Let’s bare our soul | Talat Hussain

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Let us do this. Let us bare our soul – even if for a little while, even if just a bit. We stand on the edge of a precipice. We are held back by pure luck and circumstances from a freefall that we pretend cannot be our fate.

The state of key sectors that push civilisations on the path to progress and ensure decent survival is not just bad, it is worsening. We are a laggard in a fast-moving world with breathtaking breakthroughs in science and technology. We are at the bottom rung of the ideas market that is dominated by smart societies leapfrogging every passing year.

The UN tells us that we are behind the world average of progress in primary and secondary education by 50 and 60 years, respectively. Nearly six million children are out of school at the primary level. The total number of out-of-school children in all categories is almost four times as many as they used to be. Around 44 percent of children have stunted growth, which is directly related to malnutrition and undernourishment.

Even though it is an under-estimate, it is still a handy measure of reality: a staggering 16 million people are without access to clean drinking water, and this in a country with one of the highest levels of water stress per person. On the matrix of food and personal security, we score among the least advanced nations. In terms of producing babies, we are far ahead of the global average and therefore pose a clear and present danger of internal resource-war to ourselves. With one of the world’s highest levels of access to mobile phones, we sit among the ten lowest access-to-toilets nations – the only consolation being that we are ahead of India, half of whose 1.3 billion people defecate in the open.

With the embarrassing police-to-citizen, doctors-to-patient, case-to-adjudication, and tax-to-GDP ratios, we stand pretty much alone in combating ancient viruses, such as polio. We are among those rare countries that do not know how many people inhabit their land.

When a survey was conducted in Karachi among the youth of our business hub, a staggering 48.7 percent clearly stated their preference for building a future outside the country. And you can’t blame them. They belong to a generation that has seen each Pakistani born with a debt of well over one hundred thousand. Imagine repaying this in the coming years with every third citizen living below the poverty line. These and other such statistics are scary. They are depressing. They foul the mood and wreck the peace of mind. Woe betide them and those who bring them to our notice. But sadly, even they are not the truth: if anything, they are convenient euphemisms that hide broken lives and shattered homes. They cloak and not reveal an oppressed majority that has been reduced to cold numbers to make analysis manageable.

Pick up any sector – the dairy sector is one choice, considering the horrific details that have now surfaced with regard to packaged ‘liquid’ (since we cannot call it milk) – and you can put faces of millions of wronged and robbed citizens onto data that we analysts use no differently than funeral directors who discuss their burial scores over supper. Look at any column of any newspaper and the stories of stolen rights and brutalised humanity living a daily nightmare will hit you in the face in a staccato manner from all across Pakistan. And, yet, we all know (especially those of us who are in the business) that we under-report and self-censor. The full scope of reality that challenges every second home here is too cruel to be heard.

This is why the media, the establishment and politicians deploy stock tricks: report useful distractions (the CPEC), create ‘positive narratives’ (we are invincible) and produce false hope memes that engender a sense of temporary relief without actually providing one (all that Nawaz, Bilawal, Imran and the rest say fall in this category). This has been the trend since Independence, and it is not going to change just because calendario solar has pushed us into another new year.

It is not as if we are beyond fixing. No nation is ever so broken as to defy repair. However, first there has to be a bare-knuckled appreciation of the extent of the challenge at hand before a fixer’s job can begin. That crucial step is never taken. That appreciation is never done at any level. All you hear is a happy song and an insistence that we need to lift the national morale by constantly playing it. So everyone dances to this tune – eyes closed, hands clasped, lips sealed, denying horrendous realities howling from every cranny. This has gone on for so long that the whole state has become a state of denial – which preaches lies, sells fake dreams, and paints green and white over the writing on the wall in the vain hope that unhappy tidings will disappear.

Occasionally, even this state in denial does document the results of its abject failure in its most crucial test – of investment in the development of its citizens.

One such document came out towards the fag end of the previous year. The Public Service Commission Examiner’s Report documents the hair-raising degradation of human resource in this country. The document lists the performance of candidates aspiring to join the Civil Service of Pakistan – an offshoot of the Indian and Imperial Civil Service the British created after the 1857 War of Independence to control and manage the vast stretch of the Subcontinent.

This report makes for a truly sad reading. In attempting essay-related questions, a majority of these candidates with at least 15-years or more education expressed ideas in a way that were “not coherent, organised or focused on the topic. Random thoughts were brought together without any logic or reasoning or research-based facts and arguments. There was [a] lack of creativity which might be expected of candidates appearing in the competition exam.” The document adds, “The essays were also replete with errors of grammar, spellings and punctuation [and] in fact there was not a single script which was error-free.”

In the subject of Accounting, the report tells us that the performance of candidates was below average due to the lack of basic accounting concepts and principles and poor knowledge of business transactions. In Maths, only 17 candidates scored 40 percent and above; 88 candidates obtained marks below 40 percent, out of which 55 candidates scored zero marks. The maximum marks obtained by a candidate were 73. In Geography, Physics, Chemistry, Business Administration, Governance and Public Policy, History of Pakistan and India and International Law, the output was “pathetic” and “far below average”. In some cases, students simply filled answer sheets by repeating the question papers. In the Law paper, the report states “most students had no concept” of the subject (surprise, surprise). Only two percent of the candidates could get through the exam.

The few pages of the report, when read with reference to social sector indicators, tell you what the average citizen of this country has been reduced to: impoverished, wronged, shackled, stunted and incapable of reading, writing and thinking.

The system that promises to build shiny roads and trade hubs and boasts of stock market figures besides mentioning lofty ideals of fighting corruption and empowering the people is bogus. Its managers have no interest in making the citizen honourable human beings. They invest nothing in developing human resource. They don’t want to because that would shake their thrones. They all lie when they profess commitment to human dignity and the welfare of the people.

The country is going nowhere like this. No system that is so cruel to its members, that saps their energies, denies them their future, wrecks their dreams at every step of the way and stumps them constantly can bring prosperity. The burden of the neglected majority is too heavy to carry. It can sink the ship. That’s what we see when we bare our soul.

The writer is former executive editor of The News and a senior journalist with Geo TV.

Email: syedtalathussain@gmail.com