A viewer of Pakistani news channels today might be forgiven for imagining that they live in a reasonably well-off society, with its economic fundamentals sorted out - leaving behind only the issue of graft by elected officeholders. So pervasive is the agonizing in our electronic media and drawing rooms over Panama, the JIT and disputes between various political parties looking for immediate power, that we can easily forget the harsh realities of life for most Pakistanis. For millions of Pakistanis, Panama and the assets of the rulers (both individuals and institutions) are distant issues: not because they are sympathetic to graft and corruption, but because they face a grueling daily struggle to survive.
This was again brought home in a most heartrending way when Saeeda Bibi of Hazro in the Attock district threw her three children into a well before jumping in herself. Two children died, while the mother and one child were saved. Her reason for doing so was the brutal fact of poverty: her labourer husband was unable to provide new clothing for the family in the run-up to Eid. The questions of economic inequality and lack of opportunities, which can drive a mother to such a terrible course of action, are far removed from the imagination of the talking heads on TV, the politicians, state officials and the chattering classes of the cities.
While it is of the utmost importance to extend the scope of accountability to the most powerful individuals (and institutions!) of the country, perhaps it is even more urgent to have a serious debate on the causes of such soul-crushing poverty in the country. One imagines that when the reasons for this disgraceful situation in Pakistan are investigated, the issue of corruption would be just one among many causes. One imagines, too, that the question of distribution of wealth - entirely ignored in our public discussion - might be central to that.
Are the media anchors, political parties, officials and pious urban critics of corruption - presumably most of whom have had a most blessed and prosperous Ramazan - going to ask themselves how it is that we as a society are able to sleep at night, knowing that Saeeda Bibi and her family have such a dismal Eid to look forward to that she preferred to jump into a well? *