Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Ghost of National Security

The news that Imran Khan’s cancer hospital has been sealed in Pakistan is unfortunate. It seems from the newspaper reports that after Imran Khan decided to go into hiding expecting to be arrested, the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital was cordoned off and effectively shut. The hospital is perhaps one of Pakistan’s best cancer hospitals and provides free treatment to 75 per cent of patients with the remaining 25 per cent paying fees. All funding is raised through donations, zakat (Islamic tax) and selling of hospital services. The hospital is a registered charity in Pakistan, UK, USA and UAE, and is connected to specialist cancer hospitals in the UK and USA.
The fact that the government put power politics before the welfare of the people is a sad thing. I am not going into the merits of arresting Imran Khan or even any of the other politicians but the thought that Imran Khan, in the eyes of the authorities, posed such a grave danger that they thought nothing of closing down a hospital doing yeoman service in a country that surely needs more and not less of these charitable initiatives. This brings me to the question of what is the responsibility of a state and its government. Is it simply to perpetuate itself and hold on to power or is it to look after the welfare of its people and if so, what can be the justification of shutting down a hospital just because its promoter or patron has run foul of the law and that too not on any criminal grounds but rather on political considerations?
I would have thought that in a situation where the government is by itself not able to provide for the welfare of its people, the last it can do is to provide a conducive environment for charity to flourish and philanthropists to do their bit, as Imran is trying to do. I guess the same thing is applicable in a business context. Would the Pakistan government also be shutting down businesses if they happen to be owned by folks on the wrong side of the political divide? Who then will invest there then?
But let me not talk of Pakistan alone. We can talk reams about India too. For years, the army was occupying school and hospital buildings and other civilian structures in Kashmir. After occupying them for close to two decades to fight militancy, the army has only recently vacated them and even this happened after a lot of reluctance and after the personal intervention of the defence minister, AK Antony.
I wonder if any one has done any research as to the damage to the educational opportunities of Kashmiri children because some soldiers with guns were using their school building as a hold out to safeguard national security and how many people, whose lives could have been prolonged had they been given access to timely healthcare, died because the army was occupying hospitals as free housing. And it is possible that many of the same things are happening in other disturbed areas of India like Chattisgarh and parts of the North East. Information of this nature will never be readily available for we have two, no three phrases under which the state can always find shelter: ‘National Security’, ‘Public Interest’ and ‘Official Secret’. Under these three phrases, one can hide anything and typically forever.
Well if some security analysts read this, perhaps they might have a different opinion, whether here in India or in Pakistan, but the way I see it as a common man is that national security and holding on to power or territory for its own sake is making a mockery of nationhood and sovereignty, if governance, the raison d’etreof a government to be established isn’t happening in small or large measure.

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