That on March 1, 2016, the breaking news was that “Pakistani passport second worst in the world”. Since 2006, London-based firm Henley & Partners in collaboration with the International Air Transport Association prepare an annual list, ranking countries by how freely their citizens can travel in the world. The countries are ranked according to the total number of other countries which they can access without a visa. Interestingly, Germany came top in the passport power list. German citizens can visit 177 out of 218 countries without a visa, according to the 2016 Visa Restrictions Index. Therefore, German citizens are the owners of the world’s most powerful passports.

In 2016, Germany is identified as having the strongest passport in the list, which reflects its standing in the community of nations, while Sweden is in second place with visa-free access to 176 countries. The United Kingdom is in third place along with a large group of countries such as Finland, France, Italy, and Spain, all having visa-free access to 175 countries. In 2014 and 2015, the United States, which ranked first, has now dropped to fourth place with visa-free access to 174 countries, the same as Belgium, Denmark, and the Netherlands.

Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, Pakistan came second-to-last on the passport power list (shameful). The worst is Afghanistan, with just 25 countries allowing visa-free travel, Pakistan at 29, Iraq at 30, Somalia at 31, and Syria at 32. The numbers are a reflection of a country’s standing in the international community and say enough about its diplomatic accomplishments.

Undoubtedly, the economic growth, trade policies, and peaceful coexistence are imperative factors that may define the diplomatic relations between the countries. It is common sense that if a country’s economy is in shambles and its internal situation is devastating than there is no chance that such country will have proper recognition in the community of nations. Therefore, the financial strength and the internal stability are the key factors that determine the power of a nation’s passport and consequently, its diplomatic relations with other nations.

The million dollar question - What is the ranking of other countries within SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation)? Let us all remain painfully aware of the facts. In 2016 index, Maldives has visa-free access to 80 countries, followed by India at 52, Bhutan at 51, Bangladesh at 39, Sri Lanka at 39 and Nepal at 37.

Therefore, it is depressing and humiliating that Pakistan is at the bottom of the list, labeled with countries with the worst passports such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Syria. It is undeniably shameful.

The question is that why Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Syria are at the bottom of the list? The reasons are like writing on the wall. That is, all these countries (war-hit and impoverished nations) including Pakistan are engulfed with devastating evils such as terrorism, political instability, bad-governance, human rights violations, poverty, corruption and inapt economic system. It is sad that Pakistanis (generally) are not properly treated even in Muslim countries (partially, due to their own culpable/blameworthy activities). Therefore, it is time for nation building that will eventually increase the influence and respect of Pakistani passport in the world.

It is time to tell the world that Pakistan is absolutely committed to trade, economic development, cultural promotion, peace and prosperity.

Pakistan should strive to promote business and tourist visa policies with regional countries and should take necessary steps to encourage people-to-people contact and trade in the region. It is best for Pakistan to focus on strengthening trade and economic relations with regional countries such as China, Russia, Iran, and the central Asian countries such as Tajikistan. Pakistan should also not forget the significance of SARRC countries (excluding our arch rival India). It is hard fact of life that India is going to seize every opportunity to sabotage Pakistan’s interest. Therefore, Pakistan should not have high expectations from India particularly, in view of the fact that India is supporting and sponsoring terrorism in Pakistan.

Pakistan should also specifically focus on strengthening trade and economic relations (access to markets) with Muslim countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Turkey, and Gulf countries. Pakistan has not vigorously pursued the Latin American countries. It is time to find new markets for Pakistani agricultural, sports and textile products. Lastly, the significance of American, Canadian and European markets (particularly, German, French and Italian) must not be ignored and all efforts should be made to strengthen trade and economic relations with these countries.

In this age of modernity, striving for economic and industrial development, ensuring political stability, peace and internal security are essentials for a progressive country. Pakistan needs to focus on developing trade and economic opportunities that will make Pakistan a prosperous country. It will also help Pakistan in defeating India (hopefully, in few years), even on the passport power list. It is quite possible to achieve the desired goals. However, it is indeed an uphill task that requires political will, proper planning, appropriate foreign and economic policy, and competent team of professionals led by committed leadership.