PRC symposium on stranded Pakistanis held in Riyadh
Riyadh (Faiz Al-Najdi): A historic Symposium was held in Riyadh to ponder about the plight of stranded Pakistanis living a sub-human life in the shanty camps in Bangladesh since past 37 years. The local representatives of all major political parties including a battery of journalists attended this. Engr. Ehsan-ul-Haque Convener Pakistan Repatriation Council (PRC) had especially flown in from Jeddah to grace the occasion. The event was unprecedented for such a gathering had never taken place in Riyadh before. It was possible because of the fact that the Pakistanis here had deep sympathy for the stranded Pakistanis and their cause. It was a rare show of solidarity for these people from the Pakistanis living and working in Riyadh.
[In picture: Karim Khan, ehsanul Haq and Faiz al-Najdi]
Faiz Al-Najdi moderated the program and opened the same with a recitation form holy Quran by Saeed Javed Mughal. After briefing the gathering about the purpose and objective of the symposium, Faiz Al-Najdi then invited Engr. Ehsan-ul-Haque to present his theses on the subject issue of stranded Pakistan. Engr. Ehsan very elaborately briefed the house about the issue that included the aspects from its historical perspective, the details of the thorny journey, the milestones covered and what remained now to be addressed. In his speech he lauded the efforts of late Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto for repatriating & rehabilitating a sizeable number of stranded Pakistanis in the early years immediately aftermath the fall of Dhaka. He also commended the initiatives and the steps taken by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in repatriating & rehabilitating these people in Punjab. He mentioned that Pakistan Peoples Party, under the leadership of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, had began the process of repatriation and Nawaz Sharif had carried the torch forward. And now, as of today, both these major political parties have once again returned to power PPP in the Center and PML-N in Punjab.
According to him, it was an opportune moment to take up this humanitarian issue on sympathetic ground and settle this issue once for all. It was no doubt the will was there and he appealed to both the parties to give a serious thought to this issue and sincerely work to solve banishing all political compulsions aside. He urged the government to reinstate the body of Rabita Trust and also include Bangladesh as a party in the same. According to him in the past a lot of grounds have been covered under the banners of Rabita Trust including raising of funds to the tune of US $ 300 million, carrying out a meaningful head-count via a census in the camps and issuance of identity cards to those who had opted to be repatriated to Pakistan. It had also prepared a Road Map for repatriation, settlement and rehabilitation of these Pakistanis in Punjab. And, according to Engr. Ehsan, if Rabita Trust was rehabilitated and allowed to work independently, the entire matter could be solved within months. He also laid out his earlier proposal of "Repatriation Based on Self-Finance Basis".
According to which this envisaged issuance of special travel document (a passport) to all men who were able to do any work for the purpose of travel to the Gulf countries where jobs could be made available to them under some kind of understanding between Pakistan, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia & other Gulf countries. This way, these unfortunate people will have an opportunity to get on their feet and thus leave the ghetto-like camps to live a decent life outside. Once they are able to accumulate enough resources on their own then they can begin to move to Pakistan, in Punjab, to already allocated houses in the settlements built for the purpose. The families thus moved to such houses would be required to pay back the cost of these houses on easy monthly installments which they would do out of their earnings from their jobs. In this way they would rather fund their own repatriation, settlement and rehabilitation and thus would not be considered burden of any sorts on any government. According to Engr. Ehsan this was a viable proposition which required sincere and honest commitments from the governments of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Arabia & the Gulf.
In his passionate telephonic speech from Jeddah Syed Riaz Bukhari President PPP-Saudi Arabia lauded the efforts of PRC in keeping the issue alive. He said three generations of these patriotic Pakistanis have been wasted in these shanty camps, which are devoid of even basic amenities of drinking water, toilets and wastewater disposal system. They even live in cardboard house often 10-5 persons in small space. "This was shameful that while these Pakistanis are refused entry to Pakistan, millions of Afghanis and other illegal immigrants enjoy all sorts of facilities in Pakistan", he said. He informed Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto had also wanted to repatriate them and her speech in Orangi Town on 15 Nov 1996 is a testimony to the fact. He added it was high time they be repatriated honorably and settled & rehabilitated in Punjab.
In her thought provoking telephonic address from Jeddah, Sameera Aziz a noted Pakistani-origin Saudi writer & journalist and editor of Awaz (Urdu edition of Saudi Gazette) said that the issue of stranded Pakistanis was purely a humanitarian one which have been unnecessarily politicized. She also said that although there were talks about giving Bangladeshi nationality to these people however that would be a futile attempt if there is no action on the front of their rehabilitation. Handing mere a piece of paper is of no meaning. Moreover those who had opted for Pakistan must be repatriated accordingly.
Abdul Kareem Khan Senior Vice President PPP-KSA in a very hard-hitting speech said that those who were responsible for the break-up of Pakistan were the ones who were opposed to repatriation of these patriotic Pakistanis. Riaz Rathore President-PPP Riyadh Region eulogized the efforts of Zulfiaqr Ali Bhutto for bringing these Pakistanis and opined that the successive governments could have solved the problem but unfortunately lacked the will. Chief Coordinator Muhibbaan for Middle East also spoke on the occasion and assured of his full support to the cause. He said these people were real Pakistanis who still were hoisting Pakistani flags atop their huts in those shanty Pakistanis.
Aziz Khan President Muhibbaan-KSA spoke about MQM's continued support for the cause. He criticized the establishment for keeping a deaf-ear for the cause while allowing 3 million Afghanis to come and freely live in the country. President PML-N Saudi Arabia Choudhry Ashiq Hussain began by criticizing MQM for not doing what they should have done for the cause. According to him if MQM had put its foot down, the matter could have been solved long ago. He however assured support for the cause on behalf of his party. In response to this, Aziz Khan explained MQM's position vis-à-vis the subject issue.
Rana Khadim Hussain Vice President PML-N Saudi Arabia also spoke on the occasion and said that these unfortunate people were suffering because they supported the integrity of Pakistan. Engr. Rana Rauf President Majlis Pakistan-KSA blamed each successive government for neglecting the issue. Hafiz Abdul Waheed General Secretary Majlis Pakistan proudly mentioned that his late father Fateh Mohammad had worked to rehabilitate about 25,000 Biharis from former East Pakistan in and around Rawalpindi at the instructions of the then Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. He also assured of all supports for the cause from Jamat-e-Islami.
Choudhry M. Ikram of Minhajul Quran mentioned that General Zia had promised that he would bring these Pakistanis taking them on his back but renegade on the issue. He could have solved this issue but alas he never did. Others who spoke on the occasion included: Sardar Sher Afzal Vice President PPP-KSA, Ashiq Hussain General Secretary Pakistan Writers Club-Riyadh, Engr. Syed Khwaja Nehal Uddin Vice President Program Design Pakistan Writers Club-Riyadh, Raja Moazzam, Ayaz Haider, Jehangir Zaki and Saeed Javed Mughal.
At the end of the program a few resolutions were tabled and unanimously adopted. Formation Friends of Stranded Pakistanis was announced which is to be a new organization in Riyadh to promote and rally supports for the issue in Riyadh, the services of Majeed Nizami of Nawai Waqt was eulogized for raising funds for the cause, a round table-conference was proposed to be held in Pakistan inviting all political parties to solve the problem, it was proposed to shun all political differences on the matter and to support the issue as a pure humanitarian problem, President Zardari was urged to reinstate Rabita Trust and to recommence the work on the issue from where it was left when the Trust was disbanded, and finally, Pakistan High Commission in Dhaka was requested to extend all moral, political and diplomatic help & assistance to the stranded Pakistanis until such time that the issue was closed. The program concluded with prayers for these people and a sumptuous dinner.
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