BILAL KARIM MUGHAL
On January 27, US President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order which barred nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries from traveling to the US for 90 days, as well as indefinitely suspending the intake of Syrian refugees.
The controversial move was widely criticised. Most world leaders, large sections of the international media, and the general public voiced their disapproval in unison.
The strongest opposition came from within the US and, within a few days, the courts struck down the Order, at least temporarily.
People in Pakistan were also critical of Trump’s decision, especially since it was suggested that the ban might be extended to Pakistan as well.
But Imran Khan, whose Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf governs Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and is the third-largest party in the National Assembly, had a different take on the issue.
Addressing a party rally, Imran Khan said he “prayed” that the US stops granting visas to Pakistanis so that “we could work for fixing our own country”.
I was not surprised at all. Imran has a habit of saying ludicrous things, which he either has to retract or clarify later. Time and again, Imran has proven is a reactionary leader. He is keen on riding populist waves and feeds on nationalist rhetoric, all the while ignoring the realities of the country.
His views here are not too different from those of Trump, who proposes the isolationist agenda of 'America First'.
Before making such statements, it would have helped if Imran had checked the facts.
According to the State Bank of Pakistan, the country's foreign exchange reserves were $23.19 billion at the end of 2016. Remittances by expats stood at $19.91 billion, which is roughly 85 percent of the total foreign reserves.
Of these $19.91 billion, the highest contribution came from Pakistan’s living in Saudi Arabia at $5.96 billion. Pakistanis in the US sent around $2.52 billion back to their home country. This amount is higher than the $1.77 billion at which K-Electric was sold to Shanghai Electric. Travel restrictions on visa and green card holders will not only be a blow to concerned individuals and families, but will also have a crippling effect on the Pakistani economy.
No sane leader would pray for such a situation, let alone a leader who promises to develop Pakistan.
According to Imran Khan, “The day there is a government that decides it has to live and die in Pakistan, it will fix this country. The biggest issue here is the corruption of bigwigs who ... become ministers and loot this country, taking the money abroad.”
Yes, but the bigwigs of corruption do not need visas to stash their money abroad. There are plenty of other ways to send money to foreign bank accounts or offshore companies. If Pakistanis are banned from living and working in the US, it is the lower-middle and middle classes and students who will suffer the most – not the rich and the powerful.
Questioning the loyalty of Pakistanis living in the US is distasteful. Hardworking immigrants deserve to be respected and honoured instead of being demeaned. Their contributions to both the US and Pakistan should be celebrated. Even if Pakistanis were barred from the US, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will shift their wealth and families back to Pakistan. They would rather look to move to another Western country, where they will continue to find better opportunities.
Pakistan’s economic ills cannot simply be blamed on the lack of investment in the country. To attract investment from its citizens living abroad, Pakistan needs to create favourable economic and political conditions. Forcing expats to bring their money to Pakistan is no magic solution when the overall situation of the country remains dismal.
During a time of globalisation, we should be looking for Pakistanis to gain international experience. Lack of global exposure for its people will make the country a poorer place in terms of human resources.
We need to accept that Pakistan’s education system is abysmal and the country’s job market doesn't have the absorption capacity. It’s normal that in such a situation, people will move to look for a better life. It’s their right to do so. Imran has hit another low after his disparaging comments on Pakistani immigrants. His statement drew criticism and shock not only from within Pakistan, but also from overseas Pakistanis. One Pakistani-American attorney said that such a demand from a national leader was beyond comprehension.
In an age where the reputation of a country is measured by how many countries its citizens can enter without visas, we should be striving for Pakistanis to have an easier right of way when it comes to international travel.
Imran should realise that a ban on Pakistanis travelling to any country will only bring further humiliation and shame, not benefits.