The boy with the broken leg
Imran survives on a makeshift crutch because he cannot afford medical help; necessity has become a luxury in Pakistan.
In the last three years, since Mustaqbil Pakistan was formed, I have traveled the length and breadth of the country.
I am 57-years-old and during these last three years, I have learned more about Pakistan and the suffering of its poor than I have in the previous 54 years. Nothing really shocks me anymore. Or at least I thought so, until last Friday.
As I walked out of a meeting in the impoverished village of Hasu Balail in Central Punjab, a little boy – who I'll call Imran - started to 'walk' with me. I noticed that he had a crutch and was able to use only one leg. He was 'walking' fast. I caught up to him and asked him to stop.
Here is my conversation with him:
'What happened to your leg?’
...'I fell and broke it'
...'One year ago'.
Surprised, I asked, 'Why did you not go to a doctor?'
Imran did not respond.
But a village resident replied, ‘His parents are poor and they cannot afford a doctor.’
I was astounded and ashamed. And I am still ashamed. Here is this little kid, whose leg has been broken for a whole year, walking around with a makeshift crutch because his parents cannot afford to take him to a doctor. And here we are – affluent Pakistanis – sitting in our comfortable homes in Pakistan, and further afield.
We pamper our children, send them to the best schools money can buy, and get them the best healthcare possible. We socialise at expensively catered dinner parties where we debate to no end the foibles of our incompetent and corrupt politicians.
Many of us try to do what we can. We support NGO's and charities. We fund free schools and dispensaries. We give our time to social work. And these are all worthy pursuits, but they are not enough.
The problem with Pakistan is that the best of our people – educated, competent, honest and decent - stay out of politics. And who can blame them?
We know that politics in Pakistan is an unsavoury, dishonest, ruthless and dangerous business.
It attracts the lowest of our low. And so we stay away. But there is a problem here. If the best of our people opt to stay out of politics then it is inevitable that ‘the lowest’ will occupy it and run the country.
Sadly, and devastatingly for the Imrans of Pakistan, this is what has happened.
Those who think that supporting an NGO or a charity absolves us of responsibility for the suffering of millions are wrong. No number of NGO’s or charities can do the job of a country’s government. This is tantamount to applying a bandage to a cancer patient.
We must do more. We must reclaim the field of politics from the goons and thugs who now sit in our assemblies. This is not easy, but sensible and responsible people do not do things because they are easy - they do them because they are right.
Imran is perhaps an especially egregious example of an appallingly larger reality that we either do not know about or ignore. Those who have not been to Hasu Balail, or Peer Abdurahman, or Machiwal, or Keekarwala, or Rodu Sultan or Astana or thousands of other villages like these do not know the 'real' Pakistan.
It is a place of hopelessness and despair. Millions of people live in unimaginable conditions at the edge of humanity and they will stay there until we muster the courage and resolve to bring them home.
Even one Imran is one too many.
Follow Nadeem on Twitter @nmq