KARACHI: It is said that whenever God closes a door, He opens a window. In this case, however, we’re still waiting. In the past year, Pakistani nationals found themselves most often rejected for visas to the UK, with almost half of all visa applications declined. Our Indian neighbours, however, experienced a rejection rate of just 14 per cent in comparison.
The US recently imposed strict security measures for travellers and citizens passing through or originating from 14 “countries of interest”, a list that consisted of Pakistan, Nigeria, Yemen, Iran and Syria and other bad boys on the global scene. Though the line up has, in effect, been tarred by the same brush, it’s still relatively challenging for a Pakistani to get a tourism visa for, say, Syria. As anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of US and UK airport security policies knows, the word ‘Pakistani’ is increasingly equated with ‘terrorist’. Many Pakistanis have tried to circumvent that blanket assumption by reducing the success rate of a visa approval to a science, with deductions like “Elderly people will surely get rejected — they don’t want people to travel to the US and then have to be a medical burden on the system” with others focusing on interview attire — “Wear a suit so they know you’re professional.”
The Arab world shares our travel woes to a large extent, and underwent its own period of regrouping in the 9/11 travel aftermath. Many Arabs who would have (and had) vacationed in the US found other, more welcoming places. Beirut, with its famously glamourous nightlife, upmarket shopping and dazzling beauty, has become a popular destination. Hordes of Arabs filled Beirut’s clubs, beaches, hotels and chalets in the months after the attacks, with Beirutis welcoming their money far more eagerly than their actual presence.
So where is our Beirut? Sri Lanka, Thailand and Dubai are the obvious choices. But for those bored with the stereotypical options of deserted shopping malls and crowded beaches, consider the proverbial road less travelled, at least by Pakistanis. This has proved to be a silver lining, for all those unimaginative travellers who long for the familiar comfort of summers on Oxford Street, why not consider instead a gander at Farah Diba’s private collection at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art? Or perhaps a Mediterranean beach break in North Africa, on the coast of Morocco? Three thousand years of history, along with clubs and eateries, in Istanbul? For those of us with a fear of rejection, there are still a number of countries willing to accept us with open arms — at least without assuming we’re carrying them.