The UK government on Friday put Pakistan on the “red list” of countries effective April 9, a decision it said was based on advice from public health experts as well as scientific data. The move has thwarted travel plans of British Pakistanis hoping to spend Ramazan and Eid with their families (considering the cost of a 10-day quarantine on their return to the UK), though speculation about travel restrictions started early in March when reported cases in the capital and Punjab saw a significant increase.
While it was disappointing enough for Pakistani travellers placed on the UK’s list of countries whose citizens could not enter the country on a visa, it was also puzzling why the objections to this decision were voiced by a British opposition MP of Pakistani origin, Naz Shah, rather than normal diplomatic channels. The silence by the Pakistani High Commission indicates either that someone was sleeping on the job, or there was a considered decision to let Ms Shah do the job for it, indicating pusillanimity ill-suited to diplomats.
To Asad Umar – the federal minister who is also heading the Covid nerve centre, NCOC – the decision to red-list Pakistan has to do with Britain’s foreign policy rather than science and statistics. Umar has shared a letter written by British MP Naz Shah to British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in support of his claim. Through the letter written on March 30, prior to the announcement of the entry ban, the MP, who has a large Pakistani diaspora within her constituency, has questioned the foreign secretary on why countries like France, Germany and India which have substantially higher numbers of infections per 100,000 have evaded the red-list. “… I am writing to simply ask, what scientific data is any decision being led by,” Shah writes.
Islamabad should actively pursue all available channels to ensure its passengers are not slashed, unnecessarily. It goes without saying that an extensive vaccination drive and stringent compliance of precautions hold the key to handle the recent jump in cases. But holding the diplomatic fort is just as crucial. After all, we do not wish to see closeted from the rest of the world in the name of caution. The element of diplomacy cannot be excluded, for Pakistan had recently banned travellers from the UK. Ironically, the UK variant, which that ban was meant to exclude, has made it to Pakistani shores. As the entire episode shows, Pakistani diplomats are unwilling to put in the effort needed.