From Britain’s point of view, Pakistan has weakened the political leverage of Western powers in South Asia, due to interaction with China and some regional powers. Hence, investing in soft power, including the potential of Pakistan's young population, English language as the second language of Pakistan, the large population of Pakistani diaspora in England, and the development of non-governmental organizations with a focus on humanitarian goals, will be able to realize the British strategy in Pakistan, which is to control and monitor the activities of the countries in the region.
By: Maryam Verij Kazemi
The Indian Rebellion of 1857 paved the way for the British to change the structure of the Indian government and set the stage for the formation of the British Raj. But the Indians’ inability to determine their own destiny without British support, led to independence movements. Thus, the era of the British Raj - after three hundred years of colonial rule- officially ended at midnight on August 14, 1947, with the creation of two independent countries of India and Pakistan (including West and East Pakistan – current Bangladesh). Determining the national border of Pakistan was done by Cyril Radcliffe. It was a division based on religious affiliation; as a result of which five hundred thousand to two million people died because of violence, and more than 12 million people were displaced. Indeed, today most researchers believe that the division of the Indian subcontinent was neither the result of a dispute between Muslims and Hindus, nor was it a political maneuver by the British; Rather, factors such as rise of communal tensions in the 1930s, the political choices of elites at the national and state levels, the impact of World War II, and the widespread collapse of law and order after The Great Calcutta Killings in 1946 played an important role in its creation.
Meanwhile, what has remained of the British colonial legacy for Pakistan, is the FrontierCrimes Regulations(FCR) in the federal tribal areas, which were created and implemented by the British Raj to control and monitor the Pashtun tribes, and were apparently used by the Pakistani government to manage tribal areas until 2018. The persistence of this colonial legacy has fueled instabilities, and has negatively affected Pashtun culture and the traditional structure of conflict resolution by tribal councils (Jirga).
Pakistan currently encounters a challenging economic and political environment, infrastructural problems, and significant levels of terrorist, political, and criminal violence. These challenge, along with unstable borders, a multilingual population, and breeding grounds for Islamic extremism, have created human and political costs for Pakistan. Since the country's independence, there have been three wars and a nuclear confrontation with India, mainly due to the unresolved dispute over Kashmir, and the suppression of a democratic liberation movement called the Red Shirts, which once dominated the Pashtun areas in Pakistan's northwestern border.
So, the set of challenges that Pakistan is dealing with, have also made Britain face with important challenges in terms of security concerns caused by extremism, which can lead to the risk of losing its influence in Pakistan. On the other hand, Britain is worried that the security vacuum created by sudden changes in American foreign policy in the region will be filled by China and other rivals. Thus, this scenario forces Britain to look for allies to increase its connectivity in this part of the world. In this context, Pakistan remains an ideal strategic partner for Britain in Asia, not only because of its historical links since the time of the British Raj, but also because of the presence of a large Pakistani community -the diaspora- in Britain, and its unique geopolitical and geo-economic position. In addition, strategic cooperation with Pakistan will be effective in advancing British interests in the Arabian Peninsula and the Persian Gulf region. This cooperation could legitimize the monitoring and control of oil resources in the Middle East, as well as the efforts to provide security for transit, land, sea and air routes. Using Pakistan's geostrategic position and its access to the Arabian Sea, Britain tried to counter Iran's influence and activity in the Gulf of Oman, and to secure the shipping routes that pass through these waters - and it still continues this policy.
One of the most important ways of British presence and influence in Pakistan has been through military interactions. The Pakistan army, which practically started its work since the division of the subcontinent, began its relations with the British army in the 1950s. In recent years, Britain has provided 57 training courses, including "military psychological operation" and "joint intelligence operation" to the Pakistan army and security organizations, including the Pakistan military intelligence known as Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI). So far, however, little information has been published about UK's intelligence relations with ISI. When the British government was asked in Parliament in 2018 whether it would take into account the (ISI) support for the Taliban when providing aid to Pakistan, it simply replied: "It is the long-standing policy of the government not to comment on matters of intelligence or national security." However, Hamid Karzai, the former president of Afghanistan, stated that MI6 has close relations with Pakistan, and operates in Afghanistan through Pakistan. It should be noted that Pakistan was the settlement place of the Mujahideen, which were gathered by the CIA, MI6 and ISI in the 1980s to fight against the Soviet-backed government in Kabul. One of those who was trained by ISI during this period was Mullah Omar, the founder of the Taliban.
On the other hand, Pakistan is an important market for British arms exports. According to 2021 reports, Britain exported 267 million pounds of dual-use military equipment, military helicopters parts, and small arms ammunition to Pakistan in the last ten years. Meanwhile, Pakistan's armed forces are looking for partners in the West to start a military modernization program. Therefore, the technological strength of the UK can be very important for such investments.
Therefore, Britain can play a prominent role in the future path of the region, by gaining a significant political position in Pakistan, as well as proper financial investment in the country, and diplomatic cooperation with it. Under such a policy, the UK and Pakistan held the Enhanced Strategic Dialogue in 2011 to reaffirm their commitment to a strong partnership to increase prosperity, development and security in both countries. This collaboration is underpinned by strong diaspora links, historical and cultural ties, and confidence in Pakistan continuing to develop as a prosperous, secure and stable friend of the UK. The British Council, in collaboration with Pakistan federal and state government partners, will strengthen links and partnerships between the two countries' education systems to support reforms and share best practices, while drawing up a joint strategy to counter extremism and terrorism. According to the Strategic Dialogue, UK-Pakistan trade relations have continued with zero tariffs under the enhanced trade framework, even after the country's exit from the European Union.
From Britain’s point of view, Pakistan has weakened the political leverage of Western powers in South Asia, due to interaction with China and some regional powers. Therefore, strengthening the strategic relations, with a focus on cultural and social cooperation (as soft power) can advance British policies in the region more than military and security cooperation (as hard power). In other words, investing in soft power, including the potential of Pakistan's young population (140 million people out of Pakistan's 200 million population are under the age of 30), English as the second language of the country, the large population of the Pakistani diaspora in England (more than one million people), and the development of non-governmental organizations focusing on humanitarian goals, can realize the British strategy in Pakistan, which is to control and monitor the activities of the countries in the region.