Pakistan red listing was not a politically motivated decision: UK envoy
The decision was based on data and evidence collected not here in Pakistan but in the UK
Islamabad- UK envoy stated that, when British government decided to put Pakistan on the red list of travel restrictions due to surge in Covid-19 cases, Asad Umar, the head of National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), took to Twitter to question the move, asking if it was based on science or foreign policy.
Even some Muslim members of the UK parliament called into question the decision, insisting that it was discriminatory and not data driven.
The criticism stemmed from the fact that some other countries including India –which now has also been put on the red list – and some European countries had far worse situations in terms of Covid-19 than Pakistan but they had not been put on the red list.
The move had raised suspicion that the British government might have other motives behind putting restrictions on Pakistan.
However, over two weeks after the imposition of the ban, UK High Commissioner Christian Turner has given a detailed explanation and even challenged myths doing the rounds about the red listing.
“This was not a political decision. This was not about politics,” Turner The decision was based on data and evidence collected not here in Pakistan but in the UK.”
He said the UK tests all arrivals from every country on the second day and the eighth day 8 – a practice that provides it with data. “If this was just about the disease in the country you would simply look at the country which is most affected in the world and put them on and this would not include Pakistan.”
Turner gave three specific reasons as to why Pakistan was put on the red list.
“Firstly, Pakistan was the largest single source of international air travelers into the UK in March; Secondly, Covid positivity amongst those travelers from Pakistan was high – a higher than average percentage of them were testing positive in that day-2 tests.
“Thirdly, our testing showed that some variants of concerns were those variants that we are worried about but were present in passengers from Pakistan including the South African one.”
The British envoy stressed that the decision to place any country on the red list had nothing to do with a Covid situation in a country.
“I can look at the data [to find out] how many cases [have emerged] in Somalia; how many cases in India and how many cases in Pakistan. What concerns us is the traveler to the UK.
“And that’s why we are not relying on the Covid-19 data from Somalia or anywhere else. It’s the numbers that are coming to the UK.”
He strongly dismissed the perception that the decision was meant to punish Pakistan. “There is sort of undertone somehow this is about punishing the country. No, it is not true.”
Turner assured that the red listing does not mean diminishing of what he described as “UK-Pakistan Dosti.” “You accept my headline that this is not political. There is no diminishing of the very close ties and affection between the UK and Pakistan and the UK-Pak dosti,” he remarked.
He said the UK is helping Pakistan in securing the vaccines and helping its healthcare capability. “We have turned about 20 million pounds aid to help Pakistan fight Covid-19.”
When asked, the envoy said he could not give any timeline regarding the lifting of the ban on Pakistan. As a high commissioner, he said he would be “happier’ if Pakistan was removed from the list sooner.
Last week when Minister for Interior Sheikh Rashid met the British high commissioner, he brought up the issue of bringing back three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif from the UK. The Interior minister’s statement suggested that the British envoy’s response was not positive.
When asked about the possibility of Nawaz Sharif being extradited to Pakistan, Turner said under the UK immigration laws he was not authorized to talk about individual cases.
But he then went on to explain how the Pakistan government could secure the extradition of the former prime minister. “The UK and Pakistan do not currently have an extradition treaty and I have said before on the record I will be very pleased to see those negotiations concluded,” he said.
He said extradition of any individual was possible “even without a treaty” provided that Pakistan put a formal request for that.
“So there is a mechanism, called extradition as you can ask questions you can make affidavits but under the UK law and under the Pakistani law the only way two countries can formally request an individual to come back is an extradition request.”
“If an extradition request is made then we will respond absolutely accordingly,” the British high commissioner said. He, however, added that the Pakistani government has not yet formally made a request for the extradition of Nawaz.
“My message on this has not changed. I have said many, many times to many people: we play things with a straight bat; we play by the rule of law – no sweep shots, no googlies, no funny business. We will play this according to our immigration laws with a straight bat,” he stressed.