Land of Op­por­tu­nity

Pak­ista­nis are in high de­mand in the Afghan mar­ket. They ask for less money than the na­tives and work day and night. Ev­ery­one’s happy, ex­cept, of course, the Afghans.

Southasia - - Labor Rights - By Shahzeb Na­jam The writer free­lances for var­i­ous national pub­li­ca­tions and writes ex­ten­sively on eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. He is also an ac­tive blog­ger, based in Karachi.

War-rav­aged. That’s how most peo­ple would de­scribe Afghanistan. But for the two hun­dred odd men who throng the Afghan Con­sulate in Pe­shawar ev­ery day, the land is full of op­por­tu­nity.

They are tai­lors, car­pen­ters and un­skilled man­ual la­bor­ers. And they’re not just Pash­tuns. Many Pun­jabis are in the line too. Why would they leave their homes and jour­ney into a land that has no vi­able cen­tral govern­ment, an armed in­sur­gency and NATO forces renowned for their ac­cu­rate friendly fire?

Cash. When you’re be­ing paid dou­ble for your trou­bles, why wouldn’t you seize the op­por­tu­nity? The econ­omy at home is in free fall. Karachi, the eco­nomic hub and a mi­cro­cosm of Pak­istan, is be­ing dragged back to the in­ternecine war­fare days of the ‘90s. For­eign in­vestors have pulled out of the Karachi Stock Ex­change; a barom­e­ter of the na­tion’s fis­cal health. The pop­u­la­tion con­tin­ues to grow at an ex­po­nen­tial rate which trans­lates into fewer jobs and more peo­ple fight­ing for those few jobs. Frankly, things at home don’t look too good.

And then, like a gift from above: Afghanistan. The in­fra­struc­ture has been de­stroyed. Dol­lars are be­ing pumped in by the USAIDs of the world. They need cheap, un­skilled la­bor. That’s our spe­cialty. It’s a mar­riage made in heaven.

Pak­ista­nis are in high de­mand in the Afghan mar­ket. They ask for less money than the na­tives and work day and night. Ev­ery­one’s happy; ex­cept, of course, the na­tives. Many Afgha­nis are re­sent­ful of the in­flux of work­ers and want the govern­ment to for­mu­late a pol­icy to stop them from com­ing in. But that is un­likely to change the sta­tus quo as most of those who cross the bor­der do so il­le­gally. Those who fol­low the rules com­plain that they are in­ter­ro­gated by in­tel­li­gence agen­cies at the bor­der about al­leged links to In­di­ans and Amer­i­cans work­ing in Afghanistan (The News, May 13, 2011). The ex­pats say they’ve com­plained to the Pak­istani Con­sulate in Kabul but it hasn’t stopped ‘in­tel­li­gence in­spec­tors’ from ha­rass­ing them. Iron­i­cally, the thou­sands who cross il­le­gally aren’t asked a sin­gle ques­tion.

Afghanistan’s pop­u­lar­ity is also due to ease of get­ting visit visas. Free of charge and ob­tained within three days, Pak­istani work­ers re­sort to visit visas be­cause the Afghan Em­bassy does not is­sue work per­mits. Haji Meraj, First Sec­re­tary at the Afghan Con­sulate in Pe­shawar claims the re­jec­tion rate of visas is zero (Dawn, Feb 26, 2011). For Pash­tun work­ers, there’s also the added ad­van­tage of a shared cul­ture across the ar­bi­trar­ily drawn Du­rand Line. When the food and lan­guage are sim­i­lar, it’s home away from home.

Where does this leave Pak­istan? Ghu­lam Sarwar Khan Mo­hamand, former pres­i­dent of the Sarhad Cham­ber of Com­merce and In­dus­try be­lieves that a vac­uum has been cre­ated by the mi­gra­tion of work­ers. This short­age has led to an in­crease in the cost of la­bor in Pak­istan. He puts Afghan re­liance on Pak­istani work­ers at 70% (Dawn, Feb 26, 2011). The irony is not missed by Afghans who see this tide of work­ers as a sort of pay back for the refugee camps of the ‘80s.

A por­ous bor­der and stag­nat­ing econ­omy are the premium ingredients of this tragic recipe. Poli­cies made by both gov­ern­ments to stem the tide of mi­grants will be ut­terly use­less un­less Pak­istan can cre­ate jobs for its rapidly in­creas­ing pop­u­la­tion and get its econ­omy back on track. That will re­quire strong po­lit­i­cal will to curb the ur­ban war in Karachi, in­crease the tax base and re­duce the de­fense bud­get. Un­less Pak­istan be­gins to see its peo­ple as its great­est strength, it will be un­able to stop those who can from run­ning away to greener pas­tures.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.