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July 11, 2019

The republic of chaos


July 11, 2019

Some feelings and concepts are difficult to grasp. Chaos is one of these. The kind of chaos that comes after an earthquake or any other natural disaster can of course be both visualised and documented in concrete terms. But this is not true of other kinds of chaos which overtake society and leave it and its citizens in a state of confusion and uncertainty.

We face such chaos today. There is no longer the required since of certainty. Recent allegations and counter-allegations regarding the judiciary have naturally raised consternation. Seeds of suspicion and doubt have been sown, and similar events from two decades ago come to mind once again. Such incidents undermine the people’s faith in the judiciary in a country where access to justice and faith in the judicial system is already low. As a consequence, the scaffolding of the state is damaged. Some of it inevitably falls away, leaving spaces of weakness.

This is not the only kind of confusion we see. There are accusations of all kinds floating around the social media. Some of these are directed against the media and hold it responsible for protecting those who are corrupt or those who are guilty of misdeeds of various kinds in the past. It has to be said some of this is not entirely invalid. The string of accusations coming in, charging the media with raising the cases of only high-profile prisoners, are not entirely inaccurate. The media should indeed be playing its part in also bringing to public notice the inhumane circumstances in which tens of thousands of ordinary prisoners are held as well as the violations of the jail manual that routinely take place. Human rights groups regularly point these out.

While the agenda of news is dictated by the public position of persons, it should also be the moral duty of media professionals to raise the issues of those who have no voice and no ability to make their plight public. It is an established fact that prisoners in the 99 or so prisons in Pakistan are often held in inhumane conditions. Retribution rather than reformation is the aim of a flawed judicial system. How anyone can imagine reform is possible in conditions where juveniles are kept alongside hardened criminals and everyone is treated with brutality, which effectively removes from them the essence of humanity and good will, is difficult to imagine. This is a long debate. And there are no immediate solutions.

The allegations meanwhile, through a tweet using the Twitter hashtag #ArrestAntiPakistanJournalist, add to confusion about the role of media professionals in our society. It is their duty to question the actions of government or others in official positions. This should not be construed as being ‘anti-state’. When this happens, there is further chaos and a further sense of confusion in the minds of people. In our current environment, it is also dangerous. We are seeing a vicious campaign against selected individuals on charges that they are acting against the interests of the state. Such allegations need to be avoided or at least made with extreme caution.

Since 1992, more than 61 Pakistani journalists have been killed, a large number of them directly in the line of duty. Others must not be endangered. We are certain the government is aware of this and the prime minister has indeed pledged in the past to ensure the freedom of expression. Warnings have also been issued about the controversial tweet and the display of pictures of prominent journalists alongside it. Social media of course makes such actions possible. But it also depicts the kind of currents running through society and highlights the need to bring them under control before any damage is done.

There are undoubtedly many other examples. The lives of too many people continue under conditions of near absolute chaos. Scores of people marched recently 150 kilometres in scorching heat from the village of Kharo Chan to Thatta to highlight the severe shortage of water in the Thatta and Badin districts. This was not a march organised by any group. No vehicles were available to the farmers and others who joined them as they walked along that long road over five days. There was no protection from the sun, and the calls of ‘Karbala’ they raised was a telling reminder of the plight people faced in Thatta and Badin, where the lack of flow of fresh water into the Indus delta is making sweet water brackish and has already led to the erosion of millions of acres of land as the sea infiltrates agricultural fields and takes them away. The plight of these people is barely known to those outside the area. Even in Karachi, the capital of the province, their stories are seldom heard.

Other stories have come recently from tribal areas, from Balochistan as well as from other parts of the country. They depict people living in a state of constant uncertainty and facing potential catastrophe with little warning and almost no protection. For them, there is nothing settled or certain about life. They live in constant chaos, and successive governments have failed to offer them the respite they need from such a situation. It is possible for people to survive in these conditions only for a limited period of time. The same is true of society as a whole.

We need greater clarity of vision and a greater understanding of how significant rule of law and a more equitable division of resources and wealth is to people in our country. Otherwise, we face nothing but still more chaos, from one year to the next and for decade after decade. Already, we have seen a worsening of the situation. Minority groups today face more persecution than they did five decades ago, or even two decades ago. The same is true of other groups and communities. Turmoil which does not stop naturally takes its toll.

As a nation, it sometimes seems we are on a merry-go-round that never stops and keeps moving at a faster and faster pace. This means no one can get off or avoid the inevitable feeling of dizziness and confusion. Someone needs to bring that merry-go-round to a halt and allow people to find firmer footing.

The writer is a freelancecolumnist and former newspaper editor.

Email: [email protected]

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