IN 2013, Sialkot-native Imran Haider was arrested in Jeddah for carrying 500g of heroin. For the next six years, he languished in a Saudi prison without a trial. He met his tragic end recently, in what is the latest news of an execution of a Pakistani national in Saudi Arabia. That his story, and its outcome, is not uncommon does not make it any less shocking. Just last month, two other Pakistanis, a married couple, were put to death for allegedly attempting to smuggle narcotics into the kingdom. Their only child returned home an orphan. It was the first instance of a Pakistani woman being executed in Saudi Arabia in five years. Within that five-year period, over 100 Pakistani nationals were executed. This year alone, some 15 Pakistanis have been put to death, while last year, the number of executions stood at 30. Out of the approximately 3,300 Pakistanis trapped in Saudi prisons, most belong to poor labour backgrounds and were simply in search of employment and opportunities in the kingdom, or trying to fulfil their lifelong dream of performing religious rites. Many were entrapped by criminal elements who deceived or coerced them into the drug-trafficking trade. Once in prison, they have no contact with the outside world, while their families suffer great distress and uncertainty.
When Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman came to Pakistan in February, he made a promise to Prime Minister Imran Khan. When the premier brought up the case of millions of Pakistani labourers working in Saudi Arabia, the poor who form the bulk of the Pakistanis languishing in Saudi prisons (“these are people very close to my heart, they are very special people,” he emphatically stated), he requested the Saudi prince to see them as his own. In response, the Saudi prince told the prime minister to consider him “an ambassador of Pakistan in Saudi Arabia”. The next day, an announcement was made that around 2,000 Pakistani prisoners would be released. It sounded too good to be true, while some believed that perhaps this was the diplomacy of naya Pakistan in effect. But three months later, no such thing has materialised, and only a handful of prisoners have been released. In waiting for the promise to be fulfilled, there is no saying how many more vulnerable Pakistanis will be executed. More efforts on Pakistan’s part to bring back those incarcerated in the kingdom are sorely needed.
Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2019