Between the rulers and the ruled
With Imran Khan and Tahir-ul- Qadri joining the electoral fray they would give the PML-N and PPP a run for their money. The two parties which have alternately ruled the country will have to pay for their policies which neglected the common people.
The PML-N and PPP have shown lack of concern for three major sections of the population which jointly comprise the vast majority of the country. Those living below the poverty line, the women, and the minorities, were simply ignored by these parties.
PML-N is widely known as a pro-big business, right of the center party. The PPP insists it supports labour, women and minorities. But the policies pursued by the PPP, especially during 2008-13, contradict the claim.
The economic and social policies followed by the PML-N and PPP in the ‘80s and after 2008 are almost identical. Both followed a growth model which makes the rich richer and the poor poorer.
In 2009 the PPP indicated as if it had undergone a change of heart. It proudly announced it would introduce initial measures to bring agriculture, stocks exchange, real estate and services sector under the tax net. Months before its five year tenure ended, Nadra made disclosures that exposed the claims. It revealed there were 2.38 million people in the country who were rolling in wealth but did not figure on the tax roll. About 584,730 Pakistanis had multiple accounts in domestic and multinational banks, but did not possess NTNs. Over 56,000 people lived in posh areas and more than 20,000 people owned luxury cars, but paid no income tax. In the words of Nadra, “It is a fact that prices of a plot of land are in millions of rupees in posh areas of Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar, but income tax officers don’t bother to trace the buyers of these plots and make them pay income tax. There are 66,736 individual consumers who pay large utility bills, but no income tax.” The situation remains unchanged under the PML-N.
In 2009 the PPP indicated as if it had undergone a change of heart. It proudly announced it would introduce initial measures to bring agriculture, stocks exchange, real estate and services sector under the tax net
Under both the parties the rich were pampered while the poor received a rough deal. There was a need to revisit the labour laws introduced in early 1970’s as the factory owners had developed a mechanism over the years to bypass them, thus depriving the industrial labour of whatever rights were given to them. This was being done in connivance with government officials, particularly those of the labour department. Neither of the two parties showed an inclination to improve the implementation mechanism as neither wanted to annoy the factory owners.
In 2012, 257 workers were burnt alive in a Karachi garments factory blaze because the mandatory safety arrangements had not been made available by the factory owner and the government was not performing its duty of ensuring that the factory laws were being implemented. The same day, another 25 workers were burnt alive in a Lahore shoe factory for a similar neglect. Labour being a provincial subject Qaim Ali Shah and Shahbaz Sharif who ruled Sindh and Punjab should have taken the responsibility and resigned. They didn’t. Nobody belonging to the two parties has ever resigned over such minor issues.
The plight of unorganised labour is even worse, and neither of the two parties has shown any concern for them. This section of the working class receives less than minimum wages, has no paid weekly holidays and no health insurance. Among the worst treated is the domestic labour in big cities where cases of maltreatment, torture and rape continue to be reported in media while the complacent governments look the other way.
The labour working in hazardous enterprises like mining and quarrying is required to work without necessary safety equipment. Early this year 18 stone-crushing labourers in Gujranwala died of Silicosis or Grinder’s Asthma which affects the lungs of people who are exposed to silica dust for prolonged periods of time.
Landlessness in rural areas is the major cause of widespread poverty in the country. The way out is land reforms. The PML-N has always been hostile to the idea. The PPP, which stood for land reforms in 1970’s, is not willing to be associated with the measure any more.
With the Assemblies filled with landlords, they oppose even agricultural income tax. The leadership of the two parties, having vested interests and no vision, is unwiling to persuade its parliamentarians. The tail, therefore, wags the dog be it the PPP which is in power or the PML-N.
The neglect has led to the rise in the number of those living below poverty line. Every second man in Pakistan is below poverty line, as admitted by Ishaq Dar.
Many in the PML-N support the highly repressive Zia era laws which discriminate against the minorities. The PPP says it is opposed to the laws but has done nothing ever to modify or strike them down. The two parties could have jointly made changes in these laws when a number of constitutional amendments were passed in 2010. They did not care to do so.
In 2012, 257 workers were burnt alive in a Karachi garments factory blaze because the mandatory safety arrangements had not been made available by the factory owner and the government was not performing its duty
The religious and sectarian minorities had to pass through some of the most traumatic events under the rule of the PPP and PML-N. The terrorists were given free hand to kill the Hazaras in Quetta by the PPP Chief Minister Aslam Raisani who did not even care to condole with the families of those killed. There were several attacks every year on Hazaras, particular in 2011 when over 120 members of the community were gunned down and in January 2013 when 102 more were killed in a single terrorist attack. In Sindh, a PPP MNA played central role in the forced conversions of Hindu girls. This led many families to migrate.
Under the PML-N there were attacks by mobs on Christian community in Gojra in 2009 and in Joseph Colony in 2013. The largest killings of Ahmadis on a single day took place in Lahore in 2010 when over a hundred innocent people were killed. The attacks on Ahmadi community in Punjab have become a routine with the PML-N unwilling to stop them.
Women constitute half the population. The PML-N has little realisation of the sufferings of the women. Responding to a question about his party’s stand on women’s problems, a bewildered Nawaz Sharif once asked the woman reporter interviewing him, “What peculiar problems do the women face?”
The women also suffer from laws made by Zia which discriminate against them. The strongest supporter of these laws at present is the Council of Islamic Ideology headed by a cleric with reactionary thinking chosen by the PPP government. His appointment was subsequently confirmed by the PML-N administration. Both parties were well aware of the extremist views of Muhammad Khan Shirani. What led them to appoint him were political exigencies. Maulana Shirani demands scrapping of family laws that do not allow second marriage without the consent of the first wife. He supports child marriage. Under his influence the Council of Islamic Ideology disallows the admissibility of DNA tests as primary evidence in rape cases. A woman claiming to be raped must produce four eye witnesses to be able to get a case registered.
This explains why women fed up with the PPP and PML-N throng the PTI and PAT gatherings. But do Imran Khan and Tahir-ul -Qadri have a policy to resolve the women’s problems?
While Qadri has yet to make his views on the issue known, Imran Khan is already sharing his ideas with his audience. This latest pearl of wisdom is indicative of his realisation of the issues faced by women: “The developed countries may be ahead of us in technology, but they don’t respect women the way we do here in Pakistan,” he claimed.