“Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori,”
(It is sweet and proper to die for one’s country)
Migration is a tough call, as it pitchforks one into an alien soil with a lifelong yearning for a home that was lost. In Pakistani folklore, the longing for a lost river in Rohi is a central theme in poignantly lyrical narration of the tales of a life along the banks of a once life-giving river, lost to the vagaries and time and climate. Qurat-ul-Ain Haider’s classic Aag Ka Darya also deals with the same theme of the lost heritage and the hankering of the soul for a past that was lost in the cyclical continuum of time. The Hindu notion of ‘Samsara’ similarly celebrates the past through a cycle of reincarnation aimed at attainment of Mukti (freedom from lifecycle strictures). The pining of the soul for that what is lost has been inbuilt in the South Asian Subcontinental DNA. The desire to connect to one’s roots, therefore forms the warp and woof of a diaspora’s predilection to reconnect with the sociology and politics of one’s native land.
The saturnine pangs of homesickness transmigrate into a political consciousness and activism after attainment of the material comforts and affluence amongst the expatriate community. The Pakistani expat community is no exception to above rule. There are marked differences however between the Pakistani and other diasporas based basically on the socio-political genes inherited from the mother countries. The current crop of the Pakistani diaspora in Europe, UK and USA differs a lot different from the bockety and shy first generation of the economic migrants that went to fill the postwar labour shortages to UK and Europe (The Change Institute 2009). To understand the expat phenomenon in UK, Europe and USA properly, one needs to refer to some scholarly works analysing the diasporas’ sociology.
One such work is by Huwang et all (2011) that discovered negative correlation between the migrants’ satisfaction and their job security. According to this research, despite attaining affluence, the lack of cultural integration acted as a barrier to social integration in the alien culture by the new generation of Pakistani diaspora. In a study named, “Why are immigrants unhappy?” by Zsoka Koczan, the cultural belonging to the new society weighs more heavily on the immigrants’ minds than attainment of material affluence. Another study by Georgiadis and Manning (2013), points out the importance of “common sense of identity” in promoting a sense of belonging with the new country. Dale (2003) and Kamenou (2008) in their seminal research point out the dilemma of Pakistani and Bangladeshi women expats in UK who face social and cultural barriers to integration with their adopted countries. Due to these insuperable cultural barriers, even highly educated women like doctors and accountants tend to gravitate more towards their own indigenous roots.
The above alienation from the adopted country combined with the sense of loss engendered by the migration leads to a ghettoisation of the communities. This ghettoisation of the educated affluent class of expats is different from the physical ghettoisation of the economic migrant class of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. While the ghettoisation of the economic semi-skilled and poorly educated migrants was in the physical domain evidenced by spaces like Southhall in West London and Bradford, the ghettoisation of the educated and affluent class of migrants was in the cognitive domain. The educated and affluent segment of Pakistani diaspora suffers a cognitive dissonance born out of a disconnect between the socio-cultural traditions of the adopted homeland and those of the original homeland.
The cognitive dissonance leads towards divided loyalties and a mental conflict to reconcile the lived reality with the imagined empyrean reality left behind. According to Judith T Shoval, ‘diaspora’ is a wide term that includes all kinds of migrants who display an overweening propensity to reconnect and be part of their original homeland. It evokes a strong feeling amongst the migrants while living in their adopted country to remember and return to their original homeland. According to Kearney (1995), the diasporas’ reawakened attachment to their earlier homelands and cultures is sustained till the third generation, after which it weakens. The pragmatic approach of some segments of the diaspora to remain rooted to their original culture while inhabiting the temporal space of new country is expressed through a well-known dictum i.e “ubi lucrum, ibi patria” (my home is where I can make a living).
Social media has constructed an image of victimhood and betrayal around Imran Khan’s democratic deposition from the PM’s office. For Pakistani expats, this contrived image is the reality because of the physical distance from their homeland
According to a survey conducted by Exploring Islam Foundation, the children of Pakistani expats in the UK and USA, faced with an identity crisis vis a vis increasingly racist white-supremacist movements, turn towards the culture of their parents to anchor their identities on solid ideological footings. The highly educated, politically aware and culturally conflicted new generation of diaspora displays a propensity not only to reconnect with their parents’ homeland but to influence the politics in the homeland that defines their identity. This hankering for the religio-cultural space of the homeland and its power structures manifests in the form of increased participation in the politics of homeland to be part of the power matrix there. Increased campaign financing by the diaspora of political parties close to their political ideals is a manifestation of the above phenomenon with Anil Mussarats and Chaudry Sarwars as its exemplars.
The political consciousness and ideological worldview of the expats in the UK and USA is conditioned by their identity crisis and exposure to politics in the host countries. Ideologically, most expats prefer the hyper-nationalist populist rhetoric of politicians like Imran Khan who project themselves as anti-Western champions of Islam. Since most expats root their identity in Islam and its cultural symbols, the message of populist ideologues like Imran Khan challenging corruption and chicanery of an ancien regime appeals to them. On the political understanding front, their exposure to the issue-based politics in advanced democratic milieus of the West conditions their thinking. A politically parvenu underdog like PTI appeals more to their impressionable minds compared to the jaded constituency politics of the tried and tested parties like PML-N and PPP.
It is in fact an idealism on steroids that drives the political consciousness of the expats, who extrapolate virtues like merit, morality, competence and service delivery from their adopted polities as essential accompaniments of any democratic dispensation in their original homelands. They are therefore more prone to fall hook, line and sinker for the populist politics of a ‘new kid on the block’ like Imran Khan – thundering fire and brimstone about political morality, accountability of corrupt, merit and equity. The fundamental prerequisites of a liberal democratic order like inclusivity, accommodation, strength of institutions and rule of law are forgotten by the messiah-worshipping new generation of expats in favour of the crusading zeal of a political evangelist challenging all symbols of old politics defined by patronage, dynastic rule and pork barrel constituency politics. The expats, weaned on a heavy diet of patriotism and longing to transfer to their original homelands the efficiencies experienced in their adopted homeland, get dismayed when the political experiments like hybrid regime of PTI fail to deliver.
Typically in the manner of the French republicans whose call for the barricades was immortalised by Victor Hugo in Les Miserables, the dejected Pakistani expats rue the failed PTI experiment and, like the politically charged young PTI cohort in Pakistan, are in search of “Lemarque’s cortege” that acted as a rallying point for those defending the last rampart of freedom and democracy in 1832’s Paris uprising. The metaphorical cortege has been found by the expat community in the shape of a live and breathing ideologue who makes the right noises about corruption and foreign conspiracy. The veracity of his claims notwithstanding, it is what the consumers of social media want to consume and believe in this age of social media that really counts. And we know that 80% of the social media space is dominated by the PTI. Out of the top ten social media accounts in Pakistan, eight belong to the PTI.
Despite all the above, the ground realities of Pakistani politics point towards a disturbing disconnect between image and reality. Social media has constructed an image of victimhood and betrayal around Imran Khan’s democratic deposition from the PM’s office. For Pakistani expats, this contrived image is the reality because of the physical distance from their homeland. They are deprived of a lived reality while living in the cocoon of politically motivated social media reality. When the facts of the lived reality influence the political outcomes, the social media hyped expectations are dashed to the ground – miring them in paroxysms of grief. The political reality of Pakistan shows a political coalition comprising mainstream political parties holding a majority in legislatures that have the allegiance of a silent majority in rural Pakistan – a constituency that does not form its political preferences on the basis of social media advocacy.
The tendency to use campaign financing as a quid pro for political office was found palpably evident amongst the diaspora. That in itself is a positive development if the expats bring competence, best practices and fresh vision to Pakistani politics but could degenerate into the same patronage politics that they seek to replace. The expats should be encouraged to vote for their preferred parties in national elections but there should be limits to their holding of a political office. Countries like India neither allow dual citizenship nor a political office to their expats yet the Indian expats show a solid commitment towards their home country. Over thirty-five per cent of 1.5 million Pakistanis in UK are aged less than 16 years, only four per cent fall above 65, while the median age bracket is 22 years. The Pakistani diaspora in US is around 0.93 million comprising both the new and young immigrants. Around thirty-two per cent of Pakistanis are less than 18 years, only three per cent fall above 65, and the median age being 28 years.
The above explains Imran Khan’s large fan following amongst the predominantly young Pakistani diaspora in USA and UK. There is a need, however, to expose our Pakistani diaspora to the ground realities of Pakistan’s politics and to wean them away from the manufactured reality of social media. Mainstream political parties need to welcome expats through special incentives to national politics, in order to increase their stakes in Pakistan’s political and economic development. The opening of space by mainstream parties would enable a large young cohort of expats to widen their political horizons and develop a better appreciation of the ground realities of Pakistani politics.
State and the society owe a debt of gratitude to expats for their remittances and active advocacy for the country of their birth. It should, therefore, help them assuage the anguish of separation from their homelands through channels and spaces where their philanthropic, political and economic ambitions could fully flower. The state and the society – like fate – should conspire to move all elements in concert to help expats rediscover their real identity, which was temporarily lost in the confusing mist of diaspora dynamics.
Note: This article appeared in The Friday Times, dated 16 May 2022.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.