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The exodus continues

By Murtaza Haider
February 28 2013




Imagine if Jinnah and Nehru were alive today and having a conversation about today’s Pakistan. How would Jinnah explain Pakistanis seeking refuge elsewhere?

The latest update on asylum seekers revealed that in 2013 Pakistan was the second largest source of asylum applications to Canada. This puts Pakistan in the not so auspicious company of the other three top asylum seekers, namely China, Nigeria, and Columbia. In 2012, Pakistan still was among the top five sources of asylum applications to Canada.

How is it that a country established as the homeland for Muslims continues to see its citizens seeking asylum in foreign lands? Not so long ago, East Pakistan decided to separate from the West, thus putting a gaping hole in the two-nation theory that was used to justify partitioning the subcontinent. Four decades later, what is left of Jinnah’s Pakistan is again crumbling with the Baloch seeking separation, while others who would rather stay in Pakistan are being pushed away by sectarian and other extremists.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2010 identified 2.2 million vulnerable Pakistanis who were either seeking asylum abroad or were displaced internally within Pakistan. In fact, the Norwegian Refugee Council revealed that Pakistanis were the most displaced people in the world in 2009. The military operations against the Taliban militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas forced 3 million people out of their homes. In 2011, 13,700 Pakistanis applied for asylum to Greece, and another 800 to Canada.

Those facing persecution in Pakistan are left with no choice but to seek refuge elsewhere. The plight of Shia Hazaras offers a vivid picture of what may happen to a people who are abandoned by their own State. Thousands of Hazara Shias have died at the hands of sectarian militants. They deserve the sympathy and generosity of Europe, North America, and Australia. Earlier reports of Australian help for 2,500 Hazara families have proven to be false.  It is only now that the federal and provincial authorities have reluctantly launched an operation against the militants accused of Shia massacres. No one, however, believes that there will be a meaningful improvement in the security for Hazaras.

I have been writing in this space about the plight of Shias and other minorities in Pakistan. I am, however, neither ignorant of, nor indifferent to, the fact that the life is no better for the rest in Pakistan. It is not just the Shias, Ahmadis, Hindus, Christians, and other minorities who are subjected to violence, uncertainty, and other vices that come bundled with poverty. The fate of the majority Sunnis is no better. The killing fields of Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, every day supply a fresh batch of corpses, most of them Sunnis.

I am reminded of Amrita Pritam’s ajj akhaan Waris Shah nu,  complaining to the memory of the legendary Sufi poet, Waris Shah, about the poem in which he highlighted the sufferings of Heer, a Punjabi girl.  “Once one daughter of Punjab suffered, and you wrote an epic; today thousands weep, calling out to you,” wrote Amrita. Today, there are millions of suffering Heers in Pakistan whose pain has to be acknowledged and grievances redressed.

I can picture Jinnah, dressed to the nines and chewing on a cigar, and Nehru, sporting an achkan and a Gandhi cap, taking a stroll while looking at the countries they helped found. While India is still far from being the nation that Nehru envisioned, Pakistan on the other hand has failed miserably to live up to the dream of its founding fathers.

Many Indians still hold a grudge against Jinnah for partitioning the subcontinent; a fact I ascertained from dozens of emails I receive every week from Dawn’s readership in India. They ask in their emails what Jinnah would have thought of Pakistan today. I think I know, but need not say, how Jinnah would have felt on seeing today’s Pakistan, which stands out not for exporting goods and services, but refugees.

When I look at today’s Pakistan, I realise that the exodus continues. Between asylum seekers, economic migrants, internally displaced persons, and separatists, Pakistan continues to deplete, bearing even less resemblance to what Jinnah had envisioned.


Murtaza_Haider-80-newMurtaza Haider, Ph.D. is the Associate Dean of research and graduate programs at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto. He can be reached by email at

Originally published by Dawn Pakistan

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