Naureen Aqueel

Archive for April 2008

Published in The Outlook (class newsletter), April-May, 2008.

While the media portray a very frightening picture of foreigners living and working in Pakistan, with innumerable reports of killings, bomb blasts and kidnappings linked to nearly every report of foreigners in Pakistan, some individual accounts of foreign social workers here present a different picture. Pakistan, according to them is a viable land for welfare work and is not seen as a ‘terrorist nation’.

Foreign workers at NGOs, who were part of our survey, have not faced any security problems in their work here despite having travelled to rural areas in Sindh, Punjab and Kashmir, as well as areas like Waziristan, Tibet and Mangophir.

“I usually do not take security with me when travelling” says Wilson Lee, Program Officer for South and Southeast Asia National Endowment of Democracy based in Washington, USA. “But, if I am going to areas which have high security risk I do take security along.”

Speaking about his foreign colleagues, Media and PR Officer, Islamic Relief, Muhammad Niyaz says, “The work environment in Pakistan is comparatively better than some of the other countries in this region. Most of the foreigners that I know are enjoying working and living here, some of them to the extent that they don’t want to leave the country even after they complete their tenure.” He says there are only a few places here where there is a security concern and that there has not been a single incident of discrimination or security threat to his foreign colleagues so far.

Most foreigners find the people of Pakistan to be friendly and hospitable. It is easier to mobilize communities for development projects here as compared to Afghanistan.  However, some do admit that sometimes residents are suspicious of them suspecting them of wishing to impose foreign culture and religion on them.

Resistance or problems faced by foreigners working here are usually not by the people but by intelligence agencies, reveals Wilson Lee who has been bothered by intelligence agencies asking too many questions about his work which is centered around promoting democracy in Pakistan.

The role of foreign staff at various NGOs is commendable. Many occupy crucial positions in their respective organisations. Working away from home and in a different environment, these foreigners help improve Pakistan in their own different ways.

When contacted, the NGO Resource Centre said no overall figures existed on the number of foreign-based NGOs working in Pakistan, but stressed that a number of them do carry out important activities here. And it is not only foreign-based NGOs where foreigners lend their services, they also do so in local-based NGOs. Many NGOs reported that some foreigners often come temporarily for research or other specific projects and leave thereafter.

Foreigners working in Unicef, Green Star Social Marketing, Aga Khan Educational Service and Human Rights Commission of Pakistan could not be contacted after repeated calls due to their busy schedules. Information provided by some these NGOs about their work however shows that they carry out commendable activities here and there haven’t been any cases of security threat to their foreign workers here.

Other NGOs contacted either did not respond or did not have foreign workers.

With additional reporting by Asra Mustafa, Farwa Jafari, Fatima bint-e-Razi and Saman Nabiya.

Published in The Outlook (class newsletter), April-May 2008.

Hundreds of foreign prisoners are languishing in Pakistani jails since a number of years often beyond their awarded sentences or without trial. These foreign inmates belong to India, Afghanistan, Sudan, Kenya, Germany, Iran, Morocco, Romania, Burma, Tanzania, Lebanon and Bangladesh etc, according to various reports in the Pakistani press.

Majority of the foreigners in Pakistani prisons are Indians, usually fishermen who are arrested for intruding into Pakistani waters, according to Abdul Hai, field officer at Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). According to a recent report in The News, there are 641 Indians in Pakistani jails, out of which 436 are fishermen.

Afghans also make up a large percentage of foreign inmates in Pakistani jails. A report by U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI 2007) reveals that during 2006, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other bodies intervened in the cases of 148 detained Afghan refugees, who were mostly arrested under the Foreigners Act 1946 and Foreigners Order, which provide for the arrest and detention of undocumented aliens. Such acts are the main cause for hundreds of Afghan refugees being detained in Pakistani prisons. Other Afghans in Pakistani jails are usually arrested in antiterrorist operations.

While there are many complaints by NGOs about the miserable conditions in which foreign prisoners live in Pakistani jails, according to Abdul Hai the treatment of foreigners here is slightly better as compared to locals. “Foreigners are sometimes put in for educational activities in jails,” says Abdul Hai. “They also have slightly better prison cells and washrooms as they usually have separate sections. Prisoners of Europe and Africa usually get slightly better treatment, although Indians aren’t treated that well.”

Prisoners from Africa, Mexico and Europe are usually those arrested smuggling heroine/drugs. Those arrested are punished according to Pakistani laws. After completing their terms they are supposed to be sent back to their respective countries, but some remain detained in prisons even after the completion of their terms. HRCP and other NGOs help put the prisoners in touch with their respective embassies which help them to return to their country after completing their sentences by providing them tickets and legal aid etc.

Indian fishermen and Afghan refugees are often released on pressure from different organisations. Indian fishermen are often released in exchange for Pakistani fishermen who have also been arrested crossing the borders while fishing. Also, according to USCRI (2007) in February 2006, Pakistan released nearly 600 Afghans as a goodwill gesture to visiting President Karzai of Afghanistan.

With additional reporting by Asra Mustafa, Fatima bint-e-Razi, Farwa Jafari and Saman Nabiya.

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