Sunday, February 27, 2011


This article was printed in The Dawn in the magazine section on the 27th of February 2011, part of a section covering parking and attendant issues in the large cities of the country

Lahore: Driver’s nightmare!

By Rabia Ahmed

‘Any place worth its salt has a parking problem’

Well Lahore certainly does. Gulberg, Lahore’s premier shopping area today, is where my father tells me he and his family once picnicked (circa World War II) coming from the inner city in a tonga, with snacks to eat on the way.
Today’s Gulberg ain’t a picnic, just a driver’s nightmare.
There is no ‘adequate’ parking attached to many of the shopping arcades. People park anywhere they can, on the street, in the service lanes, squished up against someone else’s car, astride an open manhole, alongside a smoldering trash pile, wherever. It is not unusual to find a car blocking another, while the Begum who has parked it nips into the shops for ‘just a minute’.
Given the summer heat, people try to park as close to their destination as possible. Almost before they find a space, a genie materialises, brandishing his little book of tickets, the ubiquitous parking attendant who will try to arrange parking for cars in the little or no available space and make some money out of it.
You pay your parking fee before your leave your car, and obtain a little ticket which you place in the innermost depths of your bag, where you later search for it frantically when you need to go away.
Ticket fee varies, and is based on whether you a drive a car or motorbike, at times also on the length of time for which you park your car, such as at the parking lot at Liberty Market.
I spoke to some parking attendants and picked Mr A and B as the most representative. I was requested to leave their names out of the story.
Mr A says that his parking spaces behind the main boulevard in Gulberg cost Rs10 per car, and Rs5 per motor cycle, no time factor involved. Mr B says his spaces, on the main boulevard in Gulberg are pricier, costing Rs20 per car and Rs10per motor cycle. Oddly enough he said that the fee is actually half of what is charged, but when I pressed him to elaborate, he just looked shifty and changed the subject!
It is the city government, further divided into districts, that handles parking. Each district handles its own area via their representatives the ‘contractors’.
Parking attendants are government employees, paid between Rs250 to Rs300 per day. Mr A gets Sundays off, but Mr B works seven days a week, with less pay on Sundays, work being slacker that day.
Only days worked are paid for, which means that any days taken off, even due to illness, are unpaid. Nice.
A working day begins at 9 am for Mr A and ends at 11 pm. Mr B’s working day starts at 10 am, and carries on till whenever the last car leaves, which may be past midnight.
Each day starts with the ‘contractor’ issuing booklets to the attendants via their ‘boss’ on behalf of the district government, and ends similarly with the recovery of the stubs and the cash. Anything between 700 to 800 tickets are issued on a normal day. In case of a discrepancy in the number of tickets issued, and the cash turned in, the ‘boss’ is liable to get rather shirty with his workers.
Customers are by and large easy to deal with except for the few who claim that ‘tussi museebat paai ay’ (you are a pain in the neck), and the few who are unwilling to pay because their driver remains in the car, saying this does not technically qualify as ‘parking’.  They’re nice guys, these attendants, my only peeve being that they will direct female drivers, and will moreover stand right behind the car while doing so. One day if I hit one, let it be known that it was not because I was too stingy to pay my parking fee.
— Rabia Ahmed

Thursday, February 24, 2011


By Rabia Ahmed

A Gift of Attainment

Every so often, among the doom and gloom (mine included) a refreshing story comes along, in this case a story in the ‘Dawn Newspaper’ of 20th January 2011, by Khurshid Anwar Khan entitled, ‘Mother a classmate of sons’.

Coming from a poor family, Rukhsana Batool of Mianwali had no opportunity to obtain education.  Married at the age of eighteen, she is now twenty five years old, and the mother of two young boys. When she enrolled her boys in school, she began attending class with them. She is proud that she can now read and write and says would like to take the Board exams one day.

Rukhsana’s boys, Haseem and Minahil Raza are fortunate in a mother who considers education important. She will be able to guide herself and them well by reading to them about the things that are important, such as their religion, ideas and current affairs, instead of feeding them on a mental diet of custom and tradition alone. She has gifted them with the desire and ability to attain.

What’s just as heart warming is the fact that Rukhsana’s husband, Sabir Shah, a motor mechanic helped her in achieving her ambition, by hiring a maid to do the housework.

Rukhsana, I admire you from the bottom of my heart. May you achieve your ambitions, and may your children achieve great things to gladden the hearts of their parents, Amen.

And Mr Shah, by recognising the importance of education for the mother of your children, and by enabling her to attend school and no doubt shielding her from criticism, you deserve the respect of every single person in this country. I hope your plea for an adult literacy centre in your area is heeded. This is the story of a great family, and if there were more men like you in Pakistan, we would be among the great nations of the world.

As much an enabler as her husband, Rukhsana’s teacher, Ms Murid Fiza did not stand in the way of Rukhsana’s ambition with objections and red tape, and allowed her to attend class in a children’s school.  All together, this family and their teacher chose to do a positive thing, and went ahead and did it. Bravo.

On the other side of the intelligence fence, in Bajaur alone more than seventy schools have been blown up, whereas generally in the north of the country, more than a hundred schools have been blow up in the last few years, including more than fifty in the past two years alone, most of them schools that enrolled girls. This, being the concept of Shariah, is how it is attempted to be enforced.

Elsewhere, a committee of the National Assembly was told that approximately 70 percent of school children in Baluchistan drop out of Primary education because they do not have transport access to school, and that six hundred scholarships meant just for Baluch students have not been released by the government. Also, in today’s Pakistan Today, news of female members of the Punjab Provincial Assembly accusing the Punjab government of gender discrimination, and walking out of a session.

Meantime, our perceptive Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has finally noticed that the Government is facing economic challenges. Well spotted, dear! Did your light bulb suddenly flicker and almost go out, scaring you into wondering whether you would have to face a bit of load shedding last night?

When asked if perhaps his government had failed to resolve the issues faced by the people of Pakistan, Mr Gilani responded plaintively that it was unfair to blame his government for the economic situation prevalent in the country. Rather, he said the problems were due to a global recession.

Maybe this is why plans to construct a monument to Benazir Bhutto costing the national exchequer Rs 1 billion at Liaqat Bagh, Rawalpindi,  have been even considered, and having been considered have not as yet been shelved as a monstrous absurdity.

I think Mr Sabir Shah of Mianwali should be prime minister of this country, with his wife as president. All those in favour, please send a resounding ‘aye’ to this newspaper, thank you. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


By Rabia Ahmed

The disabling policy for disability

It is important for people with disabilities to be independent just as it is for anyone else, and this independence should be facilitated. Even small hindrances easily overcome by others, may be, or appear insurmountable for a disabled person, already frustrated by battling with innumerable odds at every step.

Pakistan lags behind other countries in both the fields of treatment and rehabilitation of victims of disabling injury. While therapy and rehabilitation are available, both are struggling without adequate planning or funding. The public lacks education regarding the support required by people with any kind of disability, and this education is not being provided. People with disabilities therefore face hardship and discrimination. They are stared and pointed at on the streets, and in many other subject to callousness.

Businesses and other public places such as airports, and even hospitals are not equipped with requisite facilities such as ramps, handrails, elevators or even doors wide enough to let wheelchairs through. Roads are ill equipped with pavements, and the surface of neither is good enough for wheelchairs or other walking aids.

Yawer lives in England, and owns his own car, which has been especially adapted for him following an injury high at the cervical level which rendered him quadriplegic. This means that both of Yawer’s arms and both his legs are paralysed.

Yawer drives a battery operated wheelchair.  He runs this up a ramp into the driving side of his own adapted car which he drives himself.  He operates the minimal controls in the car by means of a tiny amount of movement in his shoulders. 

Yawer’s car has been paid for by the British Government, which also contributes to its running costs.

Yawer has family in Pakistan, but he is only able to visit for short periods. To live here is not easy for him given the absence of facilities for people with disabilities.

 A specially adapted car such as the one Yawer owns in the UK costs at least £50,000. When importing such a car into Pakistan, the Government of Pakistan levies import tax equal to 100% of the cost, calculated at a higher rate than on normal cars. This tax is also calculated on the modifications made to the car. A £50,000 car therefore costs at least £100,000 or approximately 1 crore 37 lac rupees.

How many people in Pakistan can afford such an expensive car? How many more, overwhelmingly more, are in need of such cars?
An article in an English Daily by Mr Naeem Ullah says that disabled persons in Pakistan are allowed to import a car for his/her personal use without paying custom duty so long as the car has an engine capacity of 1,300cc, or less. (On checking the figure is actually 1350cc).
However cars 1350cc or less are too small to accommodate a space for a wheelchair and other paraphernalia required by a disabled person, such as a hoist, a ramp, etc.
There are other conditions, according to this report: The person must possess a valid driver’s license, and an income of between Rs20,000 -100,000 per month.  This is subject to verification by means of the submission of three income tax returns.
Once all documentation is submitted and the applicant is assessed as being genuinely disabled by the Federal Board of Disabled Persons, he or she is provided with an import authorisation certificate from the Ministry of Commerce.
Applicants and those who work with the disabled report that these rules are unreasonable because:
It is not unless there are specially adapted cars available that applicants can learn to drive, following which they can take a driving test to obtain a license…only after which they can apply to import a car. Since there are no specially adapted cars available, nor special centres to train disabled drivers to drive adapted cars, it is a vicious cycle.
It is not unless they are mobile that people can be employed, to enable them to submit three income tax returns for income verification, which is a prerequisite. Since it is not always within the family’s means to provide transport, and few people can be employed unless they can first get to work, this rule creates another vicious cycle.
Applicants also claim the process is convoluted, and time-consuming; that the Board that assesses applicants for disability does not include a medical doctor, and is therefore not competent to make an assessment. Several say that in spite of submitting all relevant documents, they have not been issued with the required certificates, and have given up hope of ever obtaining them.
It is obvious that disability and its related issues are given little importance in Pakistan, since policies for disabled persons are ill-judged and unplanned to the extent of being obstructive.

Lack of funding is unfortunate, and maybe cannot be helped. Callousness is always unforgiveable.

Can anything be done to make life a bit easier for people with disabilities? This appeal is being made to a Government that does not seem to care at all.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011


This article appeared in the Pakistan Today on the 13th of February 2011. Due to a glitch, it is not available online yet. This, therefore, is my own document. 

By Rabia Ahmed

Should the beating continue until morale improves?

It is time both MQMs Altaf Hussain and PML-F’s chief Pir Pagara did refresher courses on Jinnah, who said in an Eid Message in 1943, ‘Grave political issues cannot be settled by the cult of the knife, or by gangsterism.  There are parties and parties, but the difference between them cannot be resolved by attacks on the party leaders.  Nor can political views be altered by threats of violence.‘

Mr Pagara has thumbed his nose at the Sindh government by suggesting that Karachi could do with a spot of martial law to improve its law and order situation, while Mr Hussain took a swipe at the PML-N by suggesting the same for the Punjab, calling it an unavoidable revolution.

Pir Pagara
While Pir Sahab is probably used to resolving issues by slaughtering little varicoloured goats which would explain such a suggestion for a place like Karachi, I have to say I find Mr Hussain who lives in England himself, and whose party the MQM has been heavily implicated in the violence and target killings in that city, has some nerve making any such suggestion. Not just this, in a riotous example of trapping himself within his own argument he pleads with the armed forces to support the masses in their move to usher in this revolution, saying that if necessary he would return to Pakistan to help the masses in their efforts, adding that no military or judiciary would be able to stand in his way in such an instance.

Just what do you want to do, Mr Hussain? Improve the law and order situation by asking the military to support the masses in overriding the constitution, or help it to improve by forbidding the military to stop you when you come galumphing in to override the constitution yourself, defying the judiciary in the process?

Methinks thou art seriously confused, sire, and thou art confusing the people too!

To promote yet another martial law for a country already beaten to a pulp by several is hardly the sign of intelligent leadership. Or is the idea to continue the beatings until morale improves?

No country has prospered under martial law. In Pakistan, military rule has only served to destroy what systems we had, and once in place, no martial law administrator has been willing to leave his position, so martial law remained in place until removed by force.

In addition, to which of our martial law administrators can we point and say ‘there goes a great intellect,’ or ‘there a great administrator’?

Corruption and disorder, a hallmark of governance in Pakistan have stayed firmly in place through each successive military government. Every civilian government that succeeded martial law, although as corrupt and disordered, has placed its troubles directly at the door of the preceding martial law. What’s more, any unrest that may have been stifled as a result of military rule always re-emerged with as much intensity if not more, when martial law lifted.

What then is the precedent on which another martial law is being advocated?

It is the reasons for unrest that have to be dealt with, and military rulers are rarely good at dealing with sensitive matters sensitively. It is not their job, and neither is governance.

The oath taken by members of the Armed Forces is prescribed in the Constitution of Pakistan in Article 244 of the third schedule. It goes as follows: “I do solemnly swear that I will bear true faith and allegiance to Pakistan and uphold the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan which embodies the will of the people, that I will not engage myself in any political activities whatsoever, and that I will honestly and faithfully serve Pakistan in the Pakistan Army (or Navy, or Air Force) as required by and under the law. May Allah Almighty help and guide me. Amen.

If martial law is being advocated as an emergency measure, according to precedent, and unlike most countries of the world where it lifts when the emergency does, we are likely to be stuck with it yet again. And when that happens, there will be more food for recrimination, and finger pointing, making television anchors the only persons happy with the situation, and apparently Altaf Bhai and the Pir.

Sometimes that is what people want, when they are unwilling to tackle the issues that actually require dealing with. Does that apply in this case?

May Allah Almighty help and guide us all, and save us from people who claim to be trying to do so. Amen.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


By Rabia Ahmed | Published: February 6, 2011

Yusuf Raza Gilani

You have to laugh at our Prime Minister, or else you weep. Few people can turn the demon of corruption so completely on its head so as to present it as an angel; one has to be either very shrewd or a complete twerp to do this, and since I refuse to accuse Mr. Gilani of being shrewd, I am not left with much choice. Or should I address my comments to whoever writes the Prime Minister’s speeches for him? I mean he obviously doesn’t himself…he can barely read them, the dear man. 
The situation in Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt, is making people’s hair curl, and they hasten to set a distance between them. It was in this context that Mr. Yusuf Raza Gilani said, when questioned about similarities between these countries, that Pakistan, which unlike Egypt and Tunisia is a democracy complete with elections, presented no resemblance to these others.
As proof of Pakistan being a democracy he pointed to the fact that many of its elected rulers were facing, or had faced charges of corruption. In the Prime Minister’s lexicon, this is positive proof, as it indicates that our rulers are accountable, whereas in a dictatorship people never stand accused of anything.
He continued, boasting that Z.A. Bhutto, Junejo, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif all faced corruption charges, as did the chief justice, adding that Ministers from his own government were currently facing corruption charges, while in the past, it was only members of the opposition who were placed in this position.
This cunning logic! It’s not just the opposition, but the government and judiciary of Pakistan itself that is accused of corruption. We’re never going to join the ranks of Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen, because we’re a lot better than them.
Some things were of course not mentioned; the fact that the President of Pakistan faces charges of mind boggling corruption and theft from the national exchequer, and the fact that two organisations owned by the Prime Minister’s wife were granted loans worth Rs200 million, which, with interest and default of payment for more than ten years became Rs570 million. These loans were eventually settled by a payment of a mere Rs45.5 million, while the rest of the amount was written off.
None of these pillars of democracy have as yet repaid the money they owe.
Mr. Gilani went on to lay the state of the country’s economy squarely at the door of world recession, the war on terror, load shedding, the floods, Barbie’s hairstyle, Harry Potter’s wand, and Mickey Mouse’s long and dangerous tail.
Meanwhile, the country continues to face an inflation of possibly as much as 16 percent this year.
To issue complacent calls for revolution (and extra provinces) is best left to people like Altaf Hussain. The rest of Pakistan is hopefully better aware of the bloodshed this would result in, and the tragic repercussions to a country that has nothing further to offer at the altar of destruction. There might still be time for Pakistan’s leaders to stick their heads out of their ivory towers and take measures to prevent a similar wave of unrest taking place here, as has suddenly deluged the Middle East.
It is very likely that the riots in Tunisia, Yemen and Egypt will travel east to Pakistan, given that the semblance between these countries is shockingly close. (It is sad that parallels with Pakistan are to be found each time in such ‘dire states’).
Years of resentment of unresponsive governance, high cost of living, and unemployment fuelled riots in Tunisia, in response to which the Tunisian President Zine Al-Abedine made lavish promises of various reforms to pacify his people. However it was too little too late and President Abedine’s twenty-three year tenure ended in January 2011 with his deposition.
In Yemen and Egypt, similar dissatisfaction with their governments, or plain unhappiness with the lack of democracy and responsiveness and rampant corruption has caused people to spill onto the streets, demanding removal of their leadership. In each case lives have been lost, and property destroyed.
Even Pakistan’s greatest supporter cannot claim that the current government of this country is stable, or a responsive one, or fail to notice that people have been praying for change for a while. I am sure the Prime Minister alone finds it an index of religiosity to see people brought to their knees everywhere he looks.
Also, most people know that there is not much religiosity in Pakistan, despite assertions to the contrary.

This news was published in print paper. To access the complete paper of this day. click here

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


By Rabia Ahmed | Published: February 9, 2011
Raymond Davis
Who is Raymond anyway? Raymond Alan Davis may or may not be his name. He is said to be employed by the American embassy as a ‘security technician’ which could be true, or not. He may be in Pakistan on a valid visa, or not; he may have shot the boys in self defence, or maybe not. Is he telling the truth, are the Americans telling the truth, are the Pakistani witnesses telling the truth? And that other car that ran over another man, and got clean away: why was that car so close to Mr Davis, that he was able to call it to his aid right away? Is it normal for technicians to travel with such a degree of protection? And where is that car now? How was it able to make such an effective getaway?
With all these questions yet to be answered, who knows what really happened? I doubt we ever will, regardless of the outcome of this incident. Maybe fifty or so years later, some historian will piece together confidential letters and come up with the facts, such as that Davis was really an undercover spy for the American Trendsetters Journal, come to study Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s turban.
Espionage is something that most countries indulge in. While it has been made into the stuff of thrilling Hollywood moves, the real thing is messier and the truth is often buried under secrecy.
Whatever the truth behind ‘Davis’, the fact remains that he has landed himself in a country where chaos rules. It has become increasingly common for justice in Pakistan to be overridden by mass hysteria, as seen in the cases of Aafia Siddiqui, Salmaan Taseer, and now Raymond Davis. The reason is a police that extracts confessions by force and a judiciary fraught with dissension and supported by lawyers prone to hooliganism. It is further fostered by public statements by everyone from police officials to senior members of government, issuing verdicts on a case while it is still sub judice, or even right after the event occurs.
People, having no recourse to justice have learnt to bypass all this, taking the law into their own hands and coming straight on to the streets, throwing the equivalent of a toddler’s temper tantrum. Rabid and manipulative religious extremism means that incidents such as the above are twisted and distorted; everything is turned into a conspiracy, or into an Islam versus Kufr issue. It is difficult to determine for example how Aafia Siddiqui comes into this. Aside from the fact that each of these two separate cases is entitled to justice, where is the semblance between them?
If Dr Siddiqui as an American citizen is considered to be a threat to the US, she is subject to the laws of her adoptive country which may try her in a court of law. What is justice in her case is for her adoptive country to determine.
What is justice in the Davis case is yet to be determined, as are the facts.
The sight of people jumping, spittle flying, screaming emotional slogans is becoming sickeningly common, as is the sight of rabble rousing leaders who play on these emotions. Those whose job it is to give decisions in a given case have guns held to their head, afraid for their lives in case their decisions offend a rabid right wing, and understandably so.
According to e-Diplomatic, ‘agents and members of their immediate families are immune from all criminal prosecution and most civil law suits. Administrative and technical staff members of embassies have a lower level of immunity. Consular officers serving in consulates throughout the country have an even lower level of immunity. Members of an embassy's service staff and consular employees are immune only for acts performed as part of their official duties.’
So if Davis is a diplomat, he enjoys a certain immunity, which it is possible for the home country to waive, depending on the gravity of the situation. If, however, he was threatened and feared for his life, he is innocent, and if so, we are using him as a tool with which to commit blackmail, to get Dr Aafia released.
If what Davis did was indeed a crime, and if he is not a diplomat, since the incident occurred on Pakistani soil, he naturally could face the music here. But how is one to know what the music is, unless the musicians are allowed to see, and play the score first?

This news was published in print paper. To access the complete paper of this day. click here