North Thanet/Herne Bay MP Roger Gale has just returned from leading a UK Parliamentary delegation to Pakistan. Under tight security the six cross-party Members of the House of Commons and two Members of the House of Lords visited Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar. The visit challenged a number of the widely accepted preconceptions and prejudices of the West.
Which, do you suppose, has been the greatest natural disaster to hit the developing world in recent years?  The Pakistani earthquake?  The Asian Tsunami?  The quake in Haiti?
No.  The recent floods in Pakistan, devastating a swathe across the country from north east to south west and inundating the entire flood plain of the Indus river has devastated the lives of more than twenty million people and left a trail of death, injury, disease, ruined cops and decimated livestock like a scar across the nation.  More destruction than the totality of all other recent emergencies added together.
A week ago I was driven from the capital city, Islamabad to Peshawar in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa North West Province along the highway that crosses the wide Indus river valley.  Even through the glass screens of a bullet-proof land-cruiser, and although the floods have mercifully begun to recede, it was possible to see the trail of devastation left by raging waters that had driven tens of thousands of people to seek refuge on the embankment that carries the motorway.  The centre of the road doubles as an emergency airstrip that, only a few weeks ago, was evacuating some of the more severely injured and bringing in vital lifesaving supplies of food and water and United Nations plastic shelter sheeting.  The bright blue of the latter will be in evidence for many months to come as people begin to fashion traditional dwellings and to replace the mud bricks and straw thatch that was dissolved in the wild waters of the river. The headlines and the focus of international attention may have moved via Tunisia through Egypt to embrace the Middle East but make no mistake: the human tragedy left in the detritus of the Pakistan floods will take years to remedy.
Our Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation travelled to learn, to understand, to make new friends and to secure bonds of history and traditions and understandings that go back through the years to the division of British India and the founding of the State. In the course of five days we met with Provincial First Ministers and Governors, with leaders of government and Opposition political parties, with Ministers and Shadow Ministers and with the Speaker of the National Assembly.  So what did we find?

I would not wish to stretch the analogy too far but having visited the province a number of times in the course of The Troubles, Northern Ireland does spring to mind.  As in so many global hotspots, Patrick or Jack or Mohammed in the street wishes to live, love, laugh, work, raise a family and, eventually, to die in peace.  It is a sad fact of life that a relatively few people of evil intent, under the guise of colour, class, or creed, can create murder and mayhem for the masses in pursuit of power and domination. The mixture of politics and an abuse of "faith" is a lethal combination.
So it was in Northern Ireland, where nationalist and religious doctrines were harnessed in the name of a "cause" and so it is in other places around the World. When poor education and poverty are exploited and manipulated in the name of sectarian struggle lives are lost in abundance.
We should not, though, fall into the trap of allowing our national press to influence our thinking very far.  Populism may sell the Mirror, the Sun, the Mail and the Express and even the remaining broadsheets, but there is small relationship between Islam and what is known as the "Muslim Fundamentalism" that has in itself become a euphemism for subversion. You will find no more of the teachings of the men of violence in the Q`ran than you will in the Talmud or the Bible.

Kevan Jones (Lab) Andrew Stephenson ( Con. Chairman, British-Pakistani parliamentary group) Ynis (Pashtun Tribesman) Roger Gale (Con. Delegation leader) Yasmin Qreshi (Lab) Andrew Tuggey ( Director, Commonwealth Parliamentary Assn. UK Branch)

Ynis/Roger Gale

Roger Gale/Chairman of the Senate, Federal Government of Pakistan

Roger Gale/Dr Fehmida Mirza, Speaker of the National Assembly, Pakistan
Do not misunderstand me: there is most certainly a War on Terror that is being waged in Afghanistan and elsewhere and we have committed many brave young lives to the endeavour to ensure that the dark forces gathered there do not dominate the earth. We have been here before and we shall, no doubt, revisit this necessity again.  We do, though, need to be careful to differentiate between that which, in the name of whatever Gods, is demonic and that which, while not to our personal preference, is devout.  If we confuse the two then we are in grave danger of creating the best possible recruiting sergeant for the extremists.
It is facile, too, to accuse the Pakistanis of not being vigorous enough in assisting the allies in Afghanistan and of harbouring Taliban and Al Quaeda leaders in the mountains and caves of the North West.  That the terrorists are there is certain. A thousand miles of fluid and unpoliced borders across which nomadic tribes have moved effortlessly for centuries is bound to be porous.  It is equally certain that in a country where corruption and graft are the order of the day there will be those who, for cash and influence, will willingly offer safe haven to the enemies of the West. They too, though, have been here before.  Armies - British, Russian and Allied - have fought, claimed "victory" and left, licking their wounds. When the visitors have moved on those remaining have to try to pick up the pieces and to co-exist.  The man that I try to kill today may be my neighbour and holding the whip-hand tomorrow.  As the Governor of Khyber Pakhtunkwha said to us: "You are faced with two men. One is glowering at you with his arms folded and the other is pointing a gun at your head.  You address the man with the gun first.  This is our war. We will deal with the Pakistan Taliban and then we will worry about Afghanistan".
As we left Peshawar heading for Lahore we heard that a bomb had exploded in the old quarter of that city.  A few minutes later word reached us that another suicide bomber had killed sixteen people in Karachi, the destination of the other half of our delegation. Coincidental, but a reminder that we were fortunate to enjoy the protection of a highly professional security officer and his team.
Depressing?  I do not think so. Pakistan is a huge country with mineral and agricultural wealth, great natural and human resources and a vast population.  The majority of the people are young and those, I grant you an elite, that we met at two modern universities are determined and ambitious for the future of their nation. As a matter of fact, very many of the students, and all of the recent gold-medallists at the National University of Science and Technology were young women and during the entirety of our visit we, between us, saw just one person wearing a burkha. (Which seems to underscore my belief that expatriate communities, whether British abroad, or minorities in the United Kingdom, tend to be more "traditional" than those back home.)
A new law, the 18th amendment to the constitution, is designed to devolve administration from the centre to the provinces.  If implemented - and it is an "if" - this shift of power may wrest control from feudal lords and families that have dominated the political landscape for a very long time and create a new democracy. Such an outcome ought be in the interests of the future of peace and prosperity throughout the whole of that part of Central Asia. We have invested much blood and treasure in waging a land war in Afghanistan. Perhaps the time has come when, while not abandoning the military objectives, the United Nations should put equally great effort into helping to ensure that the infrastructure is in place to allow the regions of Pakistan to take control of their own destinies.

Ask Roger
Click here to email
Roger your question

Find us on Facebook

Useful & interesting links

Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation

Kent County Council

Canterbury City Council

Thanet District Council

Roger is a patron of Animals Worldwide. Helping animals across the world

KASTDA - Kent Association for Sri Lankan Tsunami DAruwo - KASTDA is a tsunami charity dedicated to raising funds in the UK to help Sri Lankan children rebuild their lives after the boxing day tsunami