The United Kingdom is hoping to introduce new dynamism into its relations with Pakistan, by increasing trade, economic, security and cultural cooperation, as it pursues to re-establish itself as the global stage ahead of exiting European Union (EU).
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, laid the groundwork for rebooting the relationship between the countries, earlier this week.
In an interview, Boris Johnson emphasized on improvement of UK-Pakistan ties, saying, “The message we want to get over is that UK is here for Pakistan, we are supportive of Pakistan, we understand many of the issues Pakistan faces and we are here to be useful and at the same time build bilateral economic relationship.”
The British foreign secretary, during his first visit to Pakistan described the meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, as “extremely friendly and supportive”.
Ever since the Brexit, the new UK government has been working to reinvigorate its foreign policy and emphasizing on its old relationships in the region. Explaining the post-Brexit vote policy, Mr Johnson said UK “wants to be more outward looking, more energetic, and more engaged with the world”.
Emphasizing the special position Pakistan enjoys in UK’s foreign policy calculus, the secretary said “the two per cent of our population that can trace its origin to this land creates an indissoluble bond”, which needed to be strengthened.
The trade appears to be the centerpiece of the UK’s strategy for Pakistan to promote the relationship. Pak-UK bilateral trade volume is presently over £2.5 billion per annum, which both sides want to be at least over £3bn.
European Union’s preferential trade facility for Pakistan, contributed to growth in bilateral trade volume, however, UK’s exit from the EU may affect these figures. Therefore, Pakistani officials have been asking London for a trading arrangement similar to the one it had with EU.
Mr. Johnson said UK wanted a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA), so the cooperation among the countries could increase. UK, he said, cannot enter into FTA at this stage because of its association with EU, but had begun preliminary negotiations so that the agreement could materialize after Brexit.
Also, Mr. Johnson expects more British businesses to come to Pakistan. The secretary said if Prime Minister Theresa May visits Pakistan next year, she “would come with a plane load of UK” business people to help celebrate Pakistan’s 70th Independence anniversary.
Issuance of Visa has been a major obstacle that hinders building people-to-people relations between Pakistan and UK. The British government has been tightening its visa rules, making it more and more difficult for Pakistanis to visit UK.
Mr Johnson agreed that relationship cannot be built without interaction between the peoples of two countries. “We can’t, we need Pakistanis…we need to be open in UK to talented people from Pakistan. Of course that will continue. I see a real opportunity.” Sharing visa statistics, the secretary said, 62,000 visas were issued last year and three-fourth of the applicants were granted visas.
Upon being asked of Pakistan’s counter-terrorism effort, Mr Johnson said: “I’ve been very clear to everybody I talked to [during the trip] that Pakistan needs to make sure that terrorist groups are properly dealt with.”
It was a diplomatic way of telling Pakistan that more needed to be done.
“We must work together to make sure that the [Pakistan-based] terrorists pose lesser of threat both to Pakistan and the rest of world,” he maintained adding the sacrifices made by Pakistan while fighting terror are appreciated.
Speaking of the complaint made by Islamabad against MQM leader Altaf Hussain for provocative violence in Pakistan, from UK, Mr. Johnson said, the evidence was being considered by the Metropolitan Police.
Mr. Johnson assured that Altaf Hussain would be treated under the British law if found guilty of provocative deterioration. However, at the same time, he warned that “extra-territoriality” may promote difficulties to arise in this case.