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People & Society

What is leading to a brain drain in Balochistan?

Updated 10 Nov, 2018 04:29pm
Supporters of PMA protest against the kidnapping of a doctor during a demonstration outside Civil Hospital Quetta | Photo by PPI
Supporters of PMA protest against the kidnapping of a doctor during a demonstration outside Civil Hospital Quetta | Photo by PPI

On August 8, 2016, Nazir Ahmed was near Quetta Civil Hospital when a bomb detonated killing 56 lawyers in the area.

He remembers the day clearly. He was protected by a wall when the bomb went off but he lost two of his colleagues and five friends on the spot. He spent the next few days burying and mourning them.

Back in February 2007, Ahmed had survived another attack in Quetta’s district court, which killed 16 people. Ahmed, 42, was a Balochistan high court lawyer and spent one and a half decade building his career in Quetta.

But the past was difficult to let go of. After the attacks, Ahmed continued to suffer from nightmares reminding him of the day of the attacks. A month later, he decided he was unable to cope, leaving his profession and Quetta behind.

“Life is more precious than a career,” says Ahmed. He now lives in Dubai and works for a car showroom, admitting that it was difficult for him to live in that vicious atmosphere.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) revealed in its 2015 annual report that over 70 out of 100 PhD faculty members from various universities in Balochistan left the province due to security and financial reasons in that particular year.

The August 2016 blast created a vacuum -- among the 280 practicing lawyers of Quetta, 56 were killed and 92 were injured. Out of the 30 chambers they worked in, 10 closed permanently. The state of insecurity compelled hundreds of doctors to leave the province while after the blast on the lawyer’s community in 2016, a number of senior lawyers moved away too.

Altaf, 49, was once a lecturer at Balochistan University who, after feeling unsafe while working on campus, decided to move to Melbourne in Australia where he now teaches at Monbulk College . He believed him being a Punjabi in Balochistan also added to the general feeling of insecurity in the city. Sending his children to school after the attacks also became difficult.

“It was so difficult to be a successful teacher because of the security [issue], because of the fear of [being killed] where we were giving more attention to family protection than academic responsibilities,” says Altaf, who left five years ago and asked that his real name not be used because his family is still in Quetta.

Altaf felt unsafe teaching and speaking up in front of his students out of fear. He explained that he was able to do well at the university during a peace period in Balochistan, but when things took a turn for the worse, the government was unable to provide him with the protection he needed. “There were a large number of faculty members like me who were left [behind],” he says.

Taimur Tareen, 33, a doctor based in Quetta began working as a neurologist at the Louisville Medical Center in the state of Kentucky in the United States two years ago.

“[There are doctors who] want to leave, but they cannot because of financial limitations and lack of proper opportunities,” he said in a Skype call from the US.

Taimur’s father, Manaf Tareen, 65, is one of Quetta’s top cardiologists. He was kidnapped by armed men on September 2013, in front of his hospital at the Pishin Stop, Quetta, and spent two and half months in captivity. The then Pakistan Paramedical Association Balochistan President Dr Sultan Tareen claimed that 50 million rupees were paid to the kidnappers to secure the safe release of Munaf Tareen.

“People are scared about what will happen tomorrow in Balochistan. That is why many of the province's best and brightest do not see any hope of creating better lives and no one has returned who left the city because of security,” Temoor said.