PAKISTAN is a country of stark contrasts. Those who are involved in power politics or power grabs, no matter how respectable a cause they choose to justify their wrangling — be it national security or constitutional supremacy or simply an attempt to legitimise their stance by citing ‘popular will’ — are all on one side.
All their top guns travel in armoured SUVs and limousines in long convoys of vehicles, with dozens or more armed bodyguards and especially-fitted SUVs with jammers — yes, the ones with antennae, like the ones we see accompanying the president, the prime minister, the chief justice and the army chief. And, of course, major political leaders whose ‘lives are at risk’.
This not to question legitimate security concerns in a country that has braved a brutal war waged by terrorists who have exacted a debilitating toll of life, limb and property, and continue to do so. So, yes, some of the measures must be necessary, as merchants of terror can’t be given an open field.
Ironically, the safety blanket starts and ends with the VVIPs of various hues and categories of our ruling elite. On the other side, are the multitudes of the shirtless, those ever-increasing numbers of Pakistanis, whose lives are in a free fall; some of them were never above and many others have crashed through the poverty threshold.
What was not short-lived were images of the poor and hungry of our blighted land dying.
Their lives and plight resemble, or are worse than, the pathos of the most miserable Dickensian characters that moved many a reader to tears. And look how detached we, in the media, are from the issues of the common Pakistani, struggling to survive amidst falling real incomes and inflation at nearly 40 per cent.
Just this last Friday, our attention was riveted to the latest recusal in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, as the bench hearing the PTI’s petition to ensure elections to the Punjab and KP assemblies shrunk to three, having earlier gone from nine to five to four.
Events moved at a dizzying pace, despite giving the impression it was a case of ‘more of the same’. Cheerleaders of one camp or the other applauded the see-saw battle as, in their perception, ‘their’ side gained an upper hand. But each side’s joy appeared short-lived with the next swing of the pendulum.
What was not short-lived, and left many like me in utter desolation and despair, were yet more images of the poor and hungry of our blighted land dying. Literally dying in the quest for bread. Somehow, only such tragedies have a permanence about them, as they keep repeating themselves with frequency.
The tragedy that unfolded at a Karachi factory, where a dozen women and children died trying to get supplies that would have kept them alive, was only different in terms of its magnitude. Otherwise, we have been hearing almost daily of stampedes where people are dying or getting injured to secure bags of flour.
For the foulest of power grabs, the name of these most unfortunate of our citizens is invoked; but the truth is, nobody cares for them and their horror is endless. They are condemned to exist on the ‘other side’. Not sure what keeps them going: whether it is just their survival instinct or resilience or whatever else you wish to call it, it is incredible they don’t give up.
Zoom out of the latest Karachi tragedy or incidents at wheat flour distribution points across the countries, where similar scenes of desperation are being played out almost daily, and you’ll realise how callous our elite is. Believe me, there is no point in pointing the finger at one or another. We are all culpable.
Even where we may not be directly responsible for keeping those at the bottom of the pyramid pegged to where they were probably consigned to by birth, we have been complicit in the crime by looking the other way or by chasing red herrings.
The shenanigans in the political and judicial sphere we focus on are meaningless to those who can’t feed their children, what to talk of their abject inability to give them proper schooling or ensure provision of basic healthcare for them. Equally pointless and a case of too little too late are the supposed confessions of a general who undermined whatever modicum of stability the country may have had.
I have my doubts that it is guilt that is prompting this particular general to disclose facts that so many in the country knew already. The main, and perhaps the only motivation has to be self-preservation. As someone who is familiar with the military tradition, one can say it is conduct unbecoming of a commander to pass on the blame to subordinate officers and not accept responsibility. This is enough of an indictment.
Where does all of this leave us? Well, on Friday, before a teary-eyed chief justice adjourned the hearing of the PTI petition, he is reported to have told the doomsayers that ‘good news’ will come on Monday. One can hope and pray his definition of good news aligns with what it means to the rest of Pakistanis.
If there is no genuinely good news, for the love of God — in any case, I have no idea what it may be — then be sure that political instability and anarchy will reign supreme; the sanity everybody longs for will remain elusive and the economy will not pull out of the tailspin it is in.
Everyone should be well aware of the consequences. We need only be vaguely familiar with world history to know what bloodshed can be unleashed when people are hungry, and worse still, their children are starving against the backdrop of the sumptuous banquets of their rulers.
I hate to be a prophet of doom and gloom but please don’t push the have-nots and ask for more from them. They have been squeezed dry, and have nothing else to offer but their wrath.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
Published in Dawn, April 2nd, 2023
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