By Ayaz Amir
November 22, 2016
The liberation of Kashmir will come when it comes. We’ll cut down our birth rate sometime in the second half of this century, when it is no longer possible to ignore the realisation that this country created in the name of Islam – isn’t this the certified ideology? – has too many mouths to feed and land and water resources are dwindling. Other miracles will also happen in the fullness of time.
But as we wait for these miracles and put more layers on our military muscle and develop our nuclear strength, making the defence of the republic more impregnable, can we lower our sights a bit and spare a thought for lesser and more prosaic concerns?
What explains our great love affair – no other description suffices – for dirt and muck of all sorts? One of the spinoffs of modern civilisation is the production of garbage…there’s no going around this depressing fact. All cities produce mounds of garbage that they are then unable to recycle or dispose off in an adequate manner.
But our affinity for garbage is in a class by itself. Look at our inner cities. Look at our villages. There was a time, and not that far back either, when there used to be none of this epidemic of plastic that we now see in our villages – no potato chip packets, no cheap toffees or sweets, no fizzy drinks. Now go to any village in Pakistan, in any of the four provinces and PoK, and the most persistent sight will be that of plastic-infested garbage.
Some of it is recycled, Afghan and Pakhtun young boys going through the accumulated heaps and collecting bottles and other plastic items for onward disposal. Our Punjabi boys by comparison are soft and shun such work, considering it beneath their dignity. But Afghan boys can be seen leaving their homes at the break of dawn and roaming about towns and villages all day. They are tough souls and hardworking. Now we are throwing them out of our country. I myself wrote that Afghans should return to their home. When all of them are gone we will sorely miss them.
Pakistan has problems…we all know that. But why are we good at adding to our problems? The scourge of plastic is something that we have imposed upon ourselves. It is now everywhere, in every nook and cranny of our blessed, God-gifted country. No stream or river, no town or village, is free from this pollution.
But more bizarre than the garbage is the total indifference towards it of our governing classes. The country is being ruined as a result of this plastic invasion, yet no one seems to be bothered. Other countries have controlled this menace if not eradicated it. But for us it seems not to be a problem.
I am told that Paul Kagame in Rwanda imposed a total ban on the use of the plastic shopping bag and gave a month, no more, for this ban to take effect. And it was implemented. Why can’t we do the same thing? True, Paul Kagame is no model of anything but at least in this respect his example is worth considering.
When we choose to be ruthless we can be pretty ruthless. Why can’t we be ruthless about these small things? Although God knows the plastic spread is no small thing. From the sea to the mountains it is everywhere. Gen Raheel Sharif, an example-setter in many things, missed his chance as far as this thing goes. He could have imposed a total ban on the use of the plastic bag in all cantonments and defence housing authorities – the Defence Housing Authority now as integral a component of national defence as the Al-Khalid tank or the Ghauri missile.
When the army took the lead in the assault on extremism the civilians were shamed into going along with the same, left with no choice but to clamber aboard this war chariot. If Gen Raheel had done the same about plastic, maybe civilian heads in the four provinces could have fallen suit and declared war on this menace, arguably as serious as terrorism.
Terrorism is for now; plastic has longer shelf duration. Radioactive waste doesn’t go away and plastic once in the soil or in water does not disintegrate. Plastic of course has its uses. But the shopping bag made of it is one invention the whole of humanity would have been better off avoiding.
Still, our competence and ingenuity have to be admired. Lahore cannot collect its garbage so the chief minister enters into an agreement with a Turkish company to keep the city clean. The same happens in Rawalpindi…a Turkish company coming to the rescue. Now as regards Karachi, Asif Ali Zardari gives us the revolutionary news, from wherever he is holed up overseas, that for garbage collection the Sindh government has concluded a deal with a Chinese company.
Our defence is impregnable and our missiles can reach every part of the Subcontinent. We are the only Islamic country with a nuke capability. But we cannot collect our garbage and are helpless before that instrument of power called the plastic shopper.
Every now and then you will find the clerical fathers holding a conference or staging a rally for the defence of Harmain Sharifain – the two holy mosques in sacred Hejaz. You’ll never catch these men of the cloth, doctors of the faith, speaking about the more mundane problems afflicting this republic that in our more exalted moments we call the Fortress of Islam. There are more mosques than schools in this country. In Friday sermons the talk is usually about salvation, the hereafter and the everlasting fires, never about the everyday problems of the community.
At the annual congregation of the Tableeghi Jamaat, the largest religious gathering in Pakistan, the last prayer with which the meet concludes is said to be so powerful and moving that it is regularly reported that the vast multitude is reduced to helpless tears. I wish the call would sometime go out from that holy assemblage to keep our surroundings clean and, as a step in this direction, to give up the use of the plastic shopper.
The Prophet of Islam, upon whom be peace, was the Apostle of God but he was also a lawgiver and a leader of mankind. So it is that there is a ring to his injunctions, cast in such a way that they have a striking effect on the listener. Consider in this light his precept about cleanliness: that it is half of faith and next to godliness. Do we honour this injunction? We display a certain regard for personal cleanliness but when it comes to our collective responsibilities our attitude is altogether different.
I have yet to come across a stream or a lake where litter is not left behind. Educated people, well-off people will come for a picnic and leave the place in a mess. It can be Lake Saiful Malook, it can be anywhere, but we must leave marks of our presence.
What is to be done? Let the light of wisdom shine on our rulers and let them become aware of these small things. And if through divine grace this comes to pass maybe they are then more ready and better prepared to take on bigger challenges.