Safety, strategic wisdom and welcomes in Jeddah for Pakistanis escaping Sudan
As Sudan undergoes violent clashes between its army and paramilitary forces, innocent people are paying the price of the chaos with their lives. In these dark days, as terrible images and news stories come trickling out of the northeast African state, evacuations of thousands of foreigners and the coordination among foreign countries play a huge part in exacting the numbers of dead and injured when all this is over.
With over 1,300 Pakistani citizens in Sudan, it is Saudi Arabia that has stepped up to coordinate, help and receive evacuated Pakistani citizens in Jeddah, with the first batch arriving at the port city on Wednesday to safety and a sweet welcome.
Sudan is located south of Egypt and west of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, across the Red Sea-- an area crucial for maritime navigation. The bulk of the west bound water borne trade takes place via the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. A stable, secure and peaceful Sudan is, therefore, essential not only for its 46 million people but also for the regional and international economy. The current situation has snowballed into major clashes adversely affecting even the civilian population of the capital Khartoum.
While leading the evacuation efforts of foreigners from Port Sudan to Jeddah, the Kingdom has also played a leading role in securing a ceasefire between warring factions. The Kingdom’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York, Abdul Aziz Al Wasil, took active part in the Security Council debate on the Sudan issue. The Kingdom has also joined hands with the United States, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt to secure an enduring ceasefire in Sudan. The idea is to invite the two warring generals for talks in the Kingdom. This is in line with the standing policy of patronizing efforts for regional peace that the Kingdom has followed since the beginning.
Considering the depth of bilateral ties, and Saudi Arabia’s reputation for humanitarian response, the selfless help extended to Pakistan by Saudi authorities has come as no surprise.
As soon as internal clashes erupted in Sudan on April 15, Pakistan and the Kingdom have been in close touch with a view to ensuring the smooth evacuation of Pakistani nationals. This has been confirmed by Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari himself. The clashes have led to a complete breakdown of routine life, as necessities like water and electricity became scarce. A number of Pakistanis were evacuated from Port Sudan to Jeddah on board the Royal Navy ship HMS Yanbu. Another large ship brought nationals of 13 various nationalities to Jeddah. 66 Pakistanis were on board this ship, along with hundreds of other nationals.
For decades, the Kingdom has been at the forefront of humanitarian assistance around the world. The King Salman Centre for Humanitarian Aid and Relief swung into effective action when an air corridor was established last year to send relief assistance to the flood stricken people of Pakistan. Similarly, the Kingdom was at the forefront of nations sending relief goods to earthquake victims in Turkey recently. Saudi Arabia’s help in evacuating 150 Yemeni nationals from Sudan has been nothing short of impressive, as well as the humanitarian act of sending an air ambulance to bring a seriously ill Sudanese citizen to King Fahad Hospital in Jeddah.
The world would be loathed to see Sudan turn into another Somalia. Both Pakistan and the Kingdom are quite clear about it and are likely to co-operate closely to remove such a possibility. Many hospitals in Khartoum have had to close down and the situation is dire. The clashes have spread as far as Darfour. According to the UN Envoy, “Both sides think they can win.”
Sudan is an important Muslim country. Therefore, both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are concerned with current developments. And so is the Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, Hissein Brahim Taha. He has called for an immediate ceasefire and resorting to dialogue and negotiations. He warned that escalating the fight will have dire consequences for civilians and the humanitarian situation in Sudan, especially since ongoing battles are fought in Sudanese cities.
The Pakistan Foreign Office has been in constant touch with the Sudanese ambassador in Islamabad and its own ambassador in Khartoum to ensure the safety and security of its nationals. A round the clock crisis management cell has been established to co-ordinate evacuation efforts. The national airline and Pakistan Air Force are also in the loop.
Pakistan’s foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto held a telephonic conversation with Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud and commended the Kingdom for helping the evacuation of Pakistani citizens from Sudan. But considering the depth of bilateral ties, and Saudi Arabia’s reputation for humanitarian response, the selfless help extended to Pakistan by Saudi authorities comes as no surprise.
- Javed Hafeez is a former Pakistani diplomat with much experience of the Middle East. He writes weekly columns in Pakistani and Gulf newspapers and appears regularly on satellite TV channels as a defense and political analyst. Twitter: @JavedHafiz8