The other day, a Pakistani labourer in the UAE, who reacted to an insult by making a rude gesture — extending his middle finger — was arrested, jailed for a month and awaits deportation on the completion of his sentence. When the local gauleiter was asked whether the punishment meted out was excessive, he replied that it was not because those who violate the ‘culture and traditions’ of the emirate should be punished. Presumably then, the ladies of the street who ply their trade in the parking lot of supermarkets in the UAE, in open view of customers and clearly with the knowledge of the police, do not violate the culture and traditions of the emirate.
There was another piece of news from the UAE, again concerning Pakistanis. Apparently two schools meant for the children of overseas Pakistanis working in the UAE are being shut down, rendering over 1,000 school children school-less. This happened because the Sheikh who had agreed to ‘partner’ the schools’ Pakistani founders, by donating the land and raising money to build the school, dropped out of the arrangement because of a change of the local law. The person he had recommended as his successor, to satisfy the law which forbids foreigners to run a business or own property without a local partner, also withdrew from the partnership. One does not, of course, know why the replacement ‘sleeping’ partner suddenly ‘woke up’ and ended the partnership, or whether he consulted the Shaikh, but as a result of his action, the schools can no longer operate, to the consternation of hapless Pakistani parents.
These two incidences which transpired on the same day, as reported in the Pakistani press, highlight the hostile attitude of local administrations in the Gulf towards Pakistanis. Nothing new, actually, as the invidious treatment meted out to Pakistani travelers at Gulf airports shows. Some of our suited lot is defensive about it, which is a shame. Our fawning diplomats are worse, forgetting that no one will respect them unless they respect themselves. Noticeably, such antipathy towards our folk does not exist in other Arab states, as I discovered when posted for nearly five years (1986-90) in one of them.
What was extraordinary was that when we met foreign diplomats posted in Islamabad at one time or the other, those from other states, Muslim or not, confined their recollections to pleasant happenings. On the other hand, those from the Gulf States, after saying how much they had enjoyed their posting in Islamabad, invariably ended up by expressing sorrow at some recent development or the other in Pakistan, adding that, but for the foibles of our leadership and lack of good sense, things could be so much better in Pakistan.
The look of pity that their faces reflected was uncomfortably close to contempt. Irked by their selective recollections, I finally sat one of them down and said, “Look, my brother, if you had our population, and no oil, you would have fared worse and had we your population and your oil, we would have done much better. But I do not go about saying so every time we meet.” It seemed to work. I noticed they were less social, which was just as well because the repeated ritual kissing on the cheeks, if you come across five of them in a row, can become an ordeal.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 18th, 2011.