Articles on this Page
- 12/21/13--21:00: _Polio: Can Imran Kh...
- 12/23/13--04:52: _Pashto films are de...
- 01/07/14--11:01: _Can Vladimir Putin ...
- 01/10/14--05:47: _We do not deserve p...
- 01/30/14--11:01: _Here is why breastf...
- 02/19/14--02:48: _In Hangu, are teach...
- 03/31/14--05:12: _Governments should ...
- 04/18/14--23:50: _Drone strikes: We’r...
- 04/19/14--22:00: _Journalism in Pakis...
- 04/22/14--06:31: _A social pariah eve...
- 05/25/14--00:00: _Copy culture: Degre...
- 06/19/14--05:49: _Will Zarb-e-Azb bri...
- 06/20/14--05:22: _Don’t ignore your I...
- 06/24/14--02:48: _I am from FATA and,...
- 08/04/14--05:52: _Has Imran Khan brou...
- 08/11/14--12:01: _Of self-exiled Cana...
- 08/29/14--06:48: _Is Imran Khan being...
- 08/31/14--00:00: _FCR: Man playing go...
- 09/26/14--07:00: _In reality Mr Khan,...
- 11/22/14--23:00: _Chagharzai and othe...
- 12/23/13--04:52: Pashto films are destroying Pashtun culture
- 01/07/14--11:01: Can Vladimir Putin pull off the Winter Olympics safely?
- 01/10/14--05:47: We do not deserve people like Aitzaz Hussain and Chaudhry Aslam
- 01/30/14--11:01: Here is why breastfeeding your child is important
- 02/19/14--02:48: In Hangu, are teachers a specie quickly going extinct?
- 03/31/14--05:12: Governments should encourage sports, not sports festivals
- 04/18/14--23:50: Drone strikes: We’re humans, not bugs waiting to be squashed
- 04/19/14--22:00: Journalism in Pakistan: Where the sword is mightier than the pen…
- 04/22/14--06:31: A social pariah even in Maryland – all because I am Shia
- 05/25/14--00:00: Copy culture: Degree holders who can’t read or write
- 06/19/14--05:49: Will Zarb-e-Azb bring peace to Pakistan?
- 06/20/14--05:22: Don’t ignore your IDPs, Pakistan!
- 06/24/14--02:48: I am from FATA and, today, I don’t feel Pakistani at all
- 08/04/14--05:52: Has Imran Khan brought about any ‘tabdeeli’ in K-P?
- 08/11/14--12:01: Of self-exiled Canadians and ‘peaceful’ revolutions
- 08/29/14--06:48: Is Imran Khan being ‘democratically correct’?
- 08/31/14--00:00: FCR: Man playing god with the people of Fata
- 09/26/14--07:00: In reality Mr Khan, no you Khan’t
- 11/22/14--23:00: Chagharzai and other valleys: An epiphany in itself
On October 24, 2013 when I saw polio teams entering my colony – Musharraf Colony in Hayatabad – it was the first time I knew what they had come for. They had come to save lives. I ran home to tell my mother to get my little sister vaccinated. Polio – the villain It was only the night before that I had been peeping into one of the community halls where the elderly, adults and children from the colony had gathered because we were told that some goras (foreigners) were coming to deliver a talk. I had seen one of these lectures before but this time it was the sound of laughter that attracted my friends and me to the side where the event was. It seemed to be a play. We could see three men inside. One of them had a thick black moustache and was wearing a turban. He looked like a very intelligent man. Another one held a register in his hand and was being referred to as the accountant and the third man kept running around on the stage – he was the ‘worker’. Just like my father, the worker in the story is the only bread-winner of the family and his ambition is to give his family a healthy life and good education to his children. But in the story the worker was creating a hue and cry because his younger son had been crippled due to polio. I turned to my friend, Shakir and asked, “Who is polio?” “It is the villain!” he exclaimed. Shakir was my best friend whom I played with all day after school. From his description of polio, I could only imagine a really evil-looking man with a knife or a gun in his hand holding it to the child’s leg to hurt him. But I kept thinking why the child’s father had not tried to stop the ugly villain and help his child. I was sad to think that this child was now crippled for life and he would never be able to play and run like us. I went back home feeling sorry for the boy and cursing polio for the harm that it had done to the boy. I thought to myself that I would have fought back had Polio attacked me. I would have punched him right in the face and killed him. Polio - the disease Over dinner my father inquired about my sad face and my mother replied that I had learnt from someone that an ugly man called Polio had hurt a boy and that the boy was now crippled for life. My father looked at us and laughed. I thought that it was insensitive of him to laugh when the matter under discussion was so serious. He went on to say, “Polio is a disease. Do you know that this disease attacks your nervous system? It is caused by an unhygienic and unsanitary environment and can cause disability for life. But you are right Saleem, it is like an ugly-looking villain.” He smiled at me and continued, “The theatre was arranged by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) team. ILO is a body working for labour rights and the promotion of occupational safety and health programmes. They target prevention from communicable diseases and other occupational hazards that can cause health-related problems.” He then turned to my mother and told her that she should always clean her hands before cooking or even when handling my younger sister Aasia. He explained that polio attacked children up to the age of five years and until that age a child must have a dose of two drops of polio vaccine during each polio drive. My father told us that he was going to visit our neighbours the next day to explain to them the consequences of not getting their children vaccinated from this incapacitating disease. He further explained that he, along with other workers from Hayatabad, had voluntarily committed themselves to help the health teams, World Health Organisation (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and ILO, in order to promote a healthier Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). He said that they would go door-to-door to spread the message and make sure that all parents were made aware of the ugly villain that polio is and the harm that it could bring to their children. He went onto say that unless we change our own attitudes we would never be able to work towards a healthy and progressive household and community. I was jubilant to hear all this information and more so, at the efforts that my own father was taking to stop this disease. I said excitedly, “I will come along with you father and help promote this message!” International Labour Organisation’s Occupational Safety and Health programme ILO’s Occupational Safety and Health Programme (OSH) at the workplace engages trade unions and employers and through them, workers and communities in formal and informal situations. ILO mobilises them to raise awareness on prevention of communicable diseases such as polio, HIV and AIDS, and helps to create a responsible attitude in households, at the community level and amongst employers to participate in the elimination of this endemic from Pakistan. Through the OSH programme, ILO has engaged the Department of Labour (K-P) and the Employee’s Social Security Institute (ESSI) in the social and vocational rehabilitation of people who are affected by polio and have different abilities. Convention 159 of the ILO promotes the mainstreaming of persons with disabilities through vocational rehabilitation. Recently, the Minister for Special Education, Social Welfare and Women Development in K-P, Professor Mehr Taj Roghani has announced several initiatives to contribute to the efforts of polio elimination in the province. The ministry is working towards improvement of policy and programmatic interventions through legislative and infrastructural reforms. Moreover the ministry has recognised the need to implement the two percent quota for employment of persons with disabilities. While the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government in K-P has taken these measures, the PTI leader, Imran Khan has also condemned the threat to the lives of health workers and polio immunisation teams in the field. Imran Khan’s tireless efforts to make Shaukat Khanam a state-of-the-art facility for cancer eradication has paid off and millions of lives are saved every year. The success of Shaukat Khanam is indeed an encouraging achievement; however, polio eradication requires a much more collaborative effort. If Imran can engage religious icons and other influential leaders by winning their support, this drive might actually lead to fruitful results. The implementation of the vocational rehabilitation convention of the ILO C159, ratified by Pakistan, is in question. However, the fact remains that it will be the efforts of our leaders, individuals, households and communities that can help bridge this gap and one day allow Pakistan to be a polio-free country.
Imran Khan on polio (AFP)
“Khandani Badmaash, Bewaqoof, Sharabi, Wehshi Badmaash, Ujrati, Charsi, Dama, Mastay Jenakai, Gandagir!”No, I am not abusing you. I am only naming a few of the famous films Pashto cinema has produced over the year. What is even more astonishing is that Pashtuns are known for their distinct code of conduct called the Pakhtunwali, which is quite different from what these movies depict. The Pashtun culture is an amalgamation of different elements which include the family structure or joint family system, the melmastia or hospitality, the jirga or tribal council which makes all important decisions, ghairat or the concepts of honour and courage and the satar or area of the body that can be uncovered only in the presence of the spouse. Pashtuns have their own language – Pashto – which is spoken in a number of dialects. They have distinct dresses, colourful music and a form of group dance known as the Attan. Pashtuns take a lot of pride in their culture and boast about the elements which make them distinct from all other nations and ethnic groups. It is true that awareness and modernity is leading to immense progress and development in the Pashtun mindset, particularly in empowering women to be educated, active and become a productive part of society. Modernity has however had an unnatural impact on Pashtun cinema. Pashto dramas and movies now pose a challenge to cultural norms and values in a way that is not only unacceptable but also downright shameful. Almost all of these dramas and movies revolve around a hero and the woman he loves. He fights for her against all odds, by firing a Kalashnikov in rooms, from balconies, or by yelling from the top of mountains, while the heroine sneaks out of her house at intervals and dances around. [embed width="620"]http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x138qq4_jahangir-khan-new-pashto-film-loafar-2013-trailer_shortfilms[/embed] These 'dances' seem to be no-to-subtle reminders of what the hero is actually struggling for. Meanwhile, the plot is embellished with suggestive and indecent dialogue from the crudest elements of the Pashto language. We see couples making love in the middle of fields or dancing among the cattle. We see mujras as commonplace, where the old and young alike indulge in drinking. Anyone who lives in, or has at least gotten a chance to visit Attock, would be well aware that the Pashtun lifestyle does not accommodate such fantasy depictions of love and bravery. What is shown in these dramas and movies does not happen in real life, but watching such movies (and some dramas) leaves the audience spellbound and they begin to mistake fantasy for reality. Youngsters are influenced the most, impacting their ability to differentiate between right and wrong, good and bad. Inevitably, they develop bad habits such as smoking, drinking and frequenting dodgy places. For one, these dramas and movies expose our youngsters to extreme violence, aggression and flamboyant use of weapons, leaving them confused about whether to despise them or want them. Over time, these youngsters find a cure to all their troubles by using weapons rather than solving issues through peaceful negotiations. Exposure to the more violent elements of such content might even encourage terrorism, given how violence is idealised in the films. However, what disturbs me the most is that such movies depict all women as mere objects, existing only for the pleasure of men. Women are shown as possessing low moral character and being promiscuous, putting the very idea of respecting women at stake. [embed width="620"]http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x160fjn_%D8%BA%DB%8C%D8%B1%D8%AA-7_music[/embed] Both these depictions are unacceptable in any decent society. While such films could simply be looked down upon and ignored if it was just one segment of a diverse film industry, the truth is that this narrative is the only one that is being churned out again and again and again. Such a negative and false depiction of men and women raises fears among the families of girls who are struggling for their rights and status in an already conservative Pashtun society. Although the aware and educated class of society has raised this issue several times and asked the concerned authorities to take steps to ban such movies, little has actually been done to curb the menace. It is about time we recognise and address this matter collectively, before this social disease becomes incurable.
A couple of deadly bomb blasts in Volgograd in two days killing 30, coupled with disastrous floods in Far Eastern Russia were enough for the Russian President Vladimir Putin to change his years-old ritual of addressing the nation on New Year’s Eve from the Kremlin. For us Pakistanis, such events have become so common that even a series of blasts on festivals such as Eid may hardly affect our routine - as long as we don’t suffer directly. But for Russia, these events, especially the blasts, are national tragedies. Timing of the Volgograd bombings Russia is nearly a month away from holding the much awaited Winter Olympics in Sochi – a city close to the conflict-infested Caucasus region. But was the attack at this critical juncture a mere coincidence? It doesn’t look like it. Dokka Umarov, the Russian equivalent of some of the top terrorists of Pakistan and nicknamed 'Russia's Bin Laden', seems to have orchestrated the blasts – though no one, till date, has claimed responsibility. Umarov had already warned of attacking civilians in the wake of the Olympics, which according to him are being "held over the bones of innocent Muslims". He is also the self-proclaimed Emir of the Emirate of Caucasus (Imarat Kavkaz - IK), and vows to liberate the region from Russian oppression. Why did a couple of blasts shake Russia? Afer the infamous 1980 Olympics were boycotted by more than 60 states over the Soviet Afghan invasion, the Winter Olympics could help Russia improve its international image - this is an important event. Putin and his government have already come under the scanner for their controversial gay rights laws, possibly resulting in boycotts by a number of homosexual athletes. At this juncture, Russia can barely afford a slip up, and thus the Volgograd incident naturally raises a lot of questions. What are the options? The Russian Caucasus, especially Dagestan region, has a lot of similarities to Pakistan’s Waziristan. From people’s grievances against the state, to its treacherous terrains, the region has never been completely under Moscow’s authority. Russian security forces have conducted operations against the rebels in the region for more than two decades, but would Putin be willing to use the iron fist this time around? To me, that seems highly unlikely. Putin would be the last person wanting to expose Russia as a police state shortly before an international event. Furthermore, any use of force could invite an extreme reaction from the rebels and terrorists, probably resulting in further civilian causalities and raising question marks over hosting the Olympics. What next? Scores of Chechen fighters returning from Syria - alongside the Free Syrian Army and al Qaeda - are now hardened and trained warriors, creating a potential security dilemma for Moscow. Considering Russia’s unconditional support for the Syrian regime, returning recruits may automatically deem the government a potential target. But one fact, in my opinion, that shouldn’t be ignored is that in July last year, Russia successfully organised the University Games in Kazan without a hitch. Despite having major threats from the same groups, security arrangements proved that the government had an upper hand over the terrorists. After all, Putin, being an ex KGB man, knows his country’s security situation inside out. If he is successful in pulling off the Winter Olympics, he could do a lot of good to himself and to the image of his country. But if Putin fails, his leadership and prolonged reign in power could seriously be questioned by his own people.
This blog post is perhaps more directed towards the voters and members of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), than to anyone else. It is written for those who do not see banned militant outfits as legitimate threats to Pakistan. This is for all those people who have been led by their leaders to believe that certain terrorists were previously die-hard patriots. For all those who fail to read between the lines and do not realise how their leaders have, on every occasion, very cleverly manipulated their statements and, in doing so, guided the people towards ignorance. All those who believe that Shias and Sunnis are both being hunted down in the same manner and fashion. All those who refuse to acknowledge that terrorist organisations are not only engaging in an armed conflict but also polarising the society through their literature, sermons and fatwas (decree). All those people who believe that drones are the ultimate and the only reason for terrorism in Pakistan and if somehow we shoot one down or stop the USA from sending anymore, then the militants will go back to being the good Samaritans they always were. Their leaders will be seen either submitting their CV’s for government jobs based on ‘educational qualifications’ or perhaps running a small general store selling perishables in Dera Adam Khel. Such ideas only constitute wishful thinking – nothing more. A little review of the numbers here is necessary. Drone strikes in Pakistan began in 2004. In 2003, 140 civilians and 24 security personnel were killed by terrorists. In 2004, four civilians were killed by one drone strike, whereas around 435 civilians and 184 security personnel were killed by terrorists, in the same year. Similarly drone strikes in 2005, 2006 and 2007 altogether claimed a total of 115 civilian casualties. The same three years saw 2,560 civilians and 1003 security personnel killed by terrorists. This is just an introduction as to how irrational the correlation between drone strikes and terrorism is. This is in no way a sign of support for drone strikes but just a plea to not to confuse the two differing issues. Then 2014 started with a bang. A bang in Hangu and a bang in Karachi, and once again Ali Azmat’s song ‘bomb phatta’ challenges ‘Pak sar zameen’ for the spot of the national anthem. The blast in Karachi took the life of ace cop Chaudhry Aslam and the responsibility has been accepted by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). However, it is not alleged that they are responsible. They have written a page long letter expressing their happiness and contentment on having killed Chaudhry Aslam. Representatives of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the PTI all released statements, sending their condolences to Chaudhary Aslam’s family. However, where PPP and MQM, in their statements, held the TTP responsible, PTI deliberately chose to remain silent on who killed Chaudhary Aslam. My question is, why? How can our leaders express sincere grief on someone’s demise if they cannot even show sincere condemnation? How do our leaders claim to respect our heroes if they do not demand action against those who killed them? How do our leaders promise to solve our problems if they do not even identify them? That blast in Hangu took the life of one 14-year-old boy Aitzaz Hussain. Aitzaz was standing outside his school with two other friends when the suicide bomber approached. What he did to save his school and the courageous feats with which he sacrificed his life have few parallels. However, what people have failed to realise is the potential graveness of this situation. The school had around 2,000 students inside. The specific area in Hangu, Ibrahimzai, where this school was located, is a Shia majority area. This is not a mere coincidence. Since it was a school, it is safe to assume that majority of those 2,000 students were under 18 years of age. Had Aitizaz not stopped the bomber at the gates, can we even begin to imagine how many parents would have been first seen trying to identify the bodies of their children in hospitals and then queuing up for their burials? Perhaps Aitizaz, in that moment when his two friends ran inside on seeing the bomber, realised the gravity of the situation and stood his ground. Since Hangu is in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), I am very much sure that Aitzaz knew about the PTI. Let us assume that he also knew about PTI’s stance on terrorist organisations i.e. we should negotiate with them. So in that situation, Aitizaz should have perhaps offered tea to the bomber, asked him to sit down and reason out as to why does he wants to blow up children, based on their belief system. Perhaps after a cup of hot tea and a few cookies later, the bomber would have realised what a grave mistake he was making. And Aitizaz, in turn, would have proved to us what a great success PTI’s policy is. However, that 14-year-old kid knew what he had to do to save the lives of his classmates. He knew that tea, cookies and a handshake were not going to stop the bomber from blowing himself up. He believed in something more than the nonsense being fed to us by our leaders. I am yet to see a public statement from any party, including the MQM and PPP, which calls for action against the LEJ while praising the sacrifice of Aitzaz Hussain. Our nation does not deserve sons like Chaudhary Aslam, Major General Niazi and Aitizaz, when we do not have the courage to look in the eyes of their killers and say,
“We will not forget and we will not forgive.”Brave men, either in uniforms of the police, the army or the school, are laying down their lives, not realising that the leaders of this country are making sure that their sacrifice goes in vain. The 14-year-old Aitizaz had more guts and courage then our elected representatives. He faced danger like a true patriot and knew the real price we have to pay for the freedom to live in peace. Tweeting and releasing press statements condemning Aitizaz’s death, while not identifying his killers at the same time, is nothing but naked hypocrisy. I hope our leaders don’t fall any lower in the months to come this year.
Hooray! The Balochistan Assembly finally enacted the Balochistan Protection and Promotion of Breastfeeding and Child Nutrition Bill 2014 on January 18, 2014. This is truly a progressive step towards a healthier province and a healthier Pakistan. However, the real test for the provincial government will be to effectively implement this bill, in letter and in spirit. I say this because, even though the Protection of Breastfeeding and Young Child Nutrition Ordinance 2002 is very much present on the statute books since its approval, its implementation continues to remain a distant dream. As most of us know, Pakistan is not on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goal 4 (MDG 4) targeted to reduce under-five mortality rate by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015. We know that only around 700 days are left to achieve our target and the situation does not look pretty so far. Countries like Bangladesh and Nepal are on track to achieve the MDG 4. Remember that, in 1990, Pakistan’s under-five mortality rate was 138 per 1000 live births as compared to those of Bangladesh (139 per 1000 live births) and Nepal (135 per 1000 live births). However, over the past two decades, there has been remarkable change. Bangladesh was able to lower its under-five mortality rate to 41 and Nepal to 42, which puts them well on track to meet their MDG 4 targets for 2015; whereas Pakistan is still struggling at 86 per 1000 live births. With the world’s highest national number of newborn deaths (194,000 in 2010), the neonatal mortality declined by only 0.9% per annum between 2000 and 2010 in Pakistan – less than the global average (2.1%) and less than the national maternal and child mortality declines. A major source of killer diseases amongst Pakistani children is the lack of exclusive breastfeeding and the use of unhygienic bottles, formula milk and teats. Pakistan has failed to achieve any significant progress in increasing exclusive breastfeeding for six-month-old infants in the last decade. According to WHO’s definition,
“Exclusive Breastfeeding is defined as only breastfeeding and no additional food, water or other fluids for the first six months of life.”Only 38% of infants (under six months) in Pakistan were exclusively breastfed, according to the preliminary findings of the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (PDHS) 2012-13. This is indicative of the fact that there is hardly any improvement since PDHS 2006-07, when the exclusive breastfeeding for six months was 37%. The PDHS 2012-13 findings also show increase in bottle feeding rates in Pakistan. On the contrary, in Bangladesh, the rate of exclusive breastfeeding for six months is 64% while in Nepal it is 70%. Bangladesh was able to increase the rates from 43% in 2007 to 64% in 2012 by commitment at all levels. This was also possible because of the active involvement of the civil society and media in the campaigns for the promotion and protection of breastfeeding. Breast milk is a powerful intervention which can significantly reduce infant mortality. Save the Children’s Super Food for babies report refers to breastfeeding as the closest thing to a ‘silver bullet’ in the fight against malnutrition and newborn deaths. This is apparent from the fact that an estimated 22% of newborn deaths could be prevented if breastfeeding started within the first hour after birth.
“Babies who are not exclusively breastfed in the first six months are at 14 times higher risk of dying than exclusively breastfed infants” said renowned paediatrician and president of the Advocacy and Advisory Network on Newborn (AANN), Dr Tabish Hazir, during an event.He further stated that Pakistan has the highest bottle feeding rates in South Asia which calls for the strict implementation of the breastfeeding and marketing code, capacity building of the healthcare providers at all levels for improved breastfeeding counselling skills and revision of undergraduate curriculum with greater emphasis on good infant feeding practices, including exclusive breastfeeding. Research shows that early initiation of breastfeeding benefits the immunity of a baby, reduces the risk of neonatal sepsis and respiratory infections, and is also associated with higher rates of breastfeeding and lower rates of diarrhea throughout the first six months of life. According to a new study in Greece, children who were breastfed for more than six months scored the highest on cognitive, language and motor development tests as toddlers. According to the findings of a qualitative assessment done to explore factors responsible for the violation of the health codes in Pakistan, many healthcare providers are unaware of laws related to the protection of breastfeeding. To be able to witness in our lifetime that no child will be born to die from a preventable disease, it is imperative to put breastfeeding at the centre of our efforts. This means not only the involvement of the government and the health system, but also of the media and the community. Steps to eradicate major barriers such as community and cultural pressures; the shortage of frontline health workers; lack of maternity legislation and inappropriate promotion of breast-milk substitutes are also important to ensure that every infant receives the life-saving protection that breastfeeding can offer. Similarly, the breast milk substitutes producing companies should abide by the health codes and dedicate one third of all packaging to a warning label stating that formula is inferior to breast milk. This has also been made mandatory under the Protection of Breastfeeding legislation in Pakistan. The Sindh Protection and Promotion of Breastfeeding and Child Nutrition Act 2013 has made it mandatory for the companies to include a warning in Urdu and Sindhi languages that the formula is inferior to breast milk. An Infant Feeding Board has been notified at the federal level to monitor the implementation of the federal law. Punjab requires to effectively implement the Punjab Protection of Breastfeeding and Young Child Nutrition (Amendment) Act 2012 while Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has committed at the highest level that soon it will also enact a legislation for the protection and promotion of breastfeeding. In terms of laws and legislations, Pakistan seems to be developing. However, when it comes to the implementation of these laws, we see very little progress. It is time that we focus on our health system and help our infants live longer, healthier and more sustained lives.
A few days ago when I was going home, I received a text message from Abdullah Khan, a journalist working in Kohat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). It said that three primary school teachers had been killed in Kach Bandha, Hangu in a drive-by shooting. I immediately called him to confirm the news. I felt goose bumps as he told me that three teachers – Muhammad Khan, Syed Khalil and Faqir Hussain – had been killed and two of them had been targeted because of their sectarian affiliation. These teachers had left their homes in the morning with prayers from their families and were killed that same afternoon because they didn’t belong to the same sect as the killers. We can’t even imagine the pain and grief their families must be going through. Mr Azmat, president of the Teachers Muttaheda Ittehad, said these teachers had submitted an application to the education department with a request to relocate them to a settled area after receiving threats. But the education department had shown their usual laziness and had not done anything in this regard. I tried to contact the executive district officer education (EDO) to get their point of view but their clerks would not let me through to the right person. The police department denied any earlier application from these teachers about receiving such threats. Would they be alive today if the education department had shown some concern over the threats they had been receiving from the terrorists? I think, as I’m sure many others do, that teachers are the most important part of our society because they give us knowledge that our parents can’t give us at home. They build our personality and give us confidence to face life. They invest their efforts into recognising our talent and help us polish it so that we can make a better life for ourselves. When I look back at my academic career a number of names come to mind. But the one name that stands out is Mrs Naheed Khalid’s – my primary school teacher. She never discouraged any girl in our class, never singled out any girl or pointed fingers at anyone if anything went wrong. She encouraged us to take part in extracurricular activities and invested all her knowledge in us, despite the fact that we belonged to different sects or religions. Back then, we didn’t even know there were different sects – Shia, Sunni, Barelvi, Ahmadi, Deobandi, Christian or Hindu. In fact, we didn’t even know what a ‘sect’ was. Then, thanks to General Ziaul Haq’s policy on division of sects, I understood the so-called differences between diverse sectarian affiliations during my college years. However, fortunately we had teachers from all sects in my college and they were as kind to all students as my childhood teachers had been. They were always there to help us regardless of their personal beliefs. My two years at university were also the same – different people with different beliefs – but that did not come in the way of education. The point I’m trying to make is that a teacher is just a teacher. Their objective is to teach students and their aim is to see them getting the education they deserve in order to become good citizens of our country. Teachers don’t teach children on the basis of their beliefs; they treat them equally. Pakistan is already facing a myriad of problems – terrorism, target killings, regional and religious conflicts, a sinking economy, high poverty rate, unemployment – and well, the list goes on. If these target killings of teachers continue, we will never able to stand united and fight the external powers or even see our country on its way to becoming a developed one in the near future. I am worried about our coming generation’s future. Who will teach them? Will they be able to find the kind of teachers that I had? How can we let these hideous butchers play with our country and the fate of our children? Are we just going to sit back and watch this on-going bloody war or are we going to get our act together and stop it? How many more lives do we need to lose for our government to take notice and take action? I fear that by the time we even figure these questions out, let alone find answers for them, somewhere someone will be shot for believing in something the trigger-happy person didn’t believe in.
While the world develops sports through long term planning and investment, in Pakistan, it is still stuck within an outdated system – a system where everything is done to boost the government’s reputation, much like a communist state. This system has become more evident nowadays, with provincial governments taking it to next level to prop up their image and use sports as a propaganda tool. Sport, like many other important issues of this country – health and education, for instance – have been made provincial subjects under the landmark 18th Amendment. Since then onwards, sports has seen a steady decline at national level in the funds being provided to this field. Provincial governments, however, have realised how to use this deprivation to their advantage. Youth festivals or sports festivals (whatever you want to call it) were something that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government introduced in its final year in office between 2012 and 2013, during the Pakistan Peoples Party’s era. The PML-N must have seen this event take place across the border, initiated by Indian Punjab chief minister, Parkash Singh Badal’s government. Just like the laptop scheme of Tamil Nadu’s Jayalalita’s government was adopted by the Punjab government, sports ideas were also quickly taken up and used to give the youth an avenue to express themselves. This step is not something that I agree with because when a country lacks even the most basic of sports infrastructure, with no proper management or professionalism, such events amount to nothing much. What today’s Pakistani sports don’t lack, however, are the Babus (representatives) who are willing to appease their rulers or political leaders by encouraging such useless gimmicks. Whilst Sukhbir Singh Badal, son of CM Punjab (India), has taken keen interest to develop sports infrastructure throughout Punjab and is bringing international sports to the state, in Pakistan’s side of Punjab, sadly, the situation is totally opposite. One wonders how many stadiums were constructed or inaugurated by the provincial government in Punjab. Tens of millions of rupees have been spent on records and events that you won’t even class as sport. And now this trend has been taken up by other provinces and, unfortunately, they aren’t doing anything better with it either. The Sindh festival was a much talked-about event; although it focused primarily on cultural and musical events – and drew a lot criticism for that – there was also a low key sports aspect to it. It is safe to say that while the Punjab government aims to get its mileage through sports, Sindh event didn’t even make an attempt for it. Their induction and portrayal of sports at the festival was just a formality and nothing more. Following Sindh was the Balochistan government, which had its own version of a sports festival. The festival was a very short one, amongst other things. However, you have to cut some slack for the Balochistan government, given they are in power for the first time and the province has safety issues with a dismal lack of infrastructure, as compared to the aforementioned two provinces. If sport can be used as a tool for peace in Balochistan, then it should be given extra attention but it has to be done properly – not just as a gimmick to please the authorities. Sindh and Punjab have seen the same parties in and out of power over the decades, and these parties have done very little to show for in terms of sports infrastructure or any concrete steps for sports development. After seeing the so-called ‘populist’ festivals and the criticism they drew from the new entrants, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). I was surprised to see an advertisement about a youth sports festival being publicised through social media and other broadcast channels by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) government. So a party, that had been criticising youth festivals and the expenses incurred by them everywhere, goes on and does the exact same thing, and introduces another futile sports festival? Whatever intentions the K-P government may have had about this festival – which they claim are different from what the other provincial governments did – it is not going to solve anything. These sports festivals aren’t catering to the challenges faced by Pakistan’s sports sections at grassroots and professional levels. There is a need for each province to develop a sports policy and implement it with the same level of zeal as shown for these sports festivals. This may not get these governments their instant fame or sparkling headlines but, in five to ten years, one will see things improving. The need to invest in stadiums, playing fields and school sports is crucial for Pakistan to progress and win new trophies for the country. Depending upon past laurels need to stop. However, one can’t hope for much from these parties because many politicians are currently heading a number of sports bodies at national and provincial levels with nothing substantial done so far – yet they continue to rule and enjoy the perks. So perhaps the first thing these political parties should do is to hold their own leaders accountable for their miserable performances with sports organisations. The second thing they should work upon is to reform sports bodies and introduce sports with proper coaching as part of every school’s curriculum. Some of Pakistan’s major cities don’t even have sports stadiums – and no, I am not talking about your usual cricket stadiums – where football, hockey, athletics and others sports can be played. Therefore, investments in such projects should be done, which will not only increase the status of sports in the country but would also benefit the governments – these projects can be useful as publicity stunts, just like other development projects are for the government. Sport is a business and it’s about time Pakistanis realised this because there is nobody more enterprising than them.
Recently, a charity organisation in the UK by the name of Reprieve, along with the Foundation for Fundamental Rights (FFR), helped a group of artists install a giant portrait of a child victim of a US drone strike in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), using French artist JR’s ‘Inside Out’ movement. Since humans seem like ‘bugs’ when viewed by drone operators, and like bugs, they are mercilessly crushed by drone strikes, the idea behind this initiative labelled ‘Not a Bug Splat’ was that it would arouse empathy and humanity in drone operators when they spot the face of a child. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Source: NotABugSplat[/caption] It is quite heart-rending that a massive portrait of a victim had to be brought to their attention to make them realise the horrific and senseless suffering that drone strikes bring. Despite resolutions condemning strikes in Pakistan’s Parliament, a United Nations (UN) resolution against drone campaigns and the European Parliament condemning them, they continue to hover in our skies above the tribal areas. The fact that they haven’t struck in a hundred days appeases me little, given the fact that to date there have been more than 300 strikes, killing more than 3,500 people – a significant 200 of these being children. Families of drone strike victims narrate horrible tales of drones killing their families and livestock and causing untold suffering. They say that even when drones don’t kill, they hover in the sky 24 hours a day, seven days a week, causing fear, anguish, psychological trauma and bringing all human activities to a complete halt. Most of the time, people get the bodies of their loved ones in pieces. They cannot even gather in groups as this attracts drone missiles. This is why funerals are also targeted; thus, denying people the right to live and die in peace. Sometimes, young children play with missile shrapnel scattered in fields not knowing in their innocence that the same missile had killed one or both of their parents. For them, the words ‘terrorist’, ‘militant’ and ‘war on terror’ may be alien for now but the reality of losing their parents may be all too familiar. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Source: NotABugSplat[/caption] In ‘secondary strikes’ – a tactic that strikes multiple targets in quick succession, not only civilians but innocent Samaritans attempting to rescue those very civilians get killed as well. Even when children survive these attacks, they often end up getting wounded and losing their limbs. Many have vivid nightmares and noble ideas about growing up to fight for their country. When I talk to drone attack survivors, I find them to be better human beings than you and I could ever hope to be. Yet, they are reduced to no more than bugs within the blurry visions of the predator drones.
“Did we just kill a kid?”These six words ended drone operator Brandon Bryant’s career a few years ago when he pushed a button and killed a child 6,250 miles away in Afghanistan. The greater tragedy than an innocent child dying in a war is perhaps the irony that even then, hats off to drone technology, they were confused as to whether they had killed a child or a dog. Perhaps, the giant poster of a drone strike victim staring up at the sky was much needed in a world which is still blind to the sufferings of the bugs splattered.
“How was your weekend?” a colleague asked me. “Terrible.” I answered. “Oh! Why so?” he inquired.I was sad and nostalgic. I told him that on Friday evening, I had received a message on Skype which said that the late Arif Shafi would have turned 38-years-old and that was when my mood had changed and become so gloomy. Confused, my colleague asked,
“But who was Arif Shafi?”I didn’t know how to answer him. The fact is that I had never known Shafi personally. He and I had exchanged a few emails two years back while he was working on a feature story on the threats that journalists face in Pakistan. During our correspondence, I found him to be inquisitive and ambitious with a genuine drive to dig out facts – allthe qualities of a good journalist. However, life never really works out the way we plan, does it? Some time after our initial correspondence, fate struck its deadly blow and the 37-year-old Shafi lost his life in a bomb blast at University Road in Peshawar on April 29, 2013. No one knows who was responsible for the bomb blast that killed Shafi and injured several others. According to investigations, the bomb was attached to a motorcycle. The news of his death came only two weeks after another journalist, Tariq Aslam, was killed in a suicide attack at a political party’s election rally in Peshawar on April 16, 2013. Peshawar was once the headquarters for Afghan and Arab Jihadists and now it serves as a haven for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Hence, it is safe to assume that the city’s conditions have always been volatile and these attacks, though tragic, weren’t completely unprecedented. Nonetheless, Tariq Aslam wasn’t the first journalist to lose his life in Pakistan and unfortunately, Arif Shafi won’t be the last either. Journalists have been living under life-threatening conditions for a long time. In June 2011, amongst the 36 people who died in a suicide bombing at Khyber Supermarket in Peshawar, two were journalists. Asfandyar Khan, who worked for an Urdu newspaper and Shafiullah, a young graduate who had only recently joined an English daily at its Peshawar office as a trainee reporter, were both casualties in an attack that was not meant to target them. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The attack was well-coordinated since the perpetrators used twin blasts – the first was a cracker bomb which exploded near the market so that people would gather around the site and the second was a suicide bombing that happened minutes later while the crowd was busy helping those who were injured in the first attack. Lives of so many innocent people were lost that day. While the three ill-fated journalists – Arif Shafi, Asfandyar Khan and Shafiullah – were not the direct targets of the attacks that took their lives, there have been several instances where journalists have been directly targeted. They have been threatened, beaten up and killed both, in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). Tribal journalist Nasrullah Afridi, with whom I have filed several stories on the Khyber Agency, was killed in a car bombing on May 10, 2011. His car was parked in the same Khyber Supermarket area and the bomb went off as soon as Afridi ignited the engine. Khyber Supermarket is usually frequented by media persons and students alike. It is located in the city’s cantonment area, which houses several offices of private newspapers and television channels. Thus, the market can be a key location for anyone who wishes to attack journalists. Like many such cases, Afridi’s murder has also become a story of the past. As is done, his death was followed by a few protests from the journalist community across Pakistan, some statements condemning the attack by media organisations, rallies by the civil society with words of sympathy to the families and hollow rhetoric of justice by the government. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Pakistan is high on the list of countries declared ‘most dangerous’ for journalists. The figures circulated by the New York-based body suggest that 54 journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 1992. Most of the time, the motive behind the killing and the perpetrators of the attack are known. For example, an extremist group boldly claimed responsibility for bombing the Peshawar Press Club on December 22, 2009 which killed four people and injured several others along with spreading a wave of terror among many Peshawar-based journalists. The attack was a well-planned effort to target some key figures in the city’s journalist community as was mentioned in the claim made later by the extremist group. Another such attack, whose responsibility was openly claimed by the TTP, was when Voice of America’s Pashto-language radio correspondent, Mukarram Khan Atif, was killed on January 17, 2012. Atif hailed from the Mohmand Agency and I personally knew him to be a good person. He was at a mosque near his house to offer his evening prayer when he was shot dead. Later, one of his family members told me that Atif had been contributing a part of his monthly salary to reconstruct and renovate the very mosque where he was killed. The recent attacks on Express News were also the TTP’s doing and they warned the media group of more such attacks. In late March this year, prominent anchor, blogger and columnist Raza Rumi, was attacked in Lahore by ‘unknown’ assailants. Rumi was lucky enough to survive but his driver succumbed to injuries. Similarly, in early April, journalist Jamshed Baghwan, was attacked at his residence in Peshawar. The bureau chief of the Express News in Peshawar and a former colleague of mine, Baghwan told me that he has no feud with anyone. When I called him to express my sympathies, he said,
“My family and children are terrified.”Baghwan said that the government had offered to deploy police for his security but according to him, “How is it possible for a journalist to dispense his professional responsibilities while being accompanied by guards?” Unable to arrest and punish those involved in threatening and killing journalists, the provincial government in K-P is considering issuance of arms licenses to media persons. Is this a viable solution to face the threat? A majority of the community doesn’t thinks so. In an off-the-record conversation between one of my reporters and a government official, the official said that they are considering issuance of arms licenses to businessmen, traders and journalists According to the official, the business community in the province is ready to accept the arms license but journalists in Peshawar have rejected the proposal outright. Doctors in the province have already been allowed to carry arms by the provincial government. Mr Khalid Keshgi, former general secretary of the Khyber Union of Journalists (KhUJ) in Peshawar, who is currently on a visit to the US, said to me in a conversation on Skype,
“How can a journalist carry arms while rushing from place to place? We are not a party to whatever is going on in the country. We don’t know our enemy. Anyone can target a journalist very easily. Weapons may help to guard us from robbers and thieves but not from target killers and suicide bombers.”Kheshgi’s point is quite understandable. Arif Shafi, Nasrullah Afridi, Asfandyar Khan and Shafiullah would not have survived the attacks even if they had been armed. What the journalist community in FATA, Peshawar and the rest of Pakistan demands is legal protection. Wali Khan Babar, the Karachi-based journalist at a private television news channel, was the only one amongst 54 killed in Pakistan whose case was brought to justice and that too quite recently. However, the killers of Mukarram Khan Atif, Ibrahim Khan and the perpetrators of the Peshawar Press Club (PPC) bombing in 2009, who blatantly claimed responsibility for the attacks, have yet to be arrested and brought to justice. Alongside this, investigations into the killing of Waziristan-based journalists, Allah Noor and Amir Nawab Hayatullah Khan, Janullah Hashemzada, Musa Khan Khel, Saleem Shahzad and Malik Mumtaz have yet to be solved. However, to expect justice from a state and its security agencies whose own track record is questionable when it comes to dealing with journalists, particularly those reporting from FATA and parts of south-eastern Balochistan, is delusional thinking. As a reporter who has worked in both, Afghanistan and Pakistan and has extensively reported from FATA, I have seen several of my close colleagues getting killed and then forgotten in the flurry of the ‘breaking news’ culture of Pakistani media. But how can I turn my eyes away from that Skype message which asks me if I want to send a birthday wish to Arif Shafi, a promising journalist from my hometown? I’m sorry Shafi but I can’t send you a wish on your 38th birthday. I wish I could but I can’t – your murderers have made sure of that. But I promise that I will pray that your soul rests in peace. I will not let your legacy die; I will not let people forget you. Your murderers need to be brought to justice and until that happens, the journalist community will continue its silent struggle against oppression.
After almost two years, I returned to my old home town in Maryland. It was a small town and when I had lived there, nearly 40 Pakistani families resided in the area; most of them were from Punjab and a few were from Karachi. Many of these Pakistanis were physicians, pharmacists and businessmen. My husband was also a physician; hence we had anticipated many similarities within the neighbourhood. However, soon after we moved in, I realised how wrong we were. Even though I made a few good friends, I never felt wanted in the neighbourhood. The reason I left Maryland in the first place was the social isolation inflicted upon me by my fellow Pakistanis. In retrospect, I now understand that the reason I had became a social pariah, all those years back, was not because I didn’t fit in with their materialistic ideas or their hypocrisy, it was because I belonged to a different sect. Surprised to hear that such prejudices existed beyond the borders of Pakistan? Well, yes, they did. All the stereotypes of a particular Pakistani society were present in that small community in Maryland. I was the only Shiite Muslim amongst all of them and this, along with the fact that I saw their lust for materialism truly detestable, led to my isolation. For the women of that community, the size of one’s house and the number of branded clothes one wore were the criteria of friendship. I found this behaviour utterly revolting. Their beliefs and practises confused me and this isolation left me with no choice but to go back to school and pursue a Masters degree. Then, in 2010, I visited Pakistan and saw the miseries of the flood victims. This sight perturbed me and I decided to help out in any way that I can even upon my return to the US. I looked for different charity organisations and approached many people in Washington DC; after a while, I found an organisation suitable for me to work in. This US-based charity was organised by a few Pakistanis, from Karachi, and the organisation had some great projects running in Karachi, one being a school for children. They had other projects as well, established in Haiti, Uganda, Philippines and many other places around the globe. Hence, the reputation of the organisation merited trusted. I decided to work for the flood victims and launched some good projects under the charity’s banner. The director of the charity was politically active in Washington DC and his political affiliation made many people biased against the cause of my charity event. Instead of helping me raise money in Maryland for the flood-hit areas on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), Punjab and interior Sindh, people became suspicious of my intentions, as if I had some separate, Pakistani political agenda for which I was collecting their money. Suddenly, I was unwelcome in their parties and get-togethers. I was seen as someone who was affiliated to a political party and was there to spread propaganda in the Republican-dominated town. I received many emails that maligned the charity and spread rumours against it. Unfortunately, as a result, not many people supported my event, even though it was for helping Pakistanis who were in desperate need. Interestingly, the Indians and Sri Lankans of that town supported me more than my own people and I raised a handsome amount of money. Although their isolation made me a social worker, a blogger and a social media activist, I was gravely hurt by their lack of unity. True, their behaviour became a blessing in disguise for me, and I found a chance to explore myself and serve the people of Pakistan even though I was thousands of miles away. But what broke my heart was the prejudice of these people and their hatred. I think it was their materialism that made them so blind and they didn’t even think of what their own brothers and sisters were going through after the flood in Punjab. Fortunately, in 2012, I moved out of that town but one question still continues to nag at me wherever I go; will we, the Pakistanis, ever leave our political affiliations and ethnic prejudices behind and become one nation? Not yet... but I hope one day we can. Correction: An earlier version of this blog depicted Maryland as a town - the mistake has now been rectified and the error is regretted.
The youth, of any country, is always considered its greatest strength and an educated youth is an even stronger pillar for the state. However, these pillars cannot remain strong if young students start looking for shortcuts in their educational life. If such a situation does occur, a decline in a nation's progress will be the inevitable result. Sadly, this process of decline is already in motion in Pakistan. Cheating culture is increasingly prevalent in our education system and it has become a pervasive phenomenon over here. Despite high claims and solemn promises, respective authorities have failed to curb the rampant and blatant cheating culture that is thriving day by day. With the government’s sloppy arrangements and failed tactics, one cannot expect them to maintain a tight leash on this menace. Prior to the current examinations, Sindh Education Minister Nisar Khoro had made a statement that he wouldn’t let anyone cheat; as brief and unconvincing his statement was, the result of it was no different. Students blatantly ignored his warnings and used unfair means to excel during their examinations. This just further proves how exams have now become nothing but a total farce for these students. In Pakistan, the worst place affected by this curse is the province of Sindh. Where urban Sindh has been suffering at the hands of this menace for quite some time now, the educational standard of rural Sindh has also started diminishing slowly and gradually. It has recently been reported that matriculation students, in interior Sindh, could not even read Urdu and Sindhi text books; yet they managed to pass their primary classes and reach the final years of their matriculation. It makes one question how they managed to pass these classes considering, their lack of literacy. After assessing Pakistan’s literacy rate, it is perceived that Sindh is the most literate province in the country, beating the odds with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and Punjab. But the questions remain the same: does Sindh really impart higher quality education than the rest of the provinces or is it just a scam to show improved numbers? In our country, where the façade of fake degrees prevails, one must decide what they want more – abundant degree holders or qualified ones. Pakistan and its provinces [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="291"] Photo: Ammad Hafeez[/caption] According to the survey report of the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement, male literacy rate is 72 per cent while female literacy rate stands at 47 per cent. Also, it is seen that Punjab dominates the race when it comes to the female population, as Punjab’s female literacy rate is 51 per cent. Sindh's literacy rate [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Ammad Hafeez[/caption] Male literacy rate is 58 per cent in rural Sindh while female literacy rate is just 23 per cent. Regrettably, there are many reasons as to why such discrepancies exist. One major reason is feudalism, where females do not receive proper education due to prevalence of the wadera culture. Another aspect worth noticing is that most of the men in this 58 per cent bracket procure their degrees by cheating. Many a times, these individuals do not even bother to show up for their exams, yet they somehow magically pass and end up getting good marks. Rural Sindh's literacy rate [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Ammad Hafeez[/caption] If we observe the trend of male literacy in Punjab and K-P, we will see that the statistics of these two provinces dominate those of Sindh. If we evaluate the literacy rate of rural Sindh only, we will discover that Balochistan’s rate is far better, as the male literacy rate over there is 65 per cent while rural Sindh’s is 58 per cent. Balochistan and Sindh are equal when it comes to female literacy rates. This just reiterates that interior Sindh is infamous for fostering the copy culture massively. If we analyse the same situation via the political eye, a majority of the Sindh assembly members belong to rural Sindh; this perhaps answers why education is not given much preference. Urban Sindh's literacy rate [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Ammad Hafeez[/caption] Unfortunately, urban cities in Sindh are also facing similar problems during examinations as respective authorities have failed in attempting to restrain this copy culture. Here I would like to question our beloved democratic rulers that why have they not been able to control these evil malpractices? Aren’t politicians interested in eradicating copy culture? Instead of issuing empty statements, should they not take necessary steps to bring an end to this menace? We have witnessed some counteractive measures being taken by the media, higher authorities and law enforcing agencies in urban Sindh, but in rural Sindh, the situation is highly lamentable. Recruitment processes are conducted on favouritism instead of the candidate’s educational background. Such professional misconduct has ruined the scope of education in Sindh, especially in rural areas. Both, students and teachers, are benefiting from this corrupt culture and in the long run, we shall find this culture destroying our future generations and their prospects. Students don’t go to schools or colleges to study and teachers take full advantage of this. The outcome is that the majority of these graduates cannot even write their names correctly, especially students in rural Sindh. Even if they do end up with a job, it is usually based on favouritism and not on their educational merit. Last year, Pir Mazharul Haq, former education minister for Sindh, opposed setting up a public university in Hyderabad. This is the eminence of our democratic leaders; instead of doing their job, they help make the society even worse. Karachi’s leading political party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) should have also taken the responsibility of upholding urban Sindh’s education system and obliterating the cheating culture. I wish to see the day when our country will be known for its commendable education system and not for its tendency to find shortcuts. We will have to decimate this dishonourable culture very soon, otherwise there will be no hope for our future generations to have a brighter tomorrow. This post originally appeared here.
After much dillydallying, useless discussions and utterly unsuccessful peace talks, Pakistan has, finally, launched a “decisive” operation, code named Zarb-e-Azb, against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan in the North Waziristan Agency. The Pakistan Army claims that around 180 Taliban have been killed so far, with dozens other captured and their safe havens and ammunition depots taken out, in jet bombings and face-to-face skirmishes. All exit points from North Waziristan Agency have been cordoned off and the Taliban are not being given any opportunity to slip to adjacent areas and elude the fire. There is a growing impression that the Taliban have been cornered. However, the TTP disputes these claims. Through a telephone call to BBC Urdu Taliban spokesman, Shahidullah Shahid, claimed that so far they have lost just a few fighters and that civilians are being targeted in jet bombings. As usual, the main collateral damage in this operation is the local population. The Wazir and Dawar tribes of the North Waziristan Agency have been forced to move to adjoining agencies. So far, some 20,000 people have migrated to adjacent areas of Khost, Paktika and Paktiya provinces of Afghanistan where the Afghan government is reported to have allocated roughly 4.04 square kilometres of land for the tribesmen. Thousands other have migrated to nearby districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, like Bannu, Lakki Marwat and Karak. An approximate 0.6 million people are expected to become IDPs. Camps have been established for them in Bannu district. This time, the government has decided to give Rs7000 to each family, instead of providing them with relief goods. Like the Swat operation that took place in 2009, this operation is comprehensive, politically owned by the government and backed by all major political parties. Pakistanis have attached very high expectations to this operation and are hoping to achieve endurable peace as a result. This operation will definitely bring some positive changes, yes, but, I think it is unrealistic to hope for sustainable peace from an operation like this. Peace needs a lot more than just a military fight. Also, there are many reasons why this operation might not even be as successful as it is deemed to be. First of all, this operation was launched after much hue and cry, which might have hinted to the TTP that a storm is coming their way. It is not only understandable – it is highly probable – that the Taliban migrated to safer places in order to survive the operation. They had already claimed, a few days back, that they have displaced their assets. So, the probability of the army attacking a major portion of the TTP is very low. Even if they have not been allowed the opportunity to leave the agency, as claimed by the army, it is almost impossible to completely seal the harsh, hilly terrains in the areas, especially when there is a 2400-km-long, almost unmanned border with Afghanistan. In unconventional wars, such guerrillas don’t ingeniously dare to face an established army; they go underground and, later-on, connect with each other, re-establish communication lines and then start their activities again. In such operations, an established army is always expected to gain significant success – in terms of reclaiming lost territory, that is, in the very first few days of an operation. While this is, and should be seen as, a victory, militants usually wait for a period of relative calm to prevail so as to make the army feel like it has won and then strike back. This is what we witnessed in case of operations like Rah-e-Rast in Swat (2009) and Rah-e-Nijat in South Waziristan (2009). Recently, we heard that military personnel have been attacked in Swat and a curfew has been imposed in many districts there. And even after so many years, the Mehsud tribe of Swat have been unable to return to their homes. So, in my opinion, don’t pin your hopes on the initial success of the operation; it does not matter much. Irrespective of how successful this operation is, the major concern right now is to see how long the Taliban will be kept disbanded, how much time this operation will take, how many of them will be physically eliminated, whether their leaders will be taken out or not and, last but not least, for how long the IDPs will be required to remain in camps. These are very pressing questions that need to be answered. As far as the survival of the Taliban is concerned, that is inevitable. They will survive, don’t doubt that. The army is only targeting one agency, while they are very much at large in other agencies and the remaining parts of mainland Pakistan. Their leader Mullah Fazlullah and other senior commanders are allegedly living somewhere in Afghanistan, which means the current operation cannot completely root out terrorists from Pakistan, as we are asked to believe. The army, however, is cognisant of the different aspects of the Taliban’s survival strategies. In fact one of the main reasons for the delay, in the North Waziristan operation, was because the army believed that the Taliban could cross the Durand Line into Afghanistan; there, it was believed, they would be taken by other intelligence agencies and used against Pakistan. Pakistan is trying to deal with the Taliban within its territorial boundary. Mullah Fazlullah evaded the Swat operation, crossed into Afghanistan and, in later days, became an even greater leader. Pakistan alleges that he is facilitated by Afghan intelligence agency NDS (National Directorate of Security), though Afghans reject these allegations. If he manages to slip into Afghanistan once again, then it would mean that Pakistan will face even more ruthless terrorist attacks in the coming days. If the Taliban are not dealt with a fatal blow in the current operation, it will not take them more than two months to get back on their feet. In that case, it will become very difficult for Pakistan to eliminate them, as it is not easy to create such a favourable environment and render such sacrifices continuously. People will stop believing in the significance of a military operation. I consider this operation the last major operation against the Taliban. We do not have the resources or the money to conduct such an operation in the future; it is high time every Pakistani realises that they need to back the efforts of their soldiers today more than anything else. In this context, I believe that this operation is not going to come to an end soon. Government officials are pledging it will end before the month of Ramazan (which means before July). In all likelihood, this operation is going to be perpetuated and, in corollary, the IDPs will have to stay in camps. I fear it may take Wazirs and Dawars years to return to their homes, just like the Mehsuds. Aside from the above mentioned complexities, another major flaw in this operation is that, as usual, it is only against the bad Taliban, like the TTP and affiliated al Qaeda fighters; good Taliban, like the Haqqani Network and Gul Bahadar group are to be spared. Such a discriminatory approach to terrorism in itself perpetuates the problem. It halts the creation of counter narratives, confuses the masses and blurs the enemy. For endurable peace, Pakistan has to bring notable changes in its strategic calculus; it has to give up intentions of interference in its neighbouring countries. The Zarb-e-Azb operation may stop terror attacks from occurring in the major cities of the country but it cannot help in bringing peace to the ill-fated Pakhtun land, which has been experiencing ruthless terrorism for decades. Peace in the Pakhtun land should have been the priority of Islamabad but unfortunately, it is not so. Such discriminatory operations are seen by many as efforts to contain the terror within the conflict zone and acquire peace for the bigger cities in Pakistan only. This discrimination has to end if endurable peace is to be maintained. However, the above description does not mean that the Zarb-e-Azb operation will achieve nothing. It will disband the TTP for a few months, stop attacks in major cities and will bring down the otherwise increasing graph of kidnapping and extortion in K-P and FATA. It will also assuage the anger of all those families who have lost their loved ones in terrorist attacks. But it cannot bring long-lasting peace.
pak army soldiers AFP
The military operation in Swat five-years-ago led to the displacement of approximately two million Pakistanis, who had to abandon their homes, commodities and lives overnight to a bleak and uncertain future. Facing obscurity, these two million refugees trekked to safer locales with infants and elderly in tow. According to United Nations Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) statistics, released as of September 11, 2012, there were 160,063 families still resigned to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) status, of which 12% (18,783 families) were still residing in camps and 88% (141,280 families) were residing in host communities two years back. Though the World Food Programme (WFP) assisted 6,469 families to return to their homes, a substantial number were still stagnant in their national status as helpless IDPs, three years after the Swat operation. These numbers are frightening, especially now, after the launch of the military operation in North Waziristan, code named Zarb-e-Azb. Action against the Taliban is a welcome strategy, given the fear they have sowed within our citizenry in the past year. However, one cannot help but feel anxious about how the nation will address the daunting civic repercussions that lie ahead. If the past is to be our textbook, then we should pay heed to our lessons. This civil war will result in innocent bystanders left homeless and hapless; the government and citizenry must work to proactively pre-empt as much damage as we can. In a report published by the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, the stories of some displaced women from Upper Swat district were chronicled. Here are a few excerpts from the report. Rahmatun, 22, from Upper Swat Rahmatun’s husband returned from their village several weeks ago. He told her that there is shooting in their village and the curfew makes it too dangerous for him to go out to buy food.
“The militants will behead us if we peek our heads outside of the door – we cannot send our girls to school or anywhere with this being the case. They warned communities that if they fled during the fighting that would mean that they had sided with the government.”Sahib, 80, from near Mingora in Swat district 80-year-old Sahib, her daughter and granddaughter walked for two days and two nights to escape the fighting in Swat. For the last three months, they have been living in the empty home of a wealthy family in Swabi district, the relatives of a family friend in their home village. The entire family suffers from diarrhoea and skin rash scabies because of the intense heat and lack of mobility from living in purdah. Sahib said:
“I don’t know what will happen to us if we go back. I want to stay here – there are too many problems in Swat.”Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Chief Minister Pervez Khattak reported that some 70,000 IDPs have already been registered. So, as of right now, there are 70,000 Pakistanis who could end up sharing Sahib’s and Rahmatun’s fate. Steps to help the IDPs In somewhat surprising news, the government is reportedly not seeking out foreign aid. In light of all this, one hopes that our government made emergency relief and rehabilitation plans for those affected. Here are the three immediate concerns that we must address: 1. Short term, immediate relief will need to be provided in the form of food, shelter, clean water and emergency medical care. This includes preventing the outbreak of infectious diseases, which are at high risk in crowded and underfunded camps. To curb this, the government would have to make sure that the displaced people residing in camps and housing with host families have access to proper sanitation and safe drinking water so that no disease outbreaks within the crowded communities. It would be cheaper for the government to provide these basic amenities from the onset than try to cure massive outbreaks of diseases that would come out of neglect of the IDP’s living conditions. Perhaps, calling on policy-makers and emergency relief providers from UNICEF to create response centres will help prevent the outbreak of diseases, like tuberculosis and cholera, which have the potential to wreak great havoc on the physical well-being of the individuals, adding to their already dwindling mental health. 2. Effective security and internal border control frameworks must be set up to ensure no militants flee Waziristan, masquerading as innocent civilians, and then become harbingers of violence in other parts of the country. This situation, if not properly secured and pre-empted, can rapidly escalate, deteriorating, the already shattered, national security and jeopardising the army’s operation. 3. The long-term responsibilities are even more daunting and will require far-sighted politicians to envision radical rehabilitation policies that plan to reconstruct hometowns and infrastructure, which will inevitably be lost. In reports published a few days back, CM Khattak said,
“The provincial government had released Rs350 million for the new IDPs, the federal government Rs500 million and the Civil Secretariat, FATA Rs100 million.”A report published by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding in July, 2009, regarding the previous IDP crisis, conservatively estimated the rehabilitation of IDPs to cost billions of dollars.
“Earlier estimates mentioned by the government were over $60 billion – both infrastructure and compensations.”The report also advised the government to make long term rehabilitation plans for ‘policing and compensation’ (in the form of effective police forces, hospitals, schools and roads), ‘microfinance and banking’, a ‘liberal media’ that creates awareness about a tolerant Pakistani identity (which is exactly what the Taliban has threatened) and encouraging recreation through cultural development and ‘sports’. These steps, if planned properly, will help ensure a future for our IDPs. We cannot risk our IDPs feeling neglected; this will turn them against the national cause and that is something we cannot afford. This is as much a war of hearts and minds as it is of might and fight. IDPs, if shunned, could become targets of recruitment and brain-washing from the very enemy we are currently expanding our efforts to annihilate. Steps must be taken to ensure that no young boy is coerced or bribed by militants to blow himself up for want of a night’s food for his family. Not doing so will create a dangerous vacuum and cause history to repeat itself in the form of more militant plagues.
I was shocked when I heard that the governments of Punjab and Sindh have barred Waziristan’s Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from entering their provinces. Belonging to the tribal areas, I know how much our forefathers have sacrificed for this country. It was our people who took part in Pakistan’s first war against India in 1948, to save Kashmir – and this was when Pakistan’s own army general had refused to fight. Today, whatever part of Kashmir comes under Pakistani territory, it’s all thanks to the efforts of my people. When the USSR attacked Afghanistan and Pakistan decided to be part of the United States-led coalition war, it was again the tribal military that stood firm in the face of adversity and made sure that if the USSR ever planned to attack Pakistan’s borders, it was there to protect the country. The USSR had to face the tribal people first, before entering Pakistan. Such was the passion our people had. Even Muhammad Ali Jinnah acknowledged our strength and perseverance. He withdrew Pakistani forces from the western borders as he knew that the tribal people were more than capable of safeguarding the country. He trusted our merit. Even recently, when Pakistan decided to be part of US’s so called war on terror, the tribal leaders supported the country completely, even though many people were not happy with this coalition. Pakistan lost so much during this war, yet the tribal people stood by the country. A few days back, the Pakistani Army launched an operation in North Waziristan, code named Zarb-e-Azb, as a result of which thousands of tribal civilians were displaced and had to relocate to safer areas. Here, it is important that we acknowledge the efforts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) government, who worked vigorously with other government institutions to accommodate the IDPs wherever they could. However, not all provincial governments have been so kind with the displaced people. Punjab and Sindh, two of Pakistan’s most developed and progressive provinces, announced that they will not allow these IDPs to enter their boundaries. According to Article 247, FATA comes under the federal government and the governor of K-P is the chief executive officer of the tribal area. This would mean that the people of Fata are the government’s responsibility, and as such, all avenues should be kept open for them in their times of need. However, this has not always been the case. Time and again, the people of Fata have been discriminated against and their human rights have been trampled upon. The verdict by the Sindh and Punjab governments is a testimony of that. Even the Afghan government has welcomed these tribal IDPs. Afghanistan, a country that doesn’t even own the people of Fata, and is already in so much turmoil, has taken these IDPs under their wings; but two major, prospering and economically strong provinces of Pakistan have refused to take them. It is beyond me how these provincial governments can be so indifferent to the plight of the IDPs. Are these displaced individuals not part of Pakistan? Would they have done the same had these people belonged to Balochistan or K-P? What will these IDPs think when they hear about this? That their own people have disowned them? Will this ban strengthen the federation or damage it even more? Especially at a time when it is imperative for Pakistanis to stand united. In a federation, all units have equal rights, and every citizen of the federation can be settled in any of its areas. But alas, the IDPs of Fata are not so fortunate. They have been left alone to suffer the consequences of a problem that belongs to the entire nation – and a major chunk of their country is not willing to help them. Right now, I have trouble understanding if the people of Fata belong to Afghanistan or to Pakistan, for surely, the former has shown them more care and hospitality than the latter ever will.
The 2013 general elections were perhaps the most important elections in the history of this country. They brought forward a positive change in political outlook. They were able to mobilise the masses to leave their houses and become an active part of the political process by voting. And they were a lethal blow to the venal aristocratic oligarchy; they brought a party to power that did not stand on aristocracy or family politics – the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). However, cynics now mock the PTI for not living up to the hype it created to bring out a complete metamorphosis or ‘tsunami’ in the system that runs Pakistan. The party blames this lack of change on the widespread corruption prevalent in government institutions. PTI has won a significant amount of seats, with a whole province of their own as well as a few important seats in Karachi – which they won against the ironclad rule of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). These feats are definitely noteworthy. This is the first time that the PTI has come to power. I think the party and its leader can learn a lot from the example of Narendra Modi, the current Indian premier. Before becoming prime minister, Modi progressed and developed Gujarat to such an extent that its people and the rest of India refused to be led by anyone else but him. He managed to make a name for himself and prove his merit. The PTI has a similar opportunity in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). It should be kept in mind, however, that while Modi was given a thriving Gujarat to show his skills as a leader, Imran Khan and PTI is left to work with a volatile K-P that is distraught by civil war. In order to truly understand PTI’s performance in K-P, we need to observe what the party has done so far for its voters. The people The first year of governance by the newly elected party shows progress. According to the March 2014 survey by Gallup, public satisfaction in K-P was highest with 57%. As opposed to public satisfaction in Punjab (27%) and Sindh (26%), one can see definite growth in the PTI led province. Administration The K-P government has completely depoliticised its police force and there is no interference in the system by any minister, chief minister or even by Imran Khan himself. There is absolutely zero tolerance policy against corruption. Till date 129 police officials have been terminated and seven demoted on complaints regarding corruption and misuse of power. Earlier, the appointments were made through political interference but now a merit based NTS test is being introduced for recruitment purposes. The government has also introduced an online FIR system, the first of its kind in Pakistan, through which a person can launch an FIR against anyone without any hazard and the police is bound to respond after verification. So far, 1030 FIRs have been registered through the online system. Nasir Durrani, IG police, is keen to establish model police stations all over K-P. Three police stations in Peshawar have already been converted into model police stations as reported on TV channels. K-P was once considered to be the most corrupt province, according to Transparency International. Imran had promised before the elections that, if given the chance, he will wipe out corruption and so far, he seems to be on track. He has already removed two of K-P’s ministers on complaints by the public, which is admirable. The provincial government has also changed the ‘patwari’ system. Fareeha Idrees, a TV anchor, has admitted in live show that she installed two secret cameras to see if a patwari (village accountant) will take any bribe but surprisingly no one took it due to fear of strict action. Legislations Twenty five new bills have been passed by the K-P assembly till date. The Right to Information Bill has been updated by the PTI which is a huge step towards forcing transparency in governance system. It gives the people of K-P the right to access all the information online. Right to Services Act is another of its kind through which citizens have the right to ask questions about any public matter and government will be bound to answer that question in a prescribed time. The citizen can also file a complaint against officials who do not comply with the prescribed time-period. Health Medicine and treatment is now free in all government hospitals of K-P and the government has also launched a campaign called “Sehat Ka Insaf” that aims to fight against polio. So far, 1.3 million children have been immunised as part of this campaign. The World Health Organisation (WHO) delegation, which met Imran, congratulated him on a successful anti-polio drive because a recent report showed that no case of polio have been seen in K-P after the campaign – that in itself is a big achievement for the party. Education PTI has shown its plans to bring a fundamental change in education as well. The government has recruited 8000 teachers and recruitment of further 6000 teachers is still in process – all of whom will also be appointed by the NTS. Plans of a mammoth project of an education city are under way where the people can choose from a variety of professions and fields. Independent monitoring systems have been introduced to ensure attendance of both teachers and students. It will monitor around 28000 schools in the province. The project was launched on April 16, 2014. For me, this is much more important than bus networks and motorways that the federal government seem to be so passionate about. ‘Tameer-e-School’ project, another campaign, was started by the PTI government to raise funds for K-P schools that are in truly deplorable conditions and details of missing facilities in the schools are given online. Donors can choose to fund a particular school and have the right to check if their funds are being used at the right place. After declaring an ‘education emergency’ in the province, an enrolment campaign was launched by Imran called ‘Parho aur Zindagi Badlo’ (study and change lives). Approximately 0.3 million children have been enrolled in schools, as part of this project, to help secure a brighter future for the people of K-P. To encourage female education, the provincial government has decided to pay a monthly stipend of Rs200 to every school-going girl, to encourage parents to educate their daughters. This will help increase the female literacy rate in the province. A uniform education system has been introduced in academic sessions, which started this year in April, while books are being published and distributed for all grade one students and soon for the rest of the grades as well. The PTI is working for its people; there should be little doubt about that. The biggest challenge the K-P government faces is that of security. Imran should use his think tanks to work towards making K-P a safer province. If he continues with the level of progress made in the province, he has the potential to become Pakistan’s Modi and win everyone’s heart. But this can only happen if he plays his cards right and so far, he has all the right cards in his hand. [poll id="355"]
For the past three days, headlines portray a Pakistan on the verge of descending into chaos; a long-awaited tsunami is about to sweep the capital; a self-claimed messianic revolutionary and his supporters are locked in a ‘peaceful’ struggle against the ‘Satanic’ government, while the sluggish government leaders are almost lazily dealing with a problem by barricades and containers that aren’t achieving their objectives. Indeed, the main players of the government have more or less avoided admitting the failure of their leadership in dealing with a Canadian cleric, desperate to gain something out of perceived government dissatisfaction. In any other functional state, Tahirul Qadri, would have been sent to jail the minute he cried ‘revolution’ and called upon his supporters to ‘topple the government’. In Pakistan, however, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has allowed police officers and lower-tier politicians to become scapegoats by tiptoeing around Qadri since his arrival in June. There is nothing ethical or liberal in allowing a ‘self-exiled’ Canadian national to come into our country and start launching tirades against state machinery, in the hope that his annual visits eventually allow him to achieve the highest office of Pakistan. While Qadri claims his revolution is peaceful, the fact that his own statements call for a Bolshevik-like extermination of the Sharif family and a proper rebuttal of the police; makes his march worth stopping. The severe exaggeration he has made about the situation, by comparing it to the humanitarian crisis of Gaza, is ridiculous. The deaths of four Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) workers and the arrests of nearly 500 did not come because the PML-N was afraid of the PAT’s non-existent political dominance, but after a police station was torched and the media itself circulated reports that a police officer had been killed, which has since been discredited. Six police officers from Pakistan’s most peaceful city, Lahore, are still missing; and there is little Qadri has to say about them or the many incidents of mob violence, except to lament about how brutal the government has become. Qadri’s opportunistic use of women and children as human shields is equally disgusting. He calls upon his supporters to bring their ‘wives, daughters and mothers’ into protests, not because of any feminist beliefs he might uphold, but to further shame the government as it struggles to maintain national stability. Meanwhile, the women of Qadri’s own household are nowhere to be seen. Does he not trust the public enough or does he apply the rules of ‘purdah’ only on his womenfolk, knowing that without women martyrs, his protests won’t be nearly as pitiable or populated? And of course, Qadri promises to defend democracy and introduce ‘real democracy’. Yet, those beside him are stooges from the Pervez Musharraf–era; stooges who undeniably lost last year’s general elections and only won once because of military approval. The likes of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) further corrupt his pro-democratic claims, as these parties only side with him in the desperate hope that the future will be in their hands to control, without having to deal with the hassle of gaining public support. Some parties, now reduced to provincial borders, are celebrating the plight of Punjab by echoing Qadri’s grief and his Gazafications all the way in Sindh. Even though, the entire province has last year’s worst performance record, ranking behind insurgency-ridden Balochistan and Taliban-infested Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). Thankfully, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) has remained committed to its oath of being non-violent and hasn’t swooped to the Qadri-level of politicking. Someone needs to steal the spotlight from Qadri, and Imran Khan has always made big shows of support and will probably find success this time as well, even if the only marchers that make it to the show are local residents. But his objectives are just as murky as Qadris’, with grand exposes planned almost weekly never materialising, and with many PTI members being very public about their PAT-ward tilts. From his simple demand of recounting in four constituencies, Imran Khan has jumped to demanding the retirement of the prime minister and wants mid-term elections, albeit, there is no legality in such demands. Perhaps clarifications do await us in the future, but it is clear that Imran Khan does have the right for such protests as the second-most voted party in parliament. Just as clear as a person, who lives in Mississauga for most of the year, cannot come to Pakistan and claim his party is the right representative of the people, even while it ditched the electoral process and disrespected the power of a Pakistani citizen’s vote.
The political storm that has stirred in Islamabad has left many stunned and reeling to see what lies ahead. Among this intricately complex political dilemma, many senior politicians have put on their mediation caps and tried to return to more chartered waters. But despite all efforts, the emboldened and resilient figure of Imran Khan has stood in the way, reiterating his poetic calls for justice and reform. Delivering those highly charged speeches, come rain or shine, he has shown his commitment to his cause that surpasses the usual, disengaged approach of most politicians. Apart from his individual qualities, his recent political decisions have also highlighted his ability to think and act beyond backward and repressive political tactics. After being exposed to criticism from various quarters about his Azadi March, his demands, and the ensuing call for civil disobedience, I feel that there has been a certain level of bias against him in these analyses. Though I may not agree with the timing or execution of the protest, it is irrefutable that as a parliamentary party it was their democratic right to peacefully protest. Whether this would strengthen or weaken democracy is a question that challenges the very foundations of democracy, however, protests ensure that democracy doesn’t evolve into tyranny of the majority. Secondly, people claiming that this is merely an exhibition of his lust for power are ignorant of his relentless efforts to seek a less disruptive resolution to his queries, which again are within his democratic rights. If Afghanistan, in all its political turmoil, can have an audit of their presidential elections, then surely the party with the second largest vote bank is well within its limits to ask for an investigation in four constituencies. If they are denied this basic demand, then they are bound to take to the streets to vent their frustrations. Better than resorting to ruthless, back door politics that would hurt the system more. Civil disobedience is also a well-accepted and principally backed form of protest in democracies. Labelling this as immature politics is the result of having a very narrow scope of democracy that we are confined to. His use of ideas that have become alien to democracies in the region in recent years reflect his understanding of the principles of this system, something that most politicians are clueless about despite their repeated claims of being “protectors of democracy”. The fact that the situation has panned out this way is not a weight on Imran Khan’s shoulders. It is a portrayal of the political immaturity of our nation and the perverted form of democracy that is applied. I may not agree with all of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) policies but they deserve to be commended for adopting a different path and putting their political future on the line to show how intrinsically corrupted the system is; from the bottom to the very top. Democracy for the sake of democracy has led to the system becoming repressive and manipulative, rather than being liberating for the masses. If PTI has to strive in this manner to get their shot at justice, how can we expect the common man to have any expectations of the system at a micro level? Without strong state institutions to back democracy, Pakistan will continue to fall deeper into political chaos. Loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and gifts from Middle Eastern friends might boost up the numbers for a year or two but unless there is critical reform at the grass roots, our survival will always be dependent on who wins the struggle for power in Islamabad. Hard to judge how much progress Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) made in just a year but achievements such as reforms in the police surely deserve a certain degree of admiration. I may not be an ardent PTI supporter but anyone with any political sense should be able to recognise what Imran Khan has managed to accomplish amongst all this turmoil. Moving away from primitive politics, being fully committed to his quest for justice and calls for reform rather loans have led to him not only further engaging the youth but also inspiring a class that had become political dead. The social strata that chose to remain disengaged with the system are now gradually beginning to become more alert towards it, irrespective of whether they are for or against PTI. Though many will say that this a small minority, such as middle class women and celebrities, just the mere ability to reach out to the people in the shadows of the system reflects Imran’s ability to be a genuine leader and statesman. This is not an argument to rally support for the PTI; this is simply an expression of hope that we, as a nation, will look beyond what is projected in the media and grasp this as an important juncture in our political evolution.
FATA is home to approximately 10 million people. These people may be called ‘Pakistani’ citizens, but the reality is – they are not. Even after 67 years of independence, despite being a strategic part of Pakistan, the constitution of the country simply does not apply here. Why? Good question. What is worse is that the laws that do, in fact, apply are a set of colonial laws formulated and enacted by the British more than a century ago! Some of these date all the way back to 1893, when the Durand Line was drawn by colonialists. A single visit to Fata will demonstrate how these archaic laws have affected these tribal areas; it is like they have purposely been cut off from the modern world. Man and beast share the same pond to drink water from and infrastructure is non-existent. Fata, unfortunately, is a place where human rights become extinct and your right to be or feel ‘human’ is gauged by what the FCR deems fit. The FCR, or the Frontier Crimes Regulation, was introduced by the British after the second Anglo-Sikh war and was imposed on the people of Fata to ‘subdue’ the aggressive Pukhtun and Baloch who were fighting against British colonialists. On August 24, 2014, Pakistan’s security forces and the political administration launched a search operation in Khyber Agency and arrested 85 tribesmen under the Collective Responsibility clause of the FCR. Collective responsibility in this case essentially means that while it is being determined whether or not an individual has committed a crime, the family of the accused and sometimes the entire tribe is taken into custody. They are then meant to remain in an internment centre until the ‘guilty’ person confesses to having committed the crime. This is not the first time that an arrest of such a large magnitude has taken place in Fata; there are thousands of tribesmen who are currently detained under this law. These tribesmen include minors and old people as well. Although the Pakistan Peoples Party’s government did make some amendments to this law in 2011, nothing much has been done about it since. This law was replaced in the erstwhile-NWFP and Balochistan after the advent of the Constitution of Pakistan; however, Fata, for some reason, is still governed by the FCR. Why, you ask? Well, it could be one of two reasons, the first being that the people of Fata are not truly considered citizens of Pakistan or, they are considered citizens of Pakistan but just not ‘human’ enough to have guaranteed constitutional rights apply to them. Under the FCR, the political representative (deputy commissioner) – a bureaucrat – is the administrator, prosecutor and judge, all in one. He wields utmost authority. This representative arrests tribesmen under the pretence of this law, then makes his own council of elders (a jirga composed of two or three members), on the recommendation of which he imposes his verdict. If a person belonging to a particular tribe commits a crime, his whole tribe will come under scrutiny and the representative has the power to arrest all who either belong to that tribe, or even those who try to talk to him and settle the matter. The injustice is rampant. This representative has the power to put an individual in preventive detention if he is suspected of any criminal intention or act, without bail. Such individuals can be detained for up to three years without any trial or hearing and can be held for the same charges again. Even his family can be detained for an unspecified amount of time without due cause. This law is also often used to pressurise individuals into doing ones biding. Families can be banished from their homes under this law. A few days back, I met a 10-year-old boy who was going to meet his father who had been detained under the FCR. The child seemed like a bright kid. When I asked him why his father was in jail, he explained that he had had a bit of a conflict with the village malik (elder) and the elder reported him to the political representative for a false crime. The representative heard the entire matter, and since the malik was considered a respectful elder, the representative jailed his father under the FCR. Upon further explanation, the child revealed that he was the only male left in his family after his father, and that he did not know when his father might be released. Seeing that this boy was now to shoulder the responsibility of his entire family angered me, and the blame rests solely upon the archaic legal system prevalent here. Through the FCR, political representatives or tribal elders have a free pass to accuse, and play god, with any tribesman or his family. How, then, is this piece of law constitutional? How, then, can such a system still be acceptable for a group of people who belong to a sovereign country? Another rule under the FCR is that individuals are banned from making a hujra (community centre) without the prior permission of a political representative. Under Section 35 of the FCR, titled the ‘Naubati Chaukidari’ system, every tribe is responsible of the protection of their own territory, whether they like it or not. Therefore, if militants blow up a school or commit an act of terrorism, it is the tribesmen of that area who are held responsible and are detained by the commissioner. The tribesmen have to pay for the rebuilding of government property. Where is the government in all this? Absent. Currently, there are thousands of tribesmen detained under this law. They have been deemed guilty and this law punishes them for not securing their own territory. They are being punished because terror struck them, their families and their tribes, and they did nothing to prevent that from happening. But was the government or security forces of Pakistan held responsible? I think we know the answer to that question. If then, after all that, the people of Fata can be called ‘terrorists’ or ‘militants’ aiming to destroy the secular fabric of Pakistan, or a breeding ground for militancy, then you are right, they should be detained, they should be kept under a law that disregards and blatantly negates any human rights guaranteed by the constitution. This law should be imposed on them with full force because they are guilty. They are guilty of crimes they never committed. Although there are courts in which the verdict of the political representative or commissioner might be appealed against; the divisional courts and the FATA Tribunal are both run by serving or retired bureaucrats, appealing to who is futile. Tribesmen can’t appeal to the high court or the Supreme Court because, well, they do not have the right to do so. And this brings us back to the question, are the people of Fata really considered citizens of Pakistan? And if they are, then why does that 10-year-old boy have to shoulder the burden of looking after an entire household, when he should be running around the playground of a school with your child? Why are so many fundamental rights not provided to the people of Fata? Why have they been deemed to deserve this despicable standard of living? The people of Fata, the tribesmen, have the right to elect their representatives but these representatives are just symbolic figures used to placate you and me when we question our parliament. They have no power or say in the way any piece of legislation is drafted. They cannot even initiate a bill in the assembly without prior permission from the President of Pakistan. In the unique case of Fata, a tribal elder cannot even contest for governorship under the Pakistani constitution; Fata, officially, remains under the authority of the governor of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. In one instance, when Shaukatullah Khan, a tribesman, did manage to become governor K-P, the address on his ID card had to be changed from Peshawar to Bajaur as a prerequisite, just so he could become eligible for nominations. In the 21st century, as difficult as it may be to question ourselves, one has to ask, why has a law like the FCR been permitted to function in any part of the country? Why are we so adamant on creating divides like these in Pakistan? The FCR is a draconian law that deserves to become the ash heap of history. The people of Fata, the men, women and children, young and old, all deserve to live life the way every Pakistani strives to live it in an independent and free state. Then why hasn’t this law been repealed yet? This law, that has completely destroyed the tribal society, when will it finally be abolished? Why are the tribal people, who are patriotic citizens of Pakistan, who have sacrificed for Pakistan in 1948, 1965, and 1971 against India, who stopped Russia from entering into Pakistan during the Afghan war, treated as second citizen? Who will bring changes in their life and give them the same rights as any other Pakistani has? Will Imran Khan and Dr Tahirul Qadri raise their voices for these innocent tribals, who are in prison due to no crime of their own? Who are only detained because that are tribesmen by birth and whose forefathers laid their lives for the freedom and sovereignty of Pakistan? These people, who have fought so valiantly for the freedom of Pakistan, will their freedom be so brutally snatched away from them? Will no one come to Fata’s aid?
There was once a man who didn’t believe in empty rhetoric but followed through with his promises. He won Pakistan the World Cup, made Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust and established a university in Mianwali. The youth idealised him, the elderly praised him, and the people adored him. And while he showed that change is achieved by the tangible, he never followed through with that in his politics. I wish he had. He was selling a dream that many Pakistanis yearned for. A Pakistan free of corruption and nepotism, where the common man would have equal opportunities, where he would have freedom of movement, where the law enforcement agencies would protect citizens against those who try to snatch this freedom from them. So when Mr Khan was given the mandate of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), everyone hoped that he would turn it into a model of governance, a model for others to follow. Unfortunately that never happened. Imran came and defended the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP); he called them ‘our people’ who must be negotiated with. In fact, he was also a signatory to a document that claimed that the Taliban were legitimate stakeholders in Pakistan. He demanded that an office be made for their representation, he was the first that came to their defence after every attack they perpetrated and claimed responsibility for. He still insisted that it was not the Taliban but some other group who wanted to derail the peace talks with them. As for the peace talks, they were a non-starter. The Taliban never paid heed to Mr Khan’s call for peace talks. They never wanted peace. And so the empty rhetoric ensued. Imran promised that there would be no nepotism in his Naya Pakistan. That it would be a model of competence. Yet he never explained how Mr Parvez Khattak’s relatives were granted reserved seats to become members of the National Assembly. He never explained how he gave a ticket to Gul Badshah, a person who had 22 cases registered against him. He never explained why Khattak could not bother to wake up in the morning for the flag raising ceremony on August 14 last year. He could not explain why his people never bothered to show up to condole the citizens who lost their lives in terrorist attacks in his province. He never even bothered to condemn the terrorists. He never took action against his own minister who didn’t take responsibility for the DI Khan jail break but was quick to castigate the police. Such was the extent of ambiguity that people like Asad Umar had to come forward and explain that Imran’s demand for the Taliban’s office was his own wish and that it did not represent the views of the party. Without providing us with solutions, Imran wishes to be the prime minister of this country. Mr Khan, can you please shed some light on how you will bring about this change that you have failed to bring about in K-P? On June 29, 2013, Mr Khattak vowed to follow in Shahbaz Sharif’s footsteps to make Peshawar a model city, and then you claim that the incumbent government is incompetent. This article is not in defence of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) or any other party but a reality check for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), who has claimed to be the flag bearers of change but have done little to prove that claim. Mr Khan, those that criticise you and your party are not traitors but rather just as much citizens of Pakistan. We have a right to question your efficacy in government, we have a right to demand that you condemn the Taliban and we have a right to demand that you fulfil all those promises that were part of your election manifesto. The people of Pakistan demand an accountability of all the leaders who have not followed through with promises made before the elections – and that unfortunately includes you. Lastly, can you please explain to us what your party achieved staying on the constitution avenue right when the Chinese premier was to visit Pakistan to sign accords worth $32 billion? Could the march not have been shifted to an alternate venue to give clear passage to the Chinese premier to visit Pakistan and sign these accords? You could have come back after the visit was over but you chose to ignore important bilateral relations over your own ego. Instead the Chinese head of state visited India, who embraced the opportunity with open arms and now threatens to lead Pakistan into international isolation. To top it off, your chief minister also refused to visit China for investment projects, just to stay in the Azadi march. Where are your priorities, Mr Khan and what are they? If you think that you can run this country on merely rhetoric then here is a reality check for you – no, you Khan’t.
Every now and then, we hear someone singing odes to the beauty of Pakistan’s North-West regions. Be it by one of those recent sing-along tourism promos running on nearly every news network these days, after a prolonged wave of violence in Malakand Division, or some bunch of local yahoos who’d just returned from a trip from any of the numerous valleys and lakes. The fact remains that the actual beauty and splendour of these areas is still quite underrated, despite all such praises. Even though the last few years’ armed conflicts have labelled the entire region as a no-go zone, especially in the minds of foreign tourists, the government along with its various tourism departments and foreign donors has been trying in vain to rekindle the industry, only to be hit by one calamity after another. But after, and still, suffering through a horrific wave of militancy and, only recently, the devastating floods, it’s the unflinching spirit and hospitality of the people that has made places like Buner, Swat and the whole of Malakand Division generally so much more timeless and endearing. With epic vistas of crystal lakes nestled between the green, snowcapped mountains of Kohistan on one side, it’s an experience that is truly felt within the very depths of one’s soul – if not just through one’s senses. The fresh alpine smell, the cool untainted air, along with actual mountain spring water, all quite surprisingly exist within the borders of our very own country. Even though you hear about it often, you never really fully understand it until you yourself are standing there right in the middle of Chagarzo Valley in Buner district, with nothing but the vault of the clear blue sky, mostly overshadowed by clouds being challenged by those majestic peaks. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Kamran Khan[/caption] The farther up one goes, the more one is challenged by nature at its finest. Even when starting the journey up the Chagharzai road (one of the new six tehsils in the district), located at a distance of over 100 kilometres from Sawaray, one is greeted to a splendid change in scenery, even when going as far up as Shangla. Then on to Shehdiser, which is at around 8,000 feet above sea level, from where on only four wheeler jeeps, the non-customs-paid, CG 125, diesel-run kind, can tackle the teetering slopes for a memorable ride up to the string of beautiful areas in the region. Only when one has experienced that thrilling jeep ride, or on motorbike with skilled drivers through sharp ravine sloping down to a joint, making ways from different springs at the middle, and the daunting mountings jutting out on both sides, one from the Hazara Division, second from Shangla, third from Swat while fourth from Swabi, that one can truly claim to have adventured up the fantastic North-West. The ride up from Swat to Buner and Shangla, over precarious mountain passes, is a trip that deserves a solid place on anyone’s bucket list. Unfortunately, in the Chagharzai Valley there are no motels or cafes to cater specifically to the tourist industry. But nothing can match experiencing for the first time, the thrill of the adventure and the magnificent weather, even in the searing heat prevalent in the settled parts of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa(K-P). Wrapped in local tales, stunning views and a splendour of its own, this area is nestled up at nearly 8,000 feet, and the tourism industry of the area needs the attention of the government to lure in local and foreign tourists. And just when one’s taking in the whole journey along with the spectacular view, the locals of the area would cheekily smile and say how there are even more beautiful areas, if one was to adventure even higher and farther away from commercial conveniences and unsightly pollution. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Kamran Khan[/caption] After traversing through even more precarious, yet breathtaking heights, alpine forests and vast green plains does one take a step back in time. Where, beyond the odd rooftops made from shutters or vague tire tracks, there’s no sign of modern development. No roads, no electricity, no cell phone signals – a place where one is in the truest sense isolated from the troubles and cares of the world. With fields of brightly coloured flowers, and wild goats grazing on top of the mountains, it’s almost unreal considering the kind of world one comes from to these places. And to see all that beauty reflected so perfectly in the still, silent waters of the lakes is an epiphany in itself. Seeing the locals living their lives with such simplicity is a sight of relaxation on its own. Local farmers, herders, craftsmen all living as they have done for centuries, some even in complete isolation. It’s only when one tries to perhaps picture oneself through their eyes that one’s cares and troubles come into perspective. When one’s love for family, good company and the simpler bounties of life such as good health or just the realisation of being well and alive are truly appreciated. Be it a place to kick back and relax or a place where enthusiasts can go fishing, hunting, or hiking on any of the splendid hills or mountain passes, the Chagharzai Valley bears testament to the heights of inspiration that can be found in our country.