No country for Pakistani students

          The world is inquisitively watching China’s unprecedented steps to tackle resurgence of Covid in Shanghai. The current drive is China’s biggest city-wide imposition of the restrictions since the beginning of the pandemic as medical personnel have been deployed from other parts of China to tackle the outbreak. Chinese state media acknowledges the operation as the biggest since the Wuhan lockdown in early 2020.

          Despite information on crucial parameters like infection and death rates being hazy as usual, stringent measures in the city are turning the life of its common people miserable. On April 5th, the Guardian reported about some online videos showing residents’ protest against the confusing lockdown and being unable to buy daily necessities. In one video, several residents in a housing compound shouted: “We want to eat, we want to go to work, we want to have the right to know.” The footage has since been taken down by censors.

          The situation is particularly appalling for foreigners living in the city. In spite of a halt on most of the activities, they are not able to leave China. Pakistani students studying in China are one such lot. Many of them have not been able to visit their home country for more than two years now. Already unsure of their career and future, their plight is worsened by the attitude of their own country towards them. They have been approaching Pakistani missions in China seeking support in their various needs arising out of the unforeseen situation. Despite the ordeal, the missions and their officials prefer to leave the students at the mercy of Chinese government.

          The situation of students who managed to return to Pakistan during early phase of the pandemic is worse. China is now not allowing them to join their campuses to resume their classes. According to some reports, more than 28,000 Pakistani students are enrolled in Chinese educational institutions and many of them have been stranded in their home country since 2020. China suspended the entry of foreign nationals in late March 2020 to stop the spread of Covid. However, it has since then opened borders for students of several countries such as South Korea and Malaysia but not for Pakistan. 

          More than the Chinese attitude, it is Pakistan government’s handling of the issue which has been disappointing for the students. In January 2022, some of them took their plight to Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and asked him why individuals from Malaysia were allowed to return to China when Pakistanis were not. Instead of showing empathy or taking up the matter with China, Qureshi responded by mocking the poor students. He asked why they wanted to go to China when even Chinese President Xi Jinping himself was not going anywhere!

          Pakistan’s apathy towards its students studying abroad was equally apparent during the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict. At a time when all major countries were striving hard to bring back their stranded citizens, Pakistan chose to look the other way. In place of getting concerned for the safety of students, Pak Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed his ‘excitement’ during his visit (Feb 24, 2022) to Russia on a day the conflict started. Social media was filled with visuals of helpless Pakistani students appealing for their rescue. Some of them even appealed to the embassy of one of Pakistan’s larger neighbour, India, which turned out to be more compassionate than their own country. Several buses arranged by the Indian Embassy in Ukraine were seen ferrying Pakistani students along with Indians towards Hungary border.  However, even after reaching borders on their own, the students had to wait in Poland, Hungary, and Romania for many days for Pakistani flights to take them back.

          The behaviour of Pakistan’s elite rulers towards their own subjects, both within and outside the country is reflective of their misplaced priorities. However, for a country obsessed with the goal of becoming an extremist state with institutional promotion of radicalization, it is hardly a surprise.

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