Our quiet desperation

Published October 11, 2022
The writer is a journalist.
The writer is a journalist.

DURING a recent conversation, a fellow journalist and friend expressed regret that he wasn’t trained in air-conditioning repair. And before I could even ask why, he explained that heating and air-conditioning repair is a lucrative field (in shores far away from Pakistan). It was a skill that could have ensured him a life abroad, he explained.

It reminded me of another chat with another friend who is not from the benighted field that pays my bills. During a random discussion on politics, he abruptly mentioned he was looking at options abroad — which, loosely translated, meant that he was looking for destinations which offered easy residency rules and where passports are easy to acquire. And as he told me this, he suggested I look at fellowships abroad.

During a casual dinner conversation, a female friend said she was thankful she and her husband did not have children. Her husband sitting next to her didn’t disagree.

A colleague recently spent a couple of days at hospital for the birth of his child and came back to tell story after story of what those around him were saying. The language was rather colourful, he said, and no one was spared. According to him, there was anger enough that some were willing to commit violence against those they held responsible.

How the entire ruling elite can ignore the mood of the populace is mind-boggling.

The stories are unending; every conversation these days is either about dealing with expenses or the absence of hope. It is hard to find anyone who still remains optimistic about the future. And many of these are the crazy, optimistic lot who were young once but confident about making a good life for themselves in Pakistan — once upon a time. With those who perhaps never had the luxury to make such choices, there is only anger and quiet despair.

Admittedly, around me it could be an age or class thing. Those I interact with tend to be the most vocal about how their quality of life has been adversely affected. Or it could be a midlife crisis — many of us are there, I realise. I looked further up the food chain — only to be told that many businessmen too were now speaking of moving money and family elsewhere. (Additionally, it seems those in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are considering this because of the extortion calls they are getting.)

No one I asked disagreed that the sense of despondency is more pervasive this year. This includes politicians from parties in power and out.

It has to be conceded that Pakistanis have never been a sunny lot with stars in their eyes. In fact, it has always intrigued many that as a people we tend to be rather critical of our state and pessimistic of our chances of success — which I have written about more than once. There are no definite answers as to why but one could guess that it is linked to our long bouts of authoritarianism in which so much of our policymaking was carried out by so few; the lack of a say in policies, politics, identity, seems to have translated into a perpetual sense of self-loathing and incessant criticism.

Despite this being a national pastime, the feeling this year appears unprecedented. And it is far more widespread.

Much of this is due to economic instability and fragility. It seems as if in our cycles of boom and bust, the latter are growing longer and more intense while the former are even more fleeting. And with external shocks (present and expected) being what they are, the only prediction in town is of worse to come.

More than that, however, the sense of despair and hopelessness stems from the behaviour of those in charge and those contending for the hot seat. None of them are interested in, or don’t understand the need for, meaningful change. The politicians are too busy wanting to win power while ensuring the other is eliminated. And the establishment is also living in the 1990s, foraging for dollar flows and planning to manufacture consent.

Between the two sets of rulers, there is no indication whatsoever that they want to fix anything. The PTI wants an election but holds out no assurance that it knows what to do once the election is held. The PML-N is rather busy recounting its (personal) grievances and wanting a rewind to its previous term, while the PPP, like the establishment, thinks the world can be forced to believe Pakistan still matters. It is astounding the manner in which the pitch to the world about the floods in the country has been made or the rapidity with which the cabinet continues to grow. And this crazy notion that with a little bit of time, the government will be able to recapture lost political ground is no less illogical than the idea floated in 2018 that the PTI be given six months to fix everything.

How this entire leadership or ruling elite — call it what you will — can ignore the mood of the populace is mind-boggling. As a politician pointed out, the people are so angry and so alienated they tend to support any party which espouses an anti-establishment slogan. This was PML-N in the past and the PTI now, and yet there are no alarm bells ringing (especially in Rome). This perhaps is another reason for the pervasive anger or hopelessness; for if there was a section of the population which once saw a certain player as the saviour, set apart from the politicians, this is no longer the case.

It would also do well to remember that this is the case in Punjab; elsewhere the alienation has already turned to political violence — in Balochistan — or increasing crime — in urban centres such as Karachi.

Is it even possible for those at the top to have a dialogue about this, instead of droning on about ‘truth and reconciliation’ processes, which is their code word for continuing the blame game and harping on ‘democracy’, another code word for winning power for themselves? And before it gets too late.

The writer is a journalist.

Published in Dawn, October 11th, 2022

Opinion

Editorial

Price bombs
17 Jun, 2024

Price bombs

THERE was a time not too long ago when the faces we see sitting in government today would cry themselves hoarse over...
Palestine’s plight
Updated 17 Jun, 2024

Palestine’s plight

While the faithful across the world are celebrating with their families, thousands of Palestinian children have either been orphaned, or themselves been killed by the Israeli aggressors.
Profiting off denied visas
17 Jun, 2024

Profiting off denied visas

IT is no secret that visa applications to the UK and Schengen countries come at a high cost. But recent published...
After the deluge
Updated 16 Jun, 2024

After the deluge

There was a lack of mental fortitude in the loss against India while against US, the team lost all control and displayed a lack of cohesion and synergy.
Fugue state
16 Jun, 2024

Fugue state

WITH its founder in jail these days, it seems nearly impossible to figure out what the PTI actually wants. On one...
Sindh budget
16 Jun, 2024

Sindh budget

SINDH’S Rs3.06tr budget for the upcoming financial year is a combination of populist interventions, attempts to...