The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have departed London and are en route to Pakistan to embark on their most challenging overseas tour to date.
Prince William and Kate are the first royals to visit the country since 2006, when the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall travelled there. They will land at the Pakistani Air Force Base Nur Khan, in Rawalpindi, this evening, where they will be met by local officials and Britain’s High Commissioner to Pakistan, Thomas Drew.
The tour comes soon after the Duke and Duchess' visit to the Aga Khan Centre earlier this month
The royal couple are flying in the RAF's Voyager aircraft with an entourage of 14, including their private secretaries Simon Case and Catherine Quinn and communications secretary Christian Jones. Another four members of the communications team, two assistant private secretaries, two programme coordinators, a PA, an orderly and a hairdresser will also join them.
William and Kate's five-day trip will cover more than 1,000km and take in the "modern, leafy capital Islamabad, the vibrant city of Lahore, the mountainous countryside in the North, and the rugged border regions to the West," according to their spokesman. A royal source told HELLO! "It's their most challenging tour to date."
Announcing details of the tour, which they are undertaking at the request of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the couple's communications secretary Christian Jones said: "This is the most complex tour undertaken by the Duke and Duchess to date, given the logistical and security considerations.
"Pakistan hosts one of Britain’s largest overseas networks, with the British High Commission in Islamabad being one of the UK's largest diplomatic missions in the world." "The UK's links with Pakistan are extensive, and Their Royal Highnesses are looking forward to building a lasting friendship with the people of Pakistan."
The tour will take in Pakistan's "rich culture, its diverse communities, and its beautiful landscapes," Kensington Palace said in a statement. It said while the programme will "pay respect to the historical relationship between Britain and Pakistan, it will largely focus on showcasing Pakistan as it is today – a dynamic, aspirational and forward-looking nation."
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with David Attenborough last month
William and Kate will visit projects which empower young people and help to ensure they have the best possible start in life. "Access to quality education, particularly to girls and young women is one of the UK’s top priorities in Pakistan. The Duke and Duchess are looking forward to spending time meeting young Pakistanis and hearing more about their aspirations for the future," the spokesman said.
The issue of climate change will also feature prominently as the royal couple discover how communities are responding and adapting to its effects. They will also learn about the country’s complex security situation and meet British and Pakistani military personnel who are working together to improve it. The couple’s spokesman said: "As with previous overseas visits, The Duke and Duchess have asked that this tour allow them opportunities to meet as many Pakistanis as possible. Over the course of the visit, Their Royal Highnesses will meet a wide variety of people, including children and young people, leaders from government, business and the charity sector, inspiring conservationists, and well-known cultural figures and sporting stars."
Tight security around the tour means that further details of the programme will be released day by day. The tour is a major diplomatic event for the couple and a sign of their growing seniority within the royal family. The Foreign Office currently advises British visitors to Pakistan to be vigilant against terrorist attacks and the risk of kidnapping and warns against all travel to several parts of the country, including the southern city of Peshawar.
The Duke and Duchess recently took Prince George to watch Aston Villa
But in a sign that the threat may be easing, British Airways resumed direct flights to Islamabad in June, more than a decade after halting the service following a deadly bomb attack in Islamabad.
The Duke and Duchess are following in the footsteps of the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, who in 2006 visited Islamabad, Lahore and the stunning Skardu valley near the Karakoram Mountains. A planned visit to Peshawar was cancelled for security reasons, and the royal couple instead visited a women’s university in Rawalpindi.
William’s late mother Diana, Princess of Wales, also famously visited Pakistan in 1991 – on her first solo tour and again in 1996 and 1997, when she spent time with her friend Jemima Goldsmith, who was then married to national cricket captain Imran Khan. The Duke and Duchess are likely to meet the sportsman-turned politician, who is now prime minister of Pakistan.
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