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The realities of life

We are once again caught in a situation where politics in Pakistan revolves largely around the issue of corruption and accusations made by the PTI against its political opponents. Recently, Daily Mail, a British tabloid newspaper, withdrew its 2019 story which alleged that Shehbaz Sharif and his son-in-law had siphoned off funds from British aid money meant for earthquake victims.

The withdrawal of the story and its failure to verify the information published in the news report, which was provided by the Assets Recovery Unit headed by Shahzad Akbar, has left Shehbaz and the entire Sharif family jubilant. It appears an out-of-court settlement is on the cards. But this has not prevented the PTI from going ahead with other allegations of corruption and insisting that the Daily Mail story still holds weight. Other political parties are focusing on the Toshakhana case, which involves the sale of an expensive watch by Imran Khan, and on wrongdoings committed by the PTI.

There is no denying that corruption is an important issue. But for ordinary people, there are other realities of life which have more significant effects. Small-scale corruption at lower levels is one of these, and top economic analysts believe corruption at the top aids corruption at lower levels in society. But there are other concerns which need to be addressed. At present, as the weather turns cold in most parts of the country, especially the northern areas, people have no gas to cook. Prolonged gas loadshedding in Punjab, in Karachi, and other places means people have been forced to either cook meals on pieces of timber or buy them from markets at prices they cannot afford. The situation brings more misery for the people already hit badly by such inefficiencies of the state.

Millions of flood-hit people in Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab are still waiting for government-backed relief programmes and aid. Winter has arrived in the country, and yet many victims are still deprived of tents in which to live and are forced to survive freezing conditions. On top of it, they are prone to contacting diseases such as gastroenteritis and malaria, which are the leading cause of death among the flood-affected the people. For many people in the country, even if they are not hit by floods, these are the realities of life. For them, these issues are more significant than the corruption of top politicians.

The link between corruption at the top echelons and governance at the lower levels is difficult for people to make. It is also sometimes an abstract concept. We have learnt about the extent to which air pollution in Punjab, notably in Lahore – the city worst hit by air pollution, with levels of harmful particles in the air crossing the hazardous marks – hurts people. People in large numbers, especially the elderly and children, are coming to hospitals with serious respiratory infections. Cases of asthma are also increasing rapidly in the region. For most people, this is a reality of life. Air pollution is not always visible, except when smog dims the skies, and people are not always aware of how harmful stepping outdoors can be.

The traditional winters of Lahore with picnics in parks along the canal have vanished. People must try and survive air pollution as best as they can. The Lahore High Court has ordered the Punjab government to keep schools closed for three days in a week, a step which schools say ruins the educational schedule, and ban the burning of stubble. It is difficult to say for now whether this ban is being implemented, and what farmers are doing to clear the fields which need to be replanted.

At times when air pollution is not as great a problem, water pollution in Lahore keeps adding challenges for residents. We have learnt from a recent study conducted by a private group that water pollution in Lahore affects people living in multiple localities including Harbanspura and areas near DHA. Line water in these neighbourhoods is laced with fecal matter. This happens when water pipelines get mixed with sewage lines. And as a result, water-borne diseases take lives every day. For ordinary people who have no choice but to use this water in the absence of filters and due to their inability to buy bottled water that the rich use on a routine basis, the only option is disease and death.

Many now seem to have accepted this endless plight, perpetually dealing with the misery and grief this causes. It is believed that the death of young children due to preventable illnesses such as gastroenteritis caused by polluted water is a reason many people do not engage in family planning, which could cut down on the enormous population of a country which is unable to sustain the numbers that live within its territory.

But these realities of life receive little publicity and little voice from political parties or people’s representatives. In Karachi, street crime has become a norm, and people fear for their children and relatives every time they step out of the house to visit a local park or market. There is a significant number of people who, unfortunately, do not return safely. The amount of solid waste dumped on the once clean streets of Karachi and the general condition of roads in the city add to the misery of citizens, and reduces the quality of life. These issues need the attention of political parties which must put their weight behind local governments whose job it is to deal with these matters. Photo opportunities for a chief minister posing with flood victims do not solve the issues of people or provide any long-term remedies.

All these issues – including the dengue virus which badly hits Punjab, Karachi, Islamabad and other areas every year – fall in the same category. For ordinary people, these issues are more serious and have a much more negative impact on their lives than corruption by politicians who are too removed from their lives, to even bring into the picture. We need effective local governments to deal with these problems, and we need councillors and mayors that people can approach directly for help. Without this the conditions of life will continue to deteriorate rapidly and people who must cope with these difficulties will continue to struggle, unconcerned to a great extent with broad national issues.

What matters to most people is the rising inflation, utilities and fuel prices, low salaries, the lack of pensions, and other factors which affect their day-to-day living. Corruption in the police department only adds to the problems. The recent report by Transparency International shows that the police department is seen as the most corrupt by people.

Political parties need to put their priorities in place and take up these issues that affect the majority of Pakistanis, instead of making unproven allegations against each other. Only this will help solve the problems of people and put them at the top of the ladder. It is disappointing that our focus remains on corruption, disregarding the other issues hitting everyone across the country.

Email: kamilahyat@hotmail.com

Kamila Hyat, "The realities of life," The News. 2022-12-15.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political parties , Political opponents , Politicians , Corruption , Transparency , Shahzad Akbar , Imran Khan , PTI , DHA