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Expatriates' role in politics PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 07 July 2008

By Asha'ar Rehman

EXPATRIATE Pakistanis are a force to reckon with in the politics of the country. If a proof of their presence in absentia was ever needed, reports of recent meetings in the United States indicate just how desperate the Pakistani community is about the situation in the country of its origin.

There is no denying the importance of expatriates in the history of Pakistan, which by some accounts, has in recent years been run by local and foreign outsiders. Reports have been continuously warning us against putting our faith in a set of people who are destined to pack their bags and depart at the first sign of danger a la Shaukat Aziz.
The country as we all know was created by a man who returned from exile in the 1930s. It has since its inception been in need of constant redemption by politicians sacrificing the comfort abroad for a struggle of the people at home. Ms Benazir Bhutto made a return in 1986 and again in 2007, when she paid for it with her life, and determined not to be kept out, the Sharifs came home from England last winter.
A number of politicians are said to have a large following in the West and are quite often spotted leading rallies in London and Washington. Politicians such as Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif have been frequently touring foreign lands since they formed a coalition after the general election on Feb 18 this year as has been Imran Khan et al, along with other assignments, seeking to increase their clout among Pakistani expatriates. The lawyers' movement and the revolution we are told that has been brewing in the land of late have also drawn heavily on the support extended to it from Pakistanis abroad — not least in the form of the morale-boosting emails that have piled up in our inboxes.
Expatriate Pakistanis have most certainly played an important role in pursuing causes that they have been further committed to by their exposure in foreign lands. Their contribution in improving certain aspects of life here has been enormous and had it not been for the examples of better life they have been providing us with, we could have been living in a darker era. But as the exposure brings ideas, perhaps the failure to implement them in Pakistan with the facility these ideas have been executed in the West, breeds desperation, even contempt.
Newspapers recently reported two incidents from the United States in which groups of Pakistani expatriates had reacted strongly to speakers from their country. In the first instance, a woman got so angry with the proceedings that she, apparently, tried to throw the ambassador, Husain Haqqani, off the stage for remarks that were considered to be against the movement for restoration of the judiciary. Not too long afterwards, Pakistan People's Party sympathisers, upset over the treatment past judges had meted out to PPP leaders, disrupted a speech by the honourable Justice Wajihuddin. Both were valid questions and both the respondents did qualify to be subjected to even more probing questions. Yet the brashness on show ran contrary to the old adage which says that distance from the scene of action allows for a rational view.
Our internal experience with responding to 'remote' problems has indeed led to some very unemotional reactions to even indifference and apathy. The visibly irritated information minister of the NWFP recently reminded television viewers that those based in Swat were better placed to assess the situation there than those who viewed it from afar. Someone with a brasher tone could have told us to keep to our safe houses, and with reason.
Ask a group of well-meaning youngsters in the Punjab metropolis and they are honest enough not to feign an understanding of the trouble in Fata or for that matter the misgivings Sindh has about the Big Brother. Every few days, you are likely to run into some proof of the always complaining Baloch who are 'too selfish' or 'too tribal' to talk about the common good of the country. The Lahore brand of politicians compliments these trends by limiting their flight to the ideological and geographical boundaries they have created around them. Plenty of noise has been made around the just cause of a free judiciary in the country but little has come by way of reaction to the law enforcers' action in Fata. As if it was another country.

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