There was once a King, who spent his nights discreetly roaming the streets of his domain to ascertain if his people were reaping the fruits of good governance. As he passed the open window of a dilapidated one roomed home, he noticed a woman stirring what appeared to be an empty cooking pot on a cold hearth, while her children sat expectantly nearby. The King knocked on the door and concealing his face in his robe asked the woman if she could feed a weary traveler. “I am a widow,” replied the woman. “I would have fed you, but my hearth is cold and my pot is empty, yet I stir it to soothe the children and put them to bed on empty stomachs.” The wise ruler retraced his steps full of remorse for having failed in his responsibility towards his subjects. On reaching his palace he directed that the woman’s house be stocked with rations as long as her needs demanded it. He then ordered a survey to be conducted to ascertain how many of his subjects needed succor. Needless to say, none during his reign thereafter, went to bed hungry.

A great King once ruled a vast and prosperous empire from a city called Takshila. His reign was marked by flourishing commerce, teeming universities and a contented populace that went about their daily lives in complete security. This King was fortunate enough to have a Prime Minister, who was both wise and wily beyond words. While this man’s wisdom bode well for his master and his people, his wile became a symbol of evil and fear to the enemy. And so it came to pass that over centuries, the name of this individual began to be used as an adjective to describe ‘devious’ state policy. This unique individual pioneered a network of informers so efficient that nothing within and without the empire was hidden from him or his liege.

I have narrated the two stories because the land we live in was conceived as a welfare state where those with the mandate to rule were required to know and understand the needs of their citizens. What we got instead, after the untimely demise of our founding father, were corrupt leaders, who began emulating the ‘Queen of France.’ They surrounded themselves with sycophants and opportunists, who isolated them from the people and fed them information designed to please them.

It is often claimed that our internal police reporting network (as in our second story), is one of the most effective in the world. If this be true then it can be presumed that every outrage, every breach of law, no matter what its gravity- is known to law enforcers. What is done to redress these crimes is another matter. If it was not for the media in Pakistan, a majority of these stories would never come to light, leaving behind only pain for those who were wronged. Now and then, our leaders rise from slumber to take notice of an event and order an investigation. This ‘notice taking’ is nothing short of admitting the failure of an apathy ridden corrupt system that serves only those with means and authority, while the poor can only pray for divine intervention. 

It would be ridiculous to ask the Prime Minister, the Chief Ministers or other officials to disguise themselves and patrol the streets at night looking for cold hearths and empty cooking pots. It would also be against the principles of a free democratic dispensation to condone the notion of ‘Big Brother is Watching You,’ but every citizen in the ‘Land of the Pure’ is entitled to be protected and provided with speedy justice. I look forward to the day when ‘notice taking’ is replaced by an efficient system run by honest people, with zero tolerance for violence and crime and where wrongs are righted as a matter of routine.

The writer is a freelance columnist.