Had the Nazi party been in power today, it would have transported its prisoners to Lahore that has by all standards become a gas chamber toxic enough to wipe off the population. The air quality is consistently ranked as the worst in the world essentially making Lahore a city of over 11 million prisoners on a death row without even entirely realising it.
To conveniently blame the crop burning, manufacturing industry and infrastructure development is actually skidding from the real issue of governance and apathy of those that govern. It deems the problem as ‘recent’ and ‘out of the hands’ of those in power expecting the public to bear through these ‘challenging’ times while the solution is devised. However, this airpocalypse has been silently brewing for years with full knowledge of the ruling political class that through its incompetence and sheer neglect of public welfare has brought us to a point where to be able to even breathe has become a luxury.
And this is not the first time that the people of this country have been put through a catastrophic suffering due to failed policies. The short-term political and electoral goals of the ruling elite trumping over long-term development agenda critical for the people has resulted in a series of crisis, including water scarcity, malnutrition, terrorism and so many others that have continued to take a toll on the people. For instance, a decade-long rule of the PML-N in Punjab saw tremendous infrastructure development in the province winning the party many seats in the elections. The long-term result, however, is that Lahore’s air quality is unfit to live — something that will incur a great loss to the economy and political capital to the PML-N in times to come.
While part of this is politics, the other part has more to do with complete non-seriousness and ignorance of successive governments over climate and environmental issues. The fact that Mushahidullah Khan was the minister for climate change and that the environment never became an integral part of PM Sharif’s agenda explains why we find ourselves unable to breathe in Lahore today. The same non-seriousness is viral across the federal and provincial bureaucracy in how the projects all around Pakistan are done. Despite the fact that PC-1 requires a necessary climate and environmental feasibility of every project, in practice it is only rubber-stamp usually copy pasted from other projects to fulfil the criteria. Poor air quality or ground water levels going down is therefore not a surprise given how our development policies are not sensitive to environmental concerns.
That is not the only problem though. The ruling political class looks more like the ‘Estate Generale’ in prerevolutionary France, detached from the public in mindset, economic wealth and issues. The result is that the ruling political class and their social media/media cells are more engaged in defining the diplomatic etiquettes and how the PM and his cabinet ought to sit in official meetings over a pressing problem of air quality that we face today in the second-largest city of Pakistan. Part of the reason why current opposition in parliament does not want to touch the issue is because they are directly responsible for the current air quality crisis and will be held responsible. Therefore, silence is deemed a wiser option.
This apathy is not an accident, it is in fact reflective of the very nature of the political elite in Pakistan that has through its incompetence and corruption while amassed large wealth, developed political dynasties, but for the people it has created tremendous suffering. What is worse is that instead of resigning from the policy space and handing it over to those that could perhaps govern, the ruling elite expects the people to ‘adjust’ to these emerging realities of Pakistan’s state failure and allow the next in line of their political dynasties to rule over the country.
The same ruling elite in its speeches then hails this suffering as the resilience of the people that are silently carrying on with life. I call it the lack of awareness and desperation of the common people that has allowed the ruling political elite to unleash unprecedented tragedy on its own people. Why must the poor people continue to lift the burden of an incompetent and apathetic ruling class that has for over decades kept the people hovering around the poverty line giving them just enough to survive, but not enough to set them free from the poverty trap and exert political conscience.
In one of my political science lectures back in college, a professor argued that the idea of heaven and hell is right on earth. Good policies create heaven and bad policies create a hell. What we have in Lahore right now with people slowly being poisoned to death, suffocating and unable to breathe are no less signs of inferno. Rich, poor, powerful or weak, we are all in this together.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 8th, 2019.