Monday, December 26, 2016


Of Augurs and Haruspexes and Dying Airlines

There will come a time any time now, in fact it’s almost here, when the Houbara Bustard will become extinct. Even beaters will not be able to flush a single bird out of the brush, beat as hard as they may. Driven by frustration and unable to think of a another way of destroying the environment, Arab princes will resort to the time honoured solution: oil; they will lower oil prices to crazy levels, and the stupid world, unable to believe its luck will manufacture and buy more cars and yet more, thereby doubling, tripling, quadrupling its consumption of oil. Even more than now planet Earth will come close to polluting itself to death until finally some guy out there will come up with a wonderful idea. “Marhaba!” he will say (to the idea), and “Oh, ya Habibi!” (to the Royal Advisors). And then, because my Arabic fails me at this point, he will ask the Advisors to advise their royal patrons not to give up hope. He will reveal for them yet another way of destroying the earth, as efficient as any the princes could desire, and much more fun than lowering oil prices.
Remember how we destroyed the wildlife of Pakistan, he will say? And its people fell over their own laws helping us do it? Well, they have another animal on the brink of extinction now, the familiar ‘bakra’ya Habibi. Not only do they (and we) kill bakras on a mass scale on the occasion of Eid, but they kill one every time they wish to propitiate the diety in that country. There is in fact one of its politicians who kills a black bakra every day, he is so scared of turning up his toes. The good news is, the idea man will tell the advisors, that now that country’s national airline also sacrifices a black bakra every time one of its planes takes to the air. So the black bakras are going fast. Now’s the time to move in for the kill.
And after this the poor bakras will never know what hit them. Arab princes will arrive in hordes to kill black bakras and when the black bakras are closer to extinction the country will pass a law against killing them. Whereupon officials will come into their own. They will charge big money to override the law to issue licenses to kill the endangered animal until there is not a single black bakra to be found in the country.
And that is the comment for this week, frighteningly close to reality, and as frighteningly close to coming true.
Not that politicians and other mutts are new to superstition. Ne Win, who ruled Burma on and off between 1962 and 1988 considered the number ninety to be a lucky number. As a result he replaced the hundred Kyat note in the Burmese national currency with a ninety Kyat bill. He hoped by this move to win the blessings of his countrymen, and escape some kind of gory fate in the next world. Unfortunately it became a No Win situation. Excuse the pun. But for those of us who have a hard enough time calculating even in hundreds, the ninety Kyat bill proved to be as gory a move as the fate that hopefully awaited Ne Win in the next world. It’s hard to figure out how Ne Win imagined he’d win the blessings of his countrymen by such means.
He didn’t.
In India politicians are known to believe in black magic. They use tantric rituals to ward off the evil eye, wear certain colours during election time, and possess a preference for particular numbers which they incorporate into registration plates for their cars.
Yet it is still animals that suffer the most.
Pakistanis have what it takes to be entrepreneurs. Considering the lack of goals and materials, no impetus, and little encouragement, we manage to come up with remarkable results. The way some of us have done it is by identifying greed, fear, and the desire to work as little as possible as goals; politicians, officials and the Arab world as material; religious ignorance as impetus – and all of that as encouragement. How do you take these ingredients and turn them into your own advantage? They did it historically all over the world and they’re doing it now right here.
The joyous and morbidly non-vegetarian practice of ‘reading the entrails of animals’ and predicting the future was (and is) an art practiced in many countries. The Greeks and Romans did it but it was the latter who turned it into an art form.
You may have heard of the term ‘this augurs well’, which means that something bodes well for you. The term ‘augur’ comes from the Roman. It refers to the men who divined the Roman god’s will from various signs…weather patterns, animal behavior, crop growth. For special occasions they had a person called the ‘Haruspex’ who was trained in the particular art of reading an animal’s entrails. Just as we have state sponsored terrorism today, they had these state sponsored ‘entrail readers’ (which could stem one from the other, really) who ‘inspected the entrails of sacrificed animals’ to divine what these entrails foretold and got rich upon the proceedings.
It was a haruspex who warned Julius Caesar about the famous ‘Ides of March’ (coming up in under two and a half months, folks). It seems you did not ignore these people if you knew what was good for you.
Coming closer to home, there is apparently some self-styled religious authority, who clearly has a peeve against the RSPCA. This ‘authority’ is daily consulted by the Acting Chairperson of the PPP, and it is he who is responsible for the massacre of a hapless bakra every day to keep the evil eye averted from the Chairperson’s person.
And of course the National Carrier, once a proud symbol of a promising nation, once a great airline to fly with turned a great airline to die with, was not to be left behind. But why bother going into details? We know them already. That is not what this is about.
This is to encourage us all to pray for the black bakras, who to their great astonishment are held to have some kind of clout with the Divine. Please don’t disappear on us, black bakras. Go in peace, rather than in pieces. Stay off the tarmac and may you escape the joint wrath of the PPP, the PIA and the UAE.
May God grant our people wisdom to deal with issues as issues deserve to be dealt with, by diligence and hard work, proper maintenance of aircraft and other things. And may God have mercy upon the animals upon whom the eye of the augur turns, to the great detriment of that animal, its entire tribe and the country, but always to the great material advantage of the augur.

Monday, December 19, 2016


Strikes and dharnas are passé in the country

Seeing that there are invariably two sides to a coin it might be a good idea to start off with the pros.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government has done well in some fields. Polio cases have been halved this year in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), down to seven cases from fourteen in 2015. Experts predict that if the province continues to do as well in coming years the KP will manage to become polio free. That will be a wonderful achievement. The other achievements are somewhat mixed.
In the field of education, the PTI’s reforms have been applauded by the Wilson Centre’s Asia Programme which says that initiatives taken by the PTI government have accelerated education reforms in the province.
Actions less deserving of applause in the field of education in the KP are mentioned later in this column.
It was good to see the KP’s stance where the Houbara bustard is concerned. Although it is against Pakistan’s laws to hunt this endangered bird, rich Arabs coming to Pakistan are issued hunting licenses in the rest of the provinces, but licenses to kill the Houbara bustard were not issued, even to bloodthirsty neighbours, in the KP. It was the one province to put its foot down in this matter.
There is nothing creditable about hijacking the capital territory making its citizens unable to go about their business. There is nothing creditable whatsoever in unleashing hooliganism and chaos in the country’s National Assembly. You wonder what is likely to happen in the country at large if this party were to come to power, and also whether the political party that instigates such behavior can be even aware of such a thing as procedure, and law and order. While it is good to know that the PTIs right to protest is not being curtailed, it is worth pointing out that time spent protesting by creating a furor in the National Assembly (and elsewhere) is the nation’s time and resources wasted. That should pose a problem for any country. For a poor country like Pakistan, anyone or any party causing such waste is the problem.
Perhaps the PTI thinks it must create chaos to bring the corruption within the ruling party to public attention. That is if its behavior is the result of any kind of considered plan, which, given the number of times it changes tack is almost certainly not the case. Besides, two wrongs cannot result in a right. The fact remains that if a government is not performing well or if its leadership is flawed, there are constitutional ways of dealing with such matters that do not require strikes, dharnas and disruption in the Assembly. Strikes and dharnas are passé in a country sixty years past its prime.
Is the PTI a rudderless organisation? Its leadership possesses a romantic affinity for dangerous institutions such as jirgas. The kind of inflammatory, emotional, invective laden rhetoric indulged in by its leaders points to this lack of direction, and is also responsible for irritated columns like this one. There are things which if they are addressed would go much further towards disposing the electorate towards the PTI, which once seemed to have something going for it.
Pakistan is lagging very far behind world standards in health and education (the above examples notwithstanding), in all aspects of prosperity and well-being of its people. If the standard for poverty is set very low thirty percent of Pakistan’s population falls below it. If it is raised a little more, fifty percent of Pakistan’s population falls below it. We need more efficient systems of taxation, social security, functioning labour laws, and a unified system of justice. At present the KP falls very far behind in the matter of justice with its dual legal systems, the jirga system in addition to the regular legal system of the country. It was a jirga that recently condemned a sixteen year old girl to death by burning in Abbottabad. It doesn’t matter for what crime. No crime warrants such horrific punishment. As it happens there was no crime.
The KP has a major problem with violent militants whose weapon of choice is the IED (Improvised Explosive Device), which is easily made, even at home. This year in 2016, more than two hundred and ten cases of IED blasts have been reported in the KP. Clearly something has to be done to counter militant indoctrination.
An editorial note in the Criterion Quarterly says that ‘many suicide bombers and those fighting non-Muslims, for whatever reason, are dropouts or graduates of secular institutions of learning. Those attending madrassas are almost all poor, and an estimated 1.5 million were enrolled in these institutions in Pakistan in 2005. If militancy is to be decreased, the government will have to take measures for equitable distribution of wealth and provide justice to the poorest who are compelled to send their children to madrassas. On a parallel track, the state must stop arming and training religious cadres to promote its security objectives.
Haroon Khalid says in the Huffington Post, the ‘Pakistani education system is increasingly producing students who are sympathetic to Islamic militants, who too espouse a puritanical version of Islam similar to what is taught to these students through their formal education.’
Clearly monitoring both mainstream schools and madrassahs is required.
In June this year the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly was informed by Shah Farman, a provincial Minister that a certain madrassah in Nowshera had been allocated Rs300 million in the 2016-17 budget. The madrassah is run by Maulana Sami ul Haq, chief of the Jamiat e Ulema e Islam, Sami group. Maulana Sami ul Haq has been dubbed ‘Father of the Taliban’ and has had closed ties with Mullah Omar, a leader of the Taliban.
With such a scenario does it matter what the government in the KP does or does not do with secular educational institutions, given the very large numbers of students attending these madrassahs?

Sunday, December 11, 2016


‘Tell me and I forget; teach me and I remember; involve me and I learn’ (Benjamin Franklin: the guy who tried to figure out electricity using a kite and a key…in a thunderstorm)
A couple of years ago, the earth stopped revolving around the sun. It was when Sheikh Bandar Ali Khaibari a Saudi cleric, participated in an event during a visit to Khor Fakkan in the UAE. On that occasion the Sheikh was asked by a student whether the Earth moves or if it is stationery. The Sheikh replied quite categorically that the earth did not move. As reported by a United Arab Emirates newspaper, the cleric even demonstrated his reasoning by means of a cup, saying that if he were to take off into the air from a point on this cup (Earth) to go to China, and in the meantime the cup rotated, China would also rotate with it and his plane would never get there. Really, his reasoning was logical enough except for the small matter of the laws of Physics which were not included in the cleric’s argument. Maybe he did not believe in Physics. It turned out he did not believe in the lunar landings either and dismissed them as fake news. Another of the many conspiracy theorists around the world.
The newspaper reports that Sheikh Abdul Aziz Abdullah bin Baaz, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, now deceased, held similar doubts regarding the Earth being flat. Apparently he changed his views after talking to Prince Sultan bin Salman Al Saud a Saudi Royal Air Force fighter pilot and the Sheikh’s fellow countryman, who went into space in 1985. The Prince witnessed the fact that the earth was round for himself and related the sight to the Sheikh.
So hold that thought.
It was mentioned before in these columns that many students of government schools in Pakistan, even at the level of Intermediate and BA, have never seen a magnifying glass, and do not know what it is. Recently this was checked again, and true enough of a class of eight none had seen a magnifying glass. When asked to use their imagination and figure out what it was, even after the glass was accidentally on purpose placed on a book so the students could see what it did to the letters the best answer was that it was perhaps an instrument used to wash clothes. One girl shook it to demonstrate how it could be used to beat cloth to clean it. Once they were clearly shown what it was though, they understood and were interested.
There’s something to be learnt from both these cases. The first is that a lot appears to have changed in the way a society that produced the likes of Ibn e Rushd (Averroes), Khwarizmi, and Avicenna, thinks. The towering intellect of these men revolutionised philosophy, mathematics, geography, medicine and many other fields, pushing the horizons of learning beyond anything achieved before. Even Google did not try to change the spelling of their names.
The other thing to be learnt is that the people in both these examples were willing and able to learn from examples of people or events that fell within their limited experience. It took a fellow countryman to break through the conspiracy theorist mindset of the cleric, and the evidence of their eyes to get through to the girls.
And this is what is needed for education here, practical evidence-based teaching with familiar examples that people can relate to. Clerics and the general population of Pakistan would likewise benefit from such teaching, which could also for example (and this is not a facetious suggestion) require students to interact closely with minority groups to experience the lives of people they do not respect, so they may see for themselves what telling them would not achieve, that minorities are neither demonic nor aliens, that they have lives, values and aspirations like anyone else.
Pervez Hoodbhoy, writing in one of the national daily newspapers spoke of a biology textbook published in the KP last year that ridiculed the idea of evolution. And of his next door neighbour, an educated man, who did not really believe in either mathematics or modern medicine. So, clearly, knowledge is not education, nor is it enough. Imagination is also required, something that is as obstructed by our current syllabi as education.
The text book gurus in Pakistan once discarded a children’s book in which the author had included animals talking to each other. Their objection was that the book taught children lies, since animals do not speak. A circumscribed point of view. If education remains on this track our ambit will remain very, very limited. There, and back, and nowhere else.
Albert Einstein said that ‘the true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, it is imagination,’ and also that ‘the only source of knowledge is experience’. Better the two together, since there comes a point when knowledge goes beyond experience, and further knowledge can only be acquired by a leap of imagination.

Monday, December 5, 2016


Pakistan needs a secular liberal ideology

Judging by electoral victories and losses the left wing is losing ground to conservative right wing politics not just in Pakistan (where it has already lost), but all over the world. It would be more interesting to watch this steady decline if it were not so distressing.
With Modi as leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), for the first time in India’s history the BJP has a majority in the Lok Sabha, and a whopping one at that. The BJP, a right wing party has close ideological links to the Hindu Nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which in turn is a party thrice banned in independent India for its extremist views, including for the murder of Mahatma Gandhi. With a religious rather than progressive thrust, these parties concentrate upon the Hindu nation.
Theresa May, leader of the Conservative Party, heads the British Government. The previous government led by David Cameron, also Conservative, was a coalition composed of the Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats whereas the current government takes a further shift to the right with a majority mandate.
In Australia Malcolm Turnbull replaced Tony Abbott. Both Turnbull and Abbott lead the rather misnamed Liberal party, positioned at centre-right. The current government however is a coalition composed of the centre right liberal, and further right conservative parties.
In France, Francois Fillon, a candidate who likes being compared to Margaret Thatcher, possesses, according to the Economist, a ‘Catholic-hued social conservatism’. He was recently elected as the conservative candidate for the centre right Republican Party. Following elections next year he could well be the next President, a huge shift to the right from Hollande’s socialist radical left.
There is of course Donald Trump’s victory in the US which means…well it’s not possible to pinpoint what Donald Trump believes in. According to an NBC count the President elect has made ‘141 distinct shifts on 23 major issues’. The only certain point is that Trump’s policies are neither left wing nor socialist. In other words the US is in for a period of politics as right wing as they come. It’s sad, because these are not the principles that allowed the country to achieve great things.
It is interesting and troubling, this shift to the right, since it is likely to make the world an even more violent place. It is worth studying the phenomenon to determine how left wing governments have failed to respond, even though they are meant to address problems faced by the masses, something that is not paramount on the conservative agenda.
In Pakistan left wing politics died an early and painful death many years ago leaving the field to the Awami National Party (ANP) Pakistan’s secular and left wing Pashtun party now led by Asfandyar Wali Khan, a party that is basically restricted to the Pashtun areas of the country, the secular MQM, at present in a state of confusion and flux, restricted to Karachi, and of course the PTI, which for the present is just plain confused. The left has been deserted even by the PPP when Asif Ali Zardari claimed that left wing politics were ‘the ideology of the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s, they are no more relevant now.’ In fact he was talking about left and right wing politics both. All this leaves room for little else but ultra conservative religious parties which is all Pakistan has now, with the centre right and conservative PML (N) the most liberal it gets. It is a depressing situation.
In Pakistan there is a tendency to surround prominent persons with highfalutin words ignoring the principles these persons stand for, as in saying ‘sallallahu alaihi wasallam’ (may the Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) with a great show of piety for the Prophet Muhammad while ignoring his great teachings of equality and non-discrimination. It happens, funnily enough also with the ultra-secular Jinnah who is called ‘Quaid e Azam’ (the great leader) followed by ‘rahmatullah alaih’ (May the Blessings of Allah be upon him) with little heed for his ideals which did not include marginalising segments of society. Jinnah made his ideas clear often, such as when he said: ‘Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State to be ruled by priests with a divine mission.’
Poor Jinnah.
In what is definitely a ha-ha moment, given the vociferous criticism each side levels against the other, Pakistan is not too different in its stance now to those Western countries mentioned above. The only way to stem this drift to the right, or rather to pull the country back from where it already is, is to work liberal secular ideals into the manifestos of political parties, for the purpose of safety in numbers, to keep them away from right wing policies. Having said that it should be mentioned that the ANP has been the principal target of the Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), leading to the assassination of more than a hundred of its workers. The MQM, sadly, has been more a victim of its leadership than anything else. In spite of the problems faced by these parties, liberal secularism is the only way to fight feudalism and the great economic divide, with which this country is so riddled.
In Pakistan ‘secular’ and ‘liberal’ have become terms of abuse used and manipulated by right wing individuals against independent thought. This has fostered the misconception that to be liberal or secular is to be anti-religion. Quite the opposite is true. Secularism is simply the separation of government from religion. It does not prevent the practice of religion. To be liberal is to believe in a ‘relatively equal society, supported by institutions that limit extremes of wealth and poverty, to believe in democracy, civil liberties, and the rule of law.’ (Paul Krugman). A genuinely liberal person would keep religion out of the public arena but he would die for the right of each person to practice religion as the person deems fit. A right wing ideology on the other hand would be unjust in the name of religion, and extreme right wing ideologies would kill to ensure that their distorted brand of religion continues to dominate the public arena.
In short, Pakistan needs political parties that will further a secular liberal ideology, because at the risk of laboring the point neither secularism nor liberalism stand for violence, neither is anti-religion, and they alone can lead to peace. Perhaps it was different once, but we live in this age now, and the greater the religion the more nimbly a secular stance can adapt to co-exist with that religion while keeping the principles of both safe.

Monday, November 28, 2016


Ahlan wa sahlan Marhaba – at any cost

According to a BBC report, during the hunting season in Pakistan this time of year, up to thirty five licenses are issued to a handful of wealthy Arab royal persons to hunt the Houbara Bustard. The Houbara Bustard is a shy, innocuous bird; beige with brown spots – sort of like a chicken with longer legs and neck. One Arab prince is said to have killed over two thousand birds in a single season.
The Houbara Bustard has been placed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), on a list of ‘vulnerable’ species (which is a list consisting of animals at high risk of extinction). Having the life of such an animal in your hands is like being given a more than usual responsible stake in the past and future of creation itself – but who cares about that (although, last year the Supreme Court did the right thing by completely banning hunting of this bird in Pakistan). Yet, even after that directive, Arab dignitaries were issued licenses to hunt the Houbara Bustard, as they always have. The licenses were supposedly for ‘partridge hunting’, but that is reportedly not ‘what was killed on the ground.’
To place anyone above the law is to break it, and laws are meant to be equally applied to all persons, but in Pakistan some people are obviously more equal than others. The violation of the ban was commonly reported in the Press, yet the practice continued. It seems the Arabs consider the meat of the Houbara Bustard to be an aphrodisiac. I suppose there is no arguing with that mother of all arguments.
In January this year the Supreme Court lifted the hunting ban placing the Houbara bustard officially in danger once again. The reason given was that the ban was detrimental to Pakistan’s relations with Arab States which depend on the denizens of Pakistan, both animal and human…and even its children being open to danger and abuse by the Arabs, under the noses and generally with the full consent of the powers that be in Pakistan. It’s the only way to ensure that relations between us remain cordial. The only way to ensure that our labour force is able to go to Arab countries and be abused there, a situation that carries remarkable kickbacks for segments of the population on both sides.
Three years ago a Pakistani newspaper reported the case of a nineteen year old boy from Rahim Yar Khan who was struggling to cope with the school work of a much younger boy. His mental issues began when as a little child he faced abuse as a child camel jockey in the Gulf States.  He was not alone. Thousands of little boys are taken from Pakistan to the Gulf States as child camel jockeys, many of whom suffer ongoing mental issues as a result of that particularly barbaric ‘activity’, since camel racing involving child jockeys cannot be called a ‘sport’. It isn’t hard to figure out what persuades families of these children to send them to the Middle East. According to the father of this particular young man, he was promised education and employment for his son.
What kind of country considers anyone, let alone its barbaric neighbours, above its laws? What kind of country considers itself bound to cater to the over-indulged libido of those same neighbours making it lay the humans and animals who live within its boundaries open to abuse?
Well, it seems Pakistan does, due to a phenomenon known as ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ – aka, an overlap between public and personal interest. It is a phenomenon familiar to persons within this country (and also for example to the new President-elect of the United States, who is known for scratching backs wherever his business interests exist, and getting his ample back scratched in return).
And Mr. Trump has business interests all over the world, including in Argentina, where he has also been in a long standing business relationship with Mr. Macri – now the President of that country. In a phone call made to Mr. Trump by Mr. Macri, supposedly to congratulate the new American President-elect upon his victory, the Argentinian President reportedly asked Mr. Trump for help with building permits that have not being granted for a proposed 35 story ‘Trump Tower’ in Beunos Aires, the capital of Argentina. The news has been contradicted by a spokesman for the American President-elect.
Mr. Trump has similar interests in Uruguay, Saudi Arabia, India and China, and the Philippines, and interestingly enough the Philippine’s new Trade Envoy to the US is also the man building ‘Trump Tower’ in Manila.
Those last few lines may appear to be a sudden deviation from the subject at hand but they’re not, because such incidents come to mind when one of those persons with the over indulged libido hunting the Houbara Bustard in Pakistan turns out to be Prince Hamad of Qatar, a man who is not new to hunting in Pakistan, only this time he was granted a permit to hunt the near extinct bustard in Bhakkar and Jhang in the Punjab, which just happens to be home territory to the Sharif family, and this, remember is the very same Prince who wrote that interesting letter in an attempt to remove the specter of Panama from the Sharif horizon once and for all.
The removal of the Supreme Court’s hunting ban came with a statement which, according to the BBC, says that ‘the sustainable hunting of the bird, will come as a big relief to many officials and business owners.’ The report goes on to remind us that ‘Middle Eastern countries are a major source of sovereign investment in Pakistan and they employ the bulk of Pakistan’s overseas manpower’.
That is one way of putting it: of saying how vulnerable the people of Pakistan are, of saying how bribe-able, and bribed to the teeth, and willing to dance to the tune of whichever piper is able to pay the shots its officials and business owners are. It’s a noisome state of affairs, and a noisy state of affairs, or perhaps that’s the sound of Jinnah, poor man, turning in his grave.

Monday, November 21, 2016


The first duty of a government is to maintain law and order so that the life, property and religious beliefs of its subjects are fully protected by the State. – Muhammad Ali Jinnah
Most of our countrymen seem to feel that Islam, the religion followed by the majority of the people of Pakistan, ought to play an official role in the public arena although what Islam consists of appears to be somewhat disputed. Every sect possesses so many sub-sects, and every one of these sects is so at variance with the other upon issues of importance such as for example the question of inheritance. There is also the very important question of co-existence with other faiths, and the liberal, radical version of Islam differs a great deal on this point from other less liberal versions. In these latter versions an increasing number of people seem to consider it their religious duty to enforce not just religion but a particular version of it, making persons who subscribes to anything else persona non gratae.
A person who tries to remove religion from the official arena in Pakistan stands to be accused of trying to produce a ‘Godless society’, and for some reason since there has to be a scapegoat, a Godless ‘Western’ society. That argument could be countered by the question: is it expected that the policies of the new very right wing government in the US headed by Donald Trump will produce a ‘Godly’ society, or for that matter the policies of Narendra Modi’s government in India, since Modi like Trump belongs to a party with an extreme right wing ideology? Very few people will agree with that. So does it mean that Islam alone is fit to be an official State religion? Looking at Pakistan as we looked at Trump’s US and Modi’s India, can anyone say that the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is an exemplary State, religiously speaking?
Meantime, of the list of political parties that consider themselves ‘religious’, yet another two were recently added to the list of banned ‘outfits’, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) an offshoot of Sipah e Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) for their involvement in violent terrorism, which takes the list of these banned ‘outfits’ to sixty three. Most of the violence committed by these groups was committed on sectarian grounds. Not only does the ideology upon which these groups base themselves confirm that these crimes were perpetrated by them (the LeJ is a Sunni supremacist group, and the Jamaal-ul-Ahrar a Sunni Deobandi group, an offshoot of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan TTP), but they have themselves taken ‘credit’ for these acts.
The common factor between the persons and groups mentioned above is that they use religion and conservative values to appeal to the public. The graver the social confronting a society, the greater the chance that those who use religion to appeal to such people will obtain power. Donald Trump, although a Christian with a loose affiliation with Church himself, chose Pence as his vice president. Pence is a ‘onetime Catholic altar boy turned evangelical Protestant’ who, according to the Huffington Post ‘connects very well with Christian conservatives, especially the most pro-life of them. Donald Trump now has an effective surrogate he can dispatch to speak to those kinds of voters,’ and we have seen that this strategy has worked.
In just this way the poor uneducated persons of Pakistan are deluded into thinking that religion contains some magical mantras to alleviate their poverty, and clerics use this delusion, this opiate of the masses. Some of them increase their mystique by locating the moon twice a year, the rest by means of deliberations upon how long engagements should last before nikah takes place, how hard you may hit your wife, and also by proposing bills that provide protection for men after doing their utmost to prevent the passage of bills that provide protection to women, in a society where men are the predators. No, there is little doubt that religion is a shortcut to power. We have seen this with Mard-e-Momin Mard-e-Haq Zia ul Haq, and more recently with Mian Nawaz Sharif’s abortive attempts to obtain the title of Ameer-ul-Momineen so that he could take important decisions without consultation. Luckily for us this last attempt was vanquished, at least this time, although anything couched in Arabic is viewed as religious and becomes inviolate which argues the point for me.
To prevent such misuse, and not because of any hostility towards it religion should be permitted in the public arena of a State only to the extent that it allows that quote by Jinnah (above) to become fact. At least until by some unknown means individuals and groups in this country learn to appreciate a more rational form of religion, and to live with each other.
For now that goal appears to be distant. According to an AFP report quoting the State Bank of Pakistan, the ‘War on Terror’ has cost Pakistan $118 billion dollars and there are many persons in custody charged with blasphemy and the prospect of losing their lives. This is not the Pakistan envisioned by Jinnah, by our forefathers or by any person who holds life sacred.

Monday, November 14, 2016


Pakistan and Post Trump America
Let’s get one thing clear. The adverse reaction of the Pakistani people to Donald Trump is not in every case based on aversion to racism. Let’s remember the way Pakistan looked down upon its fellow Bengali citizens, calling them ‘kaalay bhookay Bangali’. This is also where Muslims, as I mentioned in a recent column, prefer not to share dishes with their non-Muslim countrymen, and where the religious freedom of minorities are curbed in terrible ways.
No, the reaction to Trump stems mostly from concern for ourselves here, and for those of us living in the US. Having got that straight, let’s get off the sanctimonious high horse and look at the situation as it is.
The American people just elected a President who changes his stance as expedient, but let’s face it he’s hardly alone in that respect. Look at certain of Pakistan’s friendships based primarily on individual perks and petro-dollars with some of the Middle Eastern regimes, regimes which subscribe to few human rights. Other than that, the new President is unreasonable, unpredictable, volatile, racist, a religious bigot, sexist, and a misogynist…even though he’s been married frequently enough. He possesses few scruples and rates big money higher than good values, which is why he has an abundance of the first and none of the second. Oh, and he has a miserable vocabulary.
The average American (including the new President), appears even more misinformed regarding world affairs and history than the average Pakistani, and as xenophobic, definitely with exceptions on either side. No, Americans are not devoid of family values, no, American families do not dump their elderly, and no, Americans are not mostly, anti-religion. On the other hand, the Third World is not composed of rapists and terrorists.
In their fear of the unknown, present and future, and their desire for change people play into the wrong hands. Both these factors played a huge role in this American election. Fear of the unknown is reflected in slogans such as ‘Make America Great Again’ and ‘You have people coming in, people from all over that are killers and rapists and they’re coming into this country.” The desire for change is simply reflected in the people’s choice of Trump whose personality falls so far short of the usual Presidential candidate, even G.W Bush.
The last Caliphate, the Ottoman Empire, fell apart when Mustafa Kamal Pasha deposed the Ottoman ruler to establish a secular democracy in Turkey. The fact is that the Empire had been neither great nor functional for a very long time. Yet, the Khilafat Movement that started after the First World War in 1920 called upon the British government to maintain the authority of the Caliph.
There are still repeated calls raised in the Islamic world and here in Pakistan for the revival of a Caliphate, like a child yearning for its dummy, calls to ‘make the Islamic world great again’, in response to the threat posed by the developed countries. One of the several groups calling for such a revival claims that the majority of Muslims worldwide wish the Caliphate to be revived, and to be governed by the laws of Sharia. You wonder whose version of Sharia they would like to be governed by, considering that there is no consensus among Muslims upon the matter.
Trump’s unrealistic plans for a wall and kicking out Muslims from the US so that American can ‘become great again,’ are no different. Americans, to their credit, are themselves divided on the issue despite the results of the election which were based more on Electoral College tally than popular vote. And besides, the modern world is now too inclusive a place. America’s nuclear and rocket technologies were both pioneered by immigrants, Albert Einstein and Wernher von Braun respectively, just as much of Pakistan’s infrastructure, its railways, and its governing systems are British legacies. It is how we maintain these systems that we can take pride in, or not.
Pakistan requires Chinese input to build its economic corridor. Even more do the Americans need the millions of immigrants who, along with other Americans have made their country great in ways that really count. Trump Towers…well we have seen what happens to the towers of this world. It is the American ethos of hard work and enterprise that is really great, and that one should admire and emulate.
As for the new President’s anti-Muslim rhetoric, the best example I can think of for a response is when Harry Potter counters the Minister for Magic’s request for support by asking him if he had ‘released Stan Shunpike yet?’ a man unfairly convicted of a crime and still languishing in prison. So, Mr. Trump, is your country still best buddies with some of the most repressive regimes in the world? Still providing arms and support to militants everywhere? We heard your demand that Pakistan apologise for harbouring Bin Laden for so many years, but we didn’t hear America apologise for having created him.
So long as such alliances continue, Americans, or anyone who maintains them will have enemies, but the new government should search elsewhere for them than where they have been. The more than 3 million Muslims in the US hold the people of that country (as distinct from its government and its policies) in deep affection. They genuinely consider it home, as do people who visit that great country. Almost all Muslim citizens of the USA have contributed to their adoptive country in some positive way. Very, very few of any of those will work against a country in which they have invested so much. America can ill afford such racist, bigoted rhetoric just as Muslims cannot afford to fall prey to anti-American sentiment.
For the US, both the fear and the desire for change need to be examined from a fresh standpoint, as to why the American people are so fearful, and why they desire change so desperately. Perhaps, in addition to reasons relating to the rest of the world, American policies themselves could to with re-examination? And perhaps the values shared by its leaders up till now should also be examined to see where they fell so far short of American expectations as to push voters to opt for a candidate like Mr. Trump, a man so far right as to be in danger of falling off the edge, taking the American people with him.
For us, it is best to accept that it is now the age of secular democracy.  Considering the myriad schisms within the Islamic world and its general condition, a secular democracy is the most pragmatic option. The best solution would be to strengthen our societies within that framework.
For today’s entire world, we all need each other’s support, expertise and cooperation. Harking towards the past, real or imaginary, is an exercise in idiocy. It is hoped that in coming times Pakistan will take a pragmatic approach to the new Presidency, in fact it must, seeing how much we have to lose otherwise. It is hoped that the Americans will do so too, and hopefully the process will not exact too much of a toll upon either side, or upon the rest of the world.

Monday, October 31, 2016


It’s a case of shortsightedness
There are some things you simply cannot do, such as forcing your country’s capital to shut down, or preventing people from assembling to protest. Well you can, but you should not, and not only because the action carries repercussions. The best policy of course would be to provide effective governance so that people in such numbers do not feel the need to protest or shut down the capital, but that’s wishful thinking. Therefore, if the need to protest does present itself people should be allowed to do so, although not to shut down the capital. They may be stopped when and if they create damage (or shut down the capital) but you cannot do so preemptively by stopping them from assembling as much as you cannot force a journalist to divulge his sources.
Although he hopes to compel the journalist to reveal his sources and I don’t like that, I do agree with much of the rest of what Chaudhry Nisar said at his press conference that no one person, party or provincial power has the right to shut down Islamabad, the capital territory. He was of course referring to Imran Khan’s stated intention of doing just that on the 2nd of November.
In news published by this newspaper, the Chairperson of the PTI on the 30th of October directed his party workers across Pakistan to uproot all barricades and impediments leading to Islamabad and reach Bani Gala on Monday’ to achieve this far from laudable intention of shutting down the capital.
Mr. Khan is reported as saying, “I urge all party members, who were supposed to come on Nov 2, to reach tomorrow,” Khan said talking to reporters outside his Bani Gala residence. “Do not let any obstruction on the way stop you.”
“You have to reach here because we don’t see any law in this country,” Mr. Khan said. Then, funnily enough, Mr. Khan added that if the courts tried to prevent him by ruling against his actions he would defy them.
Anyone see any contradictions here? Because basically supporters are being asked to defy the courts, and break all obstacles, although some of these obstacles may be kosher, to come object to the absence of law in the country.
In Pakistan people need little encouragement to break the law. It’s one reason one doesn’t ‘see any laws’ here. Such incitement as offered by Mr. Khan is generally the cause of a great deal of loss, financial as well as of life. Both have already taken place, well before 2nd November. Such actions are also likely to translate into greater damage for the country in the long run, because you know there is such a thing as ‘in the long run,’ much as few people seem to recognize that. To drum the point home:
‘In the long run peace is better for Pakistan.’
‘In the long run civilian rule is better for the country.’
‘In the long run it is much better for the country to get rid of a pathetic government by waiting and removing it by means of lawful electoral process than to oust it forcibly before its term is over.’
‘In the long run it is foolish to oust a sitting government because if you form the next government yourself someone might oust you in exactly the same way, and hey, you will have provided precedent.’
Here are those sentences rolled into one and rephrased in cricket-speak:
‘For players and for the game of cricket it is better in the long run if rules are followed, if the ICC is allowed to dictate the rules, if the team plays by the rules, and if the team waits for the game to be over before getting rid of the captain, even a poor one, instead of starting a riot during the game on the field.’
Not to be outdone in shortsightedness in the meantime the provincial government in the Punjab has begun impounding containers in readiness for the protest in Islamabad on the 2nd of November, so that they can block the motorway and other roads in an effort to prevent protestors from getting to their meeting point. Some four hundred containers are required for the purpose and to make sure they are heavy and not able to be pushed around by crowds they must be full. That means they must contain goods meant to be sent to Karachi to be loaded onto ships for export. This action spells a huge loss for exporters who will need to pay damages for perishables spoilt by delay and generally not delivered on schedule.
So, in a nutshell the situation is this: a group of people foolishly trying to muscle an elected government unconstitutionally out of office is being unconstitutionally prevented from gathering and doing something they haven’t done as yet. Also to prevent them from causing damage to countless persons, acts they haven’t committed as yet, the elected (but dumb) government is trying to prevent them from assembling by illegally impounding property thereby causing damage to countless persons.
The end result of both is damage to countless people. Meantime, who wins? Someone obviously does, otherwise why bother?

Monday, October 24, 2016


Alan Alda (best known as ‘Hawkeye’ in the television series M.A.S.H) published his autobiography in 2005. At the beginning of the book he notes, ‘’my mother didn’t try to stab my father until I was six.’’ Alda’s father, an actor, was a positive influence on his son, as was his mother, a source of great encouragement despite her unfortunate habit of trying to stab her husband. That occurred because of a mental illness.
John Nash was a mathematician who received the Nobel Prize for a mathematical theory which became the cornerstone of modern economics. He became known to non-academic circles because of the film ‘A Beautiful Mind’ that portrayed his life and achievements – achievements that took place in spite of a debilitating mental illness.
There were also Mary Lincoln – Abraham Lincoln’s wife; James Beck – a drummer who played with the Beatles and Eric Clapton, Peter Green – guitarist for Fleetwood Mac; and Eduard Einstein – Albert Einstein’s son. All people on the world stage diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia is defined by the National Institute of Mental Health in the US as: ‘a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. People with schizophrenia may seem like they have lost touch with reality. Although schizophrenia is not as common as other mental disorders, the symptoms can be very disabling.’
Schizophrenia is also prevalent in Pakistan.
According to Shakila Akhtar in a paper cited by the International Society for Psychological and Social Approaches to Psychosis:
‘In Pakistan about 1.5% of the population suffers from schizophrenia. It occurs among both males and females, paranoid schizophrenia being the most common.’
The report says that investigators find that sexual abuse may trigger schizophrenia amongst women because of the mental stress it causes. They cite several factors such as social stigma, insulting treatment by the police and defense attorneys during court proceedings, as well as that the perpetrator is often a powerful person able to distort facts in court. All these factors prevent victims from taking steps against the abuse, and very often these victims are themselves accused of this, or other crimes.
This column protests against a recent ruling by the Supreme Court of Pakistan which says that ‘schizophrenia does not fall within its legal definition of mental disorders’ and the consequent permission to execute a man suffering from this mental disorder.
We have already seen that schizophrenia is defined as a mental disorder by professionals. It is questioned why, in spite of modern medical knowledge of this mental disorder, the Supreme Court is bound by previous definitions, and appears unable to amend those definitions?
In a document the Federal Judicial Academy speaks of the roles of the various judicial courts in Pakistan under the constitution. About the Supreme Court it says: The Supreme Court is the apex Court of the land, exercising original, appellate and advisory jurisdiction. It is the Court of ultimate appeal and final arbiter of law and the Constitution. Its decisions are binding on all other courts. The Court exercises original jurisdiction in settling inter-governmental disputes, be that dispute between the Federal Government and a provincial government or among provincial governments. The Court also exercises original jurisdiction concurrently with High Courts for the enforcement of Fundamental Rights, where a question of ‘public importance’ is involved. The Court has appellate jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters. The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, original as well as appellate, is fairly wide. Besides entertaining civil and criminal appeals from the High Courts, the Court also hears appeals from judgments against the Federal Shariat Court, Federal/provincial service tribunals and some special courts. The Court also entertains cases of violation of Fundamental Rights.’
The above makes it clear that whatever the existing legal definition of mental disorders, the Supreme Court of Pakistan does possess power to amend that definition and is in fact expected to do so by bringing its supposed superior wisdom to bear on the matter, power that it signally failed to exercise recently. Repercussions of this failure are likely to be immediate, most imminently in the case of Imdad Ali, a fifty year old man who suffers from severe delusions and ‘hears voices’. Imdad has been on death row for the past many years for the murder of a Muslim cleric. By the time this column goes to print Imdad may have been executed, an act that is little short of murder.
While in prison Imdad Ali was certified as suffering from schizophrenia by a qualified psychiatrist. Yet, Imdad’s appeal was rejected. Reuters reports that in its rejection of an appeal, the Supreme Court ruled that ‘Schizophrenia is not a permanent mental disorder; rather it is an imbalance which can increase or decrease depending on the level of stress. In recent years, the prognosis has been improved with drugs, by vigorous psychological and social managements, and rehabilitation.’ Dismissing professional diagnosis, the Supreme Court based this judgement instead on a dictionary definition of schizophrenia and on a judgement made almost thirty years ago by the Indian Supreme Court.
 Arguing against the Supreme Courts claim that schizophrenia is necessarily treatable and is not grounds for clemency, one can again cite Shakila Akhtar’s report quoted at the beginning of this column which goes on to say that data for this report was based only on cases known to hospitals and clinics, that the great majority of patients never come in contact with psychiatric services, since about 70% of Pakistan’s population lives in rural areas where, and generally in Pakistan, the literacy rate is low and there is no knowledge regarding schizophrenia. Symptoms of schizophrenia are generally attributed to magic or possession by spirits and demons. Instead of consulting psychologists or psychiatrists patients of schizophrenia are taken to faith healers and religious quacks, or to visit holy shrines where they are treated with holy water or sanctified ointment, in the belief that this will help. Sometimes patients are punished brutally by these so called therapists with the notion that this torture hurts the possessing spirit and not the patient and will therefore cause the spirit or demon to leave. Some even believe that marriage is a good remedy for schizophrenia. Such practices are also prevalent in developed countries but the ratio of such practices there is much lower as compared to Pakistan.
Following an attack on an Army Public School by the TTP in Peshawar in 2014, in which almost 150 people most of them children were killed, the death penalty was re-introduced in Pakistan. That should have served as a red flag to the judiciary, that now more than ever their judgements must be informed, well considered and just, because in addition to the power to bring change and improvement, they now possess the power to save lives. They have failed signally in this respect. Imdad Ali, who belongs to a poor family and was himself an impoverished electrician, received the first medical diagnosis for his mental disorder when he was in prison. Since he was accused of the murder of a cleric, perhaps it was the prospect of backlash from religious zealots that proved daunting for the judge, in which case Pakistan, with its superabundance of zealots is lost indeed if even the Supreme court of the land cannot assert itself in the face of that threat. Or perhaps it is not just the uneducated segment of Pakistan that is uneducated and ill informed. Either way, Imdad or others like him are now in danger of their lives. Miscarriage of justice in the case of civil rights is the fastest route to destruction, and we appear to be on that road.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


Not ignorance alone
Last week a teenage boy, a hapless student at a madrassah in Kasur, was ‘caught’ burning pages of the Quran. He and his teacher who had instructed him to do this as the right way to dispose of pages that contained holy words were both booked for blasphemy. It appears ‘religious scholars’ now approve of just two ways of destroying pages with Quranic verses inscribed on them, and burning is not one of those ways. The two are: covering the pages in a cloth and burying them, or placing them in running water and allowing them either to flow away, or allowing the ink to wash off and then disposing off the pages whatever is left of them. Which leaves people living in parched places such as Thar with just the one option, and since sands are said to be habitual shifters the pages would often get exposed leaving either the entire population exposed to blasphemy, or to have little choice but to station a person permanently over every burial spot to make sure it was always covered. I wonder too what people in frozen places would do, with no flowing water (glaciers) and no soft earth (ice)? And people who cannot read at all, they’d need to keep every scrap of paper they possess, just in case. As for those like me who are bilingual, we’ be able to read Urdu and English fine, but when it came to Finnish, or Chinese or another language with a different sound and an altogether different script, we’d be stumped indeed or in prison, because heaven knows, we wouldn’t know what we’d throw away inadvertently because verses from the Quran are translated into 114 different languages, and the entire book into 47 languages of the world. Or does blasphemy not apply to these other languages?
But strange about the burning of the pages, because I myself was always told that if one must be pedantic burning is the way to go. I guess religious scholars become ever more intelligent with each generation taking the definition of blasphemy with them. ‘No, it isn’t blasphemy,’ said Mark Twain. ‘If God is as vast as you say, He is above that. If He is as little as this, He is below it.’ Which about sums it up. Unless you wish to check out some of the names of Allah: Ar-Rahman (the Beneficient), As-Salam (the Source of Peace), Al-Muhaymin (the Protector), Ar-Rahim (the Merciful), and Al Majid (the Most Glorious one). Which leaves you with the twin dilemma: which of these names suggests that the God we worship is happy for a teenage boy (or anyone else) to be charged in such a case? And the other dilemma, of how to dispose of these pages now that these last few lines have been printed on them.
Because this young lad is not the first, oh no. There have been other cases such as in Joseph colony where people were accused of blasphemy based on land disputes, and also Asia Bibi, I know you were wondering when she would come up. Really, she ought to come up a lot more often, in fact its more than time she came up and out of prison because she, a young mother, has been there the past seven years. Indeed she should never have gone in in the first place, because which is the blasphemy, bringing water for someone who is thirsty while incidentally, being Christian and they Muslim, or accusing the person who brings you water of blasphemy because she happens to be Christian?
A few years ago, a cousin brought his new wife over to introduce her to us. She is Ukranian, white, and Christian. Our cook at the time, a woman also incidentally from Kasur, did the needful… brought in the cold drinks, followed by tea and what not, and later confided in me her opinion that my cousin’s wife was very pretty. She knew the new wife was Christian because she noticed the cross around her neck and commented on that too.
The following week a battle was launched in our house. Our cleaning lady, also Christian, drank water when she was thirsty as humans do. And since in our house we do not separate our dishes from our employees as many people do the cook demanded that we install a separate set of dishes for the cleaning lady. When I refused the cook separated her dishes from all of us. This was the same cook who had quite happily used for herself the dishes my cousin’s wife had eaten in. The reason was not that my cousin’s wife was any less Christian but that she was white. The cleaning lady on the other hand being a local product was a shade darker than most of us. What was right for the goose was clearly not right for the gander, which makes it wrong, unjust and definitely not something prescribed by Islam…not by my Islam the religion I love, believe in and try to practice.
Both these cases of the young boy and Asia Bibi illustrate the fact that although ignorance, bigotry and the dubious teachings of self-styled custodians of religion are behind such sentiments and practices, that’s not all it is. There are also personal enmities and more than a generous helping of racism and social discrimination involved. Had the teenage boy and Asia Bibi belonged to a different socio-economic class and in Asia Bibi’s case also looked different, they would have been perceived in quite a different manner besides being beyond the reach of such mentors and law enforcement personnel.
As Pakistanis it is time we got our priorities straight. Do we go along with this stuff by failing to condemn it and perpetuating it by practices within our homes, or do we register our stance as a leading national daily was recently and publically brave enough to do in quite a different instance, a political case in support of one of its journalists? Unless we do this and stand up for what is right, we cannot expect either respect or our rights to be given us in return. So choose.

Monday, October 10, 2016


The bill was set to be a bill all its life
But then it became a law
Despite the usual objections
To all attempts to amend a flaw

The Anti-Honour Killing bill which had been pending for a long time has finally made it through both houses of Parliament and attained the status of law. Under this new law a murderer is no longer able to get away with his crime the way it was previously possible, always hoping that the law is implemented the way it should be. The bill’s tortuous passage to its current status illustrates Pakistan’s struggles to achieve what is hopefully a saner future. Although the Anti-Honour Killing law still leaves something to be desired, it is a great achievement since without it women were even more exposed to the sick practice of ‘honour’ killing so rampant in Pakistan.
The bill for this law was initiated in 2015 by Sughra Imam, in her capacity as Senator. It followed a convoluted path and faced great opposition including being allowed to lapse along the way.
It is always hard to determine what exactly a given case of violence consists of, and to obtain a conviction for that violence. In Pakistan a case of murder may be an ‘honour killing’, or it may be a murder committed for some other reason such as a property dispute.
Qisas and Diyat laws came into force in Pakistan in 1990. Diyat allows the victim’s family to forgive the murderer if he pays a sum of money to the family. As a result of these laws, according to one calculation, the conviction rate for murder in Pakistan went down from 29% to 12%. In a country like Pakistan where poverty stalks people with as great a menace as murder, and there exists a segment of persons rich enough to offer large sums as compensation… and powerful enough to ensure pardon with or without the payment of that compensation, it is well-nigh impossible to ensure a conviction if the killer is a person of means. An incident that caught international attention was the case of Raymond Davis a member of the CIA who shot two men dead in Lahore, yet walked free in return for a settlement of more than two million dollars agreed upon with the victims’ families. There are many other similar cases.
Conviction previously had to be based either on confession or eye witness testimony. Yet in the case of Raymond Davis the murder took place in public and Davis still went free. In the unlikely case of rape taking place as publically, conviction would similarly be influenced by the extent of power possessed by the rapist’s family.
A factor that contributes to conviction is physical proof. If the victim of violence happens to be a woman, the crime may include rape which is difficult to prove the traditional way. It is ironic the extent to which the severely flawed interpretation of religion stands in the way of sanity in Pakistan. It has been possible for a long time to obtain clear proof of sexual contact by means of DNA. Perhaps it thought that DNA stood for Devils Not Angels but in 2013 our Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) which disputed the Women’s Protection Act insisting that that Act violated Islamic principles, ruled out DNA as primary evidence in the case of rape. Mercifully, first Sindh and now this newly passed law accepts DNA as primary evidence, and even calls for it to be obtained and used. That the legislature has overridden the CII in this case is promising, since although the CII can only make recommendations it has a powerful influence. The law also makes changes to the Pakistan Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, and the Qanun-e-Shahadat Order by increasing punishment for rape, and instituting fines and punishments for suppressing or distorting evidence.
It is mentioned above that the new law possesses certain shortcomings. If you remember the Qandeel Baloch case, Qandeel was murdered by her brother in the name of ‘honour’. There was a distinct possibility then that her family would forgive him and he would go free; to prevent this, the State became the plaintiff. Unfortunately the new law still leaves scope for a pardon by the victim’s family, but it restricts the extent to which that pardon if obtained lets the killer off the hook, allowing the killer to only escape execution. He or she still faces life in prison which is much more than the punishment he would have faced earlier.
Sadly, it took some high profile deaths for this law get to this point, but that it has should be welcomed. It is hoped that other such laws will follow, more of them flying in the face of opposition, such as there was in this case from the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam Fazal (JUI-F), and the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) who considered the new law to be un-Islamic. Credit goes to Sughra Imam who initiated the law and to Sherry Rahman who pushed the law through in spite of such opposition which can turn violent as opposition from such quarters often does.
The possibility of a killer being forgiven for his crime is a great option but only with regards to the Divine court. It may happen that a person is convicted here and he may seek forgiveness from his Maker, and for this it helps to have the forgiveness of his fellow men whom he has wronged. If the two courts Divine and corporeal are fused into one people tend to take advantage of the fact and lives right here are threatened. Law makers need to take cognizance of this tendency and move accordingly. The State is and should always appear as the plaintiff on behalf of its citizens and in the interest of law, order and security. It is the State’s laws that are broken in the event of a crime. The Divine is strong enough to take care of Himself and does not require our interference.

Monday, October 3, 2016


‘’War does not determine who is right, only who is left.’’ Bertrand Russell

On Thursday, Indian forces opened fire across the LoC (Line of Control). Pakistani media reported the event by saying that Pakistan was ready to respond to any aggression. The words used with nauseating passion by almost every news­­­ channel were that Pakistan was ready to come up with a ‘’moon tor jawab’’ against India, which means a ‘similarly violent (jaw-breaking) response’. I hope the powers that be did not use these exact words but it is a forlorn hope that they or the people they represent would think before speaking, that they would realise the power and impact of words. Sick as it is, such terminology goes down well with most people and is very commonly used. That the media used these words as well speaks for itself.
Coming from underprivileged backgrounds my students learning spoken English are fairly representative of the country. Last week we studied the story of Birbal the wise courtier and friend of the Mughal King Akbar, only to find that these students of Intermediate and BA had barely heard of the Mughal dynasty. Babar and Babar Nama have no place in their lives, nor does Akbar the propounder of Deen-e-Ilahi…and kitna bad naseeb hai Zafar (how unfortunate is Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal king) that they have not heard of him at all, or of his verses. How unfortunate a nation that has such little knowledge of its own or world history and is therefore so bereft of its lessons, particularly now, since many of those lessons have to do with the consequences of war. These girls were quite happy to go along with with the ‘moon tor jawab’ we are supposed to offer India, without knowing a thing about the wars of 1965 or 1971 except lurid versions that bear no relationship to reality. They were unable to answer the question: ‘Why is history important?’ They have not heard of the Jallianwalla Bagh incident, the Indian ‘Mutiny’, the French Revolution, or even…and please believe me, this is true…of the events at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Not that they are alone. A great bulk of the public has not heard of these events, even the segment that is educated. A ‘moon tor jawab’ for most means quite literally a ‘chapair’ (slap), or an explosion or two killing someone at a distant spot. The full import of India and Pakistan being nuclear states, and not wise ones at that has not struck most people. So, for all of us, here is what happened when nuclear arms were used for the first time in other volatile times:
Tomiko Morimoto a 13-year-old schoolgirl lived in Hiroshima in 1945. In her words, when the bomb fell: “everything started falling down; buildings started flying all over the place. Then something wet came down, like rain. I thought it was oil but it was what they call black rain.’’
When a nuclear weapon or power plant explodes it produces radioactive dust and ash which if it is wet is called ‘Black Rain’, an extremely dangerous radioactive contamination that results in death, and carries on causing death for generations among plants, animals and humans by producing birth defects and illness such as alterations in the blood, destroying the bone marrow’s ability to produce blood and seriously damaging the liver and other internal organs, and making plants and crops inedible so long as the contamination lasts.
Tomiko and her classmates fled to a plateau on the outskirts of Hiroshima and waited for family members to come get them. All night long, they watched their city burning below but no parents came, because most of them were dead.
Tomiko remembers seeing dead people everywhere. She particularly remembers a Japanese soldier still mounted on his horse – both horse and rider dead. Also a streetcar, its passengers still standing, all dead.
Tomiko says she found a railroad bridge she and her classmates could cross safely. She recalls looking down through the spaces between the railroad ties where normally, one would see the river flowing underneath. But instead, she saw “a sea of dead people. There was no water to be seen, just people lying there, dead.’’
That day, on August 6, 1945, about 140,000 people died, or they died within months after Hiroshima was bombed. Three days later, about 80,000 people died when Nagasaki was bombed. This was America’s ‘moon tor jawab’ to Japan at the end of World War II.
Morimoto is still alive. “I’m afraid because more countries have the atomic bomb now,’’ she says. ‘’I fear the end of the world. Please, never let there be another bombing like that. We must all work towards peace. That’s the only way I can summarise it.”
War has never solved a thing. Bertrand Russell said, ‘’War does not determine who is right, only who is left.’’  In the case of nuclear powers and that ‘moon tor jawab’, will anyone be left?
So grow up media, and politicians such as Modi, and Khawaja Asif whose braggadocious comments on the situation have been so extremely foolish. There are plenty of sick people, unclothed and unfed in Pakistan. Your job, media, is to report their issues. Stop trying to garner ratings for yourself. And your job, dear politicians, is to work towards improving the conditions these impoverished people live in. It is why you were voted into office, remember? It was not to whip up sentiments that would send your people to their death.
If we would only understand what we say, and think before we speak, the world would be a better place. So, to quote the Greatest one of all at the end with a phrase we use all the time to the extent that we forget what it means: Salam alaikum (Peace be upon you).
Amen to that, Pakistan and India. Live in peace yourselves and allow the world to live in peace as well.

Monday, September 26, 2016


Earlier this month a powerful tropical cyclone hit the Philippines and Taiwan before moving on to China. There, in the Fujian province of China it killed eighteen people leaving eleven others missing, and caused damage worth billions of dollars. After the typhoon had blazed its trail of destruction a television journalist in Xiamen city was filmed interviewing volunteers involved in recovery efforts. She was wearing sunglasses and holding an umbrella over her head. The image went viral on social media, and the journalist was suspended from her job. The reason was adverse public reaction to her appearance during the interview. Comments included: 1: The journalist’s accessories and appearance were unprofessional and not how journalists are supposed to look in China.  2: The interviewer, with her sunglasses and umbrella presented too disrespectful and stark a contrast to the volunteers she was interviewing, who were dressed any old how for physical work.
The incident presents some interesting points. One that rankles is that journalists appear to have been typecast in China. We are familiar with this when it comes to gender roles in Pakistan where women are also typecast within restricted roles within restricted boundaries. They are permitted certain restricted behavior and a restricted ­response within a restricted range of situations. This includes the expectation that women must be ‘married off’ and supported and that women will of a necessity weep and suffer from ill health, and be victimised by their husbands, in-laws and society. Rarely, in Pakistani society, are strong women acceptable. Vigorous women who possess a mind of their own are beset with controversy and accusations. If they are in the public eye these accusations may include being Indian, Israeli or American ‘agents’. It is only men with wildly controversial views who are accused of anything, whereas for a woman the accusations start as soon as she says ‘no’.
There is really no one way a journalist must dress other than decently, and appropriate to the terrain if outdoors. But to take it further, in a way that ties up with the point below, he or she should also dress appropriate to the people in the midst of whom he/she stands. It would be inappropriate to dress in expensive clothes and accessories for example when interviewing people living in an impoverished settlement.
And that is the angle which is interesting in the context of Pakistan, the apparent expectation in China that a person or a class of persons should not appear so obviously above another, in this case the journalist who by means of her accessories and dress was perceived as ‘speaking down’ to the volunteers she was interviewing. They were probably grubby with work, and dressed in a rough and ready fashion. What a contrast to Pakistan where the appearance of being ‘above’ someone else commands respect, and where the ability to do so is striven for more than anything else. This is an angle from which this incident should be discussed in Pakistan where every man on every rung of an imaginary ladder feels obliged to display his muscle to the man on the rung below, starting from menial domestics to the topmost position in the land. It is what is symbolised by those overdressed begums, the armed guards at gates, the armoured cars and ambulances following VIPs in those elaborate cavalcades, by every individual who skips a queue based on his or her acquaintance with some official.
The example of that journalist may be somewhat extreme and she may have served as little more than a scapegoat in the case, but the fact remains that Imperialist China was followed by Mao’s policies where such inequalities were frowned upon although they did exist in other ways. China may now have become much more capitalist but as with our colonial hangovers the Chinese obviously still possess certain values that remain a pale red. Without being red oneself the ostentation and false values of society in Pakistan are enough to drive one to the verge of a very light pink. I wouldn’t agree with that journalist being suspended but I do appreciate a society that feels she should have dressed ‘down’ on this occasion surrounded by disaster. As I wish more people would condemn the palatial homes of our ruling class which are grossly inappropriate when the living conditions of the people they are ruling over are taken into consideration. Because that is precisely the point: they are not taken into consideration, not to mention that fact that there really ought to be no ruling class to start with, just leaders. But that is just too much to expect, isn’t it?
There is another question worth asking: why is it that a few years of communism left such a mark where years of egalitarianism in Islamic teachings failed? It isn’t the ideology so it must be the way it is presented. I’m not sure of the reason myself, so what do you the think?