Baroness Sayeeda Hussain Warsi, Britain’s senior minister of state for foreign and Commonwealth affairs, has urged the government of Pakistan to negotiate with the Taliban militant group to seek a lasting peace after thousands of people have died in waves of attacks.
Warsi, formerly a co-chair of Britain’s Conservative Party and the first female Muslim ever to serve as a U.K. cabinet minister, is visiting Pakistan with a trade delegation to meet with newly elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
“It is a matter for Pakistan who it engages with in terms of its internal affairs, but any dialogue which would lead to a more peaceful existence for Pakistan is clearly to be welcomed,” she said at a news conference in Islamabad.
Warsi, who is of Pakistani descent herself, also offered her condolences to the many victims of bombings in Pakistan. More than 140 people were killed in three separate attacks in the city of Peshawar in just one week recently. Pakistan government officials estimate that 40,000 people have died in such violence since September 2001.
“The biggest enemies of Islam and the biggest enemies of Pakistan are those people who create the insecurity and therefore the lack of hope and opportunity for future generations,” she said. “Your children, my children, our children’s children, they are being held to ransom by the acts of a few extremists and terrorists, who don’t allow this country to develop to its full potential."
Prime Minister Sharif and even opposition lawmaker Imran Khan have also endorsed the idea of talking with militants.
“Despite these incidents the dialogue option should be pursued, because the Taliban are many groups and many of them have said they do want to pursue dialogue,” said Sartaj Aziz, Sharif's adviser on national security and foreign affairs. “There are some elements who want to disrupt the dialogue, but the whole purpose of the dialogue is to put an end to such incidents.”
Aziz added: "Pakistan has suffered a lot due to terrorism.”
However, the Pakistani public seems averse to the idea of sitting down at a peace table with militants who wantonly slaughter innocent men, women and children. Critics also fear that negotiations with militant groups like Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – an umbrella organization representing many militants -- will only serve to provide them with more time to re-group and plan even more attacks.
Separately, Sharif praised Warsi for her efforts in maintaining close ties between Britain and Pakistan. During their meeting, Sharif called the U.K. a close friend and development partner of Pakistan. Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, visited Sharif shortly after his victory earlier this year (the first such trip by a foreign head of state during Sharif’s reign).
Indeed, Britain is now home to at least 1.2 million people of Pakistani descent, many of whom send much-needed cash remittances to family back home.
According to the World Bank Bilateral Remittances Matrix, Pakistanis in the U.K. send about £1.34 billion ($2.2 billion) to relatives annually through money-transfer agencies alone.
Warsi, who has now visited Pakistan twice in just the past three months, and her delegation of U.K. business people from the energy, education and retail sectors, are seeking to increase bilateral trade between the two countries to £3 billion ($4.8 billion) by 2015.
According to Mohammad Haroon Agar, president of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in 2011-2012, Pakistan’s exports to U.K. were valued at $1.3 billion, while the imports amounted to $699 million.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.