No deal on amnesty?
They are the law, so are we.
Miskeen — by
The writer is purportedly a brigadier in the Pakistan army.
Miskeen is a spoken Saudi equal of ‘poor wretch’ used to denote mainly the Asian labour force, coloured workers and expatriates from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Philippines, Indonesia, etc. For those of African and North African origins, they have different titles. More than a word, it shows a whole Saudi racial, social and national attitude and a rancid hubris. In this context, Ummah is either a misnomer or merely a convenience for the Arab. They are Saudis, Iraqis, Egyptians, Yemenis, Kuwaitis Bahrainis, Emiratis or whatever, but brothers in the Ummah. That notion is basically a political convenience. We, in the subcontinent, are emotionally more transparent and excitable. An Arab, like his camel, is emotionally frigid except when he is slighted or his female space is threatened. Despite a strangely adversarial disposition towards females, they count them among their possessions like the black tent, camels and cattle. One realised that the Saudi men’s honour and prestige seem to be tied more to their ability to control their women by diamond necklaces and gold biscuits than any equation of a sublime human relationship. Their family canvas is a sorry mess because of institutionalised licentiousness through a flood of divorces and multiple marriages. A society short of familial affiliations and internal gravitation disintegrates sooner or later.
Saudis, and Arabs for that matter, have an obsessive love for money, matched in our part of the world by the Pathan or the Sikh somewhat, if not fully. The difference is that Pathans and Sikhs both have plenty in the lands they live in, not the Saudis. Less the oil, they have always been short of food and means of livelihood as hardly anything grew in their deserts. Their harsh unsupportive environment forced them to become highwaymen for hire, ferrying the trade goods of richer nations on the ends of the desert and beyond. Those who were not involved in running trade caravans were busy raiding the same. Their land bridge geographical location between productive Asia, Africa and Europe helped them to become exchange traders or midway transit men. Since they produced literally nothing but had to sell others’ goods, therefore they developed excellent linguistic skills, which is why Arabic is such an eloquent language.
Arabs are racial exclusivists and the Saudis, a degree more, arrogant too. However, Kuwaitis excel in both fields. This racist arrogance does not stem from any real world class achievement but their age old ability to ply one’s merchandise to the other at exorbitant rates, making the other believe that the deal was fair, employing a clever-merchant syndrome. The other reason has been the inelasticity of their bare bones social capsule, which was unable to absorb any external influence or people. Their mercantile ability was polished after the advent of Islam with a large dose of missionary zeal and truth on the pain of divine condemnation forever. However, a few centuries on, this zeal waned and skillful statecraft replaced the art of salesmanship. Both required nearly the same neuro transmissions.
I have been Director General (SPAFO) of Pakistan Armed Forces deputationists, mainly, doctors and engineers, to the Saudi Armed Forces from 1998 to 2002.This was one of the most privileged positions for a non-European/American military officer in the Kingdom. I used to sit in the Ministry of Defence sharing the floor with US, British and French military missions. Another unique privilege that I enjoyed was that I could move anywhere in the Kingdom without the indispensible written permission and saw them closely in both urban and rural landscapes. That regretfully shattered many a myth that we Muslims in the subcontinent carry almost as articles of faith, and along with that a part of my better self too. However, it was an invaluable education in reality and measurement of one’s worthiness or otherwise.
Within weeks, I realised that for a self-respecting person, it was nearly impossible to work honourably with those men. But for the call of duty to the fellow deputationists and mutuality between our two countries, I seriously considered repatriation. Hardly an occasion goes by without making an expatriate realise the tentative nature of his lower stature among these stiff-lipped, stuffy men. Our best, even a PhD in Space Sciences, weighs invariably less than a Saudi camel-herder from the Empty Quarter.
Saudi Arabia was almost the last to end slavery officially in 1974 yet by nature retain all the instincts of slave-running alive. The Iqama (work permit) is the principal instrument and is issued on behalf of the Saudi employer (Kafeel) for one year at a time. This is literally a dog collar that provides the Saudi master unlimited and rather coercive powers over the hapless expatriate. Regardless of innocence, merit, right to be heard and the number of years of hard work, one could be packed off and deported within hours. An expatriate has practically no legal stature, let alone the much talked about basic human rights. I know of a senior Pakistani banker who helped set up a renowned Saudi bank, rose to the position of vice-president and after 29 years was ordered out at a week’s notice, his invaluable service and lifetime of hard work notwithstanding. His fault? None except the sweet pleasure of his employer and the weapon, the guillotine of Iqama. Once your Iqama is withdrawn you are an immediate nonentity and must leave the country posthaste before they imprison you for an indefinite period. Moreover, one could see horrible exploitation of female expatriates by their masters, particularly that of Sri Lankans and Philippinas. Pathetic insensitivity that was. (why you people keep coming here? reply I got from a close Saudi friend)
Peculiarly, Saudis have a cold and impersonal system of designating expatriates that they hire. Miskeen is a derisive phrase of pity and loathing that tends to massage their ego in a kind of perverted manner. It tends to be a device of superiority, distancing from the mass of toiling expatriate men and women working in the Saudi households, farms, factories, shops, hotels, offices and all places where an ordinary Saudi considers it below his dignity to work. The next lower phrase in their not so civil glossary is siddique, which very eloquently conveys: ‘You work for me but mind your place. No liberties to be taken.’ Siddique is a belittling way of directly addressing one out of innumerable expatriates already held as miskeen.
European and American expatriates are a different and far superior category. For them notions of pity are transformed into a view of admiration and longing. They are considered and addressed as rafique, meaning ‘dear friend’. Americans top this list, followed closely by the British and other Europeans, depending upon how much they can benefit materially. There are cogent reasons for this preferential treatment. Americans and Europeans negotiate their terms of reference very carefully and hard. They are better networked, bring in more lucrative business, have better work ethics and their parent governments are unrelenting should Saudis maltreat one of their citizens.
There is a third but unspoken class who are mentioned with a smile and a wink. These are fair-skinned Central Asians, Lebanese, and blonde-haired Syrians. They are neither miskeen nor rafique but have the privilege of being the pleasure mates of a superior sort but not equals. They have half an access to the privacies of Saudi households; some even married in. Late Rafique Hariri was a kinsman of the Saudi royal family.
In all this business of labelling who was who in the shoddy Saudi esteem, they missed the forest for the trees. They know but never acknowledge that all of the Kingdom’s infrastructure, services and amenities were built by expatriates from all over the world. Saudi oil money drew the best of the foreign societies into their service but tragically, they failed to absorb them into their own society. It was because they were unfortunately blind to the power of diversification, induction of new talent and ideas. Their genetic disability had been that want and scarcity of thousands of years had made their tribal society grow inwards with no scope or space for expansion and accommodation. The net result is that not only the Saudis floundered a once in centuries chance to enrich their country and society with a mix of talented foreign men and women but also have a huge rootless foreign mass in their midst that can go out of hand any moment. The consequences could be devastating. More about this some other time.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they discussed the issues of democracy, the rule of law and respect for judicial judgments with the Prime Minister of Pakistan on his recent visit.
My Lords, democracy and the rule of law were discussed with Prime Minister Gilani during his visit. We discuss these issues regularly with the Pakistan Government.
I thank the Minister for his reply. Is he aware that Yousaf Raza Gilani was convicted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan of contempt for failing to ask the Swiss authorities to reopen a money laundering case against the President? Is he also aware that his son, Ali Musa, is being investigated by the antinarcotics force for importing 10,000 kilograms of the controlled drug ephedrine, which is used for producing cocaine and other drugs? What message did Her Majesty’s Government give to the people of Pakistan when they invited a Prime Minister who is not even accepted by the opposition in Pakistan as the Prime Minister, and when there are allegations that he is corrupt, that his son is involved in drug production and that his President is involved in money laundering?
I am aware of the matters that the noble Lord raises, but I must emphasise that they are internal matters for the Government and people of Pakistan and are not matters in which we can be involved. The discussions which we hold are, in general terms, about democracy, the rule of law and the aspirations to see Pakistan develop in a stable, democratic way. Pakistan is a friend and a nation that has faced great difficulties. When friends face difficulties, you help them; you do not just walk away.
Did the Government raise the place of the blasphemy law in Pakistani life and its use to pursue personal vendettas against Christians?
Yes, we raised the blasphemy legislation, religious intolerance and evidence of it. These subjects were raised not just during these talks. They are raised constantly by our High Commission, by visitors and by Ministers. My noble friend Lady Warsi certainly raised them when she last visited. These are issues that are very much our concern, and we keep raising them.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the issue of contempt of court by the Prime Minister is dealt with very adequately in the Commonwealth Latimer House guidelines, which refer to the relationship between the Executive, Parliament and the judiciary? Pakistan is a signatory to those guidelines, which were agreed by the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2003. Will the Minister tell the House whether the Government are assisting with judicial training in that regard, so that the Pakistani judiciary can be better apprised of its responsibilities?
Yes, we are assisting with judicial training and huge educational programmes. The Government’s overall training and aid programmes in Pakistan are substantial. If the path is smooth over the next two years, Pakistan will reach the remarkable level of being the largest recipient of British aid, training and technical assistance, with a sum of around £446 million a year being given if everything goes according to plan. Certainly, on the judicial side, yes, these are areas where we can help and which can be assisted and reinforced in a Commonwealth context as well.
My Lords, I understand the point that the Minister makes about the considerable difficulties and the fact that one needs friends to get through them. However, in a hard-headed sense, have the Government made an assessment of the extent to which Pakistan meets the unfortunately named Harare principles overall as a working democracy?
These are matters that are looked at in the Commonwealth context. We want to see Pakistan develop as a strong, stable, constitutional democracy with respect for the rule of law and judicial judgments, which are in the interests of all Pakistan. We constantly encourage all involved to act in ways that respect these principles. These are things that we do all the time. They are discussed in Commonwealth circles and are matters to which the people of Pakistan themselves recognise they must aspire. I cannot put it more precisely than that. Assessments of what occasionally goes wrong, and positive ideas about how to help, are made all the time.
My Lords, I declare an interest in that the diocese of Wakefield has a long and enduring relationship with the diocese of Faisalabad in Pakistan. Indeed, we recently brought people with different religious convictions to this country to talk about how we deal with coherence here. Following the question of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, will the Minister tell us whether the Government have received any commitment from the Government of Pakistan on doing something about the religious atrocities that have been committed in the past few years?
I can say only that these are matters that concern us deeply. We raise them repeatedly with the Pakistani authorities and Government. We believe most strongly that religious tolerance of minorities and protection of their rights must be enhanced in ways that they clearly have not been in the recent past. We will continue to make the maximum effort on these fronts. Beyond that, I cannot be more specific.
My Lords, the other side seems to know what the Harare principles are but on this side we do not seem to know at all. Could we be enlightened?
I am sorry to hear that. The Harare principles, and another whole series of declarations, are those drawn up by the Commonwealth network—that is, the Commonwealth at its Heads of Government Meetings—over the years. The Commonwealth today is a completely modern network, which is engaged at this moment in developing an even more ambitious charter that not only asserts the commitment to democracy, the rule of law, good governance and respect for human rights, but sees that these things are effectively policed so that the Commonwealth is a network of nations that uphold the values that we admire most.
My Lords, will the Minister tell the House whether the Government discussed with the Pakistani Prime Minister the problem of young British Pakistanis—young men as well as women—who are taken to Pakistan by their parents for the purpose of forced marriage? If it was raised, what response did the Government receive?
I do not have that on a specific list of issues that were raised in the meeting to which I referred. However, it is certainly a matter that is on our desks and we raise it in dialogue with the Pakistani Government. I cannot be more specific than that, but if I can find a more specific answer I will convey it to the noble Baroness.
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