January issue 2013

By | Editor's Note | Published 11 years ago

We begin the new year on the brink, not unusual for a country that is fast becoming inured to brinkmanship. However, this year we are not just on the brink of economic meltdown and endemic violence threatening to spiral out of control. Around the corner is a democratic transition. This could be viewed as the opening of a new and welcome chapter in a nation where un-constitutional means to the ends of change in governance had become the norm.

Hopefully this is not speaking too soon. One joker in the pack has already made his presence felt and there may be others lurking in the wings. Dr Tahirul Qadri’s sudden return from self-imposed exile with a wide-ranging agenda of reform may in itself not be a bad thing. However, holding the system hostage to the whims and fancies of an individual — and his possible backers — reeks of the catastrophic and disruptive interventions of the past.

It is true that other than his ability to wheel and deal his way out of political quagmires, President Asif Ali Zardari has too little to show for the five years spent in power. A disenchanted electorate, fractured polity and stagnant economy weigh heavy on the scorecard, although there have been advances on intransigent issues such as devolution and the NFC award.

Income inequality is more glaringly obvious than ever, with designer franchises flourishing in the shiny new malls, while rural communities struggle — quite literally — to keep their heads above water in the aftermath of the floods of 2010 and after. Education takes a back seat and health ministry officials continue to shuffle their files while polio workers are shot dead in the streets. Inflation takes away food from the plate for many, but we continue to print paper money while tax evaders rule the roost in Islamabad.

The country is increasingly viewed as a pariah on the world stage as intolerance spreads unchecked. Sectarian violence is worse than ever, and switching off cell phones — Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s recipe for containment — surely has its limits. Witness the death toll in the first ten days of Moharram alone: 38 killed and over two hundred injured in sectarian attacks.

In the sea of chaos that surrounds us, there are some guiding lights. Brave individuals such as Malala Yousufzai emerge as a symbol of hope. Citizens’ initiatives continue their struggle to fill at least a part of the huge gap in health and education.

And the Pakistan cricket team actually manages to hang together on the grounds of Chennai and Kolkata, bringing home the whiff of victory. As they say, it’s never over till it’s over.

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