An open letter to Mr. Nawaz Sharif
Dear Prime Minister,
Welcome on board for the third time. In the last two centuries, only five individuals made it to the PM’s slot three times. Berlusconi of Italy, Baldwin of UK, Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka and Hirobumi and Katsura Taro of Japan. You become the sixth person to join this privileged league. In these difficult and unsafe times, we look up towards you with hope and optimism, happily willing to disregard what Faiz said for such occasions – “ hum sada hi aise the, ke yun hi pazirai ; jis baar khizan aai, samajhe ki bahar aayi “. I hope that you can read this letter and make a few notes before you take the PM’s oath. From there on, you may not get enough time to read letters from ordinary citizens.
Besides massive financial irregularities, one major reason for failure of the previous government was its obsession for incompetence and nepotism. Your success or failure will depend primarily on your choice of ministers and managers who will head various government and non-government institutions. Would you be able to appoint at the top positions, the most competent and qualified individuals of this country – independent of personal connections, kinship, canine loyalties, background, gender or school ties. If you follow this merit-base criterion, should you not be already looking for new faces to manage finance, petroleum, education, energy and many other important assignments.
You are perhaps aware of the old Chinese proverb “The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” It may be best to hold back your enthusiasm for mega projects, motorways, underpasses, and overheads. Would you not instead develop a decent, efficient and cheap train and bus transportation system that may impact upon the life of every common citizen of Pakistan. Like many European countries, you too need to encourage the use of cycles, develop cyclist paths along every road and create car-free zones in every city of Pakistan.
The lawless behaviour and lifestyle of Pakistani leaders has set a poor and contagious example. This trend can be rapidly reversed – provided its leaders were to adopt a simpler life style and themselves abide by all those laws that they expect others to follow. You could begin by removing all special counters (such as the parliamentarian counters at airports) from all state institutions. Let every person of Pakistan stand in the same queue, be subjected to same body search, use the same type of car registration plates, travel in the same bus, be treated in the same hospital and get the same priority for a meter connection. Your greatest challenge will be to prevail upon your own family and friends who would not take too kindly to such ‘level playing field’ suggestions.
Patronised by gangs and political parties, killings, extortion, kidnappings and phone snatching have brought commercial and social life to standstill in many towns of Pakistan. Your success will depend upon how boldly and firmly you can eliminate the root causes of this disease. Strike down the discretionary Arms Ordinance, cancel all arms licenses, and ask every citizen , starting from the Sharif family, to surrender all arms. No citizen, regardless of his rank or status, rich or poor be allowed to possess, carry or display any weapon of any bore – licensed or otherwise. If a state cannot provide security to its citizens, it forfeits its moral authority to rule over them.
27 million children not attending classes, thousands of closed schools, untrained teachers and corrupt education ministries are enough to destroy any country, even without waging a war. So before you build the longest motorway or the tallest water fountain, could you please pick the finest brains and resources to create a decent and free education system that is available to every child of Pakistan. The only way to make the government officials take interest in government schools would be to make it mandatory for them to send their own children to these schools.
The master-slave relationship between the state and its citizens can be altered by empowering the people to hold the state accountable. The Freedom of Information Act that sits smugly on the law books of Pakistan needs to be revitalized. Punjab and KPK are still to legislate this law, while officials in other provinces are extremely reluctant to part with any information.
Much can be achieved by doing small acts of simplicity and austerity. A small cabinet, modest offices, simple foods, economy cars, no free junkets, no seminars in five star hotels and no holy visits at public expense. Your government must function without the support of ‘mineral water bottles’. After all why should the state not provide clean drinking water to every citizen and every home? And finally please build a chain of libraries all across the country and be often seen sitting in one of them.