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.


11 thoughts on “Staying in Pakistan”

  1. Your story seems to match mine when it comes to friends. Most of my classmates have left. In a year or two I have have NO close friend left in Lahore.

    There is one point that I would like you to comment on.

    All of my friends and these days even me, see that it’s nearly Impossible to live a “corruption free” life in Pakistan. Here we have to do evil things constantly to achieve our business and personal goals.

    You got to have money and connections to live a standard upper middle class life here.

    Would you agree that if one wants to live righteous/honest or even Islamic life it’s possible in some other countries but not possible in Pakistan?

  2. I completely agree with your brutually honest opinion BUT i would say…who would not go after a better opportunity? Maybe you and some people you know are borderline comfortable in pakistan, but some people do not have money to eat, would they run over to KSA, Bahrain to work 16 hr days for a few extra thousand rupees? Yes. Would you almost kill yourself when there is no electricity and gas and you cannot even run a manufacturing business on schedule? Yes. Don’t blame it on the people, blame it on the system. People still run in hundreds of thousands from India to USA/UK/AU for IT jobs even though India has the highest GDP growth in 3rd world countries.

    Now here’s the 180 view. MOST people will jump back in 24 hrs to pakistan if we get a sincere leader like IK and he starts showing results(yes he’s not always right but is there any other sane choice?). You cannot remove the love of motherland that attracts people back.
    I go an extra mile to hire resources from pakistan, it is painful to work and higher cost, i do it for the love of the country and economy, i could easily outsource to India

  3. I admire your conviction.

    While I don’t blame people for wanting to leave their various homelands to pursue a better life, I have a particular appreciation for those who have a vision to see their own nation and locality transformed for the better!

    I was born in the United States of America – a land made up mostly of people who left their homelands for a better life (and their descendants).

    I think of the words of Jesus – “Go into all the world” and “teach them to obey everything I commanded you.” His commands involved things like loving one another – making life better for others.

    Jesus message is by nature one of laying down that which will make you most comfortable and instead living for the improvement of the lives of others! This is why so many followers of Jesus have left places of comfort and gone into the deserts of the world to make them springs.

    On the other side of the story – I really admire those who love their own people and homeland enough to stay and serve – even when there may seem to be “better” opportunities elsewhere.

  4. I agree with most of what you say. However, did it ever occur to you that one reason for leaving Pakistan could be to get away from the repulsive Brown Sahibs and Brown Memsahibs who have such an oppressive hold over Pakistani society? For some it is preferable to live in a genuine western society than the hideous replica imposed on the hapless people of Pakistan.

    If you would care to click on the link below and have the patience to read through the blog and the comments thereon, you will understand what I am getting at.

  5. The following lines of yours exactly matches with my thinking and I think it will force me one day to come back to Pakistan:

    “…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…”

  6. I Hope Imran Khan can make us proud to be called Pakistani again.

    The Wadera in Sindh, Chodhri in Punjan and Khan in Frontier provinces are all reminents of old ages and they are dragging Pakistan down with them. If that was not enough the “QUOTA” system of allowing less intelligent citizens to take up leading positions is a Poison to all young students.

    I came to live in UK because i was shot at in Karachi by someone i do not know, I came to live in UK because Pakistani people need no enemy they are generally fighting among themselves. Outside Pakistan its a different story, every Pakistani I met work hard for the country they live in, they are ideal citizens as they are skilled, pay taxes and mostly do no crimes.

    I hope Imran Khan would make us believe again that we are not lesser humans, that we could trust and love one another and end the crazy systems which is continuing to destroy Intelligent Moral.

    The safety net is not a cover my friend. People are really scared that USA will rape and pillage their homes and call it freedom, but they are also scared of MQM, Taliban and PPP terrorists.

    I wish to move to Pakistan today if things got better with law and order, but only the Martial Law can keep the order in Pakistan.

    A lot depends on Imran.. Imran I love you man!

  7. I don’t think the cycle of people leaving Pakistan for abroad will stop, so the money coming into Pakistan over the period of time would remain but it will certainly be lesser than the current amount.

  8. Sohaib, yaar dil khush ker dia. I did not get a chance to see this post earlier but very well summed up brother.

    Allah bless you and give every young heart and mind to think on the positive lines about their motherland, which afterall is a Nest for most of them till they grow their feather out and then get to know how high they can FLy.

  9. I feel like you have put my words in this article but with one difference, that is I’ve been living abroad for almost 8 years now and want to be back and having time to time discussion with friends that pakistan has lot more to offer as we see.

    I instantly inclined to make a site called which gives people why and how they can contribute back or come back to country, may be just putting pharses from your posts would serve that purpose.

    Actually i was deleting my twitter following and i have no idea where and when i did added so many people(including you) but your title strikes me that your from pakistan and working in IT, so thought to have a look what you do.

    Any way its good read and I think people like are convinced enough that its time to pay back to where you come from but every transition has some time and ways because transition is not instant, so please highlight some points on that as well

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