THIS is with reference to the report ‘Envoy to Saudi Arabia suspended, six diplomats recalled’ (April 30). My husband and I lived as expatriate Pakistanis, working as doctors for the Ministry of Health in Makkah, for 20 years from 1990 to 2009.
Our experience with the Pakistani consulate was no different. The behaviour which has now been taken action against was the norm, not the exception, in the Pakistani embassy in Riyadh or the consulate in Jeddah. The consulate in Jeddah was also hopelessly unresponsive to the expatriates. There was even a Haj office in Makkah which had political appointees from the party which was in power at the time in Islamabad.
The staff at the Haj office, the consulate and the embassy were known to be busy in availing Haj and Umrah facilities from the Saudi royalty instead of attending to the expatriate community or those who were visiting for pilgrimage.
Pakistani pilgrims were known to be kept in buildings that were the cheapest to hire, and, hence, in the worst possible conditions. In our 20 years in Makkah, we did not even know the names of the consuls-general in Jeddah.
In 2009, we moved to Canada. The news report cited above, in the last two paragraphs, spoke of the consul-general in Barcelona who was mentioned by the foreign minister as the kind of officer the “Foreign Office needs”.
Incidentally, the same officer was the acting consul-general in Toronto at the time when we made the move. As new Canadians, we needed some attestation from the consulate and since I was living in Mississauga and was without a car at that point, I kept calling the consulate on phone, but could not get access to the officer concerned. Tired, I left my number with the reception, requesting the staff to ask the consular officer to call back. With my experience in Jeddah, however, I was not expecting any response.
I was wrong. At 10pm the same night, I got a call on my cellphone, with a gentleman at the other end saying politely: “I am the acting consul-general in Toronto. I saw your number at the reception. How can I help you?” I thought this was a fake caller, given the image that the consulates have as being unresponsive almost everywhere across the world.
So I politely asked him: “Can I come to your office in the consulate to see you instead of sharing my details on phone?” He agreed and gave me a time. The next day I was in the consulate and met the gentleman.
The first thing I did was to confirm from him if the call was actually from him. This was a huge surprise to us that a senior officer could even bother to call and inquire what sort of help we wanted.
After that, till the time he stayed in the consulate in Toronto, he was known to be an extremely accessible diplomat who was attentive to the matters of Pakistani community there. He was extremely popular and is still remembered by all Pakistani-Canadians in Toronto as an exemplary officer. Now we hear that he is doing the same with the Pakistani community in Barcelona as the consul-general. He surely raises the bar wherever he goes.
Indeed, as the foreign minister has pointed out, the Foreign Office must have such officers in Pakistani missions abroad. They are not only an asset to the expatriate community, but also create a soft image of Pakistan.
I am glad that at least this issue of quality and compassionate service to the overseas Pakistanis is being addressed in Pakistan. Finally!
Dr Ilmana Fasih
Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2021