The knowledge gaps

Published: January 21, 2013

The writer is Editor of The Express Tribune

It is an irony that when our VIPs travel in multimillion-rupee vehicles and security details, the common people sit on rooftops of buses as there is no space inside. Our public transport is in shambles. We lack proper utility services. Power and water shortages are the norm. But we all know this.

Corruption has been eating us from within for decades now. The customs department looks the other way while massive smuggling destroys our home industry. Our tax inspectors have never raided a house on a tip for tax-evasion. It has always been done at the behest of the government, which wants to settle political scores.

This ministry has been headed for the past five years by a very able World Bank experienced minister.

Power theft has become institutionalised in Pakistan. The biggest bhatta collectors in the country are not a political party or group but our own police force. And they have been doing it for decades now.

Our bureaucracy benefits the most in this arrangement. They blame the leaders but make the most of it, for the sun always shines for them, whoever rules in Islamabad.

In almost every section of Pakistani society, what we are seeing is that things are going from bad to worse. In contrast, in almost all our neighbouring countries, the opposite is the case. Take our education, health, transport, water and sanitation systems. They have all visibly deteriorated. Our cities are less safe. The standard of living may have gone up in some instances but the quality of life has gone down.

People remember what they call the ‘good times’. When our cities were safe. Buses, trains and planes were clean and efficient. Our national airline was one of the best in the world. Our railway was the backbone of our transportation system.

Education, health and public transport — three basic functions of the state — have been given away to the private sector. And as is the case in most such sell-offs, the common man suffers more. This is because the regulator is weak and the privatised entity’s sole motive is profit.

How have things gone so bad? Partly to blame is our population explosion. So is corruption. But more than that possibly, is the lack of vision of our leaders. One can safely say that the quality of our leaders has also steadily deteriorated over the years.

In comparison to the leaders at the time of independence, professionally qualified persons like Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Allama Iqbal, Jawaharlal Nehru and Gandhi to giants like Maulana Shaukat Ali, Abul Kalam Azad, Liaquat Ali Khan, Sher-e-Bengal Fazalul Haq, Malik Barkat Ali, Sardar Abdul Rab Nishtar and others, today, most of our leaders — both civil and military — are FA Pass or BA Fail, or allegedly holding fake degrees. Even the head of the Unionist Party, Sikander Hayat, was an educated bureaucrat although his party was dominated by feudals, who had benefited from the largesse of the Raj’s allotment of state lands.

Today, we have public officials who cannot read let alone write. Many cannot speak and make a fool of themselves when they do. How can one expect people of such limited education to think on a bigger scale. That is why all we do is exchange insults, pull down one another or sit down and share the spoils.

Such persons of limited education and depleted knowledge prefer to look for company amongst those who cannot outshine them and end up appointing high school dropouts to head state corporations like OGDC and PIA. That explains the choices of ministers and advisers that we have. It’s not just a matter of being a graduate or not. And amongst these pigeons are the cats that have been set on us by the IFIs and the external powers. This explains some of the more qualified ministers in the cabinet, whose loyalties sometimes lie elsewhere, not just in making money.

One does not have to be a rocket scientist to understand what are the problems that ail our nation. Bilalwal Bhutto Zardari may call them the smaller issues but the Supreme Court’s intervention on CNG and sugar prices was most welcome and needed.

So what do we do now? This is a tough question. Almost all our political parties are run like fiefdoms. Rarely can we have leaders that have the vision to take Pakistan ahead. The non-democratic alternatives are even less palatable. For starters, we should call a spade a spade. And we push for our political parties to have people of some intelligence in their decision-making ranks. That can be a beginning.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 21st, 2013.

Reader Comments (15)

  • Arijit Sharma
    Jan 21, 2013 - 1:42AM

    @author: ” … Today, we have public officials who cannot read let alone write. Many cannot speak and make a fool of themselves when they do … “

    … especially when it comes to making references to the the Non-binding UN Regulations regarding Jammu and Kashmir.

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  • sabi
    Jan 21, 2013 - 2:36AM

    Nawaz sharif had done remarkable job in his two tenures.Establishment threw him in jail for doing job for poor people.This ignorant volk distributed sweets in a hope to slain the hen for once to have all the golden eggs.Greed is a curse and thanklessnes has its rewards and what a rewards has this nation in past fourteen years.People in this country are extremely naive and therefore vulnerable to deception.Its the establishment that wants people of this country under tight control so that handfull of elite continue tol live like kings. Politicians are forced to live like slave of establishment and slave can not deliver.Nawaz Sharif showed eyes to real masters and was shown the way to door.Politician can only deliver if people of this country reckognise true enemies.These enemies are those who are fooling people in the name of revolution.If there is any revolution needed that is against non democratic forces.

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  • Yoghurt lover
    Jan 21, 2013 - 5:11AM

    @Arijit Sharma:

    “… especially when it comes to making references to the the Non-binding UN Regulations regarding Jammu and Kashmir. “

    Hehehehe! Yes.

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  • Rehan
    Jan 21, 2013 - 9:56AM

    Just FYI: Benazir went to Harvard and Oxford and was the most eloquent, and most intelligent-sounding Pakistani I have ever seen. It is no surprise, thus, that she became Pakistan’s face abroad, despite the Pakistani state’s constant harassing and bullying of her and her family.
    Yet, despite her education, the Pakistani middle-class hated her with a disgusting-to-witness passion. It was almost as if the middle-class despised her for being so much more able and so much more intelligent than they were. While they were happy to rationalize their superiority over other politicians by pointing to their meaningless BA’s, they couldn’t rationalize their superiority over Benazir because she was simply better than them in every way – so they directed their hatred towards her in more vile ways. In the end, they harassed and bullied her out of office not once, but twice – on both occasions before she could even complete half her tenure.
    Dear author, do not try to see the fault in the politicians. It is not them who are the cause of Pakistan’s decline. It is the general public, and particularly the middle class, with its inferiority complex, its terrible lack of etiquette, and its irrational dream for a military man messiah which has destroyed the country.
    Regards,
    Rehan

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  • Mirza
    Jan 21, 2013 - 10:08AM

    Here is a quote about one of the most popular presidents of the USA who has changed the course of the country and its history:
    “More words have been written about Abraham Lincoln than any historical personage except Jesus Christ.”
    Abe Lincoln had no formal education at all! I can give many examples like that. Education is good but not the only qualification for greatness. Most recent US presidents have been from Harvard, Yale and likes but none compares to Abe Lincoln in history.

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  • Sry
    Jan 21, 2013 - 12:31PM

    Well written Mr. Siddiqi !

    But ultimately it is the people -not the politicians – who have to wake up and stop supporting corrupt politicans. The politicians are going to continue looting the country because they just don’t care. It’s just self interest, elites will pursue their interests and the people have to push their own agenda, directly.

    What is sad, however, is the attitude of our intellectuals (columnists, scholars, analysts) who still support certain parties. Haroon ur Rashid, liberal messiah NFP, prof. Mehdi Hasan are a few people who come to mind. Instead of advising public to mobilize and think for themselves they tell people to just vote every five years and watch the democratic system/politicans “evolve”, as if it was some sort of black magic.

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  • John the Baptist
    Jan 21, 2013 - 3:15PM

    Imran Khan is the only good option. Vote PTI and get rid of this filth.

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  • ahmed41
    Jan 21, 2013 - 5:13PM

    Please read :

    15 November 2012 Last updated at 00:29 GMT BBC

    Jose Mujica: The world’s ‘poorest’ president
    By Vladimir Hernandez BBC Mundo, Montevideo

    “——It’s a common grumble that politicians’ lifestyles are far removed from those of their electorate. Not so in Uruguay. Meet the president – who lives on a ramshackle farm and gives away most of his pay.

    Laundry is strung outside the house. The water comes from a well in a yard, overgrown with weeds. Only two police officers and Manuela, a three-legged dog, keep watch outside.

    This is the residence of the president of Uruguay, Jose Mujica, whose lifestyle clearly differs sharply from that of most other world leaders.

    President Mujica has shunned the luxurious house that the Uruguayan state provides for its leaders and opted to stay at his wife’s farmhouse, off a dirt road outside the capital, Montevideo.

    The president and his wife work the land themselves, growing flowers.

    This austere lifestyle – and the fact that Mujica donates about 90% of his monthly salary, equivalent to $12,000 (£7,500), to charity – has led him to be labelled the poorest president in the world.—-”

    Is this not something to emulate ?

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  • ballu
    Jan 21, 2013 - 6:13PM

    Just looking at pakistani currency compared to its all neighbours shows where pakistan stands..

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  • Falcon
    Jan 21, 2013 - 6:48PM

    I think the op-ed and the comments (specially Rehan’s) has an elitist bent to it. Education is not a requirement for visionary leadership, it is making sense of the basics and being sincere to the cause.

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  • Falcon
    Jan 21, 2013 - 6:49PM

    @Rehan:
    I have yet to see a more elitist comment on ET than yours and I mean it, really!!!

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  • bbball
    Jan 21, 2013 - 7:13PM

    Comment’s like rehan show the intellect of our so-called ‘educated’ class which has let this nation down. Our elite, including the political elite and the supposed ‘educated’ bureaucratic /foreign educated elite has been a rent-seeking leeches sucking the blood from through this nation. They pedal their NGO’s through loans/grants that are given as cherity on behalf of the people of Pakistan. What productivity has our elite shown? All that has been spent on their education, either by the state or by their family’s who most likely had a bureaucratic/military background, what has been your output? It’s like a fancy car that gobbles up a tank full of petrol and runs out of gas even before getting out of the street. We are a country blessed with uneducated politicians and highly ‘educated’ idiots.

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  • John the Baptist
    Jan 21, 2013 - 8:03PM

    @Falcon:

    I agree with you–this is the kind of “O I am rich so you hate me” attitude is what has gotten us where we are. I don’t know what some parents do (or not do) to raise nutters like this who hate their own countrymen and still proclaim to be torch bearers of democracy. This satanic cult has to be defeated at all costs before it consumes the entire country and when there is nothing left to suck, fly to California to play golf at Pebble Beach!

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  • Malik
    Jan 21, 2013 - 10:58PM

    @Mirza:
    Abrahim Lincoln was a self educated lawyer, who practiced law in a small town called Normal in Illinois, where he was also elected as a mayor. He was a successful and capable lawyer, a man with vision, who changed the face and direction of America from a nation which allowed slavery to a nation that ensured that all men are born equal and that the American Constitution ensured that slavery is banned. Lincoln did this in 1850s.

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  • Mani
    Jan 23, 2013 - 7:11AM

    If anybody has doubts that an educated political leader would have more vision than an illiterate or semi literate, just compare Obama with Bush

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