What caused the Ahmed Pur Sharqia incident? The answer: our socioeconomic environment. I belong to Shujabad, a city close to Ahmed Pur Sharqia. I have visited this place many times because it is located on the way to Darawar Fort. I can never forget the hostility and the love of the Daravari people. Just a day before Eid Holidays, I came across the news of the unfortunate tragedy. It was heart wrenching for me to accept the fact that the people lost their lives over stealing oil owned by an oil company. Such tragedies trigger an obvious question: why this discrepancy in behaviour? On the one hand, they host guests with utmost care, while on the other hand, they were stealing oil worth a few hundred rupees? I have been employed for a while; previously as a lecturer at a public university and later on as an economist enjoying the dreamy life of Dubai. Whenever I visit my people in south Punjab, I have been asked questions over my financial situation quite frequently. BWhen someone asks for any help, the benefactor always wonders what he/she will gain from helping the person out. On the basis of all these observations, I strongly believe economic insecurity hovers on our minds all our lives. This economic insecurity is creating complexities in our behaviour. We have a long history of poverty and misery. Mrs Kindersley visited India in 1765, she wrote with pain while comparing the standard of living of common people in India with those of England. “These are people indeed; scarce any covering, their food rice and water; their miserable huts of straw; no liberty, no property, subject to the tyranny of every superior”. A similar situation prevailed during the colonial era in which villages were totally ignored. Existing Pakistan was the least developed area under colonial rule. There was no industry and technological advancement in this area. This situation remained persistent till the ending decades of last century. Since then, we started our journey towards development, which is changing our life positively, though the rate of change is slow. But, economic disparity and inequality is still strong. South Punjab is the least developed area in all of Punjab, totally ignored by the provincial and federal authorities. If ruling elite wants to show something, they simply allocate some resources to big cities; Multan and Bahawalpur. This economic disparity and inequality are mainly the result of the government’s policies which are brutally exploitive in nature. The biggest challenge is the economic insecurity which people in Pakistan, especially in south Punjab and other least developed areas face. This persistent economic insecurity amplifies the obnoxious effects which are still prevalent in our culture and behaviour due to many centuries of poverty and misery. Just think about a man who is driving his car worth more than Rs 500,000. He hears about the oil leakage from an oil tanker. He stops there, takes a bottle and tries to collect the oil just for saving a few hundred rupees. Economic insecurity hovers on our minds all our lives. This economic insecurity is creating complexities in our behaviour Let’s take another example, one woman is working in her house. Her daughter is helping her in routine chores. Her husband is asleep and is fasting. Her two children are playing in the house. Immediately, one person announces that free oil is available due to the spill. They take all their kits suitable for oil collection and go collect the oil. How much could they collect? Perhaps a few hundred rupees. Just think about the behaviour of those people and try to figure out the causes. I believe in the free market. I believe that people are the best managers of their economic life, and taxation for economic welfare is a waste of resources. But, when I think about the welfare provided by the state, even if it is costly, it provides economic security to the people and helps them normalise their behaviour. People gain strength by believing that if a future economic crisis will occur, the government will help them. In developed societies, there is a developed financial system which provides the best tools of wealth management and insurance plans. If you will be fired from your jobs, your insurance plan will provide you unemployment benefits for a fixed period until you get a new job. Old age pensions and saving schemes are superb and help support people in difficult times. Best allocation of resources is found through these privately managed ways. But, in Pakistan, our financial system is poorly developed because of multiple reasons. Both, public policies and privately planned financial sectors have failed to overcome economic insecurity as yet. Whatever our society chooses — either state or privately planned financial sectors or both — it must work immediately. Otherwise we will face another such horrific incident and we will be left in utter chaos and misery. The writer is a Research Fellow with Policy Research Institute of Market Economy (PRIME Institute), Islamabad, can be reached at Zeeshan.firstname.lastname@example.org Published in Daily Times, July 11th , 2017.