Thursday, January 31, 2013

Tuesday, 29 Jan 2013
By Rabia Ahmed

Should we concentrate on the symptoms or the disease?

Captain Harry Wales, when asked about his skills as an Apache combat helicopter gunner, quipped in a now famous remark that he acquired those skills playing PlayStation and Xbox games.

Should Harry, as a consequence of his remarks, be prevented from making any statements in future, or should he and others be helped to better understand the realities involved? The Taliban of course have offered to help with the latter.

Undoubtedly, computer and video games do hone reflexes; therefore, they must help in a job such as Harry’s where the requirement is to identify, aim and shoot.

They do not help however to understand the tragedy that results

The best way to end violence and war may be to remove the reasons for their existence: poverty, lack of education, intolerance and injustice. Kids will only stop playing computer games when pigs fly or hell freezes over, whichever comes first. After all, why should they stop? It is a human instinct for young people to emulate adults. Computer games depicting war and violence exist because war and violence are indulged in and glamourised by adults.

At the age of twenty eight, and being who he is, Harry ought to have known better than to say what he did. Obviously his mentors, both personal and professional, neglected their duty. Exactly as Britain’s shadow Secretary of Defence Jim Murphy should have known better than to say in an interview that he found nothing wrong with Harry’s statement, and that Harry’s statements were ‘human, humorous and self aware’. Mr Murphy went so far as to say that his statements showed Harry to be a ‘young man of remarkable bravery’.

On the odd occasion one can sympathise with the Taliban, without agreeing with their methods.

As everyone knows, hundreds of thousands of civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan have lost their lives, and thousands have been injured as a result of the Allied’s ‘war on terror’. There is nothing humorous about this, and nothing brave about a young man sitting high above the battle pressing buttons to destroy lives down below. It is remarkable only that Mr Murphy appears to think so.

It is statements such as Mr Murphy’s more than Harry’s that are deleterious both for Britain’s standing in the international community of nations, and a warning against Mr Murphy ever attaining the position he is at present shadowing.

The lobby against violent computer games possesses extensive evidence against the tragic results of excessive exposure to violent games. Of course, an excessive exposure to anything is potentially dangerous, and imposing a ban is no cure. There is such a thing as ‘dilutional hyponatremia,’ in other words an overdose of water, which results in an imbalance of electrolytes within the body, which can prove fatal. In almost every case of death due to this cause the victim had been a normal healthy individual who consumed too much water as a result of a water drinking competition, or some other (over)consumption of water. Associated with this is also a method of torture where a person is forced to drink huge quantities of water, and dies as a result.

To ban water for the general public is not the best action in this case.

This argument brings us most naturally to the frequent shutdowns against YouTube and cell phone service in Pakistan, measures which those in charge of security obviously feel reveal them at their best, working hard to defend the lives and security of the people they represent.

And of course now the All Pakistan CD, DVD, Audio Cassette Traders and Manufacturers Association, rejoicing in the impressive initials APCDACTM has decided to ban two computer games in Pakistan, Call of Duty: Black Ops II, and Medal of Honor: Warfighter.

Both Medal of Honor: Warfighter and Call of Duty: Black Ops II feature scenes that are set in Pakistan, portraying the country as a hotbed for terrorist activity.

The APCDACTM has said that these games ‘have been developed against the country’s national unity and sanctity’, and that these games depict Pakistan and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) as supporting terrorist and jihadist organisations.

Are the country’s national unity and sanctity so fragile as to be destroyed by a couple of computer games? Do Pakistan and the ISI support terrorism and terrorist organisations? Will banning these games do any good, if that is indeed the case? If that is not the case, then why are Pakistan and the ISI so repeatedly accused in this regard?

Should we concentrate on removing the greater evils of terrorism and its causes, and on those who support it instead of wasting our time and energies on such trivial things as computer games, YouTube, et al?

Monday, January 21, 2013


Pakistan Today 22 January 2013

Does the nation owe Mr Qadri?

Given recent events, one thing is clear: it is always possible to learn, even from a donkey:

“It’s snowing,” said Eeyore (the donkey), gloomily. “And it’s freezing.”

“However,” he said, brightening up a little, “We haven’t had an earthquake yet.” —A A Milne

And so we haven’t had an earthquake, that is, not this time. Instead, we were all harmlessly freezing to death one day, when out of the blue a strange man in a round hat appeared and started a ‘long march’. The march went from Lahore to Islamabad in bitterly cold weather, as mentioned, so four days later when it started raining and became colder still, negotiations ensued and the participants of the march dispersed. There were no major results either one way or the other; therefore, one can be positive and look at the lessons Tahirul Qadri taught us.

Normally a poster puttering around town on the ‘backside’ of every rickshaw, he suddenly appeared in person, waggling his forefinger on every television channel from where he spoke, and he spoke and he spoke. You have to give Mr Qadri a capacity for a marathon waffle. And since waffle is what appeals most to our public, it found its mark surely and once again, playing an important role in the proceedings.

“I am here from Mecca to join the revolution,” shouted one participant, his face shining with zeal. Thousands like him made the less distant but more arduous trek from Lahore to Islamabad in the wake of a mobile bunker containing the Mullah from Mississauga (presumably his address in Canada, since that’s where Pakistanis live when they aren’t at home).

Four days later after negotiations witnessed through a window in the fuggy bunker, the participants of the march and their leader claimed victory. Several thousand (several million, if one sets any store by what Mr Qadri says) tired and semi frozen would-be revolutionaries returned to their homes leaving the hapless citizens of Islamabad surrounded by a sea of crap. Even though they’re used to it, the clean up must have caused them considerable inconvenience. Mr Qadri had promised to clean up after him, but eventually he just embraced everyone, and called it a day.

There are some obvious lessons here. Firstly, that given its repeated occurrence, a ‘long march’ is rapidly becoming a cliché in this country. Quite possibly any future long marches will have less impact, but it is without doubt a logistical nightmare. It is best for the long suffering citizens of Islamabad not to be caught unawares again. So either the country sets by a (very large) stock of mobile toilets, or much better, mobile toilets and mobile biogas plants which can be wheeled in the wake of the next long march collecting waste from the thousands of participants willing to camp out till they die or until the rains arrive, whichever comes first.

Given the power shortage in the country, these biogas plants can be useful even outside of long marches to satisfy the requirements of a prolific nation. In fact, and although it may be a debatable point, if the power and other requirements of this country are satisfied, long marches may well become redundant and therefore less recurrent. Just think: if you had money in your pocket, a decent life and a peaceful old age without the ever present hurdles to attaining any considerable age at all, would you really listen to a man in a strange hat shaking his finger at you, telling you that the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) asked him to do this? Extremely unlikely.

There is a certain mindset that is attracted to such talk, and it is readily present amongst the people of Pakistan because so much else that should be present, isn’t: no food, no money, no education, and no security. So long as things remain this way, it will be an open invitation to any person or group of persons able and willing to manipulate the situation.

Because who, after all, set Mr Qadri on us? Was the entire event his brainchild? Was it the brainchild of the army? The CIA? Will we ever know? And do we really care? The best defence is, as suggested, to work on changing conditions so that the man on the street can thumb his nose at the next demagogue and tell him to go take a long walk, alone.

Although the PPP says it is ‘not afraid of long marches’, maybe those elected in the next government from whichever party will heed this mild rumbling of an earthquake that could have been, and improve their performance. If that happens, if anyone ever truly learns a lesson, the nation will owe Mr Qadri, but not until then.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


The Express Tribune

By Rabia Ahmed

Playing Bluff with ‘religious’ men

January 20, 2013
His body ached with the pain of pulling customers as he grew older. He had to devise a better plan to make money. PHOTO: AFP
Mir Jan lives in my village, Pratistan, between the affluent town of Bundookh and impoverished Mafloos. Like his fellow villagers, he is a poor, illiterate man. In fact there are just five literate men in our village, respected men, and until recently, I was respected as one of them. Our advice is sought in village problems, and we offer it after consulting thick books and pulling at our lips with solemn frowns.
We are paid in cash, but mostly with gifts of meager farm produce, and milk from skeletal cows. Mir Jan paid by handling our transport, because he ran the only rickshaw in the village, pulling it behind him like a mule on two legs from one end of the village to the other, and sometimes over the sand dunes to other villages beyond.
Mir Jan is no longer a young man. His beard, once black and slick with oil, is now grey – the hair too sparse to absorb the oil. His legs ache from running, and his shoulders, harnessed to the rickshaw, are sore. Soon, he ached all over as he ran, and all night as he tried to sleep. Where once Mir Jan had worried about how to earn a bit extra money to keep himself and his family more comfortably, he began to wonder how much longer he could keep them at all.  He wondered, with every morsel of food he ate, if it was destined to be his last; when he cleaned and washed his rickshaw, he thought,
‘How long will I be alive, like these men?’
Because, painted behind the rickshaw were large pictures of the five of us who could read and write. Almost venerated in Pratistan, our pictures were painted with a faint light encircling each head, and a superior expression on each face.
Finally the day came when Mir Jan could no longer handle his rickshaw.
It was a question, now, of discovering an alternative way of making an income or starving.
Mir Jan spent an entire day in thought. That night he visited one of my fellow literates whom he knew, and in whom he recognised a kindred spirit, and unfolded his plan to him. According to this plan people in the affluent town of Bundookh would deposit their zakat into a designated account. This money would be used to fund projects, especially within Pratistan, which was to be a showcase – to show how well these funds were being used.
In reality, a large chunk of this money was to be siphoned off by Mir Jan and his confederate, the man he had confided his plan to. This man’s participation was crucial because he was well known, even in nearby affluent Bundookh.
The lettered man agreed to lend his support, and they debated a name for the zakat fund, or rather Mir Jan waited in respectful silence while the man consulted his books, and made impressive Arabic sounds in his throat.
After ten minutes, the zakat fund had a name, ‘Tadmeerul ibad’, chosen at random from a religious book, as is commonly done.
“‘ul Ibad’ means ‘of mankind,’ the lettered man said pedantically, ‘so because this plan concerns mankind in this area, this name is most appropriate.’
And so the Tadmeerul Ibad zakat fund was set up.
By its means, Pratistan has been given a facelift. Two schools have been constructed, staffed by poorly educated and underpaid teachers; roads that washed away at the first whiff of a monsoon were built, but even the bitumen that remains impresses people used to rutted tracks. A factory now exists in Pratistan.  It produces worthless toys but the villagers like to say ‘I work in a factory,’ when before they could only say, ‘I am a peasant.’
No one questions the scheme with its impressive Arabic title and religious overtones.
Mir Jan’s scheme is so much part of Pratistan’s life, that even to think of questioning it is tantamount to questioning zakat itself, in short, it is blasphemy.
And I have been accused of just this, because I discovered the fraud and spoke up against the scheme. Therefore tomorrow, at dawn, I die.
I questioned ‘Tadmeer ul ibad,’ because I was surprised that a zakat fund could have a name that meant ‘Destruction of Mankind.’
I wonder what else is out there camouflaged by ignorance, protected by illiteracy, and who else will die for questioning it?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


By Rabia Ahmed

Pakistan Today 16 January 2013             

Mr Qadri has a lot of explaining to do

The dreadful massacre of Hazaras in Quetta on the 10th of January this year, and Tahirul Qadri’s long march on the 13th have somehow dovetailed, causing great turmoil, while the others have jumped into the fray.

Although Mr Qadri’s charges of little democracy and great corruption against the present government are valid, such charges should be constitutionally raised in due electoral process. Pitching a democratically elected sitting government against long marches and deadlines are hardly constitutional actions themselves. It is only a deluded illiterate electorate and one that is fed up of the current state of affairs that will not realise this.

Following the terrible tragedy in Quetta, the government’s inadequacy in almost every sphere has been highlighted, and the ineptness of the present government, not exactly hidden has been further exposed lending some credence to Mr Qadri’s accusations, however arbitrary his methods may be.

In spite of repeated violence against the Hazaras there has been no attention paid to their plight by the federal government. When earlier this month more than a hundred people, most of them Hazaras, died as a result of two bomb attacks in Quetta, something appears to have finally snapped. In a concerted action, the relatives of the victims refused to bury their dead, and established a vigil in spite of below freezing temperatures, flying in the face of religious custom that calls for the earliest possible burial of the dead. They and the people of Balochistan demand greater security for the province, as they have demanded for years.

Not until protests spread across the country did the Prime Minister visit Balochistan, where he met the families of the victims and the leaders of the Shia community, and requested the Chief Minister of Balochistan to return to his post and province. CM Aslam Raisani, a man of spirits, remains ‘reportedly abroad’, which is where he is normally to be found; he failed to return even at a crucial time like this. The PM also directed Balochistan’s Governor Zulfiqar Magsi to take all necessary steps to ensure protection of the citizens’ lives and properties.

Obviously, if it takes prodding, a tragedy and the threat of impending elections for such senior officials of state to get to the scene, to do their job, they have no business being in such positions of responsibility in the first place.

It took many years, but as Mr Raisani himself once said, this is politics, and not a chicken being beheaded. Article 234 has since been invoked. Governor’s rule has been imposed in Balochistan, the Frontier Corps has been granted policing powers and Mr Raisani has been relieved of his duties, bringing the vigils to an end. Mr Raisani, of course, has stated that this is a plot against him.

In typical ways, the federal government is left with much egg on its face. Rehman Malik’s remarks regarding Tahirul Qadri are too puerile to be repeated here. All that can be said is that any government that places persons of the calibre of Messrs Raisani and Malik in positions of importance has something other than governance in mind.

In fact several institutions appear to have something other than their rightful business in mind. As for instance the Supreme Court’s sudden and ill-timed call for the arrest of the Prime Minister as a result of the rental power plants case, a case that has been running for years, with elections around the corner, could this order not have waited just a little while longer? But then who says the Supreme Court ever has its rightful business in mind?

There appears to be a very destabilising agenda being followed in all that is happening, and it is clouding the real issues which are many, but one thing appears quite certain: we possess an inept government that deserves to be replaced. The question is, how, and with what?

The violent role religious extremism has played in Pakistan is clear, and must be kept in mind. The Hazaras are mute witness to that.

Mr Qadri, the founder of Minhajul Quran, yet another religious group, has dubious credentials and motives, and his methods of destabilising the government are not the most desirable.

If Mr Qadri has something valid to offer, it isn’t clear what that is as yet; therefore, he should take time to explain himself in the regular, constitutional way. After all, what’s the rush?