Pakistan

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 27th October 2015.

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Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Conservative, Gillingham and Rainham 11:00 am, 27th October 2015

The hon. Lady not only raised the issue, but used that meeting to provide alternatives of how abuse could be curtailed. I fully support what she said about reform, whether it is a question of these cases being dealt with at high courts rather than lower courts or having special prosecutors and special judges. Those discussions took place at every level, and I thank her for her expertise and contributions.

The delegation to Pakistan had the opportunity to learn more about the British Council’s excellent work. Members on the trip visited Islamabad and Lahore to see some of the British Council’s projects in action, including Take a Child to School and the Punjab Education and English Language Initiative, which aims to train 300,000 teachers. The British Council in Pakistan works in all four provinces and has built a network with the scale, skills and influence to deliver transformational change. The council aims to expand its presence and reach tens of millions of people across the entire country by reopening libraries, improving life chances and community engagement through citizenship and sport, empowering women and girls, strengthening skills and expertise in English and UK-Pakistan partnerships in higher education, science and the creative industries.

The Department for International Development is investing some £320 million this year in Pakistan in one of its largest programmes. Pakistan was DFID’s third largest bilateral programme in 2014-15, and if progress continues, it could become DFID’s largest such programme in 2015-16. The greatest priorities for the UK as an international development donor to Pakistan are education, women and children, creating jobs and supporting economic growth, strengthening democracy and governance, building peace and stability in conflict-affected areas, and providing humanitarian assistance through life-saving support to people affected by conflict and natural disasters.

There are ways we can further our relations with Pakistan. In particular, I would like the Minister to consider the following issues. Will he ensure that every possible assistance is offered to Pakistan in the light of the earthquake, to assist the country at this difficult hour? There is a clear relationship between the number of direct flights to a country and an increase in trade. However, since 2008, British Airways has suspended its six weekly Heathrow flights. Will the Minister look at that? The Government’s travel advice has been raised as an issue. Will the Minister look at that and the process for reviewing it, in line with the improving security situation in Pakistan?

The Government have a target of increasing bilateral trade to £3 billion by 2015. Will the Minister present an update on plans to increase trade relations, including plans for trade delegations to Pakistan? With the bulk of trade focused on the goods sector, what can he say about the scope to develop trading links across the service sector? Around 10,000 Pakistani students are studying in the UK. However, changes to student visas were raised when we visited Pakistan as a delegation. Will the Minister provide an update on the situation?

On security, Pakistan is on the front line of the battle with terrorism and would appreciate assistance through GSM—global system for mobile communications—intelligence gathering and technology, such as biometric scanners and night goggles, to monitor the Afghan border more effectively.

I come to my last specific point for the Minister. In a recent joint statement with Prime Minister Sharif, President Obama said that US engagement with Pakistan, one of the largest Muslim democracies in the world, should be comprehensive and multi-dimensional to reflect the global challenges of the 21st century. Is that what the United Kingdom is trying to achieve with Pakistan in its long, strategic relationship with the country?

In conclusion, Pakistan still has many challenges, but it is determined to become a safe and prosperous nation at the heart of the international community. With our mutual shared history, our very large Pakistani-origin diaspora and our deep, strong, multi-dimensional relationship based on mutual trust, respect and understanding, our relationship can go from strength to strength by working together to tackle the global challenges facing the international community. I know that the Minister has recently visited Karachi and seen the many opportunities that the country offers. I thank him for the brilliant work that he does in building our two countries’ excellent relationship, and I look forward to hearing from him on this matter.