By Arif Jabbar Khan
U.S. China, India focused foreign policy undermines ‘people of Pakistan’ – An expatriate’s perspective
Pakistanis living and working abroad send billions of dollars in remittances and is the largest source of foreign exchange for Pakistan. From the laborers toiling in 50 degrees plus temperatures in the Middle East to the managers and professionals working in different parts of the world, expatriate Pakistanis play an important role in the economic development of the country. They are also the face of Pakistan to the external world, both positive and negative.
In the last 20 years however, expatriate Pakistanis have seen a constant deterioration in the perception of Pakistanis by the international community. Pakistanis now need visas for every country except a very small number that still think that we will not be a threat to them or their economy. So much so, that even countries like Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, whom we have supported for decades, now require us to get a visa, before we could board a plane to go there. Indonesia, that ‘friendly’ Muslim country of ours has made it so hard for us, that it takes months to get a visa and that too, if your sponsors in Indonesia are willing to send their senior officials to the authorities in Jakarta and able to convince them that this Pakistani is ‘safe’ to be allowed into Indonesia. Bangladesh has put in so many restrictions on visas that it is not worth even applying anymore. I am deliberately giving these examples, just to show the gravity of the issue; if it is so difficult to visit these countries, imagine how difficult will it be to get visas for the United States and Europe for an ordinary Pakistani!
What is also quite interesting to see is that the direction of the situation of Indians is totally the opposite. They can now get visas on arrival in a number of countries and this number seems to be increasing constantly. Where is the competition and rivalry with them on this front?
In additions to the issue of perception, our missions abroad are also least concerned with the issues of our people. We spend millions of dollars on the luxurious houses and posh cars of our diplomats and ambassadors living overseas. Whether a country with such levels of poverty and malnutrition can afford such luxuries is a different issue. Even to get basic assistance such as getting the birth of a child registered or getting your passport renewed can be a daunting task for expatriate Pakistanis. Even if you have all the documents to prove that you are a Pakistani, you are still treated like the way embassies and governments of other countries treat you; with a complete lack of respect for you.
Even at home, embassies, high commissions and consulates based in Pakistan lack basic amenities such as shade, water and have little concept of minimum waiting time in all visa processing stations. And if they sublet visa processing to a courier etc, the cost that should have been borne by the concerned embassy or high commission (since most of them charge considerable amounts as visa fees), it is transferred to the visa applicants.
All this makes wonder if this is a reflection of the failings in our foreign policy (if we have one, that is). Our foreign policy seems to have little concern for its citizens and is instead, stuck in India, US and China. If you don’t believe me, just see how the Arabs treat our people in the Middle East, despite the fact it is the sweat and blood of our people who built the likes of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha etc. It is slavery in its worst form, as already documented by the media. Instead of raising the issue of the basic rights of our citizens in these countries, we lay red carpet for their leaders when they come here and allow them to play havoc with our natural environment by letting them kill even our endangered species!
A basic tenet of policy-making is the identification of demand and support for a policy. I want to know if there is any demand and support for a foreign policy that does not enhance our image in the world, that does not make others respect our nationality, our passport; something that we Pakistanis are so proud of. And a policy, wherein our missions abroad are not accountable for either promoting our image or in facilitating Pakistanis abroad? Democracies are supposed to be working for, of and by the people; why is our foreign policy not focused on enhancing the welfare of its citizens despite having civilian governments for the last 8 years?
(The author can be contacted at Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)