Rescued Pakistanis fear for safety of families still stranded in Yemen (Dawn (Pakistan))

When bombs were flattening the high-rises around his residence, reunion with the family appeared to be a dream. The dream came true on Sunday night when Qurban Hussain with 501 other Pakistanis landed here in a PIA aircraft that brought them from the war-torn Yemeni city of Hodeida.
What seems to be the most horrible episode of his life is over, but fears and concerns for days ahead are not.
Mr Hussain, a senior executive of a Pakistani bank operating in Sanaa, is fond of reading, travelling and socialising, and grasped well the culture, hospitality and traditions of various local tribes during his eight-year posting in Yemen. And this awareness causes him to worry for the future of Pakistanis there.
“I think Yemen is among the few places in the world where we are respected for being Pakistanis,” Mr Hussain shares with Dawn at his North Nazimabad residence with his two children, wife and a sister. “I had been there [Sanaa] since 2007 and you would not believe it that from the common man to top people in government or the armed forces, they all highly regard Pakistanis. But I have lately seen sentiments changing negatively.
“My concern is that if we [Pakistan] become part of any side, it would not be the same Yemen for Pakistanis,” he says. He knows it well that so far Pakistan has not become part of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition bombing the Iranian-allied Houthi forces, but people in Yemen are not ready to believe this. “I lately started observing that sentiments are changing negatively among the locals about Pakistanis. Then bombing by the Saudi-led forces last Wednesday night made the situation worse.”
He still trembles with fear while recalling the days he spent with other Pakistani families in corridors of their apartment building. After the shelling by the Saudi-led coalition forces and retaliation through anti-aircraft guns by Houthi forces, “we could not hear even our own voice”, he says.
“Most of us were waiting for our turn to die,” he says. “Where I lived, it was one of the most sensitive areas of Sanaa. In the same district, there is a presidential palace, head office of the Yemen forces as well as the offices of different ministries.”
It was almost a 10-hour drive for the 502 Pakistanis in the convoy of buses led by Pakistan ambassador Dr Irfan Yousuf Shami, but hopes to meet their loved ones back home started fading when they were not allowed to leave Sanaa.
“The credit goes to our ambassador,” says Faraan Farooqi, “I have been there for more than two years and I know its not easy to skip any legal process in Yemen. So when we were stopped at a checkpoint by the forces, I knew that we would not be allowed to leave the city without any written clearance from the local ministry and our entire endeavour would go in waste. But it was our ambassador, who used every diplomatic contact and handled the situation so well that we were not only allowed to leave but were also served with food and water.”
Mr Farooqi had married Rida only a month ago and flew with his wife to Yemen on March 19 to join his job. Their “terrible days” started just a week after “happiest days” of their lives, he says.
The people who returned and were reunited with their families are overwhelmed with the response from the media and people here in Pakistan. But many of them believe the job is half done, as there are still many more Pakistanis stranded in other war-hit cities of Yemen.
“The efforts [to bring them back] should be sped up,” says Mr Hussain. “This should be done before any decision we make about the future of this war. This I say because if we decide to side with anyone in this war, the return of those Pakistanis would be much more difficult. Currently they are threatened by the aerial bombing and its retaliation from the ground, but in that case I fear the risk and threat will multiply.”