William and Kate royal tour to ‘strengthen’ UK’s links with Pakistan

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge Credit: Owen Humphreys/PA

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s upcoming tour to Pakistan aims to strengthen ties between the two nations amid political uncertainty and security concerns.

When the tour was announced, the High Commissioner for Pakistan Mohammad Nafees Zakaria said the upcoming royal visit was a reflection of the importance the United Kingdom attached to its relations with Pakistan.

“The two countries enjoy historical links which both sides wish to strengthen further,” he added.

Here is an overview of the British-Pakistani relationship and the current political tensions in the region.

British-Pakistani relations

The royal visit – at the request of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – will pay respect to the historical relationship between Britain and Pakistan.

With Brexit looming, the tour comes as London hopes to strengthen its international relationships, while Islamabad is keen to promote itself as a tourist destination amid concerns over security in the region.

British Airways resumed flights to Pakistan earlier this year after they were suspended due to security fears more than a decade ago.

According to the Department for International Trade, UK-Pakistan bilateral trade in 2017 was £2.9 billion – exports of goods and services from the UK totalled £1.1 billion.

More than 1.5 million people of Pakistani origin currently live in the UK, with an estimated 270,000 British nationals visiting the country every year.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan. Credit: PA

Prime Minister

William and Kate’s visit to the region will be the first royal tour in the tenure of Prime Minister Imran Khan after his election last year.

The former international cricketer launched his political career in 1996 when he founded centrist party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.

Mr Khan – who captained Pakistan’s national side – was previously married to British socialite Jemima Goldsmith. The couple were a friend of William’s mother Diana, Princess of Wales.

The current President of Pakistan is Arif Alvi, whose role is largely ceremonial.

Masked Kashmiris during a protest. Credit: AP

Kashmir dispute

The royal visit comes amid heightened tensions between Pakistan and India over the disputed region of Kashmir.

The neighbouring countries have fought three wars since independence from Britain and partition in 1947 – two of them over Kashmir.

Authorities in Delhi and Islamabad both claim the Himalayan region in full, but each controls a section of the territory, recognised internationally as “Indian-administered Kashmir” and “Pakistan-administered Kashmir”.

Low-level skirmishes are not unusual over the frontier, but hostilities have increased this year. India’s home ministry claims there have been 2,000 “unprovoked” ceasefire violations, and Pakistan says that 45 people have been killed by Indian forces firing across the border since the start of 2019.

The Foreign Office advises against travel to the Line of Control – a de facto border which marks where the region is divided.

The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall during a visit to the Sikh Temple Gurdwara of Guru Arjan Dev, in the city of Lahore Credit: Tim Rooke/Rex Features

Security concerns

The Foreign Office also states on its website that “terrorists are very likely to try and carry out attacks in Pakistan”.

There have been a number of security incidents in recent months, including a bombing outside a shrine in central Lahore, as well as an attack by armed militants on the Pearl Continental Hotel in Gwadar, Balochistan.

When the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall travelled to Pakistan in 2006, their visit was seen as one of the most perilous royal foreign tours for some time.

They were forced to pull out of a visit to Peshawar in the North-West Frontier Province due to fears over their safety.