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Ghulam Sarwar’s advice to overseas Pakistanis draws a flak


June 2, 2020

LONDON: The statement by Federal Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan that overseas Pakistanis who cannot pay the extra costs incurred for special flights should stay where they are instead of returning to Pakistan has drawn criticism from overseas Pakistanis including members of Pakistani Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI).

In a press conference, the Aviation Minister said about the overseas Pakistanis wanting to come to Pakistan from abroad: "People are not happy in any condition. If an empty plane is sent to the US and it returns with 50% occupancy who will bear the expenses? Obviously, the ones who are coming will bear them. If they can't afford it, they shouldn't come."

The minister went on to say that such a policy was absolutely justifiable and was not unfair since if overseas Pakistanis wanted to return in urgency then they would have to pay the extra costs.

This statement has been criticised by various overseas Pakistanis who contribute over $20 billion in foreign remittances every year. Many overseas Pakistanis donate to causes in Pakistan while ignoring the problems of the countries they reside in but many of them argue that when it comes to support from Pakistan for them, the government ignored their plight.

Previously, an issue was raised when overseas Pakistanis stuck in Pakistan were unable to return to their countries due to closure of international air travel in Pakistan. Many of the overseas Pakistanis bought a ticket multiple times but were unable to go back.

Senior PTI UK official and Punjab Overseas Commission Advisory Board member Asif Khan said: "Strongly condemn this irresponsible and stupid statement from Federal Minister for Aviation Overseas Pakistanis are always in forefront for betterment of homeland Pakistan but no one should take us for granted. If we can take on dictators and corrupt mafia then definitely can sort out idiots in present cabinet too. Mark my words Overseas Pakistanis are NOT sheep or voiceless."

Former Punjab Assembly member Dr Ashraf Chohan said, “Most countries in the world repatriated their citizens free of cost or at subsidised rates due to the pandemic of COVID-19. The way the Aviation Minister is saying that the people should pay extra shows that he is unable to do anything for the plight of overseas Pakistanis and shows that his government can't do anything for them.”

Commenting on the situation, solicitor Sheikh Asif Salam said: "Pakistan has always been highly dependent on foreign remittances and arguments like the one from the Aviation minister justifying exorbitant fares for those being brought back to the country in the pandemic is deplorable." "If there is an extraordinary situation, the state should provide relief to us without expecting extraordinary costs."

In a recently released statement on the microblogging site, Twitter, the Aviation Minister clarified that he respected overseas Pakistanis but stood by the earlier statement. He said there would be extra fares for special flights.

Commenting on the Aviation Minister's clarification, a Twitter user responded by saying, "Problem is that 90 percent having return tickets from Pakistan cannot buy new tickets. National Carrier should support economically and PIA is handled by MOPHRD team. You put your foot down and force PIA to help such stranded Pakistanis First."

On Sunday, the Aviation Minister issued a clarification and said that his comments were twisted and used against him. He said he stood by his original statement and explained that special flights were being run to bring back stranded Pakistanis, who were in dire need, and were not for those who didn’t have to come to Pakistan in emergency. He advised those who were not stranded to wait for regular flight operations to resume in due course. He said he has served as a Minister of Overseas Pakistanis and greatly valued their contribution.