x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Expat's pride in Pakistan still burns 40 years later

Former manager at Emirates bank tells how he turned down an offer of citizenship because of his love for, and pride in, his homeland.

From left, Zarin Zahidi, Rida Ali, 3, Zyed Zahid Ali, Hameeda Hafiz, Saad Ali, 7, Hafiz Siddiqui and Fahad Hafiz celebrate Pakistan’s 66th Independence Day yesterday at their home in Dubai. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
From left, Zarin Zahidi, Rida Ali, 3, Zyed Zahid Ali, Hameeda Hafiz, Saad Ali, 7, Hafiz Siddiqui and Fahad Hafiz celebrate Pakistan’s 66th Independence Day yesterday at their home in Dubai. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

DUBAI // It has been almost four decades since Hafiz Siddiqui left Pakistan to start a new life in Dubai, but the love he feels for his homeland has not diminished.

Since arriving at the age of 23 in the UAE from Karachi in 1976, he has raised a family and enjoyed a long and successful career in banking.

Mr Siddiqui has even been offered Emirati citizenship but felt too proud of his country of birth to accept.

"I received an email from the Government regarding Emirati citizenship some time ago, but I ignored it," said the father of three.

"I am proud to be Pakistani and being a citizen where I was born is more important to me than being given citizenship here."

There may not have been large-scale public celebrations in the UAE yesterday to mark Pakistan's Independence Day yesterday, but for many expatriates the significance of the event remained undiminished.

Visitors to Mr Siddiqui's home in Al Nahda 2 were greeted by the green and white of Pakistan's flag and national songs.

The scene would have been played out in Pakistani households across the country as people celebrated 66 years of independence from British rule.

"Although the celebrations are not as big as they used to be, it is still important for Pakistanis to understand what the day means to the country," said Mr Siddiqui, who retired as a human resources manager at Emirates NBD in January but has been asked to continue working there as a consultant.

"All my children were raised in the UAE and although we do still have extended family back in Pakistan, it is important to maintain and celebrate that heritage here.

"There used to be much bigger celebrations in previous years, but over the years the community spirit we used to have has gone away because many of the people we knew went back to Pakistan."

In the past, Pakistanis would decorate their cars in national colours, then gather at Dubai's corniche and Al Mamzar on August 14. There they would play songs from their homeland.

"That stopped about four or five years ago after the police said it wasn't allowed," said Mr Siddiqui's son, Fahad. "I feel a connection with Pakistan because we go back sometimes, but many expatriates living here do not."

The family ordered a cake to mark the occasion yesterday and enjoyed a family meal, with Fahad's nephew showing off a new Pakistan cricket shirt he had been bought for the day.

"We do what we can to mark the day with flags put up around the apartment and on the balcony," said Fahad, who believes many Pakistanis who have integrated into UAE society lose touch with their background.

His sister Zarin, 33, who now lives in the UK, agreed.

"My son and daughter are loving the excitement of the day as it is not something they are used to, being brought up in the UK," she said.

"There is St George's Day but it's not really celebrated that much in England, so something like this helps the children understand what their heritage is.

"A few years ago there was a big Pakistan independence party held at Trafalgar Square in London and we took the children there.

"It was their first real taste of what the day means to people, but this year spending it with the family is just as important."

Pakistan gained independence following the end of the British Raj in 1947. The country came into existence with the partition of India.

nhanif@thenational.ae