The Five Cancers of Pakistan

Whether Five Cancers in Pakistan are terminal or not will be judged by history as it unfolds

Whether Five Cancers in Pakistan are terminal or not will be judged by history as it unfolds
Whether Five Cancers in Pakistan are terminal or not will be judged by history as it unfolds

Five cancers are now endemic to Pakistan with no solution

When we think of Pakistan the pictures which come to mind are its economy, nuclear weapons, terrorism, politicians, elite, army, frontline states, Afghanistan, CPEC (China–Pakistan Economic Corridor) and so on. That is scratching the surface. Actually, these are only the symptoms. The diseases are deep-rooted and slowly taking the state into anarchy. In my opinion, Pakistan is beset by five cancers as under:

  1. Bone Marrow Cancer: Religious extremism
  2. Cervical Cancer: Rape
  3. Brain Cancer: Killing journalists
  4. Body Cancer: Population Explosion
  5. Stomach Cancer: Food insecurity

These cancers are now endemic to Pakistan with no solution. They are only growing more malignant day by day. The extent of the spread is evident in the words of their own people. Whether these cancers are terminal or not will be judged by history as it unfolds. However, I can judge that they are incurable and will be metastatic with time.

The PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) government’s overdose of religiosity has given impunity to extremist religious groups. Now the government faces a more violent form of zealotry.

Bone Marrow Cancer: Religious Extremism

Hostage to Extremism[1], and Beyond the Ban[2].

TLP (Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan) is a new phenomenon that has cropped up and taken the nation by storm. I had foreseen it and wrote about it in my earlier article Pakistan Societal Fracture[3]. It is being supported by TTP and the Pashtun movement…what is TLP? It is religious extremism down to the marrow…preaching anti-blasphemy…I call it bone marrow cancer…as I am writing this article, all French citizens have been asked to leave Pakistan including diplomatic staff. This is unprecedented. The state has capitulated to the extremism of a paralytic variety…

It is not for the first time that a religiously motivated group has disrupted civic life but what happened this week is extremely serious. The state seemed to have disappeared as the followers of a radical cleric blocked highways and train tracks connecting the country’s main cities. Violent mobs held sway in many parts of the country. Most disturbing are the videos circulating on social media of some security personnel approvingly responding to the crowd…

….The TLP emerged as a major political force in the 2018 election. The group might not have won a National Assembly seat, but it was the third-largest group in terms of votes in Punjab.…How can a particular group become so emboldened as to paralyse the entire country? Once again, the TLP has succeeded in bringing the administration to its knees. The inaction of successive governments and the policy of appeasement has created a veritable monster.

…The PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) government’s overdose of religiosity has given impunity to extremist religious groups. Now the government faces a more violent form of zealotry. The spectacle of the mob beating police officers and making them hostage has exposed the false claims of the rule of law…

…For more than four days, the PTI government remained mum in the face of pitched battles across Pakistan between activists of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan and local police that erupted after TLP chief Saad Rizvi was arrested from Lahore. And then came to the announcement by the interior minister that the organisation was to be proscribed…formal bans do not translate into substantial dents in the armour of religious militancy is explained in part by the fact that our strategic planners have not abandoned the policy of weaponising religion for political ends…we are a country of over 220 million people, most of whom are young. The rank and file of far-right militant groups remain mostly young boys and men, often those from the lower rungs of the social ladder…the TLP has put paid to the lazy notion that right-wing militancy is particular to any ethnic group. Most of the dramatic violence that played out over the past week took place in small-town Punjab, as well as Sindh’s urban centres…Pakistan is undergoing a youth bulge, then it follows that Punjab is home to a majority of this youthful population. Only a small percentage of this population is upwardly mobile. Most of the TLP cadres involved in the violent protests this past week hail from precisely that segment of youth that, even if it has aspirations for upward mobility, is imbued with an almost existential rage against the ‘system’…the TLP, like many other right-wing movements in Pakistan’s recent history, may not have come into existence without the establishment’s machinations. But it is far from an inorganic phenomenon that can be wished away by a ban…

Cervical Cancer: Rape

Rape in Pakistan[4][5].

These articles are a must-read in full…the depravity of Pakistani society is stark…I would term rape as cervical cancer in Pakistan…and…the pain of being raped and being unable to do anything about it is bone-chilling…it comes out threadbare in these articles…and these generals…they are busy selling their country with children and girls are thrown into China.

Rape culture in Pakistan is systemic. It is reinforced at every level; from blaming women for ‘getting themselves raped’ to never really expecting men not to rape women.

In all societies, there are people who are born into the prism of unbelonging. And to continue to survive, they have to pay a humanity tax to those who managed to escape such birth. The humanity tax is not a monetary payment; that is easy. The humanity tax is a performance designed to emotionally exhaust them…..for my humanity tax, every few months I have to convince fellow country (usually) men, that I do not deserve to be raped…I have performed my humanity tax for the following people: complete stranger on the street, complete stranger on the internet, the family member in my drawing-room, a male colleague at my workplace, a professor addressing a classroom, a friend making a crass joke, a religious cleric addressing thousands of people.

…In a society that does not even have a word for rape, the act itself is very common. I can do what everyone does to try to jar you. I can give you statistics. Tell you how according to massively underreported numbers from Punjab alone[6], 256 cases of rapes were reported in the first month of this year; that is more than eight rapes in a day. Those national statistics imply a woman was raped in Pakistan every two hours in 2020[7], but the conviction rate of rapists remained 0.3%. I can tell you that in 2020 again, 2,960 cases of child sexual abuse were reported[8], 49% of them were boys. And in a majority of the total cases — 1,780 cases — the accused was either a relative or an acquaintance.

…Here is an incomplete list of all that has been raped in this country: women wearing jeans, women wearing a chaadar, men in jeans, men wearing shalwar kameez, girls in school uniforms, boys in school uniforms, a donkey with no clothes on, a chicken with no clothes on, a toddler in whatever it is that toddlers normally wear, a dead body seven feet under the ground and wrapped in a shroud….rape is not common because the punishment is not harsh enough, rape is common because the rapist is aware he is most likely going to get away with it. It is not the legislation, but the execution of said legislation that is the problem.

…In this country, where women who ask for their rights are called sex workers in a national newspaper and no one bats an eye; where a woman’s attire is blamed for a global pandemic; where when a woman gets kidnapped, social media is flooded with comments from men wishing she gets raped because she “deserves” it; where women are forced to marry their rapists because they got pregnant due to the rape, do not have the audacity to tell me that anyone meant “both” genders when they spoke of “fahashi” and “pardah”.[4]

….Rape culture in Pakistan is systemic. It is reinforced at every level; from blaming women for ‘getting themselves raped’ to never really expecting men not to rape women. The idea that men simply cannot be expected to control their baser impulses in the presence of women has been normalised. The premise that ‘getting raped’ is a woman’s fault for driving alone, on the wrong road, at the wrong time, in the wrong place, without a suitable escort etc., is just another way of saying that the men who assaulted her couldn’t have helped themselves. For some absurd reason, most men are comfortable with the assumption that all men are inherently rapists, but some decent ones choose not to rape women…[5]

Brain Cancer: Killing journalists

The Perils of Being a Journalist[9].

Every nation depends upon its press and media to think for it. Journalists think for the nation…they could be left right or centre…eloquent or not so…they could be paid or unpaid…they present issues to the public and make them aware of options which are available and the choices they have to make…when these people are muzzled of gunned down it by a section of the society it is tantamount to cancer of the brain or lack of it…

Being a journalist in Pakistan is a dangerous proposition. A noose is put around your neck when you begin and it is tightened gradually as journalists you know are ‘disappeared’ or harassed or murdered outright. Many of those who manage to stay afloat are targets. The tiniest act of rebellion or upsetting someone powerful can constitute a real threat for the journalists of the country.

…One can go on and on enumerating the killing and intimidation of Pakistani journalists. One can go on and on about how the cases are never solved. All of it is pointless for the simple reason that everyone knows that those who do not toe the line or are outspoken are targeted and made an example of.

This then is the primitive state of public discourse in Pakistan. Instead of tolerating differing points of view, instead of creating forums where divergent views can be expressed and discussed and a culture of tolerance fostered, the voices of those who disagree are muffled in various ways by various actors, state or non-state. This is not very different from what primitive man faced when he did not agree with his tribe. He would be made an example of to warn the rest of the clan….Pakistan’s legacy of authoritarianism means that no one pays much attention to the growing roster of threats to journalists.

Body Cancer: Population Explosion

Missing Threat[10].

Very erudite article on population problem facing Pakistan. Beautifully compared – Bangladesh development vs Pakistani non development. To me the scary part is…340m Pakistanis by 2050…they are more than a nuke! Need to think ahead and out of the box. Will the day come when the question arises whether we have to shoot down impoverished Pakistanis on the border fence or accept them as part of our humanity?

The national security dialogue last week renewed hope that finally, Pakistan plans to focus on its own issues and rising internal non-traditional threats. Included in the agenda were climate change, water security, food security and a host of other challenges.

However, it did not go unnoticed that there was no reference to concerns regarding our unabated population growth rate or planning for projected population numbers. Once again in a policy shift that stressed greater introspection for national security issues, the conversation on population is missing. Clearly, 220 million people, growing at twice the level of others in the region, with threats to their livelihood and survival, were not deemed an important topic.

Bangladesh is now posting statistics showing that child mortality is half the levels in Pakistan and its citizens will live five years longer on average, while female literacy has gone up to 72 per cent (compared to 47pc in Pakistan). If we do not care about these statistics, we certainly should when other figures that do matter to our powerful leaders are presented. Our per capita income today is approximately $1,400 while that of Bangladesh is above $2,000; their foreign exchange reserve is $42 billion, ours is half that at about $21 billion; their economic growth during the pandemic last year was 5.2pc compared to our -0.4pc or so.

Bangladesh has achieved replacement fertility of 2.1 children allowing them to make investments in people and their education and health. Our fertility today is 3.6 children per woman. Bangladesh will stabilise at 200 million, implying its population size will level off at that maximum for many years while we leap beyond the 350 million-plus mark in a few decades. Who is more likely to prosper, combat pandemics, improve health systems, maximise exports and become more prominent as a nation?

The choice is between two paths: we can focus on one of the largest non-traditional threats or on ‘big boy’ issues. I fear I know which path Pakistan will take. So, let us be prepared for the consequences for internal security and viability as the threat implodes with all the pressure exerted by 340 million Pakistanis by 2050.

Stomach Cancer: Food Insecurity

Food Insecurity[11].

This article is dated. I have reproduced it here to give an idea of the continuity of the problems in Pakistan. The average Pakistani is trapped in a mountain of personal debt besides the burden of state debt…he has had to contend with double-digit inflation in food prices ranging from 10-20%. There is no food basket at the end of an imaginary rainbow also….the number of poor will reach 75 million in a year… which is 40% of the population…the problem started only in 2018…

Life was not as hard two years ago as it is today for Tariq Mahmood, a 39-year-old taxi driver in Islamabad. He works seven days a week for 12 hours a day but rarely has more than a few hundred rupees left after feeding his family.

Mahmood said he has not felt this dejected by his dwindling finances in the past 14 years. For cab drivers like him the real culprit is not COVID-19, which shut down businesses, or the advent of ride-sharing services, which siphoned off customers, but spiralling food prices.

“I cannot afford the education of my child after paying for food for the family,” Mahmood told The Third Pole….“All my savings dried up during the lockdown and now I’m trapped under a mountain of debt,” he said.

Reflect on the content of all these articles…they are fully interrelated…Pakistan is plumbing new depths of toxicity and will continue to do so…trying to make peace with this nation is like sleeping with a cobra…however, we have to live with it…in my opinion, we will have to do something out of the box to maintain peace…we are looking at an unstable and volatile of Pak region beyond the control of the Pakistan Army…in which case these greedy Pakistan generals might even externalise the situation…never has Pakistan dealt with a loaded gun to its head more lethally…

1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.


[1] Hostage to extremismApr 14, 2021, Dawn

[2] Beyond the banApr 16, 2021, Dawn

[3] Pakistan’s Societal Fracture By Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)Nov 20, 2020, Gunners Shot

[4] Rape: Sexual aggression, not aggressive sexualityApr 14, 2021, The Dawn

[5] In Pakistan, rape culture is not only systemic, it is reinforced at every levelSep 16, 2020, Dawn

[6] Crime Statistics – Punjab

[7] 11 rape incidents reported in Pakistan every day, official statistics revealNov 13, 2020, The News

[8] 4pc increase in child abuse cases reported in 2020Apr 09, 2021, Dawn

[9] The perils of being a journalistApr 14, 2021, Dawn

[10] ‘Missing’ threatMar 27, 2021, Dawn

[11] Low earnings and agricultural neglect push Pakistan into food insecurityDec 16, 2020, Dawn

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Served four decades in the Indian Army as a Gunner in multiple operational areas and appointments with pride, honour and dignity. Currently professor in Aerospace Department of IIT Madras. Mentoring young minds. The transition from a three star general to a academic has been exciting. Sharing some of my experiences and views through this blog.
Lt Gen P R Shankar
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