Monday, November 16, 2015


The Building Code of Pakistan contains a waiver which ends with the caution that only qualified persons must be employed for construction but adds that eventually: ‘the power to ensure compliance vests only with the Government of Pakistan.’ That bald statement was not meant to be applied generally to the role of the government but it does, since whatever goes on in the country it does eventually rest with the government and no one else to ensure that everything comes together and works. An effective government will ensure this, an ineffective one will not. No one else can step in and make it do its job. It’s as simple as that.
The reason I quote the building code is that I read it following the collapse of the plastic bag manufacturing factory at Sunder Estate in Lahore following the earthquake in October.
A report summarising the investigation into the Sunder Estate factory collapse holds the owners of the factory responsible for the tragedy. It was, however, the overarching responsibility of the relevant government body to confirm that this building which contained machinery and workers complied with the building code and was safe following the strong tremors on the 26th of October this year. The government body failed to do so.
It was also the responsibility of the relevant government body to check the ages of the workers employed by the factory, which, again, it failed to do so. After the collapse it was reported that several children, some as young as 12, had lived and worked at the factory, and some were said to be trapped in the rubble.
A ‘child’ is defined by the Employment of Children Act 1991 and the Constitution of Pakistan as a ‘person below 14 years of age. Article 25(A) says that the state must provide compulsory education to all children between five and sixteen which implies that a child may not work until the age of sixteen, unless he or she works in a business run by his own family or in any training school run and recognised by the government. It also stipulates that that no occupation that a child indulges in must be hazardous for children. The government has failed to comply with all these stipulations. The number of children at school constitutes a minority in Pakistan while the number of children working, many under hazardous conditions, is incalculable.
The same earthquake that weakened the factory destroyed many homes in the north of the country. Now, several weeks after the earthquake, the snows have arrived to find the affected people still waiting for government aid that should have arrived within the week. The locals report that it is mainly non-government organisations that have stepped in and provided aid since the earthquake.
The best thing you can say about this government is that it appears to be consistent. As much as any previous ones has, it proved its disinterest and incapability in looking after the interests of the people it was elected to serve. So why has there been such an uproar following the ISPR’s recent statement? If it did cast a slur on the government’s performance, wasn’t it only stating the obvious?
In the ISPR’s press release on 10th November, the COAS acknowledges the support the army’s ongoing operation to eliminate terrorism and extremism has received from the people of Pakistan and the government. It however ‘underlined the need for matching/complimentary governance initiatives for long term gains of operation and enduring peace across the country. Progress of National Action Plan’s implementation, finalisation of FATA reforms, and concluding all ongoing JITs at priority, were highlighted as issues, which could undermine the effects of operations. (The) COAS also directed to expedite return of TDPs, overcoming all obstacles for development works in affected areas and rehabilitation of all displaced families.’
Language is clearly not the ISPR’s strong point, but more than this the statement tells you less that the government was being reprimanded and more that it was being told what to do. Here are the armed forces of Pakistan stepping out of line once again… but when have the armed forces of Pakistan ever toed the line?
This inability to comprehend the roles allotted to different government bodies extends to the general public which appears to think it does not matter who does what since we are all in this together. That’s the attitude which has resulted in martial law over and over again.
There is a clearly defined role for every arm of government laid out in the constitution which explicitly states that ‘The Federal Government shall have control and command of the Armed Forces’. It is not the other way around. We possess a dedicated army which nevertheless needs to remember that protocol does not permit it to speak down to the government in a formal statement however much the government may deserve it. The best place to offer its suggestions would have been at the meeting that took place prior to the statement. Having said that it is time that the government sat up and did something to deserve this protocol.
Aristotle said, so many years ago, that ‘dignity does not consist in possessing honours, but in deserving them’. Perhaps he too heard the sirens and fanfare that accompanies our government officials, and snorted.

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