November Issue 2015

By | News & Politics | Published 4 years ago

It measured 7.5 on the Richter scale but the earthquake that hit Pakistan on October 26, 2015 in which 248 lives were lost and 8,453 homes destroyed, was not as devastating as the one on October 8, 2005 in which over 85,000 people lost their lives and 3.5 million were rendered homeless. And yet there were complaints of delays in rescue work, shortage of food, shelter, provisions etcetera. Once again, it was the army and the religious groups — Jamaat-ud-Dawa, Jamaat-e-Islami and the like — who came to the rescue first. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), as well as the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), fell short of people’s expectations. Why? Have we not learnt any lessons from our past disasters? Questions are being raised once again, about the billions of dollars that arrived in Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake and why the promised houses, schools and hospitals devastated in the last earthquake have failed to materialise to this day. Incidentally, the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) has been without a chairman for the past two years. Not that the PML-N government is unduly concerned. They have their own issues to contend with. The media was  witness to the battles brewing within: The interior minister vs the defence minister; the defence minister vs the planning minister; the minister of state for water and power vs the law minister. It was a free-for-all till the prime minister gave a shut-up call to all – and with good reason. With the long-delayed local bodies elections finally round the corner in the Punjab and PTI on the warpath, the PML-N needed unity in the ranks. Sindh too was gearing up for the first round of the race. And there were stories galore of the PPP and the MQM threatening rival candidates to step down in order to get their own candidates elected unopposed. And of using money to buy votes. Money has never been a problem in any election. Last month, one got a taste of the “riches” of the two candidates from PTI and PML-N, who contested the by-election for NA-122. Allegedly they crossed the Election Commission’s ceiling of 1.5 million rupees many times over. Without blinking an eye. And yet when it comes to paying taxes, Pakistan’s record is probably the most abysmal in the world: less than one percent Pakistanis pay income tax. The attempts by parliamentarians to block the inclusion of non-payment of taxes under the Anti-Money Laundering Bill is shameful. They rank among the biggest tax evaders in the country. The former First Lady of the US, Hillary Clinton, on a trip to Pakistan, made a point of mentioning our penchant for tax evasion, but we refuse to be embarrassed. The begging bowl is still intact and passed around unabashedly by successive governments to the IMF, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Donations are welcome too. On her recent trip to the US with her father, First Daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif was promised US$70m under the ‘Let Girls Learn Initiative’ by the First Lady, Michelle Obama. This, in return for Pakistan’s commitment to raise the country’s education budget from two to four per cent by 2018. We have heard this one before – from the planning minister, the state minister for education and the provincial governments. But to no avail. Since when has education become a priority with the Sharifs? Metros and motorways are more their cup of tea.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.