Pakistan and Canada Collaboration in the New
It is always a privilege for me to attend Pakistan Canada Association events. In my view, the PCA stands out, in the true Canadian spirit, as an organization that promotes harmony and diversity within our multicultural society. In gatherings such as these, where we exchange ideas and look to build opportunities, we are in fact celebrating the richness of our diversity. We are celebrating the Canadian value that our strength lies in our diversity!
As a vibrant part of Canada’s cultural kaleidoscope, I have long believed that the Canadian Pakistan community has been a champion of and contributor to the multicultural ideal. For many of you, cultural heterogeneity is nothing new. Pakistan is a place where groups such as the Punjabis, Sindhis, Pathans, Muhajirs, and the Baluchi form a rare ethnic milieu. Here in Canada, your social, political, economic contribution has set you apart.
Through your presence and your adherence to your traditions, you add to our multicultural society, but you go far beyond that. Pakistanis are represented in all areas of our economy, from education, medicine, and manufacturing. There is no doubt, as the Canadian Pakistan community succeeds, so does our nation.
Problems in Pakistan
As you well know, Canada and Pakistan have traditionally enjoyed good bilateral relations based on our historical development ties totalling $2 billion since the 1950s, shared experience in the Commonwealth, and the presence of the dynamic Pakistani-Canadian community, approaching some 150,000.
It is regrettable therefore, that since the nuclear tests of 1998, relations have cooled. Beyond the dangers of nuclear weaponry, recent developments in this regard are doubly unfortunate because we know that over 30 percent of the Pakistani budget is devoted to military spending.
This reality has resulted in a troubling circle, where not only is an insufficient amount of Pakistani government spending devoted to social development, but sanctions have now resulted in further economic problems.
Because of the on-going economic crisis in Pakistan, Canada has experienced a slow-down in exports to Pakistan. However, a recent significant sale by Nortel Networks to Pakistan’s Telecom Mobile of $60 million (US) provides a strong reminder that there are many opportunities for Canadian companies in Pakistan. We hope that recent pledges made by the current regime will result in increased opportunities for Canadian business. As Albertans, we know that Pakistan offers much potential for our oil and gas, telecommunications and agri-food sectors.
Writing of his experience in Islamabad, our Canadian High Commissioner to Pakistan recently wrote:
The Pakistani paradox seems clear to an outsider: a generous, well-meaning and warm people; a country with vast resources, stunning landscapes and a diverse and rich history. Yet these attributes come with seemingly endless political uncertainty.
Since we are here to exchange ideas and discuss opportunity, I think we must talk about the important chance we as Canadians – and Pakistan Canadians in particular – have to strengthen our relationship with Pakistan, to help to improve the lives of the Pakistani people and work to improve this paradox of which our High Commissioner speaks.
First, I believe the Pakistani Community has a great responsibility to work to affect change. There are countless examples in Canada where cultural groups have been able to influence the course of developments in their homeland. Polish Canadians, Latin American-Canadians, Chinese-Canadians – to name a few groups – have all, at different times, worked to affect the condition in their country of origin and influence the Canadian government. You form a vital part of the Canada’s civil society. You hold the key to personal, economic, cultural and social relationships with your homeland. You are well placed to strengthen these relationship and help – despite obstacles – to improve the economic and social conditions of Pakistan.
And with rich events such as these – where we put together our hearts and minds – we are reminded of how important it is for us to work together in this common endeavour to assist our brothers and sisters who still yearn for democracy, human rights and an appropriate standard of living.
Canada remains engaged
Despite set-backs in our bilateral relationship, Canada remains committed to engagement with the people of Pakistan and to build opportunities for dialogue and contact.
Perhaps the most important initiatives have been through the Canadian International Development Agency or CIDA.
CIDA’s current programme is focussed on the reduction of poverty, as more the 50 percent of the current budget is devoted to initiatives in the social sector and support for civil society. This initiative focusses on health services, education and training, community development, and support for NGOs and community-based organizations. Sadly, poverty levels in Pakistan are increasingly dramatic – current predictions indicate that by 2003, some 60 million people – or 40 percent of the population – will be living in poverty. This is a tragedy of great proportions.
Through CIDA we are engaging with local civil society organizations, building their capacity for social services delivery, participatory development and advocacy of the human and democratic rights of marginalized groups in Pakistan society.
The promotion of gender equality is fundamental to all aspects of the program, as social indicators for women are among the worst in the world.
CIDA’s support of the energy sector represents approximately 35 percent of the current budget. The energy sector is a key sector for economic recovery in Pakistan/ Through the poli and gas sector program in particular, CIDA is helping improve the capacity of Pakistan to manage its hydrocarbon resources more efficiently. Initiatives include strengthening the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources in policy formulation, planning and coordination; development of appropriate regulatory frameworks; and development and enforcement of effective conservation, safety and environmental regulations.
With respect to the environment, Canada has helped strengthen Pakistan’s capacity to develop and implement and internationally acclaimed National Conservation Strategy and related programs at the federal, provincial and local levels.
There are also initiatives to strengthen governmental and non governmental organizations and institutions to design and implement environmental sustainable policies and programs. The program has helped establish a formal process of environmental review and impact assessment, planning guidelines, laws and other institutional frameworks. As a result environmental awareness in both public and private sectors has been enhanced.
In response to the evolving socio-political situation in Pakistan, Canada is introducing more systematic programming for the promotion of governance, human rights and democratic development, based on CIDA’s current programs and partnerships. Many of CIDA’s former NGO partners have been appointed to key government positions, and CIDA is well positioned to engage with them as well as NGOs and civil society. The current regime in Islamabad has made several announcements with respect to political, economic and social reform, and there appears to be guarded public support for giving them some time to implement those reforms. Proposed reforms include devolution of power and elections at the local level; improved governance through public sector reform; the upholding of human rights, with a focus on women, children and minorities; and a commitment to economic recovery and poverty reduction.
To mark Canada Day in 1999 and Canada’s continuing commitment to the development of Pakistan’s social sector, three agreements were signed between different NGOs and CIDA. The NGOs involved were Heartfile, SACH and Society for Welfare Associates (SWA). Heartfile is working to create greater awareness of cardiac disease and prevention; SACH deals with issues relating to children; and SWA is involved in creating employment opportunities in textile design and interior decorating for women from low income groups with limited education.
Education and Health care
For me, the key to Pakistan’s future – as it is the universal key to humanity’s future – is education and health. Without education and health, democracy is elusive and an economy can’t grow. Strong systems of education and health are the basis for a strong society and the Canadian government, through CIDA, is working to improve the condition in Pakistan.
I think you would all agree, that the most important linkages that we can pursue in the Pakistan-Canada relationship would be in health and education. In this regard, I hope that Canadian civil society and government can work in co-operation with our Pakistani counterparts to forge new and stronger partnerships.