The duty of scholars toward stranded Pakistanis


AT a community gathering held recently, I met a Pakistani Islamic scholar who came to the Kingdom to perform Haj. The scholar, who was the guest of honor at the function, talked about the activities that are being undertaken by him and the institution that he supervises in Pakistan. He said that these activities are not limited to delivering only religious classes but on the other hand, it is a combination of imparting both religious and material education. There are tens of thousands of students who are graduating every year from these schools.

The scholar gave the attendees an opportunity to ask him questions. He gave brief answers to a number of questions that were asked to him. Most of the questions were pertaining to religious and educational issues and there were only a few questions related to politics. And I asked him about the Pakistanis who are stranded in Bangladesh since the secession of East Pakistan and the creation of the new state of Bangladesh. They are the Muslims who migrated to Pakistan from the eastern Indian state of Bihar during the time of partition of the subcontinent. Their migration to the eastern part of the new country was because of the proximity of Bihar to East Pakistan.

During the civil war that led to the secession of East Pakistan and creation of the new state of Bangladesh, these people stood by the Pakistan Army in order to maintain the unity of Pakistan. However, when the state of Bangladesh came into a reality, these people faced a bleak future mainly because of the fact that the Bangladeshis considered them as traitors and they have no place in the new nation other than languishing in squalid camps where they are living even without the basic amenities of life since 1971.

As for the successive Pakistani governments, they gave them promises of repatriation and rehabilitation in Pakistan but that promises came into a reality only in the cases of a few of them. My question to the scholar was about his position about these Pakistanis who migrated to Pakistan and made great sacrifices for the nation. They speak Urdu, the official language of Pakistan, and they fulfill all the criteria to be considered as Pakistanis in all senses of the word.

But unfortunately, the scholar’s answer was neither convincing nor a balanced one. He confirmed that there is apathy on part of Pakistan in taking up their issue and that he sees no solution for their problems in the near future. The scholar said that there was a newspaper defending their rights, demanding a solution to their problem and raising funds for them. When I asked him about the name of that newspaper, he said it was Nawaiwaqt newspaper. When I asked why they do not stand with the newspaper and mount pressure on the government to solve the problem of these stranded Pakistanis or at least for issuing passports for them so that they can go out of Bangladesh in pursuit of better living prospects. The scholar’s reply for this was a remark ‘God willing.’

I have attended several seminars organized by the Pakistan Repatriation Council (PRC) to discuss the problem of these people. Several leaders of the Pakistani community in Jeddah used to address these functions. All these speakers were unanimous in their viewpoints that these people are Pakistanis and it is a must for the Pakistani government to solve their problems and thus end their suffering. PRC had earlier presented a plan under which the repatriation of stranded Pakistanis shall be carried out through a self-financing scheme. As per the scheme, those who can earn livelihood through engaging in jobs can refund for what was spent for their repatriation.

Many columnists and I have written articles shedding light on the plight of these people, urging the government of Pakistan to revive the Rabita Endowment, which was founded during the rule of General Ziaul Haq in cooperation with the Muslim World League (MWL) when Dr. Abdullah Omar Naseef served as its secretary general. The members of the Endowment included Prince Talal Bin Abdulaziz and a number of prominent Saudi and Pakistani figures. The activities of the endowment came to a halt following the death of General Zia apart from some other reasons.

It is no longer acceptable to leave a quarter of a million Pakistanis in the lurch in Bangladesh. It is the moral, humanitarian and national duty of the Pakistani government and army as well as the entire people of Pakistan, especially the Islamic scholars, to take up this pressing issue and find a permanent solution to it. It is very astonishing to see that the Pakistani officials are ignoring the just cause of this hapless people.

The former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had constituted a parliamentary committee to study the problem of the stranded Pakistanis in Bangladesh but did not hear anything about the outcome of the study. A case was also lodged with a Pakistani court, seeking the court’s intervention to direct the government to assume its responsibility for the repatriation of these people and rehabilitate them in the land donated by the Punjab provincial government, but the court rejected the case, while attributing it to some procedural anomalies.

During the first tenure of Nawaz Sharif as prime minister of Pakistan, his government started building 1,000 houses on the land donated by the provincial government of Punjab and repatriated 1,000 families to live in there. This was clear evidence that these people are originally Pakistanis and that they have the right to enjoy all the rights of citizenship. It is also obvious that ignoring their problem by the government does not mean that they are not entitled to it. The government cannot abandon its responsibility in this regard. The Pakistani scholars also have a responsibility to draw attention to the duty of the concerned authorities in putting an end to the miserable condition of these Pakistanis.

— Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at