No Time for Knee-Jerk Solutions


*Originally published in The Daily Times.

It has become a routine affair to read and hear headlines announcing the impending or ordered suspensions and dismissals of officers as an answer to lapses of security, administration or general mismanagement these days. More or less the decisions held within them have come to be recognized as an instrument of redress and governance. After the recent incident involving Sikander in Islamabad, the Interior minister also announced that he had ordered the concerned authorities to suspend all those police officials who allowed Zamarud Khan to take such a foolhardy chance and breach the cordon.

But it needs to be asked, are these instant suspensions and dismissals the solution to problems?

The public acceptance of this sort of management of affairs can be attributed to a handful of reasons a prime one being the sentimentality of the Pakistani nation which gives in quicker to emotions of rage, excitement, incitement than to ceding ground to thought and reasoning.
Such decisions in wake of unpleasant occurrences sate public agitation rather rapidly, seeming to be severe deserving penalties, on the face of it, that shall act as preventions of replications in the future.

Similarly, this serves the politicians well too. By ordering such actions and in the context of the public reaction as mentioned above, elected representatives emerge as leaders with a stringent and prompt fashion for imposing discipline and negligence at the expense of the people.
The sensational wrapping of these measures as news by the media only adds to their hollow luster.
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However, a degree of public acceptance of such measures must not blur its nature from being recognized which is but a knee-jerk phenomenon part of the larger system of governance in Pakistan that resorts to cosmetic fixes when confronted with the need to deal with deep-rooted troubles.

Immediate dismissals, suspensions of officials upon notice of a tragedy; dereliction of duties or a  miscarriage of administration is in itself, a miscarriage of governance and administration.                                                               
In his article titled ‘PML-N vs. The Channels of Non-Delivery’ in The News on July 10th 2013, Mosharraf Zaidi excellently highlighted the direction the government needs to adopt if it hopes to succeed in the resolution of the country’s difficulties:

‘If the PML-N is serious about sustaining democracy, it has to deliver sustainable change. To do so, it needs to invest heavily not just in the big-ticket outcomes it needs for re-election, but crucially in the procedural coherence and integrity of government.

5-21-2013_22991_l_TDramatic reforms in the civil service, in local governments, and in public financial management are essential to the outcomes politicians seek.
Without such reforms, any outcomes Pakistani democrats achieve will be difficult to come by – they will be temporary, and they will be unsustainable. In the medium- and long-term, failure to reform Pakistan’s channels of delivery is the single most dangerous threat to Pakistani democracy.’ 

It is therefore, evident and imperative that the problems and shortcomings within Pakistan’s system must be addressed rather than quick fixes to the problems that are their spill-over; structural reforms are needed now more than ever. The recurrence of unfortunate occurrences, either in the shape of the recent collision of a rickshaw with a train or security lapses, all are part of the larger system of structural defects and failures in Pakistan that continue unabated.

The knee-jerk reactions of governance and redressing can act has hasty bandaging of seepages of the system’s weaknesses and loopholes but only perpetuate the cycle that abets it.

The 17 young lives that perished in the school bus tragedy in Gujrat can not be brought back or done justice to by the mere arrest of the driver or the suspension of his license to drive but other lives can be protected from being lost with greater legislation against gas cylinders in vehicles and its effective implementation along with safety regulations.

What is needed instead of or beyond numerous instant dismissals and suspensions is a tightly-timetabled, impartial thorough examination and investigation – even if it shall lead to the same end as the suspensions and dismissals – of the incidents; with a complete account of the contexts of circumstances, people and causes involved. Not only will this course of action aid swift retribution of those found to be responsible but also provide for introspection of the system itself, identification of its faults and options for correction, it shall pave path for sustainable prevention and reform.              

Prevailing structural inertia and incompetence that sprout regrettable and ill-fated incidents can only be dealt with immediate reforms instead of immediate, perennial short-term measures to compensate for these sporadic occurrences that only cause them to appear somewhere else again, and again. And only then can Pakistan be alleviated from the morass it remains bogged down in.

 – Hafsa Khawaja

Uncoverings Of The Flood : Balochistan Govt’s Inaction : Are We Nurturing The Deprivation In Balochis?


As posted on LUBP :

“Balochistan has a history of bearing the brunt of feudalism, the chameleionic political scenario and  the extreme natural calamities of flooding and drought, both which blow the remaing normalcy of life there into smithereens.
Latterly, Southern Pakistan has been hit by a wave of torrential rains that have affected the lives of about 50,000 in parts of the province and yet dismayingly the response of the Provincial Government has been nothing more than apathetic :

Tens of thousands of people have been left marooned, countless killed and numerous missing and others rendered homeless as almost six districts of Eastern Balochistan have been struck by wild onrush rains and most villages, towns and districts have either submerged into the flood water or been completely bashed out by them but the people in these zones are yet to be approached by rescue teams or vacated to safer places.

 

Hundreds of people are either stranded, trapped or living under open skies with no access to relief or even the basic necessities of food that they need for survival. These local people have contested the claims of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) of dispatching relief or food supplies to them, refuting them while waiting for the Federal Government to announce any substantial financial assistance for them, those who lost their lives or those who lost their entire belongings, food stock, household goods and valuables in flash floods.

Most of the province has been cut-off from the rest of the country as a result of the explicit damage and destruction of its communication system and the vehicular transport system which links it with the cities around and other human settlements has been suspended or immobilized.

There is also a marked threat of outbreak of epidemics in the flood affected regions as there is a lack of food, clean water and medication leave alone substantial medicine and medical staff which are even unapproachable for easily-treatable cases of snake-bites that have been reported from villages but could not be treated as the rescue teams have not arrived or are short of medical articles such as snake-bite serum.

 

The Wazirabad village of Bakhtiarabad in Lehri Tehsil is the worst-affected area and such is the situation there that dead bodies are decaying for nothing is available for neither the funeral nor the people to bury them.

 
 
Over 57,000 people have been affected in Sibi, Lehri, Barkhan.The floods have damaged 90% of the houses, over 50% livestock and agriculture.
And according to the district agriculture and revenue departments these floods have broken the past records of 1978.

 

“In Tambo Tehsil of Nasirabad, more than 30,000 people have been made homeless while crops have been completely washed-out in the canal-irrigated area.

Around 0.2 million people had been affected by floods in six districts of Balochistan where rescue and relief work had been slow and inadequate. Roads, power transmission lines and railway tracks have been destroyed in the district.

Despite the massive destruction, relief work had not started in Tambo tehsil.”

This cataclysm was and is a testing time for both the Balochistan Government and other governmental organs which constitute the body of the provincial government and it is discernible now that there has been a miscarriage from the provincial government’s side in fulfilling their responsibilities.

The Balochistan Health Directorate has failed to discharge medicines to the flood-hit areas and even the districts where emergency has been declared, which has led to some deaths.

The Provincial Government’s response to this cataclysmic inundation has been slow, impassive and lackadaisical.

July to September, are the defined monsoon months of Pakistan and Balochistan has a history of ruinous floods which occurred numerous times including in 70’s, 80’s and the 90’s. One of the main tasks of the management, administration and government are to plan, co-ordinate, manage and ensure the implementation of their decisions.

When it is a well-known fact that the province is at a constant threat of floods in the Monsoon season, why did not the provincial government pre-plan a strategy before the rains to prevent the huge damage that has been inflicted now?

  

The Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) had already been predicting strong rainstorms around Pakistan before the floods and still is issuing statements that show the rains are expected to continue along the border areas of western Pakistan.

Now that the officials of the provincial government are reiterating about their involvement in the efforts to help the people but state that the deluge is hindering their completion, why hadn’t they formulated a programme for the prevention of flood damage before-hand?

 

The transport authorities should have prepared alternative routes for the people and the rescue teams to use in case of the areas which were bound to be affected and the transport system there to be washed away too.

Three years before, another flood had occurred, during the reign of President Musharraf and  the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) had revealed that of the 80,000 homes destroyed in the disaster, nearly 60,000 were in Balochistan alone, where some 15 districts were badly or severely affected and the loss was estimated at Rs.10 bn.

At that time, the Musharraf Government was censured and denounced for its listless reaction to the disaster and yet today, under a democratically-elected government: the people of Balochistan face the same stagnant situations that they had previously faced.

 

The response to flooding in the region hasn’t kept pace with the severity of the humanitarian emergency.

The Provincial Government should have devised a plan before Monsoon in coordination with the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and The Pakistan Meteorological Department to asses the nature of the rains, the threats they posed to the province and an aerial survey should have been conducted in search of higher areas in Balochistan where camps could have been established and the people could have been moved there with their belongings.

Now that the rains have swept the province, both the Provincial and Federal Government should work-out a project or course of action for the immediate rehabilitation of the people on an emergency basis with huge relief supplies of medicines, goods, blankets, tents, food and other facilities that the Balochis direly need.

Balochistan may make up 48% of the total land of Pakistan but its clustered population has the most surging feeling of deprivation and alienation whose roots aren’t a puzzle to trace considering the policy response to their pleas and predicaments which is nothing more than lip-service or cold and half-hearted efforts such as of today when the region has been shook by a crisis.

We must realize that that the sense of divestiture, virtual separation, disparity and deprivation that the Balochis have today and which many believe are being exploited by foreign elements, has been nurtured by our very own ignorance and misinterpretations of their dilemmas, needs and aspirations.

 

As Benazir Bhutto herself wrote in ‘Daughter of the East’ about East Pakistan:

“From revenues of more than thirty-one billion rupees from East Pakistan’s exports, the minority in West Pakistan had built roads, schools, universities and hospitals for themselves, but had developed little in the East. The army, the largest employer in our poor country, drew 90% of its forces from West Pakistan. 80% of the government jobs were filled by people from the West. No wonder they felt excluded and exploited.”

Although there are differences in Balochistan and East Pakistan, the last line of her writing fits perfectly into the picture of Balochistan today.

 

About 46% of the gas in our country is obtained from Sui in Balochistan. Majority of Pakistanis talk about developing the resources in Balochistan (Thar, Reko Diq etc) and letting the country benefit from them, but have we wondered or ever thought of developing Balochistan itself and equipping the Balochis educationally, politically and socially?

‘Aghaz-e-Huqooq-e-Balochistan’ is indeed a laudable step by the Government but it needs to be implemented. We need to grant them their basic rights and shun being lax in responding to their calls in times of help.

The population of Balochistan forms only 5% to 7% of Pakistan’s total population and it feasible enough to deliver its people the right to education, shelter and all other basic necessities that they rightfully deserve and the Government needs to prioritize the strive for removing the deep-seated feelings of resentment and making the Balochis realize that they are not children of a lesser God but as much vital for Pakistan’s future and as much part of the flesh and soul of this country as those in Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.”

– Hafsa Khawaja