by Zia Sarhadi (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 53, No. 2, Ramadan, 1444)
There are more than 10 million people of Pakistani origin living or working abroad. This is not unusual since the citizens of many countries fall under this category. This includes people from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines, to name a few. At least 35 million people of Indian origin work or live abroad.
The Pakistani expatriates are called ‘Overseas Pakistanis’. The vast majority work in Arab countries—Dubai, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Most have little formal education and are forced to do backbreaking work in scorching heat for a pittance. They have no legal rights. Their Arab bosses exploit them in many different ways starting with their arrival in the host country when their passport is snatched from them.
They are at the complete mercy of their Arab employers who can fire them at any time. They can also withhold their salary, as often happens if they are unhappy with them for any reason. Their condition is akin to modern-day slavery.
Pakistani workers in Arab countries are also the ones who remit the largest amounts of money to Pakistan. Their kith and kin depend on such remittances. Since the vast majority cannot acquire citizenship or property in Arab countries, they are forced to remit their hard-earned income to Pakistan. Unfortunately, their kith and kin in Pakistan greatly exploit the earnings of these workers. Often, they illegally occupy the properties of overseas Pakistanis. The legal system is so corrupt that people cannot get any justice.
The other large concentration of Pakistanis is in Europe, primarily in Britain. Again, the vast majority comprises unskilled workers who are employed in factories, drive buses or do other menial jobs. True, since the first wave of immigration to Britain in the 1960s, some from the second or third generation have acquired college or university education and gone into such professions as medicine, engineering and accounting or become successful businessmen but their number is relatively small.
In Britain a few have also made it into politics. These are the people most eagerly courted by Pakistani politicians and generals to lobby on their behalf. This is especially true of the Kashmir issue although Pakistani politicians and generals are completely insincere about liberating Kashmir.
Overseas Pakistanis residing in Britain also send significant amounts of money to Pakistan. They are probably the second highest remitters of funds. There are also significant pockets of Pakistanis residing in such countries as Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Belgium.
The third large concentration of overseas Pakistanis is in North America. The vast majority of these people are highly educated because of the host countries’ immigration laws. It would not be wrong to say that Pakistan’s cream of the crop resides in North America: the US and Canada.
While they have done quite well financially, only a few people of Pakistani origin have made it into the political arena, mainly in Canada. In the US, they have failed to achieve any such political breakthroughs.
The utility of overseas Pakistanis in the US and Canada is in their lobbying efforts. People of Pakistani origin in the US have a lot of financial resources. These are also utilized for supporting such projects as building hospitals in Pakistan. It is amazing to see how many retired generals have opened hospital ventures in Pakistan and regular appeal to overseas Pakistanis for funds! After every disaster—floods, earthquake or any other calamity—overseas Pakistanis are called upon to do their “patriotic duty”.
This blackmailing tactic works wonders. Patriotism, obviously, is the sole prerogative of overseas Pakistanis. No such patriotism is evident among the ruling elite in Pakistan, whether in civilian clothes or uniform. They are all thieves and criminals and continue to plunder state resources by every means available, fair or foul.
Overseas Pakistanis are also called upon to do lobbying in the west, especially for Kashmir. Pakistani diplomats never tire of reminding overseas Pakistanis about how successful non-resident Indians are in lobbying. The purpose is to urge overseas Pakistanis to double their lobbying efforts with elected representatives in the US and Canada to help resolve the Kashmir dispute.
While admirable, this argument misses several points. Non-resident Indians are successful not because of their lobbying efforts but because India has made enormous economic progress and is courted by all western countries. Pakistan has been reduced to a basket case. International relations are not conducted on the basis of legality or law. Each country pursues its own interests and this shapes their policies. Compared to India, Pakistan has nothing to offer except an overstretched begging bowl. The rest of the world is getting tired of throwing money at Pakistan that they feel goes into the hands of corrupt politicians and generals.
The question that needs to be asked is: what is offered to overseas Pakistanis in return for their efforts? They are even denied the right to vote in elections. Many countries worldwide offer this facility to people of their country of origin. Even countries like Syria and Lebanon offer such facility. So, why are overseas Pakistanis denied this right? If they are good enough to be the largest remitters of foreign exchange to Pakistan even surpassing the total export earnings of 220 million Pakistanis, why can’t they get the right to vote in elections? All kinds of ludicrous excuses are advanced. The real reason is that they may vote for the “wrong candidate” that the political and military mafias do not approve of.
It is time for overseas Pakistani to assert themselves and demand respect for their fundamental rights. It should not be confined to merely getting the right to vote in elections, important as it is. Within Pakistan, an independent judicial system should be constituted to address their grievances in an expeditious manner to restore their rights to property purchased with their hard-earned income. Second, overseas Pakistanis should lobby their elected representatives in the US, Canada, Britain and other parts of Europe to support the demand for fair and free elections immediately so that the people of Pakistan can elect their own representatives.
Failing these demands, overseas Pakistanis should stop remitting money to Pakistan. All it ends up doing is fattening the bank balances of the mega-thieves who have bank accounts in Switzerland, Britain, the US and Canada. If it is not benefitting the people of Pakistan, it is a crime to allow these criminals to steal it. Just consider this: for about $1.2 billion loan from the IMF for which Pakistani rulers are willing to make enormous concessions while overseas Pakistanis are dismissed with contempt.