The UK’s first Muslim MP has been sworn in as the governor of one of the largest provinces of Pakistan with a pledge to tackle its education “emergency”.
Mohammad Sarwar, who stepped down as MP for Glasgow Central in 2010 after 13 years, is the new governor of the Punjab region – Pakistan’s largest and most politically important province. A previous holder of the post was shot dead by his police bodyguard.
Mr Sarwar, who was born in Pakistan, was sworn in during a ceremony at Governor House in the provincial capital, Lahore, yesterday morning. He has been forced to give up his British citizenship to take on the role, presiding over the province with a population of 90 million.
He promised to get one million more children into education every year.
Five million children of primary school age are said not to attend classes in the Punjab and illiteracy remains one of the country’s greatest problems.
In his first state address, Mr Sarwar said: “Pakistan is surrounded by many problems – poverty, unemployment, health inequalities, an ongoing energy crisis, terrorism and human rights violations.
“I have always believed that the best route out of these problems is through education.”
Punjab is Pakistan’s wealthiest and most powerful province, but educating children remains a challenge. Figures collated last year by Unicef suggested that after Nigeria, Pakistan has the highest number of children who do not attend school.
On average, a child in Pakistan will attend school for less than six years, while in rural areas the amount of schooling obtained by most youngsters is considerably less.
Girls fare particularly badly, a point pressed home by teenage campaigner, Malala Yousafzai, the schoolgirl and activist who was shot and seriously injured by the Taleban last year.
Mr Sarwar said politics was about “making things change for the better” and he paid tribute to his own “humble” beginnings.
“My father was originally a small farmer,” he said.
“I got my primary education by walking miles every day to school and then sitting on the ground under a tree.
“Through my parents’ sacrifice, my own determination and some luck along the way, I was fortunate enough to achieve success in business and in politics. I want every child, no matter their background, to have the same opportunities as I had, to maximise their potential, and to go on their journey to fulfil their dreams.”
He played a key role in the election of prime minister Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan in June.
Mr Sarwar had made history when he became Britain’s first Muslim MP in the Labour landslide of 1997, securing the then Glasgow Govan constituency. He later contested and won the Glasgow Central seat and stood down as an MP in 2010.
His seat was subsequently won for Labour by his son, Anas, now the party’s deputy leader in Scotland.
Reports suggested Mr Sarwar, who served on the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, is worth an estimated £16 million, having built up a family wholesale business with his brother which they established in 1982.
A former governor of the province, Salman Taseer, was shot dead by his police bodyguard in January 2011 after voicing his support to reform the country’s controversial blasphemy laws.
Rasul Bakhsh Rais, a political analyst based in Lahore said it was the first time a middle-class person had been appointed to the post. “He is someone who went away and succeeded in the UK but never forgot about his links to Pakistan,” he said.