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?

Monday, May 7, 2018


  • Scenarios that could easily take place in Pakistan
In December 2004, a massive tsunami caused the death of 62,000 people in Sri Lanka, India and Thailand. If even one of these countries had had a viable warning system and an evacuation plan, these deaths could have been prevented, but they did not. A few years prior to 2004, a meteorologist in Thailand had warned of such a disaster. He recommended that all new hotels should be set back from the beach and be provided with sirens in case of an expected event. Instead of taking his suggestions seriously, he was moved away from his position and his suggestions were not implemented, just as people who take a stand are dealt with in Pakistan.
The Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal was built in 1969, in a densely populated area. In 1984 MIC, a lethal gas leaked from one of its tanks and exploded, killing at least 3,800 people immediately, leaving another 150,000 persons disabled. Eventually the death toll went up to 20,000, and the city still has a high rate of spontaneous abortions. After the explosion the facility was simply abandoned, and children still play on the poisoned ground, as children all over Pakistan play in trash dumps.
This tragedy took place for reasons that were entirely preventable. Some pressure gauges were missing, some malfunctioning, and in ways that are so familiar to anyone who has lived in Pakistan, the operators ignored the readings on the gauges that worked. Before the explosion, when the control room filled with gas, the operators might have been able to do something to save the situation. But they had no oxygen masks, so they had to run for their lives. None of the safety systems worked, and the number of persons in the work and maintenance crews had been cut down and was insufficient anyway. Parts were missing and had not been replaced, cooling systems had been shut off to save money. Warning systems, where available, failed to work, and some sirens had been turned off to prevent the inconvenience of false alarms. The people working at the plant were ill-trained, and several of the instructions were written in English, when the people were able to read Hindi only. A familiar scenario.
Chernobyl in Russia in 1986 became a synonym for nuclear tragedy, but there was another nuclear facility at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, US, that fell just short of Chernobyl
Chernobyl in Russia in 1986 became a synonym for nuclear tragedy, but there was another nuclear facility at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, US, that fell just short of Chernobyl. Safety systems did not kick in at Pennsylvania either, but operators took measures at the last minute and prevented disaster. In the meantime, thousands of people fled the area amid general hysteria.
The residents of Chernobyl were not as lucky. Kiev was demanding more powers. Workers, under pressure, ignored warnings, made mistakes, and used a less experienced team to run crucial tests. The reactor exploded less than a minute after a test had begun. Millions of people had to be evacuated, and over the years thousands died of thyroid cancer, a direct consequence of the explosion. Farmland became unusable, and birth defects stemming from radioactivity are still high. The pollution spread as far as Wales, Scandinavia and Germany. It will take about two hundred years to counteract the ill-effects on the environment.
These are only some examples from around the world. There are thousands more that could easily take place in Pakistan, God forbid, because Pakistan, too, possesses several commercial nuclear plants and chemical factories, and the level of management in Pakistan is as abysmal. As for tsunamis, a few years ago a newspaper reported that ‘Four years after a tsunami left some 150,000 people dead or missing in South Asia, Karachi remains at risk of killer waves due to a lack of coordination between the district, provincial and national disaster management authorities, even though the meteorological department has implemented a land-based tsunami early warning system.’
No surprises there.
Four nuclear power plants are operational in Pakistan and construction has begun on two more in Sindh, due to be completed by 2020. Pakistan has long had contracts with China for cooperation in nuclear technology. In 2020 a further two Chinese nuclear reactors are due for completion in Muzaffargarh. The site is currently being prepared. Which brings one to CPEC.
Given our experience with the East India Company, CPEC makes one wince in discomfort. Whether or not that feeling is justified is still to be seen. But with or without CPEC, the people and government of Pakistan have proved to be their own worst enemies. Mind-boggling mismanagement at the Pakistan Steel Mills and the national airline come to mind, although mismanagement exists everywhere, at every level. It remains that PIA are no longer great people to fly with, which believe it or not, they once were.
Education in this country stresses ill-considered shortcuts with no rational backing, rather than understanding and judicious planning, making Pakistan a country not to be trusted with nuclear power plants or chemical factories for now.
Unless the focus of the people of this country can be raised from the mere ability to exist, unless a system of accountability makes it a punishable offence to ignore safety procedures and take dangerous shortcuts, and unless that accountability is enforced, Pakistan will remain incapable of handling dangerous facilities that require meticulous maintenance and training of personnel. Time and again it all comes back to education and poverty, the lack of the first and the all-pervasive existence of the latter.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018


  • Will you, CM?
A few days ago, the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Saqib Nisar ordered the withdrawal of unauthorised security deployed throughout the country. He ordered it quite out of the blue as he does. It turned out then (although we all knew it, really) that in the Punjab alone, 4,610 police personnel were being used, illegally, to provide unauthorised security for politicians, civil administrative and police officers, judges, lawyers, and media figures. These security personnel have now been withdrawn, at least until there is an opportunity to sneak them back again.
The rest of us of never did have security, and we continue to have none. And why not? What about me? And you? And my grandmother?
Naturally, the order to withdraw that security has not gone down well (was it the CJP’s job to give that order though?), and the many people suddenly bereaved of the style and superiority that armed guards confer, are not happy. An MPA belonging to the PML-N, Rana Jamil, in fact created a kerfuffle in the Punjab Assembly, which place is quite used to its sessions being used to defend everyone except the people it is supposed to defend. The MPA said he was kidnapped once (he and the rest of the country), and was only released because of the personal efforts of the chief minister. What! When my grandmother was kidnapped her kidnappers just let her go because she was too noisy. I didn’t see the CM making any personal efforts on her behalf.
The MPA went on to say that if anything happens to him and the rest of his family, he will hold the CJP responsible, and will file a report against the CJP himself.
It seems therefore that people other than the MPA from the Punjab are being kidnapped too. Surely their families are entitled to security in addition to the family of Rana Jamil?
Now that’s interesting. Is it possible to hold the CJP responsible if the security was illegal to begin with? The fact that the erstwhile security was illegal and unauthorised clearly does not count as far as Rana Jamil is concerned. What counts is that as an MPA he feels he deserves greater security, authorised or not, than anyone in the country can lay claim to.
Why can’t I have security too then, if he can? I’m not authorised to have it, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Or why can’t you have it? Or my grandmother?
Shouldn’t the MPA, and all those other people who have been using the taxpayers’ money illegally, be penalised for breaking the law? What happened to Sadiq and Ameen in this case, or is that only selectively applied?
Meantime, in Sind, a citizen residing in New Town has apparently been abducted, in just one example of thousands of such cases. The police in the area seems not to have taken any action following the event because it was necessary for the Inspector General of Police of Sindh to ‘direct the Deputy Inspector General (DIG) East to submit an inquiry report in this regard as soon as possible,’ and for him to direct that an investigation team be formed to recover the citizen at the earliest, adding that ‘measures should be taken for the safety of the affected family.’ That of course implies that had he not issued those orders, nothing would have been done.
Once again, what about the rest of us? Why did no one direct that measures be taken to ensure safety for us too? For me? And you? And my grandmother?
Earlier this year there was a hearing in the Supreme Court regarding all those thousands of missing persons in this country. There is in fact a Commission of Enquiry of Enforced Disappearance in existence. And an NGO, called Defence of Human Rights — which tries to locate missing persons. The chairperson of this NGO said that the Commission was ignoring their communications, that their documents concerning the matter were being returned by the post.
“There is no let-up in the cases of missing people,” she remarked. “In fact, these cases are increasing by the day.”
It seems therefore that people other than the MPA from the Punjab are being kidnapped too. Surely their families are entitled to security in addition to the family of Rana Jamil?
The Commission of Enquiry of Enforced Disappearances has disclosed that it has dealt with 3,000 cases of disappearances, while 1,577 were still pending.
Meantime one of the judges regretted the parents of the missing persons were having to face all kinds of problems, such as this, in their old age.
So, clearly, there is no recourse to justice, except regrets if you, or I, or my grandmother go missing. Unless of course we make enough fuss in the Assembly, the law go hang, and the CM makes a personal effort to recover us.
Will you, CM?

Tuesday, April 24, 2018


  • How many acid attacks must take place before something is done to prevent them?
Three girls in Gujrat, two of them sisters and all fellow students at university, were critically hurt when acid was thrown over them at a bus stop a few days ago. Their attackers were three men on a motorbike. One of the men was the uncle of the two sisters who were hurt, the other his friend. These two escaped while the third man was caught and handed over to the police.
The reason for the attack was that one of the victims had refused a proposal of marriage.
All three girls were taken to hospital with severe burns.
According to a report in one of the newspapers, ‘between 150 to 400 cases of acid attacks are reported in Pakistan every year. As many as 80 per cent of the victims are women, and almost 70pc are below 18’.
How many attacks must take place before something is done to prevent them?
As horrifying as the attack was a comment following the report in one of the English newspapers, a comment that has since been removed. The comment said: ‘Were they accompanied by male relatives? If not, they deserved it.’ That comment had also been ‘recommended’ by other readers.
Deleting the comment was probably required, since it was, to put it mildly, inappropriate, but deleting it will not remove the attitude. It is such attitudes that cause such attacks, and like a weight tied around a body, sink the country to the bottom of a murky pond. Please don’t point out such attacks happen elsewhere too. That does not excuse what happens here, nor are we in a position to point fingers.
The illustrious person behind the comment lives in an imaginary place where it is required and possible for every woman to have a male protector. It is not required, nor is it always possible. The commenter also missed the fact that one of the attackers was an uncle of one of the victims. Therefore, since uncles invariably tend to be male and related, a male relative did accompany her, and he was the one to attack her.
In other similar cases, the attacker is often a brother, a husband, father or another male relative. Earlier this year a man in Malakand threw acid on his wife and daughter for example. These attackers possess a twisted sense of honour, and are driven to act by something the victim does that is supposed to have damaged that honour. Marrying the man of her choice, for example. Therefore the woman must either be killed or defaced to repair that damage. This is called an ‘honour’ killing. It is time it is called something else, because labels matter.
The rest of the narrative consists of the usual drivel:
In a brainstorming session organised by the HRCP, it was reported that ‘As many as 98 percent of the cases filed by acid attack victims are never decided due to existence of various loopholes in the law’
‘The Punjab chief minister and the inspector general of police directed the police to arrest the suspects within 24 hours.’
‘The chief minister has demanded immediate action to be taken against the perpetrators and has also called for the victims to be provided with the best medical care.’
So, in addition to being a place where such incidents take place with sickening regularity, Pakistan is also a county where the police needs to be directed to do its job, in other words to arrest criminals. It is also a place where (the CM imagines) it is possible for criminals to be caught within a randomly issued deadline. Although that ‘immediate action’ may not taken unless ordered might well be true. It is a moot point who gets at the butt end of that action though.
In addition, Pakistan, for the CM of one of its most populous provinces, is a place where he must order the best medical care for injured persons, otherwise the best medical care will be withheld.
May it be pointed out that what good medical care is available is thanks to the efforts of individuals rather that the government. It is Shaukat Khanum, the Aga Khan Hospital, the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation, the Ghurki Hospital, that provide the best care, not the mismanaged government hospitals with their appalling standard of hygiene.
In a brainstorming session organised by the HRCP, it was reported that ‘As many as 98 percent of the cases filed by acid attack victims are never decided due to existence of various loopholes in the law’.
Acid has proven itself to be a weapon as much as a gun or bomb. As suggested by another reader, its sale must be monitored, and made part of a wider de-weaponisation campaign. It is not sufficient for chief ministers and inspector generals of police to ‘take notice’ of such tragedies.  The public certainly notices them. The officials’ job is to act against them. Failing this, they will be failing in their job, as they have.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018


  • Somebody remind them
A judge should always behave in such a manner as to preserve the dignity of the office and the impartiality, integrity and independence of the judiciary.
Global Code of Judicial Ethics 2015
Approved at the International Conference of Judicial independence
There are after all varying degrees of education and values among a country’s population, with resultant questionable professional standards. It is when officials in positions of authority and responsibility also subscribe to those questionable professional standards that the country is in trouble. Sadly, it appears to be an increasing tendency for these officials, persons you would think were educated and trained beyond such behaviour, to overstep their remit, and to do so in an exceedingly ill-considered manner. And most people love it. Which is probably why these officials do what they do, to play to the gallery, like the POTUS who shoots absurd Tweet, after Tweet, after Tweet, topping it with ‘Mission Accomplished!’ after a bombing spree.
In the recent exchange between the CJP and the minister of railways, if readers were able to retain their breakfast long enough to scroll down to the comments, they’d have found several ‘Shabaashes’ for the Head of the Pakistan Judiciary, and several comments expressing the wish that ‘May the Almighty Bless the CJP’. Amen. Although ‘May the judiciary rest in peace,’ would be more applicable.
In case it slipped his mind in the course of his jihad with the minister’s father, as mentioned by the CJP, one may remind the Honourable Chief Justice of Article 3.5 quoted above, which says that judges should always behave in a manner consistent with the dignity of the office and the impartiality, integrity and independence of the judiciary. Although whether there is any dignity, impartiality, integrity and independence left in that branch of government, or any other, is debatable.
The chief justice also slipped up when he praised Lalu Prasad Yadav of India, and held him up as an example. The said Mr Yadav has been convicted of being implicated in three scams, and has recently been jailed for the third
Seeing that the minister of railways is a public servant, may one also remind him of general standards expected of a public servant? Those standards do not include boasting about who his father was. No one cares, or at least no one should care. The only recommendation required is that public servant’s own performance, which is what the CJP has been calling into question in such a refreshing manner.
The incident leads to some interesting points, namely the inability of the public to understand the difference between justice and interference. And the inability of both the public and the judiciary to appreciate the importance of due process.
While it is important for justice to be done, and what is as important, for justice to be seen to be done, the matter does not end there. A certain method must be followed by means of which an offender must be dealt with, following the prescribed procedure. This is called due process. If this is ignored it in itself leads to injustice.
The honourable chief Justice crossed several lines in the course of taking notice of the ministry of railway’s performance, when for example he said he was doing ‘jihad’ in this matter. No sir, this is not a personal matter, you are simply doing your job.
The CJP asked the minister if the court was supposed to allow the minister to remain in his office without contesting elections for twelve years.
It is not up to the honourable chief justice or the court to ‘allow’ a government official to be in office or not. It is up to the people who elect the government to deal with such matters. One expects the CJP to be aware of this.
The chief justice also slipped up when he praised Lalu Prasad Yadav of India, and held him up as an example. The said Mr Yadav has been convicted of being implicated in three scams, and has recently been jailed for the third.
Probably the CJP’s most vulgar stance was when he made oblique references to some place the minister had visited some days ago, to his ‘body language’ at that place, and the ‘type of tea’ he had there. Whither dignity of office?
He also accused the minister for not coming up to the standard of his father, and mentioned that he, the CJP and the minister’s father had ‘done Jihad together.’
The term jihad keeps cropping up. Where does it come into the matter of the performance of the Pakistan railways and its officials?

Wednesday, April 11, 2018


Where’s the difference?

For all that they are so viciously against each other, the similarities between right-wing segments of society in Pakistan and the US are astounding. As are the issues created by the two. These similarities would be funny if they were not so disturbing, mindless, violent, destructive, a threat to peace everywhere in the world. It would be wise to perceive these similarities and concentrate on our own shortcomings instead of unceasingly pointing to the other.
Five years ago, at the age of fifteen, Malala left this country, forced to do so for reasons that need not be restated. Two years later, at the age of seventeen she became the youngest recipient of the Noble Peace Prize, awarded for her struggle for the right of children to education regardless of gender. Being female and an outspoken one at that, she instantly became one of the most reviled persons in the country of her birth.
Using the prize money, Malala set up a school for girls in her home town in Swat. The parents of the students at this school are haunted by the genuine fear that militant extremists will target the school as they did its founder, and for the same reasons. They have requested the authorities to deploy security services to protect their children.
Governments are elected to serve the people and to protect their interests. Sadly, the interests they end up protecting are most often their own, which is well understand by groups that play on this tendency
Meantime in the US roughly eighteen shootings have occurred on school campuses this year alone. That averages to about three a week. Fear also haunts parents in the US who wonder if their children are safe in school as they have a right to be, but clearly are not. The government including the president, asked to take measures to make schools more secure, responded by suggesting that teachers should be equipped with guns to provide that security. It is a response that puts that country to shame.
In the US, members of groups that refuse to allow controls on weapons are much more often conservative than liberal.
In Pakistan conservatives are invariably involved in terrorist attacks, ‘religious’ extremists who are armed, and support violence in the name of religion.
In many of these cases, the victims are girls/women and education, the two components of society that appear to attract the ire of conservatives most often. Yet women and education more than anything else help promote peace. When education and women are not allowed to thrive as they should, the entire society suffers. This makes extremism and radicalism the enemy of us all.
Extremism and radicalism, wherever you find them, thrive amidst ignorance. In which case it is ignorance that must be targeted from every angle if anything is to change in this country, or anywhere in the world. And those who support radical extremists should be viewed with suspicion wherever they may be. Schools that educate and do not promote violence must be protected and supported in every way.
In Pakistan, security, the right of every citizen appears to be the right of government officials alone. The entourage that follows ministers and other servants of the people has no right to exist. Those resources should instead be involved in protecting the people, and specifically students since in both the US and Pakistan, countries that on the surface appear so disparate, students take their lives into their hands to gain an education.
In different ways and in the absence of action from their governments, the people of both countries are trying to play a role in minimising weapons. In Pakistan there is ‘Citizens Against Weapons’, a group that is pushing for a weapon free Pakistan and demands the ‘complete withdrawal of weapons from every citizen, regardless of rank, status or affiliation,’ a commendable and ambitious effort.
In the US, the latest shooting in a school in Florida led to the death of seventeen students by a fellow student who is said to have used an AR-15 rifle, a semi-automatic weapon made for military use. He was later arrested and confessed. Afterwards students took the matter into their own hands and demanded that the government protect them. They called for a clamp down on access to weapons. Student led demonstrations called ‘March for our Lives’ across the US and in other countries took place in March this year. In the US alone, turnout was around two million, the largest the US has ever seen.
Commendable as they are, and even though they may prevail on the powers that be to take action to some extent, these movements are not likely to get very far, and are likely to be slow to produce results both in the face of government inaction, and the degree of weaponisation in society.
Governments are elected to serve the people and to protect their interests. Sadly, the interests they end up protecting are most often their own, which is well understand by groups that play on this tendency.
It is a shame that students are forced to demand security from the very people who have been entrusted with ensuring it. And no, this is not something that happens just out there in the US, it is happening right here in Pakistan as well. It is time to examine our own failings and realise how closely they resemble those whom we love to condemn, and work to improve this country that was formed at midnight, as Malala said, but has never managed to shake off the darkness enveloping it.