While it was disappointing enough for Pakistani travellers placed on the UK’s list of countries whose citizens could not enter the country on a visa, it was also puzzling why the objections to this decision were voiced by a British opposition MP of Pakistani origin, Naz Shah, rather than normal diplomatic channels. The silence by the Pakistani High Commission indicates either that someone was sleeping on the job, or there was a considered decision to let Ms Shah do the job for it, indicating pusillanimity ill-suited to diplomats.
The British action may well be difficult to justify on purely public health grounds. However, though Ms Shah said that the decision raised the suspicion that the decision was based on foreign policy, not data, Pakistan should realize that its poor vaccination rollout has made it vulnerable to such strictures. The ban last year by the UAE was also indicative that Pakistanis were viewed with more suspicion than seems entirely appropriate. Ms Shah’s letter on the subject to the UK Foreign Secretary mentioned three countries with worse infection rates not subjected to such restrictions, France, Germany and India. It is unfortunately true that all three countries have better diplomatic relations with the UK. While British interests matter, the effort put in by their diplomats counts. The element of diplomacy cannot be excluded, for Pakistan had recently banned travellers from the UK. Ironically, the UK variant, which that ban was meant to exclude, has made it to Pakistani shores. As the entire episode shows, Pakistani diplomats are unwilling to put in the effort needed.
Instead, letting Ms Shah cut a figure before the Pakistani community in the UK may have saved some diplomats from conveying what might be seen as an unpleasant message. However, there is a marked difference between an official diplomatic reaction, and a letter by an opposition legislator. The entire High Commission needs to be reminded that their real job is to represent their citizens, not win any popularity contests.