STRAIGHT TALK by Hafeez Khan
May 9th was my spouse Rakhshanda’s birthday. We decided to go for Iftar to Monal restaurant in Islamabad. Nestled on top of Margala forest, it is a great place for a family outing. Snaking up the road we got there ahead of time, settled to a gorgeous view. It is expensive from Pakistani standards but the place filled up very quickly. In this poor-rich society, a segment of consumers have a lot of disposable income. Waiting for Iftar, the server showed with a bill for our group. It reminded me of prepay gas stations on a US highway. Through traffic brought runners who would fill up and drive away. I asked the staff why the distrust at such a posh location? His response struck me hard. He stated customers take Iftar and then slip away using prayers as an excuse.
I have been mulling over the state of affairs in Pakistan. We have a relatively young Government that made tall promises of change for a Naya Pakistan. Expectations are sky high, but how the hell can anything be achieved when we are rotten from top to bottom barring some honorable exceptions. Everyone, the Elite and the Commoner is out to grab, exploit, take advantage, deceive, cheat, with no holds barred.
We visited a vegetable shop. Lemon was Rs 400 a Kg. “But they were Rs 250 last week?” my wife inquired. This guy’s response knocked me over. “Petrol has gone up, it is Ramadhan, and we have to feed our kids too!” Fantastic. The damn lemon grows on the same tree, transport may have gone up by 15% but wholesalers/retailers and everyone in between is gouging the consumer. Multiply this by a thousand and you get the drift.
The state machinery is corrupt to the core. Custom officials steal and replace high value seized goods with fake ones. Food Department’s stored wheat is stolen and replaced by sand. Food inspectors take bribes to look the other way, while dishonest traders sell brick powder and wood shavings as chili powder. Whitening powder and detergents are mixed with milk sold to the kids as baby milk. Donkey’s meat and dead chicken are fed to the consumers. Criminal enforcers grow fat and happy receiving bribes.
I know someone who owned one Pharmaceutical factory 10 years ago. Now he owns seven. Where did the growth come from? By committing the greatest crime against humanity- produce and sell fake, substandard medicines. Drug inspectors make a rich a harvest. And thus far I have not even mentioned the police, court system, the revenue department. Tax collectors grow rich while the Government faces bankrupcy. Some large retailers sell goods worth Rs 10 million a day from multiple outlets and pay sales tax on Rs 200,000.00.
Irrigation department sells water for personal gains. Electricity theft is at an all time high. Gas theft has run amok. Corrupt officials and unscrupulous businessmen are piling up properties bought with illegal wealth. No one is there to ask a simple question. Where did this money come from? Those who are supposed to ask are themselves complicit. Land records have been computerized in rural areas but no one wants to document urban property. Why? Because it shall expose stolen wealth. This is a snap shot of corrupt and inept Government machinery.
All this is ignored by the ruling corrupt elite because they are the eventual beneficiaries. The landed class is the biggest money laundering outfit. Black money is recycled as returns from agricultural produce. The farmers pay Ushr tax on 10% of produce. The influential elite borrow for projects that they never intend to run or pay back the loan. Orange train was built for its high visibility because showman Shabaz believed that anything below ground will not create the impact. Lahore sits on a fault line, one earth quake will wreck havoc didn’t matter. Nawaz Sharif ordered opening ceremony of Tarbela 4 power generation unit before it was ready, just to have his name plaque on it before his term ran out. He was booted out before it could happen, so Shahid Abbasi inaugurated. This undue haste cost the Government exchequer nearly 100 Million US dollars plus a delay in project of 2 years.
And here is the kicker. If all this disastrous mismanagement was to end, there is a ticking time bomb that will undo all the good. Anyone with a basic knowledge of statistics can project that at the present rate of population growth we will have 500 million mouths to feed in the next 25 years. We just don’t have the capacity to defuse this bomb.
It is in this environment that PM Imran Khan talks about creating Riasat Medina. I am sure he means superior human beings because there is nothing else to emulate. Recall the narrative of 3 wounded soldiers crying for water, when the 1st one heard the other cry he turned the water bearer towards the other wounded soldier, and the 2nd one wanted the 3rd soldier to be served first. By the time relief came all three were dead. That is the sense of sacrifice and commitment that is required for Riasat Medina.
That ain’t happening Mr. Khan till you get some teeth into your accountability. PM Imran Khan can’t do it alone. All the pillars of State and stakeholders beware. Pakistan is in a downward spiral and this can be self fulfilling prophecy. The rot is complete, and we don’t have many options or opportunities. Ilmas Bobby style actions like sealing factories or registering cases is a joke. Summary trails, exemplary punishments, punitive speedy sentences, ruthless enforcement, a no nonsense approach may be our last hope. This nation needs a Kamal Ataturk approach of do or die. It may redeem the nation. Democracy without accountability is anarchy.
Pakistan is blessed with an honest Political leadership, an Establishment head who is an enlightened leader. He triggered positive changes and nearly eliminated the scourge of terrorism. Judicial leadership is brilliant and well meaning. Head of Accountability means business. Yet we see no visible results. Why? Our judicial system has failed, it is archaic, out of synch with modern times. It is incapable of punishing the powerful corrupt elite.
For several decades inequality has been on the rise. In this age of widening divide between the rich and poor we are going downhill because of squandered opportunities, greed and avarice. Poor are worse off.
Democracy has given them nothing. Corruption has seeped through like torrential rain, unemployment is on the rise, education programs are a disaster, health system is collapsing. Life is a living hell. At least give them justice, so far result is a BIG ZERO!