Courting chaos

A clear cut case of 'the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing' has been publicly revealed by the Government of the Punjab. The existence of militants in the province is, whether Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee like it or not, a forgone conclusion as much of the populace has reason to know, a populace being forced towards 'signing up' for the financial gains so conveniently offered. Low paid members of the working class are finding it increasingly impossible to make ends meet and, according to a recently released report The state of food security in Pakistan, sponsored by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, over 48 percent of people in the country as a whole are facing serious problems in acquiring adequate food supplies and this is before the soon to be revealed budget is announced after which this frightening percentage will probably soar. When people are hungry through no fault of their own they, naturally, expect government bodies to intercede on their behalf and not to hammer them down further into misery and yet, the Government of the Punjab is courting chaos by allowing this to happen. A prime example is last weeks rioting in Jikka Gali when Rawalpindi police, imported for the occasion, baton charged and tear gassed local people whose living they had viciously destroyed. As mentioned in a recent column (The Nation 17-5-2010), Jikka Gali is under reconstruction. Old shops on one side of the road having been demolished to make way for a multi-storey car park serving Murree, a 5 star hotel in which Tweedle-dum is a prime mover and a brand spanking new shopping plaza in which foreign franchises have already booked their place. The entire development is the brainchild of the Government of Punjab. Owners of affected shops were compensated to the tune of Rs 30,000 per month for the six month period they expected to be out of business but, as owners and staffers are two completely different things, the actual workers themselves were suddenly unemployed, facing severe financial straits. In desperate need of an income, some of these unemployed people, according to local sources, recently set up cabins on the outskirts of the village, operating small businesses from there with some of them having taken out start up loans from seedy entrepreneurs. Along comes the big bad wolf in the form of Murree's own Town Municipal Authority which, despite assuring these small traders that their new businesses would be allowed to continue operating, turned heavy handed two days later, brought in a large force of Rawalpindi police and, with no notice, forcibly demolished the cabins....contents included. It is no wonder that these already downtrodden people, struggling to make an honest living and feed their families, were shocked to the core and retaliated with all the might they could muster. Adding insult to injury, the latter quite literally as 10 local people were injured, three of them seriously so, the TMA owned up to carrying out the operation without any written notice which is surely against all the laws of decency if not against the law of the land itself. This self-same TMA has been in hot water for a very long time now as it has refrained, other than window dressing, from taking action against 162 illegally constructed, highly dangerous, multi-storey buildings in Murree itself despite being ordered by the Supreme Court to do so. Riddled with bribery and corruption, the TMA much prefers to close its eyes to the doings of the rich and unfairly persecute the struggling, hard working, poor instead which, for vileness, is hard to beat. With one law for the 'haves' and another for the 'have-nots', it is hardly surprising that the cabin owners find themselves with their backs to wall, without any recourse to look forward too which is where 'prospective employers of an unsavoury ilk' step in. Before the dust of smashed cabins, the aroma of crushed fruit, ground meat and burst soft drink bottles had time to settle, agitators and recruiters stepped in and, with any port looking good in a storm, who knows how many will take the bait. As more and more people, throughout the length and breadth of the country not just in Punjab, are brought to their knees by rampaging inflation, employment 'downsizing' and an absence of work opportunities of any kind, they are being forced to explore avenues of basic survival that, once upon a time, they would never even have remotely considered, such as accepting the largesse of 'outfits' who offer them a liveable wage, educate, feed and clothe their children in madrassas along with other perks of the 'job'. Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee, accompanied by the rest of the motley crew currently playing the government game, need to wake up and realise that this is one round of monopoly they are set to loose unless, and until, they deliver a liveable life to the faceless masses who are, when all is said and done, the skeleton holding the country together. The writer is a Murree-based columnist.

Zahrah Nasir

The writer is author of The Gun Tree: One Woman’s War (Oxford University Press, 2001) and lives in Bhurban.

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