Search This Blog

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Saving Pakistan from itself : By Kunwar Idris

Editor's Note: Pakistan is not only in need of monetary and relief goods aid, but we must also request help in terms of Expertise from countries around the world. The magnanimity of destruction is beyond the scope of the government, any government of a developing nation. Teams of Experts in Reconstruction from other countries must be constituted for different areas and they must be awarded responsibility to do the job. This is the only way, we can restructure what has been lost and in given allotted time. Failure to do this will only multiply the miseries of the people and have worse impact on Pakistan's Economy than what already exists.

Saving Pakistan from itself

The response of the political leaders, the government and civil society as a whole to the country’s worst-ever natural disaster has been both delayed and mean. It is a kind of save-Pakistan-from-itself situation.

Even the army that comes to the people’s rescue when the civil administration falters or fails was late this time in coming and its presence was felt much less than in earlier, lesser crises. The world response matches domestic indifference. Only the ‘hated’ American soldiers with their helicopters are there to save lives. Don’t we need to look at our ‘friends’ more closely?

The pledges made are small and much of the money promised would be available after the suffering has taken its toll. Well into the second week of the calamity, the donations received in the prime minister’s relief fund remain a pittance. Among a few large donors is a rags-to-riches politician who only a week earlier had spent, perhaps, an equal sum on a wedding feast at a plush Dubai hotel. Thus he has come to represent the rich of Pakistan as they are known to the world — charitable and vainglorious at the same time.

The rains and floods, the prime minister says, had put the country back by a generation. That sounds like an exaggeration only to forestall the criticism of his government’s extravagance and incompetence. The damage to the infrastructure would surely cost a great deal but repaired — sooner or later. It is the nation that seems to have lost its soul.

Its chosen representatives do not now have a dictator to curse nor can they blame ‘obstructing’ judges. They indulge in harangues but lack the moral strength to inspire a nation in crisis. Helping the people in distress are only the soldiers and some jihadis. The liberal or mainstream parties are nowhere to be seen.

For the failure of the political leadership and civil administration to deal with the day-to-day problems, much less with a crisis of this magnitude, the blame lies not with this or that individual or party but with the politics of vengeance and retribution that has marked the national scene almost for four decades now. There may have been moments of personal triumph here and there but the moral and institutional decline has been continuous and, barring a revolution, looks irreversible.

A quick reckoner of this decline is Bangladesh which is now poised to grow at twice the rate of Pakistan. A more tempting comparison, however, would be with Egypt which has been ruled by more strongmen and longer than Pakistan. In human development and social services starting from the same base in the middle of the last century, the literacy level in Egypt has risen to 85 per cent against ours at 54 and an average Egyptian expects to live eight years longer than a Pakistani. But, more amazingly, 99 per cent of Egyptian homes now have electricity and 97 per cent have piped water supply.In South Asian terms Pakistan shows up poorly and Southeast Asia (is altogether a different story. The old-timers can recall a time when the Koreans came to Pakistan to study our development model. Today an average South Korean is 30 times richer than his Pakistani counterpart.

In Pakistan the failure has been collective but the rot began with the political leadership. It travelled down the line to hit the bureaucracy and then spread across the national spectrum to undermine all other spheres. The causes are numerous and remedies are often recounted but relevant in the current context is the need to curtail government expenditure to save money for the rehabilitation of flood victims and modernisation of the physical infrastructure.

The size of the government calls for a drastic reduction. A smaller size would increase efficiency. One often wonders that if the province of West Pakistan (one unit) could make do with 13 or so ministers and as many secretaries why must each province now have three to four times that number? West Pakistan’s secretariat had just five cars for everybody to share; the number now defies a count.

The chief minister then had but one office room and that too in the main secretariat along with all other ministers and officials. The Punjab chief minister now hardly ever goes to the secretariat. A palace-like structure that Chaudhry Parvez Elahi built for himself is now occupied by an assortment of freeloaders who are a burden on a government that runs on bank overdraft.

Then come cash handouts or subsidies. Rs70bn set aside for payment to the poor selected by parliamentarians under a programme named after Benazir should be diverted to the flood victims. Putting the poor on dole, even if honestly chosen (which appears unlikely considering the political channel of distribution) is a bad idea. The same applies to the sum set aside for Punjab’s two-rupee sasti roti which even the rich can buy.

Though late, the Punjab chief minister has sensibly decided to stop this waste and divert the saved Rs500bn to flood relief. The Sindh government is now contemplating a similar subsidy in wheat flour through the millers for sale in the open market. Given our proven inability to control the market forces, this subsidy is unlikely to reach the poor just as the subsidy on fertiliser, pesticide or other commodities did not. It too will get lost in the long channel of bribe and profit.

The savings in these and other subsidies and a heavy cut in spendings by a mélange of political coalitions that have no policy or direction should make up somewhat for the lack of local and foreign donations. The saddest of all thoughts however is that the donors are being cagey or wary not because they do not realise the gravity and scale of the problem. It is Pakistan’s reputation for corruption and mismanagement that holds them back. And there we are stuck.

(The writer 
served as head the Pakistan Auto-mobile Corporate. He served as a Federal Secretary . Mr. Idris also served as Secretary Home, Secretary Industries and Chief Secretary in the province of Sind. He serves as a Non Executive Director of Pakistan Tobacco Company Ltd. He is a bureaucrat of 1957 batch. He also writes as a freelance writer in various English newspapers).


  1. Is Idris trying to tell us the Americans are helping the stranded & the needed? Boy Oh Boy, SOMEONE here seems to be on the take!
    If only Idris would bestir himself from his reclining couch, not do something so drastic as actually go out to see what is happening on ground...but just switch on the TV, I suggest DUNIYA...they are taking you on ground to all flood hit areas. The ONLY help on ground is being offered by PAK ARMY.
    Do you read me Idris?
    Unfortunately for the likes of you,licking their masters boots, media, is at a point of exposure where pen pushers like you, mouth pieces of their masters are too well exposed.

  2. The politicians must lead by example and donate generously for rehabilitation of the flood victims.In times of soaring inflation, it has become difficult for the common man to make ends meet, what to say of helping others.This may sound mean but is a harsh reality. One needs to step out in the real world to appreciate this.
    I think Ms Ali is spot on in her Editor's Note with the suggestion that Teams from other countries must be constituted to cover restructuring of different areas.

  3. It would be best not to donate anything; flood relief is being controlled by jihadi organizations that will use part of the funds to sponsor terror world-wide

  4. Idris is very correct on the crass negligence of our politicians & their looting the country. However, I do not agree with his statement of US soldiers helping the stranded people. Idris must be having some special wire service to deliver him the news.
    I agree with Sameeh in peoples plight to be unable to extend a hand to their suffering fellowmen,maybe,Idris has never faced lack of anything to understand the plight of the common man where potatoes are Rs 50 a kilo, tomatoes Rs 50 a kilo & NO vegetable under Rs 62 a kilo.
    (Yesterday's rates).

    Let us not trivialize peoples agony. Neither is it being "controlled" by terrorist outfits. But by NOT being helpful, we are certainly pushing them towards them. Anyone will accept help from ANY quarter when they see their family is DYING.

  6. Pakistan has one of the HIGEST POPULATION growth in the World , From 60 Million in 1971 to 180 Million in 2010???? This absolutely Absurd and the Govts have done nothing to prevent this????? This is our Biggest Problem next to Lack of education... These 2 Main issues have to be addressed at a War footing or we are doomed...nothing else will work??

  7. I am reminded by this commentary of the parallel with the Philippines, which was decades ago considered to be doing well economically relative to many developing countries but has fallen further and further behind. Both countries still suffer from the suffocating hold of the rural economic elite on national and local politics, which is accompanied by corruption that stifles genuine innovation in the economy.

  8. I think we must not be miserly in acknowledging what help any body has rendered to us in this hour of need and trial. Most of the helicopters being used in the relief operation are American. The monetary assistance provided till today by America is definitely more than any other friend of Pakistan. Food supplies from American sources are also coming in and being distributed to the affectees. Hillary Clinton and Halbrook were quick in lodging appeals for donations from the American public. Most of our other friends are still making vague announcements and plans.
    Let's be fair..............American response has been timely and positive.

  9. I share a mail here from Syed Wajahat:

    Dear Yasmeen Ali

    With all due respect to Kunwar Idris' article on the subject. I must express my dismay and frustration
    on the state of affairs in Pakistan. This article wreaks of the aroma of decay. It portrays Pakistani's
    as a group of somewhat dysfunctional people who are unable to take care of themselves.

    It reminds me of the beggars on Streets of not just Karachi but all over the world including USA.
    Who have made it a business to stand at the stop lights and beg for hand outs.
    While such technique will bring the days expense to subsist as a down sized individual.
    It also puts the beggar on the mercy of the giver.

    At this time Pakistani intelligentsia must ask itself the vital question. Do they want a nation,
    that was given to the people by the almighty, so the minority in the sub continent of India,
    could have a country where they are the majority, to fall into a decay and destruction and
    eventually disappear from the face of this planet.


  10. Yes, those who can afford it will fly off to other countries where the life will be more comfortable
    for each of the affluent intelligence for the immediate future. Eventually these migrants will
    get diffused into the prevailing culture, symbolically, disappearing from the surface of the planet

    On the other hand, the gift of intelligence and affluence can be used to strengthen the
    foundation of the God given land and then go forward in building a nation that can
    stand up and be counted.

    My personal explanation of Sin and Good (Sawab and Gunnah) is very simple.
    Sin (Gunnah) is an act of destruction in the eye of God (Allah).
    Good (Sawab) is an act of construction in the eye God (Allah).

    Destruction is the action of damage the life on the planet.
    Construction is the action to sustain the life on the planet.

    Our directive from the almighty is to sustain life on the planet. Consequences
    of going against the directive are catastrophic. The catastrophes are time dependent.
    From instantaneous destruction of life from Nuclear bombs to gradual disappearance of
    a species from the planet due to personal decisions we make individually based on

    However, I also believe that the almighty will eventually win. The life shall sustain but
    the destructive forces shall be eliminated through their own unreal acts.

    That is exactly what will befall those of us who work to selfishly enhance their own existence
    at the expense of less fortunate.

    It is in the interest of each of us, big or small, affluent or poor, to realize the eventuality.
    Then start focusing on what us the individuals can do without asking for help from

    In this context, the time has come for the rich to open their accounts to fund projects
    that will provide a return not just to the themselves, but in doing so enhancing the
    a common mans life in the nation of Pakistan. Thus strengthening their own
    foundation on the planet as a Pakistani. As opposed to holding exhorbitant
    amount of cash in foreign banks. Which get invested in projects that work
    towards the destruction of Pakistan.

    Our educated professional must find new ways to contribute their skills for the
    enhancement projects without thinking of better compensations. The compensation
    should be the thought that each of the professional is forging an nondestructive identity
    as a Pakistani.

    The poor must force themselves, to be independent and find ways to unite other
    poor people into a working organism with the objective of improving their life for
    the future and be counted as the active contributors to the wealth of the nation.

    All this is only possible through the correct education. The media is the way to
    achieve it with speed. Therefore, if each of us individually (indlcuding the owners
    of the media organizations in Pakistan) embark upon the quest
    for a change in the life style that favors the reality of self help rather than fantasy of begging
    for help. We will accomplish this very quickly.

    The idea that raising hands to Allah and asking for miracles has to be put
    on the back burner for a period of time. What is needed now is to tighten
    our belts and embark upon a quest to clean up, on our own power.
    This spirit never goes un noticed in the world community. Soon we will
    see the help arriving, un solicited.

    I firmly believe in the saying, "Almighty helps those who help themselves."

    Syed Wajahat Hussain

  11. Wonderful ideas from Syed Wajahat Hussain !
    Yes, we have to have some national pride and get down to work of reconstruction right away, instead of sitting tight and waiting for our friends. These are the testing times.

    The affluent among us have to now come forward because ultimate has happened and the danger is obvious that if they don't respond even now, then God's will will take its course and nothing will be left of this nation.