Staying in Pakistan

I have been asked countless times why I am wasting my life Pakistan and why haven’t I applied for immigration yet. This post has been lying in my blog drafts for many months – today seems to be an appropriate day to publish it. Happy Independence Day.

A few months ago, I asked a friend who was in Sweden for studies if he was planning to come back to Pakistan any time soon. “Are you kidding me?” was the incredulous reply that I got. Last year, the same friend was discussing how to ‘make a change in Pakistan’ with me over Skype.

I was not really surprised by his response. Over the years, I have seen dozens of my friends leave Pakistan one by one. 45 of my 50 classmates from school, and an even higher ratio of my university class fellows are no longer living in Pakistan. I have seen them change from Pakistan-loving students going abroad for just a couple of years to get their degrees, into expats, and later, into ecstatic foreigners updating their Facebook status when their passport color changes from green to blue or red. One by one, their H1B visas have transformed into green cards or European citizenship, their toddlers have grown into teenagers that are no longer fit for the harsh Pakistani lifestyle, and their careers and mortgaged houses have helped them to cut off their remaining ties with Pakistan.

The few friends who still have parents in Pakistan because they could not go through the ‘family reunification‘ process do visit Pakistan every few years, usually armed with video cameras, to film the land of their birth, to show to their friends in the land that they belong to now. To me, they are visitors, though their legal status may still be overseas Pakistani. My own uncles and aunts are amongst those people, urging their nephews and nieces on each trip to ‘not be a fool and apply for citizenship to another country – any country’, promising that a ‘brighter future’ awaits us. Maybe they advocate immigration due to their unease at the thought of people still wanting to live in a third-world country while they made their choice to upgrade their living standards, or maybe they are just proud of their accomplishments – but usually, they sound more like immigration agents than visiting relatives.

Many of my friends still stuck in Pakistan have their Canadian or Australian immigrations in process, they call it their ‘safety-net’ but we know better. They know they will end up joining the rest of the escapees, spend their lives abroad, and perhaps a few of them will choose to coming back in the final years of their lives, just to retire and be buried here. I have seen it happen before. I expect to see it again. After all, it is our own Pakistani mindset that changed the phrase پاکستان زندہ باد (Long live Pakistan) to پاکستان سے زندہ بھاگ (Get out of Pakistan alive) – a phrase that ceased to be funny many years ago.

Imran Khan believes that expats and overseas Pakistanis can bring about an economic revolution in Pakistan – probably because he hangs out in a different crowd than the average Pakistanis, but I doubt that the thought of direct or indirect economic revolution ever crosses the minds of my overseas Pakistani friends. I would love to be corrected on this – I think that except for a handful of Pakistani entrepreneurs who have made mad money abroad, the majority of expats can only bring a few thousand dollars per person to Pakistan on the average as remittances, and that too only while they have immediate relatives alive in Pakistan to send money to. I believe that after two or three decades, their family members will either die or join them abroad, their ties with Pakistan will finally be severed, and they will have no reason to send their hard-earned money ‘back home’, resulting in a Pakistan that got a bit of dollars and pounds over a few years, and lost a lot of talent – many future generations of talent.

The scenario doesn’t seem much different from the international aid that our rulers are constantly begging for – the only small difference being that the aid would be willingly given by people-formerly-known-as-Pakistani . I am not sure if an economist (and I am not one) would confirm or refute my theory, but I believe that those of us living in Pakistan that leave a 50 rupee tip for the waiter, spend 100 rupees on a rickshaw ride or buy a 500 rupees t shirt from a local shop are contributing more to the Pakistani economy than all the overseas Pakistanis that manage to send a few million rupees back home to their families in Pakistan – after working hard for a major portion of their lives – to buy a decent house so that their Christmas holiday visits to Pakistan are more pleasant.

My father was born in India in an area called Dehradun. With its lush valleys and winding roads, Dehradun doesn’t seem much different from Abbottabad. When my father discovered Youtube recently, and was checking how much his birthplace has transformed, I recalled my grandmother’s stories about the 1947  Partition, the loss of life and property that the family had to suffer and the relatives that were left behind. Just as I will not move to Dehradun to grow old and die, it would be illogical to expect my friends’ kids or my cousins to come back to Pakistan, to the villages and mohallahs of their parents, just to contribute to the economy of their parents’ homeland – a country they can’t really call their own – one riddled with poverty and terrorism and all the troubles of the world that their parents ran away from.

Nationalism has been called the ‘measles of mankind’ – living in Pakistan, we have seen more than our share of man-made boundaries turning some men into emotional fools and others into tyrrants and opressors. To me though, choosing to stay in Pakistan is not about nationalism or patriotism – but leaving it is about cowardice and laziness.

My friend and family abroad did not leave to be ‘citizens of the world’, and most of them did not end up trotting the globe to live their lives to the fullest, or to gather wisdom from other cultures. Their reasons to leave Pakistan were more basic. They left to lead easier, more secure  lives, to make more money and to drive fancier cars. The academic types left to get their PhDs, and then decided that Pakistan does not offer the kind of opportunities in their field of their research that would motivate them to come back. For one reason or another, they managed to stay out of this country. There is nothing wrong with choice they made, they are free to live their definition of a good life, but I do wish that instead of coming back to die in Pakistan, a few of them decide to come back to live. As ‘foreign-returned’ Pakistanis, they will automatically be part of the elite class, and will even get to watch the same TV shows and follow the same sports events that they are currently investing most of their remaining lives in.

I watched this video (in Urdu) recently,  in which Hasan Nisar, a brutally honest Pakistani columnist or a traitor/CIA agent, depending on your ideological inclinations, claimed that if America opens its doors for Pakistanis today, all healthy Pakistanis will be gone in less than 24 hours. I think his generalization is off by a few hundred people – there are at least a few of us who will choose to stay when given the choice to leave, not because we hate the West or don’t want to earn more money, but because our definition of happiness involves improving what we can improve in the system that we live in instead of switching to another system to live predictable, easy lives. Some of us who choose to stay in Pakistan, idealistic fools that we may be, do so to try and make a change in our surroundings, a much harder task than changing our surrounding.

As John F. Kennedy put it:

Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men.


The Cost of a National Holiday

Nusrat Bhutto, the wife/mother/mother-in-law/grandmother of our past/present/future rulers passed away in Dubai yesterday, and an unexpected national day of mourning with a national holiday was announced in Pakistan immediately by the ruling party. I am not really knowledgeable about her sacrifices for democracy in Pakistan but I am concerned about the impact that an unofficial holiday has on Pakistan, as thousands of lives were affected by this holiday, including mine. My son had an exam today and was up preparing for it till late night, while I had a meeting with the Abbottabad Commission in Islamabad in the morning, and had rescheduled my work routine around the trip to Islamabad. Both were postponed due to the holiday.

With all the free time on my hands today, I have been estimating the impact this holiday had on my country, and here is my guesstimate:

The official population of Pakistan is around 160,000,000 – assuming that ten percent of the population did not work today due to the holiday, that is 16,000,000 man-days of work.

If a person works for 250 days per year, that is 64000 man-years.

Assuming an average person’s professional career spans 80 years (though I think it is closer to 40), this translates to 800 life-times of lost work.

In other words, it would take 800 people their entire lifespans to make up for the work that was not done due to today’s holiday.

I hope my math is wrong, but I do believe that there are better ways to recognize a deceased person’s contributions to a country – ones that do not deprive the same country of 800 lifetimes of work.


The Abbottabad you don’t get to see

Medical Students in Abbottabad
Medical Students in Abbottabad

With their American accents and attitudes, you will not be able to single out these three guys from the rest if they were sitting in a coffee shop in California (an airport queue is a different matter though). They have spent a significant part of their lives in the US or the UK, and probably came back to Pakistan to attend medical school – a cheap and logical option for many. The low tuition fees means that don’t need to take out student loans, and affiliations of the Pakistani medical schools with American and British medical schools means these students can usually get a transfer in the last few semesters – or, leave for specialization elsewhere. They are just three of the many regular patrons of Coffity (or ‘the coffee shop’ as I tend to call it), the small coffee shop that I started in Abbottabad after craving for a few months for real espresso shots. Every few days, I am pleasantly surprised to see the diversity of the people that live in Abbottabad and visit the coffee shop.

Five days after the Operation Geronimo, I had a little chat with these students and asked them about the impact that the OBL incident has had on their lives. The response was the ‘nobody really cares’ that I already expected, but when I asked if any of the dozens of international journalists had approached them and covered their campus life (colleges and universities cover a significant portion of the Abbottabad real estate), the answer was a surprising ‘No’. To loosely quote them, the journalists were more interested in getting to the 600 odd anti-American protestors that gathered after the friday prayers to chant and shout their hearts out against the American invasions, than they were to cover the everyday life that was barely disrupted by this incident. These students also wanted to share their opinion about OBL and how their lives have (not) changed at all, but they were never given a chance to do that, despite being part of an important segment of the Abbottabad population – students. People may not know this, but Abbottabad is more an academic town than it is a military town – even the PMA is an ‘Academy’.


I do understand that menacing shots (from a few inches below their chins, just to get as much of the beards as possible) of open-mouthed, bearded protestors wearing caps is always good raw material for interesting news, but our media should realize that they usually also have Arab (yes, you heard me right, Arab!) students studying in these medical colleges, along with dozens, if not hundreds, of Afghan students.

So if you are an international journalist who is still in Abbottabad and waiting for the demolition of ‘the compound’, do try to go and visit AMC, FMC and any other *MC in Abbottabad and talk to a few students. Their worldview might be slightly different from that of an average Pakistani stereo-type, and their accents may be too American (or British) to mark them as a Pakistani when they open their mouths, but who knows, what they have to say might actually be newsworthy to some people – people who are tired of watching beards and banners all the time.

Defining Terrorism

A couple of years ago, I came across this interesting paper titled “Defining Terrorism: Philosophy of the Bomb, Propaganda by Deed and Change Through Fear and Violence“. In those days, Afghanistan and Iraq were still the countries with the most terrorist attacks and casualties, and we had not yet reached the current weekly terrorist attack frequency of the last couple of months.

Two years later, as terrorist attacks have slowly become a part of our weekly (if not daily) lives, I believe that this paper has become a must-read for us (Pakistanis) to understand terrorism a bit better. The author, Arthur H. Garrison, who was the Director of Criminal Justice Planning and Senior Researcher at the Delaware Criminal Justice Council at the time of writing, defines terrorism as:

The use of force or violence or the threat of force or violence to change
the behavior of society as a whole through the causation of fear and the targeting of specific parts of society in order to affect the entire society.

A few more quotes worth reading from the paper:

There is a consistent ideology that connects terrorists regardless of their desired goals or social context. Although there are clear differences in political ideology, philosophy, desired goals and the social context between terrorists through history, an examination of their writings reveals that terrorists share a common understanding of the utility of terror.

Terrorists, regardless of issue or cause, hold at least one of ‘three basic concepts [about society]:
(1.) Society is sick and cannot be cured by half measures of reform.
(2.) The state is itself violence and can be countered and overcome only by violence.
(3.) The truth of the terrorist cause justifies any action that supports it. While some terrorists recognize no moral law [they] have their own ‘higher’ morality’. (Parry, 1976, p. 12)

The use of rocks, stones and suicide bombs is as much about regaining Palestinian selfrespect by not accepting the occupation of the territories by Israel and keeping the attention of the world as it is a tactic to force Israel out of the territories.

The use of terror has always been an appealing option to the young and those who espouse terror have always sought to recruit and use the young to implement terror.
Bakunin wrote in 1869, ‘the healthy, uncorrupted mind of youth must grasp the fact that it is considerably more humane to stab and strangle dozens, nay hundreds, of hated beings than to join with them to share in systematic legal acts of murder, in the torture and martyrdom of millions of peasants’ (Laqueur and Alexander, 1987, p. 67).

Read the complete paper here.

Do you know Dust Puppy?

userfriendlyI remember it very clearly – it was 2001 when I discovered an easter egg in Quake III Arena (a game that has claimed many hours of my life) featuring Dust Puppy – a character from the geeky comic strip at I was curious and visited the website, and was hooked for life.

The strip has been running for 10 years now, and although it is not mainstream and certainly not as popular as Dilbert, but it is funnier than Peanuts IMHO, and documents the evolution of computing in a way that Dilbert simply does not. I can praise the strip for hours, but just go check it out yourself.

Here’s where it all started [click to go to the website]:



and this strip is one of my personal favorites (as I am turning into a dinosaur myself):


I have not seen the strip covered on any of the blogs I read – and I hope I manage to contribute to the mission of “Impairing productivity” by this post. Let me know how you like it in the comments 😀