During the last few weeks the floods have played havoc in all four provinces of the country, destroying houses, fields, bridges, roads and dams and destroying crops. Millions of people have been displaced and are facing severe difficulties and unspeakable misery. They have no roofs over their heads, no food to eat, no clean water to drink and no medicines. Thanks to the media, which sent people to remote areas to give us pictures and information on the disaster that hit the country in July, the general public is now aware of the miseries of those affected.
We saw how journalists, both men and women, risked their lives to reach dangerous areas to highlight the plight of the people. Many NGOs, social-welfare organisations and philanthropists have been trying to alleviate the sufferings of the needy. Almost everywhere one heard the complaint that the government was not providing any help to them. But that did not mean that we lacked photo sessions showing leaders flying in helicopters to secured areas and distributing cheques to a selected few.
A most painful fact that emerged from all this, and a fact which is insulting for Pakistan and its people, was the total distrust the international community has regarding our leaders in the matter of the distribution of donated funds. They openly spoke of the rampant corruption, lack of transparency and accountability, and of the fear of a large portion of the money going into the pockets of a few, whereas it should end up with the needy.
While this debate was going on, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani made the surprise announcement that his wife would be selling her jewellery, as would the wives of other ministers, in order to help the poor victims of the disaster. Unfortunately, such moves don’t solve any of the real problems we are facing. One wonders if Mr Gilani had his wife’s approval. Women usually hold their jewellery close to their heart and would not like to part with it.
It would have been more appropriate for the prime minister to have returned the Rs450 million bank loan that was written off. Similarly, he and his government should have taken strict and appropriate measures to recover the billions of rupees of loans to the powerful and influential, where were written off by the previous regime. What is needed are sincere and honest efforts to utilise available resources effectively. Many people believe that we have enough resources within the country to cope with the emergency to a large extent. However, to do so, an honest and efficient administration is a must, but that seems to be impossible in this so-called “land of the pure.”
Prime Minister Gilani’s statement reminded me of two stories told by Shaikh Saadi (RA).
There was once a king named Abdul Aziz who had a large, costly pearl set in a ring. A severe drought hit his country, inflicting great misery on his subjects. Moved by compassion, the king ordered that the pearl be sold and the money thus obtained spent to alleviate the difficulties faced by the people. One of his advisors pointed out that never again would he be able to own such a beautiful pearl. The king started sobbing and replied: “Ugly is the ornament upon the person of a king when the hearts of his people are distressed for want of daily necessities. I would prefer to have a ring rather than over suffering subjects. Happy is he who sets the comfort of others above his own. The virtuous desire not their own pleasure at the expense of others. When a ruler sleeps carelessly upon his bed, not bothering about the sufferings of his subjects, I very much doubt that even a beggar would envy his repose. How could such a ruler, then, alleviate the sufferings of his subjects?”
The second story narrated by Shaikh Saadi is about a terrible famine in Damascus. The situation was so bad that even lovers forgot their love games, he says.
Churia qehet saali shud ander damashq
Keh yaran faramosh kerdand ishq
There was such scorching heat that the earth cracked, crops were destroyed, date trees shrivelled, wells and rivers ran dry, trees lost their leaves, the mountains became bare and brown and the only moisture to be seen was the tears in the eyes of the people. At that time a friend came to see him. The man was so thin that it seemed he was just skin and bones. Saadi was shocked to see his friend in that condition since he was a rich man with high status. “O friend!” he exclaimed. “What misfortune has befallen you?” “Where is your sense?” replied his friend. “Do you not see the devastation caused by the famine? It could not be worse. There is not a single drop of water from the sky, neither do the cries and prayers of the sufferers seem to reach the heavens.” “You, at least, have nothing to fear” Saadi retorted. “Poison kills only those who have no antidote.” Regarding him with indignation as only a learned man can regard a fool or a rich man regards a beggar, his friend retorted: “Although a man be safe on the shore, he cannot show indifference when his friends are drowning. My face is not pale for want of any necessity; the misery and troubles of the poor have wounded my heart. Although, thanks to the Almighty’s benevolence, I am free from any such worries, I tremble when I see the sufferings of others.” Shaikh Saadi (RA) described the moral of the story in these words: “Bitter are the pleasures of him who is in health when a sick man is at his side. When the hungry have not eaten, poisonous and baneful is one’s food.”
I have mentioned these two stories told by Shaikh Saadi (RA) to reflect on the impracticality of the offer made by the prime ministerto sell his clothes and his wife’s jewellery and that of the wives of his ministers. What use is this drop in the ocean for the alleviation of the misery when we see that, from the president down to the bureaucrats and the well-to-do, all continue to have sumptuous meals and drinks while millions of our countrymen are without food, water, clothes, shelter and medicines?
The present situation reminds one of a Hadith quoted by Imam Ghazali (RA) in Makashafatul Qulub. “When people shoo away beggars, show off their wealth and riches, envy each other in hoarding this wealth and riches, then Allah Almighty will force on them the enemy.” We have all these curses in our society at this time, but those at the helm of affairs seem least bothered. It seems to be a free-for-all for them and their friends and associates. They forget the Persian proverb:
Kahstgane khanjare tasleem ra
Har zamana az ghaibe jaan digar ast
“When a dagger aims to kill you, it comes from a different direction every time.”
Our “dagger” need not necessarily come in the shape of a martial law. There are many other possibilities.
Chaar janib gunjti aawaaz ke tewar samajh
Do ghari to soch! Terey ghar men kia hone ko hai
The media, both foreign and local, many politicians and the public in general are all shouting themselves hoarse over the impending need for change in the air, but the ruling junta is least bothered. We saw similar situations during the rules of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif and the drastic results that followed. As Zauq said: “Pay heed to what the public says.”
Zaban-e khalq ko naqqara-e Khuda samjho.