Monday, May 30, 2011


By Rabia Ahmed  Pakistan Today 30 May 2011

Crowded, noisy and disorganised, the ‘old city’ within Lahore’s twelve ancient gates, with its intimate streets and sense of community, is responsible for Lahore’s reputation of historic charm.

A walk through old Lahore is an assault both sublime and foul on each of the five senses. Here are some of the best kulchas, yeasty bread covered with sesame seed hot from a tandoor, close to open drains, piles of refuse, and old buildings of astonishing grace. Carved doors in fortress-thick walls and intricate balconies enclose cool high-ceilinged rooms and serene courtyards housing a teeming population that is no longer serene or gracious.

The ancestral home of Begum Maratab Ali’s family near Bhatti gate, abutting the nocturnal Hira Mandi, is now the Naqsh School of Art, training students in painting, calligraphy and pottery making.

Art collection: Fakir Khana museum
Also near Bhatti gate is the Fakir Khana museum, said to be the largest private museum in South East Asia. An old haveli, it is an oasis within the surrounding hustle and bustle, a repository of artefacts passed down over generations of the Fakir family. This family rose to prominence with the three Fakir brothers, who held crucial posts in Raja Ranjit Singh’s government.

Their carpets, weaponry, pottery and porcelain ware, miniature paintings, jewellery, books and documents may sadly not see the light of many more years. Or maybe the problem is that they have seen too much light over the years. Without proper display cases, and as subject to the vagaries of temperature as the rest of the city, this collection is falling to dust.

Collection of weapons at the Fakir Khana museum
In a country given to rewriting the past, neither history nor its preservation carry weight. Whilst a top-heavy and avaricious government and bureaucracy exist by leeching off millions of poverty stricken people, it is a lost hope that funds will be made available for the preservation of books and other objects on display at places such as the Fakir Khana.

Entire histories are contained within the artefacts in this museum (and others), recorded in tantalising words, faded inks and pictures, histories often strangely at odds with what is formally taught. This disconnect produces gems such as ‘Dr Israr Ahmed, may Allah have mercy on him, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mr Jinnah was a Muslim and wanted Pakistan to rule by Islam and not on secular values. Please spread the word, especially among the Pakistani brothers & sisters. The secular minded want to fool us...’, a statement which would have astonished the dapper Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

Although born to a Muslim family, Jinnah, a brilliant lawyer, had little or no religious education, while his Savile Row suits, ‘non-halal’ culinary tastes and beloved Parsi wife could hardly have met with Dr Israr’s approval. This did not prevent him from striving for the rights of the Muslims of India with the creation of Pakistan, which in his own words by no means excludes persons of other faiths:

Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic state to be ruled by priests with a divine mission. We have many non-Muslims: Hindus, Christians and Parsis, but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizen and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan.–Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Feb 1948

Jinnah ‘Rehmatullah Alaih’ has been canonised by the Pakistani public, whose concept of Pakistan bears as little resemblance to Jinnah’s vision as the man to a saint.

Museums around the world shed light on issues such as the above and other aspects of history. They create an awareness of the past, which impacts upon the present and the future. Equipped with laboratories and studios for the conservation of collections, museums strive to communicate this information to visitors by interesting means.

The Fakir Khana is one of the countless heritage sites in the country crying out for support, and the Pakistan government, as a signatory to the United Nations and UNESCO, is bound by its membership to provide this support.

Paragraph 2 (c), Article I of the UNESCO Constitution assigns to its member nations the task of ensuring the preservation, extension, and spread of knowledge, to ensure ‘the conservation and protection of the world’s inheritance of books, works of art and monuments of history and science’.

If the government of Pakistan is unwilling or unable to preserve the nation’s past, its future is certain to suffer, as its present already does, disintegrating before our eyes, just like the books and documents that record our history.

Monday, May 23, 2011


By Rabia Ahmed  Pakistan Today  23 May 2011

There is a Facebook page titled ‘We Want General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani for President’, but the number of ‘like’ hits for that one would have dropped drastically in recent days.

With the military establishment in the doghouse after their inefficiency exploded like mangoes, the people of Pakistan are left with no alternatives to a government that deserves similar accommodation; a government that is probably quite delighted with matters as they stand, imagining it sees its way to improved ratings by default.

Pakistan is ‘outraged,’ and Pakistanis would like an apology from the Americans, and are asking the government of Pakistan to ‘punish Washington.’ Islamabad nods greasily. Is such a stance really possible whilst Pakistan exists on handouts from the rest of the world and America? Jiss ki lathi us ki bhains. This is one bhains that obviously belongs to the Americans to do with as they please, in the case of Davis, in the case of bin Laden, and potentially in the case of Mullah Omar if he too lives holed up somewhere in maybe Kakul or Quetta.

Sovereignty, my friends, is a hard earned commodity.

Norway, an oil producing country has the largest number of electric cars in Europe. Drivers of these cars are not required to stick to High Occupancy Vehicle lanes or pay parking fees, and they are cheap to run. People therefore buy these expensive cars which pay for themselves very soon. Norway encourages long term progress at immediate cost to itself and its government obviously does not treat itself to kickbacks from national resources.

Following World War II, the Japanese economy was in shambles. The US invested heavily in the country, but measures taken by the Japanese government were also greatly responsible for its subsequent economic resurgence. The Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry encouraged the import of technology, and industry it felt was promising. It came up with innovative ideas for financing, encouraging private enterprise with low cost finance.

Following the recent earthquake and tsunami, the Japanese PM Naoto Kan announced that he would not draw his Prime Ministerial salary until such time as the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant was resolved.

President Ahmadinejad of Iran
The President of Iran, Mr Ahmadinejad, hosts VIPs in an ordinary room with plain wooden chairs. He sometimes joins his staff in cleaning the streets around his home, an old house inherited from his father in one of the poorer sections of town. He too does not draw his salary as prime minister of the country, making do with his modest personal income. Mr Ahmadinejad owns a 1977 model Peugeot, and brings his own frugal bagged meals to work with him. These meals are prepared for him by his wife.

If these governments and leaders condemn infringements on the sovereignty of their countries, they are justified.

Dreadful flooding in Pakistan in 2010 left more than 1500 dead and millions homeless. The World Bank, The Guardian newspaper reports, warned that $1bn worth of crops had been destroyed with resultant fears of food shortage and soaring prices. The President of Pakistan left the country as the floods began, and throughout the devastating flooding carried on with his trip to Europe, as well as another to Russia the following week. The armed forces and other organizations, including militant groups, took up the slack and distributed aid to disaster struck areas. The government of Pakistan did squat, before, then and later. Or I forget…the Prime Minister toured some relief camps, which turned out to be staged.

It was felt that the government would surely fall, and at the time had the army attempted a takeover, the nation would probably have supported it. The Pakistan army has had a full share in derailing this nation. However, if it messed up well and good in Abbottabad, it probably learnt the art from the government of Pakistan, which would be even further into nowhere without American money and support, for whatever reason that is given.

So to Facebook again, and here’s Mr Zardari’s page: less than 3,000 people ‘like’ it, while Imran Khan gets almost 64,000. As for Mr Gilani, he has all of 28. Dear oh dear. Could the soaring food and fuel prices and the total lack of governance be responsible for this, do you suppose?

All those billions of dollars in aid and kickbacks that enable this leadership to maintain its lifestyle (Mr Gingrich, the 2012 presidential hopeful, claims its $20 billion since 9/11, Issam Ahmed in the Christian Science Monitor says its more), without those dollars no more indecent perks and salaries, expensive cars or foreign trips…no more opulent lifestyles.

The President and Prime Minister may even have to work which is as hard to imagine as their bringing their own little brown bags to ‘work’.

Monday, May 16, 2011


By:Rabia Ahmed13 hours ago | Comments (0)

Not quite two weeks before Labour Day this year a girl, a domestic worker, died in Punjab allegedly tortured to death by her employers. Seeing that the case is probably still in the courts, let’s give the employers the benefit of doubt and presume them innocent unless proven otherwise.

The question for now is: how did this girl come to be working as a maid in the first place? Because at the time of her death, she was just six: yes, that’s six years of age, a little mite of a thing.

Six years old, when your children and mine were still listening to chapters of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Alif Laila, thumbs in their mouths, tucked into bed before school the next day. And while they are in school being taught the alphabet in a room brightly decorated with pictures, others in greying clothes, like this little girl, are washing dishes, cutting vegetables, running a cloth along dusty furniture, while fat Begums relax.

The first of May, called Labour Day, or May Day, is a holiday in many countries around the world. The day celebrates achievements of labour rights campaigns, such as the eight-hour day movement, which divides a twenty four hour day into eight hours for work, and eight each for recreation and rest...because once elsewhere in the world too, conditions for workers were hardly salubrious.

Rights of workers are written into the Constitution of Pakistan, which prohibits slavery in all its forms, forced labour, and child labour.

Article 11(3) of Pakistan’s Constitution prohibits the employment of children between the ages of fourteen and eighteen in any factory, mine or other hazardous place of employment. It also makes it a Principle of Policy of the State of Pakistan to secure just and humane conditions of work, ensuring that children and women are not employed in work unsuited to their age or sex.

Pakistan’s constitution, however, falls miserably short of specifying the minimum age for employment and at the end of the day entirely fails to enforce the existing prohibitions and rules specified by it. Workers in this country have no recourse to legal redress in case of mistreatment, the courts being what they are, and lawmakers having failed abysmally in their job by not coming up with legislation designed to protect the young.
‘Hazardous employment’ is a loose term, and factories and mines are not the only hazardous places of employment in the world. It is almost as hazardous for a child not to get adequate sleep, as it is to be exposed to coal dust or dangerous industrial equipment, and infinitely worse to be exposed to violence.

A child working in an apparently benign home may be required to keep long hours, working under harsh conditions for strenuous work eminently unsuitable for a child, with innumerable cases of sexual abuse to top the misery.
Many people do not think or consider it important to provide domestic workers with comforts they themselves take for granted. Men, women and children employed as domestic workers are not always provided with fans in a country where the heat tops 40 degrees Celsius. They may be found sleeping on the floor, on uncomfortable bedding in rooms without adequate ventilation or mosquito screens, their ‘bathrooms’ consisting of little more than holes in the ground in tiny cupboard sized spaces.

The minimum wage specified at Rs 7,000 per month is frequently not met, in the case of children it never is. What difference is there between such conditions and slavery? Either implies a compulsory service, an involuntary subjection to often degrading, cruel conditions. Would any human voluntarily place him/her self in such a situation?

I A Rehman
There are innumerable cases of children of desperately poor parents being bonded to work for monstrous employers, such as Shahzad 12, and Ramzan 10 of Lahore, whose ill and jobless parents bonded them to an ‘employer’ who kept them shackled.

‘Bonded labourers,’ says the human rights activist I A Rehman ‘face some very threatening circumstances and receive almost no protection.’ He says the police is bribed not to file reports in such cases and blames the government for not giving the issue priority.

Said the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH): ‘All children are Allah’s children, and dearest to Allah are those who treat His children with kindness.’

The reality on the ground is that although Pakistan calls itself an Islamic State and is also among the countries that celebrate May Day, the term better suited to this and every other day in this country would be the French venez m'aider better known as the international code word for an emergency, Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! Translated it means: 'come help me!'

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


By Rabia Ahmed   Pakistan Today 8th April 2011

It was a bit of a surprise the royal couple changing its honeymoon plans the way it did. Wills and Kate had wished to be somewhere quite out of the way, and had settled on a spot in the mountains in Pakistan, on a house rather short of amenities, but that was all part of the charm, what? Such a far cry from their new home in Anglesey, Wales.

It was reported to be rather an exposed spot, close to sensitive military establishments which attracts less attention in Pakistan. Seeing as they had wanted to travel incognito, Kate had agreed to leave off her lace veil and train to ensure they were not recognised and they had decided to change their names for the heck of it. He was to be Stu, and she Liz, and it was all to be a great adventure. Their agent had booked a portion of what he called ‘a mansion’ for them, and had given them favourable reports of clean sheets, and of the family looking after the place.... a good looking man and his two wives, who rented out a portion of their house on a weekly basis to people with decent references.

Wills said the man looked familiar when he saw a photograph, but had put it down to the fact of there being so many Pakistanis in Britain. Kate had worried about the two wives and the subliminal effect on Wills, given the family history. But then Catherines have always been survivors, again given the history, so she’d agreed.

At the last minute though, the agent rang and said some American clients had complained something about the place made them uncomfortable. Wills was disappointed, since as per Kate’s guess, he had been secretly interested in seeing for himself how a man with two wives coordinated matters. And Kate, even though she didn’t say as much, had been curious herself. Of course the guy was really good looking too, in a faintly feline way. She could just picture him living in a cave somewhere, a gun over his shoulder...

He had been the hitch however, not being too happy with the references the agent had presented, saying that new couple were not married since they had not had a nikah, and had offered to perform one for them the day they got there.

The agent, upon checking with the royal couple had been told that while the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams would be willing to perform the nikah himself as per Shariah law, the Queen had not been amused, and had asked the couple to change their destination forthwith.

So yes, it’s been quite a week, what with the Royal wedding and other events. Of course there was also the news about Osama bin Laden being shot by the Americans, our intrepid cowboy frenemies. So what now? Has Al-Qaeda been destroyed?

According to Fareed Zakaria who appeared surprisingly enough as an expert on Al-Qaeda on CNN, this is indeed the case, that with bin Laden gone, the determination and dedication of the members of Al-Qaeda has dissipated.

So all those people were blowing themselves up to become martyrs (or so they thought) all because of this one man and nothing else? Well we can take it easy then, and really, the Peerzadas of Rafi Peer fame need not have cancelled their ‘mystic Sufi festival’ in Lahore, now that bin Laden has left the field clear for the ‘celebration of the tradition of devotional expression through performing arts in Muslim and other faiths’.

Details of how bin Laden died are constantly changing, and once the Americans fix on whether or not the veteran of hundreds of campaigns died sheltering behind a woman who was his wife or maybe not, we may get some facts.

Meantime other news is that the ISI has cordoned off the area and has trained all their weapons on the compound and the surrounding area to make sure that the Americans do not return; at least not there.

Rumour has it that Wills and Kate, still keen to honeymoon somewhere in Pakistan, were wondering if the Queen will perhaps allow them to come here for their honeymoon after all. After all there could be no other place more guaranteed to enable them to remain undetected, especially on the ISI’s watch.

Monday, May 2, 2011


By Rabia Ahmed

Some 25 years after the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl there has been another such disaster in Japan, full effects of which are yet to appear. For the survivors of Chernobyl effects of the horror they endured continue to manifest. Thousands evacuated their homes and today a large contaminated area around the site remains deserted. Cancer and deaths among those exposed are higher than average, with more likely to occur.

Meantime, a member of Al-Qaeda has warned that in the case of Osama bin Laden’s capture or assassination, a nuclear device would be detonated in Europe.

The mind of a person who condones nuclear holocaust is unfathomable, but it is hoped that the people in charge of security in Europe are doing their utmost to defuse the threat. Whether or not security prevails (and one fervently hopes it does) they will try to locate the device and take all measures to safeguard their people. We can also assume that nuclear power plants in that region are in reasonably capable hands.

Between American use of nuclear bombs in Japan during the Second World War and now, there has been a sharp increase in the awareness of the educated public regarding the devastating and widespread effects of radiation exposure. No responsible government today (one fervently hopes, once again) would risk carelessness in the matter, if nothing else for fear of the kind of backlash they care about most as a result: loss of votes.

Pakistan possesses three nuclear power plants. In addition, Karen De Young reports in the Washington Post that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal now consists of more than a hundred weapons, making it, some say, the fifth largest nuclear power in the world, ahead of France and Britain.

Now I have never had much confidence in British culinary skills, and I definitely draw the line at escargots. Yet as far as organisation is concerned, I would place my bet on the Brits and French any day.

After the mishandling of dikes and dams in this country, not to mention other institutions, one may be excused a degree of misgiving regarding precautions in place around nuclear power plants and weapons arsenals.

Nuclear power plants require regular maintenance by personnel trained and certified for the job. Any problems must be attended to promptly, which is a bit frightening in a country where “Allah maalik hai” is the extent of maintenance most things receive.

More than four years since the approval and initial stages of construction of a water filtration plant in Umerkot, the scheme was blithely abandoned because of lack of funds and escalation of rates, and residents of the area continue to suffer from diseases borne by contaminated drinking water. Other plants elsewhere fell into disrepair because filters were not changed on time.

For the rich who favour bottled water, contaminated water for the masses is just fine. It is the same with power load-shedding which is but another opportunity for political canvassing, such as the power outage that took place when Mr Gilani attended an All Pakistan Newspaper Society convention in Lahore on April 30, when he quipped he was no stranger to such occurrences, the dear cute man.

Indeed, if any of our dignitaries encounter any load-shedding in their homes or offices I will eat my hat.

Pakistan consists of many bigots who would approve of Al-Qaeda’s threat, and in the absence of a sense of responsibility, the severely circumscribed mental capacity of those in charge in this country means they too are unwilling/unable to conceive the full ramifications of a nuclear disaster.

There are always ways around problems encountered by our favoured classes so they are probably not too worried, planning on leaving the country for a weekend, or shutting themselves behind security barriers in case of a nuclear disaster, sacking someone else for the crime when they return. If those involved in, say the Hajj scam, were not worried about a much higher power, surely nuclear power pales by comparison.

As for those who imagine they have sole rights to Allah’s ear, they probably bank on sheltering under a prayer mat in the event.

Darlings, let me disabuse you, lift you out your state of denial: nuclear power does not discriminate between Muslims and non-Muslims, or between common citizens and the elite, gate crashing leaders of political parties, pirs or anyone else. People DIE of nuclear exposure, and for survivors there are severe long term complications: burns, birth defects, cancer, cataracts etc.

As Mark Twain said, denial is not just a river in Egypt. Yep, denial flows right through Pakistan, folks, and many of us live right in it.