No one is sure if those gathered to get the spilled over oil from the overturned tanker at Ahmad Pur Sharqia were stealing or just a bunch of greedy people grabbing at anything that could earn them a few rupees. Then there is a story making round on social media talking about Karma. It goes that a mentally challenged person had been burned alive, five years back, on blasphemy charges by a mob at the same place. Among other reasons, peoples’ obliviousness to the fact that they were playing with fire was attributed to lack of education and grooming.

Unfortunately, the week preceding Eid had been relentlessly bloody for Pakistan. First, it was Quetta, where a bomb exploded outside the office of Inspector General Police, signifying an attack on the state. Then more than 90 people, mostly from Shia community, were massacred in a twin bomb blast at Parachinar in Kurrum Agency FATA that reopened sectarian wounds. Later the oil tanker explosion exposed the unpreparedness of the government to handle disasters of such a large magnitude. Where we are appreciative of the state to have scaled down the threat of terrorism, the frustration at the ineptness of the state institutions especially that of the police, hospitals, and education sector, has only increased. Come to think of it, aren’t these three sectors essential for the development of a civilised society?

According to the investigative report on the Bahawalpur oil tanker inferno, negligence shown by the police turned the accident into a calamity. The motorway police did not cordon off the areas to prevent the disaster. The Station Head Officer and the Assistant Commissioner reached the spot very late. The motorway police had earned kudos for being the best among the lot, but issuing tickets and keeping motorway safe are just not enough if major accidents that require fast thinking and appropriate equipment could not be handled. The conspicuous absence of liaison, among the motorway police, the rescue department and the department of district disaster management was felt again. When the truck fell why wasn’t the driver immediately taken into custody? He burned alive just like other people. An incident of this magnitude, where a crowd could easily turn into a mob, a large contingent of police was required to ward off people from the place of incident. But there wasn’t enough police force? Why did not the police, in the absence of any other means to disperse the crowd, use aerial firing? There is no news about any police officer or district government officer getting injured or burned, which means they had maintained a safe distance from the spot? Which also implies that they knew the seriousness of the situation? So far, the news is that for a better flow of petrol, someone tried to widen a hole in the tanker causing the spark from the hammer blow to ignite the fire. Why did not the police stop the man from doing such a lethal activity? By this time, when almost 45 minutes had gone by, the commissioner and other police officers had also reached the scene. Nobody used the disaster management techniques learned in their respective courses. One thing is sure that the district disaster management department was not around. It left a big question mark on the performance of the government, which has received billions in funds to set up the disaster management department, at the federal and provincial levels, since 2005 earthquake that jolted Pakistan into the realisation of having an antiquated disaster management system.

We do not learn. Or is it that we do not want to learn, and do not let others learn as well. Our education system is producing only job seekers, who later go abroad and remit billions in foreign exchange to allow us keep the economy afloat. Even though the government, especially that of Punjab, offers free education to children from class 1 to 10, the parents of low-income families are reluctant to send their children to schools. They need every hand in the family to work and beat poverty. Poverty in Pakistan is such a great curse. Poor people are the worst victim of institutional mismanagement and corruption. Isn’t it pity that there is one doctor for 70 patients in public sector hospitals? I have seen long queues of patients waiting for X-rays in General Hospital only because there happens to be one machine for thousands of patients. Medicines up to rupees 100 are free, and any prescription above this amount is paid from the patient’s pocket. A mafia of doctors was caught in the Mayo hospitals Lahore recently. They used to sell artificial and germ infected stents. The original stents supplied by the government were sold out.

At the other end of the spectrum the middle and the rural class that makes 95 per cent of the population, also have to deal with a police force that works best for the elite and is largely untrained and unmotivated to handle any disaster.

The miseries counted above are because of the lack of infrastructure and resources. Funds allocated for hospitals and education are diverted on building roads and bridges that hardly unite. As for the police force, it is deliberately kept dependent to allow the leaders space for organised corruption. Scratch a little, and you find a mess under the surface.

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Lahore.

durdananajam1@gmail.com