While making his first official visit to Pakistan as Prime Minister, Britain’s leader David Cameron has made some comments about his country’s imperial past that has raised some hackles in London.
Cameron suggested that Britain is responsible for the strife and wars that have ravaged Kashmir (disputed by Pakistan and India) as well as other global conflicts.
When asked how the UK might help settle the long crisis in Kashmir, Cameron replied “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.”
While his remarks were embraced by Pakistani students and academics, they raised the ire of some British historians.
Daisy Cooper, the director of the Commonwealth Policy Studies Unit, told the Daily Telegraph: “This is typical of the UK’s schizophrenic relationship with former colonies where it is both proud and embarrassed about its past. The Coalition [government] has said that it has big ambitions for a modern Commonwealth and the UK should stop being embarrassed about its colonial past and they should work with other countries to help improve their human rights.”
Similarly, Tristram Hunt, the Labour MP, as well as historian and broadcaster. commented: “to say that Britain is a cause of many of the world’s ills is naïve. To look back 50-odd years for the problems facing many post-colonial nations adds little to the understanding of the problems they face. David Cameron has a tendency to go to countries around the world and tell them what they want to hear, whether it is in Israel, Turkey, India and Pakistan.”
Sean Gabb, of the campaign group Libertarian Alliance, criticized Cameron for his apology, saying: “It’s a valid historical point that some problems stem from British foreign policy in the 19th and 20th centuries, but should we feel guilty about that? I fail to see why we should. Some of these problems came about because these countries decided they did not want to be part of the British Empire. They wanted independence. They got it. They should sort out their problems instead of looking to us.”
Pakistan and India have fought three wars over Kashmir since partition in 1947 and it continues to strain relations between the two giant countries.
In referring to other global conflicts caused by Britain, he may have been referring to how British officials drew up imperfect and often flawed borders around new and disputed countries in the 19th and 20th centuries, not just Kashmir, but also Israel and other Middle East nations.
In the recent past however, Cameron has made statements in which he spoke of his pride in Britain.
In 2009, he wrote: “We must never forget that Britain is a great country with a history we can be truly proud of. Our culture, language and inventiveness has shaped the modern world.”
Cameron arrived in Pakistan to try to mend the relationship after he made some comments last year (during a visit to India) where he implied that Pakistani authorities were not doing enough to stamp out terrorism.
Cameron has also offered financial aid to Pakistan and signed a trade agreement with Islamabad.