The knowledge gaps

In almost every section of Pakistani society, what we are seeing is that things are going from bad to worse.

Kamal Siddiqi January 20, 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.


Mani | 8 years ago | Reply

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

Malik | 8 years ago | Reply

@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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