By S Tariq
October 11, 2011
While lecturing an international group of postgraduate students in a reputed university on the subject of Pakistan as a Global Hotspot, I decided to dilate on the delicate relationship between the government and the Pakistani nation and how good governance was the key factor in creating this connection for a prosperous existence. As I went into the Q&A session, an American student stood up, dramatically slapped his hip pocket, took out his wallet as if drawing his ‘six gun’ and uttered words that a few of us would have had the tolerance and wisdom to listen, “All you people do is talk, talk and talk. You have no national pride, you want to be spoon fed and coddled in times that are tough. You are like sheep that need a shepherd and this is your shepherd.” With these words the young man took out a $10 dollar bill and waved it in front of his face. I put the young maverick in his place without more ado, but his outburst set me thinking of the truth that lay in what he had said. We were a nation with a great history of courage, pride and emperors that ruled vast empires, but over the years we had evolved into a self-centred, short-sighted, radical people, with extended begging bowls and a shameless, brazen-faced lack of pride.
Our green passport had lost its value as our identity and the key to an honourable entry and exit to and from countries. Pakistanis currently living in Oman, for example, went through the indignity of being told by the immigration that they could bring domestic help from India, Bangladesh or any other place on the globe, except their home country.
I once stood in line at the immigration counter in Frankfurt Airport and was mollified, when the immigration officer motioned me to step aside and wait. I stood there for what appeared to be a lifetime, as my blue official passport was shuttled to and fro from officer to officer and from scanner to scanner. Unable to take it any longer, I blew my top at the indignity being shown to an official document of my country and within no time I was through the barrier and on my way to the hotel.
On another occasion, arriving at the Heathrow Airport to attend a seminar, I was shepherded into a long line of Pakistanis in front of what appeared to be an exclusive counter to await clearance and get in. To my utter disgust, I found that the immigration staff was putting each passenger through a grilling that appeared to be more like a criminal interrogation. I was lucky that an official from the institution where I was due to speak had come to receive me and on spotting me, quickly guided me through the entry procedures.
Angry as I am at what happens to the ‘green’ passport holders at International Airports, introspection usually guides me to the single conclusion that it is us and us alone, who are to blame for the indignities meted out to us at most foreign destinations. We have become stereotypes for carrying fake passports and equally faked visas. Many of us carry drugs and other illegal confections and we comport ourselves with a total disregard to what others will think of us as Pakistanis.
Take, for example, the Lufthansa flight from Dubai to Karachi that I was travelling in. The aircraft was packed with Pakistanis returning home for Eid and the female cabin crew was having a hard time of it. Suddenly, a sharp slapping sound accompanied by the words, “don’t do this” made us look back. What I saw made me hang my head with shame for one of my country men had literally snatched two snack boxes for himself from the trolley that the stewardess was pushing along the aisle.
At another time, I found myself confronted with the spectacle of a Pakistani passenger getting inebriated and making advances at the air hostess of a reputable foreign airline. I was half inclined to intervene and suggest that the moron be ejected from the aircraft at 30,000 feet in order to make him ‘cold’ sober.
I remember a close relative who travelled extensively, once telling me of his trip to Switzerland in 1962. As he handed in his passport at the immigration counter, the Swiss immigration officer gave him a respectful smile saying: “Why don’t you prolong your stay in our beautiful country Sir, for we have much to show you here?” But this then was a different time - a time when our small green book was not a ‘passport to shame’.
The writer is a freelance columnist.
Source: The Nation, Pakistan