What will it take for them to get it? If the death of an infant girl when her parents couldn’t get her into hospital in time because the entrance was blocked due to ‘protocol’ being given to Bilawal Bhutto who was visiting the hospital at the time, not for any treatment mind you, cannot bring out any semblance of humility in the political leadership of his party, then what will it take?
It was high time long ago that we ended VIP culture in this country altogether. Just do a quick search using terms like ‘VIP protocol Pakistan’ on any other video-sharing site, and look at some of the videos posted up of the VIP convoys there. There is one of the chief minister of KP, from the previous party, where I lost count of the number of vehicles after 24, including a fire engine and an ambulance. There is another of the chief minister Punjab where I managed to keep count until 30 or so, including two ambulances, but lost count after that.
Know more: Baby girl dies after Bilawal’s protocol ‘denies entry’ to Civil Hospital
There is the episode when a security guard in the convoy escorting the vehicle of Abdul Qadir Gilani, the son of a former prime minister, in Lahore shot dead a motorcyclist who did not obey a hand gesture to move away. A former chief minister of Balochistan left us with his immortal indifference to human suffering when he laughed and joked upon being told that a woman had to give birth to a baby in a rickshaw because his convoy had blocked the road, trapping her in the vehicle while she was in labour.
The VIP culture has spread across the country and is responsible for incidents such as the death of an infant girl in Karachi.
There was the episode of another baby dying outside the Children’s Hospital in Lahore when Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was on a visit there, although the hospital management was sensitive enough to make sure we all knew that the infant’s death was not on account of any security-related bar from entering the hospital, but because the infant was born prematurely and in frail health. Or the time when a college cricket tournament had to be halted because the grounds were required for the chief minister’s helicopter to land?
Even Musharraf, whose government vowed in its opening years to change the whole VIP culture, had to rely ultimately on the security argument when in 2006, a university student died of a ruptured appendix while waiting in a traffic jam for the general’s convoy to pass.
The examples are endless and they leave one with a sense of nausea when going over them. The sheer scale of indifference to the suffering of the common citizen has become so endemic, so much a feature of our daily life, that we don’t even think it odd any more that there ought to be VIP lounges at airports, and that close to a quarter of the police force of the city of Karachi ought to be deployed for VIP security alone.
Out of the whole political leadership of the country, that of the PPP ought to be more sensitive to the scale of the indignation that VIP treatment inspires within the population. They call themselves the ‘Peoples’ Party, after all, and speak regularly about the importance of democracy for the country. We can offer up justifications for why it is necessary for some of them to behave the way they do, but what will it take for them to realise that words of the sort that Nisar Khuhro, no small fish from amongst them, spoke when asked about his thoughts on the death of infant girl Bisma outside the Civil Hospital Karachi, do incalculable political damage?
And political damage is the last thing that the party can afford at the moment, given the growing stakes in its confrontation with the federal government over the issue of granting an extension to the powers of the Rangers in their operation in the city of Karachi. Granted the death of an infant girl from a poor family is something they can get over with a peg or two. But if even the political compulsions that such a moment create cannot bring a little humility upon them, then what can?
You would think a little common sense is all it would take for young Bilawal to realise that visiting a large public hospital in such a massive convoy would inevitably clog the streets and raise the likelihood of a mishap such as this one. What was the nature of the business he had to transact at the hospital that it was so urgent to override basic common sense?
Let’s be honest about one thing though. The People’s Party is not the only one whose leaders enjoy their VIP treatment. This is a culture spread evenly across Pakistan. It fuels its own expansion because in this environment, those who do not have VIP protocol, who do not have taxpayer-funded protection working privately for their own benefit, are perceived as weak and treated accordingly.
Nor is media free from this thinking. We have seen in the past how DSNG vans crowd the access to an emergency ward to the point that ambulances cannot get in or out, all in the rush to get the best live shots of whatever breaking news is coming out of the scene. Hospitals are extremely sensitive locations, and in the past we have even seen live footage of reporters bursting through the doors of an emergency ward engage in a large brawl with the doctors who had evicted them because they were getting in the way of the work inside. Live breaking news is not more important than the job of saving lives, common sense is enough to know that.
Why can’t we have legislated limits on how much public resources can be utilised for private purposes by anybody? Using public resources like police personnel for private security, or fire trucks and ambulances as escort vehicles in a convoy, ought to have strict limits. But that is basic common sense too, and these are no common people.
Published in Dawn, December 24th, 2015