by Zia Sarhadi (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 44, No. 12, Rabi' al-Thani, 1437)
Pakistan is a land of contrasts. We are not talking about its geography; it is the attitude, lifestyle and behavior of people that is of concern. There is extreme poverty amid opulence and rapacious extravagance bordering on the obscene. The rich in Pakistan lead a lifestyle that would be the envy of some of the richest people in the world. The poor in Pakistan live a life of degradation, deprivation, and humiliation. They are the vast majority but their lives do not seem to matter. The Pakistani elite consider them an unpleasant intrusion in their otherwise carefree rapacious lifestyle.
It is the only country in the contemporary world that was created in the name of Islam. One would find everything but Islam in Pakistan. This is not to suggest that there is a shortage of masjids, or madrasahs purporting to impart Islamic education. There is even an “Islamic” university. If structures (masjids) and labels could make a country Islamic, Pakistan would surely be on top of the list. The reality is very different. There are Muslims in Pakistan — some 180 million of them — but there is hardly any Islam. This needs elaboration.
If Islam stands for more than rituals, as it surely does, then one would be hard pressed to find any evidence of this in Pakistan. Let us consider some examples to illustrate the point. In the noble Qur’an, such concepts as justice, or more accurately, social justice, fairness in dealings, fulfilling one’s covenants and agreements, and honesty are constantly emphasized. The ayat dealing with social justice and responsibility to fellow human beings are more than twice those that deal with rituals — salah, zakah, fasting, and Hajj. Yet, an average Muslim would hardly know this. Whose fault is it?
There is an even more basic problem: the elite’s culture of entitlement. This is reflected in such notions as the ubiquitous VIP culture. The rich and powerful consider themselves above the law and demand privileges such as elaborate protocol, as a right. They move about in the company of a large number of hangers-on. When they travel, they do so as part of a huge caravan of cars and SUVs on the already congested roads of Pakistan’s major cities. They demand that everyone else must stop and get to the side of the road for them to pass. The size of the caravan of cars is supposed to reflect the importance of the person. This has given rise to such ludicrous notions as VVIP — very, very important person.
This culture of self-importance has led to tragic consequences the most recent of which was the death of 10-month-old baby Bisma on December 22, 2015. Her father was refused entry into the Civic Hospital in Karachi because Bilawal Zardari, the playboy son of Asif Zardari and Benazir Bhutto, was visiting the place. Why should the hospital be closed for ordinary people to get treatment when this blighter was there? What is special about him? Young Bisma was seriously ill and according to doctors, had she been brought to the hospital emergency room even 10 minutes earlier, they may have saved her life. True, life and death are in the hands of Allah (swt) but when human callousness causes an infant’s death, it cannot be brushed off as fate.
Who is Bilawal Bhutto and why should his presence deny seriously ill patients entry into the hospital resulting in death? Bilawal holds no official position in the country except that he is co-chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Both his parents — Benazir Bhutto, now dead, and Asif Ali Zardari — are certified thieves.
It is worth noting that Bilawal was not at the hospital for treatment. Even if he were, that would still not entitle him to special privilege while seriously ill people are denied entry and thus treatment. The fact that Bisma was from an extremely poor family, her life was not considered important. True, Bilawal is not the only culprit in Pakistan but in this instance, his presence at the hospital was directly responsible for the infant’s death.
The culture of entitlement cuts across all strata of society. The Sharif brothers — Nawaz and Shahbaz — prime minister of Pakistan and chief minister of Punjab respectively, as well as their offspring also demand elaborate protocol. A security guard escorting the vehicle of Abdul Qadir Gilani, son of former Prime Minister Asif Raza Gilani shot and killed a motorcyclist in Lahore because the latter did not obey an order to move away so that the younger Gilani’s vehicle could speed through the area.
There is a hierarchy of importance. The military chief, theoretically lower in status on the totem pole than the prime or defence minister, is given preference over the other two. It has to do with power. In most provincial capitals, more than a quarter of the police force is deployed for the security of those that consider themselves VVIP (the VIP designation has long been surpassed).
In the noble Qur’an, Allah (swt) warns us, “And when it is Our will to destroy a community, We convey our last warning to those of its people who have lost themselves entirely in the pursuit of pleasures; and [if] they [continue to] act sinfully, the sentence [of doom] passed on the community takes effect, and We destroy them utterly” (17:16).
Unfortunately, the failure in Pakistan is not confined to any one segment of society. True, other parts of the Muslim world are little better but that is no excuse for the scale of corruption and mismanagement that exist in Pakistan. Dishonesty, cheating and lying have permeated all levels of society and are widely practiced. They have become part of people’s second nature. There is adulteration in food and medicines; people do not think twice about breaking promises. In fact, they make false promises with the intention of breaking them. Those that steal and rob the most are considered successful in life.
Ishrat Husain, Dean and Director at the Institute of Business in Karachi in an op-ed piece in the Karachi daily, Dawn (January 16), wrote, “Underpinning most of the challenges and crises facing Pakistan is the deep-rooted governance deficit. Energy shortages are not due to inadequate generation capacity but to theft, losses, non-recovery of dues, and mismanagement by electric and gas companies.” The learned professor is not given to hyperbole but even he could not resist pointing out the level of corruption eating away at the vitals of society.
“Public enterprises incur heavy losses subsidised by the exchequer because of nepotism and favouritism in the appointments of chief executives. Poor law and order, arms, drug smuggling, terrorist hideouts all owe their sustenance to the auction of thanas [local police stations] to the highest bidders. A neutral, competent civil service imbued with a sense of public service can alone fill this deficit.” He went on, “Pakistani society has become more fragmented, highly divisive, excessively polarised and stubbornly intolerant. Mistrust, intolerance, sectarian rivalries, religious and ethnic divides have gradually eroded social capital, the glue that binds diverse communities.”
This is troubling analysis but where should the people turn to? Politicians of all stripes are thoroughly corrupt; they spend millions of rupees to buy votes. Once “elected,” they begin to plunder state resources or demand huge bribes from people. Politics has degenerated into a moneymaking racket where the rich are able to buy votes to get “elected” regardless of whether they are qualified for the job. It requires no great intellectual acumen to figure out that if people spend huge sums of money on election campaigns, they are not going to practice honest politics. They want to make more money than they spent in order to prepare for the next round of elections.
It is one of the curious phenomena of Pakistan that such corruption is regularly exposed on television talk shows but far from shaming the culprits, they wear it as a badge of honor. They use such exposure to show to people that they are so important and well connected that can get away with it.
This is not to suggest that there are no honest people in Pakistan at all. A small number exists in all professions (except politics, of course) but the crooks exploit such honesty for their own nefarious ends. Even the religious leadership has been thoroughly compromised. Religious leaders, referred to as ‘ulama, are also part of the bribery racket; some even consume alcohol and appear in a state of drunken stupor on television talk shows without feeling any shame. Others indulge in immoral acts better left unmentioned. Not surprisingly, most people have developed great contempt for them.
Even this could be overlooked, even if not excused, were it not for the fact that the priestly class has created deep divisions in society. Sectarianism is one of the most serious problems tearing away at the fabric of Pakistani society today. True, the ill-winds have blown from the intellectually barren lands of Arabia but that is no justification for sectarianism becoming an epidemic in Pakistan. It was not the case only a few decades ago.
Largely as a result of the flow of petrodollars, sectarian madrasahs have flourished with deadly consequences. The traditionally tolerant society of Pakistan has become a hotbed of sectarian hatreds and killings. One wonders whether the sectarian terrorists have given any thought to the fact that were they to kill all members of the other sect that they disagree with, would that make the killers better Muslims and bring an end to the problems plaguing Pakistan? Unfortunately, many politicians also patronize these killers.
With every political party maintaining heavily armed goons on its payroll to terrorize opponents, the kind of future can Pakistan look forward to is not difficult to guess. It is depressing to note that a country with so much potential should be wasted in such a tragic way. May Allah (swt) help the people of Pakistan!