ISLAMABAD: The United Kingdom on Tuesday expressed anxiety about the blockade of Nato supplies, and expressed its commitment to a deep, long-term and strategic relationship with Pakistan based on mutual trust, respect and mutual benefit. As a member of Nato, the UK also expressed its concern over the stalemate between Pakistan and the United States over the reopening of the Ground Lines of Communication (GLOCs) and Monday’s decision by the Pentagon to recall its negotiators from Pakistan.
British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs William Jefferson Hague on Tuesday held a series of meetings in Islamabad and called on President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and Finance Minister Dr Hafeez A Sheikh. He also interacted with the media at the Foreign Office.
The Pak-UK bilateral relations, the UK’s assistance to Pakistan, bilateral trade, war against terror, the regional situation, the UK-Pakistan Enhanced Strategic Dialogue, Pakistan’s trade engagement with Europe and the future of Afghanistan were the issues discussed in the day-long meetings.
“The UK can confidently and proudly call itself a friend of Pakistan. Our friendship will endure. It is sometimes said that Pakistan is misunderstood in many parts of the world. As a friend of Pakistan, I want to urge a greater understanding of Pakistan and the challenges your country faces, including the fact that Pakistan has suffered more than any other country from terrorism. A prosperous and stable Pakistan is of course in Pakistan’s interests, and in the interest of the region and beyond, and Britain will be a strong friend and partner as your country builds a secure future,” Hague commented after his arrival.
Speaking at the Foreign Office, Hague expressed his unease over the prevailing deadlock between Pakistan and the United States. “We look to the United States and Pakistan to work successfully together and of greater concern to us, even than those lines of communication, would be a rift between the United States and Pakistan. Obviously, we want this issue to be resolved and of course we raised it and discussed it today.”
He added that the GLOCs affected the UK as well, and while Britain wanted the US and Pakistan to work successfully, it would certainly not mediate as it was a firm ally of the US and a friend of Pakistan.
In response to a question regarding whether the United States should honour the Pakistani parliament’s resolution that also asked for an apology for the killing of Pakistani soldiers, Hague responded, “I cannot comment on individual components. We are strong supporters of democracy in Pakistan, passionate about it. I cannot approve or disapprove any resolution in any parliament. It is the strength of democracy.”
In his interactions with Prime Minister Gilani, Hague was told that British Prime Minister David Cameron was the Pakistani premier’s best friend on the international stage. Earlier, Hague had said that however much the international community may wish to support Pakistan’s future development, which it did, “the strength of that support in [the] coming year will of course partly depend on evidence that the right policy environment is in place.”
Of importance was Hague’s message to the government on the subject of the upcoming elections, which he said would be a crucial milestone in Pakistan’s democratic history. “This is the first time one civilian government will succeed another one at an election. A strong, stable, constitutional democracy is firmly in Pakistan’s interests and will be welcomed by all Pakistan’s friends, including the United Kingdom and across all parties in the United Kingdom,” he told the media.
As a strong supporter of Pakistan in the European Union to ensure a special EU trade package for Pakistan, Hague said, “There has been no more eloquent advocate of that than our prime minister in the internal deliberations of the EU. We count ourselves as Pakistan’s strongest friend in those councils in the European Union. We also give strong support on a large scale to education in Pakistan,” he added.
In his meeting with the prime minister, the British foreign secretary said: “We support a democratic Pakistan” and congratulated the prime minister for presenting the fifth consecutive budget. He also appreciated Pakistan’s support for a policy of reconciliation in Afghanistan.
In the meeting, Prime Minister Gilani said he would soon visit Afghanistan. He added that the comprehensive Strategic Dialogue of both countries covered areas of trade and investment, economic growth and development, defence and security and cultural and educational exchange between both countries. He said he had also taken up the issue of the transfer of civil nuclear technology with the US administration in an effort to overcome the energy crisis in Pakistan. He said Washington had promised to extend all possible assistance to Pakistan to address the power shortages by tapping hydel, coal and wind resources.
On Afghanistan, the prime minister said that Pakistan wanted an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process, which should not destabilise Pakistan, as had been the case during the 1990s when Pakistan was left alone to take care of 3.5 million Afghan refugees.
William Hague agreed with the prime minister on the need to urgently tackle the energy crisis facing Pakistan. He said that Britain was carrying out discussions with the Pakistani authorities on the energy mix. He promised that he would play his role in encouraging the British companies to invest in Pakistan’s energy sector.
President Zardari, in his meeting with Mr Hague, expressed his satisfaction that bilateral trade was following an upward trajectory. He said the two countries needed to make sustained efforts to achieve the target set under the Pak-UK Trade and Investment Roadmap to raise the level of trade to £2.5 billion by 2015.
Regarding the UK’s development assistance of £1.4 billion spanning four years (2011-2015) in the sectors of education and health, the president expressed his belief that the enhancement of funds for education would go a long way in addressing the challenge of militancy and extremism. He welcomed the increase in size and scope of the DFID programme in Pakistan, particularly in the less-developed regions such as Balochistan.
Discussing the regional situation, the president reiterated Pakistan’s principled stance of lending support to an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned solution to the problems in Afghanistan.
Agencies add: Addressing a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar after talks with the Pakistani leadership, William Hague on Tuesday acknowledged Pakistan’s sacrifices of man and material in the war against terrorism. “I hope we succeed in this war,” he said.
Hina Rabbani Khar, meanwhile, said both countries had a relationship that was stronger than ever before. “We are working in five different sectors, including strategic dialogue and trade,” she said.
“Pakistan and the US are holding talks over the resumption of Nato supplies, and both countries have moved for a new agreement and technical affairs have been discussed, but any decision would be taken in light of resolution of parliament,” she stated.
In his meeting with Finance Minister Dr Hafeez Shaikh on Tuesday, Hague was informed that despite Pakistan’s economic challenges, the country’s economy was moving on the path of stabilisation and growth.