It Can and Continues to Get Worse
By Shireen M Mazari
Since March 2007 we in Pakistan have found that just when we felt things could not get worse, we have been plunged into an ever-darker abyss. Our domestic troubles have come in tandem with external pressures and abuse at the hands of our so-called allies. The recent situation reflects this most clearly. In the aftermath of the national trauma over the assassination of Ms Bhutto, and the physical ravages suffered by the pillaging and looting, we are confronting absurd diatribes from American politicians contending for the US presidential slot. Perhaps Ms Clinton has shown the most irrationality in her efforts to show off her understanding of international issues! In the process she has shown a frightening ignorance, revealing once again why the world will always be unsafe as long as ignorant and imperial US mindsets come to rest in the White House — thereby putting their irresponsibly ignorant fingers on the nuclear button.
One can hardly take Ms Clinton’s remarks on Pakistan’s nuclear assets seriously when she suggests a joint US-UK control of our nuclear assets, but the trouble is that many imperial minds in the US do just that and herein lies our problem. Not many in the US are even now aware of the US live nuclear weapons that went missing for a while aboard US fighter planes on 29 August 2007; nor are they aware of the 2.8 metric tons of missing plutonium, or as the US Department of Defense puts it, “inventory difference”, from official US stocks up to 1994. But being informed properly has never been a trait found in US presidents — which is why the world has had to, and still continues to suffer so much bloodshed and chaos as a result of US military adventurism.
However, while we cannot take Clinton’s pronouncements seriously, it is high time we took substantive action to put some distance between the US and ourselves to send an unambiguous message to them that we have reached the limits of our tolerance of abuse at their hands. Let us hold back on our logistical and other support to the US, even as we fight our own war against terrorism in our country keeping in view our ground realities. As part of our distancing from the US perhaps we can reduce the number of unexplained Americans present all over Pakistan who are fluent in the local languages, attired in local dress and travel all across the country including areas such as Warsak and Quetta. At a time when travel advisories abound against travel to Pakistan, there is a question mark as to who all these mysterious Americans are in Pakistan? Are they part of the “foreign hand” we hear of that is trying to destabilize Pakistan?
Of course a major reason why our external detractors find Pakistan such a lucrative target is our own internal wrangling. One would have thought that a tragedy such as the one we suffered in the assassination of Ms Bhutto would have brought the nation together so that a healing process could have begun. Instead, we not only saw loot and plunder — and a very disturbing question here is where were the law enforcers — we saw all the problems confronting civil society come to the fore in terms of daily life. After hearing a constant refrain of the wonders of the revived economy over the years, we have been sent into a state of shock and disbelief over the shortages of food, of electricity, of water, of gas and so on. What good are the ‘reserves’ if the man in the street has no bread to eat and no heat or electricity?
Amid the emotional suffering and physical hardships, no succor has been coming from the leaders. Instead, the political elite are busy hurling accusations and abuse at each other, while the insensitivity of the present holders of power can be seen in the statement of the Food and Agriculture Minister, Prince Essa Jan, who declared that the rural masses were responsible for the wheat crisis since they had hoarded the wheat! Such ignorance about one’s own country is surely unforgivable especially since the cabinet he is a member of has already been given a list of 50 influential hoarders. Just for the record, and to re-educate the “Prince” (I thought there was no royalty anymore in Pakistan) let me remind him that the ordinary rural inhabitant does not hoard wheat since he needs to sell it to get cash and pay for the inputs used to produce the wheat. He barely keeps enough for his own needs. The same is true for the larger agriculturalists also. So, please minister, do not insult the intelligence of the ordinary man who knows full well that hoarding in done by the flour mill owners, smugglers and professional profiteers amongst whom, according to news reports, can be counted influential politicians.
As reported in the national press, the cabinet has the list of 50 such offenders, but for some inexplicable reason — although perfectly explicable to the public at large — the finance minister has opposed taking any action against these criminals. Why? Why should those causing this wheat shortage at a time when we had a bumper harvest not be brought to book? Amongst the political wranglings of electoral politics, the poor are being left to starve and if our political elite had educated themselves even a little on history, they would realize how close we are to creating conditions for a general uprising given that atta riots are beginning to take place already.
Shaukat Aziz spoke of economic recovery and the wonders that now surrounded our economic health. Where and how has all that disappeared so quickly? If basic necessities are not available to the citizenry at large, economic “recovery” is a mere farce. Today, with atta at Rs 25 a kilo, how can an average citizen feed his family? After all, a family of four would consume at least a kilo and a half of atta per day at the minimum — if it could assuage its hunger properly. But then, if they have atta, the gas is missing or simply too expensive. And, as for education, who can get it when there is no light because of power cuts? Surely the major terrorist threat to the average Pakistani is the one emanating from the terror of want.
A responsive government would have immediately made public and punished the wheat hoarders so that the nation would have begun to have at least an iota of confidence in its rulers. Instead, the caretakers have chosen to shelter the influential hoarders and smugglers. And this callousness is then aggravated by ignorant or simply uncaring ministers having the gall to lay the blame at the door of the poor rural masses who are already suffering state neglect and social repression. The elite within civil society are fighting bravely for the independence of the judiciary and media, but the average Pakistani is fighting a more critical battle for mere survival. And the politicians are fighting their battles for power. So we are all at cross-purposes with no connecting thread it would seem. Amid all this we have to contend with the plague of terrorism from within and from outside. That is why we are easy prey for our external detractors, especially the US. That is also why the voice of the common Pakistani, who alone is tied to the nation from birth to death, is being lost amid the competing choruses of self-interests that have surrounded us.
(The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad. Courtesy The News)