Baloch Diaspora: The Problem Of Brain Drain In Balochistan

Dr. Yarjan Samad and Chiragh Baloch are two prime examples of the quality of scholars that Pakistan has lost. When will we learn?

Baloch Diaspora: The Problem Of Brain Drain In Balochistan

It was December 2022 and the snow-capped mountains of Quetta signalled the arrival of the winter season. In the heart of this picturesque landscape, Qamber Bugti, a 34-year-old engineering graduate from Balochistan University of Information Technology and Management Sciences (BUITEMS), found himself yearning for a new chapter in his life. He had toiled as a part-time rickshaw driver in the city, ferrying passengers to and fro, a humble source of income.

Now, as he looked at his sold rickshaw, Bugti was at a crossroads. He desired to permanently depart from Balochistan, seeking new opportunities and a brighter future elsewhere. With his aspirations and dreams in mind, he reached out to his cousin in Bahrain, earnestly requesting assistance in obtaining a work visa. This decision marked the beginning of a significant journey, one that held the promise of a fresh start and the hope for a more prosperous tomorrow.

“I would toil at the ungodly hours of night to make so much money. I would buy a house and then marry and permanently settle in Bahrain with my wife and children,” said Bugti to his cousin telling him to never return back.

His cousin, on the other hand, told him to apply for a engineering post, but Bugti was tired of appearing in the interviews.  His cousin recalled how he had been a hardworking student in the university. “If he permanently departs from Balochistan, the province will not only lose a engineer but also lose the expertise that he has in the field. Highly educated people like Qamber will continue to pour out of the country until issues related to transparency are dealt with,” his cousin concludes. 

The sadness in his voice is palpable. The deteriorating state of law and order, soaring unemployment rates, and the pervasive economic and political turmoil have compelled big brains like Qamber Bugti, along with a multitude of others, to make the heart-wrenching decision to permanently depart from Balochistan.

According to statistics from the Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment, a staggering 765,000 Pakistanis left the country in 2022. This exodus included a diverse array of professionals, encompassing doctors, educators, engineers, nurses, IT specialists, accountants, and agricultural experts. 

A significant portion of these individuals, over 730,000, sought opportunities in the Gulf States, with 119,000 heading to the UAE, 51,634 to Qatar, 77,000 to Oman, and 2,000 to Kuwait. Among the 765,000 individuals leaving Pakistan, 7,000 hailed from the Balochistan province. 

Given the province’s large topography and its relatively small population, which is even less than that of Karachi as a whole, the departure of 1% of its residents for foreign shores cannot be regarded as inconsequential.

Regrettably, this likely represents only the visible portion of a much larger issue. There is reason to believe that some individuals, in cases of human trafficking, may have found refuge in neighbouring countries such as Afghanistan or Iran without leaving a trace in official records.

Abdul Rehman Dasthi, 24, a physics student at the University of Peces in Hungary, emphasizes that better job opportunities for the youths would entice them back to their native places because those regions urgently require the skills they have gained from the developed world. 

Dasthi states, ‘For example, those people who go for higher studies in Europe or the US prefer to work there because those countries have invested in fields that attract immigration, especially in areas like information technology and space science.” 

He cites the examples of Dr. Yarjan Samad , an assistant professor of aerospace engineering at Khalifa University in the UAE, who once worked at the European Space Agency. He would not have left the province if universities in Pakistan offered adequate knowledge about space science. 

Then there is Chiragh Baloch, one of 35 content creators recording NASA’s Psyche Mission for their social media accounts. This is NASA’s first mission to study an asteroid that has more metal than rock or ice. He could have represented Balochistan in Suparco’s space programme, he adds. 

The province of Balochistan finds itself in the grip of a persistent unemployment crisis, contributing significantly to the continuous exacerbation of the brain drain phenomenon in the region. 

A research conducted in 2022 titled Educational Jigsaw Take Shapes at Balochistan, underscores the severity of this issue, revealing that out of 25,000 students who graduated from various universities in the province in 2021, a meagre 2,000 managed to secure government positions.

Another disheartening research discloses that approximately 25 accomplished senior PhD holders from Balochistan University have sought refuge in more developed nations, with an astounding 200 educators submitting their applications to follow suit. 

This dire scenario is illuminated by the diligent research conducted in 2015 by Professor Zafar Ullah from BUITEMS (Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering, and Management Sciences, Quetta) and Dr. Anwar Mohyuddin of Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

The research also brings to light the sombre reality that a significant number of journalists aspire to permanently depart Balochistan as shockingly, the perilous environment in this restive region has witnessed the loss of 22 journalists’ lives during the past four years. 

Moreover, 29 esteemed professors and medical practitioners have chosen to leave Balochistan at the grave risk to their personal safety.

The research unequivocally attributes these distressing trends to the ominous forces of sectarianism, militancy, and the grim practice of kidnapping for ransom, which collectively impel professionals to seek safer shores and abandon their homeland in Balochistan.

In the distant outskirts of Doha, Qatar, lies Abu Nakla, where Gulzar Baloch diligently toils to put a square meal on his table.

Reflecting on his journey, Gulzar shares, “It’s been nearly a year since I departed from Balochistan. Hailing from the remote fringes of the Kech district, despite holding an MA degree, I encountered formidable challenges in securing employment. I aspired to work within a company, but regrettably, the region I hail from lacks such opportunities. Consequently, I embarked on a journey to Qatar with a work visa, where I found employment tending to the gardens of a Sheikh.”

When asked why he left Balochistan and what he has found in his current residence that he couldn’t in his homeland, Gulzar laments, “The reasons are straightforward. Balochistan does not offer the prospect of a peaceful existence. First, there exist significant security threats, and second, the dearth of job opportunities is glaring.”

According to a report from the Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment, 1.25 percent of the labour force originated from the Balochistan Province. This workforce comprises skilled labourers encompassing welders, tailors, drivers, and masons, alongside unskilled workers, such as waiters, salesmen, and farmers. Additionally, it includes professionals like doctors, engineers, and accountants.

The report further emphasizes that among the labourers migrating from Balochistan to foreign shores between 1981 and 2006, the highest share hails from the Quetta division at 0.51 percent, followed by the Zhob division at 0.16 percent, Sibbi division at 0.02 percent, Naseerabad division at 0.03 percent, Kalat division at 0.30 percent, and the Makran division at 0.23 percent.

“In Balochistan, the options for educated youth to secure a livelihood are starkly limited. They must either immerse themselves in the intricacies of political patronage to attain positions as menial peons, or they may find themselves reluctantly drawn into the dangerous trade of oil smuggling from the Iranian border. The profound absence of legitimate job opportunities propels a considerable exodus of Baloch and Pashtun individuals from the province, who, as means of necessity, seek employment abroad in the Gulf States, often engaging in labour-intensive roles such as tending to palm gardens, livestock, or serving as security guards at various enterprises,” Gulzar laments.

Kareem Al Balushi, a 34-year-old Omani citizen of Baloch descent proudly adorned in his cultural heritage, serves in the Armed Forces of Oman as a wakil( Arabic) which equals a subedar in Pakistan. He shares insights into the Baloch diaspora, commonly known as “Darmolki Baloch.” This term encapsulates those who have relocated from or continue to immigrate from Balochistan to destinations in the Persian Gulf, Europe, North America, South Asia, and Turkmenistan, driven by aspirations of improved education, livelihoods, and safety from looming security threats.

Kareem emphasizes the significant influence of Balochi culture within Oman, a sprawling nation covering 309,500 square kilometres. He says that “unlike Qatar, Balochi is the third most widely spoken language in Oman. Therefore, you can imagine how many of them live here. Out of the nation’s entire population, an impressive 25% comprises Baloch residents, with an additional 15% represented by the expatriate population.”

He delves into history to explain. “Balochs were recruited into the Omani armed forces during the late 1960s and 1970s to combat the Dhofar Rebellion, an uprising led by nationalist and communist forces seeking to overthrow the ruling Omani government under Sultan Qaboos bin Said. These rebel factions, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman (PFLO), aimed to establish a more radical administration. Consequently, Baloch troops were enlisted to counter these radical elements, ultimately contributing to a more stable nation.”

Kareem elucidates that some Baloch troops returned to Balochistan once the government stabilized, while others were granted Omani citizenship and chose to never return to their home province due to its underdevelopment and impoverishment. He concludes with a pragmatic piece of advice, “Try to save Balochistan, but if you can’t, just move to the Gulf and save yourself.”

It is indeed fascinating to observe the widespread usage of the common surname “Al Balushi” among the Baloch population in the Persian Gulf region, particularly in countries like Oman, the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain. Reports indicate that a substantial number, estimated to be between 215,000 and 468,000 Baloch citizens, have chosen to establish new lives in the UAE, primarily driven by the prospect of improved livelihoods. 

Notably, those who were residing in the Trucial States, which encompass Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the present-day UAE, and Oman before 1925, were granted UAE citizenship under Article 17 of the United Arab Emirates Citizenship and Passport Law of 1972.

Kareem Al Balushi reflects on this unique shared identity saying how “it feels like a sense of kinship, whether you are in Oman or Balochistan. Here, you encounter the same familiar faces, language, and culture. To me, Oman stands as one of the Middle Eastern countries where obtaining a passport holds special significance for the Baloch.”

Banadi* Baloch, a 26-year-old YES program alumna (a US-funded exchange program) and an MBBS doctor at Bolan Medical College in Quetta, passionately echoes the sentiments of numerous educated Baloch women who harbour aspirations of relocating. “Many educated women aspire to depart from Balochistan because the more developed parts of the world, such as the Gulf and Western countries, provide a safer and more secure environment for women. In Pakistan, regrettably, we grapple with the harrowing realities of rape, honour killings, and human trafficking along with gender discrimination.”

Ali Gohar, the esteemed principal of the Government Inter College Tump and a former member of the Balochi Academy in Quetta, astutely identifies brain drain as a perplexing economic and political anomaly.

In his discerning perspective, he asserts, “This exodus of intellectual capital from the province is a predicament that carries far-reaching consequences, for it leaves behind a concerning void in skills and expertise. The healthcare sector, for instance, faces the peril of disintegration as doctors seek more promising opportunities elsewhere. Visionary leaders, possessing invaluable knowledge and talents, opt for foreign pastures, leaving behind a native land deprived of their potential contributions to the realms of research, technology, and the essential spheres of politics and economic growth.”

Given that Balochistan remains one of the most impoverished provinces in the country, both federal and provincial governments should implement proactive laws and policies to encourage the youth to stay in this region. 

This can be achieved through investments in the education system, offering employment opportunities, scholarships for youths, improving healthcare and providing incentives to professionals. Investing in the province’s education and establishing factories can play a pivotal role in harnessing the abundant human capital of Balochistan. We need to do something before the well dries. Through equal provision of rights to the citizens granted by the Constitution can there be an end to the brain drain in Balochistan.

The writer is a Turbat based writer.