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Diluting Pakistani Brain Drain: Securing Lasting Success by Retaining Talent

By Wajid Hassan

Even though Pakistan’s education system has an inadequate infrastructure, it is still capable of producing more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) graduates than each of the first world countries of the world on a comparable population scale. However, most of these STEM graduates immigrate to other countries in search of more stable political, social and economic environments. According to the estimates, Pakistanis comprise of over one million experts in each country of the United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and the United States. Also there are over 1.3 million Pakistani who currently live in Saudi Arabia. Most of these Pakistanis are engineers, doctors and scientists. This is the extent of brain drain that Pakistan is facing.

Once these intellectuals are established in their second home country, they are able to provide a gateway for other family members to emigrate as well. These Pakistanis are mostly from the upper privileged and educated classes. Hence the upper elite class of Pakistan is secure in its status and availability to migrate wherever they want. They often migrate to richer countries such as the USA, UK and Canada.

I have observed intellectuals talking about Brain Drain as good for the country as it brings in remittances but I would beg to differ with them. When we talk about the effects of brain drain, we need to focus on the massive amount of intellectuals and qualified people not laborers or less qualified people, working in the foreign lands. We are talking about people who have acquired professional degrees such as engineering and medicine and have left creating a vacuum.

I have found references that Diaspora are expected to hit 22billion in 2018-2019 but injection of this kind of money is not a solution to the problem of a declining economy but an easy way out for a big problem often out of sight. It should be noted that none of the countries of the world trying to be independent, depend on remittances for the survival including India and Malaysia; they have a thriving economy because of the jobs and the products they develop, manufacture and produce.

Dr. Adil Najam, former Vice Chancellor of the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and author of the book “Portrait of a Giving Community” which is about the philanthropic habits of the Pakistani expatiates said “Although Pakistan is full of talented and skilled people but these people are denied the ability to grow and prosper because of the bad governance. The system overall is not robust and is the root of the problem. Pakistan has the potential to improve economy by increasing trade and commerce, however investment doesn’t come to Pakistan. Primarily, reason is that people have lost the faith that if they invest, they don’t know whether they will get the return or not. This has resulted in a different kind of investment which is in real state. However, real state doesn’t bring any tangible difference to the economy.

The government of Pakistan only understands the concept of remittances well and makes every effort to provide a gateway for Pakistanis to leave for other countries. It is called the Bureau of Emigration and Office of Employment. This department not only allows promising Pakistanis to leave but encourages brain drain from Pakistan to other countries. Hence instead of providing safety in terms of security and life, we see Islamabad not only allowing but urging the brilliant people of Pakistan to leave. Our politicians are in love with the money from remittances. They are disconnected to their own people. This affects all of Pakistan.

Dr. Muhammad Anwar’s book ‘Myth of Return: Pakistanis in Britain’ talks about many Pakistani expatriates who continue to think that they will go back one day and contribute in Pakistan, This books that offers highly detailed corroborative evidence for immigration patterns of Pakistani expats, says that some people do return at least for a short time of couple of years but many don’t. Prime reasons for not returning include investment in their own career and properties in those foreign adopted lands as well as due to their children who have been borne there and this next generation has built strong bonds with the adopted home lands after being educated there. The take from the book research that once the intelligent manpower, as a result of brain drain, leaves Pakistan it becomes difficult for them to return.

We talked to a dedicated and intelligent Electrical Engineer who graduated from UET Lahore, Mohammad Sohail in this regard who immigrated to the United States four years ago. When asked for his reason for leaving Pakistan and settling in the US, he responded “I left the US to re-unite with my family but I left again. I left because of the limited career opportunities available to me in my own country of Pakistan. I have worked in the top most international telecommunication industry but soon realized that the infrastructure was not available in Pakistan. It is obsolete. I was very sad to leave Pakistan but today I am very contented with my decision as this has helped me to establish myself as a good engineer and has helped to solidify my family bonds”. This migration and many such these have helped these individuals and their family become secure but on a larger scale has not helped Pakistan.

Unfortunately this migration vehemently supported by many will not help Pakistan progress and sustain in a long term as the thinkers; the academicians and the intellectuals who have the capacity to improve the lives of the less privileged have left. Also, people who have left the country and send money to home are actually creating economic disequilibrium in the society as the poor or less privileged class observes and feels threatened and dissatisfied.

If we look around us, we will see many people unsatisfied because cousins or uncles went abroad and supported their family and achieved better financial status than they would have if they had stayed in Pakistan. This issue along with many others has given rise to the problem of the increasingly and unhealthy power distance between status and class in Pakistan.

When asked about the remittances that this exported manpower is able to bring, Dr. Zafar Afaq Ansari, Professor of Psychology at the Department of Psychology in International Islamic University Malaysia and Past President of Pakistan Psychological Association responded, “Depletion of technical and intellectual resources is of grave importance.

Pakistani Government policies often ignore the long term results and small term financial gains cannot be equated with the long term loss because you cannot overcome the loss of trained manpower due to the following two reasons: Firstly the system of education is not very good on a country wide scale hence it can’t bear the loss of a trained manpower on a regular cycle. Secondly, Pakistan has limited resources to prepare such skilled and educated manpower on a rapid scale. Skilled manpower training is a slow process and If 100 people are trained then only a few of them become truly accomplished and successful and more are needed to benefit the country with their talent.”

I am not trying to be a polemist here, I truly want to see my country to prosper but promotion of brain drain is not a way to improve economic conditions. The better way is by creating jobs and providing a political system that helps in the decrease of the corruption and nepotism. I understand completely that this cannot be achieved in a day and will take years to eliminate. I am myself one of the brains who has moved out but I am one of the only few who promises to return one day and play our roles for the betterment of Pakistan.

Dr. Adil Najam who interacted with some of the best student minds in LUMS offered a very different view on the brain drain. He says, “I don’t agree that Pakistan is being affected by the brain drain. Brain Drain is a term used in 1960s and was coined to reflect the departure of the educated masses; this concept has changed since 2000. Today’s workforce is mobile. The workforce is no longer dependent upon location and there is no reason why people shouldn’t move for better opportunities”. He further said “I don’t buy the argument that a best of the best leave instead some leave because of kismet, some due to their circumstances. If I came to USA and I have succeeded that doesn’t mean that I was very smart but it exclusively depends upon good luck and opportunity provided to these men ; people who are left behind are not necessary bad people , achay chalay gay , buray rah gay , is not the correct manner to say this phenomenon.”

While I talk about the mobility, this also means that Pakistanis can stay in Pakistan and gain the education that they want abroad. They can get this education through online courses available from many prestigious universities. This is a good thing but let us look at remittances as well.

Pakistan has all the necessary tools to improve and build the infrastructure which will create more jobs for its college graduates. Building infrastructure such as hospitals, family planning centers, and libraries as well as laboratories at colleges and universities will provide the jobs and education to turn brain drain into brain remain. Creation of more economic zones where electricity is available 24/7 and security is provided will help create more call centers and software houses. The crux is to provide competitive infrastructure to ensure a successful economy from Pakistan’s very own intellectual elite.

However, there is another sad aspect to this situation, a few Pakistani migrants who did return in their own cognizance and for the love of country got extremely dissatisfied with the situation and left again. Such is the case with Umair Rehmat, a young engineer from GIKI who went to United Kingdom to acquire higher education. He worked hard, earned his masters with flying colors, worked in a multinational company but returned to Pakistan with a passion to serve. He was skilled and experienced but after waiting and actively searching for job for a year, he lost hope. He finally moved to the US to further his career. Polite and humble, Umair is very disappointed and disillusioned today, he said “It took me a while to realize that most of the jobs, I applied for were filled by candidates who were less skilled but whose family shared connections which got them the job, I was naïve and I felt very discontented. He has become very vocal about the widespread nepotism and corruption prevalent in Pakistan.

So here we see where incentives, such as providing employment upon return of Brain Drain, will encourage those who have gone abroad to come back and work for and with Pakistan. Higher Education Commission program that brought many scholars back to the country was another excellent tool to aid in this but unfortunately politics got in the way and destroyed the entity. Islamabad and concerned authorities should consider a flow of brain drain and Brain Re-Gain along with the Brain Remain. It is finding the balance in an effort to stem (pardon the pun to those of medical persuasion) the amount of students who leave Pakistan and never return.

The division of classes from such extreme wealth to an impoverished society drives these students away. Were Pakistan to allow for a thriving middle class, to allow for the infrastructure, safety and a lesser amount of regulations, people could not only survive Pakistan’s social structure but thrive because of it. There is always hope as long as one person in the whole of Pakistan can think of an innovative manner of which to stave the mass exodus but it must be done to affect balance among the whole of Pakistan.

Dr. Najam, whose one of the teaching and research focus is on development policy, commented on the solution of declining economy of Pakistan, “There is no short cut to the improvement of governance in Pakistan. These are lengthy processes that take years to mature if the policies and the determination remains constant.” Dr. Adil insisted even if this kind of change takes 25 years, we should start taking these time tiny steps starting today.  “India, China and Singapore can be taken up as role models. First the citizen of these countries used to leave but now people from other countries go there. So, what changed? They improved the conditions of the country in a way that the migration cycle got reversed. The need is to change the situation so that the opportunities are available. Better governance and better education and everything will start to fall into place”

Creation of jobs opportunities is the only single factor that can eliminate the brain drain. More jobs will also reduce the crime rate and bring contentment to the people and maybe bring intellectuals home. This will only happen if there is a solid plan for the development of industry and IT infrastructure. Industry will increase opportunities for people to gain employment.

IT infrastructure will help pave the way for the employment as well as increase career opportunities for the educated youth of Pakistan. We need to invite FDIs either from the departed Pakistanis or from multinational companies. Having the young population of Pakistan employed will also distract them from destructive activities.

With these structures in place, college students can look forward to gain competent and successful employment after gaining the academic degrees they want. As more and more students stay in Pakistan, the economic structure will grow into a secure form of social welfare for all Pakistanis.  

Dr. Najam also emphasized that it doesn’t matter where you live but contribution to the homeland is important. “Living far from homeland doesn’t mean that one is disconnected, the question is not where you are located but how engaged you still are with Pakistan. Expats living outside can still contribute for the development of Pakistan. Whether you are inside or outside the country, any expat can be useful’’.

Many thanks to Both Dr. Zafar Afaq Ansari and Dr. Adil Najam who took the time for the interviews, each hinted that and after living for several years many Pakistanis have been able to make political and social connections and have been able to further the Pakistani cause, some of the outstanding examples of British Pakistanis are Governor Punjab Muhammad Sarwar and British House of Lords, Lord Nazir Ahmed.

Almighty Allah has blessed Pakistan with many affirmative resources and a great number of intelligent people. The brain drain of Pakistan’s highly trained intellectuals due to the worsening of economic and political conditions, is creating a situation where native Pakistanis don’t want to return to their homeland. Pakistani authorities and the many concerned but silent citizens need to act now to keep their country from further damage. May God bless Pakistan.

Author is PhD Fellow in Technology Management and advisor to the Chancellor, East West University, Chicago. He can be reached at wh516x@gmail.com

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