What's Happening on Pakistan's Main Street?

The judicio-political circus in Pakistan is in full swing these days. Although much has been written on the quagmire, few, if any, have focused on the plight of the common Pakistanis. The real stakeholders of Pakistan have no interest left in the political upheavals or the controversial decisions churned out by the Pakistani Supreme Court. They are more concerned about the power crisis and the law and order situation.

Let's take a look at what is happening on Pakistan's Main Street. Better stay away from the discussion on the double dealings by both the Pakistani military and the American establishment. A detour is necessary from the usual banter on the civil-military relationship. Let's examine the life of common Pakistanis. The picture is not very rosy, I must warn.

I had a chance to visit the central city of Multan last week. There was power for literally two hours a day. And the mercury was reaching 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Since there was no power, there was severe shortage of water as the civic authorities rely on electricity to pump up water. Since there was no electricity, the fields were dry and the crops were on the verge of failure.

Things are even worse in Faisalabad, once a booming industrial town that was known as the Manchester of Pakistan for its massive textile production. Along with power cuts, Faisalabad textile factories have been disconnected from the national gas grid. The textile industry relies heavily on natural gas to run its operations. The marriage of power cuts and disrupted gas supplies have spelled disaster for the industry. Thousands of workers have been laid off while others are barely hanging on. Gas cuts have also threatened to shut down the largest fertilizer factory in Pakistan .

Punjab, the largest province of Pakistan and also the one hardest hit by power cuts, witnessed some of the worst rioting in June. Automobiles, shops and even trains were burned by the angry mobs. The provincial government, which occupies the opposition benches in Islamabad, failed to stop the violent onslaught of protesters. Some even accused the provincial chief minister of fomenting the protests so as to embarrass the central government.

While the situation has started to improve in Punjab (power is now on for at least six hours a day), the mineral-rich Balochistan remains in hot waters. The Baloch insurgency has threatened the very core of the federation. Last month, unknown assailants entered a laundry and gunned down eight people, most of them petty workers from the Punjab and Sindh. Sectarian killings are also on the rise in the province.

In Karachi, the killings seem to be never ending. At least 1,257 people have been killed in the metropolis during the first six months of this year. Given the alarming figures for the first half of 2012, the statistics may well surpass the last year's death toll of 1,715.

Then there are the drone strikes, which, as per the leaked cables, are done with approval of the Pakistani military and civil government (though the parliament has passed a resolution against such attacks). Until July 15, there had been 27 drone strikes in Pakistan killing at least 153 militants and civilians, according to data compiled by the New America Foundation.

Pakistanis contradict American claims that drones kill only militants. Pakistan Body Count, which has been keeping tabs on the Pakistani casualties, estimates that at least 173 people have been killed in 27 drone strikes this year. The condemnation for drone strikes has come from none other than the UN, which says the international law does not have room for such intrusions into a sovereign country's territory.

The Taliban have banned polio vaccination campaigns in the tribal areas until the drones are stopped. The controversy generated by the use of vaccination to track Osama bin Laden has not helped the cause either. The ultimate casualties are the thousands of children who are at the risk of getting afflicted with the disease. In the meanwhile, there have been no signs of the Taliban attacks letting up. Pakistan Body Count puts the death toll at 136 in 18 suicide attacks this year.

Pakistanis did not give a second thought to the news of the re-opening of NATO supplies. The protests staged by the far right failed to gain mentionable audiences. All Pakistanis want is to earn basic sustenance, stay safe from drones, suicide bombings and killing sprees and enjoy some hours of continuous power supply. The sad fact is that it is highly unlikely they will be able to get any of these things in near future.