May 29, 2018
Pakistan’s Main Problems are Religious Fanaticism and Petty Leadership
By Saeed Qureshi
My heart bleeds for my countrymen living in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. I am confounded why they have to suffer so much. The country is in a state of complete paralysis. The people are caught up in a trance of bewilderment as if they are bewitched or are under the spell of evil spirits. The life in Pakistan for the teeming majority is miserable.
There are six main political parties in Pakistan. Besides there are at least 24 smaller regional, clannish, religio-political groups, denominations, the sects and sub sects. Also, there are countless groups and conglomerations of religious healers, saints and spiritual mediums known as Peers and Faqirs (spiritual healers), the grave worshippers and custodians of mausoleums of the bygone holy individuals. All these obscurantist groups have kept the people frightened by way of faith or wrath of God and their role as trouble shooters.
For quite some time there is a nauseating rigmarole and competition between the politicians to filthy jargon and dub their political opponents with dirtiest expletives. Their abusive language consists of such words as dishonest, the looters of national exchequer, the morally bankrupt, the hoarders and earners of ill-gotten money, the thugs, the politically and morally incompetent and so on. This despicable duel continues unabated.
Instead that the politicians should respect each and focus on issues and reforms that they would unfurl if come to power, they are trying to excel in browbeating each by branding and proving each other as thugs, thieves and criminals. This is the brand of ignoble political culture that is brewing to contest the 2018 national elections.
I wonder if God would allow all these faith peddlers to be true and his advocates. Pakistan has become a hostage of religious groups, bands. The people are their followers and hostages by fear or enticement of paradise in the hereafter. Main and majority religions curb and oppose minority religions.
No one thinks that Islam is one faith and its division into various sects and sections is to go away from the simple teaching and beliefs of Islam. People don’t understand that God can be approached directly as he is nearer than their jugular veins. The political parties use all these regional and religious groups for winning the elections.
Pakistan is not in Africa yet the life is no better than that far-flung continent that was used by the human traffickers to provide raw manpower for old America. Africa has remained steeped in pathetic quagmire of ignorance, humiliation and degradation.
Pakistan a state carved out of the Indian subcontinent for the Muslims to live a peaceful life is receding into a cesspool of sufferings for its people. It is a society where hunger, grinding poverty, spiraling insecurity, and aberrations of unemployment, pollution, crimes, civic mess, sex crimes and injustice, stalk the land. For seven decades of its existence it has remained caught up in an unremitting and swelling decline. One wonders why this country has remained in the reverse gear of progress. Whatever hope and modest livable conditions the people initially had are shrinking.
I do not have enough endurance in me to see the heart wrenching scenes of people aimlessly wandering in the streets with the agony and stress writ large on their faces because of the nightmarish power outrages and interminable blackouts that invariably take place many times round the clock. It would be superfluous to enumerate the debilitating fallout of power breakdowns on the daily life, human mind, psychologies, moods, sensibilities and resistance of the people. A nation is turning paranoid with twin phobias: one about the uncertainty of electricity’s coming and the second about its going. Of late, I have seen on the television, crowds of the people sleeping in a state of anguish and helplessness in the open spaces, on the roads and pavements under a specter of looming insecurity. A nation is sleeping in unguarded places to beat the stifling suffocation, unbearable heat and humidity of the sizzling summer without caring for the bomb blasts, target killing, robbing at gun points and rape. Just imagine the degree of despondency that is breeding indifference to even one’s own life. I am talking about the human miseries and not the colossal commercial and industrial loss and its disastrous ramifications on the national economy.
The school children of the poor families starve and cannot have enough food to eat. They cannot find easy and safe transportation to reach their schools and colleges. The ramshackle, stuffy Suzuki vans and clumsy buses lacking proper seats, or such necessary comforts as heating or air-conditioning commute between destinations with passengers perched on top and on all sides. The young kids both boys and girls are exposed to falling off or sitting in the company of vile individuals. The streets and roads are full of nauseating stench and pollution of animal refuse, the smoke emitting and shrieking vehicles, the overflowing sewers and open drains choked with filth and garbage. The ancient cities of Pompeii, Baghdad, and of Pharaoh’s eras were even much better in civic management than the cities of Pakistan.
The offices, the bazaars, the houses, the lanes and shopping centers and the space between sky and earth, remain covered with the thick layers of smoking that ward off oxygen and obstruct the breathing in a fresh and pure air. The young kids from the indigent families cannot afford education and therefore, have to work in workshops as apprentices, conductors in public transport and on similar menial jobs. The budding flowers of the nations remain vulnerable and easy target of molestation and abuse by their masters.
The residential religious seminaries present the worst scenarios. It is hard to believe that the students residing in these fortified relgious citadels would be safe from the abuse of their sturdy custodians. They survive on donated or begged food from the benign citizens. They lose the significance of moral dignity, propriety and inviolability of human body. When they grow up they themselves, in the footsteps of their molesters, continue that loathsome practice with the students under their morbid supervision.
Barring the costly bottled water, no water is safe for drinking in Pakistan. Most beverages are adulterated. Most food items are not pure. Can one imagine that in the water scarce areas of Pakistan, the humans and animals drink alike from the same highly polluted pond filled with rain water? No wonder they develop deadly and incurable diseases. The runaway children from starving families roam and loiter in cities to be seduced or forcibly whisked away by hardened sex offenders or by the heartless criminal gangs or by those who would keep them in forced bonded labor. The women are targeted and raped with willful abandon. There is no recourse or remedy for them to seek justice. The police staffers catch the people sitting in public parks, take grafts forcibly or lock the citizens for no reason. The women in police custody or other law enforcement agencies seldom come unscathed from molestation and rape.
There is a one-page official form called FIR (the First Investigation Report) cannot be written unless the SHO (Station House Officer), commonly known as inspector gives consent and he agrees on a heavy graft or on the order of a dignitary. The process of justice from FIR to the final outcome takes countless twists and years making a mockery of the legal system. The judges, the magistrates, the lawyers, the touts in between are engaged in a vicious game of catching the justice system from the wrong side. The scale of corruption, bribery and financial scams is alarmingly widespread. The malfunctioning in every government department with corruption as the leading vice is no secret at all. The addiction of making illicit buck and exploiting the voiceless citizens is in the veins of every person in an authoritative position; be it a small clerk or a member of the parliament or even the president of Pakistan.
The dope and lethal drugs are easily a viable or provided by the vile individuals and parties making huge buck from such a prohibited occupation. So are the weapons and firearms for a price.
Literacy, education, Research, social decency, a tolerable civic life, and a civilized environment are all far cry in the chaotic and perennially troubled in the Islamic republic of Pakistan. The religious preachers keep their eyes closed on country’s deformities and real fiendish problems and keep pushing the people towards the age of barbarianism, orthodoxy and primitive life.
The privileged, the elitist and the aristocratic classes are above and immune from the sea of suffering of the common masses in Pakistan. With slick cars, the palatial mansions, the hand-folded army of the servants, high profile jobs, money minting lucrative business being at their disposal, these blood sucking segments in Pakistan are least bothered about the people teetering on the brink of colossal human tragedy and deprivation.
Let me take a break to compare this abysmal spectacle with the heathen and un-islamic societies where people enjoy abundant and unhindered civic and social peace. Let us take up the American society for instance. This comparison should in fact be deemed as a contrast. The first glaring hallmark is the order and discipline that runs in the arteries of those societies like the healthy blood in a human body. The law is equal and stringent and is for all the people. It would be invariably humane yet inviolable and operates within the limits set by the society and the constitution. There is no large-scale infringement of the law but if there is, the law ultimately prevails. Everyone from the president, to senators to congressmen to governors is exposed to a well-integrated and efficient network of oversight and accountability.
The detractors may like to point out the social freedom that they call moral laxity as a stigma on the western societies. But in those societies, the choice to enjoy is left to one’s own discretion as a part of human freedom and is allowed to observe under very strict conditions. By comparison the vice is more rampant and beyond law in our societies than what one can observe for instance in the United States, in England, France, Austria and Germany. The violators are vulnerable to condign punishments. The pub, clubs and selling of liquor are prohibited near educational institutions. Smoking inside the dwellings, the offices and in public places is banned. There is no nepotism, no culture of graft here.
From getting a driving license, seeking a job, the construction of a house, to setting up of a factory, there are hard to bypass yet easy to follow regulations. If you qualify you will get the needful done readily. There is a kit of social security nuts ranging from the healthcare insurance to old age benefits, to free food, to unemployment allowance to pro bono (free) legal service. The rights and obligations in these societies go hand in hand. The utilities from supply of clean water to electricity, to drainage seldom malfunction. The services such as payments of bills, mail distribution, requesting emergency health or security help are dispensed safely and immaculately. For deserving students, both either by virtue of low income or academic excellence, there are funds available. The environmental purity is so jealously guarded that literally, not a blade of grass can grow or removed without the prior permission of the city government.
This is not to deride or belittle my own country in any manner. What I wish to drive home is that we can also transform our societies into people friendly and civically proficient with reasonable order and creation of safety nuts for the people. What is lacking is the intention or the awareness to do so.
So, let there be a revolution. Notwithstanding the moot question as to who will lead this revolution, the movement for change can be spearheaded and sustained by the upholders of the civil society, the conscientious yet valiant individuals, the NGOs, the educated, the intellectuals, the rebellious, the zealous, the students and the aspirants for the change. This diverse assemblage of proponents for change should mobilize the vast majority of underdogs like ordinary workers, the impoverished peasants, the victims of police and institutional injustices, the teachers and all those who want an egalitarian, welfare, civically proficient and a civil society.
They should come out of their homes and trigger an earth shaking upheaval for their rights to live as equal and honorable citizens. They should besiege, waylay, and chase the power wielders, the privileged thugs, the corrupt and immoral government functionaries. They should assail the houses and mansions of the rulers and decision makers, snatch their cars, houses and force them to open their coffers of wealth to be distributed among the needy public.
A people’s revolution is desperately called for: not like a socialist or communist revolution but a genuine grass-root and raucous shake-up that should compel the imperial and licentious minority ruling and privileged classes and religious exploiters to behave. It’s time for the people of Pakistan to shed their helplessness and raise a storm by snatching their rights to live a life brimming with, order, dignity, equality, freedom, justice, accountability, civic galore, and the radiance of a civil society. The oppressed classes should mobilize themselves for a society where molestation of a minor carries life imprisonment as in the United States of America, where justice is inexpensive and accessible and where worship of God is free for all faiths.
The writer is a senior journalist, former editor of Diplomatic Times and a former diplomat.