17032015Tue

Last updateTue, 17 Mar 2015 2pm

UK's first Muslim MP vows to tackle "Education Emergency" as he becomes Governor of Punjab

The first Muslim ever to be appointed a British MP has today been sworn in as the governor of the Pakistani province of Punjab.

Mohammad Sarwar, who served as the MP for Glasgow Central for 13 years beginning in 1997, took up his new post after being sworn in during a ceremony at the Governor's House in Lahore.

Mr Sarwar, 60, stepped down as a Member of Parliament in 2010 and had relinquished his British citizenship ahead of taking up the Governorship of Punjab, the most politically important province in the country.

Speaking after taking up his new job, Mr Sarwar said his first task would be to tackle the "education emergency" in Punjab where just 60% of children are in full time education, a statistic made all the more grim given that Punjab is well ahead of other provinces in the country.

He promised to get one million more children into education every year in Pakistan's most populous province.

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."

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 is said to have played a part in the election of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan in June.

Mr Sarwar has been a long time supporter of Mr Sharif and is said to have extensive business dealings with the Prime Minister's family.

Born in the Punjabi city of Pirmahal, Mr Sarwar is a graduate of the University of Faisalabad and arrived in Britain in the early 1980's, establishing a cash and carry business with his brother in 1982.

His first foray into politics came during the Labour Party's landslide victory in 1997 when Mr Sarwar was elected MP for Glasgow Govan, a constituency in Scotland's second largest city.

On his appointment to Westminster, Mr Sarwar became Britain's first Muslim MP and the first to swear the Oath of Allegiance to the Queen on the Holy Koran.

The multi-millionaire businessman won widespread praise in Scotland and within the British-Pakistani community in 2005 for using his connections in Pakistan to organize the extradition of the Pakistani youths responsible for the racist murder of a 15-year-old white Glaswegian boy.

There had been speculation that Mr Sarwar's first foray into active Pakistani politics would be as the country's ambassador to London. 

Writing in The Daily Record this morning, Mr Sarwar's son Anas - the deputy leader of the Scottish Labour Party - said of his father's appointment: "I felt a little sadness, some apprehension – but also overwhelming happiness and excitement.  Sad he would be leaving his family and friends in Scotland and starting a new chapter of his life in Pakistan. 

Apprehensive because it is no secret that Punjab is a tense and, at times, dangerous part of the world.

Excited because I know how passionate and determined he is to make a real difference to millions of people in the country and state of his birth."

Mr Sarwar's appointment also received praise from many different sections of British politics.

Former Prime Minister and current UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, called it a "great day for education".

"Mohammad Sarwar's appointment will be widely welcomed across the world, especially in Britain and Pakistan. His career in public life has been distinguished by his long-term commitment to social justice. He will now be able to make his mark in Punjab province, home to 100 million people”, Mr Brown added.

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the Coalition's Minister for Faith and Communities said: “I know Mohammad Sarwar will rise to the challenges of the role and he will also help in building upon the strong relationship between the UK and Pakistan.”

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