Though Pakistan might be among the most philanthropic and altruistic nations in the world, it isn’t short of opportunists and hypocrites when it comes to taking advantage of calamities and emergency situations. Rather than standing with the victims, we try to exploit their suffering. We are fond of thriving on others hardships. We profit on others miseries, trials and tribulations. The ill-fated and the hapless are our cash cows. While inflation, climate change and multiple other crises have made the lives of vulnerable people miserable, we continue to use them to satisfy our gluttonous and selfish tendencies. Our society is perhaps the only society where calamities are welcomed and cashed in.
The Murree tragedy isn’t an exception to this. The poor souls stranded during the snowstorm were viciously looted and exploited. Survivors recall how local hotels insisted on charging an exorbitant 40,000 to 50,000 bucks for a room at night; 3,000 to 5,000 for pushing vehicles stuck in the ice; and 500 for a single egg to eat. Due to the lack of money at hand, many people preferred to stay inside their vehicles in order to stay warm. The next day, around two dozen were found dead. The tragedy could have been avoided if the locals and hotel mafia had shown some compassion towards the stranded suffering travellers.
The Murree tragedy isn’t the only instance of opportunism that has occurred recently. Who can forget the black-marketing and profiteering of lifesaving medicines and face masks during the disastrous Covid-19 waves. I also remember how, during the floods of 2010, transporters overcharged families to move them to safer places. A reality that Pakistan refuses to acknowledge is that almost all crises bring about insurmountable profits to mafias and individuals operating with impunity under the patronage of government stakeholders. Apart from calamities, opportunists hunt on blessed occasions as well. By increasing prices of basic commodities, the holy month of Ramazan is turned into a curse for the poor and the destitute. Thus, celebrating holidays such as Eid becomes a privilege that not many can afford.
Moreover, farmers, who are the lifeline of the national exchequer and the guarantors of food security in the country, have been made to suffer at the mercy of hoarders and profiteers. The supply and distribution of fertilisers has been handed down by the administration to their favourite mafias to plunder the farmers at their will. A sack of fertiliser costing about Rs1,800 is being sold for more than Rs3,000 at the behest of government stakeholders. However, the most worrisome fact is the collusion that is going on between the local administrations and the mafias, which enables and empowers opportunists to plunder with impunity. DCs, ACs and even Mukhtiarkars have been getting their share on the exorbitant sales of fertilisers in many areas.
As far as the role of the authorities, scapegoating and victim-blaming seem to be the most commonly used tactics. On Murree tragedy, government officials absolved themselves by simply blaming it on the overwhelming number of tourists who came to visit during an expected snowstorm even though they are the very authorities that control the inflows of tourists, caution them on weather conditions, and facilitate them along the way. From NDMA to the district administration, from hoteliers to the opportunist locals — they all are blameworthy for the heartrending Murree tragedy.
Such callousness and indifference won’t do any good for the tourism industry. It is akin to promoting mafias, profiteers and opportunists at the cost of the lives of tourists. To realise the country’s true tourism potential, there is a dire need of pragmatic planning and effective policymaking. Policies aimed at facilitating tourists through convenient modes of transport, reasonable accommodation and maximum security and safety can help avoid such horrifying tragedies in future.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 30th, 2022.