Naya Pakistan – the good bits

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As noted by some readers this column – now in its 14th year – has become darker of late, and that darkness was at variance with the generally lighter atmosphere that prevails. Ever mindful of the readership we travel this week into the sunnier corners of the realm of the Dear Leader. So let’s start with solid waste.

Bahawalpur is an island of (relative) cleanliness in a sea thick with unpleasant unmentionables. The roads are swept every morning, the centre of the city only floods when it rains these days rather than at random days in the middle of a drought, the traffic lights work and are generally obeyed, the major grocery outlets are diligent in taking expired goods off the shelves and the food safety people have been known to close bakeries that fall short cleanliness wise. The city has erected well built and remarkably well-designed shelter-places that are not necessarily bus stops, but which have become shady spots for men and women to spend idle moments. Very popular. And there is the brand-new rubbish collection service that is aiming to cut down the burning of domestic rubbish in an effort to improve air quality. Gold star for that one. Not much of this is the product of any federal initiative as far as I can see, pretty much all of it being down to a proactive city management.

Looking wider we are all travelling safer, and I note today that petrol is not to be sold to motorcyclists without a helmet in Rawalpindi. It is going to be interesting to see the levels of compliance for that one.

The Dear Leader has now given us all carte-blanche by default to make u-turns. He may think that it is a concession granted only to the ruling classes, confirming for many that the parallel reality he inhabits does not have a functioning comms system with the outside world.  We may be certain that the rest of the population are going to interpret it as a newly-granted freedom. You are all advised to drive with even greater caution than you already did.

Diving back to the grassroots the Vintage Car Club of Pakistan is to make its annual charity run stopping here and there to give kids in the care of the state a ride they are going to remember for the rest of their lives. Other acts of charity are abundantly reported. Farmers markets are sprouting up here and there following the lead of Islamabad and Karachi, public parks are getting a makeover wherever I look, encroachments are coming down in a number of places and not only around Empress Market and those little ‘quality of life indicators’ if not thick on the ground are at least multiplying in ways that impact on the lives of all of us whether we are aware of it or not.

Out in the sticks – or sands, this being Cholistan – things are not so rosy. Without doubt the ‘shape’ of poverty has changed in the last decade. Mobile phones and flatscreen TVs are in homes that have yet to gain access to potable water or in-house sanitation. Rural schools remain on the ragged edges of a ragged public education system. True there has been an uptick in the quantity and quality of rural health services but one swallow does not a summer make – and ticking away under all of the above is the question – just how much of this is Naya Pakistan? You know…the Naya Pakistan so beloved of the Dear Leader?

Well in truth not very much. Equally true is that the gap between the political top-down rhetoric and the bellies and pockets of the average citizen is as wide as it ever was. The Naya Pakistan that I and many of you experience is the fruit of long-laboured-over local decisions and initiatives, the creation of micro-change environments that have yet to grow to the point at which they join up. And here’s the thing…a lot of that polishing of the glass that contains ‘quality of life’ is done by politicians. Yes…them. And there you have another one of those paradoxes that is going to feed this column for another fourteen years to come. A story for another week, methinks. Tootle-pip!

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