5 April 2011: David Cameron chats with young Pakistani students during his visit to a girls college in Islamabad.

نیا آغاز

The words in Urdu script above translate as ‘fresh start’.

This was the phrase used by David Cameron (spoken in what he described as his ‘atrocious Urdu’) to characterise the approach for a new phase for the UK-Pakistan relationship during his first visit to Pakistan as Prime Minister last week.

If 5 April 2011 is typical of the way in which Number 10 Downing Street makes the PM work, I’m impressed.

In 15 hours, from ‘wheels down’ to ‘wheels up’, the PM and his delegation were constantly busy. Hard politics (defence and security) as well as less contentious subjects such as trade, health and education, were all on the agenda.

The motorcade was rarely idling for long as the PM’s party raced round Islamabad’s tree-lined streets.

From the early planning meetings for the visit, to which David Martin, Director British Council Pakistan and I were invited, it was clear that education was likely to be a key part of the soft diplomacy side of the packed programme.

The Department for International Development is doubling its aid programme in Pakistan over the next five years. Getting four million of the 17 million children who don’t go to school into the classroom is one of that programme’s aims.

With our large network of Connecting Classrooms schools, we were asked to find a suitable government school for the PM to visit so he could see for himself something of the country’s education system and meet students.

I’m not sure Islamabad College for Girls, with its 5,000 students, realised just what disruption they would have to face once they had agreed to host a visit.

We weren’t able to tell them until the last minute who the visitor was, although they must have guessed it was somebody important as scores of security personnel scoured their premises during the preceding weekend.

The school principal, and her student council, proved to be wonderful hosts. They spoke proudly to the PM and Baroness Warsi, the Chair of the Conservative Party, a more frequent visitor to Pakistan because of her family ties, of the school’s interaction with Kirklees in West Yorkshire, thanks to Connecting Classrooms.

They needed no encouragement to say how important such relationships with teachers and students from the UK are in promoting global citizenship, and asked the PM to continue to support this kind of work.

‘The links between our countries go deep,’ said the PM during his speech to university students.

As he said this I reflected on the threats to those links – extremism, intolerance and low levels of trust amongst them – and of the role we at the British Council must play in constant renewal of cross-cultural relationships.

It made me realise that we have the potential to achieve hundreds of thousands, if not more, people to people ‘fresh starts’ in the UK-Pakistan relationship, if we can find ways of building on successful programmes such as Connecting Classrooms.

Read more blogs by Martin Fryer, the British Council Director of Programmes, Pakistan.

Find out more about our work in Pakistan