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Diaspora development

The government needs to harness the potential of expatriates for speedier development

Diaspora development

Many countries, including China, India, Indonesia and South Korea, have succeeded in accelerating the pace of their socio-economic growth, benefitting from the skills and financial resources of their expatriate population. Just take the case of China. The Chinese diaspora has played an important role in China’s modernisation and socio-economic progress. From 1979 to 1997, over two-thirds of all foreign capital flowing into China was contributed by the ethnic Chinese. The expatriate Chinese contributed particularly in the form of foreign direct investment (FDI), which was 65-70 per cent of all FDI since 1990.

Before 1978, the Chinese overseas contributed mainly in the form of remittances to family members because of instability in China. However, after 1978, a stable China was able to attract investments from the ethnic Chinese which, in turn, attracted investments from other sources as well.

China’s policy toward the diaspora has been changing, remaining throughout in tandem with its changing priorities in national development. For example, “attracting trade and luring capital” (which constituted the main plank of the Chinese policy towards the overseas Chinese in the first two decades after the reform) has successfully uplifted China to become the second largest economy in the world. Now, “attracting talent and luring knowledge” has become the catchword for the new policy which focuses on recruiting global talents of Chinese ethnicity. This strategy is in line with China’s new national policy in moving away from a low-end production workshop of the world to an innovative country capable of producing high value-added products.

If we look at the policies of the Indian, Armenian and Jewish diaspora, we find that these have influenced the homeland policies of those countries. In the case of India, especially powerful Indian-American organisations have lobbied to influence international relations through US intervention. An example is the US-India Political Action Committee, which was founded in 2001, and which takes the America-Israel Political Action Committee as its model. In 1993, the India Caucus was created in the House of Representatives; by 2003, it had over 175 members. In 2004, an India Caucus was also established in the Senate. During the 1999 Kargil conflict, the Indian-American lobby resulted in President Clinton urging then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to withdraw from the Line of Control.

Many countries have succeeded in achieving an economic turnaround by motivating their citizens abroad to make investments in the motherland. However, investments depend upon a country’s political stability, credibility and continuity in its economic policies. So far, a majority of expatriate Pakistanis, who have been visiting their homeland for exploring the possibilities of making investments, have left after feeling disgusted due to corruption, red-tape, poor law and order situation, bhatta mafia, and chronic energy shortages till the recent past.

Presently, whereas China’s model focuses on attracting FDI; the Pakistani diaspora feels impelled to either invest in havens abroad or contribute in the form of home remittances, instead of FDI.

Millions of Pakistani diaspora, scattered in different parts of the world as guest workers, are filling the human resource gap and augmenting the services sector of their adopted countries. By and large, the overseas Pakistanis feel concerned when their country of origin is in political turmoil, but their constructive role for ensuring peace and stability is hampered because of inflexible and imprudent approach of various political parties.

It is the need of the hour to involve the overseas Pakistanis in de-radicalising the Pakistani youth and using their services in conflict mitigation and resolution by training and engaging the youth of their motherland in developmental activities. The step will also help curb violence and terrorism and reduce the level of frustration and anger in the minds of the youth, who constitute about 45 per cent of the country’s population but were prone to radicalisation and terrorism due to poverty and lack of better education/employment opportunities. Pakistani diaspora can act as a catalyst and pressure group to restrain political parties and groups from augmenting the level of polarisation and schism in the country.

Like disaster management mechanism, which aims to effectively deal with natural disasters, the tools of conflict management mechanism, like early warning and early response, mediation, negotiations and arbitration, can be used to evolve a strategy to regulate and lower the intensity of conflict situations so that these do not transform into violent situations. As regards early warning and early response systems, the techniques of scientific public communication (ethical PR), if practiced both in letter and spirit, can play a good role. However, in Pakistan we have yet to lay the foundations of ethical PR and set up its regulatory body, following the precedent of the West. The energy thus released from the conflict-prone situations could be used for transforming the attitude, behaviour and perceptions of major stakeholders hitherto involved in conflicts.

We do hope that the authorities would fine-tune their strategy for involving the overseas Pakistanis in the country’s socio-economic development and, in particular, motivating them in making investments in the country’s trade and industrial sectors. Amongst pre-requisites, the authorities need to make a beginning by bringing down the cost of fuel and electricity. Presently, on every litre of petrol/diesel, the consumers are charged about Rs40 as taxes; whereas electricity consumers are constrained to pay about 20 per cent GST over and above the actual cost of electricity consumed by them. Not only this, their electricity bills also include a couple of other taxes and duties, like FC Surcharge, TR Surcharge, NJ Surcharge and PTV Fee. Through these arbitrary charges, electricity consumers end up paying almost 60 per cent over and above the cost of electricity actually consumed by them.

Furthermore, banks do not open accounts of new firms (whether small, medium or large) unless they have FBR issued NTN (National Tax Number); while FBR does not provide NTN unless a firm has a bank account and a business record for at least three months. Some mechanism needs to be devised so that firms could open bank accounts and obtain NTN without any hassle.

If we really wish to provide a conducive climate for trade and industry, the private sector may also be provided the option to deposit all types of taxes and duties (like income-tax, sales tax, withholding tax, EOBI charges, etc.) in consolidated accounts maintained by the respective federal or provincial government. The FBR or some other official agency could be made responsible to supervise the collection of taxes and their distribution amongst various agencies of the government.

Alauddin Masood

alauddin masood
The writer is a freelance columnist based at Islamabad. He can be reached at [email protected]

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