Living in isolation by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

Some op-ed writers commented that PM of Pakistan should stay in the country rather than depart for New York to attend the UN General Assembly. Their argument was that since there are no substantial meetings planned with other leaders, PM should not attend the session just to make a 15 minute speech. This argument is another indication of a larger trend in Pakistan to live in isolation from the world and don’t even feel that there is something wrong about it. Here is a brief of overview of our isolation.

For last many years no significant world leader has visited Pakistan. During recent political crisis caused by dharnas three heads of state i.e. Sri Lanka, Maldives and China postponed their visits. All three countries are part of a regional effort by China to create a security platform to deal with three evils extremism, terrorism and separatism. Inability of world leaders to visit Pakistan deprive them of first hand observation of the country, its people and its stage of development. In the absence of which they have to rely on second hand information derived from think tank reports, newspaper articles and lower level diplomats that are in contact with the country. This becomes an impediment of developing a deeper relationship as the head of state will rather prefer those countries where he can visit and sit down for discussions. Our diplomatic isolation is a serious concern and all political parties must come forward to create a consensus that we will all play host to a foreign head of state regardless of our political differences.

Pakistan’s economy rely on export earnings to finance its debt servicing, purchase of fossil fuel, heavy machinery and other imported items. In the absence of substantial exports the country will go bankrupt causing major hardship for people. Exports cannot increase unless and until foreign buyers are able to visit our factories. In the absence of these visits we are not able to attract premium buyers that can offer a better price for our merchandize by qualifying the capability of our manufacturing. This result is commoditization of our exports as only handful of people remain interested and they are usually lower tier of the market that do not offer a good price. Most of our export meetings are now being organized in Dubai, London or Istanbul. This also increases our cost of sales. We are also deprived visits of technical experts, researchers and designers that can add value to our merchandize.

A country can only expect to be globally connected when it offers multiple choices of flights, airlines and in-country international airports. Most international airlines including Lufthansa, Delta, American Airlines, Air France, British airways etc. have discontinued their flights to Pakistan. The only ones coming are airlines from Middle East and Asia while our main export markets are Europe and USA. This cause increase in-flight time. This cause inconvenience to businessmen who are running against clock to be more productive to achieve their targets. The choice of destinations are also limited to five international airports i.e. Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar and Sialkot. This increase commute time to major industrial centers like Faisalabad, Wazirabad, etc. This cause further inconvenience for business travelers. We also lack availability of good quality hotels in these cities which also makes it difficult for travelers to stay for more than one day.

No international sports team has visited Pakistan for many years after the terror attack on Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore. This not only cause financial loss to the country but also damage prospects of talent development. In the absence of watching an international game and interacting with the visiting team our young players are falling behind in learning new techniques of games. We don’t feel the effect of this right now as our current generation of players are already at par with international level. But in the long run we will lose our capacity to compete just like we lost our edge in squash and field hockey. Sending players for short duration international training sessions is not a replacement for visit by international teams to the country.

On the cultural front no major theatrical or musical production has visited Pakistan since we started our war on terror. These international stars can become ambassadors for Pakistan when they interact with people here. Our artists could also get depth in their creative ideas when they get a chance to view a performance and get a chance to chat with the visiting artists. But since we don’t have this, the country is viewed through the news reports that are mostly about terrorist attacks or political unrest. It is hard to find a good news in international media about Pakistan.

Northern Pakistan, Lahore and Peshawar used to be tourist attractions when Pakistan got independence from British empire. The economies of Swat, Gilgit and Azad Kashmir depended heavily on the inflow of domestic and foreign tourists. The drying up of this tourist industry has caused tremendous loss for these places and resulted in joblessness, intolerance and extremism. Revival of tourist industry could earn Pakistan billions of dollars in revenue by attracting tourists from newly emerging economies of the region like China, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Russia, Brazil, Middle East and North Africa.

To finish this article, I was of the view that PM of Pakistan must go to New York to attend the UN General Assembly as it could provide an opportunity for our diplomats to mingle with others. Since people are not coming to us, we need to go to them to keep the dialogue going while at the same time we resolve our domestic issues. I am against protest organized by a political party during the visit of the PM. This tarnishes our image and is equivalent to washing our dirty laundry of domestic politics on foreign streets. I refused to participate or support these protests when President Zardari visited. If we don’t respect our sovereign offices then no one else will. No other immigrant community does it to their visiting leaders. So we are unique in that sense too.

If we want to become a progressive, dynamic and vibrant nation then we have to end our isolation. This is not the responsibility of elected government only. All of us have to play our part to welcome our foreign friends to come to our homeland. Whether we are a businessmen, an artists, a sportsman or a student, we should reach out to foreigners and give them the confidence that their visit will be secure and enjoyable. Just imagine will anyone visit your house if you post a notice on your door that certain ethnicity, color or religious sect will not be entertained. Guests are considered a blessing in Islam regardless of their beliefs, race or social status. It is our own fault that we are devoid of this blessing.

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