A case against the ‘charity’ economy | Pakistan Today

A case against the ‘charity’ economy

  • About the state’s responsibility…

I’m about to say something that may be perceived as unpatriotic: I do not believe that Pakistanis, living here or abroad, have any obligation to contribute to the Diamer Bhasha dam fund. It’s admirable that you choose to donate your hard-earned money to the dam, but that’s not your job.

That’s the government’s job. The government is responsible for balancing the national budget and prioritising projects like Diamer Bhasha, if they are as indeed as crucial as they claim. It’s their job to calculate tax revenue or collections from other sources; and figure out how many medium-range ballistic missiles they can afford to build while having enough money to fund our hospitals and vital water and power projects.

That’s the government’s job. This is why your elected officials get to ride in fancy helicopters and eight-vehicle motorcades, while you – the unimportant citizen – are made to wait in traffic for twenty minutes for the route to clear. We assume that our very important people are en route to very important meetings to discuss matters like financing the healthcare and education system, managing hydroelectric projects, and ensuring that the national airline provides a semi-decent service to our people.

PTI, despite its rhetoric against the west, shows every sign of complete fidelity to Western neoliberalism. This is a system intended to maximise concentration of wealth and power among the top 1pc, while passing blame for all that is wrong down to ordinary individuals. We’re running out of water not because corporations are drawing millions of gallons of water from beneath our own feet, and selling it back to us in environment-killing, single-use plastic bottles. We’re allegedly running out of water because your neighbor Mr Y used too much water to watch his Suzuki Liana last Sunday morning.

Based on trajectory PTI’s economic strategy is taking, I’d say the government and Supreme court would next ask you to hook up your home generator to the national power grid, and start donating electricity to the power-starved country. Why not? PTI has done the same with education in the past, outsourcing part of its own responsibility towards public education to ordinary people.

Ask the country’s millionaires and billionaires to pay back in kind what they’ve reaped through decades of generous subsidies and expensive tax cuts

What’s implied by the lukewarm reception of the Supreme Court Diamer Bhasha fund is that the lack of completion of this dam is a failure of Pakistani people. “It’s your fault, Mr Y, for not donating to the dam fund on top of the bills and taxes that you’re already paying. Where’s your patriotism, Mr Y?”

I will not discuss in detail the significance or insignificance of Diamer Bhasha to the Pakistani nation. There are contradictory expert analyses available for those who wish to do their research. There are reasons why the Chinese have been so reluctant to finance this project. But none of these are even under consideration in my opinion on our budding ‘chanda’-based economy.

Diamer Bhasha charity collection at home is just one example. Even more ludicrous is PTI’s request to overseas Pakistanis to donate $1000 – about PKR 123,000 – to the dam fund. To call it a ‘request’, is perhaps too mild. There have been events in which Pakistani expatriates have been called by name to come forth and make $1000 donations.

The idea of asking everyone to make a flat donation of $1000 is itself an exhibition of PTI’s rabidly neoliberal worldview. A thousand dollars can mean different things to different people. It may not be much if your last name is Hashwani, Riaz, Bhutto, or Musharraf; but to a lot of middle-class Pakistanis living abroad, a thousand dollars is a very large amount. While kinder economic systems work under the maxim of ‘from each according to his ability, and to each according to his needs’, devotees of capitalism refuse to notice unequal financial conditions.

Neoliberalism, in fact, operates with the objective of maximising private profits for the wealthiest among us, while passing all responsibility and risks involved in public projects to ordinary citizens who are barely make more than Rs60,000 a month.

Let us be unequivocally clear: patriotism is not a stick for a state to beat its own people with. Patriotism isn’t, or shouldn’t be, devotion to a state system, but to the people of that country. Citizens of Pakistan who obediently pay their bills, their income taxes, and an extra 16pc every time they buy a sandwich, are not obligated to pay more to compensate for their government’s inability to do math.

Ask your government to take its beggar’s bowl to corporate doorsteps. Ask the country’s millionaires and billionaires to pay back in kind what they’ve reaped through decades of generous subsidies and expensive tax cuts. Pay attention to military spending. Reconsider the appointment of economic experts that have been booted out because of their religious beliefs.

Poor Mr Y – that soft-spoken middle-manager at your local sanitary store – has nothing more to give you. Let us no longer talk about Mr Y’s duty to his country, and start a discussion about the state’s responsibility towards Mr Y.

Faraz Talat

Faraz Talat is a medical doctor from Rawalpindi and an ardent traveller who writes frequently about science, social politics and international relations.