THERE has been another, smaller protest going on in Pakistan since the past week, far away from the sound, lights and fulminations in Islamabad. This one has been taking place close to another seat of power — Bilawal House in Karachi.
Here the participants include some of those inducted to teachers’ posts by the Sindh government’s previous education minister, Pir Mazharul Haq: they say they have not been paid their salaries for two years and are now being made to sit departmental tests in an effort by the current education minister, Nisar Khuhro, to weed them out.
The latter, meanwhile, maintains that his intention is to ensure appointments on merit, and says that in Mr Haq’s tenure 13,000 people were recruited against the 1,425 sanctioned vacancies. Matters came to a head Friday evening when police cracked down on the protesters who, frustrated by Mr Khuhro’s insistence on his stance, tried to march on to Bilawal House — perhaps taking a cue from recent events in Islamabad but drawing a far harsher response in this case.
As the African proverb says, when two elephants fight, it’s the grass that gets trampled. In politics especially, when big egos clash, it’s the common man who gets crushed in the middle, his rights and privileges given short shrift.
So it appears to be in the case of these employees of the education department who find themselves caught in that perennial revolving door of political appointments where those inducted during the tenure of a previous minister — or government, as the case may be — find themselves in peril of being shipped out wholesale to make way for fresh appointees.
Graft and nepotism are wretchedly all too real in Pakistani politics, and while efforts must indeed be made to root this out, it should not be at the expense of those who, for no fault of theirs, have had to survive in a system that values connections over merit. The protesters’ genuine grievances must be addressed without delay.
Published in Dawn, September 14th , 2014