Despite the increasingly rigorous immigration rules and regulations, the ‘developed world’ is determined to attract the best. “Let me be clear: none of these measures will stop us from rolling out the red carpet for the brightest and the best,” the British prime minister stated in unequivocal terms in his address in May 2015 on his government’s plans to control immigration. This may well be a blessing for the British; but it is definitely a growing menace for countries like Pakistan which are at the receiving end as talent flows away.
Even in the developing world, at a time when Chinese researchers are preparing to unveil brain-powered cars, we are being clubbed with the pestilence of brain drain invading the future of our nation.
Approximately seven million Pakistanis are residing in about 140 countries around the world according to the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resources Development. About 48pc of overseas Pakistanis are working in the Middle East, 28pc in Europe and 19pc in the US. The ministry reported in 2013 that around 2.7 million Pakistanis had left Pakistan in the preceding five years in the hope of a better and safer future. This exodus includes the highly skilled stratum of society.
The exodus from Pakistan includes the highly skilled stratum of society.
Pakistan is facing this onslaught on several fronts. First, there are the students who go abroad for tertiary education and who prefer to live a life of expatriates for the foreseeable future.
Second and a most serious problem is that of experienced and trained government employees going abroad on government scholarships for further courses and then disappearing in their newfound world never to return. As a result, Pakistan suffers the loss not only of valuable and skilled employees but also in the form of further costs for the recruitment and training of new employees for vacated positions.
Third, there are professionals like scientists, doctors and engineers who leave their homeland at different stages of their career. Increasingly, investors are also moving abroad for their business ventures.
In addition, there is a discreet internal brain drain where the civil services hold ‘uniformed’ and administrative cadres at the top of the pyramid. The talent is competing for the ‘piece of cloth’ or a title that is a mark of respect and power. Has the policing or administrative system changed despite the best candidates? The answer is a categorical no.
As a grimmer expression of this authority, a police constable can detain a university professor in a police station for hours without any lawful reason. “Brain drain is better than brain in the drain,” someone remarked justifying this exodus. Some may well apply this to Pakistan due to the constant and egregious failures of public planning policy resulting from the incompetence and shortsightedness of governments.
We can probably take some inspiration from our neighbours. During Mr Modi’s visit to the US last October, about 50 Indian students gathered at MIT in Boston to discuss ways to change brain drain to brain gain by getting the best of talent back to India. In order to assist the students, the Indian government arranged for officials from the Indian Academic Institute to assist them in taking decisions.
On this side of the border, Pakistanis will have to take up this task for themselves, at least for the most part. The solution to this problem lies with the ‘brains’ themselves. They are the ones who are to provide light to this nation aspiring to find its way out of the dark thorny woods.
On the other hand, expecting any proactive role from the government in this regard is expecting a bit too much. As we look back at our history, lamentably we see governments which were self-serving, incompetent, clueless and spineless.
For whatever reason, governments seemed keener on managing remittances from abroad rather than undertaking some fruitful effort to secure the return of highly qualified Pakistanis. The remittances, though making contributions to the economy, are in no way an alternative to highly skilled individuals. Pakistani consulates should play an active role in this context by bringing well-educated members of the diaspora together and discussing the possibility of the return of our top talent to the country.
Regrettably, a few of the educated Pakistanis are riding the bandwagon of clichéd norms coming up with all sorts of justifications — ‘we do not get the desired deference’; ‘the government is not doing anything’; all these are mere excuses. There is hardly any likelihood of creatures from heaven descending to sort out the mess, created and protracted by our political parties for decades now. The educated strata of society will have to step forward, taking up the responsibility of moving this nation forward, realising that their country is in dire need of their talent and expertise.
Published in Dawn, December 25th, 2015