Apologies, Lieutenant Yasir Abbas

The following post was published in The Express Tribune.
I have always been a supporter of the extravagant budget spending on Pakistan’s defence. The high global ranking of our military has always served as reason for me to maintain my stance and argue in favour of the forces. In debates with friends and colleagues, I have, several times, flaunted the fact that if there is one great thing about Pakistan, it is our defence.
Unfortunately, this all changed recently. Little did I know that the forces I talked so highly of would miss an ‘unknown’ number of people jumping in to one of the most valuable bases in Karachi, just because a 25 degree tilt in the boundary wall prevented the security camera from capturing them.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s press conference embarrassed me. In fact, while listening to him, my Pakistani identity started to discomfort me. Two of the terrorists succeeded in escaping from PNS Mehran during the operation. Mr Malik confirmed this figure, as the two suspects were actually seen escaping. We don’t even know how many unseen people escaped. I did not know what I felt more, embarrassment or regret.
If I wasn’t a patriotic Pakistani (yes, I still have patriotism but can’t say the same about hope), I would have laughed at this country which spends almost irrationally on defence but fails to protect its bases within a populated city, let alone its borders.
I was thinking what the international response to this blunder would be.
I wondered if there was an attack on our borders during the PNS operation. How safe would we have been on a scale of one to ten (one being ‘not safe’ and ten being ‘not safe at all’)? There was a lot going on in my mind.
However, there was another group of people, with another level of dedication and commitment which was fighting to keep Pakistan safe when the nation had lost hope in them.
Lieutenant Yasir Abbas was concerned with the oath that he took; the oath which declared his life secondary to Pakistan’s security. When we had anger and disappointment oozing out from every pore, people like him fought to protect us. They fought and gave up their lives, because a 25 degree tilt in the boundary wall prevented the security camera from capturing terrorists jumping in.
I don’t know how big a fan I am of the Pakistani military now. But, the men who lost their lives fighting against the Taliban or al Qaeda (or whoever) certainly deserve much more respect.
Those who lost their lives at the general headquarters in Islamabad and those who died fighting against the terrorists in Karachi paid the huge cost of internal security lapses.
I used to brag about the Pakistani military. I had complete faith in them. When the government hiked up the defence budget by 11.7 per cent for the current fiscal year, I did not object. In fact, defence allocation was the only thing I was completely at peace with.
However, when these forces took 16 hours and lost 13 of their men fighting against a still unknown number of people, I was forced to revise my opinions and patriotism.
I apologise to whoever supports an institute which can’t protect itself.
I apologise for not raising objections at the increased defence budget.
I should also extend my apologies to people who gave up their lives fighting as part of the military which does not realise their value.
I am not a believer of  “death comes when it has to” and I believe that this phrase is over-rated and over-used to comfort oneself and to prevent people from looking into what could have been done to avert the outcome.
Lieutenant Yasir did not have to die. The dedication he possessed was not one which we could afford to waste. It was because of people like him that our forces are ranked high internationally.

Education v/s Life

‘In 1999, it was estimated that there are 10 million child labourers in Pakistan.’ This sounds horrific. Pakistan’s ministry of Education is portrayed as an evil force destroying the lives of children and depriving them of education.

The glorious, legendary success of the program, ‘Parha Likha Punjab’, makes me wish it was initiated earlier in time as ‘Parha Likha Pakistan’. (Those who praise the program and argue about Punjab having the highest literacy rate are excused and can miss the sarcasm).

It was because of our ‘kids’ working that Pakistan’s products (sports goods and carpets, to name a few) were banned internationally. Nations raised a question: Why should children make soccer balls for other children? They questioned right. However, involvement in a thought-process before posing such questions and banning our products would have been a better idea.

Unfortunately, the ‘children’ mentioned in the question cannot be categorized as one. In fact, the two distinct groups these children can be divided into are likely to lie on opposite ends of any spectrum. It’s wrong for a child to make soccer balls for another child, but what will happen in a country like Pakistan once a ban is placed?

Due to restricted exports, the minor will lose his job. Ideally, this child should end up studying in a school. Whereas in Pakistan, he will start looking for new work and will be ready to offer his labour at cheaper rates. This will mean more work, more time away from home and more deprivation.

Child labour was (or is) an international dilemma. Those advocating against child labour in Pakistan argue using fancy statistics of United Kingdom or the United States. However, it should be noticed that it wasn’t before 1889 in Britain and 1938 in America (103 years after independence) that strict laws restricting child labour were put into practice.

Pakistan can realize the malevolence of child labour more than any other country primarily because we have suffered economically due to bans imposed on our products in the past. The International Labour Organization claimed in 2003 that banning child labour and educating all children would raise world’s income by 22% over 20 years. The international community seems well on track as far as banning child labour is concerned. But the second condition of raised world incomes tends to be ignored.

The long run estimated rise in world income is of little interest to families which are way below the poverty line and have no option other than sending their children to work instead of a school. If that child is not employed due to international pressures of banning child labour, the families will suffer heavily economically and even psychologically as a result.

If Pakistan did not stop child labour, the international community placed strict bans. The ban-imposers tried and successfully created goodwill for themselves. They fulfilled their social responsibility. But does social responsibility only include not letting social evils enter your organization, your industry or your country? Did the ones imposing bans ever try to check whether the children they got fired were later enrolled in a school? Did those organization come back to see the fall in the standard of living of families the children belonged to?

Yes, it’s wrong for children to make soccer balls for other children, but do they have any other option? Enrolment in a school could cost them their life. Leaving work and starting education is literally a ‘fatal’ idea for them.

Sadly, we do nothing to change this. Our government has done more than it needed to. It was because of the Pakistani government that we have a ‘Parha Likha Punjab’. Expecting more ‘favours’ from the government which is currently trying to solve ‘important’ issues sounds unthankful.

It took a long time for the UK and US to pass laws banning child labour. In a survey of 26 developing countries, 70% of child labour is employed in the agricultural sector. Pakistan is an agrarian economy and employs many of its children as a result.

In Pakistan as of today, education of a child comes at an economic cost to some families. The people who are striving to alleviate child labour need to diversify their area of interest and include in their plan the ‘no-cost child labour abolition’.

The ‘no-cost child labour abolition’ would promise to eradicate the evil of child labour yet inflicting no cost to the families in any way, economic or psychological. This may mean a monetary compensation equal to the wage paid to the child for leaving work and studying in a school.

This would require an increase in the budget allocated to education, a drastic decrease in ghost schools and a significant number of literate teachers. Who would take a step forward is the question.

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