Cameron's Visit to Islamabad

The Prime Minister's visit to Pakistan at the beginning of the month highlighted the historic links between the two countries - and suggested that a 'reset' of relations could prove mutually beneficial.

By Dr Hidayat Khan for 

David Cameron's visit to Pakistan is significant in various aspects, not least because of Britain's strong connections with Pakistan. Britain has a desire to play an important role in helping build a stronger, more secure and educated Pakistan. On Tuesday 5 April, Cameron called for a fresh start in the UK's bilateral relations with Pakistan, going so far as to say the Urdu phrase 'Naya Aghaz' - 'fresh start'.[1] By calling for a fresh start in UK-Pakistan relations he was consciously mimicking the US-Russian 'reset', where Obama pressed Moscow to forget past mistakes and look forward to a better relationship. Cameron urged his Pakistani audience to think of the relationship between the two states as 'unbreakable'.[2] Breaking with the confrontational tone that has sometimes come from Number 10, he highlighted the contribution of Pakistan to the War on Terror, as the country has suffered enormously, both in terms of cost to human lives and infrastructural development. Cameron's visit represents a great change in the perception of the West in general, and Britain in particular, towards Pakistan's role within the War on Terror.

Enhancement of Strategic Dialogue

This visit was warmly welcomed, as Pakistan and Britain launched an 'enhanced strategic dialogue'[3] to strengthen their co-operation in important areas such as peace and security, the War on Terror, trade, health and education. Economic prosperity and peace and security are linked with one another: a country cannot be economically developed until law and order is established. Pakistan is a victim of extremism and terrorism, and has lost many leaders and politicians to terrorist attacks. This visit brought a change in the nation's perception of Britain, with the acknowledgement of the contribution made by Pakistan to the War on Terror proving crucial in this respect. Cameron highlighted the fact that over 3,000 Pakistani civilians lost their lives in terrorist attacks in 2010, and declared that the UK wanted to work with Pakistan to fight terrorism within Pakistan as part of an overall strategy for a stable Afghanistan. 

Pakistan has suffered enormously in its fight against extremism. Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani pointed out that more than 30,000 lives have been lost in the War on Terror since 2001.  Suicide attacks and bombings in which civilians are killed have become a routine occurrence. In this regard, the enhancement of strategic dialogue in this visit is very significant, with the announcement that the UK would assist the US and Pakistan in the establishment of a Centre of Excellence in Peshawar to train Pakistani security agents in dealing with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).  These roadside bombs have been used by Taliban militants throughout Pakistan's tribal areas and neighbouring Afghanistan.

Britain has a great interest in security co-operation with Pakistan, as was obvious from the security dialogue which included civilian, military and intelligence leaders from both countries. This interest will be enhanced as NATO, US and UK military forces begin to leave Afghanistan from July 2011, and efforts are taken to shore up peace and security throughout the region so as to avoid a reoccurrence of the power vacuum left behind when the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. Thus this visit is significant in that the international community has acknowledged the importance of Pakistan's strategic regional position and its contribution to the War on Terror.   

Aid for Pakistan's Schools 

Education is one of the primary elements with which to eliminate and minimise extremism and terrorism throughout the region. Assistance with education is a core need for Pakistani society, and the UK's long-term investment will prove fruitful not only for the people of Pakistan but also for the international community at large. Cameron announced British aid for education in Pakistan could reach £650 million over the next four years and insisted that this support was in Britain's long-term interests, as illiteracy and poor schooling were a 'root cause' of extremism and terrorism.[4] The challenge for the leaders of both countries is to ensure that this amount is spent in the right places and on the right people. Pakistani leaders have to take responsible and sincere steps towards improving education and developing the infrastructure of schools and colleges, and ensure that funds are not depleted by corruption and wastage.

Along with educational assistance, Cameron has also taken an important step in strengthening relations between Pakistan and the EU. He promised to convince the World Trade Organization to agree to the EU's emergency trade package for Pakistan and to pursue the case of GSP+ status (a preferential trade arrangement) and a Free Trade Agreement for Pakistan with the EU itself. 

Tax the Rich

Cameron's advice to the Pakistani leadership regarding raising more tax from the rich is also a cornerstone in the dispersal of wealth within Pakistan.[5] This emphasises that whilst the UK is investing a large amount in Pakistan's the education system, the country's elite should assume more responsibility for helping to develop their own nation, and for enabling Pakistan to provide for itself. The same concept is present in Islamic Law, where, at the end of the year, 2.5 per cent of wealth is taken from the rich and redistributed to the poor. Thus it is the responsibility of the Pakistani elite to come forward and contribute to improve education and the living conditions of the poor. Therefore, the Pakistani government has to immediately plan how it is going to impose a tax on the rich and ensure a sincere distribution amongst the poor.

The Kashmir Conflict

Cameron asserted that he is not in a position to intervene in the Kashmir dispute, but it is to his credit that he acknowledged that Britain is responsible for many of the world's historic problems, including the ongoing conflict in Kashmir.[6] It is now the responsibility of the international community, and Britain in particular, to solve this issue, which will help to eliminate extremism and its associated crimes from the region.

The visit has the potential to really strengthen the relationship between Britain and Pakistan. While much of it was visibly concerned with education and trade, the main test will be how the bilateral strategic dialogue improves. In some ways, the UK has realised that these areas feed into each other. British investment in Pakistan's education system serves the long-run interests of both countries, since it elevates a new generation from the 'knowledge/poverty' trap, while also gently working against extremist forms of education like the Madras system. Given the role that these institutions play in cultivating extremism, this can only be a good thing. The question is whether it will happen quickly enough to make a difference.


[1] Baqir Sajjad Syed, 'UK-Pakistan strategic dialogue: A "fresh start" and conditional aid',, 6 April 2011

[2] Simon Tisdall, 'David Cameron's diplomatic efforts in Pakistan get cautious welcome', The Guardian, 5 April 2011

[3] Ibid.

[4] James Kirkup, 'David Cameron in Pakistan: Could the Prime Minister's Brother Be His Secret Weapon?', The Daily Telegraph, 6 April 2011

[5] Patric Wintour, 'David Cameron tells Pakistan: Raise more tax from the rich', The Guardian, 5 April 2011

[6] James Kirkup, 'David Cameron: Britain caused many of the world's problem', The Daily Telegraph, 5 April 2011


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