Resign over Thar

Published: March 10, 2014
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and studied law at Lincoln’s Inn and the London School of Economics. He tweets @AsadRahim

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and studied law at Lincoln’s Inn and the London School of Economics. He tweets @AsadRahim

A tall order, really. Qaim doesn’t do resignations. The Party doesn’t do dismissals.

There’s a core truth about the Peoples Party, and it keeps on repeating itself. It’s called indifference: an epic, unflinching, Nero-playing-the-lyre sort of apathy. And it was long evident before the famine. Just as the reality of rural Sindh — crushing poverty — was a fact of life before it hit the headlines.

Take the past five years.

Forget using the crisis fund to throw farewell parties. Forget comparing a country in a state of war with Star Wars. Forget saying, even, that raging girlfriends were behind Karachi’s target killings.

Rehman Malik was interior minister while the world burned. Violence bled into the headlines week after week, but that was war. Mr Malik stayed put. The Party carried on. And let’s face it, we got used to him too. Neon ties were always easier to talk about than national security.

And when Zulfiqar Mirza flooded Karachi with weapons’ licences — and Lyari, for reasons obvious, went wild at the same time — nothing happened. When the same Mirza slurred an ethnic group, went home, and watched Karachi explode, nothing happened again. That’s Karachi for you, they said.

But wait, there was Aslam Raisani. Bloodshot, blathering Aslam Raisani, with his blue jokes and prayer beads. The Party did sack him. Sort of.

Raisani refused to resign — not as CM, not as CM-in-Exile, not as CM-while-hiding-in-the-Emirates. It took all of emergency rule to unseat the Nawab, after bombs martyred hundreds of Hazaras. “I could send them a truckload of tissues,” he shrugged, “to wipe away their tears.” Raisani was sacked in January… and reinstated in March.

By then, we were indifferent to the indifference.

The men and women the Party actually did sideline (or throw under a bus) — there’s a pattern there too. Foreign ministers, for taking the wrong side. Naheed Khan, for taking the wrong side. Faisal Raza Abidi, for talking too much. Babar Awan, for talking too little.

Job security didn’t mean performing for the party; it meant pandering to it. It’s called fealty — the oath that tenants swear to their feudal lords. Liberals get queasy over the f-word but let’s face it: the PPP is drenched in feudalism. It sweats bloodlines and boy kings and a degraded, degraded humanity that it rides in on each election. Pakistan’s only national party is also its only major cult.

But isn’t ‘feudal’ thrown around by Punjabi elites and shadowy brigadiers who care nothing for the Sindhi people? Yes it is.

That doesn’t make it wrong. This is not a normal party: it doesn’t understand competence, because it was never voted in on competence. Not in ’70, not in ’88, not in ’93, and certainly not in 2008. It was never about service delivery, because it was always about blood and guts, about the Bhuttos, about the other, smaller royal families — the intermarried enterprises that run rural Sindh.

But this time, it’s different. For the foreign press, Pakistan was one big bazaar of Asian intrigue: there was terrorism and sectarianism, guns and drugs, floods and earthquakes, India and Afghanistan. But famine?

In a country that knocks people numb each week, the news coming in from Thar has been unreal. Children dying of acute malnourishment, of malnutrition, of pneumonia. The toll is already at over a hundred children, and threatens to be hundreds more.

And what is painfully obvious now is that all of it was, and is, avoidable. Famine and drought weren’t the killers in themselves. Misgovernance was. Criminal negligence was. Gross indifference was. In short, Brand Qaim Ali Shah was.

A brand that’s infected everyone, it would seem. It’s infected the ministers for food and health, it’s infected the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), and it’s certainly infected our very-well-known MNAs hailing from Thar and Badin. And they’re mounting a defence too.

The usual uncles are sighing that Thar is a ‘structural problem’, and that the point-scoring is petty. But running things since 1970 imposes an obligation to dent said Structural Problems, at least by 2014. People aren’t upset with Arbab Ghulam Rahim because he tried and failed in Tharparkar. They’re in tears over the PPP… because it never tried at all.

The counter-critique is as easy. To bash the Party for spending millions on song-and-dance bonanzas makes sense; it is the perfect Marie Antoinette moment. But they miss the real tragedy. The whole point of Sindh Fest was for the Party to reassert itself, and bring colour and culture back to the country.

But the list of candidates that actually made it to Thar were exactly the same people the Party was defining itself against. Democratic credentials against the army, liberal credentials against the Jamaatud Dawa, Sindhi credentials against the Punjabi Muslim Leagues. Once again, the PPP loses the spin war, for no other reason but wretched, wretched governance.

The faujis and fundamentalists did the right thing, and showed up without asking. The Punjab government was politer, and merely offered aid. It was rejected. Qaim and Co. didn’t need it.

Because the Sindh government was too busy telling anyone who would listen that it had accepted responsibility. But suspending the Deputy Director Livestock isn’t an acceptance of anything. And offering two lacs per bereaved family, after splurging millions on donkey derbies, is cruel even for Qaim.

As Mr Arif Hasan’s take on the topic makes well clear, it took a string of missteps for Thar to get here, including “deforestation, over-grazing, pressure on land, (and) breakdown of the old social order”. Writing in September 1988, Mr Hasan recommended setting up “new and viable social institutions” for long-term development. That didn’t happen, but Qaim Ali Shah did — taking office as chief minister weeks later.

But 26 years after the rise of Qaim, Sindh isn’t a day healthier. The province is the single-most food deprived in the country. Learning indicators of students, a recent report shows, “are lower than their counterparts in Fata”. Briefly put, Sindh is in horrific shape.

And that must change. The NDMA needs to get its act together. As with 2005’s shattering earthquake, the nation must pitch in to save any lives it can in the immediate days ahead. And Mr Hasan’s suggestions require revisiting for the longer term.

As for the government, like a nightmare made fresh, we now know Mr Shah and his team enjoyed a massive dinner yesterday. The menu included “fried fish, tikkas, biryani, malai boti, koftas and roti”. They were visiting Tharparkar at the time.

To condole families that had buried their babies.

Resign, Qaim Ali Shah. You’re the number one elected officeholder, and you’ve disgraced the office you hold. ‘Taking responsibility’ means knowing that the death of children carries consequences; at least your replacement will keep that in mind. And when it comes to the Party, that may be the best we can hope for.

It’s said that the opposite of love isn’t hate — it’s indifference. If only we had less stunning examples.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 11th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (30)

  • bilal
    Mar 10, 2014 - 11:21PM

    Once again… it is AMAZING how these so called liberals are hiding their ugly faces. Admin please post my comments.


  • Ibrahim
    Mar 10, 2014 - 11:28PM

    A really nice article, but unfortunately the people in power are not bothered by the crying of the poor, but start shivering at the whims of their foreign masters.


  • shat
    Mar 10, 2014 - 11:32PM

    Excellent well written piece,thought provoking describes this sorry lot,who have come to rule or misrule which is more accurate under the pretence of democracyRecommend

  • Aftab
    Mar 10, 2014 - 11:35PM

    An excellent article and summation of the situation. Billy boy and the feudals may care to read this, but it will most likely elicit a shrug of the shoulders – ‘indifference’ as you rightly put it.


  • Mohammed
    Mar 10, 2014 - 11:37PM

    Why should they resign. This is no different from their usual incompetence. They have and never will care and they will always abuse the power to increase their almost unbreakable stranglehold on Sindh. The PPP and its crooks are a millstone around the already miserable lives of the poor. BTW what did the younger Zardari have to say?


  • Parvez
    Mar 11, 2014 - 12:25AM

    Nicely said but pointless……..a quick search shows the lavish dinner spread laid out for the CM and flunkies at the Circuit House in Mithi Thar – fried fish, koftas, chicken tikka, biryani, malai boti and more with the usual roti and trimmings………..and yes the people in Thar were dying of hunger. Can you shame the shameless ????


  • F Khan
    Mar 11, 2014 - 12:44AM

    Just by the way why are we so worried for sindh when the stupid voters are choosing bunch of these loser again and again.Rural sindh have bring this on them. Let them keep their romanticism alive with bhuttos and slogans……let them party and dance…..jiya bhutto.


  • yousafhaque
    Mar 11, 2014 - 1:22AM

    Most “annoying” article.There is no mention of Veena or meera or Ashwaria Roy or any other ‘attraction’.Only hard and disgusting facts of life,Telling the perpetually hungery about the tales of hunger makes no story.Sorry to annoy the author but we are so mentally-sick people that only perverted stories give us pleasure and attract our attention.In our sick society such articles as yours are no more than just a Muzak,to which everyone listens but no one remembers what was being said.


  • F Khan
    Mar 11, 2014 - 1:30AM

    Any news about the Prince of Twitter? He was supposed to be in Thar today.Just let him know we twitteratis are missing him.


  • Ih
    Mar 11, 2014 - 7:24AM

    if people do not have bread ,why do not they eat cake. Something like was said by a french princess. Rest is history . But they were different people. Pakistanis are cut from different cloth.


  • Ih
    Mar 11, 2014 - 7:27AM

    President Truman had on his desk ” Buck stops here ” Apparently buck is always deflected by shameless people.


  • naeem khan Manhattan,Ks
    Mar 11, 2014 - 8:16AM

    I have no words to express myself.What kind of people are we?


  • Sana Naqvi
    Mar 11, 2014 - 8:19AM

    Brilliant piece that sums up the most prevent problems present in the country!


  • Salman
    Mar 11, 2014 - 8:57AM

    I don’t think this is an op-ed for us to elaborate our points on. It’s a call to the CM for resignation. The only comment necessary is “Yes” he should resign or “Not” and I say “Yes”!! Resign Qaim Ali Shah.


  • Afroz
    Mar 11, 2014 - 9:05AM

    PPP is laying foundation of another Moen-jo daro in Thar, where Bilawal will arrange another festival to show the world how liberal he is. He will be dancing and singing on the background screaming and shrieking of dying babies and mothers of Thar.


  • Anwaar
    Mar 11, 2014 - 10:06AM

    @F Khan
    you really believe that elections are held fairly in rural areas.. there people vote for their sardar or “Baba Saaen” and that baba saaen mostly belongs to PPP….


  • Shahid Kinnare
    Mar 11, 2014 - 10:53AM

    Another says Rehman Malik did not resign, but fail to mention that people r dying during PMLN Ch Nisar. Faisal Raza Abidi is still respect by leader of Party, and regular visiter of Bilawal house. During BB first Government BB tried to make Karachi arm free but writer fails to mention that Karachi was flood with arms at time also, and just blame Zulifiqar Mirza with out any proof. Recommend

  • Lolz
    Mar 11, 2014 - 12:34PM

    Repeat with me… Resign! Qaim Ali Shah!!!!!


  • M A Mujeeb
    Mar 11, 2014 - 12:36PM

    The present CM is too old and bereft of ideas as to how to govern the province of Sind. I would suggest PP should seriously consider replacing him with a young politician Shirjeel Memon as Chief Minister Sind without further loss of time.


  • Prabhjyot Singh Madan
    Mar 11, 2014 - 1:07PM

    Pakistan was made for the feudal lords for themselves. Muslim league was filled with feudal lords. The ordinary people are subservient to these lords. They are the Saudis of Pakistan.enjoy the fruits of partition. Rab rakha


  • Queen
    Mar 11, 2014 - 1:08PM

    The best article written on the situation prevailing in Sindh and especially in Thar. It is pity that none of the Sindh lords will be reading this as they are busy in providing their patriotism on various media channels. Pity.


  • pinky
    Mar 11, 2014 - 3:01PM

    Jeeay Bhutto :(Recommend

  • sani
    Mar 11, 2014 - 3:26PM

    Sir awesome article I must say. PPP always break its own record in the hall of Shame.


  • Fellow
    Mar 11, 2014 - 4:39PM

    Democracy is best revenge: BillawalRecommend

  • Ghostrider
    Mar 11, 2014 - 5:09PM

    Resignation is not in the political genes of Pakistan… Well this was yet another low but not the last one…nore horrific lows will come laterRecommend

  • ria
    Mar 11, 2014 - 5:59PM

    dear pakistanis,
    a question….plz answer
    has any kind of apology or regret been issued by these ministers?? has media called upon these ministers and ashamed them……. is there any ARNAB GOSWAMI in pakistan?? plz answer….u need to shame such ministers in front of whole nation… me that works…


  • justasking
    Mar 12, 2014 - 7:55AM

    Very well written but I would like to see a similar Op-Ed about PTI too. PPP bashing seems to be too common. How come there is no outrage against Mr. Khattak of KPK, and PTI? Their apologist stance and pro-extremist tendencies are more dangerous for the country, and pose a real existential threat to the land of the pure. ET should not let them go off the hook.


  • ahsan
    Mar 12, 2014 - 8:39PM

    and what about NDMA chief, the self appointed general incharge of disaster management, or was he waiting for a disaster to happen instead of preventing it. Recommend

  • UW
    Mar 14, 2014 - 1:02AM

    The PPP has been in-charge of Sindh for over 5 years now, and have enough resources to stage the pointless festival. This worse than Nero-and-the-fiddle. This is Muhammad Shah Rangeela level decadence. This crisis needed weeks to brew. It is likely that the famine was starting up when BBZ was playing with kites or whatever.

    The tragedy is that Sindhis may still elect these guysRecommend

  • Uza Syed
    Mar 15, 2014 - 5:26PM

    Yes, indeed, it’s our collective “indifference” that’s doing us in and if we let this defective trait of our national character prevail then soon we would solve the problem that we are and none, neither we nor our “indifference” would threat us any more, ’cause we just won’t survive this ailment.


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