Monday, January 25, 2016


How much evidence does one need to prove that guns are best kept out of civilian life?

In the last few months alone: an attack in Paris in which a hundred and twenty persons died, a shooting in a school in the US in which ten persons died, another shooting in California in which fourteen persons and the killers themselves were killed.
In Canada, a national registry of firearms had only recently been started when following a protest the preceding government, the one before Trudeau’s, closed the registry down. Now, only a few months after the closure four persons have been shot dead in the sort of small rural community where people own guns and hunt, the sort of community that dominated the protest against the firearm registry.
Although firearms are banned in public in Pakistan many persons carry them openly in the tribal areas prompting Michael Palin of Monty Python fame to observe that ‘Pathans carry guns the way Londoners carry umbrellas’. In the tribal areas of the KP which bear a startling resemblance to the American wild west, the law permits private ownership of even heavy weapons such as rocket propelled grenades and rockets, and guns such as AK-47s virtually constitute part of a man’s attire. No surprise then that in KP twenty one persons were recently tragically shot dead in a school in Charsadda, and in nearby Peshawar just a year ago a hundred and forty seven persons were shot dead in the Army Public School, most of them innocent children.
Generally, in Pakistan, there is no shortage of firearms. The results are for everyone to see in Karachi, for example, in the armed conflicts in Landhi, and elsewhere in the city.
If the evidence against guns is strong enough then why are there so many guns, and why are they so easily available?
Good question (which is what you say when you don’t know).
According to the Chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance factory more than a year ago, Pakistan is selling guns to over forty countries, bringing in over $20 million in annual revenue. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Pakistan is the third largest importer of arms, behind the USA which ranks sixth as an importer… but first as an exporter.
In addition, Pakistan possesses a huge cottage industry in weapons which makes it possible for individuals to obtain guns even more easily. Any attempt to take away from this industry is unlikely to be viewed favourably, and understandably so, it is a livelihood for many families. But this, combined with almost no monitoring of gun ownership means that people in Pakistan are extremely well armed. When buying firearms there is no need to provide a reason for possessing them, no references are sought, no history of violence belonging to the individual buying the arms is searched for. With so many firearms readily available, the public almost looks for novel ways of using them. The tradition of firing in the air in celebration at important occasions, once restricted to tribal areas, has caught on to become a common practice at weddings in cities where it has caused many accidents and deaths.
If you apply his quote to physical security, it is as Joseph Krutch said, ‘Security is not a question of how much you have but how much you can do without.’ Perhaps because like money there is so little security available that it is now a status symbol in Pakistan. There is no indication that armed guards help. Remember the case of Salmaan Taseer shot dead by his own armed guard Mumtaz Qadri. Qadri became a national hero for shooting his employer following his (Taseer’s) courageous condemnation of the infamous blasphemy law. Meantime, the public does without any security at all. Our school children lose their lives when they try to get an education and as a result of VIP’s quest for safety. You wonder how things fit together.
What can be done to remove guns?
Regulation does help. Compared to the US where firearm regulation is much more lax, Canada, with its greater regulation, has substantially fewer shooting incidents.
Australia has a homicide rate around one-eighth of Pakistan’s. There gun ownership laws were considerably tightened by John Howard’s government in the 1990s following the massacre at Port Arthur.
Pakistan has among the most liberal firearm laws in the world. Anyone with a license can buy a gun. Only a fraction of the firearms present in Pakistan are registered. There is no assessment of suitability for gun ownership, no training regarding its use and no restriction on the number of guns owned by an individual. The incidence of gun violence in Pakistan is even greater than in the US.
Weapons have their place in every country and that place is with the military, not with individuals. Pakistan’s weapons cottage industry must be diverted into proper channels, which isn’t easy. Arms industries everywhere pose a threat for the entire international community. A study conducted by SIPRI finds that more than half of all world weapons exported are from the US and Russia, followed… by quite a large gap, by China, Germany and France. “The flow of arms to Africa, the Americas, Asia and Oceania, and the Middle East increased significantly between 2005-09 and 2010-14, while there was a notable decrease in the flow to Europe,” the study says. This closely corresponds to the prevalence of conflict vs peace around the world. Which came first, the chicken or the egg, is a relevant question here, an interesting one.
If it is difficult for Pakistan to divert the arms it produces into other channels, combating those other huge interests is almost an insurmountable task.
Some countries have managed to keep violence down. Hong Kong is among those with an extremely low incidence of gun violence. It is the job of civilian governments to keep peace within the country and one of the ways of doing this is to study models around the world in an effort to learn from them. Farming this job out to the army within the civilian arena is a short sighted, short term measure.
Debate on this issue as in others should be initiated and tighter regulations on who buys guns and why put in place. And as in most other spheres, the problem should also be handled at the school level where children must be taught the value of peace, in an attempt to remove the glamour surrounding guns and violence, placing it around peace instead, where it belongs.

Monday, January 18, 2016


Testing boundaries to the limit

At a recent party the hostess’ neighbour, a much coiffured woman without eyebrows, entertained the other guests for more than an hour with stories relating to various absent persons. Actually ‘entertained’ is not the word since her stories had a malignant touch and Lahore being what it is several of her targets had a friend or relative in the room. The lady on the sofa next to me sat silently through a richly embellished account of her grandfather’s supposed peccadillos. A man across the room betrayed his annoyance only by his tightly crossed arms during a distorted recounting of an incident featuring his uncle’s controversial financial policies. Another guest struck up a loud conversation with the person next to her in the midst of a story focusing on a very dear class fellow’s reputed ill-temper. All told, you had to admire the forbearance and dignity of everyone in that room; not a single person reacted beyond what was unconsciously conveyed by his or her body language all the while the neighbour spoke. Really, nobody needed to react because the people targeted by the lady’s stories were all well respected figures who had achieved great things, and their reputations were easily able to withstand one or two, even several malignant tongues.
It wasn’t until the lady started talking about the small disabled child of a missing guest that anyone betrayed a reaction. The poor hostess tried to change the subject as she had several times that evening but her neighbour continued speaking about the little child’s lopsided face and uncoordinated movements. By the time she began dwelling upon the string of saliva, that still at the age of five, dribbled from the corner of the child’s mouth and the financially ‘despicable’ condition of his parents, the guests had all left inspite of the arrival of the coffee tray, and the neighbour, having lost her audience, left soon after. Only I remained with the lady of the house, a close friend, thinking to console her. I found she didn’t need much consoling.
‘She’s a horrible woman,’ she said in a low voice. ‘Stupid and nasty. But today she hurt only herself, most of all when she started talking about that poor child.’ She shivered and sank into a chair. ‘Now I don’t need to invite her ever again and no one can accuse me of neglecting a neighbour.’
Stupid and nasty. Bête et méchant. That was Charlie Hebdo’s slogan until it was replaced by ‘I am Charlie’ after twelve people were shot dead at its Paris office in January 2015. Like my friend’s neighbour the magazine tends to be inflammatory and obnoxious. Unlike my friend’s guests though, certain people reacted violently to cartoons featuring the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) printed by the magazine sometime ago, and they shot some of the magazine’s staff to death. Like the people targeted by the neighbour at the party that day, only much, much more than them, the towering personality and incredible achievements of the Muslim Prophet (PBUH) are not easily dented, and the respect in which he is held cannot be eroded by one or even many malicious tongues or cartoons. It would have been far better if those people had stuck to the Prophet’s (PBUH) teachings of peace and forbearance than to abandon those teachings for acts of violence that went against everything he stood for.
Charlie Hebdo’s most recent cartoons however are not just inflammatory, they are nauseating, seriously sickening. The Guardian says it quite well that ‘the French magazine may have wanted to give prejudice a kicking but it ended up giving it a platform’, although I’m not sure if Hebdo ever wanted to give prejudice a kicking either with its earlier cartoon or with these. It seems to wish only to test tolerance to the limit and gain a larger, more twisted readership.
Several weeks ago, the world was shaken and grieved to the core by a photograph showing the tiny drowned body of Alan Kurdi, a Syrian refugee, washed up on the beach. I can still hardly bear to see that picture of the little boy as he lies face down in the sand, his arms by his side, his little feet shod in their small shoes facing the viewer. It speaks more eloquently of the refugee crisis and of the misery of the dislocated families than anything anyone could say. And Charlie Hebdo’s recent cartoons feature this toddler. Each cartoon is more horrible than the other, one showing a figure representing Jesus walking on the water beside the tiny drowned body with the caption: Proof that Europe is Christian – Christians walk on water, Muslim kids drown.
If I were that child’s mother I would wish to use a gun.
Please, Charlie Hebdo, do not presume to speak for the Christian world, just as no terrorist can speak for Muslims anywhere. I know many Christians, enough to know that most Christians, like most Muslims, possess more intelligence, greater sensitivity, and infinitely more compassion that you have now or ever displayed.
The best reaction one can display to such provocation which is like the result of eating something rotten at a restaurant, is calm disdain. Hebdo reminds me forcefully of the woman at that party, and also of a python in a story that in showing off how large a prey it could swallow gulped down a cow and died of lactose intolerance. You can only say amen to that.
No violence required. Simply avoid that restaurant and ignore all arrogant snakes.

Friday, January 15, 2016


Pakistani security officials collect belongings of their comrades from the scene of a bomb blast that targeted a Polio vaccination center in Quetta, Pakistan, January 13, 2016. PHOTO: JAMAL TARAQAI/EPA

A loud blast followed by an explosion in Quetta on Wednesday left several persons dead and others severely injured. The scene was a polio vaccination centre, and the explosion took place near a group of vehicles which were being loaded with vaccination supplies.
Twelve of the dead belonged to the police, two to the paramilitary, while two were civilians. Fifteen people died at the hands of a suicide bomber whose remains were later collected from the site. The police and paramilitary personnel killed had come to the polio vaccination centre to escort the polio workers since polio teams are so commonly subjected to attacks these days.
What makes people who organise such terrorist attacks tick?
In any war, getting into the mind of the enemy is of crucial importance. Such terrorists must possess a well-developed streak of sadism. It is difficult to believe that without this characteristic, a person could indulge in such bloody carnage, unless of course they’re paid to do such things. Revolting as it is to imagine that this could be so, it is astounding what money can achieve because it has no ideals, it recognises no nationhood, no morality, no religion.
If you’re dead yourself, you cannot witness the suffering of the people you’ve killed, therefore suicide bombers themselves are unlikely to be sadists. For the organisers, it could be the offer of large sums of money, but in the case of the suicide bomber it would have to take the shape of aid for the family left behind. It is one way for a person to obtain money for a desperate family in a country where the authorities couldn’t care less.
It reminds me of the young Indian squash player who was willing to sell his kidney in order to continue playing and by extension make more money for his family. That young man is the sole bread earner in his family. His earnings paid for his sister’s wedding and his family depends on him. He too should have been able to rely on support from the government instead of selling his body to make ends meet.
The motive could also be a threat, the kidnapping of a child or the death of a parent. Strap a bomb onto the person being victimised and detonate it when agreed or else your family suffers. These are entirely possible, even probable motives in a country where law and order barely exist. It is how the bhatta mafia works and thrives.
The only other motive is a genuine belief in the justification of the violence committed and an expectation of divine reward, paradise, riches or whatever is most desired. Hard as it is to accept this mangling of religion, it is an extremely possible motive for those who believe in the divisive fire and brimstone speeches delivered by so called religious preachers and leaders.
Who can deny the existence of the bitter gulf in society, the huge chasm exposed by this event in Quetta and others like it?
On one hand there are people who will pay money to go to great lengths in order to get their children inoculated against polio and other diseases. On the other hand, there are people, such as the man who held the polio team hostage in Killi Ahmzai, near Quetta in 2014.
Ranged alongside him are people such as these who bombed the centre in Quetta on Wednesday. The militant organisation Jundullah claimed ‘credit’ for the attack which killed many innocent people.
Would a man who has a small house, with well-fed, school-going children and the security of government support be willing to blow himself up? No.
Such a man could only commit a heinous act if he was taught to categorise humanity as kafirs (non-believers) on one side and momins (believers) on the other. In the recent attacks in Paris and the United States we have such examples and we also know where they got their ideas from. Yes, our mullahs (religious clerics) have much to answer for.
You wonder why with all this pressure on the polio vaccination drive, the World Health Organisation’s demands for travellers to be vaccinated have been accepted without amendment. As it stands, when a person travels he/she must get vaccinated against polio and this particular vaccination, instead of lasting a lifetime as with children’s vaccines, lasts for just one year. This has only added to the burden on these centres since frequent travellers will keep returning for drops to obtain a fresh certificate each year.
This is an example of a critical shortcoming in planning and organisation which can be found in every sphere in Pakistan, be it law and order, in the medical field or in education, all of which are implicated in attacks such as the one in Quetta.
If one were to point to any one crucial thing, any one reason behind the mess that is Pakistan, it would be a lack of planning. It is this factor which is responsible for the huge gulf in society and for the entirely irreligious religious teaching that pervades and destroys our lives today.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Bias has much to do with systems that are being eroded in Pakistan
 It’s interesting how the blowback following recent terrorist incidents has forced people all over the world to re-examine their convictions. You wish we’d do the same, here in Pakistan. Dr Larycia Hawkins, who teaches political science at Wheaton College near Chicago, remarked on Facebook recently that Muslims, Christians and Jews worship the same God. Wheaton College, an Evangelical institution could not let such statements pass since according to Christian belief their God is not the Muslim God, and Dr Hawkins, a tenured professor, found herself placed on administrative leave. But that wasn’t all. Hawkins, who has written about race, religion and issues relating to American politics, spoke with the local chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) to find out if Muslims would be offended if a non-Muslim woman wore the head covering called a hijab, considered to be the preserve of Muslim womanhood. Obviously the Council replied they would not because then Dr Hawkins, a teacher who clearly believes in the practical side of education, decided to wear a hijab in solidarity with Muslim women who have been facing some bias of late.
Thinking logically, isn’t it odd that although decrepit Muslim sensibilities remain intact when a Christian woman wears the hijab, they fall apart when others who are called non-Muslim inscribe verses from the Quran on the graves of their dead? This is what happened in 1989 resulting in an FIR being registered by the Punjab police against the entire population of the city of Rabwah because its people inscribed Quranic verses on the graves of Ahmadiyya people in the graveyards of that city. Shall we think about this for a moment, all of us, including those who condemn the show of intolerance by Wheaton College? If the residents of Rabwah were wrong in doing what they did, Dr Hawkins was also wrong in wearing the hijab, but clearly if you check out the comments on that news report, most people think she did the right thing, and that it was the College that was at fault. Time to relate events to concepts and attitudes, and vice versa.
Mr Abdul Shakoor, the owner of a bookshop, also in Rabwah, has been selling books relating to his own sect via his bookshop. As a result he ran afoul of the blasphemy and terrorism laws promulgated in the time of the general who must not be named, and for this offence he has been sentenced to imprisonment for eight years. Mr Shakoor is eighty years old. Aside from the sheer idiocy of the law under which he has been booked, the matter contravenes all kinds of humane conventions, including the injunction within Islam itself regarding the treatment of the elderly. What’s more, if Mr Shakoor isn’t allowed to sell literature relating to his own sect, neither should Christians or anyone else sell theirs, but there appears to be no problem with that. Is that bias and discrimination or what? Furthermore, how does Pakistan’s blasphemy law gel with the fact that hundreds of mosques in France, including the Grand Mosque in Paris are opening their doors to all and sundry, inviting dialogue centred on Islam, even inviting non-Muslims to attend Muslim prayers? Will members of the Ahmadiyya sect be barred from this dialogue, or from participating in these prayers? And given these laws in Pakistan how do you explain the furor here following Donald Trump’s talk of shutting down mosques in the US?
Now is a good time to get rid of a few laws right here in Pakistan which are as biased as the Donald Trump we love to hate, because surely condemning Donald for blowing his ‘Trumpet’ calling for sanctions against Muslims also requires us to examine our own biases which are strikingly similar to his. A Muslim woman in a hijab wearing a shirt that said ‘I come in peace’ was escorted out of Donald Trump’s rally recently, and this act has been considered reprehensible by the Pakistani public. I wonder what would happen to a person obviously belonging to the Ahmadiyya sect at a public meeting in Pakistan who turned up wearing a shirt that said nothing at all.
All this makes you think — does it not — about bias and prejudice, about stereotyping, and what constitutes education and leadership by example? Bias has much to do with an absence of education and with poor education, but also with systems that are being eroded in Pakistan. Strong communities that feel secure in themselves lack prejudice. They welcome people of other faiths and appearance into their midst. Bias thrives in societies such as ours that are fed on vitriol, where each day brings a heavy dose of fear, frustration, anger and bitterness. It takes violence and insecurity to create prejudice. But interestingly enough, it also took violence to foster insight and tolerance. That is an interesting twist to the horrors taking place today. It is a good twist, and I’m in the mood to look for the silver lining to this particular cloud.

Monday, January 4, 2016


Military justice is to justice what military music is to music: Groucho Marx
Pakistan, that polygamist among the community of nations, has four legal systems in tow: civil, military, traditional tribal (jirga) and religious (Sharia). Which system has the casting vote? Isn’t the civilian legal system sufficient, and if not, why? Has it broken down? Is it possible to maintain all four legal systems without one stepping on the other’s toes?
In what sounds like the standard excuse for polygamy, military courts are said to be required in the civilian arena at certain times and this is apparently one of those times. Military courts have therefore been granted legal writ in the civilian realm, at least for now.
As the country ushered in the New Year, nine terrorists were tried and sentenced to death by military courts, their death warrants signed by the COAC. At least three of these persons, civilians, are charged with crimes against civilians. Under normal circumstances these three would have been tried by civil courts. Military courts would be reserved for cases that involve the military. So if, for example, an army officer shoots his superior during the course of duty, he is tried by a military court. But if the same army officer shoots the same superior because the superior is the father of his daughter’s fiancé who broke off their engagement, he comes under the ambit of civil law.
In Karachi military courts appear to have achieved something for the present. Speak to a Karachiite and you’ll find they feel safer and vouch for the city having become less dangerous which strongly implies that civil systems were not doing their job. Yet what long term prospects for peace exist in a city where violence is blocked by force without any attempt to address the basis for that violence? That however is not how the military thinks or works. It does not address the basis of any given issue; it works by removing the issue from its path, blowing it up, shooting it away. Its music bands play not peaceful raags or the gentle strains of Mozart which reach into the core of your heart and mind but strident martial music which make you stamp in time to the beat. The militaryhas its own agenda, its own targets and as such there is a danger that military courts will share these aims and targets and fail to be neutral. In Mexico where a similar tussle took place between civilian and military legal courts, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights noted that ‘military criminal jurisdiction is not the competent jurisdiction to investigate and, in its case, prosecute and punish the authors of violations of human rights but that instead the processing of those responsible always corresponds to the ordinary justice system.’
A few days ago Rangers arrested, detained, or conducted operations against sundry criminals. They also ‘apprehended’ two criminals, broke into their premises, and recovered grenades and a stolen motorcycle from their possession. Under British law, upon which the Pakistan legal system is largely based, every invasion of private property, be it ever so minute, is trespass. Under normal circumstances apprehending criminals would be the job of the police armed with warrants, and the alleged criminals would be tried by civil courts. Rangers have no legal writ in such matters… unless, of course, they have been given legal writ which they have.
We also have the jirga system which recently accused a man of rape, shaved his head and face and forced him to drink the urine of the woman he was supposed to have raped, something he strongly denies. Members of this jirga have since been arrested although some are still ‘at large’. So is the jirga answerable to normal civil law after all? If so, how is it that in Wana a grand jirga warned members of all ‘non-local militant groups’ to leave the area or else face some undefined action? And wait a minute. What about the local militant groups? Any action against them? And why is the jirga taking action against anyone anyway? This jirga also decided to destroy the homes of anyone who helped the non-local militants. So how about the homes of anyone who helps the local militants? But hang on, since when does a jirga decide and act upon such things? And which law says it is okay to destroy anyone’s home? Why aren’t the law enforcement people out there dealing with this matter? And how is it that members of this jirgawere not arrested like others?
And then there are the Shariah courts whose job it is to ensure that the laws of the country comply with Shariah law. What Shariah law is of course still remains to be defined and agreed upon to a great extent. It is also uncertain how Shariah courts dovetail with the Council of Islamic Ideology which is also charged with making recommendations to Parliament for bringing current laws into conformity with Islamic injunctions, but it must do so somehow somewhere. On a snide note: the Chairperson of the Council of Islamic Ideology Maulana Sheerani recently came to very physical blows with Maulana Ashrafi during one of their meetings. Obviously the organisation has a ways to go before reaching consensus on matters between itself before it can advise the community at large. The Shariah courts need to take another look at where they get their okays from.
A well run, free from corruption, neutral justice system is crucial to the continued growth and wellbeing of any society. Messing around with this is like messing around sexually after marriage, it never works in the long run.
Justice, like theism is best served with just one head. Multiple legal systems will only ever lead to chaos. Pakistan’s civilian courts have many issues but would it not be better to fix these than handing their job out to several groups that have their own issues and little in common with each other?