It’s the time of year for celebrations around the world, as many in the UK and Pakistan celebrate Christmas and Pakistanis worldwide honour Quaid-i-Azam’s birth. These holidays signal the end of the year, providing an opportunity to reflect on the past and contemplate the challenges ahead.
This has been a hugely significant year in your history. As both the Minister responsible for our relationship with Pakistan, and as a proud British citizen of Pakistani heritage, I was delighted this year to celebrate the first democratic transition of power in Pakistan’s history, when I visited with Prime Minister David Cameron. He was the first head of government to visit after that historic election, and we were struck by the optimism and the expectation of those that we met. This positive spirit must be captured and taken forward.
Let me also congratulate you on securing the GSP+ trade deal with the European Union. We in the UK worked tirelessly in support of you, which now gives Pakistani businesses unprecedented access to European markets, estimated to be worth up to £500 million next year. I know that it will provide the opportunities that your younger generation so desperately need: A stronger Pakistani economy will lead to a stronger Pakistan.
But I worry about the continuing challenges that you face. One in three Pakistanis still lives on less than 50 rupees a day. Some 12 million Pakistani children don’t go to school. Less than 0.5% per cent of your population pays income tax. The national debt stands at $60 billion, meaning that more than 60% of Pakistan’s federal revenue is spent on paying interest and debt each year. And on Christmas day, I think of those killed at the All Saints Church in Peshawar in September. 2013 was again another year with too many attacks against minorities and innocent civilians. So today is the day to ask whether Pakistan is living up to the vision spoken by Mohammed Ali Jinnah when he said: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed—that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”
I consider you, Pakistan, as a friend and as a close partner, with whom we have many shared interests, and with whom we can talk frankly about our shared challenges. And it’s because we consider your success our success, and your challenges our challenges that our aid programme with Pakistan is one of our largest in the world, and that’s why it focuses so strongly on education. Our investment in your future will provide education for 4m children, including 2m girls, by 2015, and will result in an additional 45,000 teachers. This is further evidence of our commitment, which is reinforced by your diaspora, which in the UK remits £627 million each year; they are your strongest supporters and loudest advocates.
You have set off on the tough road of economic reform, improving governance and tackling crippling energy shortages. We will support you on this road. I am a member of a British government that has had to take some incredibly painful decisions in tackling our national debt. We therefore know that your journey will be difficult, but you must stay the course. Because as every family knows, it is irresponsible for today’s generation to live to excess, and to leave for the next generation the burden of picking up the pieces.
As a British government Minister I am delighted that our relationship is stronger than ever. It spans from our political relationship to the links between our business, and from our shared love of sport and music to our deep family connections. All make up the vibrancy of this intertwined partnership. That’s why the UK always responds quickly and generously when you are in need. It’s why we did all we could after the devastating earthquake in 2005, and after the terrible floods in 2010. I had the opportunity to visit Pakistan immediately after both. I saw firsthand the passion in Pakistan’s youth as they mobilized to help. I felt your pain, and I felt proud of how British people, of all backgrounds, races and religions, responded in Pakistan’s hour of need.
I was born in a small town in the north of the UK, but I was brought up by my parents to know Pakistan, to understand Pakistan and to love Pakistan. The country has achieved so much since its traumatic creation more than 65 years ago. It has overcome partition and a bloody separation from East Pakistan. You have been let down throughout your history by serious democratic shortcomings, corruption and the scourge of terrorism. On the eve of 2014 I know you have the strength and determination to break free from the failures of the past.
You are an incredibly diverse, vibrant and proud nation. Your land is home to some of the most world’s most spectacular mountain ranges, incredibly fertile soil, and some of the oldest archaeological remains in existence. You gave the world ‘the conqueror” Jehangir Khan, ‘the voice’ Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and the living saint Abdul Sattar Edhi.
You have a world-leading textile industry. The shalwar kameez which I wore on that first historic Cabinet meeting in 2010 which saw Britain’s first Muslim Cabinet minister was made in Pakistan. You have a dynamic and young population, a growing high tech sector, and an increasingly vocal and active civil society, epitomized by brave people such as Malala Yousafzai. You have a lot to be proud of. As I’ve said before, a part of my heart will always beat with Pakistan.
As you mark this special day the challenge I put to Pakistan, to each and every Pakistani, is can you be sure that what Pakistan is today, and the direction in which it is heading, will attract the love and warmth from my children and my grandchildren as is does from me and my generation? I urge you to dedicate 2014 to creating a Pakistan that we can all be proud of. I wish you a happy Quaid-i-Azam day, a Merry Christmas, and a peaceful and prosperous New Year.
Senior Foreign Office Minister