I feel hugely privileged to have been appointed to the job. Nearly ten years ago, I moved to Pakistan for the first time, to be the Political Counsellor in the British High Commission. I became a great friend of the country and its people. I feel a great sense of energy at going back. I am energised at seeing old friends the prospect of discovering more of the beautiful country, but mostly by prospect of doing work which is so important for both our countries. Pakistan matters to the UK and, I like to think, the UK matters to Pakistan: for each other’s security, regional stability and for each other’s prosperity.
Central to that are the 1.5 million British people of Pakistani origin who have made the UK their home. I saw that at first hand when I visited British Pakistani community leaders in Bradford last week. We are like a family. Our human, cultural and historical links mean that our relationship is long term. It is broad as well as deep. Our problems are shared. So is our potential.
My most important task is to help unlock that potential. Pakistan’s potential is huge. It has a young and dynamic population. It has improving infrastructure. Its geographical location puts it at the centre of the global market and a new Silk Road. In Karachi it has one of the world’s 10 biggest cities. But to make the most of these long term opportunities, Pakistan also needs to overcome a range of challenges and threats. And we in Britain will help in whatever way we can. That means helping Pakistan become more stable, more prosperous and better governed. That is in Britain’s interests as much as in Pakistan’s. And it is as much about trade, education, health and good governance, as it is about security.
All Ambassadors like to say how important the relationship between their two countries is. The sentiment is important. But as the British High Commissioner to Pakistan, I will be in the fortunate position of having the resources to back it. Our High Commission in Islamabad is one of our biggest diplomatic missions in the world. So is our bilateral assistance programme to Pakistan.
I have myself seen how central Pakistan is to Britain’s foreign and domestic policy, in all the jobs I have done since last returning from Pakistan in 2008. As the Foreign Office’s National Security Director, I had a strong sense of the security challenges that Pakistan faced and the sacrifices it was making in trying to overcome them. I realized how important they were too to Britain’s own national security. Most recently, I was Principal Private Secretary (or Chief of Staff) to Foreign Secretaries William Hague and Philip Hammond. There I had an overview of the whole breadth of our foreign policy interests. Pakistan was never far from the centre.
So my job is a great one because Pakistan matters. But it is also a great one because I believe the UK can make a difference. Indeed we are already making a difference in a whole range of areas.
Some of my favorite statistics are about education, where 6.3 million Pakistani primary school children have benefited from direct UK support, thanks to our Department for International Development; or where the British Council has committed to train one million teachers of English by 2018 to improve the way English is taught in schools.
We do important work in health too, where, for example, nearly one million births have attended by professionals supported by the UK.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Our joint work ranges from tax collection and poverty relief, to the prosecution of terrorists or countering improvised explosive devices.
What then specifically do I want to achieve over these next three years? You should not expect a radical change of direction. Our commitment is for the long term, and my predecessor Philip Barton has done an excellent job. Like him, I believe that Pakistan is on the up.
So, Firstly, our work together on security, regional stability and other immediate challenges will continue to be critical. But, secondly, I hope that we can make the most of a period of relative stability to focus even more, in our work together, on tackling the longer term challenges that are fundamental to Pakistan’s future prosperity. Challenges around economic growth, governance, health and education and those linked to changing demographics and climate. The 2018 elections will be critical to this ambition – a chance further to strengthen democracy and democracy’s institutions.
I want British businesses too to play a part in the growth of Pakistan’s economy. Though trade between our two countries increased 12% in 2014, it is still lower than it should be between such important partners. I will do what I can to change that. Syed Ibne Abbas, the excellent Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK, has the great ambition that, by the end of his tour, trade and economic issues should be at the top of the agenda between our two countries whenever our Ministers meet. I very much endorse that.
Finally, I want to continue to nurture the human links between our two countries. This is the foundation for everything else. Culture, language and sport matter. And what a better way to start than to have the Pakistan cricket team tour the United Kingdom this summer! Don’t be surprised if you find that ‘urgent business’ brings me back to the UK suspiciously near to those matches.
In short, a great job in a great country. There is a lot to do, and I am really looking forward to getting going.