Pakistanis mark National Day

Flags will be raised at the embassy in Abu Dhabi and the consulate in Dubai, and there will be celebrations across the Emirates.

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DUBAI // Despite the trauma of last summer's devastating floods and continued political turmoil, many Pakistani expatriates will be looking to their country's future with a renewed sense of optimism as they mark National Day today.

Flags will be raised at the embassy in Abu Dhabi and the consulate in Dubai, and there will be celebrations across the Emirates.

"The country has been through a lot of challenges in the past 12 months but in many ways it has brought us all closer together," said Salman Qureshi, a 29-year-old corporate trainer who lives in Dubai. "I think most Pakistanis will be in a reflective mood for celebrations this year because the country has been through a lot, but I believe we've come out stronger."

He is proud of the response to last July's floods, when Pakistanis and non-Pakistanis alike donated time and money to help the victims.

Mr Qureshi, who has just returned from a month in Karachi, says he has seen a different side to people - at odds, he said, with the media perception of the country.

He said people in Pakistan were continuing with their lives, with the country still offering plenty of opportunities for success in business or other areas.

In the UAE, professionals and skilled workers were doing well despite the financial crisis of recent years, he said.

"In the next 12 months I would like to see Pakistanis becoming more proactive in terms of promoting a more positive image. "I also want the embassy and consulate to be better run and be more helpful to people, especially in terms of visas and passports."

Rizwan Fancy, the community welfare secretary at the Pakistan Association of Dubai, has seen first-hand the impact of the economic crisis and floods on the lives of expatriates in Dubai, but hopes that better times are ahead.

"It has been traumatic with all the problems the country has faced, but I can see things getting better now," he said. "There is light at the end of the tunnel and I am getting a real sense of positivity from people now."

However, the situation for many unskilled labourers remains far from perfect, with wages regularly going unpaid and companies withholding their passports.

"That is something we as an association can do little about. It must be something the embassy or consulate take up on behalf of people and work with the local government to get resolved."

The Pakistani ambassador, Jamil Ahmed Khan, said the embassy was doing its best to resolve problems, and had been working closely with UAE authorities to make sure labourers were paid and not mistreated.

Despite a testing year, he added, the UAE's Pakistanis had managed to send back Dh7.3billion in remittances.

He said the situation at the embassy and consulate was improving, with more staff and computers due to arrive within the next eight weeks or so to handle identity cards and passports.

Born and raised in Dubai, Raza Khan still feels a strong connection with his parents' homeland.

"Living in the Middle East you are forced to realise where your real roots lie," said the 30-year-old investment analyst.

"I believe that the country, despite its issues, has way too much potential to be written off. National Day for me is a celebration of this thought and self belief.

"The issues facing Pakistan are primarily political. The structure is dynastic, which forces true talent out and drives people away from going back to their roots."

He said he wanted Pakistan to take greater steps towards democracy, which would help foster better leaders and society.