Guided lessons from five days lahore

After the end of term at uni, Janik and I went (for the first time) to Pakistan for five days, to see the world famous 17e Century gardens, palaces, forts and mosques. Lahore, the capital of Punjab in northern Pakistan, has a population of 13.5 million. Half a million are added every year. 40% of Pakistanis want to leave Pakistan. If this national figure also applies to Lahore, then there are 5 million people in that city alone who are looking for a way out.

Asylum is almost impossible in the region, including for Muslims. The three richest countries are Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE, all of which have citizens richer than the Dutch. In Sajjarah (an emirate north of Dubai), we saw a whole middle-class Pakistani residential area with shops and restaurants.

Asylum seekers, they don’t like it in the Gulf countries

But there are no asylum seekers in the UAE: 82 from all over the world in 2021. Steenrijk Abu Dhabi has no recognized procedure for submitting an asylum application. The Qataris – now known and infamous for building stadiums and hotels – have nothing against their Pakistani Muslim brethren. On the contrary, a plan to double the number of Pakistani personnel from 150,000 to 300,000 has just been announced.

Hard workers are allowed to attend, but without their families. Asylum seekers must go elsewhere. There were 5 small asylum applications from around the world in Qatar in 2021. Kuwait: Total 100 asylum applications in 2021. Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE want nothing to do with asylum.

dangerous for Christians

There are also 400,000 Christians living in Lahore. More than 70 were killed six years ago by a terrorist who blew himself up during church services on Sunday. So Christians can sometimes feel insecure in Pakistan.

In neighboring India, Kochi (Cochin) in Kerala has three synagogues and a beautiful cathedral. Christians make up 38 percent of that city’s population. This is the sanctuary reserved for Christians from Lahore, but no: the border between India and Pakistan is tightly closed after three wars over disputed Kashmir and the attack on the Taj Palace hotel in Mumbai in 2008 that left 162 victims.

The terrorists came by boat from Pakistan to Mumbai, and although Pakistani police are making efforts against the Taliban (in the five days of our vacation in Lahore, eight more policemen were killed fighting the Taliban), India blames the attack on Mumbai and Pakistan. India keeps borders closed.

Some gay or lesbian Pakistanis also wish to emigrate. Tolerant Thailand is not far away, but overland travel is impossible due to the closed border with India.

Girls can go to school in Lahore, but not in the Swat Valley in western Pakistan, where the Taliban is in control. Malala Yousafzai was awarded the first Nobel Peace Prize in Pakistan for her bravery there. Since last year, the Taliban has been armed with an additional $7 billion in American weapons, inexplicably left behind by President Biden upon his exit from Afghanistan.

Lahore and other major cities in Pakistan now fear more Taliban terrorism. So, Janicki and I, spontaneously and uninvited, received a police escort of four armed officers back to our hotel after a trip out of town. For a distance of 160 km, a new guard every 40 km, as a precaution against the Taliban, who killed six policemen in a shootout last week.

Lahore grief

The Lahore tragedy is typical. This is one of the most beautiful cultural cities in the world, but tourists stay away from it. At the best Pearl Continental Hotel (600 rooms), we saw mainly family groups having breakfast and dinner with perfect English, elegant shawls for women, mostly over the shoulder, with a small minority also on the haircut. Apart from the two of us, a couple of white western tourists, a few businessmen and coincidentally last week also the Irish women’s cricket team with their coaches. Hardly any tourists.

Pakistan is bankrupt and international reserves cover only a few weeks of imports. The Pakistani government now advertises on official websites jobs for Pakistani nurses in the Gulf, who then send their salaries back to the family in hard currency. Due to the political uncertainty, and now even more so with the resurgence of the armed Taliban, wealthy Pakistanis keep bank accounts in Dubai safe. So this money is wasted for the development of your country.

Then a dictator?

In the local newspaper we read a gloomy article by a former finance minister hesitantly advocating dictatorship, hoping that after Pakistan’s past bad experiences with dictators, there might now be a dictator who – as in Taiwan and South Korea – chooses a dictator. A path with less corruption and more economic growth.

What can the Netherlands do for a modest win-win situation with Pakistan? Last year, 24,824 Pakistanis from around the world applied for asylum; 83 percent of applications were rejected. This figure indicates that the vast majority of asylum seekers do not flee persecution, but take a perilous journey abroad in the hope of a better economic future.

In my opinion, the Netherlands should immediately and automatically expel all asylum seekers from Pakistan for a few years and demand that Pakistan take them back immediately. Last year there were more than a thousand Pakistanis in Ter Apel. Maybe more this year.

There are no Pakistani asylum seekers in the Netherlands

If the Netherlands announces internationally that all asylum seekers from Pakistan (and a number of other countries) will be immediately returned to their country of origin in the coming years, the flow will drop dramatically, once it becomes known there (Denmark and Sweden are already proving this with their stricter policies) .

And if we violate a treaty by doing so, we should be able to give priority to genuine refugees from a small number of other countries. Is this cruel and cruel against a handful of persecuted and threatened Pakistani asylum seekers really? Sure, but after a short period of the new policy, all Pakistanis who choose a country of asylum on the world map will know that the Netherlands will lose, because it gives priority to the really threatened Asian refugees, perhaps with an eye on Iran and Afghanistan.

In exchange for such a promise from the Pakistani government, we can do two things. First: scholarships for students in Wageningen, which I have advocated here before, as well as for our technical universities after the floods this summer. Moreover: free teaching materials for relatively expensive subjects such as biology, physics and chemistry were sent to secondary schools, such as Holland, for example, which had already been successfully sent to Uganda.

The better the quality of secondary schools, the more girls continue their education, marry later and have the better ability to take care of fewer children. Bangladesh, which was once much poorer than Pakistan, but is now dominated by better educated young women, shows how important this is to the well-being of its population.

Temperatures in Lahore will range between 40 and 42 degrees in the summer. And only a few rich people can afford air conditioning there. So Pakistan has more interest than the Netherlands in working against carbon dioxide. But the country must also fight the Taliban and repair damage caused by floods, while its population is growing by more than a million people annually.

We better be realistic and help Pakistan with education as best we can, especially for women. If the population growth then decreases, the pressure on the environment will decrease as well. This is a more realistic environmental policy than six Dutch ministers traveling to Cairo, praising a charming and undoubtedly free-spirited fellow Pakistani who persistently asks for money but can promise nothing.

Edward Pomphoff He will be professor of economics in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for a few months. His columns about the economy and government policy—and sometimes about his personal experiences—will appear in Winya Week in 2023.

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