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.