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From ‘goodies’ to ‘baddies’: The journey of British Pakistanis

The UK is home for the largest Pakistani community in Europe, with the population of British Pakistanis now exceeding 1.17 million. It is the second-largest minority community in the UK, creating an indelible mark on the UK landscape. Its significance to both Pakistan and the UK cannot be underestimated.

I take the view that a strong, prosperous, healthy, and active British Pakistani community is of enormous importance to the social and economic progress and the stability of both nations. Therefore, the impacting dynamics of the British Pakistanis should intrinsically be of much interest and relevance to the leadership of both countries.

For the first three decades, from the 60’s to the 80’s, the migrants from Pakistan (inclusive of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh) and India that came to settle in the UK were generally regarded as hardworking, law-abiding, and family conscious and caring.

Over the last three decades, whereas these perceptions regarding British Indians (Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims) have either remained the same or improved, the perceptions of the British Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities have taken a drastic nosedive: from hardworking to lazy and benefit reliant, from law abiding to lawlessness, from being community conscious to being tribal and sectarians.

Of course, these are broad generalizations of a community of 1.17 million in the UK and one can readily point to many success stories in areas of commerce, politics, professional excellence and community service.

However, the negative perceptions of the community remain high and widespread thus camouflaging and blighting the gains made by many through hard work and perseverance in a climate infested by racism and Islamophobia.

Of course, the British media has not helped, only too quickly to pounce on and capitalize even a smallest of the incidents.

In order to understand or make sense of this downward spiral of ‘fame to fame’ scenario, we must look no further than the makeup of the prison population in England and Wales.

In England and Wales alone, the Muslim population stands at around 13,000 (16%) the total prison population of England and Wales (80,000) whereas Muslim only makeup 2.3 % of the total UK population.

Most of the Muslim prison population is of Pakistani heritage which stands at around 2% of the general UK population (1.17% in 2011 census). It is projected that at the present rate the Muslim Prison population could hit the 50 % mark of the total prison population in Wales.

Even if the current Muslim percentage only doubles itself, the situation remains alarming and there appear to be no noticeable reversing of this trend.

On another account, the unemployment percentage amongst British Pakistanis is disproportionately high compared to their other counterparts, for example, the Indians.

Writing for the Independent in August of 2018, Alok Sharma, when he was the Minister of Employment at Department of Work and Pensions, noted that the average employment rate for the British Pakistanis and British Bangladeshis was then 54.8 per cent – the lowest within any minority ethnic groups.

He went on to point out that these two communities respectively are found in the three of the worst paid employments. These trends are further exacerbated for young British Pakistanis by inadequate education, sub-standard skills set and the consequential lack of opportunities.

This combined with endemic racism and Islamophobia only go to exacerbate their situation. These scenarios are particularly more pronounced in my city, Bradford, where unemployment is rife amongst young Pakistanis.

It is not a secret that we as a community have grossly been negligent of not investing in the education of our young people. Our priorities and focus in this regard has been entirely misplaced and we are paying a heavy price for it.

No education = No skills = No prospects

 This is a simple equation of reality which we generally have failed to grasp. Lack of opportunities, poor education, and low aspirations are undoubtedly driving our young people to undesirable and often unlawful pursuits as evidenced by the large prison numbers.

The situation is no better for the first/ second generation of British Pakistanis who traditionally relied heavily on manual work in textile and manufacturing sectors.

Over the recent decades, these have diminished in scale and capacity. For example, Bradford, the ‘little Pakistan’ as it is fondly referred to, has experienced a total decimation of its prime textile industry in the 80’s and 90’s due to the competition from other emerging economies.

With low or no formal education, a vast majority of the first and second generations of British Pakistanis have not been able to switch to other sustainable employment alternatives.

This has inevitably left them reliant on the state welfare system thus pushing them towards an unavoidable culture of benefit dependency.

There is no shortage of ability amongst the British Pakistanis, but this is often circumvented by a combination of factors mentioned above and prevented from moving forward by the racism and Islamophobia endemic in the British society, and grossly unfair association ofBritish Muslims with the proliferation of international terrorism.

Also, the image of British Pakistanis is not helped by the poor image and the standing of Pakistan in the international community.

Despite these odds being stacked against them, British Pakistanis, through sheer hard work, perseverance, and resilience, have accomplished some notable success stories in the commerce, politics, professional, community and charitable sectors.

In politics, for example, Sadiq Khan’s repeated success to the office of the London Mayor, Sajid Javid’s ministerial appointments, and Baroness Sayeeda Warsi’s appointment as the first British Pakistani Muslim Co-chair of the Conservative Party and later to the cabinet are some notable examples of British Pakistanis making their mark.

At the present there are fifteen Muslim Members of Parliament in the British Parliament of the Pakistani heritage, two of these are from my own city Bradford, namely Naz Shah MP and Imran Hussain MP  and as well as over 250 Councilors, 27 in Bradford alone, in many local authorities up and down the country.

Seven of Bradford’s Lord Mayors have been of Pakistani heritage; similar accomplishments are also to be seen in parts of the country, not to mention the appointment of Anas Sarwar as the Leader of the Scottish Labour Party.

He is the son of Chaudhry Mohammed Sarwar, the former Member of British Parliament and presently the Governor of Punjab, Pakistan.

Much has happened since Mohammed Ajeeb CBE was first appointed as the Bradford District’s first Asian Muslim Lord Mayor in 1985 amidst worldwide accolades including Pakistan. There are equal success stories in other areas particularly business and charity sectors.

In business, the name of Sir Anwar Parvez of the Bestway conglomerate is highly established here in the UK and Pakistan, an excellent example of British Pakistanis contributing to the prosperity of both nations.

Also, some of the large UK-based international charities run by British Pakistanis are making significant investments in Pakistan over and above other philanthropic work by smaller setups to provide improved facilities and services in education and health.

The affinity of British Pakistanis to their country of origin is commendable but often this is at the expense of disregarding priorities for the betterment of our future generations here in Britain.

sAlso, some of the large UK-based international charities run by British Pakistanis are making significant investments in Pakistan over and above other philanthropic work by smaller setups to provide improved facilities and services in education and health.

The affinity of British Pakistanis to their country of origin is commendable but often this is at the expense of disregarding priorities for the betterment of our future generations here in Britain.

We lack balance in our approach which is unduly breaking the camel’s back.

We must achieve a balance between making progress here and helping to improve the quality of life in our country of origin. It is difficult to achieve but must be done.


About Author: The writer is a British Pakistani settled in Bradford, UK since decades. He is co-author of two research reports and a book.

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