Elizabeth remained the queen of the country until Pakistan became a republic on March 23, 1956
he year 2022 marks not only the 75th anniversary of Pakistan’s independence from the United Kingdom (the UK) but also of bilateral ties between the erstwhile colony (Pakistan) and the coloniser (the UK). The demise of Queen Elizabeth II on September 8, was officially mourned in Pakistan.
This provides an opportune moment to consider the relationship between the two countries. The ties between the UK and Pakistan have been strong and strategically significant due to British colonial linkages and Pakistan being part of the Commonwealth of Nations. Realistically speaking, these ties have been maintained by Pakistan’s political and military elite, who have manoeuvered and capitalised on them by developing personal as well as class links with the British royal family and political and bureaucratic elite.
A relationship between the two countries started at the end of colonial rule in the Indian subcontinent — its subsequent division into Pakistan and India. Pakistan became a dominion state of the UK in August 1947. King George VI of the UK remained the King of Pakistan until his death on February 6, 1952. Upon his death, his daughter, Elizabeth, inherited the crown of Pakistan. She remained the queen of the country for four years, until Pakistan became a republic on March 23, 1956 when it promulgated its first constitution.
The role of Elizabeth II, during her four years as the Queen of Pakistan, was passive and uneventful. She deliberately kept herself aloof from the country’s affairs. Could a more active and eventful role, have rescued and strengthened democracy and empowered parliament in Pakistan? Could she, for instance, have interfered in 1953 when, Ghulam Muhammad, the then governor-general, dismissed the prime minister, Khwaja Nazimuddin? The deposed PM had made a futile attempt to request the Queen to reverse the dismissal. Had she intervened, the fate of democracy in Pakistan, could possibly have been different.
Thus, Elizabeth II’s legacy in Pakistan, like other former colonies in South Asia, had, primarily, been of non-interference. She preferred to engage through the platform of the Commonwealth of Nations. She is credited with generating the Commonwealth from the ashes of the Empire. However, she never used this platform to make efforts to resolve the longstanding Kashmir issue. She used this platform to stabilise, channelise and promote her monarchy.
Pakistan’s engagement with the UK through the Commonwealth remained tumultuous mainly due to London’s uneasy balancing between New Delhi and Karachi/ Islamabad over the Kashmir issue. Even as early as 1949, several Pakistanis had realised that India was given too much attention — being preferred over Pakistan by the UK. This was evident from Karachi’s futile efforts to discuss Kashmir issue at Commonwealth Prime Ministerial meetings, where Nehru’s obdurate determination prevailed over Pakistan’s persistent efforts. Hardly a few Pakistanis have served with distinction in the upper echelons of the Commonwealth organisations.
Lastly, Britain, Australia and New Zealand’s premature recognition of Bangladesh compelled Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to withdraw from the Commonwealth in 1972 by declaring it “an anachronistic old boys’ club much too dominated by the British”. Despite efforts by Arnold Smith, the then Commonwealth secretary-general, Bhutto remained adamant.
The Pakistani perspective does get a loud voice within the British political spectrum. Many Pakistani-British politicians holding offices of state at Westminster as well as roles as MPs and local council leaders ensure it. About half a million annual visits in both directions take place. Diaspora diplomacy in areas of trade and philanthropy is functioning quite effectively.
After toppling Bhutto’s government in July 1977, Gen Zia-ul Haq avoided making any formal effort to rejoin the Commonwealth fearing India might object to a re-admission under a military regime. It was Benazir Bhutto, the daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who took Pakistan back into the Commonwealth in 1989. Pakistan was suspended from the Commonwealth in October 1999 when Musharraf seized power in a coup, however, it was re-admitted in 2004.
Pakistan-UK ties extend beyond the Commonwealth and include the strong and deep ties between the people. It is estimated that 1.6 million diaspora Pakistanis are in the UK. This large community not only sends back remittances to Pakistan to boost its foreign exchange holdings but also makes sure that the developments within the UK concerning Pakistan no longer remain a strictly internal affair. The Pakistani perspective does get a loud voice within the British political spectrum. Many Pakistani-British politicians holding offices of state at Westminster as well as roles as MPS and local council leaders ensure it. About half a million annual visits in both directions take place. Diaspora diplomacy in areas of trade and philanthropy is functioning quite effectively.
Apart from this, the soft power, created through — the attraction of the English language and culture, the royal visits to Pakistan, the Chevening and the Commonwealth scholarships for Pakistani students, the British Council, the BBC and cricket, has been contributing to a close relationship between the two countries. In my humble opinion, all these activities and services serve Pakistani elite rather than the masses. For example, hardly anyone from a rural and poor background, having graduated from an Urdu-medium public school, makes it to the schools and universities in the UK. These scholarships are meant for the elite who are proficient and fluent in English language. Thus, the British, carrying their colonial legacy, are creating, enlarging, strengthening, empowering and supporting the elite in Pakistan.
London is practically a second home and a natural refuge for the country’s political class and elite in general.
In terms of trade and investment, the UK is Pakistan’s third largest trading partner, after the United States and China. Pakistan is, however, Britain’s 53rd largest trading partner. Both the countries aim at boosting the £3.3 billion bilateral trade between them. The volume of trade between the UK and India is around $70 billion. The UK is also the third largest source of Foreign Direct Investment, after China and the Netherlands, for Pakistan. The two countries are working to remove trade barriers and provide easier access to each other’s markets.
Bilateral relations between the UK and Pakistan remain tactical. There is a dire need to revamp the ties. Pakistan, whose leadership has failed to enhance engagement with the leadership of the UK, should re-imagine itself before it is too late.
The writer has a PhD in history from Shanghai University and is a lecturer at GCU, Faisalabad. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets at @MazharGondal87