Nafees Zakaria – a commendable diplomat

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By Cllr Dr James Shera, SP, MBE

High Commissioner for Pakistan to the United Kingdom, Mohammad Nafees Zakaria assumed the charge of his office on 21st January and in short span of time he has made remarkable achievements in multiple spheres right from his outreach to the community in various parts of the UK including visits to Scotland and Birmingham – where he also met with First Minister of Scotland – to meeting Pakistanis of diverse religious backgrounds and the missionaries who have served in Pakistan. He is working for enhancing ties of Pakistan with UK in the fields of  business and technology on the one hand and encouraging cooperation in sports particularly football on the other. At the same time he is also working to popularize Pakistan’s language, culture and history by holding events like Urdu Mushaira with Iftikhar Arif .

I have known Mr Zakaria since the time when he was serving at the Pakistan mission as Deputy High Commissioner from 2009 onwards. During his earlier tenure also he had made a big mark in the community and had developed deep relations with many people that even when he left UK many continued to stay in touch with him.  When I heard the news of his posting to UK again it brought a great sense of pleasure and Mr Zakaria is proving his worth once again by playing an active role since the first day he took over his charge.  

Recently Mr Zakaria has taken several initiatives and he won the hearts of Pakistani Christian diaspora in the United Kingdom and across the world by organizing an event on 5th April, for Christian missionaries who had worked for Pakistan. The title of the event “The Journey of Love” itself has deep meaning. In this event The Pakistan High Commission, London organized a reception in honour of the British missionaries, educationists and philanthropists who had lived and served in Pakistan. The event was part of High Commissioner, Mohammad Nafees Zakaria’s outreach initiative to connect with the British friends of Pakistan and the Pakistani Diaspora in the UK.

On the occasion he said Pakistan is rich in cultural and religious diversity as its population comprises the Christians, Sikhs, Budhists, Hindus, Parsis, Zoroastrians, Bahais, and small portion of the Kalash, Kihals and Jains. Speaking about the rights of country’s citizens of various faiths and beliefs, the High Commissioner said that Constitution of Pakistan protects the rights of all the citizens without any discrimination. The Government of Pakistan is cognizant of its responsibilities towards its citizens, irrespective of their faith or belief. He stressed on interfaith harmony and love for all.

The High Commissioner also met with a delegation of Kar Sewa Committee Sikh Gurdham (UK) led by Joga Singh, General Secretary. The delegation paid a visit in order to convey their gratitude to the people and Government of Pakistan for the arrangements of upcoming event of 550th Birth Anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak. The delegation greatly praised Pakistan’s efforts in opening of Kartarpur Sahab corridor as this was Sikh community’s longing for last 70 years.

Muhammad Nafees Zakaria assured that as per past practice, the High Commission will extend usual courtesies and assistance to the Yatris. He briefed the delegation on investment and business opportunities that existed in religious tourism and infrastructure development. In order to show Pakistan’s message of universal peace, egalitarian brotherhood, social cohesion and religious harmony, the High Commissioner invited the delegation to visit all the Sikh historical places and share their experience and sentiments with the Sikh Diaspora around the world.

In his efforts for outreach to the community the High Commissioner Nafees Zakaria travelled to Scotland and Birmingham. In Scotland he called on Rt. Hon. Nicola Sturgeon MSP, First Minister of Scotland, at her official residence, Bute House. Appreciating the Scottish Government’s Pakistan Engagement Plan, Mr. Zakaria apprised her on the significant development in and around Pakistan and the conducive environment for business and investment in Pakistan. He urged that it was propitious time for friends like Scotland to avail of the enormous economic opportunities. He identified prospective sectors such as Education, Tourism related infrastructure development, tech and other industries in Special Economic Zones, oil & gas exploration, power generation, halal product industries, surgical instruments, pharmaceutical industry, sports goods industries, and dairy product industries. He also held meetings with the Scottish Government officials and a Round Table with key stakeholders, where he made a presentation on the identified areas of economic interest in greater details.

The High Commissioner also interacted with Pakistani Community, including Parliamentarians, Councillors of Pakistan Origin at the Consulate of Pakistan in Glasgow. The notables of the Pakistani community Baroness Nosheena Mobarik CBE, Mr. Anas Sarwar MSP, Councillor Hanzala Malik, Councillor Saqib Ahmed, and Councillor Shahid Farooq attended the event. Scotland-based representatives of ethnic media were also present on this occasion.

During his visit to Birmingham the High Commissioner held a two-hour interactive session with members of Pakistani community at the Birmingham City Council which was full to the capacity. He also met with MP Khalid Mahmood, Councillors, businessmen, Lord Mayor Cllr Yvonne Mosquito, ‘All Parties International Contact Committee on Kashmir’, and Pakistan origin Councillors. In his meeting with MPs and the accompanying delegates, the High Commissioner briefed them on the developments in Pakistan, the smooth democratic transition, opportunities for business and investment. Matters pertaining to Pakistani Community were also discussed. Women’s role in the promotional activities was also emphasised.

Attending the launch of an initiative to promote greater links and economic growth between the UK and Pakistan’s tech sectors, Mr Zakaria, spoke as a keynote speaker, alongside the UK’s Deputy High Commissioner to Pakistan Elin Burns. The launch was organized by Tech London Advocates Pakistan (TLA), a collection of tech experts and innovators, who brought together thought leaders, business and investors to foster greater collaboration, innovation and sharing of technical knowledge and best practice with an ambition to forge stronger links between the UK and Pakistan’s tech sectors.

To build up ties on front of sports, High Commissioner, Mohammad Nafees Zakaria warmly received the legendary footballer, Ian Rush MBE, who called on him prior to his trip to Pakistan this week. Ian Rush, Liverpool FC Global Ambassador will be promoting grassroots football in Pakistan. He will also be supporting aspiring young footballers so that they can achieve their full potential in this popular sport. Ian Rush was accompanied by Mr Wasim Ahmed, CEO of The Oxford Creative Hub.

To promote Pakistan’s culture and history, Pakistan High Commission London arranged an “Evening with Iftikhar Arif”, a renowned Pakistani poet, in collaboration with Urdu Markaz London on 03 May 2019. The event was held in keeping with the tradition of the High Commission to promote Urdu language and literature and connect the young British Pakistanis with their cultural heritage. A large number of Urdu poetry loving Pakistani community and fans of Iftikhar Arif attended the Mushaira.

In his welcome remarks, High Commissioner, Mohammad Nafees Zakaria, underlined the importance of national language in transmitting national heritage and cultural ethos to the future generations. Mr Zakaria also paid tribute to the Quaid-i-Azam, Allama Iqbal and Maulvi Abdul Haq for their efforts and work to promote Urdu. In this regard, he noted that the Government of Pakistan set up several institutions for the promotion of national language.

Veteran Labour Party MP, Mr. Tony Lloyd, Shadow Secretary for Northern Ireland, accompanied by prominent figures of Pakistani Diaspora also met with the High Commissioner, Mohammad Nafees Zakaria, at the High Commission on 9 May 2019.
During the discussion, they took stock of bilateral relations. They noted that given the strong political goodwill and profound historical linkages, the enormous prospects for bilateral economic cooperation that existed in a variety of sectors needed to be exploited to its full potential.
The Shadow Secretary for Northern Ireland, Tony Lloyd MP, has visited Pakistan recently and remains supportive of promoting relations between Pakistan and the UK.

In the end, such committed hardworking individuals are an asset and credit to the nation and Pakistan.

(Councillor Dr James Shera Sitara-e Pakistan and MBE, is Pakistani origin politician and educationist living in the U.K. He was first-ever Asian to become Mayor of Rugby and has been elected councillor for the last 36 years)