Let The Native Cousins Live In Peace

What a pity that a large part of the Pakistani diaspora living in advanced western economies supports, encourages, sponsors and funds religious fanaticism and political conservatism back home – advertently or inadvertently. How ironic that our superior courts are more worried about the voting rights of the diaspora, while the bigger question for a conscious Pakistani living in the country is the absence of about eight million poor, oppressed and disadvantaged women from the latest and most scientifically put together electoral rolls. The courts showed little interest in setting that right.
It seems our judiciary is as enthusiastic about getting dual nationals to vote as they were enthusiastic – just recently – about disqualifying dual nationals from parliament and provincial assemblies and castigating them from running for public office ever.
There are four categories of Pakistanis or people of Pakistani origin living in other parts of the world. The first category is made up of those who largely belong to the working class – plumbers, electricians, machine operators, drivers, etc. This category also includes some white collar professionals like doctors, engineers, accountants and managers. These people retain their green passports, get a work visa stamped and renewed from time to time and return to their native country after the contract expires or retirement age is reached. By all means, they are Pakistani citizens working abroad for a stipulated time.
There is a second category, though less in number now. These people are those who had to exile themselves due to political repression under dictatorial regimes and threats to their own lives and to the safety and well-being of their families. A large number of such Pakistanis moved during Gen Zia’s regime. Some of them continue to be dual nationals and some have opted for the new country as their only national identity.
The third category of diaspora is those who have emigrated with their families, surrendered Pakistani citizenship and live and die in their adopted countries. The reasons could be diverse but were mostly economic in nature. Greener pastures take people to alien lands. The fourth category is those who live, work and settle abroad, raise their families in their new countries, become citizens of their country of choice, but also retain the Pakistani citizenship. They are dual nationals like some falling in the second category.
The first category must enjoy the right to vote and the right to participate in the political process back home. They are abroad because their native country could not provide them with the basic economic opportunities to survive, let alone to better their lot. There is no question about the active role the state should play to keep them in the mainstream. It shouldn’t matter to any of us which political party or leader they support and cast their vote for. Also, they must be supported in acquiring assets in Pakistan. Most of such people work in the Middle Eastern countries. A small number works in Europe, the Americas, Africa and the Far East.
When it comes to the second category, it is rather tricky to decide about these people because it remains hard to ascertain, particularly in case of the second generation of these immigrants, whether living abroad is a matter of choice or still a necessity for survival. There is little reason to doubt that most of these people are more progressive in outlook than the third and the fourth category, but if they have decided to spend the rest of their lives abroad, their involvement in our political and decision making process will also be limited.
All of us have a right to hold an opinion and publicise it as much as we want but participating in the mainstream political process requires you to be close to the ground. Most of these people live in Europe and North America. Of course, most wealthier and fraternal Muslim countries couldn’t shelter them because they lag far behind Pakistan when it comes to observing democratic rights and absorbing political asylum seekers.
Let us now come to the third and fourth categories. Most of these Pakistanis, essentially first generation immigrants, love their faith and feel nostalgic about their culture. But the love of faith did not make them citizens of other Muslim countries. There are two reasons for that.
One, even the richest of the Muslim countries offer little social and economic development opportunities to Muslim brothers and sisters coming from poorer countries as compared to the opportunities offered in those countries of the west who nurture permissive societies, profane individuals and secular systems of governance. And two, the rich Muslim nations refuse to accept poor Muslims from other countries as their citizens. Hence, Pakistanis and those of Pakistani origin falling in the third and the fourth categories mostly choose to live and work in Europe and North America.
There are many among these people of Pakistani origin who would like to see a progressive polity and society in the country of their forebears – the country where now their native cousins live. But there is an equal or perhaps a larger number of them who want to participate and influence Pakistan’s social and political processes by providing both moral and financial support to conservative political parties and misguided social and religious movements in Pakistan.
I said at the beginning that these people may not be doing it advertently. The reason being that being away for so long makes their understanding of the political context quite limited and their desire for change in the land of the past rather obtuse. But what they are doing to us even inadvertently is unacceptable. The pretext for their active involvement in the political process, we are told, is that they contribute to our wealth by sending remittances in foreign currency.
First, it is the people falling in the first category, the Pakistani citizens working abroad, who make the most contribution and, second, those of Pakistani-origin who send some money to Pakistan send it to their ageing or ailing relatives. They fulfil their personal responsibility. They do not make voluntary contributions to the national exchequer. The only investment they make is in buying property in Pakistan, to be disposed of by their heirs at a higher price in the future. But in the meanwhile it unnaturally raises the prices to such a level that a local resident Pakistani earning in Pak rupees finds it hard to afford decent housing in his or her own country.
The latest fad among such people of Pakistani origin living in Europe and North America is to support the confused conservative politics of Imran Khan and the PTI – the politics that sympathises with militant outfits and tells us that 40,000 innocent Pakistani citizens including women, children and our soldiers are killed because they are fighting for the Americans. In a country where faith is used to discriminate and persecute, Khan has the gall to reintroduce religious symbolism like vowing to collect everyone under the banner of the kalma and beginning his campaign video by offering namaz. Hypocrisy to the hilt (I cherish my self-imposed restrictions on discussing people’s personal lives so I stop here).
Khan tells the bombers and shooters who are striking the ANP, the PPP and the MQM, to wait for a couple of weeks since these parties will be swept away by his tsunami. Meaning thereby that the bombers and shooters are right in what they believe in. Just that, for the moment, there is no need to unnecessarily kill people. Our friends in the diaspora enjoy democratic rights and live in diverse, accommodating, inclusive and plural societies. Why are they after us, their native cousins, who want the same living conditions as theirs?