Every political leader makes tall claims about serving the people yet nothing changes on the ground. Growing up in the good times we were taught that performance speaks for itself. It was the age of purity; food was eaten fresh, mostly pure and organic.

There was a popular saying, “Desi Ghee is never advertised”. As the first-born free generation of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, we have lived through various formative phases of the new land. There have been only two periods of ‘Khidmat’ (1947 to 1958 and 1971 to 1977). In the first decade, the founding fathers and the bureaucracy realised their responsibility in providing relief to the people.

The challenges were gigantic in the settling phase. Refugees had to be settled, and institutions had to be rebuilt, but the sense of direction prevailed. In the words of my late father-in-law who retired as Secretary Railway Board, “We had to keep the trains running despite an acute shortage of drivers and the technical support staff. ‘Help Wanted’ posters were posted at stations. The trained staff on the arriving refugee trains were immediately put to work.”

The Government of Pakistan was established in barracks and tents with hardly any furniture. From ground zero, a new republic emerged mainly because of the honesty and grit of the founding generation.

After the first martial law in October 1958, most of the gains of the first freedom decade were neutralised. Control replaced khidmat, and those who opposed were punished. Our brothers in the eastern wing where the All-India Muslim League (AIML) the founding party of Pakistan was launched were up in arms.

Finally, the bubble burst and Ayub Khan was forced to resign in March 1969. Elections followed in 1970. Quaid’s Pakistan was dismembered. Bhutto took control of what was left of the republic. As a genuinely elected leader, he re-introduced the concept of serving, not ruling the masses. His government was called an awami hukumat. The Governor’s House Lahore, a symbol of colonial state power, was opened to the public.

Unfortunately, the period was short-lived. In July 1977, the boots were back. All the democratic gains were neutralised during this period of darkness (1977 to 1988).

Massive institutional restructuring is needed to deliver service as was done under the Bhutto regime in the decade of the seventies. Despite being a constitutional democracy, there is very little respect for its pro-people clauses which remain unimplemented.

Under the prevailing situation, no relief is possible, ground realities will remain grim as the implementing structures are not in place and are heavily soiled. What is made to look good on the screen is not real, the backstage is engulfed with gloom and doom only the curtain has to be raised to peep into the darkness that prevails.