Exercises in futility

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Kamila Hyat

When people cannot get anything useful done, they resort to the essentially useless, sometimes elevating its importance in their own minds to make themselves feel better. Governments do just the same. They also find it hard to admit that they are really not able to do any genuinely useful. To do so of course takes time and effort.

It is, therefore, much easier to simply sign meaningless summaries, or perhaps initiate a grandiose project or two, and then sit back to bask in glory, pretending that some real purpose has been achieved. Possibly, this makes leaders feel fulfilled, adding another tier to the delusional lives they lead.

Of course there is plenty that really needs to be done. There is education and healthcare to provide, civic infrastructure to set up, militancy to be contained and a sense of security to be provided to people. In other words a nation that works and a system that functions needs to be built over the ruins we stand on now. We can all see the task is an overwhelming one – perhaps too overwhelming for our leaders to even try to take on. For this reason then they turn to the petty and the frivolous, hoping perhaps it will look as if they are working.

What other possible explanation can there be for the summary the prime minister signed recently, giving directives that words in English not be used in place of certain Arabic ones with religious connotations. According to this order, which few of us can fathom the need for, a masjid is not to be called a mosque, salaat is not to be called prayer, the word prophet cannot be used for rasool and so on. It is a little unclear if the Urdu, or let’s say for argument’s sake, say the Latin or Macedonian equivalent of these terms is acceptable. In other words, is English the issue? Are we attempting to further promote Arabic or is it an attempt at some show of piety?

There is probably little purpose in pondering the matter. The fact is that such orders do not benefit people in any way. They are simply cosmetic, intended to put on a show; to prove something is happening. What they really seem to demonstrate is the haplessness of government. There must be better things to focus on. But we have other examples to of essentially pointless measures. Some also entail extremely high costs. It is hard for example to fathom who dreamt up the 1.3 billion rupee project involving a signal free corridor linking Jail Road with the Liberty Market Roundabout.

It is completely unclear why this extravagant venture is needed at all. The roads touched by the project are among the best maintained in Lahore. They have been extensively remodelled, again and again over the past decade and do not require further work. Also, roads without signals make little sense given we are always late – and the cost is simply unjustifiable given all else that so badly needs to be done.

Just kilometres away from where the massive road works take place lie shanty towns and other settlements where people have no sanitation, no access to clean drinking water, and no other basic amenities. Roads are badly potholed and other parts of the infrastructure simply do not function. The children of those who reside here go to school which in many cases have no furniture and where teachers turn up only infrequently. Clinics set up by the government, even where they do exist, are either unstaffed, badly understaffed and contain no medical supplies or drugs to offer sick people.

There are similar conditions across the province and across other provinces. In smaller towns and in rural areas conditions are far worse. Surely money should go towards correcting this situation. The fact is that the roads in Lahore which are currently undergoing a massive makeover are used by relative fewer people. They are those who possess cars or other vehicles. Yet, these privileged citizens may be able to move more quickly from one point to the other once the work under way in completed. But we need to think of whether this should at all be a priority.

Equally delusional decisions have been made in other places. In 2011 the Sindh government after a visit by the then president to China decided that lessons in Mandarin would be made compulsory at all public sector schools. But four years on, that decision is now being at least partially implemented. The children struggle to master the book they have been given in Hyderabad, Sukkur and other places. This is truly absurd given that surveys conducted by reputable organisations show that pupils in Sindh’s public sector schools even in Grade 5 are unable to ready simple sentences in Urdu, Sindhi or English taken from Grade 2 books. The same applies to their mathematical skills.

The focus then, logically speaking, should be on ensuring a better quality of education for every child in the country. Adding Mandarin to the curriculum will obviously not help. We are already unable to teach even the basics. Mandarin is a notoriously difficult language, the alphabet of which Chinese children master at the average age of 12 and it is unclear where Sindh’s children will utilise whatever skills they acquire in an alien language.

There are many other decisions by government that seem to make little sense. The problem is that the real issues are not addressed. Instead cosmetic gestures are made for various purposes. And the result is that we fail to achieve anything at all. Governments specialise in this art. We therefore have lofty claims of attempting to convert Lahore into Paris, rather than retaining its own incredible heritage. We also have constant tampering, with decisions taken by previous governments, leading to a damaging lack of continuity.

Of course, schemes that should be extremely beneficial are also announced. One of these is the Rs1 billion Health Insurance Plan which the prime minister has said would benefit over three million families. The reality, however, is that these schemes rarely materialise into anything resembling reality. Instead, they just fall by the wayside – or are so badly carried out that they bring in no use at all. Competitive interests also lead to the making of policies such as that giving out laptops to young people. Many of these machines have been sold in the open market by the recipients, rather defeating the entire purpose of the exercise. Yet we continue with it and our difficulties in finding real means to help people result in a continuation of what are essentially exercises in futility.

The ‘development plans’, to ‘beautify’ already naturally beautiful areas such as the Murree hill tracts, rather than work to preserve what is already there are examples of this. And of course building works of every kind bring in revenue, some of which may land up in the pockets of those involved. Even if it doesn’t, rather than attempting to build parks in forestland and pave hill paths, destroying the plant life that grows there as well as causing immense ecological damage, it would be far more useful to work for the people of these areas and develop for them means to halt the felling of trees require to cook food or heat homes. Similar practicalities apply everywhere But we do not think about them often enough.

Kamila Hyat, “Exercises in futility,” in Kamila Hyat, July 22, 2015. Accessed on July 22, 2015, at: http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-9-330188-Exercises-in-futility

The item above written by Kamila Hyat and published in Kamila Hyat on July 22, 2015, is catalogued here in full by Faiz-e-Zabaan for non-profit educational purpose only. Faiz-e-Zabaan neither claims the ownership nor the authorship of this item. The link to the original source accessed on July 22, 2015, is available here. Faiz-e-Zabaan is not responsible for the content of the external websites.

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