“The poverty of the people is the actual cause of the devastation and ruination of a country, and the main cause of the poverty of the people is the desire of its ruler and officers to amass wealth and possessions, whether by fair or foul means”—Hazrat Ali (AS) Nahjul Balagha
Since Pakistan became independent in 1947, successive governments, in their eagerness to please a handful, have year after year repeatedly made the same mistake of totally ignoring the masses and focusing their entire attention, only on the rich and powerful. Right from the beginning, public policies were designed not to raise the common man’s standard of living but to force him to fend for himself while the elite enjoyed new-found alliances with the imperialists. Consequently, those who struggled and suffered brutalities for the cause of independence were branded traitors and conspirators and those who had no role to play, rather were staunch opponents of a separate homeland, rose to the ultimate status of controlling the destinies of both, the country and its citizens. Consequently, as a result of failing to invest in human resource, an overwhelming population of the country is today, impoverished, unemployed, illiterate, lost, torn between conflicting religious and moral values, and stripped of any notable national character,
We love to use the religion card to meet our political ambitions because the generally ill-informed and highly superstitious population is easily beguiled by it but do we truly believe in the dogma and are we really ready to adopt those principles that will enable us to establish a true Islamic polity? Although very simple in approach, these tenets are applicable only when the environment is congenial. In the words of Alexander Den Heijer, an inspirational speaker: “When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.”
So what is fundamentally wrong with the environment? What did Islam exactly came to preach which its followers have forgotten completely—knowledge, education, awareness and consciousness leading to peace and prosperity. What have we done? We have chosen to disregard these teachings and instead, are bent upon punishing the masses for crimes they commit consequent to failure of governments to educate them in accordance with the modern requirements of life. Memorizing the Quran by heart is undoubtedly a very appreciable act but more important are, the knowledge and comprehension of the principles within its text.
Every society needs law and order but the newborn child knows nothing about it unless he is made to understand the rules of leading an orderly life. If this remains absent from his life, he cannot be treated harshly if he does not behave and abide by the law of land. When one generation has been brought up completely illiterate, uncouth and undisciplined, would it not be asking too much from it to produce well-groomed children? Their offspring will obviously follow in the footsteps of their parents.
Such is the magnitude of ignorance that has been spread in our society by our self-serving civil-militro-judicial-political complex that has done nothing but destroy this country’s most precious asset—its people. Now that things have gone completely haywire, with rampant corruption, tax evasion, indiscipline, violation of rules and regulations, dubious dealings, malaise of addiction to narcotics, localized criminal gangs, rebellious movements and what not, the rulers decide to crack down upon them with full force. Perhaps they draw their strength from Joe Biden’s quote: “Fighting corruption is not just good governance. It’s self-defense. It’s patriotism.” As rulers of the day, they have every right to do what they please. After all they are where they are because the populace opted to vote for them—they asked for it so let them suffer.
On turning attention to the causes of this decay, one can easily realize that in the past and as of today, education has been way down in our list of tasks related to governance. According to data from 1971 to 2017 available with UNESCO, Pakistan’s public spending on education as percentage of GDP averaged at 2.34% with a minimum of 1.58% in 1972 to a maximum of 3.02% in 1997. Compare these figures with the Nordic countries’ 7% allocation to education. With a Pakistan population that from 30 million at the time of partition to an explosive 207 million now and with the pathetic amount earmarked for education, the decline in the quality of the people should not come as a surprise.
In his letter written to the newly appointed Governor to Egypt, Maalik Al-Ashtar, Caliph Hazrat Ali (AS) laid down guiding principles of public policy that are applicable even today if heeded. Among them, he emphasized the importance of equity whereby, every person is treated at par. In his own words: “A policy which is based on equity will be largely appreciated. Remember that the displeasure of common men, the have-nots and the depressed persons, over-balances the approval of important persons, while the displeasure of a few big people will be excused… if the general public and the masses of your subjects are happy with you.”
This clearly indicates that the well-being of the general masses should be the prime duty of rulers. They are the pivot around which any government’s public policy should be woven. Their happiness and prosperity are precursors to the country’s fortune. We are in anguish today because our governments have never bothered to take care of its people in the true sense of the word. Their basic universal entitlements remain neglected. Even Bhutto’s electioneering slogan of “Roti, kapra aur makaan” (bread, clothes and shelter) was just a conduit to gain power. The anguish of the masses stayed as it is. They were never taught the skills to make them economically independent and to this day remain impecunious.
Countries do pass through difficult times but in the words of Hazrat Ali (AS): “If a country is prosperous and if its people are well-to-do, then it will happily and willingly bear any burden.” Not through coercive means but by developing human resource, the first step of good governance can be initiated. To be continued
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)