ISLAMABAD   -   The present government has taken quantum leaps for Pakistanis abroad, Pakistani Consul General in Barcelona Imran Ali Chaudhary said Saturday. In an exclusive interview with The Nation here at the newspaper’s offices, the senior diplomat said that a revolution had taken place.  Barcelona consulate in Spain, he said, plays the role of a facilitator for all Pakistanis in Europe for their consular work.

Chaudhary, who met Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi here last day, said the common Pakistani was very happy with the working of the Barcelona consulate and they ascribe it to the latest changes. He said: “Our missions abroad and in fact every public office can be of two types. One is the “afsar-shahi” or “bureaucratic model”. Unfortunately, over seventy years, this model characterises government service domestically and abroad. The main plank of this model is to distrust and look at disdain at the Pakistanis living abroad. To me that is a criminal concept. That model hides itself behind antiquated and perverse rules and laws.”

“Pakistani foreign missions have a bad reputation historically, comprising rude officials and haughty behaviour towards our communities abroad.” However, he said: “There is the human model. It is the basic concept, the vision of “your state is like your mother.” So imagine a public office like your mother. It provides refuge, it loves you, it forgives you, it facilitates you, it is a roof of benevolence. So all policies that emanate from this concept, are likely to win the hearts and minds of the people of Pakistan. The consulate should exist for them, the consulate or the Mission should not be a punitive imposition of rules on them.”

Counting the recent changes, he said there had been more than a 100 per cent reduction in visa fees across the visa spectrum.

“This is a quantum leap. The Ministry is instituting a QR code system for consular services. E-visas have been instituted but are being test run. Visa regulations for diplomats in Islamabad have been eased. This is leapfrogging into a new realm for providing services to Pakistanis abroad. It is unprecedented in Pakistan’s history, in fact in any nation’s history to take such quick and far reaching institutional changes. There is no intellectual fog in the Foreign Office actively led by the Foreign Minister and the Foreign Secretary. Sometimes, we don’t realise and a revolution happens around us. This is what has taken place in terms of positive change for Pakistanis living abroad,” he added.

He said there was a political quantum leap also. “The prime minister (Imran Khan), in one of his early speeches, gave us the general direction of empathy and compassion towards Pakistanis living abroad, quoting from his life in UK. Then the Foreign Minister, in a formal and institutional communication to all heads of mission, directed to serve our communities as one of the primary goals. These are specific, concrete directions. Unprecedented!”

Chaudhary said: “You have genuine Pakistanis without ID cards and passports who have arrived here through non formal and illegal channels. What do you do? Remember he needs a passport to register so that his three-year countdown to resident status starts. So again we go back to the basic philosophy of our missions abroad. Are they going to be punitive offices, or offices of benevolence and help?”

He said the Foreign Service has an ethos which has been submerged by the “babu (bureaucrat)” approach. It is a culture of humanity and accessibility, not to where it suits. Unfortunately, the babu approach rules. However, now all of us have political direction to change it. I am glad; I always followed the humanitarian model in Washington DC and Toronto on my own, but now all of us have the support of the foreign minister.” Again, he said more than the rules, “it is important how you perceive the trickling Pakistanis into Barcelona. I, under the directions of my Ambassador, welcome them into our Missions, talk to them, make them feel proud to be a Pakistani.”

To a question, the Consul General said, in Barcelona, the typical new Pakistani intended immigrant does not speak English or Urdu. “They speak Punjabi and can’t write. That is where insensitivity comes in. Nadra closed its offices in main missions, and introduced online filling of forms. How do you expect a person who can’t read or write to fill forms online? These Pakistanis, without help, remain in the clutches of agents, who charge excessively to fill forms, misguide them and in fact also make mistakes without accountability. So it was decided to facilitate, help and in premises despite the closing of Nadra office in 2018 was a perverse and retrogressive step.”

About how own consulate’s working, he said there is an option to put cases in the suspect category by “over ruling” the application. “This option, designed only for rare cases, was used frequently in 2017-2018, leading to blockage of hundreds of cases of Pakistanis. You can well imagine the plight of such Pakistanis who would not be able to register and start the legalisation process. These are the hidden tragedies in the cities of poor Pakistanis who were made vulnerable by such punitive action. An inquiry was instituted and corrective measures taken. Under new orders, the “over rule” button won’t be pressed. We will make all out efforts to process passports expeditiously by undertaking due diligence in Barcelona and not by sending cases to Pakistan.”

He said that it should happen in all Missions. “Inquiry checks should only be done in rare cases. The lives of individuals should not be destroyed in files and faxes, to which answers never come. Compassion and care and kindness should be primary and this is exactly the direction given by the political leadership, and the Foreign Minister. Things have to change, compassion has to come, and officers should be responsive to the most vulnerable segment of our community.”

Chaudhary said that a consul general has to inspire, to lead, to break shackles, to unleash literature, opinion, and to bring families out. “We are going to continue on this path and transform the Pakistani community of Barcelona into a vibrant body that participates in Spanish society and politics and shows Pakistan for what it is - benevolence, compassion, beautiful people, intellect and energy.”