Links Feedback Home Home
 Curriculum Vitae
 Topic-wise  Classification
 Published Work
 Papers Presented
 Newspaper Articles
Daily Times
The Dawn
Herald Magazine
The News
Journal - NGORC
The Friday Times
The Nation
The Express Tribune
 Guest Book
Untitled Document
The Wasteland
Dr. Akmal Hussain
Newspaper: The Daily Times
Dated: Thursday, August 28, 2003

In Union Council number 58, about seven kilometers from Multan city center, most of those who can find employment, work as daily wage workers in the nearby city, others work in dark workshops repairing rickshaws, or running small grocery shops. This locality has neither any sewerage facilities, nor drainage channels, nor piped drinking water, nor affordable medical facilities. It may be typical of the ghettos where the urban poor reside on the outskirts of Pakistan’s major cities. Yet it stands as an emblem of Pakistan’s crisis of economy, society and state. A wasteland of lacerated humanity, of scarce resources misused, where over fifty years the dignity of the deprived was matched by the greed of the ruling elite.

As my son, Savail and I walked along the main street I thought we had entered a nightmare. Young men as if in a stupor, shuffled along the street in a halting and wayward manner. Limpid eyes darting out of emaciated faces. Streams of raw sewage flowed down the streets and at every corner there was a mound of excrement. A putrid stench pervaded the air amidst a deathly silence. There were people sitting on gnarled metal chairs outside a vegetable shop, yet there was no conversation. Each person was staring into the distance, lost in thought.

The first man we talked to, informed us, that in this town, when a person is confined to bed, “the family prays to God that He may either take the person back, or cure him.” Even one visit to the doctor is enough to bring starvation to the family. Most of the people in the town appeared mal-nourished. There is a pesticides factory nearby that throws out chemical wastes, so poisonous that dogs die when they drink it. The drain leads straight into the irrigation canal, downstream of which people are filling pitchers and carrying them home as drinking water. It is not surprising that most of the people are ill and due to poverty are unable to afford medical treatment. The condition is desperate and yet they persist with their humanity. It is cultivated by a folk culture that regards relatedness with the other to be essential to the growth of the inner-self. So hospitable to strangers, spontaneously affectionate, so willing to suffer pain for their loved ones. Things are changing though. We were told that most of the adolescents in the town do not go to school, face unbearable deprivation at home and so take either of two routes: They become drug addicts, or join an extremist religious faction within which they can earn a livelihood through hate and murder.

Governments have come and gone over the decades, yet no one has come to give succor to the people of this urban ghetto called Union Council 58. With the coming of local governments in the military regime there was some hope. This hope remains unfulfilled simply because the local government at the district level much less at the Union Council level has neither the financial resources nor the planning expertise to take any initiative for providing even a minimum level of sewerage, drainage, drinking water, health and education facilities. Worse still there is a contention for power between elected local governments and the provincial bureaucracy with respect to selection of development schemes, appointments and transfers of health and education personnel in the local government. The Union Council Nazim told us that neither he nor the District Nazim have the power to appoint or transfer any official from grade-11 to grade-18. Consequently if the elected Councilors visit a school where the teachers are not working, or a basic health unit where the doctor does not come for duty, they are unable to either transfer or dismiss them. These powers effectively lie with the provincial government officials or the EDOs (Executive District Officers) who have been appointed by the provincial government. The battle for power (with respect to utilization of resources, appointments and transfers of district level officials) that is currently being conducted, is a severe constraint to the functioning of local governments.

With every government there is new hope, only to be shattered by their failure to resolve their internal conflicts, to strengthen institutions and to mobilize the necessary resources for the poor. In the meantime the pain, the deprivation, the desperation, grows apace, tearing apart the fabric of society and leaving scars on the nation’s psyche.

When I was a child I was shown the site in Minto Park where the Pakistan Resolution was passed by the Muslim League. (The Minar-e-Pakistan was later built on it). The place symbolized my dreams and those of the earlier generation for a humane society. A society in which the people could actualize their creative potential, where the nation’s resources could be used to overcome ignorance, disease and poverty and where there could be justice and peace. I showed Union Council 58 to my son, as a living monument of the challenges that confront the nation. It is here that we must renew our resolve to hold on to the dream of Pakistan, for it is yet to be fulfilled.

At the moment we have a society with many of the features of apartheid: The poor are forced to live in dehumanizing conditions and are treated as inferior citizens by the institutions of society and state. The ruling elites over the last 50 years have ruled in the name of the people but have appropriated most of their resources. Those that remain in the public domain are allocated according to priorities, which are incongruent with the priorities of the people. Successive governments in the past have combined greed with incompetence. They have insulated themselves from their own conscience and the terrible material conditions of the majority of the people. Therefore the next generation must continue to love and struggle with their best minds and hearts to actualize the dream of Jinnah’s Pakistan. For those who claim that they have achieved Pakistan’s economic take off, through their economic policies, may I end with a poem, by way of reply:

We have inhabited spaces
bound by certainties,
Now the clamour of sure strategy
Of closed circuit logic,
Is ruptured
by the sharp edge of silence,
pulsating in the womb of streamlined solutions,
By the battered soul
seeping out of vacant eyes,
so easily banished below poverty lines,
Yet jagged cities, that lacerate the meek,
lands that lie waste,
forests cut into oblivion,
species gone extinct,
civilization rendered mute,
With their silence
the deadly thinness of our expertise

Akmal Hussain

Designed & Developed By INTERSOL International