STRAIGHT TALK by Hafeez Khan

Sometimes a thought keeps percolating in your mind; you want to do something about it but other things crop up and it gets ignored. That has happened to me in the case of Overseas Pakistani voting rights. It all changed recently when I attended an event organized by Pakistan Overseas Forum in Toronto. It was arranged by our young dynamo Waqas Gondal who heads this forum in Canada. The founder of this organization is my friend for decades and an icon of Pakistani journalism in North America, Mr. Azam Gondal.

The purpose of this event was to create awareness amongst Overseas Pakistanis (OPs) of their rightful role in determining the future of Pakistan. It is an aberration considering what these 9 million Pakistanis are doing for the nation. Never have so few done so much for so many, and yet be so blatantly ignored. In our animated discussions on frivolous topics during prime time TV, you hardly find a mention of what OPs are contributing to their motherland. Their contribution and role in sustaining Pakistan is entirely overlooked.

Let me put a spotlight on some of their achievements. Pakistanis remit upwards of 2 billion dollars each month. The present trajectory shows that for the first time in history remittance could reach 30 billion dollars this year. Without these contributions, Pakistan’s economy would go belly up leading to bankruptcy.

A well thought out scheme called Roshan Digital Pakistan was launched. It encourages OPs to open bank accounts in Pakistan. They have responded brilliantly. The deposits are well north of 2 billion on the way to touch 3. I recollect proposing something similar to PM IK in 2018. It is a well crafted product being promoted wherever Pakistani TV is seen around the globe. It has motivated Pakistan’s loving expatriates to bring in much needed foreign exchange. And this is just the beginning.
Compare OPs’ response to what Pakistan has to go through to raise a billion dollars from IMF. They put us through the wringer squeezing every ounce of benefit they can get. Their outrageous demands have to be met inflicting immense pain to the masses. This is what we see or experience. Behind the scenes, the negotiations extract promises and concessions that have a lasting impact.

Add to that the visits by OPs. They inject money into the Pakistani economy and make investments in real estate and other sectors. It elevates the living standards and education levels amongst their family members in Pakistan. The list goes on.

However what do they get in return? They are considered beasts of burden and treated the same way. In Pakistan they are fleeced and cheated every which way possible. I have tons of horror stories where OP’s came to Pakistan with love for the country. They were embezzled, defrauded and had to go back to start their lives all over again. Tales of “Qabza” of their properties abound. There is hardly any recourse through our anemic, toothless justice system.

Their exploitation does not end here. Over many decades of living overseas, I have seen OP’s treated as glorified tourist guides. OP’s flock to Pakistani VIP’s visiting their countries of residence. They give time, open their homes and wallets, buying expensive gifts for these visitors for the sake of a few photographs to impress their circle of friends. It is pathetic.
OP’s had high hopes when PTI came to power. Arguably PM IK is the most popular leader amongst Pakistanis living abroad. A glimpse of his reception in New York proves that beyond a shadow of doubt. I have been a witness of his popularity amongst OP’s from the early days of PTI. I have seen the energy he triggered amongst men and women in his tours overseas. His personal popularity has over time converted to political support. However a leader is as effective as the team backing him up. Something I have always emphasized to PM IK.

Here is an example, PTI’s overseas organization is known as OIC. Till the end of 2018 PTI had fewer than 10,000 OIC members. In March 2019 he appointed Dr. Abdullah Riar as OIC Secretary. Within 2.5 years, PTI is crossing 60,000 paid memberships in 27 countries around the globe. Elections are held annually in each jurisdiction. Members pay $60 each year that is remitted through official channels to the Central Party. It is no chump change. There are more than 500 national and regional elected leaders in these countries that are a vibrant part of their diaspora.

Parties that revolve around personalities have a negative side also. Anyone having access to the top leadership consider themselves sacrosanct for life. Putting them through the electoral process has exposed their limitations. Thus Dr. Riar has many detractors. However I am a realist. Facts speak for themselves. Power to organize is a rarity that needs to be valued.
Try to visualize what impact the OP’s can have if they are permitted to vote in our national elections. Our system needs a deep cleanse. Maybe a transfusion of fresh blood from overseas can trigger this process. PM IK has on more than one occasion emphasized on the need to allow OP’s to vote. It has been obstructed by the political mafia elite’s insecurity. They realize the consequences if these flood gates are opened. PM IK needs to deliver here. Till now all we have seen is promises. More on the impact of this decision in the next part.

Written By
More from Hafeez Khan


STRAIGHT TALK by Hafeez Khan “Wake a tiger with a long stick”...
Read More