The UK held its general elections yesterday. In light of the London terror attacks, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and the proposed Scottish independence referendum, it seems that the erstwhile imperialist power is once again entering an important and historical phase.
In order to vote in the general election, a person must be on the electoral register. He or she must be 18 years or over on polling day, a British, Irish or Commonwealth citizen or a British citizen living abroad, and, more importantly, not legally excluded from voting. A person who is detained in prison or found to be guilty of certain corrupt or illegal practices is not allowed to vote. In the British constitution, Commonwealth and Irish citizens enjoy the same civic rights as British citizens. There is also an option of applying for a postal vote or casting proxy votes on behalf of someone who is not present in the UK at the time of the elections.
According to media reports, more than 1.1 million citizens between the ages of 18 and 35 had registered to vote within a month after the election was announced on April 18. Of these, around 0.6 million people are under the age of 25.
After the end of the colonial era, the UK continues to play a leading role in the international arena through the Commonwealth. Pakistan – as an important member of the Commonwealth – enjoys close cordial relations with the UK.
According to a conservative estimate, the current population of British Pakistanis exceeds 1.17 million. As a result, people of Pakistani origin are considered to be one of the largest overseas Pakistani communities in the UK. British Pakistanis have also made contributions to improve British society and their influence in different spheres of life, including politics, is palpable. There are 10 MPs of Pakistani origin in the House of Commons and half of them are women.
Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar was the first Muslim member of the British parliament in 1997 while Sadiq Khan is first Muslim to become the mayor of London. Despite all the negative propaganda about Pakistan, the outstanding performance by Pakistani politicians in the UK has been widely acknowledged by the British media.
The Labour Party remains a popular choice among British Pakistanis. But a number of politicians of Pakistani origin are also taking an interest in the affairs of the Conservative Party. Similarly, the Liberal Democrats is also trying hard to win the support of British Pakistanis. A study on the role of Pakistani voters in the 2010 general elections in Britain shows that 60 percent of British Pakistanis voted for the Labour Party, 13 percent of them voted Conservative, and 25 percent voted for the Liberal Democrats.
Michael Wade, the chairman of the Conservative Friends of Pakistan, aims to promote close relations among the Conservative Party, the British Pakistanis and Pakistan. Similarly, Saeeda Warsi, a politician of Pakistani origin in the UK, was made chairman of the Conservative Party.
The decision to allow 30 Pakistani British politicians to contest the UK general elections should serve as a lesson for political parties in Pakistan. Dual voting rights must be provided to non-Muslims in Pakistan. Non-Muslim community should be allowed to elect their representative in 15 or 20 constituencies. Political parties must also prove their commitment to democracy by issuing tickets to non-Muslims in the 2018 general elections. As the legal system of Pakistan is derived from Britain’s common law system, we must also follow the democratic approach adopted the UK to issue party tickets to the minorities.
Despite the active role of Pakistan-origin citizens in British politics, the involvement of extremists who allegedly have links with Pakistan in terror attacks in the UK is a matter of grave concern. In the most recent London attack, one of the terror suspects – Khurram Butt – had been radicalised in the UK, not in Pakistan. At a time when operations Zarb-e-Azb and Raddul Fasaad have been launched to curb terrorism in Pakistan, British citizens of Pakistani origin must also look at the black sheep among their ranks. They must convince their peers that terrorism is a global issue and is not limited to any specific religion or nationality.
In the past, the UK has been adversely affected by terrorism at the hands of Irish separatists. One of the alleged terrorist involved in the London Bridge attack had an Irish ID card. As a result, the trend of linking Pakistan to incidents global terrorism must be discouraged.
Whoever wins the elections will need to prioritise issues related to Brexit, terrorism, economic growth and decision about Scottish independence. But the Pakistani community living in the UK will need to take practical steps to bring the peace-loving people of both countries closer.
The writer is a member of the National
Assembly and patron-in-chief of the
Pakistan Hindu Council.