Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry on Friday questioned why action shouldn’t be taken against foreign service officials for instances of blocking labour access to embassies.
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad alongside Adviser to the Prime Minister on Commerce and Investment Abdul Razak Dawood, Chaudhry said: “There are incidents where embassy officials placed rocks and blocked routes to (Pakistani) embassies so labour could not enter. Should proceedings not be initiated against them?”
He said that the details of events which had caused Prime Minister Imran Khan to address the country’s ambassadors and point out their mistakes should be examined.
He added that in one instance, an embassy which is currently under investigation, had mishandled the case of a woman being continuously raped while working at someone’s home.
The minister said that the victim had approached the embassy to seek help.
“However, the officer present had told her off by saying: ‘You’ve already had three divorces before. Why don’t I hand you over to the police?’ This response led her to go back to the house,” he said.
“If Pakistan’s prime minister doesn’t talk about this behaviour, then who will? If the government and the prime minister can’t stand with the working class and the poor then what right do we have to remain in government?”
The minister’s comments come a couple of days after Prime Minister Imran Khan, while speaking to envoys posted in 19 countries through video conferencing, said he had noticed “shocking callousness” of Pakistani diplomats posted overseas after a few recent incidents involving expatriates.
He was in particular critical of the missions in Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, which host the largest Pakistani communities overseas, but the way the comments were delivered made it look like a censure of the entire foreign service.
“Indifferent attitude is unforgivable, unacceptable,” the premier had said, telling the officers to give up their ‘colonial mindset’ and extend special treatment to the expatriate communities.
His comments came after the government suspended the outgoing envoy to Saudi Arabia Raja Ejaz and recalled six other diplomats from Riyadh for not properly serving the community and inefficiency.
The prime minister’s comments led to angst, and demoralisation among the officers of the foreign service. To quote the words of one officer, the anger over the “caustic remarks” is very intense and the comments “have made even the reticent ones to speak up”.
During today’s press conference, Chaudhry said that this was the “first time” that a prime minister had stood with the weak instead of the powerful and called upon ambassadors to not only maintain a close relation with overseas Pakistanis but also address their complaints.
The information minister said he was “surprised” at the criticism from the PML-N over the premier’s actions. “You are against giving voting rights to overseas Pakistanis, you are against including them in electoral reforms […] tell me what is your politics?”
Chaudhry said the opposition needed to reflect on its behaviour and that indulging in political point-scoring at every turn was not appropriate. “If we have to take this country forward then we will have to uplift the country’s poor segment of society.”
He added overseas Pakistanis should be appreciated for sending remittances and called out certain sections of the media for what he claimed was their “anti-labour position”.
Chaudhry said that the prime minister had said more than once that he was proud of diplomats working for Pakistan, pointing to how embassies had worked during the Covid-19 pandemic to repatriate Pakistanis stranded abroad.
“That is also a part of history and the prime minister has appreciated it.”
‘New route for export’
Meanwhile, the commerce advisor commented on e-commerce giant Amazon’s decision to include Pakistan on its sellers’ list and said it had been the “number one” suggestion.
“A new route will open up for exports,” he said, adding that a lot of encouraging messages were received after the announcement. “A very big opportunity has opened up”.
The commerce adviser also outlined challenges and issues which needed to be worked on such as logistics, quality control and assurance, training of Pakistani merchants and work on smooth payment mechanisms.
Bills for journalists’ protection
The information minister also elaborated on the recent passage of two crucial bills by the federal cabinet for the protection of journalists and media workers.
He said media organisations would be bound to provide safety equipment to journalists covering conflict zones while media owners would be responsible for any damage or loss incurred, source protection would be given and a new institution would be formed to resolve the complaints of journalists.
The minister said that a programme will be introduced this year to support media houses and a media development authority was also going to be formed in the second phase.