The cities and suburbs of Pakistan are bursting with millions of teeming citizens, old and young, men and women and children alike. They earn their livelihood by small selling of goods or services which unimaginably involves hard labor with meager income. Or they are employed by private entrepreneurs who have to incessantly struggle against the vagaries of state’s regulators and tax officials. They form the larger chunk of a population of 18 million plus. It is they who cast vote to send a political party in the parliament, but cherish no hope this will ameliorate their life conditions they know from their past experience. This is one side of the picture.
The other side reveals itself in the headlines of the daily newspapers and news channels. One newspaper’s headline reads as: army chief pays morale boosting visit to ISI HQ (Inter-Services Intelligence Headqarters). Another headline says: defense ministry seeks cancellation of Geo’s license. It’s in the wake of a murderous attack on a prominent journalist and Geo News’ popular talk show host, Hamid Mir. He has survived despite six bullets injured him seriously and is under treatment in a hospital. His brother, Amir Mir, a known journalist, allegedly put the blame on the ISI and its head Lieutenant General Zaheer-ul-Islam saying Mir told him he feared they would kill him. One breaking headline news tells ‘Pakistan successfully test fires Hatf-III, a short range ballistic missile.’ Another newspaper highlights Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif’s visit to the ISI HQ and his statement that ISI is a “strategic institution” and its role is crucial in national security. The murmurs of a martial law are once again making rounds.
This side of the picture presents a state mired in its own internal fights with various institutions at each other’s throats. The same Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) which supported the cause of the restoration of the deposed judges is trying to rein in the Supreme Court by trimming the powers of the judicial commission which has an edge in the appointment of judges of the apex and high courts. Then there is Pakistan Army and the ISI which claim to be the uncontested savior of Pakistan. Though, India is no more number one enemy, and has been replaced by Taliban; however, it seems the security institutions are more occupied with the anti-Pakistan elements which in their perception abundantly populate media and civil society, two bastion of public opinion. It may be mentioned that not lately an Urdu feature film, Waar (War) was shot and released with the collaboration of the ISPR, public relations wing of the Army. Also, there is talk of an exclusive television channel for the use of Army to counter the Indian propaganda.
In this picture where do the politicians stand, whom the citizens bring into power? Pertinently this picture lacks the lines and shades of governance, and is blank so far as public provision of justice and basic social services is concerned. Hungry of energy, not only the entrepreneurship is desperate, ordinary life is disturbed. Electricity availability has somewhat improved under this government as compared to the previous one; but the core issues such as circular debt, a stifled market and state’s monopoly over the distribution of electricity are not going to be addressed soon. The scarce natural gas proves to be an apple of discord for which textile, fertilizer and other lobbies vie fiercely.
The present forecasted growth rate is lurking in the range of 3 to 4 %; but IMF puts it at 3.1 %. The average rate of inflation is hovering between 8.5 and 9.5 %. And the budget deficit for the current fiscal year is in the range of 6 to 7 %. As for the infrastructural priorities, the present government is hitting the wrong notes, and its urban sensibility is questionable; the cities are getting huge amounts of money being spent on un-needed projects, such as flyovers in Lahore. The roads in cities and their peripheries and especially in rural areas are in quite bad shape, or there is none at all. Potable water is a dream for most of the people. Healthcare is almost non-existent or do not match the number of patients it targets.
Another area of the picture represents the dismal state of the public transport, which has over the years deteriorated steeply. Not only can be seen crowds of commuters waiting at the bus-stops and buses tightly packed, there are as many traffic jams which consume sufficient number of hours of their life daily. To this must be added the statistics of road accidents killing countless citizens for which ultimate responsibility rests with the government, since rules and laws regulating driving license and traffic on the roads, though written in the books, are never implemented. According to Rescue 1122 service, just within one day 572 accidents were reported from 36 districts of Punjab last year. In this regard, the death statistics is too horrible to see: this April 20, in Sukkur district a collision between a bus carrying about 60 passengers and a trailer took 42 lives, and out of 27 dead 14 were children and 13 women, with 17 others injured.
Additionally, there is terror of the Taliban and other violent groups which on their own contribute to the disfiguration of the state of Pakistan. The government’s recent talks with the Thereek-e-Taliban brought a relief to the ordinary citizens; the frequency of the suicide blasts and indiscriminate killings saw a substantial reduction. But the issue stands unresolved and there is a long war ahead to fight the brunt of which is for the ordinary citizens to bear.
Constitutionally a civilian political government is in driving seat which came to power last year after the first elected civilian set-up completed its five-year stint. However, it appears that the state of Pakistan is not being run by the civil rulers; other encroachers of their constitutional powers, such as security institutions and agencies, are obstructing the way they may want to govern and it is with them that the citizens pin hopes. But the state of Pakistan is entangled in its own fights and this cancer is eating up the resources which may otherwise be utilized to provide the ordinary citizens with protection of life and property, justice and basic social services. That’s the story of the last 67 years. The story is going to be retold if the politicians do not take heart to challenge the actors be they state, i.e. security establishment, or non-state, i.e. Taliban and other violent groups. And if the ruling politicians let the security establishment do what it like, and do not subdue it to play its constitutional duty, they will once again betray the millions of teeming citizens who are living a hopeless life in Pakistan.
Note: This article was completed on April 26, and was originally posted in June, 2014.