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Tuesday Jun 22 2021

PM Imran Khan postpones UK visit

Prime Minister Imran Khan with his British counterpart Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Imran Khan with his British counterpart Boris Johnson

LONDON: Prime Minister Imran Khan's visit to the UK, scheduled for next month, will not go ahead as Pakistan wanted engagement with the UK beyond just a cricket match and a ceremonial meeting, while the UK government didn’t come up with any substantive offer as desired by Pakistan, according to credible sources in both the UK and Pakistan administration.

The government of Pakistan has said that PM Khan’s visit will not go ahead “due to internal security, political and regional situation,” but credible sources on both sides have told The News and the Geo News that PM Khan’s visit has been postponed as Pakistan wanted a UK-Pakistan partnership “road map for 10 years”, similar to the pact signed between the UK and India last month to deepen the bilateral relationship with a focus on trade and defense. This would have been Imran Khan’s first visit to the UK as prime minister.

This scribe had reported two weeks ago exclusively that the UK and Pakistan are discussing PM Imran Khan’s UK travel to watch a Pakistan-England cricket match on either 8th or 10th July next month and also hold talks with PM Boris Johnson.

The idea for the visit was raised by the UK government in the form of a cricket-friendly tour of the former cricket-star-turned-politician but then the Pakistani side told the UK that a visit only for the cricket match and a meeting with PM Johnson will be unjustifiable and will backfire if there are no agreements signed. Pakistan, the source shared, wanted the visit to raise the relationship between the two countries to a thorough strategic partnership, focussing on people-to-people connections, climate action, health, trade, immigration and culture.

The UK government didn’t respond to these proposals by Pakistan despite two reminders in the span of two weeks, said a source familiar with the negotiations, and remained stuck only to the offer of the cricket match viewing and a visit to the 10 Downing Street for a meeting with PM Johnson.

Pakistan then told the UK govt that it was not interested only in the visit with one meeting with the British PM and a cricket match. “There is no purpose of the visit during the pandemic involving all the hassle if there are no group level discussions and no agreements signed,” said the source.

The UK government didn’t officially comment to the query by The News but a credible source said that PM Imran Khan is likely to visit the UK later this year for the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, scheduled to be held in the city of Glasgow under the presidency of the United Kingdom.

Another source in the PTI government shared that the PM Imran Khan’s friends and Pakistan government, through Pakistan High Commission London, wanted to hold a reception for PM Khan at the Wembley Stadium and also hold several meetings with the business community and diaspora but the Covid restrictions in the UK meant that this was not possible.

“We will wait for the UK to go to the final tier of relaxation and then plan the grand visit. The PM would stay in the UK for 3-4 days if that happens. There was no point in visiting for one cricket match,” shared the source. PM Imran Khan was expected to leave for the UK on the invitation of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the first week of July.

The Govt of Pakistan said yesterday the PM has decided to postpone the visit citing important issues which he would like to monitor himself. "PM Imran Khan will himself monitor the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan," sources told Geo News.

On June 7, PM Johnson held a telephonic discussion with his Pakistani counterpart and invited him to visit the UK.

Originally published in The News