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What is anarchy?

January 11, 2018


SOME people (politicos, media pundits and commentators of different hues) have been warning all and sundry that Pakistan is racing towards anarchy, while some other people assert that the country is already in its grip. This is not only a matter of difference on the definition of anarchy but also of some confusion caused by the acceptance of different levels of anarchy as normal by officialdom on the one hand and citizens on the other.

While Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was rebutting, apparently in a state of anger, US allegations of Pakistan’s denial of rights to religious minorities, the National Commission for Human Rights released its report on the plight of the Kalash people. The official commission found several serious violations of the Kalash people’s rights that call for action.

Soon afterwards we learnt of the killing of three Hindu citizens in once peaceful Mithi, apparently a result of the influx of religious militants under the patronage of law-enforcement personnel, and the minority community’s fears that the horrible crimes against them might be hushed up like the 2014 killing of two brothers in Umerkot.

A great deal of disorder in the education sector has been reported over the past couple of weeks. All of a sudden, the Higher Education Commission came under attack from two directions. The governments of Punjab and Sindh forbade vice chancellors from their provinces to attend a meeting called by the HEC, on the grounds that under the 18th Amendment the federal authority’s powers should have been passed to the provincial governments. At the same time, the head of the Federation of the All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association presented a 29-point indictment of the HEC.

Chaos, and not good governance, is the order of the day.

While assailing the HEC, a number of reports on the state of education in Pakistan from various organisations were cited. For instance, it was said that the World Economic Forum’s Global Human Capital Report 2017 had described Pakistan as one of the worst countries for education and skill development. Further, according to the Global Competitiveness Report, Pakistan was lagging behind Sri Lanka, Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Iran, Malaysia and even Bhutan.

While it seemed unfair to blame the HEC alone for the country’s backwardness in the educational sector, and the sudden uproar against it could perhaps be attributed to infighting and imminent change at the top, there were some other indications of disorder in this sector.

According to a report based on census reports, private schools are surpassing public institutions in key areas in Punjab. Then the way 33 kanals of Punjab University land in Lahore has been grabbed by various organisations over a decade is a scandal of the first order.

Now the government is forcing the university to surrender a part of its playground to a coalition ally. The vice chancellor preferred to resign rather than concede to the outlandish demand. He has included the ground in national heritage, an argument that has little effect on the rulers. Above everything else, this ground is one of the vital lungs the city needs for breathing.

The chief justice of Pakistan appears to be out on a mission to shame the government for its acts of omission and commission or to refurbish the judiciary’s image as an ever-ready and ultimate defender of the people’s rights and interests. He wants to close down substandard medical colleges and to ensure that not only the staff in his office but also the people at large get clean and unpolluted water to drink. His concern is backed by a Unicef report that 53,000 Pakistani children die annually of diseases caused by drinking contaminated water.

The honourable chief justice is also trying to ensure that hospitals, private as well as public, look like hospitals and offer facilities they are expected to provide. He is extremely angry over reports that the Punjab government has been diverting funds earmarked for education to its favourite development project and has warned it would be torpedoed if the health and education sectors don’t get better. This course could lead to the closure of a good many projects.

Finally, the chief justice has announced his plan to reform the judicial system and demonstrate that the court will do what parliament has failed to carry out. The whole country will pray for the chief justice’s success and thank him for making the executive and the legislature redundant.

The oil tankers have been in the news ever since a vehicle overturned near Bahawalpur. The state failed to impose safety standards on the tanker lobby and also failed to warn it against using the underpasses in Lahore. An oil tanker did get stuck in an underpass with two results. One, the fun-loving Lahoris could see an oil spill, and, secondly, a debate began on raising the height of underpass ceilings to allow for the passage of oil tankers and perhaps trucks too.

A large number of people gathered in Lahore to demand the recovery of a peacenik named Raza and discovered that those responsible for enforced disappearances are a law unto themselves.

Sugarcane growers in Punjab and Sindh are furious and quite a few of them have burnt the product of their hard labour because the authorities have failed to compel the mill owners to pay for sugarcane according to the rates fixed by the government. This matter concerns the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of people but it gets less space in the media than the affair of the PTI supremo’s third marriage and the debate on the consequences of the concentration of both spiritual and temporal powers in a single household.

If you have a country with more than one centre of power, where authority is not wielded by a publicly recognised government and where society’s conduct depends neither on reason nor on enlightened self-interest, what more proof is needed to diagnose it as suffering from anarchy?

Published in Dawn, January 11th, 2018