Hitting rock bottom

Mehmal SarfrazIt seems that there is no respect for human life anymore in Pakistan. Sister Bargeeta Almby, a 70-year-old Swedish charity worker who spent four decades in Pakistan, was shot in Lahore earlier this month. She passed away a few days later. Even in times of war, women, children and older citizens are spared. Not so in the ‘land of the pure’.

Over here, terrorists are free to kill and maim whosoever they want to while the government shirks away from its responsibility to protect its citizens, religious minorities, ethnic minorities, aid workers and countless others. Shias, Ahmadis, Hindus, Christians, foreign and local aid workers, health workers, ordinary citizens – nobody is safe. Everyone is a target; some more so than others. The culprits are hardly ever caught and punished. A culture of impunity prevails, leading to more threats, more murders, more fear.

Vaccination worker
Inexcusable: Pakistani men carry an injured polio vaccination worker on a stretcher. Pic/AFP

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), only three countries remain polio-endemic in 2012: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. Instead of making Pakistan polio-free, nine workers – six of them women – of the anti-polio team in Pakistan have been shot dead in three days. In view of these incidents, the United Nations (UN) has suspended its polio vaccination drive in the country. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called these murders “cruel, senseless and inexcusable”. Murder is inherently cruel, senseless and inexcusable but what makes the targeted murders of health workers even worse is that these are people who go out of their way to help save our children’s future. It is abominable to say the least.

Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf reiterated the government’s commitment to end polio in the country but mere rhetoric is no longer sufficient. The government needs to do something concrete for a change. Religious zealots have been campaigning against anti-polio drives for years now.

Why has the government not taken any action against these clerics? Ignorance is certainly not bliss in this case. In fact, such ignorance puts millions of lives at risk. If even a health worker administering polio drops to children is not safe in this country, we should hang our heads in collective shame and stop the pretence of even vying for a place in the ‘civilised world’. This is a country where teenagers are brainwashed into becoming suicide bombers, yet we waste our time and energy debating whether a terrorist with a ‘demonic’ tattoo could be a Muslim or not.

We keep asking when this madness will stop but the sad reality is that the state is not willing to put an end to it. General elections are just around the corner and our politicians are busy one-upping each other instead of dealing with real issues. Is the right to life too much to ask for? The military is busy playing its dangerous games with both domestic and foreign polity while the civilian government has chosen to turn a blind eye to the plight of its own citizens. How many generations do we have to lose at the hands of terrorists and religious extremists before the military establishment and the civilians understand that their flawed policies have bled us dry? Mira Hashmi’s (@monadarling) tweet says it all: “Is there anything lower than rock bottom? Because I believe Pak has discovered it.”

The writer is a Pakistani journalist. Reach her at mehmal.s@gmail.comĀ 

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