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May 6, 2021

State of isolation

Why did the UK stop flights from Pakistan before it stopped flights from India? At the time of the flight suspension, India had a far greater problem with Covid-19 than Pakistan. Yet it was Pakistan which first of all came under the radar.

The problem appears to be that the image of Pakistan is sinking around the world, and this does not augur well for a country that desperately needs more ties with other countries, and an improvement in his image, in order to generate more resources, and to improve the condition of its economy.

The flight ban, which does not stop at the UK, but now also extends to more countries around the world, including those in the Middle East and Far East, is not the only problem. Recently the EU suggested that the special status available to Pakistan, allowing it duty free exports since 2014, be suspended on the basis of unjust laws in the country pertaining to the misuse of its blasphemy laws. If the decision to stop Pakistan’s status as a ‘GSP plus’ country does come into effect, it would lose a huge amount of revenue, going down by almost 15 percent in terms of its earnings from just this bloc alone. This would be a disaster.

Quite obviously, the EU sees Pakistan's laws as unfair and unjust to some groups of people. This too isolates the country in many ways and is perhaps especially problematic with the threat of the FATF blacklist still lurking around the corner. If Pakistan does indeed have the terrible misfortune of going on to the FATF blacklist, the loss in terms of economic gains could be almost unimaginable. We must not allow this to happen.

To avoid this, Pakistan needs to take more serious steps to improve its image. These cannot simply involve putting influences out on social media suggesting that Pakistan is an ideal tourism spot. Certainly, the country's beauty and history make it a potentially ideal destination for many from around the world as well as from within the country. But we should ask ourselves some very honest questions. Do we have the infrastructure to support tourism? Do we have enough hotels, enough cafes, enough guesthouses, enough Airbnbs? Do we have enough transport?

And do we have enough in terms of entertainment, including nightclubs or other places where tourists are able to relax in the traditional fashion of tourist destinations around the world. After all, while mountains and deserts are indeed extremely picturesque, many tourists would instead choose a destination where they can also order food and beverages, as per their preferences, allowing them to relax in traditional Western fashion, all as per their own cultural requirements. To some extent, this is also true of people within the country. Recently, on the Malam Jabba skiing slope in Swat, a group of local people who were dancing informally after a day of skiing were stopped from doing so by local security, on the basis that their actions were immoral. If people are not allowed to enjoy themselves, why would they choose Pakistan as a tourism spot?

This, of course, contributes to Pakistan's image as a country which is in some ways, bleak and in other ways dangerous, and generally not the right place to spend a holiday in. In part, this is a problem of the West and not of Pakistanis. The Islamophobia we have seen in so many countries in Europe and the US makes Pakistanis a target. But in the UK, for example, Pakistanis living in the country do not help themselves by refusing to make any effort to amalgamate into the local community, and in some cases, refusing to send children, notably girls, to schools on the basis that there is too much cultural difference between their style of living and those that exist at British schools. In some instances, this may be true, though many British schools have made attempts to allow for the preferences of Muslims.

Pakistan should also consider the other reasons why it is isolated. The recent confusion over whether the TLP was a proscribed organisation or not, after the protest staged by the group, has led to criticism not only at home, but also in other countries. There must be further clarity in government thinking, and further determination on how to carry through with these policies. The present wave of actions will not help. When a proscribed organisation is allowed to contest an election, as happened in NA-249 in Karachi, the world will obviously remain confused as to whether or not Islamabad has banned that organisation. Given that the TLP has been responsible for violence in the past, this is a matter that needs greater clarification and unity across the board with Pakistan making clear that, while it accepts various points of views, it is unwilling to accept violence of any kind.

The finding by groups such as 'Reporters Without Borders', that press freedom in the country is decreasing as well as other social and socio-economic findings also create for Pakistan the image of a country that cares little either for its constitution or for its people.

Even Rwanda, a country torn apart by war in the 1990s, has been able to rebuild and set up a parliamentary system of government within which many women have taken on important roles and build a tourism industry based around its landscape and its ability to provide entertainment for visitors as well as a sense of safety. Despite its own observance of religious etiquette and beliefs, the Maldives has resorts which enable tourism and allow tourists to enjoy the freedom that is important to them. Even the UAE and other nations have done far better than Pakistan in this respect.

We must not allow ourselves to become a nation that is separated from the rest of the world. Our ties with our neighbours both in the east and the west are already strained. We must not allow the problem to expand and create for us further problems in the future.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.

Email: [email protected]