Yes, what a country! A paradise on earth, that’s what Pakistan got — from shining sea to the second highest peak in the world. Before you declare it ‘paradise lost’, tarry a while and think: Only in this country does the heart beat faster when a PIA plane brings you back to your roots. In no other country does it feel like home. In no other country does the desi food taste as delicious as here. In no other country do you get hugs and kisses accompanied by profuse dinner invitations when you chance upon an old acquaintance. People are genuinely happy to welcome you back to where you really belong.
Only in this country does a tooth extraction cost Rs4,000 and an implant Rs75,000. My dentist in the US charges $500 for tooth extraction and $5,000 for an implant. “Go back and get your teeth fixed. It’s much cheaper there,” Dr Ruvo tells me when I go running to her for help. Dr Shahid Mahmood, the Texas-trained dentist in Islamabad says: “I tell my friends and family in America to take a trip out to Pakistan, get their dental work done, have a vacation and return refreshed in less than half the money they would spend on their teeth treatment in the US.”
Dental issues aside, Islamabad is a happening place. Some friends wanted to eat out on Valentine’s Day. “We went around but were turned away. Every place was booked solid.”
Professionals in all fields, I find are efficient, friendly and willing to help you when you turn up in their offices to get work like car insurance, car registration, refunds for unused PIA tickets, money transfers and a hundred other things that need to be done if you’ve been away from Pakistan long.
But what a country — where traffic lights don’t exist in the capital city. The message: Drive at your own risk; fend for yourself! There are no cops on the streets. It’s free for all. The daredevil motor bikers challenge every nerve in your body as they charge around recklessly packed with women and children at the back. The only cops you see are standing fiddling with their cell phones or chatting leisurely with each other while lined up along VIP routes daily.
What a country where a property tycoon can buy off the sons of VVIPs, load them with pricey gifts and then openly boast about his feats. First to fall from grace is the son of the Chief Justice of Pakistan. The case stands unresolved. Now it’s Bilawal’s turn to have a multi-million dollar mega-home named after him by Riaz.
What a country where the president of the poverty stricken populace brazenly accepts this graft in the name of his son from the most controversial man in Pakistan. With his own millions stashed overseas, Zardari and son are hardly a charity case in need of a roof over their heads courtesy Malik Riaz. Splashed in the media are photographs of the VVIP father and son holding ‘court’ in one of the 50 formal drawing rooms of Bilawal House in Lahore.
What a country where the same man, Malik Riaz builds a sand castle telling all and sundry that it will be the tallest building in Karachi worth $45bn in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Group. The hyper TV channels go into an overdrive putting Burj Khalifa in Dubai to shame. Malik’s tower will soon replace the Burj in height and grandeur, open-jawed Pakistani public is told. Not so fast! Say the Abu Dhabi Group. They publish a quarter page clarification in all our newspapers contradicting Riaz’s tall claims.
Distancing itself from the deal, the Group declares that the whole exercise was nothing more than a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ between them and Malik Riaz of Bahria Town. Since both the parties failed to reach a “conclusion” the deal stands cancelled!
What a country where the US dollar touches the Rs100 mark. Instead of stalling the rupee decline, the government dispenses with the services of its finance secretary. A week later, the finance minister too departs, leaving the country’s finances in the lurch. A manager of a local bank tells me that as elections near and uncertainty grows, politicians are busy transferring their ill-gotten wealth out of Pakistan.
What a country where the ruling elite are the main black marketers who pocket $6.12bn, paralleling almost half of Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves. Their ill-gotten money is mainly acquired through drug smuggling, book piracy, gas and oil smuggling, human smuggling, tax evasion and counterfeit money. Havocscope, the world’s leading provider of information about the black market ranks Pakistan close to Afghanistan which is the world’s number one country with $7.3bn in black market. There are laws to catch the scofflaws but the courts, including the Supreme Court are helpless.
What a country where the son of a prime minister along with a federal minister and a federal secretary are accused of importing the deadly drug called ephedrine and health officials divert 25,000 kg ephedrine to the pharmaceutical companies for smuggling abroad. The then Director General Health Dr Rashid Juma, a respected brain surgeon, in his statement as an ‘approver’ alleges that he was threatened by the then health secretary Khushnood Lashari to do as told or else he’d get the sack. Ironically, the minister and the secretary continue in their posts despite the court accusing them of the crime, while the son who is a member National Assembly is out on bail. The case will gradually fizzle out as happens always.
What a country where the constitution is violated by the lawmakers themselves, most of them holding fake degrees and owing huge sums to the State Bank. When the Election Commission writes to 249 legislators giving them a deadline to prove their academic credentials, only 26 of them respond. The rest, 223 member parliaments miss the deadline, proving they sneaked into the parliaments on suspected fake degrees. Heavens don’t fall. There is business as usual. When the State Bank threatens to out the identities of the bank defaulters, pressure from the government and the opposition arrives and the matter goes into a limbo.
What a country where one million ton plastic bags a week are thrown randomly and are left lying forever. Most of them make their way to the chocked gutters or fly around in the wind until they land on trees and bushes. We have a minister and a secretary in charge of environment. They, like the rest of the government wear blinkers and perhaps don’t see the plastic bags suffocating the environment.
Still, what a country where ordinary people are the most resilient, hard working and honest — Pakistan could have been a paradise for all — from the privileged to the underprivileged, had it not been pillaged repeatedly by those in whom God had wrested power.
Paradise lost and regained may yet be the lasting narrative for Pakistan.