Humza Irfan and Dr Khurram Kayani
There is a treasure waiting to be discovered. A map and a compass guides our heroes as they set foot on a forbidden island, traverse through snow and dirt, sail through monstrous ocean waves, and slay dragons. As they inch closer to their eureka moment they come face-to-face with their archenemies and an epic battle ensues.
These tales of adventures, trials, and triumphs have been heard and told for many generations. They are often woven in myths and legends. But there is a long unexplored chapter that is all too real. It is yet to be told and it all starts with a kingdom of Asia known as Pakistan. The world’s 6th most populous country is blessed with epic treasures in the form of 10 million overseas nationals.
We have rarely explored their contribution to their home country. According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Pakistan has the 6th largest diaspora in the world. This is a huge economic blessing as they contribute US$ 21 billion to Pakistan in form of remittances. This represents nearly 7 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Now that we identified our treasures, we need to explore them. But who will do that? We need a hero: a state leader who can prioritize things and move forward with a vision. Past governments have rarely explored means of engaging Pakistani expatriates. By and far Pakistanis abroad have been recognized for their potential to contribute to their host country monetarily. They are only seen as sources of remittances and aid. This is a dangerous perception that undermines their attachment with their country. In the past a major step undertaken in this respect was issuance of National Identity Card for Overseas Settled Pakistanis (NICOP) which enabled those possessing dual nationality to enter Pakistan without a visa. Recently the government abolished NICOP requirement altogether. In October of 2018, for the first time overseas Pakistanis were also allowed to vote in the by-elections.
Now the next step is to develop a deeper relationship with all citizens living overseas. At this point we should also make a clear distinction between Overseas Working Pakistanis (OWPs) and Overseas Settled Pakistanis (OSPs). The former group consists of nationals working on temporary basis and in most instances, they are only capable of sending remittances in small chunks. The latter group is composed of Pakistanis with greater buying power and they have the potential to develop business ties with players at home. Most policy considerations are focused on OWPs. The present government has shown keen interest in developing a meaningful connection with OSPs which is a very uplifting sign.
We need to quickly move forward and patch our relationship with all expats. There are four major ways in which we can do that and it involves empowering them, providing them with convenience, ensuring security, and most importantly, making them feel part of Pakistan.
Empowerment comes when you feel your opinions are respected and that you have some say in governing the affairs of the country. Expats should be allowed to participate in elections as candidates. They should have reserved seats in the Senate and assemblies, enabling them to exercise their power while capturing their unique perspectives for supporting the right policy decisions.
Sometimes it is the little things that matter the most. Overseas Pakistanis should be provided with convenience and comfort whenever and wherever possible. Special services and facilities should be available to NICOP holders. For example, airports in Pakistan can provide a separate counter to expats for checking-in. Foreign passport holders already have access to a similar facility.
Banks can also facilitate NICOP holders by ensuring that accounts and credit cards belonging to them are not inactivated after 6 months owing to non-usage. The time should be extended to three years. Similarly, telecom companies should not deactivate sims belonging to expats for at least two years. Pakistanis also face difficulty in getting driver’s license in foreign countries. State departments should initiate facility for providing International Driving Permit (IDP). These seemingly small-scale changes can play a massive role in providing convenience and sense of satisfaction.
Security is often one of the most pressing issues faced by expats especially those categorized as OSPs. Those living abroad are often concerned about the state of their businesses and their properties and assets. Presence of strong tenancy laws should be in place to safeguard expats against misuse of properties or non-payment of rent. A special department or specialized cell can be set up to resolve such issues. Encroachment by land-grabbers and an environment marred by fraud and deceit often cripples confidence and forces would-be business professionals from investing on Pakistani soil.
Sense of devotion and attachment to one’s homeland should never be broken. It should be reinforced. This emotional connection is the pivotal element that can create a lifelong bond of engagement and mutual benefaction. Second-generation expats should be able to enrol in Pakistan’s armed forces. A quota in the army may be fixed to foster patriotic sentiments and to nourish pride and self-identity.
Expats should also be officially recognized for their achievements. An annual award giving ceremony can be initiated to bestow honour among those who have made outstanding contribution in the field of literature, science, politics, and economics. And of course, we need to celebrate the immense knowledge that expats possess and devise ways to benefit from that knowledge. Universities across Pakistan can play a leading role in inviting foreign talent to exchange their expertise thereby reversing the brain-drain. Speaking of education, schools and colleges in Pakistan should be internationalized to enable second-generation expats to transfer their credit hours when they move to Pakistan.
These are just few of the ways through which we can ensure deeper engagement with Pakistanis living abroad. Let us start this new chapter and reclaim our lost treasures.
The article was originally published in the Daily Times on December 10, 2018. For original content click here.