Spearhead Analysis – 31.07.2017
By Xenia Rasul Khan Mahsud
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research
More often than not I find myself in the most crowded of places with the most deafening silence regarding issues that plague those who’ve lost their voices in the noise and clamor of agendas pushed forward by the few – the people who are heard aren’t always the people whose concerns represent the many. In an inclusive society, people feel valued, their differences are respected, and their basic needs met so they can live in dignity, while social exclusion denotes being shut out from the political, social, economic and cultural systems that contribute to the integration of a person into the community. The onus rests on the state, to mold an inclusive, pluralistic society through policies and reforms that further values that underpin social inclusion: “everyone needs support…everyone can learn…everyone can contribute…and together we are better”.
In my first experience using the Careem taxi service, I had a very thought provoking conversation with a friend of mine. The profile of the driver surprised me – pleasant for me, perhaps unpleasant for others. The driver, or ‘captain’ as the company prefers calling them was well versed in English, was the owner of the car that he was driving, and held a Bachelors degree in marketing. He didn’t fit the stereotype of what a man operating a taxi in Pakistan should look like, and that is when I was told that many Careem captains belong to the middle class, and resort to driving a taxi for three reasons: a) because they have a lot of freedom in deciding how much and when they want to work, b) there aren’t any jobs available for their respective degrees, c) the jobs that are available don’t pay enough. While I saw this as a much-needed change in how the society attaches romantic notions of ‘respect’ and ‘dignity’ to certain jobs, and shuns others as worthless and shabby, I’ve come across many people after this experience who snicker over the boy in their university or their acquaintances’ driving a taxi for a living; the same people who unknowingly push the same boy who could’ve made a living out of driving a taxi, to selling drugs, committing robberies, or just simply sitting at home and wasting away – all to fit in and be included in a society that is complacent over things that are of consequence, and hypercritical of those that do not affect them.
We often indulge in moral absolutism; seeing the world in black and white, right and wrong – omitting the backstory, motives and reasons behind actions and what trigger them. Not realizing that all that is perverse in society is a product of the individual or collective actions of people – what you put out there is what hits you like a boomerang later. While thieves and dacoits are seen as criminals who ‘choose’ the dark side, the contribution of the state in fuelling the evolution of the citizen into a criminal is overlooked – through its failure in providing basic needs to the public, of which social and economic welfare is a part.
The incident in Bahawalpur is a recent example of this, where an overturned oil tanker pushed many in surrounding areas to stop and steal oil as a chance to make a little money. This is a story of many tragedies. One, it revealed the laxity of the civil administration and the police, where they were unable to reach the destination on time to disperse the mob- hinting to the dearth of crisis management protocols in Pakistan. Second, it highlighted the desperation of the public in making a few bucks here and there owing to the lack of opportunities, money, and a prevalence of poverty in the country that as a result leads to criminal activities and a breakdown of morality in a society, where morality is seen as ‘too’ expensive for the poor. Thirdly, it laid bare the decaying civic sense in our society, where social ethics have taken the backseat due to the frustrations that stem from a lack of economic mobility, rights, and an attitude that sees survival as more important than ethics. And last, it revealed the mounting loss of faith in law enforcement agencies, where the credibility of the police, and hence the respect, is seen as nil, and hence births mobs that feel like they will get away with what they’re doing. The incident wasn’t the doing of a gang of thieves, or a few individuals – these were passerby’s, who all found it in them to loot and take what was not theirs; it is unfortunate, and rather horrifying that that has become the prevailing mentality in the country. But it is here that one ought to look inwards, and interpret what this reveals to us: Is our intolerance, crumbling civic sense, our disposition towards mob culture and alternate systems a payoff of an inept state?
People in this country have a penchant for telling you what is acceptable or not, in turn excluding you from narratives if you don’t fit a particular definition, telling you that your voice does not matter. This becomes increasingly problematic when the state sanctions these definitions, ideas of what fits the definition of a Pakistani, while veering away from its duty of promising an inclusive society for all, failing to maintain its end of the deal in the social contract – where social benefits are provided in return for cooperation from the members of a society.
In the Pakistani scenario, there are many who are excluded from the realms of society, of those who deserve the attention and comfort of the government. A stroll through the corridors of the public hospitals in Pakistan paints a somber picture; one where misplaced priorities, corruption, stifled funds, and a rotting infrastructure glares at you and reveals the worth of human life in a country that has yet to breakaway from the rut of a traditional approach to security, where health becomes a ‘privilege to be purchased’ as opposed to a human right. The education sector bares a similar picture, where public schools are rotting from all ends – infrastructure, quality of education – and private schools are too costly, even for the rich let alone the impoverished.
The construction of orange lines and metro bus networks for the public – often paraded as projects benefiting those unable to afford private transport – buries the reality of the unfortunate residents of houses that are demolished in the process, and are compensated very little. Authorities patting themselves on the back for carrying out encroachment drives, shooing away those living in tents, or chasing carts selling challis, fail to recognize their own letdown in providing basic necessities to the public – shelter, education, economic mobility – which often leads to its desperation.
How the less able are excluded from the trajectory of respect is another story in itself. The lack of people’s skills in offices towards those who can’t make a quick call to their dad or dad’s best friend: how they are punished for their poverty, lack of education and contacts is an everyday occurrence – although accepted by this segment of society, leads to a general frustration.
On the state level, catastrophes like the exclusion of the people of FATA from the citizenry of Pakistan owing to the Rewaj Act, which is the FCR in everything but name, points to the absence of a social contract, alongside crumbling economic and power structures owing to incessant military operations and militancy – barring the region from development and security. The volatility of the region is awarded by most to the negligence of the government towards education and health reforms in FATA, and a lack of employment opportunities for the people. The state’s policy of treating FATA like a buffer zone for regional proxies has created a vacuum of power in the area, leaving behind an army of insurgents and a handicapped political system run by despotic political agents far from the reach of the parliament and judiciary. This has birthed a detachment of the people from the administrative system, not only ideological in nature, but also physical, in that the FATA Sectariat office is located in Peshawar, the political compound in South Waziristan is in Tank, and most political agents reside away from their agencies – in Peshawar, Hangu, and the likes. It is this exclusion that is the fodder of militants who use the discrimination towards the people of FATA as a tool to recruit and garner support for their cause.
Then there is the whole CPEC issue, where the project has gained the reputation of benefiting Punjab only and pushed separatist militants to wage a campaign against the central government for a larger share of the gas-rich region’s resources. The Balochistan Liberation Army continues to carry out attacks to convey this displeasure, and while the state adopts an ostrich approach to the whole issue, there are many things that these actions convey: a) that the Baloch feel that they aren’t reaping the benefits of CPEC, and the mineral rich province is being used for the purpose of navigating benefits (read: money) towards Punjab, b) that the economic benefits, in terms of employment opportunities are also mostly enjoyed by those from Punjab, where they are employed in key positions in CPEC projects, c) that the demands, concerns, and opinions of the Baloch have largely been ignored in the CPEC narrative, and is hence not for them. Instead of addressing this feeling of alienation, the government turns a blind eye towards the ‘opposition’ and rebellious elements in the society that have become violent due to the ignorance and callousness of the government. To straighten out seemingly ‘degenerate’ elements in the society, they need to be included first. These aren’t traditional ‘terrorists’ that demand Sharia implementation, or women to be confined to their houses, these are insurgents wishing for more autonomy in the province albeit through violent means, they are the voice of the region – one that is continuously ignored and excluded.
The province of Gilgit-Baltistan is another interesting case, where the region is severed from Pakistan in every sense of the word – the government’s efforts towards the province are close to none, the region relies on the Agha Khan foundation and considers it the only system that has benefited them, doesn’t look towards the Pakistani government for assistance, has a close to perfect literacy rate, and a civic sense that sets an example. Perhaps this is one case where the exclusion of a region actually helped it grow – free from the gluttony of the state apparatus, but not for long.
All these things and more beg the question: Who are these development initiatives for? What is the system giving its people? And how far along the ladder does Pakistan stand in terms of social inclusion?
Pakistan is far from being ‘one nation’; it is divided along the lines of class differences, religious identity, provinces and zones meant for the exploitation by those who are more included in society as opposed to those who are always on the receiving end. And while leaders scurry around, forming policies just to look busy and fail to implement them, what they fail to recognize is that the roots of all of Pakistan’s problems lie in the inability of the state to establish a model where there is a single political culture, substantial diversity in the private lives of citizens, and a state apparatus that gives more than it takes.
However, in spite of all its travails, the country has remained functional and on an upward trajectory. Security has improved, there’s a push towards respecting the democratic process – seen through the freedom of the media, and strengthening of the judicial process. New avenues are being explored in foreign policy, and there has been consistent economic growth. What is needed is the realization by those at the helm of affairs that the center of gravity in a democracy lies in the people, and it is the people who have to be empowered and effectively governed.