Every year, passports are ranked in terms of the power. The term “passport power rank” is used to describe the ease of world travel that one has depending on the passport one holds. According to the 2019 ranking, Pakistan’s passport is ranked close to the bottom, just below Syria and above only Iraq and neighbouring Afghanistan. As Pakistan is vastly more stable a nation than war torn Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, it remains something of a pity that the country’s passport’s power is still being determined by multiple other nations based on a combination of outdated geopolitical conditions and always untrue stereotypes.
But for every problem there is a solution and for Pakistan, the country’s neighbour and all-weather partner China has a technological solution that could hold the key to increasing Pakistan’s passport power ranking in record time.
As Chinese became progressively wealthy due to the economic miracle which has transpired in China since the Reform and Opening Up of 1978, more and more Chinese started to travel abroad for pleasure. However, many of the newly prosperous Chinese in question, especially those from outside of traditionally cosmopolitan cities, found that their customs and mannerisms often clashed with those of the countries they visited. As a result, the huge Chinese population got an unfair reputation for being a nation of “bad tourists”. China took this very seriously and moved to rectify the problem using the power of ultra modern technology.
Like most governments, China compiles date on its citizens’ behaviour which include a number of factors ranging from road safety records to one’s financial prudence, court and police records and in the case of public employees, their workplace conduct.
For the ordinary person, the social credit score mainly effects what widely used private sector credit scores have done for years – namely determining one’s eligibility for loans, credit lines, mortgages, leases and similar transactions. For public officials, the social credit score is also used a checklist against potential corrupt behaviour which in China is punished to the fullest extent of the law.
But for Pakistanis, the element of the social credit score that could have the widest implication regards travel. In China, a good social credit score means that one can travel abroad with total ease. However, if one has a record of engaging either in wilful hooliganism or otherwise has displayed characteristics not befitting of modern internationalised tourist mannerism, one could be prohibited both from travelling on China’s domestic high speed trains as well as prohibited from travelling abroad until such a person’s social credit score shows improvements.
For Pakistan, the lingering malignant stereotype that associates the country with terrorism continues to weaken the position of Pakistan’s passport. However, if Pakistan developed its own social credit score which judged the ability of one to travel in a dignified and congenial manner – two things could happen. First of all, those deemed unfit to travel abroad for similar reasons to some Chinese would be banned from travel until their social credit score improves.
Secondly and perhaps more importantly, Pakistan could set up a database reflecting the social credit score of its citizens. Foreign nations could check this list by a simple scan of a new version of a Pakistani passport or else, a copy of the report could be emailed to the appropriate visa and customs officials before a planned journey. The basic report on one’s social credit insofar as it effects travel should be offered in English and Urdu, in addition to Chinese, Russian, Arabic, French and Spanish.
As time goes on, Pakistan could work with multiple nations so as to allow multiple countries to determine which particular numerical social credit score they deem satisfactory in order to forgo the often complex tourist visa requirements that waste the time and money of Pakistanis simply wanting to do business and have leisure time abroad.
The result would likely be a win-win situation for Pakistanis, as well as for Pakistan as a whole. This is the case because far too many nations have misjudged Pakistan’s ability to take proactive measures in order to modernise its digital infrastructure whilst cooperating with others in a spirit of mutual good will. The best way to prove an unfair and negative stereotype wrong is to take action steps in a positive direction.
Of course, China’s social credit system was not developed overnight, but based on the progress China has made, it is entirely possible for Pakistan to use the technology developed by its close Chinese friend in order to create an atmosphere that would automatically elevating the ranking of the Pakistani passport.