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Turning to the real issues

Not without good reason, the entire nation, driven on by the often frenzied, sometimes illogical media, and assisted by both the politicians and the JIT itself, has remained riveted to television screens as they follow the fortunes of the Sharif family in the unfolding Panama Leaks case.

Corruption is a huge issue in the country. It is also especially huge when it is utilised to net politicians or tarnish their image. Of course, these politicians, and their parties, are themselves responsible for this. The lack of honesty amongst the men and women who lead our country or have led it in the past is one of the reasons behind the poor governance people have suffered decade after decade.

We should, however, remember that corruption is also an easy way to undermine politicians and democracy. Of course, wrongdoing needs to be eliminated from society. But it needs to be eradicated from all its niches, and all its institutions. Simply targeting one wing cannot serve to demolish a system built on the lack of accountability and a reality which prohibits us from looking into the deeds of persons in specific positions or within some institutions.

This problem has been the bane of anti-corruption measures virtually since Pakistan came into existence. Those who dared point out the issue did not for long remain in their seats. It is also tempting to draw people into the unending game of comparing degrees and kinds of corruption. Was Zardari far more corrupt than Nawaz? Are the younger Sharifs more corrupt than their predecessors? What about the Elahis and their kin? How about the deeds of Ameer Hoti in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the various men who held positions of power in Balochistan?

In so many ways, these comparisons and discussions are meaningless. Corruption itself is a terrible curse. The precise extent is somewhat irrelevant considering that, within our country, it almost inevitably occurs on a reasonably massive scale. While corruption exists in other countries, as the entire archive of the Panama Leaks documents exposed, the scale is often somewhat lower; this coincides with the greater readiness to accept responsibility and resign when proof is bought forward.

For now, national life has been virtually paralysed as the JIT continues its somewhat anarchic hearings, complete with mysterious WhatsApp calls, leaked footage from the premises where the case is being heard and accounts of computers which have been hacked into. The allegations against the media and organisations controlled by the government simply add to the sense that all this is something less than serious. More and more uncertainty has been created as the matter unfolds, with almost every political party climbing into the ring to throw its own punches whenever it can.

We have seen very similar dramas unfold in the past. There has been one scandal after the other, with allegations of corruption and wrongdoing repeatedly resulting in the contrived downfall of governments. But has the change in leadership brought about by such means really helped people? There is little evidence of this. The people have been looked after just as poorly by caretaker regimes installed by powers who act from behind the scenes as by the governments they have elected themselves. The claims of professional clean governments run by technocrats – a favourite word in the country – have really brought in little difference.

One reason for this is that while – even more so today than in the past – we live in an age where political skirmish, talk of corruption, or other acts of politicians stirs up media frenzy, the real issues of people are often hardly touched upon. There has been almost no discourse at all on the rapid growth in our population rate, likely to be reflected as the results from the 2017 census begin to emerge by the end of July. The fact that by 2050 experts predict we may simply not have enough room to move, enough water to fill even a single pail per household or food to eat is deeply disturbing. Surely, this is a crisis bigger even than the question of whether the letter from the Qatari prince will be accepted in court or how the Sharif millions travelled overseas.

There are other issues that are just as grave. Climate change should rank among them. The destruction of crops, both wheat and maize, due to untimely rains this year is again not something we know very much about as citizens. Yet, at least for the year to come, it will affect the price of the food we buy and also the quantity of how much can be grown in the country. Already, the failures to adopt policies that promote agriculture and food production have had an impact on what produce is available to people. Environmental factors, which we completely ignore, can only worsen matters.

Pakistan, as a county which emits few greenhouse gases but suffers largely as a result of emissions from countries in its neighbourhood, should be raising a far louder voice at international forums. In failing to do so, it is leaving its people unprotected and increasingly vulnerable. People are also vulnerable for many other reasons.

Poor policymaking over the years means that Pakistan houses an extremely large number of people who lack sufficient food, even though it is a grain-producing country with agriculture accounting for nearly 50 percent of employment. In this situation, the Global Hunger Index’s finding that 22 percent of persons in the country are malnourished is alarming. So is the fact that Unicef has begun a campaign to check stunting among children in the country after noting nearly 50 percent of Pakistani children are failing to achieve expected height for age. In their findings international organisations hold that a lack of adequate food is a key reason for this rather drastic problem.

A country that is failing to feed its people, to provide them basic, quality education or healthcare should surely be making these issues a priority. It is true that fiscal corruption at the top levels eats into the ability to offer people what they need. But, given our present situation and our rapid slide since the 1970s down almost every ladder depicting the standing of nation in the development sphere and in meeting the requirement for equity within a nation, perhaps all our major political parties should be focusing not on the corruption issue alone but on a far wider range of concerns. The fact that we have not done so over so many years has contributed to the worsening situation in which most families live.

Even in the heart of Punjab, the most developed province, families struggle to survive in clearly inadequate living conditions while the ruckus over the Panama leaks and other scandals make headlines each time the situations which most adversely affect people do not. There is only limited coverage when a parent is reported to have killed his or her children because they lack the ability to feed them. There have been at least 16 such reported cases over the last five years; and others may have gone unreported.

These matters too are significant and surely deserve at least some notice from the government, from citizens and from the media which shapes the news agenda in an often twisted fashion.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.

Email: kamilahyat@hotmail.com

Kamila Hyat, "Turning to the real issues," The News. 2017-07-06.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Panama leaks , Political party , Political system , Corruption , Accountability , Democracy , Technocrats , PM Nawaz Sharif , Balochistan , Khyber Pakhtunkhwa , JIT