The Ruling Elite's Unending Failures
By Shireen M Mazari
Day after day it is the same story. Internally, the citizen continues to face increasing hardships with power cuts, gas shortages with no end in sight to the wheat shortage. Rumors abound that a ghee shortage may now be in the offing. As has repeatedly been stated in these columns, so much for the economic "miracle" of the government. We dreamt of becoming an Asian tiger but have only managed to become a paper tiger, crushed under the growing weight of shortages.
What is particularly galling in all this is the sheer callousness of not only officialdom but also civil society towards human life. Look at the tragedy of the gas explosion in a Rawalpindi school last week in which Pakistan's future fell victim. The state knows that every year gas explosions and gas leakages cause deaths in Pakistan's bitter cold winter. It is also known that with gas shortages this danger is exacerbated. Then why has the government not moved to prevent incidents like the Rawalpindi one? Must we always wait for tragedy to strike in our habitual mode of inaction and unconcern?
Even now the government has not moved to ensure that such incidents do not happen in our schools. Yet what needs to be done immediately will cost the government nothing but enforcement action: Strictly ban gas heaters in all schools -- from the poor state schools to the elite schools housed in all manner of buildings, and ensure compliance. I remember decades earlier when the cold weather was not only more biting but lasted longer, going to school clad in layers of clothing because there were no heaters in our school. And this seemed to be the case across the board -- just as a few fans were our only respite in the summer. And I am talking in the context of a well-established private school. A good period of games provided us with further succor against the cold.
As for the unconcern of civil society, it is reflected in the manner in which the teachers rushed out for safety in that school with no concern for the children left behind to suffer. The unconcern is also reflected in civil society's total lack of protest over this incident. We have become so attuned to unnatural deaths and disasters that we find no motivation to compel the government to move on that count.
In fact, it is this growing apathy towards abuse coming our way that has also opened us to a now daily routine of external abuse. Our old colonial masters, now reduced to the small isle of Britain, have found in Pakistan a means of neo-colonial expression. So it was that last week the British Parliament chose to discuss the affairs of a sovereign state, Pakistan, and the challenges that our state posed. We were given a host of derogatory labels -- from a dangerous "faltering" state since we were a nuclear power to a "failed" state. Much fury was vented over the madrassah issue even as the British MPs quite forgot that their own system had also created a disgruntled Muslim youth who had then resorted to terrorism in their country. A convenient amnesia also allowed the Brits to forget that any aid they were channeling to Pakistan was not charity but as part of the costs of the war on terror Pakistan was not only fighting but also providing military support in terms of logistics and so on to British and other Allied forces.
MP Keith Simpson summed up the new neo-colonial attitude prevailing in the British government towards Pakistan when he declared imperiously that Britain must "persuade the Pakistanis to do things that are not only in their national interest but in our interest too." Now what happens if we in Pakistan do not see a coincidence of interests between Pakistan and Britain, eh?
British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has continued with this theme on his visit to India where he has declared that failed or failing states can harbor terrorists. Ironically, in India he should surely have also recalled state terrorism such as the one inflicted on the Muslims in Gujarat or the Kashmiris in Occupied Kashmir. And of course like all white Brits he refuses to see the rise of terrorism from amongst the marginalized minority populations of Europe (including Britain).
What was more laughable was Brown's assertion that Britain would use its expertise to establish requirements for the verifiable elimination of nuclear warheads. If Britain is serious it should lead by example and eliminate its own little nuclear arsenal. This would have won over his Indian hosts on nuclear disarmament since they have always demanded the five de jure nuclear states move first towards nuclear disarmament. As for the issue of verification, it needs to persuade its ally Bush on this count since the US is not prepared to have verification even in a Fissile Material Cut off Treaty! In fact, verification seems to have become a dirty word for the Bush administration in the context of arms control and disarmament (AC&D). Some would say AC&D itself has become a dirty word in the Bush lexicon.
Nor is it just the Brits and the Americans who have found Pakistan to be a pliable whipping boy for their own political ends. The lack of credibility that the present holders of power present was most glaringly reflected in the US violations of Pakistani airspace yet again last week, according to press reports that have not been denied by Pakistani officialdom, and its bombing of our tribal belt. Added to this violation of our sovereignty were the Afghan troops firing across the international border into Pakistan. So what happened to the challenge thrown to those who chose to violate our sovereignty? Where was our response?
This bizarre acceptance of external actors violating our sovereignty with impunity undoubtedly led an Indian minister to simply walk or as the reports put it, stroll across the international Pakistan-India border unchecked and unstopped. Why? Have we lost all dignity and self-respect in terms of our sovereignty? I dare any Pakistani minister to walk across into Indian Territory in the same fashion! The Indians will not stand for it. One just has to look at the way they treat visa applicants -- including those invited by Indian official bodies -- to see the difference in approaches. Just over eight months back film star Zeba was arrested for being in Ajmer without a visa -- although she thought she had it -- because the hotel immediately reported her to the authorities. Yet we all know of so many Indians who have visited all manner of places in Pakistan with their friends and without visas. Has any hotel reported them on discovering the absence of the relevant visa? Clearly, the new spirit of accommodation and bonhomie is pouring out primarily from the Pakistani side but haven't we gone too far in the case of the open challenge to our sovereignty by Indian Minister of State, Jairam Ramesh? Why has no Indian been summoned to the Foreign Office or no protest lodged with the Indian government?
Clearly, our internal turmoil has highlighted the costs of decades spent in the destruction of institutions and systems, and exposed our ruling elite as never before -- not only in terms of their commitment to the Pakistani nation, but also in terms of their commitment to the state of Pakistan.
(The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad. Courtesy The News)