By Babar Sattar
WE get readily inflamed on being accused of being a failed state or failing society. But can we fathom the reasons or logic to explain even to a sympathetic observer our policies as a state or our priorities or reactions as a society?
There is no denying the feel-good value of platitudes. To be told that you have tremendous hidden potential as individuals and untapped resources as a state, or that things aren’t as bad as they are made out to be can be uplifting. But are we not headed in a direction that is truly frightening?
This is no prophecy for doom. It is meant to consider what we would say to our kids 30 years from now when they ask us what we were thinking while merrily pursuing our suicide mission.
To love a country or society like you love your parents is one thing: unconditional love, gratitude for what they did for you, and lack of desire to change them. To love a country or society as you love your kids is another: unconditional love together with responsibility for the kind of people they become.
We were a country of 34 million in 1951. Currently, we are north of 180 million. If we actually begin to worry about producing incessantly, we’d probably be 270 m by 2050. If we keep thinking that more of us are God’s gift to humankind, we could be around 330m by then. Either way we would be the fourth or fifth most populous country in three decades. To state the obvious, our land or resources are not multiplying along with our progeny.
We are one of the most illiterate people in the world and even in our region, notwithstanding our constitutional obligation to educate all kids between the ages of five and 16. There are over 25m children in this age group presently not enrolled in school. If we keep reproducing at the current pace and given that we are a young population (the average national age is under 25 years), we’ll have over 60 m kids out of school in another three decades.
Imagine a country of 270 to 330m, a predominant majority of which is uneducated and consequently unskilled to meet their basic needs. Forget our miserable rural areas for a minute. Imagine cities twice their current size in 30 years with no urban planning and unmet housing, transportation and energy needs. Who will employ all these people? Where will they go to school? Where will they be treated when they fall sick?
We are being told now that we are almost out of water. Imagine a country of 270 to 330m without water. Are we building more water reservoirs to cater for our growing needs? No, we’d rather keep fighting about the poisoned Kalabagh dam. Are we writing laws to create catchment areas in rural and urban areas to harvest rainwater that we have in abundance, as devastating floods remind us each year? No, we’d rather unravel the conspiracy of the Indus Water Treaty first.
Whether the issue is creating a modern economy, preventing youth from engaging in crime or succumbing to violent and intolerant ideologies feeding terror, controlling population growth or enabling citizens to provide for themselves, the medium- to long-term solution to each challenge lies in education.
And what is our response? Our governments will not even commit enough funds to education to create the mirage that they are serious about upholding our children’s fundamental right to education under Article 25A.
The burden of facilitating education is increasingly been borne by our private sector. If we are half serious about creating educational facilities for the 60m additional kids who will need to go to school over the next 30 years, we will need to attract enormous amounts of private investment. We need north of $50 billion (conservatively speaking) to establish facilities for everyone of schoolgoing age and the state will simply be unable to cough up this money. And how is the state going about attracting private investment for education?
The Peshawar High Court has ruled that private schools must provide education on buy-one-get-one-free basis: if one of your kids goes to a private school, the second will go for free. The ingenuity is breathtaking. Ever heard of killing two birds with one stone, education and population both?
Our cities have no allocated spaces for schools. So where should schools be located? Out of cities or in bazaars, say the government and the courts. We’ll suffer beauty parlours and restaurants in residential areas but not the abominable commercial activity schools engage in.
The intolerance that has multiplied within our society and the bigoted mindset it has cultivated over the last three decades is suffocating. Killing Salmaan Taseer was fair game; how dare he stand up and claim that a poor Christian woman might not have committed blasphemy? What would have been Alvin Robert Cornelius’s prospects of being allowed to wear the robes if he lived today? Not satisfied with the declaration of Ahmadis as non-Muslims or the digging up of their graves, our judges have caught up with the plan and resolved never to appoint them as fellow judges.
We’ve blocked YouTube indefinitely to prevent access to one ugly video created by bigots in a far-off land. The video is still out there and accessible from Pakistan using proxies. Everyone agrees that most of YouTube’s content is legal and useful. There is only one reason to keep it shut: opening it will rile up our bigots.
And what is their logic? We must cut the nose to spite the face. It is the same people who dissect every word uttered by a 16-year-old kid, shot in the head by the beloved TTP, to establish what an evil she has become for this glorious country.
Let us recognise that an overpopulated, poor and illiterate society with a penchant for religious intolerance creates a toxic mix. It doesn’t take too long for societies to degenerate. Kabul a few decades back was a place Pakistanis went to for honeymoons. If we keep going the way we are, we’re headed for a train wreck.
The writer is a lawyer.