LONDON: It may not quite be rags to riches, but the journey of two recent appointees to the House of Lords of Pakistani heritage is nevertheless remarkable. The new additions to the British Parliament’s upper chamber are: Tariq Ahmad, a banker and former Conservative Party vice chairman, and Qurban Hussain, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats on Luton Borough Council.
While both share humble beginnings, their present circumstances are vastly different and reflect the range of experience of British-Pakistanis.
“I came to this country at the age of 14 from a village that didn’t even have electricity or running water,” laughs Qurban Hussain, a jovial man clearly thrilled by the latest turn that his life has taken. From Rajdhani in Kotli, Azad Jammu Kashmir, the young Qurban Hussain arrived in Rochdale in the north west of England in 1971 to work with his father in a textile factory. Studying while he worked, he finished his A-levels and later joined a bank. It was a job in a trade union centre that brought him to Luton, 30 miles north of London, where he lives to this day.
Hussain lives in a small terraced house on a modest street in Luton’s Bury Park, an area dominated by people with origins in the Mirpur area of Pakistan. There is chai and plates of mithai on coffee tables and the room is crammed with men in shalwar kameez who have come to congratulate him, some from as far as Rochdale.
He was first elected as a Labour councillor in 1996. “It was from an area that was 99% white and had always voted conservative,” he remembers proudly. Resigning from Labour after the invasion of Iraq, Hussain was elected to Luton Borough Council as a Liberal-Democrat in 2003. He stood as parliamentary candidate twice unsuccessfully but has the credit of doubling the Liberal-Democrat vote. He visits Pakistan often and hopes to play a role in changing the perception that it is a ‘fundamentalist’ country. Although he says there is much celebrating in Kotli, Hussain’s heart is clearly right here. “My first loyalty is to Luton,” he says, “it has given me and my family everything.”
Tariq Ahmad’s spacious room in the slick city offices of commodity brokers Sucden Financial Services, where he is Director of Marketing Strategy and Research, is a world away from the halal meat shops of Luton. Soft-spoken and articulate Ahmad has combined a successful career with values of devotion to faith and family.
Over a cup of coffee, Ahmad speaks admiringly of his father. “He came to Glasgow in 1954 with only five pounds in his pocket. Working in the railways, he supported his family back home while continuing his studies. He played hockey at the local club and helped the elderly in his spare time”. Chaudhry Mansoor Ahmad eventually qualified as an accountant and moved to London where he worked for the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).
The struggle was over by the time Ahmad was born, but the values his father derived from his experience left their mark on his son. Integration was one of them. “‘Do not be aloof. Get to know the country, the people and the culture. My grandfather said this to my father and these principles have had a profound effect on me,” he says.
Ahmad joined the Conservative Party in 1994 and has been a local councillor from Wimbledon since 2002. Though unsuccessful in the parliamentary elections of 2005, he significantly increased Tory votes in the constituency and came to the attention of David Cameron who included him in his campaign team for the 2010 elections.
Free PIA tickets in his childhood meant many trips to Pakistan and Tariq has retained links to friends and family in Lahore and Karachi. As a ‘friend’ of Pakistan in Parliament he wants to spread the message that there is nothing Islamic about terrorism.
And for the Muslim and Asian youth of Britain, he hopes to be an example. “I hope to demonstrate to them that with the right mindset and its application you can achieve whatever you desire.”
Published in The Express Tribune, November 25th, 2010.