Gulf News, October 16, 2006
One year ago, Pakistanis responded in an unprecedented manner to the tragic earthquake that killed tens of thousands of their countrymen and made over 2.5 million homeless.
Thousands of civilians mobilised to lend a helping hand in relief efforts, digging victims out of the rubble with bare hands.
Hundreds of doctors, both inside the country and abroad, left their lucrative practices to volunteer medical care in makeshift hospitals. Contributions worth millions of dollars flowed from better off Pakistanis around the world.
In terms of national unity and caring for fellow citizens, the aftermath of the earthquake brought out the best among Pakistanis and was described as Pakistan’s finest hour.
But one year later, the optimism generated by the people’s response to the earthquake appears to have dissipated. The anniversary of the earthquake was marked by a demonstration by victims against the corruption of relief officials.
It is not difficult to believe that officials have started pocketing relief funds, now that the spotlight of the media is gone and the sense of urgency created by the earthquake has subsided.
After all, Transparency International’s 2006 National Corruption Perception Survey for Pakistan indicates that 67.3 per cent of business people in Pakistan view the present government, with General Pervez Musharraf as president and with the parliament elected in 2002, as the most corrupt government to hold power since 1988.
While observing the anniversary of the earthquake, official Pakistan kept its audacious face, taking credit for the contributions of ordinary citizens, but the painful reality is there for all to see.
The squabbling of religious leaders and politicians is back where it was before the earthquake. Retired generals are rushing to prove the current ruling general wrong. The ruling general is keen to rewrite history to create justification for his rule, without seeking forgiveness for sidestepping the constitution. The political stalemate continues, with the wielders of power lacking legitimacy and those claiming legitimacy lacking any power.
Violence in Balochistan and the resurgence of the Taliban along the Afghan border have once again highlighted Pakistan’s predilection for internal warfare.
On the international front, the shenanigans of Pakistan’s invisible government, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) are being widely discussed with little belief in Islamabad’s denials. Relations with the United States and India are both following a familiar pattern of surface improvements, coupled with sub-surface tensions.
Why has the opportunity of unifying the nation and moving forward in a new direction that followed last year’s earthquake been squandered? Pakistanis have repeatedly demonstrated national unity in the face of adversity. But Pakistan’s lack of institutional government and the inflexible preoccupations of the permanent state (which is not the same thing as the Pakistani nation) have repeatedly let Pakistan down following moments of unprecedented national unity and unselfishness.
In the final analysis, the functionality or otherwise of a state is a political question. Recently, a group of young Pakistanis in North America launched a new website called www.new-pakistan.com.
While defining their mission, they summarised Pakistan’s crisis in the following words: “Pakistanis can rightfully be proud of several accomplishments and achievements. But overall the world does not see the Pakistan experiment as a successful one.”
Pakistan was not meant to be a military dictatorship or, for that matter, the breeding ground for religious extremism. It has become both. In 59 years, Pakistan has undergone a second partition in the form of the separation of Bangladesh and has been plagued with ethnic or sectarian disharmony. For more than half the period of Pakistan’s existence, the country has had either no constitution or a suspension of the constitutional order. Transfers of power have almost always been the result of military or palace coups.
Pakistan is a nuclear weapons power but is unable to provide clean drinking water to a majority of its citizens. The wealth of a few has increased but so has the misery of the many. Educated Pakistanis sometimes get tired of what they see as constant criticism of Pakistan in the international media. Some respond by blaming Pakistan’s enemies for painting a stark picture of the Pakistani situation.
Others try to point towards the softer side of Pakistan. But the success or failure of a nation or state, both of which are political concepts, cannot be measured by recounting the poems of poets, the songs of musicians, the mystical dances of Sufis and the score of sportsmen.
In the final analysis, the value of a political ideal can only be assessed by political criteria. Pakistan’s political evolution (or lack of it) is the real reason Pakistan is seen by the world as the sick man of South Asia.
Thoughtful Pakistanis must dedicate themselves to political issues, and not be content with doing good at an individual or non-governmental level as they did in the aftermath of the earthquake, but because politics is where Pakistan needs to make a new beginning.