Monday, November 20, 2017


  • 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


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.

Monday, November 6, 2017


To her father Pakistan would be unrecognisable today
Dina Wadia who looked remarkably like her father, died on the 2nd of November this year at the age of ninety-eight. She lived in New York, far away from the country founded by Jinnah. She was never able to take possession of her father’s house in Bombay, and visited Pakistan just twice, never making it her home.
You wonder if her father would have made it his home either, if he had seen it as it is now. Definitely he would not recognise himself if he heard himself spoken of today. Even less than the previous generation does the present one know the man they call the Father of the Nation, and very little about what he stood for. For them he is yet another almost saintly two dimensional historical figure presented in text books, a fictitious litany starting from Mohammad bin Qasim, all of them cut from the same mold.
You wonder what would have gone through Jinnah’s mind if he had seen his country today. To start with he would have been startled to see just half, after he had said “there is no power on earth that can undo Pakistan.” Lo and behold, it undid itself.
He would have also have been rather taken aback to hear one of its ‘Presidents’ Pervez Musharraf insist that his dream for Pakistan was the same as Jinnah’s, particularly since that President had just imposed martial law in the country. It is doubtful if Jinnah had ever considered martial law and Pakistan in the same breath.
Instead he spoke of the oath taken by troops, and read it out too at an address to the Staff College in Quetta: ‘“I solemnly affirm, in the presence of Alimighty God, that I owe allegiance to the Constitution and the Dominion of Pakistan…” He also reminded them on another occasion that “Do not forget that the armed forces are the servants of the people and you do not make national policy; it is we, the civilians, who decide these issues and it is your duty to carry out these tasks with which you are entrusted”. Martial law of course is the suspension of law in a country in which the armed forces have deposed the civilian government to take control.
And yet there have been three martial laws in this country, the same that claims the Quaid-e-Azam Rehmatullah Alaih as its leader, incidentally the man who said that “I have lived as plain Mr. Jinnah and I hope to die as plain Mr. Jinnah. I am very much averse to any title or honours and I will be more than happy if there was no prefix to my name.”
Three actually imposed martial laws, that is. There were others but they did not succeed. Or, as is rather more chilling, that are not visible. But of those the less said the better.
Maybe though the most startlingly distressing thing for Jinnah would be that he might stand in imminent danger of his life if he ever stepped foot in the country he founded, given that he came from a Gujrati family, and was born a Shia. Along with him, in much greater danger, would be the man who actually wrote the proposal for the partition of India, Muhammad Zafarullah Khan who, being a member of the Ahmadiyya sect, would be even more damned than the Founder.
“I told you,” Jinnah would cry, “The idea was that we should have a State in which we could live and breathe as free men and which we could develop according to our own rights and culture and where principle of Islamic social justice could find free play!” And then when people still did not understand he would repeat the famous words from his Presidential address to the Constituent Assembly in 1947: “You may belong to any religion, caste or creed –that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”
So what should be done about this state of affairs?
In a country with several sects, each of them intolerant of the others’ existence, the rational thing would be to choose a ‘neutral umpire’.
Jinnah, although he belonged to one of those several sects was as neutral is it gets. His views are well placed for being observed and implemented if the will for progress and peace genuinely exists. The death of his daughter is an occasion to remember the ideals of the father, ideals that are the easiest, maybe the only path to well-being, particularly since they do not conflict with anything rational we believe in.

Monday, October 30, 2017


The People of Balochistan should feel the advantages from CPEC rather than feeling cheated

Movements for separation to gain autonomy from a larger whole are on the increase, with the USSR, Scotland, and others in the past, to Brexit, and now Catalonia. It is in the interests of governments around the world to study these cases and either work towards keeping the disparate segments of their population happy, or figure out how best to allow them to separate if required; that is of course if they are interested in peace.
Has Pakistan, which has gone through two major and bloody separatist events, one which gave birth to the country, and the other that split it into half, learnt from any of these events given that there is a thriving separatist movement in Baluchistan that has existed ever since the country came into being?
Baluchistan makes up almost half of Pakistan, although population wise it is only almost 4 percent of the whole. But far from its people benefiting from the mineral wealth the province has contributed to the country’s economy, the Baluch are among the poorest and most marginalized, the majority of them living in abject poverty without the basic necessities of life, clean water and electricity.
Baluch dissatisfaction with this and the manner in which it became part of Pakistan took the form of rebellion, which, rather than being addressed at the roots has always been dealt with aggressively.
With the separatist movement in Scotland, the government wisely allowed the Scots the democratic route, to choose whether to stay or leave by means of a referendum. The poll was held and they chose to stay. It was the same with French speaking Quebec in Canada.
The idea of such a referendum in Baluchistan is a pie in the sky.
Catalonia, like Baluchistan has long had a vigorous freedom movement. Like Baluchistan, Catalonia is a sparsely populated region. Its population accounts for just 19 percent of the whole of Spain. Unlike impoverished Baluchistan however, the people of Catalonia make up the wealthiest segment of Spain, although their wealth is more industrial (textiles, and a growing chemical and service industry) than mineral. But as in the case of Baluchistan where its secession would spell economic disaster for Pakistan since Baluchistan is one of the richest provinces of the country in terms of natural resources, the loss of Catalonia would mean a vital loss for Spain in terms of the Spanish economy.
In the early days of the Spanish Republic, Catalonia was granted a large degree of autonomy. This autonomy was revoked with the coming into power of General Franco, who also came down heavily on the distinctive Catalonian identity. The people of Catalonia were not allowed to use their language and other political and cultural restrictions were imposed upon them.
Franco’s dictatorship fed the already strong separatist sentiment in Catalonia, as bans, prohibitions and suppression invariably do, but dictators rarely understand this, and military dictators – never. In Catalonia, a poll was recently held to determine if its people want independence from Spain. Without taking into account the large number of abstentions, the result was pro-independence, and controversial.
After invoking article 155 of the Spanish constitution by means of which the center takes direct control of the largely autonomous province of Catalonia, the government of Spain declared the referendum for independence invalid, dissolved the Catalonian regional parliament, and ‘fired’ the Catalan leader, Mr. Puigdemont. The central government has ordered fresh elections in December, but in a refreshing contrast to the scenario in Pakistan, it has invited Mr. Puigdemont to stand in these elections if he wishes. There has been violence as a result of the Catalonian separatist movement, but this violence has been open.
The first act of aggression against Baluchistan was way back in 1948, right after Pakistan came into being. Then the army moved into the province, to ‘persuade’ a reluctant Kalat to join Pakistan. Kalat became part of Pakistan but the fact has never been accepted by Baluch Nationalists, who called the annexation a forced, unconstitutional move, as it was.
This was followed by resort to other violence, such as the killing by the Pakistan army of Akbar Bugti and several of his men in 2006. There have been other operations, covert ones, kidnappings, and ‘disappearances,’ and it is alleged that around 4000 Baluch have been either detained without trial or determined missing.
But now another factor has entered the field, namely CPEC (the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) which is likely to play a crucial role in the economy and society of Pakistan and the region.  It will certainly play an important role in Baluchistan seeing the layout of the corridor which stretches from Gwadar a port in Baluchistan in the south up to Kashgar, a Muslim province of China which is already a scene of unrest. It is a volatile setting. Surely on this occasion and in the light of changing times, the powers that be would do well to re-evaluate their relations with this province.
CPEC includes many transport and energy projects, and since Baluchistan contains the bulk of Pakistan’s gas and oil reserves, this marginalized, angry province will play a major role in this venture. You wonder what lies in store for the people of Baluchistan and the country as a result.
The results of CPEC are as yet uncertain.  If one can be certain of one thing it is that a lot depends on whether the people of Baluchistan feel they have gained by means of the project, or whether they feel cheated as they do at present. The track record of successive government of Pakistan, and of its intelligence services has not been good in this matter. One can only hope that sense will prevail, and with it chances of prosperity and peace.

Monday, October 23, 2017


By exposing the extent of the problem, the ‘Me Too’ campaign has made it impossible to ignore the subject of sexual abuse of women. It should not have been ignored in the first place but it was. That was because in this country, we like to imagine that such things as sexual abuse do not take place here, in the Land of the Pure.
If ever there is a misconception, it is this.
The sexual abuse of women, as well as the sexual abuse of minors of either gender takes place here as much as anywhere else, and with for example the marriage of girls while they are still minors, also has social sanction.
To help create a safer environment for children, the NGO Sahil works to combat such abuse, and Sahil’s annual publication ‘Cruel Numbers’ provides some damning statistics. But what, as always, of women?
Women everywhere, and very much so in Pakistan, are subjected to abuse and harassment on the street and at home. It would be hard to find a woman, whether in a rural or urban setting, liberal or conservative, who has not been subjected to it. Which is interesting, given that the conservative segment of society, both here and elsewhere such as the Republican Congresswoman from Texas Eddie Bernice Johnson, thinks that women invite abuse, and advises them to dress to avoid it. Yet it would be impossible to find anyone dressing more to dispel such things than the unfortunate burqa clad, gloved and socked women in this country of temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius.
So what is the solution? Is it to keep women from interacting with anyone outside of home?
Twenty years ago it was estimated that the majority of murders of women in this country were committed by family members. ‘According to a study carried out by Human Rights Watch, an estimated 70-90 percent of women in Pakistan have suffered some form of abuse of which an estimated 5000 women are killed as a result of domestic violence every year, with thousands others maimed or disabled.’ A survey carried out by the Thomson Reuters Foundation found Pakistan to be the third most dangerous country in the world for women.
So no, there is no point keeping women confined to the house, or keeping them covered from head to foot since studies show that abuse takes place whether women cover themselves excessively, or not.
Since it is not possible to eliminate the female of the species although that is often tried, we are left with a problem. The first thing that comes to mind, is that perhaps the problem lies with men.
To imply that the problem lies with the biological make up of men is to cast aspersions on divine engineering, yet, that is what conservatives say, that ‘men can’t help it, that’s how they are.’ Taking that as the usual throwing the blame elsewhere statement that comes from such quarters, could it be that there is something lacking or undesirable about the education (taaleem) of men, and their upbringing (tarbiyat)? At least that would be something one could do something about, if one tried.
School and home. These are the two places responsible for education and upbringing respectively, with a substantial overlap. If schools are monitored, homes are likely to improve in their role of imparting attitudes which influence an adult’s behavior.
Pakistan has one of the highest rates of illiteracy in the world. And it has hundreds of thousands of madressahs, schools teaching so called ‘religion’ and very little else. Although attempts have been made to monitor these madressahs, the syllabus and the teachers of these madressahs are pretty much allowed to remain as they are and do as they wish. These institutions are very often funded by ‘foreign’ donors, and the brand of Islam taught here does not include rights for women, an irony since Islam was responsible for some of the first rights given to women, ever. Not believing in rights for women is indicated by the disparity in numbers between education among men and women in the poorer class of society from which madressahs draw their clientele. Madressahs also often stress things like jehad, the violent sort, and sectarian divisions.
It is hard to blame families for enrolling their children in madressahs. Often illiterate themselves, and almost always poor, these families see madressahs as free institutions that (claim to) impart literacy and religion to their children, children who would otherwise not receive either. In many of these madressahs, students also receive boarding, lodging and food free of cost.
The solution is to a) monitor madressahs if they must exist, b) to overhaul their curriculum to include mainstream subjects, and a better quality of education c) to improve the quality of mainstream government schools d) alleviate poverty so that families do not feel constrained to send their children to whichever institute feeds them.
For this the person in charge of the Ministry of Education needs to be a person of dedication, vision, and education. We might well have this in the person of the current incumbent, but it has been impossible to discover his educational credentials online, where one can generally discover anything, down to what the latest celebrity ate for breakfast.

Monday, October 16, 2017


“…statements ‘distancing themselves’ from Captain Safdar’s views
came several days too late for decency,
and much too late for  a family belonging to the Ahmadi faith
that was shot to death in Sheikupura
a day after Captain Safdar’s speech
in the National Assembly.”

 The similarities never cease to amaze. There’s Donald Trump and his equally unfortunate son in law, and there’s the not very different family in Pakistan that harbours Captain Safdar, who more than unfortunate, is a danger to the society that he imagines has granted him permission to spout his sectarian views. Mr. Kushner’s dealings with Russia might well be on a similar plane, but it is the wellbeing of Pakistan that concerns us.
The Prime Minister of Pakistan Khaqan Abbasi, and the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s statements ‘distancing themselves’ from Captain Safdar’s views came several days too late for decency, and much too late for  a family belonging to the Ahmadi faith that was shot to death in Sheikupura a day after Captain Safdar’s speech in the National Assembly. The husband, wife, and their two year old son were murdered in their home by ‘unidentified gunmen’, while their five year old son who hid under the bed in terror escaped being killed. The heart of each and every person calling himself human must bleed for this family, and for the little boy so brutally deprived of his loved ones, and who witnessed their murders. If Captain Safdar thinks for a single split second that the Prophet of Islam Muhammad (PBUH), a man who loved his grandsons and all humanity so tenderly would condone any such thing, any such thing at all, he is supremely deluded, and commits the greatest blasphemy of all by saying so.
It is no coincidence that the US has seen a sharp rise in racist incidents since Mr. Trump succeeded to the Presidency, and it is no surprise that such an incident as the murder in Sheikhupura took place in Pakistan right after the Captain’s speech in the National Assembly.  Views do filter down from the top and attitudes are given legitimacy when they are supported by people in power, however flawed, feeble and ill their minds may be.
There is a reason for the existence of the constitution of the country which is formulated after much deliberation by some of the best minds the country can afford. The constitution is meant to guide laws and to protect people from just such views as the Captain claims were the driving force behind his entering politics.
There is something seriously wrong with the state of a country if people can openly profess that they entered politics with views such as Captain Safdar’s. You wonder how Captain Safdar means to protect anyone by means of ideas that, as stated by himself, are violent, divisive, and selective in their choice of whom to protect.
According to the Constitution of Pakistan a person stands disqualified from the National Assembly if he or she is found to have opposed Pakistan’s ideology. Do we need a reminder that as per that ideology and according to Article 20 of the Constitution of Pakistan, its citizens are granted the right to profess, propagate and practice their religion? That Article grants every denomination and sect the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions. In which case the Captain stands to be disqualified from his position in the National Assembly, as well as held for incitement to violence and murder, because in his speech he called for ‘action’ against members of the Ahmadiyya community, and praised Mumtaz Qadri. Qadri, remember, is the man who murdered the Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer for showing sympathy for a woman of that community condemned to death for blasphemy.
It is hard to imagine why a person or a group of persons should feel inclined to use violence as a first resort, to defend his or her beliefs. Violence, except when resorted to in self-defence, is by its very definition unconstitutional, and not a rational act. It takes place with the view to hurt, damage or kill someone or something.
The first thing anyone who considers himself to be a patriot must do is stand up to any infringement of the constitution. One of those infringements, quite incidentally, is to consider khaki above green. That just needed to be slipped in.
Standing up for the constitution means upholding the law and justice, and does not mean using violent means. That, strangely enough, is not as understood by lawyers in this country, who assaulted security personnel at the doors of a court of law in Islamabad recently, and threatened the judge in the same court.
Defending the constitution also does not mean ‘taking action’ against any community simply because of their views. Especially if those views have not translated to violence, and the only violence surrounding the Ahmadiyya community is that which has been committed against them.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017


Some individuals in the meantime have the foresight and the nous to seize the opportunity
so obviously presented to them in the Tharparkar district of Sindh,
a large subtropical desert invariably sidelined by the powers that be.
 The CPEC, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, defines itself as ‘a framework of regional connectivity,’ and hopes to provide a ‘better region of the future, with peace, development and growth of the economy.’ sic.
Let’s hope this is so, that CPEC does improve relations and conditions all around. For now, there is an objection from our neighbour to the east, which says that CPEC passes through disputed territory, with the US backing that claim.
There are also other matter that have to do with Pakistan’s past; CPEC tends to raise spectres of the East India Trading Company, and rulers now are no wiser than they were then.
Despite all this it is hoped that the culmination will be somewhat different this time around when once again, another country is allowed in with special concessions. Such tussles are likely to be a feature of this project, and the government would do well to deal with them as carefully and diplomatically as possible. It remains up to Pakistan to steer this venture into safe waters and to use it wisely so it can bring prosperity to its people and the region. Whether or not the government is likely to be able to do this remains to be seen.
Some individuals in the meantime have the foresight and the nous to seize the opportunity so obviously presented to them in the Tharparkar district of Sindh, a large subtropical desert invariably sidelined by the powers that be. Thar has, as a result, the lowest Human Development Index in all of Sindh.  Yet the coalfields of Thar are said to contain the sixteenth largest coal reserves in the world.  According to Wiki ‘a total of 175 billion tons of coal resource potential has been assessed, equivalent to total oil reserves of Saudi Arabia and Iran combined and can be used to produce 100,000 MW for 300 years.’  Thar is therefore now the site of one of CEPEC’s energy priority projects which involves the establishment of coal fired power plants. It is here in Thar, that some women have made up their minds to use CEPEC to better the lot of their families. Otherwise, women in Pakistan have a tough time, particularly those living in less developed areas.
Pakistan trails behind the world where women’s rights are concerned, with the exception of Saudi Arabia where women have just been ‘allowed’ to get behind the wheel – an infuriating choice of words. Women in Pakistan have never been barred from driving on a national, official scale. Pakistan possesses women’s sports teams, and women are not restricted to a few jobs. Yet there are huge social problems facing women in this country, some of which were very much highlighted by the reaction to Qandeel Baloch, and her murder, by her own brother. The antagonism for the murdered woman from a sizeable chunk of the population speaks volumes for the attitude towards determined women who take their lives into their own hands.
It has been estimated that hundreds of trucks will be needed to service the coal mines once they are established. These are not your ordinary little trucks, but large sixty tonne monsters and Reuters reports that each driver may earn up to Rs.40,000 a month. At present, for the coal mine that is now functioning the Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) is already running some trucks, and among the drivers being trained to drive these trucks are thirty female drivers taken from amongst the local population of Thar.
You have to be a woman to fully appreciate the cultural barriers these women are breaking. They are stepping into these jobs in a country where female drivers even on crowded urban streets although they are allowed to drive are invariably harassed. It is a hugely admirable achievement, equal to the conquest of Everest to drive such a large vehicle, in this inhospitable, terrain containing people holding prohibitively conservative views as people do in such uneducated regions. It goes to show the will to survive, and the courage of the people of this country, a will and courage that deserves a leg up.
Pakistan has a lot of catching up to do. The government serves its people only so far. The people go much further to make up the shortfall. There are hospitals in this country run entirely on donations, schools, training institutes and other services. With something like CEPEC coming up, although it lays the country open to many issues, also holds the potential for prosperity. If only those involved are able to bring themselves to look beyond their personal interests and bank accounts, this might be achieved.