Monday, June 18, 2018


  • The majority of the population of Pakistan is illiterate
Ramzan is over. Eid Mubarak everyone, although Eid too is over by this time. But not before the usual inter-beardal warfare conducted from atop a tower. Really, that warfare has become as much part of Eid as shir qorma, only without the shir. Would the Muslim world know itself if some day by some miracle sanity prevailed?
There are quarters where sanity already prevails, most visibly in the person of Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, may God bless him. It is Ghamidi sahib who explained the issue best:
You know it is time for prayers by looking at your watch now, he says, and no longer at the sun. You check the position of the sun only if a watch is not available.
So how do you know if it is Eid tomorrow? You look at a lunar calendar, which has been compiled using a telescope and mathematics, and it is now possible to compile a lunar calendar until the end of whenever.
The ones on the tower do not agree with this rational approach, because if they did, they would be deprived of their bi-yearly moment of glory. What is deeply mystifying is, why, if they must sight the moon with their biological eye, they use the metallic version as well?
Meantime, there is the Noor Cultural Centre in Toronto, in Canada. The mission statement of this cultural centre, loosely quoted here, states that it is a place where Muslims can come together regardless of sect, ethnicity or gender; where the diversity of the Muslim world is viewed as a source of beauty, not division.
This is not just doom and gloom and negative speak. Pakistan is faced with an emergency right now, very much in reality, an emergency that is already impacting every single person in this country
At this centre the Quranic injunctions of learning and reflection are upheld as universally and eternally applicable, encouraging an intellectually vibrant community unfettered by ignorance, prejudice and bigotry, and understanding is fostered between people through discourse and discovery.
At this cultural centre Muslims and people of other faiths can find the means to “know one another” (Quran: 49.13)
Eid prayers are held at this cultural centre and this year a woman gave the Eid qutba. I am not aware if this was a first or if a woman gives the khutba every year.
The khutba was an intelligent discourse about environmental issues today, and our place as Muslims in a world dominated by these issues.
An approach such as this may be the only way to deal with the environmental disaster that Pakistan is well on its way to facing.
Every year, farmers in Pakistan and India burn the stubble of the previous crop before they plant the next one. The haze of carbon hangs over the region, adding to the other pollution the people of these countries live with.
Pakistan is a beautiful country, blessed with spectacular mountains, streams, deserts and beaches. While the last three are accessible and have been almost destroyed, along with forests, you’d think that the mountains, being mountainous, would be out reach. But they are not.
According to an AFP report, Mount Everest now has the distinction of being the world’s highest rubbish dump, with ‘climbers paying little attention to the ugly footprint they leave behind.’ Environmentalists are concerned that the pollution on the mountains will affect the water down below in the valleys.
Since climbers are not exclusively but more often from other countries, this goes to show that where there is no enforcement of standards, and no provision of facilities, few persons, whether from here or there, will go the extra mile to pick up after themselves.
Of course, Everest is not in Pakistan but Nanga Parbat and K2 are, and the situation could not be any different here.
Among the many ways of destroying the environment, there is the pollution of rivers. According to a United Nations report earlier this month, nearly 300 million tons of plastic is produced every year of which eight million tons is dumped into rivers which flow down into the oceans. Just ten of these rivers carry as much as 90pc of plastic rubbish. The majority is carried by the Yangtze river in China, and the second highest quantity of rubbish by the Indus in Pakistan.
Water is threatening to become scarce in Pakistan, and underground water in Pakistan already contains dangerous heavy metal contaminants. Yet the population of the country is growing so that it is likely to double by 2025. This will be unsustainable unless there are some serious changes made.
Also, despite this scarcity, farmers are growing water intensive crops such as sugarcane and rice, and exporting them. It takes 2500 litres of water to grow 1kg of rice. which translates into exporting water itself. Yet how are farmers to know otherwise without education, guidelines or encouragement to change their strategies.
This is not just doom and gloom and negative speak. Pakistan is faced with an emergency right now, very much in reality, an emergency that is already impacting every single person in this country. What’s more it is an emergency that will not disappear by means of supplications. We are supposed to understand these issues and change the misconceptions within ourselves so we can deal with them. The Quran says: “Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” Quran 13:11
This is where places such as the cultural centre in Toronto come in.
The majority of the population of Pakistan is illiterate. The majority of the population of Pakistan also calls itself Muslim. Therefore, the forum most readily available to the people is that provided by the mosque. This where people can be educated about the hereafter, but also about the right now. The persons speaking from this vantage point must be educated, must themselves be aware of environmental issues, and they must impart this information to the people who come to listen to them in an informed, inclusive, interesting manner.

Monday, June 11, 2018


  • Some things can only happen in a society with low rational expectations
“There is a place, like no place on earth. A land full of wonder, mystery, and danger. Some say, to survive it, you need to be as mad as a hatter. Which, luckily, I am.” 
Lewis Carroll
Why don’t we think before we condemn something? Or not.
There’s a thought provoking observation on the ‘net which says that if it is a sin for people to eat and drink in front of people who are fasting in Ramzan, it is equally a sin for people to wear nice new clothes in front of those who cannot afford them.
Whether it is a sin or not is up to God, but in Pakistan (and in some other Muslim countries) you can go to prison for a few months and be fined a hefty sum if caught eating or serving food in public in Ramzan.
But the bit about clothes is not illegal, which is strange, considering that the first is.
Why is that so?
There are several answers to that, the most obvious that the wives of the people who make these laws would have something to say about nice new clothes being illegal at any time. That probably occurred to the law makers right away, if they ever thought about the issue at all, which is doubtful.
Such things are moral, ethical matters and not crimes, and they should not be penalised. But if one must, it is easier to grab a person scarfing down a samosa in public in Ramzan, and not as easy to find out if a jora is new, and of course nice is a matter of opinion.
These kinds of foolish laws have a purpose. To quote Carroll once again: “No wise fish would go anywhere without a porpoise.” The ability to arrest and penalise gives those in authority a feeling of power which is always appreciated. Otherwise, in any kind of rational society, the best you can do is hope that people have the decency not to flaunt something attractive in front of those who cannot have it. In this argument, if the people who are fasting are set upon obtaining something to eat, they have the option of not fasting, or of breaking the fast, which is their problem, and is a matter between them and God. The sight of a samosa should not break down such commendable religious resolve, such as a sight of a woman should not break down a man’s decency. Just saying.
Yet another reason for such laws is that focusing on trivial matters pushes other, much more important, matters into the background. You need not focus, say, on getting innocent Pakistani citizens out of prison in a foreign country even though they have been there for fourteen years, and have been wrongfully accused to start with.
He was a man she knew, a fellow student, who had been pressuring her to meet him. The pressure included threats, hacking her social media accounts for a smear campaign, culminating in the attack with a knife
But the biggest reason is that one is not taught to reason, most particularly in matters of religion. Logic and rational thought are frowned upon under the brand of Islam popularised by mullahs, and labelled with all sorts of derogatory names. It is taught that religion is a matter of the heart alone, and everything else is western influence, which is considered to be the most derogatory label of all.
If reason were taught, then would the slogan ‘vote do jannat lo’ (give a vote, gain paradise) ever see the light of day? That is the electioneering slogan being used by one of the most dubious right wing, extremist, ‘religious’ parties in the country. It basically says that if you vote for this party you go to paradise. All others will go to hell. If the slogan had meant to encourage people to vote per se, it would have said ‘vote karo’. Not that that holds any promises for paradise either.
There is also the case of Khadija, who was stabbed twenty three times on a busy road in Lahore. She saw the attacker’s face. He was a man she knew, a fellow student, who had been pressuring her to meet him. The pressure included threats, hacking her social media accounts for a smear campaign, culminating in the attack with a knife.
The attacker was given a seven year imprisonment sentence only – hardly sufficient given the gravity of the crime. Later that sentence was reduced to five, and a few days ago the attacker was allowed to go free altogether. So here is another exercise in reason: whereas it is un-Islamic, and a crime to eat a samosa in public in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and you can go to prison for the offence, you are allowed to walk free after stabbing a woman. Is that right? Of course, that the young man has important connections might have overridden reason to a great extent.
Such things can only happen in a society with low rational expectations.
“We’re all mad here. I’m mad, you’re mad.” Lewis Carroll.
God bless his cotton socks.

Monday, June 4, 2018


  • Right intentions?
FATA could well be spelt with an L at the end, if its merger with KP is handled the way the rest of the country is being governed these days. The region has such a tumultuous history and such a violent present that there is little scope for blunders.
FATA has always been viewed as a barrier, a buffer between the region that is now Pakistan and the troubled tribal areas of Aghanistan, a source of arms and ammunition, and of persons skilled in their use. It has never been treated as a place requiring hospitals, schools and above all peace. Which is why all these things are sparsely available there, and FATA is even worse off than the rest of Pakistan. FATA, it seems, has one hospital bed for almost 2,200 persons — the rest of Pakistan has almost double that. It has about one doctor for more than 7,500 persons — Pakistan has about seven times that number of doctors.
Less than half of the people of FATA have access to safe drinking water.
The literacy rate in FATA is 22pc. Only 7.5pc of its women receive an education. Pakistan’s overall rate is 56pc, and 44pc of its women receive an education.
Not surprisingly, the region is crawling with violent, militant groups. It will be extremely hard to govern, and that job falls to the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The government of KP will require tact and employ meticulous planning and tread carefully around the customs of the region, which in this tribal society are more than usually important to the people. Neither planning nor tact have been a strength of any government in this country.
The people of Orangi, a squatter settlement, were motivated to finance their own facilities, to develop them themselves
The merger has a timeline of two years. Until then FATA will continue to be governed by a set of interim rules. If FATA continues under separate rules after that period and if its advancement continues to be ignored, its merger into the mainstream will not be a full and honest one. Yet, if it becomes as free as it needs to be, the border of the country will be more porous than it already is.
If the current government of KP wins the elections, is it the best candidate for this job? Keep in mind some of the people supported by this government, people such as those who advocate the regular beating of women as a means of keeping them happy (That is not fake news. The person may be viewed saying so, quite seriously, on a video freely available online). Persons with this attitude are not likely to give female literacy any importance at all.
FATA’s is a tribal, agrarian economy. Less than 4pc of the population lives in urban areas. Its major crop is opium, and the manufacture of arms its major industry. It has plentiful natural resources, but there is no foreseeable likelihood of those resources being mined, or used in any viable sense, because of the volatile nature of the place.
It is no coincidence that the two most troubled regions in the country, Baluchistan and FATA, are also the most undeveloped and ignored. The army has and is playing a major role in both regions. In FATA it will need to continue doing so for some time, ‘in aid of civilian power’ as the constitution puts it, because the level of unrest in FATA requires a firmer hand than civilian organisations can provide. The army is not new to this role.
You cannot expect a people who have no experience of democracy or peace, however pathetic that democracy and peace, to make the change easily, and unless civil groups are able to move around and work in safety the region cannot be provided with the facilities the region requires.
Unlike the rest of the country, where the military runs counter to the government and conducts its own covert campaigns, operations in FATA will need a concerted effort. There must be an end to the chaotic tug of wars, here as well as in the rest of the country.
The army must ensure safety while schools, health facilities and jobs are being set up. In FATA, a doctor who was trying to vaccinate the children of the area came up against an anti-vaccination campaign waged by a local imam. The doctor’s car was blown up and that was the end of his campaign.
The army’s role in FATA will need to be a different one, geared to different goals, under the guidance of the civilian government. The army must ensure the necessary peace, until education and enlightenment kick in, and bring with them their own, intrinsic peace. Then the army can bow out, if that does not sound like an oxymoron.
The government of KP has examples it can follow in providing facilities to a desperately impoverished region.
There is the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) In Karachi, pioneered many years ago by the late Akhtar Hameed Khan. The people of Orangi, a squatter settlement, were motivated to finance their own facilities, to develop them themselves. The project was extremely successful and has been copied around the world. But Orangi was much smaller, and less violent.
Following the progress of FATA will be an interesting exercise, but hopefully not a tragic one if the right people approach it with the right intentions.

Monday, May 28, 2018


  • Is peace even an objective?
Many appalling things occurred in the last few days, as appalling things do with exceptional regularity. Two of them however were so equally ‘bad’, to use Donald Trump’s intelligent adjective, that it was hard to choose which one to write about. Therefore, this is about both.
Interesting that Donald Trump should show up so early in the piece, because he is automatically included in the observation that a nation does not need external enemies to destroy itself. The enemies that arise within nations, the chosen, popular and elected ones, they cause far more damage and are much harder to dislodge, which is what this is about.
More than a quarter of a century ago, in Ayodha, in Uttar Pradesh in India, the Babri mosque was pulled down by Hindu mobs. It was an old mosque, built in the sixteenth century at the time of the first Mughal emperor, Babar. Naturally, the act resulted in riots between the Muslim and Hindu communities of India. More than a thousand people died in these riots, the result of tensions created by old wounds. That wound remains open today. The rise to power of the political party the BJP, is a manifestation of that festering sore, and also an example of an enemy within. In this case, within India.
Ten years after the Babri masjid was demolished, mobs attacked and pulled down the Manchaji mosque in Ahmedabad, also in India. It is said that the BJP government allowed the mobs to get on with the destruction, and that the police and military stood by without interfering.
Ten years after the Babri masjid was demolished, mobs attacked and pulled down the Manchaji mosque in Ahmedabad, also in India
Narendra Modi, then the chief minister of Gujrat defended the violence, and refused to allow investigations into the incident.
On both these occasions, public sentiment in Pakistan was roused to fever pitch. There was anger and resentment against the violence done to the Muslims of India and to their places of worship. Demonstrations took place here, and there was much fist pumping and sloganeering. You’d think that the public in this country was averse to all forms of religious discrimination, but of course we know otherwise. As if to reiterate that, just a few days ago, in Sialkot in Pakistan, a rabid mob attacked an Ahmedi place of worship.
Predictably, said rabid mob was composed of members of the Tehreek e labaik ya Rasool Allah (TLYR), and sadly of the PTI (rapidly becoming Pakistani Tehreek e Idiots). The actions of these people were facilitated by the Tehseel Muncipal Administration (TMA), which allowed the mobs to get on with the destruction, as authorities had in India.
It was seen, thanks to a video that is available for anyone to view, that at least one member of the mob was a member of the PTI, Hamid Raza, thanking the big guns in the TMA on this video for their support. Mr Raza also suggested that mobs should now go on to pull down other places of worship, in other places. If for nothing else, this man should be arrested for incitement to violence.
The PTI has not yet kicked Mr Raza out of the party. So now, whoever supports the PTI should know exactly what this party stands for. They should also know now that anger and resentment in Pakistan against similar acts elsewhere is meaningless.
Is it worth living in a country where large political parties and authorities both support actions that are not only blatantly unconstitutional but also so terribly inhumane?
The other event concerns guns.
In the US recently, where gun violence tops the world, an attacker and bystanders were all armed, so that when a man opened fire in a restaurant and injured three persons, two armed bystanders shot and killed him. Rather than penalise this vigilante action, the police praised the bystanders.
Similarly, in Sindh a couple of years ago, the Inspector General (IG), a Mr Khwaja, awarded a Rs50,000 prize to a citizen for his “valiant” efforts which consisted of shooting (men who were as yet only suspected of being) robbers. In fact, he said, citizens should continue to make similar efforts to help the police fight crime in the metropolis. Once again, courts and the police were bypassed when civilians took justice and the law into their hands, while the Inspector General incited the public to violence. There is a penalty for that particular crime.
In Islamabad just a few days ago, the ban on arms licenses for non-prohibited bore weapons was lifted. The ban had been imposed in 2013 when the government made a move towards de-weaponisation. According to The Dawn newspaper, non-prohibited bore weapons ‘include non-automatic or semi-automatic shot guns and revolvers or pistols.’ That list, the report adds, is not exhaustive. Now, apparently, licenses for ‘non-prohibited bore weapons’ will be issued after completion of formalities. In other words, you must now follow ‘standard operating procedure’ aka SOP to obtain that license, not that it was ever hard to get arms without or without an SOP.
Anyone who has tried to obtain any kind of a license in Pakistan will know what that means. It means a great consumption of chai panni, and ‘burp!’ the license is issued.
Chai pani has become a way of life, from the top of the ladder down. SOPs rarely work.
In Sindh, there was a restriction on owning more than four guns, a number that is four too many. But now that rule has been done away with and you can, with official blessing, own any number of guns in Sindh. The only thing not allowed in that province is a toy gun, which means that scaring someone is illegal, but killing someone several times over is okay. I suppose soon, bystanders will shoot other shooters dead here as well – if they don’t do that already – and it will all be put down to progress, right up there with the presence of Malls and McDonalds.
It seems like a scene from Alice in Wonderland, with several contenders for the Mad Hatter.
In the US, the NRA enjoys such power that even the death of thousands of people is explained away and brings no change. You need to check who benefits in Pakistan, because we have seen no change either. It seems we too need worry about no external enemies. The internal ones are enough to bring us down, and you can’t condemn them as they deserve to be condemned either, thanks to censorship, and to certain blasphemous laws.
It’s bad. Very bad, because you cannot have peace with weapons this easily available.
But perhaps peace is not an objective?

Sunday, May 27, 2018


“The reason disability is held responsible is that the label – the word ‘disability’ – is a negative term. One that ought, ideally, to be replaced. It is why the term ‘differently abled’ is often used instead, since people with disabilities possess abilities just like anyone else, although in some cases they may manifest differently.”
I narrowly missed running over a person moving below my line of vision, when reversing the car from a parking spot. The man who survived despite my efforts to the contrary, sat on a small wooden cart with wheels, raised about three inches off the road. His thin, unusable legs were folded under him as, hands on the road, he pushed his cart from car to car, asking for money.
This man’s life was not this way because of his disability. It was this way because of poverty. The reason disability is held responsible is that label – the word ‘disability’ – is a negative term. One that ought, ideally, be replaced. It is why the term ‘differently abled’ is often used instead, since people with disabilities possess abilities just like anyone else, although in some cases they may manifest differently. And people with ‘disabilities’ can and very often do lead full lives. Stephen Hawking, Helen Keller, F.D Roosevelt, Stevie Wonder, Frida Kahlo come to mind as examples, and from Pakistan, Muniba Mazari, Saima Ammar, Sarmad Tariq, and many others.
When a person with a disability is burdened with severe poverty is when the disability becomes even more challenging than it already is.
The world needs the contribution of all its people, all the talents and abilities that every individual, disabled or not, can contribute. As Stevie Wonder said, ‘Just because a man lacks the use of his eyes does not mean he lacks vision.” People with disability, rich or poor, should be able to lead a full life if governments take their responsibilities seriously. The government in Pakistan, unfortunately, treats its responsibilities like a manhole: it moves around them leaving that gaping hole for others to deal with as best they can.
So, what does Pakistan have to offer persons with physical disability?
Mercifully for the people of this country, its private individuals have shouldered the burden. They have set up organisations that help their disabled compatriots lead easier lives, organisations that provide equipment and training so that people who need them can make a living.
This article deals more specifically persons with spinal cord injury, which is one of the most common cause of disability.
Pakistan had no specialist medical centre to deal with spinal injury until 2014. That is when the Orthopaedic and Spine Unit was inaugurated at the Lahore Medical and Dental College / Ghurki Trust Teaching Hospital in Lahore. Although it is hardly sufficient for the number of patients throughout the country, it is a wonderful start.
More medical facilities, and more equipment to deal with spinal injury such as wheelchairs, lifts, and ramps are crucial. Yet, the first message delivered most consistently by patients with spinal injury, by those caring for them, and by the doctors working with them was not about lifts and ramps. The first thing they all said was: If you suspect someone has hurt their spine, please do not move them.
Second only to the accident itself, the fact that they were moved after their injury often causes the most damage to persons with spinal injury. “Maybe if I had not been moved, the extent of my disability would have been less,” was the common musing of every one of the people I spoke to.


Sana was a first-year medical student when, in 2003, the car she was travelling in from Lahore crashed on the Motorway on the way to Islamabad. Sana’s older sister died in that accident, and Sana was left with a broken neck at C5, C6.  She was moved from the car and taken to hospital.
Sana had surgery, but was left with no sensation below her neck, although she can move her shoulders and her arms to a small extent. With that minimal movement she uses a computer. But that story comes later.


When Aqsa was still doing her Masters in 2016, she and her brother were taking out mattresses from a store on the roof.  Aqsa opened a flap that led into the room below so they could throw the mattresses into the room. But then, forgetting the flap was open, she stepped onto the opening herself. She fell through to the floor, breaking her thoracic spine in the fall. The fracture at T12, means she can use her arms, but not her legs.
Aqsa was taken to Shalimar hospital. It was doctors there who recommended she be taken to Ghurki hospital, to the spinal care unit.
“I had no idea what had happened to me,” Aqsa said. “I had never heard of such an injury as mine. I thought I would be operated upon and be fine in a short while. I didn’t know that I would not walk again,” she said, tears in her eyes.
Aqsa’s mother brings her to Ghurki hospital for physiotherapy every few months, otherwise she does the recommended exercises at home. She has been fitted with braces that give her limited mobility. The physiotherapists taught her to turn over in bed, and to sit. They taught her and those who care for her the best way for her to move around, from her bed to a chair and vice versa, and how to use the bathroom.
“’I had no idea what had happened to me,” Aqsa said. “I had never heard of such an injury as mine. I thought I would be operated upon and be fine in a short while. I didn’t know that I would not walk again,’ she said, tears in her eyes.”
Aqsa now wants to carry on with her studies. Her mother wants Aqsa to become a lecturer.
“But I cannot carry on with my studies,” Aqsa said, “because in the universities in Lahore, although there are lifts in some of the other departments, there are none in mine. And the classes are held on the upper floor.”
“We asked them to move her class down,” said her mother, “but they said there was no space on the ground floor.”
“I heard there are lifts in my department in a university in Islamabad, but it is not possible to move the entire family there,” said Aqsa. “It is the same in the shops and other places, there are no ramps for wheelchairs.”
I asked her about social attitudes to her injury, and Aqsa said that the hardest thing is when people wonder, even within her hearing, what sins she must have committed to deserve such an injury.


Tahir injured himself in 2015, in almost exactly the same way as Aqsa. He blacked out when he fell and injured his spine at L1. It means he has the use of his arms, but has lost movement in his legs.
He was taken to the General Hospital, to Shalimar Hospital, and then to Surgimed.
“So it was five days after I fell, that my spine was operated upon by Dr. Amer Aziz at Surgimed,” he said. “At Surgimed they recommended I come to the spine unit at Ghurki for further treatment.”
The main suggestion here seems to be:  If you suspect a spinal injury, take the injured person straight away to the Orthopaedic and Spine Centre, run by the Ghurki Trust Teaching Hospital, located at the premises of the Lahore Medical and Dental College.
In the case of some injuries such as to the spine, time is of the essence, and there is a window within which certain procedures must be performed if they are to have a chance of success. These procedures are performed at this hospital.
In Tahir’s case, following surgery and physiotherapy he regained feeling in his legs, feeling he had lost because of the injury. His feet are still numb however, and he is still not mobile. He lives in a modest home, where space is limited. The bathroom is small and does not accommodate a wheelchair. His joint family is very supportive. After the accident Tahir’s younger brother left his job in Saudi Arabia and returned home to become his brother’s main support and caregiver. Tahir stresses that his neighbours are very helpful, but his experiences elsewhere have not always been as good. He remembers the time when he was hooted at at a wedding, and some of the guests shouted: “Why was it necessary for him to attend?”
Not surprisingly, one of Tahir’s messages is that people should be supportive of people with disabilities, and not allow them to become depressed.
Paradoxically, supportive and invaluable as family members are, they can be a hurdle to independence if they try to protect their disabled relative too much.


Tony was employed by the Rangers, when in 1986 he broke his neck at C5, C6 in a swimming accident. He was twenty- two years old. It was the first in a series of accidents to befall the young man at that time. The second was when, being paralysed, he did not realise he was resting against a scaldingly hot part of the back of a truck that carried him to hospital, and his skin was burnt right off his body.  The third was when his ambulance overturned on the way to Lahore, and what little feeling he had in his legs disappeared.
“The Rehabilitation nurse Ruth literally bullied Tony into independence. The first thing she did was insist on Tony’s mother returning to Pakistan, because she was too protective of her son. Tony’s mother complied. When she returned three months later, Tony was more independent than he would have been with his sympathetic and supportive family by his side.”
Tony’s family was very supportive, although they were not affluent. But he had been a government employee, so he received a government grant for treatment abroad, and assistance from Agha Hasan Abidi, of the BCCI. With these funds, his mother took him to England where the doctors operated upon him without a fee. Dr. Amer Aziz, who now heads the Orthopaedic Department at Ghurki helped and visited him regularly.
At the Spinal Injuries and Rehabilitation Centre in Aylesbury, the Rehabilitation nurse Ruth literally bullied Tony into independence. The first thing she did was insist on Tony’s mother returning to Pakistan, because she was too protective of her son. Tony’s mother complied. When she returned three months later, Tony was more independent than he would have been with his sympathetic and supportive family by his side. Obviously, although sympathy and support are indispensable, it is also important to be forced to be independent, and neither can replace the other.
It took a while, but eventually Tony progressed. He married. His wife is extremely supportive, and a nurse. They have two children, conceived by means of IVF. Tony bought video stores which did well. Today Tony is financially independent, lives in his own home in England, and drives a specially adapted car – rather fast – all while being quadriplegic, which means he has no movement below his neck.
Let’s return to Sana, introduced at the beginning of in this article. All the persons I spoke to for this piece were extremely likeable, attractive persons, with a strongly visible vein of courage, and their families have been extremely supportive, and Sana is no exception. In Sana’s case however, her parents have the means to help her deal with her disability.
Sana was taken abroad for treatment and rehabilitation, in addition to treatment in Pakistan. In England she met Tony who helped her in every way he could.
The same nurse who helped with Tony’s rehabilitation was also involved in Sana’s care. In Sana’s case too, she insisted that her family allow Sana to help herself. Hard as it may seem, being forced to do something is the best way to learn. Sana uses the computer now, which she could not do before, and drives her own wheelchair. She is less mobile in Pakistan because of uneven roads, and the absence of ramps, but when she visits England she is extremely independent. She is a charming, confident, intelligent young woman, well aware of current events and with a wisdom beyond her years.
Sana has gone on to study law – and holds a a post-graduate diploma in Human Rights, as well as an LLM in Dispute Resolution, all via the University of London’s International Programme, which means she was able to study long distance, from home. She is also an ambassador for the Ghurki Spine care centre, she has written articles about disability, and she is a vocal advocate for facilities for the disabled. When she pointed out the need for ramps on social media recently, some restaurants were known to comply and provide special access. She has also asked the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) and the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) for facilities such as ramps, and has been assured by them, when she visited them personally, that they will implement her demands.  
It is hoped that Sana will also turn her attention to other places, such as schools and universities.
That there are no ramps in public spaces is hardly surprising, given that the only discoverable mention of disabled persons in the LDA by-laws was:
6.2.3 Ramp & Toilet for Disabled Persons In all buildings other than residential buildings, a ramp of minimum 4 feet width and having maximum gradient of 1:6 should be provided for disabled persons. In case of non-provisions of lifts in Multi-Storey Buildings each floor should be accessible through this ramp. A toilet for disabled must also be provided. Whereas no ramp is required on buildings on plot size less than 7 Marla
That half-hearted recommendation ‘should be provided’ indicates the low priority such facilities have, confirmed by the fact that a ramp is almost never available in Pakistan.
“The best medical care in Pakistan is provided not by the government but by private individuals and trusts. The Ghurki Orthopaedic and Spine centre, a unit of a private family Trust, is no exception. As at Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital, patients at this Unit are treated according to their means, the poor entirely free of charge. The money is raised by means of donations such as zakat, and fund raising programmes in Pakistan and overseas.”
If you follow the canal from the Mall Road in Lahore towards Jallo park, you eventually come to a bridge of uncertain quality spanning the BRB canal. Another bridge being constructed next to it is due to the efforts of Ghurki hospital.
The bridge leads to a rutted road (also in the process of being fixed), and when it curves to the left you will find the Ghurki Trust Teaching Hospital on the right.
The Orthopaedic and Spine Unit is here, a sprawling building behind the main hospital, with extensions still under construction, and ample parking space. It is headed by the well-known Orthopaedic and Spinal Surgeon, Dr. Amer Aziz. Inside it is wonder of wonders, very clean, a rarity in Pakistan.
This write up has focused on spinal injury, but there are other kinds of orthopaedic disabilities which include congenital disabilities, and those caused by disease. Those are also treated here.  The unit contains wards, imaging rooms, clinics, pharmacies, lecture theatres for students that are hooked up to view surgery taking place in real time, conference rooms, and on-site facilities where instruments are sterilized, packed and distributed to the entire hospital.
Patients are operated in ten state-of-the-art operation theatres equipped with impressive imaging technology. Up to 8,500 operations have been performed here annually, including trauma surgery, arthroplasty, pediatric surgery, arthroscopies and surgery of the spine.
Every patient in the wards, and one attendant with each patient, is provided with two delicious free meals every day, courtesy Gourmet, the bakers and caterers.
The Orthopaedic and Spinal Unit is an approved AOSpine Training centre, and Dr. Aziz has been appointed AOSpine ambassador by the foundation. AOSpine is a professional, medical not-for-profit foundation based in Switzerland, generating, distributing and exchanging spine-care knowledge to improve the lives of patients.
The team at the unit at Ghurki includes ten consultants, five senior registrars and forty residents from all over the country, as well as a certain number of residents from other countries. The surgeons operate upon forty to fifty patients every day.
The best medical care in Pakistan is provided not by the government but by private individuals and trusts. The Ghurki Orthopaedic and Spine centre, a unit of a private family Trust, is no exception. As at Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital, patients at this Unit are treated according to their means, the poor entirely free of charge. They are also provided with additional facilities as required, air mattresses, wheelchairs and prosthetics. The money is raised by means of donations such as zakat, and fund raising programmes in Pakistan and overseas.  £217000 were raised in Manchester, England, recently for the Spine Centre.
All that medicine can do, however, is insufficient in the face of ignorance and lack of facilities in society at large. Disability is something any one of us may need to deal with, either in oneself or in a loved one. So a sensitivity to disability must be striven for. All persons, with or without a disability, any disability, require the same things: emotional support, and the ability to access facilities such as offices, hospitals, and shops. They need education at every level, school, college, university and libraries. They also need recreation such as cinemas, restaurants, malls and exhibitions.
Just as everyone inside a building must be able to leave it to escape fires, which means every building must have a fire escape, every person outside the building must be able to enter it. But not everyone can do so, unless there are ramps and where possible lifts, in every commercial or government building small or large.
This means the existence of laws accommodating this essential need, the enforcement of those laws, and a complete overhaul of attitude in Pakistan towards people who are different from the mainstream in one way or another. It is imperative to run campaigns, and provide education regarding disability in schools, and to train first responders who arrive first at the scene with an ambulance.
What a difference it would make therefore, in more ways than one, if our national motto were amended to ‘Unity, Faith, Discipline…and Inclusion’, as a means of helping every person in the nation, man, woman and child from whatever background, with whatever ability, to lead a full, meaningful life.

Monday, May 21, 2018


  • An uneducated family can only go so far
It is time the people of this country realise what is going on and insist on change, before the entire nation breaks down. The clampdowns on the press, the judicial deficiencies, and interference by various institutions in matters that are not their remit, and sheer incompetence at every single level, all these are matters of the greatest concern. But worst of them all, the hardest to swallow is the brutality at the family level.
There are laws in this country that aim to protect women in cases of domestic violence, forced marriage, or the myriad other ways in which women are abused. But none of these laws appear to be enforced. At times young men are brutalised as well as their female counterparts. The most ghoulish of such cases took place last week in Nasirabad in Baluchistan, when a twenty two year old man had his eyes gouged out with a spoon by his own father, assisted by four of his sons. The reason for this demonic act was that the young man wished to marry his girlfriend and had told his family so. A similar case took place in Mexico recently, as part of a satanic rite. Why are our role models always so terrible?
In Karachi recently, a couple who married a couple of years ago was shot dead by members of the woman’s family, because theirs was a marriage of choice. There have been many more such cases. In the period of one year, the Independent Human Rights Commission says at least 280 such killings have taken place, a figure the Commission says is much less than the actual number.
Medieval systems such as jirgas that prescribe horrific punishments for ‘affairs’ between men and women are allowed to exist and thrive. It is almost unknown for the murderers to receive the justice that is due to them. Aside from anything else, there are too many loopholes in the law. In the case of Qandeel Baloch, for example, the state had to turn complainant to prevent the victim’s family from forgiving the brother, which would have allowed him to get away with the murder of his sister. The only reason the state was more proactive in her case was that Qandeel’s murder was very much in the limelight and hit the headlines in Pakistan, and other countries as well.
Recently, a Pakistani girl who grew up in Italy was sent to Pakistan by her family under false pretenses. The actual reason was that her family, that had previously forced her to abandon her studies in Italy, wanted to marry her off in Pakistan against her will. Because she was an Italian national and because the Italian embassy became involved, the girl was traced and rescued, and is to be sent back to Italy where she wishes to live and continue her studies. Such an ending is unusual.
The government being handcuffed and forced to cave in to demands, laws which if they are opposed lay people open to assassination and the death penalty — all these issues have radical, armed extremist elements behind them
There are some provisions for such victims, some facilities for women in trouble, in the Punjab, but murders and abuse of women take place here regardless. Nowhere in Pakistan do there appear to be attempts to make inroads in the way people think, although the way people think is even more important than laws. To prove that point, the greatest number of cases of forced marriage in the UK, take place in the Pakistani community despite the laws of that country, laws that are enforced. Such acts, ironically are seen by the Pakistani community as ‘preserving our culture.’
Where do these ideas come from, that women are ‘property’, to be made to do as one wishes, that marriage is the business of the parents and brothers as much as the wedded couple, that it is okay to beat a woman, and okay not to educate girls. Islam does not teach this, quite to the contrary. Instead, it is the purveyors of religion, teachers at madrassahs, the mullah in the mosque – red, green, blue and gold, it is these people who are culpable. No less culpable are people like Rana Sanaullah whose statement regarding women was obscene in the extreme, and he remains undisciplined.
Unless everyone, particularly people in any kind of authority, are educated, unless they are forced to impart decent values, unless they are held responsible for the damage they cause, this state of affairs will not only continue, it will get worse.
The government being handcuffed and forced to cave in to demands, laws which if they are opposed lay people open to assassination and the death penalty — all these issues have radical, armed extremist elements behind them. Quite openly.
An uneducated family can only go so far. When its members are told in very forceful terms by so called ‘religious figures’ that something is prescribed by religion, they accept it as true, sometimes only because they need to survive in the community in which they live.
Is there a solution? Laws, any number of laws, are ineffective until the problem can be fixed at the grassroots, the family level. How that is to be done is open to debate. One suggestion would be to get rid of the mullah altogether. I know. Easier said than done. But it is possible.

Monday, May 14, 2018


  • What does it matter which party comes into power?
Education, we all know it, is the most important requirement for any society. The Economist covered the subject of education in Pakistan earlier this year. An excerpt from their article says:
Pakistani education has long been atrocious. A government-run school on the outskirts of Karachi, in the province of Sindh, is perhaps the bleakest your correspondent has ever seen. A little more than a dozen children aged six or seven sit behind desks in a cobwebbed classroom. Not one is wearing a uniform; most have no schoolbags; some have no shoes. There is not a teacher in sight.
Pakistan’s gap between girls’ and boys’ enrolment is, after Afghanistan’s, the widest in South Asia. Those in school learn little. Only about half of Pakistanis who complete five years of primary school are literate.
The government spends more on higher education that on primary, which means that most of the people benefitting from this expenditure belong to the upper classes, not the section of the population where lack of education really exists.
Pakistan’s overall literacy rate has declined, and now hovers around the 58pc mark.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has indicated that an expenditure of 6pc of a country’s GDP is required as a minimum for basic health care facilities. According to a WHO report, Pakistan’s current spending is less than that minimum.
On defense, on the other hand, The Diplomat, an international current affairs magazine for the Asia Pacific region, reports that last year there was a 7pc officially stated increase in spending. The newspaper notes, however, that the actual expenditure is in fact probably about 50pc higher than that.
Human Rights
The Human Rights Watch reports in 2017 that most of those facing charges of blasphemy are members of religious minorities, often victimised for personal reasons.
The government continues to actively encourage legal and procedural discrimination against members of the Ahmadiyah religious community by failing to repeal discriminatory laws.
The reports says that journalists fear retribution from security forces, military intelligence, and militant groups, and that the Taliban and other armed groups threaten the media and target journalists and activists.
On Saturday, the leader of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement was not allowed to board a plane to travel to Karachi, where the PTM was to hold a rally the following day.
The organisations working for women’s welfare in Pakistan are all Non-Government Organisations (NGOs), The Aurat Foundation, Tehreek-e-Niswan, Shirkat Gah, and others
The media in 2016 remained under pressure to avoid reporting on or criticizing human rights violations.
Children continue to be used as suicide bombers by armed groups. That has to be the most awful sentence in the history of the written word.
Sexual harassment for women in Pakistan remains a huge problem, and the rate of child marriages is high.
In this society the word ‘honour’ has been twisted until the new meaning is a monstrous travesty of the actual. According to the Aurat Foundation, about 1,000 women are murdered in the name of ‘honour’ each year. The Foundation believes that the majority of the cases go unreported, which means the number is actually much higher. Acid attacks, rape and other forms of violence against women are rampant, and are often endorsed by jirgas.
Pakistan is third among the countries most threatened by water shortage, according to the United Nations. The country has no organised use of water. In this country, only 30pc of the population can access clean drinking water, according to a UNICEF report.
According to an AFP report, nearly 60 million people in Pakistan are at risk of arsenic poisoning due to contaminated ground water. That figure was the result of a study. That is a massive number, about three times the population of the whole of Australia.
The same AFP report singles out two villages in the Punjab, where nearby factories are being blamed for contaminated the water. As a result people in the village suffer an abnormally high rate of bone and dental deformities.
Officials in the Punjab refused to comment, despite repeated requests by the news agency.
According to a World Bank report, the urban air pollution in Pakistan is among the worst in the world.
In his column in Dawn, Javed Jabbar says that About 44 percent of Pakistani children are reliably estimated by the Unicef to be suffering from malnutrition.
What are politicians doing?
Given all these myriad issues requiring urgent attention, the government and the politicians appear to be concentrating on nothing but power politics, and supporting what and whoever, for no other reason than building numbers.
Non-governmental contribution to Pakistan.
The positives are the private contribution to Pakistan. The Citizens Foundation and many other smaller groups have made huge contributions to education. Private hospitals provide a much higher quality of health care and often free services to the poor in a country where the bulk of the population lives well under the poverty line. At the villages that are most acutely affected by arsenic poisoning, it is a private charity that provides safe drinking water for the residents, while at the time the report was compiled a government plant for clean water was still in the process of being built, although the problem had been known for almost a decade.
The organisations working for women’s welfare in Pakistan are all Non-Government Organisations (NGOs), The Aurat Foundation, Tehreek-e-Niswan, Shirkat Gah, and others.
The Burns Ward at Mayo Hospital is privately funded, as is a Home for the Elderly in Lahore.
And of course, there is the Edhi Foundation, which clinches the argument.
Javed Jabbar in his column also suggests that ‘The July 2018 elections afford an opportunity to citizens and political parties to prioritise the provision of adequate food to the people, alongside critical issues of enhanced access to family planning services and innovative approaches to primary school education.’
So yes, elections are coming up.
What does it matter which party comes into power, there is little to choose between them. Still, it is hoped that the voting criteria for most rational individuals will be to support whoever acts in the genuine interest of the nation.
And who is that, exactly, if anyone?