As the Director of The Samosa I have been helping to organise a series of events with the RSA and City University London exploring the relationships between Pakistan, Britain and the Pakistani Diaspora in the UK.
The programme explores the topic: "Pakistan as a young country with an old history". In the last year alone Pakistan has had to contend with floods, assassinations, attacks on minority communities, the revelation Osama Bin Laden resided there, terrorist attacks and the conflict in neighbouring Afghanistan. What is the future for modern Pakistan and what can the Diaspora networks in the UK do to support it? The programme explores the historic, family, contemporary, economic, military and cultural ties between Britain and Pakistan and the future for these relations.
It emerged while discussing these events was that an estimated eight thousand people fly to Pakistan every week from Manchester airport, including scheduled flights and various transit routes, and there are approximately 1.2 million British citizens of Pakistani heritage. Britain is thought home to the largest Pakistani Diaspora community anywhere.
The programme was inspired in part by recent visits to Pakistan where I observed welfare, human rights, development and media organisations at work. I was invited by the RSA and City University to build on the work I saw there that are perhaps not as newsworthy as a handful of misguided British-based media friendly extremist hooligans.
Britain's Pakistani community has great concerns about the current troubles in Pakistan and the conflict in neighbouring Afghanistan. There is often a lack of direct engagement by the Westminster establishment with British Pakistanis, coupled with insufficient communication between agencies such as the Department for International Development (DFID), The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and The British Council with the British Pakistani community.
Britain has just announced a £650 million DFID aid programme to improve schools and development in Pakistan. This is something the British Pakistani community could have great input and leverage with if they were engaged.
This is greatly in Britain's interest as a stable Pakistan will play a major part in resolving the conflict in Afghanistan, where our forces are at constant risk in a war fed by instability in the region and a cold war between Pakistan and India. This is one of the main drivers of the conflict in Afghanistan, alongside the hidden war between the rival religious totalitarianisms of Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Programmes such as this are a far more productive way to engage the British Pakistani community than the debacle of the Prevent programme aimed at countering terrorism and extremism, which stigmatised an entire community for the criminality of a few.
This programme also explores just what Diaspora communities are. Are they formed by race, religion, region, ancestry, heritage or a combination of all of these? Are they a feature of modern times and globalisation, or have they always been with us?
We have had a very positive response to the programme launch by Baroness Sayeeda Warsi at the RSA. She was outspoken on the need for Pakistan to tackle corruption, religious sectarianism and championing women, minorities and children's rights.
She spoke of Britain and Pakistan's shared history and argued for trade and cooperation; that both nations should work together for progress and peace in the region. Despite the multiple problems Pakistan faces, it still posts a nominal GDP of $210bn in 2011, a growing middle class and vast potential for regional and global trade routes due to Pakistan bordering Central Asia and Western China, plus deep sea ports of Karachi and Gandhar, part of a coast line over a thousand kilometres long with the Arabian Sea, linking the Persian Gulf with the Indian Ocean.
The programme aims to link social and political activists, social entrepreneurs and those working in development in Pakistan with their peers in the UK and larger NGO, aid, welfare and economic development networks. Rligious and secular voices will be brought together, focusing on issues such as minority rights, women's equality, religious freedoms alongside economic development and trade.
Following two successful roundtables, "21st century citizenship and diasporas" and "Pakistan in the Media: Changing the Narrative, bringing in new voices and talent", there are is one event remaining in the series to be held at The Oliver Thompson Lecture Theatre, City University campus, in Angel.
Monday 14 November, 2011
Can Philanthropy and Aid help Development in Pakistan? A panel session with Michael Green, author of Philanthrocapitalism, Asif Rangoonwala, chair of the British Pakistani Foundation, Jehangir Malik OBE, UK director of Islamic relief, Hugh Mclean, the director of Open Society, Soros Foundation Education London and Amina Salahuddin, director of Friends of The Citizens Foundation.
If you have any interest in Pakistan, its future and its relationships with Britain and British Pakistanis, then you are very welcome to attend.
Anwar Akhtar is Director of The Samosa, a culture and politics site with a focus on Britain and South Asia. He is also an associate of Urbed regeneration practice. He was previously Director of Rich Mix and spent 10 years working as a DJ and club promoter.