The definition of a political gaffe is when a public figure accidentally tells the world exactly what he is thinking. Adam Thomson, the British high commissioner in Islamabad, was not far off the mark when he called Pakistanis the “world leaders in the visa fraud business” but it is nonetheless a shocking lapse in etiquette from a diplomat who should have known better.
Mr Thomson would have been better off staying quiet at a time when the alleged visa scam reported by a British tabloid is still being investigated by authorities. A diplomat who ends up badmouthing the country where he is serving is unlikely to be very effective at his job. Good diplomacy is conducted quietly behind closed doors, not loudly at press conferences. If there is going to be outrage directed at Mr Thomson for his poor timing and choice of words, then it is fully deserved.
Mr Thomson’s diplomatic lapse, however, should not distract us from the essential truth of what he is saying. Pakistanis have a poor track record when it comes to visa applications. Many of them are so desperate to leave the country that they often end up taking shortcuts by submitting forged documents. Former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was once asked in an interview what he thought about the large percentage of Pakistanis who want to emigrate elsewhere. Mr Gilani’s answer was, why then, don’t they leave the country? What he chose to ignore was that they may want to leave the country but there are very few that want to accept them.
Given that Mr Thompson did not exactly exaggerate in his comments, it may be better for the government to simply ignore what he said. Its efforts would be better utilised in investigating the visa scam. Simply firing a few employees and then enveloping yourself in a cocoon of denial is not a strategy worth pursuing. We need to transparently figure out the truth and then take on this serious problem. We must not reach a point where the world shuns us simply because our passports are no longer trusted.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2012.