Expatriates need more than just empty promises
Prime Minister Imran Khan seeks full-fledged support from Pakistani expatriates, be it in the form of trained human resources, their investments back home or through donations for mega projects such as water dams.
It’s not the first time that Pakistan is seeking help from its citizens living abroad. In early 1997, the-then premier Nawaz Sharif sent out an emotive appeal – qarz utaro, mulk sanwaro (pay your debts, make Pakistan prosper) – to rid the country of its foreign deficit. The response was overwhelming, but little did the people know that their funds would disappear soon, without a trace. One year down the road, India conducted its second nuclear test, after 1974, and Pakistan responded in the same manner. Right after the Chagai nuclear tests, Sharif turned to the overseas Pakistanis to rescue the country from global sanctions. This was followed by the drought in Sindh and Balochistan in 2000 and the massive earthquake in 2005; not to forget the mega floods seven years later in 2012. Once again, the expatriate Pakistani community rose to the occasion to extend help, irrespective of whether it was sought officially or otherwise. Additionally, overseas Pakistanis send home more than $20 billion in remittances each year.
Pakistan’s share of exports has been dwindling and its tax-net shrinking. The country’s politicians and bureaucrats have become richer while the poor have turned poorer. The middle class has become numb and refuses to even protest. Islamabad’s allies can be counted on its fingertips, while proponents of kickbacks and corruption are powerful even as those seeking transparency remain vulnerable. Austerity has never been a way of life but a seasonal fever with everyone agreeing to the diagnosis but shying away from treatment. After four decades of gradual deterioration, both the civil services and political elite are parking avenues for the incompetent, shrewd and self-preserving lot.
PM Khan is an honest man with his heart in the right place. He means well for Pakistan. Yet, his biggest ‘handicap’ is his limited exposure to the life of a common man. Being born in a rich family, he has never really experienced the harsh side of society.
Moreover, he is deprived of an ideal team to translate his vision into reality with little distortion. The likes of Zulfi Bukhari -- handpicked as the premier’s special assistant for overseas Pakistanis -- were nowhere to be seen in the formation of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party itself. His appointment explains Pakistan’s quagmire whereby well-meaning leaders prefer to resort to their whims instead of hiring people based on merit.
For an expatriate Pakistani’s professional life, values such as merit, efficiency and transparency are of utmost importance. An expatriate holds the government accountable for each dollar or euro spent from the taxes he/she has paid.
The PTI government’s appeal to send dollars home makes no sense until credible measures are in place to work towards economic recovery.
Imran Khan’s team selection and choices have both been massive disappointments. There were signs which were ignored. His party leadership is handpicked and so were the candidates for the elected house, not to mention the fabled electable. Finance Minister Asad Umar -- who Imran Khan promoted for more than a decade as an economic genius -- wasted two months in finding a solution to the macroeconomic woes that were no secret to the population six months ago. The prevailing uncertainty, coupled with irresponsible and conflicting statements, has led the rupee to sink lower than ever before. No one has been held accountable for contradictory decisions and the never-ending U-turns taken by the party-men so far.
It’s true that Imran Khan inherited a sinking economy but he added to the issue by being uninformed about reforms and with his poor selection of team members. Being a finance minister today is the most difficult job in Pakistan, be it Asad Umar or Razzaq Dawood holding the title. The man responsible for fixing the economy came with credentials marginally better than those of his predecessors, Ishaq Dar and Naveed Qamar. Imran Khan could have made up for his deficiencies by choosing to appoint the best team of advisors. Whether or not the International Monetary Fund’s bailout package materializes, the world’s and overseas Pakistanis’ trust in the country’s investment climate depends largely on the finance ministry’s performance.
With the rupee valuing at 133 against the US dollar, why should an expatriate invest money in Pakistan? Are there any indicators that the rupee will strengthen and revert to the range of 90 or 100 against the dollar? And if the slide of currency continues, Islamabad can’t promise that a London-based engineer or a GCC-based resident doctor can make a profitable investment in the stock exchange, business or an already exaggerated property sector. Why would anyone invest his hard-earned money in sectors which the elite continue to steal from and escape without being brought to book? The PTI government’s appeal to send dollars home makes no sense until credible measures are in place to work towards economic recovery. Besides, the expats cannot be held to task as they have responded to every call for help made from their homeland for more than three to four decades.
Imran Khan has never stood outside a Pakistani consulate in Jeddah, Birmingham or Houston to renew his passport or to seek legal assistance for a loved one who has been imprisoned for a petty crime. The embassy officials put forward the ugliest faces of bureaucracy and that’s when expatriates learn to face every hardship abroad on their own, instead of returning to their fairytale land. The humiliation at the hands of one’s own public servants, in government-appointed embassies and consulates, hits deep, especially when countries like the Philippines, Thailand and India offer much better services to their citizens.
That being said, if Imran Khan considers seeking help from expatriates again, he would need to win their trust first by appointing a well-meaning advisor with the requisite credentials. Maybe, he could start by visiting a Pakistani consulate in disguise, the next time he decides to travel abroad.
– Naveed Ahmad is an investigative journalist and academic based in the GCC with a career in writing on diplomacy, security and governance. Besides other honors, he won the Jefferson Fellowship in 2000 and UNAOC Cross-Cultural Reporting Award 2010. Twitter: @naveed360