Where else would the money go?
So Pakistanis have been buying property in Dubai and patriots at home are aghast that so much of the nation’s wealth should have fled abroad. Money-laundering, they thunder, and other things besides. Meanwhile the national press or at least the major newspapers have a field day, sporting full-page ads extolling the benefits of property-ownership in the Gulf.
Not having the kind of money to buy a villa in Dubai, or indeed a villa anywhere else, which is why I make a virtue of staying in Chakwal, I too get livid at this flight of capital – said to be about 450 billion rupees only last financial year. But it’s hard to escape the logic of this flight. For money is a bigger, and indeed quicker, mohajir (refugee) than people. When people become refugees or migrants they either think long or are thrown at the mercy of circumstances – like our own Partition refugees who, in most instances, had to leave behind all they possessed in their frenzied rush to safety. Money takes a quicker path – its flight usually that of the crow or the money (unless it is a devious tale of money-laundering we are talking about…in which case it is best to ask Ishaq Dar).
A class of Russians, we call them the oligarchs, came into quick money after the collapse of communism, and the wholesale looting of state enterprises under Yeltsin. They lost little time in transferring their wealth abroad. Russian footprints are all over the New York and London property markets, international newspapers full of stories of Russian munificence.
About those oligarchs the excuse can be made that uncertain conditions in Russia prompted the flight of their capital. But what about Chinese multi-billionaires? They are some of the biggest property buyers on the international market…art buyers as well, because they have such huge sums to play with. Power equalling economic opportunity in China, Chinese in leadership positions also have been able to amass large fortunes. Mao led the Chinese revolution. Deng Xiaoping added a twist to it by putting China on the capitalist path. It hardly needs stating that Deng’s legacy has proven more powerful than the Chairman’s teachings.
Why then should Pakistan’s capitalist-roaders, or those with money to throw around, be left behind? Currently the biggest investors in the Dubai property market are Indians. We come second. Whatever the motivations of the Indian investor, those of the Pakistani Dubai investor should not be hard to understand. In Pakistan’s present condition who would want to put his/her money here? So if you have a packet, and there is no shortage of Pakistanis who do, Dubai will glitter as an investment opportunity.
It’s just two hours away and it’s safe. While over here middle class and upper middle class drawing rooms have only one subject of conversation: the way things are going downhill and how everything is going to pot. In any case, this has become a country with a migrant’s psychology. Everyone who has a chance or can afford it wants to go abroad. The better off classes have everything going for them…indeed it seems this country was created for them. But even if the better off do not want to move permanently overseas they are keen on some kind of a foothold there – a piece of property, a flat, something for a rainy day, the current mood in Pakistan fixated with the prospect of rainy days.
And everyone with money wants the kids to study abroad. The kids may be dunces and even the best education may do them no good but, no, they must enrol in a foreign university, even if it be the fabled Monticello University where some of our luminaries (now, I forget their names) have studied. My daughter Rabia could perfectly well have completed her law studies here but she insisted on going to London, wiping out all my foreign exchange savings in the process. My youngest, Shehryar, is still in his 9th class but insists even now that he would like to study abroad. This is the general confidence in our education system.
Yet no one is concerned. Education remains the least of our priorities because its falling standards don’t affect the well-off or those who take the decisions. They have other options…options which they fully exercise. It is with noticeable pride that parents tell of their children studying or working abroad. This must be the only country in the world where newspapers say of op-ed writers, ‘The writer is a graduate of (some) university’ or is pursuing his/her degree in such-and-such a university. This is considered a badge of intellectual honour and distinction.
I got a call the other day from a bright lady – have no fear, Feryal, I shan’t name you – asking me whether things would go on like this or whether there was any of that damned light at the end of the tunnel. And for what my opinion was worth I said that this was it….this was the country we had made, with all its good and ill, and we had no choice but to make the best of it.
I went on to say that having made religious separatism the basis of our statehood some of the problems we were now encountering – intolerance and bigotry – were bound to occur, and that the call for tolerance in Jinnah’s Aug 11 address had come too late, when so much had already happened. The seeds had been scattered. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad for one foresaw the consequences. But his is almost a taboo name in Pakistan. No point in referring to him.
Funny thing is that while most Pakistanis are committed to their homeland – they have no choice – those in a position to decide things, leaders and politicians, generals and mandarins, the Dubai investors, the drawing room classes, seem to have lost faith in this enterprise. They are voting with their eyes and their eyes are transfixed on other pastures. Small wonder, fixing the broken machinery of this state is not their overriding concern.
The irony is that we were the pioneers of Partition, setting out to discover new frontiers. Bharat Mata, Mother India, was being cut asunder. They should have been traumatised, whereas we should have been the hopeful ones, setting out to create a brave new world. It is turning out to be the other way round, the gongs of an ancient faith ringing confidently, if also a bit toxically, and the ideology of the new state caught in ever newer contradictions.
Part of our problem is that we are holding on to our past and insisting that there was nothing wrong with it. We need to re-examine the past, but who’ll do it? Pakistan needs a mental shaking up more than most countries. Again, who’ll do it? We could do worse than remember that it was a declining civilisation – Muslim power on the wane – which begat Pakistan. When Muslim power was strong in India it did not think in terms of separatism. It thought in inclusive terms, wanting to include everything in its embrace. Only when Muslim power weakened, and majority rule threatened, did the leaders of Muslim thought fashion the tools of separatism. But this is a long discussion, and one not without pitfalls and dangerous spots. And as a people or a nation we are given to dogmatic thinking. So a free discussion on these lines is next to impossible.
Meanwhile let us thank the cricket team for portraying our condition faithfully. They are our reflection in the mirror, the louts looking like us, and Afridi dropping his catch, especially the way he did it, being the story of Pakistan as it is today.
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