Rohit Kumar's Views

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The slow slide to anarchy

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Kamila Hyat

A few days ago, in the town of Okara, a mob which included several women burst into a police station, poured petrol over two policemen and set them ablaze. Intervention from other people at the station prevented death – but not serious injury — to five people. In other similar incidents in Karachi, mobs have set alight suspected criminals.

There are other signs too of anarchy. At least two incidents have been reported during the last few days from Punjab, where parents killed small children and then themselves. In Lahore, a rickshaw driver is reported to have reached a death agreement with his wife and three daughters, the eldest aged around 13 years, after they decided there was no other way out of the financial straits they faced as a family.

The official response has been callous. The information minister has remarked suicides took place even in the developed world, admitted the government could do little to tackle poverty and advised people to hand over children they could not feed to the Pakistan Baitul Maal. The smiling director-general of that organization meanwhile informed the media on the same occasion that 15 centres, named ‘Sweet Homes’ had been opened up for such children.

The taste such remarks leave in the mouth is not sweet at all. There is instead a strong element of bitter bile. What is the government doing, hanging on to power, if it can do nothing to assist desperate people and must advise them to give away their children?

Even the more sensible option of population control was not mentioned. The comments from the minister come at a time when we hear regularly of the lavish lifestyle of ministers, of blatant nepotism and corruption in many places and of malpractices of many kinds elsewhere. Transparency International Pakistan has described how the military and the civil administration could save millions for development simply by following procurement rules.

There are many other examples of a slide towards anarchy. The slippage has in fact been going on for years.

In the north of our country we fight a war that some fear is unwinnable for a conventional force pitched against a highly-motivated guerilla outfit. Acts of almost unspeakable horror unfold in areas where the Taliban retain their hold. Till recently, three young men from Orakzai, who were dragged into a bazaar and had their hands chopped off by the Taliban, lay in a Kohat Hospital. The men, all from poor families, asked under what law they had suffered amputation and who would compensate them for the loss of a hand – and with it the means to earn a living.

There received no answers. Reports stated no member of government had visited them.

Elsewhere, small boys are enrolled by militants as future suicide bombers. Some reports say children as young as six have been taken away for this purpose. Families continue to sell children to be used by extremists, as prostitutes or for forced labour of all kinds. Young men desperate to flee the country pay out huge sums to agents who exploit them.

Most people in the country continue to feel they have no access to justice; that their grievances are not heard and that no one is interested in their fate. This is one factor behind growing mob violence of many kinds.

The UN’s World Food Programme, in its recently released report on the ‘State of Food Insecurity in Pakistan’, states that 48 per cent, or nearly half the people in the country, are food-insecure. In a nation of 170 million this translates into a very, very large number. The lavish lifestyles of the rich seem especially obscene when juxtaposed on a backdrop that sees people scrabble over handfuls of rice distributed at mazaars or scavenge for food at garbage dumps.

The failure to change this situation for the deprived has already brought us close to complete ruin. Pakistan ranks once more among the ten least successful states of the world according to the annual list put out by Foreign Policy magazine. Continued chaos stemming from militancy is listed as one reason for this. In turn militancy is fuelled by poverty; poverty created by poor governance – and the apparent lack of commitment to people.

Anarchy also takes the form of a breakdown in the rule of law. In the Pakistan of today, the powerful do as they please. According to a recent report, a landlord in Renala Khurd had held over 40 Christians in his home village captive after his daughter apparently eloped with a member of the community. His thugs threatened to set them alight in their homes.

Similar violence has of course taken place elsewhere. The rich are aware they can, quite literally, get away with murder. Money brings with it enormous privilege. The poor are often punished even when they have committed no crime.

It is not easy to say how we can pull back from such chaos. The typhoon that has blown away so many structures fundamental to state and to society threatens now to topple those that remain. Everywhere, criminal elements have tied in with terrorists. ‘No go’ areas exist across the country and we have continued tugging at the frayed rope that holds together the Federation.

The primary responsibility to restore order lies of course with government. But it is difficult, for now, to imagine it can, without intervention, do very much on its own to change matters. There seems to be little will or ability to do so. This intervention will need to come from people. Sadly there appears to be no organized group in society capable of offering this; no political party which has very much to offer. The drive forward must then come from various groups willing to come together. Such fronts of students, activists, professionals have been formed in other countries. They must play a part in persuading the elite of a need for reform. The alternative is growing anarchy which will eventually threaten the survival of everyone living within the state.

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