Friends of Humanity support stranded Pakistanis - BY: Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi

Friends of Humanity, a non-profit charity society founded by Pakistani immigrants in Chicago, carries out charity work in various places. Its activities are concentrated mainly in the camps of stranded Pakistanis in Bangladesh, which were set up after the secession of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971. These stranded people are waiting for the Pakistani government to undertake their repatriation and rehabilitation. They were part of the population of East Pakistan until the civil war that ended with the creation of the state of Bangladesh. During the civil war, they stood by the Pakistan army and consequently Bengalis considered them to be traitors and drove them out of their homes and into camps scattered in different parts of Bangladesh.

Recently, I received a set of photographs from Ehtesham Arshad Nezami, secretary general of the Friends of Humanity society. The pictures show the way boy and girl students are entertained at schools run by the society on the premises of these camps in Bangladesh. These pictures illustrate that even those living in the midst of misery and hardship can rejoice and feel delighted when compassionate hands and dignified souls reach out to them by making available some of the basic amenities of life that they have been deprived of for some time.

The pictures show young children wearing simple but clean and tidy clothes. They stand in queues and are excited when accorded an affectionate reception by their teachers. According to the available information, the attendance rate at these schools has hit 100 percent, which confirms that the efforts made by some benevolent and sincere people to open these schools have not been in vain. Similarly, the donations of philanthropists will definitely help them win the blessings of God because of their support for this most deserving section of the community.

It is a national and humanitarian responsibility to succor these hapless people. However, those who are supposed to shoulder this responsibility have failed to discharge their duty. By this I mean the Pakistani officials who have failed to fulfill the promises made by successive Pakistani governments for the repatriation and rehabilitation of stranded Pakistanis.

At the time of the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, these people migrated to East Pakistan due to the proximity of their native place in the Indian state of Bihar, but when the state of Bangladesh was created on the ruins of East Pakistan, they were not welcome in the new country. In fact, they wanted to retain the Pakistani citizenship that they had chosen at the time of partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan.

During the reign of President General Zia Ul-Haq, some measures were taken to repatriate these people to Pakistan and settle them on land donated by the Punjab provincial government. This was in cooperation with the then Muslim World League (MWL) Secretary General Dr. Abdullah Omar Naseef. For this purpose, the Rabita Endowment was set up headed by Pakistan president Zia. Several prominent Saudi and Pakistani figures, including Prince Talal Bin Abdul Aziz, were members of the endowment. After the death of General Zia, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif assumed the presidency of the endowment during his first two tenures. A limited number of stranded Pakistanis were repatriated and rehabilitated in Pakistan during this period. But when Sharif became prime minister for the third time, he unfortunately did not do or say anything about the subject.

At a time when the Friends of Humanity society and all its members address this issue, I take this opportunity to thank them for their noble work and blessed initiatives. We also call upon the Pakistani government to shoulder its national, moral and humanitarian responsibility toward its citizens who have been languishing in squalid camps for nearly 47 years.

Let the first step be to grant them Pakistani passports so as to enable them to move. There should also be a move to revive the Rabita Endowment or implement the proposal of the Pakistan Repatriation Council (PRC) to adopt a self-financing scheme in their repatriation under which these people would meet the cost of transportation.

We heard earlier about the intention of a parliamentary committee to study the situation of the stranded Pakistanis. It would be interesting to learn whether this panel recommended any concrete solution or if its fate is similar to that of a petition lodged earlier with the Pakistani Supreme Court. The court rejected the petition, which sought its intervention to direct the Pakistani government to resolve the issue of the stranded Pakistanis, on the grounds that the petitioner was not a Pakistani citizen. It is unfortunate that no Pakistanis raised the just cause of these people, which resulted in the rejection of their case by the court. The Prophet (peace be upon him) underlined the need for supporting the weaker sections among us.

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

Posted on Mar 03, 18 | 9:25 am