Pakistan on Saturday issued a travel advisory for its nationals, especially aspiring pilgrims, asking them not to visit Syria – the war-torn country embattled by civil strife.
Pakistani citizens are advised to postpone their plans of visiting Syria until the situation there normalises, said a statement issued by the Foreign Office. “The situation in Syria is far from satisfactory. Pakistani pilgrims intending to visit the country should avoid such travel plans as gun battles between rebels and Syrian security forces have intensified.”
It has also directed all Pakistanis present in Syria at the moment to report to Pakistan’s Embassy in Damascus for emergency assistance, or call at the following helpline numbers: 00963-11-6132694/5.
“Many Pakistani families previously living in Syria have already migrated to other parts of the world. We don’t have the exact number of Pakistanis residing in Syria, but our guess is they are not present in a large number,” said Foreign Office spokesman Moazzam Ali Khan.
Another diplomat stationed in the Middle East said the Foreign Office is worried about Pakistanis availing the services of travel agents specialising in packages for pilgrims and visiting holy shrines in large groups.
He said most such service providers offer a single three-nation tour usually including Iran, Iraq and Syria. “If any of these groups are stranded in Syria, the loss of lives would be far beyond our imagination.”
The official cited the recent example of a bus-full of Pakistani pilgrims being attacked in a roadside bombing in Baghdad. The pilgrims were on their way from Syria to Iraq to visit a holy shrine on May 27 when the bomb exploded and injured at least 24 Pakistani pilgrims.
Pakistan’s Ambassador in Damascus Waheed Ahmed could not be reached for comments despite repeated attempts, while all calls to the helpline numbers provided by the Foreign Office went unanswered.
Rebels are involved in a bloody uprising in several neighbourhoods of Aleppo, the commercial hub of Syria, in what the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has termed the fiercest fighting in the Syrian city so far.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd, 2012.