Corrupt rulers root cause of Pakistan’s problems

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Waseem Shehzad

Jumada' al-Akhirah 09, 1433 2012-05-01

News & Analysis

by Waseem Shehzad (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 41, No. 3, Jumada' al-Akhirah, 1433)

For a state to function reasonably well, it must fulfill certain basic needs of the people: provide security of life, limb and property as well as food, water, education and health services.

Additionally, the state must build and maintain the country’s infrastructure. On their part, citizens are required to pay taxes and abide by the laws established for the well-being of all. This is what is commonly referred to as the social contract.

Measured on any scale, the social contract in Pakistan has virtually collapsed. The state exists only to obstruct people’s rights — bureaucratic and others. It is non-existent when it comes to providing security and protection. A vast chasm separates rulers from the ruled. While they both live within the boundaries of Pakistan, they are so far apart in thinking, outlook and the day-to-day concerns of life that they might as well be living on two separate planets. For the masses making ends meet is their most pressing problem; the elites’ overriding preoccupation is the plunder of national wealth and to live their extravagantly opulent lifestyle.

This was most strikingly demonstrated during the devastating floods of August 2010. Moved by the plight of people, Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie visited Pakistan to offer support. At the conclusion of her visit to some of the affected areas and people, she was treated to a lavish reception at the prime minister’s residence. She was so appalled at this extravagance that when she returned, she said while people were begging for a morsel of food, the prime minister threw a party that could have fed more than a hundred people!

Even a cursory glance at the state of affairs would reveal what is wrong with Pakistan today. Karachi is gripped by ethnic violence; rival gangs battle it out with the state machinery helplessly standing by. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), made up of children of refugees from India at the time of partition, insists it alone should wield power and influence in Karachi. They are challenged by the Pathans who have come from the north in search of jobs and better employment prospects. The MQM is a party of thugs and gangsters routinely torturing opponents as well as extorting money from businesses in Karachi.

Their leader, Altaf Husain, facing multiple murder charges, escaped to Britain where he was granted not only asylum but also British citizenship. He refuses to return to Pakistan to face the charges. Instead, he delivers marathon speeches from London threatening to fix one group or another. Altaf Husain’s links with American, British and Indian intelligence agencies are well known. He receives regular payments from them. Documents have appeared in public showing how he offered, soon after the 9/11 attacks, his and his party’s services to the British government to act as spies in return for money and share in political power in Pakistan. This is high treason.

But MQM and Altaf Husain are not the only problems facing Pakistan. Baluchistan is in a state of armed insurrection, resulting from the shortsighted policies of the former military regime of General Pervez Musharraf. Despite his ouster, the province remains in turmoil. Successive governments and the military have exacerbated the problem. The country’s largest province (in land area) is sparsely populated but endures the worst kind of feudal oppression imaginable. The Baluchi masses suffer brutality and oppression of the sardars (feudal lords) as well as the military.

Add to this the explosive mix of militancy that is increasingly taking on the color of sectarianism, and Pakistan seems to be approaching a dangerous point in its struggle for survival. Last month witnessed several horrifying incidents of sectarian violence, the worst of which was perpetrated at Chilas in Gilgit-Baltistan where armed gangs stopped a convoy of buses and brutally massacred more than 200 Shi‘is. For three days this slaughter went on while the police and other security agencies did nothing. Instead, a curfew was imposed in the area enabling the perpetrators of this horrible crime to escape. The victims had their throats slit, eyes gouged out and their faces smashed with rocks. Similar acts of barbarism were perpetrated earlier in Quetta, Dera Ismail Khan and Parachinar. Two weeks after the Chilas massacre, the government announced that it had arrested the gang leaders and their accomplices as well as surrounded the madrasah where these people had been indoctrinated. Whether the perpetrators will be punished is yet to be seen.

Such crimes are compounded by car and suicide bombings in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province as well as Punjab. There is hardly any region of Pakistan that is violence free, whether perpetrated by security personnel against civilians or by non-state actors that enjoy government patronage even if they do not carry out such acts under orders from the government.

The mayhem has led to total breakdown of internal cohesion, making the state extremely weak and vulnerable and open to external manipulation. There are many external players fishing in Pakistan’s troubled waters. The US, Britain, India, Israel as well as Saudi Arabia, are all involved pushing their agendas in Pakistan while exacerbating people’s problems. The war in Afghanistan has been deliberately manipulated to spill over into Pakistan reflecting American frustration and inability to defeat the Afghans. This was a disaster in the making but the Americans, led by George Bush, a moron who was too intoxicated by military might to think rationally; he thought the Afghans would be wiped out by his military machine. More than a decade after the Americans blundered into Afghanistan they are on the verge of a rout desperately trying to extricate themselves from the mess by blaming Islamabad, hence the escalating drone attacks against Pakistani civilians. This only increases anti-Americanism and adds to Pakistan’s woes: the elites are beholden to the US while the masses hate Uncle Sam. The Pakistani regime’s continued subservience to the US widens the internal gulf.

The Pakistani rulers are so craven and constantly standing with outstretched hands for dollars that they have lost all shred of dignity and self-respect. From Asif Ali Zardari, who claims to be president, down to the lowest official, everyone considers the US ambassador in Islamabad as master and American embassy as the true center of decision-making. Zardari’s frequent visits to the US embassy to pay homage to the ambassador reflect this craven attitude. WikiLeaks documents released in October 2010 show how both Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, told the Americans they did not care about Pakistani civilian deaths in US drone attacks. This was an open invitation from officials at the highest level in Pakistan to a foreign government to commit mass murder of its citizens. (The prime minister’s son, Ali Musa Gilani has been implicated in a drugs scandal and is awaiting trial in the Supreme Court).

And mass murder they did and continue to commit despite hypocritical protestations in public by Pakistani officials. Blackwater mercenaries roam freely in Pakistan targeting anyone they do not like. Even when apprehended by the police, government officials immediately intervene to set them free. Thousands of CIA operatives were given visas at the behest of Zardari by his now-former ambassador Husain Haqqani in Washington to enter Pakistan pretending to be businessmen. The most notorious of these was Raymond Davis, who killed two Pakistani civilians in broad daylight on a busy street in Lahore on January 27, 2011. He was captured by the people and handed over to the police. A large cache of illegal weapons and much incriminating evidence was recovered from him yet Davis was set free within a few weeks. It is such disregard for Pakistani laws by officials at the highest level that emboldens foreigners to also disregard the laws and do what they like in Pakistan. The laws apply only to the poor; in fact, many are arrested and thrown in filthy jails without any crime. According to one jail official, 60% of people in Pakistani prisons are completely innocent.

Shameful as this mistreatment of people is, it is compounded by the government’s dismal record in fulfilling its responsibilities. The United Nations Development Program report on Pakistan states that people suffer from multidimensional deprivations — lack of education, health facilities, clean drinking water and adequate food — despite the fact that Pakistan is rich in agriculture. For the year 2011–2012, it had a surplus of nearly one million tonnes of grain yet almost half the population (82.6 million according to the World Food Program) is food insecure. Suicide, extremely rare in the past, has skyrocketed in recent years. An estimated 36% of Pakistanis live below the poverty line and almost half are illiterate. Poorer households typically spend over 60%of their income on food. Fifty percent of all Pakistanis have little or no access to clean drinking water or toilets, a condition that renders them vulnerable to infectious diseases. The biggest killers of children under five in Pakistan are diarrhea and acute respiratory infections. Undernourishment is an underlying cause in 38% of those cases.

How does the government plan to treat these chronic problems? Successive governments have shown little interest in addressing these issues. Less than 2% of the population pays taxes; the feudal lords pay virtually nothing in taxes even while they live in palatial homes with an army of servants and travel in expensive chauffer-driven vehicles. Since they buy their way into parliament, no bills are presented there to tax their agricultural produce. Instead, sales tax is imposed on all goods, thus passing the burden on to ordinary people, and by incurring external debt. The external debt more than doubled from $59 billion in 2008 to $120 billion in 2011. Not surprisingly, more than 65% of all taxes go toward debt repayment. Since there is no accounting for how this money was spent and where, there is widespread belief that it went into the bank accounts of the elite. A future revolutionary government could justifiably declare this as odious debt and refuse to pay.

Given such dire economic straits, some belt tightening would be in order but perish the thought. Far from the elite curtailing their rapacious lifestyle, they continue to indulge in the most blatant misuse of public funds. For instance, every Member of the National Assembly (MNA) is given Rs. 20,000,000 annually for “development work” in his or her constituency. Almost all this money is pilfered by MNAs and they openly boast about it on television. Such shamelessness would be hard to find in any other country.

The military, the most organized institution in the country, consumes the bulk of the country’s budget, ostensibly to fend off archrival India. Yet, it has suffered defeat in each of the three wars so far. It is also the military that is involved most deeply in America’s war in Afghanistan. Some 120,000 Pakistani troops have been deployed in the tribal areas of Pakistan arousing the wrath of the normally peaceful tribes. This has given rise to Pakistani Taliban as well as other assorted outfits that are adding to the mayhem. The Americans say that they have given $20 billion in aid to Pakistan for its services in the “war on terror” and demands it must do more. The country has suffered more than $68 billion in losses, not to mention the destruction of its social fabric whose cost is impossible to quantify.

Two crucial sectors — education and health — receive 1.5% and 0.5% respectively in the annual budget. Not surprisingly, 50% of children are unable to get primary education; only 25% attend secondary education and a mere 5% higher education. With a widening gap between rich and poor and 50% of the population under 20 and 65% below the age of 30, the country is heading for even more stormy days. As people lose hope in the future, unable to find employment to feed their families, resentment will increase.

Pakistan is ripe for a revolution. All it requires is a charismatic honest leader to lead the masses. The corrupt and decrepit order will soon be consigned to the dustbin of history. It needs a spark to start the uprising, as it happened in Tunisia and Egypt a year earlier.

The Pakistani masses await their own Islamic spring.

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