Skip to content

The ‘Naya Aghaz’ is for long-term Pak-UK friendship

Op-ed by Baroness Sayeeda Warsi.

This week, the prime minister and I visited Pakistan to mark a new chapter in the relationship between our governments and our peoples.

As Prime Minister Cameron said, this was a “Naya Aghaz”, forming an unbreakable bond of friendship between our two countries. As David Cameron explained, we want a strong relationship with a secure, prosperous, open and flourishing Pakistan. We want to strengthen that relationship, both now and in the long-term. As a British Cabinet Minister whose parents came from Pakistan, this was a very special moment for me – and something I’ve been waiting to hear for many years.

I believe a strong relationship requires frankness and honesty – not just on the issues affecting Pakistanis but also on issues that people talk about over chai. That starts with Libya. There are a number of myths that have been put out about the situation in Libya. The first is that this is somehow an attack on Islam. Nothing could be further from the truth. “Islam is a religion, observed peacefully and devoutly by over a billion people. So let’s give voice to those followers of Islam in our own countries.” Not my words, not the words of a British Muslim, but the words of the British prime minister earlier this year. The simple fact is that our action in Libya is backed by the United Nations and the Arab League. What’s more, we have taken action to protect people – predominantly Muslim people – from slaughter – just as we did in Kosovo over a decade ago. Nor will there be any foreign invasion. In fact, Arab nations like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are actively contributing to the No Fly Zone.


The second argument is that the West is acting because of oil. This argument does not stack up. Why? For two reasons. First of all, Libya produces less than 2 per cent of the world’s oil – and much of the output can easily be made up elsewhere. And second, because the surest way of getting oil from Libya would have been cooperation and compromise to do a deal with Colonel Qaddafi.But instead, we took the difficult decision to stop Qaddafi.


The third myth is that Libya is like Iraq. As someone who marched against the Iraq War I can say categorically that this comparison is totally wrong. There are some fundamental differences.


First – the action in Libya is necessary. Colonel Qaddafi said himself that he was planning a violent assault on the rebels in Benghazi. He launched a brutal attack against his own people. He declared he would show ‘no mercy’ on the protestors he called ‘rats’. He threatened to hunt them down ‘door by door’. It could have been a massacre. The evidence emerging from Misurata, where Qaddafi has used tanks and artillery to shell people in their homes, hospitals and mosques, shows only too clearly why we needed to act, and act decisively.


Second – it’s legal. Unlike Iraq, this time we got that second UN resolution for military action. UN Security Council Resolution 1973 authorised ‘all necessary measures’ to protect the Libyan people. The mandate is clear, and it specifically excludes a “foreign occupation force”.


Third – it is the right thing to do. There are millions in the Arab world who want to know that the UN and the UK care about their suffering. The Arab League, with the backing of the African Union, and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, of which Pakistan is a member, called for international action to protect Libyan civilians. We answered that call. The international community cannot stand aside while a regime murders innocent civilians. We learnt this terrible lesson in Bosnia and Rwanda and we must never let it happen again. There are no double standards here, just the single standard that freedom and democracy aren’t the preserve of the West. That is why we have been clear in our condemnation of violence elsewhere in the region and support the rights of all Arab peoples to choose their own future. This is a position we take across the world, which is why we are working at the UN to end the conflict in Cote d’Ivoire, where the former President is trying to block the will of his people with violence.


Right now, the world is changing. All across the Middle East and in Africa too, people want to choose their own future. For decades, some people assumed that stability in Pakistan or the Middle East required dictatorships. They said that reform and openness would put that stability at risk. But the truth is that was a false choice. As events in the Middle East and North Africa have confirmed, denying people their basic rights does not preserve stability – it undermines it. Freedom, democracy, open societies – these are all things that people in Pakistan have fought for, not just once but over and over again, as civil society has asserted itself against military dictatorships. Pakistan may have a young, fledgling democracy and it faces many challenges, but they know – as people of the Middle East know – that small tentative steps towards democracy are better than the strong and brutal feet of dictatorship. That is why it is right that Britain has stood up for freedom and taken action to allow the people of Libya to choose their own destiny.

%d bloggers like this: