The Honorable Chief Minister of the Punjab, Mian Mhd. Shahbaz Sharif
Honorable Provincial Ministers
Members of National Assembly and Punjab Legislative Assembly,
Representatives of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan
Colleagues, fellow Americans, and friends
Welcome to our 2015 National Day Celebration. As you may be aware, we originally planned this event back in February, in line with our tradition in Pakistan of hosting our National Day celebrations on Presidents’ Day, the day that commemorates the birthdays of Presidents Washington and Lincoln, when the weather is substantially cooler than on our Independence Day of July 4. However, this year, we decided to postpone the February event given the tragic bombing, a few days earlier, at the Qila Gujjar Singh Police Lines in downtown Lahore. So, we are now celebrating together on a fine Lahore autumn evening. As we often say, better late than never.
Before I go any further, I would like to pause to honor those who are not with us tonight—the victims of terror attacks, and the victims of Monday’s earthquake. Pakistan has suffered greatly at the hands of terrorists and the United States stands in solidarity with the people of Pakistan and all who fight this menace. I honor the sacrifices of the Pakistani people, the Pakistani security forces, and elected leaders such as retired Colonel Shuja Khanzada, who have paid the ultimate price in this struggle that our nations share. Please join with me in a moment of silence to honor their memories.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am honored to welcome Chief Minister Sharif as our Chief Guest this evening. It has been my privilege to work closely with him and his government on a variety of initiatives over the past year, in particular on the encouragement of business, trade, and investment ties between the United States and the Punjab. We could not hope for a stronger or more dynamic partner in those efforts.
I believe that the climate for international business, trade, and investment in Pakistan is improving, and I was pleased to see an article in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year that said much the same thing. Over the course of my time in Pakistan, I have witnessed a progressive improvement in the security environment; one that is born out both by the statistics and by the impressions of so many of you with whom I have spoken. Pakistan’s military operations in North Waziristan have had a significant impact. They have targeted terrorist sanctuaries and have restored government control to parts of the country that had not known it for years.
These improvements are equally the function of strong civilian-military cooperation, as enshrined in the National Action Plan; of good civilian and military leadership from the top; and, of a broad consensus among the people of Pakistan on these issues.
Turning to energy, the challenges are great, but so too is the progress that has been made here in Punjab. The steady expansion of solar power generation in South Punjab; the successful launch of three major LNG-fueled power plants now coming up at Bhikki, Balochi, and Haveli Bahadur Shah; the rehabilitation of the Muzaffargarh Thermal Power Plant, which by itself adds 500 MWs to your national grid; all of these represent important steps toward resolving an energy crisis that, long in the making, will yet require time and patience to fix.
I’m proud to say that American private enterprise and U.S. government partnership have had something to do with each of those energy success stories I just mentioned. But those investments were possible because we had a strong partner and a healthy enabling environment here in Punjab. Whether on energy, on security, or on the climate for international private investment and trade, I see Pakistan moving steadily in the right direction, and I see inspiring success stories as I travel across this province.
I draw inspiration from the dynamic businessmen of Sialkot and Gujranwala who are manufacturing and exporting Pakistani products to the world; from the young, creative tech-entrepreneurs at the Arfa Software Technology Park and its Plan 9 tech incubator; and, at the LUMS business school entrepreneurship center. As I remind my friends back in the United States, when one looks beyond the headlines, Pakistan affords plenty of underappreciated success stories that are worthy of our admiration. And, for a diplomat, that makes it an encouraging place to serve.
I want to take a moment to welcome two special guests from the United States—indeed, from my own home state of New York—Lieutenant Adeel Rana and Detective Elvis Vukelj (voo-kell) from the New York City Police Department, who are visiting for a packed week of engagements in Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi. We were so impressed by the program Lt. Rana and Det. Vukelj organized for students from the Army Public School in Peshawar when they visited New York earlier this year, that we decided to bring these fine officers here to Pakistan. Lt. Rana and Det. Vukelj not only took APS students on a tour of the New York Police Department and its Joint Operations Center, they also took the students to a New York Yankees game and organized a cricket match in which APS students played against a team from the Police Commissioner’s Cricket League.
I also would like to introduce all of you to my American colleagues—our Regional Security Officer, Kevin Tehan; Assistant Regional Security Officer, Larry Huang; Political and Economic Officer, Michael Cognato; Management Officer, Jeramee Rice; and Public Affairs Officer, Rachael Chen. I hope you have a chance to talk with each of these Americans tonight.
I also acknowledge the many sponsors who have made this event possible. As you entered this evening, you may have noticed a banner listing tonight’s donors. These companies all provided generous support to help us mark this important day; but that’s the least of their accomplishments. Our corporate sponsors are building bridges between the United States and Pakistan and creating jobs both in your country, and in mine.
Among them, Coca-Cola Pakistan has invested $500 million locally in the last four years, and employs 3,000 people. Their community service projects support small farmers, provide disaster relief and vocational training for persons with disabilities. NetSol Technologies Pakistan employs 1,600 people and is building the next generation of Pakistani leader by funding scholarship programs at local universities. PepsiCo Pakistan and its franchises employ 1,000 people locally. Through its “Lighting up Lives” project, the company is providing solar lights inside Pepsi bottles to over 10,000 refugees and people from underserved communities. These are just three examples among many afforded by our outstanding American companies, which are having an impact, both social and economic, here in Pakistan.
We are happy to celebrate our Independence Day in Lahore again for the first time since 2013, continuing a tradition that started when our Consulate first opened here in 1947. I know that the Consulate’s extended period of suspended operations was a challenging time not only for my colleagues here in Lahore, but also for many of you, our local partners. I would like to thank the Punjab government, the Chief Minister, and the security agencies for their support, which allowed the Consulate to come back. And I want to thank all of you for maintaining your commitment to our partnership throughout that difficult period. We look forward to continuing our work together in the coming years.
That work reflects the scale and complexity of our bilateral relationship: Our Political and Economic Section builds relationships with people at all levels of society throughout Punjab so that our two governments can work together more closely and more effectively. The Foreign Commercial Service is putting Pakistani and American business into mutually profitable contact and facilitating exports. Through our Public Affairs Section’s numerous education programs, hundreds of Pakistani students are pursuing advanced degrees in the United States on Fulbright scholarships; thousands of students across Punjab have learned English through the English Access Microscholarship Program, and $9 million in grant funding for academic linkages has created partnerships between American universities and seven institutions of higher education here in the Punjab.
We are building five faculties of education in Punjab to train the next generation of Pakistani teacher. In partnership with the University of California, Davis, we are creating a center of advanced studies in food security and agriculture at the Agricultural University of Faisalabad—the latest chapter in over five decades of U.S. cooperation with that fine institution.
Over the past five years, USAID-funded energy projects have added nearly 1,700 megawatts of power to your national grid, enough to supply power to nearly 18.7 million Pakistanis. Our energy conservation efforts have saved 124MWs and $157 million a year in revenue by building the capacity of the distribution companies.
Prime Minister Sharif’s successful visit to Washington last week further demonstrates the strength of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. In a joint statement released during the visit, the Prime Minister and President Obama expressed their shared conviction that a resilient U.S.-Pakistan partnership is vital to regional and global peace and security and they reaffirmed their commitment to address evolving threats in South Asia. President Obama underscored the importance of Pakistan’s role, as one of the largest Muslim democracies, in using its influence in support of peace, security, development, and human rights around the world.
So, we clearly have much to celebrate together. Thank you again for joining me here this evening for this commemoration of our Independence Day and of the rich United States-Pakistan relationship, and thank you for your attention.
I would now invite the Chief Minister to deliver his remarks.