LAHORE: Although US President Donald Trump has never professed much love for Pakistan, recently his “Do More” has changed to “No More” with a single tweet. This is alarming for Pakistan’s national security and a lot of quarters feel that it will translate into economic trouble.
This assumption makes sense since that fateful tweet has led to the US starting preparations to cut aid to Pakistan. Although the government has been quick to try and assuage these financial fears, having any amount of money taken out of the system generally does have an impact on the economy overall.
In addition to cutting aid, the US has also shifted towards stricter visa policies. For now, Pakistan is not among the countries that have the infamous travel ban imposed on them by the Trump administration. Nonetheless, it has become tougher to acquire work visa for the US in the past year or so.
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There have even been rumours and indications that the travel ban will be extended to Pakistan soon. If that happens, there will be a lot of uncertainty among the Pakistani business community and we would face an immediate downturn in the financial standing.
Not all is doom and gloom though and here is why.
Though we are yet to produce a real unicorn startup, Pakistan at least has a burgeoning entrepreneurial ecosystem. A country might not be able to build its economy on startups alone, but they can (and often do) prove to be a stepping stone towards greater things. Startups in India and China both have had high-impact contributions towards the countries’ economies, which is not only a boost financially, but also helps keep the nation’s top talent from seeking opportunities abroad.
Pakistan, too, has been facing the problem of losing this top talent to developed countries for the past three decades. Brain drain is a major hindrance to Pakistan’s progress.
Just in the last five years, 2.7 million Pakistanis have gone abroad, seeking work opportunities. The cream of the crop has typically preferred immigrating to the US or Canada, though Australia has recently become a hot destination as well.
Utilising talent at home
Now that it is becoming increasingly clear that the US does not want a lot of immigrants, especially Pakistanis, there is a real possibility that this local brainpower will look at ways to utilise their talent in innovative ways by becoming part of the local startup scene. This is not just speculation, but something we are actually seeing. Zameen.com is just one example of a startup that was founded by people who came from abroad with the determination to do something new and noteworthy in Pakistan.
Zameen.com is one of the country’s leading online ventures now, but there are similar examples strewn across the entrepreneurial landscape on a smaller scale.
Most startups today are founded by people who a few years back would have thought about immigrating to Europe or the US. Recently, I have seen this phenomenon in action with relatively new startups like PriceOye.pk, AutoX and Bykea consisting of team members or founders who might have been snapped up by multinationals or decided to move abroad.
There is a certain change in the mentality of the local talent and it is manifesting itself in the form of our startup ecosystem.
It is not just the growing entrepreneurial culture of the country, the government has also been trying to stem the flow of educated citizens, vying to join the workforce in other countries. For this purpose, we have seen initiatives like programmes to keep PhDs engaged and startup incubators backed by the government.
Having said that, there is a huge difference between the carrot approach and the stick approach.
While we can try all we want by offering rewarding positions in the country to keep our best minds at home, Trump’s influence in the US immigration situation will surely play a bigger part in keeping resources in Pakistan.
Admittedly, these highly qualified people will have to work harder to earn their respective places in the industry, but in sectors like IT there are still a lot of untouched areas just waiting for someone to take ownership.
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Just last year, Bloomberg pointed out that Pakistan’s economy is doing unexpectedly well and the trend has largely continued despite political turmoil and several other adverse factors. This goes to show that while Trump’s policy change might prove to be a bump in the road, it shouldn’t prove to be a major obstacle in the way of the country’s progress.
In the long run, the expected travel ban might even prove to be a blessing in disguise as entrepreneurs start getting innovative with business ideas and look towards extending their influence eastwards.
The position vacated by the US might even be filled by China, which can prove nothing but beneficial for startups seeking investment from foreign sources. Overall, the outlook is bright and there is much to be optimistic about if you look at things the right way.
The author is an IT project manager and a passionate writer
Published in The Express Tribune, February 5th, 2018.
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