Lahore, Pakistan

  • Date
  • 8 January 2001

Reading the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, I gain a glimpse at the people’s frustrations. The front page of the newspaper reports the death of Pakistani soldiers in Kashmir, an almost daily story. And, for the last week, papers have complained about an increase in fuel prices, and today’s Dawn reports diesel fuel price increases are causing headaches for farmers, who depend on it for their tractors. Almost daily, editorials lambaste Clinton and US foreign policy for forcing a peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

The City section features a photo of the potholed, uneven dirt Mayo Hospital Road near Lady Aitchison Hospital. The caption reports the government claims 353 roads have received patchwork in Lahore. The caption then asks, Does this wretched road look as though it’s been improved or patched?

In the Business section, the headline that caught my eye reads, “Development but no progress”. The article, by Zubeida Mustafa, describes the UNDP’s Human Development Report 2000 (published every decade) as showing some improvements in Pakistan for human development, i.e. access to water, health care and sanitation. The adult literacy rate grew from 30 percent to 44 percent in the last ten years. Life expectancy increased from 58 years to 64.4 years.

But soon, the article becomes a lengthy piece on the problems in Pakistan, whose ranking in the Human Development Index fell from 132 to 135 in the last decade, while India improved from 134 to 128. Writer Zubeida Mustafa appears even more upset that overtaking Pakistan in the Index was Namibia, showing strong progress from a 135 ranking to now 115.

The writer points out that for every Pakistani improvement in human development, population growth has neutralized any positive effect. In Pakistan today 50 million adults are illiterate vs. 44 million 10 years ago. People living in absolute poverty, determined by longevity, knowledge and decent standard of living (access to safe water, health care and properly nourished children) jumped from 34 million to 50 million. Writer Zubeida Mustafa points out that the UN report does not recognize the vast disparities between regions, ethnic groups and gender. The Punjab district is more developed than any other, yet the literacy rate for women is less than half that for men.

The Human Development Report leaves columns blank for school enrollment, crimes, unemployment, accident rates and suicide, since these data are not available from the government. Zubeida Mustafa writes, “A society denied education and knowledge can never prosper…. It is not, therefore surprising that so many people are either turning to suicide or to religious rituals as an escape from the problems in their lives, which appear to be becoming insurmountable.”

He concludes by asserting the freedoms citizens must have according to the Human Development Report: freedom from discrimination, freedom from fear, freedom of thought and speech, freedom from want, freedom to develop and realize one’s human potential, freedom from injustice and violations of the rule of law and freedom for decent work without exploitation. He concludes, “Unfortunately, none of these exist for the people of Pakistan.”

From reading Dawn newspaper, I come away with a sense of doom prevailing over Pakistan, which is a tragedy since the country is filled with diverse and stunning landscapes, many of which are extremely fertile, a strong Islamic faith, rich history and cultures and generous people, still proud of their country.