Ather NaqviThe tragic incident of the oil tanker explosion in Bahawalpur will continue to haunt us as the death toll has risen to 191 as per the latest reports. As all horrific accidents often are, this one also gives us a moment to reflect on what is amiss in us as a nation, who we think we are and what we are not.
We have been told, time and again, that we are a great nation. We grew up taking pride in ourselves at the expense of harbouring hatred for others. A sense of superiority never failed to grip us at times when it was good to be disillusioned. However, what constituted greatness was seldom discussed at length.
All we knew was that we had accomplished feats which others could only dream of or aspired to achieve. The list of our accomplishments goes something like this: we have great talent, we have one of the best armies in the world, we are a nuclear state, we won the world cup and we made world’s biggest tala (lock) to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records. Unfortunately, we seldom saw beyond these slogans.
Why do we still fear looking at the flipside of all this? Let’s try one more time. The accident in Ahmedpur Sharqia is a microcosm of what lies beneath the facade: people risking and losing their lives just for a few litres of petrol. Can there be a bigger shock than this? Doesn’t it stem from the genie of greed and poverty that we don’t want to face and bottle?
What is poverty, then? Only the other day, we heard that we had broken the proverbial begging bowl of the IMF and World Bank. Are we just poor in monetary terms or are we up to our necks in the poverty of ignorance? According to Merriam Webster Dictionary, poverty is “the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions”. But this definition surely doesn’t encapsulate our sometimes misplaced sense of pride.
Contrary to whatever we say, our donors are keeping a watchful eye on us. The Asian Development Bank (ADB)’s Basic Statistics 2017 states that 29.5 percent of Pakistan’s population lives below the poverty line. The report – which uses data from 2015 – shows the development indicators for 45 economies in the Asia and the Pacific Region. As compared to Pakistan, India has 21.9 percent of its population living below the poverty line. Isn’t it a wake-up call for our policymakers who seem content with burying their head in the sand?
The situation seems to be going from bad to worse. The slightly more recent data on Pakistan’s poverty rate draws a picture that is even more dismal.
Pakistan’s Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) claims four out of 10 Pakistanis are living in acute poverty. In addition to income and wealth, the MPI also used other measures to determine poverty. These include access to healthcare, education and the standard of living. Contrary to popular belief, the report claims that 38.8 percent of Pakistan’s population lives in poverty.
The details of the report are eye-opening but predictable. Among the four provinces, Balochistan ranks among the highest in multidimensional poverty while Punjab ranks the lowest. Fata has the highest poverty rate, where three out of every four persons (73.7 percent) are poor. Four out of the five poorest districts happen to be in Balochistan. Killa Abdullah is the poorest district where 97 percent of the population is poor.
It is believed that numbers are not everything if they portray a good picture. But in our case, even numbers do not look good as tragedies occur on a daily basis. So, the news of a person committing suicide due to financial constraints is reported as a single-column story in newspapers or worse, becomes a matter of sensation for the electronic media.
Practices like the illegal kidney trade and putting one’s children up for sale for a few thousand rupees make a mockery of our false pride. It is in sharp contrast to our dash for development in the name of CPEC, which continues to make promises to the poor. We will have to wait and see when these promises be fulfilled.
Perhaps it is time for us as a nation to sit back, take a pause and ponder. Perhaps it is the poverty of ideas that we are dealing with. Perhaps we should learn how to unlearn certain lessons. Perhaps we should make a new start based on rationality and not sentimentality. Perhaps it is time to be fair with ourselves. Are we ready to confront ourselves?
The writer is a staff member