National Interest Equals 180 million

By Sibtayn Naqvi for The Blue Rickshaw

With the calamity struck upon Pakistan, many of our citizens have suffered at the hands of a horrific torrential downpour, a tragic AirBlue accident and a sickening “target killing” environment prevalent in Karachi. One would believe to look for guidance, consolation and leadership in the civilian government. To quote spider-man “with great power comes great responsibility”, but for Asif Zardari, this means pursuing “national interests” abroad, while thousands of lives have been disrupted and lost across the nation.

Now all in fairness, as one politician proudly displayed on his twitter “I cannot understand y a State visit by a President to further Pakistan’s national interests shud be politicised. It’s hard work no holiday”. Do tell me, is it absolutely vital for Mr. Zardari at this time to be pursing “national interests” by sipping tea and munching on biscuits with the very Prime Minister who stated that my country should not be allowed to “promote the export of terror”?

The President has made numerous trips abroad to pursue “national interests” since taking the reins of the Presidency. Even though such trips cost (on average) Rs. 20 million, I have rarely seen a public outcry in regards to such escapades. Being the President of a powerful nation housing 180 million people, Mr. President, some empathy in regards to the timing of your foreign affairs could have been witnessed this time around.

Was it absolutely crucial to use public money (that is already bare minimum) to travel abroad in the current circumstances? Would it not have been possible to formulate a domestic trip to Swat, Peshawar or Nowshera to stand by the unfortunate flood victims? Could the Rs. 20 million not have been used to conduct a memorial service for the tragic victims who lost their lives in the Margalla Hills? Is it too much to ask for Rs. 20 million to be spent on increased security in Karachi so we don’t read headlines on target killings every morning?

Throughout Pakistan’s turbulent history we have constantly heard drawing room chatter in regards to the Establishment not allowing the civilian government to flourish. Let’s put a spotlight over the recent weeks to see why the Pakistan Army has an image of being our savior rather than the civilian government. When target killings are carried out in Karachi, the Rangers step in. When ED202 crashed in the Margalla Hills, the Army came to the rescue (while one Minister exclaimed prematurely that there were a number of survivors), when the monsoonal floods hit the Northern regions, General Kayani surveyed the damage while expediting relief efforts, when the British Prime Minister made scathing remarks towards Pakistan, our ISI chief suspended his foreign trip to the United Kingdom. You of all people should know Mr. President public perception does matter.

Why was there a lack of civilian government presence in all the incidents mentioned above? Is the launch of Bilawal Zardari as a 21-year-old PPP-Chairman more important than the diminished livelihood of thousands across the country? Correct me if I am wrong, but didn’t the young Zardari exclaim “jaan chahyai, jaan deingay hum, khoon chahyai, khoon deingay hum”? I’d like to see some of that passion come to the forefront Mr. President.

Now let’s get to the favorite topic of the day. Fake degrees. For the 2008 general elections, there was a provision requiring all candidates to have an undergraduate degree. Regardless of whether the law is satisfactory, it was penned in ink. Do tell me, who gives the right to 47 sitting members of Parliament to provide the Election Commission of Pakistan with phony documents? Ironically, the majority of these illegal Parliamentarians are not even from the Pakistan Peoples Party. Take the high ground, the moral ground, Mr. President. Allow the report presented by the autonomous Higher Education Commission to run its proper course. Break down the barriers being constructed by the Ministry of Education.

Pakistan is a very resilient nation. Over the last decade, we have experienced the effects of an on-going war being carried out in Afghanistan. We have seen a rise in domestic violence that has cost 3,433 lives in 215 suicide attacks. Pakistan lost nearly 80,000 citizens in the tragic earthquake of 2005. Our military has suffered 8785 casualties of which 2273 soldiers have died. Karachi endured 156 incidents of targeted killings in 2009. 334 were targeted and killed in the first seven months of 2010, while their have been 889 murders in Karachi alone during the same time period. 152 Pakistani’s tragically lost their lives in the Margalla Hills, while the current flood that has swept the country has already taken the lives of more than 1,200 citizens.

But we are still standing strong. We carry out an honest day of living without electricity and ridiculously high prices of domestic commodities. Despite the hardships we have faced, our faith in this country has strengthened our confidence. In less than two weeks we will be out in the streets, waving our flags, saluting our soldiers and standing with our heads high. The globe may assume we are a fractured nation, and some may state that we export terror, but our national interests lay within our own borders. Our morals will carry us forward, but being at the helm of affairs Mr. President it is your duty to lead the way. We have suffered enough to watch Establishment dictate terms, or civilian governments bankrupting the national exchequer. It is high time the 180 million are looked after for they make up the “national interests”.

Sibtayn Naqvi is a freelance journalist and writes for The Blue Rickshaw. He may be contacted at sibtaynnaqvi@gmail.com

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