They do leave, Mr Prime Minister

Published: May 29, 2012

In the past three years, the number of illegal immigrants caught crossing the Evros river into Greece has gone up by over 500% - most of those arrested are Pakistani. PHOTO: REUTERS

Despite calls from Pakistan’s opposition to step down or be ousted, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani  is still in charge. Fresh from his triumphant reception outside the Supreme Court, Gilani took on a different kind of challenge when he sat down for an interview with CNN’s Becky Anderson last week.

I have to say, the prime minister has come a long way since his television debut as the bumbling leader of a parliament of dunces.

Throughout the CNN interview, he sounded confident and combative. His answers were mostly canned responses to the usual canned questions about Pakistan, terrorism, the economy and so on.

Everything seemed to be going fine until the interviewer asked him about a Gallup survey saying that 1/3 of Pakistanis want to leave the country.

He responded by saying,

Why don’t they leave then? Who is stopping them?

This was followed by a smug smirk that seemed to say, “Bring it on!”

Well, Mr Prime Minister, here’s a news flash for you: They do leave.

After watching the interview, I was immediately reminded of an experience I had about 10 years ago.  I was on a flight from Bangkok to Karachi, visiting my hometown after almost six years.

As I settled into my seat and buckled up, I found myself sitting next to a young Pathan man no more than 18-years-old, sporting a fresh bowl cut and wearing a tattered cream coloured shalwar kameez.  As the plane took off, he asked me where I was coming from.

Amreeka, I told him.

At that time, anti-immigrant sentiment was high in the United States, and deportations had skyrocketed; thanks to the post-9/11 special registration process.

The young man asked me if I was going back to Pakistan because of the haalaat (situation) in the US.  I told him I had a green card, and I didn’t have to worry about that issue.

He then told me that his father and brother were on the run in New York, trying to duck from the authorities.  They had been providing money for the family’s survival for over a decade, and that was now in jeopardy.

Curious, I asked him if he was coming from Amreeka too.  He responded, rather casually,

Nahin dost, main deport ho ke aa raha hoon

(No friend, I am coming back after being deported)

He then told me about his journey from Swabi to Karachi, where he bought a one-way ticket to Laos, which surprisingly doesn’t require visas for Pakistanis.  His plan was to sneak out of Bangkok airport during his layover, where a human smuggler would be waiting to take him to his new home and job in Thailand.

Of course, this probably wasn’t the first time Thai authorities had encountered such a situation, and he was promptly booked on the first flight back to Karachi.  He lost over $5,000, and more importantly his dignity, in the process, and here he was headed back to a place that couldn’t provide a future for him.

As we got off the plane, and I saw him being taken away by the police at Karachi airport, I couldn’t stop thinking about the extent people are willing to go to run away from Pakistan.

That young man isn’t the only one who tried to leave; Pakistani men escaping to Dubai and the rest of the Middle East on ramshackle boats is old news. The new frontier seems to be Europe.

In the past three years, the number of illegal immigrants caught crossing the Evros river into Greece has gone up by over 500% - most of those arrested are Pakistani.

The problem isn’t restricted to impoverished young men from rural areas either.

I went to a middle-class school in Karachi. While I left before high school to live with my family in the US through legal channels, most of my friends stayed in Pakistan to complete their college educations.

Now, as I reconnect with my friends through the miracles of social networking, they are scattered all across the globe in search of opportunities not available in their homeland. They are in Dubai, Jeddah, Seoul, Moscow, Baku, Dublin, Berlin, and some town in Italy I had never heard of.

It’s not just a body drain anymore, it’s a brain drain.

A large portion of the population lives under the poverty line. By some estimates, the unemployment rate is as high as 15%, and that doesn’t even take underemployment into account.

For those lucky enough to have jobs, per capita income is one of the lowest in the world. Inflation rose by a whopping 13% last year.  No one is safe, whether it’s drones raining down missiles in FATA, or gang warfare taking innocent lives in Karachi. With damning statistics like these, who wouldn’t want to leave?

And given that 35% of the nation’s population is under the age of 14, the problem is only going to get worse.

So again, Mr Prime Minister, they do leave.  Some get turned away, but most get out successfully.

Instead of complaining about the judiciary’s activism, or flip-flopping on closing NATO routes, perhaps the prime minister would be better served trying to figure out how to keep his people at home.

This post originally appeared here

Follow Mohib on Twitter @NishtarPark

Mohib Bukhari

Mohib Bukhari

A Pakistani who is currently living in the United States. Mohib works in the field of digital marketing and tweets @NishtarPark

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Parvez

    Mr. Prime Minister………………….if this is not contempt for the people, then what is ?Recommend

  • uncleGilani

    Why dont YOU leave then? Who is stopping you?Recommend

  • Ayesha Pervez

    Very nice blog. The story about the Pathan boy was intriguing!Recommend

  • Karachiwala

    Gilani please leaveRecommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Its all about creating enough jobs to server the people who are coming out in the employable range every year.

    I had read a report where WB chief stated that developing countries need to grow at 6% per annum to generate enough jobs for the guys entering the job market. India is expected to grow at 7% this year, but will pick up to grow at 8% next.

    But, Pakistan has been growing at around 3% for the past 2 years and is expected to grow at the same rate next year. So, you are creating only half as many jobs that you ought to create. The longer you do not grow at 6%, poverty will increase, unemployment will rise, the standard of living will fall.

    What I am worried now is this:

    “..there were over 13,500 illegal immigrants from Afghanistan and about 7,700 from Pakistan in 2009.”

    http://www.hindustantimes.com/India-news/NewDelhi/More-illegal-immigrants-from-Afghanistan-than-Pakistan/Article1-769063.aspx

    Majority of them are Hindus and Sikhs, which is fine, but some of them are not. Only Hindus and Sikhs should be allowed inside India.Recommend

  • Hira

    Mohib our Prime Minister doesn’t give a damn about who’s leaving the country and who isn’t.. he and the President are both ignorant towards any issue relating to our countrymen.. they are in tenure to make as much money through corrupt ways as possible… that’s all that they are in office for.. Sad, shameful and pathetic, but true.Recommend

  • Hassan

    There are few reasons to not leave Pakistan. Let’s just accept the truth.Recommend

  • Javeria Mahmood

    @Hira:
    110% agreedRecommend

  • Sayed Aaso,

    If our masses would Vote, than they would be concerned of their vote bank shrinking, but in our system the results are achieved else where, and the election is just a show piece for the international community.

    Thats why they are least bothered, while i would like to add unfortunately i have observed that in areas where there are more stable and educated class or upper class living, the voter turn out is very, very low as compared to the urban areas.

    So they are not concerned as the masses do not matter for them and their destiny…..Recommend

  • Sane

    So, what the remedy then? Recommend

  • Sane

    @Syed Aaso
    Thats why they are least bothered, while i would like to add unfortunately i have observed that in areas where there are more stable and educated class or upper class living, the voter turn out is very, very low as compared to the urban areas.

    Probably you meant RURAL area. However, we are basically dead in morality. We are action less. We have closed eyes and do not want to come out of dream. ‘Someone’ will correct everything ‘one day’. That’s what we think.Recommend

  • Wayne

    @Anoop:
    Pakistan actually a really big undocumented economy, one of the biggest in the world, even bigger than India’s and Indonesia’s.

    The majority of small business owners in Pakistan and even big business owners don’t pay taxes in Pakistan, that’s why the government is losing revenue.

    http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-04-05/the-secret-strength-of-pakistans-economy

    Pakistan’s undocumented economy is worth over $100 billion.

    Pakistan should try to improve tax collection like India did.Recommend

  • Ali

    A strong response by columnist Hassan Nisar on the same subject… Must must read… Got me relieved a little… while reading it felt like i am directly addressing the PM :)

    http://www.choraha.com/hassan-nisar/mujhe-kaun-rok-raha-haiRecommend

  • Omar the ambassadorial of peace

    This article is quite sad you would need a great leader like Imran Khan if you want to reverse the situation and the story was quite depressing but look on the bright side most of these people send money back like 12 billion dollars so economy is surviving’Recommend

  • Zubair

    For once in a life Mr.Prime minister has spoken the truth…that he is not bothered if you leave the country. Thumbs up Mr.Gillani. Keep up the “GOOD WORK”..!!Recommend

  • Dragon

    Mr. Prime minister, I wan’t to leave you and your country, but no one would accept me owing to to your comment until forced expulsion. I am waitingRecommend

  • usama

    @wayne – money will not make us better human beings. we need people with dignity, values and ethics not money because that is what it brings real prosperity in a country.Recommend

  • bangash

    I thought Gilani gave a witty answer to an interviewer who was trying to corner him. Recommend

  • Vigilant

    Good answerRecommend

  • perplexed

    great responseRecommend

  • Ash

    This is a great article thank you for sharing.I sometimes wonder about the mentality of the polliticians of our country,do they think they will be taking all their wealth with them when they die.In stead of helping the poor or providing some sort of stability for them they just put loads of money in the swiss banks and relax.I wish our beautiful country had leaders who actually cared about the people living in it,maybe it wouldnt be such a dire state as it is now.
    I moved from pakistan to London in 1978,there isnt a single day where i dont miss that country,but i dont want to go back as i feel like I would have no stabilty.Recommend