The Real Issues in Pakistan

The real issues
Dawn Editorial, 18 Sep, 2009

PEOPLE are dying queuing for grain in Pakistan. This is a country where food inflation is forcing parents to pull their children out of school – they can eat sparsely or be educated, not both. Lives are being lost to ailments that are easily curable. Street crime is rampant across a country where human life is worth less than a cellphone. Yet our political leaders appear oblivious to the misery that is everywhere. They seem to have no perspective, no grip on reality. Does a man who can’t feed his children really care whether or not Pervez Musharraf is tried for treason? Is a mother whose child has died of gastroenteritis likely to give much thought to America’s military presence in the region? Will a jobless person be impressed by the president’s much-touted ‘achievements’ during his first year in office? Our leaders have clearly lost sight of the core issues.

This is a country where religious minorities are targeted by Muslim mobs while the law-enforcers look on. Deadly attacks against Christians, in particular, are on the rise in Punjab. As is usually the case in such incidents, the violence has been triggered by unproven allegations of blasphemy. Robert Fanish Masih, who had been arrested last Saturday on blasphemy charges after Muslims went on the rampage in village Jaithikey near Sialkot, was found dead in his cell on Tuesday. The next day his family and community members, who had all been forced to flee Jaithikey, were prevented from burying him in their native village. And this heartless, inhumane act wasn’t the work of Muslim vigilantes alone. The local police also told the mourners to turn back, on the grounds that their presence could fan violence. In short the victims were punished, not the aggressors.

The Punjab government needs to take urgent steps to protect minorities in the province for the situation there is deteriorating. Its stance on minority rights will be gauged by its response. The centre, meanwhile, should start working towards the repeal of the blasphemy laws. For too long they have been used to settle personal scores, grab land – and to kill. These draconian laws must be struck off the books.

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