Aviation minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan’s comments draw criticism from overseas Pakistanis


LONDON: The statement by Federal Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan that overseas Pakistanis who cannot pay the extra costs incurred for special flights should stay where they are, instead of returning to Pakistan, has drawn criticism from overseas Pakistanis including members of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) as well.

“People are not happy in any condition. If an empty plane is sent to the US and it returns with 50% occupancy who will bear the expenses,” the aviation minister had said during a press conference on Sunday, referring to overseas Pakistanis. “Obviously, the ones who are coming will bear them. If they can’t afford it, they shouldn’t come.”

The minister went on to say that such a policy was absolutely justifiable and was not unfair because if overseas Pakistanis wanted to return to their country in urgency, then they would have to pay the extra cost for it.

The statement has been criticised by various overseas Pakistanis, who say they donate to causes in Pakistan without a second thought, but fail to receive due consideration from Islamabad when they themselves are in trouble.

Previously, an issue was raised when overseas Pakistanis stuck in Pakistan were unable to return to their countries due to the ban on international air travel in Pakistan. Many overseas Pakistanis bought a ticket multiple times but were unable to go back to their country.

Senior PTI UK official and Punjab Overseas Commission Advisory Board member, Asif Khan, ‘strongly condemned’ the statement by the Sarwar. He said that the government should not take overseas Pakistanis for granted and noted that they were always ready to serve their country. He said that overseas Pakistanis were “not sheep or voiceless people”. 

“Most countries in the world repatriated their citizens free of cost or at subsidised rates due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said former Punjab Assembly member, Dr Ashraf Chohan. “The way the aviation minister is saying that people should pay extra shows that he is unable to do anything for the plight of overseas Pakistanis and shows that his government can’t do anything for them.”

Commenting on the situation, solicitor Sheikh Asif Salam said: “Pakistan has always been highly dependent on foreign remittances and arguments like the one from the aviation minister justifying exorbitant fares for those being brought back to the country in the pandemic is deplorable.”

“If there is an extraordinary situation, the state should provide relief to us without expecting extraordinary costs.”

In a recently released statement on the microblogging site, Twitter, Sarwar clarified that he respected overseas Pakistanis but stood by his earlier statement that special flights will cost more.

A Twitter user urged the minister to “put your foot down” to help stranded overseas Pakistanis and arrange for their return home. He said that 90% of the overseas Pakistanis did not have money to buy new tickets after they had purchased a return ticket earlier. 

On Sunday, the aviation minister issued a clarification and said that his comments were twisted and used against him. He said he stood by his original statement and explained that special flights were being run to bring back stranded Pakistanis, who were in dire need, and were not for those who didn’t have to come to Pakistan in an emergency.

Sarwar advised those who were not stranded to wait for regular flight operations to resume in due course. He said he has served as a Minister of Overseas Pakistanis in the past and greatly valued their contribution for the country.

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