Monday, April 29, 2013


Pakistan Today 30 April 2013

All parties court their electorate, and minorities are part of the electorate

This month six Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) pipelines were blown up in Balochistan; otherwise, a pipeline has been blown up every month over the past three months, proving that terrorists, like mobs, possess passion, not brains. All told, this society appears to be given up to self destruction, and not only where fuel is concerned; the people of Pakistan themselves, every way you look at them, are destroying themselves.

Pakistan had a diverse ethnic population at the time of Partition. Aside from the mainstream Muslims, Sunni and Shia, Christians, Hindus, Baha’is, Ahmadis, Parsis, and even Jews lived here, and were meant to continue living here. But, like the country’s other resources, these minorities were ill-managed. So, even from among the Muslims who think they have first rights to Pakistan, many Shias, have migrated for reasons of personal security while a merciless genocide is being conducted against the Hazaras. It is a tremendous loss, because like any other resource, diversity fuels progress, and enriches the culture it exists in, as in the US.

On the eve of elections, there has been a predictable escalation of violence. The ANP, PPP and the MQM, considered ‘more secular’ (read ungodly) by terrorist organisations appear to be the favoured targets, along with some independent candidates. A spokesperson of the Tehreek-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan (easier on the tongue when called the TTP, but never easily swallowed), declared his party’s ‘indifference’ to the PTI, PML-N, JI and JUI-F, saying that targeting those others was the decision of his party’s Shura (they love these Arabic terms and use them to label their institutions; others with similar functions are BAD because they have non-Arabic names, such as the dreadful, democratic, secular, satanic parliaments.)

There were about 1,500 Jews in Karachi and Peshawar at the time of Partition, but there is now only a mention of a Pakistani Jew living somewhere in Israel.

Approximately a million Hindus are the largest minority in Pakistan, mostly in Sindh, closely followed by the Christians. There are only about six thousand Pakistani Sikhs.

The former Acting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Rana Bhagwandas, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan Justice A R Cornelius and Cecil Chaudhry, of the Pakistan Air Force, belonged to these communities.

Parsis, never a large community anywhere, number about four thousand, mostly in Karachi, and Lahore. Jamshed Marker represented Pakistan as Ambassador; Byram Avari’s businesses include the Avari hotels. The human rights activist Justice Dorab Patel, another Chief Justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court (really, the Supreme Court of Pakistan wasn’t too bad, once upon a time), and also Bapsi Sidhwa , Ardeshir Cowasjee, Aban Marker Kabraji, writer, columnist and scientist respectively are/were all Parsi.

Apparently 33,000 Baha’i still call themselves Pakistani, and 1,500 Budhists, and in spite of all that they’ve been through in recent years, there are over 125,000 Ahmadi CNIC holders.

Pakistan’s first Foreign Minister Sir Zafrullah Khan, probably the most illustrious Ahmadi, drafted the Pakistan Resolution, which makes the treatment meted out to his fellow community members more ironic, also considering that Prof Abdus Salam, Pakistan’s best known scientist, and the first and only Nobel Laureate was Ahmadi. Pakistan is home to the largest Ahmadiya community, but is also the only country in the world to have officially declared Ahmadis non-Muslims, although demands are growing in Bangladesh to follow suit.

It was reported that Imran Khan’s PTI had reached out to the Ahmadiya community for support in the elections, a report that was denied by a PTI spokesperson with unseemly haste, and public venom against the Ahmadis in comments to the news has to be seen to be believed.

It would have raised the PTI considerably in my opinion if they had accepted this ‘accusation’. All parties court their electorate, and minorities are part of the electorate. But probably such things make the TTP ignore the PTI. Nevertheless, the PTI rally in Karachi has been cancelled, just in case. Interesting, who wields the real power here.

According to Pervez Hoodbhoy, “‘The ‘Islamising’ of Pakistan’s schools began in 1976’ when the government curriculum for Social Studies asked students to ‘acknowledge and identify forces that may be working against Pakistan, and India’s evil designs on Pakistan; to make speeches on jihad, and collect pictures of policemen, soldiers and national guards.’

But where are the lessons of tolerance learnt from that other minority leader, the one who led a party of one and then of just a handful for years in Mecca? We lay terrible deeds to his account, but what of his patience and relations with those who disagreed with him, and his persecution and eventually the Divine verdict against the man and wife who persecuted him and his followers most? Remember Abu Lahab?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Pakistan Today

By Rabia Ahmed

Monday, 22 Apr 2013 

It’s all about being a superhero

The Kaptaan does have an enormous following in Lahore. In the rural areas however, he has but a dim presence (mind you, given the load shedding, nothing is bright any way). The rurals are likely to vote for whoever they are commanded to by the landlords.

Most people you see have no idea of what their electoral duties are. Or if they do, they’d rather vote for the more expedient candidate, one who shares an interest (however slight) in the uplift of their area, and in the people who live in it. But then no one has an idea of what their duties are. Why else would Mr Sethi, as interim chief minister, be trying to restart Basant, or the judiciary interfering so much in what doesn’t concern it?

Each person is acting to a self image, something akin to a superhero.

In Imran’s mind’s eye he is a patriarch with an interest in cricket, a role fostered by being the only brother of several sisters. Had he not been interested in politics he may have run the local cricket club and in time become balla chacha, the white haired owner who pats kids on the head and gives them candy if they do well, a paddling if they drop too many catches. Unfortunately in his mind’s eye the patriarch also presides over the village jirga. I’m not sure what should be done about that propensity, but maybe wisdom will come with time.

There’s Shahbaz Sharif, who perceives himself astride a roaring lion vibrating between many different projects, the lynchpin without which all those projects would fall apart. Sometimes he sees himself teaching the local populace how to mount and dismount escalators, and every time he goes up one side of the road and comes down the other side via escalators that work, the citizenry rushes forward to garland him, trampling over paper mills and reducing them to dust in its eagerness.

Nawaz Sharif almost always sees himself in the same role, which privately rather annoys him: he sees himself issuing sweeping orders to close down all cricket clubs in the country, threatening to come down (heavily) on anyone playing the sport. It is an inexplicable role for someone otherwise so passionate about cricket. Otherwise, though, he sees himself as a marble statue, also astride a lion, one pudgy hand out flung and pointing in the direction of Ittefaq Hospital. Oh and on his head he wears a halo, which on close inspection proves to be a mushroom shaped cloud composed of tiny circling electrons.

Altaf Bhai automatically sees himself (and he can’t explain why) either as a marshmallow, or a spider in the centre of a large, sticky web. Otherwise he imagines his face plastered on every wall, dimple side foremost, one hand held up like a dike against which a wall of Taliban has flattened itself. Most voters like this last image best unfortunately they also see him as sitting on a slightly gruesome pile of persons holding aloft an automatic rifle.

Asfandyar Wali Khan is aka Wally because as one does with Wally people are wondering where he is at present. But times are tough and they have been particularly tough for Wally considering his anti-Taliban rhetoric, so perhaps he will surface in time and play a greater role with his party in future, preferably without his current partners.

There are other bit players, and one of them is of course Mr Musharraf, whose role sadly landed him in greater trouble than he bargained for. He saw himself exploding through a VIP lounge, whilst a grateful populace wept and shouted in welcome. It didn’t. It is unclear whether his detention at his farm is meant to serve as a punishment or a public example but from where the bulk of Pakistan’s population stands it is neither; how can it be, with a home like that with free food thrown in?

The simplest role is that of Asif Ali Zardari nee Bhutto. It’s odd because although he has never read Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland he sees himself most often as a Cheshire Cat. He dreams of the day when he can safely replace the roti kapra makaanmotto with, ‘It doesn’t matter which way you go, so long as you’re paid for it.’

When questioned about it, he vanishes, then reappears again and this time vanishes quite slowly beginning with the tail and ending with the grin which remains some time after the rest of him is gone.

‘Well! We’ve often seen a cat without a grin,’ we think, ‘but a grin without a cat! It’s the most curious thing of all!’

Which kind of describes the PPP without Benazir, but that’s another story altogether.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


By Rabia Ahmed
Pakistan Today

Tuesday, 16 Apr 2013 

There’s a long chain of factors that creates such characters

Take the not so humble patwari for example, he who makes strong men wilt like lettuce. Why does this happen?

A patwari (with relevant exceptions) is a dangerous combination of a (very) low paid government official who provides an indispensable service. He is indispensable because he evaluates land for ownership, possession, value, etc, all information necessary for land allocation and tax collection. His time spent in the field surveying and calculating and the ancillary drudgery of photocopying, obtaining documents and records is a time consuming and expensive process, and it is performed by this individual who is officially paid a pittance. This naturally places a patwari in the best position for becoming a necessary evil... an extremely powerful necessary evil.

To get his job done, he has to grease palms at every level, and he with such a meagre salary. Imagine the temptation, and review the opportunities. Why (and how) should he pay for this? So of course, he doesn’t. He makes you pay instead, you, his client, over and under the table. By such means some patwaris manage to employ several persons to help them in their work. Since this is all unofficial, he charges at will, and boundaries are demarcated in favour of the highest bidder. Corruption? You bet.

But is this the patwari’s fault, or the fault of higher officials who never bothered to improve the system, simply because their own capacity to place the highest bid was assured?

Who is unSadiq and unAmeen in that case, and who should be penalised if a patwari is nominated for election, and is pronounced corrupt? Who should be disqualified, the patwari or his bosses higher up the food chain?

It is the same in other instances, such as the un-loveable ‘thanedar’ (once again, with relevant exceptions), an official who is as not provided with the essential expenses for his job and office as the patwari, yet is expected to detain suspects, and the police is expected to patrol the streets; but detainees have to be fed, and patrol vehicles fuelled, and the officials find it hard to subsist on their slender income anyway. The cost of living, remember, is spiralling out of control in Pakistan. So who eventually pays? Guess.

The list goes on to include every kind of wrong in a society brought to its knees morally and financially by a rich and powerful segment of society that does not discharge its dues, both moral and financial. Out goes the education, the healthcare and every other social programme and in comes the desperation and corruption. As before, the trail can be followed right into those air conditioned offices to the fat officials in waistcoats arriving at work in black Pajeros and Land Cruisers around midday.

The interesting question is why these officials never attempted to remove the ridiculous Section 62 and 63 of the constitution while they could. It was probably because: 1) a factor more threatening than loss of office was involved: a loss of life. Any person questioning something with religious overtones as per certain persons’ perception is liable to be killed or charged with blasphemy. Since these Sections contain the words ‘Sadiq’ and ‘Ameen,’ they come under the umbrella of religion in the opinion of those who hasten to cover their heads if the Dalda advertisement is aired in Arabic.

The religious fanatics, in short, are the ones who possess the actual clout in this country. 2) Powerful officials do not feel threatened in any case, used as they are to doing as they wish, whilst allowing others to take the rap. With no accountability and little justice, the butler is always held guilty of the crime, so why make waves? Let all funny clauses remain. 3) They genuinely believe, these guys, just as Musharraf touchingly did (and probably still does) in a fan base that turns out to be a lot leaner than they imagined. That every powerful official loses his teeth as soon as he loses office is lost on such deluded persons. 4) Some people genuinely think that Sadiqs and Ameens can be identified (and clearly labelled with an ‘S’ and an ‘A’) here, in these conditions, by such tribunals, by means of such rules. Here let me own up to finding myself in agreement with our ex Home Minister Mr Malik for the first time in my life, when he said that there is no politician who would fit the requirements laid out in Sections 62 and 63 in this country. But, it is, as Conan O’Brien said, ‘When all else fails, there’s always delusion,’ and there’s plenty of that going around.

Sunday, April 14, 2013



April, 2013


At 46 pages, this book punches above its weight, giving a harrowing account of the forced disappearances in Balochistan

It has been happening for years, the ‘involuntary disappearance’ of persons in Balochistan and their detention against every writ of habeas corpusThe Baloch Who is Not Missing & Others Who Are is about attempts by the relatives and friends of these people to get their loved ones recovered. After years of absence, many families are at a stage where even news of their relatives’ death would be welcome, because then they could mourn and bring some closure to the episode and move on with their lives.
Allah Baksh, looking for his missing son Saeed for the past many years, says that he secretly envies people who have found the bodies of their loved ones. ‘They have buried them and now they mourn them,’ he says. ‘All I can do is wait.’
Many never return. Of those who are returned dead, Lango’s body was full of head wounds inflicted with a blunt weapon. Sana’s body, found three years after his disappearance was riddled with twenty eight bullets. The body of another man had its throat slit, and yet another’s legs cut off just below the knees.
Farzana, whose brother Zakir disappeared years ago, spends much of her time in protest camps.  From these camps she and others like her protest against the continued disappearances, and against official stonewalling concerning missing persons.
While at these camps, Farzana reads books about politics and revolutionaries.
 ‘I have read Che Guevara’s biography. I have read Spartacus. I am currently reading Musa Se Marx Tak. I am learning about revolutions and other people’s struggles.’
Obviously, apart from dealing with the tragedy of missing persons, Mohammed Hanif’s new book offers an explanation of the violence and unrest in Pakistan. These factors will naturally be present in a society where citizens are spirited away without explanation, and where their relatives run from pillar to post for answers without success.
Farzana has given up on the State of Pakistan and its people. ‘Look at me, I am twenty seven years old. What kind of life is this?’ she says. ‘I am spending all my life at protest camps.’
If it were your child/brother, this could be you. I knew the situation with regards to missing persons in Balochistan was bad, but not this bad.  The provincial government of Balochistan puts the figure of missing persons at 950, while certain non government sources put the figure at over 14,000. In either case, it is the suffering that counts, so this book must be read by everyone, because only awareness can provide any hope of justice, the only thing that can end this suffering.
If there is a problem with this book, it is its size, which is woefully unrepresentative of the sheer magnitude of the problem it deals with.  How can an issue of this scale be encapsulated within an almost pamphlet of less than forty six pages that include a foreword (by Zohra Yusuf, Chairperson of the HRCP) and an introduction (by I.A Rehman)? Yet the essence of the tragedy has been captured effectively by Mohammed Hanif, in these few pages.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has been paying special attention to human rights violations in Balochistan where an HRCP report has found that the role of military intelligence services in these disappearances cannot be denied. This book is one of its publications on the subject.  Each of the book’s six chapters presents the profile of an actual single disappearance, based on interviews with the family of the missing person. Each tells a tale of non-cooperation on the part of government authorities, such as the police which are shown to be an accomplice in picking up victims. A refrain throughout the book is the registration of false FIRs (First Information Reports) regarding disappearances, or the victims’ inability to register FIRs at all.
Probably the scariest message in the book is that the government has no writ over its own armed forces. As a colonel in the army says, the Governor of Balochistan ‘cannot even summon my junior-most Captain,’ let alone the ISI commander to the Governor House. And again, in chapter six, that Pakistan’s supreme judiciary ‘can call in civilian bureaucrats and politicians in power, but when it comes to dealing with serving or even retired army officers, it gets cold feet.’
Is any single organisation supposed to possess such power, or to wield it in such a way in a democracy?
That and, ‘What would you do if your son disappeared?’ are the two most important questions raised by this book.