In any civilized country, the confession of a minister regarding the use of expired tear gas against the protesters would have created an uproar, forcing him to resign from his post. It is only in Pakistan where a federal minister can unabashedly make such a revelation and get away with it. It is in this republic where the outspoken Interior Minister Shaikh Rasheed is still strutting around the country hurling more threats at the opposition, instead of being booked for the criminal confession that he made a few days ago.
This reflects an immense sense of impunity that the ministers of this government seem to be enjoying. It also creates an impression that no matter what you say and do, it will be acceptable as long as you enjoy the backing of powerful elements of the state whose might is invincible. This attitude also speaks volumes about the apathy of the government towards common citizens of this country who are taking to the streets every now and then against the rising inflation, poverty and illegal retrenchment of workers from various public sector institutions.
This is not the first minister of this government who has expressed his contempt for ordinary folks. Other powerful people in this regime have also taken steps that have primarily affected common Pakistanis. For instance, the statement of Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan about fake degrees or licenses of PIA pilots may have created a ripple of excitement among the cronies of Prime Minister Imran Khan and his tedious acolytes, who are allegedly involved in hatching conspiracies to sell out the assets of the national carrier, but for the poor employees of the PIA, it was a disaster. The statement caused an irreparable loss to the airline that was forced to suspend its flights to several destinations amidst the fears of safety.
Many critics believe the imprudent speech was aimed at paving the way of privatization of the airline that, industry observers claim, would benefit the people who are close to the power corridors of Islamabad. The national carrier now stands in total chaos with a number of employees either being terminated or forced to retire. Their outstanding dues are still to be paid. A low-level employee has recently died after losing his job and failing to get his dues on time. But such tragedies do not affect dozens of government ministers and a brigade of advisers and special assistants whose salaries, perks and privileges and incentives are adding a huge bill to the kitty of the federal government while their botched policies are producing catastrophic results.
Every minister seems to be on a mission to follow anti-worker policies. Railways Minister Azam Swati, who is known for changing political loyalties regularly, announced to close down the railways soon after assuming charge of the ministry. The large tracks of land owned by the railways is believed to be one of the factors prompting the privatization of this national asset that employs more than 60,000 people. The minister did not have enough courage to snatch back the share of freight that was taken away from the state-owned concern by a company run by powerful elements of the state, but he vented his anger against the “army of the employees” whose employment seems to be a burden on the public entity.
The government claims to have no resources to support these public entities but it is quick to create more divisions and ministries adding bills to the public exchequer. One may argue about the need to have a brigade of federal ministries which should be redundant after the passage of 18th amendment. It may be asked as to why the government needs a large federal interior ministry when law and order falls under the jurisdiction of provincial governments. What is the use of health, education, environment and a myriad of ministries whose jurisdiction is technically confined to Islamabad? Even a mayor would be enough to run all these affairs but the government is adamant in continuing these departments. To the surprise of many, it is expanding the scope of these ministries.
It seems the government is busy attacking the hapless masses from all directions. After unleashing the ruthless market forces on people, it is allowing inflation to grip the country and then using brute force when people take to streets. After making decisions to dole out public bodies to greedy capitalists, it resorts to sledgehammer tactics against those who lose jobs in the process. After slashing HEC budgets, it appeases obscurantist forces by allowing them to set up more religious schools, making changes in syllabus and creating spaces for the graduates of religious seminaries in government departments. It ignores thousands of schools that are bereft of toilet facilities, proper furniture and boundary walls but pumps billions of rupees into madrassa reforms, donating generously to the seminaries that are allegedly responsible for plunging the country into the abyss of religious intolerance.
Against these anti-people policies more and more marginalized sections of society are likely to take to the streets. Trade unions, missing persons’ families, the wretched souls of slums, the impoverished peasants and disgruntled students are all ready to challenge the callousness of the state. They are all likely to demand their usurped rights. This hybrid regime may suppress their strength for the time being. It may stifle their voices for now. It may teach them a tough lesson for their defiance in the current situation but their spirit cannot be dampened. More than 20 million lost their jobs and businesses and forty million fell below poverty line during the last two and half years. Millions more are likely to be affected because of privatization. Anger has been simmering. The nonchalance of the regime could trigger a bigger mass movement that might sweep away both the selected and the selectors.