EDITORIAL: Expatriate Pakistanis will no doubt follow what happens to the recently recalled Pakistani ambassador to Saudi Arabia very closely because improper treatment, bribery and extortion are just some of the problems that most of them have to face quite regularly whenever they are forced to visit the Pakistani embassy, especially in Gulf countries. The Foreign Office, in its official response, snapped out the usual line that it had a policy of “zero tolerance, whatsoever, for any lapse in public service delivery,” which looks and sounds nice in principle, but things are indeed very different in reality. The treatment meted out to Pakistani citizens at Pakistani embassies is in such stark contrast to the service delivery mechanisms developed by embassies of other countries, especially India, to facilitate their own citizens that it has become the butt of all jokes, particularly in countries like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where most non-resident Pakistanis are labourers. It is commonly said that you can forget about something if it is urgently needed and you need to go through the Pakistani embassy for it, because the staff there usually acts as if it is on a three-year paid vacation rather than a very important working assignment.
The matter of Pakistani expats being very unhappy with the ambassador in Riyadh first hit the press in the early days of the pandemic last year when people who needed to travel urgently to Pakistan, and also bring back dead bodies of their relatives with them, were not facilitated at all. Instead the staff at the embassy, in some cases, left people in the lurch and did not even respond to their desperate pleas for help. Later, when one lady who apparently needed a special travel document was kept waiting all day and threatened with arrest by local authorities, she filed a complaint with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and blew the lid off the whole thing. Therefore just the fact that the prime minister has taken such strong notice of the behaviour of the ambassador and his staff, something that has never happened before, should at least make other workers at other embassies fall in line and do their job properly. This development should also make the Foreign Office realise that its job extends beyond issuing spirited statements about the Line of Control (LoC) violations, etc., and its central purpose is to make the lives of Pakistanis living in other countries easier, not more difficult.
Perhaps it’s not entirely a coincidence that this development has come ahead of the PM’s planned state visit to the kingdom. He has often spoken in favour of the Pakistani labour community there and even requested the Saudi crown prince to use his influence to free a number of Pakistani labourers detained on minor charges in the kingdom’s jails. They form the bulk of the two million or so Pakistanis that live there and send about $4.5 billion home every year. There can be nothing more unfair for them than the representatives of their own country trying to cut them down through extortion and bribery. Hopefully, the inquiry that will now commence will be transparent and open for everybody to observe and learn from.
We need to look only to our immediate neighbours like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India, to learn some of the most important lessons because their governments have made sure that their embassies provide the best possible services to their non-resident citizens all over the world. For most issues they just have to call their respective embassies and they are given the best possible treatment in the comfort of their homes and offices. Our embassies, on the other hand, not only drag people to their offices even on the slightest pretext, but now it turns out that they also extort their own people and take bribes even to address their legitimate concerns. It is now for the government to adopt a course of action that will not only weed out the non-delivering dead wood from our embassies, but also make sure that nobody can fleece innocent citizens in the name of the state ever again.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021