|Tragedy in Thar|
Thar desert, a large, arid region, running along the border between India and Pakistan, scene of a bitter war between the two countries, home of the haris, the wretched of the earth, is once again in the news. According to newspaper reports, a large number of children, all belonging to poor Hari families, running into hundreds, have lost their lives in the drought – affected districts of Tharparkar and Badin. “This is a normal occurrence in the Thar desert”, Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah, is reported to have said in his laconic comment on the tragedy.
What makes the Thar tragedy so painful, so unspeakable, so inhumane and so disgusting, is that it was preventable. No one in power in Sindh, can say they did not know. Of course, they all knew, but they did not act. Such crimes cannot be reversed. Such failures cannot be repaired. The innocent children who lost their lives cannot be brought back to life.
Hurricane Katrina defrocked a faith – based Bush. The Thar drought has similarly unmasked Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah. He has come under extraordinary criticism for his handling of the disaster. He prides himself as an experienced crisis manager, yet the response you would expect from a man of crisis never happened. Why was he so slow in his response to the disaster, people ask? Why was his initial response so tardy, so ineffectual? The time it took Sindh Government to get help to those who survived the initial strike, was excruciating and painfully long. In a natural disaster like the one that struck Thar, response time must be measured in hours rather than days, if lives are to be saved.
Talking about the poor and the less fortunate, in the Pakistan of his dream, Mr. Jinnah said in a speech delivered in April 1943, “Here I would like to give a warning to the landlords and capitalists. The exploitation of the masses has gone into their blood. They have forgotten the lesson of Islam. Do you visualize that millions have been exploited and cannot get one meal a day? If this is the idea of Pakistan, I would not have it”.
Mr. Jinnah envisioned Pakistan as a modern, progressive, democratic country drawing its inspiration from the true, dynamic, pristine, revolutionary Islam of its early years with its emphasis on egalitarianism, social justice and accountability. The Pakistan Mr. Jinnah founded is gone. It disappeared the day power–hungry Generals and corrupt politicians hijacked Pakistan. On that day, the lights went out. Pakistan slid into darkness. Today Pakistan is a ghost of its former self. Terror is the order of the day. If it were to look into a mirror, it won’t recognize itself. Today Pakistan looks like a bad parody of the miracle we witnessed on August 14, 1947. If Mr. Jinnah came today, he would say, “I am afraid I need to erase this and start all over again”. No wonder, innocent children are dying of hunger and thirst in the desert of Tharparkar.
As he left the constitutional convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin was asked by an admirer, “Dr. Franklin what have you given us”. Franklin turned to the questioner and replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it”. Not too long ago, we too possessed a great country earned for us by the sweat of the brow and iron will of one person. Where giants walked, midgets pose now. Our rulers, both elected and un-elected, have done to Pakistan what the successors of Lenin did to Soviet Union.
Today a moral crisis is writ large on the entire political scene in Pakistan. The Pakistan dream has morphed into the Pakistan nightmare. The country is in deep, deep trouble. This is the darkest era in the history of Pakistan since 1971. The independence of Pakistan is a myth. Pakistan is no longer a free country. American security and CIA personnel roam all over the country, killing our people in broad daylight without let or hindrance. They violate our air space with impunity, bomb our tribal area, and kill innocent men, women and children with the full tacit approval of our “democratic” government.
Today all the symptoms which one had ever met within history previous to great changes and revolutions exist in Pakistan. So here we are, at last on the threshold of great events. It is one of those moments in history when all that is needed is for someone to push open the door. The day is not far off when words will give way to deeds. History will not always be written with a pen.
Outwardly an illusory calm and an unreal air of bourgeois serenity seem to have settled over Islamabad. “Everything seems”, as Goethe said, “to be following its normal course because even in terrible moments in which everything is at stake, people go on living as if nothing were happening”. But a perfect storm is looming on the horizon. “I can detect the near approach of the storm. I can hear the moaning of the hurricane, but I can’t say when or where it will break forth”.
In the history of the world no country has made any progress without radical agrarian reforms. On the night of August 4, 1789, soon after the outbreak of the French Revolution, the National Assembly voted the abolition of feudalism in France. The advantages that came with such radical reform soon spread to the whole of Europe. Today over the great part of the world, the occupiers of agricultural land are the owners of it: peasant proprietorship is predominant. Not in Pakistan.
In the West, democracy destroyed the feudal system and vanquished kings. In stark contrast, Pakistan’s fake democracy protects and perpetuates this unjust, outdated and obsolete system. They very idea of progressive agrarian reforms is abhorrent to the rubber-stamp parliament that rules this poor country. Degenerate to the very bones, nauseatingly corrupt, we must extirpate this system root and branch and clear the path for a new order in Pakistan. May be, we need a mighty Revolution.