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The bigger picture


November 15, 2016

While the world is still reeling from the shock of being Trumped, Pakistanis seem to have forgotten about everything other than the Panama Papers case before the Supreme Court of Pakistan. While the case is indeed crucial for the country’s institutional determination of the importance of accountability and transparency, there are several other issues being ignored to our detriment.

The Kashmir dispute has yet again taken a seat on the backburner, with the occasional mere murmurs sounding from disconnected, disorganised segments of Pakistani society. The state’s policy towards Kashmir seems to begin and end at a random bullet fired here, and a random taunt levelled there. Of course, to expect understanding of what the word ‘policy’ entails is expecting too much from the Pakistani bureaucracy, who may be better placed at explaining what the term ‘free trip’ means.

Let’s put foreign policy (or the lack thereof) aside so we can focus on what the domestic status quo appears to indicate. All this time, the prime minister seems dead set on handing out laptops, somehow equating them with what the term ‘quality education’ is supposed to mean. Just recently, the prime minister distributed 668 laptops, under the National Youth Laptop Scheme, to students at the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences (UVAS) in Lahore.

Maybe if we put aside the fact that this is the government’s attempt to comply with its international and domestic legal obligations on education, we can ask why our leaders are incapable of thinking beyond cosmetic changes. Apparently, painting a school wall is the same as improving the quality of teachers and reforming the curriculum.

Further, recently the Commonwealth Secretariat released its findings on a new youth development index, assessing the best and worst places for young people, aged 15 to 29, to live. Pakistan ranks at 154th on the index, below India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Iran and Nepal. The data clearly demonstrates that Pakistan is one of the worst places in the world for young people to live.

One of the lead researchers behind the findings, Rafiullah Kakar, stated: “Young people make nearly one third of the total population of Pakistan. If we extend the age range to include children as well, then three out of every five people in Pakistan are below the age of 30, making it one of the most youthful countries in the world”.

If this isn’t supposed to shock and shake us to our core, what else will? Particularly in the context of widespread frustration, lack of opportunities and avenues, and the growing appeal of radical ideologies to the most vulnerable.

It is unfortunate, though, that all this falls off our radar. We’ve been designed to remain single-minded in our attention, understandings, ideas and solutions. Of course, if we broke out of this, the citizens of this country would be better placed than even the parliamentary opposition at ensuring things got done.

To compound matters, a 2014 report released by the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) in Pakistan, clearly cites the following as major reasons behind drug abuse and addiction: “Lack of family attention, paucity of sports facilities and lack of physical entertainment, outings and busy routine of parents make teenagers lonely, aloof and bored”.

Instead of handing out laptops, perhaps the government can make better use of already existing resources by enhancing and improving access to sports facilities, and other public spaces, which are more often than not severely underutilised in this country.

Simultaneously, with the horrifying and alarming rise in smog across Punjab, warnings of environmental activists should put this nation to shame. They screamed, yelled and tried to mobilise on every issue that had a potentially negative impact on the environment and our cultural heritage: from the Metro in Lahore to the Metro in Islamabad; from the Orange Line to constant road works and general, blatant disregard for the concept of sustainable development.

Despite these warnings and their apparent culmination, we seem to have learned nothing. We still have no idea what exactly caused the smog or how we can prevent it in the future considering that Pakistan has yet to establish a network of mobile and stationary air monitoring stations. But of course, the environment is the last thing on anyone’s minds despite the fact that it is intrinsically tied to our lives and futures.

It seems that our sole attention and focus should be on whether Nawaz Sharif will be made an example of or not. That’s all well and good. However, that in no way takes away from our responsibility to talk about real, everyday issues that affect the common man. It is de-contextualisation and disconnects that have brought us here so the assumption that contextualising may be the first step in resolving our issues may prove correct. We have to stop forgetting that it is the tiny pixels that make the picture and not the other way round.


The writer is a lawyer.

Email: [email protected]



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