THE DUKE and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Catherine, began their five-day tour of Pakistan this week, as William said the United Kingdom and Pakistan share “unique bonds” in a speech at the country’s national monument in Islamabad on Tuesday (15) evening.
Addressing a select gathering, the duke spoke of the warm welcome and delicious food they had experienced in Pakistan after arriving on Monday (14) evening and visiting local school children and Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan earlier on Tuesday.
“The UK and Pakistan share unique bonds and so it will always be in our best interests for you to succeed,” William said at the event hosted by the British High Commission, adding that 1.5 million people living in the UK had Pakistani heritage and the UK was one of Pakistan’s top investors. “You can rely on us to keep playing an important role as a key partner and your friend.”
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrived at the hilltop monument in a rickshaw painted with the Pakistani and UK flags. William wore a teal sherwani suit, a long dresscoat worn over trousers, while Catherine wore a dress by British designer Jenny Packham in deep green, the colour of Pakistan’s flag.
Foreign policy experts and officials have said the trip, the first by a British royal family member in more than a decade and made at the request of the British foreign office, represented a soft power push, which may help both sides further their diplomatic aims.
It comes as Britain seeks to reinvigorate its foreign relationships as the deadline looms for its departure from the European Union, while Pakistan works to repair its global image to boost tourism and investment.
William also mentioned the looming challenge of climate change to Pakistan, as well as the importance of women having access to education, two themes of a trip which has been described by palace officials as the most complex the couple have undertaken due to security issues.
Earlier on Tuesday the couple met Khan, a former international cricket star who William played cricket with in London as a child, at his official residence.
“While welcoming the royal couple, Prime Minister Imran Khan recalled the love and affection among the people of Pakistan for Princess Diana, because of her compassion as well as commitment to support charitable causes,” Khan’s office said in a statement.
He had also brought up geopolitical issues such as India’s decision to revoke the autonomy of Kashmir in August and attempts to secure peace in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Catherine wore a traditional Pakistani dress in vibrant green and white with a dark green dupatta, or long scarf, draped over her shoulder – a change from earlier in the day, when she wore a traditional royal blue salwar kameez.
Pakistani media simultaneously aired archive images of Diana with Khan – then a World Cup-winning cricketer who had just launched his political career – during her own visits to Pakistan more than 20 years ago. Princess Diana, a hugely popular figure in Pakistan, visited the country several times in the 1990s and helped Khan raise money for a cancer hospital
The royal couple launched their five-day tour of the country by signalling their support for women’s education with a visit to a girls school in Islamabad. They met students at an Islamabad Model College for Girls, discussing education with a group of older students and visiting the classrooms of younger students.
William and Catherine dropped in on a mathematics class, where televised images showed them sitting with some of the young students, whose blue uniforms matched the duchess’s blue outfit.
A video tweeted by a British reporter accompanying the couple showed William smiling as he was told the girls were “big fans” of his mother, who died in a car crash in 1997.
“That’s very sweet of you,” he could be heard saying in the video. “I was a big fan of my mother too.”
Education official Khadija Bakhtiar said the couple helped some of the students solve problems.
As they left, a group of girls sang one of Pakistan’s national songs and the couple greeted preschoolers who had lined up to chant ‘bye bye’.
They then visited the Margallah Hills National Park on the edge of Islamabad, which is under threat from poaching, wildfires, invasive species and littering. The royals chatted with children and admired their drawings.
For the morning events, Catherine wore a periwinkle blue silk salwar kameez, the national outfit of Pakistan consisting of a loose tunic worn over trousers.
The designer, Maheen Khan said on Twitter: “It is an honour to have been asked to create this outfit for the Duchess.”
William and Catherine also met president Arif Alvi.
The couple – the duchess in a sea-green salwar kameez, and the duke in a dark suit – were greeted by foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and presented with flowers after they landed in a British government plane at a military base in Rawalpindi, the garrison city adjacent to the capital Islamabad, state television images showed.
“I’ve always been struck by the warmth in Pakistan towards the Royal Family,” British High Commissioner Thomas Drew said in a video published to Twitter late last Sunday (13).
“(Their visit) will focus largely on showcasing Pakistan as it is today, a dynamic, aspirational, and forward-looking nation,” Drew continued.
Security is extremely tight for the five-day visit, during which the couple is set to visit Pakistan’s second-largest city Lahore – once the capital of the Mughal Empire – as well as the mountainous north and the region near the border with Afghanistan in the west.
Meeting young people and promoting education is one of their priorities for the trip, Kensington Palace has said. Nearly half of Pakistani school-age children – 23 million – do not attend school, UNICEF says.
Girls are particularly sidelined from education in a country where women have struggled for basic rights for decades.
For many in Pakistan, nostalgia for Diana has lain heavy over the trip.
She first charmed Pakistanis with an official visit in 1991, and is remembered fondly for her efforts on later private visits to help Khan raise money for a charity cancer hospital.
Moments before the couple’s arrival on Monday, Qureshi used televised comments to invoke the memory of Diana.
“She is held in very high esteem in Pakistan… We are happy that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are now coming,” Qureshi said.
The visit showed that Pakistan has come out of “difficult times”, he added.
The visit by the duke and duchess comes after Prince Charles and Camilla’s 2006 trip which was tainted when they were forced to pull out of a visit to Peshawar over safety concerns after the military launched an airstrike on a religious school that killed 80 people.