ISLAMABAD: The United Kingdom hopes Pakistan will get an excellent performance report from the FATF for making substantial progress on key benchmarks in the plenary next week.
Speaking exclusively to The News in his first newspaper interview since arriving in Islamabad as the British High Commissioner last December, Dr Christian Turner said he was absolutely clear that Pakistan had taken incredibly seriously the need to sort out its terrorist financing regulations.
“As I engage with the system here, I see a huge effort going on across the system. That momentum needs to be continued and maintained. On FATF, I think the trajectory is very positive and Pakistan shall be commended for coming this far and shall be supported in going further.”
Laying down his priorities as Her Majesty’s government’s envoy to Pakistan, Dr Turner said Pakistan’s international perception needs to change from a country in trouble to a destination safe and secure to visit and cherish. He says he is ready to play his part through promoting UK-Pak Dosti initiative and sounded confident in taking the effort to new heights.
“The very first outdated stereotype that I came up against was security advisory. As my last job was as security adviser [to British prime minister], I am well versed in this stuff. In security, I cannot think of another country in the world that has made progress as Pakistan has since 2015. So we reviewed the [travel] advisory as per the changed realities.”
In his efforts to improve the existing perception of Pakistan and enhance economic opportunities, the High Commissioner listed the revised and relaxed travel advisory, resumption and expanding of British Airways operations between Britain and Pakistan and starting of 11 weekly flights by Virgin Atlantic Airways between London Heathrow and Manchester to Lahore and Islamabad from December 2020.
Responding to a question if the revamped diplomatic vigour is genuinely springing in Whitehall for Pakistan or actually necessitated by the post-Brexit scenarios for Britain, Dr Turner said that Asia Pacific, that includes Pakistan, would be a very important part of UK’s post-Brexit strategy.
“As part of Europe, we are naturally closer to European countries but one of the major reasons behind Brexit decision and democratic will of the British people was to look for ties expanded elsewhere in the world. We are currently going through a post-Brexit strategy review that would be published next month. Our Prime Minister is quite clear that it would inevitably include deeper relationships in Asia Pacific.”
Expanding on Pakistan’s status as UK’s strategic partner, the High Commissioner gave an example of the royal visit to Pakistan in 2019. He said it showcased Pakistan not only in Britain but also in the world. “The Royal highnesses first have a discussion with the government about where should they visit. And I believe that the decision was made quite correctly. Our embassy in Pakistan is the largest British embassy in the world and there was no royal visit to Pakistan since 2007,” he remarked while describing the process undertaken to suggest a country for royal visit.
When his attention was drawn to widely present perception among the Pakistani public that London houses Pakistani political leaders that are declared ‘criminals’ by Pakistani courts, Dr Turner said that as per British law, he could not comment on individual cases. “But I want to make it clear that UK government doesn’t shelter or harbour any individual. As a sovereign country, we are not interested in interfering in domestic politics of any other country. UK laws are very clear about what the government can and can’t do in immigration matters. And we deal with these cases absolutely by our rules. Final point is that UK and Pakistan do not currently have an extradition treaty. We have been discussing one with Pakistan.”
About the image of London as a “haven for looted money”, he said this criticism historically came about for a reason that London remains one of the global centres of finance. “The last two governments in UK have really worked hard to address this perception. We now have new legislation, proposals and regulation on how firms in the City of London operate account of money.” Citing the example of Unexplained Wealth Laws, he said: “Now the banks can cease the whole bunch of cash been transferred, it can put a freeze on it and say this is unexplained wealth until you can tell how you got hold of this.”
Since 2015, Britain is bound by law to spend 0.7 per cent of its GDP on foreign aid. Pakistan is among the top five countries that receive this aid. A British magazine recently wrote that about 15 per cent of this foreign aid was spent on humanitarian aid, or crisis relief, with the rest focused on strategic or long-term goals. “It is used to vaccinate children from preventable diseases, enabling them to go to school, while helping people work their way out of poverty, providing food, nutrition and medical care are also key goals.”
But is UK concerned about donating taxpayers’ money to a country that constantly presents bleak figures in the yearly reports by global financial institutions? Doesn’t the British public raise a storm about it? The High Commissioner was very firm and clear in his response. He believes that Pakistan’s economic management is good despite the extraordinary difficult global context. He appreciated the government’s Covid-19 management policy and said that they are having exactly the same debate of balancing the lives and livelihoods going on in UK. “Simultaneously, some IMF reforms can’t be avoided. We all know about the deep structural issues that need to be addressed and it is the leadership that provides basis for the growth to take off.”
An avid trekker, Dr Turner has been travelling to the northern parts of Pakistan. He has posted pictures of his recent visit to Gilgit-Baltistan along with Canadian High Commissioner Wendy Gilmour on Twitter. Sharing his experience, he said that with tremendous natural beauty and improved security situation, the opportunity for tourism in Pakistan is extraordinary. To take it forward, he suggested good marketing strategy, targeted choices for tourists and the need to build service infrastructure. He expressed special concern over the garbage he observed around tourist sites. He spoke about the need to educate the people as to how they need to take care of this immense natural asset.
Highlighting some other priority areas, he talked about UK support for girls education and tackling the impact of climate change. “The British government has decided a 20 per cent increase in student visas. We have supported nearly eight million girls to attend primary and secondary school in Pakistan in the past four to five years.”
A staunch believer of developing institutional linkages, Dr Turner said a visit of a delegation of vice chancellors from Pakistan was planned for April this year that got postponed due to Covid-19. “But beneath all these efforts, there is a solid base of Pakistani students going to UK and we want to see an increase of 20 per cent in future,” he said, terming the UK flagship Chevening scholarships as a “cherry on the top”. “Under this program, we have given 53 scholarships this year that has doubled over the last five years with 60 per cent women awardees.” How can you talk to a British High Commissioner for over 90 minutes and not discuss cricket? About the possibility of England touring Pakistan, he said that Marylebone Cricket Club’s successful tour of Pakistan in February and Pakistan’s tour to England in April were evidence of exciting future cricket activity for both countries. “The ECB has already confirmed the intent of a tour but the schedule is pending due to Covid.”
He said that freedom of expression was another policy priority for UK. He said he kept a regular touch with the media and journalists and was aware of their feelings regarding the prevalent circumstances. Without dilating on particular cases, the High Commissioner said he regularly discussed with Pakistani officials what he heard from the professionals.
Dr Turner talked about the UK support for locust control and said that 60 sprayers were flown to Pakistan from the UK to tackle the emergency. Saying that Pakistan must address the issues relating to climate change, he added that the UK was investing 13 million pounds mainly on low carbon investment, nature based solutions and green financing.
Responding to a question regarding the role UK could play in Pakistan-India relations, he commented that South Asia was currently the least connected region in the world. “Economic growth is the only way to a secure and prosperous future which cannot be achieved without peaceful coexistence and non-interference.” He said millions of young people are entering the job market every year in Pakistan and creation of employment would not be possible without opening the region and connecting with the neighbours.
He said that British government had no problem with China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). “If China is bringing significant infrastructure investment in this country and if that investment is done in the right way like abiding by the low carbon standards, transferring skills and knowledge, not burdening Pakistan with unnecessary debts and protecting worker’s rights, there is no reason for British government to have any objection. It will in fact also benefit British business.”
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