Monday, June 27, 2016


Did the Pakistan dreamt of ever come into being?
Sectarianism, extremism and violence in Pakistan, what can be done to address these problems? The country, after all, started life with such a colorful cabinet. Its founder Jinnah possessed a Hindu grandfather and a Parsi wife. The father in law of Pakistan’s first Minister for Foreign Affairs Liaquat Ali Khan was a Hindu converted to Christianity, whose daughter, Liaquat Ali Khan’s wife Rana became a Muslim only at marriage. For a brief period when Liaquat Ali Khan went on to become Prime Minister after Jinnah’s death, we had her as First Lady. There was also Muhammad Zafarullah Khan, Pakistan’s first Foreign Minister who belonged to the Ahmadiyya community, and of course Jogendra Nath Mandal Pakistan’s first Minister for Law and Labour, a Hindu.
None of these people would have made it to the cabinet in later years. Mandal, being Hindu, may not have survived, as in stayed alive, here for long, whereas that Chaudhry Zafarullah lived to ninety plus right here in Lahore is nothing short of a miracle given that he became a target for extremist groups who called for his resignation from the cabinet and would have been happy with taking his life. If it comes to that, Jinnah himself, although he personally never professed any particular sect was born to a Khoja (Shia) Ismaili family; he might have found himself at the wrong end of something loud and explosive, had he lived today.
Yet things were not all hunky dory even with that first cabinet. Jinnah differed with Liaqat Ali Khan on the subject of minorities and was not too impressed by the rest of his cabinet either. ‘Below average’, is how he described it to a friend. Nor were general attitudes towards other sects as they ought to have been even then. Jogendra Nath Mandal who had initially opted for Pakistan returned to India soon after Partition where he cited discrimination against Hindus as the reason for his move.
It was just six years after Partition in 1953 that the first anti-Ahmaddiya violence took place in Lahore leading to martial law that same year, the first of several in Pakistan.
It is hard to say how these attitudes may be changed. If education alone were the key to change ‘educated’ countries like the US (that at least possesses some basic literacy which is all we can aspire to in the foreseeable future, we are so far behind at present) would not have such a large number of people holding extreme right wing views. That it does have a large number of people holding such views is confirmed by Donald Trump’s success so far in the lead up to the elections.
The alleviation of poverty is another potential tool for change. However if poverty alone were the cause of extreme right wing mentality and terrorism, a far greater number of Pakistanis would be extreme right wingers, and terrorists, which is not the case at all. That is not to say that extreme poverty is not a contributing factor, it is.  But according to an article by Beenish Ahmed in Think Progress, a group of researchers who spoke with extremists and their sympathisers on behalf of Mercy Corp reported that ‘the forces that lead them to militancy included experiences of injustice, discrimination, marginalization, corruption, or physical violence, such as being beaten by police or security forces, or being faced with the killing of a family member.’
“I did not join the Taliban because I was poor,” a 23-year-old former militant fighter told Mercy Corps researchers. “I joined because I was angry.”’
Injustice, discrimination, marginalisation, corruption, and police violence brings us closer to a more accurate description of Pakistan. There are millions in this country who are not facing extreme poverty, who may not be facing poverty at all, but who are pushed against the wall daily and led extreme frustration, intolerance and anger by all these factors enumerated above every single day of their lives.
It would normally be the job of a civilian government to address these problems but to date civilian governments in Pakistan have either been too disinterested, apathetic, self centred or unfit, or all of the above, to do so. Aside from allowing extreme right wing groups to proliferate these governments allowed the military to gain powers it was never supposed to possess, starting with that first Martial Law in 1953.
The present position is as Faisal Siddiqi said in his article last year that ‘a militarised democracy has emerged, in which the political and military elites consensually treat each other as co-equal decision-makers, even though the military has a subordinate constitutional role.’
Subordinate to the civilian government that is.
Such being the case, and since the situation is urgent and requires more muscle than civilian governments possess, Zarb-e Azb has been a good move towards removing extremist groups from the fabric of this country like nits from hair. You wish the operation possessed more transparency, and was being conducted under the aegis of the civilian government, not in spite of it.
A major hitch is the undoubted presence of extreme right wing support within the army itself, and the possibility, given precedent, of the army of overstepping its remit.  You almost wish someone would frame the motto: ‘The military is subordinate to the civilian government under the constitution’ and place it in every available public place, to recalibrate the mindset of the military. Easier that than the whole nation. Maybe. It’s a tall order.
Success depends upon the presence of some other factors taking place simultaneously and on a mandatory basis: 1) the provision of better (read: rational) and more widespread education in Pakistan. 2) A serious attempt to improve the courts and systems of judicial redress in the country. Nothing can be achieved without this since poor access to justice leads most directly to frustration and anger, creating fertile ground for extremism. 3) A genuine attempt to alleviate extreme poverty wherever it exists in the country. 4) A civilian government that is committed to the nation rather than to itself.
Sadly, Pakistan has never been able to achieve any of these, but particularly the last. Which is why Jinnah’s Pakistan did come into being on paper, but if ‘Pak’ means rational and welcoming rather than rigid and rejectionist, such a country never really existed in terms of the real meaning of its name.

Monday, June 20, 2016


‘The development of Balochistan is close to my heart,’ says Nawaz Sharif before leaving for a possible heart bypass.
Russell Domingo, South Africa’s cricket coach said about the Pakistan cricket team that ‘their unpredictability is not a challenge because they are predictably unpredictable. Their strength lies in the predictability of their unpredictability,’ which sounds about right if you can work it out. Clearly the whole predictability vs unpredictability thing resonated with the Pakistan government because they’ve taken a leaf out of the team’s book. If one could suspect them of any organized tactical moves you would detect them in some unpredictable behavior while pretending to be strong and predictable, you know what I mean?
Unexpectedly for the prime minister of a poor country, although not unpredictably for Mr. Nawaz Sharif, he, the Prime Minister of Pakistan decided to have his heart surgery (it was open heart surgery) in England and recuperate afterwards in kingly style in his apartment in the same country. While predictably, the real king of people’s hearts Mr. Edhi refused to leave the country for treatment in spite of being offered the facility.  While the PM is being nursed back to health in London the government has been moved to his apartment in that city because predictably there is nothing in place for in case such a thing happens. Back home Mr Ishaq Dar and some other people scuttle around firing orders on the PM’s behalf.
Meantime the Foreign Office, unexpectedly but predictably enough given the performance of the rest of government, issued a statement saying that Abdul Sattar Edhi had passed away. A country that couldn’t really care too much which way the PM’s surgery went, or if it did it did so only in a cursory sort of manner, sobbed in collective grief and then took a heartfelt sigh of relief when Faisal Edhi, Sattar Edhi’s son issued a statement that the Foreign Office had exaggerated. ‘My father lives and is well,’ he assured us. We pray that Mr. Edhi and his wife may continue to live in our midst for a long time yet. Amen.
So we have a Foreign Office that doesn’t appear to know what’s going on at home, which makes you wonder what it knows about foreign parts, and a PM who doesn’t trust his own hospitals and only opens his heart to outsiders (that’s a neat pun if I say so myself). We have a Council of Islamic Ideology that misplaces the moon twice a year every single year and spends an entire day and a half looking for it with telescopes on top of high plazas, and a nation that waits with bated breath to thrust the sewian into a pan the minute they get the word.
We have a Ministry of Finance that just presented a budget, the bulk of which is spent in paying off interest on government borrowing, followed predictably enough on ‘Defence Affairs and Services’. Inexplicably, the sum allocated to the President….his staff, household and allowances…amounts to Rs.863.48 million. Good grief! Mamnoon Hussain! And I had to google his name because I was unsure of both the name and how to spell it, but that’s okay because I am sure he is unsure how to spell it too if he has any idea of how to spell at all. If he was Moon Hussain and he got lost do you reckon anyone would bother looking for him with telescopes on top of high plazas? Just saying.
But Nah.
As for education in the budget, well what of it? Given that Pakistan spends the least on education in all of Asia, the 2016-17 budget… well just imagine a largerectangle, okay? Now imagine a tiny little rectangle up on one side, much, much smaller than the one for Defence, much, much, much smaller than the one for paying off loans etc, and that tiny rectangle would be for education.
Predictably inexplicable? Yes.

Monday, June 13, 2016


Some people spend their time spouting religion but there is very little that is civilised about them. As Mushtaq Ahmad Yousufi puts it, these are the people who head to a mosque even to obtain a pair of shoes. Hafiz Hamdullah, a member of the JUI (F), now better known because of his violent outburst against a woman, a fellow panelist on television, is obviously one of them. Here is a man who passed over the male panelist to come down violently on the woman, although both had just disagreed with him, the man more directly.
Yesterday when news of this outburst on public television hit the waves I messaged Hafiz sahib, expressing my disgust at his behavior, and received the following response:
“We want to rule of Islamic law bcoz Pakistan is Islamic republic state” (sic).
It would be hard to find a more confused nation than this one which allows minorities to be persecuted, and imprisons them under sentence of death for no reason; which lets young girls be murdered for no crime, allows murderers to go free, permits jirgas and other such parodies of justice to function, which gives people like Hamdullah – a man who treats women like something stuck under his shoe – legitimacy as a senator …yet calls itself an Islamic republic or state.
Which Islam is this?
Islam does not permit women to be spoken to the way Hafiz sahib spoke to his fellow panelist, or treated the way the CII thinks they should be treated. I repudiate the version of a religion that allows such behaviour, because I consider myself a Muslim, am proud and honoured to be one. That is not Islam. The religion most of our mullahs follow is not Islam. Their version of Islam must be rejected regardless of the position held by the person who pushes it, which in Hamdullah’s case is believe it or not Chairperson of the Senate Committee of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony. How do you express a snort on paper?
If it is to such persons in the Senate that legislation such as the ridiculously ill-drafted, draconian Cyber Crime Bill is to be referred before it passes into law, then Pakistan is sunk indeed.
Pakistan has to get its basic priorities right. So let’s check out the other end of the scale and probably the most respected man the country has ever produced, a man who represents what Pakistan should be.
It feels almost disrespectful to speak of Abdul Sattar Edhi on the same page but here is a man who believes in humanitarianism as the underlying belief of religion, one who practices what he believes. Edhi, or Nana as he is called by the people around him is unwell these days yet he still comes to work. Long may he remain in our midst. Surely there is no person in this country who does not pray for his wellbeing.
I saw Edhi sahib many years ago at one of the orphanages he runs in Karachi; wearing one of the two crumpled kurta pyjamas he possesses and a pair of old chappals. He was standing in an open courtyard completely surrounded by a chattering group of young children. It is impossible to forget the image. This home provided by the Edhi Foundation was the only home these children possessed. He is a man who believes in protecting the weak, men, children, and women alike. The homes and shelter the Edhi Foundation provides are for everyone, regardless of gender or religion.
But Edhi needs no introduction. His work has been there for all to see almost as long as Pakistan has. My point in speaking of him is simply to ask readers this question: which of these two men mentioned here stand for peace and harmony, for compassion, decency and strength?
If Pakistan is to get its basic priorities right it must weigh different values on the scale and see which has created the war, dissension, fear and loss we see all around us today, and which alleviates the problems of humanity and brings peace both within us and all around? Okay, Islamic law… although whatever that is still has to be defined…but based on what? Extremism or humanitarianism…which is it to be? Unless that is settled, I vote secular.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016



Some issues are set to overtake all others, such as the question of aged care. It belongs right up there with global warming, shortage of fuel and water, and in fact it is far more imminent than any of these, particularly in countries like Pakistan
The rate of migration from Pakistan is high and has been so since the 1970s. Skilled and unskilled, Pakistanis left mainly for the Middle East initially, and then for everywhere else until now there is almost no country in the world without a Pakistani community. Not that the outflow has made any difference to population figures here at home which have kept up with and even outstripped the haemorrhage. Migration has split families all over Pakistan, taking some members out of the country, leaving some behind. Those left behind are predominantly the elderly.
Some migrants return home after a few years. They have problems, such as disorientation, perhaps a lack of communication between long separated persons, and difficulty in adjusting to an environment that was home until their horizons were widened. Those who do not return are faced with a different set of problems, one of the greatest being the question of how to organise care for the older family members left behind. It is difficult to look after someone remotely, yet taking older family members along involves legal and economic issues, and raises a different set of questions regarding care in those new environments. Meantime back in Pakistan there is no organized system of aged care whatsoever.
The Libertarian party, in some ways the third strongest political party in the United States, would like to ‘eliminate the entire social welfare system. Individuals who are unable to fully support themselves and their families through the job market must, once again, learn to rely on supportive family, church, community, or private charity to bridge the gap.’ That scenario right or wrong sounds uncannily like Pakistan as it is now, where the family is the mainstay and there is no help from supportive governance (laughter) or ‘supportive mosques’ (more laughter). The supportive communities that once existed have become too large, non-cohesive and disorganised to be supportive any longer. Where once the elderly were absorbed into large, often joint families as a normal, easily cared for segment of society, migration, the changing structure of families and growing expenses means that the elderly are now often without any means of support and have become ‘a problem’.
Charity is one of Pakistan’s strong points. Almost the only institutions for the elderly that exist in Pakistan are charitable and these are many. A destitute person can always obtain shelter in homes such as those organized by the Edhi Foundation and other charitable homes for the elderly dotted across the country, almost always in urban areas.
Pakistan’s population however is too large. The existing homes do not by any means suffice for the poor and the destitute. As for the relatively well-off, organised facilities for them are virtually non-existent. The only option available to well-off persons is home care which is a far from satisfactory option if family is living too far away to supervise and the person being cared for is unable to do so.
Home care does not come cheap. Semi-skilled twenty four hour care costs well upwards of Rs. 40,000. The middle class suffers the most because the cost of this care is beyond their reach while the charitable homes fall too short of expectations. As always it, the middle class falls into that nasty hole somewhere in between.
Solutions must be found to this problem for everyone, and very soon. More free or inexpensive homes for the elderly are required, and for the many disabled and elderly persons without support on the streets.
For those who can afford it independent living centres are required in Pakistan. These are independent home units managed by a central authority that provide facilities to residents based on the level of care required. A person of eighty may be fairly independent and may require just some assistance with shopping and someone to contact in case of emergency. Another may be more dependent and require greater assistance with mobility, paying the bills etc. In addition there will be people who are bedridden or more senile who require total care with every aspect of life. These levels may and do change over time.
The centres may be built as townhouses, apartments, suites, or single rooms to suit varying financial capacities.  In every case carers must be whetted, supervised and monitored. The authority at the centre can provide these services, of whetting, supervising and adjusting the level of care as required.
Nothing can replace a family that cares for its own elderly. But in the absence of this, and this is becoming the case in an increasing number of homes, institutionalised care has become a vital, an urgent need. Contrary to what most people piously argue, these homes for the elderly and helpless are a sign of a society that cares for its aged not the other way around. When circumstances separate families as they are increasingly doing in Pakistan, this is the only solution.