the ‘Forgotten Soldiers of the Empire’ campaign shared that more events will be organised to bring the attention to the ‘burden of the Empire’ paid by almost a million Muslim soldiers.

‘The world must acknowledge their sacrifices in creating ‘the present’ as we find it now. "The world would have been a different place had these soldiers not put their lives on the line." Anis’s father and maternal grandfather both served in the World II.


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