David Cameron
David Cameron

On his visit to Pakistan the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, said that Britain is responsible for many of the world's problems, referencing in particular the ongoing Kashmir dispute.

His remarks were immediately condemned by a number of commentators who took objection to a British Prime Minister apologising for his country's imperial past.

Certainly the record of the British Empire is not without its dark spots and there were many aspects of it which one would not be proud of today. Despite this I can't help but think that this apologetic tone may have been a mistake.

Apologies do of course have a lot to be said for them, their primary purpose being to reconcile estranged friends or perhaps even long standing enemies.

Having said that there is a danger that when it comes to national apologies that the nation receiving the apology may start to revel in its victim status and start to absolve itself of all responsibility for the state in which it finds itself.

This sadly is a trait which is not absent from Pakistan. Indeed I remember well from my time at the London School of Economics lectures (my thanks to Colonel Gaddafi) where it was not unusual for all the ills of modern Pakistan (and they were not as bad then as they are now) to be pinned on the British.

Now it's certainly the case that British rule in the subcontinent did have some shameful episodes, such as famine, repression and the very rare massacre. Yet despite this India has become a prosperous, educated and forward looking democracy, albeit with severe poverty and corruption problems, while Pakistan has descended almost from day one into dictatorship, Islamism and virtual civil war.

If Pakistan's failure can be blamed on the British, then why has India succeeded as a nation despite inheriting the same colonial history as Pakistan?

The "It's all Britain's fault" school of thinking has the nasty effect taking responsibility away from the Pakistani people for the success or failure of their nation and putting it all on outside forces from the increasingly distant past.

Being the victim of a colonial power can and does effect the development of a nation or country, very often negatively. But there comes a point and it must have come by now for Pakistan, when a nation must forge its own destiny rather than bang on about the imperialists 60 years after they left. Independence means taking responsibility for your own actions and country, not expecting some other country to do it for you, or blaming another country for your own failure.

There are countries in the world which have suffered just as much as Pakistan under the yoke of imperial powers far worse than Britain ever was and yet they have prospered.

South Korea for example was long occupied by the Japanese Empire and was then virtually flattened by the Korean War. Despite this South Korea is now one of the most developed economies in the world.

One could also point to former imperial powers Japan and Germany themselves. Both nations were shattered by the Second World War and faced occupation by those who defeated them.

All three of these prosperous nations had their development helped massively by large amounts of U.S. cash. Yet pouring money into a country is not a guarantee of success, just look at Africa, or for that matter Pakistan. It was not just the cash which made these countries what they are, but the hard work of their citizens and political leaders, the same could be said of India.

In this sense I for one am concerned that when David Cameron apologises to Pakistan, he is apologising not for Britain's mistakes, which were many, but for those of others.

Kashmir is but one example. The very first Prime Minister of independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru promised a vote in Kashmir on whether it should join India or Pakistan. As is common for politicians he did not deliver on that promise. Can the British be blamed for this? Can the British also be blamed for the rampant Islamic fanaticism which is now tearing Pakistan apart?

As a principle apologies can be a very good thing, especially in cases where the perpetrators and the victims of cruelty still live. A good example might be Japan, which is notorious for being somewhat apathetic about the mass murder, torture and rape it's soldiers indulged in during the Second World War. A more serious admission that their conduct was abominable rather than pretending nothing untoward happened might well ease the hatred which is felt by many towards Japan by survivors in places such as China, South Korea and southeast Asia.

The British might also like to consider an apology for the Dresden bombing as there are no doubt many who lost loved ones and limbs in the attack still living today. There are also moves to give compensation to those mistreated by the British during the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya. Any apologies for these events would certainly be more courageous and meaningful than apologising for slavery, the Amritsar massacre or the treatment of Alan Turing, where the victims have long since died.

If a genuine apology will help bring nations together and heal old wounds it can well be worth making however it must not be used to feed a sense of victimhood and irresponsibility for the state of one's own country. Many of Pakistan's problems are the fault of Pakistan, not Britain, it's time they took responsibility that is after all why they were given independence.