Tuesday, December 26, 2017

AT THE END OF 2017

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2017/12/26/at-the-end-of-2017/

  • Let us usher in the New Year soberly
The usual upheavals took place all over the world this year, natural disasters, terrorist attacks in which hundreds of people died, and agitation to protest various things.
Some of the largest protests the world has seen took place when women marched in many different countries including the United States, to protest against the election of Donald Trump as president. They were also marching in support of women’s rights, immigration, healthcare reform, the environment, LGBTQ rights, and freedom of religion, because Donald Trump in his various incoherent statements yet managed to make it abundantly clear that his stand on women’s rights and these other issues is wrong, and offensive.
In February North Korea fired a test ballistic missile resulting in worldwide condemnation, and afterwards Britain triggered Article 50, launching negotiations to discuss Britain’s exit from the European Union.
Also this year, the US dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb on an ISIL base in Afghanistan. It also announced its decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.
In February North Korea fired a test ballistic missile resulting in worldwide condemnation, and afterwards Britain triggered Article 50, launching negotiations to discuss Britain’s exit from the European Union
In an ongoing crisis that began many years ago, the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar were targeted by the army of that country in a process of ethnic cleansing that led to mass migration of that community, mostly to Bangladesh. This has now created a refugee crisis, the seriousness of which was highlighted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Earthquakes and hurricanes struck Mexico and the US causing extensive damage to life and property. Later in the year the US and Israel announced their decision to withdraw from UNESCO.
In Pakistan the prime minister was removed, yet another elected leader unable to complete his tenure.
And this month the US announced it was formally recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The announcement led to widespread condemnation of the decision all over the world, including in a formal vote in the United Nations.
In March of 2017, the UN warned of a massive humanitarian crisis in Yemen, the biggest such crisis since World War II. More than seven million people are at risk of starvation predominantly in Yemen, and also its neighbouring countries in Africa, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria.
All that is most cruel is exposed in this crisis in Yemen, caused by a naval blockade put in place in 2015 by a coalition of nine countries led by Saudi Arabia that aims to prevent the Houthi Rebels in Yemen from gaining power. Mercifully Pakistan, that was invited to join the coalition declined when its Parliament did not sanction it. The blockade has left most of the population of Yemen deprived of sufficient food, water and medical aid. The economy has obviously suffered because the blockade prevents the movement of commercial ships as well as aid supplies.
The United Kingdom and the United States have been accused of supplying arms to this coalition.
Sunni/Wahabi Saudi Arabia fears that the rebels are supported by Iran, a Shia country. The starvation of millions of people can therefore be laid at the door of something as irrational as sectarian differences.
In Yemen, the parents of children such as two year old Shohud who weighs a mere 11lb, the four year old who weighs 16lbs, and Ayesha who weighed 7lbs at 21 months are not likely to care if a concert is bombed in Manchester killing several people. Government workers in Yemen who have not been paid for more than a year are not likely to give a second thought to the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. How would they, when they are in the midst of starvation, a dangerous exposure to cholera, and the resultant misery of deprivation and death?
To feel critical, angry, or else pleased at events not immediately affecting oneself is a luxury. It means you have the education, the awareness, the information and the leisure to feel dismay at Donald Trump’s election. You possess a modicum of security yourself if you feel sorry for the plight of the Rohingya, and you worry about losing that security by the ballistic missile fired by North Korea and the escalation of tensions between North Korea and the US. Such acts after all are in the interests of no one. If you feel that the leaders of a country need to display greater diplomacy and sense than that displayed the leaders of North Korea and the US, it is because you have the intelligence to understand this. You feel concern for those who lost their homes in the earthquakes and hurricanes because you yourself possess homes. If you are critical of the tax reforms in the US it is because you have the basic intelligence to perceive that its current government cares much more if not only for the wealthy than for the poor.
Therefore let us usher in the New Year soberly, giving a thought to those starving millions in Yemen, grateful for even our shambolic government and pathetic leadership. Let us feel grateful for the fact that we can condemn something that happens elsewhere in the world because it means we have the leisure to do so. May that condemnation and that gratitude lead us to do right by ourselves, and by everyone else in the coming year.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

AN ACUTE IDENTITY CRISIS

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2017/12/19/an-acute-identity-crisis/

  • There is no reason the standard of education cannot be improved
In the wake of Faizabad, the PTA — in its wisdom — shut down news channels on television, as well as social media such as Facebook. It was as if they wanted to ensure that members of the public not knowing which streets to avoid were caught in the violence that our people had unleashed upon themselves. Which is why, since they were not on air, I decided to phone one of those television channels that reports on Lahore alone, to see if they knew whether routes to the airport were safe and accessible.
“Salam alaikum,” I said when a female operator picked up my call. “Bibi, could you please put me through to someone who can tell me if the road to the airport is clear?”
“I will,” the lady responded. “But first, I would like to point out to you that it is rude to call anyone ‘Bibi’. If you talk to a lady in an office. You should call her ‘Madam’ or ‘Miss’.
I would have reminded the ‘Madam’/‘Miss’ of certain respected personalities whose names are preceded with Bibi, but she had robbed me of my breath, and I thought it better to save what was left.
That incident well illustrates the national disease called ‘Acute Identity Crisis’, the one that has penetrated every muscle and bone of the nation.
I wrote last week of madressahs that fell far short of being schools because they taught nothing but religion and that too of a certain brand, a system of ‘education’ that created graduates unfit for jobs other than teachers and Imams in madressahs and mosques, or else as terrorists.  But this now is a system of education that has wrecked this country by carefully nourishing a social divide, and by hacking away at the identity of the nation.
A social divide as stark as the one that exists in Pakistan is like words on the screen picked out in distinctly different fonts and colours, some visibly placed in the centre of the page, others crowded together in the margins, like the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ of society. Together, the two prevent the formation of a coherent society
A social divide as stark as the one that exists in Pakistan is like words on the screen picked out in distinctly different fonts and colours, some visibly placed in the centre of the page, others crowded together in the margins, like the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ of society. Together, the two prevent the formation of a coherent society.
A society in which a divide is reflected right from the start in schools is headed for trouble, and yet there is no apparent effort to unify the English and Urdu medium schools in Pakistan, the first associated with the haves of society, the second with the have nots. There is no effort to level the playing field to ensure that in terms of education at the end of the day both sets of students graduate with similar advantages. Instead, the two languages are used as weapons rather than rich sources of literature and separate doorways to the world. It has resulted in the creation of Urdish, a bastardised collection of words that make little sense and less beauty, and in silly perceptions such as the one held by the operator whose yearning for a highfalutin persona led her to ignore the existence of the ‘Bibi Fatimas,’ and ‘Bibi Khadijas’ of her life. Such a system of education does that, it keeps facts and practicalities out of sight by replacing them with mindless aspirations.
Our cook’s son now apologises by saying “shit!” but he has no ambition to learn the alphabet, English or Urdu. You hear mothers tell their children “washroom ja kay hand-wash karo,” and people rolling their R-s for some reason, and saying ‘jeera’ rather than ‘zeera’ like their favourite Bollywood celebrity. The word waqt has gone out the window with the concept of time itself, and ‘sho-ping’ is the national pastime for women. Such things will happen when education fails to present any intelligent goals. The maulvis at Faizabad might have been dislodged from the roads (although they ain’t gone nowhere), but this loss of identity has created a drifting nation that is not likely to discover its foundations without a lot more work. What those foundations are is a contentious issue. It’s best to start with giving everyone the capacity to answer that question for themselves.
There is no reason the standard of education cannot be improved. The only things standing in the way are apathy and corruption. And of course the misconception that sees education as a threat. Well it is a threat, but only to the things that should be threatened, such as power in the wrong, few hands. To the nation as a whole it is a source of strength and progress.

Monday, December 11, 2017

MAULVI OR TERRORIST?

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2017/12/12/maulvi-or-terrorist/

  • A haunting question
“What will they become, maulvis or terrorists?”
That question posed by General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Pakistan’s chief of army staff last week in Quetta at a seminar about human resources development, has to be the question of the year. Speaking of the vast number of graduates being produced by madrassahs he pointed out that at the end of the day these students still did not possess an education and were therefore unfit to work. It is one of the major problems in the field of human resources in Pakistan.
The numbers are staggering. Of a country of over 207 million people, it seems that two and a half million are students at madrassahs across the country. Not taught mathematics or geography, or any of the mainstream subjects except religion, students at madrassahs are studying at a kind of Hogwarts. What are they to work at once they graduate? The COAS observed that it is not possible to build enough mosques to accommodate them if all they can do is become maulvis.
Well said Gen Bajwa, and thank you for bringing such a crucial point into the open for discussion.
General Bajwa’s question however produces a string of other questions, such as: why must a chief of army staff have to be the one to ask this question? In fact, should he ask such questions at a public forum which he is addressing as the COAS when it does not fall within the remit of his position?
Madrassahs can be brought into the mainstream if regulations are passed making it mandatory for these thousands of institutes that at present cater to the underprivileged segment of society, to teach mainstream subjects along with religious education
And, what is the civilian government of the country, and more specifically the government’s department of education doing to allow such a situation to develop, where a multitude of uneducated graduates is produced only to join the ranks of the unemployed and or terrorists, and the matter is not addressed?
The armed forces of Pakistan are no doubt composed of several well intentioned and talented persons. But it is at the end of the day exactly that, an armed force whose job it is to defend the country from physical attack. They are not meant to indulge in education, except for military schools. But that is a futile observation, since the armed forces of Pakistan appear to find the civilian arena tantalisingly attractive, as we have seen.
Regardless, should a person desist from making such observations about a particular field even if he or she finds that that field is of crucial importance, yet it is not receiving the attention it deserves? If he or she feels that he or she has something to offer in that field, something that would make a difference? What should he or she do then?
You have to admit that the temptation is great, to meddle in civilian government matters, when the civilian government is as disorganised as it is, and as inept.
It has to be conceded that the chief of the armed forces in this country has some right to comment on the matter, given that it is his troops that are called upon to combat the results in the shape of terrorism.
Madrassahs can be brought into the mainstream if regulations are passed making it mandatory for these thousands of institutes that at present cater to the underprivileged segment of society, to teach mainstream subjects along with religious education. Even then, they can be brought into the mainstream only if that regulation is enforced. This would not just provide jobs for thousands of teachers but a more rounded education for the students. Such an education would result in more jobs being open to madrassah graduates. Not to make this move is a clear sign of apathy and short sightedness.
The citizens of a country should all be given the same opportunities as far as possible. It is unfair to throw substandard education in the path of students just because they are unable to pay for a better one. It is also unfair to give children a specialised education right from the start. If they are started off with a mainstream education and then they chose to teach religion, so be it.
The reason madrassahs survive is that mosques and schools affiliated with them receive so many donations in the shape of money and food, particularly the latter. This feeds the staff and students at the madrassahs, something that neither would be able to do adequately otherwise. It indicates a level of poverty which is of crucial importance to note.
Civilian governments need to deserve the trust placed in them. Unless they do they will always be overridden by those who observe the void.
Poverty too needs to be addressed and eliminated. Unless it is, it will be used by those who observe the desperation and use it.

Monday, December 4, 2017

HOURIS CAN WAIT

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2017/12/05/houris-can-wait/



  • The stomach cannot
Demonstrations and sit-ins were staged by various ‘religious’ groups across the country recently. These demonstrations were suspended by the leaders of these groups when the government caved in to their demands, but only after the law Minister, Zahid Hamid, was forced to resign, barely escaping with his life and that of his family. A demonstration in front of the Punjab Assembly in Lahore staged by the TLY carried on. That too has finally ended, with the government managing to save the Punjab Law Minister Sanaullah’s job. Mr. Sanaullah’s reprieve though is only temporary, since Maulana Asif Jalali of the TLY, the person who now dictates to the government, has clearly stated that although he is not taking back his demand for the minister’s resignation, he will kindly allow the government to carry on doing what it wants for a period of one month.
The government has had to agree to the other demands.
You’re strongly reminded of the recent news in the BBC about a zoo in China where people turned up to see exotic animals, and were instead confronted with air-filled toy penguins, and a handful of roosters and geese. To spell it out, just so did the public in Pakistan hope for a government and were met instead with inflated dummies and a handful of fowl persons with a predominance of geese.
The policy of not negotiating with terrorists has a contentious history but it makes sense and still exists. Whether a country agrees with the policy or not, even if it is a signatory to the agreement that prohibits payment of ransom and negotiating with terrorists, some governments have caved in, and secretly or quite openly given in to demands. Each government of Pakistan has, of course, firmly adhered to the policy of having none but the knee jerk policy, which says ‘do whatever you need to do to keep ‘em quiet, keep yourselves in power, and to hell with the people’. You have to give it to each successive government for living up to this on every occasion.
It has now agreed that the report compiled by Raja Zafarul Haq’s committee regarding events that led up to the demonstrations is to be made public later this month by the 20th. Meantime the government is to pay reparation (with tax payers’ money) for the people killed during operations to remove protestors from around Islamabad recently, never mind that these operations were conducted because these people had hijacked the capital of the country and were forcing the government to accede to their demands… or else.
The policy of not negotiating with terrorists has a contentious history but it makes sense and still exists. Whether a country agrees with the policy or not, even if it is a signatory to the agreement that prohibits payment of ransom and negotiating with terrorists, some governments have caved in, and secretly or quite openly given in to demands
Also agreed upon is that yet another commission is to be set up to decide how many loudspeakers each mosque is to be allowed in the province. It is infuriating, since the said loudspeakers are used not just to relay the call to prayer, but also to pander to the sitting mullahs’ yearning for an audience and predilection for Bollywood tunes. They are also used to rally people to protests such as these recent ones across the country.
What is probably most terrifying is that the ulema are to review the religious views contained within the curriculum of schools in the province.
Not the smallest organisation can be run much less an entire country without first deciding where the country stands on certain crucial matters. Pakistan, unfortunately, has the reputation of agreeing with the loudest speaker, or doing whatever is demanded when its arm is twisted, and/or its leaders are offered the appropriate incentives.
When the US Defense Secretary arrived in Islamabad to discuss Pakistan’s support in defeating the Taliban, Pakistan’s representatives course presented a cooperative front, with $$$ in mind. How they can maintain even that farce is another matter, keeping in mind the government’s caving in to the demands of a group of persons with much the same agenda as the Taliban. It is after all because of the TYL that PEMRA recently shut down social media for a couple of days throughout the country, since the group was using that platform to ‘incite hatred’. It is as a direct result of this group’s appeal to the baser instincts of the public that several persons died, and the government and people of the country suffered economic losses in the billions.
The ultimate measure of satisfaction is peace and at least a basic level of material satisfaction: sufficient food, access to housing, education and water, healthcare and transport. Neither the so called religious parties nor the government can draw wool over the public’s eyes for very long when both fail to deliver in this matter, since for the living houris can wait but an empty stomach cannot. A limp government that can be dictated to leads only to chaos. Neither these parties nor such a government fulfil the public’s longing for prosperity. Instead both pander only to the avariciousness of people in power on either side which is a desire that can never be satisfied.

Monday, November 27, 2017

WHAT HAPPENED TO 'INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY'?

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2017/11/27/what-happened-to-innocent-until-proven-guilty/

There were serious doubts concerning several accusations of blasphemy, quite a strong sense that other, unrelated motives triggered the accusations. In the case of Sawan Masih and the Christian Joseph colony, Sawan denied he had made blasphemous statements. He said that a business concern had its eyes on the land occupied by the colony and they had triggered the events that led to the accusations.
After the accusations against Masih many of the houses in Joseph colony were burnt and the residents fled. Whatever the truth of the matter, it is a serious matter that such allegations can be used to ‘settle personal scores’.
There is a Latin expression: Ei incumbet probatio qui dicit, non qui negat. It means that ‘the burden of proof is upon the one who declares, not upon one who denies.’ This is behind the principle that a person is considered innocent unless proven guilty. Most systems of law agree with this principle, including the Islamic. In fact under the Islamic concept of justice even casting suspicion on a person is highly condemned as per hadith documented by Imams Nawawi, Bukhari and Muslim. Hazrat Ali has also been cited as saying, ‘Avert the prescribed punishment by rejecting doubtful evidence’. The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights also incorporates this principle as do civilian codes of law in many countries.
An accusation that defames an individual, group, organisation or an ideology is called ‘slander’ if verbal, or libel if written and used in media. In ancient England, slander was punished by cutting off the slanderer’s tongue. In modern times defamation is punishable in various ways prescribed by the code of many countries. Many celebrities including Sean Penn, Tom Cruise and Scarlett Johanssen have successfully sued in such cases.
So, although this equally applies to finger wagging rants against their opponents by politicians, in light of what has suddenly taken centre stage these days, what about allegations of sexual harassment?
  • For the media, which is responsible for bringing issues to light and carrying them around the world, there exists a code of ethics. Whether it is taken seriously is debatable
While it would be insane to doubt that sexual harassment occurs, and occurs very frequently indeed, could it not be that allegations of sexual harassment are also at times used to ‘settle personal scores’? It is certainly not out of the question. And if so, how should these be handled?
It is slander in itself to cast a general doubt on such accusations. In fact it would be very wrong, since very many of those accusations are founded in truth, and in fact women are being encouraged to speak up against such abuse. But what of the cases where there is no way to prove the accuser right?
There is almost no woman who has not undergone some form of sexual harassment, small or large. On the other hand it is equally true that men are vulnerable to sexual allegations, because they are so easy to make, so difficult to disprove, and so often true. Their mere presence can ruin a man, personally as well as professionally, and unless they possess a skin as thick as the POTUS, it spells the end of the accused’s credibility. It is all the more important, then, that such accusations should be verified.
There is no way to verify the truth of sexual accusations made years after the event, and some very public accusations were made decades after a supposed event. Unless these are verifiable, surely it is best in such cases for the accuser to stay away from the person she accuses and carry on maintaining the silence she has for so many years, unless the accused still has access to her.
Accusations by and against well-known persons include the public and the media, neither of whom are without certain obligations. The public is of course under various personal, societal and religious obligations.
For the media, which is responsible for bringing issues to light and carrying them around the world, there exists a code of ethics. Whether it is taken seriously is debatable.
I quote Wikipedia: ‘The Society of Professional Journalists created a code of ethics in use today. The main mantra of the code is to ‘seek truth and report it’.
The code says that journalists should: “Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.”(Straubhaar, LaRose and Davenport).
That journalists should show good taste, and avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.” (Straubhaar, LaRose and Davenport).
Which of these factors have been adhered to in reporting the sexual harassment allegations that sprouted so suddenly like mushrooms in the wake of the allegations against Weinstein?
What’s more, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, which recently sent around a notice to all cell phones warning that ‘Uploading, downloading and sharing of any blasphemous content on the internet is a punishable offence under the law’, needs to understand that to accuse someone of blasphemy lays the accuser, including the state of Pakistan as represented by the PTA open to an accusation of slander, which is as serious an accusation as any other. Unless they can manage to prove their allegation, which in such cases has very often been impossible.
But no one seems to care about that.

Monday, November 20, 2017

SHOULD LITTLE BOY AND FAT MAN BE IN RECKLESS HANDS?

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2017/11/20/should-little-boy-and-fat-man-be-in-reckless-hands/

  • A nuclear confrontation is after all not simply a confrontation, it is an annihilation

The American senate actually held a congressional enquiry recently to debate Donald Trump’s capability of being entrusted with the codes that could trigger nuclear war. In questioning this capability it has only echoed the doubt that exists in the minds of people all over the world: is the man who tweets like a twit capable of judging how, when and if to call for nuclear confrontation?
Donald Trump, after all, is a man who has traded personal insults with the leader of North Korea in much the same way as children do in kindergarten playgrounds, and threatened the Korean regime with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” That sounds uncannily like Harry Truman’s threat against Japan towards the end of the Second World War, when, after the US bombed Hiroshima (that bomb was called ‘Little Boy’) Truman warned Japan to expect “a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.” Three days after this threat another bomb was dropped, this time on Nagasaki. This bomb was called ‘Fat Man’.
“We are concerned that the president of the United States is so unstable, is so volatile, has a decision-making process that is so quixotic, that he might order a nuclear strike that is wildly out of step with US interests,” said Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut.
It isn’t just Democrats who are worried. Bob Corker, a Republican senator from Tennessee, warned that Trump’s reckless threats could put the country on a “path to World War III.”
With repercussions, as the title ‘world war’ indicates, for the entire world.
Peter Feaver, a political science professor at Duke University, was questioned about whether Donald Trump can actually launch such a nuclear attack by himself, and if so, what checks are in place to prevent his doing so arbitrarily. His response was printed in Vox, in which he said: The president of the United States “requires other people to carry out an order, so he can’t just lean on a button and automatically the missiles fly. But he has the legal and political authority on his own to give an order that would cause other people to take steps which would result in a nuclear strike.”
About checks on the POTUS’s authority, Feaver’s response was that there were more checks in place than people realise. “It would raise lots of alarms throughout the system,” he said. “So the chief of staff of the White House, the national security adviser, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — they would all ask, ‘What’s happening? We just got this crazy order. What’s going on?’”
“If they were given reliable information that we’re really under attack, that something is really happening, then you would expect the order to be carried out. But if they’re saying, ‘We don’t know what’s going on. No one’s alerted us,’ they would likely halt the process and get some clarity.”
It is a relief to know that, although if the president’s suitability for such as assessment is questionable, what guarantee the suitability of anyone else? Besides, the real question is — as it should be — whether anyone at all is capable of making this decision?
A nuclear confrontation is after all not simply a confrontation, it is an annihilation. Who, if anyone is entitled, or capable, or should be entitled or can be capable of making a call for the annihilation of a large segment of the human race, and the world it lives in?
This, briefly, is what happened on August 6 and 9, 1945, when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with the consent of the United Kingdom: Within the first two to four months 90,000 to 14,000 people died in Hiroshima, and 39,000 to 80,000 in Nagasaki. Most of these people were civilians. In the following months a huge number of people died of radiation sickness, burns and other injuries, as well as malnutrition. In addition, about 650,000 survivors are officially recognised as ‘explosion-affected people’. Some of these suffer from radiation sickness, others from psychological trauma. Many of them still suffer from discrimination since people tend to think radiation sickness is contagious.
In today’s setting, any such possibility as a nuclear strike by one nation is not the business of that nation and its victim alone. The extent of destruction and the fall-out in terms of radioactivity has far reaching effects, both with regards to physical space, and time, given that nuclear weapons these days are far larger and more powerful than those dropped on Japan after the Second World War. Therefore a strike in one country would have consequences for neighbouring countries as well, perhaps an entire region. The question of who has access to nuclear arms, and what checks exist on the capacity of persons with that access is therefore a matter of concern for the entire world, in which the entire world has a say.


Pakistan, as part of a world community, and as a state with nuclear capability, as well as a neighbour to another state with a similar capability, should give at least this matter some very serious thought. In this matter, without any doubt at all, we cannot afford the disorganisation and discord that appears to be a major factor in every sphere of life in this country.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

SECTARIAN EGOS IN THE REGION

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2017/11/14/sectarian-egos-in-the-region/

And Pakistan’s priorities

The unrest turned sectarian in 2004 when the Shia led Houthis staged an uprising against the Sunni government. They’re trying to take over the government, said the government; we’re trying to protect the Shia against discrimination, said the Houthis

With food running out and oil wells drying up, the only way out of Yemen’s dilemma is if the blockade imposed by its neighbours is lifted. That is for starters, but it would be a crucial start that would prevent millions of deaths by starvation and disease such as cholera

The southwestern tip of Yemen juts into where the Red Sea meets the Gulf of Aden. Across the water, on the coast of Africa, lies Djibouti. On its north, Yemen is bordered by Saudi Arabia. Yemen has the added misfortune of being the poorest country in the Middle East, the reason behind its unrest. The country has been the scene of riots due to shortage of food in 1992. On that occasion people died. By now the shortage has assumed famine proportions and the stage is set for the worst humanitarian crisis of recent times.
The unrest turned sectarian in 2004 when the Shia led Houthis staged an uprising against the Sunni government. They’re trying to take over the government, said the government; we’re trying to protect the Shia against discrimination, said the Houthis. In reality, the Houthis have the support of many among the Sunnis as well, given conditions in the country.
The BBC reports that more than 7,600 people were killed in Yemen since this civil war started, and 42,000 were injured, ‘the majority in air strikes by a Saudi-led coalition.’ That is a coalition of nine countries formed in 2015 by the Saudis with American support to intervene in the Yemeni civil war. In one of its few displays of sense, Pakistan turned down an invitation to form part of this coalition. One of the ‘achievements’ of the coalition has been to close all routes into the country, resulting in the humanitarian crisis mentioned above. Aid agencies are unable to access recipients at a time when 70pc of the population of Yemen is in need of aid.
More than half the people of Yemen is said to be ‘food insecure’, almost half of those ‘severely food insecure’. More than half the country lacks safe drinking water, and almost a quarter of the children are malnourished.
Despite this injustice, death and tragedy, the people of Pakistan remain focused on little other than the inadequacies of India and its people.
What of the inadequacies of a country that is silent when the rulers of a country we like to call a friend commit a holocaust against the people of another Muslim country? Not that it matters whether the victims are Muslim or not. It is enough that they are human, innocent, and helpless.
It comes of being a weak country dependent on handouts that one is silent when such things happen, when children die for lack of nourishment, and adults, who are short of food themselves, are forced to watch because forces beyond their power are strangling their country, forces that like to call themselves ‘keepers of the keys to holy places’.
Come December, Pakistan will be festive with wedding illuminations, and the greatest worry to furrow our brow will be the one-dish restriction at wedding functions. Enough food will be wasted to feed Yemen for a day, and women will wear garish clothes worth lacs of rupees. And any political conscience that exists will be focused on the freedom of Kashmir.
There are many forces operating in Yemen at present, although famine and death are the biggest. Al Qaeda and ISIL are among them. The Houthis are fighting against both of these, as well as against Saudi Arabia and its powerful allies. Yemen is after all an oil rich country, although probably not for long.
Yemen’s oil reserves are dwindling, and although oil is still one of its major exports, more and more of what it earns from petroleum is consumed by the civil war against the Houthis. Besides, the country is riddled with corruption and shoddy organisation, and spends more than six percent of its GDP on its military. Pakistan, which (officially) spends almost half, is not behind for want of trying.
With food running out and oil wells drying up, the only way out of Yemen’s dilemma is if the blockade imposed by its neighbours is lifted. That is for starters, but it would be a crucial start that would prevent millions of deaths by starvation and disease such as cholera.
Whatever other axes there are to grind, the reason behind the blockade boils down to sectarian egos, Shia versus Sunni, in other words the power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the region. Pakistan need support neither, but as in within its own borders, it finds it impossible to avoid partisanship.
Religion ought to be a source of unity rather than discord. Pakistan needs to get its priorities right even though it did not join the alliance.