Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Pakistan needs saving

Pakistan is on fire and it needs saving. The past week has brought to bare the multi-dimensional abyss that the country finds itself in.

- July 26: 7 killed in suicide bombing near home of Pakistani politician
A provincial minister in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province and a leading critic of the Taliban was killed near his home along with six others in a suicide bomb attack; just two days after his own son was assassinated. 

- July 28: No Survivors Reported in Pakistan Plane Crash
152 people died in a fiery crash of an Air Blue flight from Islamabad to Karachi, leaving no survivors. 

- August 2: 45 die in revenge attacks in Pakistan
The assassination of a politician from the MQM at a mosque, leads to severe reprisals and street clashes in Karachi, leaving 45 dead. 

- Ongoing: Aid begins to trickle in to flood-ravaged northwestern Pakistan
Aid has barely started to flow in a region where 3m are affected, 1400 have already been killed, and 27,000 remain trapped, due to severe flooding particularly in Swat (an already conflict-affected area). 

Pakistan has been set ablaze once again with a torturous concoction of human, man-made, and natural disasters. One nation of 170 million people is afflicted with the most devastating of circumstances. Conflicts. Earthquakes. Floods. Assassinations. Bombings. Terrorism. Poverty. Illiteracy. Corruption. And the list goes on. Pakistan is on fire and there is nobody there to put it out. Instead the President Asif Ali Zardari is in London, overtly for a political meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron, but ostensibly to launch his son Bilawal's political career. For Pakistan's politicians, crisis is but the norm. It is in fact the time, when the media will come to their doorstep (of their palatial palace-like homes) to ask for but a comment. Forthright and fervent, they will express their indignation with terrorists - Pakistan will never be held hostage by those that seek to strike fear in our hearts. Empathetic and energetic, they will show sorrow in the face of human tragedy - our hearts go out to each of the families affected, and we will do everything to assist them.

Nothing changes. Absolutely nothing. Each week brings altogether new tragedies. The news cycle moves forward, and the soundbites are simply updated. With their hands-cupped, Pakistani officials makes the rounds at Islamabad's embassies. Yet, is that where the solution will be found? Will the United Kingdom return to assume its colonial status and manage the country's affairs? When Prime Minister David Cameron accused Pakistan of exporting terror, there was outright anger. Where is the outrage in the face of Pakistan's failing schools and widespread illiteracy in rural areas? Where is the condemnation of religious intolerance against Pakistan's minorities? Where is the censure of the altogether unacceptable poverty that continues to plague the country? Where is the visible frustration with the copious corruption in political circles?

Surely, it would be wrong to blame the country's ineffective and self-centered political leadership for natural disasters as the floods. However, it is the same system that mismanages the country, which continues to fail to respond adequately to situations like the current flooding in the northwest. Just ask the survivors for their blistering critique of the government. Yes, as a stop-gap, international donors and agencies will help Pakistan. And, the vibrant civil society in the country continues in its admirable work in the social sector. Nevertheless that is not a substitute for effective leadership.

As much as top-down leadership is needed, what is the government without its people. Fewer than 2% of Pakistanis pay any form of income tax. Many of Pakistan's great minds leave the country, to destinations in the Gulf, Europe or North America (or Australia). Who can blame them? They are simply seeking a better life. However, nothing will change by itself. Leaders will not be accountable unless there are people ready to hold them to account.

The road ahead is difficult. In fact, it is full of obstacles and the destination is unclear. However, the status quo is unacceptable. Pakistan is on fire, and nobody is around to put it out. And that's a shame.

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