The soaring population of our country is perceived by many as a key national issue, which must be addressed on a war footing. Do we treat our human resources as a liability or develop it as our most invaluable asset? The strength of leadership, perhaps, lies in the art of tackling problems through solutions channelising positive synergies. The people of Pakistan are unfortunate, since they have been deprived of a visionary leadership after Quaid-i-Azam passed away. Both the civilian and military rulers have failed to realise the human potential and generate economic growth by utilising this enormous resource. So, are we a liability or an asset?

Pakistanis, who migrated to foreign lands for greener pastures, have proved the case in point. Europe, America, Middle Eastern and Far Eastern countries have achieved new heights in economic growth. There is hardly any profession in which Pakistanis, who settled in these countries, have not excelled and brought glory to their home country. Doctors, engineers, architects, educationists, bankers, IT and management specialists and businessmen all have built successful careers and contributed significantly to the economic fabric overseas.

What quantum of brain drain, however, has this phenomenon resulted in? As the rules of immigration tighten in the developed countries, following the 9/11 tragedy and the ongoing recession, it is primarily the highly skilled labour that is in great demand to sustain the functional network of the developed and developing countries. But how does this impact the economic growth and development in Pakistan? A good proportion of the highly educated and experienced workforce leave Pakistan and a vacuum is created in human resource potential of our domestic market. Having gained training and experience in their disciplines, if and when these immigrants think of relocating to Pakistan, the comparatively less favourable living conditions in their home country act as a strong deterrent. The small fraction that decides to move back for personal or patriotic reasons is tested to the limit on repatriation. Some struggle and manage to stay, while some migrate overseas again.

The net effect of this phenomenon on our domestic human resource market is that the top positions, in both the public and private sectors, are filled in by the candidate pool that is available within the country, following the exit of a critical chunk of highly skilled workforce. A couple of decades ago, for instance, the faculties in various government teaching hospitals were not only foreign qualified, but also trained in latest medical techniques in prestigious hospitals abroad. But now the proportion of medical experts with hands-on medical training abroad has alarmingly decreased. This has affected the local availability of latest medical treatment as well as awareness of the concepts of health management practiced in the developed countries. The gap in these management protocols and processes is evident during medical disasters, such as dengue as well as deaths in the Punjab Institute of Cardiology.

Moreover, how can wisdom justify the balance between the benefits of remittances generated by highly skilled overseas Pakistanis and the gap in domestic demand and supply of essential services, such as healthcare to the residents of this country? Such questions are hard to answer. It is unfortunate that our leadership has failed to identify the underlying problems of all sectors, including health. Hence, this comes as no surprise that the working conditions are highly politicised and consistently deteriorating. As there is no vision or plan available, we are fathoms away from finding solutions for our problems.

The domestic human resource pool also caters to supply the elected representatives of our country for the Senate and the Assemblies. These leaders are not merely the legislators of our country, but, in effect, give the vision and direction to all the federal and provincial ministries and state departments. What level of basic education should they have to be able to deliver welfare to the masses is a different argument. However, the Constitution specifies for them to be people of good character. Election and re-election of candidates with fake degrees and minimal basic education not only affects the quality and integrity of the human resource pool, but also has negative consequences for recruitment of qualified and deserving candidates across all sectors. These elected representatives constitute committees, which oversee the appointments to key posts within the government. While practices of nepotism are rampant, their impact on the national economy is intense and scathing. This not only ruins the smooth and progressive functioning of institutional systems, but also gives rise to strong resentment in the masses.

n    The writer is an ex-assistant commissioner of Income Tax, IT/change management consultant and a public sector management analyst.