Q: Since you took over as the high commissioner in 2014, what are some of the most intriguing difficulties you’ve faced in looking after the interests of one of the largest Pakistani diasporas in the world? A: I think you have rightly asked me a very pointed question. I wouldn’t call it a difficulty but rather a bit of a challenge as you know we have one of the largest Pakistani diasporas in Europe with a conservative estimate of 1.4 million people. As I took over, the immediate challenge we faced, which was more like a crisis-like situation, were the issuance and eligibility matters related to the NICOP for the diaspora. There were a chaos and people were quite concerned owing to its importance in travelling and usage for official purposes back in Pakistan. Moreover, we also faced undue criticism from certain people who tried to undermine our efforts but, in the end, we were able to fully streamline the process with the support of the government. This was really a challenge given how large the diaspora is. Now, if you go out on the streets and ask people about their opinions, they are really satisfied. Q: The high commission has been working on various public and cultural diplomatic initiatives round the clock with the main highlight being promoting an ‘Emerging Pakistan’. What kind of response has been garnered amongst the local community and London’s diplomatic circles? A: I think the theme of ‘Emerging Pakistan’ was really exciting from our point of view because we thought that Pakistan was truly emerging given how investments started flowing once again when the security situation improved in recent times. This is especially true with the inception of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that is considered to be a crowning glory given how the national economic outlook had improved. International credit rating agencies also placed the country amongst emerging markets from frontier markets which signified the rise. Last year, we celebrated 70th independence anniversary of the nation whose preparations were initiated much earlier back in 2016 with key goals being to project cultural and public diplomacy in a truly unique manner. We also tried to neutralise negative perceptions of the country that had come to exist over a period of time with these measures. So, with all said and done, what we did last year was a resounding success. You mentioned about how the diplomatic community took this venture over. I think they are quite smart for they analysed our initiatives from a strategic point of view and did not take such things at face value. After due diligence, they came to believe that we were doing the right thing and with the emergence of CPEC, things really did turn around for it was looked upon as a beneficial opportunity. Q: Since racial hatred is on the rise in UK owing to several factors, what kind of steps is the high commission taking to ensure the safety of the Pakistani community? A: You see it’s unfortunate because of what has happened in the last 1.5 years or so in this country that has triggered a rise in islamophobia complemented by racial hatred. There is a history to this, but I won’t go into deep input. However, I would advise our diaspora that since you are law-abiding citizens, you should try to follow the rules, do what is right and avoid anything that is unlawful. God-forbid if one is confronted with a stark situation then they should do what is lawfully correct and avoid confrontations that could lead to repercussions. Yes, these days hate-filled letters are being distributed around to specifically target Muslims, and I can say with certainty that not only the community, but the British government is also taking it very seriously with the Met Police in action. In the end, it is the government of the day’s responsibility to ensure safety of their citizens in which there are a considerable number of Pakistanis who are British nationals. Hence, I personally believe that this won’t be a long-lasting challenge owing to a strict implementation of the rule of law. Q: This question may seem a bit odd to you, but it is often perceived that some members of the British-Pakistani community refuse or rather hesitate to integrate with the local communities owing to lingual and cultural differences. Since multiculturalism is essential to progress in the British society, what’s your take on this issue? A: I think multiculturalism is a hallmark of this society that is very proud of it. As I mentioned earlier, we have a large diaspora in this country whose most members, despite all the concurrent and past challenges, have managed to integrate. But, I still think we are not there yet owing to the fact that when we live in our own comfort zones or communities, probably that’s which starts creating the barriers of walls. So, my request to the diaspora all along has been to accept this country and society as your own and be part of the mainstream rather than sitting on the fringes that lead to larger problems. The thinking of ‘us vs them’ should be replaced with the unity of ‘we’ since there have been numerous contributions to this society in various fields whether business, sports or other professions. I think our people have always been on the forefront and there is no reason to think that they should fall behind from the mainstream. Integration is definitely the way forward and mind you, there is a difference between integration and assimilation. So, I always insist to integrate without having the need to forget our origins and roots. Q: Earlier you mentioned about CPEC and the UK has already shown keen interest to invest in the project. What kind of investments are we looking at over the coming years? A: CPEC is definitely being looked upon as an opportunity over here and this is the reason that over the last 18 months, we’ve seen several delegations visiting Pakistan. The trade minister, the mayor of London and the lord mayor of the city along with several other officials have visited Pakistan over this period. There is an enormous interest in the project and they are looking at opportunities which it offers, particularly in Post-Brexit Britain on which they wish to capitalise. The UK has to look beyond Europe after Brexit and it is logical that Pakistan comes in that non-EU sphere owing to our commonalities that date back to the colonial era. The UK and Pakistan have historically remained close allies and this is not only beneficial from Pakistan’s point of view but let me remind you that the UK is finally mending fences with China as well which was clearly witnessed in October 2015 when President Xi received a warm reception here in London with agreements amounting to some $60bn being signed. Pakistan, being a friend to both countries at a time when a golden era has incepted between the two powers, can clearly benefit and provide facilitation for this triangular relationship. Q: Since Donald Trump took over as US president, his foreign policy has been inclined towards isolationism and is perceived to be haphazard when it comes to several issues, including the Afghan Peace Process. From your vast diplomatic experience, what does it signify for Pakistan since the two states have already locked horns against each other in recent months with Pakistan being placed on FATF grey list that was backed by the UK, a close ally of both countries? A: Pakistan-US relation is very important which dates back to some 70 years. This is not a one-sided relationship and from our point of view, we are very clear that it has to be mutually beneficial. However, sometimes we faced situations that are undesirable, but I am pretty confident, given the historical ties, that we would eventually move forward and place the current impasse on the backburner given how the US has been our strong supporter and is also one of our largest trading partners. The current state of affairs has risen owing to diverging goals on Afghanistan and I think the two countries should not look at the relationship through the Afghan prism and rather pursue standalone bilateral ties with mutual respect. We have dealt with both Republican and Democrat governments and I am quite optimistic that our ties would be back on track soon despite what you referred in your question. Q: What advice would you give to those aspiring to join the Foreign Service of Pakistan (FSP)? A: My advice to those wishing to join the FSP is just one thing that it is not a service but a way of life. If you want to make it a way of life, then it’s unmatchable but If you want to look at it from the lens of a 9 to 5 job then should rather look for some other profession. In foreign service, there are times when we travel and witness cultural shocks, but they can be compensated with the rewards from the service that include representing your country and mingling with the movers and shakers of the host countries. To be a successful diplomat, one has to be an all-rounder and not think of it as a desk job as they have to meet people to convey foreign policy goals, do assignments and attend events all in a day on certain times. This is completely doable in my opinion if one thinks of it as a way of life as mentioned earlier. The writer is a geopolitical analyst and an alumnus of the Department of War Studies, King’s College London, University of London. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets @mhassankhan06 Published in Daily Times, March 31st2018.