Afghanistan emerges as new job market for Pakistanis by Delawar Jan

KABUL: Afghanistan is emerging an unlikely new job market for Pakistanis as the number of the youth who are employed in the war-torn country crossed 100,000, officials here say.
“Around 100,000 Pakistanis are working in Afghanistan as chartered accountants, bankers, teachers, engineers, doctors and labourers,” said Muhammad Sadiq, Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan. He said the Pakistani workers were preferred for hiring because of their skills and experience. He revealed that $2.6 billion official exports to the country, which makes it the biggest exporter to Afghanistan, had created 3.5 million jobs in Pakistan.
The Pakistanis who work in Kabul suggested that the number of the workers in Afghanistan was well over 100,000. “The ambassador might be talking of the workers having official record. I think a good number of unregistered Pakistanis have also been working in Afghanistan which is in addition to the 100,000,” said Afzal Ahmad, manager at a food company.
The Pakistanis said they had taken up jobs in the war-struck country due to the saturated job market in Pakistan. Many of those interviewed said handsome salaries in Afghanistan had enticed them to seek job in the country that has been a theatre of a long war.
However, the number of Afghans who have been getting economic benefits from Pakistan dwarfs the total of Pakistani workers in Afghanistan. Muhammad Sadiq said 56,000 Afghans crossed into Pakistan every day for different needs including jobs. Around three million refugees who have jobs or businesses aren’t part of this count.
Daud Badshah, a resident of Shergarh in Mardan district, said he was underpaid in Pakistan. “A measly Rs4,000 salary was offered to me by NHA which was insufficient for the needs of my family,” said Sher Badshah, whose father is a watchman at a factory in Shergarh.
The 26-year-old man, who could study only up to 9th class, works for 14 hours daily (7am-9pm) at a restaurant in Kabul where he supervises a staff of 35 people and is able to make good money. “I am getting Rs16,380 (Af.9,000), plus the tip,” he said. “My family tried to stop me from taking up the job in Afghanistan but my poor economic conditions forced me to come here. Four years later, the pressure continues,” he added.
Sher Badshah’s job encouraged his brother Sardar Badshah to come to Afghanistan in search of a job. Now, he gets a salary of 500 US dollars as a cook.“Afghan police harass us despite the fact that we have visas. They demand bribe and misbehave with us. But people here are nice and respectful,” he said.
At the same restaurant, Muhammad Ayaz from Peshawar and Muhammad Ali from Skardu receive salary of Rs23,660 (Af.13,000) and Rs30,940 (Af.17,000), respectively.
Waqar Ahmad came from Peshawar to Kabul in 2007 to find a job. Now he is holding an executive position in a company for the last almost six years and gets an undisclosed ‘handsome’ salary. “The road that winds through the troubled areas into Pakistan is very dangerous,” he said. “I have seen bombs exploding in front of me. I have seen Taliban blocking the road and checking. I have been caught up in crossfire. But thanks God, I have remained unscathed each time,” he said of the threats.

Originally published in The News International on 19th October 2012

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Palatial mansion: Pakistan’s biggest and busiest diplomatic mission

By Robin Fernandez

KABUL: Situated in the Karte Parwan neighbourhood of Kabul is Pakistan’s diplomatic mission. Steeped in history, the embassy building and the adjoining ambassador’s residence together form the country’s single biggest mission in the world – a frontispiece to our public diplomacy abroad.

Inaugurated in July 2012, the sprawling grounds of the Quaid-e-Azam Complex cover more than 26 acres of land that once belonged to the British Legation in Kabul. Today it may well be Pakistan’s busiest diplomatic mission.

On any week day (from Sunday to Thursday) one is likely to find thousands of Afghans queuing up outside the Pakistan Embassy for a visa. “Up to 12,000 multiple [entry] visas are issued every day. Not a single application has been rejected so far,” says Ambassador Muhammad Sadiq. This figure may seem high, according to officials, but it pales in comparison to the sheer number of people who make border crossings every day between the two countries. Currently, Pakistani officials say, 56,000 people travel between Pakistan and Afghanistan through both designated and undesignated crossing points daily — mainly for trade and business purposes.

The main embassy buildings are now housed in what used to be the dispensary of the British Legation buildings in the Afghan capital. In one corner of the premises, English-language and computer classes are held for Afghan students, especially those in the neighborhood. “The classes are free and are part of the embassy’s effort to encourage education,” says an official.

The next door residential complex of the ambassador is much grander, still reflecting the colonial glory that Lord George Curzon, the then foreign secretary, had wanted Britain’s top envoy in Kabul to have. Curzon, also a former viceroy general of India, did not live to see the majestic Legation structure, dying two years before its completion. The Legation buildings in Kabul sprang up some eight years after Britain signed the 1919 Treaty of Rawalpindi which officially recognised the independence of Afghanistan.

Though Pakistan’s right to the Legation buildings’ ownership was recognised by the early 1960s, Islamabad had to wait three more decades for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to finally accede to its possession. But the property did not pass into Pakistan’s hands until another decade and a half. By that time it had already been ransacked by a violent mob and suffered a vicious arson attack. Several buildings, including a church and smaller residences, were razed to the ground. Perhaps the only building that escaped harm was the clock tower that stands near one of the boundary walls.

When Ambassador Sadiq moved into the gleaming white palatial building this year following a massive renovation of the premises, President Hamid Karzai took a gentle swipe at the envoy. “I see you have moved into your vice-regal seat,” Karzai was quoted as telling Sadiq.

The entire building was reconstructed in a record time. “Despite the huge challenge, it took us about six months to restore the complex,” a Pakistan Embassy official said. Another official said the funds saved through the [earlier used] Wazir Akbar Khan mission were spent on the restoration work. “We used that money for restoration and saved thousands of dollars in the bargain,” the official explained.

From the vantage point of the ambassador’s residence, one can see a freshly-manicured cricket ground and an equally impressive soccer pitch. And in the distance one can see the snow-capped Hindu Kush mountains. The sight would have certainly pleased Curzon no end.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 22nd,  2012.