Wednesday, 16 January 2008

State Failures

Much ink has been spilt over whether or not Pakistan is a failed state. The question, I think, is somewhat misleading, because few who argue one side or the other of the question care to think about what the functions of the state in Pakistan are. Given that the state apparatus was created to promote and protect the wealth and power of a small segment of society, can its inability or unwillingness to promote the welfare of the rest of society be accounted a failure?

Leaving such questions aside, there is no doubt that for a great number of people in Pakistan, the state continuously fails to provide them with the bare basics of what is expected from any modern state. This was vividly illustrated in the sad case of Mudassar Alam.

Mudassar Alam was a 14 year old resident of Hyderabad who on 21st November was punished by his 4th grade teacher in the government school he attended reportedly for not doing his homework. He was beaten, then forced to do 100 sit-ups. When he complained of severe abdominal pains, the teacher believed he was making excuses and forced him to continue with the corporal punishment. Afterwards, in severe pain, he skipped out from school and went home, where his parents became worried and rushed him to the nearby government hospital. According to a media report, "He was catheterized for not being able to pass stool or urine", was "suffering from acute low blood pressure and very high pulse rate" and his "Intestine were jumbled and perforated, and turned blackish due to blocked blood circulation."

The doctors at the government hospital operated on the boy, but pus developed in the wound in his perforated intestine and he had to be operated on a second time. After almost two months in hospital, the boy passed away. As for the quality of the medical care received by Mudassar, it is worth mentioning this quote from the boy's father on his death:

""On Thursday when my wife complained to on duty doctor that her son is oozing some whitish liquid from his mouth doctor didn’t pay attention and said it normally happens. But when his condition deteriorated and nurse examined him he had lost his life by then,” the weeping father said."

The father, by the way, was an agricultural worker, who worked in a nearby banana orchard. He lost his job the day he took his son to hospital and was replaced, because of course, there are no labour protection laws that apply to the vast majority of the poor in this country.

Initially no action was taken against the teacher who resorted to corporal punishment. In fact, he tried to pay off the family with a bribe of 15,000 rupees in return for a statement from them saying that the boy had been seriously ill before he had come to school that day. To force the parents of the child into compliance, he threatened them with his "contacts" in "intelligence agencies". It was only after the case was reported in the media [about two weeks after the incident] that the government's Education Department finally stirred itself into suspending the teacher and launching an inquiry. A month and a half later, the inquiry still has not reached any kind of conclusion. The Education Department however, did say, that they could not offer any kind of financial help to the student or his family.

Taking this as a test case, it is clearly apparent that the state failed in the provision of education, failed in the provision of healthcare, failed in the provision of justice, failed in the provision of labour rights and finally failed to exercise self-accountability in order to guard against future failures. Interestingly enough, the specter of the "intelligence agencies" were also used as an instrument of coercion in an attempt to hush up the incident, though ultimately this failed to silence the affair - perhaps because the teacher's connection to these "intelligence agencies" was fictional. Had a more well-connected personage been behind the incident, we may have seen the state succeeding in doing what it does best - serving the interests of the elite.

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