Monday, April 25, 2011


By:Rabia Ahmed

The cleaning lady grunted in annoyance at a recalcitrant tissue. She swung the broom behind her returning the tissue to her small pile of dirt, and then very carefully swept all the rubbish into a dustpan, leaving the floor behind her pristine.

I watched and wished that tissues were issues, and that we could make a clean sweep of all Pakistan’s problems and throw them out just like this, all the issues together, not leaving any rubbish behind.

There is not a single problem facing Pakistan, which is rather like Mirza Ghalib’s statement about not liking mangoes, so let’s rephrase that: there are many different problems facing Pakistan. It is simplistic to say that if only education was more widespread in this country, these problems would go away, although that would help. But while we strive to set up schools to provide this education, there are attitudes ingrained in our society, like dust grains in every crevice of finely carved furniture that are impossible to remove without stripping the wood.

Violence is now a reflex, and every kind of human rights violation finds a home in this country. Torture, domestic and other violence, deaths in custody and as a result of military action, child abuse, disappearances...

Javed Ghamdi
Much of the above can be traced to emotive response to religion. In an interview with Dr Moid Pirzada, the scholar Javed Ghamdi (who has been forced to leave the country because of his views) said that until the people of the subcontinent learn to react unemotionally to religion, we will not be able to rid ourselves of the violence that pervades the region.

Other reasons include tradition and custom such as the custom of karo kari (‘honour’ killing), of keeping women incarcerated in the home, or the paleontological jirga system which has so recently been manifestly upheld by our Judiciary in the case against Mukhtaran Mai’s rapists. And let’s not forget the feudals, let us never forget the feudals in whose interests it is to keep all these problems alive.

A combination of habitual violence, bigoted and emotional religious response and barbaric customs is what causes schools to be blown up as fast as they are built.

On the other hand, whatever the reason behind suicide bombings in Pakistan is, it could not be religious. No religion, however bigoted it is, could kill those at prayer or innocent persons. Yet those who pull the strings use puppets for their ends, boys as young as fifteen steeped in religious fervor, burning with misbegotten zeal, indoctrinated into accepting such solutions as a route to paradise. Which of us does not possess a relative going through ‘a phase’ at that age, for whom everything is black and white, whose blood runs hot and fires a yearning for acts of heroism? It is these striplings who blow themselves up, or as in the case of a young lad recently who injured himself grievously, do not quite succeed in doing so.

There are the stultifying attitudes towards wealth and self-aggrandisement, and the resultant corruption and the stranglehold of the rich and powerful over not just the poor, but over institutions such as the judiciary and the police. It was noted by the Transparency International that a major cause of corruption in Pakistan was the lack of accountability. It said that lower court judges were pressured by superior court judges with regards to legal decisions and that lower courts remained corrupt, inefficient, and subject to pressure from prominent wealthy, religious, and political figures. In addition there is government involvement in judicial appointments, which increases government control over the court system.

All the while there is the poverty, the mind boggling, crippling poverty which results from all of the above, that contributes to many of the ills.

It has to be a concerted effort, a grass roots movement that will carry leaders along with the people, and sweep issues right out the door in one huge all encompassing move. The people of Pakistan may be patient and used to adversity, but there will surely come a day very soon when verdicts such as those acquitting five of the six persons involved in Mukhtaran Mai’s rape case will bring about a severe backlash.

Public reaction prior and post Pakistan’s semi-final game in the World Cup was an indication of the desperate need of the people of Pakistan for a shred of pride in their country. The fact that some people actually attempted to kill themselves in the aftermath is ominous.

It is not necessary for a huge event to act as a galvanising force. It takes but a straw to break a camel’s back, however, those riding the camel are too busy wielding the whip to understand this. I think my cleaning lady would make a better politician. At least she tries to sweep clean, and most times she succeeds.

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