Passport to Pakistan

Before I start, let me first of all tell you what a great country Pakistan is.

I was in Beijing’s capitalist - sorry, I mean capital - city en route to Pakistan and to get the visa for Pakistan that I hadn’t managed to get in the UK.  It was a shock, then, to get to the embassy and see a sign that said that foreigners not living in China are expected to apply in their home country. Non-Chinese can only get visas if they can show:

1. Proof of residence in China
2. Proof of sufficient funds

3. Proof of transport out of Pakistan
4. Invitation from an organisation in Pakistan

I had none of these, and at least half were impossible for me to produce or obtain. Oh well, let's give it a go anyway. He who dares wins, Rodney. He who dares wins.

Pretending not to notice the rules, unconvincingly due to the big sign right in front of my face, I asked at the gatehouse for a visa form. Ascertaining that I was not a Chinese resident, the gatehouse lady told me that I needed to apply in my home country. "Ah", I said, "not very convenient, that. My home country is thousands of miles away."  We had a cordial chinwag before she finally took pity on me and said that at 11am she would take me to see the Consul and see if any exception could be made. An interview with the Consul, then. I wished that I’d dressed smarter. And that I’d shaved that morning. Or at least some time that week.

At 11am I was ushered inside, where I joined a queue of (all Chinese) people requiring interviews and clutching a whole bunch of the supporting documentation that I couldn‘t muster. One by one, those ahead of me left the Consul's office looking disappointed or worse. When there were only a few of us left in the queue, the Consul summoned us all in to sit at the back of his office. He said that this was because we’d stood outside long enough, but I soon got the impression that it was really because he enjoyed playing to an audience.

The hapless victim of his initial theatrics was a young, female, Chinese agent organising several visas for a business trip. The Consul was approving some applications, but not others.

"But they have already bought air tickets and booked hotels", said the agent.

"Did I tell them to?", retorted the Consul and turned to the audience (mainly to me, actually) for appreciation of his wit. I smiled, but weakly.

Next was the problem that the successful applicants’ visas would not be ready until the following day. "I have come a long way", said the agent, "and will have to find a hotel and change all my transport arrangements".

"Many people have come a long way", replied the Consul and (again looking to me) "Where have you come from?"

"London", I respond, thereby admitting even before my interview has started that I’m not entitled to apply, and feeling rather embarrassed at being brought in as chief witness for the prosecution.

Next it was my turn, and additional audience members have now arrived, including another Westerner. Great.

Consul: Why do you want to visit Pakistan? [Seeing my passport photos of me in a suit and tie] Business?

Me: No, tourism.

C: Where do you want to go?

Me: To the beautiful mountains in the North. Especially the Hunza Valley.

C: You don't like historical and cultural things?

Me: I have been to Pakistan before, and visited your fascinating cities then.

C: You say very bad things about Pakistan.

Me: Me?

C: The West. Especially the BBC [he nods to the silent TV in the corner that is tuned to BBC World] and newspapers such as the Telegraph, the Times, the Herald Tribune. And the Sun.

Me: The Sun is not really a newspaper. Have you tried the Guardian?

C: So how can I give you a visa? [Long pause - I am silent] If I want to go to Britain, your embassy will tell me to go to Islamabad and apply there.

[This wasn’t true: as a resident in China, he would have been OK, but it was hardly in my interests to run this argument.]

Me: Yes. I didn't have time to apply in London before I left, because I was busy working to find the money to visit your beautiful country. [Trying a different tack] And Pakistan is the most important part of my trip. I was there in March 1997 and it was too cold to stay in the beautiful mountain areas. So I have come back to see the beautiful mountains. They are beautiful, the mountains, aren't they?

[Was this sufficiently grovelling, do you think? It sounded like he was angling for a bribe, but that was impossible with an audience present. Or was he always going to say yes and just wanted to see me squirm?]

There is another long pause.

C: [finally] OK, I will give you your visa.

Me: [to myself, and as some of the more invasive touts in this part of the world have learned to say:] Lovely Jubbly.

C: I will give you your visa, because the mountains are beautiful and because you will tell people what a great country Pakistan is.

Consider yourself told, then.

  1. (c)Nicholas White 2006