Jan 6, 2010

A mere $-making machine

Anjum Niaz

Uncle Scrooge likes to gloat over the dollars he gets from the toil and sweat of Pakistanis living abroad. The greenbacks are the finance minister's mainstay. They fatten up the nation's foreign exchange reserves. Shaukat Tareen takes credit for the inflow as if he was the manufacturer. Sadly the people sending back the dollars don't matter to our policy-makers. They never have. To the rulers, they are a mere dollar-making machine. Just a number that does not define who they are as a person. Were the wiseacres in our national media ever to focus on these millions of hardworking stiff living in hostile conditions abroad trying to earn a livelihood to send money back to their families in Pakistan, it would simply blow them away. Pakistanis who left their shores decades ago to make North America or Europe their adopted country are flourishing. Some of them are brilliant. Above all their heartbeats are for the country they were born and bred in.

They can form the stilts on which a new Pakistan can stand firm and stop the collapse.

"If a popular Pakistani president had asked the overseas Pakistanis for additional remittances, the community would have sent over two billion dollars in addition to the six billion they send, free of cost, every year," said a young banker based in New York. He's not alone in declaring his undying allegiance to the country he 'loves'. But who is listening? Who at the Pakistan embassy or the mission really cares? The staffers out there are too busy trying to get Green Cards for themselves and their families so that they can continue to live on in the US as 'Permanent Resident Aliens' or Green Card holders.

Over the last year, I've received emails from Pakistanis who live here or have returned. They all have unsavoury tales to relate. "You wrote about President Zardari trying to woo expats to come back to the 'land of the pure' but the apathy of the diplomatic/consular (visa/passport) staff at our missions abroad is a big minus," writes one man. "I got no assistance from our mission when I requested for information and guidance to relocate to Pakistan. I gave up a job in Chicago to move back in 2003. It's been a terrible rollercoaster ride since. I've been discriminated against in professional corporate jobs in Pakistan, called names and beaten up in one instance."

Actually it's a double whammy for expatriates who want to return. They get a first- or a second-degree treatment from our diplomats here topped with a third-degree torture from colleagues back home. Most co-workers back in Pakistan don't take well to 'foreign- educated- trained- returned' fellow Pakistanis. They gang up against the person, the idea being to send him/her back on the next plane from wherever he/she came from. Often their petty intrigues and malicious behaviour succeed in driving these people away.

The power-wielders in Pakistan behave like little Einsteins who think they know everything and therefore don't need outside help. They do everything possible under the sun to keep talent, skills and experience from entering the country. Pakistan has slipped to a pathetic position of 92 in science and technology. And fie on our rulers for making Pakistan come 8th out of 10 top 'scientifically productive Muslim countries'. This gem was actually disclosed to the semi-literate parliamentarians, most of them would not know what Minister for Science and Technology Azam Khan Swati was talking about. He belongs to Fazlur Rehman's JUI-F. He's well-qualified for the job, having attained his higher law degrees from America. Furthermore, he's 'one of the richest parliamentarians in the history of Pakistan' according to a website that lists his assets as "$20.5 million. During his stay in America, Mr Swati owned a chain of stores, was a member of Pakistani American Congress and played important role in high-profile charity events."

"Why can't Swati use his talent to change the shameful situation in Pakistan as artfully as he made money in the US even if it means seducing Pakistani-Americans back to their homeland?" writes a scientist who has returned to Pakistan from the US. "Unless some revolutionary measures are put in place, this plan in motion will never become a reality." The scientist who wrote to me last year may or may not know that heading this "high-powered committee" is the octogenarian Salman Farooqui who presently is facing corruption cases filed against him by NAB. I doubt if the gentleman is the ideal role model to "seduce Pakistani-Americans back to their homeland."

"The irony of Pakistan is the massive brain drain and the reluctance of educated Pakistanis to come back due to the negative role of the people at the helm," writes a doctor from Ireland. His son graduated from Cambridge University; got a master's from Oxford University and topped the list of scholarship holders for a PhD in London School of Economics (LSE). The young man wrote to Dr Sohail Naqvi of the Higher Education Commission (HEC). Naqvi was duly impressed by the young man's academic excellence and wrote back saying his credentials were outstanding. A few months passed. Then one day Naqvi wrote back to say the HEC had rejected the young man on grounds that he was not qualified enough! "HEC's reason for rejecting my son is absolute rubbish and smacks of favouritism," says the father. "Now my son has completed his education and is working in the UK. He has no intention of going back to Pakistan ever because there's no justice there…"

What a shame. Pakistan has lost yet one more genius. Unlike the Shaukat Azizs or Shaukat Tareens of this world, this young man could have delivered. "President Zardari will fail in his endeavours, no matter how earnest, if he does not put a system of accountability and transparency in place immediately," wrote the Pakistani physician from Ireland.

"The yearnings of the young Pakistanis you write of is laudable," says a Pakistan-watcher from India. "But until Pakistan comes to treat religion as a personal faith only and treats its minorities as equal citizens, there is a little chance that it would become a liberal democracy which is essential for a balanced progress. Take the example of Abdus Salam, the physicist and the only Nobel Laureate from Pakistan. What more can I say?"

Another Pakistani American said: "Journalists must highlight the nonsense that the average Pakistani goes through when visiting the embassy in Washington DC or its consulates. The attitude of the counter staff is pathetic as if they were trained in the art of rude behaviour giving a general feeling of disgust which makes the visitor wonder, 'What did I do wrong today to even come here?' Of course if you have a connection to the ambassador or a senior diplomat, like back home, all the doors are opened with people smiling. That of course does not make it right. The average walk-in person is still treated like crap. How can one look forward to going 'home' when the initial interaction is laced with bitterness?"

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