Education, trade and security top three priorities for UK in Pakistan

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Feb 1, 2014.

Islamabad – Bilateral trade, education and security issues would be top of the agenda between United Kingdom (UK) and Pakistan over the next few years, according to the new British High Commissioner to Pakistan.

High Commissioner Philip Barton, who took up his post in Islamabad two weeks ago, was speaking with the local media at the British High Commission on Thursday evening.

“The partnership between Britain and Pakistan is very important. I want to make this partnership even better,” Barton said in Urdu, before switching to English for the rest of his speech.

Barton, who has succeeded Adam Thompson as the UK government’s representative in Pakistan, called his new assignment an “absolutely dream posting” and laid out his plans for the term of the posting.

“I think there are three areas where I am keen to make a personal difference: trade, education and security,” the High Commissioner said.

He said he was “very, very conscious that here in Pakistan the country and the people have suffered more from terrorism than many other parts of the world over the last few years.”

“It is clearly a very big challenge,” Barton said. “We in the UK are here to cooperate with the authorities and security forces in any way that we can to help.”

He said UK officials are discussing the security strategy with the government and cooperating on improving judicial systems for bringing terrorism suspects to justice.

“We are providing practical assistance in areas like how you counter Improvised Explosive Devices and we will carry on working in that area over the months ahead,” Barton said.

Barton has taken charge of the British mission in Pakistan in a year when NATO troops are expected to pullout of Afghanistan and when Pakistan itself appears struggling with internal militancy threats.

However, much like his predecessor, Barton comes with some experience on Pakistani and South Asian affairs. He said he has visited Pakistan several times since 1994 including twice between 2008 and 2011.

Barton, a career diplomatic service officer who is in his early 50s, worked as First Secretary in New Delhi back in 1994 focusing on a range of foreign policy subjects, according to the gov.uk, the UK government’s official website.

Later, between 2008 and 2010, he worked on UK’s relations with South Asian countries, foreign policy issues and affairs pertaining to Afghanistan and Pakistan in different roles at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Cabinet Office, according to gov.uk.

His most immediate posting before arriving in Islamabad was as the Deputy Head of the Mission in the British Embassy in US capital of Washington, D.C.

On trade, the new High Commissioner said British Prime Minister David Cameron and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif have set a target of increasing bilateral trade between the two countries of £3 billion by 2015.

The current volume of trade between UK and Pakistan stands at around £2 billion, according to previous The Express Tribune reports.

Barton said he would make the trade target a “personal priority” and encourage British businesses to do business in Pakistan.

“It means working with the government here to try to help ensure the economy grows and develops and that the environment here for business and investment from outside is as good as it can be,” he said.

Barton said the future of Pakistan is linked with the future of its young people, the children and students of this country.

He said the UK is devoting a considerable part of its development assistance programme for to education throughout Pakistan. The money is being spent for “making sure that more children, particularly girls, can go to schools” and for ensuring improvement in the quality of teaching.

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