I joined six other MPs on a parliamentary delegation to Pakistan last week.
At the invitation of the Pakistani Government, I visited Lahore, Islamabad, Karachi and Pakistani administered Kashmir to discuss future trade opportunities, the fight against terrorism, and to see how UK aid is spent in the country. Together with the other delegation members, including Rehman Chishti, the Conservative MP for Dagenham (who was born in Kashmir), I spent time with senior politicians, police and security officials, charity workers and business leaders during the 7 day visit. Our delegation also visited a refugee camp in Kashmir.
Over the last decade nearly 50,000 Pakistani citizens have been killed in terrorist attacks on Pakistani soil, particularly along the country’s long and dangerous border with Afghanistan. The UK government has provided specialist equipment and security advice to help the Pakistani government in its fight against terrorism.
Pakistan receives between £300 million and £400million in international aid from the UK each year. Much of this money is targeted at widening access to education and empowering women through employment opportunities and increasing political engagement. It was a fascinating trip to a country that receives the second highest amount of international aid from UK taxpayers. I was able to see first-hand how that money is being spent and I was particularly impressed by the efforts being made in the fields of education and with business start-ups in some of the most deprived parts of the country. I will never forget the gratitude expressed to me, as a representative of UK taxpayers, by those whose lives have been changed by British aid. I was also encouraged by the positive attitude of government officials and business people about new trading opportunities between the UK and Pakistan, particularly in the fields of professional services such as legal services, financial services and architecture. We were able to have some very frank exchanges with senior officials and ministers about a wide range of issues and I am confident that we will develop a strong and enduring relationship with this fast growing country of 200 million people that will benefit us both.