There is a famous saying that Nero was fiddling his violin while Rome burned. One wonders if any depiction of this thousand year old saying can be found today and if you look hard enough, Pakistan is a country where rulers vie to prove this saying true.
While the possibility of death from starvation has been stalking over two hundred thousand people in the desert region of Tharparkar in southern Pakistan, authorities were busy spending billions on promoting the cultural heritage of the same region and setting new, useless, records in youth festivals. They finally turned their attention towards Tharparkar after the opposition leaders created an uproar over media reports that hundreds of people have been starved to death, of whom the majority were children.
Over the last couple of months, more than two hundred people died in Tharparkar, a region which faced one of the worst droughts in history after crops and plantations dried out completely, leaving nothing to be used as food for humans and cattle. Unofficial sources put the death toll much higher as the communication is very poor in the desert region.
Tharparkar is a vast desert region comprising the northern parts of Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh, which borders India. Despite that, it is rich in natural resources and houses the world’s second largest coal reserves after Brazil. Besides that it is home to untapped reserves of oil, natural gas and other precious minerals. However, it is one of the most underdeveloped and neglected areas of the country where safe drinking water is a luxury. Often, humans and cattle both obtain drinking water from the ponds created by seasonal rain water, and that too is not easily accessible. In several areas, women have to walk several kilometers to find such ponds.
A couple of months ago, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif jointly inaugurated the Tharparkar Coal project along with his political rival and former President Zardari who is a powerful feudal lord from Sindh. The project was launched in an attempt to provide cheap energy to resolve the decade long power scarcity crisis in the country.
While inaugurating the Tharparkar Coal project, the prime minister made tall claims of realizing the dream of Sindh’s development with the help of cheap power thus obtained. He also pledged to provide the basic necessities of water and food for thousands of the native people of Tharparkar.
Suffering from drought
As the Tharparkar region suffers from drought almost every year, the provincial government of Sindh is being criticized for ignoring the acute shortage of food and drinking water in Tharparkar and making no plans to create permanent resources of water for human consumption and irrigation. Four times in the last three decades, Pakistan’s federal governments were headed by the prime ministers hailing from Sindh province, yet the residents of Tharparkar are still compelled to live like animals, deprived of basic needs like water, food, education and health facilities.
One cannot absolve the mainstream media of criminal shirking of its responsibility in those deathsMansoor Jafar
Interestingly, the rest of Sindh province comprises fertile lands that make its land lords into powerful and wealthy feudal lords and capitalists. This year, the drought hit one of its hardest blows in Tharparkar. Ironically, while thousands of people in Tharparkar were starving, just over a hundred kilometers away, the Sindh government was squandering billions on large scale celebrations of the Sindh Festival.
The festival was led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of former President Asif Zardari and slain Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who is being dubbed the future prime minister of the country. The festival featured music, fun and merriment in an attempt to revive Sindh’s ancient culture.
Bilawal’s two sisters, Bakhtawar and Asseffa Zardari, were also at the forefront of the Sindh Cultural festival, as was the 80-year old chief minister of the province, Qaim Ali Shah.
Neglecting the region
Qaim Ali Shah finally took a brief aerial visit of Tharparkar. He admitted to media that the government had been neglecting the region. At the same time in the neighboring province of Punjab, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was heading up a youth festival that set several new Guinness records, including one of the largest assemblies to sing the national anthem and the most push-ups in one minute.
The chief justice of Pakistan also came up with a suo motu notice of the deaths by starvation as opposition leaders, demanded him to fix the responsibility for the deaths upon the rulers and register murder cases against them.
One cannot absolve the mainstream media of criminal shirking of its responsibility in those deaths. The media has been obsessively focused on frustrating the peace negotiations with Taliban, bringing forth thread bare hypothesis and fantasies. In doing so, the media conveniently ignored Tharparkar’s situation untill the death toll began rising.
So it’s true, like Nero, Pakistani leaders are fiddling while the country is burning.
Mansoor Jafar is Editor of Al Arabiya Urdu based in Islamabad. He can be reached via Twitter: @mansoorjafar