Pakistanis in America
By Shahid Javed Burki
A theme frequently explored in these columns is the benefit a country such
as Pakistan could draw by using its large and young population as an economic
resource. This approach runs counter to customary thinking on development.
Conventional thinking treats rapid population growth as a burden. As the number
of people living within the boundaries of a country continues to increase, the
state must provision for their education and health and the economy must find
jobs for those who will inevitably enter the workforce. It is a race few economies
Those who have studied the impact of population growth on increase in income
per head of the population have reached the conclusion that high rates of fertility
makes it difficult for poor countries to escape poverty.
While there is a great deal of substance in this argument, we have also to
look at the situation where population increase has already taken place. In
1947, at the time of the country's birth, Pakistan had a population of only
32 million; today, 56 years later, the number of people living in the country
has increased to 144 million, an addition of 112 million. In spite of that,
income per head of the population has increased at the average rate of three
per cent a year during this period. In today's dollars, income per head of the
population has grown from about $95 to close to $480.
There is no doubt that Pakistan would be economically better off today had
its fertility rate been somewhat lower and the size of its population somewhat
smaller. But this is one of those "what if" questions that tantalize;
they don't say much about the way a difficult situation that has already developed
should be handled. The problem in Pakistan is that policymakers must find ways
of catering to a large and very young population that, in spite of a significant
decline in the rate of fertility in recent times, continues to bring to life
3.5 million people every year.
Every year, about the same number of people join the workforce. Demographic
inertia will ensure that the stream of entrants into the workforce will not
decline for many years to come. It is because of this that the country's planners
must take cognizance of this phenomenon. One way of dealing with it is to turn
the burden of population into an asset.
An imaginative approach would be to train and educate the young not only for
providing skills the economy needs. Policymakers should also keep their attention
focused on the opportunities available in the developed world as it begins to
deal with a problem with no precedence in history. Most of Europe and Japan
will begin to see significant declines in their populations within a decade,
a decline caused not by war, disease or pestilence.
The reason for this phenomenon is something not encountered before: changes
in lifestyles which lead families to have fewer children or no children at all.
For these countries to grow and retain economic dynamism they must bring in
young workers from abroad. They can come only from countries such as Pakistan
which have surplus manpower. For other countries brain-drain can cause some
damage to the domestic economies.
This is precisely what had begun to happen in recent years as a steady stream
of people left their homes in the developing world in search for jobs, training
and education in America and Europe. According to a report published in June
2003 by the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration, nearly three
per cent of the world's population are migrants. Over the last 35 years the
number of international migrants has more than doubled to 175 million. Of these,
close to 50 million have come from Asia, perhaps as many as four million from
That was how the situation was developing before "nine-eleven." Since
that fateful day, American attitudes in particular - but also, to some extent,
thinking in European countries - have turned against international migration.
Migration from the Muslim countries is looked upon with great disfavour and
a strong message is being sent out that young men from that part of the world
are no longer welcome. For some reason, not entirely clear, the Pakistani community
in America has been a particular target of authorities' unwelcome attention.
But, fortunately, some questions have begun to be raised about how the immigrants
are being treated in the United States.
On April 2, in a report issued by Glenn A. Fine, US Justice Department's Inspector-General,
it was suggested that law enforcement agencies had mistreated hundreds of immigrants
detained under the Patriot Act. The act, passed soon after "nine-eleven,"
gave far-reaching powers to the Justice Department, including unprecedented
information-sharing between law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
The failure of US authorities to learn of the September 11 plot in advance
was blamed in part on real and perceived legal barriers at the time to the sharing
of such information.
The Fine report is a serious indictment of the misuse by law enforcement authorities
of the powers given to them by the Patriot Act. It detailed "significant
problems" in the detention, on charges of immigration violations, of many
of the 762 foreign nationals detained after the September 11 attacks. Of these,
the second largest group was made up of Pakistanis. While none of those detainees
was charged with terrorism, they spent an average of 80 days in jail before
the FBI completed its investigation and many went weeks before being charged
with immigration violations or seeing attorneys. About 515 of those detained
were eventually deported, again most of them Pakistanis.
The cases investigated by Inspector General Fine don't cover the entire population
of detainees estimated by some to number somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 persons,
once again a large number from Pakistan. It does not address the more than 1,100
persons the Justice Department has detained in connection with the Absconder
Apprehension Initiative or the 2,747 persons it put in prison when tens of thousands
of young men showed up for Special Registration, another anti-terrorist initiative
targeted at Muslim foreign nationals.
The Patriot Act was passed by the US Congress with legislative sunset in 2005
which means that it would lapse unless renewed. Neo-conservatives who dominate
the Bush administration are not going to let that happen. The campaign to enter
permanently into the statute books the act's many draconian provisions was launched
by the administration three days after the publication of the report by the
Inspector General. This confirmed the growing impression of orneriness on the
part of the president and his administration on a host of matters, including
the issue of migration.
Attorney-General John D. Ashcroft appeared before the US Congress on June 5
not only to defend his department's performance under the act but to request
the legislators to strengthen many of its provisions. He called many provisions
of the Patriot Act "weaknesses which terrorists could exploit." He
asked for adjustments that will make it "crystal clear that those who train
for and fight with a designated terrorist organization" can be charged
under the statute that prohibits providing "material support for terrorism."
Will the Bush administration's latest initiative to target immigrants for special
and unwarranted treatment as part of its anti-terrorism campaign succeed? Since
foreigners, including legal immigrants, don't vote, they have little influence
over politics and the political process. The voting population is proving hard
to mobilize on this issue, traumatized as it has been by "nine-eleven"
and the continuing war against terrorism. Nonetheless, some voices against the
administration's current approach towards immigrants have begun to be heard.
Recently the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) ran full-page advertisements
in major newspapers soliciting support against the continuation of the Patriot
Act of 2001, certainly not its further strengthening as proposed by Attorney-General
John Ashcroft. A number of liberal newspapers ran prominently placed stories
on how various immigrant communities have suffered in the post-"nine-eleven"
period. Some of these stories focused on the Pakistanis living in New York where
a community, called little Pakistan, has been decimated.
Will the liberal community's campaign have an effect? The legal logic behind
the Patriot Act has some unpleasant precedents. In October 2001, a few weeks
after 9/11, Attorney-General Ashcroft announced that just as former attorney-general
Robert F. Kennedy would arrest a mobster for spitting on the sidewalk, so Ashcroft
would use all available laws, especially immigration law, to lock up suspected
terrorists and thereby prevent terrorist attacks.
This approach, in legal parlance, is described as preventive law enforcement
- action by the state to prevent future crimes. One of the earlier attempts
to apply this approach was in 1919 when the United States was rocked by a series
of terrorist bombings. Mail bombs were found addressed to 18 prominent people,
including Supreme Court Justice Oliver Homes, Attorney-General A. Mitchell Palmer,
two US Senators and business leaders John D. Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan.
"Then, as now, the government went into preventive mode and exploited
immigration law to sweep broadly and blindly," writes David Cote, a professor
at Georgetown University's Law Centre and author of the forthcoming book, "Alien
Enemies, Double Standards and Constitutional Freedoms in the War on Terrorism."
Like those detailed after "nine-eleven," the "Palmer raids,"
named after the attorney-general at that time, led to the detention of immigrants
who were "interrogated incommunicado, denied release on bond and refused
access to lawyers. Hundreds were deported. No bombers were found. And like Ashcroft's
sweep, the Palmer raids targeted the most vulnerable - foreign nationals."
If this campaign against aliens continues and if the Pakistanis - both those
who are already in the country and those who wish to come to the country in
search for jobs and education - continue to be subjected to discriminatory treatment,
there will be grievous damage done to the country's economy. President Bush
and his associates maintain that they are very pleased - in fact, very grateful
- that General Pervez Musharraf has provided so much support to the latter's
war against terrorism.
The cost of this war for Pakistan will increase enormously if America's door
is shut - or even if it is partially closed - to new migration from the country.
The day this article appears, General Musharraf will be in Camp David discussing
Pakistan's relations with his host's country. Migration from Pakistan and the
treatment of Pakistanis living in the United States should be high on the list
of topics for discussion with the American president.
"For demographic, economic and social reasons you can't stop migration,"
wrote Brunson McKinley, director-general of the International Migration Organization,
in the report cited above. "Policy choices made now will serve to determine
whether migration is managed to maximize its benefits or will remain a source
of concern and potentially of tension between states," he continued. This
observation is particularly true for Pakistan and its continuously evolving
relations with the United States.
Date/Time Last Modified: 7/2/2003 6:38:14 AM
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