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    After the British took over Punjab from the Sikhs, they inherited what they called the frontier problem. The Pakhtun tribes on the periphery of Punjab had a long history of resisting authority emanating elsewhere dating back to the days of Akbar the Great. Maharaja Ranjit Singh had successfully driven back the Pakhtun tribes, but even that hard fought peace was tenuous at best, exacerbated by the fact that Ranjit Singh was a non-Muslim sovereign and the tribes were entirely Muslim.  As the power in Punjab changed hands from Sikhs to the British, the tribes once again rose in open revolt. To subdue the Pakhtun tribes, the British devised the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) which took its final form in 1901. It was designed not as a law that a civil government administers on its citizens but was a kind of a martial law by a ruling power subjugating a hostile race. Most notably it concentrated the executive, legislative and judicial functions in an all-powerful executive i.e. deputy commissioner who was the judge, jury and executioner. The FCR did not provide for due process of law, denying to the tribes the right to legal representation or appeal. The most offensive part of this law was the idea of collective punishment, where acts of an individuals could lead to collective punishment for the entire tribe. This was classic British bureaucracy; putting the natives in their place. The tragedy is that Pakistan, a republic and therefore a constitutional entity based on a social compact between citizens and the state, still administers the FATA region under this law. This means that as many as seven million of Pakistan’s citizens are denied that their basic fundamental rights that are otherwise promised to them under the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973. [poll id="624"] To a large extent, this discrimination is built into the constitution itself which confers a special status to tribal areas of Pakistan under Articles 246 and 247 of the Constitution. Under this scheme, any law passed by the federal parliament or the provincial assembly does not automatically apply to federally or provincially administered tribal area respectively unless the president or the governor of the province extend its application to these regions. Article 247(7) specifically bars the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the High Court to the tribal regions. By excluding FATA areas from the jurisdiction of the superior judiciary, the Constitution closes the door on the citizens in FATA in so far as the enforcement of their fundamental rights are concerned.  In other words if you have the misfortune of being from FATA or PATA regions in Pakistan, you cannot bring a writ petition before the High Court to redress any grievances you might have against the state. Express Tribune reported on June 23, 2016 that the government plans to bring Nizam-e-Adl Act 2016 to replace the FCR. It purports to undo some of the horrendous wrongs by giving the superior judiciary jurisdiction. While this is a welcome step, there is also some cause for concern. The jurisdiction being vested in the High Court is through the aforementioned act and not through a constitutional amendment changing the nature of Article 247(7). This means that the only time a resident of FATA may approach the High Court is possibly through an appeal under the Nizam-e-Adl Act 2016, against an order of a qazi and his council of elders or jirga. Therefore, ostensibly, the Peshawar High Court or even the Supreme Court of Pakistan would not be able to act under Articles 199 and 184(3) respectively. The constitutional jurisdiction of the superior judiciary, which is sine qua non for the enforcement of fundamental rights, will continue to evade the residents of FATA. So long as this is not done, the mainstreaming of FATA is impossible. Secondly the authority of the political agent has been further cemented through the law by making them into magistrates and vesting in them judicial functions. In other words Nizam-e-Adl Act, 2016 is old wine in a new bottle, packaged with Islamic nomenclature i.e. aazi etc, with only a limited right of appeal. What needs to be done in FATA in particular and tribal areas in general can only be done through two methods. The president, on the advice of the federal government, can order the exclusion of all tribal areas from the operation of Articles 246 and 247 of the Constitution. Here the Constitutional imperative is that the president is required to seek the views of the people of each tribal area as represented by the tribal jirga. Therefore, this course is foreclosed by the possibility of a tribal veto by unelected tribal elders. The other better and more civilised way of doing it is by amending the Constitution and abolishing the tribal areas once and for all, ending through the people’s representatives, including elected representatives of the FATA region, the discrimination and duality of the system forced upon the FATA region. FATA can then be made part of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) province as a whole and FCR can be repealed immediately, without the need for a special act to replace it. Such a change would be momentous in our history. It is an idea that has been kept on the backburner for over seven decades. For seven decades we have shirked away from the responsibility that state owes to its citizens in FATA. There is no other alternative. We have to choose between treating our own citizens as a subjugated race or treating them as equal citizens and partners in the progress of the nation. I am sure the common man, but not the tribal elders, would welcome the state’s decision to finally extend to them the independence that we have harped on about so proudly for so long. Integrating FATA into Pakistan, and thereby abolishing FCR, a remnant of colonial misrule, will be a step towards completing Pakistan.


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    The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) government allocated Rs200 million for the transgender community while announcing their provincial budget. Thank you, your effort is much appreciated. But the main question is; will Rs200 million be the solution to the on-going problems they face? Is it going to remove the social stigma attached to them? How about passing a law against those individuals who treat transgender people with utmost scorn and brutality? Most importantly, how long will it take you to give them their due rights as equal citizens of Pakistan? Back in 2012, the Supreme Court of Pakistan issued a judgment stating transgender individuals will have equal rights, as per the constitution, including the right of inheritance and right to adopt any profession of their choice. Today, a fatwa was passed allowing transgender individuals to marry. Even though Mufti Imran stated the government is responsible for this legislation going through in order to protect transgender individuals and change the way people think about them; the fact remains that this faction of society will remain to be targeted. Regardless of laws and fatwas being passed, this particular segment of society has been the victim of several hate crimes, insults, physical harassment, sexual abuse, psychological torture and murder. In the past year, in K-P alone, 46 transgender individuals were killed and 300 suffered varying forms of brutality and cruelty. To be honest, no law or amount of money can rectify the glaring situation we have at hand. It is more to do with our thinking. We think they’re the downtrodden individuals of society and can only be used for entertainment, be it singing and dancing at weddings or on the occasion of a birth. The mere mention of a transgender in a normal conversation is taken as an insult,

    “Tum toh aaj khusray lag rahay ho.” (You look like such a transgender) “Khusray jaisi harkatein na karo.”  (Don’t behave like a transgender).
    We have to breakdown the stereotypical male and female gender roles that have existed in our homes and public spheres. By declassifying roles and behaviour, we can finally accept transgender individuals as a part of our society. We need to make people realise that gender roles are not genetic, they're socially instilled and the only way to break away from that is to change the way we see gender. The government has a major hand to play in this as well. Till it doesn’t take steps such as recognising them on job application forms as a third option in the gender section and till hospitals and doctors don’t give them precedence, their status in our intolerant society will remain the same. Alisha, a transgender activist, was a victim of this attitude. She was shot multiple times and succumbed to her wounds while the doctors debated whether she be admitted in the male or female ward. They’re pushed out of their homes at an early age for being unlike the rest of us. Homeless and humiliated they don’t know who to turn to and then we blame them for being pushed into dancing at weddings, performing menial tasks, forced into living in slum areas and denied the basic right of an education. They can’t even travel using public transport in fear of being constantly ridiculed. All they ask for is respect and an equal role. Yet, we fail at that also. Until it is made incumbent for them to receive an education and until they aren’t made to apply for proper jobs, they will have no choice other than to earn through disrespectable means. After all, just like us, they too have to earn a living. Why should they be punished for no fault of their own? New laws are not needed – all that is needed is to enforce the existing ones. No amount of laws, CNIC cards will suddenly make this community an acceptable part of our society if there are no people that wish to implement the sentiments associated with them. Neither will this Rs200 million.


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    In 1929, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah gave the Muslims of India his 14 points, in response to the Nehru Report which was published in 1928 as a memorandum outlining a proposed new dominion status constitution for India. These 14 points became the cornerstone of all our SSC and HSC Pakistan Studies examinations in post-independence Pakistan and every youngster to date has read and memorised these points. However, I have always wondered why learning these points were so imperative. Are they still valid today? Surely not. They were a rebuttal to the Nehru Report, outlining what Muslims of India demanded from the British Raj in terms of more political autonomy. We have come a long way from then, so why keep learning those 14 points? I believe young Pakistanis today need a different set of 14 points. Perhaps ones they can effectively follow and help make Pakistan a force to reckon with. So this Independence Day, I’d like to share the 14 points that I would want to follow and urge others to follow around me as well, to help this nation progress further. After all, celebrating independence is more than simply sharing a remixed version of the national anthem on our timelines and putting up green-and-white buntings on our houses. 1. Start your own business Today, Pakistan stands at the precipice of becoming economically stable. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is underway in its development; the government recently got its last installment from the IMF and will be able to support itself without their help from now onwards; so things are beginning to look better. Keeping this in mind, I believe that youngsters in Pakistan, who are graduating from business schools and studying management, can make a huge difference in the country’s economy. By starting their own enterprises, not only would they help create better life opportunities for themselves, they would also create more jobs and significantly increase the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) rate of the country. There are organisations and NGOs who are ready to support new entrepreneurs and people who come up with new initiatives (IBA being an example of that). So why hesitate? 2. Travel within Pakistan As Pakistanis, we often undermine what we have as a nation. And that is largely because we never bother to travel and see the country for what it is. I do not count going to northern areas or hill stations as real travel – you cannot discover Pakistan through tourist destinations. Plan a trip to interior Sindh and see how many cities have developed and are still developing on the rural front. Visit Balochistan and see how the landscape is affecting the people there. Travel to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and see how the culture varies from south to north. See Pakistan in all its colours and vibrancy, only then will you truly understand its people. 3. Follow ideas, not people We have a tendency to talk about people. The he-said-she-said trend is inherent in us, be it in our households or our media. This needs to end. We should be focusing on ideas and on innovations. People should exchange thoughts and strategies and build their social discussions around that, instead of talking about the neighbourhood guy who bought his third Mercedes. The same goes for our media. I am done listening to breaking news about what so-and-so politician said to so-and-so minister. How is that educating anyone? As the saying goes, great minds discuss ideas, small minds discuss people. Let’s get out of that cycle. 4. Stop voting for people This reiterates point three. Since we always discuss people, we end up voting for people too, irrespective of what their mandate is and what policies they plan to implement. We need to stop getting excited by charming personalities and baseless rhetoric. It is time to vote for people who have genuine ideas, instead of those who can make the best speech or use the most puns in their statements. Find new candidates or become a candidate yourself! 5. Read our history And I mean proper history; not the tattered, biased version that is shoved down our throats during school years. Check what other people have written about Pakistan; foreigners who have reviewed our history objectively. It might surprise you how many of your notions will get shattered once you start dwelling in objective, un-tampered historical narratives. 6. Don’t adopt your parents’ prejudice This is a recurring theme for us. We often take up the same prejudices that our parents have, which, in most cases, have been adopted from their parents and so on. Learn to question the behaviour that you feel is questionable. Just because your mother is averse to non-Muslims using the same cutlery in your house as you do, doesn’t mean you should imitate that behaviour as well. We live in changing times, and we need to catch up. 7. Study something extraordinary The world has so much more to offer than the conventional list of four to six professions that your parents and extended family deem right for you. Explore what you like to do. The world is developing beyond our expectations and we should view it according to our times. Twenty years ago, there was no concept of a digital marketing specialist or an app designer, yet today these professions are growing strong. Keep a lookout for what you want to study and go for something that is extraordinary as well as helpful. This will work well for Pakistan too; we are done with our ever increasing pools of doctors, engineers and accountants. Let’s move towards innovation! 8. Be proud of something you have accomplished on your own We have the tendency to be proud of things we had no hand in accomplishing. For example, we feel proud for having the second highest mountain peak or one of the longest rivers in the world; yet there is nothing that we have done to achieve it. These are just geographical topographies that happened to fall within Pakistan’s borders. So what’s all the fuss about? All of us should strive to work towards something great and be proud of something we have achieved on our own. Build something new; teach people; think of solutions that can help others – strive to create a name for yourself. 9. Be ambitious The above point cannot take place without ambition. Life is more than just a nine to five job and a marriage with kids. Our youngsters need to understand this carefully; we, as a developing country, do not have the liberty to be content with what we have right now. As youngsters, we need to strive for greatness and aim for the stars. Our youth should think of winning Pulitzers, Nobels and Oscars; only then will we ever reach anywhere near the global powers that be. 10.  Stop criticising the government It is very easy to simply blame the government for the electricity outage in your area or the different institutions not performing well. The education system is a case in point. Are you sure that the education you complain about isn’t damaged because of your own doing as well? Yes, the curriculum can be made better; yes, the schools need more attention; but when your child is caught cheating in their Matric and intermediate papers, is it the government that has instilled in them the idea to cheat, or have they learned that at home? All of us need to ponder upon how we have been benefitting from the corruption of our systems, and how, in turn, have been supporting it. 11. Study the world map As a child, I used to spend hours looking through different Atlas’ and, for me, it was a humbling experience. For one thing, it made me realise that we are not alone and, as such, the universe does not revolve around Pakistan. Furthermore, it gave me an idea of how diverse the world is, how far away one country is from the other and how geography has a way of affecting politics, international relations and economics as well. It gave me the ability to see the big picture and not mindlessly indulge in farfetched conspiracy theories about how the world is after Pakistan’s security and sovereignty. 12. Discuss politics at home Gone are the days when one could be blissfully unaware of the political scenario and live life without concern. Globalisation and the media have left little excuse for any of us to be unaware of what is happening around the globe and, because of this, we have all developed different political views, whether we consciously know it or not. Therefore, I believe it is important for us to share our views at home and discuss them openly, so as to educate the people around us on what we think and also be educated on the varying views that could exist so close to us. 13. Learn new skills Personal development leads to professional development, and that leads to development of a country as a whole. Learning new skills does not only help increase the scope of employment for an individual, but also open us to different aspects of our personality; those that we might have not been aware of before. So go learn a language, or a technical skill, or a new sport, or a musical instrument. Just learn something new. It would do you good, more than you can imagine. 14. Find out what Pakistan means to you Lastly, on this Independence Day, strive to find out what Pakistan means to you. Forget your history books and the talk shows you see every day. Forget what your parents, peers, friends and teachers have told you, and come up with your own understanding of Pakistan. What does this country mean to you? It is only when we see Pakistan with certain expectations that we will work to uplift it to that level. Happy Independence Day, everyone!


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    The widely circulated video of Julie being flogged and tortured in Sialkot is the latest reminder of the perils of being someone who does not conform to the arbitrary norms of our society. Long marginalised and consigned to the niches of begging and dancing we have relegated them to, transgender individuals have now become the frequent target of physical brutality in Pakistan. It was not till the transgender community and their allies in social activism raised a public outcry at the murder of Alesha last May that the authorities started making any real effort to challenge this menace. It took the horrifying cruelty of hospital staff and passers-by towards Alesha as she slowly and painfully bled to death for any sort of public awakening towards transgender persecution. Enough though, is being written about the plight of the transgender community. This article is about celebrating their fight to end the discrimination and marginalisation they have endured since time immemorial as well as to advocate it as a model for social activism in Pakistan. Nowhere have transgender individuals faced more persecution than in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) where 45 individuals identifying as transgender have been killed in the last two years. It is only fitting that it is in KP that the most passionate and effective pro-transgender activism has emerged. Trans Action KP was started in 2015 by registering 300 transgender individuals from 15 districts of KP and the tribal belt. Initial organising and logistical support was provided by Blue Veins, a low profile but incredibly passionate and potent social advocacy organisation. Trans Action KP now has members from over 30 districts of KP and the tribal belt and has established a prominent social media presence. The organisation’s Facebook page sees heavy traffic on a daily basis and is supported by a growing number of bloggers and activists. What Trans Action KP is doing is unprecedented and avant-garde – they are following the golden rules for a civil rights struggle.

    • They have organised at the district level, thus ensuring a grassroots presence that can engage in dialogue at the local level.
    • They have introduced into public awareness the language and imagery necessary to describe and advocate for a transgender identity. To combat persecution and end marginalisation the vital prerequisite is establishing transgender individuals as a community with its own unique identity. Doing so is not formalising a label of abnormality as some might fear; it is in fact a necessary assertion of one’s identity and existence, a claim for acknowledgment and acceptance.
    • They have made full use of the media, both local and international. They connect frequently with the local media and have been interviewed on numerous occasions by foreign media including the BBC, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and RT.
    • They have kept a singular focus on highlighting persecution and advocating for legislation and social efforts to end persecution. Unlike many well-meaning social activists they have neither gotten bogged down in endless theological debates nor engaged in Pakistan-bashing. The overkill of intellectual self-flagellation and tying “religious reform” to every social issue is a manifestly self-defeating approach. The moment a sarcastic generalisation is made about a country or faith, the majority of one’s audience is lost. Trans Action KP has achieved recognition and a solid core of members and allies by steering clear of these distractions and not deviating from their core message.
    There is a long way to go for transgender activism and they will need the support of the entire community to end their suffering and become equal members of Pakistani society. We have each, either through active participation, apathy, or ignorance, contributed to this horror. We have each a role to play in ending it. Social activists in Pakistan can learn much from the tenacity and brilliance of Trans Action KP. May the transgender community become an inspiration to us all, an example of the righteous anger and courage we need to create a more just and moral society.


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    On Monday, the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, once again blamed Pakistan for the terrorist attacks in his country. The blame stemmed from a presidential statement following the Kabul terrorist attacks when Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, called President Ghani. Despite the Pakistani Chief of Army Staff’s offer to share intelligence and cooperation with Afghanistan, in order to curb terrorism in the region, the president blamed Pakistan for the terrorism in his country claiming that the terrorists were trained in Pakistan. Afghanistan has been going through a period of transition since the United States’ (US) invasion post 9/11, when the US and its allies ousted the Taliban. The US blames the Taliban for not only terrorising the Afghans, but for exporting terrorism across the world. Although, the US claims that they have defeated the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, in reality most of the rural areas of Afghanistan are still ruled by the Taliban. They attack Afghan security forces regularly and the recent attacks are a part of the outbreaks initiated by the Taliban after their ousting from Kabul. Similarly, Pakistan has also been a victim of terrorism since 9/11. Not only in the rural areas of FATA and Balochistan, but urban cities like Karachi and Peshawar have faced their brunt of terrorism as well. To curb this terrorism, Pakistan conducted many military operations in all Taliban safe-havens, rural and urban. While this activity has now been brought somewhat under control by the Pakistani security forces, Pakistan still has a long way to go in order to completely eradicate terrorism from her soil. Before playing the blame-game, as was done by President Ghani, it would be apt to deduce where these terrorist hideouts really are; is their safe haven in Pakistan, Afghanistan, or elsewhere? There is no doubt that, in the past, Pakistan did provide a safe haven for terrorist organisations in FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) especially in North Waziristan and Swat. However, these organisations have been eliminated by the Pakistani security forces through operations Zarb-e-Azab, Rah-e-Rast and Khyber II. At the beginning of operation Zarb-e-Azab, Pakistan had offered to either launch a similar operation in Afghanistan near the border or to close its border during the operation so that the terrorists operating within would be unable to flee to Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the Afghan and US security forces operating in Afghanistan turned a deaf ear to Pakistan’s suggestion. After the operation, all terrorists that were residing in these areas fled to Afghanistan and took shelter near the Pakistani border. They then made the Afghans that resided there evacuate, after which they launched attacks on both sides of the border (Afghanistan and Pakistan). These terrorist organisations now have a safe haven in Afghanistan, from where they have been operating against both countries. Pakistan now has to stop the attacks that stem from Afghanistan and implement a border management system. In order to achieve this, Pakistan has offered to share mechanisms and intelligence with Afghanistan. The present Chief of Army Staff isn’t the only one to have offered his loyalty; former Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif, also presented the same offer to Afghanistan in Davos during the World Economic Forum to combat terrorism. But instead of taking up Pakistan’s offer, Afghanistan’s president always finds shelter in the blame game, which has brought nothing but destruction to both countries. This is not first time that Ghani has blamed Pakistan. He has done so at the Heart of Asia conference, among other world forums. The analysts are under the impression that Ghani, who was the blue eyed boy for both the US and Afghanistan, has lost their confidence, while there are many like the ex-Afghan intelligence chief, Amrullah Saleh, who have openly threatened Ghani’s government over the Pakistan problem. They organised a protest in Kabul last week against Pakistan and have besieged the Pakistani embassy in Kabul after the attack. The analysts view Ghani’s present statement as frustration, as well as an attempt at saving face after his failure to control terrorism in Afghanistan. In light of Russia’s recent activities in world affairs like Syria and Palestine, the world’s unipolar status has ended. Russia is now aligned with China, challenging the US – a new cold war has begun. Pakistan, China, and Russia had a meeting about Afghanistan in which they agreed to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table for long-lasting peace in Afghanistan. However, the Afghan government neglected to acknowledge this meeting on the plea that she was never invited. Now considering the facts mentioned above, there is no space for Pakistan or Afghanistan to point fingers at each other. The need of the hour is for them trust one another, create proper mechanisms for border management to monitor terrorist activity, as well as share intelligence information to counter terrorism. Otherwise, the region will turn into another war zone, which will not end well for anyone.

    Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a news conference in KabulAfghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a news conference in Kabul

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    The selective way of presenting history in Pakistan conveniently ignores the fact that at the time of the country’s creation, there were two large movements which were sometimes contrasting and sometimes overlapping. The first was primarily centred on the Muslim identity and tried to actually bargain a better position for its bearers. This movement though ended up in carving a separate homeland for the Muslims but did not have a strong separatist thrust, at least in the beginning. However, the Islamic identity itself was not the only identity taken up by the Muslims as strong ethnic nationalist tendencies existed particularly in the region which later became Pakistan. Thus, the ethnic nationalist movements in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan existed even before the partition. West Pakistan, at its creation, was a multi-ethnic region with strong individual demands for greater autonomy based on linguistic and ethnic lines. The residents were largely Muslims but at the same time they also gave importance to their ethnic linguistic identities. East Pakistan had a more or less uniform language and a shared culture so at that point; the people supported Pakistan as they perceived the creation of that state as synonymous to a sufficient degree of autonomy. One thing grossly overlooked by the establishment is that ethnic-based nationalism flourishes and may even embrace the separatists’ tendency if the state is seen as biased. Nationalism is not merely a preservation of identity; it is very much intertwined with the concept of state. If the state is perceived as unjust, secessionist movements will most likely take place. Ernest Gellner defines nationalism in the context of injustice. The deprived and excluded, if belonging to any common ethnicity, will revolt and will form a nationalist expression built around that ethnicity and may end up striving for a state of their own. Another important fact is that identities based on linguistic cum ethnic lines cannot be made to disappear through a superimposition or by playing up the religious factor particularly when discrimination and exclusion are based on such lines. Yes, being a Muslim is an important part of the identity but at the same time so are ethnicity and language. The latter would assume supremacy in an environment of discrimination, whether real or perceived. Keeping this situation in mind, where five major ethnic nationalities existed with a strong tendency to demand a sufficient degree of economic, social and cultural autonomy; the best bet to keep the state of Pakistan intact was to allow sufficient autonomy at a provincial level to ensure that ethnic expression was not stifled. However, here came the crucial error. The Pakistani establishment at that time and ever since has assumed that allowing provincial autonomy and greater ethnic expression coupled with decentralisation would weaken the federation. Moreover, it erroneously assumed that the two-nation theory negated the fostering of regional identities. These two assumptions have accounted for the various ideological, political and administrative missteps which the state has taken over the years to “tackle” the issue of ethnic diversity and nationalism. Instead of accommodating ethnic diversity, the central idea has been to negate it through various means. As pointed out quite eloquently by Mr Stephen Cohen in his book, The Idea of Pakistan, Pakistani leaders have not fully grasped that in an ethnically diverse state, most politics are of identity and closely linked to issues of pride, status, jobs, and social equality. They seem convinced that ethno-linguistic demands are an economic problem, not a political problem, and if other means fail, a military problem. There are a wide range of administrative, political as well as ideological blunders. The Punjab dominated centre and establishment have committed these blunders over the past 60 years which has had devastating results. These blunders have proven to be counterproductive to the original aim of keeping the state intact in a smooth manner and have created alienation in the other ethnicities. But the ill effects go beyond harming the harmonious relations between the ethnicities. These have had catastrophic effects on other aspects as well. The ideological drive that places a strong emphasis on Islamisation also tries to counter the issue of ethnic identities. The aim has been to ensure a strong centre as it has been viewed as critical for the integration of the state. The policy of Islamisation has not been carried out to radicalise the population but chiefly as a political tool to subdue nationalistic forces. Even state sponsored Talibanisation in the 1990s was partly done to diffuse Pakhtun ethnic identity and amalgamate it into state preferred Sunni Muslim identity. Needless to say, it has produced catastrophic results and continues to produce such results. In fact we have not learnt anything from history and instead of trying to address ethnic nationalist demands; we have continued to counter it by efforts to play up the Islamic factor to diffuse ethnic identity and demands. The Islamic drive became more vehement after the secession of East Pakistan. Instead of getting to the root of the problem which was ‘over centralisation and Punjab’s dominance’, our response has been to play up Islamic identity in order to overcome the ethnic forces. The fundamental assumption is that the ethnic demands would weaken the state and therefore if ethnic identity can be ‘replaced’ or at least superseded by Islamic identity, the state would survive. Of course, the ideological thrust on fostering Islamic identity has been carried out to chiefly supplement the administrative, political, and economic set up in which the centre dominates. Pakistan has in fact continued the colonial structure with minor amendments to ‘adjust’ to the country’s ground realities. This structure, with a centralised bureaucracy, powerful feudal structure, a huge power vested in the centre and a large army, is chiefly designed to ensure a powerful centre. One has to look into pre-partition times to understand the structure and the rationale behind this brand of state structures. During the British rule, the state was structured with powers vested in the centre and provinces were to be governed with limited autonomy. The Government of India Act of 1935, which also became the source of inspiration for all subsequent acts, was again centrist in orientation. These two important characteristics which were designed by the British to ensure ‘insensitive’ hegemony of the centre and Pakistan’s establishment, as well as the political class with centrist tendencies, continued to persist with it. The post-colonial state is actually an extension of the colonial state with a different central government. This structure was deliberately allowed to continue to ensure the preservation of a centre-oriented state. This structure is bound to create resentment at the local/provincial level and is designed for an impersonal kind of ruling. In this structure, the centre more or less controls the revenue and expenditure. And the centre in present day Pakistan is dominated by Punjab. The population wise allocation of revenue and Punjab’s dominance in the ‘establishment’ institutions such as civil services, judiciary and armed forces has created resentment and given rise to grievances. The revenue and resource allocation is highly controversial and automatically gives rise to feelings of exclusion, which invariably will be manifested in strong tides of nationalism and occasional political violence around the question of secession. The current structure is skewed, whether deliberately or inadvertently, in favour of Punjab. Hence, not surprisingly, the identity of Punjab’s middle-class is strongly reminiscent of the official version of what constitutes a Pakistani. The other provinces increasingly identify themselves according to ethnic lines even though they may not all be harbouring secessionist aspirations. Moreover, several blunders have been committed in the past to ensure the preservation of the dominance of the privileged centre. One of the blunders was the tactless imposition of the one-unit scheme, which in the name of administrative ‘efficiency’ tried to subdue the ethnic-linguistic expressions within the mould of governance. The one-unit scheme was a disaster and effectively sealed the fate of Pakistan unity. It ripped open the already smouldering wounds and needlessly aggravated the situation eventually leading to dismemberment of the country in 1971. The administrative blunders have always been supplemented with violent and unconstitutional methods of dealing with nationalist forces. The centrist tendencies manifested in violence as Bengalis were crushed using the military, a pattern which has repeatedly been used. A culture has developed where autonomy, if voiced, is construed as a danger to the state and is handled with force. Right now Pakistan is fighting against extremism and bearing the brunt of its ideological blunder of promoting political Islam to tackle ethnic diversity. The time to learn our lessons has come. The foremost lesson is that dissent can only be acknowledged by addressing the root causes, which are often emanating from exclusion and discrimination. The use of ideological engineering and tactics of coercion and intimidation will not strengthen the federation but only weaken it. Another lesson which needs to be learnt by all but particularly by the democracy-sceptic Punjabi middle-class is that an ethnically diverse country needs democracy even if it means incising governance. Ethnic diversity needs a consensus at every step and the way it has evolved in Pakistan shows that the need to negotiate and renegotiate the relationship terms between the provinces will increase with time. Only democracy provides the framework as well as the forum to do so. Only democracy provides the mechanism that can tap the voices of the provinces and project them for a discourse at the national level. But most importantly we need to understand the grievances of the smaller provinces, on issues like revenue, China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and autonomy. If we fail to do so, the history of 1971 may repeat itself.


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    After their father fell seriously ill, two brothers Rameez and Khurram devoted their lives towards pursuing his dream. Their mission was to open their own handicrafts’ shop as their father was fond of wood carving. Rameez, expressing his gratitude towards his father with a smile on his face, said,

    “I remember the words of my father very clearly. He said when you craft, you create and that creation is all yours. Not only is it satisfactory, it is magical.”
    The two brothers have set up their own shop in Saddar for over 30 years now. Khurram pointed towards his hands and added,
    “When a man works, the hands suffer. The line of destiny on my hand has faded as well, but my hard work has surely paid off.”
    The two sons are not too worried about their income and they are happy with whatever they earn. [caption id="attachment_49999" align="alignnone" width="400"] Rameez, one of the two brothers[/caption] If having dozens of handicrafts is a wish, then this shop is a utopian dream. The items here range from every province; from the historically famous art of Hala to the modern day truck art along with a slight blend of Indian culture. Craft like a Chinioti Chiniot is famous all over the world for its woodwork and its wood carvings are a collector’s delight. The beautiful carvings on the timber decide the value of the item. The value increases depending on the tools used. Rameez and Khurram are both experts in wood carving. They have taught many other people in their surroundings who also work for them. They use the inlay technique where wood is decorated by adding contrasting-coloured materials and then lathing and painting them. Hands of grace The craft of Kutch, also known as kachichi is solely done by women especially from the district of Kutch. It’s a traditional form of hand-made embroidery practiced over cotton and silk fabrics, sewed in a geometric pattern. The embroidery is then decorated with beads and small mirrors called abhla. These colourful patterns vary from one item to another and highlight the vivid and vibrant culture of Gujarat, India. Their shop has especially collaborated with women from the Kutch district; they  purchase these exquisitely handcrafted bags and other items on an annual basis from them. The blues of Hala The famous blue pottery is made from a special kind of clay which allows pots and other pieces to be denser than usual. The artisans are renowned for this noted thin style of pottery making. The style consists of painted blue and white dye with numerous floral patterns, which gives it a delicate and elegant look. From the woods of the walnut The naqashe Kashmiri or the Kashmiri wood work is considered as one of the greatest heritages in wood carving. Kashmir is the only region where walnut trees grow in abundance and these beautiful items are carved from the wood of the same trees, which is known to be one of the strongest kinds of woods. The artistry of the wood work depends on the cuts and how thinly it is carved; this determines the value of the end product. Kashmir has its whole range of cottage industries where wood is carved. The ornaments of Kashmir This ancient art is practiced over many regions in Kashmir. These beautiful silverware and brassware were once used as household items and utensils, especially during the very famous Mughal era, but now they are considered to be ornaments. The weight determines the price and the value of the object as well as how much an item is embossed. These products were used in the region of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) as dowry gifts to newly-weds, but due to rise in prices and modernity taking over the tradition, the utilisation of these beautiful items has become minimal. Marble marvel Pakistan is recognised world-wide for its top quality marble and onyx. The country is blessed with minerals and craftsmen who beautifully transform them into exquisite pieces of art. The marble art is especially performed in areas of Balochistan and its production took a boom from the year 1994. Modern craft cave The modern Pakistani handicrafts’ business is spreading like a virus across the globe. This includes the Sindhi shisha moti ka kaam (Sindhi beads and mirror work) with a modern touch and the beautiful, traditional truck art over numerous objects. According to Rameez, the modern take on Sindhi mirror and bead work is very interesting to the customers, and many times they have run out of stock, due to which they pre-order these items before the season begins. Dazzling key chains, book cases, pen holders and other variety of items are handcrafted via this skill. The modern take on the traditional truck art is an eye catcher for many tourists who visit their shop. The business gets better as many items are sold during the winter season as many tourists visit Karachi then. Each small pot costs around Rs250 and the big ones can range from Rs500 to Rs1,500. According to Rameez, these painted pots bring in the most business as the demand is high among locals as well as foreigners. It has been over five years since they introduced this modern artistry to their shop. It’s a simple procedure where clay pots are painted using enamel colours which bring out the shine and vibrancy in the item. Over an estimate, their income depends 50% on the painted pottery. Their colourful shop called Rameez Handicrafts is the hard work of these two brothers who did their best to fulfil their father’s dream. The shop is situated in Zainab market, Saddar and is known for its famous handicrafts from all the provinces of Pakistan. Additional research and content generation: Fawad Jaffri and Saharish Saleem and Jaweria Shabbir All photos: Owais Jadoon


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    Whether Uzma Ahmed’s story is true or a farrago of  a distortion of facts, misrepresentation and outright lies (Hail Shashi Tharoor ji), still remains a mystery. While she has her own version of the story, the videos shown in the Pakistan media of her nikkah prove otherwise. Besides, there are lot of questions and missing links. However, out of all the things, the one that is bothering me the most is her attitude towards Pakistan as a nation. Interestingly, even when the Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj thanked Pakistan for the safe return of Uzma despite the troubled bilateral political relations between the two countries, Uzma, in a press conference addressed the same country as a well of death”. Well of death? Even though the truth is that Uzma could not cross the Wagah border to go back to India without the support and cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan? How about the Pakistani judiciary and diplomats who helped her thorough out the entire process? In fact, without the aid of the Pakistani establishment, it would have not been possible for her to return to India at all. And here, despite knowing these facts, Uzma is calling Pakistan a death trap? Well of death? Even when Barrister Shahnawaz Noon argued her case almost like a father figure? Sushma Swaraj lauded Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani for his verdict on humanitarian grounds, but Uzma, in her press release, had nothing to appreciate about the Pakistanis who helped her. How very thankless! Well, Uzma, you might have gone through all your alleged tribulations, but labelling a nation on the basis of one person without acknowledging the help of several others, somehow makes me question you, even if I want to believe your story. Besides, calling Pakistan a death trap on the basis of one Tahir Ali, is like calling all Muslims terrorists. Talking about questions, lets look at the following ones that come to mind. What about Uzma’s WhatsApp message to Tahir? Throughout, Uzma has mentioned how Tahir is a mean guy who lied to her. She even maintained her statement that she had no clue that he was already married and had four children. However, this Whatsaap message sent by her to Tahir narrates a different story altogether. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Here, she is not only requesting him to keep mum about his previous marriage in front of her brother, but is also telling him to lie about his education to her brother. Photo: Screenshot[/caption] Here, she is not only requesting him to keep mum about his previous marriage in front of her brother, but is also telling him to lie about his education to her brother. Visa details that state Uzma’s destination as Buner, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) In the press conference, Uzma mentioned Google searching Buner and how one can see it was occupied by the Taliban in 2008-10. She also mentioned how military operations occurred regularly in Buner. She talks about all the worst things related to Buner. However, one thing that surprises me and several others is that her visa details clearly state her destination as Buner, K-P. Logically, if she can tell us to Google search the place she visited, being a literate (oh, she is a doctor by the way), I am sure she must have Googled the place she was visiting beforehand. In such a case, the history of geography shouldn’t have surprised her. Moreover, foreign nationals visiting Pakistan cannot get visas for K-P unless and until the sponsor gives a guarantee. In this case, Tahir’s father became her guarantor. A quick Google search (as advised by Uzma) tells me that any area that Pakistan feels is unsafe, needs such provisions. This further indicates that Uzma was well aware about the situation there. I am sure if she can tell us to Google search this particular place, she would have herself searched the place before leaving for it. However, in her statement, she expressed that going to Pakistan is easy, the visa process is easy, but coming back is not. Oh well! Despite being aware of everything, she still visited Pakistan. For a moment, let’s believe that love is blind, but then why oh why would you label the entire country as a ‘death trap’, despite being warned through the country’s visa documents? Lastly, you’ll see Uzma thanking even the office boys of the Indian High Commission, let alone thanking the firebrand External Affair Minister Sushma Swaraj time and again, but not even once in the entire press conference did she thank the Pakistani lawyer and Justice Kayani who played an extremely pivotal role in her return to India. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Screenshot[/caption] Don’t all these things sound fishy? Nevertheless, the Intelligence Bureau should keep this daughter of India under special watch until all these questions are answered. There is more than what meets the eyes in this story. Aha, this reminds me of Republic TV. Mr Arnab Goswami, how about diverting your slight attention from Mr Tharoor in order to find out about this mystery called Uzma that both India and Pakistan are keen to know about? This post originally appeared here.


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    Whilst our civilian rulers have borne significant calumny for their dismal governance since the return of the democratic regime in 2008, there remain some feathers in the cap they can yet point to when juxtaposed with their military counterparts. Take the 18th Constitutional amendment for example. Since independence, successive military regimes have sought to consolidate power in the centre, perpetrating a phantom federation which in turn fuelled discontent and separatist-ism throughout the smaller provinces. The unitary propensity of the establishment also played a vital role in the East Pakistan debacle in 1971. The 18th amendment represented a break from this past, bringing about an inclusive administrative system by devolving administrative rights to the provinces themselves. The substantive effects of the legislation and its truly federal spirit demonstrated great foresight and political acumen on the part of the democratic leadership. One could be forgiven for hoping that the proposed Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) reforms would be a step in the similar direction of allowing the right of self-governance to hitherto neglected regions. The reforms recommended by the FATA reforms committee pertain to a 10-year integration program which allows for a repeal of the much denounced Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) in favour of the Riwaj Act. The act is intended to extend Supreme Court and High Court jurisdictions to FATA, as well as abolishing the abhorrent principle of collective punishment under the FCR. Most importantly, FATA will be merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), allowing the population to elect fully endowed representatives in the national legislature achieving a level of self-governance previously denied under Article 247 of the Constitution. Whilst the changes envisaged in the Riwaj Act remained far from perfect by allowing continued legal cover for tribal jirgas and sustaining certain anti-female customs, they nonetheless represented a significant and much awaited step in the right direction. Thus, the subsequent shelving of an agenda of national significance over the disagreement of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, a man with a scarcely meagre representation in both the national and provincial legislatures, exposes the congenital myopia of the current regime, giving a lie to their flatulent claims of enlightenment. The national significance of FATA and the profound depths of the ruling class’ failure must be considered in cognisance of an appropriate historical background. When the British sought to limit the megalomaniacal schemes of Russian expansionism in the late 19th century, five agencies along the border of Afghanistan were carved up to form a buffer zone and a second layer of defence (the first one being Afghanistan) from the Czarist empire. The British were rather reluctant to govern the territory, seeing little economic rewards, and thus settled for exercising lose control over the area in return for the obedience of the tribal leaders whom they bestowed with hefty patronage. To buttress this strategy, the myth of the ‘fiercely independent’ people of FATA was incubated, which remains a pervasive exposition even today. But are the people of FATA still, or were they ever, truly as autonomous as we were made to believe, or is the notion simply a pretext employed by consistent establishments to serve their own strategic goals in the region? Consider the draconian FCR, the operative legal instrument in the FATA since the Raj to answer this query. Under the FCR, a single political agent exercises almost inexorable discretion over judicial and administrative functions. The political agent, a bureaucrat appointed by the federal government, can incarcerate a man for up to three years without providing any justification. He can discharge collective punishment by persecuting an entire tribe for the crimes of one of its members. The Frontier Corps (FC) and the Political Agent (PA) rely on private militias assembled by the local jirga leaders known as the maliks (master) to establish their writ. Essentially, whereas the lack of an orthodox policing infrastructure and court jurisdiction over the tribal areas may seem proof for the notion of azad qabail (independent tribes), the bondage of these azad people to an even more stringent and potentially repressive legal code gives a lie to this very myth. Clearly, no man subjected to the FCR can be considered autonomous in any form. The fact that the Pakistani state aligned itself with this ignominious arrangement once the British left can be attributed to several reasons. Firstly, the vested interests of the privileged classes reaping the rewards of the system, namely the tribal maliks and the bureaucracy, made the implementation of reforms an increasingly uphill task, something that successive governments seemed not to consider worthwhile. Secondly, the military establishment remained wary of reawakening irredentist sentiments of Pakhtun nationalism were a unification to take place between FATA and K-P. Now whereas it is increasingly clear that basic political and civil rights have long been denied to the people of FATA through the perversion of the FCR, less effort is given to highlighting the calamitous effect this perversion has had on our collective national security. The FCR ensured that whilst the PAs had ample opportunity for financial delinquency and the tribal leaders ruled with an iron fist dishing out disproportionate punishment, the average citizen began to yearn for equal citizenship and financial alleviation. The combination of a disenchanted population seeking emancipation from the oppressive FATA elite as well as the lack of proper state jurisdiction in the region led to the creation of a vacuum. Think Iraq after the US’s invasion in 2003 or Libya after the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi. In similar vein, FATA became a potential hotbed for breeding extremism and nurturing terrorism. The Pakistani establishment had done just this during the Afghan jihad. Scores of madrassa’s were established in FATA to wage guerrilla warfare against the Soviets in Afghanistan. But mass disillusionment, and the extremist proclivities emitting from such a state of affairs are content neutral epidemics. If the state could exploit the wayward and precarious state of FATA for its benefits, the very same elements could be exploited against the state itself. And so when the US invasion of Afghanistan prompted top al Qaeda leadership to flee their bases in the country and retreat to the bordering tribal areas of Pakistan, they were presented with an extremely amenable environment in which to rejuvenate and consolidate their organisation. The pervasive myth throughout modern literature remains that the tribal people were obliged by their adherence to the Pakhtunwali code to give refuge to the al Qaeda leadership when the former sought it, regardless of the criminal nature of the organisation. Being far from the truth, this morbid distortion of the Pakhtunwali seeks to place blame on the victim, who were the people of FATA, and exonerate the real culprit, the state of Pakistan. Pahkhtunwali does not impose a strict obligation to provide hospitality to a guest. Rather, the notion of nanawatai (a tenet of the Pakhtunwali code which allows a beleaguered person to enter the house of any other person and make a request of him which cannot be refused, even at the cost of the host’s own life or fortune) entails an offending party soliciting forgiveness for a crime in exchange for which they would be conferred protection by their host. Nuanced exceptions to the rule are often elicited especially when the concerned fugitive has been involved in a blood feud or when he is sought by the Pakistani government. Furthermore, even when refuge is granted, the refugee must surrender his weapons before entering the protection of his host. History is clear that this was not how events unfolded. Al Qaeda did not come to pursue tribal protection in return for repentance, nor did they lay down their arms before entering FATA. Rather, Osama Bin Laden’s aides came armed with firepower and stashed with Arab cash, dismantled the established power structures by murdering dozens of maliks and old clerics and indulged in recruiting tribal youngsters towards the purpose of jihad. Axiomatically, they were able to do this as a result of the fabricated social dynamic of FATA at the time and the absence of any focused state reprisal due to lack of a true administrative system. It is pertinent to mention here that whereas the Pervez Musharraf government remained largely ambivalent in its Afghan Taliban policy post 9/11, there can be no doubting its hostility towards al Qaeda. Several top al Qaeda operatives were rounded up and handed over to the US authorities swiftly after the invasion, subsequently causing group to declare a holy war on the country in 2002 and make two attempts on the president’s life during the following year. It was also al Qaeda’s meteoric rise in FATA along with US exhortation of the Pakistani government to ‘do more’ that prompted the army’s first incursions into the tribal areas since 1947 in 2002. Clearly, there can be no question of collusion between the state and al Qaeda after 9/11.  This distinction is important in understanding that it was not state facilitation, but the blowback of years of neglect and political lethargy that allowed FATA to become an extremist stronghold post 9/11. It was from within this stronghold and under the patronage of al Qaeda that Tehreek-e- Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was formed to combat the Pakistani state. Despite TTP’s infiltration into various urban centres during the peak of its assault from 2009 to 2013, FATA remained in its true fortress from which it was able to inflict unimaginable wounds upon the state of Pakistan by attacking security institutes and killing thousands of civilians. It may seem a farfetched postulation, or an opportunistic and knave hypothesis, but a large number of lives lost in the ensuing War on Terror after 9/11 could possibly have been saved had FATA not been side-lined to the periphery of Pakistani politics as a matter of decided policy since 1947. Integration would not only have allowed placating the concerns of the downtrodden citizens, it would have ensured our national security by neutralising a potentially volatile region. One would think that in light of the damage already suffered as a result of current arrangement, our wise and benevolent civilian rulers would go to any lengths to rectify the situation and immediately move towards reforms in the tribal areas. But alas, the said wisdom and benevolence seems to end where their own political interests begin, no matter how trivial or arbitrary. As a result, FATA seems set to remain in its current predicament for the foreseeable future at least, with all of its dangers and vulnerabilities still intact, notwithstanding the gains of Zarb-e-azb.


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    It was a senseless murder so heart-breaking that only the most hardened could have remained unmoved. It has been more than a week since seven-year-old Pradyuman Thakur was murdered in the washroom of Ryan International School in Delhi’s suburb of Gurgaon, just minutes after reaching school. The police say a school bus conductor has admitted to killing the child. In a gruesome CCTV footage, the child can be seen crawling out of the washroom, clutching his bloody neck because the attacker slit his throat. Thakur was dead before he reached the hospital. Now, this story is what everyone with a child in school is talking about. Up until this incident, schools were our only safe havens, but today, no parent is sure anymore. This may be the harsh and unfortunate wake-up call that schools across India needed, where in recent times it has become less about education and more about survival. We are still trying to come to terms with how a bus conductor had such easy access to a washroom that should have been restricted only for students. If it has happened here, it could be happening across various other educational institutions as well. Schools across the country have now been given an ultimatum of several safety guidelines, including police verification of staff and CCTV cameras. The Central Board of Education firmly stated that those who don’t comply will be de-recognised. But once again, this is also a reaction, as we are not known to be pro-active. The lack of safety isn’t the only factor ailing our education system. The dust barely settles on one incident before we struggle to fathom another. While parents of the 7-year-old victim and other students continue to protest asking for justice, in Lucknow, the city of Nawabs, a school teacher went berserk hitting a student of third grade. The reason is even more bewildering. The student, being a child, was so engrossed in his drawing that he didn’t hear his name for the roll call, thus he was beaten, no assaulted is probably the right word here – 40 slaps in a couple of minutes. Corporal punishment is banned across schools in the country, but even students in elite schools end up reporting a case or two. Slapping a child is almost acceptable as a disciplinary act in schools where teachers are either untrained or paid too less. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 prohibits not just physical but also mental harassment of students, it is a punishable offence. But in Lucknow, the child came home with a swollen face and perhaps mentally traumatised, but the teacher was only terminated. Such incidents are piling up and humiliating children who are not even allowed to defend themselves. These acts seem to be the easiest way for teachers to vent either their frustration or show their power. In the southern city of Hyderabad, an 11-year-old girl was sent to the boy’s washroom as a punishment because she came to school without wearing a proper uniform. A bunch of teachers screamed at the child, not giving her a moment to explain why. The child is now understandably so upset, that she refuses to go back to school, even though her father has promised her that no one will trouble her. But her reasoning is how most children understand school life; once you have complained, they will hit back harder. This is also the reason why numerous students don’t always tell their parents about bullying, harassment or other incidents. What happened in Hyderabad took place in a private school. It is tougher to keep a track of incidents in the rural areas where only a handful of incidents are reported. A teacher in Madhya Pradesh allegedly blackened the faces of five students with coal and publically humiliated them by parading them around the village for not attending classes for two days. This, then, is primitive punishment in areas where there is no Central Board of Education and where the parent’s biggest achievement is sending their child to school, something they didn’t get a chance to do, so don’t know much about either. But it seems we aren’t the only country that believes in disciplining with a ‘danda’ (stick). Students in various schools across Pakistan have also been assaulted by their teachers. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” is literally the sacred vow that consumes many teachers, in some rare cases even with the consent of parents. Last year, a student of grade eight was beaten so mercilessly by his teacher in Larkana that he became not only unconscious, but was also paralysed. Muhammad Ahmed was not even a bad student, it was quite the contrary; he had scored 95% marks in his exams. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s (K-P) district of Chitral, minor children in a private school were beaten with a wooden stick by their teacher for coming late to school. After the way they were beaten and mentally scarred, it would be a miracle if they still go to school. Without compassion in schools, our children are spending the better part of their lives just living in fear. Today, education has evolved into a lucrative business. Everyone knows it is profitable, so big corporate houses are swooping down, wanting their stake of this pie. Gone are the days of ‘sewa’ (care), everyone now has a motive. If we expect untrained or poorly paid teachers to show our child respect, we need to go back to school ourselves. These past few incidents have put the spotlight solely on the education sector and it can’t be more apparent that it needs a refresher course in the very values it is meant to teach our children. The system has eroded, where if the teachers don’t get to you, the stress of simply going to school takes a toll. We have been the perennial achievers; no one studies and wins more Spelling Bees than us Indians. But the means no longer justify the end. No marks are worth it, especially if your child is not safe.


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    The constituency of NA-4 has given its verdict, giving Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) an important victory with a comfortable margin. Just like NA-120 was Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) litmus test of popularity after the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif, this by-election was PTI’s. This election was in many ways indicative of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s (K-P) electorate appraisal of PTI’s performance in the province. The comfortable margin of this victory has rejuvenated PTI, and to a certain extent, has provided a glimpse of its electoral prospects in the upcoming general elections of 2018. However, this by-election was not just about PTI but also about its contenders, both at the provincial and national level; it was important for PML-N, Awami National Party (ANP) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) as well. Each of the aforementioned parties was hoping to at least post a strong vote tally. ANP and PML-N, despite trailing significantly behind PTI, have still done well by posting above 20,000 votes each. Given the fact that it was a by-election and all of PTI’s resources were dedicated towards winning it, ANP’s performance is commendable. The party can expect to regain a substantial share of the votes it lost in 2013. PML-N also improved its votes from 20,000 in 2013 elections to over 24,000 despite the fact that this was a by-election. However, the party which has performed dismally in this by-election is PPP. It merely got 13,000 votes, despite the fact that the party had fielded the deceased PTI MNA Gulzar Khan’s son, Asad Gulzar, whose late father had won the NA-4 seat in the 2013 elections and the seat was left vacant after his death. This dismal performance in some ways seals the fate of PPP in the province. The party is already a part of Punjab’s history and this result does not indicate good prospects for the future of the party in K-P either. PPP, once a party truly federal in nature and commanding vote bank in literally all corners of the country, today finds itself confined to rural Sindh. At a personal level, the decline of PPP as an electoral force is worrisome for me due to several reasons. First of all, PPP in Pakistan’s context is relatively a liberal mainstream party. Here I am using the term relatively because frankly, no mainstream party could be called truly liberal in Pakistan. We just have varying shades of conservative mainstream parties of which PPP is more skewed towards left than PML-N which is centrist, and PTI which is reactionary and centre right. Despite being only relatively liberal, PPP is still an integral part of the ideological landscape of Pakistan, particularly given the fact that from mid-70s, Pakistan has increasingly shifted towards the right. Parties like PPP have, or rather used to have, mass populism which can actually check reactionary impulses, and can provide important input in progressive legislative process. Despite being in opposition, PPP supported Pervez Musharraf’s government in 2006, when it amended the Hudood Ordinance and supported PML-N in passing the Women Protection Bill. It remains an important bulwark against religious extremism and intolerance. Secondly, since PPP is left-leaning, it has historically provided an important check to over-indulgence in moves towards the free market economy. A country like Pakistan, which is still impoverished, needs a party like PPP to ensure that globalisation and privatisation do not go overboard and there is something for the less privileged in Pakistan. Third, PPP’s decline as a national political force will only accentuate ethnic and provincial tensions. Since PPP had support in all the provinces, it always tried to strike a consensus in matters pertaining to provincial rights and autonomy. With its decline, an essential political binding force between the provinces has also vanished. I really feel for Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. In many ways, he is way more liberal than his grandfather, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, and mother, Benazir Bhutto. He is a person whose heart is at the right place and who has actually spoken much more openly and candidly against extremism. It is a shame that he has actually come at a time when he is completely irrelevant because PPP as an electoral has declined. But who is to be blamed here? Before election day, PPP’s chairperson Bilawal had campaigned in the province and in one impassioned speech called Imran Khan “the most wicked man he had ever met”. He also accused Imran of financial corruption and doubted the progress under PTI. There are several things which Bilawal has to understand. First, whether he likes it or not, PTI today is a bigger electoral force than PPP, and one of the major reasons behind that development is PPP’s own incompetency. I regret to say that but PTI’s rise has largely occurred at the expense of PPP. PPP’s five-year reign from 2008 to 2013 was a dismal failure, which resulted in creating space for a party like PTI to rise. Before 2011, Imran had been nothing but a political minnow. However, PPP’s extreme incompetence with regards to governance and reputation of corruption actually propelled PTI as a major political force. To be fair, there were important achievements also during that time period. PPP successfully brokered and improved NFC award and was also chiefly responsible for the 18th amendment, which rectified the central province imbalances. It satisfied the longstanding demand of renaming North West Frontier Province (NWFP). It made Gilgit-Baltistan a separate province and tried to address its grievances. Moreover, it also passed an anti-harassment bill and tried what it could to modify the controversial blasphemy law. However, their failures were more glaring. During those five years, Pakistan’s growth rate remained below 4% which was lower than all the regional countries and lowest for a five-year period in our history. Furthermore, the economy accumulated a lot of public debt which increased manifold during that time period. Inflation remained in the double digit during most of PPP’s five-year reign, and to top it all, power shortages throughout that time period were a constant reminder of the government’s failure. Besides economic failures, unfortunately, that time period also witnessed several corruption scandals including the Hajj scandal and the rental power scandal. Moreover, the style of politics adopted by Asif Ali Zardari was solely based on patronage, was full of deliberate lies, and reneging on promises which merely alienated many, particularly the Pakistani middle classes. In some ways, Zardari’s style of governance, which was Machiavellian, also ensured PPP government’s survival but also ended up destroying it as an electoral force. In many ways, Zardari’s five years did to PPP what Ziaul Haq’s 11 years, Ghulam Ishaq Khan’s five years and Musharraf’s eight years could not do. After being decimated in 2013 elections, PPP was merely confined to Sindh and here also its performance is dismal. Furthermore, the on-going operation in Karachi by the Rangers has revealed the extent of PPP linkages with criminal elements. Likewise, NAB’s operation in Sindh has also ended up implicating several top PPP leaders in corruption charge. If PPP is to resurge, it has to wrestle back votes from PTI in Punjab and elsewhere. Bilawal needs to understand that for PPP to become a winner again, much more is needed than merely criticising his opponents like he criticised Imran. He has to set his own party right and improve governance in Sindh, and for that, he has to start by curtailing the influence of his father who, frankly, is now a liability.


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    Art on wheels’ has become a normal sight for locals in Pakistan. The exterior of our trucks and rickshaws are covered with colourfully-ornamented calligraphy, prose and paintings. Due to its popularity, this particular art has expanded from vehicles to almost everything else; the interior of restaurants, clothing, bags, accessories, souvenirs, and crockery, amongst other things. On one hand, the art depicts our beautiful valleys and literature, and promotes patriotism as well. On the other, it depicts the not-so-beautiful, yet honest aspect of our society. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="587"] Photo: Facebook/ Truck Art of Pakistan[/caption] Art, whether in the form of our murals or our films, depicts society in both its best and worst forms, which is why it includes violence, and even nudity, to a certain extent. Recently, a child in Peshawar took his own life while playing with a gun at home, and according to his family, he was inspired by the violent images seen in our art. This led the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) government to start a campaign against such art which “glamourises” drugs and guns. The issue has been raised that exposure to such images can have a negative influence, especially on children. According to Yasir Afridi, the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP),

    “The campaign is aimed at keeping the community safe from the effects of the gun and drug culture. The police are asking drivers to replace such posters with those promoting patriotism or community awareness.”
    The police officers are stopping vehicles with art on them and spray painting over the parts they find “indecent”. Videos emerged soon after the campaign, with one showing a police officer pointing at a women’s cleavage in the painting and then blacking it out – followed by blacking out her entire face – while another shows the officer blacking out a man's face and guns. The relationship between human behaviour and art is certainly complex. But does art actually influence human behaviour? Does it make people aggressive? This debate has been going on for a while but there is no definite answer to that question. Some psychologists are certain that violent art can have a negative impact on people, while others aren’t convinced. Nobody is certain if art is the reason behind violence, or whether violent people are attracted towards violent art in the first place. One contradiction to this belief would be Japanese TV and movies, which are known for their extremely graphic violence, yet the country has a very low crime rate. Is it because they have strict rules? Or because their citizens abide by those rules? Although this drive is a first step towards promoting peace in our society, and it has received positive reviews from the citizens, it raises a very crucial question: Is this an attack on art and culture? Should we allow the government to censor art? Should we allow the government to dictate what is entertainment for us, or should we decide it for ourselves? Pakistan is, at least on paper, a free country. We, the citizens, should define what constitutes as art and entertainment for us. This drive is aimed at tackling our ideology by attacking our freedom of speech. By banning art, we are steering away from the main issue – our mind-set. We aren’t asking the important questions, such as why the minor had access to a gun? Why wasn’t the gun locked? Why was it just lying around, and not hidden away somewhere safe? Why do people like Shahrukh Jatoi need guns? What are the gun laws in our country? And if we have gun laws, why aren’t they implemented? Why are convicts set free and not punished? By banning “violent art”, we can’t save the Shahzeb Khans and Sabeen Mahmuds of our country from dying due to gun violence. We can’t even control gun violence. And we definitely can’t save our children, men and women from being raped or assaulted. The art on our trucks and rickshaws depicts our culture and society. The depiction of guns and drugs in these illustrations just means we have a bigger problem in our society that we aren’t doing anything about. Maybe instead of setting the influential criminals of our society free, we should penalise them and create a lesson for the rest. Maybe we should focus on implementing stricter regulations on the rampant acts of violence in the country. If we do this, maybe then we might be able to see a difference in our art.


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    2017 would be mainly remembered by the judicial verdict in Panamagate, whereby a sitting prime minister was sent packing by the Supreme Court, and the pervasive political turmoil that ensued as a result of that decision. There were many positive events during the year that would help us look back at 2017 with a fond smile. As we move closer towards 2018, here is some of the inspiring and reassuring news that came out of Pakistan: 1. Top of the sports world Anyone who knows anything about cricket will tell you that if there is one team that has the raw talent to beat the odds, it’s Pakistan. Going into the Champions Trophy as the last ranked team, hardly anyone would have believed that Pakistan stood a chance at winning the coveted title in England. But holding true to its unpredictability, Pakistan surprised the world when we defeated arch rivals India to lift the Champions Trophy for the first time in our cricketing history.  It was like Eid had come early! From London to Lahore, New York to Narowal, every Pakistani was in a state of euphoria. It was indeed one of the most joyous moments of the year. Similarly, 2017 witnessed the return of international cricket to Pakistan, with a team comprising the best players of the world coming to Lahore to play a three-match T20 series against Pakistan. This was soon followed by the arrival of the Sri Lankan team as well for a T20 match. Everyone knew that for Pakistan, this meant much more than the game. Fans thronged the Gaddafi stadium for each match, cheering on the international superstars just as much as they cheered their own team. At the end, no team lost because cricket was the winner. In the field of Boxing, Pakistani boxer Muhammad Waseem, hailing from Quetta, continued to make us proud, when he retained his Silver Flyweight Boxing Belt, which he had won in 2016. In October this year, he successfully defended that title and took his tally of undefeated victories to eight. 2. Pakistani students continue to shine Keep the tradition of academic excellence alive, a Pakistani student, Hunain Zia, broke the previous world record by securing an unbelievable total of 66 As in O and A’ Levels combined. He also holds the record for maximum appearances in one session (27 days), including a staggering 45 subjects and 154 papers. Similarly, a 17-year-old student, Muhammad Shaheer Niazi, put Pakistan on the science map when he was able to visualise a physics phenomenon. Scientists from across the globe were amazed that a young kid such as Shaheer could come up with such a lucid conceptualisation. His work was later published in the Royal Society Open Science, a world-renowned science journal.  More power to you, Shaheer! 3. Goodbye, loadshedding In 2007, Pakistan first encountered the load-shedding epidemic. Since then, this was an issue that plagued our society to the point where it became an intrinsic part of our daily routines. But a decade and lots of hard work later, things seem much “brighter”. In November 2017, the government of Pakistan gave the people the glad tidings that Pakistan had “surplus of energy”, producing 2,700 megawatts more than the demand. You may disagree with many policies of the current government, but one has to give the devil its due. Here’s hoping Pakistan never falls into the web of darkness weaved by load-shedding ever again. 4. Terrorism being defeated 2017 was also a good year for Pakistan in terms of our fight against terrorism. Although it goes without saying that even a single terrorist attack is intolerable, it was nonetheless heartening to note that the number of fatal casualties from terrorist attacks decreased to the lowest number since 2007. The Global Terrorism Index gave Pakistan an improved rating in terms of decrease in terrorist attacks, which was a welcome sign. One hopes that in the near future, the government announces the day of December 16th as a National Remembrance Day, for remembering all the innocent Pakistanis who laid down their lives in this for preserving the soul of our country. Each year on that day, all of Pakistan should stand in silence for 10 minutes and pay respects to our fallen compatriots. 5. CPEC paves the way forward This year saw massive inroads in the development of the CPEC-related projects, including completion of different energy and infrastructure projects. Starting from Gilgit right down to Gwadar and Karachi, new motorways and rail networks are being built linking Pakistan and bringing our people closer. The Gwadar Port, which is at the heart of the development agenda, became fully functional this year and ships started landing at the harbour. Only time will tell whether this project will be the true “game-changer” for Pakistan that many are predicting, but the pace of progress witnessed this year is certainly a positive sign in that direction. 6. Billion trees planted 2017 saw the government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) announce the unprecedented achievement of planting a billion trees in just three years’ time. A ceremony was held this year where Imran Khan revealed that the Billion-tree tsunami initiative was a resounding success. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) was called upon to verify the plantations and after surveying the areas, WWF acknowledged that a billion trees were indeed planted. This is a landmark milestone in our nation’s history, because since independence, no government has made any substantive efforts towards afforestation. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) also congratulated the K-P government on successfully planting this incredible feat in record time. The pivotal need for afforestation is not a partisan issue; it is only befitting that other provinces “take a leaf” from K-P’s book and initiate similar plantation projects. 7. The tourists return This year witnessed the long-awaited return of the tourists from all over to the beautiful northern areas of Pakistan. With law and order situation improving, 2017 saw thousands tourists flocking north during the summer vacations. In fact, according to the Gilgit-Baltistan Tourism Department, in the last 11 months, around 1.72 million people visited that region, an astounding increase from 0.5 million for the corresponding period last year. What was even heartening was the fact that it was not just Pakistanis, even foreigners travelled from across the globe to experience the exquisite sites our country has to offer. It goes without saying that this was a challenging year for the world at large. The swearing-in of Trump, and the rise of the Islamophobic hate politics throughout the world made life even harder for minority communities. Pakistan had its fair share of challenges as well. But choosing to see the glass half-full, we bid farewell to 2017 with the earnest prayer that the coming year brings more reasons for celebration for our beloved country and its resolute people. Happy New Year!


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    The great comedian Umer Sharif once said that Karachi only has two seasons – summer, and hotter summer. Given the U-turn Karachi’s weather has taken over the past few weeks, from extreme cold winds to sweaty afternoons, he was right. Similarly, Pakistan also has two kinds of political seasons – elections and political turmoil. Another element similar between the two is that the first season transitions into the other only for a short while, and then swiftly returns back to its default setting. Since the 2013 General Election, Pakistan has been in a state of political and administrative commotion. The government has been trying its hands to gain favour from international players while maintaining its voter base in Punjab, while the opposition has been trying to derail the government and bring about early elections. Imran Khan’s dharna after the infamous “rigging” was the first real threat to the government, with the opposition marching from Lahore and sitting on Islamabad’s streets for several months on end. For a moment, it looked like the dharna would produce the results that the opposition wanted, but the government held on, turning the protest into an extended concert and dance party. One of Pakistan’s biggest tragedies gave Imran the face saving opportunity to exit from the quagmire he had created for himself. The dharna was called off after the Army Public School (APS) massacre in Peshawar, when numerous quarters criticised Imran for not giving attention to the province where his party held the provincial government. At that point in time, Nawaz Sharif looked unassailable and his government rock solid. Not only had it survived the Model Town backlash, it had also seen off the tabdeeli (change) at D-Chowk. However, it was not for long. The opposition got its big break when the Panama Papers controversy broke internationally, leading to the resignation of numerous heads of states and politicians abroad. The Panama Papers investigation finally led to the disqualification of the then prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who had to handover the reigns of the government to Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) was undeterred by this monstrous loss, and enacted legislation to re-elect Nawaz as the leader of the party. Despite what the opposition says, I still believe that this government will live out its five years in office. There will be no early elections. There was a time during the Faizabad protests which beckoned the dissolution of the government ‘by its own design’, however, that did not come to fruition. So how will the 2018 election, the other season in Pakistani politics, fare on our political parties? Here is my take on it. Sindh Sindh is the province where the urban-rural divide is most prominent. The more urbanised cities vote differently from the rural ones, and there have only been two main players in the market – the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). There are of course other parties in Sindh, like Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM), Awami National Party (ANP), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F) led by Pir Pagara, but they have too little influence to be of any weight in the whole process at the moment. The urban/rural population split is quite dramatic in Sindh; therefore it’s safe to assume that PPP will win the rural seats along with some of the urban seats. Rural Sindh is not only the spearhead of PPP’s election campaign; it is also quietly working towards making Sindh more politically effective in the National Assembly (NA). I happened to visit Sukkur a while back and had a long conversation with one of the locals. He lamented the maladministration of the Sindh government in the city, as well as the localities connected to the city. However, he also related something more shocking, that the average number of children per household is on average more than 10, saying,

    “One of my brothers has 24 children, and another close to 20.”
    The Sindh government is tacitly allowing this, despite the fact that we cannot possibly bear the brunt of a large, uneducated and underprivileged population which requires programs like the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP) to survive. I guess they are thinking if they cannot secure more votes and parliamentary seats one way, they should have a large zombie population to vote for them and win the election that way instead. Urban Sindh elections will be a lot more interesting with the rise of the Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) in Karachi. The party, led by renowned former mayor of Karachi, Mustafa Kamal, has been making long yet quiet inroads into Karachi as well as other urban centres of Sindh. With their agenda being nationalistic rather than on the ethnicity most of its members belong to, they have managed to become quite popular in a short period. They even managed to receive welcome from areas formerly life-threatening for Muhajirs, such as Kati Pahari and Lyari. According to estimates, the party is closing in on a 100,000 party members, which for a year and a half of work is quite impressive. To top it off, MQM-P was ready to merge into PSP with both re-emerging as a new political entity, till the Muhajir workers of MQM-P mutinied and gave Farooq Sattar no choice but to retract his statements and play the resign and then take it back game, ala Altaf Hussain. PSP has the advantage of being underestimated by other established parties, which may give them an element of surprise; however, on the other side of the coin, PSP needs to be extremely wary of the emotional attachment large sections of Karachi’s population still feel for Altaf. The vote in Karachi and Hyderabad will go down to the wire and the seats will be split between the MQM-P and the PSP. However, it is my guess that PSP will fare much better than what people are predicting for them. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which gained relatively high support from the masses in Karachi, will see a significant downturn in their voter numbers. Their consistent anti-Nawaz rhetoric along with their failure to deliver anything meaningful in K-P has broken many a hearts. Time has toned down the ‘Imran fever’ in the urban areas of Pakistan. Punjab There is unfortunately only one way the Punjab vote will go, and that is to Nawaz Sharif and PML-N. Despite his disgrace from politics, Nawaz will manoeuvre his brother Shehbaz to take over the mantle as prime minister when they win the elections. Shehbaz has been working diligently within the province since the Sharif brothers return to Pakistan, post-Musharraf. Always found in the role of Chief Minister Punjab, Shehbaz has been building the province and winning support across PML-N’s primary voter base. He has gone so far out as to send youths from Punjab to China to learn their language, a project that was also earmarked for the youth of Balochistan. While Balochistan has yet to benefit from such schemes, as far as Punjab is concerned, they have had the desired effect. There is a reason why many people from other provinces call the state of Pakistan a ‘government of the Punjab, by the Punjab, for the Punjab’. Maryam Nawaz is touted to be the next chief minister of Punjab, provided of course the courts do not decide against her in the #Fontgate trial underway. If convicted, she may be disqualified like her father. In that case, Hamza Shehbaz will take over from his father as chief minister of Punjab. PTI’s fortunes in Punjab will dwindle from the last time round, and they may not be able to win more seats than they did last time. The abandonment of stalwarts like Javed Hashmi has dented the party immensely in the Punjab. While the Supreme Court verdict will help Imran’s credibility, whether this victory will convert into votes is another story altogether. Balochistan As is with every oppressed segment in society, Balochistan’s seats are too little to cause any stir in national politics. With the insurgency largely under control, PML-N will probably be making new alliances to hold on to power and retain their coalition government in Balochistan. The religious parties have been on a roll since their Faizabad victory, but that will hardly make an impact in Balochistan, where the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and the like were not involved in the protests. The PPP is trying its hand at making inroads, but as of now, it seems not much will change the political landscape of the province. It would be wise for political parties to pay heed to the banned organisation issue within Balochistan. The constant oppression and genocide of the Hazara community within Quetta, the regional capital and its outskirts, has raised numerous questions regarding the role of local politics in the whole situation. Any mainstream party which demonstrates the resolve to solve this issue will be banking on the support of the Hazara and related communities in the elections. However, if history has shown us anything, it is that cowardice is the most prevalent trait in our politicians. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) K-P is a complex region of numerous ethnicities that coexist with the influence and liaison of neighbouring Afghanistan. Despite the stereotypes associated with the region, K-P has remained at the forefront of adopting new political thought for their own benefit. They embraced PTI in the last elections, and will probably stick by them in the coming election as well. However, PTI needs to be careful, as the ever-flipping Fazlur Rehman may cause him some problems. PML-N will also be pushing for more control within the province, and since JUI-F always sides with the party which gives them more ‘fodder’, PTI will eventually find that JUI-F will support PML-N once again. Another problem facing the PTI is the latent anger that the youth of the party feels towards its leadership. The meteoric rise of PTI was based on an anti-corruption rhetoric and youth leadership concepts, which they tried to introduce to the general masses, but as soon as the party gained traction, the tickets went to the old men who were once members of condemned parties and relegated agendas. This disenchantment, which has shown its colours in several PTI meetings due to the disenfranchisement of young workers, will definitely influence the upcoming election where other parties will definitely pander to this segment. Verdict Like it or not, there is a good chance that PML-N will win again. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari may be endearing to some, but he is a ‘toothless tiger’ who reads speeches written out for him by his father’s advisors. Most people may not know this, but the party which wins the parliamentary seats on both sides of the Grand Trunk (GT) Road chooses the prime minister. Therefore, the primary aim of both, PML-N and PPP, is to win as many seats on that belt as possible. The most interesting election, however, will be in Karachi and Hyderabad, where PSP will battle it out with their former friends and colleagues in MQM-P, with both sides knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Pakistanis never vote based on standards of governance or administrative performance. We vote on our perception and more importantly, on ethnic lines. Punjab will support the Punjabi, Sindh will support the Sindhi, and so on. If this were not the case, parties would never have had provincial strongholds despite their gross negligence and maladministration. To be more truthful, Pakistan lacks the basic prerequisites for a functioning democracy. There are no public educational standards to speak of and the awareness that goes with it is non-existent. We vote with our emotions and unfortunately with our stomachs in rural areas. Such votes are called ‘Biryani’ votes and sadly, these are the ones that decide the fate of Pakistan. The coming months will be decisive in shaping the fate of the 2018 election, and given the current political climate, it is only anyone’s guess how the election will truly unravel this time around.


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    The dawn of April 13, 2017 saw the might of a monster that was long nurtured in Pakistan. A monster of hate, intolerance, violence and one who misuses the blasphemy law as a tool of vengeance. This time the prey was Mashal Khan, a 23-year-old, mass communications student at Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). The ghastly lynching done as a ‘great service’ to Islam was a manifestation that human beings are capable of carrying unimaginable proportions of barbarity, if they are driven by religious conviction and self-righteousness.

    The investigation that followed soon revealed that the allegation of blasphemy against Mashal was, in fact, false. He was premeditatedly murdered because he was critical of the university’s management and spoke against the alleged corruption at the university.

    The topic of blasphemy in Pakistan is untouchable and talking about this subject is akin to risking one’s life. The fear is so much that post this tragedy, everyone hid behind their cowardice including the politicians who were supposed to be the first ones to condemn the heinous crime. It was the common citizens of Pakistan whose widespread outcry and protests didn’t let the incident die and led to suo motu notice by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

    Amidst the fear when everyone in the power halls chose to chicken out, Imran Khan, chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), showed immense bravery of not only visiting Mashal’s home but calling it an “all-out murder” and stated that Mashal was “no blasphemer”. This was no small act and this gave others the courage to speak up too. Imran and his party deserve further commendation. The K-P government, with its sincerity and resolve, and the K-P police, with its integrity and professionalism, together with the prosecution team and Supreme Court served justice in just about 10 months. The verdict announced by the Anti-Terrorism Court, Haripur, carried mixed responses. While many were appreciating the verdict and its swiftness, others expressed their reservation on the exoneration of 26 accused on the grounds of lack of convincing evidence. If we look at it rationally, the verdict carries more positivity than negativity. In Pakistan, where it takes decades to dispense justice, especially in cases which involve murder, this verdict is of historic significance. From arresting the 57 accused, collecting evidence against each one of them, completing the trial and declaring the verdict in less than a year is no less than an achievement. The criticism attached to the acquittal of half of the accusers is justified, but we must understand that judges are restricted by laws and evidence – they can’t declare hangings on public wishes. Considering the gravity of prevalent religious sentiments in this country, it is very brave of the judges to give a verdict that involves death penalty and life imprisonments on false blasphemy accusations. This gives out a loud message that the state will not show any more tolerance for mob lynching and religious vigilantism. Let’s also not forget that the re-appeal is filed against the released men, so as of today, they are not completely off the hook. While we are rightly focusing on the decision, its aspects and implications, something worrisome is being overlooked. On the night of the verdict, just a few hours after this encouraging judgment arrived, the rottenness of religious fanaticism began to crawl out, killing the momentary hope. The sympathisers of the convicts began to gather at the Mardan Motorway to garland the released men. They lionised them as ‘heroes’ and ‘ghazis’ (warriors) and vowed to challenge the convictions in the Supreme Court and refused to sit quietly until the convicts are released. Two days after the verdict, on Friday, supporters and religious parties including Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Sami (JUI-S) staged a protest in Mardan to protest against the convictions. The attendees carried banners which read Mashal supporters, stop us if you can’. If this wasn’t disgusting enough, the gathering was addressed by those acquitted by the court who showed no remorse and instead resolved to repeat their actions. They publicly threatened that whoever will commit blasphemy will meet the fate of Mashal. The years-long use of religion to preach hate, intolerance and violence and the persistent cowardice, negligence and complicity of the state in this matter has strengthened these hardliners who now seem insuppressible and incurable. Amidst all of this, the decision of the K-P government to not bow down before them by deciding to re-appeal against the acquitted men elicits massive respect. Nevertheless, the dawn of February 7, 2018, was not an ordinary dawn. It brought three things with it – victory, hope and a lesson for Pakistan. Victory – for the first time in the history of Pakistan, 31 people were convicted on charges of mob lynching and false blasphemy accusations. The much-awaited precedent was set; the much-needed deterrence was created. Hope – the scale of impunity attached to the misuse of blasphemy law and mob justice is reduced, if not eliminated fully. Lesson – the death of Mashal is on the hands of the state because what happened to him was the culmination of the state’s failure on multiple fronts. Mashal was swallowed by a volcano that the state so carefully cooked on slow-heat for years. If it is to ensure that no one else meets the fate of Mashal, those in power have to take the responsibility to guarantee indiscriminate strict measures against the individuals and the religious and educational institutions that preach hate, peddle intolerance and promote violence. The state has to establish, both by law and education, that no one has the right to take anyone’s life and that religion is a personal matter and after Allah (swt), the prerogative rests with the state and not with any individual to identify between vice and virtue, prosecute and punish. With this verdict, today, Pakistan has moved a step further in the right direction. It is to be decided now or never if this case is made a catalyst for the eradication of deep-seated intolerance, hate and the tacit approval of violence, or will this country be left at the mercy of these monsters.


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    It is no secret that Pak-US ties are experiencing a downward spiral. However, there is some good coming out of this mistrust between both countries. The ongoing tensions have motivated Pakistan to reach out to regional stakeholders other than China for potential partnerships, and one such partner being actively pursued by Islamabad is its former Afghan-jihad foe, Russia. Who would have thought that after almost three decades of Soviet disintegration and Pakistan’s active role in the former’s defeat in Afghanistan, both countries’ foreign ministers would be warmly embracing each other in Moscow? Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Khawaja Asif – who recently concluded a three-day visit to Russia and signed a number of bilateral deals and memorandum of understanding (MoUs) – claimed his government’s effective foreign policy helped in furthering fruitful ties with Moscow. Whether or not his claims hold weight, this renewed partnership between both countries holds a key for regional peace and stability for two major reasons. First and foremost, while the US has been hell-bent on using only force in Afghanistan, Russia has opened up channels for dialogue with the Taliban. This is because Moscow fears the growing threat of the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP) could spill over to Central Asia, which could directly affect Russian security. Furthermore, both Russia and Pakistan are part of a new regional bloc which also includes Turkey, China, and to some extent, Iran, and their ideas differ from the Indo-Afghan-American bloc on how to deal with the Taliban. Where the former considers the militant group as a possible line of defence against the growing threat of the Islamic State (IS), the latter considers it a terrorist organisation, leaving no room for talks or reconciliation. Secondly, Russia believes Pakistan still has a vital role to play when it comes to peace in the region, and with both the US and Pakistan experiencing tumultuous ties, Russia presents Pakistan with a new option for an effective regional partner and ally. In the western media, eyebrows were raised when a Russian military contingent was given a private tour of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which is a no-go zone for the local media, in 2017. This was followed by Russian signs being erected in the region. Both states have also conducted successful joint military exercises which started in 2016, and after Asif’s recent visit, both agreed on continuing the military exercises. On their end, the Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement declaring,

    “One of the key areas of cooperation is the fight against terrorism. Russia will continue its practical assistance in bolstering Pakistan’s counter-terrorism capabilities, including by supplying military equipment.”
    Moreover, as American influence apparently wanes in Afghanistan, and hence in the region, Moscow is wasting no time in establishing quick and effective military, diplomatic and economic ties with Pakistan. Marking this ‘new beginning’ of bilateral ties, Russia also established an honorary consulate for Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) in Peshawar last month. Pakistan’s new eastward outlook was confirmed by Asif, who clarified that his government now aims to correct the 70-year imbalance of completely tilting towards the West. Now, with changing geopolitics, Islamabad is aiming to forge closer ties with its regional partners. However, Pakistan also needs to tread carefully while dealing with Russia. Where Pakistan might enter this new relationship solely because the US is leaning towards India, Islamabad must also acknowledge that Moscow enjoys strong ties with New Delhi as well. Moreover, putting all its eggs in one basket (formerly the US, and currently China) has not gone well historically for Pakistan. Therefore, a complete cut-off from the West might look good on paper, but not in theory. The US is still Pakistan’s major trade partner, whereas the former also provides one of the biggest sources of foreign remittances for the country, with the number nearing $2 billion in the last financial year. Additionally, Pakistan’s fate of not being declared a terror-sponsor still rests with the Trump administration. Islamabad’s embarrassing failure at the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meeting and its addition to the grey-list also suggests that whether or not the country enjoys effective ties with both Russia and China, it still has to “do more” to convince its friends of its counter-terrorism efforts. Nonetheless, Pakistan’s advances towards the East, especially with Russia, signal a major paradigm shift in the country’s foreign policy. Where on one hand, such a policy reduces Islamabad’s dependence on Washington, while on the other it also helps the country in venturing into new regional and closer territories. However, such paradigm shifts in the foreign policy need to be strategically calculated moves, and not the result of mere rhetoric or anti-American sentiment.


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    In December 2017, I paid a visit to the Kech District in Balochistan, during which I had a very stimulating interaction with members of the community organisations formed by the National Rural Support Programme (NRSP). However, the biggest surprise for me undeniably was to see the social mobilisation of local women, as they participated in the meetings alongside the male members of their village. Such a high rate of female participation in these meetings was a shock, to say the least, particularly given the conservative nature of the province of Balochistan. Decision-making here is a domain solely belonging to its men, while the women neither have any say in the decision-making process nor enjoy any of the social, economic and political rights enshrined to them through the 1973 Constitution. Like all young people of my generation, I have never witnessed gender relationships leaning towards equality in Balochistan. Interestingly, our elders inform us that Balochistan used to be more tolerant and open towards women’s participation in cultural and social events, and its women enjoyed a good space in the public sphere. However, things turned against them with the onset of radical religiosity in the province, which subsequently discouraged public spaces for them. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] The men and women of Kunchiti village at Kech District, discussing their social and political issues in their Community Organisation. Photo: NRSP[/caption] During my interaction with members of the local community organisations, I asked several women about how this change took place, through which women started participating in the community alongside men. One such woman, known as Noor Jahan, narrated her story to me.

    “Ten years ago, I couldn’t even dare to step out from the house because of the traditions we had, where women were to remain confined to the house. These four-walled houses were the only space where we could think of doing something. Stepping out of this space, particularly for doing something generally considered to be men’s work, was strongly discouraged. In 2007, NRSP organised us and formed our community organisation. In the beginning, I, like all other women of the village, was hesitant to sit with the men of our village, because I had never done that before. Gradually, I found myself more comfortable and confident in these sort of meetings, and started speaking out about our problems. I also found a huge change in the mindset of our men, who were at first reluctant about our participation in these community organisations, particularly sitting with other men. But now it is very normal to sit with them, discuss the problems of our village and try to find solutions. I even got a flood protection wall built in our village under my supervision with the support of the NRSP, and I feel very proud of what I have achieved and will continue to do for my community.”
    Noor Jahan is now the manager of the Local Support Organisation (LSO) in Tumshan-Ginna, and looks after the activities pertaining to the organisation. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] The community leader, Noor Jahan Baloch, in conversation with the author at Ginna, Kech District. Photo: NRSP[/caption] I had the joy of meeting another young woman, Amul Sakim Baloch, who has become another household name in Kech, and her success story is an inspiration for thousands of other girls living in rural Balochistan. Her story, in her own words, is as follows:
    “Nine years ago, I was living a meaningless and purposeless life. Sitting in the courtyard of our mud house was my daily routine – it was all we had ever done or seen in our life. Then, one day, back in 2007, a social mobilisation team of NRSP visited our village. When I requested my father to let me attend the meeting of the village women, my father took a deep pause, after which he asked me, ‘what would the people of the village think about us if I allow you?’ After a long time spent persuading him, he gave me his permission, and from thereon my life curved towards the path of success. Today, after taking four months of English language classes from a community organisation in a nearby village, I now run my own language centre in my village. Sometimes, I think women can do anything in a better way, even in a perfect way, if we are provided the opportunity and space to do so. Just sitting at home cannot bear any fruit for our society, so it is imperative for both men and women to understand the importance of women’s participation in the development of society. I owe my success to the social mobilisation team of NRSP, and our men, who understood the significance of women’s participation in the process of making ourselves developed.”
    [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Amul Sakim Baloch with her students at a village in Kech District. Photo: NRSP[/caption] Seeing women participate in the community in Kech District is a very encouraging indication of moving towards women’s empowerment in rural areas of the province. However, with reference to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the development of women in rural Balochistan is still extremely far behind when compared to the rural areas of Punjab, Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). If we look at the indicators of women’s education, health and political participation, Balochistan always takes last place. Nevertheless, despite being better off than their counterparts in Balochistan, women in rural areas all over Pakistan are facing similar sorts of challenges. The main challenge they have to face is the patriarchy deeply rooted in the structure, acting as an obstruction for women getting access to social, political and economic rights. Another major challenge is the prevalence of radical religiosity in such regions, which discourages women’s liberty and control over their lives, their clothes, and their participation in any sphere other than the domestic one. Therefore, building upon what has already been done to bring women into the mainstream, another step in the right direction would be for the government to develop and strengthen linkages with community organisations at the grassroots level. Providing women access to education, healthcare and employment, as well as social and political rights, is critical in order to empower them with a better future. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] The men and women of Ginna village at Kech District, discussing the social and political issues in their Community Organisation. Photo: NRSP[/caption] For this, an overhaul of the social and political structures is required on a priority basis. First, the government should work on reviving indigenous cultural and social practices, those that aren’t patriarchal or sexist, to enable women and young girls to reclaim the public spaces enjoyed by their mothers and grandmothers in the past. For instance, this can be done by encouraging school going girls to participate in cultural events at school. I have come across many videos from the Killa Saifullah District in which young girls between the ages of eight to 11 can be seen dancing along with boys of the same age group during ceremonies at school. What this does is provide an opportunity to the audience to internalise this behaviour as normal, instead of unnatural or dishonourable. Furthermore, community awareness programmes should be started to educate people about the importance of girls’ education and their health for the society, as well as discouraging practices and norms which give preference to men over women. Lastly, the government should take robust measures to ensure women’s participation in politics and in the decision-making process. For this purpose, the first step is to ensure they have a national identity card, which alone will go a long way to ensure a separate sense of identity, and will mobilise them from the household level into community institutions that shall be led by them. Social mobilisation is considered the best approach for human development, and only through empowering the women of Balochistan can the province harness its intrinsic potential to improve the lives of its citizens.


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    In the latest update on Pakistan’s political sphere, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) accused former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of laundering $4.9 billion to India. The order by the antigraft authority to probe Nawaz for money laundering allegations came in light of an article written in an Urdu newspaper, Ausaf. In its press release, NAB stated that on the basis of the opinion published in the newspaper, it is initiating an inquiry into the alleged scam. It seems that in its bid to convict Nawaz at any cost, the institution of NAB has made a mockery of itself. Any sane individual can tell no one uses the banking system to transfer illegal funds, especially not in their own name, particularly if they are also a world leader, and obviously not to a country considered an enemy state. Technically speaking, this should be impossible, as the security agencies of our country keep a close eye on any financial transactions made with India in the first place. Soon after the NAB allegation, the World Bank issued a clarification that its report was not based on actual figures, and was just an estimate of the remittances the people who migrated from India to Pakistan were sending back to India. It further clarified that Nawaz’s name was never mentioned in the report. If only NAB Chairman Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal had studied this report, or read its rejection by the State Bank of Pakistan back in 2016, he would have saved himself and his institution from becoming a laughing stock. Moreover, releasing a press release on the matter without any solid evidence also gave the impression that NAB is being used to victimise political opponents, the way it was used in Musharraf’s era. Firstly, the money laundering allegation from NAB will have negative international impact. While Pakistan is already being put on the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey list for not being able to control money laundering by banned outfits, the allegation of money laundering on the former premier will further damage our chance of making it out of the grey list. Additionally, this blunder on part of the NAB prompts the question of whether or not the country’s anti-graft authority is crossing its constitutional limits, and is only interested in initiating inquiries when they pertain to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). While cases from past years remain pending, NAB’s focus right now seems to be only on elected representatives in Punjab, and that too, those belonging to the PML-N. There is no serious action on the inquiries against the officials of provincial tourism and highway departments for misappropriation and embezzlement in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa(K-P) , or the allegations against the billion tree tsunami project, or the misuse of provincial government helicopters by Imran Khan. An institution with a history of victimising its opponents can do nothing worse than to act only on the opinions of writers and analysts. As a society, we all have the habit of gossiping about self-created theories and believing in allegations without any proof. So NAB’s current witch-hunt has already created a doubt in the minds of ordinary people that our former prime minister was involved in money laundering. TV channels ran this story round the clock; with the perception being created that Nawaz must have had something to do with $4.9 billion being laundered to India. We live in a world where perceptions are perhaps more important than reality and the truth, which is why once negative perceptions are created, it is very difficult to change them. The verdict regarding the 2013 General Elections is an example in this regard, where the judgment rejected allegations of rigging, yet there remain millions out there who still believe the elections were rigged. This suggests NAB’s allegation may have already done its fair share of damage. This move indicates that fake news and propaganda has not only gripped the masses, but has also damaged the working abilities of the decision-makers as well. There are lot of other cases pending in the NAB and there is almost zero progress on them; one hopes they are not being filed merely on perceptions and opinions. Few of the pending cases include illegal appointments in NAB as well as the cases against Sharjeel Memon and Dr Asim Hussain, and against Aleem Khan’s Housing society, but the institution of NAB is only focusing on selective cases involving the current “out of favour” PML-N leadership. Accountability needs to be crystal clear and across the board, so it gives the impression of justice, not of victimisation. On the other hand, Nawaz’s stance seems correct – it does seem like he is being targeted, with his party being a victim of pre-poll rigging. In retaliation, Nawaz asked for Iqbal’s resignation within 24 hours, and in response, Iqbal addressed an hour-long seminar meant to act as a rebuttal to former’s allegations. Iqbal stated he is only conducting an inquiry into the matter, and has no intention of maligning Nawaz or anyone else. The verbal war between the ruling PML-N and NAB will only result in further damage to the institution of the state. NAB has the right to conduct an inquiry on suspicion, but it does not have the right to bring it to the media fore without having substantial proof. This surely has tilted the balance in favour of Nawaz’s narrative of victimisation, because after the World Bank denying the allegation, Nawaz will cash in political points by highlighting the issue in jalsas and in the media. The other side of this fiasco that still has not grabbed the attention of the media and decision-makers is the business of fake news. In this matter, NAB has launched an inquiry on the basis of an opinion published in a newspaper, so it is necessary the author of the article be summoned and asked to present proof of the allegations he has levelled against Nawaz. Opinion-making is a business of responsibility, as it affects the perception and the mindset of the masses. After all, just a few months ago, after the brutal rape and murder of Zainab Ansari, we saw the worst form of yellow journalism when a respected TV anchor accused high officials of the Punjab government of having ties with child porn mafia, and accused the perpetrator of having multiple foreign bank accounts. When he was asked by the Supreme Court to present evidence in support of his allegations, he was unable to prove or present any evidence in the court, and tendered a written apology after backtracking from his claims. It is high time that the trend of journalists accusing others without any evidence is put to an end in Pakistan. If this practice of fake news and exploiting journalism to settle personal grudges and scores is not stopped, we will see further incidents like this, and it will only make a mockery of our institutions in the world. In this case, whether NAB is a victim of fake news or whether it is out on a witch-hunt to undermine opponents still remains to be seen. Only the future course of actions, hopefully unbiased and professional steps, will determine what the truth is.


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    Whenever I make any comments about Pakistan having more provinces and smaller units, the reaction is always the same,

    “You want to divide the country? Are you a RAW agent or what?” 
    So when Imran Khan promised the creation of a South Punjab, it was a pleasant surprise to hear him say something intelligent for once. Imran made this promise recently as he welcomed turncoats from South Punjab into his party; defectors who enjoyed the perks and privileges of being MNAs for the past five years while saying nothing about creating a new province, until now. While supporting the demand by the Janoobi Punjab Suba Mahaaz (JPSM) for a South Punjab province, Imran said,
    “I believe that it is very difficult to administer big units.”
    He went on to say,
    “The power is centred in Lahore and there is a growing sense of deprivation in south Punjab areas.”
    So according to Imran, and rightly so, Punjab should be divided. But if he really is sincere when he says the country should have more provinces, why does he want the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) to be merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P)? Why not have more provinces to make K-P itself more manageable? And why does he say nothing about Sindh being divided into smaller provinces as well? In fact, when it comes to Karachi, Imran holds a diametrically opposite view:
    “Karachi cannot be a separate province,” he said.
    He knows that if he says otherwise, his party will get no votes from the rural areas of Sindh. So it seems Imran is just paying lip service to the cause of smaller provinces, and he will continue to do so as long as his party remains in the opposition. Devolution of power by having more provinces is good for democracy and strengthens the country. Unfortunately, neither Nawaz Sharif nor Asif Ali Zardari want power to be given to local bodies. The Sharif brothers have spent more than half of Punjab’s budget on the beautification of Lahore, whereas the less is said about Sindh, the better. Although Karachi contributes most of the revenue for its province, hardly anything is spent on the city, and the mounds of garbage accumulating have made it the dirtiest city in the region. Of course, if even some of the revenue contributed by the people of Karachi had been spent on the welfare of the city, would the rulers of Sindh have been able to siphon away billions to foreign countries? After all, Rs2 billion in cash was allegedly recovered from a raid at Information Minister Sharjeel Memon’s house. Where did he get such a huge amount of money, and that too in cash? One problem faced by the common man is that the rulers are inaccessible to the public at large. Gwadar is about 800 kilometres from Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, while Zhob is about half that distance from Quetta. People in these two cities have to spend a considerable amount of time to get their personal problems heard by ministers. Similarly, Multan is 300 kilometres away from Lahore, and the distance between the Kashmore District and Karachi is 600 kilometres. Dividing the country into more provinces could ease the problems faced by its people, as having more provinces will bring the seats of the government closer to the citizens. There is no reason why Pakistan (with more than 200 million people) should have only four large administrative units. Having four provinces made sense in 1947, when the population was only 30 million. Switzerland has a population of eight million, less than half of Karachi’s, yet it is divided into 26 parts, known as cantons. No wonder Switzerland is one of the most efficient societies in the world. Turkey, with a population of 81 million, has 81 provinces, while Taiwan, with 23 million, has 22. Having only four provinces has encouraged corruption and ensured Pakistan remains backward and underdeveloped. This situation cannot continue for long, and unless more provinces are created, the people will be forced to come out on the streets. Those who live in Karachi know what it is to have rulers who know nothing about their problems. The city used to have a Karachi Building Control Authority once, which was the largest contributor to its revenue. The greedy rulers of the province, belonging to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), renamed it to the Sindh Building Control Authority so they could have control over this lucrative department. Out of the 27 directors of this moneymaking entity, 22 are outsiders posted in Karachi, no doubt after paying a handsome sum to get the job. In fact, practically all those who preside over Karachi’s destiny have had their origins in other cities of Sindh. Consequently, you meet very few genuine Karachiites working in the departments of the Sindh government. Most policemen in Karachi are unable to make themselves understood because they cannot speak the national language fluently, as they have spent their lives in villages and small towns far away from Karachi and have been appointed for being party activists. If Karachi were made a separate province, its elected ministers would be aware of what the people need, and since they would be easily accessible to voters throughout the year, they would ensure that taxes paid by the people are spent wisely and not siphoned away into foreign bank accounts. I have no doubt that in every provincial capital, government servants are appointed by ministers from their own constituencies and not on merit. Conversely, having more provinces would mean more employment for those who are residents, and street crime would decrease as a result. Ideally, all those cities or divisions with populations between 10 and 20 million should be made provinces. Karachi, Lahore, Gujranwala, Faisalabad, Bahawalpur, Dera Ghazi Khan, Hyderabad, Multan and Rawalpindi would all fall under this category. The cities having less than a million residents can be merged with smaller neighbouring towns to make more provinces. Due to its small population and large area, the present six divisions of Balochistan can be made provinces, while K-P can be split into three provinces. Sindh can have five: Karachi, Hyderabad, Larkana, Sukkur and Mirpurkhas. Having more units would mean the transfer of funds to more people who can use them wisely. As we have seen in Punjab, most of the funds have been spent in Lahore, central and north Punjab; all part of the core constituency of the Sharif brothers. South Punjab has therefore seen very little development in the past five years. Even though a federal system of government works best when control and authority are decentralised, as is the case when more provinces are created, it is doubtful that the present mindset and greed of our politicians will allow them to agree to the formation of more provinces. Our citizens will thus be compelled to go on living as they have in the past, with poor healthcare, without proper education for their children, with battered roads and heaps of garbage lying everywhere.


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    I can see social media platforms and news channels debating over Imran Khan’s change of choice regarding caretaker chief minister for Punjab. The elections are near, and quite literally, the heat of it and the scorching sun can be felt. Let us take a step back and end the sudden “U-turn” debate that has taken the media and the people by storm. The system says that the chief minister and the opposition leader are both to mutually decide on the name of the ‘caretaker’, who shall be in charge for three months. Now, let us emphasise on the aspect that this conclusion has to be agreed upon from both sides, and unless signed or stamped, can be altered if any loopholes or conflicting scenarios arise. Coming back to the present tale, Nasir Khosa – a well-known name in the political world – was the name both parties agreed to. After a while, it came to be known that when Nawaz Sharif’s Panama case was going on, he was called in an attempt to talk things out with his brother, who is a Supreme Court judge. Things did not work out in Nawaz’s favour back then, so why should they work out in his favour now, considering that evidence, even if rumoured, has come into account? Moving forward, the media also reported that Khosa wanted a post at the World Bank, and was told by Shehbaz Sharif to hold his horses, as he’d be given an important post in the near future. Given the allegations and declarations being made, how is it not vital to reevaluate the decision of him being the caretaker? Imran did precisely that: keeping into thought everything mentioned above, he took his decision back, noting the fact that no statement had been signed and the agreement was merely verbal in nature. Now, some beings who were excited to have Khosa on board have lost their temper, commenting on Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) decision to withdraw the name. The story is simple and the turn is right, but of course, with all decisions come consequences and individuals seeking such opportunities, as can be seen now. Let us take another example. In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa,when the opposition had an issue with Imran meeting the nominated chief minister, the PTI chief agreed to disregard the current decision and take new names aboard, because well, what’s the issue in that? And now, if the same thing is happening in Punjab and PTI has agreed and accepted their calculations weren’t right, what’s wrong with disregarding Khosa’s name, I ask the opposition? Is it because Punjab is the real game?


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