Pakistan Table of Contents
Pakistan had a severe balance of payments deficit in the 1970s. To deal with this deficit, as well as to strengthen ties with the Islamic states in the Middle East, the government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto encouraged both skilled and unskilled men to work in the Persian Gulf countries. The government set up a program under the Ministry of Labour, Manpower, and Overseas Pakistanis to regulate this migration and also seconded military troops to many of the Gulf states.
By the mid-1980s, when this temporary migration was at its height, there were estimated to be more than 2 million Pakistanis in the Persian Gulf states remitting more than US$3 billion every year. At the peak, the remittances accounted for almost half of the country's foreign-exchange earnings. By 1990 new employment opportunities were decreasing, and the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War forced many workers to return quickly to Pakistan. Workers have only slowly returned to the Gulf since the war ended.
The majority of the emigrants are working-class men, who travel alone, leaving their wives and children behind with their extended families in Pakistan. These men are willing to sacrifice years with their families for what they see as their only chance to escape poverty in a society with limited upward mobility. A study in the old quarter (the inner walled city) of Lahore in 1987 suggested that half of all working-class families had at least one close relative working in the Gulf. Families generally use the remittances for consumer goods, rather than investing in industry. The wage earner typically returns after five to ten years to live at home.
Although this migration has had little effect on Pakistan demographically, it has affected its social fabric. While a man is away from his family, his wife often assumes responsibility for many day-to-day business transactions that are considered the province of men in this traditional male-dominated society. Thus for the women involved, there is a significant change in social role. Among the men, psychologists have identified a syndrome referred to as "Dubai chalo" ("let's go to Dubai"). This syndrome, which manifests itself as disorientation, appears to result from social isolation, culture shock, harsh working conditions, and the sudden acquisition of relative wealth. Men often feel isolated and guilty for leaving their families, and the resultant sociopsychological stress can be considerable.
Data as of April 1994