Things that matter – Kamila Hyat


As a nation, we are locked in more and more chaos with each passing day. The unfolding of the saga involved the hearing against Justice Qazi Faez Isa by a ten-member bench of the Supreme Court and the bizarre remarks made by the (now former) attorney general of Pakistan Anwar Masood Khan before it apparently without discussion with any member of government.

His subsequent resignation and the debate around the issue of the surveillance of judges that has prevailed since then is just the latest episode in a saga that resembles a Netflix TV series, packed with drama, emotion, contradictory statements but which seems unreal. The difference is that what we are seeing is indisputably real.

Certainly, it is important to tackle corruption and deal with it among politicians and bureaucrats. This appears to have become the mission for the PTI government. But is the almost one-dimensional agenda they are following more important than offering a decent education to children at public-sector schools? Is it more important than ensuring people have access to basic healthcare? Is it more urgent than giving people dignity and the right to live respectable lives?

Perhaps Imran Khan and his team should assess the governance of the Aam Aadmi Party and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, the seventh chief minister of New Delhi, to understand this. Both parties were set up on the foundation of battling corruption. Kejriwal and his team have been able to expand their education budget to 25 percent, quite drastically cut the costs of utilities, improve services within Delhi’s hospitals, offer subsidized or free transport to students and take other measures which leave people in no doubt that the government, which recently wiped out the BJP in New Delhi, is truly determined to fight for people and their rights.

After a year and a half in power, can the PTI truly say this? In hospitals frequented by the less privileged people of our country, we see each day the look of desperation and resignation in the eyes of people who know they can do nothing to save the life of a child, a parent or another loved one given the state of neglect and disorder which exists at these hospitals. We have seen patients who have been offered wrongful diagnoses and prescribed medicines that in some cases have literally killed them or come close to doing so.

In Karachi last year, we mourned over little Nashwa, just nine months old, brought in with her twin sister to a private hospital after both girls suffered a bout of diarrhoea. Nashwa died when she was injected negligently by an untrained nurse. Despite the action taken against the hospital, Nashwa will of course never grow alongside her sister, attend school or reach adulthood.

There are other children who have died in similar ways in hospitals across the country and of course many adults as well. The manner in which they and their families are treated, in some cases minutes before they die, is even worse. The callousness of staff stems perhaps from dealing with an impossible situation.

They are attempting to treat impoverished patients with too few resources, too little staff and in many cases very limited facilities. In some of the better known private charitable hospitals in Lahore, three patients are crammed into a single bed while doctors occasionally glance over them and their own attendants or relatives must provide all the care needed.

The situation at schools is familiar to all of us. There have been many reports about public-sector schools and the condition in which children are forced to learn – or in fact not learn at all. The lack of furniture, fans, drinking water, toilet facilities, teachers, books and interest in their futures explains why Pakistan has one of the highest dropout rates by Class 5 in the world. This is sad. Talent is wasted right before our eyes, even as we chase after another VIP accused of corruption, with motives sometimes dubious given that others who have engaged in similar vices seem to remain untouched.

The PTI had also promised it would provide homes for the homeless. Elaborate schemes have been outlined for this. Most experts believe that in our resource-starved country, they will be impossible to implement. Far simpler mechanisms to offer basic shelter have been recommended in reports and studies. A part of this could also be avoiding the demolition of encroachments which render more people homeless or take away their livelihoods.

In Karachi, where the official population is over 16 million, more and more people sleep on the streets. This is also true of all our other major cities. The numbers sleeping in open roundabouts or pavements in Lahore has expanded visibly within a year or two. Policymakers must consider what their focus should be. Making the lives of people even just a little better is after all surely a task that should not simply be pushed aside or left hovering like a ghost only in statements delivered by leaders.

In this context, we must look also at other promises made. Prime Minister Imran Khan had pledged there would be an end to VIP protocol in the country. We are now reading reports that nearly 200 officials in Pakpattan have been shuffled or transferred. The transfers took place right after First Lady Bibi Bushra was not given the privilege of having the ‘Bahisti Darawaza’ opened for her when she visited what is one of the holiest shrines in the land.

There certainly needs to be a focus on delivering promises and bettering lives. Imran had promised to serve ordinary people and bring to them justice. Justice means more than locking people up, putting them on ECLs or mocking them in public speeches. It means giving all people in the country opportunity or working towards a situation where this can happen.

At the moment, all we see is a muddle of confusion, mismanagement and incompetence – created, we are told, because the prime minister is not fond of consulting with more than a few people who make up his kitchen cabinet and have little political experience. We see nothing that indicates change in favour of people is likely to come any time soon. Citizens already seem to be aware of this and such a situation can only create greater despondency and a greater sense of injustice.

The writer is a freelancecolumnist and formernewspaper editor.