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October 15, 2020

Beyond the many controversies


October 15, 2020

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.

As a nation we are being hit by one controversy and one conspiracy after the other. Most recently, the future of two small islands lying off the Karachi coast has brought protests from the Pakistan Fisherfolks Forum and other groups supporting them.

Let us not go into the details of when the idea of building a modern commercial city on these two tiny pieces of land was first floated. The proposal had come up perhaps first of all in 2006 during the Musharraf era. Let us also ignore for now the admittedly important question of whether the Sindh government had approved the scheme. We know the record of the provincial government well.

The real issue however is that, while our federal government is willing to hand over land for development to a foreign entity and construct lavish apartments for the wealthy, converting the island into a “new Dubai” as members of the government have said, it is not willing to look at the housing situation of ordinary Pakistanis.

As an example, take the example of 300 communities of fisherfolk who according to the PFF live on the coast of Karachi and use the islands to earn their livelihoods. These people live in dismal conditions, with their huts frequently ravaged by storms that come in from the sea and by winds that can easily knock over the tin rooves and canvas walls. We ask if a government that had promised better quality of life for people should be focusing on improving conditions in places like Ibrahim Haideri and other fishing villages rather than focusing on those who can afford to purchase Dubai-style penthouse suites and other kinds of similarly luxurious housing.

The same question of controversy arises over the ban on dating sites including Tinder and some days later the country’s most used video platform TikTok. Certainly, it may be true that some videos on TikTok would be offensive to some. To others this may not be the case. The decision of what social media to use and what to avoid is a highly personal one and will vary from individual to individual. Perhaps the government, with its determination to focus on morality could have taken steps to ensure that the multiple child rapists who operate in the country can be penalized for their crime and children kept a little safer.

Similarly, speaking of morality, there are multiple internet cafes using pornography to lure in users as well as many prostitution businesses in every major city and many towns. We all know the practices that take places at truck stops, and the presence of small boys at these places. Rather than banning the particular websites which have also been used to demonstrate talent as stand-up comedians and singers who have no other opportunity to showcase their skills, perhaps focusing on these other activities would have been more useful.

There are multiple other controversies and conspiracies that dominate the news cycle almost every day. The question of how so many politicians were named in an FIR for treason remains a mystery. SHOs are usually extremely reluctant to register FIRs especially in controversial matters. Equally mysterious is the matter of how the Punjab government was able to remove the name of the AJK Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider from the list of traitors. Without any investigation how was it possible to prove that he was innocent while all the others named are still subject to an inquiry to establish the charges made.

The roundabout of controversy, and with it chaos, never seems to stop. We now have orders attempting to restrict foreign currency moving out of the country. The issue that needs to be investigated is why large amounts of foreign currency are being moved away. Clearly there is some lack of confidence in our own economy and the manner in which it is being run.

At another level, the economy affects every individual in the country. The massive rise in prices means that items that were once a part of every kitchen are no longer available to many households. Sugar has disappeared again from markets and the crisis of atta, the staple food for most in the country, has risen. Combined with this is an increase in the prices of life saving drugs that in some cases exceed 200 percent. This of course means that many patients using the drugs have either stopped doing so or reduced the quantity they consume putting their welfare at risk.

While the Prime Minister’s Adviser on Health, Dr Faisal Sultan, is not wrong in saying there was a shortage of these drugs because pharmaceutical companies had stopped manufacturing them, the reality is that any necessary price increase should have come in phases making it possible for people to continue purchasing the medication. We also know the pharmaceutical industry is well known for its lack of ethics especially when it comes to pricing and that the rate at which vital drugs are sold is considerably higher in Pakistan than any other nation in South Asia.

We are living then in a swirl of confusion. People have very little idea of what is happening and why. Government policies sometimes seem to make no sense at all. The single national curriculum, widely written upon by education specialists, is just one such example. We also hear from the government of its efforts to create an ideal place for people. But the reality, like the stories depicted in movies and films such as the terrifying but fascinating Spiderwick Chronicles and many other similar works of fiction, is far more sinister.

Beyond the images put forward to promote tourism in a land that holds incredible beauty there are many sinister events taking place. The crackdown on the media is as vicious as the one seen under the late General Ziaul Haq and the stories of people being 'picked up' continue to do the rounds at least on social media. A smiling Prime Minister can do nothing to disguise this reality. Most people have seen the truth.

The question for us is how we will move forward from here if this is even possible. The net around the nation is being drawn tighter and tighter. Our foreign policy has not been a success and inside the country there is a growing sense of bewilderment and disillusionment.

As the opposition prepares for its protests under the PDM banner, it is difficult to say if parties with so many different ideologies can remain united and what the impact will be on a government that has so far chosen to ignore democratic norms and simply treat anyone who voices dissent as a criminal. This cannot continue indefinitely without causing irreparable harm to the country.

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