Jilted, forgotten jailbirds | Pakistan Today

Jilted, forgotten jailbirds

  • Neglected Pakistani inmates abroad

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi during Thursday’s Senate hearing offered specific statistics about convicted compatriots who are currently involuntary guests of the prison services of India and some Middle Eastern states, but the numbers and general condition of Pakistani prisoners elsewhere in the worldwide diaspora were not forthcoming. The prolonged incarceration and callous treatment meted out to detainees mutually by the Sub-continental arch-rivals, mostly on minor offences as mistaken border crossing, or fishermen violating international waters, have subsided somewhat, with Pakistan releasing 1,997 Indian captives and India 420 Pakistanis in past five years, leaving 594 Pakistanis and 471 Indians still languishing in each other’s jails. The bigger and more disturbing picture of Pakistani prisoners lies in the co-religionist Middle East, where about 6,450 were convicted in 2017-18, with the vast majority in Saudi Arabia and UAE. Considering the latter’s contemptuous attitude towards Pakistani workers, euphemistically speaking, our diplomats need to put in extra effort to ensure their legal and humanitarian rights.

And thereby hangs a sorry tale, that of the slump in quality of the Foreign Service, which once upon a time long ago attracted the best and brightest minds, but has now fallen on bad times, like most key national institutions, a hostage to political favouratism and lack of merit. It has bred corrupt carpet baggers from outside the professional service, interested only in attendant rewards and dividends of their foreign postings, amid attractive and exotic locales. A widespread purge of the worthless personnel deadwood that has accumulated over the years, and appointment of committed professional staff genuinely sympathetic to their fellow countrymen’s travails abroad, should be the sole criterion of posting. It is true that the green passport will ultimately be treated with respect only when the country is domestically politically stable, economically robust and militarily strong, but a focused, competent and dynamic Foreign Office, armed with well-considered, principled policies, too has a key role to play in the national scheme of things. An ambassador is not only ‘an honest mean sent abroad to lie for his country’, as the classical definition goes, he has a commitment towards easing his compatriots problems and working tirelessly for their welfare.