In order to understand the imbalanced relationship Pakistan has with its Gulf allies, one should compare two recent news stories. First, in November 2013, the Pakistani government gave a permit to the emir of Kuwait to hunt up to 100 endangered Houbara birds for his entertainment. Second, this week, Kuwait’s government renewed its visa ban on all Pakistanis, which was originally created as a “temporary measure” in 2011. The juxtaposition of these two stories shows not only how far Pakistan will go to please its allies in the Gulf, but also how much it is willing to excuse the distaste and distrust their allies have for Pakistan’s people.
To begin with the law, each nation can determine its own immigration and citizenship policies, which is what Kuwait was doing when it prohibited visas for people originating from countries like Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. Two separate reasons were given for the original ban in 2011: first, that “difficult security conditions in the six countries” mentioned above were reasons to stop their citizens from entering Kuwait. Many countries relax their immigration standards for individuals whose homeland is facing war or a difficult human rights environment, but Kuwait has done the opposite.
There is some logic to this decision: if these countries are hotbeds of terrorism, then stopping migration from those countries could stop terrorism from infiltrating Kuwait. This partially relates to their second justification for the ban, which was the “remarkably increasing tendency of Kuwait-based nationals from these countries to apply for visas to bring into Kuwait relatives who faced or could face serious challenges in their home countries.” One way to interpret this statement is that Pakistanis, Syrians, et al attempt to sponsor fellow countrymen for migration to Kuwait so that they can avoid punishment for crimes like terrorism back home.
However, Pakistan’s ineffective prosecution and the increasing power of terrorist groups leave little room for credibility in the argument that Pakistani terrorists are escaping to Kuwait because they are afraid of being arrested or killed at home. Moreover, the Kuwaiti visa ban justifications belie the point that there is a huge contingent of Pakistanis living in Kuwait –– numbering 150,000 –– yet few if any reported cases of terrorist actions or plots by those migrated Pakistanis. An all-out ban on Pakistanis based on the insecurity of their homeland is perplexing.
Concurrently, there has been a long-running problem of Pakistanis being illegally trafficked into Kuwait and forced to work as a domestic servants or as sex workers. This has been reported by the international community, yet no action has been taken to prosecute such crimes. This is significant when one remembers that nationality-based bans on legal migration, like Kuwait’s, often encourage illegal migration. This illegal migration, in turn, feeds into the human trafficking industry and could worsen the problem of trafficking into the country.
The ban can turn from perplexing to frustrating if one remembers that many of the South Asians who relocate to Gulf States often leave behind families in order to work in the Gulf and send remittances back home. With a visa ban like the one imposed by Kuwait’s government, one need only to hit a few keystrokes on Facebook before one sees messages from Pakistani-Kuwaitis pleading for their families to be granted visiting visas, if nothing else. Others have complained that their spouses or children are unable to seek a visiting visa or permanent residency, making their lives exceedingly difficult.
Therefore, one should not lose sight of the irony in the two stories mentioned in the beginning: while Kuwait’s government won’t even allow children or spouses to visit their loved ones, the Pakistani government bent over backwards to grant the Kuwaiti emir a pass to come to Pakistan to kill some of its endangered birds. Without an introspective analysis of Pakistan’s imbalanced relationship with Gulf States like Kuwait, the Pakistani people and their government could face greater discrimination in the future.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 5th, 2014.