The Pakistan Banao scheme launched by the PTI government is aimed at overseas Pakistanis, but has echoes of the Qarz Utaro Mulk Sanwaro campaign of the second Nawaz government, which took office in 1997. True, that scheme was not really launched with overseas Pakistanis as its target, but it too reflected the feeling that Pakistan was drowning in debt, and could not manage on its taxation income alone, but needed donations from its citizens.

Actually, the Pakistan Banao scheme does not really contain a donation component, as did the Qarz Utaro Mulk Sanwaro scheme, but consists of term deposit certificates at 6.2 percent to 6.75 percent, depending on the tenor. This makes it a loan rather than a donation. The Qarz Utaro Mulk Sanwaro scheme had optimistically included a Qarze Hasana component, which was an interest-free loan, as well as deposit certificates, which were paid off.

The 1998 nuclear tests had led to the seizure of all foreign-currency deposits, and the issuing of foreign exchange bearer certificates, thus making the deposits another forced loan. It should be noted that the country was facing foreign exchange problems which led to a debt write-off in the Musharraf years, in exchange for supporting the USA in its War on Terror.

That debt write-off had not solved Pakistan’s problems, and led to successive IMF programmes. Despite those, the balance of payments situation declined, to the point where the present government has declared a crisis, and launched the Pakistan Banao scheme.

Aiming it at the Diaspora means that it acknowledges that Pakistan’s major export is indeed labour, and one of those labourers has become Prime Minister. It must be remembered that whenever expatriates support the Pakistan team, they do so from a kind of nostalgic patriotism. The nostalgic element, like all nostalgia, is for a country which they left because they could not live there as they wished. Imran represents that element of the Diaspora most likely to return: those who export their professional ability. Imran sold his cricketing skill, but returned.

The Diaspora is now a well-established phenomenon. Since Partition, there have been two, probably three, major migrations. Independence itself saw a major migration to West Pakistan. Actually, there were two major migrations; one of East Punjabis into West Punjab, creating the muhajir-muqami dichotomy all over the province, and guaranteeing that the majority of the population is of migrant stock. Then there was the migration from the Cow Belt into Pakistan, changing the demography of Sindh province, and turning Sindhis into a minority in such urban centres as Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur and Nawabshah.

However, there has also been a Diaspora outwards. First it was to the UK from the 1950s, then to the Middle East (basically Saudi Arabia and the UAE). And then to the USA from the 1980s. There have been minor currents going to various countries in Europe, such that there are Pakistanis apparently everywhere.

These migrants originate from all over, but a large number originate from Central Punjab. It is worth noting that this area has also become important as a recruiting ground for the armed forces. Joining the military is like migration, as the recruit (whether destined for commissioned rank or not) receives his training, and spends the decades of his career, away from his home district. Migration, the military, the GT Road, have proved to be areas of competition for the PTI and the PML(N).

Not only is Imran himself part of the Diaspora, but he has depended on it to finance his pet project, the Shaukat Khanum cancer hospital. He hopes to transfer that model to the much larger project of Pakistan’s trade deficit. One difference is that of scale. No doubt the cancer hospital project was a large one, but on the scale of the country, inadequate. The building of two more hospitals, at Peshawar and Karachi, show this. Another is that he has not yet deployed artistes. A large part of the appeal of the Shaukat Khanum fundraising was Imran’s use of his Indian showbiz contacts. This time, he cannot use them: how many Indian showbiz figures would raise money for Pakistan. While the bulk of the money for the hospital came from Pakistanis, there was also Indian input. That wider generosity in a humanitarian cause would not apply to merely keeping Pakistan afloat.

Another factor that Imran has to counter is donor fatigue. He has already put his personal prestige, and that of his office, behind the Dam Fund, which he joined after it was established by outgoing Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar. The Diaspora does not consist of rich people raring to establish their patriotic credentials, but of poor labourers who work hard to provide a middle-class living to their families back home. Those who have donated to the new hospitals, and the Dam Fund, are now expected to block their money. They have been asked to take the return in rupees, rather than dollars.

The assumption behind both schemes is that the government is assumed to be trustworthy. The PTI’s assumption for its scheme includes the presumption that past governments were corrupt and thus untrustworthy. Neither the PML(N) nor the PTI examined why this indebtedness had occurred, nor related it to that eternal bugbear, military expenditure. While both the PML(N) and the PTI had identified debt as a woeful burden, neither mentioned that military expenditure was the next major item of spending. It is worth noting that, while political governments introduce such schemes, military governments do not. The Zia regime depended on US aid for the Afghan jihad, the Musharraf regime for debt rollovers and aid for the War on Terror.

The wizards of the Finance Ministry might have already told the PM that the Pakistan Banao certificates are not likely to be enough. The basic problem is that Pakistan needs to export more goods and achieve a more positive balance of trade. Until this happens, it will continue to face crises, for which schemes may be dreamt up by politicians, but which will not achieve the goal of self-reliance.

Part of the problem is that very export of labour on which reliance is placed. There is not sufficient realisation It was ducked by previous schemes, as well as that those who survive abroad are among the country’s best and brightest, and their talents are lost to the country when they go abroad. True, Pakistan might not be able to provide them the best environment to exploit their talents, but if they had made efforts in their homeland, they would have added to its prosperity. As it is, they send back foreign exchange. However, the example set for those growing up and entering the job market. The aspiration is to find an El Dorado abroad.

Another problem is that this sets an example of conspicuous consumption, which becomes a social standard to aim for. There is a tendency to look abroad for sustenance. The PTI model is simple, perhaps too simple: a temporary loan from the Diaspora, until good governance and honest government make things right. The basic question, of how Pakistan is supposed to export more and import less, is not answered. It was ducked by previous schemes, as well as the present one.


The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.