People: the missing ingredient Kamila Hyat Thursday, March 24, 2011

Source :

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor

People seem to be the missing ingredient from our political reality. Decisions are made that take no heed of their situation – such as the recent measures to raise revenue by increasing taxation, even though this will trigger massive inflation.

The distance between government and citizens grows wider each time such steps are taken, with people more convinced than ever that leaders simply do not care about their plight. Indeed, while much rhetoric is heard about the masses, in real terms, little is done to ameliorate their suffering.

The problem extends beyond the realm of politics. While the media frequently claim to speak for the people, their concerns are only rarely addressed with talk-show hosts preferring to engage in debates with the politicians they call in or persuade them to take on counterparts from rival parties.

The vast popularity of these shows raises a great many questions about the priority-setting agenda for news and the way this is determined.

During the last few weeks, two terrifying reports – one on the state of education and one on the healthcare situation have appeared, produced by the taskforce on education set up by the government in 2009 and the Pakistan Medical Association respectively.

The details they describe of the degree of deprivation in both sectors can only leave one wondering why Pakistan, as a state, has demonstrated such a limited capacity to care for its people.

Are our leaders more callous than most? Has the National Security Paradigm we have pursued more or less since 1947 rendered us unable to think beyond the narrow parameters it sets or are there a set of other issues, with feudalism on top of the list, which prevent growth and development. Each of these possibilities needs to be examined in some detail.

The question of what Pakistan’s future is to be has come up more and more often recently. We have read the often moving write-ups of those who have opted to leave the country and heard more academic discussions on what the future may bring. Issues revolving around the identity of the country and its prospects have formed a part of the national discourse since Partition.

It is something of an irony that these questions continue to be asked today, with no distinct answers available. In their absence, a kind of surreal patriotism has taken hold with people everywhere given to loudly proclaiming their love for the country and attributing everything that goes wrong – from bomb blasts to defeats on the cricket field – to a conspiracy hatched by one of the armies of enemies who apparently have nothing better to do but to try and discredit Pakistan.

The possibility that faults may lie within ourselves, accounting for our struggle to succeed, has apparently not occurred to the many who insist Pakistan is unfairly maligned or that it is the victim of all kinds of international plots.

This thinking has become so deeply entrenched that more and more people seem to believe it is the gospel truth.

The question though is if a state can have any kind of future which is not tied into the future of its people. The failure to safeguard their welfare has played a huge part in the rise of militancy, the most serious security threat we face today.

The deprivation experienced by people over so many decades has also resulted in the fierce anger and growing social frustration that we see today. Lack of opportunity has created a kind of ugly apartheid in which all that is best in society is reserved for a small elite, chosen on the basis of wealth and the status that comes with it.

Inevitably, this divide will have repercussions. We already see some of them in the rising rate of crime and the senseless vandalism that is reflected in the destruction of public property.

The fears of a more destructive rage sweeping across streets have been expressed time and again. Many believe the lack of food security will force people to rise up against authority – but whether or not this happens, the strains within households are adding constantly to human misery and its manifestation in various forms. Domestic violence is one of them.

What can one say about a state that abandons its flood victims soon after a disaster of enormous magnitude or sets up a highly flawed ‘Watan Card’ scheme to offer them relief? What can one make of a state that uses its people to fight heavily armed and highly trained militants, with some of the ‘lashkar’ members complaining they were offered no support in fighting the Taliban?

The answers to these questions are of course rooted in others: Why have we ignored the need to offer people social protection, opportunities to earn a livelihood or basic education?

Why are so many deprived of even the most basic healthcare needs and why is there such a differentiation between attainments in various parts of the country – with literacy levels in some Balochistan districts barely reaching the 20 percent mark.

Infant and maternal mortality too remain higher in the province than anywhere else and go to explain some of the reasons why resentment against the centre runs so high. The distance between people and the state has continued to grow and today we seem to see no attempt to bridge this gap.

But until people are pulled into the centre of the picture and made the primary priority of the state, we will never find the stability and the unity we so badly need. Doling out charity to people in the form of hand-outs or setting up free ‘tandoors’ can achieve very little.

Instead, we need to do all that is possible to create opportunities for people, to offer them dignity and create empowerment.

To do so we need to adjust budgetary priorities and devise far more innovative means to set up a system that benefits people and treats them as stake-holders in a state within which they seem to have lost all significance.


No comments:

Post a Comment