Unrequited Foreign dignitaries avoid visiting Pakistan

Source:  Tribune Published in Politics on Wednesday, January 14, 2015

While Pakistan’s heads of state and government like to visit foreign countries quite frequently, foreign dignitaries visiting Pakistan has become increasingly rare-

Since the 2013 election, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Mamnoon Hussain have made 28 official trips abroad, but hosted only six such visits from the heads of state or government of five countries. Of those six visits, four visited Pakistan in 2013 and only two during 2014.

The four state visits to Pakistan during 2013 were made by former Afghan president Hamid Karzai (August 26), Thailand Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (August 20-21), British Prime Minister David Cameron (June 29) and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (December 23-24). During 2014, Pakistan was visited by only two foreign heads of state: newly elected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Bahrain’s King Sheikh Hamad.

The sparse record in 2014 was at least partly due to political unrest in Islamabad. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was scheduled to visit Islamabad in November 2014, but cancelled due to the sit-ins by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

Official trips abroad by Pakistan’s heads of state and government have become politically controversial in a country where budgets have always been tight, even though the sums spent on them are miniscule relative to overall government spending.

The 28 trips undertaken by Prime Minister Sharif and President Hussain have cost the taxpayers Rs391 million in total, according to government disclosures made to Parliament on Monday, less than 0.01% of the overall budget.

In response to questions raised by Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho and Dr Nafisa Shah, both PPP members of the National Assembly from Sindh, Commerce Minister Khurram Dastgir justified the expenses by saying that the trips are meant “to better relations with other countries.”

Since being sworn in on June 5, 2013, the prime minister has made 21 foreign trips to 13 countries, spanning a total of 77 days, at a total cost of Rs351 million. The president’s seven foreign trips to five countries since July 2014 spanned a total of 18 days and cost Rs40 million.

The PM’s most expensive tour was the seven-day trip to the United States in September 2013 that cost Rs91.6 million, followed by a five-day trip again to the US in September 2014, which cost Rs42.4 million.

The next most expensive were his four trips to Britain (total cost Rs52.5 million), three visits to China (49.6 million), two visits to Turkey (Rs18.7 million), one visit each to the Netherlands (Rs12.5 million), Sri Lanka (Rs11.8 million), Thailand (Rs9.7 million), Nepal (Rs7.8 million), Germany (Rs7.4 million), India (Rs4.3 million), Tajikistan (Rs3.7 million), Iran (Rs2.6 million), Afghanistan (Rs1.4 million).

The president has made two trips each to China and Afghanistan, and one visit each to Nigeria, Turkey and South Africa.

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