No spin zone: The un-sweet smell of success - Anjum Niaz - Sunday, March 20, 2011

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Our rulers spread the sweet smell of ‘success’ wherever they go. We hear their bunkum each night on TV. Shamelessly they tell us the sacrifices they made for democracy. They ‘served’ the people; we’re fooled. Their yarns stink. Not only the rulers but the people are fast turning nutty.
Tranquilisers in Pakistan have finished. Since a month the two most common sedatives have disappeared from the chemist shops. “There is such a heavy demand that the manufacturers can’t cope,” I’m told again and again when I go looking for a ‘happy pill’ to pop. Yes, we all could do with one. Not everyone can afford treatment by New York’s top psychiatrists.
Who then to blame for the mass mental meltdown? Pakistan is wasteland of sorts – the rulers and the donors know well. Our NGOs, mostly fed on American dollars, like to bamboozle their foreign donors with fancy figure spinning. They are just a number. Why care? Perhaps the rulers and the donors are thickheaded or live in la-la land. Let them then, visit reality.
Our brains retain visual imagery rather than numbers. No big deal if their three-piece designer suits get soiled and custom-made shoes sink in human excreta. No big deal if the bumpy streets of Pakistan damage their Prados or some street urchin decides to run a key on the bonnet to scar it forever. Nor will they die of food poisoning by eating at the roadside café, where food is prepared atop overflowing sewerage lines. Give them contaminated water to wash down the grunge. Ask them to hang around to inhale the stink that the residents breathe 24/7.
We mourn their death. We light candles in their memory. People killed indiscriminately make headlines for a day or two and then all’s forgotten. We move on with our lives, until another one of us is gunned down. Chest beating about human rights violations is fine but what if human dignity is being compromised 24/7 in our own backyards? Who should we shame? The president and his prime minister with their big, fat cabinet? Or the Sharifs of Raiwind Palace? Or the corrupt government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa? Or the waderas of Sindh, lying day and night claiming to serve the people while hunting for girls to marry? Or the MQM dramatists showering rose petals on their coalition partners one day and hurling murderous accusations on the same guys the next?
The two pirs – one from London and the other from Pagara — spin their own philosophy of getting the army to clean up the royal mess made filthy daily by our politicians. It’s easy to talk from the cozy comfort of their living rooms. They think General Kayani is the new messiah, the man who can save Pakistan with his army of 612,000 personnel. That may be so, but until the army moves in to chase out the politicians, the poorest of the poor are literally drowning in human excreta.
A few miles away from Parliament House in Islamabad is a small township on the way to the airport. I drive through the narrow lanes, forced to cover my nose because the stink of sewerage is unbearable. Men, women, children go about their work as though they are signed to such low life. Who is responsible for the mess? These people have representatives sitting in parliament who eat and drink food catered from a five-star hotel for them at the parliament’s cafeteria. The price is that of peanuts.
The anchors of television shows are equally guilty. Look at their suits and gelled hair. Look at the females’ couture wardrobes and made up faces. The salaries some of these gasbags get from the channels are in eight-figure digits, one is told. And yet all they do is to get the same wretched faces from different political parties and encourage them to fight, abuse, threaten and shout at each other each night. Net result? The catfights are so loathly that all we get is fiddledeedee from these ‘honourable’ hooligans who go after one another, in camera. Can’t we be spared their revolting sights? Instead our armchair pundits should venture out with their camera crews to film how the other half lives. I bet they will be bored to death in five minutes!
When the whole of Pakistan (except a few islands of luxury) drowns in dirt beyond description, what seizes our rulers? Their mulish insistence that chairman, NAB andDG, FIA cannot be removed as ordered by the Supreme Court? Are the two gents so indispensable for the security and wellbeing of the country as claimed or for the highest in the land?
Just to update the President of Pakistan on where his people, whom he says he loves fiercely and serves unselfishly, stands on the Human Development Index today in case he is unaware: His country’s 54 per cent of population lives in “Intense deprivation of basic necessities of life” like education, health, sanitation and good standard of living! In case Prime Minister Gilani, who too ‘loves’ Pakistan passionately, does not know what a human development index is, let me simplify it by saying that out of 135 countries whose standard of living was gauged by the UNDP, Pakistan stands just 10 countries above the worst in the world!
Last year we stood at 123rd position. Today our number has fallen to 125. Pakistan is one of the poorest, deprived, starved, sick, illiterate and filthy countries in the world.

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