One of my most vivid memories as a child is gathering around as a family with my aunts who were tearfully helping my cousin pack. She was taking her family and moving to Canada. This was in the early 90s, when a very turbulent Karachi was at everyone’s throat.
Amidst major political upheavals, there was a rush to leave Pakistan, and move to greener pastures. Canada was a favourite destination. Cut to 2021: Mississauga is mini-Karachi and, curiously, many there have decided to head back to the Middle East to get the ‘best of both worlds’.
Pakistan is more stable since then, though not devoid of political upheavals, and there is a clear rise of the middle class. Fast food chains and couture lehengas are popping up everywhere, but there’s another seismic shift happening: many are choosing to leave the country to get a better ‘backup’ rather than to simply save their jobs.
I remember reading a quote by Marc-Andre Franche, Pakistan’s country director for the UNDP. “You cannot have an elite that takes advantage of very cheap and uneducated labour when it comes to making money,” he had said.
“And when it is time to party, it is found in London.” It made me think. A lot. The elite have no real stake in Pakistan.
My grouse here is that while I don’t judge the barely-ends-meeting class wanting to move to the US or the UK or the Middle East to earn more money to put their children through good schools and colleges, I am definitely judging the party-hard elite for whom that second passport is a good accessory to go with their Chanel bags. Covid? Leave the country. Bad summer? Leave the country. Wedding season? Fly back to Pakistan. Tired of cleaning the toilet? Mommy! I’m flying back!
The Pakistani elite who want to have their cake and eat it too and wonder why the lower class doesn’t eat cake if they don’t have bread, have no real stake in the country. For people like us, who continue to have the Pakistani passport for days to come, our worries when we see a system collapsing or being exploited by the aforementioned elite, are justified. The common man has left the country precisely because this parasitic elite has eaten away at systems; the system benefits them and them alone. They can afford bribes and have friends in high places and get their cheaply-employed domestic labour to stand in insufferable queues. While they couldn’t dream of employing a phalanx of house helps in the US or the UK, they can easily employ them in Pakistan.
Similarly, the same law-abiding elite will never cross a speed limit in Dubai and will dutifully dot their ‘I’ and ‘e’s here but somehow don’t have the same discipline in Pakistan.
I chose to be in the Middle East instead of the Americas. Or even the UK or other places where I just didn’t end up going. Something or the other stopped me from giving up the Pakistani passport. There were opportunities. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t try.
We all have reasons to want to find better pastures and this essay is in no way trying to demean anyone who wants better finances for their families. And I’m partly accepting my own hypocrisy: I don’t really live in Pakistan either. But somehow, I’m satisfied with the choices I’ve made. Call it hindsight (which is always 20/20) or call it that sweet tender age where you’ve just begun to accept the choices you’ve made in life, but I like to believe that it was for the best.
I like to believe that the experiences I’ve had and the roads I’ve taken because I didn’t take ‘another passport’ to add to the list of assets that are now measured as benchmarks for success, I’ve come to places which have taught me and helped me grow as an individual. And isn’t that what all that jazz is about inner peace? You gotta believe that the universe had a plan.
I believe the universe knew my passport will be forever green.
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