Tuesday, 25 January 2022

Pakistan’s Independence Day celebrations in London

This year marked 70 years since Pakistan’s inception and the country has certainly come a long way in making its place among the comity of nations. Despite all the socio-economic and political challenges faced by the state, it has managed to stand tall and survived a great deal of crises in the past few decades. Indeed, such kind of challenges come and go but they do evolve the society into becoming resilient and strong enough to tackle them.

Although the government has celebrated 70 years in its own way, the High Commission for Pakistan, London outshone in paying tribute to not only the state but the founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, as well. Among all the diplomatic missions based across Europe, the London mission undoubtedly attracted the most attention. With the help of a strong British-Pakistani diaspora, High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Syed Ibne Abbas and his team ran a year filled with captivating festivities and events in light of public and cultural diplomacy that showcased Pakistan to the world.

The year started with a New Year’s parade in Central London to mark 70 years which was followed by the bi-annual Pakistan Fashion Week, London, held at the historic Lancaster House in May 2017. Both of these events were managed by Adnan Ansari, one of the leading Pakistani entrepreneurs closely affiliated with the fashion industry. Then came the annual Pakistan Society Dinner at Mansion House which was attended by distinguished dignitaries such as Syed Babar Ali, UN Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who also happens to serve as the society’s patron. The unique thing about this event was that it also marked 70 years of UK-Pakistan diplomatic relations, hence, it was held in a truly grandiose manner.

This was followed by an advertisement campaign run across London’s streets, buses and black cabs in Summer 2017 by the High Commission under the slogan of ‘Emerging Pakistan’. This proved to be highly successful as it projected Pakistan’s culture in addition to tourism opportunities in a manner like never before.

On August 14th 2017, the High Commission attracted a lot of attention when it held the annual Independence Day ceremony within the mission’s Knightsbridge compound. I had the honour to attend the ceremony where the number of guests exceeded by such a large extent that it was termed to be ‘historic’ by the high commissioner. It was indeed historic for this was the first time I witnessed such a large number of people despite attending it for a couple of years now. This was not possible without High Commissioner Syed Ibne Abbas’ public diplomacy measures that we hardly get to see in recent times.

Forwarding on to September, the iconic play Heer-Ranjha’s Anglo-Sufi version was shown at the prestigious Sadler’s Wells Theatre, which was personally promoted by the High Commission through multiple platforms. This was yet another milestone achieved which implied the intensive and round-the-clock diplomatic measures being taken by the mission.

The final event which marked 70 years was the unveiling of the Quaid’s bust at the China and South Asia Gallery at the British Museum just last week which was attended by some 400 guests from different walks of life. The sculpture took more than two years in making and was the idea of High Commissioner Syed Ibne Abbas who personally looked over the project’s completion and installation. Moreover, it was designed by Philip Jackson, one of the leading sculptors of modern Britain, who quite eloquently crafted and refined this unique piece of art.

The event’s chief guest was London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who in his address stated, “Installation of the Quaid’s bust at his Alma Mater will be rejoiced by the Pakistanis and provide impetus to the fast-growing Pakistan — UK multi-dimensional relations.” His address focused on how strong bilateral ties remain with deep-rooted connections dating back to the colonial era.

The following day, the bust was officially installed at Lincolns Inn where an oil painting of the Quaid already hangs, which was presented in October 1965. Being someone who worked day and night to make the dream of Pakistan a reality, he deserved yet another honour in the form of the bust. This was a befitting tribute to mark 70 years of independence that left a lasting impression on those mesmerised and captivated by the Quaid’s stature.

All events held this year were unique in their own way which served only one purpose, and that was to present Pakistan in the best possible manner.

Hassan Khan – The writer is a geopolitical analyst and an alumnus of the Department of War Studies, King’s College London, University of London. He regularly appears on the media to discuss and debate on issues related to foreign policy, politics and national security.

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