It’s the human development that suffers
The fire in the garment factory in Karachi on September 11, 2012, caused the death of over 290 people. Another fire incident in a shoe factory in Lahore on the same day killed 25 people. The Karachi incident was the most shocking because a large number of families have lost their bread-earners. Most of the victims could have been saved had the factory followed the safety and fire-fighting regulations and requirements.
These two incidents were followed by the ritualistic visits of the politicians to the incident sites and they made tough statements for taking action against those responsible for these deaths. The MQM leaders and activists brought flowers to the garment factory and lighted candles to honor the dead in pursuance of an international tradition when human life is lost for one reason or another. The Sindh High Court took notice of the incident. Different departments of the Sindh government ordered inquiries. Financial compensations were announced by the Sindh and the Punjab governments, the federal government and Malik Riaz, the leading real estate businessperson.
The TV channels gave an extensive coverage to the Karachi incident, highlighting the agony of the people and inadequacies of the response of different departments and agencies of the Sindh provincial government.
Everybody was shocked in Pakistan but within a couple of days this incident and those killed there will be reduced to historical record. The life will return to routine activities and the media will be busy with other events.
In a couple of years we will forget those who lost their lives as is done with other accidents, although we refer to them as historical data. However, their immediate families will continue to mourn them because in some cases the families relied solely on the salaries of the people killed in Karachi.
The Karachi incident is symptomatic of the tragedy of Pakistan were the ordinary human beings, laborers and the poor people are nothing more than statistics for government reports and NGOs.
We all know that the factory regulations are violated by those who either have strong political connections or bribe the concerned officials or pay “protection money” to powerful political groups or local mafias.
Pakistan’s state system is not essentially geared to helping the ‘have-nots’ because the political class, the government, the opposition spend most of their energies on high politics that involves their individual and group or party interests. The state institutions are no different because these are more interested in protecting their institutional interests and project their top officials.
Make a content analysis of the speeches and statements of the political leaders and examine carefully their comments in the private sector TV channels. They engage in partisan politics, making personal remarks to put down the political adversary and defend their partisan approach at any cost. At times they may talk of the problems of the common people but that is done only to blame the opposite side, especially the provincial or federal government, for neglecting the people. The political leaders and political parties are not prepared to agree on plans for diverting state resources to specific human development plans. How would the opposition party afford a government to succeed in launching public welfare programs?
The political leaders and parties often sell dreams of a better future to the people. Currently, the PTI is offering a glorified dream of solving all problems of people through a technocratic approach. There is hardly any realization on the part of the PTI that economic and social development plans are implemented in the political context which is so fragmented and divided that any plan is likely to run into trouble. It is not explained how would the PTI mobilize resources in a troubled society which is experiencing religious extremism and terrorism? The PTI’s pro-Taliban disposition is not expected to help much.
The PML-N is desperate for knocking out the PPP-led coalition government at the federal level and offsetting the appeal of Imran Khan to young people in the Punjab. The PPP cannot come out of its self-articulated persecution syndrome and the MQM and the ANP want to protect their exclusive political empires in urban Sindh and KP respectively.
The other side of the high politics is Pakistan foreign policy where the federal government faces enormous problems in pursuing peace in and around Pakistan because of their inability to overcome the traditional mindset of hostility towards India and its active role in Afghanistan found widely in the political circles and the official civilian and military circles. They are also under pressure from religious and militant circles to pursue a strident foreign policy.
If Pakistan cannot improve its economic and diplomatic relations with the neighboring state and seeks peace on its border, it cannot spare resources for devoting serious attention to education, health care, civic facilities and eradication of under-development.
The military builds pressure on the civilian government to promote its professional and corporate interests. Given Pakistan’s fragile democracy and divided political class no federal government can always assert itself on military and security affairs. Similarly, the high judiciary and especially the Supreme Court has become a political player because of the proliferation of politically loaded cases. It has removed an elected prime minister and it may do the same with another prime minister. Will that solve the problems of the common people? Will that improve the quality of service at the lower level judiciary?
All what is happening in Pakistan is the high politics that serves the interests and ego of political parties, leaders and state institutions. The ordinary people figure in the discourse of the competing interests and institutions for blaming each other for their neglect.
Pakistan should assign the highest priority to human and societal development. Population can become Pakistan’s major asset if sufficient resources are devoted to education, health care, availability of clean-drinkable water, civic amenities, law and order and promotion of religious-cultural tolerance and protection of civil and political rights.
In November 2011, Pakistan was at 145th position in 187 countries in the Human Development Index. In the same month the Punjab Civil Secretariat received 42,000 applications for 90 positions of Naib Qasid; the people with the Master’s degrees applied for these positions.
These are the real problems of Pakistan. If Pakistan’s to function as a peaceful and coherent country these issues should be addressed as the first priority and high politics and strident foreign policy will have to be down-played.
The writer is an independent political and defence analyst.