Pakistan and the United Kingdom have a shared history, and as we move forward together, shared global and regional challenges too.
It is striking and symbolic of our friendship that two percent of the British population can trace back their roots to Pakistan with 1.2 million British Pakistanis helping to connect our two countries, culturally and commercially, thousands of miles apart.
And it was in this spirit of friendship that we met last week to discuss a number of issues of mutual interest. This included our co-operation on international security, and our joint initiatives on education, health and gender equality.
Together, we reaffirmed the importance of our relationship and working with the international community to reduce the shared threat from international terrorism.
The horrendous attack in Lahore earlier this month, which claimed the lives of nine innocent people and injured many more and the 2017 UK terror attacks are stark reminders of why we need a joint approach in tackling those who wish to do our countries harm.
Last year, the UK Government and the Government of Pakistan signed a memorandum of understanding which confirmed our co-operation across Pakistan’s provinces, including Punjab, on issues such as terrorism, migration and serious and organised crime.
And by working together, the UK in October 2015 commenced a five year counter explosives training programme which has helped to train and equip military and civilian law enforcement professionals in Pakistan to carry out searches and safely dispose of improvised explosive devices. This is in addition to the 112 anti-terrorism prosecutors together we have helped to train. This co-operation is contributing to and will help sustain the marked increase in security the Punjab region has achieved in the past few years.
Our work together on education programmes will help to further support these aims. The work between the Department for International Development and Punjab Education Support programme has helped to improve student attendance from 79 percent in 2011 to 95 percent in March 2017, the equivalent to more than 1 million additional students in school.
We also discussed the important issue of rights and opportunities for women. In the UK, the full-time gender pay gap is the lowest it has ever been, while in Pakistan we have worked together to provide more than 35,000 women the ability to register as voters in Punjab.
Last year, we celebrated 70 years of diplomatic relations and reaffirmed our ambition to build prosperity for both our nations through trade policies and business links. We celebrated the strength and depth of this relationship and announced jointly that the UK‘s export credit agency, UK Export Finance (UKEF), would double its support allowing Pakistan’s buyers to access finance to source high-quality UK goods and services.
All of these issues are undoubtedly interlinked. And we are clear that economic security, development initiatives and physical security go hand-in-hand.
The challenges we face are significant but our meeting this week demonstrated that our shared history is a shared future and our friendship will endure.
The writers are, respectively, the British Home Secretary & Punjab’s Chief Minister.