Structural violence impeding peace

On this day of International Human Rights, a look at Pakistan’s scorecard about its socio-political achievements and the steps needed to attain sustainable and positive peace seems imperative. If one were writing this piece two-year back, say in 2014, energy crises and terrorism would have figured as two most critical socio-political issues inflecting Pakistan. Not that the scourge of both of these problems have disappeared, they have nevertheless dwindled to the extent that we can leave worrying about them for now.

From 2008-13 Pakistan had the worst time in terms of terrorism and energy crisis. The leadership apparently lacked the political will to tackle the issues. Violent protestors torching public and private properties had become a routine. Small and big businesses were fast shutting down for wont of peace and developmental policies. Karachi had become tinderbox amidst the mosaic of abnormal governance where target killing, extortion, and kidnapping for ransom had compounded sins of bad governance. Unfortunately, the December 2014 massacre of innocent children, at the Army Public School in Peshawar, proved a catalyst, and we saw a political will to eradicate terrorism. The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) government had contested the 2013 general elections with the promise to eradicated load shedding. Again with a political will at the back $ 35 billion given under the Pakistan China Economic Corridor for energy-related projects, Pakistan could reduce much of its darkness.

The country, however, is still faced with the lack of political will in many areas of immediate concern. After the 18th Constitutional Amendment, the onus of managing education and health had fallen on the provincial governments. Instead of improvement, the situation in both the sectors countrywide deteriorated. It is difficult to even lay the responsibly of this shambled state of affair on lack of finances or resources when leader after leader of nearly all political parties have been held on the charges of swindling billions from national exchequer. The truth is that the country has been infected by corrupt leadership and not by a depleted treasury. Even at places, such as Lahore and other major cities of Punjab, where the PML-N government has spread roads, highways, and bridges, these two sectors have been run under a poor infrastructural framework. Balochistan and Sindh depict a more alarming picture. In the last resort, when the Sindh government had refused to budge from its lazy way of governance, the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the highest legal body of the country, was dragged into the water crises of Karachi. Where not only water is stolen to be later sold by the water mafia through expensive tanks, the old sewerage system and the practice of throwing industrial waste into lakes have contaminated drinking water. Earlier the courts were also asked to intervene and hear petitions about Sindh government’s inability to lift tons of rubbish from Karachi. If Karachi, the so-called cosmopolitan city of the country, is run on an ad-hoc basis, should we expect any better treatment for cities and towns in the interior Sindh? The situation is as bad in other cities. Waterborne diseases are high and the leading cause of deaths in Pakistan.

The triangle of poverty, poor educations and health system and violence feeds into each other. Peace, the country so desperately in need of, will elude us until we break this nexus. Unfortunately, the governments have given up their responsibility to provide education and health facilities in favour of the private sector. The result is that we have an education system, which is expensive, divisional and removed from socio-cultural realities. For 40 years the curriculum produced a generation that learned intolerance because we taught children primarily through the clerics who would go about different homes to give personalized tuition to the children in Quran and other religious discourse that Shias were the scum of the earth and even crossing an Ahmadiya meant sinning against God. The wrath of Allah was invoked on things as little as painting hand nails. The system of clerics was institutionalised and more power was ceded to them as the importance of the Jihadi culture increased. These clerics soon became faith healers. Those who could not afford – and they were in millions – treatment at the private clinics and education at private schools were treated with Quranic verses and taught at madrassas. Incompetency in religious education on the part of the clerics gave rise to the culture of fake sorcery. With the support of adulterated Sufi system prevalent at shrines, faith healing and treatment of ailments with fake sorcery rose inexorably leading to the breakup of a social system that relied on mutual respect. The concept of honour was raised to new high. From women to religion to Pakistan’s ideology everything was made sacred. Illiteracy, mental and physical health issues and later with the introduction of the Afghan war, the culture of drugs, brought up a nation anchored to false honour and sham religious values. With arguments and decision making made a second thought, rigidity and extremism became the norm and highly likable since it also served our foreign policy initiatives.

Peace does not mean the absence of war or violence. Peace means when a person has the opportunity to lead a healthy, enlightened and respectful life. But when we embed bad governance in the system, we impede peace. Academically it is called structural violence. The Model Town incident was the result of it. The way Punjab police manhandled the public is the way the police has been trained to handle the public at large. By design, the judiciary is run with a backlog of millions of cases so that the wheel of justice grinds slow. Deliberately government schools are left without boundary walls, enough toilets, polluted drinking waters and at times without teachers, to raise a depressed, shallow and disgruntled nation. Under this situation, whom should we blame for the wrong decisions voters make in choosing their political representatives? Should we blame the education system, the parents, poverty or the fate? It is this issue of culpability that keeps such structurally flawed system from imploding even though it fails to deliver. Nobody owns the problem, and nobody could be singled out for the rot. We know from credible sources (UNICEF) that 44 per cent of Pakistan’s children are stunted. We are aware that illiteracy is the prime reason behind malnutrition. Stunting is prevalent where mothers are illiterate. And in rural areas, the ratio of uneducated mothers is 69.4 per cent. This knowledge does not bother the leadership or us; neither does it affect their vote bank. Unless we remove these silent killers from the system that sucks all the right actions, human dignity will be compromised, and human rights will be usurped in the form of child labour, women turning to prostitution to run their homes and teacher and doctors ignoring their public duties to amass personal wealth.


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