Monday November 28, 2022

Land of uncertainty

July 31, 2022

Our failures as a nation have been on full display for long, but lately they have taken on a new proportion. Most of these failures are a collective result of our inordinate inaction or delayed action most of the time – and overreaction some of the time.

If you look at community and human development indicators – such as in education, electricity provision, financial and food security, gender equity, health, and jobs creation – there is inaction or delayed action all along. Manifest most recently in the floods of Balochistan, rains in Karachi, landslides in Gilgit, polio in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, boat tragedy in Punjab, we see our administration lacking in active response and failing miserably. The citizens of Pakistan are condemned to live with perpetual uncertainties. You don’t know when your next of kin will disappear without trace; or your house will collapse because building control is not functioning properly.

You are uncertain if your children’s school will be inundated in the next rains or somebody in the family may die of electric shock due to the negligence of power companies. Common people are financially insecure and many don’t know where their next meal will come from. Girls are not sure if their family would allow them to complete their school education at least. Women fear they may be put to death by their own brother, father, or husband, or just beaten black and blue anytime a meal is over- or undercooked.

If you contract a disease, the doctor at the government hospital is uncertain if the medicine is spurious or genuine. If an operation is going on, the surgeon has doubts if the electricity will be uninterrupted or the fuel in the generator will run out. If our youth manage to get a piece of paper which they call a degree, there is no high hope that there will be a suitable job in the market commensurate with the amount of energy and resources that the degree has already consumed. If you have a job, there is no job security in most cases.

Even if you are a chief minister or prime minister your job is always at stake as there is no certainty about your tenure in office. If you launch a project, the staff remains sceptical about its future, and fear the day when the project winds up prematurely or the project director lands in jail. If you go for a picnic you are reluctant to allow your children to enjoy a boat ride as the boat may capsize. If you cross a bridge you are uncertain if the bridge will be intact on your way back. The list of uncertainties is endless.

One may argue that such uncertainties are everywhere in the world; well, not at this level. In most countries, at least free school education is certain, there is no chance of anybody contracting the poliovirus. Only a couple of countries in the world are on the verge of bankruptcy. In most countries labour laws are in place to prevent your summary dismissal. In a handful of countries foeticide and misogyny is as rampant as it is in Pakistan but not all citizens have been in a perpetual state of insecurity and uncertain about the very existence of their country.

But is this situation across the board in Pakistan? Are all citizens in the same state? If recent history is any guide, we can fairly conclude that it is not the case. Those who have permanent government jobs are in a relatively better position; and those who are higher up in the civil and military bureaucracy are even more so. Whether you are in uniform or without one is not as significant as being in a position of power that is paid for by the people of Pakistan. Whether you contribute to the economy is also not worth consideration.

The fact that you have a fixed salary with a lot of perks entitles you to boss around the people, and even their representatives. The position of power – whether you drive it from the gun or the gavel – just erases all uncertainties from your life. If the people of Pakistan and their representatives live with all the uncertainties enumerated above, so be it. But do I hear you mention the law and the constitution? I don’t care. I care only about my own perks and privileges, and those of my favourite ones.

Those who live in gated communities protected by the state and paid for by the people of Pakistan have no uncertainties. They have purpose-built educational institutions for their children, state-of-the-art hospitals, and top brands of cars that less than one per cent people can afford in this country. By the way, two per cent means just 2.3 million people. If I am one of the top two million government employees, there is no uncertainty for me. Pensions, promotions and salaries are gold-plated and nobody can snatch that from me. If most people don’t have that, I don’t care.

The higher you are in the hierarchy, the more inflexible you can be. One can abrogate constitutions and one can also interpret them at will. You are right – promotions have a system, but systems also have loopholes; if there are none, one can create them. What about those who drafted the constitution and legislated it? Well, they are inferior beings, don’t you know how they eat and behave in public. What do they know of constitutions and laws?

The key is to keep everything centralized. And the centre consists of the topmost people, or just the top one who can coopt some likeminded fellows to sit in the inner core. There are lucrative contracts and positions on offer which should not go to any undesirable ones. What are pals for if they don’t cooperate to take full advantage of their positions? We have our own inertia and mission creep that keep us going even if we are unable to produce tangible results. At least we can cripple others who may be trying to produce such results.

If somebody tries to pare us back, we resist tooth and nail because our very existence is at stake if we don’t keep asserting ourselves. Any talk of reducing our strength must be treason and treachery, deserving exemplary punishments. We may topple an elected government, concoct stories of corruption, initiate cases etc to make sure the one who challenges gets due comeuppance. We have every reason to work hard so that there is no uncertainty in our lives. You want us to think of uncertainties in the country; well I told you, we don’t care.

We need to preserve the status quo so that democracy does not take root in this country. Taxpayers pay for our maintenance but they are better off when we make decisions for them rather than their representatives who can make mistakes. Don’t you know we are infallible? If we backstab democracy, it is for the country’s sake.

And finally, don’t ask us to be nimble and effective, we are what we are. After all, our pals selected us and we are here to make our own future certain, not others’.

The writer holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK. He tweets @NaazirMahmood and can be reached at: