What kind of people are we? Just where have our leaders led us, just what have they inspired us to be?
The oceans are angry. Hundreds of thousands have died and thousands have been buried in mass graves. Millions have been rendered homeless, orphaned, widowed, childless and stricken by grief. The world is weeping, praying, collecting funds, doing what it can to alleviate the massive human suffering, new year and other celebrations were cancelled - and how did the government of Sindh react?
It organized a sea festival. The province's chief minister, Arbab Rahim, joyously inaugurated the merry-making, with the brass bands of the Pakistan Navy blazing away, with flags jubilantly flying. A 'sea' festival, of all things! We should be left speechless.
Amazingly, and most fortunately, nature has been kind to Pakistan. We were well within the range of the Tsunami which caused havoc as far away from its epicentre as Somalia. Had we been struck, how many millions in Karachi, in which over 50 per cent of the estimated population of some 15 million live in 'katchchi abadis', would have died and how many more millions who inhabit the sub-standard buildings indiscriminately 'regularized' by the government of Sindh and its Building Control department would have been left bereft of their homes and possessions?
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, one would have imagined, is knowledgeable enough to realize that money changing hands does not make a faultily-built building faultless, or a flimsy building stronger. The final dates for 'paying' for this 'regularization' of Karachi's illegal and disgraceful buildings is forever being extended by ordinances.
Shaukat boasts that employment has increased, that no skilled labour is available for employment. Is he really taken in with what the exploitative profiteering builders tell him and with the bumph they advertize with his photograph taking pride of place?
There is no good news on the home front. One bit of bad news is that Professor Dr Attaur Rahman, chief of the Higher Education Commission, has admitted regretfully that his country does not possess one university which ranks amongst the first 500 in the world. Befittingly with our sunken standards, we had the sacking engineered by the Vice-Chancellor of the prestigious Quaid-i-Azam University, retired army captain U. G. Isani, of scholar Q. Isa Daudpota of Comstech (simply, his contract was not renewed).A recent paper published by Salman Baset, a doctoral student at Columbia University, should be read by all who have the slightest interest in furthering the educational standards in this unfortunate country. It relates how Captain Isani obtained a PhD in education from the National Institute of Modern Languages (NIML) in Islamabad. Daudpota, luckily for him, has moved on to a better job out of the education sector. The loss is the country's.
There is yet more depressing news. The Swiss-based World Economic Forum (WEF) has recently issued its Global Competitiveness Report for 2004-2005 evaluating and ranking 104 countries. It has been compiled by Michael Porter of Harvard University, Klaus Schwab of the WEF, Xavier Sala-i-Martin of Columbia University and Augusto Lapez-Claros of the WEF.
The report is broken up into various sections. Under the heading 'Technological readiness', India is listed at 26 with Korea and Luxembourg above it and Panama and Malaysia beneath. Pakistan comes in at 84 sandwiched between Gambia and Nigeria on top and Ukraine and Mali below.
'Firm-level technology absorption' has India at 18, with Norway and New Zealand above and Austria and the Slovak Republic below. Pakistan is listed at 44, under the Czech Republic and Bahrain and over Namibia and Jordan.
'Prevalence of foreign technology licensing' lists India at 8, with New Zealand and Japan above and the United Arab Emirates and Germany below. At 67, Pakistan lies between Tanzania and Nigeria and Costa Rica and Venezuela.
Under 'FDI and technology transfer' India lies at 20 below Kenya and the United Kingdom and above Luxembourg and South Africa. We are at 96, between Ecuador and Mali and Ukraine and Macedonia.
'Quality of scientific research readiness' has India at 17, below France and Norway, and above New Zealand and the Russian Federation. We lie at 94, below Bangladesh and Vietnam and above Peru and Ecuador.
Under 'Company spending on research and development', India is listed at 26, with South Africa and Ireland above and China and Indonesia below. We enter at 101, between Bolivia and Paraguay and Angola and Chad. The last listed under this heading is Ethiopia at 104.
India tops the list at No.1 under 'Availability of scientists and engineers' with Finland at 2 and Israel at 3, while Pakistan lies in the second half at 61 with Slovenia and Bangladesh above and Ghana and Croatia below.
Depressing also was a report in the press last week from Khalid Hasan in Washington on the subject of the annual 'index of economic freedom' exercise conducted by the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal. Pakistan is included among 10 of the 155 countries surveyed whose performance 'worsened' during 2004. It is now bracketed with Ethiopia, Uganda, Haiti, Bangladesh, Morocco, Qatar, Cuba and Tunisia. Pakistan is listed at 133, and India at 118.
Are we destined forever to be just hovering above the bottom of the list?
CORRECTION: Last Sunday an error attributed 'Apres moi le deluge' to Louis XIV. It was the Sun King who had it that 'L'etat, c'est moi', but it was Louis XV who, so very rightly and with great prescience, acknowledged that after his departure would come the revolution and the end of the Bourbon dynasty.