Sunday July 14, 2024

The fault is in our priorities

By Abdul Sattar
October 26, 2022

Amidst the political wrangling of our ruling elite, the plight of flood affected people continues to exacerbate. In a recent incident a 10-year-old girl was raped by some people at gun point in broad daylight in the Clifton area of Karachi. The sexual assault has not only put a question mark on the security arrangements of the metropolis but the ability of the rulers to protect the most vulnerable citizens of this land.

The family of the girl had reportedly migrated from Shikarpur to mini Pakistan in search of shelter, food and protection but it seems those who were supposed to protect them miserably failed because their priorities are focussed on providing protection to a brigade of ministers, advisers, special assistants and bureaucrats. These wretched souls from the bottom layer of our social stratification have no importance for them.

Chief Minister of Sindh Murad Ali Shah has reportedly taken notice of the incident, asking the police to nab the perpetrators, and instructing provincial minister Shehla Raza to provide protection to the girl. The instructions of the chief minister are worth appreciating but many wonder why such protection was not extended earlier in a country where more than 63,000 crimes against women and girls occurred during the last three years. The chief minister can at least now order round-the-clock protection for people, especially women and girls, who are forced to live on the streets because of the state’s criminal negligence in arranging decent housing for them.

It is a general trend in Pakistan that whenever any natural calamity hits any area, government buildings, schools, hospitals and under construction state concerns are used to host the affected people. It is logical to use public buildings like hospitals, schools and other establishments for people who may have been struck by any flood or earthquake. But many argue that such facilities also serve an essential purpose by offering ordinary citizens health, education and other facilities which are needed on a daily basis.

Why can’t our ministers, politicians, bureaucrats and capitalists also not make sacrifices for those who are suffering? For instance, a number of residences like Circuit, DC and commissioner houses as well as state guest houses lie vacant throughout the year and are only utilized when a VIP personality visits that venue. Pakistani companies make tons of money whenever a crisis hits the country. For instance, during the Covid-19 pandemic pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and laboratories made tons of money. Such concerns also own large meeting halls and guest houses across the country. Why can these places not be used for flood affected people?

Similarly, one cannot find even a single parliamentarian who is not at least a millionaire – and in the case of the Sharifs, the Bhuttos, the Chaudhrys and the like, brimming with wealth. Then why can’t some parts of Jati Umra, Bilawal House Lahore and the Chaudhrys’ palatial place in Gujrat be devoted for these grief-stricken people? Why can’t Bani Gala of Khan be used to accommodate at least a few hundred of these people for a few months?

Our politicians and parliamentarians live in spacious houses, own a number of cars and vehicles. Some of them are accustomed to buying imported everything. It is justified for an ordinary citizen to ask why Parliament Lodges in Islamabad, MPA hostels in Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta, Karachi, Muzaffarabad and Gilgit cannot be devoted for flood-affected people, who have always extended support to their politicians by sending them to legislative bodies. Why should Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah not accommodate at least a few hundred of them in the elite mansion called the CM House? The same could be asked from billionaire Sindh Governor Kamran Tessori who has vowed to serve the people.

Why should the chief ministers and governors of all provinces and federating units not make the same sacrifices? Almost every politician, feudal, businessman and top bureaucrat owns a large farm house in various parts of the country. Most of the time these rural luxury houses, acquired in the name of promoting agriculture and farming, remain empty. They are only used when our leaders feel like partying. From Senator Azam Swati to former interior minister Sheikh Rashid, from leaders of the PPP to the lawmakers of the N League, ANP, PML-Q and PTI – all of them have been gifted thousands of acres of land across the country.

Such land has been doled out to influential people at throwaway prices despite the fact that more than 35 per cent peasants are landless while 67 per cent of the population does not own decent housing. The state also allotted thousands of acres or perhaps tens of thousands of acres of land to Dawat-e-Islami, Tableeghi Jamaat, elite schools and charity organizations at an extremely discounted rate or completely free. The headquarters of Dawat-e-Islami in Karachi and that of the Tableeghi Jamaat in Lahore can create space for tens of thousands flood-affected people. The state should ask these bodies for reciprocation of the state’s favours that were extended to them without any scrutiny.

But instead of facilitating these people whose lives were shattered by the natural calamity, the Sindh government is being accused by some of evicting the affectees from tent cities and asking them to go back to their submerged houses. The efficient provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has been blamed for shutting down camps and temporary shelters forcing people to live in their debilitated houses and abodes. The establishment of the Punjab government based in Lahore does not want to know what is happening in the Saraiki region where millions have lost their livelihoods and are condemned to lead a life of misery and poverty. The crown of Lahore is there to arrange logistics for Khan’s public gatherings and political meetings.

It is not only provincial governments that have demonstrated criminal negligence by deserting the grief-stricken people but the federal government has equally ignored them. It is true that prime minister Shehbaz Sharif has visited several parts of the province amidst the battery of media persons but no concrete action has been taken to completely rehabilitate these folks. Islamabad complains about the paucity of funds but despite all that from prime minister to Bilawal and speaker national assembly to the chairman senate all are busy making foreign trips, staying in expensive hotels and allegedly squandering public money.

The recent plan supposedly by the Civil Aviation Authority – to offer free tea at all airports – adds salt to the injury of those affected by the floods. On the one hand the government claims to be deficient in funds and on the other it comes up with these ridiculous plans. This shows that the state does have funds but misplaced priorities.

The Public Sector Development Programme of all provinces and the federal government is over Rs2000 billion. This should be enough to not only rehabilitate all flood victims, providing them shelter, food and some sort of employment – but it could also be instrumental in addressing health, education, sanitation and water issues of more than 60 million people living below the poverty line. It is only a matter of priorities.


The writer is a freelance journalist.