One of the principal purposes of governance is to enable economic and social conditions through which all individuals, and not just a few, have a stake in citizenship. It is only then that public order can be maintained without the large-scale use of coercive state power. In this essential sense, governance in Pakistan has failed so far.
The prevailing economic and social conditions can be termed ‘economic apartheid’. This is because the institutional structure systematically excludes the majority of the population from equitable access of public services, markets and governance decisions, which affect their daily life. Consequently, while a small elite lives in incredible luxury, the majority are deprived of the minimum conditions of civilised existence: 77 per cent of the population is food insecure; most do not have access to safe drinking water; 73 per cent are sick; while most do not have access to quality health care or quality education, so that they cannot hope to build a productive and dignified life for themselves.
While a large proportion of the population is homeless, 80 per cent of the housing units have, on average, 1.5 rooms, inhabited by, on average, 6 persons. Most have access over neither the police nor the judiciary if a crime is committed against their person or their family members.
There is widespread discrimination against women in access over markets, productive resources, and public services. They are also subject to violence. Inadequate maternal health and nutrition results in Pakistan having one of the highest mortality rates for women in the child bearing age group of 20-29.
Children who embody our future are in a terrible condition: 99 out of every 1,000 children born die before the age of one, and another 123 die before the age of five. Of those who survive, about 40 per cent suffer from malnutrition, making them susceptible to repeated infectious illness and impaired ability to learn and play. Almost half of school age children do not have access over decent education. Those too poor to go to school go to work where they are subjected to excessive work hours, violence and sexual abuse by their employers. My research on working children in hazardous occupations shows the extent to which they are maimed, blinded, struck with lung diseases and brain deformities resulting from poisonous emissions and physical hazards at work places.
The design of public policy shows that the deprived sections of society have been banished to the dark terrain of indifference by successive governments, whether military or civilian. This indifference is reflected in the grossly inadequate budgetary allocations for health, education, drinking water, maternal health, child care and housing and infrastructure for poor localities. By contrast, the government’s non-productive expenditure of Rs3,298 billion on various ministries (excluding Rs448 billion on defence) and perks for government officials, is remarkable for a country facing bankruptcy. The entertainment expenditure of the prime minister and president’s house alone is Rs220.7 million, while Rs47 million is spent on the travel and transportation of federal ministers. Rs140 billion of the taxpayers’ money is spent on financing the losses of public sector corporations, which are overstaffed, run by incompetent government appointees and ridden with corruption.
The economic apartheid created through the institutional structure of the social order and reinforced by the design of public policy has created the social conditions of revolt. The early signs can be seen in the large number of citizens turning to the call of extremist organisations, amidst the growing anarchy in society.
The mass protest movements currently underway, first in Tunisia and then in Egypt, are examples of how a badly governed people can spontaneously come out in sustained street protests when faced with persistent economic deprivation, mass poverty and unemployment. The elite in Pakistan can ignore this writing on the wall at its own peril.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 7th, 2011.