For the third consecutive year, Pakistan has been ranked fourth worst in the world in terms of passport value, surpassing only Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Our international image, according to Henley Passport Index, is equivalent to war-ridden countries ravaged by terrorism and invasion which is a matter of grave concern. Citizens have not shied away from expressing their discontent, with some terming this as an “international embarrassment” while others criticising the Naya Pakistan.
The sad reality is that what started after 9/11 still continues. There is a rampant culture of singling out Pakistanis at airports all around the world, where they are frequently frisked, detained and vigorously questioned. It is indeed an embarrassment. But apart from the very obvious “security threats” exuding from Pakistan, the index also indicates how much access our citizens have to the rest of the world. With a visa-free score of just 31, the index highlights that citizens have limited access to other countries in turn affecting business, lifestyle, education and healthcare opportunities. It is particularly difficult for the common man to visit First World countries in general and in some cases, one has to go through heaps of paperwork and multiple background security clearances before being issued a visa. This restricts connectivity and increases isolation which impedes national development and global competition. Organic growth is required in order to secure investments and create collaborations. This can only be done if Pakistani citizens are able to frequently travel abroad to further their ventures and businesses.
Unfortunately, the PTI government has not acknowledged the severity of the problem and our foreign ministry has failed to enhance travel freedom. Irrespective of who comes to power, prudent efforts must be made in order to improve Pakistan’s passport ranking. The foreign minister must constitute a taskforce and devise an action plan to negotiate with other countries in giving Pakistani citizens easier travel access. This will go a long way in aiding national progress.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 11th, 2022.