Money back guarantee

Published April 20, 2022
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

ACCORDING to the State Bank of Pakistan, the month of March brought in a record number of foreign remittances into the country — $2.8 billion, a month-on-month increase of 28.3 per cent.

As is usually the case, the greatest remittance amounts were sent by Pakistanis living in Saudi Arabia and UAE, followed by those in other countries. Analysts have said that some part of the increase could be attributed to Ramazan- and Eid-related expenses.

Even if the Eid holidays are factored into the calculation, it represents a continuation of increased amounts being contributed by overseas Pakistanis to the nation’s coffers. The PTI government that is no more had targeted over $30bn and appeared to be on track for reaching its goal before the intervening political events.

Apart from other issues, the PTI government leveraged its support among overseas Pakistanis and politicised it. Even as their government fell, memes and TikTok videos made fun of the inordinate amount of interest that overseas Pakistanis were showing in the events taking place at home.

It is also true that once their government did fall, processions were brought out in various cities around the world to protest first the Supreme Court’s decision to reinstate the assemblies and then against the successful motion of no-confidence itself. Since former prime minister and PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif also resides in London, ongoing demonstrations denouncing him are being held outside his home too.

Read: PTI supporters in US hope for Imran’s return, with more powers

Reading all of this certainly gives one the impression that much of what takes place in Pakistan happens out of the country itself. The clans of various political families have indeed taken up residence in either London or Dubai and similar such places which is where they stay until it is their turn to show up at home and make some pretence at governing the country.

It would be a mistake for future set-ups to not court the affections of Pakistan’s overseas citizens.

Remittances, however, are sent by an entirely different kind of Pakistani; it could even be argued that a significant percentage of the Pakistani upper middle class and middle class now resides abroad, with many being breadwinners for families at home.

These are the people that Pakistan could not absorb into its own fledgling and often failing economy. These are the doctors, computer engineers, petroleum and electronic engineers, ship captains, marketing managers, advertising executives and other similarly skilled people who could not find jobs in Pakistan. To avail better opportunities and to support their families, they go abroad and send money home.

The PTI with its anti-feudal message managed to attract this constituency to its fold. It capitalised on their frustration with the feudal mindset and their dissatisfaction with a system that doles out opportunities based on the father and uncle and son. The election of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s brother Shehbaz Sharif as prime minister and of his son Hamza Shehbaz as chief minister of Punjab only underscores this point and angers overseas Pakistanis. Having done well in other countries where they are judged on merit is, after all, a constant reminder of what they could have achieved had Pakistan been a fairer place.

It is easy to see why these overseas Pakistanis fell for a party that promised to make the country a fairer place. With the end of the PTI government, there are now questions as to whether overseas Pakistanis should still be allowed to vote in Pakistani elections. More generally, there is an issue as to whether this constituency, which is not physically present in Pakistan and not enduring the woes of the population left behind, should have an inordinate level of influence on the political system of the country.

The answer is yes, and it hinges on money. As the past several years have revealed, inflows of aid from various countries are not only unreliable but also encouraging of corruption. Middlemen and women who act as go-betweens for aid-granting agencies and local communities have plenty of opportunities at graft and feel a responsibility to aid grantors rather than the recipients. It is why so many development projects fail; schools built are abandoned, healthcare clinics never open, teachers never show up in classrooms. The wheel of aid, however, keeps turning as does the corruption that comes with it.

Read: The game-changing overseas vote

Remittances are a different breed. This money goes to actual Pakistanis who then spend it in the local economy, giving it a boost. They also use the money to set up business, entrepreneurial ventures or to purchase property. All of these acts are far less susceptible to revenue loss owing to corruption because of the greater familiarity the spenders have with the local market. Furthermore, they insulate the economy from local and often international shocks. It is notable therefore that remittance amounts have increased during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It would be a mistake for future administrations led by other parties to not court the affections of Pakistan’s overseas citizens. Their attentions and affections can be a boon for the stability of any government. Indeed, it would even make sense to bargain for greater opportunities to export labour around the world rather than to beg for development funds.

When it is Pakistanis investing in Pakistan, the ability of Pakistan to protect its sovereignty increases. Existing superpowers like the United States and emerging superpowers like China are unable to strong-arm international financial institutions into denying Pakistan’s requests by holding subsidies and other assistance hostage in exchange for access to Pakistan’s territory or security apparatus.

Pakistan’s overseas middle and upper middle class abroad has meant increased class polarisation at home. They are either extremely poor and barely surviving or extremely rich and utterly uncaring. The small slice of middle class that remains is usually investing in going abroad. Any future political party that wishes to form a stable government in the present or future needs to take note of this and campaign accordingly. Pakistan cannot afford to upset those sending nearly $30bn home.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

rafia.zakaria@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2022

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