Owner Going Abroad


ANEES JILLANI

Pakistan's Minister for Population Planning would be delighted to learn that 70,000 citizens have applied for non-immigrant visas to the United States during the January to July
period in this year. Fifteen thousand applied for the visas during July alone. The American Embassy officials in the Counsellor Section in Islamabad are flabbergasted; this has never happened before and the staff is not equipped to handle and process so many applications in such a short time. These are non-immigrant visas but everyone in the country knows that majority of them are not coming back.

I need not conduct a survey to find out that people are leaving. Just a glance through the advertisements in the newspapers tell you about the state of affairs by looking at the number of Owner Going Abroad headings. There are lots of sales but no buyers.

Presently, it is extremely important for all concerned to urgently assess the causes for this mass exodus before it is too late. It is already becoming difficult to find talented people in Pakistan; it may become impossible to do so within a few years if not months if the exodus continues at this pace. The rulers themselves realize this as the relevant persons at the helm of affairs are constantly searching for the right kind of people who are nowhere to be found.

Things are so bad that rumor has it that the present Pakistani Finance Minister who prior to his present assignment was working for the Citibank continues to retain his extremely expensive rented flat in New York. There is nobody living in the Apartment. But the moral of the story is the fact that the Finance Minister himself is unsure about the economic and political state of affairs and is thus totally unwilling to give up his options in the Land of Opportunities; he is so cautious that he is not even giving up his rented premises.

It is true that it is not just people of Pakistan who are
leaving. Many from the Third World, particularly from South Asia, desire to leave; and there is hardly a place on earth where you would not find an Indian Restaurant. Irony, however, is that the proportion attempting to leave Pakistan is higher. Despite India's gigantic population, the biggest visa section of any British Embassy any where in the world in located in Islamabad. The queue in front of the High Commission starts forming as early as five in the morning. I wonder if it is the same case in New Delhi also. The matter is not much different in the case of the American and Canadian Embassies.

It is important for the ruling classes, not just in Pakistan but
in all the concerned countries, to ponder as to why are the
people so desperate to leave. What is the point of having and struggling to form and maintain a nation-state if its citizenry is not interested in living in it? And it is besides the point that the populace leave not because of any ill-will towards the State but because of a search for better opportunities. But isn't the place that is capable of offering you better openings really your real home and deserves to be so. And this assertion should not be confused with professing any religion because this one can do any where in the world; it is not tied to any piece of land. In other words, one can be a devout Muslim or a Hindu and still live in Britain or the United States. The tragedy is that you remain miserable all your life when living abroad despite earning a lot more and inspite enjoying a much better quality of life. The reason is simply because you are culturally alienated and
remain on the periphery of the local community all your life.
Your children's lives could be different but you remain an alien. It is no wonder then that everybody prefers to live in one's own homeland and only the economic circumstances in most of the cases force the individual to leave. Should not it be the State's job to provide and if this is too hard a job to at least attempt to extend equal opportunities to all its inhabitants. If this isn't its job, then what is?

Sometimes I feel that we are living in Harry Potter's Magic
Kingdom and the sooner we come out of it the better; otherwise, we may face the same fate as that of Afghanistan. An Afghan upon being meted out bad treatment by a UNHCR official while asking for a petty allowance asked the official to see the Afghan's daughters and wife sitting on the pavement on the outside road. The Afghan said that he was no ordinary person: he was a serving General in the Afghan Army and had to flee to Pakistan to save his and his family's lives. He asked the official to show some grace and mercy to him....

(Anees Jillani is a newspaper columnist in Pakistan, an advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, and also a member of the Washington DC Bar in the US)