The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1997Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Response to Toast in Islamabad – 12 January 1997

Below is the text of Mr Major’s response at a toast during a banquet held in Islamabad on Sunday 12th January 1997.


It is an honour and a pleasure to be here tonight. In keeping with the spirit of economy and modesty shown by the present caretaker government, I shall keep my remarks brief.

I am delighted to be visiting Pakistan at the start of your Golden Jubilee. Through those years, the United Kingdom has proved itself to be one of Pakistan’s leading friends and supporters. As long-standing partners, we know each other well, and we work well together. I am glad to have this opportunity to reaffirm the continuing importance we in Britain attach to our relationship with you.

Pakistan is presently passing through a period of political change.

But my central message this evening is that the United Kingdom remains fully committed to supporting Pakistan’s development as a prosperous, liberal and democratic Islamic state.

Over the years, democracy in Pakistan has had its false starts and its reversals, as well as its memorable successes. But above all it has had an accumulating momentum. As a friend of Pakistan, I felt it important to come here now, notwithstanding the uncertainty, and indeed in part precisely because of it.

So I salute your commitment, Prime Minister, to holding elections within ninety days, as set out in the Constitution. Friends of Pakistan look to you, and to the members and leaders of Pakistan’s political parties, to hold and take part in elections next month which are, and are seen to be, free and fair. We look to you all to set Pakistan on its feet once more. I wish all the parties contesting the elections well. Britain, like other members of the international community, will be sending observers to watch the election process.

Britain’s commitment to Pakistan is unstinting; and our histories are entwined closely together. But the reason for the closeness of our connection today is not just historical. We are with you not for sentimental or historical reasons We are with you for hard, modern reasons.

That is why I have come to Pakistan with my colleague Ian Lang, the President of the Board of Trade, and a team of senior British businessmen. They have come because they recognise Pakistan as a market of promise, with the highest average GDP growth in South Asia over the last 15 years, and perhaps the region’s most liberal and de-regulated economy. Some of the companies they represent have long-term investments here already; others are looking at the opportunities.

In the last two years, British companies have invested more in Pakistan than has any other country. In 1995 – the last figures we have – Pakistan exported more to Britain than we did to you. Last year, 30 per cent of all new foreign investment was British. There could hardly be more concrete evidence of our commitment to Pakistan’s market. Bilateral trade is now worth over a billion dollars a year, up nearly 50 per cent since 1990.

The picture on investment is equally striking. Over the past two years, Britain has invested more in Pakistan than any other country. Today, the UK is poised to become Pakistan’s top overseas investor.

What British businessmen and investors will continue to look for are sound and determined economic policies and a prospect of real returns, including over the medium-term.

There is another ingredient they will be looking for too, namely political and economic stability. We strongly support your present efforts to establish these. For, in the end, trade and investment will only flourish against a stable political background. This is a lesson that we too have had to learn in Europe, at the cost of much blood and treasure. So today, the European Union not only provides a market of some 400 million people, it has also made armed conflict between its members unthinkable.

But I do not want to talk only of the trading links between us. Britain is also active in helping Pakistan’s people realise their potential. Our aid programme, the third largest of our programmes, focuses on Pakistan’s greatest resource, the wealth of talent of its people.

We support the provision of better basic health care and primary education. And we particularly applaud Pakistan’s continuing important commitment to your Social Action Programme. British experts and volunteers are working with their Pakistani counterparts across the country, in the North West Frontier, in Buluchistan, in Punjab, in rural Sindh – almost anywhere there is work to be done.

British non-governmental organisations are of course also very active here, and I am delighted that the British Foreign Office Minister for Overseas Development, Lynda Chalker, plans to visit here in March.

Underpinning all these other ties, of course, are the remarkable personal links between Pakistanis here and British Pakistanis. Today, there are over 600,000 British Pakistanis in the UK. Nearly one of every hundred people in the UK is of Pakistani origin.

The Pakistani community in the UK is, and long has been, an integral part of our multi-ethnic society. Last year, almost 55 per cent of British Pakistanis were horn in Britain. They are committed to education. The proportion of British Pakistanis in further education rises every year. And they are active in business and politics; there are now more than 120 British Pakistani councillors in UK local government. Both as individuals, and as a community, Pakistanis in Britain are making an important and distinctive contribution to our national life.

Britain has a tangible and enduring commitment to Pakistan. What better time to celebrate it than in your Jubilee Year, 1997? The visit of Her Majesty the Queen in the Autumn will be the high point. But many other visits are planned:

– on the military side, the new Chief of Britain’s Defence Staff, and the First Sea Lord, will be here;
– a team of British Law Lords visited last week for talks with the Pakistani Chief Justice;
– the Lord Mayor of London will be here in March on board The Royal Yacht Britannia, supporting a significant programme of commercial activity;
– and I hope that the Archbishop of Canterbury, the leader of the Church of England, will visit at the end of the year, to meet both the Christian community and Muslim leaders too.

Meanwhile, the British Council in Pakistan have arranged their largest ever festival here. It will offer the Royal Shakespeare Company in April; a programme of contemporary dance next month; piano recitals, sculpture exhibitions, and photographic exhibitions. An exhibition which charts the influences and links between Islam and the West. And something close to all of our hearts, and exhibition devoted to cricket.

While acknowledging the past, for me the real importance of 1997 is the chance it gives us to look to the future. One way we have decided to mark the 50th anniversary is by establishing in Karachi a British Management Training Resource Centre, as a means of making a practical contribution to Pakistan’s continued development as a prosperous and efficient state.

So there is much to look forward to. The friendship between the United Kingdom and Pakistan has proved itself repeatedly over the last 50 years. And so long as I, at least, have anything to do with it – which I trust will be a good few years yet – you will continue to find us firm friends in the future. We may not always be the most flamboyant of partners. But we do make a practice of delivering on our commitments.

If my experience is anything to go by, your immediate political priorities will continue rather to preoccupy you until next month. But thereafter, you and the people of Pakistan will retain an immense stake in your country’s future success and prosperity. That, Prime Minister, is an investment that we share. And we look for it to thrive.