PM Imran Khan recently went on his first official trip to Saudi Arabia, not only maintaining a long-standing friendship but also to discuss possible inclusion in CPEC. The fact that it won’t be happening anymore is a different matter. Still, Saudi Arabia might be involved financially in Pakistan soon. Just a day ago, Pakistani authorities revealed they are in talks with the Kingdom to launch several mega projects, including construction of an oil refinery at the country’s southwestern Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea coast.

However, the diplomatic relations of the two countries are far more complex than just financial involvement due to a burgeoning diaspora of Pakistanis in the Kingdom. Stats show that more than 2 million Pakistanis have been employed in Saudi, contributing to their economy to a great deal.

Because of the current conditions of the country, several residents of Pakistan are struggling for work. Just last year more than 150,000 migrants move to the Middle East. Despite this, the same year, Riyadh demonstrate severe indifference towards these migrants by imposing heavy taxations on foreigners.

We don’t always ask what the state of those expats is. But given the aggrandizement of diplomatic ties, we have to ask ourselves what the opportunity cost is for our own people.

Pakistani workers in Saudi Arabia (Source: Times of Islamabad)

Financial insecurity is a prime marker of our expats in Saudia. 

Saudi Arabia is also known to have violated Consular Relations in 1988. Under the act, they are required to inform Pakistani officials if any Pakistani is ever arrested in their territory. Despite this agreement, the Saudi officials have not yet followed the rule once. More so, they also deprive families of visiting members in jail and are also not allowed to receive their bodies. They are given deportation orders in vague manners and often don’t receive their wages timely.

To make matters worse, under recent circumstances, several jailed prisoners were told last minute that their sentences were replaced with death sentences before implementation.

Pakistan must ensure that the integrity of our own people is maintained in these new diplomatic ties. 

Pakistan must continue to remind Saudia of its contributions to the Kingdom’s development since 1957. For instance, a Pakistani economist Anwar Ali was responsible for the Kingdom’s monetary resources. Engineers from Pakistan set up communications and similar contributions were made in the medical department as well.

Saudi Delegation on a recent visit to Pakistan. (Source: Dawn)

Islamabad during the four-day visit by the Saudi delegation even brought this issue up demanding that the kingdom increase job facilities for Pakistanis. However, the matter needs to be taken further and ensure the complete safety of their jobs while in the Kingdom. It needs to be taken into serious consideration that these members earn to support their families but more importantly; they are a great contribution to the economy of the Kingdom. Their predicament should not be ignored by Pakistan.

Governments of other countries have taken important steps to protect and assist their citizens living in Saudi Arabia. Pakistan must do the same!

It is imperative that with the new wave of economic ties, Pakistan isn’t held hostage to a potentially financially unequal relationship. Prime Minister Imran Khan has promised his support to all the overseas Pakistanis currently being kept in jails. His statement has provided the individuals and their families with a new-found hope. Let’s hope the premier sticks to his word when it comes to his own people since our track record in condemning human rights violations such as the jailing of Samar Badawi isn’t that great.



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