Wednesday, September 28, 2011


By Rabia Ahmed

How can a country divided along so many fronts progress?

As part of undivided India Hindus, Muslims and others lived together, and their different cultures and religions influenced each other. One aspect of Hindu culture also rooted in Hindu religion is the caste system, and this continues to influence the Muslims of the subcontinent to this day.

The caste system, while not unique to the Hindu culture, is uniquely Hindu in its rigidity.

Indian Christians also have castes such as the Syrian Nasranis and the New Rite Christians, and another said to be descended from the Jews. Members of this caste jealously safeguard their lineage by means of intermarriage.

As colonial rulers in India, the British condemned the caste system but used it to divide and rule, managing to make the castes ‘official’ by means of the census, in which people were officially placed in one box or another.
The British themselves have a society defined by class, although modern education and greater economic fluidity have blurred the outlines. The British House of Lords has only now become a less rigid entity, with under a hundred hereditary peers remaining in the House, the rest being elected.

More than sixty years since Pakistan was carved out of the Indian subcontinent, in spite of our constitution and the egalitarian values of Islam, as well as the opportunity to (correctly) implement both, we have failed to do so.
In Pakistan the caste system called ‘zaat’, or ‘baradari’, while not part of its religions is as powerful, and exceedingly harmful. Each group is unwilling to intermarry, work, or in other ways interact with another.

Following the recent floods, families had to be moved to safety. The mother of one family that refused to move was quoted in an English newspaper: “Even if the children get sick here, or we get sick, and we can’t help them, we won’t leave because of our caste,” and “If we were another caste, we would just walk out of here. But because we are Soomros we can’t.”

A glance through the matrimonial columns of the newspapers would be hilarious if it weren’t so sickening:
‘Rajput ‘boy’ 32, doctor, tall, good looking, looking for a Rajput girl. Fair, 5’8”, convent educated, Green Card holder.’

‘Family looking for boy for their daughter. Must be Arain, well placed, fair.’

‘Looking for a girl from a Gujjar family...’

‘Syed boy looking for domesticated girl. Must be Syed.’ (Domesticated? Really?)

The Christian girls who clean our house use the same crockery as us. Our cook and driver have separated their plates, because they cannot bring themselves to share dishes with these girls. What adds to the irony is that if a white Christian friend dines with us, his/her plates are not considered unclean. Clearly this is not a question of religion however distorted, but of the economically depressed, often darker skinned Pakistani Christians being considered ‘untouchable’, such as the Dalits of India. Racism and caste system, thou art both alive and so very well in Pakistan.

The Chief Minister of UP, India: Mayawati
The Chief Minister of Indian UP, Mayawati, represents the Dalits or the ‘untouchables,’ the most downtrodden class in India which has been oppressed by the ‘upper’ castes for generations. Mayawati, an inspiration and a ray of hope for the Dalits has not only held her office for several terms, but also possesses degrees in Bachelor of Arts degree, Law and Teaching. 

For Mayawati to tout her caste makes sense since it highlights her achievements and encourages her fellow caste members to follow her example towards a better life.

In Pakistan official government forms for some departments require a person to state his/her caste. Our spiritual and intellectual Prime Minister of great integrity, is a Syed, and a hereditary ‘Pir, and these factors help him politically.

For educated Pakistanis to perpetuate this system is a needless, foolish, dreadful crime.
How can a country so divided and senselessly at odds as we are along so many fronts...feudal, tribal racial, caste, provincial, economic, educational, religious...progress, particularly in today’s fast paced, technologically advanced world?

Where do our Gujjars, and Rajputs and Arains, or Syeds fit in with Prophet Mohammad’s last sermon which says that “No one has superiority over another except (by virtue of) piety and good actions”?

Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed of the Lahore High Court recently ordered the Federal Information Technology Ministry to block access to social networking websites, particularly Facebook. The last time it was banned, Facebook, which has many positive aspects, was still easily accessible to users, making of the exercise a complete farce.

If a ban must be imposed on anything since our countrymen appear to have that periodic compulsion, how about something less paltry? How about those forms and the whole system of ‘zaat’ which has nothing positive to recommend it any way you look at it? This issue appears to be nowhere on our list of priorities.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


By Rabia Ahmed     Pakistan Today 20 September 2011

Probably the most versatile tool man uses is not physical at all, it is religion. People who reject religion such as socialists like Trotsky (who called religion an imaginary knowledge of the world), use it just as much as those who profess to accept it.

It is in few hands that any religion is recognisable for what it is meant to be. Hitler professed to be a Christian all his life, and spoke in Mein Kampfof the "creator of the universe" and "eternal Providence.” He condemned the crucifixion of Christ, and used this condemnation to justify his killing of Jews, because he held the Jewish race to be the killers of Jesus. He also believed it to be his duty to preserve the purity of the Aryan race, since it was created by God. Again in his book he states that ‘it would be a sin to dilute the Aryan race through racial intermixing. He used this argument as well to justify his murder of the Jews. Hitler is further said to have expressed an admiration for Muslim war tactics, and to have instructed Himmler to copy them. What is far more likely is that he was using the Muslims and their known mistrust of Jews to support his own anti-Semitic views.

The Jews on the other hand have used the idea of Israel being the ‘promised land’ to deprive Palestinians of their homeland.

Traditionally in the French National Assembly, the nobles sat to the right of the President while the commons to the left, and these were forerunners of the ‘right and left wing’ political parties of today. The British Conservatives, the American Republicans and the Australian Liberal party as right wing parties, while the Labour, the Democrats and the Australian Labour party as left of centre all use religious views as political tools to hold or gain seats. The ‘right to life’ lobby, the socialist wings with their rejection of religion, Bush’s prohibition of stem cell research and the Republicans’ endorsement of this prohibition, this is all based on certain views of religion.

Why then do we condemn the ‘Islamic’ militant groups for wielding their religious views the way they do?

The reason for this is not just the views of the groups themselves, much as they are to be deplored, but the support they get from the Pakistani public, a public which feeds these militant groups with their approval, enabling them to grow like the monsters they have become.

The difference between the people of developed countries and those of Pakistan is one of education. Religious views are most distorted by lack of education which produces a certain resistance to baseless, even blatant manipulation. Among illiterate uneducated persons there is little resistance. They are easily swayed to the point of being a danger to everyone.

The literacy rate in Pakistan is very low, under 70 percent for men and under 60 percent for women. As a result, the average Pakistani’s view of religion is myopic. It is a view handed down by generations of uneducated persons, a view used by the mosque’s mullahs, the poorly educated teachers, the regional pir, the feudal lord, the neighbourhood witchdoctor – to retain their stranglehold on the public.

A confused mentality such as that of the Pakistani public’s when shot through with the pain of poverty is a potent mix. Unused to rational thought and analysis we hate the Jews because we interpret the Quran in ways that tell us that Islam wants us to hate Jews. We hate the Americans because they befriend the Jews. We hate the Indians, because we hate the Indians (and because they’re Hindu) and so on, ad nauseum.

James Baldwin pointed out that ‘one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with (the) pain.’ This hate is manipulated by militant groups, by politicians and by the list of aforementioned persons, the mullahs, feudals, etc, who feed upon it like a Lernaean Hydra, the Greek multi-headed serpent.

This is the reason our so-called leaders are able to garner and hold support by means of slogans. ‘Allah-o-Akbar’ before spouting falsehoods, before committing the most heinous crimes, ‘Allah maalik hai’ before committing horrendous crimes of omission. This is how they are able to divert attention from their own ineptitude, by appealing to the public to pray for divine forgiveness for their faults, in other words saying that the floods this year and the last, the mosquito borne illness dengue and other‘affaats’ that beset this country are all because the public has angered God. It is most intriguing: how is that these tragedies mostly beset the poor? How come the mullahs are getting fatter, the politician a healthier account in foreign banks? Does God’s ire explain this situation better, or could it be administrative ineptitude, or a slothful greedy leadership, in other words: cause and effect.

But the public that blames all its ills on America, Israel, and India prostrates itself in abject self-delusion. Forgive us, Allah. We are crass idiots.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


By Rabia Ahmed | Dawn InpaperMagzine                                                                    18 September 2011                  
There are no absolutes, said Trotsky. Everything and every person posesses a flip side. Therefore even gossip, though it is likened to cannibalism in religion, must have something in its favour, and so what follows is an exercise in Devil’s Advocacy Oscar Wilde is known to have said that history is ‘nothing but gossip,’ since history speaks about the dead behind their backs, persons who by virtue of being six feet under are unable to defend themselves. Who knows whether Rasputin was a saint, a mystic, a healer, or a debauched religo-sexual pervert? How much of what we know about him today is Tsarist propaganda and how much the Boney M song? Certainly it is a ‘fact’ that he was the lover of the Russian Queen that sticks best and makes Russian history more interesting.
The older the history the harder it becomes to verify a historical ‘fact’. Who or what was Anarkali? Was she simply an unfortunate maid who caught a prince’s eye, or was she a threat to the Peacock Throne because she was to become the mother of the prince’s child? It is a historian’s job to unlace documented fact from conjecture, or maybe to lace the two together, and come up with a story, a skill much practised by your cousin’s aunt’s niece, your next door neighbour and your everyday neighbourhood gossip.
Persons with such skills make the best reporters for a certain kind of newspaper, a prime example being Rita Skeeter writing for the Daily Reporter in the magical world of Harry Potter. Rita’s stories although never factual were entirely based on fact which constitutes a major difference. These stories were avidly read by J.K. Rowling’s magical population, not least because they were far more interesting than other, more factual news. This brings us neatly to the exact reason why gossip, rightly or wrongly, is such an essential part of people’s lives: it is interesting.
It has been said that a person ought to live a life so exemplary that he would not be afraid of selling his family parrot to the town gossip. There are those however, for whom such a life would be a death knell, and selling that parrot becomes a matter of priority. Why do Hollywood actors do some of the things they do? Would Hugh Mungo Grant, son of a carpet salesman and a school teacher, have been where he is today without that much publicised affair with a lady in the front seat of a car parked in a street in Los Angeles?
Given that he used to play for a cricket team named ‘Captain Scott,’ has been playing basically the same role for the past two decades, and has described his life himself as being ‘so boring its embarrassing.’ This one incident was calculated to override all this ennui and provide enough fodder for months of newspaper articles and analyses, magazines and talk shows, furnishing Grant with much needed notoriety, and film contracts. There is only one thing worse than being talked about for some: it is not being talked about at all.
There is a lot of truth that shouldn’t be passed around, but were it not, admit it, most people would be bereft. Would our cricket team, past and present, be as interesting as it currently is without its scandals? Would politicians, singers, authors sell themselves as successfully as they do without that bit of salt to make them more palatable to a greedy public?
Bill Clinton without Monica Lewinsky, Michael Jackson without the baby and the balcony rail, Imelda Marcos without her shoe obsession… one could probably name a few personages within this country as well, just how much have they and the gossip they gave rise to enlivened your life, and how long would you remember them were it not for these so-called irrelevant, unsubstantiated details?
Gossip may have holes but then so do doughnuts. Newspapers would sell less without scandal, magazines would go out of business and Hillary Clinton may have had an easier life; as it is, she must wonder which was worse, Monica or Pakistan on her plate.
The world is definitely a livelier place because people talk about each other. ‘If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anybody,’ said Alice Roosevelt Longworth, ‘Come sit next to me.’
Gossip is the not the words that the wind howls as it blows, it is the whispers that it carries from place to place, that you strain to catch and try to hold until they get too burdensome in your arms and you pass them on.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


By Rabia Ahmed                   Pakistan Today 14 September 2011

A stitch in time might stump Einstein but it would certainly help the people of Pakistan, since several of the issues facing the country today are plain administrative failures, failure to apply the requisite stitches on time. A case in point is the fact that fogging machines have only now been ordered to prevent dengue in the hapless province of Punjab.

A year ago today, floods swept through the country and Pakistan was reduced to begging for aid from the international community, a familiar occurrence, and here we are again in 2011, flooded out, once more begging for help.

As always our politicians have turned popular misery into personal fodder, and newspapers carried pictures of a Mr Zardari (who normally skedaddles at first sign of flood), wading through flood waters, ankles engagingly exposed. In addition Mr Khosa demanded that Mr Sharif should resign since ‘he’ finds himself unable to control the outbreak of dengue in the Punjab.

The sheer opportunistic audacity and wrangling of these politicians takes one’s breath away: Dear Mr Khosa, seeing that ‘you’ are unable to control Karachi’s target killers, a larger moving target, you have some nerve demanding Mr Sharif achieve the same results with mosquitoes. And dear Mr Sharif, we’ve all had dengue already. Are you planning to spray Mr Khosa with those newly ordered fogging machines?

Meantime, Mr Zardari, much bolstered by his own bravery, taunted Mr Nawaz Sharif for not joining him in the water (and then he skedaddled), to which Mr Sharif responded with the somewhat enigmatic words:

“We have ample resources. We don’t need any foreign aid. If we can become an atomic power, what else we can’t do,” adding for good measure, “It is Quaid-e-Azam’s Pakistan, but his vision is yet to be materialised,” said Nawaz.

Fine, Mr Sharif, now if you can only explain just what that means…

It is easy to blame the government, but is the public much better?

We are fortunate to live in a respectable suburb, one even equipped with a trash collection system. Sixty four years into our country’s existence we have managed to institute this basic system in a few parts of some cities. Yet ‘masis’ regularly toss bags of garbage by the roadside as they walk along their way, on a road with a trash bin at either end.

Two months ago this year newspapers carried reports of drains and sewage networks having been illegally built on, and warned that this was a flood hazard unless encroaching structures were removed and the drains cleaned. Today heavy rains brought Karachi (and Lahore) to a standstill, with flooded roads and resultant hazards. Recently my daughter, speaking from the US was sad that two people had died in the US during the rains. These people died when they fled into a swollen creek as a result of a robbery.
Already poverty stricken and now displaced
by flood waters
Aliya love, we will celebrate the day only two people die in Pakistan. In our rains here, in one day at least ten people died in Karachi, including five members of the same family. These people were electrocuted in the rain waters, trying to save each other, in a city where there is no electricity when you need it. This is how people live here, and this is how they die.

So how is it that this country survives even the way it does?

In Pakistan what little is being done is being done by individuals.

The Pakistani public may have its faults, it may be misguided and uneducated, but the fact that this country still exists is by the Grace of God, and because of individuals who give freely of their time and money to make a difference.

Zara Aslam’s Environmental Protection Fund has mobilised Lahore’s school children in cleaning their communities. Aslam uses her personal funds and time to run this NGO. There are also other groups in Lahore picking up the slack, such as the Zimmedar Shehri, Pakistan Sustainability Network and the Lahore Environmental Youth Council.

In a country where the government is spun of a cold callous yarn, it is in our own interests to support organisations such as this, since there is not a single politician with enough credibility to attract donations in Pakistan at present, with the exception of Imran Khan.

It is time to get our priorities right and sideline the very people elected to do the jobs being done by these individuals, because in reality their only interest lies in winning seats and power for themselves.


By Rabia Ahmed    Pakistan Today       5 September 2011

A great deal has been written on the subject lately but on some matters the more said and considered the better. I’m speaking of course of the unholy trinity, Messrs Zulfiqar Mirza, Altaf Hussain and Rahman Malik, and the former’s tirade against the latter two.

Mr Mirza is certainly prone to foot in mouth syndrome, however, no one can doubt that this time some of what he verbalised was what most people wanted to hear. How much of it is true, whether or not he was put up to it, and if so by whom and for what reason is yet to be discovered.

Mr Mirza made some grave allegations against Altaf Bhai, who manages to invoke riots in Karachi every time he lifts a finger and very often he appears to be lifting all five. While keeping
 an open mind about whether or not he is working for foreign powers as Mr Mirza claims, it must occur to most people that the man and the political party so often implicated in violence (not that Altaf Bhai is the only person or his the only political party thus implicated), certainly does not work in Pakistan’s interests.

Altaf Hussain
Mr Rehman Malik, the other subject of Mr Mirza’s tirades, can hardly call Mirza’s allegations wild since he has long been making wild claims himself about the target killings in Karachi. He has alleged over and over again over the past many months that target killing ‘is controlled in Karachi’. What is ‘controlled target killing,’ in the absence of any other control that one can discover? Is it the death of fifty, twenty, eleven, or ‘just one’ person? Regarding recent killings in Korangi he said that it was difficult for the police to do their job efficiently since they lacked adequate funds, and were not even equipped with bullet proof jackets.

I’m sorry Mr Malik, but do you even know what happened to the Rs 25,000 you handed out to the kid who broke his toy gun in two for you? How many more such grandiose gestures do you and your colleagues would make? How about all those PPP billboards all over the province, no doubt at tax-payers’ expense? These are relatively small expenditures, but there are larger ones: in the current budget, the conveyance allowance of government servants and personnel of the armed forces has been increased by twenty five percent. The expense allowance for the President’s house has been increased by almost thirteen percent. It now stands at Rs 482.63 million.

The overall budget of the Prime Minister’s house is set at Rs 1.37 billion this year. As for the Prime Minister’s Estate garden, with an increase of Rs 2.78 million from last year, the budget for the Estate garden now rests at Rs 14.33 million. How necessary are Estate gardens if they cost as much as this? Would this money buy a few bullet proof vests? Or help this poor country in some other way?

Subsidies on food and power have been slashed, for Wapda 50% and KESC 48%. The list goes on.

No attempt appears to have been made to stem the violence, the shooting, the arson, the looting. Even as Mr Malik made his ‘controlled killing’ statement, hundreds of people died. So, when Zulfiqar Mirza says Rehman Malik is a compulsive liar, thus far he is right.

One thing is certain: this government has proved incapable of and disinterested in getting rid of any problem, large or small, from target killers to mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes, like target killers, appear to have come into their own all over the country, but particularly in Lahore this year. Even as I write this I am under the weather with the dengue virus and many other people are in the same boat, most not as fortunate in access to medical help. Many have died. It appears that the insecticide used for spraying around Lahore (spraying was done much too late anyway) has proved ineffective, while that bought by individuals off the shelf works. As usual, someone is making a fast buck out of people’s misfortune.

Figures for people suffering from dengue have been fudged, like figures for most things are in Pakistan and actual figures are said to be around a hundred times higher than reported.

The same must hold true for those killed in Karachi as well.