Summer has arrived in Pakistan and with the advent of the hot blazing sunshine the exodus has begun. No, I do not mean people fleeing for good to azure shores or our politicians who seems to be able to invent any excuse to speak to the concierge at St Regis in D.C, I mean us ordinary folks going on perhaps a hard earned summer vacation or the students who are applying for an entry into foreign lands.
All of these poor sods have one thing in common; all of them require a â€œvisaâ€ to give them temporary status as a visitor in the foreign land of their choice. Sounds simple enough? Fill out a few forms attach a photo or two and send it of to the nearest embassy of your choice? Well it is for a citizen of any other country except for those with the dreaded green passport. By the way before you start clamoring on me being some sort of elitist let me assure you that I am the farthest from it, but if you have applied for a visa for any country with our passport you would know what I am speaking off. In fact do not take this scribes word at face value and just look at the face of the immigration official when you hand him your passport on your next travel abroad.
Obviously as a nation used to dealing with adversity we cannot help but overlook an indirect no and thus devise various methods and means to get our visas whether it is for the â€œmust goâ€ summer vacation or that university education we would not be complete without. The embassies we apply to must have a ball of a time devising the various hurdles that any visa application process for a Pakistani involves as some of them require pictures with white backgrounds, some of the chin turned left, some without any form of covering or hijab, some with no beards and what not. Itâ€™s come to a point where if you go to a photo center for getting your visa pics done, you find the oddest accessories suggested to â€œensureâ€ a smooth application. Most places have clip on ties and the photographer shouts things like â€œsit upâ€ and to my amazement at the last visit a â€œdo not smileâ€Â Obviously so we must appear somber for our Masters as a Pakistani grinning will arouse suspicion at the pearly gates off course, who knows the passport might explode at any moment..
Such is the condition of our reputation abroad that documents from our schools are not accepted unless verified, same with our hospitals and each one of us has to have a bank statement of a trump family member to qualify. Itâ€™s all because we have to show sufficient evidence that we will troop back to our hell hole you see after our jaunt in heaven is done. The bottom line is we are not welcome anywhere in the world but is that going to put a damper to our plans? No way hoze!!
After the initial document gathering and picture taking hoopla is over, one must then proceed to the nearest fed ex centre and pay ransom amount of visa fees which are â€œnon refundableâ€ plus the courier charges off course, I would venture as far as to say that the embassies could cover quite a lot of their expenses in lieu of this â€œnon refundableâ€ clause easily. After that we must celebrate with random smses and facebook updates if we get our passports back in the Fed Ex envelope (read X is now going to â€œinsert countryâ€ or else we might be called for an interview to Islamabad where we should present ourselves in person for closer examination, this includes infants as well by the way.
Now having been subjected to this closer examination on many times I would call the conditions at the diplomatic enclave in Islamabad where the first world countries indulge us in their largesses â€œlaughableâ€ at best. Interviewees are herded into buses at a parking lot and then transported to outside the embassies respective gates where they are then left to the conditions, be it rain, blazing sunshine or cold. There is no place to sit, no place for infants to be changed or fed, no place for the weak and elderly and certainly no place for any talking back in the line trooping inside as I have been duly informed by the â€œlocal but foreignâ€ security guards who seem to think of themselves as some throwback to the viceroys of the colonial era.
Which brings me to the question, why do we subject ourselves to all this in the first place? Is it because there are no institutions of higher learning available in Pakistan for us to study in or that there is nowhere in Pakistan one can take a vacation to?Â Ok forget the second question because our bearded friends up north have taken care of that but there are still places in the south where one can retire in the summers to, for example I recall a recent trip to gawadar where the beaches were as heavenly as those in Thailand and virtually untouched by commercialism as well. Personally I think it is time we showed our â€œalliedâ€ friends something resembling a cold shoulder if they continue to harass us in the myriad of ways described above. We should make a bold statement to them which sayâ€™s
Dear Sahibs, we know our nation survives on the handouts issued by you and we are thankful for that but we shall take our hard earned tourist rupees somewhere else if you continue to play lord snooty with us.
As published in The Friday Times on 12/6/2009