Posted on Friday, September 16, 2011
in The Friday Times (Editorial)
The Friday Times: Najam Sethi’s Editorial
The recent floods in Sindh have ravaged the lands and lives of 5 million people. Hundreds of people have lost their lives or been brutalized. Standing crops over 4 million acres have been lost. Yet the government and media have largely remained oblivious to this death and destruction. They were both obsessed with the utterings of Zulfikar Mirza and Altaf Hussain which have not made an iota of a difference to the wretched lives of the hapless and innocent citizens of Karachi. In Punjab, Dengue fever has hospitalized over 4000, a majority in the city of Lahore, despite Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s “heroic” efforts and largesse.
The floods in Sindh could have been better managed if a little bit of care had been taken over the year to strengthen dykes and embankments and rehearse evacuation and relief measures. After all, this calamity is a recurring tragedy that reflects on the criminal negligence of successive governments to manage the country’s water resources on which the national economy is based. Much the same can be said about the recurrence of Dengue fever on an increasing scale every year in the Punjab. There is money for Yellow Cabs but not for epidemic or disease eradication, public sanitation and health programs. It seems as if governments are no longer capable of initiating preventive measures to alleviate poverty and improve health and only half-interested in curative steps for the sake of appeasing the media.
It has also become commonplace for Pakistani governments in their usual distress to cry out for help from the international community. But increasingly the world is tiring of this Pakistani routine. One reason is that it sees Pakistani governments as venal, corrupt, callous and blundering and cannot bring itself to show much sympathy. The other is the increasing indifference of rich Pakistanis to the abject misery of their poorer fellow citizens. If charity begins at home, there is less and less sign of it for the right causes in Pakistan. It is an international scandal too that we have money enough for atomic bombs and F-16s to fight imagined and manufactured enemies and create strategic depth but none for dams, reservoirs, hospitals and schools for the rising pool of the poor and unemployed, the sick and hungry, displaced and homeless. The irony in the situation should also not be missed. Pakistan’s great all-weather friends China and Saudi Arabia are the most stingy by way of donations to tide us over our recurring misfortunes while the allies we love to hate, like the United States are always more willing to come to our help in times of need. Under the circumstances, it is absurd that Shahbaz Sharif should have blithely spurned US$200 million in USAID for the education and health sector of Punjab for the sake of earning some brownie political points in today’s anti-American environment.
The national tragedy is compounded by the realization that things are fated to deteriorate. Each national institution or party is pulling in different directions. The Zardari regime has sacrificed good governance at the altar of political wheeling-dealing for survival. The opposition and ruling coalition allies have not articulated a coherent strategy for national socio-political cohesion or economic revival – indeed they are opposing the introduction of a more rational revenue collection system and abolition of subsidies to inefficient state corporations. The judiciary is obsessed with constitutional matters as if these are a panacea for the lack of justice that has crippled the judicial system and provoked a yearning for the swift Islamic methodology of the Taliban. The business community has stopped investing in Pakistan and is pulling its money out and acquiring nationalities and residences in foreign countries. And the military is waging its bets on defying the international community in quest of its preferred solution of renewed civil war and disintegration in Afghanistan.
In desperation, some Pakistanis hanker for a military intervention to put things right. This is a cyclical demand. Every ten years we tire of our corrupt civilians and urge the generals to sort out the mess. But a decade of military rule opens up old societal wounds and creates new political fissures, triggering the impulse to send the military back to barracks. The situation is particularly gridlocked today. The free media and independent judiciary will not brook any direct military takeover. Neither of the two mainstream political parties will lend a helping hand as in the past. And the great benefactor of every military regime, the United States, seems especially piqued and alienated from it these days.
It seems as if Pakistan is hurtling into a inexorable vortex. Its historical resilience is being severely tested. It needs a wise and courageous reformer to redeem its promise. But none such is in sight. Those self-proclaimed messiahs like Imran Khan are full of sound and fury “signifying nothing” while the others are “ghissa pitta cartouches” lacking credibility or inspiration.