Published in Pakistan Today.
It is better to embrace an ugly truth than to ﬁnd comfort in a beautiful lie. Regrettably, our case is upside down. We dwell in delusions of grandeur, primarily based on rhetoric and contradictory dogma. Collectively we have created a functional niche, where ignorance seems to be a key prerequisite, along with denial. We have surrendered our discernment, free will, personal authority and moral integrity to a group of plunderers. The paradigm has become a nepotistic, closed loop, revolving door, three ring circus where nothing but corruption trickles down and only scum can rise. From one administration to the next, no matter what it is called, we are being led towards totalitarian dystopia, but we are in a state of normalcy bias, underestimating the probability as well as the possible effects of the disaster. Ironically, the academia and the civil society are indulged in intellectually dishonest attempts to justify the unjustifiable, while the corporate media, the tricksters, through effective trance induction, are constantly humanising the elite villains, blowing off steam, winning them sympathy of masses and justifying the status-quo. Within this process, our aggregate consciousness has become erroneously attached to, and vicariously identified with, our abusers, while completely dissociated from reality.
Let’s be realistic, putting aside the delusion of inflated self-significance, and think for a moment. Being the citizens of this country and a part of this society, we hold a collective identity, through which we are recognised in the global community. This identity is not just limited to a few thousand elite oligarchs or few hundred thousand well settled, well off opportunists or the diminishing middle class, rather it includes all 180 million people who live in this country. The global community sees us as a rogue nation in a state of decline, being led by the most unmeritorious, devoid of any aspiration, and we have provided them every reason to believe so. Some of us may feel offended by this statement but let’s ignore the resent for a while and check out the facts and figures.
Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has placed Pakistan among fragile states due to extreme level of inequality, conflict of interest and rapid growth of the shadow economy, which has increased three times in size as compared to regular economy. According to UNDP-Human Development report (2013), we have successfully managed to orchestrate the largest income inequality gap in the country, where 49.4 percent Pakistanis live in multidimensional poverty while 11 percent are at risk of being pushed into the category. 27.4 percent Pakistanis live in severe poverty while 21 percent are below the poverty line. Intensity of deprivation is 53.4 percent and half of the country’s population has no access to basic sanitation, healthcare and education.
The UNICEF Annual report 2013 has provided some stunning and heart rending figures. It says; 15 percent of children under five suffer from acute malnutrition, which is above the international emergency threshold. Nearly half of children suffer from chronic under-nutrition which leads to stunted growth. Pakistan is one of nine countries globally lagging behind in terms of access to education. An estimated seven million children of primary age and 25 million of secondary age (lower and upper) are out-of-school. Pakistan is also on top in child and maternal mortality.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) report 2013, 460 children died in Punjab and 300 children died in Sind due to measles, a virus which is said to have spread rapidly due to unhygienic and unhealthy living conditions in rural areas. Recent reports from international media have confirmed at least 250 child deaths in Tharparkar due to malnutrition and several children died in various hospitals of Punjab due to non-availability of health facilities. Super floods hit the rural areas of Pakistan, year after year, leaving behind millions of shelter-less people, deprived of basic amenities while nothing has been done so far to prevent this from happening in future.
The situation is beyond alarming, it is surreal. While oligarchs are living in palatial mansions and travelling in their shiny SUVs, accompanied by police squad cars, the deprived people, their entire families along with kids are committing suicides due to poverty, hunger and joblessness. According to newspaper and media reports, government had to ban rat-killer pills because many people, particularly household women, were using those pills as easy and cheap way to end their life due to poverty. During past years, liberty tower (Minar-e-Pakistan) in Lahore became favourite place for suicide committers and considering it an embarrassment, the government had to stop the electric lift service of the tower to decelerate this flow. This is a clear example of shameless denial by the ruling elites as well as the society. Recently, quite a few people have committed suicides, being unable to pay the utility bills. The most alarming aspect of extreme inequality and rising poverty is that people living below the poverty line, insecure, devoid of all means and hope, become targets for recruitment by Taliban and other jihadi elements. After all, this concept of recruitment is nothing new for the country and its myopic ruling elites who, with their ill-thought policies, have contributed the most in creating this ghost of terrorism that haunts the world today.
It is ironic that inequality is not just limited to income and wealth, rather it’s rampant in terms of human rights, law and security too. Extreme level of insecurity and discrimination is apparent in our society, which has become highly vulnerable to street crimes, extortion, illegal occupation, random shooting, sectarian violence and terrorist activities. The poor citizens, being the victims of street crimes, often fail even to get the FIR registered. Law enforcement agencies, instead of protecting citizens, are acting as a hired mercenary force for the ruling elites, riding in their squad cars or standing outside their palatial mansions. Recruitment of police has always been the prerogative for the ruling class. Criminals and unmeritorious individuals, hired on the basis of political affiliations, are usually involved in criminal activities and the dirty work of harassing and humiliating the opposition or at times in extra judicial killings. In this country, common citizens get stopped, checked, inspected, humiliated, arrested, beaten, and sometimes kidnapped by law enforcement agencies, while the oligarchs break laws and get saluted for it. Courts and judiciary, under extreme political pressure, have become more or less ineffective in defending people’s civil and human rights.
According to Human Rights Report 2013 by the US Department of State, the most serious human rights problems in Pakistan are extrajudicial and targeted killings, sectarian violence, disappearances, and torture. Other human rights problems included poor prison conditions, arbitrary detention, lengthy pre-trial detention, a weak criminal justice system, lack of judicial independence in the lower courts, and infringement on citizens’ privacy rights. Freedom of expression is restricted and right to information unavailable in Pakistan.World Human Rights Watch Report 2013 has pointed to attacks on civilians by militant groups, atrocities against minorities, growing electricity shortages, rising food and fuel prices, and continued political dominance of the military as major human rights Issues in Pakistan. The report particularly focused on abuses by the Pakistani police, including extrajudicial killings throughout the country, target killing of Shi’a Muslims, especially the Hazara community, by Islamist militant groups and the most serious human rights violation in Baluchistan including continued abuses, ongoing torture and ill-treatment of criminal suspects, not to mention unresolved enforced disappearances of terrorism suspects and opponents. As per the 2014 Global Slavery Index, our country is ranked third in terms of proportion of the population that is enslaved.
The other side of the coin displays a completely different picture. While more than two-thirds of the population is living in extreme deprivation, Pakistan is considered one of the best clients by IMF and other international creditors. The country has never disappointed its creditors, never stopped the debt servicing and never requested any debt relief, even during the worst crises.
According to period-wise figures released by the Economic Affairs Division (EAD) and the Ministry of Finance at 2013 briefing to Special Committee on Debt; in last 28 years Pakistan economy has relied on reckless borrowing, which could not solve the economic problems of the country. The current foreign debt stands at $63 billion (as of June 2013) and the domestic debt is about $75 billion. During Gen Zia’s regime, from 1985-88, the total foreign assistance received by the country was $6.37 billion. During Benazir Bhutto’s first regime, $4 billion was received from IMF. During the first regime of Nawaz Sharif 1990-93, a total of $7.5 billion was received. In Pervez Musharraf’s regime 1999-2008, a record total of $23 billion loans were received by the country. During 2008-2013 the previous PPP government received total foreign assistance of $14 billion. Public debt figures quoted by EAD are quite shocking. Public debt is government debt generated through borrowing from banks and issuing bonds/bills; in short; printing money. According to the figures, successive governments over the last 60 years accumulated Rs 6,040 billion of public debts while the previous PPP regime alone added Rs 8,215 billion in just five years. Where did all that money go?
In September 2013 the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved the latest bailout loan of $6.64 billion under the Extended Fund Facility. In exchange, strict austerity measures were demanded from the PML (N) regime, through IMF’s Structural Adjustment Program (SAP). Those measures were bound to further deteriorate the living conditions of workers and the poor. The conditions imposed by IMF were; cut down in subsidies causing increase in utility prices, devaluation of currency causing subsequent expansion in volume of debt, and privatisation of public assets. The government has agreed to; increase electricity and gas prices for domestic users by 30 percent, devalue Rupee at an average of 110 rupees to one US dollar and privatisation of additional 30 state-run enterprises, apart from 35 already chosen.
The more our governments borrow on our behalf, the more indebted we get. Why are objectives and terms of loans taken in the name of the people, not debated with the people, so secretive? And where has all this money gone? A nuclear power whose natural resources including gold, copper and concrete at Riko Diq alone are estimated at a value of around $300 billion, which owns gold and copper at Saindak and boasts 185 billion tonnes of coal reserves at Sind, is borrowing from IMF in the name of the people while imposing strict conditions on the same people, forcing them to die of hunger, diseases or suicide.
Who is responsible for this situation? The answer is simple. We are responsible. As Walter Kelly said; “We have met the enemy and he is us”. We have become our own enemy. We are confined within a comfortable complacency and swallowing dominant myths under the influence of intimidated brainwashing by the worst of the worst; insatiable opportunists, with no objective merits to lead. Corruption has become a norm in our consensus. Whatever could be “legally” gotten away with, has been tolerated. The latest report by Transparency International ranked Pakistan among the top most countries where corruption has gone rampant and right to information doesn’t exist. The report expresses concern over how unaware citizens are of their rights.
We need awareness. We need to examine reality and understand that representation by a crime syndicate can never be an honest representation for the victims of its malfeasances and atrocities. We will have to rebuke intimidation from criminal regimes and quit subservience to ideologies, demanding our rights as humans, citizens and individuals. The problem isn’t the politicians or bureaucrats or establishment, the problem is the system itself. A system that doesn’t value life, dignity, self-respect and well-being of the common man, a system that doesn’t provide justice, equality, equity, peace and security, cannot last for long and get sobliterated.
There is no short term solution to the multidimensional problems we are facing. Education and awareness are key prerequisites for the change, which can only be achieved through a long term process. Instead of being selfish we will have to revive our faith in self-sacrifice for the common good. Instead of accepting an unequal educational system, we will have to educate all the children, the next generation in this country, without discrimination. Education doesn’t mean reading, writing or getting a degree and finding a job. It means learning to see through the façade of pretence. It means attaining knowledge and wisdom; knowledge to understand what’s going on and wisdom to change it. Let’s give it a try and hope that our next generation, once educated and enlightened, will stand against injustice and inequality, showing the oligarchy the exit door and replacing it with capable individuals in the decision-making process.