The election season is upon us and politicians have developed an appetite to take credit for whatever little good is happening in the country. Going by the social media channels of the PML-N government, the public is being repeatedly reminded of the improved economic, political and development situation of Pakistan since 2013. Senior ministers argue that the load-shedding has reduced, economy is recovering under CPEC, security situation has improved and above all, the PML-N under Nawaz Sharif has been able to bring cricket back. Pakistan is going in the right direction, we are told. I beg to differ.
I was in Pakistan a little over a week back, and no doubt, the load-shedding has reduced, and security situation has improved largely. However, here is a thing: the PML-N government is expecting the public to be thankful for things that should not have been absent in the first place. The deprivation of such basic needs like electricity at home, security in the streets and clean drinking water is a story of 70 years of incompetence of the political and military elite that have taken turns ruling the country. Hence, fixing these basic issues is barely a matter of celebration and does not warrant a thank you from the public. It is, however, a good electoral strategy to lower the expectations of public to such a threshold that the PML-N government is able to win elections on bringing ‘cricket’ back home.
The truth is, the people in the country are neither aware of their rights nor of the power of their vote, and successive governments have continued to play on this innocence-cum-desperation of the public for decades to exploit voting behaviour. Delivering such basic needs and using them as a slogan is not only shameful but also represent the vision of the current government under which by 2022 election we might expect ‘clean drinking water’ as the electoral promise in the country.
It is not just about the silly expectation of the current government to be hailed for its base-level development work, what is also important is to question if we are indeed on the right track as the PML-N government is pitching. Is infrastructure development, Orange Train and power generation signs of a country on road to stability? To some level, maybe yes, in terms of short-term economic growth but largely it is not an indicator of overall national progress. Because nations can survive poverty, but no nation can survive injustice within its borders for too long.
The government may have brushed the grievances of Baloch and Pashtun over CPEC under the rug but the growing grievances over the way Pashtun and Baloch are being treated at universities, and on the streets is taking a snowball effect that may spin out of control if serious measures are not taken to listen to our own people. To make things worse, there is a serious media and government blackout on the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement — a dangerous precedent for the country.
Then there is a serious religious divide underway in the country. Religious extremism, hate and propaganda have soared in the country, especially reportedly with senior political leaders of the PML-N.
More importantly, beyond both religious and ethnic divide, Pakistan’s existential problem is the rich-poor divide in the country that is a result of dysfunctional education, health and justice sectors forcing middle and lower classes into poverty. In today’s Pakistan, the upward mobility of a child from poor and rural background is next to impossible. When the rich and poor have different schools, colleges, hospitals and justice system, the rich will continue to get richer while the poor seeks refuge in religion expecting divine intervention. If history tells us one thing, it is that there is a limit to how much a poor person will rely on divine intervention — chaos and violence are followed when the poor lose hope.
So for the PML-N government that wants the public to believe that we are in the right direction, a little study of history and a close look at the storm that is brewing on the horizon are desperately needed.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 31st, 2018.