An international gathering expected in Europe this week to celebrate Malala Yousufzai’s bravery in standing against unprecedented odds may provide Pakistan’s ruling elite a chance to grab fresh global spotlight. If, indeed, media reports are an indication, President Asif Zardari may himself be present at the event, preceded by his visit to Malala, who is recovering from bullet wounds at a hospital in Birmingham.

While Malala has struck the right chord in ways that no one else has, it is important to keep the focus on the many issues surrounding Pakistan.

Months after Malala grabbed international spotlight, after she was shot and wounded by a Taliban suspect while returning home from school, conditions in Pakistan for the ordinary people remain as dismal as ever. It may be months before she recovers and returns home. In the meantime, a push has come from some quarters, seeking to celebrate her example in ways including nominating Malala for the Nobel Prize. But the cause of tackling the challenges faced by many of her impoverished fellow Pakistanis remains a distant dream.

In the latest setback to the cause of education in Pakistan, the government, last week, controversially replaced a key official of the Higher Education Commission (HEC), dedicated to overseeing university level education. Dr Suhail Naqvi, the Executive Director of HEC, spent the past decade, overseeing a substantial uplift in university standards across Pakistan. Though the move is justified by the government as an essential step to keep up with necessary administrative changes, the official position fails to resonate with good principles. Dr Naqvi’s replacement for now is a bureaucrat from the Education Ministry who, unlike his predecessor, has no worthwhile academic credentials to speak of.

Elsewhere too, the picture is just too depressing. In the past four-plus years since Pakistan’s return to democratic rule, the country’s elected rulers, overseen personally by President Zardari, have simply not succeeded in shifting the focus towards the most demanding social issues.

Areas such as education and health care continue to remain without a stepped-up commitment either in financial terms or simply in terms of a dedication to improve their performance. It is not surprising that a visit to Swat, notably areas around Malala’s low to medium income neighbourhood in the city of Mingora, presents virtually no evidence of anyone from the top echelons of the ruling structure taking any interest in the woes of the area. Instead, complacency has set in after Swat recovered from the recent strife imposed by a Taliban onslaught.

For decision-makers like Zardari, grabbing the spotlight to celebrate Malala’s bravery may be yet another opportunity to leave behind Pakistan’s woes. However, it is a posture that does little to tackle the many profound challenges surrounding the nuclear-armed South Asian country. In the next few months, the run-up to the next parliamentary elections will once again allow Pakistanis an opportunity to vote for political leaders of their choice.

The outcome of the upcoming polls is impossible to predict. Yet, last week’s victories by contestants from the opposition, the PML-N, in the by-elections says much about the public’s mood.

Though the PML-N must also work aggressively to improve its ability to deliver the most important basic needs for the people, the public’s mood seems broadly clear. Left without the vision of serving the people’s needs, Pakistan’s political rulers will always find themselves bearing the brunt of the public’s disapproval, notwithstanding international celebrations.

Malala Yousufzai, indeed, remains an icon of hope and progress for the people of Pakistan. However, her symbolism just does not jell with the example set by the country’s leaders. In sharp contrast to the preferences of being detached from Pakistan’s mainstream and its many profound challenges, Malala remains a voice of the country’s mainstream population. Tragically for Pakistan, the leadership is poles apart from the mainstream.

The writer is a political and economic analyst. This article has been reproduced  from  the Gulf News.