Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader Rashid Godil is fighting for his life at Liaquat National Hospital in Karachi after being shot by ‘unknown assailants’ as he travelled in his car, on August 19. He was hit in the neck and chest five times. He is currently reported to be clinically stable, though not out of danger as his condition remains critical. According to doctors, he has considerably improved on his condition when admitted, however, his injuries may yet prove fatal, but for now he clings to life.
Mr Godil was one of those who wanted to bring peace to Karachi, and was involved in the talks aimed at getting the MQM members of the National Assembly and the Senate back to their seats in the respective Houses. The attack, in all likelihood, was carried out by those who had no investment in bringing peace to Karachi, and who wanted to continue the bloody wars that have wracked the country’s financial hub for decades. There has been some speculation that the shooting was the work of a banned sectarian organisation, but nothing is clear at this juncture.
Coming so soon after the murder by a suicide bomber in Attock of Punjab Home Minister Shuja Khanzada, questions again have to be asked and answered about the security — or lack of it — for senior politicians. Given the nature of politics as it is practised by some in Pakistan, politicians in the country often have to interact with the people they serve. This increases their visibility and their vulnerability. Since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, politicians and the security agencies that are tasked to protect them have been markedly more efficient and vigilant. Bullet-proof vehicles are in regular use, and many rallies see the speakers surrounded by a screen of armoured glass and the crowd of spectators a hundred metres or more away from the people they had come to see and hear. For many political figures, however, such arrangements are unacceptable, and they take risks. As noted recently in these columns, a comprehensive review of the security of public officials is an imperative — and we wish well to Mr Godil.
Central banks tend to be poorly understood entities at times, especially by those whose job it is to oversee them, and so it is with the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and parliament. For the last four times that the SBP’s governance structure has come up for a vote in the National Assembly or the Senate, the government’s bill has passed with no discussion whatsoever. We do not have a problem with the bill passed by the National Assembly this time around, but we shudder to think what bills the government might be able to pass simply by putting the label “State Bank of Pakistan” on them. On to the bill itself, we have few complaints. The 2015 State Bank of Pakistan (Amendment) Bill is designed to give the SBP real autonomy on matters of monetary policy, and to codify into law what is already SBP practice when it comes to sanctioning banks that do not behave and dealing with banks that fail.
Monetary policy independence is based on the following premise. Governments, unlike other borrowers, have the ability to print the money they need to pay back their loans, which can be a tempting proposition, but by virtue of the fact that printing money causes inflation, it is tantamount to robbing future generations to pay the bills for the present’s profligate spending. The only check on this is an autonomous central bank that can impose punishing borrowing costs and limit governments from printing money, thus inculcating financial discipline. This bill grants much-needed independence to the SBP’s monetary policy decisions. We are also glad that legal cover was given to deposit insurance, which should help improve the confidence of citizens in the banking system. Now, at least small depositors will be assured that their deposits are backed by the government even if their bank fails, which should allow smaller banks to compete more effectively against larger banks, thus creating a healthier financial market that benefits customers. We believe that this bill will largely benefit the economy, though the lack of debate was very disappointing.
The popular social media movement Humans of New York’s (HONY) series on Pakistan, while presenting an alternative and positive view of the country contrary to the one that is often portrayed in the international media, ended on a sombre note as focus shifted to the lives of brick kiln workers employed as bonded labour. These accounts of workers in bondage are a stark reminder of how cruel and exploitative our society is for people from low-income groups, particularly the labour class. HONY’s account of the harrowing conditions that bonded labourers work and live in, moved people from around the world to send in donations to the tune of nearly $2 million for the Bonded Labour Liberation Front, which fights for the rights of these workers. The organisation is run by Syeda Ghulam Fatima, who has been harassed and tortured for her work, but dedicatedly continues with it.
The question is, why we in Pakistan, people and the government, cannot see the brutality of brick kiln owners and end it? What HONY has displayed is nothing new or unique. These are stories that we, as a society, often come across. Yet, we remain largely indifferent to such exploitation. There are an estimated 2.8 million bonded labourers employed in agriculture and brick kilns, but their sufferings barely hurt people’s conscience. One often reads about the horrors of slavery that existed in distant countries a long time ago, but we are oblivious to the plight of our own people who are sold from one brick kiln owner to another, in present-day Pakistan. Brick kiln owners are often influential people having connections with the powerful of the land and so are often immune from the reaches of the law. There seems to be little motivation at the governmental level to put an end to this modern-day slavery right in the heart of Pakistan. What is needed is a crackdown on bonded labour in the country, and an implementation of relevant labour laws. However, given the current state of affairs, this appears to be a distant dream.