Tuesday, February 28, 2012


By:Rabia Ahmed  Pakistan Today 28 February 2012

Americans must now contend with Gordon Warren Epperly and his lawsuit last week challenging Barack Hussain Obama’s eligibility for presidential office. In a comical resemblance to Jajjay in Sialkot, province Punjab, and its eminent son, our minister for the interior, Alaska, America’s north westernmost state, clearly suffers a similar predilection for rubbing the country’s face in the dust, first with Sarah Palin and now Gordon Epperly. Both Republicans, of course.

And the supposed reason for Obama’s non-eligibility? That he is, as Epperly terms it, a “mulatto.”

The petition states:

“As Barack Hussein Obama II is of the "mulatto" race, his status of citizenship is founded upon the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Before the [purported] ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, the race of "Negro" or "mulatto" had no standing to be citizens of the United States under the United States Constitution.”

It’s sad but probably too late to return Alaska to the Russians from whom it was purchased more than a hundred years ago.

The case has little chance of succeeding in court; however, it does highlight an important if obvious fact: racism is alive and well in the US, as it is everywhere else.

Ms Neighbourhood Watch next door when she dropped in at our place, was beside herself over the matter, and in the space of the next half hour had related five other undeniable examples of American racism as experienced in the USA by herself, her daughter, her aunt’s sister-in-law, her son and his mother-in-law’s uncle. However when, as she left, I enquired about the status of her youngest daughter’s well publicised marriage proposal, she huffed and replied, “Of course we refused him. He came from a nice family, but really he was too black.”

We had been invited for tea at Watch’s place as a “thank you” for lending our garden to her son’s Mehandi (by origin a most un-Islamic celebration) the previous week.In a cobbled courtyard luxuriant with ferns, hot pink gardenias and a froth of bougainvillea, tea was served in an exquisite Blue Italian Spode service which I admired, and the hostess simpered and disclosed that she kept it under lock and key in case the maid used it for herself.

“Yes, you don’t want this broken,” I agreed.

“Oh it’s not that,” she hastened to clarify the matter and to reassure me, “She’s Christian, so we keep our dishes separate.”

Of course.    
    The new daughter-in-law Marilyn hovered about the tea table and passed around the cake and sandwiches. Marilyn was strawberries and cream English, and we were informed in a stage whisper that she came of ‘excellent stock’. Judging by the gold cross around her neck as she took tentative bites of samosa off the Spode, she certainly did look like an excellent Christian stock.

In spite of Mr Epperly’s petition, the Fourteenth Amendment clearly defines what ‘citizenship’ means for those born in the United States, and as per this definition neither civil nor political rights may be denied these citizens.

In a striking similarity, the Pakistan Constitution does not allow any law, custom or usage to take away or abridge the rights (thus) conferred upon any person.A daily newspaper reports that products are kept off the shelves of canteens at the Punjab University by the student wing of a right-wing political party because their owners are believed to be non-Muslim. It is also claimed by students, canteen owners and workers alike, that this student wing takes a cut on drinks allowed in the canteens, and that its members run up tabs at the canteens which are never paid.

The fact that any given organisation evokes the name of Islam or its Prophet appears to be enough for the people of this country, who rah-rah this organisation to power which it then proceeds to abuse by contravening the law as well as the teachings of the religion, none of which lowers its credentials in the least. Nor do these contraventions register in comparison to other similar cases around the world that are condemned here, because they are unbelievers.

Whatever anyone else does, being Muslim does not confer a license to ignore or break the law.

Neighbourhood Watch along with the rest of us have yet to learn to separate a cultural practice such as institutionalised racism from religion even though what is considered religion often bears no resemblance to the actual at all, certainly no resemblance at all to the religion of Islam.

This issue is important enough to discuss repeatedly, because this is what is tearing the country apart since disrespect for minorities spreads – and it has spread – to the whole.I will vote for whoever puts this issue genuinely on the agenda and continue to support him/her if it is addressed.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


A persecution of minorities     (Printed Pakistan Today 21 Feb 2012)
by Rabia Ahmed   

More than some fourteen hundred years ago, the powerful Arab tribe Quraish affixed a document on to the door of the Ka’aba proclaiming a boycott of the clan Banu Hashim. This meant that the rest of the tribe was disallowed from intermarrying, speaking, or trading with members of the Banu Hashim.

The outcasts sought refuge in an area called Shia’b Abu Taalib where for the next two or three years they suffered extreme privation. Deprived of the means of supporting themselves (they were prevented from trading even with other tribes) many members of the clan died of hunger and the rest were reduced to eating grass and leaves.

The boycott ended when the organisers of the boycott realised the foolishness of their measures. The crime for which this unfortunate clan was persecuted was simply a difference of beliefs (of certain of their number) from the majority of the tribe.

We all know about this incident of history but it remains as ink on the pages of textbooks. ‘Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.’ How many have applied it to their lives becomes obvious with the Lahore Bar Association’s (LBA) latest demands with regards to Shezan.
I can foresee some furious reactions from readers because I have compared the ‘wrong sides’ to each other. They will have missed the point: this is about illustrating persecution and the treatment of minorities. I have deliberately not named any of the figures in the above incident because I mean this to be a sociological discussion, not an incitement to religious frenzy.]

Shezan’s excellent products are part of our lives, their juices a feature of many tables. It does not matter who and what the owners of Shezan are. So long as they maintain their standard within the law, this country is grateful to them for a worthy product. For clarification refer to the Constitution of Pakistan.

And really, Mr Shezan spokesperson, you stoop to the level of the LBA by assuring us that the Chief Executive and Financial Officers of Shezan International ‘are Muslim.’ Who is to judge what anyone is? And does whatever a person is make them any less a citizen of Pakistan? Any less entitled to indulge in lawful commerce?

It is obvious that the legal training of certain LBA lawyers failed to educate them (I could stop right here, but…) about the Constitution of Pakistan which declares any laws, customs or usage having the force of law, which are inconsistent with or in derogation of fundamental rights as void. It also gives every citizen the right to fair trial for the determination of his civil rights and further grants every citizen the freedom of trade, commerce or industry, and freedom of religion.

Lawyers are supposed to uphold the law, yet these (one hopes the minority), have contravened all of the above. How kind of the LBA to reassure us that the resolution against Shezan products has not yet been passed.

Darlings, other than the moonshine served at your Bar, are you aware that almost twenty percent of Pakistan’s tea, and therefore the tea you drink in your hallowed canteens at the courts, is illicitly smuggled into the country, while the rest is imported from Kenya, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and ye olde kafir India.

Add to this the dreadful fact of Pakistan being one of the four largest importers of tea in company with its arch nemesis the United States of America, that friend of evil Israel. Will tea also be banned in all Lahore court canteens? And then of course there are the cigarettes. Cigarettes were introduced by a gentleman called General (gasp) Israel Putnam to the United States of America from where thanks to the efforts of Marlboro Man, they reached Pakistan.

To add further fuel to the fire, the matches used to light cigarettes were once called ‘Lucifers’ which as we all know is Satan’s middle name. Surely the LBA should also proceed to cleanse its halls of the presence of all members who smoke this, the devil’s own weed.

And finally, there remains the small but niggling matter of Sir Zafrullah Khan, eminent jurist, former President of the Muslim League, Pakistan’s first foreign minister, notable member of the Ahmadiyya community, and a man who played a well recognised role in the establishment of Pakistan. I table the suggestion that the LBA removes itself from the precincts of this contaminated country which owes its existence in part to a man whose descendants are also responsible for the juices so disdained by some lawyers.

All those in favour of this motion raise your hand and say ‘Aye!’ Really, I meant just one hand. Such an excess of zeal is quite uncalled for.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


By:Rabia Ahmed                                                      Pakistan Today Monday, 13 Feb 2012

Just work on that accountability

Anyone studying political science should study an under-construction house in Pakistan, the best microcosm representing this country. Homeowners play bit parts in that production, in a clear parallel to the public. Lead roles are played by the contractor ably assisted by the electrician, the carpenter, the plumber and the stone masons, never forgetting the all important chowkidar, with the labourers as gophers. The game starts with ‘The Battle of the Spirit Level.’
Wikipedia defines the spirit level (aka Bubble Level) as ‘an instrument designed to indicate whether a surface is horizontal (level) or vertical (plumb).’
There are several kinds of spirit levels, and for some unfathomable reason the Pakistani blue collar worker loathes them all. It is against his ghairator whatever passes for his brain, to use it, and so he wages his crazy version of jihad against the little tool by ignoring it.
The result is glaringly obvious: the air conditioners hang at a slightly drunken angle to the floor, the washbasins lean wearily into the walls and the shower pipes meander drunkenly along the tiles while the tiles themselves, clearly sloshed, slope into the background a bit off centre to the right. Nope, the spirit level has not been used, and it will only be used when hell freezeth over. 
Pakistanis are not used to a level playing field so they ensure (as part of perpetuating the familiar) that there is always a hitch, hindrance or obstacle in the way. People are used to dealing with these whereas trouble free equates suspicion. This is apparent on the roads in the way people drive, and in the unhelpfulness in the public sector.
That they are made to redo every job makes no difference. The workers redo anything spiritedly, but without the spirit level again. This is when terrorism begins to occur to the client as a feasible option.
Maybe the most infuriating thing of all is the fact that to a man, every worker, from contractor down, takes orders only from another male; a woman is not taken seriously, not even if she constitutes one half of the client team, not even if she happens to be a Civil Engineer as opposed to her husband’s Masters in Food and Nutrition. This, remember, is the country where women face overwhelming cultural bias at all levels. It is no argument that Pakistan fields women in politics, has even had a female prime minister in the person of Benazir Bhutto, because just as support for the Taliban in this country is an index of the prevalence of chaos and poverty rather than religiosity, Benazir was an index of the power of feudalism and capital. It may seem like an exaggeration to link this attitude to something as huge as honour killings but this bias against women is so strongly pervasive as to be obviously lethal by extension.
Last year, according to an HRCP report, 675 women and girls were killed in Pakistan in the first nine months of 2011, and 791 the year before. One of these may soon be that female electronics engineer unless she manages to kill the contractor first.
The bias mentioned above means, according to a national daily, that ‘women are not considered independent, equal members of society even in Pakistan’s most advanced urban settings. A woman’s fate is tied to her (invariably) male guardian’s fortune throughout her life…she is seen as both a reflection and a source of her guardian’s status in society.’
The contractor with whom the client comes to an agreement regarding a date for completion proceeds with the utmost speed to ensure he does not meet it. When this happens several times, target killing occurs as a pleasing solution.
The plumber lays his pipes any which way across the future garden until it is certain that the first time the mower runs there will be a geyser rivalling Old Faithful shooting up the middle of that lawn.
In the meantime, the chowkidar, the very man appointed to safeguard the construction material removes a light fixture here, a pipe there, some steel somewhere else, and his replacement does the same. There is no legal or other recourse and a nagging feeling that this is a familiar situation is confirmed by the newspapers. Public custodians involved in similar corruption at every level fill the pages and there appears to be no justice for a hapless public.
This is why I say: forget the Prime Minister who is a goner anyway, and that letter. It can only shame Pakistan further, and his replacement will do the same. Concentrate instead on strengthening accountability systems in this county, and get that house fit to live. When they know they can’t get away with crooked deeds, those involved will level with the public to start with.

Monday, February 6, 2012


By Rabia Ahmed
Accountability is a priority          06 Feb 2012    Pakistan Today

If ‘nature abhors a vacuum’, what explains the vacuum in the towering personality department today? Jinnah, Gandhi, Churchill, Mao, Ataturk – where are such people when we need them?

In today’s Pakistan, the scum has risen to the top while the bottom is at its murkiest. Imran Khan seems to be the most towering it gets which is rather worrying, his party consisting of the same feudals and government ministers he once criticised now regrouped on his end of the pitch.

Maybe he has little choice.

If Mr Khan is looking to ‘eliminate corruption and save the country,’ has he some sort of homeopathic remedy according to which syringes contaminated with the same disease are to be used to eliminate the corruption destroying this country?

Poverty, malfunctioning institutions, no justice or education, pathetic leadership – everyone knows these factors contribute to a corrupt society and we have them all. Since none of these are going anywhere fast, it is doubly important for Imran to concentrate on setting up an effective system of accountability. If a difference is to be made, performance must be stringently scrutinised at every level to prevent a repetition of old mistakes. Every incidence of nepotism, injustice and oppression must be punished more severely than it would normally warrant until some semblance of sanity prevails.

An old guard in power under another name will not wish to upset an applecart that has delivered the choicest apples directly into their hands all this while. Incentives that work for less corrupt societies: a promise of peace, general prosperity, a pride in personal performance, none of these are strong enough for people so steeped and experienced in corrupt practices. Strategies and incentives must be evolved to meet their expectations, at least to some extent. In what could be a controversial move, salaries of government officials such as members of the police could be raised to a higher level than they currently enjoy, strictly enforced and conditional upon better performance. This may appear to be an unreasonable goal for a poor country like Pakistan until you consider that the cost of corruption according to report in this newspaper last November is a whopping 2 billion dollars per year.

As part of the whole mechanism of accountability, a more efficient system of ombudsmen and consumer courts with teeth is required, men and women of education and standing who can investigate public complaints against the various state departments with a degree of neutrality.

Imran is viewed as being too close both to the military establishment and to the religious right wing parties. Although he has stated repeatedly that he is against any unconstitutional military moves in Pakistan, he has remained relatively silent about the religious right since the PTI’s upward swing last year.

While Pakistan’s problems with its militant religious right occupy world centre stage, its repeated lapses into military rule are of as much concern. An overly cosy relationship with the military will definitely undermine any attempts to “rid Pakistan of corruption, endemic poverty, and violence.”

According to Trust Law, a Thomson Reuters Foundation Service, there is a substantial link between military owned businesses and corruption.                

It appears that the Armed Forces of Pakistan may be in control of almost 13 percent of the country’s land. This land made over to it for purposes related to defence (for the establishment of defence academies, training sites etc) is instead used for farms run on a commercial basis, and leased on a highly lucrative scale to civilians such as the Defence Housing schemes in various cities. The armed forces also hold major stakes in the country’s natural gas, and ‘runs its own Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) marketing and distribution company.’ It is sobering thought how lucrative a business this must be, given the country’s crippling power shortage these days where new gas connections for example are not available and citizens are being forced to rely increasingly on LPG cylinders.   
‘By allowing militaries (whose sole purpose is to defend the country) such influence and authority, the civilian government essentially weakens its position and allows the armed forces to play a significant role in society.’ Trust Law holds these businesses responsible for creating an unfair commercial environment biased towards the military, for the exploitation and depletion for a country’s natural resources, and for actively working against any lessening of its (the military’s) advantages.

Imran has many well-wishers, and I am one of them. It is however not an easy task he has undertaken and he must not expect to run the country like a cute little cricket match. For a start, the umpires are not neutral and the boundaries are much too far away. And then the other team throws too many bouncers and the pitch is way too pitted.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


Pakistan’s Minister for Information Ms Firdous Ashiq Awan, while addressing a seminar in Lahore last week, was reported as saying that the media ought to project a positive image of the country. “Media persons and politicians are role models for the people,” she pronounced weightily, “and they should promote positive tendencies in society.”

Ms Awan, you go where you ought never to tread. If we, the people, were to take politicians, yourself for example, as role models, most of what we did and said would be expunged with a thick red pencil for the sake of decency. However, let no one say that the media does not listen. I shall search for something to write about positively right away.

There hasn’t been much light to aid my search though. Lahore, the past week has been victim to dreadful loadshedding you see, so …no, let’s make that more positive: Lahore has of late been subject to an admirable degree of power conservation, six to eight hours more than before.

Those lines effectively mask the despair of business owners as customers walk past their dark premises to larger ones equipped with electricity generators. No one could detect in those lines the despondency of the old and sick when they have no light to see by, and no fans to dispel the heat. Is that positive enough for you Ms Awan? That is, what you wanted isn’t some censorship?

Moving on.

Salmaan Taseer’s bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri was awarded the death sentence on Saturday by the Rawalpindi Anti-Terrorism court. Emotional, bigoted and dangerously misinformed, Qadri may or may not end his days on the gallows depending on how the situation is used – as it will be. Mr Zardari, an opportunistic genius in his own devious way, may well exercise his power under Article 45 of the Pakistan Constitution to commute the sentence, but he will wait and see which way the wind blows first.

Urdu channels imposed a black out of news about the sentence and people have been debating whether this was valid. Apparently, most people in Pakistan support the death sentence pronounced on Qadri. Whether or not this assessment is based on fact, it does appear that the ‘visible’ population which has violently decried the verdict happens to be mainly non-English speaking. They have threatened to produce more assassins like Qadri if he is executed.

A death sentence is not the most convivial option available to a court of law, particularly in a place like Pakistan where miscarriage of justice is the norm. However, Qadri as we know, was witnessed committing this act, and has accepted, even proudly, ownership of his actions and courted arrest. There is little chance of miscarriage of justice in apportioning responsibility here.

Qadri assassinated Taseer because in Qadri’s own words, he, Salmaan Taseer blasphemed against the Prophet Mohammad when he condemned the blasphemy laws of Pakistan, and their specific application against a hapless Christian woman. For those who oppose Qadri’s actions, Qadri’s support of this law and his actions are the actual blasphemy. Should we all kill each other, if we use Qadri’s logic?

The judge who pronounced the verdict has people’s fervent prayers for his safety, and their admiration for his bravery. Dealing with Qadri is the easier task. It is much the overarching problem that people hold views such as Qadri’s, and have the support of so many people, including, in Qadri’s case, a large body of supposedly educated lawyers. Following the court’s verdict on Saturday roads were blocked and businesses closed in Lahore. Protestors took to the streets, and vehicles, including ambulances were stuck in traffic for hours.

This is not a story of the assassination of just one man, and the matter will not end with his assassin’s execution or imprisonment. Such incidents will recur. A whole segment of society must be educated in the danger of taking the law into individual hands, committing violence, and in the principles underlying their beliefs. If this ignorant segment of society happens to prefer a certain language, it was the responsibility of the media employing that language to use the opportunity to speak and initiate debate, rather than censor it.

Censorship is never the solution since information has a way of surviving like nothing else in today’s world. When suppressed, news is the more dangerous, since it will always out, along with a great deal of misinformation which eventually makes matters worse.

Bernard Shaw called assassination itself an extreme form of censorship. I myself never held an opinion either way about Salmaan Taseer until Qadri assassinated him for his condemnation of the blasphemy law and its particular application.

Taseer’s death for such a reason makes a martyr of the man, which means Qadri’s brand of censorship failed, as has the news black-out of Qadri’s sentence. We’re all talking about it, in several languages.


by Rabia Ahmed    Pakistan Today   30 January 2012   

It’s time to get past social hang-ups                                  

Several times a day each citizen of this country feels a deep and compelling urge to curse the government, and the urge is strongest when he waves goodbye to his children, this country being unable to meet their higher education requirements. Clearly, I am speaking of those who are able to afford this, who curse even as they thank God for the means to send their children away from a place that has become increasingly untenable.

While those who remain battle the ever mounting challenges that life in Pakistan poses, the ones who leave inevitably realise, often with guilty surprise, that they no longer wish to return home because they have become used to living in peace.

Even as we endlessly debate Memogates and other sordid political issues, Pakistan’s social problems are threatening to pull it apart in more destructive ways. For the present generation of hundreds of thousands of citizens aged fifty odd, there are no care facilities for an old age when they reach it without their children’s support. Yet even the suggestion that these facilities may be required is considered shameful: ‘Are you suggesting that we should place our parents in care?’

Yes, if the need arises.

Not everyone is blessed with children, while of those who are, not everyone has a child able, willing or near enough to look after aged parents.

An elderly human being is a subject for compassion. His once easy life is transformed into a series of insurmountable challenges until children, now the carers, are left with a petulant, repetitive, sick, demanding, frail being with myriad requirements.

Caring for an elderly person is difficult and carers are equally subjects for compassion. They need support and respite, and in an increasingly un-communal society this need is increasingly hard to fulfil. So yes, care facilities are in fact required for both the elderly and for their carers.

Religion is a double edged sword and unfortunately it is wielded in Pakistan by the majority (which happens to be rabid Muslim) ‘Allah Malik hai’ side up. While of course this statement is true and Allah is Malik indeed, it does not free any person from the natural consequences of inaction, lack of vision or sense. It is time we realised the scale of our problems and dealt with them and a good way to do this is to study how other societies have provided for their elderly.

The popular notion that in Western societies the elderly are invariably ill-treated is a fallacy. It is also incorrect to suppose that because parents live with their children in Pakistan there is no abuse of the elderly here. Living together is not necessarily synonymous with an absence of abuse. In fact, in today’s busy lifestyle with increasingly smaller homes and less domestic help, abuse has probably increased.

The more vigorous lifestyle and better health care in the West means that although people live longer, they are more physically fit than before, and us. Generally more desirous of living independently they are enabled to do so by means of communities that provide stepped-up levels of on-call aid to senior citizens, which means that starting with assisted living these facilities increase in scope as people become older, until total nursing care is available for those who need it.

For those who do live with their children respite care is available – for the parent and by extension for the child, so that he/she is able to take time off to rest or for other commitments.

For both, teams of workers supported by volunteers are organised into providing meals, home cleaning, library books, medical care, transport, and other services; there are clubs for the elderly while carers are provided with information and support in their role.

On the other hand, in Pakistan, we have health ‘care’ which is responsible for the death of more than 114 people as a result of fake or expired medication. This issue is set to become another of the endless ‘scandals’ which beset this country where a few persons lose their jobs, and the matter is relegated to several commissions and a series of television talk shows until it fizzles out, while the problem remains or gets even worse.

The Edhi Centre appears to be one of the few places providing aged care facilities. In addition, there are agencies that provide a roster of carers but most of these are untrained persons even at times young students. For those requiring something better it is time to get past social hang-ups and get started on a few projects and the more the people benefit from their efforts, the better for the entire country.