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Waiting for Malala to grow up


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WHEN the state and the political elite of the country cannot be on the same page even on how best to deal with an existential threat to it, is there a point in debating anything else?

The Taliban and their various franchised terror groups keep attacking at will, killing innocent, unarmed men, women and children. And we cannot respond because there isn’t a ‘consensus’ on how to.

The state of Pakistan continues to resemble a crumbling edifice. Today, it is an assault on an airbase, tomorrow on school-going girls. Then, a girls’ school is blown up, a bus is stopped, with Shia passengers identified, pulled off and executed.

Condemnation follows. Both from you and I. And from those whose responsibility it is to safeguard the life and limb of every citizen. But if we cast our eye over the past so many years we see very little beyond words.

When it appeared the army may have been prepared to somewhat distance itself from its obsessive belief that the jihadi ideology coupled with nuclear weapons and conventional forces offered the most robust defence of the country, the civilian political elite balked at the prospect of a clean-up.

To some action against militancy was an ideological issue so they opposed it, others let anti-Americanism dominate their response while some felt that any such an exercise would jeopardise or at least delay the next general election due in the coming months.

Swat’s Malala Yousufzai was shot and wounded in October. The attempt on the life of a teenager for the crime of wanting to go to school was justified by the Taliban ‘because she represented and promoted western culture/values’. The outrage was spontaneous, widespread but to no avail.

As November was drawing to a close, 12-year old Mehzar Zehra was gravely wounded in an armed attack when she was being driven to school by her father in Karachi. The ostensible reason for this attack was that they were Shias.

And December saw multiple attacks on women in Karachi and Khyber Pakthunkhwa in which a number of them were killed.

What did Naseem Akhtar, Kaneez Fatima, Madeeha, Fehmida and others have in common? They were poorly paid (on a daily wage of Rs250) health workers contracted to visit dozens of homes a day to make sure children received their polio vaccine drops. Given the security environment generally and specific threats to polio workers their work was marked by valour.

Experts say the exercise involves in excess of 80,000 workers with some 33 million children to be vaccinated. Now the fate of the programme is in limbo. Who’d blame the health workers if not a single one ever agreed to step out of their home for the vaccination programme?

Let me declare a personal interest here. I contracted polio when I wasn’t even three. I can walk on my own but have restricted mobility. In the early 1960s the knowledge of the virus and its symptoms was so sketchy that I was ill for a number of weeks before a diagnosis was made.

I was fortunate in having devoted, doting parents (and lovely siblings) who spared neither effort nor whatever little material resources they had to ensure my upbringing in an environment free of complexes, sent me to good schools and supported me hugely in early life.

The best orthosis was always fitted no matter how they had to cut corners elsewhere to be able to pay for it; the best physiotherapy was made available. The list is endless and I could go on about how blessed I was after my initial misfortune.

But that isn’t the point. Even with a middle-class family, its values, resources and an indescribable amount of love behind me, life wasn’t (and isn’t) easy. When you are growing up and all the children around you can run while all you do is watch, imagine the frustration every day.

Although I have always believed I am more ‘normal’ than many able-bodied people, it is also a fact that when you go through most physical activity, and I am not talking competitive sport here, at about a sixth or a tenth of the pace of the rest of the world, you are always playing catch up.

Boy it gets exhausting. Sometimes you just want to stop. That’s me. Imagine the life of a polio victim in a poverty-stricken environment. With physical disability would inevitably follow challenges in earning a livelihood through manual labour. A begging bowl and reliance on others the next step.

Today such dilemmas are easily avoidable but we have created a society where the simplest of issues become the most complicated, with the result that we don’t shy away from putting even our children at risk.

The reader, one is certain, must get fed up when all columnists do is write laments, pen elegies and practically little else. I have often wondered if among the handful of readers who still read the op-ed pages of a newspaper there is growing irritation at the subject matter of columns such as these.

One so wishes to focus on the positive, but also has to reflect reality which keeps getting direr all the time. One can only ignore that at the risk of appearing delusional. Let me sound positive for a change.

A befitting response to the attackers would be for the president, the governors, the prime minister, the chief ministers along with their cabinet members, opposition politicians and the military leaders to go to each attack site and personally administer drops to the children there.

Now wouldn’t that be an uplifting, positive sight? But I suspect it can only be a reality when 15-year-old Malala and others like her grow up and assume leadership roles in Pakistan for that sort of courage and conviction is nowhere in evidence right now.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

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Abbas Nasir is a former editor of Dawn.

He tweets @abbasnasir59.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (18) Closed

A Dec 22, 2012 03:31am
Glad to see that slowly, very slowly, some Pakistanis are beginning to see what the whole world can see - Pakistan is being treated like a punching ball by every criminal wearing the mask of "Islam". How many more Pakistanis will have to die before Pakistanis come to their senses and start fighting back rather than taking the cowards way out and blaming everyone (amreeka! india! israel! aliens from outer space!) but the thugs who are actually doing the killing.
Yawar Dec 22, 2012 04:20am
"A befitting response to the attackers would be for the president, the governors, the prime minister, the chief ministers along with their cabinet members, opposition politicians and the military leaders to go to each attack site and personally administer drops to the children there." I have a better suggestion. How about someone like Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman or Munawwar Hasan or someone from N-League do the honors instead of an elected government official. Wishful thinking as none of these people would want to challenge their own vote bank.
Suleman Dec 22, 2012 04:31am
Sad, truly said
Mustafa Kamal Dec 22, 2012 05:06am
Babur Dec 22, 2012 07:04am
What would Musharaf have done? Dec 22, 2012 07:27am
i absolutely agree with...ALLAH bless u terrorists r not gonna spare any one they attack irrespective of SECT CAST & CREED so PAKISTAn WAKE UP & save ur self
Circumbulator Dec 22, 2012 10:12am
A sad commentary on the state of affairs in this land of the pure. A corrupt venal group of exploiters have ransomed the country to its avarice. The people are fodder to their voracious appetite, they use , abuse and spit them out like used pips. Rise Pakistan, rise and reach your destiny or forever be silent.
Muhammad Murad Iqbal Dec 22, 2012 10:29am
Brilliant peace of writing, aspiring story of your own. Keep writing for the benefit of the society.
Akram Dec 22, 2012 11:38am
excellent article and I love the idea of the both army and civil administering the drops. We have to fight the terrorists in a manner such that they understand they cannot win.
Khanan Dec 22, 2012 12:39pm
Yes you are sadly right that this lot has no courage, no conviction, no compassion and no humanity. The country is run by cowards and greedy. Extremists could have easily been challenged on this count. It was an immoral,irreligious, inhuman and anti-Pakistan and the nation could have been mobilized against these barbarians. They have another lease of life but more ruthlessly emboldened and more than ready to take on the state.
Tribal Manto Dec 22, 2012 01:40pm
Qisa e dard sunate hein ke bohat majboor hein hum.... excellent sir!!!
maaz shoaib Dec 22, 2012 02:38pm
i think it is a sad situation prevailing in whole country. These incidents are contemptible and i also sternly do . i believe these few persons that are creating disturbance are not representing the whole country. we can not relate these things to whole nation. i think if a person whatever belief he follows is doing this filthy act is having sick mentality. shooting incidents are also being occurred in the developed world like columbine high school massacre in 1999 in which two students killed other 12 students and a teacher and a recently incident in which a gunmen shot 20 innocent children and 6 adult ones in newtown(Ridgefield). So what is this ? Are these humans. i am not defending anyone . i am just saying this massacre should be stopped. and if there is something like conspiracy against pakistanis and muslims to defame them or there is the presence of extremist to disturb the peace of country then in both cases govt should take stern actions and penalties should be given to these brutal ones.
riz Dec 22, 2012 05:10pm
i agree with you, if these so-called political leaders(as they call themselves) are true leaders and people representatives they should go and do it by hand. to make one life better is to make every life better*.
Muhammad Dec 22, 2012 06:35pm
He was doing better than the present gang.
pathanoo Dec 22, 2012 06:57pm
An excellent article. A cry for sanity, peace and justice in the tortured land called Pakistan. May the Good Lord Bless your prayers, Abbas Nasir.
Naseer Dec 22, 2012 11:52pm
A thought provoking article. I wish that the persons responsible for killing those innocent girls who were helping poor kids against Polio, get something that will let them see what they have done and continue to do. Worst part is that Taliban use the name of religion for their political agenda. They are the biggest threat to Pakistan and to Islam.
mirasha Dec 23, 2012 02:22am
Its a lack of trust. Whatever those at the helm do, there is a feeling its for their own personal ends. Their pleas will continue to fall on deaf ears. They are considered part of the problem. Instead of naivette and emotions, its time to get real people, like you and I into the politics of power and change our destiny. Now is the time, not tomorrow, to start doing it.
sri1ram Dec 23, 2012 02:23am
Very moving article - may the Taliban rot in hell for targeting poorly paid angels who are trying hard to eliminate a disease that paralizes and cripples small children. There is some hope though. In 2006 in India the situation was not very good (Google for "What's Behind India's Outbreak of Polio Paranoia" by ARAVIND ADIGA). 70% of remaining polio victims then were Muslims because some in the Ulema induced suspicions and paranoia that those "western" drops were meant to infertilize Muslim children. Since then the government on a war footing rigorously educated the Ulema, Maulanas and all muslim Umbrella leaderships about Polio and got them in the forefront of the polio-eradication movement (Google "Ulemas to tackle resistance to polio drops among Muslims") - resulting in 2011 being India's first polio-free year. It is time neighboring governments take a leaf out of this movement and make our sub-continent polio-free.