The decision may have come late, almost on the edge of the deadline, but the government has managed to get the first batch of stranded Pakistanis in Yemen out of the war-torn country. With state structures collapsing fast and the fighting picking up pace, it was becoming increasingly perilous to live in a country that seemed to echo the conflicts in Syria, Libya and Iraq; especially for Pakistani citizens, who may have found themselves on the receiving end of Houthi militants’ ire – seeing as Saudi Arabia had announced Pakistan’s participation in the coalition bombing Yemen. In the past, the state has often been indifferent to the plight of Pakistani expatriates, leaving them to their own resources in difficult situations; it is a refreshing change to see the state take ownership of its protective role and extending its influence beyond its territorial borders.

On Monday, a PIA flight carrying 503 Pakistanis left Hudaidah and made its way to Jinnah International Airport Karachi, where they were greeted by a large number of anxious relatives as well as a sizeable delegation of government politicians, there to talk up the government initiative to the media. For its part, it deserves credit; with most airports dysfunctional and the city of Sanaa and Aden under curfew, gathering Pakistani residents and transporting them through Houthi and Al-Hadi Loyalist check posts to a location where they can be flown out is a difficult task. As is the coordination with Saudi authorities – who have imposed a no-fly zone over Yemen – and Aden port authorities, towards which a naval frigate has been dispatched to help with the evacuation. Despite the success of the first evacuation, authorities estimate that there are over 2,000 Pakistanis in Yemen, and only when they have reached safety can the government term the operation a success.

The picture is not as rosy as the government would have the media believe. While other governments, such as the United States and the United Kingdom evacuated their expatriates as early as the first week of February, Pakistani authorities delayed evacuation until the conflict had got completely out of control. Had the Houthi militants held a grudge – they definitely had reason to – then not a single Pakistani would have been able to leave Yemen. One hopes the government displays the same patriarchal role, albeit a little delayed, that it played in Yemen when it comes to other Pakistani expatriates in need of aid. Such as the scores of Pakistani migrants languishing in Saudi jails over drug trafficking charges and the countless workers suffering human rights violations in Gulf States such as Qatar.