111 510 510 libonline@riphah.edu.pk Contact

And so they went on

The other day I happened to overhear a group of post-graduate students discussing what constituted the principal or fundamental problem of Pakistan. Here is a summarised account of the debate.

Farzana: It’s the absence of rule of law. Lawlessness – left untreated – can wreak havoc on the body politic. It’s not stern laws that ruin a people; rather their discriminatory application that does so. In our country, the law exists but it doesn’t reign supreme.

The rich and the high and mighty get away with the most blatant violations of the law, while ordinary people are penalised for even minor, harmless offences. We all remember the infamous National Reconciliation Ordinance, which at one go washed away the corrupt deeds of our political elite. Such a law couldn’t have seen the light of day in a society governed by law. The NRO was rightly struck down by the apex court.

Zahid: The basic problem of our society is illiteracy. Nearly half of the population is illiterate; almost half of those who are literate can only read or write their name; while more than half of the literate not falling in the latter category can’t make head or tail of what they are taught. Education has been short shifted by successive governments.

The absence of rule of law can also be mainly attributed to illiteracy, since only educated people are aware of their rights and obligations. Knowledge is power and only with this power can we make this a better place to live in.

Riaz: Few of us will deny the importance of education. But I wonder why we are disregarding religion. Religion is the source of all morality, all virtue and all goodness. It is also the most powerful source of social control. Dazzled by western media and education, we fail to see the importance of religion, with the result that we’ve degenerated into a chaotic, lawless people. Fear of God is the strongest reason to be virtuous and law abiding.

Sara: I do agree that religion is a powerful source of morality and social control. However, in several societies where religion is no more than a private affair of the individual – confined to Sunday prayer – justice and morality prevail. So departure from religion with all its importance is not our basic problem. Neither is illiteracy.

In fact, we are a highly religious people. Education we are undeniably deficient in. But look at what our educated people have given us: massive corruption and blatant abuse of power. The elite that stole us blind were educated in some of the top-of-the-line academic institutions of the world.

To me, our fundamental problem is to be found in economics. Less than five percent of the population commands more than 95 percent of the resources. Top politicians, bureaucrats, generals, business and media tycoons and NGO executives come of this elite class.

Poverty and morality cannot coexist. Who are the Taliban? In most cases, they are the poor, the landless, the jobless and the penniless. Where is religious militancy stronger? In backward, underdeveloped, impoverished and poorer regions of the country. Though poverty can never be a justification for crime in this case it at least offers the most plausible explanation. Create economic justice, give people jobs and bread – and terrorism will wither away.

Javed: The economic argument is strong but the political argument is even stronger. Who will remove economic injustices? Only a popularly elected government responsible to the people. Who will ensure rule of law? Only a legitimate, constitutional government.

Our essential problem is that we haven’t allowed democracy to take root. For most of our history usurpers have governed us, using and abusing religion and national sentiments. When political power grows out of the barrel of the gun, instead of being based on the consent of the governed, it is invariably destructive. Terrorism, both in its birth and growth, is the gift of dictators. Our salvation, survival and progress are in democracy.

Majid: While I agree with Javed that democracy is the solution to our problems, I disagree with Sara that the terrorism we’re facing is rooted in economics. Societies poorer and more unjust than ours exist without turning to militancy. On the contrary, I feel it is our collective national psyche that lies at the bottom of the menace.

We seem to rejoice in killing, dressing up our insatiable death drive at times in ethnic, sectarian or religious garb. The society we live in has become more and more fascist, bigoted, belligerent and extremist in nature. It’s fast losing appetite for reason and moderation. The more aggressive you are, the more credible you seem. Our leaders are more demagogues than statesmen. Just look at the electoral symbols of our three leading parties – the tiger, the arrow and the cricket bat. They all signify violence and aggression.

Raza: Are discussing and prioritising social problems without defining them? We also need to define social good since social problems hinder social good. Do we equate social good with only material progress? Does social good mean mere absence of social injustice or does it include some affirmative action as well?

What’s the hallmark of a good society? Being crime-free? Just? Efficient? Dynamic? What’s our priority? Economic development and scientific progress? A more equitable distribution of the national pie? Or becoming an impregnable fortress of Islam? Do we want a popularly elected or an efficient government? Do we prefer ignorant democrats or enlightened despots? I think as a nation we’re confused about our priorities?

We want too much of everything and we end up being well short on everything. Today we have neither justice nor economic prosperity; neither equity nor efficiency. Decay and decadence, death and destruction are all that we are left with.

Naila: I would agree with Raza here. Categorising social problems into basic, secondary or tertiary is a question of priorities. In a society characterised by extreme poverty, environmental pollution hardly presents itself as a significant social problem. In a society where daily bomb blasts have made bare survival a struggle, even endemic poverty is a secondary problem.

We also need to be aware of the fallacy of over simplification. It’s always convenient to pinpoint one problem as basic. There may be multiple problems of equal importance, which combine to produce an effect. Militancy, for instance, may be ascribed to a combination of economic, religious and political factors….and so they went on.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: hussainhzaidi@gmail.com

Hussain H Zaidi, "And so they went on," The News. 2013-05-18.
Keywords: Social issues , Social crisis , Social needs , Social rights , Military-Pakistan , Government-Pakistan , Society-Pakistan , Religious issues , Violations , Education , Politicians , Bureaucrats , Democracy , Terrorism , Extremism , Taliban , Islam , Poverty , Laws , Pakistan , NRO