The cancer of ‘sifarish’

IT may not be obvious but the common ground that brought protest marchers to Islamabad was a sense of exclusion from the affairs of the state. The anti-incumbency sentiment is strong because the common citizen feels deprived of basic services by the state and of job opportunities.

In fact, any disgruntled political party would be able to bring people out on the streets. We have, therefore, to look at the root causes of this deep-seated, widespread sentiment. Corruption, politicisation of the bureaucracy, nepotism, favouritism and sifarish have become the bane of society, creating a governance deficit and resulting in the declining writ of the state. The decay of institutions that provide these services is endemic.

Corruption is widely seen as the main malaise in society, that has hollowed out institutions. There are, however, laws and institutions such as the National Accountability Bureau that enjoy the power to bring the corrupt to book. Despite their various weaknesses, action has been initiated against corrupt officials and politicians under these laws.

The superior courts have also taken note of these offences and initiated suo motu action. While corruption is widely talked about and condemned, there is hardly any discussion about the more deep-rooted malaise of sifarish (no English equivalent can quite capture or convey the essence of this term that, in a general sense, relates to nepotism and favouritism). Sifarish is corroding the moral fabric of the governance structure and diluting the writ of the state.

The almost universal practice of ‘sifarish’ does not raise any eyebrows and has become an accepted social norm.
It is hardly realised that the almost universal practice of sifarish does not raise any eyebrows and has become an accepted social norm. It is surprising that a majority of people who otherwise consider themselves quite honest and above any pecuniary temptations think that there is nothing wrong about resorting to sifarish for appointments, postings, transfers, admissions and contracts.

Leave aside the politicians who are compelled to favour their constituencies in order to win votes, well-meaning individuals from other walks of life, too, do not hesitate to oblige others. The tentacles of sifarish have spread so ferociously throughout the system that they resemble cancer cells. The toxic effects of a single act may be insignificant in the view of the person resorting to this practice but the aggregate damage to the system is highly pernicious.

There is no social ostracisation but commendation for those who intervene. This implicit social approval has fortified and multiplied the numbers of those who indulge in this practice. The cost-benefit calculus favours the latter as there is ‘no pain but all gain’.

Let us trace the consequences of this disease on the economy and society through three examples.

First, if teachers are appointed not on the basis of merit but on that of sifarish we should not expect any improvement in the quality of instruction, the grooming of our younger generations or the discipline in their lives. Teachers remain absent from their duties because they are protected by their patrons. No disciplinary action can be taken against them because their supervisors hesitate to take any. If they do, they are certain that nothing will come of it and they’ll only end up antagonising their powerful patrons.

The effect on other teachers otherwise discharging their duties faithfully is revealing. These teachers realise they should also seek out some influential person as there is no penalty for deviant behaviour and no reward for good deeds. Poor educational outcomes, high dropout rates, an army of virtually illiterate young men and women unable to find productive jobs are natural. These people are either condemned to poverty or fall prey to extremists, criminals and other anti-social elements worsening the law and order situation in the country. These unemployed people respond readily to calls for protest.

The next sector is the police department. It is highly paradoxical that a policeman is feared by an ordinary citizen who thinks he will be subjected to extortion and ill treatment while criminals and mafias are at ease when it comes to carrying out their nefarious activities.

For induction into the ranks of the police there is either money or sifarish involved. To recover the money inductees have spent to get into the force they resort to extortion. In the case of sifarish, they can act with impunity because they can always turn to their patrons for coming to their rescue. This symbiotic relationship may be more harmful because the person applied to for sifarish had unwittingly obliged only a relative/friend without realising the adverse consequences of his action.

The worst damage to our future survival is being committed by admissions and examination results based on sifarish. We all complain about the absence of competence and professionalism in public service, even in the private and NGO sectors. If deserving and talented students are deprived of the opportunity to acquire higher education and mediocre students take their place the result would be obvious and should not surprise anyone.

It is quite common to come across students achieving top positions through these nefarious means at the inter board examinations failing to clear IBA admission tests. I am asked a difficult question when I address public-sector university students: ‘Why should I study hard when I know that the relative of an MNA with lower marks than mine will get the job?’

Sifarish is a routine matter for the majority because of the societal norms of lihaz, sharam and murawwat that are expected from all those who are in a position to exercise influence. Sometimes it is a reciprocal arrangement whereby I help your son get admission to a prestigious institution while you repay me by getting mine appointed to a lucrative public-sector job.

If a person refrains from sifarish he faces the wrath of his family, circle of friends, biradari, kinship etc. That is why sifarish has become so ingrained in our national DNA and is spreading like cancer making our institutions dysfunctional and weakening the state’s writ.

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Never make an exception of yourself!

“If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of people, what would it be?”
“Never make an exception of yourself.”
“What does that mean?”
“People like to make exceptions of themselves. They hold other people to moral codes that they aren’t willing to follow themselves. For example, people tend to think that if they tell a lie, it’s because it was absolutely necessary. But if someone else tells a lie, it means they’re dishonest. So never make an exception of yourself. If you’re a thief, don’t complain about being robbed.”

Credit where due.

Even though I am not a big fan of Imran Khan as a politician but I must say that his decision of resigning from all their National and Provincial Assemblies’ seats deserves all the appreciation because that shows he is not doing this for power. Bring them down Qadri and Khan!

Pakistan is facing too many problems, how can we celebrate Independence day?

You might hear these lines almost every year on Independence day. Though it is true that Suicide bombing, terrorism, poverty, corruption, target killing is massive in our society. But lets look at it this way. Ask yourself! You are not the one who cheered when a mob was burning houses in Gujranwala, You don’t kill people everyday in Karachi. You don’t bomb Hazaras, you don’t bomb Mosques and Shrines. You actually condemn the elements who do that. You are not the one who discriminates religious minorities. You don’t force anyone to adopt your way of living and your faith but believe in equal status for everyone. You are one of those million Pakistanis who are doing whatever they can with all the available resources for the betterment of this society.

Every country faces problem, our country is probably facing a little more than others, that is why we can’t turn blind eye towards the problems we are facing. We must curb the problems our country is facing today, but if we stopped living and stopped cheering even those rare happy moments we witness in our country and more importantly, If we became, depressed & hopeless, then, those destroying Pakistan are going to win.

Lets hope and pray that may we return to the path of peace and progress. May we stop debating over the Quaid’s speeches and realize ourselves what our goals should be. May we recognize what our problems are so that we can think of short term and long term solutions. May every child get food, water and education. May every child under 5 years get polio drops. May every Pakistani woman get respect. May every talented youth get access to a job. May we be proud of our green passport.

May God bless Pakistan. Jiyo Pakistan! Jeevay Pakistan! Pakistan Zindabad!

Happy Birthday Shoaib Akhtar

Before bowling that epic Yorker to Sachin Tendulkar in Calcutta Test in 1999, Shoaib walked to Little Master Sachin Tendulkar and asked “Do you know me?” Tendulkar replied “No”. And Shoaib Akhtar said “Now you will know me soon”.

The Rawalpindi express shook the world of cricket and made everyone sit up and take note when he bowled Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar in successive deliveries to not only derail the Indian batting line-up, but also stun the vociferous Eden crowd.

In his book, “Controversially yours” Pakistani speed star writes, “I had gone up to Tendulkar and asked if he knew who I was and he said that he didn’t. I just replied back saying that he would now. And when I had the ball in hand with thousands of Indian fans cheering for the home team, I obviously had butterflies in stomach but I also had faith in my abilities and knew that if I could bowl as well as I am capable of, I would definitely stand out and help my team win. Even as I ran up to bowl, I could hear the deafening cheer from the Indian fans but first I dismissed Dravid and the very next delivery I sent Tendulkar packing. The Eden crowd was stunned. The atmosphere changed in a fraction of a second. And that is when I also realized what Tendulkar’s wicket meant to Indian fans.”

Happy Birthday to one of the most feared bowlers in the history of game of cricket, on this day, the legendary pacer was born whose fan following is not restricted to any borders, Shoaib Akhtar, arguably one of the finest cricketers to ever walk on the surface of this planet.

The tiger of cricket who bowled the fastest ball in the history of International cricket will always be remembered as a great name in the world of cricket.