— Lure of the West
At a seminar a couple of days back, someone mentioned “death of the Pakistani state” as context for his analysis. This could be read as a backdrop for today’s Special Report as well. What drives people abroad, to the prosperous and secure West, is closely linked to what we made of this country.
This Special Report is not about the helpless millions who have no option but to settle in the West, legally or illegally. This is about those who consciously took the decision; students here who realise the worthlessness of Pakistani degrees; students there who are kind of undecided about their future but declare their allegiance to this country; young professionals who had the option to return but chose not to; midcareer professionals who are happily settled there; and the retired people who would rather have the West as their last abode.
Talking of conscious decisions, we have picked up on those who put their weight behind this country and came back. The country for them remains a place where there is family and work. Honestly, it is to these two they have returned. And perhaps the familiarity of home which is understood more in terms of the sights and the sounds and the smells of immediate neighbourhoods — their city at best — and less in terms of the geographical entity that forms the country.
Most of these, we discover, are individual decisions. The pull of the West — or the pull of Pakistan — is totally subjective. The country has nothing to do with it. Did someone say something about the death of Pakistani state?
The semblance of school education that is put together owes itself to the private sector and the modicum of decent higher education is, well, again largely because of the private sector. So, whoever gets a chance to study abroad jumps to grab it. And then comes work — the economic opportunities, the work environment and the pull or push of the family are major determinants. No state policy seems to be at work.
At the end of the day, it’s not the bomb blasts that are the deciding factor; rather it’s the economic opportunities that do. That the two are linked is another matter. Meanwhile the Pakistani diaspora and the remittances it sends back home is acting as a life line for its economy. And meanwhile the West continues to lure many of us.
By Aamir Tariq
If one might ask what Shangri-La means to a student studying in a private institution, it would start off from the Ivy League and end up at Oxford’s gate. It is no surprise today that the competitiveness in the private sector has exceeded a student’s dream to land up in LUMS. International courses seem to be the mantra of this system where everyone decides to be a part of the rat race.
At times, one might make it to the top list while at times many are just victims of poor counselling facilities at their institutions. Everything from resumes to grades matter the most. Though they all believe that oblivious to their personal accolades, there is an uncontrolled factor which plays with the destiny of all — luck.
What matters the most at the end of the day is not just the individual brilliance of people such as Ali Moeen Nawazish who have made their way to the University of Cambridge but is also how they intend to work for their country. If one might take into account the opportunities available in Pakistan as compared to abroad then many such as actuaries and investment bankers don’t stand a chance due to the unlimited scope of their professions. Despite all the sanctions with regard to their professions, it is still very important to know what these intellectual young brains intend for Pakistan.
Hammad Mustafa, an Aitchisonian, accepted from Cornell and Oxford, spared time to share his views with TNS despite his hectic Pakistan-Debating Camp. He says, “I chose to study abroad because of the higher quality education available there. I may stay on for some time if I get a good job, but I’ll eventually return to Pakistan.”
In students such as Hammad, we see a determined Pakistani who wishes to represent the country on a global level. His devotion to Pakistan is very much noted in the form of NGP (Next Generation Pakistan) which he formed while he was still in A Levels.
On the other hand, there are people such as Asadullah Khan who believe that after completing O’ Levels with straight A’s, it’s unfortunate to land up in a Pakistani University. He says that he didn’t work hard so he could get admission in a local university. It may be a bit harsh for him to undermine the universities in Pakistan but according to him the most important goal of an academic career is to channel your way through the best universities in the world — to get yourself globally acclaimed.
There are people such as Mehrunisa Sajjad, a Grammarian, who have been accepted in Oxford and want to stay in their own country. Talking to TNS, she says, “I chose to study abroad because the universities there offer a highly trained faculty and a diversified student body and have a reputation that no college in this country can match.”
She believes in coming back as she doesn’t want to be a second-class citizen her whole life.
While talking to several those who have lately got admissions in Princeton, Standford and Cambridge, Mehrunisa was the only one who came across as somebody interested in coming back, even if she was offered a good job there.
Apart from the higher quality education agenda, people like Fatima Amjad believe in the exposure and competition at these universities. She believes that universities abroad offer you more than just education. It offers you interaction with people from different cultures. The universities abroad cater to a certain lifestyle which every student dreams of. She believes that it is important to get out of the box and prove yourself in a global arena.
Moreover, at the end of the day, the question that still lies with reference to these young aspiring students who wish to pursue their undergraduate courses abroad is how they could give back to their country. It could very much be the case that the people who have set a certain bar below which nothing is acceptable to them would land in none of these universities if it wasn’t for them being a Pakistani first. One could just say that visionaries shall become winners when they render their services to Pakistan and work for its success.
By Usman Ghafoor
If you’re in Harvard, you can’t be accused of not having made much of your life and education; you are a ‘success’ already. However, 20-year-old Hania S. Chima, who finished school at Lahore’s Convent of Jesus & Mary early last year and is currently pursuing an undergraduate degree at the Faculty of Arts & Sciences at Harvard, had her own reasons for going to one of the world’s most sought-after universities. “I went there not because it is considered fashionable to study at an Ivy League uni but because I wanted to mix with and learn from a culture far removed from my own,” she says. “I also wanted to use the opportunity to become independent and discover my strengths and weaknesses, something one is compelled to do when left alone in an unfamiliar environment.”
That her own father is a Harvard alumnus didn’t essentially prompt the idea. To her mind, there are “great educational institutions in Pakistan too, which provide the same level (if not better) of education as most universities abroad. So I chose to go abroad not just for the academic exposure but for the sake of experience, to interact with and learn from people who are very different from me.”
For Shahmir Hamid, 19, a former Aitchisonian who is currently doing BA in Politics & International Relations at Royal Holloway, University of London, “the standard of education in Pakistan isn’t great”. Period. The concept of ‘homeland’ is a bookish cliché and, Shahmir says, he misses home “only when I am hungry”.
Interestingly, desi cuisine is what most Pakistani youth studying in foreign universities can’t stop having an urge for, despite an endless variety available at local cafes and restaurants. As the University of Vermont student Amr Kashmiri puts it, “One gets tired of having to eat the same kind of bland food and craves for nehari and haleem!”
A talented musician and actor — he played one of the most important characters in Shoaib Mansoor’s film, Bol, besides performing in a couple of Shah Sharabeel’s English theatre plays — Amr recently went abroad, having completed his A-Levels, to study Studio Art, a subject he believes Pakistani universities do not offer. “I am doing my Majors in Studio Art and Minor in World Music. Studio Art is a mix of Traditional Art that focuses on Traditional Medium (painting, sculpture etc) and Computer Art that focuses on computer animation, photography, graphic design etc. It’s a very vast field of study, but in Pakistan, Traditional Art and Computer Art are considered as separate.”
Haneya Hasan Zuberi, 20, a student of International Relations and Journalism at Ohio Wesleyan, seconds Amr: “A lot of us are tempted to apply to foreign universities because the subject we chose isn’t taught here [in Pakistan].”
Haneya also puts it down to the “not so great” standard of education. Yet, she insists she would “love to come back to Pakistan [after completing education]... Studying abroad, amongst many other things, I learnt that there indeed is no place like home.”
“Whatever I learn abroad, I would like to put it to good use for the benefit of my country,” she adds. “Even if I am able to make the slightest of difference, I will feel that my task has been accomplished.”
Haneya’s sentiments are not uncommon. Hania S. Chima says she has also always wanted to live in Pakistan. This, she explains, has nothing to do with the fact that she holds a green passport and shall not have the option of working in a foreign country anyway. “Honestly speaking, I’ve a strong bond with my home country. I grew up here and have an association with it. I disagree with innumerable elements of the ideology of our people and absolutely dislike many aspects of Pakistan, but I cannot help loving it! It’s a hard feeling to describe but I somehow feel a sense of responsibility towards our people. And, now that I have the opportunity of going abroad for my education this feeling has only become heightened. There is so much one can do here to bring about change that the thought of coming back always excites me!”
In the words of Shahmir, “Someone has to fix this mess.”
Amr is also keen to return to Pakistan, though he has his own reasons: “I plan to carry on with my acting career; the film industry here in the US is so big that you cannot expect to be noticed. Besides, there aren’t any roles being written for a Pakistani or a desi. So…”
This, however, isn’t due to some sort of discriminatory behaviour based on cultural or religious differences. In fact, it’s quite to the contrary. As Hania Chima says, “In the beginning, I would stay aloof from my class fellows at Harvard, perhaps because of cultural barriers that were of my own creation. So, whatever reservation there was, it was on my part. Things changed dramatically as I got to know everyone better and became comfortable with the environment.
“Americans are a very friendly and helpful people,” she states. “Never has anyone made me feel inferior on the basis of my race. In fact, most people are intrigued by my background and often want to know more about it.”
By Sarah Sikandar
For mid-age professionals settled abroad it’s a dead end — they have school-going children, plan to expand their families and aspire to make sensible professional moves. The problem — they find themselves at a point of no return when it comes to their families’ future but cannot ignore the parents’ increasing demands of familial support and helping their children establish a bond with their cultural identity.
For those who went abroad in the late 1980s and ‘90s, it is the time to pluck the fruit in terms of job security, immigration status and finally establishing a niche in the professional arena. Like those who followed them, these people went abroad with the promise of a better lifestyle for themselves and their children. These people, once they were done with the academic pursuits, decided to remain there and work, some of them even thinking of going back once the situation ‘stabilised’. Since the stability they hoped for never came, these professionals decided to pull their own weight.
Dr Mohammad Ali Chaudhry, 35, went to America after MBBS from Nishtar Medical College, Multan. After nine years in America and working with the prestigious John Hopkins Institute he recently moved to UAE to head an affiliated hospital there. What, according to Dr Ali, kept him going was not the desperation to stay on but “the intellectual stimulation, widespread opportunities and appreciation of hard work” — factors which are practically imperceptible in the current social setting back home.
Ahmed Khalil, 41, worked as a banker in Australia for twelve years. He decided to move back to Pakistan in 2005 but put the plans on hold when faced by inherent malignance against competition here in Pakistan. “There is no room for people who genuinely want to make a change. I’m not denying that personal growth is not the basic motive but it takes a lot more than a handful of expats to change the system.”
Khalil was disillusioned by the lack of acceptance for people like him accused of being ‘out and away for too long’.
However, there is an alarmingly low number of mid-career professionals who actually returned. These professionals, encouraged by the fleeting economic boom during the initial Musharraf era, uprooted themselves for reasons including the potential in Pakistan. Suleman was one of them. He returned home after studying and working in Australia for seven years. “I won’t say the decision to come back was wide of the mark but, yes, I should’ve thought it through,” he tells TNS.
Now that he is here, Suleman is waiting for his kids to grow up and return to Melboune where they can pursue their dreams.
The narrative of ‘return’ has changed altogether. These mid-career professionals have children who find only remote associations with Pakistan. Uprooting them to an alien, and exceedingly depressing, setting seems to be an impossibility. If they return to cater to their parents’ needs, they will only be perpetuating the desire to return onto their own children. “It is very difficult at this stage to give weight to sentimentalism. Not that I don’t want to return to my homeland. The question is, what do I return to? A disturbia? What you call an alien land and alien people has given me more stability and security than my own homeland could ever give. The rest is all emotional mumbo jumbo,” says Suleman.
Dr Ali believes the ideal situation in the current setup to bring back mid-career professionals is “with good faith and enough bureaucratic powers to bring in the change without the fear of personal or professional repercussions. Pakistan is sitting on a huge pool of human resource which has been and can be trained appropriately to work domestically and internationally to produce a financially stable middle class (which is the backbone of any modern economy). If no planning is done (as is the case), then competition is tough and odds are against Pakistan.”
The matter raised is far from trivial. And, the problem goes beyond the educated working class. It is a country on the verge of human resource bankruptcy, not to mention the social imbalance of educating working class and labour class. Not that no other third world country has witnessed that before us, but this consistent mass migration of young professionals will leave the country in a lurch.
However, it is easier to talk about the reappraisal of policies, taking account of the history along with the current attitudes towards the working of the welfare state. All said, no one can blame these mid-career professionals from pursuing their lives in a more secure environment.
By Jazib Zahir
Following his graduation from the prestigious Aga Khan Medical College, Karachi, Mehmood was thrilled to match with a residency in the United States and packed his bags for Boston. Six years later, he is immersed in a fellowship programme for Internal Medicine and his plans to return to the motherland are hazy.
“Medicine is such a cutting-edge field,” he insists. “There is no way I can get this kind of training in Pakistan.”
Then there is the financial angle. “If I were training to be a doctor in Pakistan, I could barely afford to cover my own expenses. Here, I have a chance to have my own car and apartment and can even send some money home to my parents. I’m also aware that even if I were to work in Pakistan or the Middle East in the long run, the fact that I am American trained will net me a higher salary.”
Such sentiments are echoed by Pakistani professionals across the world as the best minds migrate towards the best opportunities. The most common justification is the desire to pursue opportunities that are just not locally available. “I want to pursue a career in investment banking. The option just does not exist in Pakistan,” says Ahsan who graduated from an Ivy League university. He has thus set up shop in Dubai where he puts in gruelling hours to ascend the corporate ladder.
But beyond the greener pastures, many have personal reasons to make their livelihood outside Pakistan. Raza, who works at a software company in Vancouver, says his extended family is mostly in the United States and Canada anyway. His wife too is an American citizen and he thus feels that the cord tugging him back to Pakistan is tenuous at best. “I’d like to eventually move my parents here,” he says. “I think I can offer them superior health coverage and comfort in Canada.”
He also feels, based on the experiences of his father, that his technical skills will just not get the appreciation they deserve in Pakistan.
Some have more subtle reasons for working abroad. “In America, I don’t need to bribe anyone to get my work done,” says Mehmood. He relishes the lifestyle where he can prance down the street without fear of getting mugged and not live in constant fear of losing his prized possessions.
What kind of career might these people pursue if they moved back to Pakistan? “I could see myself teaching or setting up my own company,” says Raza, adding that any other job in Pakistan will not be able to satisfy him.
But life is not all a bed of roses for our protagonists. They all admit to occasional bouts of nostalgia, pangs of longing for the comfortable life back at home and a burning desire for Pakistani cuisine. On a more profound note, many accept they cannot fully assimilate themselves into the hedonistic aspects of foreign lifestyles. They are also wary of thinly veiled racism. Being subjected to particularly rigorous checks at airports can be humiliating and many admit that a Pakistani identity is often not the best one to flaunt around.
On the question of settling abroad for the long run and raising children, Pakistanis have mixed feelings. Qasim, who is completing a doctorate in marketing in the United States, praises the American educational system for imbuing his children with a sense of individualism and independence. He also appreciates the diversity given that his children are getting a chance to learn about Hispanic cultural festivals. But he admits that he needed to make “a special effort to ensure that his children remember their Pakistani roots and can speak some semblance of Urdu.”
And most of these Pakistani professionals leave no stone unturned in their quest to maintain their cultural and ethnic ties. Saad, who works with Mckinsey in London, entertains ‘desi’ friends at least fortnightly. He stays connected with Pakistani friends and family around the world by phone and Facebook. He also frequents his local mosque and thus manages to stay plugged in the Pakistani community.
But will these folks ever return to our shores and use their skills to make a difference to our country? Osman, who works in a financial firm in Japan, is confident he will return “in 5 to 10 years and set up a firm along the lines of the one he worked at.”
Perhaps Ahsan speaks for the majority when he says, “We all want to come back at some point and shape Pakistan’s future. But every passing day and the ensuing state of affairs makes me think I should stay away. I can just pray and hope I am proved wrong.”
By Ammara Ahmad
Students from here have been going abroad for higher education for many decades. Today, however, the number seems higher than ever before. A pleasant surprise is reserved for those who decide to return to Pakistan. This is baffling. They have their reasons for doing so.
Finance is one of the major hurdles in education abroad and it determines their educational aftermath. Broadly, all around the world, there are two categories of foreign students — the self-financed (including loan seekers) and the scholarship or financial-aid holders. Generally, the self-financed candidates try to stick around for more experience and training, primarily because they can afford it and get visa extensions. On scholarship, it becomes trickier to get a work permit and arrange more finance. However, the total number of Pakistani students going to study abroad is unknown and so is the number of students returning to continue their career here.
The recession may be one reason for the students’ return. Fewer students now get financial aid because the university budgets and donations have decreased. Unemployment rates in the West have not improved recently and it is natural that they focus on hiring natives and refrain from appointing foreign students.
However, Amna, a Masters in International Development from Italy, disagrees. “Certain jobs are recession-proof. In technical majors, engineering, finance and medicine, employment is often available but the visa status isn’t updated. This often happens in the US.”
Amna admits that she too returned because her scholarship ended and would have stayed on given the chance because her field requires international exposure.
Some Pakistani academics obviously find it easier to gain employment here in Pakistan. However, some fields have seen a boom, like the Pakistani media. Print is well-known for paying very little and Pakistan Television (PTV) never had the opportunities private channels promise now. Foreign trained human resource usually has the expertise unavailable otherwise. Most channels upgrade their manpower by workshops and training sessions. Furthermore, the pay scale is very promising, on-job training and opportunities to rise up through the ranks are also plenty. People from majors like engineering, pure sciences and finance have been switching to a broadcasting career. However, the work hours are odd, lengthy and job security is almost non-existent.
“Re-adjusting to Pakistan was thorny,” says Sonia Rehman, a Columbia post-graduate in Print Journalism, 2010. “There was no job in my area of study and freelancing paid little. For the first three months after returning, I was clueless. Even now I am working on a project that has little to do with my area of study.”
She insists that the organisations that send students should also help them attain employment later or at least give them a synopsis on re-adjustment in the Pakistani workforce.
However, majority of the people still return to Pakistan for the very basic reasons. One that parents are uncomfortable about having their child settle down abroad, usually because of the distance and foreign culture. Another is that family members require caretaking. And that they miss Pakistan — the food, the family, the friends, the culture and the society.
The newly-found ‘Islamophobia’ and the consequent difficulty in upgrading visa status have made it even harder for people to stay back.
“I returned because I had graduated and gained professional experience, too,” says Muhammad Malik, a Brown University graduate and a Clarke University MBA who returned to Pakistan in 2008. “My mother was living here alone, and I persistently felt the US was not home.”
The ride was not professionally smooth either. “Pakistani companies are bureaucratic and have many management layers. Getting things done is harder. In the US, you feel you are working with people. Here you feel you are working for them.”
By Ismail Khan
Javed is a senior Pakistani-American, based in Georgia, who has made up his mind about staying back in the United States. Reasons: he doesn’t want his children to suffer the same misery as other children in Pakistan do.
Like many others, Javed prefers United States over Pakistan because he found the “standards of living” as “far better” than in Pakistan. Javed has a point. Like other average Americans, he is able to buy items which are otherwise afforded only by the elite in Pakistan.
Even the state comes to help you, reminds Javed who is now “self-employed”. Being an American citizen, the state has more to offer in terms of service delivery such as education and health than could be offered by Pakistan.
Many other Pakistani-American seniors also agree. Often they would tell you how United States embodies the practical applicability of what constitutes a welfare state. “Isn’t that something we are being told is an ideal state?” remains the underlying message.
Having experienced both the worlds, many seniors base their choice as much on calculation as on emotion. When they left Pakistan decades ago, they came to pursue the “American dream” — the ideal of applying personal liberty in pursuit of economic goals.
Many tell stories of how they came to the United States bare-handed, only to be found promoting themselves through their lives. Often you will come into a family which started off in single-room apartments, but are now living comfortably in a full house; they are content that their children have got the best of their education. “What else do you want?” — one was reminded.
They have a foot in both the lands. If you want to get an idea of how Pakistani seniors live in the US, go through what Khalid Hasan, the late columnist par excellence, wrote of Pakistanis living abroad. Khalid was critical in general, asking them to come out of their Pakistani “cocoon”. They, for one, live in the US, but their heart still beats on Pakistan. Many of them still go deep to collect fond memories of the old days when there used to be one television channel in Pakistan or when listeners were enthralled by the music of Noor Jehan or Kishore Kumar. Little wonder that while living in the United States, they are often in the lead in celebrating Pakistani festivals in the Pakistani way. If it’s Eid, they make sure their children celebrate it as they would in Pakistan.
More than that, taking on the responsibility of a watchful elderly figure, a few of them not only remind their children but also to the young Pakistani students of what Pakistan once has — the socially-connected villages and towns with their simple life to offer.
Past recollection isn’t always rosy — not the least, when a holistic picture is drawn.
After decades of stay in the West, returning to Pakistan is leading the dream towards a nightmare. Bomb blasts, vigilantism, terrorism, target killings — news from Pakistan often put much on the edge, stoking fears about the very idea of walking lonely on the soil, no matter how much romanticised. When the senior immigrants come across the news from Pakistan, they don’t want their children to go back.
It is not to say that things might be similar in other regions. Across the Atlantic, depressing economic activity and the subsequent rise of the right forces has ignited a debate on the check on the immigrants. Even though a similar debate is often touched in the West, the explanation turns around reminding how the country has been favourable to the immigrants all across the world.
Seniors know both the worlds and have seen many a trend in the West and Pakistan; they can certainly play a bridging role.