‘ It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…’
A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
The description fits Pakistan perfectly.
The catastrophic floods have left 15 million people displaced and have claimed 1,600 lives. The devastation is of epic proportions for agricultural lands have been wiped out, livestocks lost, infrastructure swept away and diseases ready to hit a vulnerable population.
The future is at stake.
The flood has not only swept away livelihoods of people, but also, has exposed the faults in political, developmental, environmental and institutional structure that would turn the course of the nation.
The current crisis makes one wonder if Pakistan is nothing but a dearth of tragedies. It is imperative to understand because in its existence of 63 years, the country’s politics, economic development and institutions are all in a dire state. If anything, Pakistan has become a state with no direction – or rather is seen as a ‘fractured state’ – simply because various factors continue to dominate, becoming a major impediment in the way of progress.
Today, the fate of the country and its people is hanging by a thread. If the thread breaks, the consequences are unimaginable.
The Political Mess
Pakistan political history is littered with military dictatorships and failed civilian governments. In its entirety, the country has never witnessed a stable, progressive democracy. For one reason or another, the civilian governments were either dismissed or thrown out due to incapacity of governing a nation.
The country has had no leadership that would direct its people towards a progressive future. Hostile relations with neighbouring country India and an unstable Afghanistan, Pakistan lies in a critically sensitive geographical area where political stability is pivotal for regional stability. But with an unstable democracy come the corrupt politicians worsening the scenario in total sphere. For it’s all about political dynasties such as Bhuttos and Sharifs with one dynasty taking over another in turn in Pakistan.
Much was written in the international and domestic media about President Zardari’s European tour. ‘The image of the President’s helicopter leaving the elegantly manicured lawns of his French villa (Chateau)’ at a time when the people were suffering immensely is one example of what the politicians actually think about the state and its people. The state is nothing, but, a ‘money-making machine’ with access to all the aid received from the developed world, a chance to fill their coffers. Despite heavy pour of criticisms, the President continued the tour in the wake of a humanitarian crisis in home.
Disgusting as it may-be, yet, the main purpose of the President was to launch the career of his son, Bilawal Bhutto, the heir to the throne of Bhutto legacy. Bilawal a graduate of Oxford University with a degree in history, his own history of colorful stints in the university would shock the nation. Moreover Bilawal’s knowledge with regards to Pakistan’s history on political, economical fronts and its problems is highly questionable.
However, the President is not alone in carrying out such events for Pakistan’s politicians are known to make merry of every hostile situation.
The state of corruption has not stunned the people at all for the President alone is not a culprit of ‘ accumulating assets of as much as 1 billion pounds around the world’. Former Prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s government was also corrupt. In one of his tenure, the scheme of Karz Utaro, Mulk Sunwaro (Repay the debt, Save the Country) has never been investigated on embezzlement charges nor corruption. Mr Sartaj Aziz – Finance Minister at the time – stated that the fund was direct under the control of Mr Sharif.
And like the President, in such catastrophic times, Mr Sharif is seizing the opportunity by portraying himself as the leader who knows his priorities. If one gives the benefit of doubt, then it is critical to ask; why hasn’t Mr Sharif brought his millions back to Pakistan to aid the people? Why rely on foreign aid when the politicians’ are super-rich?
On the other hand, military is another matter altogether. Dubbed as ‘ a state within a state’, the reputation of Pakistan’s military deteriorated with the antics of former General and President Pervaiz Musharaf. No one has forgotten the Lal Masjid incident and the scars remain deep. Currently, General Kiyani is basking in the glow of public for coming to the aid of people while the President was enjoying his expensive trip.
The flood has created an immense political vacuum. The government through its inefficiency and incapacity of handling the relief work as well as having no creditability, has handed ‘the golden platter’ to the military and to religious groups with regards to political future. The religious groups are helping out people and providing relief where the governments have failed. In part, the reason ‘that fundamentalism exists is because the religious societies provide security and assistance which the state has failed in providing’. The country again is standing at a sensitive political stage where military is being highly favored compare to a democratic setup.
Economy at Standstill
Pakistan’s economy has always remained on the back burner. The hostile relations with neighboring countries led the diversion of the funds to bureaucracy and military development. Feudalism continues to be a major part of the society, especially in the agriculture sector. In the past, land reforms failed to provide equitable land distribution in farmers. Health and education have never received much attention from the governments. The result is major part of the population, residing in rural areas, have no access to proper health care and educational facilities. The development focus remains on urban areas which has aggravated the rural-urban migration pattern.
Further, the ‘twin-deficit’ crisis of the 1990s put a dent on the growth as it implemented IMF’s Structural Adjustment Package. The current government has also negotiated an IMF bailout package for the economy and is on the table again in the wake of the disaster. The government has added to the debt woes further by taking a loan of USD 900 million from the World Bank.
The electricity shortages have aggravated the weak economic scenario for it is fueling the shut-down of businesses throughout the country. The terrorist attacks and violence in the commercial hub Karachi is leading to a loss of millions everyday. The current catastrophe has driven the prices of food across the country. It is believed that the inflation will reach 12% in the next six months. Further, with millions of cotton and wheat destroyed, exports are hit and there is a threat of food shortage that could engulf the whole nation.
In simple terms, the economy is battered and at the brink of a collapse.
Is there No Hope?
Indeed, these are dark times. No light is seen beyond the dark tunnel.
But as Dickens said, these dark times might turn out to be the best times, for amidst them is hope.
Hope is re-kindled by the young generation of Pakistan as they are defying all odds to reach out to people in such dark times. With them lies the future of the country.
All one needs is opportunity. And when it appears and unleashes the young, the politicians will not be spared. The wave will sweep away the elements that have made Pakistan a fractured state, only, to re-build it for prosperity.