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World Happiness Report brings no cheer to Pakistan

Millions of Pakistanis are not happy with their life as evident from tens of thousands seeking greener pastures elsewhere
A family travelling on a motorbike uses a plastic sheet to shelter from the rain in Islamabad on April 15, 2024. At least 41 people have died in storm-related incidents across Pakistan since April 12, including 28 killed by lightning, officials said on April 15.

A family travelling on a motorbike uses a plastic sheet to shelter from the rain in Islamabad on April 15, 2024. At least 41 people have died in storm-related incidents across Pakistan since April 12, including 28 killed by lightning, officials said on April 15. (Photo: AFP)

Published: April 17, 2024 04:30 AM GMT
Updated: April 17, 2024 06:37 AM GMT

The World Happiness Report, published on April 10, might have brought cheer to some people in Pakistan as the nation was ranked 18 notches above neighboring India, Pakistan’s archrival.

The report, a collaborative publication backed by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Solutions Network, assesses national happiness based on respondent ratings on their own lives and other factors related to quality of life.

The ranking raises serious questions about its methodology and data sourcing as some countries known for socioeconomic and political instability fared well.

Nepal (78) was ranked the happiest country in South Asia despite its ongoing political tensions, a rise in religious intolerance, the emergence of Hindu radical groups and attacks on ethnic and religious minorities.

Sri Lanka and Pakistan are still struggling to get rid of serious political and economic crises, but they were ranked ahead of Bangladesh (118) and India (126).

Even Myanmar, which is gasping for survival amid a brutal civil war and the near collapse of the once-invincible military junta, was ranked 117th, seemingly a better place to live than Bangladesh and India!

Finland was ranked the happiest nation for the seventh consecutive year, and Afghanistan was placed at the bottom among 137 nations.

The study is shocking and surprising as it shows Pakistan is a better place than India. The ground reality shows a strikingly different picture.

Pakistan must be behind India in all the parameters used in the study — overall satisfaction in life, factors like per-capita GDP, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity, and corruption.

The assessment of social support (133 points) and perceptions of corruption (42 points) also does not do justice to the facts.

It seems Pakistani respondents were least bothered by corruption, which is deep-rooted and largely normalized as part of everyday life.

That’s no surprise for a nation whose current president, Asif Ali Zardari, was once known by his nickname “Mr. Ten Percent” because of massive corruption allegations against him.

The latest corruption index by Transparency International ranked India 39th and Pakistan 133th. This gives an idea of the level of corruption that affects the lives of millions in Pakistan.

An uneasy calm following the controversial and allegedly rigged national elections offers no hope for the nation of 220 million. The nation has never seen political stability due to power-hungry politics by mainstream parties and military interference since partition in 1947 created an independent India and Pakistan.

The unprecedented alliance of two main rival political parties to hang on to power is as vulnerable as a house of cards.   

Pakistan's economic outlook is grim as forecasted in the latest report from the Asian Development Bank released early this month. It says Pakistan is among the high-risk nations and its inflation won’t drop below a staggering 25 percent owing to higher energy prices and a high cost of living.

Pakistan is debt-ridden and its debt-to-GDP ratio is above 70 percent, the worst of any sizable economy in the world.

On the other hand, India’s growth is forecast at 7.0 percent this year and 7.2 percent next year boosted by strong investment, recovering consumption, and improving exports. The world’s fifth largest economy, India’s GDP is about US$ 3.7 trillion.

So, anyone boasting about Pakistan’s better ranking in the Happiness Report than India is simply ignorant and unrealistic.

Millions of Pakistanis are not happy with their life as is evident from tens of thousands seeking greener pastures elsewhere, legally or illegally.

Last year, more than 860,000 Pakistanis left the country seeking education and jobs. Most of them won’t return home no matter what.

The mass migration underscores the deep-seated issues plaguing the nation, such as political or religious persecution, conflict, economic hardship, or environmental disasters.

The country is a living hell for religious minorities who endure endless persecution at the hands of hardliners who consider non-Muslims a threat to the Islamic republic. Liberal Muslims are also targeted for not subscribing to extremist Islamic ideologies.

These hardline groups thrive on backing from mainstream political parties and the civilian administration out to exploit religion for political mileage.

In 2020, when top comedian Amanullah Khan died, conservatives attempted to block his burial. A private housing society refused to allocate land for his grave and only did so after the Punjab government intervened.

Khan was hailed as the “king of comedy” in Pakistan for his deadpan satire, including his veiled criticism of religious conservatism, political expediency, corruption, and so on.

The unpleasant incident related to his burial is a sad reflection of the deep-rooted intolerance and bigotry that plague Pakistani society.

Recently, another top comedian and critic, Anwar Maqsood, became a victim of social media vilification. A piece of fake news claiming Maqsood was abducted, threatened, tortured, and beaten to stop him from speaking against the incumbent government and their “facilitators” went viral. He later issued a statement saying it was cooked up to malign his image.

The cases of the two comedians show how the constitutional right to freedom of expression is no longer guaranteed and taken for granted.

All in all, Pakistan is far from happy if someone takes a serious, unbiased look at the lives of people in Pakistan, their every struggle and suffering.

Perhaps, this should prompt the UN-backed experts to reconsider their parameters, especially in assessing the complexities of happiness and well-being, particularly in countries like Pakistan where socioeconomic and political challenges are prevalent.

Incorporating underlying social and cultural factors and regional disparities could enhance the relevance and accuracy of such reports and contribute to more informed policy decisions aimed at improving happiness and well-being worldwide.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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