The UK’s rights and wrongs

By Greg Matthews

There is always a right-wrong perspective about every government’s actions, motivations and achievements, but useless vilification can only go so far.

The UK Conservative government is being assailed for investing in Pakistan at a time when the UK has had to face budget cuts. Tim Shipman of the Daily Mail is whining that Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to invest £650 million in Pakistani schools at a time when the education budget at home is being cut.

A graphic accompanying the news story shows that money being spent in Pakistan could have been spent in the UK on:

  • 60 years of free school meals for every primary and secondary pupil in England, or
  • 21 new state-of-the-art academy schools, or
  • 1 year’s salary for 250,000 newly qualified teachers, or
  • 24,074 full university students’ fees at the new rate of £27,000 for three years, or
  • completely rebuilding 30 grammar schools, or
  • sending 4,333 under-privileged pupils to Eton for full secondary education

But do commentators, pundits and news columnists in the UK not realize that the British people have security concerns common to the Pakistani people as well? In Pakistan, this money can have a far greater effect in terms of quantitative changes as well as dimension, scope and output of the Pakistani education system. Do they realize that Pakistan’s primary and secondary schools don’t have books, desks, or even teachers in some cases? Critical facilities like blackboards, electricity and toilets are missing in most Pakistan schools, especially elementary and secondary schools. On Pakistani TV, there are ad’s of street urchins doing menial labour and, upon being asked by a passerby, informing them that they used to go to school, but not anymore because they cannot afford it. While the UK has tough child labour laws that cannot be violated without penalization and prosecution, in Pakistan the instance of poverty and deprivation is so immense that children have to drop out either willingly or under pressure from parents in order to work and support the family. Shame on you, British journalists, for trying to compare the lives of British students to Pakistani students. Do you really see a problem in PM David Cameron trying to afford a better life to Pakistani children so that they don’t become cannon fodder for the terrorist who just use them, manipulate them, and turn them into walking talking ticking time bombs?

Shipman continues to see that the huge cash injection for schools by the Department for International Development will make Pakistan the UK’s biggest recipient of overseas aid: It is designed to get four million children into the classroom – 17million currently get no schooling. Pakistan spends just 1.5 per cent of its national income on schools. Yet he opines that the UK will have no control of the curriculum in schools receiving funding, “meaning taxpayers could see their money pumped into madrassas peddling extremism”. While this argument is indeed valid, Shipman should know that there exist three separate tiers of education in Pakistan, two of which are inherited from the British system: O’levels/A’levels, and Matriculation. It is highly likely that the British monies will be spent in government-sponsored schools that offer Matriculation qualifications. Secondly, the curriculum prevalent in British schools – the O’levels GCSE and the A’levels GCE – are already considered elitist forms of education that are unavailable to a majority of the masses in Pakistan who cannot afford it. While even Western-educated liberals with A’s and B’s in their O’levels and A’levels whine about the parallel education structures in Pakistan, it is highly questionable whether the UK would want to involve itself in Pakistan’s education system, which is in flux and facing a lot of controversies. In the last week alone, a decision to devolve the Higher Education Commission (HEC) to the provinces has resulted in protests from all sections of society.

Pakistan’s cooperation regarding terror reduction in the UK cannot be ignored, and this is where investment in Pakistan’s education infrastructure – especially by the UK, who’s education system Pakistan still follows (or tries to) – plays a crucial role in helping both the British people and the Pakistani people. The British people must remember the thousands of Pakistanis who have died because of terror attacks in Pakistan since 2007. Shipman also notes that Britain will give highly sensitive military technology to combat roadside bombs to the Pakistani security services, which are widely blamed for funding and arming the Taliban.

It is sad to see that Pakistan does not remain a central issue in British foreign policy unless and until British Pakistanis are at the forefront of British politics. Baroness Saeeda Warsi’s participation and involvement in the Conservative party is definitely a good sign for Muslim women in Britain, and for all Pakistanis, but she has had to face many condemnations for being supportive of Pakistan. PM Cameron has time and again come to her rescue, reminding the British people of the UK’s responsibilities abroad. PM Cameron defended the payments to Pakistan by saying it was ‘in our interest’ to help Pakistan. He said: ‘If Pakistan is a success we’ll have a good friend to trade and invest and deal with. If we fail we’ll have all the problems of migration, of extremism, problems that we don’t want to see. So it’s in our interest that Pakistan succeeds.’

PM David Cameron has also gone the extra mile in his apology to Pakistan by conceding that the UK’s imperial mindset has led to historical disputes that linger on till today. James Kirkup of the Telegraph has a more interesting report: The UK Prime Minister appeared to distance himself from Britain’s imperial past when he suggested that Britain was to blame for decades of tension and several wars over the disputed territory of Kashmir. These remarks came on a visit to Pakistan – to make amends for any offence Cameron had caused last year by accusing the country of “exporting” terrorism – when he was asked how Britain could help to end the row over Kashmir. He insisted that it was “not his place to intervene” in the dispute, saying: “I don’t want to try to insert Britain in some leading role where, as with so many of the world’s problems, we are responsible for the issue in the first place.” Labour MP Tristan Hunt blames it on PM Cameron’s “tendency to go to countries around the world and tell them what they want to hear”. But PM Cameron’s apparent willingness to accept historic responsibility for the Kashmir dispute does echo public apologies issued by his Labour predecessors Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. To Kirkup, Cameron’s remark is striking because he has previously spoken of his pride in Britain’s past and named Viscount Palmerston as one of his historical inspirations.

As well as Kashmir, some historians say Britain bears historic responsibility for other international disputes. Many trace the Israel-Palestine dispute back to Britain’s decision in 1917 to establish a “national home for the Jewish people” in the territory then known as Palestine. The borders of many Middle Eastern states were also drawn by Britain, especially after the expiry of post-World War I mandates of colonization ‘authorized’ by the League of Nations. The badly-defined and highly unstable border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan was also largely defined by Britain in the late 19th century.

There is always a right-wrong perspective about every action a human being takes; naturally, such opinions and perceptions can be extended to the actions, motivations and achievements of governments as well. The purpose of this tirade (or rant) is to offer a balancing viewpoint to those who believe that the UK – in times of domestic crisis – should completely forego its responsibilities to the rest of the world. British journalists enjoying the good life in Britain should remember that their forefathers exploited the wealth and resources of the Third World, whose countries are still impoverished today and show little to no signs of developing. If the UK can help, why shouldn’t it? If UK citizens can’t get jobs at home, shouldn’t they try to get jobs abroad and send remittances back home to help a ‘faltering’ British economy (which is suffering a little bit, but is hardly in the doldrums)? In times of crisis, innovative thought and daring ideas are required, not a depressing and demotivating attitude that cribs and whines about everything and anything without offering anything constructive in replacement.


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