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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Brain And Hand Drain In Pukhtunkhwa

By Fatima Ahmed
Fatima Ahmad a member of the Khyberwatch family and a Freelance Writer.....

Khan! Khan!Khan! Hurry give me a corn. I watched as school children huddled up around the teenage boy selling boiled corn in front of a private school in Rawalpindi. All were demanding to be served first as it was a short break in the classes during school hours. After a few minutes, all was quite as the kids went back inside the school. I had come to drive my elder sister who had been summoned to the school by her son’s teacher. I wandered close to the young boy selling corn and asked for a corn too. Intrigued by his bright shining eyes and casual confidence, I asked him about his age in Pashtu. Encouraged by hearing his mother tongue, he told me that he was only 13, but felt happy that he looked close to 16, his name was Umer Gul and that he belonged to Bajaur. He was doing this job since last two years while staying with his uncle, who sells fruit and lives in the Kachi Abadi close to Sabzi Mandi in Islamabad. Umer Gul earns roughly RS.2500/-, part of which he sends back home to his family to take care of his 6 younger siblings and ailing mother. As I left, I glanced at him once again and felt a pang of hurt and guilt. He was the same age as my nephew and looked as full of life. I just wondered! What is he living for in this far off land? What is his future? Why isn’t he at school like other kids of his age? Umer Gul is not the only one. There are hundreds of young Pakhtun boys roaming in the streets and bazaars of Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Faisalabad, Karachi etc selling corn, glasses, vegetables, fruits, polishing shoes, cleaning cars and so on. While driving back home I kept thinking how to describe this phenomenon. The first term that came to my mind was brain drain – but that hardly described it; after a while my mind came up with the term ‘Hand Drain’! Yes that probably describes it better. But how could one explain ‘Hand Drain’? Classically brain drain is considered as the flow of educated and skilled people from their home countries/regions to foreign lands in pursuit of better jobs, however in case of our region this classic definition can not be applied. In fact in the case of Pukhtunkhwa and its people, this phenomenon is epitomized as a drain of both skilled and unskilled hands, mostly youth with devastating consequences for the social structure and development prospects of the society. The brain drain here has been supplement by the flight of semi-skilled as well as unskilled youth which can be termed as ‘Hand Drain’. The reasons for this phenomenon are multifarious; chief among them war and conflict, political unrest, social disharmony, and absolute lack of any prospects for economic and social development. Particularly the civil war like situation in the Pakhtun lands since the last three decades coupled with the absence of any economic activity at present or any prospects of that happening in the foreseeable future has resulted in manifold increase in the volume of young people leaving their homes for far-off lands. This phenomenon has had a tremendous effect on the social and cultural life of our region. While some of these effects have been positive, some asymmetric trends have had devastatingly negative effects on the lives of our people.The first wave of hand drain after the creation of Pakistan came in the early 50s and 60s when scores of young people left their villages and hemlets for the city of Karachi and to a lesser extent the urban centers of Punjab like Lahore, Pindi, Faisalabad and Multan etc, in pursuit of jobs to survive. The chief reason then was that these urban centers were experiencing an economic boom spurred by the state’s economic policies while their own region was completely neglected in this phase of industrialization of Pakistan. The movement of people from our areas to Karachi and Punjab has continued ever since, as has been the economic policies of the state to exclude our region from the economic and infrastructural progress. Resultantly we now find that the greatest number of Pakhtuns live in Karachi alone-more than 3.5 million i.e. much larger than any of the cities in the core Pakhtun cities like Peshawer, Mardan, kohat, Bannu and even Jalalabad, Kabul and Qandahar. The result of these demographic changes can be easily analysed in the backdrop of the events of 12 May 2007 in Karachi. The unskilled people migrating to these cities have been engaged in lower-end jobs like drivers, laborers in factories, chowkidars, office boys, peons, hawkers and even garbage collectors. Socially they have been at the lowest rung of the society and confined to slums exemplified by Landhi, Kemari, Banaras, Pathan colony, frontier colony etc. These kachi abadies as they are called by the elite of these cities can be easily termed as ghettos: dirty, dense, over-crowded, without any basic facilities like drinking water, schools, hospitals, community centers or anything of the sort. They are excluded from the mainstream social life of the cities and are excluded from political say in the affairs of their areas; that being the exclusive domain of the educated elite and business class. In case of Karachi these elite classes are themselves also migrants from various parts of India, but taking advantage of the state policies and better access to education and business, have emerged as the affluent class. Over the decades, the Pakhtun people have permanently settled in the city and make an undeniable part of it. They have progressed somewhat economically, educationally and socially due to the seepage effect of the economic development. Spurred on by the media explosion, relatively easy access to education and global emphasis on human rights, they have of late become more aware of their rights and started demanding their rights as equal citizens of the city, which the traditional power holders are averse to accord them. Their contribution to the development of their home region ‘pukhtunkhwa’ may be limited economically, however they derive their political strength from their home region and in turn give the political forces here considerable say in the affairs of that city as demonstrated by the current events. The same anology can be extended to many cities in the Punjab too. Lahore and Pindi/Islamabad have considerable Pakhtun population, who live on the social and economic periphery, however being less in numbers; they do not have any political strength to voice their concerns and are thus destined to live in the same social, economic and political oblivion. All these migrant groups have contributed somewhat to the economic life of their home region, however on the negative side they, having been polluted by the Punjabi/Indian culture have also brought these cultural and social influences to their home towns and villages thus contributing to the decay of Pakhtun social values.
The second wave of migration of unskilled people from our lands has precedents in the 1960s and 70s, when the oil boom in the Gulf region spurred movement of large waves of un–skilled, un-educated labour from South Asia and specially Pukhtunkhwa to the Gulf. With a relative expansion of access to education to the semi-urban areas, the phenomenon was also transferred to the educated youth. This phenomenon also had wide scale effects. On the economic side it resulted in the flow of significant amount of money into our villages and towns. While it did contribute to the raising of life standards of many families and some exposure to the outside world, it also brought some negative influences. Firstly in the absence of any government policy for economic activity, infrastructure development, education facilities, investment and industrialization, the cash flows found uses in negative spheres like arms, drugs etc. For example the cost of property spiraled because of this. Today the cost of normal agricultural land in places like Dir and Swat is exorbitant, pushing the locals further into poverty. But the most devastating social effect of this was the increase of Arab influence. Having been exposed to the distorted political and social structure of the Arab sheikhdoms, these uneducated people returning from the Gulf brought along extremist religious tendencies in addition to social and cultural values which they hardly understood but fondly copied in the spirit of religiosity. This was further confounded by the increased influence of the Gulf Sheikhdoms in our areas on the official level during the Afghan war in the 80s and 90s and the obvious state patronage in an effort to use religion for political purposes. The visible result was the mushroom growth of ‘madaris’ and the ever increasing influence of ‘Tableghy Jummat’ in Pakhtun society. This contributed in disturbing the traditional social and political balance, giving unprecedented political and social influence to the fringe clergy and undermining the make-up of the Pakhtun society. The recent ‘brain and hand drain’ of the newly educated generation is spurred on by a combination of economic, social, and political factors. Some common causes, both internal and external are given below.a. Some of the internal reasons which encourage brain drain are as under:-(1) The fundamental are economic reasons - non availability of career prospects forces even our educated youths to seek better future elsewhere. Everybody wants better wages, better health facilities, retirement benefits, facilities for education of their children. In the absence of any such incentives in their home towns and villages; those who acquire education spending hard earned money of their parents, want to leave in pursuit of better lives in other countries. (2) Due to a variety of reasons, the social balance in our society has been disturbed to an extent that people want out. Everybody wants to live in a better social environment with peace, freedom of thought and expression, social harmony and justice. Nobody would like to live where a few people with different social and religious beliefs want others to live according to their dictates. The recent events of threats of keeping beards, not wearing western dresses, selling, using and watching CDs and videos etc are just small examples which can be considered as the tip of the iceberg.(3) Law and order situation in our areas is precarious. The government institutions have failed to provide any security of life, property, provision of justice, while the traditional mechanisms of Pakhtun society for the same have been completely corrupted by the outside influence.(4) Another major reason is political stagnation. With no institutional structures intact to ensure political rights and adherence to established human values, persecution, ethnic and racial discrimination is at its peak. Rather than waiting for eternity for a just system to evolve; the educated people want to go where they have political rights and can seek justice while pursuing their lives. (5) The capacity in our region to absorb educated youth is negligible. Neither is there any industrial infrastructure to absorb the educated/skilled people currently, nor is their any hope for investment in industry, infrastructure, education, services, tourism etc in the future. Most of the educated youth thus either gets absorbed in Punjab and urban Sindh, where they live in social, political and economic subservience to the elite, or opt to go abroad to seek better lives for themselves and their families. (6) Even in the existing economic infrastructure capable of absorbing the educated and semi-educated people, there is no respect for merit. Hence only those with access to the corridors of power get jobs commensurate to their acquired skills; others either wither away in petty jobs or seek to go abroad. The situation is further confounded by lack of linkages between the education and existing industry, red tape, favoritism and cronyism in the absence of institutionalized mechanisms for job creation and absorption.(8) Lack of hope in future is the prime cause for disillusionment. Failure of the state to regulate and reform itself for the benefit of all its citizens and confinement of all the economic activity, development and social/political focus to a part of the country has induced a sense of hopelessness in the youth. People are fast loosing trust in the long term viability of the system and want to leave for better prospects before its too late.
b. Some external reasons for the recent wave of brain drain are as under:- (1) Globalization has made the flow of skilled people from one country to another much easier. Now it is much easier to access the job markets abroad thus reducing the uncertainties for the families. Modern means of communication and transportation also aid the phenomena, making it easier for people to travel and communicate with their near and dear ones while living abroad. (2) Greater awareness due to spread of knowledge among the educated people has resulted in more people seeking to emulate their colleagues who are abroad, enjoying better lives and living in peace.(3) The modern media has virtually altered the concepts of time and space. Real time access to information in any corner of the world means people find it easy to adjust abroad while remaining in touch with the circumstances of their ancestral lands. Media also exposes the youth to the better lives and better economic, social and political conditions of other nations, thus engendering in them a desire to be part of that instead of languishing in the stagnated environment at home. (4) The Developed World encourages Brain Drain in developing/underdeveloped countries because they rely heavily on skilled migrants from these countries for their development. Easy and frequent movement of people across borders is thus encouraged by the west, who wants skilled people to migrate to their countries for their own interest. But they very skillfully regulate and control this process, especially after 9/11, to ensure that no undesirable people get through to their countries with obvious repercussions for their societies.(5) Multinationals now working around the world-encourage ‘brain circulation’, meaning that workers form one country will be working for another country in the factories while sitting in their own lands. Also they provide opportunities for their employees to move to different countries where there services are required or can be more beneficial.(6) Spread of technology like IT, internet has had an enormous effect on the society as a whole. Although this has not seeped through to our areas fully, yet the effects are fast appearing. Skilled people find it easy to access job seekers abroad and willingly go abroad to seek better prospects. Loosening of social and cultural bonds in our society also has had effect on this phenomenon. Today we find parents more willing to send their children abroad for better education and jobs. Although the family structure has not broken down completely, however it has loosened enoughHow can we reverse this process is the question that we need to answer, if we want to progress as a society. “Capable people will move from low-opportunity areas to high-opportunity areas”. Therefore we have to create opportunities in our land and promote people who are young and ambitious. But the effort has to be a simultaneous and not sequential one. A pre-requisite to all this will be peace and political independence. How to ensure that is a different debate but following are some of the broad issues that need to be addressed to reverse the process:-a. Simultaneous addressing of all issues like political stability, Social justice, building of institutions, Law and order and Provision of Justice is a pre-requisite to address this issue. Institution building process must start immediately to ensure harmony and offer mechanisms for addressing complicated issues.b. Broad Based and universal access to education - the existing system of grooming only the elite through elitist institutions will be counter productive. The current education budget of 4% of GDP is pea-nuts, and even of that only a fraction is spent in our areas which require the most investment in education.c. Development of Infrastructure which can spur economic activity is a priority and has to be addressed through a thoughtful planning processd. Investment in Industry- particularly in medium and small scale industry is likely to arrest the trend of brain and hand drain but for that there has to be de-centralization of powers and control of own resources which is again a political question.e. Social Justice and rule of law will ensure that the youth retain the hope of prospering in their own areas, in turn helping in the economic development of our land.
Fatima Ahmad> a member of khyberwatch family and a a free lance writer.
thanx for her article

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