Pakistani experts: Lack of opportunity, not talent!
My post is a response to the op-ed put up in Dawn, by Moeed Yusuf of USIP on The need for experts from Pakistan in DC’s policy think tank circles.
In his piece, Yusuf makes a call for more experts of Pakistani-descent, which would enhance more fruitful and comprehensive discussions on issues relating to Pakistan.
He lists three reasons why Pakistan or Pakistanis have been portrayed in a negative light.
1) The focus is Afghanistan, so Pakistan is considered through an Afghanistan-tinted lens; the discussions are centered on ‘Af-Pak’ rather than Pak alone.
2) The lack of individuals, who have worked in both Pakistani and US contexts. In other words, experts who have on the ground experience in Pakistan, meeting a diverse group of Pakistanis in diverse regions of Pakistan.
“[M]ore often than not, such experts tend to focus on the narrow set of issues most prevalent in the common narrative and often do it from an outsider’s perspective. This is so since research based on secondary sources or a narrow set of primary contacts — these usually tend to be the elite of Islamabad in Pakistan’s case — naturally gravitates towards issues that have already been written about extensively in the public domain. At some point, such works become self-referential and thereby end up iterating and reiterating the same conclusions on the same topics.”
3) Absence of Pakistani-American experts due to a generational gap and career divides. He notes that Pakistan was more of a hot topic in the 1980s with a resurgence post 9/11. He also highlights that Pakistani-Americans tend to stray from government positions and go into medicine, banking or law.
As a result of these factors, Yusuf argues, there is a dearth of Pakistani-American experts on Pakistan issues.
Most of Yusuf’s points are correct.
However, he does not address another serious point; the lack of hiring or employment opportunities for specialists on Pakistan in the think tank, or even government circles.
A very quick internet search of opportunities focusing on South Asia in New York and Washington DC, indicate sundry internships (unpaid) or fellowships at think tanks like Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), New America, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and Brookings. There are no positions listed for subject matter experts or research associates or assistants focusing on South Asia, let alone Pakistan. This is seemingly true for the private sector if one searches security-focused firms like BAE systems or Booz Allen Hamilton.
Many of the current ‘experts’ on Pakistan at these think tanks have been scholars for anywhere between five to 20 years. They may have shifted from previous government positions into the think tank community, which is true across specialisation for many different concentrations. I can think of two Pakistani-Americans who have successfully joined think tanks in DC as specialists, and two Pakistanis who are considered experts in their fields.
Simply put, there is a lack of space and real opportunity for Pakistani specialists to join this academic community, even if they have on the ground experiences, contacts, and research that would benefit these think tanks.
This is not limited to think tanks but also government agencies, which is a detriment to the field of scholarly research. Often, Pakistani-Americans have a nuanced understanding of Pakistan-US relations and niche Pakistan issues, such as governance, innovation, development, and even health care in Pakistan.
The comment that Pakistani-Americans are not entering the fields of political science, international relations, and academia is simply not true.
Post 9/11, there has been a boon for Pakistani-Americans to consider these fields and pursue higher education. Self-exclusion isn’t the issue at hand.
Finally, the end of Fulbright research grants to Pakistan is something that should be addressed in subsequent years. If the Pakistan-US relationship and the security situation in the said fields improve, perhaps, it would be possible for think tanks or the US government to send interested specialists out to Pakistan through this incredible research program. Over time, discussions in DC would evolve based on these newer insights and then, maybe, just maybe things wouldn’t look as bleak as Mr Yusuf suggested.
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