The Diminishing Worth Of A Pakistani Passport: Time For Introspection

The Diminishing Worth Of A Pakistani Passport: Time For Introspection
Recently, the Henley Passport Index ranked the Pakistani passport as the fourth least desirable passport in the world. In other words, the Pakistani passport allows holders access to fewer countries of the world visa-free than the citizens of nearly all other countries, barring Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, which rank even lower on the index. Evidently, Prime Minister Imran Khan's campaign pledge to make the Pakistani passport a badge of honour and respect globally has been as hollow as his other promises.

Why does the Pakistani passport fall so low on the ranking? One would be foolish to dismiss it as yet another conspiracy against the land of the pure.  Instead, it should merit open discussion and introspection.  Those Pakistanis who had the opportunity have for years now been voting with their feet to move to countries that rank high on the index.  The UK, US and Canada, for instance, are all home to large Pakistani diaspora communities.

The Pakistani elite has even found ways to acquire Canadian passports, for example, without moving to Canada or made large investments in various other jurisdictions, including islands like St. Kitts (ranked 25 on the index), to secure foreign passports and residencies.  Others with means have flown to the United States or Ireland only to give birth to their children there and hence acquire passports for them.

But while the elite secures alternatives for itself, it is largely averse to discussing what could make the Pakistani passport more acceptable internationally.  If one looks at the countries that rank high on the index, let's say the top 15, overwhelmingly those countries are functioning democracies, and certainly none are military dictatorships or even 'hybrid regimes'  The other common thread amongst the top-ranked countries is a separation of religion and the affairs of state.

Let's take South Korea, for instance, which is tied with Germany for second place on the index.  Article 1 of its Constitution reads as follows:

"The sovereignty of the Republic of Korea shall reside in the people, and all state authority shall emanate from the people."

Let's compare that to the Pakistani Constitution, wherein the preamble opens thus:

"Whereas sovereignty over the entire universe belongs to Almighty Allah alone, and the authority to be exercised by the people of Pakistan within the limits prescribed by Him in a sacred trust."

While the South Korean Constitution is clear on empowering its people, the Pakistani Constitution is far more circumspect.  What good is referencing religion in the Constitution when the state fails in its primary duty of caring for its own people?  What purpose does a Rehmat-ul-Alimeen authority serve when average people are crumbling under the weight of rampant inflation?  From Zia-ul-Haq to Imran Khan, hasn't religion always been used by the state to deflect discussion on more relevant matters?  Hasn't it held Pakistan back?

Many will argue that South Korea is not a Muslim country and hence it is futile to compare.  So let us then compare with a Muslim country that is also home to a large Pakistani diaspora, the United Arab Emirates. UAE has jumped from 65 to 15 on the index.  What can explain this astronomical rise?

Unlike the other countries ranked high on the list, the UAE is not a democracy.  But its leadership has had a consistent vision to separate religion from the affairs of state and to embrace religious freedom.

On a visit to Dubai last month, a friend who has moved to Dubai from India, confessed that, as a Hindu, he feels completely free to practise his religion in UAE and far freer than Muslims in India do.  He further mentioned that living in the UAE has piqued his interest in Islamic history. Perhaps this goes to show that gaining respect and presenting your religion in a good light is best done by giving others freedom and not by forcing others to comply with draconian regulation.

The UAE has been able to attract investment and tourism from all parts of the world precisely because it does not mix religion with the affairs of state.  As a Pakistani, I couldn't help but think that what was really Jinnah's vision has been perfected in a country twenty odd years younger than Pakistan.

Neighbouring Saudi Arabia too wants to emulate the UAE model now but it won't be easy for them because unlike the UAE, which has consistently emphasised nationalism over Islam in the state curriculum since the 1970s,  Saudi Arabia is desperate to make U-turns on the previous religious indoctrination of its populace.  But the UAE is surging ahead with reforms to its legal system and allowing interpretations of Shariah that are fairer to women.

If Pakistan is serious about enhancing the worth of its passport it must pay attention to steps other countries have taken to achieve that.