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    It’s December 8. Faisalabad is witnessing the process of being shut down by ardent PTI supporters. This, of course, enrages PML-N who can’t sit back and watch their political foes try to halt their stronghold. Violence, casualties and deaths are an inevitable addition to this process. It’s quite surprising that so far one man has lost his life. I was expecting a higher number, since life sells cheap here. And the blame game has already begun:

    “Because of you (PTI), Pakistan’s economy has suffered immensely” - Parvaiz Rashid “Their Gullus were involved in all the clashes today” - Imran Khan “PML-N had planned to attack PTI supporters. The Novelty Bridge shooter is Rana Sanaullah’s son-in-law’s guard” - Shireen Mazari
    This, however, did lead to some ‘result’:
    “An election tribunal issued on Monday a short order calling for the opening of voting bags in NA-122 and PP-147,” reads an Express Tribune news story.
    That’s great news. But is it really worth a human life? Is this really worth the meaningless feud that is taking place between the cronies of Imran and Nawaz? Definitely not. And like any other tragedy, his death should equally be mourned. Even if Imran makes an impact today, it won’t be any good now. PTI supporters, you have all the right to hold peaceful demonstrations, since that falls within your civil rights. PML-N supporters, the same goes for you. But taking a life is NOT your right. But it’s not your fault. The actual fault lies in the higher echelons. It exists within our government and opposition – within our polar parties. The Punjab police chief has issued strict orders not to let anybody take the law into their hands. PTI leader, Arif Alvi, stated that negotiations will not go on under these circumstances. Imran announced his plan C on November 30, which aimed at bringing Pakistan to a standstill on December 16. But he never told us that it will also include collateral damage and deaths. That it will include destruction. That it will affect the common man, who had no say or role in the inception of whatever Imran says he is fighting against. Wasn’t it the responsibility of both PTI and PML-N that such an issue doesn’t occur? If they can’t handle a simple rally, how can they handle an entire country? One that both are very much willing to rule. Personally, if I were in Imran’s shoes, I would’ve handled it differently. I wouldn’t have let a man die on my watch. I would have waited for the next elections rather than staging “dharnas” (I believe patience is a virtue which he does not possess). Rather than marching from city to city, I would’ve paid attention to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where I already have seats in majority. In 2017, my work would’ve spoken for me, rather than my fiery speeches. On the other hand, if I was to be put in Nawaz’s position, I would have tried to negotiate a compromise with Imran. I would’ve recognised PTI and its rising significance in the political arena. And I wouldn’t have disrespected the constant demands of millions of supporters, and would have set up a fair and just judicial commission for the recount of votes. In an idealistic world, PML-N would have met PTI’s reasonable demands and discarded the rest. In an even happier scenario, PML-N and PTI would have formed a coalition and peace would prevail and we would all live happily ever after. But, politics is dirty and it’s outcome, dirtier.  In their on-going mudsling and name calling match, guess who has to bear the brunt of it? Pakistan. Our nation and our people. If a sense of conscientiousness were to prevail (which would be a miracle) within our leaders, supporters would not be used as pawns to storm the parliament building or media offices, they would not be shot at blindly by government organisations – their lives would be revered. While I write this piece, the monstrosity we call Pakistani politics continues to make a debacle of itself and it doesn’t seem like this political drama plans to end anytime soon. But if Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif do ever happen to stumble upon this article, here is my message for you two: Please put aside your egos, get a grip on your overly emotional only-for-TV-antics and reach a suitable compromise for the sake and sanity of your supporters and for the betterment of our nation. Enough of our blood has already been spilt. We are done.


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    Contagious peals of laughter dissolved the silence that my cameraman Wilson had requested in the small village hut made of clay and bush with a ceiling of dried palm leaves, as Sajida candidly described how she could feel her baby, expected to arrive in a few months, kicking inside her. She belongs to Muhammad Ali Jhokio, a village of about hundred households, approximately 15 kilometres from Thatta. There are many other villages in the 29 union councils where the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) is running the Stunting Prevention Project with the Sindh Department of Health. These efforts have become part of the scaling-up nutrition movement, also maintained by the UN, with the aim to prevent stunting in children of up to 23 months, using micronutrient powders to reduce deficiencies and reduce low birth weight. The idea is to address children’s nutritional needs in the first 1,000 days of their lives – starting from the foetal stage. My previous experience of working with communities in Balochistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and even South Punjab taught me that if we want to do a story about their women and children, it is almost mandatory to have a female colleague along. So it was nothing but a rare privilege to find myself sitting right next to this woman while she described the foetal movements. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Sajida. Photo: Waqas Rafique[/caption] In this particular village, the focus is on 25 pregnant women who are registered with the UN field staff. Sonia Rajput, who reaches out to the community on behalf of the UN, told me that in addition to these pregnant women there are around 45 children who are being monitored against malnutrition. It is very clear that to ensure lasting health of these innocent villagers, it is important to take care of the pregnant mother. This becomes a challenge given our culture where it is common for the woman to eat only after she has served and fed all her family members. Remember, families in rural areas aren’t small; they are bigger and require a larger amount of food. Sajida, however, is luckier. She doesn’t have a large joint family set up. Instead she lives with her husband and two children. Plus she has the added advantage of being educated up to the eighth standard. So, naturally, she was more aware and curious about the well-being of herself and her family and was more open about her condition. Unlike other village folk across Pakistan who in the beginning always doubt the intentions behind fortified food and vaccination provided by foreign donor agencies, mainly thinking they would end up being infertile or impotent if they took such advice, she openly and willingly took to these helpful practices and has developed a bond of trust with the lady health workers. A strong sense of community prevailed which reflected on the faces of the bashful smiling womenfolk in the village. Interventions such as these are useful indeed to set good examples but we know and these development agencies know that these efforts can never be enough. Every year the development sector launches reports that bring to light data and information that highlights how vulnerable Pakistan’s population is. The fact that Pakistan stands 146th in the category of low development countries, according to a UN Human Development Report launched earlier this year, should be enough to give sleepless nights to those in power in Pakistan. But it seems those who should read these reports do not have the time to do so. So, how true are these people to their job? The answer lies in the fact that half of Pakistan’s population is malnourished; a population whose well-being is the responsibility of the government and these people of authority. On our way out of Muhammad Ali Jhokio, I asked my colleagues a simple question,

    “So, what happens after the 1000 days of meeting the nutritional needs of these children under this WFP projects are over? How and who will ensure that the hard work and effort to provide these children with a good foundation for good health will last?”
    No one was sure. Countries poorer than Pakistan have launched social protection schemes that remain unheard of in our country. The lack of a local government structure in the country, even after the 18th Amendment, has a large role to play in these disappointing stats. We cannot afford to ignore the importance of alleviating poverty and elevating the living standards of these people. It’s true that every country relies, to a certain extent, on donor reports and their project interventions, and while we should be grateful for such help, it is unreasonable and impractical to depend solely on this help. Perhaps it is time for us to get our own hands dirty and do some heavy lifting for ourselves.


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    One must feel some level of joy when people finally start seeing the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) for the hypocritical party it is, and start seeing Imran Khan as the megalomaniac he always was, but that feeling of joy soon evolves into disgust instantaneously after one is reminded of what happened outside the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar today. If you haven’t been following the news or your social media feeds, parents of the martyred APS students protested outside APS today, and delayed Imran’s arrival at the school. He was accompanied by his wife, Reham Khan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) chief minister, Pervez Khattak, and K-P information minister, Mushtaq Ghani. He had come to pay tribute to martyrs and spend time with the returning students. First of all, without a doubt, the protesting parents are justified in questioning Imran’s decision to get married. It was extremely insensitive of him to do it so soon after the Peshawar school attack. One could argue that it is his personal life and was a personal decision but the truth of the matter is that with public figures, and especially those with Imran’s magnitude, the lines between personal and public matters become very much blurred. How our media and people celebrated his union is a testament to that fact and also reemphasises how his nuptials should have been postponed for a later date. Second, let’s call a spade a spade; this trip to APS by the Khans was purely a PR stunt in response to COAS Raheel Sharif welcoming students back to school day before yesterday with both federal and provincial governments missing. Imran went as far as saying that he had planned on doing it as well, but wasn’t able to due to the COAS being there. Third, it was disgusting how PTI’s members, supporters and the official Twitter account discredited parents and protestors outside APS by calling them politically motivated. Gilani went as far as blaming the federal government for sabotaging Imran’s visit. The police present even manhandled parents while attempting to get Imran inside APS. Later, photos of children taking Imran’s autographs and stories of how they chanted “Go Nawaz Go” were circulated to propagate the ‘true’ reception of Imran’s visit. Words cannot describe all that is wrong here. PTI’s reaction to this protest should have been compassionate and that of empathy rather than going on the offensive against grieving parents and loved ones. It was also interesting how the party and supporters criticised the media for covering the protest outside and ignoring the reception inside the school. One must wonder how PTI felt about the media when their four-month-long protest was given live coverage. Fourth, speaking of protests, it is astonishing how PTI itself has dealt with people protesting in K-P recently, especially after they themselves protested for a significant chunk of their rule in Islamabad. It seems that a precedent they set has now come back to haunt them. To conclude, it is time for Imran and his confidants to take a step back and reprioritise their political agenda. The election rigging issue is important, no doubt, but is it as important as countering terrorism? Imran himself, during multiple press conferences, has spoken about the shortfalls of K-P police and how they do not even possess tools to gather intelligence and investigate; should time not be invested in providing these tools to them and improving K-P’s security apparatus rather than continuing jabs at the federal government? PTI has failed K-P and that is the truth. A testament to that was how Khattak was still on stage on the container the night the protest was called off, even after the Peshawar attack took place. The only thing on PTI’s agenda right now should be K-P and the security of their constituents. Nothing else will matter if our children continue to die and our parents continue to mourn.


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    Although New Delhi’s legislative assembly elections are just round the corner and the city that has been the helm of power in the subcontinent for centuries will choose between its ‘aam aadmis’ and ‘khaas aadmis’, the fulcrum of debate instead is a comedy show uploaded to YouTube, a video-sharing website, that many Pakistanis wouldn’t know of, on January 28, 2015. It is fascinating how one chooses to become a comedian in a part of the world where something funny is going on all the time. A few years back a group of witty comedians, comprising Tanmay Bhat, Gursimran Khamba, Rohan Joshi and Ashish Shakya, formed the AIB – an online comedy collective. While the Pakistani underground is still busy with White versus Brown themes, and more importantly its struggle against radical thought, AIB garnered an identity of its own in India. Mushtaq Ahmad Yousufi, one of the greatest humour writers from our part of the world, once wrote,

    “The day we understand why we laugh, we won’t laugh again”.
    That is perhaps what happened when a roast, conducted live by the group over a month back, was posted online. According to statistics tweeted by the group itself, within 24 hours it became the third most shared video in the USA, first in India and they became the number one subscriber gaining channel. Within three days the view count had clocked to seven million. The show, hosted by film director Karan Johar, consisted of insult comedy directed towards actors Arjun Kapoor and Ranvir Singh, in the presence of a 4,000-strong live audience and numerous Bollywood bigwigs. Disclaimer: The language used in this video may not be suitable for viewers under the age of 18. [embed width="620"][/embed] Whenever a form of art that threatens prevalent Indian truths surfaces, a plethora of orange-clad organisations – with funny names that rhyme with John Cena – resort to much hue and cry. While on the contrary, India is the same country that recently showered laurels upon a movie based on enforced disappearances and the imposition of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in Indian-occupied Kashmir. As someone famously quipped, had a director announced to make a movie on the missing persons of Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the cast and crew would have gone missing. While the 4,000 attendees and famous personalities, who were the butt of jokes at the roast, were okay with the content, cases of public obscenity were registered against AIB by people who had little to do with the event. Apparently, India too has its own ‘Khudai faujdaar’ (God’s crusaders) who uphold the standards of morality and national pride. Bowing down to external pressure, the group announced to take the show down in less than a week. They also conducted a two-hour-long live chat session where they clarified their position and answered questions from fans. While most continue to emphasise the importance of consent and freedom of speech, others argue over the role-model position of Bollywood supremos. Censorship is just a euphemism for governments like ours to legitimise their ideological projects. The question is whether Pakistan is also ready to laugh at itself? One wonders why leaders of banned outfits in our country enjoy extensive media coverage while ‘outfits’ that ‘disturb’ the mind, eye and faith of the beholder are condemned by the society. After hypocrisy, moral policing is one of our favourite national characteristics. Famous political activist Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi once noted how the unnecessary exertion of holiness and subjective moral injunctions has paralysed the minds of our people. The AIB literally knocked out purposeless societal standards of morality. In my opinion, the temporal setting of the show is what has brought the house down. The debate of gender discrimination and violence is still tugging at the heartstrings of millions while the roast effortlessly joked about every taboo there is. Yet the message is loud and vivid – India is changing.


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    One wonders if the National Action Plan (NAP) was actually implemented beyond the Punjab police’s wide arrests of clerics who tried using loudspeakers. After all, Maulana Abdul Aziz and his devotedly-radical wife Umm-e-Hassan still use a state-recognised mosque to propagate a narrative that insists the actions of groups like ISIS or the Afghan Taliban are all justified – commendable even. Add this to the fact that the most high-profile raid to happen in mainstream news recently was not a madrassah sending jihadists to Kashmir or a mosque being operated by the rabidly anti-Shia Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) (which still holds protests without the fear of being rebuked as violently as farmers in Okara), but the office of a popular, secular-rooted political party notorious for not being exactly law-abiding. Meanwhile, all the hate speech and weapons proliferation can continue on in centres where religion is the guiding force rather than just ethnicity. The culmination of all that doubt in our government’s (and our military’s) enthusiasm to tackle terrorism were the church blasts in Lahore yesterday which, as non-Sunni places of worship, were supposed to have been given extra police-attention. Alas, like every other regular guy, the security guards in charge were too preoccupied cheering for Pakistan in its match-up against Ireland in a nearby teashop. They didn’t think of the fact that they weren’t like every regular guy in Lahore. They didn’t think of the fact that as a Sunday, the churches were more likely to be attacked. They didn’t think of the fact that there was a bombing in Lahore barely a month ago, or the fact that one of Taliban’s allied factions, Jundullah, bombed Peshawar’s biggest church in 2013 during Sunday Mass. They simply shrugged off their responsibility and put the lives of over a thousand people on stake. If that isn’t plain revolting, the reaction certainly makes it far worse. While cricket enthusiasts continued on watching their match, just glad that it wasn’t in the Cantonment, the media proved which side it was on. By reminding television viewers that Christian protestors were carrying a nationwide protest and associating it with images of carts burning, the media ensured that the public would start equating the Christian community’s response to a terrorist bombing to the bombers themselves. And then there’s Imran Khan and his bandwagon of followers chiming in, accusing the Punjab government of a security lapse and coming out with a statement that, as usual, condemns the incident but never names the perpetrators. Anyone who has a reasonable ability to recollect can remember the great and consistent security lapses made by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) government, with the Peshawar school attack, the imambargah attack and last year’s church bombing acting as plain indicators of the hypocrisy political personalities like Imran Khan have always embodied. For all the NAP’s effectiveness in coming out with statements to appease the international world with claims of banning terrorist organisations, Pakistan’s government hasn’t moved an inch towards recognising the threat of militancy. The only figure who has, Jibran Nasir, isn’t even part of the political framework; he can’t make decisions that count. The ones who do count, like the interior minister who claimed that Aziz had apologised for his insensitive remarks after the Peshawar attack – a claim that Aziz immediately refuted – are too busy trying to explain to the world that “Islam is a peaceful religion and terrorist groups do not represent Islam”, as if all it takes to beat radical Islam is that essential clarification by Chaudhry Nisar. All these claims and all these deliberations that insist on representing terrorism as a war being ‘imposed’ on Pakistan’s people and refusing to deal with the root problems have had a cost. It has detached everyone from the reality of radical Islam posing a significant threat to Jinnah’s Pakistan. It has killed thousands of Pakistanis, even before American involvement in the region. Above all, it has made us indifferent to incidents like yesterday’s church blasts, where 14 murdered human beings simply became a numerical addition to a much bigger death toll.


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    They questioned the legitimacy of Parliament. They objected to the transparency and fairness of the general elections in 2013. They protested and resigned, making their return conditional upon the formation of an inquiry commission to probe into the allegations of rigging during the 2013 elections. And they returned to Parliament after the promulgation of an Ordinance establishing that very commission. So what was all the fuss about? Yesterday, during the Parliament’s joint session which was called to discuss the pertinent Saudi-Yemen issue and Pakistan’s role therein, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) legislators returned to the National Assembly after seven whole months. Once again, despite all its vices, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) proved to be the most, if not the only, democratic party when the opposition leader welcomed PTI and its leader to the house. Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM)Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and one very vocal minister from Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) were not so welcoming. Fazlur Rehman has a hate-hate relationship with the PTI and Imran Khan, owing to the latter tapping into his party’s vote bank in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). His displeasure with PTI’s return to Parliament and consequent elimination of the opportunity to contest for and win by-elections on the seats vacated by PTI was quite obvious. MQM also has a long standing enmity with PTI which can be attributed to PTI’s, and especially Imran’s, occasional bold statements against Altaf Hussain and his party. Legislators from MQM raised the issue of pending resignations tendered by PTI members. It is surprising that MQM could not digest a retraction of resignations, considering how it has become a hobby for their beloved leader. They quoted Article 64 of the Constitution and conveniently overlooked National Assembly’s Rules of Procedure whereby the Speaker can refuse to accept a resignation if satisfied that it was not tendered voluntarily. If a member or members are sitting before the Speaker in the National Assembly, the Speaker need not ask such members if they stand by their resignations or not. If the resignations were not accepted when the members were consistently absent from the house, they cannot be accepted now when they are present. The odd and not so surprising outburst came from the Defence Minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif. Odd because his party claimed to have worked really hard to bring PTI back to Parliament for the “larger interest of democracy” and not so surprising because Asif’s words were pretty much in line with PML-N’s “democratic” trends. They struggled to bring PTI back so that their minister could reciprocate Imran’s verbal aggression? Was it a move to bring the enemy on your turf and then hit him where it hurts? I am sure this was not the case, but Mr Minister sure made it seem like that. Asif questioned why PTI members, and especially Imran, were sitting in the same Parliament they had previously termed as bogus and illegitimate, and accused it of coming into power through rigging. It is again not so surprising that a PML-N senior member has assumed that formation of a judicial commission implies Imran’s retraction of rigging allegations. If PTI has fought for a probe into the rigging allegations, and that probe is under way, why would they accept Parliament as legitimate before the findings of the commission? Asif’s fiery speech, which was anything but parliamentary, has apparently been lauded on social media. It seems to have satisfied the appetite for vengeance that PML-N supporters sought on PTI for having verbally ridiculed them and their leadership for months. Sitting on treasury benches and being a minister calls for some responsibility. It is not like Imran’s onslaught has not been responded to by PML-N on various forums. But to choose to vent out your anger in Parliament, in a joint session with an agenda so important, was extremely immature and irresponsible. PTI, very appropriately, did not reciprocate. Imran obviously did not expect a warm reception with garlands. He made his return to Parliament conditional upon the formation of a judicial commission; he had on many occasions resolved never to sit in a fake and bogus Parliament. But the recently signed memorandum of understanding (MoU) and the forfeiture of more than one demand therein, foretells PTI’s future stance. The MoU favours PML-N more than it does PTI. It may just be a face saving opportunity for Imran and his party. Having realised the futility of his protests, Imran might just have agreed to wait his turn. Political victory is not only evident in the MoU clauses but also in PML-N blatantly allowing its minister to hit PTI when it’s down. Imran returned to Parliament because he knows what fruits a toothless commission will bear, and also because he does not want to stay out of the assemblies till the next general elections – and maybe, just maybe, because he has been assured that steps will be taken towards electoral reforms, ensuring that the next elections will be free, fair and transparent. The joint session was, however, more about petty political score settling than deciding the fate of our future foreign policy. Yesterday’s session gave credence to the rumoured assertion that decisions on foreign and defence policies are now being taken elsewhere, while politicians are allowed to play around during their sessions and meetings. As we saw, they did not take any decisions, they only played.


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    When Maryam Nawaz Sharif was appointed as chairman of the Prime Minister’s Youth Program, the act reeked of nepotism, despotism, cronyism and all other vile ‘isms’. Maryam was appointed, in all probability, because she is the prime minister’s daughter. It was a move typical of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) evil and dynastic ways. They ignored any and all qualified individuals for the position and chose the daughter of the party president for an important post. How dare they! Moving forward, Reham Khan has recently been appointed the ambassador for street children by Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) government. Behold the nobility that oozes from this profound feat by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Now this is a trend that all parties should follow. Reham has not been appointed to the post because she is the chairperson’s wife, no sir. It would be foolish, unreasonable, evil, anti-state and as good as worshipping Satan, to believe such a biased and baseless assumption. Reham has been appointed simply because she “loves street children”. It is a well-kept secret that the K-P government held back on this appointment for a long while. They were actually going through the strenuous process of selecting the perfect candidate for this post. A team of highly qualified scientists and psychologists assisted the K-P government in this all-important task. Blood samples were taken and analysed, brain scans conducted, and behaviours observed. On the basis of lab results a few candidates were short listed; those who showed above 70 scips (scips is a recently discovered – by PTI scientists, of course – unit to measure love) of love for street children. Psychologists interviewed shortlisted candidates and finally three candidates were picked and interviewed by the chief minister. To his utter surprise, Reham Khan got 98 scips (highest ever in recorded human history) and was the obvious choice. This was such a co-incidence that it amused the entire PTI leadership but they chose not to disclose this almost unreal occurrence. Khan Sahib was advised against this appointment by a few less enlightened members of PTI. But wise and selfless as ever, Khan Sahib respectfully differed. In his infinite wisdom he is said to have opined:

    “This dynastic politics has become an evil in our country. Although there is nothing inherently wrong in the trend itself, it owes its nasty repute to its adoption by evil parties. We must rid this practice of its evil reputation. For that we must adopt it, since once adopted by PTI any vice becomes a virtue.”
    Being shown the light, all hailed Imran and the decision to appoint Reham Khan was finalised. It is obviously dynastic when Maryam is appointed to a post by Nawaz Sharif, or when Bakhtawar or Asifa are appointed by Asif Ali Zardari. But when PTI does it, it is only merit and in the best interest of democracy, Pakistan, Muslim Ummah, and all that is holy in the entire universe. Unfortunately, there are people criticising this appointment, using it as the latest justification to question PTI’s claim of being different. These sceptics are all corrupt. Anyone who questions PTI’s ways is a corrupt, immoral, ignorant, misogynistic, treacherous, anti-Pakistan, Satan-worshipping hatemonger. I advise these lost souls to join PTI and be salvaged. Only when you join PTI, are you able to see the light and truth. There is no shame in admitting your flaws and making amends. If you are worried about being labelled a “lota”, don’t worry. It is written on page 34 of the PTI’s handbook on lotacracy that:
    “Any person who leaves a political party and joins another is a ‘lota’, regardless of what his intentions are, even if he does it for completely valid and cogent reasons; unless the party he joins is PTI”.
    It is quite simple really. Since PTI is on such a high moral pedestal, as compared to everyone else, rules of gravity would not allow a lota to roll PTI’s way automatically. A lota always rolls with the slope and not upwards. So anyone who comes from anywhere is clean, patriotic and sincere as long as he is headed PTI’s way. Although, if at any time he chooses to leave PTI and join another party, he will have to surrender his cloak of sainthood at the exit and revert to being the devil he used to be. I wonder what other political ‘evils’ await transformation into noble principles at PTI’s hands. Shunning a member out of your party for disagreeing used to be dictatorial. But now, after Javed Hashmi’s eviction from PTI for speaking his mind, it is a democratic practice. Not everyone can understand PTI; only those who believe and have seen the light, can. And they have an inherent right to bash those who haven’t yet seen the light. Only they know that even this bashing is in the best interest of the bashed, and in the best interest of Pakistan, Muslim Ummah and all that is holy in the universe.

    reham-maryam copyreham-maryam copy

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    Religion has deepened its roots into Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) once again, where the Legislative elections are set to be held in June, 2015. The first symptom of this religiosity is the allegations against various party leaders for using mosques and imambargahs as launching platforms for their political activities. The second symptom is the current unanimous decision of a so-called jirga (local council) which bars women to vote, as it would put the religious, cultural and social honour of the region at stake – according to a report by BBC Urdu. The jirga was held in Diamir, one of the seven districts of G-B. Whereas both of these factors have always been part of Pakistani politics in various constituencies, the important aspect of this recent decision is not that the fatwa was declared in the first place, but that this fatwa is being equally endorsed by candidates of all major political parties contesting the elections. The political candidates of all parties unanimously agreed to follow the directions of these ‘ulema’ (clerics) to keep intact the religious and cultural dignity of the region and ensured the jirga that they would not bring women to polling centres. For me, this is more disturbing than the decision of the fatwa itself. Candidates who are supposed to be neutral in terms of religious polarisation are throwing all ethics out of the window and siding with a draconian decree that is grotesque as well as backwards. Women are the first to suffer when it comes to honour – albeit of a man, a family or a society. Our patriarchal roots have always tried to subjugate women; we have many examples of that. Be it the case of Mukhtar Mai and the backlash she faced after standing up for herself, or Benazir Bhutto and how she was maligned and slandered by the high-ups in politics, or Malala Yousufzai and how she is still being hated by majority of Pakistan – we see patriarchy at play in many colours here. And this recent jirga decision is just another nail in the coffin for Pakistani women. The jirga’s decision will disenfranchise almost 13,000 women from using their right of vote. Three days have passed since the decision was made, and so far no action has been taken against the clergy or the political candidates who supported this shameful and irrational proposal. The decision is a strict violation of both human and legal rights of women. Such methods of isolating women from participating in a discourse in public life is an attempt to make them feel inferior and passive – who could easily be moulded according to the wishes of their male benefactors. Women today constitute almost half of the population, yet they have been subjugated for religious and cultural norms in various part of Pakistan. We can’t predict if the future will take a realistic approach vis-à-vis women apartheid. But we can observe that the age-old practice of female seclusion is still very much present in the 21st century. Back in 2010, the National Commission on the Status of Women found the same practice of women disenfranchisement in various parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and FATA and asked the Election Commission of Pakistan in the recommendations of its report to take serious notice of the issue, but to our dismay, after five years, the same draconian method is being used against women in G-B. The chief minister and their cabinet members, who we are told, are highly educated and respectful individuals, are still silent on the issue. Such is our moral standing. Moreover, respective party heads of G-B chapter are also silent on the issue, and they have not condemned so far the attitude of their party’s ticket-holders who were partners in crime with the jirga in presenting and agreeing upon the barring of women to vote. The people of GB must differentiate between the honour of women and rights of women. Discouraging women to exercise their basic human right of freedom and expression must be opposed in all possible ways. Women can’t remain as silent observers in society following the orders dictated by men. The election commission, political parties, and civil society of G-B must record their protest and take steps to ensure that 13,000 female voters in Diamer are not secluded from the democratic and electoral process. The government must take serious action against all those religious leaders who are denying women their rights though religious justification. As far as the political candidates are concerned, the election commission must ban them from running political campaigns unless they change their stance about women participation in the election process. It is also important that religion and politics or religious politics should be replaced with democratic and rights-based politics – a more humane and equal-participatory democratic process. If democracy is ‘government of the people, by the people, and for the people’ then women participation must be ensured or else the state must introduce a new definition of democracy – a government of the men, by the men, and for the men. Right to equality, justice, empowerment, and representation in a democratic system stems from the right to vote. Denying women this right is like denying them all the basic liberties that are essential for a society to grow. The women of this country need to be more active; they need to have a sense of equality within them and they should feel proud of being citizens of a democratic state.


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    It would appear that the province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) is still waiting for its ‘change’ or tabdeeli. Many Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) supporters argue that things have changed and we all hope they are right. But the one thing they might want to ask their leader to look into is the alarming incidents of gun violence in academic institutions. A study conducted done in 2006 revealed that 77% of the homicidal deaths in K-P were a result of gun related incidents/gunshot wounds. Maybe no one in the K-P government knew or understood just how violence can erupt or hadn’t read that study when they decided to provide guns/ammunition to the teachers in K-P as a ‘self-defence’ measure. The answer to violence, according to them it seems, was more violence. The answer to security threats was arming everyone with guns and turning the province’s schools into militias. Sure enough, on Thursday June 11, 2015, a teacher was cleaning his gun in Mingora (which begs the question why his gun was being cleaned in class; while delivering the guns/arms training to teachers, were these teachers not taught the proper and safe use of firearms?), when he accidentally shot a student of class five. The little boy died on the spot. It’s disturbingly ironic that it is the children, again, that are under threat after the Peshawar attack. In October 2014, groups clashed at the University of Agriculture, Peshawar and a student died as a result of exchange of fire. Brawls and clashes take place at all universities, but providing teachers with ammunition is insipid to say the least. The world is actually light years ahead of us; they are actually lobbying for gun control. The gun-related deaths that occur in the United States have raised serious alarm amongst human rights groups and an active movement against the gun lobby is underway. However, Pakistan has found the novel solution of finding peace by giving teachers no less than guns. While there are many solutions to the security problem in K-P, giving teachers guns isn’t one of them. Accidental gunshots are only one of the many serious repercussions that follow with gun/firearm proliferation, as we have seen. The K-P government must immediately discourage teachers to use/bring firearms into schools and academic institutions so as to prevent these incidents from occurring. It is already a shame that local government polls in K-P have been strung with gun-related violence and deaths. It is a mystery to me why the provincial government there would not act upon or immediately revoke anyone’s arms in any place other than a shooting range or a hunting ground.


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    After the dismal performance of our team in the World Cup 2015 and the recent Bangladesh series, people are beginning to perceive that Pakistani cricket is running out of talent due to the flaws in our domestic system. However, even after such flaws, we possess some extraordinary cricketers who haven’t made their debuts yet or still have to show their potential. The best part about these youngsters is that they are all below 25-years of age. They possess great talent and hold unique match-winning abilities. Sami Aslam, Babar Azam, Zafar Gohar, Mohammad Asghar, Ziaul Haq, and Muhammad Rizwan are some of the fantastic young cricketers in Team Pakistan who have the power to stun the world. According to my observation, and with respect to their talents, here are the top five young cricketers in our team who need to be highlighted: Sami Aslam [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="594"] Photo: AFP[/caption] He is one of the brightest young prospects Pakistan has ever produced. He captained the under-19 team and led Pakistan to the under-19 finals in the 2014 World Cup held in UAE. At the age of 19, Aslam boasts of an excellent average of 49.50 in A-list cricket, better than most of the batsmen in the current squad. Aslam averaged 100-plus in his last ODI tournament, which was held two months prior to the World Cup. Aslam also scored a century in the finals against Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s domestic team, which had star bowlers like Junaid Khan and Yasir Shah. However, he needs to work on his first-class performance where, so far, he has managed to gain an average of 35 only. He was selected in the ODI and Test squad of Pakistan for the Bangladesh series, where Pakistan got whitewashed. Even though he made 45 runs on 50 balls in his debut ODI match, he couldn’t do much in Tests and got out soon after. Spectators should keep their eyes open for future-stellar performances by this young lad. Zafar Gohar [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="594"] Photo: AFP[/caption] Gohar has a promising bowling average of 21.27, 20.77 and 17.13 in first-class, A-list and T20 cricket respectively. Twenty-year old Gohar has a bright future in store for him and I view him as being a potential replacement of the dynamic Shahid Afridi. Last year, his batting performance had a very crucial role to play in the under-19 World Cup. In fact, his match-winning knock against England was what took Pakistan from the semi-finals to the finals. Babar Azam [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="595"] Photo: AFP[/caption] Azam hails from a cricket background and is cousins with the famous Akmal brothers. Azam has also captained Pakistan in the under-19 level, but his stint as a captain was not as successful as Aslam’s as Pakistan finished 8th in the U-19 World Cup 2012. Besides being a good batsman, Babar also comes handy in the bowling department. I can easily compare him to his talented cousin, Umar Akmal, but Azam definitely proves to be more sensible and rarely throws away his wicket. Mohammad Rizwan [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="512"] Photo: AFP[/caption] This 20-year-old wicket-keeper-cum-batsman hails from Peshawar. He averages an impressive 40-plus in both first-class and A-list cricket. He made 58 runs off 67 balls on his debut against Bangladesh during the series held last month. He can definitely challenge Sarfaraz Ahmed’s place and would be a good addition to our fragile and unpredictable middle order. He was an integral part of the K-P team that won the ODI held before the World Cup. Rizwan was successful in scoring a century in the finals of the Haier T20 Cup against their competitor, Balochistan. Mohammad Asghar Nineteen-year-old player Asghar comes from Hub, Balochistan. With an average of 20.80 in first-class, 18 in A-list and only 14 in T20 cricket, the selectors should place their bets on this remarkable bowler. He may be the next big thing in bowling after Saeed Ajmal. He was the top wicket-taker in the Haier T20 Cup and had a wonderful bowling spell for his team, Rawalpindi Rams. Unlike Ajmal, Asghar has a flawless bowling action which could be a great shake-up for the flimsy bowling line-up currently in place. These five players have the potential to navigate Pakistan into a glorious phase of cricket. Let’s hope that they are given the chance to showcase their talents.

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    I spent my childhood playing in daisy-filled meadows, walking the pakdandis and exploring the narrow roads of Nathiagali. I have drifted along these pakdandis for miles, getting lost in the green hills only to be brought home by the villagers who witnessed us growing up. My family and I are blessed that we can flee to the Galiyats, escaping the hustle bustle and frenzy that has seeped into almost every other city in Pakistan. The hill station has been my parents and grandparents retreat of choice since the 60s. This year brings the fourth generation of our family to the Galiyats at a tender age of just nine months. Over these decades, Nathiagali has become our home and the people residing in the villages surrounding it have become our extended family. The residents of Nathiagali have taken over the preservation of its unique charm personally by planting over 150,000 trees. They also started a local ambulance service and have uplifted the educational standards of schools. And hence, predictably, any destruction of my home evokes strong emotions in me. What has set Nathiagali apart from other hill stations is how it remains in its natural state — untouched. The occasional VIP movement shakes the peace — whether they are passing through to go to the governor’s or chief minister’s house — but they all pass, leaving behind the quaint town with its residents and its narrow roads. The hill station has been conserved, because unlike Murree and other once-beautiful hill stations, its care has been left to the people who live within it. That is until the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s (PTI) government came into power in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) with its lofty plans to expand roads and tourism. Let me clarify — I am a proponent of increasing tourism, as are the shopkeepers and locals I have consulted. The K-P government’s plan to open guesthouses to the public is promising; this will provide tourism spaces that once belonged solely to government and army personnel. I am hopeful the plan will be mindful about the importance of proper maintenance of facilities and historic spaces. However, their intention to make these free or cheap for the public is misguided. Heritage sites such as the ones they have now opened up to the public are preserved by charging top-dollar worldwide. Furthermore, the previously government-run chalets called the “Sarhad Tourism Chalets” are run-down and dilapidated, due to a lack of adequate maintenance. None of the locals are willing to stand by and watch the destruction and defacing of their hometown; one of the rare few places free from the clutches of our short-sighted and ill-planned leadership. Shopkeepers say that they find no logical reason to expand the roads of the bazaar (market) — the project the government has embarked on — as tourism is peaking, even before such expansion. They complain construction was at a standstill the entire year and only resumed in the last six weeks of summer, during peak tourist season, with no management present which is clearly hampering this tourist season currently underway. Consequently, the bazaar is ridden with slush, landslides and overflowing water, and age-old trees are being cut at random. Many in the marketplace are disillusioned; they say the new government has destroyed Nathiagali beyond repair, that it can never be restored to its original state. Shopkeepers complain their business has seen a decline since the beginning of the project and worry things won’t pick up if the area’s sanctity isn’t safeguarded. Ultimately, the government fails to recognise the problem is of management, that wider roads will not alleviate traffic problems as there are no policemen or government officials supervising the streets or the construction work. It is heart breaking to witness the PTI government ruin the character of a beautiful hill station — a hefty price to pay for wide roads. After all, small hill stations and towns in Europe and America have flourishing tourism industries with small, winding roads, so why can’t we? Below is the story in pictures: [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="597"] This road leading to the Nathiagali Bazaar was constructed during the British Raj. It has been demolished in order to construct a dual carriageway. Shopkeepers say the government has “ruined” the bazaar.[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="598"] A view of the 40-feet deep parking lot that was set to be constructed. Locals say the government has now abandoned the idea of a lot, and is simply extending the road, obstructing current access to the shops.[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="598"] Age-old trees destroyed. Could they not have been avoided?[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="598"] Here is a picture of a newly carpeted road. Why have these trees been cut when they are clearly not obstructing the road path? The management displays a sheer lack of care for the few regions of Pakistan that remain in their natural, beautiful state.[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="505"] A 200 year old tree cut and destroyed.[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="596"] Landslides, destruction and chaos on the roads leading into Nathiagali.[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] The township I strive to preserve.[/caption] In light of the above, I question Malik Amin Aslam, the architect of the PTI’s green growth initiative, about the efficacy of his Billion Tree Tsunami project (quoted by Rina Khan in Dawn). Is PTI implementing a policy whereby every 100 trees chopped down in Nathiagali will be planted elsewhere? I fail to understand this “creeping green revolution” after seeing 200-year-old trees, which can easily be preserved, being destroyed on a daily basis on the pretext of “development”. The way the expansion project has been at a hiatus for the last 10 months is testament to an inefficient government’s effort and to what lies in store in the future for my home. Some argue the PTI is taking positive action in K-P, but the reality in Nathiagali says otherwise. I urge everyone to press Imran Khan to bring an end to deforestation in Nathiagali. What does it say about our leadership, Mr Khan, knowing that we cannot even preserve a township of approximately 50,000 people? All photos: Aaminah Qadir


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    It was déjà vu for anyone who lived through October 8, 2005, and not just the feeling that the ground was going to split open. Yet again, we have shown that at times when people come together, irrespective of cast, creed, faith and political affiliation, we Pakistanis would rather choose to be divisive. People are dying, yet clerics say they are ‘happy’ to see attendance rise in mosques. People have been left homeless, yet politicians are busy point scoring, blaming each other for the slow response of the other instead of taking responsibility for their own mismanagement. Hospitals are being called high risk buildings by their own staffers, yet social media crusaders are trying to make jokes at the expense of the cricketer and the nihari lover instead of rallying people together. And of course, the sycophantic praise for people who are simply doing the jobs they were hired to do so. Did you ever praise your milkman for not adulterating the milk? The Express Tribune ran a special edition on the 10th anniversary of the October 8, 2005 recently, with some of the stories discussing how far we had come, and where we have failed. Around the same time, in a story on reconstruction of houses in Azad Jammu Kashmir, a local was quoted as saying he had not adhered to the earthquake-sensitive building requirements issued by the government, simply because they were too cumbersome. That is the equivalent of walking through a minefield because it would be shorten and save time. When the government tries to make people safer, they refuse to take the advice. Should the government punish such people by refusing aid the next time they need it? But the governments – federal or provincial – are not without fault. A story in today’s edition of The Express Tribune notes that the National Disaster Management Commission has not met since 2012. At the tail-end, it mentions that Rs7.8 billion in flood relief funds from the 2010 floods were misappropriated or diverted elsewhere. A National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) official is quoted as saying,

    “A probe should be launched into these funds as no one knows where billions of rupees went,” and that the “government has yet to release funds to implement its 10-year National Disaster Action Plan.”
    Sharif – the one that wears civvies (Nawaz Sharif) – has been criticised for the slow response and the failure to quickly announce a relief package. The former complaint, however, is more related to the rushed-through 18th Amendment. Provincial disaster management authorities, like many other devolved departments, still lack capacity, and the addition of new departments may have also created more red- tape in getting things done. The fact that such important departments were devolved before the provinces were ready to handle them is in itself something that deserves investigation. Meanwhile, Imran Khan is in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) getting photos taken at hospitals in the province. Note that the photos shared give him more prominence than Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, the head of the provincial government. Imran has not been elected from a city in K-P. He has been elected from Rawalpindi – a city in which he has never lived. Why isn’t he in the city, let alone the constituency that elected him to the National Assembly? Why does he care more about K-P than his own constituents? At the same time, according to a newspaper report, the New Balakot project remains stalled because the locals are not fond of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI). The same report said it was previously stalled by the Awami National Party (ANP) government because the area is not Pakhtun. Incidentally, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had stalled an important water supply project in Murree because, as a colleague reported, the incumbent PML-N MNA did not want his Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q) predecessor, who started the project, to be able to take any credit. So basically, the attitude of the rulers is that anyone who doesn’t vote for them can drop dead. And who knows how many people have actually died, and will die in the future, because of this approach? As for broadcast media, instead of immediately offering advice on how to be safe and directing people towards the failings of the governments in arranging effective immediate disaster response and addressing building code violations, reporters and anchors were telling viewers to look to the heavens for help. That job should be left to the clergymen, even if they are busy enjoying increased attendance due to the deaths of people they call sinners. Evil, four-year-old sinners. Sadly, we keep drawing lines in the sand while forgetting that, in the greater scheme of things, we are but grains of sand.


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    Many people had been ranting about our shair-e-mashriq (poet of the East) Allama Iqbal rolling in his grave at the (mis)treatment due to the ‘controversy’ over how to celebrate/commemorate/observe his birth anniversary. I, on the other hand, had another vision flitting through my mind’s eye. No, it wasn’t of him holding a pansy in his hand, muttering ‘Pakistan loves me, loves me not’, while plucking at each petal. I could envision him sitting calmly in his chair, legs neatly folded, with a hint of a smug smile on his face, saying,

    “So you thought you could forget me, eh?”
    There has been far greater discussion and awareness about the national poet and philosopher in these few days than is done over the entire year. People were arguing whether Iqbal Day should or should not be a public holiday. Within those arguments, selections from his poetry and essays were peppered for good measure. This was done across the pro and anti-holiday divide, so in my opinion, the benefit still accrued. But really, did we need the confusion about the public holiday to gain so much traction? It’s true that the prospects of a long weekend have always been very enticing, but the needless controversy that erupted over whether or not schools and offices would be open gave the people more anguish than relief. Parents were especially stressed by the dithering between yes and no on part of the government officials. Social media exploded with memes on the topic and then of course, the politicians, always looking to spark controversy to assert their importance, jumped into the fray. The one-upmanship, of the show of ‘more loyal to Iqbal than you’ spectacle also resulted in the government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) announcing a holiday on November 9th, despite the fact that it had been taken out from the list of gazette holidays. We had separate announcements about some departments declaring a holiday while others did not. Some educational institutes kept the parents on tenterhooks till the last moment. Did all this serve any purpose? What was the idea of suddenly starting to protest for its restitution on the eve of the day itself? The list of gazetted holidays is issued at the start of the year. Why didn’t anyone speak up at that time if they had a problem with it being declared a working day? At least then there would have plenty of time to hash the issue out and come to a decision. We must also see whether these ‘holidays’ serve any purpose? Are we really commemorating them with a purpose in mind? Or do we just need to know well in advance whether to stock up on DVDs or book farm-houses and beach huts in advance? This doesn’t even work in a half and half situation where schools are closed and offices are not, as that presents a bigger problem for parents to manage the children in their absence, unless they too have to miss work per force. All in all, a pretty complicated situation. Surely, all those clamouring for a holiday were not planning to have ‘lub pey aatee hai dua’ recitals, were they? So what is it that has suddenly made cancellation of Iqbal Day as a public holiday the cause of so much heartburn? How much of Iqbal’s philosophy did we imbibe when we did get the day off? What happens on all the holidays that are given to commemorate different eminent personalities? How many of us think about Jinnah’s vision for Pakistan on December 25th and think of a personal or national course correction? Do we know more about Shah Abdul Latif’s beautiful teachings or the universal message of Rahman Baba or Data Ganj Baksh because they too have their ‘days’? Do we really know the significance of Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s first prime minister, whose death anniversary also used to be a partial public holiday? Maybe the only way that holidays would have any meaning attached to these personalities would be if they were not a holiday, like when Independence Day used to be celebrated in schools. The parents may have had an off, but they had to dress the children in the national dress and drop them to school for special assemblies, programmes and celebrations because of which the school children learnt of the significance of the day. Maybe more than a commemoration, we need a dedication of that day to the personality. Iqbal Day could be also be commemorated through activities dedicated to talking about his thoughts and his poetry. How does a mere holiday honour such personalities? After all, what Iqbal wrote about is still relevant to the Pakistan of today. He needs to be talked about. People need to think about what he wrote. That can only happen if concerted, conscious efforts are made to bring the discussion in the mainstream, not by giving people an extra day to sleep in late.


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    (Author’s note: Blog and blog title refer to cricket balls only. Puns not intended). Here we go. Another day, another Imran Khan statement reflecting a worryingly right-wing mind-set. This much is clear: Like the countless who voted for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) in the last General Elections, I shall not be voting for a political party that is full of so much hot air it should be floating around the world, that holds a country hostage through street politics, that is both outsmarted and manipulated, that consistently panders to the single biggest threat in the history of this country: the religious preachers. There is a reason why they called him Taliban Khan. Imran Khan believes the nickname was a conspiracy started by a TV channel that actually helped make him a political star by giving him more air time than CNN has given MH370. Of course, both are mysteries; Malaysia is missing an airplane while Khan Sahab is missing… well, never mind. So, what’s the latest? Well, Imran Khan informed women at Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Women University that he refuses to introduce the domestic violence bill in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Assembly unless it is approved by Pakistan’s Council of Islamic Ideology (CII),

    “The CII will review the draft and suggest whether it complies with the Holy Quran and Sunnah.”
    Just to be clear, Imran Khan wants advice on women protection from a group that believes there should be no minimum age for a girl to be married. This same group previously ruled that girls as young as nine-years-old were ready. Later, it endorsed the ruling by saying a girl could be married at any age and was ready for rukhsati, “if the signs of puberty are visible”. And we all know what happens after rukhsati. Only recently, a 13-year-old died of internal injuries after having her rukhsati arranged by her family to a man twice her age, who clearly thought ‘signs of puberty are visible.’ The CII also doesn’t think a man needs written permission from his wife before he sets off for a second marriage. The CII also says DNA evidence can’t function as primary proof in a rape case. Yes, obviously, rapists commit their heinous acts only when in front of four witnesses. Just to reiterate, Imran Khan seeks advice from on a bill to protect women from abuse from this very council. The Human Rights Watch in 2009 estimated that between 70 to 90 per cent of Pakistani women suffered some form of abuse. Meanwhile, the Aurat Foundation says that over a 1000 women are murdered in the name of honour every year in Pakistan. And according to Dawn, in Punjab alone, in 2013, 427 women were driven to suicide, 706 gang raped/raped, 1569 kidnapped and 774 murdered. Undoubtedly, Pakistani women are being victimised at alarming levels. Let’s also keep in mind that the CII is merely an advisory council. The power they carry hinders on the respect they are afforded. While the Protection of Women Against Violence Bill 2015 was passed by the Punjab Assembly, Imran Khan is still waiting for Uncle CII’s permission before giving women more legal defences in K-P. CII tried to hit the Punjab Assembly with a bouncer by calling the bill “un-Islamic” but Nawaz Sharif hooked the ball out of the park, cracking it with a piece of willow we did not know he wielded. Meanwhile, Imran Khan has given his balls to the CII; just like he handed them over to Jamaat-e-Islami, when he stood by as they, his political allies, gave speech after speech in favour of murderer Mumtaz Qadri; just like he gave them to the Taliban as he gave statement after statement in their favour, even stooping so low as to appealing for a Taliban embassy hours after a church had been bombed, the hundreds of disfigured bodies still not cold, the tears of the families still running, their hearts still heavy;  just like he gave them to the fundamentalists when he paraded American citizen Dr Aafia Siddiqui’s picture around, creating a dangerous narrative in order to win votes; just like he gave them to the PTI government in K-P when they banned Malala Yousafzai’s book. In all honesty, it is surprising Imran Khan has any balls left to give. Imran Khan has no balls. This would explain why after appealing for talks with the Taliban, Imran Khan backed off when they requested his presence at the negotiating table. No, Imran Khan has no balls. He would rather stay in the commentary box. Meanwhile, regardless of whether he deserves full credit, under Nawaz Sharif’s government, Pakistan executed a killer hailed by thousands of extremists, passed a historic women protection bill, launched a military operation that finally curtailed the country’s terrorist problem (thank you Raheel Sharif) and even made sure we stopped using proxies to access YouTube. But what if Imran Khan had become prime minister? Would Pakistan have started Zarb-e-azb or would the government still be negotiating with the Taliban in order to find the ‘good Taliban’? How many more innocent lives would have been lost during the extended period of indecision? How many embassies would Taliban have in Pakistan today? Would Pakistan have punished Mumtaz Qadri for taking the law into his own hands? Given Imran Khan’s kachay kaan, how disastrous would his international policies have been? Would he have come home beaming after a meeting with India, having proudly negotiated control of Kashmir in exchange for the rest of Pakistan? Would any province in Pakistan have passed a bill to protect women? I shudder to think what Naya Pakistan would have looked like. [poll id="453"]

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    Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), in an attempt to renovate and reorganise the much criticised domestic set-up, held a player draft for the upcoming Haier Pakistan Cup scheduled to begin on April 19, 2016, in Faisalabad. The tournament will consist of five regional teams: Federal, Punjab, Sindh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and Balochistan. During the draft system, captains of all five teams were given complete autonomy to build a team from scratch consisting of 15 players to be chosen from a list of over 170 domestic performers. Similar to the draft conducted previously, before the beginning of Pakistan Super League (PSL), this draft caused a few upsets that left cricket fans with unanswered questions. I have listed five players who have consistently dominated the domestic cricket circuit for the past few years and deserved to be selected. 1. Israrullah [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="561"] Peshawar Panthers Israrullah plays a shot
    Photo: PCB[/caption] Hailing from Monzai, K-P, Israrullah has established himself as a solid opener in the past. He represents Peshawar in all three formats in the domestic circuit and has piled up runs with a healthy average in List A and First-Class matches. Israr is often seen playing second fiddle to Raffatullah Mohmand in the shorter formats of the game, where he builds the innings, allowing his partner to adopt an aggressive approach against bowlers. While Mohmand was fortunate enough to get an international call-up, Israr still waits for his chance to wear the green jersey. Israr has scored 3290 runs in First-Class matches at an average of 36, which include 15 scores of over 50 and eight hundreds. In the shorter format, Israr has managed to pile up 1328, again at an average of 36, with a high score of 155. His performances in both formats are indicative of his calm temperament which has become a necessity for Pakistan team up the order. Israr was a key player for the Peshawar Panthers when they emerged victorious in the domestic T20 tournament twice. Despite his record and consistency, he remained unpicked during the inaugural PSL draft and was overlooked once again in the Pakistan Cup draft. Israr is currently playing for Zalmi Panthers in the inaugural three-team Kaun Bane Ga KPK Ka Champion tournament being held in Peshawar. 2. Hasan Mohsin [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Mohsin stars in Pakistan´s big triumph against Nepal
    Photo: AFP[/caption] Hasan Mohsin proved himself as one of the brightest prospects at the recent U19 World Cup. He displayed amazing all-round performances with great consistency, ending up as the highest scorer and the leading wicket-taker for Pakistan in the tournament. There is a contradiction between his aggression and lean figure which may make him come off as a weak option. Mohsin came onto the scene with blistering performances during the World Cup and selecting him with the first pick of round 14 would have been an absolute no-brainer. Unfortunately for Mohsin and the future of Pakistan cricket, he could not edge past the corruption and nepotism that allowed the teams to select 16-year-old Ayatullah and Arsal Sheikh, son of PCB official Shakeel Sheikh, over proven performers such as himself. 3. Saud Shakeel [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Saud Shakeel has lead his team against the Afghanistan Under-19 in Lahore and in the recently-concluded series against Kenya Under-19 in Nairobi
    Photo: Getty Images[/caption] Saud Shakeel went unpicked in the Pakistan Cup draft after previously failing to even feature in the list of emerging players in the draft conducted for PSL. The 20-year-old has been making headlines since he began playing at the U16 level in 2011, ultimately going onto the inter-region U19 level, where he represented Karachi Whites and Karachi Zone. Former Pakistan U19, Captain Shakeel, born and raised in Karachi, credits both Sarfraz Ahmed and Asad Shafiq for having a positive influence on his batting style. Shakeel averaged 48 in 10 First-Class matches that he has played, scoring 635 runs. In List A matches, he scored 448 runs, including four 50s and a high score of 104. Shakeel and Nawaz are considered to be quite similar, primarily owing to their left-handed nature, but what differentiates the two is their preferred batting number and all-round abilities. While Nawaz prefers batting at number six or seven and may be used as a genuine bowling threat, Shakeel prefers batting in the upper middle-order and may be classified as a pure batsman. The left-handed batsman would have been an invaluable addition to any one of the five units, had he been selected. 4. Sadaf Hussain Sadaf Hussain is a name that stimulates a sense of curiosity among hard-core fans of Pakistan’s domestic cricket. They remain curios as to how conveniently someone as consistent and talented as Hussain can be ignored every time a tournament of relevance comes up. Standing at six feet five inches, Hussain has the built of a bowler destined for greatness. It is his near-perfect record in the domestic circuit that raises several unanswered questions every time he is neglected by selectors. After playing 59 First-Class matches, Hussain has a mammoth collection of 283 wickets at an average of 18 with his best match figures of 15 for 154. As far as his List A record goes, Hussain has picked up 77 wickets in 34 matches at an average of 17, including six four-wicket and three five-wicket hauls. Hussain has represented Khan Research Laboratories, Federal Areas and Rawalpindi Rams in the domestic circuit, while also representing Pakistan A. It is indeed difficult to comprehend how mediocre bowlers such as Asad Ali have international caps and Hussain does not. What is more surprising is how selectors preferred picking Mohammad Sami over someone who has taken the entire domestic set-up by storm. After having been neglected several times, the Pakistan Cup snub will not hurt him as much as it will hurt Pakistan’s domestic performers and their fans. 5. Mohammad Asif Mohammad Asif requires no formal introduction. While I would enthusiastically describe Asif as one of the smartest cricketing brains to come out of Pakistan’s domestic structure, in the very next moment I might have to swallow my words with utter disappointment. Asif made a name for himself through his mind-boggling swing that troubled even the most technically correct batsmen. Add to that off field controversies that kept pulling him out of the game. After serving a lengthy ban for spot-fixing, Asif along with Salman Butt and Muhammad Amir returned to the domestic scene with the intention of reinventing his image as a player. Amir immediately returned to international cricket with a bang and Butt began mounting runs in departmental cricket, while Asif continued to get his mojo back. In the last seven matches he has played, Asif managed to pick up seven wickets at a miserly economy rate. If Amir can be welcomed back with open arms and Butt can be given a second chance, then so can Asif who has re-emerged at a time when right-arm bowlers are nowhere to be seen in a national arena dominated by nearly similar left-arm bowlers. With the retirement of Umar Gul, Pakistan has experimented constantly with the likes of Bilawal BhattiEhsan Adil and Hammad Azam, but none of them have cemented their place in the team. Bringing Asif back into domestic prominence would have added flair to a shrinking pool of right-handed medium fast bowlers. Although it might not come across as a serious issue to some, it is indeed one that needs careful observation and analysis. If a player is not provided with the opportunity to showcase his talent at domestic level, how is he expected to serve his country in the long-run? By not selecting these players in favour of others, we are doing more damage to ourselves. While it could indeed be an unfortunate case of hard luck, I firmly believe that a player’s luck should not be determined by the number of contacts he has on his speed-dial.


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    What is it about Lionel Messi that excites fans as he dribbles the ball across the field? What gives players like Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic the ability to hypnotise fans as they compete on the court? Is Usain Bolt’s speed really a big deal, after all, he did only run a 100-meter race at the Olympics. It seems as though for the average Pakistani, everything that is remotely foreign seems to be infinitely more appealing, but does that really come as a surprise? Pakistan’s football team is ranked 190th in the world, we are still raving about Aisamul Haq’s success in the Davis Cup while Nasim Hameed who won the gold medal for a 100-meter race in the South Asian Games 2010, is barely known. I was rather amused when I looked through Pakistan’s track record at the Olympic games. We have won a total of three gold medals from 1948 to 1992, after which we have been unsuccessful in our attempts. While some say silver and bronze medals mean something, I, like most others, am uninterested in them as they don’t really signify an achievement. It was always safe to put all our expectations on the cricket team, but these days doing so is nothing short of living in a fool’s paradise. Looking at the athletic aspect of the country, our athletes are unable to qualify for the Olympic games let alone standing a chance of actually coming home with a gold medal. Should Pakistani’s just give up on sports and athletics? I don’t want to sound disappointed and while this may seem like yet another article bashing some aspect of Pakistan, it is in fact quite the opposite. Today, the high achieving sportspeople of Pakistan, which include players like Aisamul Haq, Samina Baig, Palwasha Bashir, Hajra Khan and Nasim Hameed, are deeply concerned about the future of sports in the country. These individuals have faced all the complexities of a budding athlete/sportsperson head on and overcome each hurdle coming out victorious. There is no question that the process of rebuilding and strengthening our nation’s sporting sector would be gradual and there are many basic steps that need to be taken before making any bold changes. For starters, Pakistan’s sports ministry has to build a proper platform for individuals, and it has to be understood that talent will not just present itself in front of the selectors; it has to be hunted down, even it means going door-to-door, and better coaching staff who are assisted by professional sports personalities are needed. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Gilgit-Baltistan secured seven gold, five silver, and 13 bronze medals at Quaid-e-Azam Inter-Provincial Games
    Photo: Mountain TV[/caption] Being a sport journalist myself, I was always overly critical of our ability to achieve anything in the sport/athletic sector. Most people I spoke to regarding the changes needed and the road to them had the same reservations and concerns as I did. Little did I know that witnessing the first Quaid-e-Azam Inter-provincial Games held in 2016, would completely change my perspective. While it may sound like just another competition with mediocre talent, believe me, it was unlike any other sports event I had seen in Pakistan. This felt like the light at the end of the tunnel, as their may still be hope for the youth in Pakistan. The games were held at the Pakistan Sports Complex in Islamabad from April 23-26, 2016. On the day of the opening ceremony, I was informed that there were going to be over 3000 participants and that all of them had been handpicked by the selectors of the eight participating contingents. In Pakistan, mature players tend to overshadow the sports fraternity, while young talents wait their turn. However, this competition allowed the younger players to flaunt their talents. All the players were under the age of 25as per the Pakistan Sports Board’s official rules for their tournament. What was most surprising was that just like the young talent, the smaller provinces were also getting a chance to showcase the very best from their respective regions. The participating provinces were Sindh, Punjab, Balochistan, Islamabad, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), Gilgit Baltistan, FATA and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] First inter-provincial games begin with opening ceremony in Islamabad
    Photo: Dunya News[/caption] At the inauguration ceremony, the stadium seemed to be at full-capacity, filled with people from all over Pakistan supporting players from their provinces. The ceremony began and the most anticipated events were the march-past and the torch ceremony at the Jinnah Stadium in the Sports Complex. As the celebrations were ongoing, I began reading the informational handout which to my surprise, stated that the Pakistan Sports Board planned on using the competition as a platform to exhibit the participants talents in athletics, basketball, judo, badminton, hockey, boxing, wrestling, tennis, squash, taekwondo, karate, table tennis, football and volleyball over the next three days. After the enchanting opening ceremony, the games finally began. While the beginning of the event was rather haphazard and confusing, the Pakistan Sports Board’s efforts must be appreciated which proves that the board has the potential to host and organise a sporting event at the international level. Dr Akhtar Nawaz Ganjera, the Director General of the Pakistan Sports Board said,

    “This is the first a tournament of its kind is taking place in Pakistan and we took the initiative because we are aiming to host South Asian Games, Common Wealth Games and Olympics in Pakistan. We will show the entire world that Pakistan is not beneath any other country when sports in concerned. My entire team is working to introduce the best athletes of Pakistan through this platform and the world will see the talent from here …”
    If all the statements made by the PSB were to be quoted, the event would look just another gimmick being pulled off, which was my impression of it until I actually witnessed the magnificence of the event myself. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Sindh Judo Team wins gold medal in Inter-provincial Quaid-e-Azam Games 2016 Islamabad.
    Photo: The Sindh Times[/caption] The participants, most of who came from a poverty stricken background, traveled from all over Pakistan just for these three days. Close to a 1000 of the participants were young girls who had fought their families to chase their dreams of being sportswomen in a sport other than cricket. All the athletes were committed to their tasks and worked hard to excel at their chosen sport. They would practice for four to five hours every day while the ones participating in the 100 and 200 meter races would practice for seven to eight hours. These youngsters did not pay heed to the dehydration their bodies were suffering from, nor did they care about all the sleepless nights they had endured. Every participant had a fire in their heart and determination in their eyes; they were all raring to go. It was inspirational to see the athletes only concerned about practicing more and more to beat their opponents, even though the sports complex grounds were damaged, the rooms were not renovated prior to the event, the washrooms were never clean and there was a lack of restrooms for the athletes. And despite all the shortcomings of the PSB, the athletes went above and beyond to prove that Pakistan’s sports talent is not just limited to cricket. The stamina, patience, passion, athleticism and momentum of each athlete were unmatched. On the last day, during the closing ceremony, the winners were announced and Abdul Moeed was seen imitating DJ Bravo’s moves in Champion Champion after winning two gold medals for the men’s 100 and 200 meter races and Batool Zehra was seen proudly showing off her gold medals to the relatives who tried to talk her out of her dream of being a sportswoman, countless times, because as per their beliefs, she is meant to get married and look after her house and family– roles that are allotted to girls when they are born. After the teary-eyed celebrations, Pakistan’s Finance Minister, Mr Ishaq Dar, announced a donation of Rs100 million to the PSB for the complete maintenance and overhauling of the sports complex. It is great that the next games will be held in a better atmosphere with improved equipment and facilities. Perhaps, someday the Pakistan Sports Complex will be the venue for the Olympic games. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] ISLAMABAD: Boxers in action during the Quaid-i-Azam Inter-provincial Games
    Photo: Dawn[/caption] I would like to congratulate Punjab, K-P and Sindh securing first, second and third positions, respectively. I also want to wish the very best to all the athletes who worked tirelessly to lead their contingents to victory. Just like the provinces are proud of their respective participants, one day the entire nation will be proud of these individuals as they break previous records in the Olympics, the Common Wealth Games, the South Asian Games among many others. It is time we stopped criticising the PSB’s management and instead join hands with them in their mission to make Pakistan a country of champions.

    cp pscp ps

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    One of Narendra Modi’s mantras before he became prime minister in May 2014 was,

    “Minimum government maximum governance.”
    Two years later, this famous quote has lost its meaning. Currently, in all walks of life, there is more government and less governance. The powerhouse in Delhi wants to decide whether people are national or anti-national, it wants to dictate the religious preferences and wants to monitor each activity through Unique Identity Card (UID). The way the government is intruding into the private and personal space of individuals, it will eventually end up making the common man a prisoner in their own nation. The Geospatial Information Regulation Bill (GIRB) is another attempt to invade the privacy and rights of Indian citizens. The bill states that in order to display any geospatial information, prior permission from the government would be required and any mistake in the display of the map, which goes against the government’s published map, would invite harsh punishment. The punishment can range from a fine of Rs100 crore or seven years imprisonment. This is an extremely draconian approach to control the democratic debate in India. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) regime wants to control the political debate through cartographic dictatorship. So blind is the Hindu right government in its ideological agenda, that it does not realise that the GIRB is actually an attack on the very digital India campaign that Prime Minister Modi has been promoting so vehemently. It makes every digital application user a suspect in the eyes of the law. Any social media user can be put behind bars for liking or sharing a map, which the government thinks is wrong. In effect, by introducing GIRB the government is installing a CCTV in each household and any citizen can land in hot water without realising it. Has it come down to this now; where citizens live like suspects in the eyes of law under the garb of democracy? The bigger question is, why does the government feel the need to implement the GIRB in the first place? Can the government overrule or resolve the political problem by making corrections in cartography? Can the problem in Kashmir be resolved by drawing a new map that depicts both parts of the valley as part of India? If the GIRB is approved in its present form it would create further tension in the valley. There are many in Jammu and Kashmir who are resistant to the Indian rule and they either want to maintain their separate identity or merge with Pakistan. By having new geospatial regulation, the government in effect wants to curb the democratic debate by law. It will not solve prior problems but escalate the prevalent schism in the valley. It will also mean that the government is not open to dialogue with the residents of the valley. The government in effect has waged war against history and wants to correct history through cartography, which is highly juvenile. The Indian government further alienates Pakistan from dialogue processes and is giving ample reason to Islamabad to suspect New Delhi’s intentions. Whether India accepts it or not, Kashmir is the core problem between the two South Asian nations. The new geospatial regulations mean that the government is being driven more by ideological rigidity than by pragmatism. Many authors, both in India and Pakistan, have testified to the fact that both countries were in fact quite close to reaching an agreement on an international border in Kashmir in 2007. Former chief of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), A S Dulat’s book, Kashmir:Vajpayee Years, mentions that New Delhi and Islamabad were quite close in making Line of Control (LoC) an international border in Kashmir, and allowing free mobility for people in both sides of Kashmir. The GIRB reflects the confusion that has gripped the Modi regime vis-a-vis Pakistan. Can geospatial information regulation take care of the border dispute between India and China? China has been claiming Arunachal Pradesh as its territory and always disputes New Delhi’s hold over the state. The GIRB runs the risk of jeopardising further talks with Beijing on the border dispute. Imagine if China also introduces a similar law, how would India react? By introducing GIRB, India sets a harmful precedent for itself. As the largest democracy in the world, India needs to show much greater vision and flexibility. The GIRB, therefore, is an attack on the democratic rights of citizens and has potential to further inject geopolitical instability in the region. It reflects the parochial mind-set of the ruling class in India, which wants to settle democratic debate by legal highhandedness.


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    The second amir of the Taliban, Mullah Mansoor, has been dispatched to the hereafter by a hellfire missile fired from a Reaper drone or so claim the Americans. Others can neither confirm nor deny. Our own government is going through the same old motions. Denial. Conveniently a passport has been found unscathed. It is amazing how sturdy and fantastically fire-proof the material Pakistani passports are made of. If nothing else, this shows true ingenuity. Our passport might be considered the second or third worst passport in the world, but at least it can survive a drone attack. Imagine the potential. Surely the world must be lining up to get us to share this invincible lamination technology. But I digress. The issue before us is that the feared leader of the Taliban, a madrassah educated “military genius” who bettered the Afghan forces as Kunduz (without any outside help if our people in high places are to be believed though I do not believe them) has, according to Barack Obama, been squatted like a fly well inside Pakistani territory. What do we have in response? Silence from the interior minister.  Silence from the ISPR. Silence from the Air Force. As a Pakistani, I am flabbergasted. There are just too many questions that need to be answered here. Why are the Afghan Taliban still operating from our lands? Why did Mullah Omar die in a hospital in Karachi? What is our position vis-a-vis the Afghan government in Kabul? Are the Afghan Taliban our allies or our foes? Who decides who our allies and foes are in a conflict? These were pertinent questions even before Mullah Mansoor’s demise. After all if we recognise, as we are bound by international law to recognise, the Afghan government as a legitimate government, we cannot morally or legally support an insurgency on its soil against it. The usual response is that Afghan government also supports the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). That is true but that is not enough of an excuse to justify our actions. Truth be told, the Afghan government, unable to reconcile itself with the international border, has tried to destabilise Pakistan’s frontier since 1947, starting with their backing of the Faqir of Ipi, but their efforts did not bear fruit until we created a fertile ground for them (80s onwards) with the Afghan jihad. To quote Hillary Clinton, you cannot keep poisonous snakes in your backyard and only expect them to bite others. The policy of using “Jangju Musalmans” that our deep state became enamoured with, is what is at the root of the problem. It is a failed policy, a bad strategy and a bad debt. Let us cut our losses now. But I will come to that in a minute. Here is another reason why we should reconsider this policy. President Obama has entered a very dangerous phase of his presidency. It is that time when a two term American president looks over his balance sheet and becomes desperate to do something spectacular. Consequently, in the next seven months, expect the Americans to go after any target that moves. Americans have made their intentions very clear. They will go after any threat emanating from our soil. Violation of our sovereignty? Well you have seen nothing yet. Even Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif knows that fact even as he cries foul. So what does that mean for the presumptive Taliban leader i.e. Siraj Haqqani. He is a marked man, unless he can deliver the goods. Those goods are an end to violence and a return to peace talks. Our Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif, is set to retire in a few months. The international media is already pouring scorn on Pakistan and its military for their “duplicity” after the attack on Mullah Mansoor. Surely General Sharif does not want a barrage of drone attacks raining down on Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) in the last few months of his tenure. It is not good for his knight in shining armour image, let alone his legacy. After his many remarkable successes as the COAS, does he want to end his tenure looking toothless while the Americans made a mockery of our sovereignty under his watch? I believe he is a good and honourable man who understands what is at stake. Surely he has the coup d'œil of a great military commander. The terrain is vexatious and perilous. Too many enemies are counting on him to fail. Does he know, as any good general should know, when to retreat? History will judge him on how he reacts in the coming months. History will judge Pakistan too on the basis of what he does next. So how do we cut our losses? We tell the Afghan Taliban that they had a good run but now it is time to face the truth. There is no way that they will ever take over Kabul. The world will never allow a repeat of the horrors that they unleashed during their rule between 1996 and 2001. Medieval tribalism has no place in the modern world. However, in order to tell the Afghan Taliban that, we have to first prevail over ossified minds in our own midst, in our military and yes in the feared ISI, that the world will no longer accept backers of Taliban as legitimate brokers of peace. This is easier said than done. Many of our finest military minds are just too invested in strategic arithmetic from two decades ago. They are unable to appreciate the bigger picture today which is of economics and globalisation. And then there is the most important question of them all. Why must we use our excellent geostrategic location as an irritant to the world? Pakistanis have a legitimate role in the world’s progress. India and Afghanistan want to trade. We ought to get a piece of that pie. India and Iran want to trade. We should be the beneficiaries of that equation. Therein lies our true potential, a veritable trade hub where South Asia meets Middle East and Central Asia. All this could be our future, if only we were to give up playing games of the past. Let us tell the world that Pakistani territory will not be used for any insurgency anymore. Let us make sure that there are no longer any Shuras convened in Quetta. No more will we allow medieval warriors to plot their designs of destruction on our soil. This is what I want as a Pakistani.


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    The Pakistan Army has been fighting valiantly against the scourge of terrorism. There can be no words that can fully express the debt of gratitude that one feels towards our soldiers for having done what they have done to protect the people of Pakistan from the nefarious designs of these “holy warriors.” That being said, what comes next is an arduous task. The frontier of Pakistan, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) will continue to pose a challenge unless and until something is drastically done on a political and national level to integrate them fully into Pakistan. They must not be abandoned, nor should they be collectively punished simply because the Taliban used their homes and towns to launch their attacks on Pakistan and Afghanistan for so long. Collective punishment is what the people of FATA have known for more than a 100 years. It is built into the very instrument by which first the British lorded over them and now Pakistan’s federal government rules them, that is the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR). This is a damnable law and the mentality behind it has sought to treat our own citizens as enemy combatants or collaborators. This is why when we sees scenes like aerial photographs from South Waziristan which show houses stripped of their roofs, the first thought that strikes one is of collective despair that inhabitants of that god forsaken place must feel in their own country and in their own land. It is as if they have known no independence and no freedom and that they are a subjugated race ruled by a foreign power. How different really is our treatment of FATA from the days of Lord Curzon and other British rulers? [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] It is as if they have known no independence and no freedom and that they are a subjugated race ruled by a foreign power.
    Photo: AFP[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] How different really is our treatment of FATA from the days of Lord Curzon and other British rulers?
    Photo: AFP[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] The British bombed them in the 20th century and we are still bombing them in the 21st.
    Photo: AFP[/caption] The British bombed them in the 20th century and we are still bombing them in the 21st. The British deployed collective punishment as a tool and that is precisely what we are doing today. Looking at the pictures from South Waziristan, I do not see any difference, except maybe that we are even more ferocious than the British. Imagine having your lives laid bare in this manner because of a conflict in which most, if not all, of these people were either innocent bystanders or at most unwilling collaborators. Imagine what must happen to these roofless houses, more reminiscent of ancient ruins than towns in the 21st century, during the monsoon season which is right around the corner. There is no clarity on what the game plan is. Is the government going to compensate these people and rebuild their houses or will they be left to fend for themselves? There is talk is of piddling compensation, some Rs400,000 per house. These families would need at least three times as much to rebuild their lives. Is there a plan in the works? We need to know, and sadly, despite the fact that our Constitution makes right to information about matters of public importance a fundamental right, we are deliberately kept in the dark. The media blackout in conflict zones is more counterproductive than useful. Right now all we (the citizens) have is the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) press release telling us of the situation in South Waziristan and FATA as a whole. Opening up these regions to independent media will only strengthen the credibility and establish the veracity of the narrative on this war. And why must we be deprived of independent reporting in this conflict? Is it not through our tax rupees that these operations are funded? We are stakeholders in this conflict and we ought to know what is being done in our name so that there is transparency and independent verification of the facts. After all, the future of this country and our collective security is linked to it. There can be nothing that can be classified as being of greater public importance than honest and verifiable accounts of this war. What is there to hide in South Waziristan anyway? The Pakistan Army has reportedly cleared the agency of all militants. Why must we then stoke fires of suspicion? The good people at the ISPR and their think tanks ought to know that they have an image problem both domestically and internationally. Opening up the operations to scrutiny and independent reporting will be a step in the right direction and will only reinforce their efforts. In this day and age, there is nothing like a complete black out. No amount of embedded journalism can substitute the real thing i.e. fearless and independent reporting by courageous journalists ready to risk their lives even in order to ensure that the public and the polity are kept abreast of the real situation on ground. All any attempt to control information through press releases and embedded journalists does is to allow certain sections to conjecture and come up with wild theories that may have nothing to do with the truth. Often the wildest of conspiracy theories and the worst assumptions are taken by the populace at large as the truth. Then there is the larger point. If we want to integrate these people into the mainstream of Pakistani society, our attitudes towards them need to undergo a paradigmatic shift. Indeed the battle against terrorism will be won when we win the hearts and minds of the people most affected by it. It will also need whistle-blowers in the media to stand up. We must speak out consistently and without fear for the rights of our fellow citizens in the FATA areas. I long to see the day when FATA will be amalgamated into Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the century old subjugation of Pakhtun tribes would end. Till we extend to them all the rights and liberties of Pakistani citizenship, the very idea of Pakistan will remain incomplete. Only when a resident of FATA can finally claim that he too has the same rights and obligations as any other Pakistani, can Pakistan truly claim to be independent and free. [poll id="601"]


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    For those as yet unaware of the legend, Darul Uloom Haqqania is a large religious seminary located in Akora Khattak in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). It was founded in 1947 by Maulana Abdul Haq, a prominent scholar of Hadith who had trained at the Darul Uloom Deoband, the centre of Deobandi Islam in undivided India. It remained, till the start of the Afghan-Soviet war, a somewhat respectable institution that stayed away from politics and controversy. The students and administration of the seminary even played an important role in ensuring security and safety for the engineers and labour crews of the massive Karakoram Highway project. Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 Maulana Abdul Haq declared fighting the Soviets a compulsory duty for all Muslims. At this point a heavy emphasis on holy war was incorporated into the teachings of the institution which continues to this day. Darul Uloom Haqqania is currently presided over by Maulana Abdul Haq’s son, Maulana Samiul Haq who is a diehard supporter of the Afghan Taliban. The seminary has some rather illustrious alumni. Among these are: - Mullah Akhtar Mansoor: Erstwhile leader of the Afghan Taliban who was killed by an American missile strike last month. - Asim Umar: Shadowy leader of al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan appointed by no less than al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri himself. - Jalaluddin Haqqani: Feared leader of the Haqqani group and one of the most wanted men in the world. - Mullah Omar: Founding father of the Taliban who died in 2014. He attended the Madrasah only briefly but was awarded an ‘honorary degree’ much later due to the seminary’s full confidence in his moral uprightness and scholarly abilities. Not once has the madrassah distanced itself from any of these individuals and continues, from most reports, to contribute large number of ‘graduates’ to the cadres of the Afghan Taliban and other extremist groups. As recently as 2013 Maulana Samiul Haq stated in an interview with Reuters that Mullah Omar is “an angel-like human being” and that the Taliban should be allowed to fight for the “freedom of Afghanistan”. Now coming to the point of my preamble about the Darul Uloom Haqqania – and this is where things get very interesting. Last Thursday, Provincial Minister Shah Farman informed the K-P Assembly that Darul Uloom Haqqania has been allocated Rs300 million from the state budget. The monies will be disbursed over two budgetary years to the seminary. He observed that past governments had never delivered on the promise to provide religious seminaries with funding from the provincial budget which this government was finally delivering on. What, for the love of God, is going on? What achievements, what contribution to the country is Darul Uloom Haqqania being rewarded for? Is the K-P government actively endorsing and financing an institution that, as yet, officially supports the Afghan Taliban and has had many well know terrorist leaders in its ranks? This is a very unfortunate, and in all honesty, perilous state of affairs. Terrorism has weakened our nation from within like nothing else in our history. Extremism continues to be on the rise as evidenced by the unrelenting spate of sectarian violence and the targeting of minorities which continues with unperturbed, savage impunity. Yet here we are, giving Rs300 million to a madrassah with well-known ties to terrorist organisations and widely known to contribute to the rank and file of the Afghan Taliban. Here’s the thing; we will not be able to make an iota of difference to the scourge of terrorism and other manifestations of extremism till religious seminaries remain beyond the precinct of proper civilian law. This lack of oversight is unacceptable to begin with but takes on a more treacherous dimension when one takes into account the harm done to Pakistan by the extremism that these institutions have helped breed. Imran Khan defended the grant to Darul Uloom Haqqania in an interview on Wednesday stating that this was going to bring seminaries into the “mainstream” and “keep them away from radicalisation”. I am sorry Khan Sahib, without a clear cut agenda or legislation that delineates how Madaris are going to be regulated and prevented from being incubators of radicalisation that is not going to cut it. By all accounts, attending Darul Uloom Haqqania has led to youth being radicalised and you want us to believe it will keep them away? What manner of denial is this? How distant are you from the reality of Pakistan and this world-renowned seminary of Akora Khattak? I appeal to K-P Chief Minister Pervez Khattak and Chairman PTI Imran Khan to immediately revoke the allocation of money to Darul Uloom Haqqania. I would further request them to set an example for the rest of the country by bringing every madrassah in K-P under the jurisdiction of the Board of Education. Affronts like these to the intelligence and misery of the people of Pakistan must cease. Religious schools must be regulated and any material preaching hatred against other sects and religions as well as glorifying bloodshed must be banned. The 2-3 million students attending seminaries must be taught curricula meeting at the very least the national standard for Matriculate and Intermediate graduates. The purpose of education is to produce a capable workforce and the leaders, scientists and visionaries of tomorrow. Pakistan’s Madaris have instead become an assembly line for inadequately educated and unskilled individuals unable to contribute meaningfully to the nation's future and predisposed to bigotry and violence. Our children deserve better.

    Sami-ul-Haq Photo Justin SutcliffeSami-ul-Haq Photo Justin Sutcliffe

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