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A question of national identity and pride

A passport serves as a symbol of a nation’s global standing and the level of respect it commands in the international community. It is a key document that facilitates travel and entry into other countries, enabling individuals to represent their countries abroad. The strength and utility of a passport are often measured by its visa-free travel privileges and the level of access it provides to other countries. Countries with passports that offer visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to a wide range of nations are generally seen as having greater global respect and influence. While Pakistan provides visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to a number of countries, it does not enjoy the same concessions reciprocally from these countries.

The overall global passport ranking in terms of travel freedom and access is determined by various indices such as the Henley Passport Index and the Arton Capital Passport Index. These indices assess the strength of passports based on the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa.

The Henley Passport Index is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which has the largest and most accurate travel information database.

Japan and Singapore have dominated the top spot for the last five years, but they have been joined by France, Germany, Italy, and Spain at the top this year. In 2024 citizens from these six countries can visit an impressive 194 of the 227 destinations around the globe visa-free.

Dr Christian H. Kaelin, chairman of Henley & Partners, and the inventor of the passport index concept, says although the general trend over the history of the 19-year-old rankings has been towards greater travel freedom, the global mobility gap between those at the top and bottom of the index is now wider than ever.

“The average number of destinations travelers are able to access visa-free has nearly doubled from 58 in 2006 to 111 in 2024. However, as we enter the New Year, the top-ranked countries are now able to travel to a staggering 166 more destinations visa-free than Afghanistan, which sits at the bottom of the ranking with access to just 28 countries without a visa.”

The UAE has been the biggest climber on the index over the past decade, adding an impressive 106 destinations to its visa-free score since 2014, and improving its ranking from 55th to 11th. India is also among the big climbers and according to the new ranking released in January 2024, India’s passport comes at 80th place in the world and Indian citizens can travel to 62 countries of the world without a visa including visa-free travel to Malaysia, Indonesia, Iran and Jordan. Pakistan’s citizen needs visa for these Muslim states.

According to Henley and Partners Visa Restrictions Report, the Pakistani passport’s value has been rapidly diminishing in the last two decades and it is now ranked at 46th place. Today, only 34 countries provide on-arrival visas to Pakistanis, most of them are in Africa.  After 9/11, amidst global security concerns and the rise of militancy in Pakistan, more and more countries stopped providing on-arrival-visa facilities to Pakistanis. Pakistanis now require a pre-arrival visa for China as well.

Pakistanis in early years of its history enjoyed on-arrival-visa facilities in all the countries, except in Communist countries, barring China. Pakistan’s passport was considered as one of the most valuable passports. Many of the young Pakistanis, who went overseas for studies, notably to the United Kingdom, preferred to retain the Pakistani passport as against the readily available option to acquire a British passport. Being Pakistanis was then a matter of pride. Most of them after higher education returned back to Pakistan extremely inspired to serve and carve out a place for them in a country of their own. Over the years this motivation and inspiration diminished and transformed into despondency.

Today, many of the functionaries holding public office, businessmen, technocrats and professionals hold dual nationality and many are lined up to acquire it on the basis of substantial investments in the other countries with the prime objective of securing a passport of value. Those who cannot afford it put their life at stake and attempt to illegally move to the mirage of lands of opportunities.

In a notable surge in calendar year 2023, over 860,000 Pakistanis, mostly professionals, embarked on journeys abroad in search of a new identity and employment opportunities, marking the highest number recorded since 2015.

Pakistan can reverse the trend of slide of the value of its passport and drain of its talents by providing an enabling environment and pride of state ownership to its citizens. The economic miracle of India, starting in the mid ninety, exponentially caught speed when its oversees-based talent decided to return back to their country, laden with knowledge and money, to perform in the enabling environment made available to them in the country of their origin. Small and medium-sized enterprises and startups in IT industry mushroomed and filled up the landscape of economic activities in India. Same economic phenomenon took place in China around the same times, taking China to heights unimaginable in the eighties.

Pakistan’s landscape has the potential to witness the same phenomenon if the stakeholders of the land can manage to put the messed-up house in order in good time and work on dramatically improving the ‘overseas country perception’.

Farhat Ali, "A question of national identity and pride," Business recorder. 2024-01-27.
Keywords: Political sciences , International community , Economic phenomenon , Economic miracle , Economic activities , Dr Christian H. Kaelin , Pakistan , India , Germany , China , United Kingdom , IATA , UAE

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