‘Pakistan will eradicate poverty by killing the poor’

By Muhammad Najeeb, IANS

Islamabad : The wheat crisis is deepening in Pakistan as flour prices have doubled in the last few weeks. “I agree with the government’s claim that it’s putting in extra efforts to eradicate poverty… and I believe they will be successful, but by killing the poor,” says Rabia Bibi, wife of a labourer here and mother of eight.

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Bibi’s husband Afaq Shah leaves home at 6 a.m. in search of work and gets back after 12 hours with a maximum of 200 Pakistani rupees ($3.2), that too not every day.

“When he leaves home, I start praying for his safety and success in getting work… Islamabad is a cruel place and hard to live,” Bibi told IANS sitting in her single-room mud house on the bank of the water channel that flows from Islamabad into Swan River and rises to dangerous levels on rainy days.

“And now the flour has made life miserable… we cannot buy flour, cannot buy roti, but I’ve found a way out.” She had a victor’s smile.

“I daily go to the Dhoke Najo (nearby market) and get some dried bread, crush it and cook it with some daal (pulses)… believe me it’s delicious and very cheap…just costs me six rupees per kg.” She laughed and laughed.

In Pakistan traditionally the leftover bread is not dumped in the garbage. People keep it separate and sell it, usually to be mixed with fodder.

“Flour is simply out of my reach and I don’t want to burden my husband. He is a very nice man and I don’t want my children to know that we can’t buy flour or roti,” she whispered.

Talking about the government’s claim that it has made efforts to reduce poverty she said they can do this by eliminating the poor and “believe me they are doing this”.

She said since her marriage, 13 years ago, even in good days she had never bought a bag of flour.

“Even then it was very costly. We used to buy 3-4 kg but now this dried bread has solved my problem and I’ve introduced a new dish.” She laughed again, demanding appreciation for the novel way out but requested: “Don’t tell the government that I am doing this… you know why…they will make the dried bread costly as well.”

Bibi is waiting for good days when all her five sons will grow to earn. “I’ll then make my own house and will marry my three daughters with grace,” she said, adding she’s not allowed to work by her husband because of children and can’t beg because they belong to a Syed family.

Bibi is just one of hundreds and thousands of Pakistanis for whom flour has gone out of reach, forcing them to look for alternatives.

Though the government has assured the flour crisis will end in a “couple of days”, no one is confident that the prices will go down. They have more than doubled in the last few weeks.

The government’s fixed price for flour is 11 rupees per kg. It is now being sold at 25-30 rupees per kg with each roti now costing 4 rupees, up from 2.

Abdul Qadeer, a retired clerk, recalled that during Ayub Khan’s martial law flour price was increased from 15 to 20 rupees per maund (40 kg) and people started agitating against the government.

“Everywhere in the country there were protests and finally Ayub Khan had to hand over power,” Qadeer recalled. He was convinced that the days of President Pervez Musharraf are now numbered.

“The countdown has begun… this (increase in flour price) is unacceptable to the people and he’ll have to go,” Qadeer said.