Brain Drain with Shame

by Dr. Nisar Ali

According to BBC report on November 17, 2000, Gallup-Pakistan says more than two-thirds of Pakistan’s adult population wants to go abroad. This is a brain drain with pain. There is another brain drain with sham. This is the kind of brain drain, where the brains leaving the country do not want to go abroad. Instead they are forced to leave. Abid Ullah Jan’s is the latest addition to this cadre that not only drains Pakistan of valuable minds, but also shames the government for its policies.

Prominent scholar and development specialist, Mr. Abid Ullah Jan and many others before him are not like the thousands upon thousands Pakistanis who have clogged the border between Canada and America. These are exceptions with exceptional minds and capabilities. The thousands leaving US for Canada – for whom our Foreign Minister has run from pillar to post – are not bringing any bad name to Pakistan, nor are they a brain drain because they are already abroad.

But the great minds who impose exile upon themselves for protection of their families against the excesses of Pakistani regime is a shame for all of us and that amounts to real brain drain. They don’t leave the country in search of better prospects, as the BBC report suggests. They do not run from personal taxes, as one of the Dawn report suggests (17 April, 2002). They leave the country because our government cannot absorb the deep truths, so powerfully spoken by some individuals.

The government in Islamabad needs to take serious measure to reign in its agencies and stop harassing the journalists and scholars. One brain leaving like this leaves behind much more shame and pain for the country than all the 2,790,221 Pakistanis together who left the country during 1999 alone (Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment). These persons were registered with Overseas Employment Corporation. Thousands of other persons, who proceeded abroad for employment through other means, have no registered data.

In Pakistan, the problem of brain drain in this matter has become a threat to the stability of the country after the incident of September 11, which created a war-like situation in the whole world. Pakistan perhaps was the only country who had to face several difficulties all alone in this crucial period. Most of the foreign investors had moved back to their homelands due to security risks. As a result, many projects were stopped and most of the multinational companies also changed their policies. The situation will get worse if we keep harassing the top brains like this and keep on forcing them into exile.

The negative role of pro-Government or the so-called “moderate” analysts also created an environment in which any one labeled as anti-American today becomes a “fundamentalist” tomorrow, extremist another day and a friend of Al-Qaeda by the end of the week. This has discouraged bold analysts of the Government policies for fear of being linked with Al-Qaeda and other such groups, which have been proven guilty after a media trial without a shred of evidence produced against them. In such an environment of fear, all Western writers who write against the US policies and their allies, like President Musharraf, are only dissidents. But every Muslim critic is just another accomplice of Osama bin Laden.

The story of the latest journalist victim is not new. For years Pakistan's vocal journalists have been pressurised, cajoled and often bribed by wealthy politicians, businessmen and the establishment elite. The new element is that Abid Ullah Jan has exposed corruption in the development sector where the so-called social workers have looted millions of dollars in the name of poverty alleviation. It has also come to fore for the first time, how the military man in the position of governor of a province has actually saved the most corrupt non-government organisation and it is also very interesting to know that this was a government-established organisation, run by former bureaucrats.

When General Pervez Musharraf took power in a coup nearly three years ago there appeared to be a refreshing change. The press suddenly found itself unexpectedly free to report on life under the new military regime. Abid Ullah Jan was one of the staunch supporters of Musharraf’s overthrowing an elected government. His response to the commonwealth and American demands to hastily restore democracy was excellent. Abid Ullah Jan and others used this newfound press freedom as an example of his moderate and benign rule.

Suddenly, however, the climate has changed. It is very sad to know that the regime turned against its supporters just because some of its officials wanted to settle scores with the same reporters for their investigative reports and some of the government advisors didn’t like their bold commentaries advising the General not to make excuses and violate the constitution for extending his rule.

Gen. Musharraf appears increasingly frustrated with the slightest criticism. He frequently complains that the press fails to promote Pakistan and instead highlights the problems of sectarian violence, Islamic militancy and corruption which dog the country. The recent case of a journalist fleeing the oppression of his machinery must force him to think if their sincere advice is giving the country a bad name or their forced departure makes his regime look good. If he continues to challenge the freedom of the press, not only his political career in the months ahead is likely to be an uncomfortable ride, but Pakistan would also lose some great minds with unimaginable pain and shame.


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