Bursting the ex-patriate bubble
Those who rule this country have no real stakes in it, the rest are stuck in it and the small minority that has the means and vision to bring ‘change' have abandoned it.
Over the past week having endured the endless hate rants against President Zardari followed by an even more nauseatingly futile rant on the plight of the country’s poor and marginalised by the Pakistani diaspora, I was inspired if not irked into embarking on a bit of a rant myself.
At the outset let me clarify, that this is not piece in defence of the President nor a piece attacking those amongst us who constitute the intellectual cream of the nation and are now residing in greener pastures abroad; sipping their Starbucks, flaunting their Gucci’s and uploading pictures of all their latest misadventures on Facebook along with their bleeding heart status updates on, ‘how their hearts are still firmly embedded in Pakistan’, ‘how each bomb blast in Lahore still rocks their soul’ and ‘how they absolutely loathe the Bilawals, the Zardaris and the Sharifs’.
No this piece is not just about this, but beyond.
If any amongst you are currently residing in Lahore and frequently attend political talks, seminars, book readings you might have noticed a trend; the increasing absence of young academics and professionals. It is almost like that whole generation of university graduates and highly skilled professionals in their 20s and 30s have gone missing.
The runaway vanguard generation
Well, can you blame them? You go to Carnegie Mellon and study management information systems (MIS), you go to University of Chicago and study financial economics or you go to Warwick and study Globalisation and Development, only to return to Pakistan and realise that far from the need of a MIS, our firms are still grappling with the issue of load shedding, our security markets are really just betting grounds for a bunch of rich cronies or and no matter what Mickey Mouse degree you did on development it only qualifies you to write useless reports for an NGO. Add to this the everyday hassle of load shedding, suicide bombings, lack of recreational opportunities and the constant social pressure to ‘settle down’ and you cannot blame our best and brightest for indefinitely prolonging their stay abroad.
Unfortunately, as this brain drain ensues and now at a faster pace than ever, the country is robbed of its most precious commodity; its vanguard party. A very loose interpretation of the communist terminology that will send many a Marxist Leninists scoffing, but bear with me. The gist of it is that it is that group of individuals that are at the helm of any mass action, movement, or revolution.
What denotes them this power or potential to be the instigators of change is not daddy’s bank account or seat in the Parliament but something far more meaningful - the vision for change and the capability to execute it. They comprise the less than five per cent of Pakistan that graduates from the best colleges and universities. They possess highly specialised skills, an expansive knowledge base, experience of working in foreign institutions and consequently a relatively higher degree of progressive mindedness. They possess idealism and creative potential unique to people within their age bracket and socio-economic circumstance. Having spent their formative years in Pakistan and given their families are based here, they have a high level of rootedness in the country and a personal interest in its development. Presumably, having had access to opportunities around 95 per cent of the population was deprived of deeply obligates them to give back to those left behind.
Out of sight but not out of mind
Maybe a part of us empathises with the need of the vanguard to settle abroad and in the time of crisis, we even appreciate their token gestures of donating their dollars, pounds, or when they celebrate hysterically the once- a-decade victory of our cricket team or hold placards outside some UN building impassionedly sloganeering to raise awareness over Aafia Siddiqi or against drone attacks in Pakistan - but is this nearly enough? Over the past decades of military coups, democratic failures, war and economic crisis - is this the ultimate role the most promising and privileged amongst us have defined for themselves?
The widening chasm of inequality in Pakistan, institutional failure at all levels and systemic corruption is symptomatic of a larger issue. Those who rule this country have no real stakes in it, the rest are stuck in it and the small minority that has the means and vision to bring a ‘change we can believe in’ have been successively abandoning it for the past few decades. The recent floods provide us a befitting microcosm of this.
Movers and shakers who whine and complain
Ever since we grasped the scale of the devastation everybody was bemoaning the lack of organisation and management of the relief efforts. I can assure you that once the relief effort taper down, most of our expatriate intellectual cream, through their blogs and Facebook profiles will join in the cacophony of criticism on how the government has now botched up the job of rehabilitating the 14 million displaced. As sick as I am of the stories of the corruption and institutional failures of the government, what I genuinely cannot endure, is how the same talent that is engaged in ground breaking research at prestigious universities abroad, creating new technologies at Microsoft or Google or slogging away 16 hours daily at Citigroup; when it comes to Pakistan, are suddenly reduced to a sorry bunch of whiners, whose useless bashings of Zardari and the ruling elite are reminiscent of two aunties complaining about the domestic help.
Well, whine all you want about the state of affairs in Pakistan, but as you sit cosy abroad, remember; what your people affected by the floods need, more than any President, Minister or U.N official are doctors to vaccinate them against the inevitable spread of infectious diseases, engineers and ICT experts to design websites and map the affected areas in order to coordinate relief efforts, economists and development practitioners to design intelligent strategies for effective relief and rehabilitation. Most importantly, we need our vanguard to galvanise the masses and lobby to our Parliamentarians, that they should not forget who their real constituency is. Surely if the most progressive, gifted and privileged amongst us are sitting abroad, having unashamedly reneged on all their obligations to Pakistan, they should not be too shocked if our President and the ruling elite demonstrate the same level of conscientiousness when it come to their duties to their people.