It is a pleasure to join you tonight and to offer the coalition government’s warm support for the launch of the new British-Pakistan Foundation. We are honoured to have my colleague the Pakistani Foreign Minister with us tonight, a sign of the importance that both our countries attach to the relationship between our governments and our citizens.
I commend the Foundation for the boldness of its vision and its innovative approach. Its goal is nothing short of change and transformation in Pakistan and its organisers have recognised that the key to lasting change lies in talented people and in powerful ideas.
Pakistan is rich in both, as is the Pakistani community here in Britain. We live in a networked world where it really is possible to harness the intellectual ability as well as financial resources of philanthropists, business men and women, academics, charities and young people, in dramatic new ways.
The experience of British entrepreneurs can help others to benefit from the opportunities presented by the internet and a global marketplace. Small amounts of money targeted at innovative health or education projects can make a difference to the lives of whole communities.
So I congratulate you on what you have already achieved, raising thousands of pounds for flood relief, and look forward to seeing the Foundation go from strength to strength in the future.
Pakistan is a young democracy beset by complex problems which would tax the resources and capabilities of any state - violent insurgency, in some areas economic instability, food and energy shortages, poverty and illiteracy on a large scale and twenty million people affected by the recent flooding.
The human toll exacted by these challenges demands our concern and compassion: many hundreds of Pakistani citizens and security personnel killed confronting terrorism, almost two million homes and livelihoods washed away by flooding, and millions of children still seeking access to the education or healthcare which would transform their future. Valiant work is being done to achieve progress in all these areas - but Pakistan needs our support over the long term. It can rely on the help and steadfast support of the UK.
Picture a young child born tonight in a village in one of the worst affected flood areas. That young child needs shelter now. But he or she will also need safe and reliable access to food and water, health care, and schooling; the prospect of a job in the future and the optimism and security to raise their own family when the time comes, without fear of violence. That is why the work of our Department for International Development and of Foundations like yours is so important, helping to build the strong communities and institutions on which democracy rests.
The challenges faced by Pakistan also contribute to instability in the region and affect the security of other countries, including our own. We must be under no illusions about the gravity of the situation. At present the risk is growing, not diminishing. Pakistan’s security and prosperity hangs in the balance and its friends, including Britain, have to bring our resolve and effort to bear alongside the Pakistani government if we are to tip the scales in our favour. Britain is determined to do this. We will be among the very staunchest supporters of Pakistan’s democratic future in the years to come.
But the other side of the story is Pakistan’s young and talented population, its growing economy, its rich culture, and its thriving diasporas around the world, particularly here in Britain where the Pakistani community makes such a contribution to our national life - to our Parliament, our schools, our hospitals, our legal system and our universities. Pakistan is a great nation with the potential for a still greater future, and it is an important and respected strategic partner for Britain.
Our government has signalled a strong commitment to Pakistan from its earliest days in office. We have increased our development assistance to Pakistan, which now stands at £665 million over four years, one of our largest aid programmes anywhere in the world. We have pledged £134 million to help rebuild flood-stricken areas - one of the largest bilateral donations of any country.
Five senior Government Ministers have visited Pakistan since June. I have, as have the Deputy Prime Minister, the Development Secretary and the co-Chairman of the Conservative Party, Baroness Warsi, who is here tonight. The Prime Minister himself will visit Pakistan soon.
Yesterday I attended the Friends of Democratic Pakistan meeting in Brussels, where more than 20 countries gave their support and backing to the Pakistani government as it undertakes the domestic reforms that will help the country emerge stronger for the future.
And the Prime Minister and I worked hard to help win trade concessions for Pakistan from the EU last month, arguing that while aid can bring short term relief, trade will help lay the foundations for lasting prosperity.
As we have begun we will continue, being a firm friend to Pakistan. The region will remain a strategic priority for our country for many years to come.
We are pursuing a foreign policy that seeks the best for British citizens, champions political freedom, human rights and economic liberalism and gives generously to the development of other nations.
We are working to build up British influence in the world, creating the new partnerships and strengthened bilateral relations on which our future depends. We need systematically to pursue the new economic opportunities which, coupled with the enterprise and ingenuity of British business, will be the engine of our country’s prosperity in the years ahead. We need to draw on the ideas and talents of civil society, academia and business to enrich our foreign policy and establish the web of new connections that Britain needs to thrive in the world. We must make the most of our unique geographical position, the rich endowment of our history, the appeal of our language and culture. Our people and their connections with the world are one of our greatest assets.
We saw this during the tremendous outpouring of support from British citizens, including I imagine many in this room, to help with flood relief in Pakistan. Contributions to the Disasters Emergency Committee’s flood appeal, currently valued at £60 million, represent one of the largest public contributions of any country in the world. This confirms not only the importance of Pakistan to so many in this country, but our character as an outward-looking, generous and compassionate society.
These qualities should give us confidence and the fortifying knowledge that whatever challenges Britain and Pakistan face in the future, we can face them together with optimism and confidence.