Tomorrow 17 May is my home country Norway’s national day, celebrated in old and new ways to commemorate that the country in 1814, after four hundred years as a part of Denmark-Norway, again became an independent country with its own parliament and constitution. Well, it should take almost another one hundred years before the forced union with Sweden was over, in 1905. The Norwegian history is interesting in itself, the struggle about how the remote, poor little land prospered to the top of the world thanks to fish, shipping, hydro power, oil, hundreds of years of basic education, and more. Norwegians immigrated to USA; in the last two generations, foreigners have come to settle in the land far north and most of them have integrated well and help build the land.

Let me tell a bit more about how it all happened; it is a history interesting in itself, and maybe a history useful for others to draw lessons from, among them, Pakistanis.

Norway has a population of about 5 million people, including three-quarter million immigrants, of them some 200,000 Muslims, almost 50,000 of Pakistani heritage, and large groups from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Somalia and elsewhere. The immigrants from these countries came mostly as refugees while the Pakistanis, from Gujrat, Lalamusa, Jhelum, and elsewhere, came to their new homeland as foreign workers. Next month, some Pakistani-Norwegians will mark the 50th anniversary of the first little batch of Pakistani immigrants to Norway’s capital; Oslo city Council will mark the anniversary in 1971 when substantial numbers of immigrants came. That time, up to 1975, there was visa-free entrance to Norway.

I remember it all well when I myself in 1973 moved to the Bislett-St. Hanshaugen-Sagene area in the inner city, yes, a few years after the Pakistanis had begun coming, and they were visible new neighbours. They had begun opening a few corner shops; many were in their uniforms as conductors on the trams of the Oslo Sporveier or the underground trains, and others had taken jobs in restaurant kitchens, factories, as office cleaners, and in other jobs where one could do the job with Norwegian language knowledge. The plan was not to stay but earn some good money and return home, not even bring wives and children over to begin with. But soon most settled and stayed.

The first immigrants from far, the Pakistanis, did well and were respected, as a matter of fact, they were more correct in their jobs than many Norwegians. Internal migrants to the capital were from rural areas and some belonged to the indigenous Samee people, who were semi-nomadic reindeer herdsmen, speaking their own language and suffering from discrimination by the majority Norwegians. That time, ignorant snobs in Oslo and other cities in the ‘more civilized’ South-Norway would sometimes discriminate against the Samee and others. I also remember that there was something exciting about immigrants, people who looked a bit different, and who were so polite, well-dressed and correct. Foreign students began coming at the same time, many from Africa, including from Nigeria after the civil war, the Biafra War (1967-1970).

It should be mentioned that Norwegians generally had been shocked about the lack of equal rights in USA for African-Americans, coloureds or Afro-Americans, as we said that time. It should also be mentioned that up to that time, most Norwegian families would still know about and correspond with their relatives in America, noting that Norway was one of the major sending countries of immigrants to USA in the 19th century. Besides, Norwegians had at the same time, since the 1840s, sent missionaries to Africa and other continents, and in more recent time, since the mid-1950s, Norway became a major provider of development aid, and a key member of the United Nations, with its first secretary general, Trygve Lie, from 1946-1953; after him came the impressive Dag Hammarskjöld, who served from 1953-1961. As for Norwegian (and Scandinavian) development aid activities, East and Southern Africa became main recipients, but also India (the fisheries development project in Kerala), Sri Lanka (rural development in Hambantota), Nepal (water and education); the latter happened after the communist regime in China forced missionaries to leave the country. Today, Afghanistan is main recipient of Norwegian aid.

The Norwegian Embassy in Islamabad has recently published a summary of the 50-year Norwegian development aid history in Pakistan from 1969; the report is available on Internet. Norwegian development aid to Pakistan started, inter alia, with commodity assistance (Urea fertilisers). Also, family planning became an important but controversial field. Perhaps if could be revived today? Education is an important field for development aid to Pakistan, certainly for the new administration. Not only Norway, but all the Western donors, should prioritize aid to education.

Norway froze new projects for some time after Pakistan became an atom power. Today, issues related to peace and development could be important fields for aid, especially for a small country like Norway. Let me mention, the Norwegian founder of international peace research as an academic discipline, Professor Emeritus Johan Galtung (born 1930). He and his wife, Ingrid Eide, a sociologist and politician, were leading the establishment of the International Peace Research Institution Oslo (PRIO) in 1959; 60-year anniversary to be held in Oslo in a few weeks.

I have met Johan Galtung and Ingrid Eide in Islamabad several times. They have given lectures about peace, disarmament and development. Galtung has written about Afghanistan and Kashmir, proposing radical, international solutions, for example, establishing international oversight councils of neighbouring countries and neutral smaller states so that self-determination and rule can get started in Kashmir. In Afghanistan, similar unorthodox ways should be sought until the world’s superpower and other major powers leave them alone in, and provide real help to the local men and women.

To all Norwegians, Norwegian-Pakistanis, relatives and friends in Pakistan, Pakistanis, and friend of the two countries worldwide: Congratulations on the Norwegian National Day – which is celebrated for freedom and peace. It is celebrated as a children’s day, with school processions, brass bands, ice cream cones, hot-dogs and other street food as everyone is out and about. People wear national costumes and children carry flags. In Oslo, on the balcony of the Royal Palace, King Harald and the royal family wave to children from more than three hundred Oslo schools passing by. This year, they have a special guest, the new fiancé of Princess Märtha Louise (47), an African-American named Derek Verrett (44). Like the princess, he embraces new religious thoughts and spiritualism. The news about their relationship was released only a few days ago, and he has just reached Oslo for the national day celebrations. It illustrates that Norway is becoming more multicultural than ever, embracing new and old at the same time. A Pakistani-Norwegian schoolboy or schoolgirl will be as excited as any blue-eyed and blond kid on this day! We who are older may wipe a tear when we see the rainbows on the sky over the capital on this spring day, and the diversity of people in the processions.