Featured Original Articles

Observations on Zaigham Khan’s “Brown Man Burden”



Zaigham Khan’s “Brown Man Burden” (The News, July 29th, 2019) struck a cord. It reminded me of former acquaintances who fit the profile of PTI-supporting expats described here. Zaigham did not go deep enough into the PTI expat psyche and reverted to typical cliches towards the end.

The PTI expat acquaintances one came across are typically between 25-50 years of age. Many of them come from the typical privileged urban elite background with powerful links to the civil-military bureaucracy and the Feudal structures in Punjab and Sindh. They share similar elite private schools (Lahore Aitchison, Karachi Grammar etc) and were academically sound students who came to the United States for higher education and are now gainfully employed in powerful corporations.

During the 1980s and 1990s, their reflexive and ingrained hatred for PPP, Left politics, shrine culture, rural dynamics lead them to support Nawaz Sharif and Altaf Hussain. Their support for Nawaz Sharif and MQM was always reactionary and stemmed from their pathological and sectarian disdain for the average Pakistani. They viewed themselves as Messiahs who would periodically return to Pakistan and preach to the less fortunate on how pathetic Pakistan was. And how they, the Western Moderns, were the only salvation. They hated South Asia’s pre modern past and many of them think history starts with the Arab imperial invasion of Sindh by stooges like Mohammad Bin Qasim.

Of course, in this expat lexicon, Sindhis are lazy and traitorous and Baluchs need to be brought to heel.

In 2011, this segment slowly started shifting to Nawaz Sharif’s establishment replacement, i.e. Imran Khan. Unlike Nawaz, Imran’s (cosmetically maintained) looks and cricket skills made him more to be enthused about. Hence the support for Imran Khan was not as reactionary as it was for Nawaz Sharif and MQM.

There are exceptions to the expat described above like the self made Pakistani multimillionaires who generously funded Imran Khan’s recent political rally in Maryland. But these exceptions are also not as exceptional on other counts as the main pathology remains the same

“We know what’s good for you even as we are really clueless about the complexities of Pakistan and especially its economy.”

Many of these expats spent decades slandering and abusing the Bhutto and now Zardari families – regurgitating the same urban myths and drawing gossip that is mistaken for history and politics in urban elite Pakistan.

“Imran Khan, in his address, did not talk about steps he is taking to improve the lot of the poor cousins. He did not recount the promised miracles that have been achieved in twelve months. This did not concern Washington walas, whose lives are firmly tied to dollar and information from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Imran Khan talked about things that could be as exciting as events that used to happen inside the Coliseum. His audience was the Pakistani diaspora, who form an important part of the base of the party, and he knows them better than they know themselves.

Diasporas may have a huge disconnect from the countries they left behind years or decades ago, but they are shaping the destinies of many developing world in ways that could not have been imagined only a decade ago. Without Indian diasporas, perhaps Modi would not be ruling India and without the Pakistani diaspora, Imran Khan would not be the prime minister of Pakistan.”