Thoughts before polls

16 Apr 2013


MY wife and I react differently to television coverage of killings by bombs and guns, and to devastation caused by intolerance and greed of a few over a large number of people.

Tears roll down her soft face. My face hardens in anger. My sight is focused on what should never have happened. It shows on the deeply creased face of an old woman, a little child’s cry from hunger and the young woman’s frustration on not being able to eke out even a drop of milk from her shrunken breasts.

Both of us gaze unbelievingly at the horrendous mauling of innocent citizens, including women and children and their bodies wrapped in white cloth. We are shocked and numbed by the inertia of the law enforcement agencies. We are told that some of the bodies underneath the white sheets have had their heads chopped off and had been stuffed in gunny bags before being thrown into a nullah from where they were eventually retrieved.

The bombs and bullets have caused trauma and tribulation not just this year, but year after year. We bemoan the poor and the homeless whose abodes are now a pile of bricks and mortar while their inhabitants are victims of intolerance, greed or both.

The violence inherent in human beings will continue to grow until the political leadership decides to put a stop to it. Even if we have not yet reached the point of total despair the citizens have begun to wonder whether our rulers have it in them to carry out the correction.

We emerged shattered from a series of military dictatorships when the rule of law and will of the people ceased to exist. We had hoped that power of the Pakistani people would now prevail. But soon we found ourselves in a worse predicament. In this ostensibly democratic system, the looting, the burning, the murders, the brutal butcheries, the use of deadly arms has a pattern of continuing anti-people policies.

All political personalities are ring-leaders of the same military-feudal-tribal-bureaucratic system. The will of the people never counted in the past and does not do so in the present. What of the future, we wonder?

A healthy functioning of the political system is not possible unless care is taken to encourage a variety of concepts and disciplines which give cognisance to the plurality of political and cultural values, linguistic and regional aspirations; a system that is sensitive to a lively consensus on policymaking and implementation to nurture a genuine national culture. But soon this policy recedes with the destruction of institutions, the rise of personality cults and the opportunist’s play of factions.

Analogous to this dismal political situation is the passion of our rich elite seeking a higher and more affluent status. One has no quarrel with rewarding genuine entrepreneurship, but political leverage to corner the country’s wealth and twisting the norms of governance to suit corrupt and partisan practices is not acceptable.

Enterprise and development measures have to be matched by institutional commitment to a fair distribution of resources and a just economic policy. The opulence of the rich alongside the abject poverty of the masses is the picture Pakistani society today presents to the world.

As for the appalling law and order situation, we know our police is corrupt and would go to the extent of conceding what the 19th-century English novelist wrote, “The terrorist and the policeman both come from the same basket.”

But, for heaven’s sake, which institution in this ‘land of the pure’ is not so? Therefore the solution does not lie in replacing one wrong with another, more grievous, wrong. In actuality we are permitting paralysed, unthinking, self-centred and immature governance to treat our problems when we need men and women who can comprehend the challenges before us.

The transition from one ruling culture to another cannot be anything but messy and chaotic; but it would be less so if the task is vested in a well-informed and honest people mobilised at every level to lift the fog of confusion. Here are a few questions that we need to address to ourselves:

— Why do we allow lawlessness to perpetuate and thrive and people to be killed and mauled as a kind of political expediency? Are there no other means of winning people’s hearts — and votes?— Why do we allow religious places to be attacked and innocent worshippers killed just because another extremist group attacked the people of their sect — and take no action in either case?

— Why are political assassinations from Liaquat Ali Khan to Murtaza Bhutto, Zia-ul-Haq to Benazir Bhutto and numerous others never solved and their reports made public?

— If assassins named in the first information report are captured why do we take a U-turn and the real culprits make good their escape or take refuge behind legal hocus-pocus?

— Why are alleged killers bumped off in encounters? Because they did the deed or knew who did it which may embarrass the powerful.

Pakistan has the potential both for prosperity and self-destruction. For some inexplicable reason we have chosen the second option.

The writer is a freelance contributor.