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Pakistan did not need to pick a side in the Canada-Saudi Arabia conflict

I had the pleasure of visiting the Pakistani consulate in Toronto the other day to renew my passport. Every time I enter the consulate, it’s like I am transported back in time to a bureaucratic government office in Islamabad in the 90s. Passport renewal process in Pakistan has been improved and streamlined yet our consulates and embassies still operate as if this is Nawaz Sharif’s first term in office. But I digress.

I was seated next to a bearded gentleman who was also there to renew his passport. We struck up a conversation and I found out that this man was born in Pakistan but raised in Canada and was now pursuing his higher education in Madina. Out of curiosity, I enquired why he was at the Pakistani consulate given that he was a Canadian citizen and had informed me that he had not been to Pakistan since he had migrated to Canada.

Apparently, with the escalating diplomatic row between Saudi Arabia and Canada, Canadian students in Saudi Arabia are at risk of being ordered by either the Canadian government to come back or by the Saudi government to leave the country. In case any of the aforementioned scenarios play out, he planned to show a valid Pakistani passport so that he could continue his stay in Saudi Arabia.

Finally, an instance where having a Pakistani passport was actually more valuable than having a Canadian passport – perhaps this is Naya Pakistan!

As a brief background, let me provide some context here. First of all, the public spat between Saudi Arabia and Canada arose from a tweet by Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, regarding human rights abuses by Saudi Arabia. Ms Freeland has a very active Twitter account but compared to Donald Trump’s tweets, her tweets are quite benign. Yet the Saudis took offence to a particular tweet and are in the process of cutting all diplomatic, social and cultural ties with Canada.

Moreover, tweets from Ms Freeland address everything such as Pakistan’s Independence Day, interactions between Canadian and American businesses as well the impact of Brexit on Canadian trade. It was never her intention to infuriate the Saudis. It is unfortunate that her office has to work full-time now to appease them.

Canada houses a large number of Pakistani immigrants who are active in all aspects of society, be it professional, social or political. These immigrants have been in a tricky situation ever since the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Canada broke out. On the one hand, they have been flaunting pictures of Imran Khan and Justin Trudeau on social media as the two most good looking leaders in the world. While on the other hand, they have been thoroughly embarrassed by Pakistan openly supporting Saudi Arabia in its stand against Canada.

Why Pakistan jumped into the middle of this controversy with an official position of siding with Saudi Arabia is also questionable. Yes, Pakistan is a staunch supporter of Saudi Arabia in all that it does, but there was no need to make any kind of statement at all in this scenario. It’s a row between two sovereign nations and Pakistan should have left it at that.

More than what side Pakistan is on, the Canadian government has been concerned due to the lack of support from its staunchest allies: US, UK and Germany. While Germany has justified itself by saying that it doesn’t want to get involved in a row between sovereign nations, the silence from the US and the UK is a clear indication of their support for Saudi Arabia. Yet we didn’t see any official statements from them about this. However, Pakistan did not wait to announce its support for Saudi Arabia.

For future reference, a humble request to the staff at the ministry of foreign affairs in Pakistan: please take into account Pakistan’s own relationship with a sovereign nation before jumping in to take sides. Pakistani-Canadians, particularly those that have been involved in federal politics in Canada, have been left with egg on their face when all their defence of Pakistan over the years has been nullified by the country’s official stance against Canada.

At this point, we don’t know how this row will play out but Pakistan should maintain a neutral stance.

Pakistan’s love for Saudi Arabia is hidden from no one but making lives difficult for Pakistani-Canadians or possibly turning Canada against them isn’t a sensible move. We can just hope that there is no backlash from Canada because Pakistan certainly does not need more foes.

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