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71 Years of Independence of Pakistan

It was mid – 1990s.

Immigration to Canada was in vogue. Many of my friends were applying for immigration and urged me to apply as well. Immigration took around six months to a year only. Finally, I and my wife met an immigration consultant and got our case evaluated. I was working as mid-senior level manager and my wife was teaching at the university. The consultant advised that we both qualified as Principal Immigrant. We could both apply and get immigration. When we realized that immigration was a real possibility, we sat down and had long discussion on the subject. Should we really leave Pakistan? Why should we leave? What benefits shall we lose by leaving Pakistan? What shall we gain by going to Canada? We had young children who were in early education. We didn’t have any restricting liability. We could move. But shall we? We had decent jobs with good future prospects and had a happy life. Shall we attempt immigration all the same?

Until that time, I had not lived abroad; my wife had lived in the UK for about four years while doing her PhD. I had traveled to a few countries, including India. I mention India especially because I saw rag-huts on both sides of the road going out of Sahar International Airport Bombay (now Mumbai). I saw another unforgettable scene while walking in the posh Kolaba commercial area at night. As soon as the shops closed, promptly, rolled mattresses were pulled out from under the entrance steps of every shop. These were homeless people who lived on the streets. At that time (1990), an estimated one million people in Bombay lived their entire lives on streets. They were born there, and they would die there with all life events happening on the street. Pakistan on the contrary did not have any such scene anywhere in the country. True, there was poverty, but no one lived on the street all their life, and probably no one slept without food.

After our discussions, we concluded that we shall not apply for immigration, and we did not. We are happy we took that decision. All praise to Allah. We have had a great life here.

Our friends who immigrated saw very hard times for a long period. There were no decent jobs, weather was extremely harsh, and it was difficult to survive. Virtually no one got a job matching qualification and experience and were forced to do odd jobs to survive. The ordeal continues for many. Some finally settled reasonably well. Some came back after getting the passport. Some could not even come back because they couldn’t afford it.

I had the opportunity to travel to many countries around the world. Traveling everywhere is lovely but living anywhere is not.

Pakistan is my home by choice.

I had ample opportunity to immigrate to another country, but I did not opt for it. I feel good, I feel belonged, I feel loved, I feel respected, and I feel safe here.

Immigrating to another country, or living and working abroad is not wrong per se. The world is open for all of us. Choosing to leave Pakistan because it is a poor, pathetic place is however not an acceptable thing to do.

I understand that many people who are living and working abroad long to come back. I pray that Allah makes it easy for them.

During a visit to Paris, I was staying in Ibis near Eiffel Tower. I was walking around and saw a Pakistani restaurant. I went inside. The place was run by a Butt sahib. He had a story. A PIA plane was hijacked in 1980 by PPP supported Al-Zulfiqar. They took the plane first to Kabul and killed couple of government officers. Then they took the plane to Damascus, Syria. They demanded release of around 85 people who were in Jails and asked them to be sent to Damascus. Zia government released them from jails, canceled their Pakistan citizenship and shipped them to Syria. They became homeless pariahs in a minute. And they could never come back to Pakistan, ever.

Butt was one of them. He had a long, hard life and finally managed to make a decent life for him by settling in Paris. He offered me dinner and refused to charge money. He was from Lahore, like me and he hugged me and cried and said he smelled Lahore in me. He missed Pakistan with every breath. His grief for not being able to return was permanent and enormous and palpable.

We are surely lucky. We can live in Pakistan or choose to live elsewhere, as a Pakistani. If we live in Pakistan, we should live by choice and be happy about it.




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