By Mosharraf Zaidi
January 30, 2018
If there is no safety, there is no life. A safe and secure existence is not only a religious compulsion for almost all faiths, it is also quite rightly a constitutional right for all citizens, and an obligation vested in the government.
There are two grand canopies under which safety and security for citizens is organised. The first is at the micro-level, which is meant to guarantee that we can walk around freely, build our businesses, serve our clients, meet our relatives, attend friends’ weddings and generally engage in individual and collective behaviour of all sorts, without feeling scared. The absence of fear is a basic and most fundamental notion of safety and security. True safety and security goes much farther. Not only should we be able to operate without fear, but in fact we should be able to exist in a realm that actively gives us the sense of comfort and protection that allows us to optimise our toolkits, to maximise the utility of our resources, to pursue our dreams, not just our jobs or our obligations.
Concurrently, and intimately connectedly, is the second grand canopy of the concept of safety and security, which is that of the macro-level. This macro-level security is less about what threatens us while we are driving, and more about the circumstances in which the road is built, the car we drive is manufactured, or imported, and what we listen to on the radio whilst driving. Macro-level security is about ensuring, at a minimum, the absence of war, and ideally both the ability to thrive and take advantage of the absence of war, and the ability to win, if in fact war is imposed on us.
The micro-level security and safety of citizens is delivered through a complicated range of tools that the government funds and runs, including the police system, prosecutors, magistrates, judges, courts, prisons. Some of the responsibility for running the system falls on elected leaders, some on bureaucrats, and some more on judges. The various powers these actors enjoy are designed and distributed so that no one part of the system enjoys too much power (because power has a corrosive and corrupting quality to it).
The macro-level security and safety of citizens is delivered through a much simpler edifice of national security led by the military, but includes a host of civilian institutions, and individuals, including ministries for commerce and foreign affairs. This edifice’s job is to prevent war, to ensure that peacetime can be economically advantageous, and to win war, if and when it is imposed on us.
he micro and macro are not canopies that exist independently, nor is one a subset of the other – though many make the mistake of assuming that the micro is ensconced within the macro. The micro and macro canopies of safety and security are enmeshed and inter-stitched into each other.
The rape and murder of eight-year old Zainab Ansari from Kasur has exposed many stark truths about our society, but the underlying reality that it has highlighted is that the micro-level security of the most vulnerable and fragile elements of Pakistan is not only under constant threat, but is also not important enough to focus on with the clarity it requires. This lack of clarity is what has produced the circus surrounding the Supreme Court. All the good intentions of the many actors involved are worth naught, when the foundational clarity needed to address micro-level insecurity is itself missing.
Whilst we have been gripped by the stench from Kasur, we have also witnessed the almost complete collapse of security and safety in Kabul, as five major terrorist attacks have taken place in the Afghan capital in the last ten days – each rending the heart more than the other. For three decades, we have choked on the toxins of the fires that have raged in Kabul and across Afghanistan. When Afghanistan burns, Pakistan gets fever. There is no greater or more accurate bell weather of Pakistani macro-level security and safety than the quality of life in Kabul. Yet because there is a fundamental lack of clarity about the importance of Afghanistan to our macro-stability, there is hardly any alarm at the rapidly deteriorating conditions in which the Afghan people must live – leave aside the worrying allegations that the perpetrators of attacks on Afghans enjoy the patronage of Pakistan in any way, shape or form.
How can this vicious cycle of failure, both at the micro-level and the macro-level, be adequately tackled? It will not be tackled through committees, joint investigation teams, suo-motu notices or evening talk shows. The pace at which these mechanisms operate has become attuned to the modern menace of digitally-fuelled information exchanges. We can keep lamenting fake news, but this is now a mode of production. It will not go away.
One way to tackle the intricately linked failures between macro and micro is to commit to reform: at least at the level of engaging in a debate that deliberately steers clear of the day-to-day nature of the discourse.
No problem can be tackled without an understanding of its scale.
Let’s look at the scale of exposure to Afghanistan, or at least a relatively less complicated part of it (so excluding Fata). Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has three districts that border Afghanistan, whilst Balochistan has eight. The 2017 census reports the total population of border districts in KP is 2,829,700 and total population of border districts in Balochistan is 4,981,036. This makes over 7.8 million Pakistanis that are directly vulnerable to the fallout from Afghanistan’s instability. If their safety and security – at the macro or micro level – were driving public policy, would Pakistan make the choices it has made, and is making today?
Let’s look closer to home. In Kasur, there are 3,676 schools in total. Of these 1,494 are government schools and 2,182 are private schools. As anyone who knows how education is governed in Pakistan knows, there is a system of administration, led by a district education authority in the Punjab now to manage government schools. But those 2,182 private schools? They are neither regulated robustly, nor provided with the support to adequately address complex challenges like awareness and training for teachers, principals and security guards.
More widely, across Pakistan, let’s look at how many children we are talking about when we try to grapple with child protection. According to the federal government’s estimates, the total number of children between the ages of five and sixteen years of age in Pakistan is over 51 million. Of these, over 22 million are between five and nine years of age, and another 29 million are between ten and sixteen. Leaving aside the debate about how many of these children are in school and how many are out, when we think of Zainab, we need to think of at least 22 million children of her age group, not to mention those children that are younger than five (and even more vulnerable to child sexual exploitation and abuse). This does not amount to an accusation that all children are exposed to predators. It simply quantifies the scale of the population that our thinking and discussions need to account for. It should help frame whether or not one suo motu or one JIT can (or should) be aiming to solve the problem of child vulnerability.
Child vulnerability is rampant across Pakistan, not just in Kasur. But a window for reform was opened in 2015 with the revelations of a child rape and pornography ring. The Punjab government failed to use it, and many accuse it of having deliberately shut it. Zainab’s dead body has re-opened this window.
The Afghanistan wound has been bleeding Pakistan for four decades. Once again, warlords, mercenaries and terrorists are tearing Kabul apart. This wanton violence also opens a window, a window that has been open for Pakistan since at least 2001.
Both the micro-level security of the children of this country and the macro-level security of our cities and villages hinge on our ability to seriously engage with these windows of opportunity for reform. That is the debate we need to be having. The rest is a circus that should embarrass everyone involved.