ISLAMABAD: Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar on Wednesday said that the number of Pakistani students who fled Kyrgyzstan following the May 18 mob attacks has surpassed 3,000, and is expected to exceed 4,000 by midnight.

His press conference comes a day after his visit to the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek where he spoke to officials about the recent mob attacks targeting international students, among whom were Pakistanis, Dawn.com reported.

“I had said that I would not be placated until I physically come to Kyrgyzstan. The president had assu­red me that everything is under control and not to worry. But I told him that I would like to come and meet the injured and meet with the deputy prime minister,” the FM said.

He expressed his gratitude to his Kyrgyz counterpart Jeenbek Kulu­b­a­ev for arranging for him to immediately fly from Astana, where he att­e­nded a meeting of the Council of For­e­­ign Ministers of the Shanghai Co­­operation Organisation, to Bishkek.

4,000 repatriated so far; Kyrgyz govt agrees to regularise 1,100 Pakistani workers, says deputy premier

He said he was informed that the Kyrgyz president had said intelligence agencies had identified and also arrested perpetrators of the attack.

He also quoted the president as saying if an incident like this ever happened again, he would not spare anyone and they would be punished.

“The second thing I want to talk about, which I was shocked to hear, was that we have about 1,100 workers there, who came in the guise of being tourists and then started working without any visa or legal documents,” he said.

He expressed his gratitude to the Kyrgyz government for obliging his request to regularise the 1,100 workers instead of deporting them and give them proper visas. He vowed that the foreign ministry would follow up on this matter with its Kyrgyz counterpart.

Mr Dar said he had conveyed to the Kyrgyz deputy PM and FM that it was their responsibility to send delegations to meet Pakistani students at the hostel and assure them of recent discussion.

Probe committee

At the presser, he announced the government’s decision to form an inquiry committee on the Bishkek incident, for the satisfaction of everyone, including the foreign ministry and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

This would be a fact-finding committee to determine how the events of the mob attack unfolded. The committee would meet all relevant people, including members of the Kyrgyz government.

“[The committee] will also assess how the issue was handled by our mission and how much responsibility they took. They had established two helplines on WhatsApp. But one side of the story is not enough.”

He added that the committee would be notified shortly, and within two weeks submit a report on its findings.

4,036 students return

According to him, so far, 3233 Pakistani students have been repatriated through special and commercial flights.

A further 513 students would return on flights arranged by the federal government, while around 290 students would return on flights arranged for by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government. “So that brings the total to 4,036 students. This is a big number,” Mr Dar said.

“The government, particularly the foreign ministry, will monitor this closely, and we will immediately take all actions necessary.”

Asked about what arrangements the government has made for the studies of those returning to Pakistan, Mr Dar acknowledged that their medical future was already in question.

Degree recognition

“The Higher Education Commission does not recognise the medical certificates [students] obtained from abroad. The PM has already constituted a committee under my watch to figure out the solution for this issue, so we can figure out how to incentivize students wanting to go abroad and pursue medicine to study in Pakistani medical universities so that they don’t struggle with degree recognition with the HEC later on,” he said.

According to him, students in their final year of university were keen to stay back in Bishkek, and that the majority of students who returned to Pakistan were in the initial stages of their education.

The committee constituted by PM Shehbaz would coordinate with local Kyrgyz universities on how to proceed with student’s relocation back to Bishkek, Mr Dar said.

Meeting tomorrow

“A meeting has already been set to be held on Friday by the DG FMO. The students I met at the Bishkek airport were grateful for the arrangements of their safe return and requested me to assist them with their degree recognition with the HEC,” he said, underscoring that this was a serious matter.

“The decision of the future of these students as to whether they should go back or not is entirely up to the students and their families.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already been directed to beef up our missions in Kyrgyzstan to assist the Pakistani nationals, manage their affairs on the diplomatic level and secure their safe return,” the FM said.

More than 12,000 Pakistanis were studying in Bishkek, according to a Kyrgyz official.

Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2024

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