Monday, May 23, 2016


Mr. Nawaz Sharif delivered a speech to the nation following the Panama Leaks where he claimed to have a vision for this country, a vision involving a progressive nation and a brighter future. His rivals’ vision on the other hand, he complained, involved nothing beyond impeding his.

While it is impossible to argue with the latter half of this statement, the first half is open to dispute. As the Punjabis would say, ‘kera vision?’…or, ‘which vision (followed by a snort) is this’, that Mr. Sharif refers to? Could it be the one that starts with some floral baskets, roads, train tracks with a generous sprinkling of Chinese, and ends with another term in office, or the one that starts with bridges, metro rails and motorways with a generous sprinkling of Chinese, and ends with another term in office? It has to be one of these, there’s no other vision in sight. And that has been the problem with all Pakistan’s leaders barring the first: none of them possessed a vision for a country which has so many problems that even a person with a slight resolve to make a difference could have achieved something.

Things have been different elsewhere, as in France, which is currently the scene of nationwide protests against proposed labour reforms, where thousands of people have been thronging the streets there, and many protestors were arrested when clashes turned violent. Traffic was disrupted; flights cancelled and schools shut down. France’s President Francois Hollande is adamant however; he plans to push through those labour reforms by mid-2016 regardless of their unpopularity, because the reforms are part of his strategy aimed at lowering unemployment rates in the country.

France’s labour laws are contained within some 3,500 pages and are not easy to get your head around. One thing is clear however that something is not working, no pun intended: France has an unemployment rate of 10%, approximately twice as high as each Germany, China, the US, United Kingdom and Australia each taken separately. Hollande, France’s socialist President has – in a word revered by our media and politicians alike – ‘vowed’ to bring unemployment down, or resign if he fails. Earlier, he outlined exactly how he plans to lower unemployment rates, in part by increasing working hours per week, lowering overtime pay, and making it easier to lay off workers, therefore making it possible hire new ones.

The only possible reaction to such reforms was always likely to be the riots now taking place, because the immediate impact of such measures would be decreased job protection for workers. But this is to be followed, if Hollande is right, by more hiring power and a lowered rate of unemployment, but only over time. Whether one agrees with Hollande or not, this may be called a vision. Clearly some leaders are willing to put their necks on the line and risk a loss of popularity if it means long term benefit for the country. We’re envious.

It is useful having a metro line running through Ferozepur Road in Lahore, but hospitals all over the country are crying for help. Smaller rural hospitals are even dirtier and more understaffed than larger ones, and their doctors are often not present on the job leaving entire communities without medical help.

The floral baskets along the Mall and DHA boulevards are extremely picturesque but we could do with better sanitation everywhere, and better schools, preferably ones that teach something. There are students studying at the Intermediate level at government schools who have never seen a magnifying glass or heard of that thing called the equator, or the North or the South Pole.

There is an urgent need to address the culture of inequality reflected everywhere in society, in the well cooled offices belonging Medical Officers as opposed to stifling patients’ wards, in the well cooled headmaster’s office as opposed to hot and airless classrooms, and in the superb conditions that the few…specifically the ruling elite… live in as opposed to the conditions under which the majority of this country lives, suffers and struggles to survive.

There is the energy issue, more specifically the provision of renewable energy as opposed to fossil fuel. Related to this is the matter of climate change and being prepared for it. For now in Karachi one newspaper has reported that ‘Graves and hospitals are ready in Karachi in case the heat wave strikes again.’ Would this ever be a headline if there was enough power to go around and if all facilities were ready and well run as a matter of course?

Pretty as they are, hanging baskets and metro rails are not likely to help at all with any of these problems. If Pakistan’s leadership possesses another vision it appears to be invisible for now.

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