Sunday, August 13, 2017

PRIDE AT THE GRASSROOTS

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2017/08/14/pride-at-the-grassroots/

May God bless the people of Pakistan
 …it isn’t the leaders who make us proud. It is people like this. 

The common people of the country.

 Seventy years into the creation of Pakistan, it may be a good time to remind ourselves of the national anthem of the country. Since it is written using words that are gobbledygook to the bulk of the population, here it is in English, which is also gobbledygook to the bulk of the population.

Blessed be the sacred Land:
Happy be the bounteous realm
Symbol of high resolve
Land of Pakistan
Blessed be thou citadel of faith
The order of this sacred land
Is the might of the brotherhood of the People
May the nation, the country, and the state
Shine in glory everlasting
Blessed be the goal of our ambition
This Flag of the Crescent and Star
Leads the way to progress and perfection
Interpreter of our past, glory of our present
Inspiration of our future
Symbol of the Almighty’s protection

Jinnah said, “I have lived as Mr Jinnah, and I hope to die as Mr Jinnah. I am very much averse to any title of honours, and I would more than happy if there was no prefix to my name.”
Next month, on the 11th of September is the sixty-ninth death anniversary of the man we prefer to call Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. It would take too long to enumerate all the things he hoped for that have been dashed to the ground. Let’s just say: long live the Pakistan of Mr Jinnah’s dreams, and may the one which promotes exclusivity, discriminates against its citizens, and is riddled with corruption of every kind mend its ways, never mind what the rest of the world does. Amen.
The foundation of neither Jinnah’s Pakistan nor Nehru’s India was based on walls and exclusion. Yet earlier this year, General Bajwa announced the building of a fence between Pakistan and Afghanistan had commenced. And India last year activated eight virtual laser walls along the border with Pakistan, and had plans to activate four more.
India and Bangladesh share the fifth longest land border of the world, and half of this border has been fenced. Upon this the impaled body of a fifteen year old girl was once discovered.
All these walls and fences divide people who are culturally one.
Elsewhere in the world, Israel has been building a wall for more than a decade, and the US has plans for another. Saudi Arabia not to be left behind by its greatest buddy, is building a six hundred mile wall cum ditch in the north, to separate itself from Iraq.
As for discrimination, there is no need to look further than the blasphemy law.
The Islamabad High Court recently suggested that the blasphemy law should be amended to make it as punishable for a person accusing someone of blasphemy as it is for a person committing blasphemy. The problem is of course, that if people are falsely accused of committing blasphemy, they can also be falsely accused of accusing someone of committing blasphemy. It isn’t hard, and in this country where there is little recourse to justice quite tempting for people that way inclined. Would it not be better to remove the law completely? Such a law is discriminatory and has no place in any society.
Meantime, a couple of months ago, a Christian man was arrested in Lahore, for alleged blasphemy. And a Christian man was tortured in Sheikhupura by a Muslim woman’s family, for being ‘friends’ with her. They saw no irony in their actions, much less the inhumanity.
Meantime also, the latest PM unable finish his term is back home in Lahore. He was not accompanied on the way there by his tweeting daughter, or his tweeting sister in law. You wish someone would close down Twitter, which would have the added advantage of giving the POTUS a bellyache.
Jinnah would firmly request to be put back in his grave if he ever returned and witnessed the corruption in Pakistan. The Sharif family is not the only one riddled with corruption, although the relationship between that and Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification was nebulous enough to point towards corruption in other quarters.
This is rather a negative tirade on the occasion of Pakistan’s seventieth anniversary. But tell me, what should we celebrate? Although wait, there is this:  There are people such as the Edhis, Adib Rizvi – whose SIUT provides free medical treatment for kidney and liver disease and cancer, Parveen Saeed – the three rupee lady, who provides meals for that price to the poor at Khana Ghar, and many others like them. As long as people like this can call Pakistan home, this country can hold its head up in the world.
Yes, it isn’t the leaders who make us proud. It is people like this.  The common people of the country. May God bless the people of Pakistan, for it is from among them that we obtain our pride.



Monday, August 7, 2017

HOIST BY THEIR OWN PETARD

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2017/08/07/hoist-by-their-own-petard/

This country often seems close to a destruction brought about by its own people.
The PTI women’s wing’s challenge shows how little justice is understood, how seldom people think, how unable they are to relate one thing to another and arrive at a rational ‘therefore’, and how confused they are in their values and priorities.
A small Pakistani child was treated for a rare heart disease in India recently. This specialised surgery could not be performed in Pakistan which lacked the expertise. Of course in Pakistan in the Punjab, young doctors have repeatedly been on strike over the years. This Sunday was the fifth day of their current strike. 46 doctors have been suspended.  Jail Road in Lahore was the scene of riots. Water cannons, batons and tear gas were used to disperse protestors and members of the Young Doctors’ Association (YDA). You wonder whether things might improve if there were some organised efforts by the relevant Ministries to discuss demands.
Pakistan also appears to be on the brink of a communications blackout. Underwater cables that provide most of Pakistan’s bandwidth have been damaged near Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. Businesses are the first to suffer due to poor connectivity, which impacts the entire country. The Profit – a magazine of this newspaper – reported that ‘Planning on the part of relevant authorities seems to be myopic. Pakistan has the least number of submarine cables providing internet connectivity, just six, five of which have been laid in the last 14 years. Are the planners aware of the repercussions of their lack of planning?’
Another important question is: do they care?
Meantime, this newspaper also reported that while power shortage and subsequent load shedding continues in this country, the journal ‘Science Advances’ has warned of “summer heat waves with levels of heat and humidity that exceed what humans can survive without protection.” About 30 percent of the population in the region would be exposed to these harmful temperatures, and the densely populated farming regions of South Asia could fare the worst, because workers cannot escape into air-conditioned environments. If air-conditioned environments existed for them, that is, which they don’t.
In Skardu, torrential rains have flooded several areas, and destroyed homes. Roads are blocked due to floods and people there are in need of aid. Relief operations are said to be underway.
While all this and much more takes place in the country, those that ought to be immersed in solving these issues, and the public, have been spending much of that damaged bandwidth on following little more than the latest on Ayesha Gulalai. And here’s the funny thing: The PTI women’s wing has recently issued a warning to Gulalai, asking her to ‘apologise or face the Jirga.’
That is a challenge which says a lot.
The Jirga/Panchayat system of Pakistan is based on old tribal custom where a group of village elders passes judgement on any matter that requires adjudication.
This system exists in the presence of the mainstream judicial system of the country. While it is impossible for two separate systems to co-exist, much as it is for two deities, there have been arguments for the Jirga to continue, since the mainstream system is seen to have failed the country. This might be disputed in some quarters, particularly in the light of the support received by the recent judgement against the Prime Minister, when actually it is in the light of that very judgement that the mainstream system has shown itself once again, to be in need of an overhaul. But the solution to treating your daughter’s disease is not to allow her to die and to produce yet another daughter to replace her. It is to try and cure that disease.
The last persons to tout the Jirga should be women.
Which is what would make the PTI women’s wing’s challenge so funny if it were not to sad. Their challenge shows how little justice is understood, how seldom people think, how unable they are to relate one thing to another and arrive at a rational ‘therefore’, and how confused they are in their values and priorities.
The Jirga/Panchayat system had until earlier this year no validity according to the constitution, but it is allowed to persist because tradition is harder to override than other things, and because the alternatives are pathetic. Therefore, better the devil you know. In February this year the National Assembly passed a Bill that gives that tribal system constitutional cover. It came into effect immediately in the Capital and was to be extended gradually throughout the country. The Sindh High court has not accepted this move and banned Jirgas from passing judgement in that province.
Women are the greatest victims of Jirgas, which shows how much the PTI women’s wing is in touch with reality. Jirgas and Panchayat are entirely composed of men. Since Jirgas exist in areas which are also overwhelmingly biased against women, this bias is invariably reflected in its decisions.
Not only are Jirgas composed entirely of men, but these men belong to the influential segment of society. Which, in this country, means the landowners and feudal lords. That is damning not just for women, but for women from the downtrodden, oppressed segment of society since landowners and feudal lords do not have the best track record, neither in their attitudes towards women nor in their dealings with the less fortunate segment of society.
Given all this, when a biased judgement is passed, and it invariably is, a Jirga system provides no means of appeal. You accept that your daughter, sister, mother is responsible for causing the man to rape her and she pays the penalty, when in fact you know that her rapist was a cad of the first water who knew who would get away with his crime. And did.
Last year, a nine year old girl in the Punjab was handed over to settle a murder case decided by a Panchayat. She was the sister of the murderer who was ordered to be married to the murdered woman’s uncle.
In a similar case this year a three year old girl was ordered to be married by a Jirga in the Neelum Valley to settle a dispute in the family.
Also last year, ‘a Jirga of notables’ in Mirpurkhas settled a case of rape with thirty maunds of wheat. The victim’s father said he was forced to accept the judgement by the Jirga.
In Gujrat, a women set herself on fire and died after a judgement passed by a Panchayat. In her case her father was accused (and later released) on a charge of raping a minor girl. The Panchayat ordered that the accused rapist’s daughter (the woman who set herself on fire) should be raped in turn by the minor girl’s father.
These are only some of the decisions passed by Jirgas and Panchayat in this country. And the PTI woman’s wing has threatened another woman with a similar brand of ‘justice’. This is a political party that was also vociferous in its praise for the recent Supreme Court verdict. Hoist by your own petard, PTI.
I’m not sure I want the fate of this country which already hangs in the balance to be anywhere in the vicinity of such a group of people, not that other groups are any better.
Maybe Asma Jahangir – who makes a great deal of sense in what she says but lacks the appropriate manner in which to convey herself – should start a grassroots effort to communicate her views on justice to the common people of this country. Because lacking such views as hers, this country will be destroyed, and its own people will have brought about this destruction.

Monday, July 31, 2017

GETTING INTO THE MINISTRY OF MAGIC

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2017/07/31/getting-in-to-the-ministry-of-magic/

Is this a victory ?
Would you consider a man who admits to communication with a Supreme Court judge – whether or not this claim is true – to have any inkling whatsoever of justice, much less governance and democracy? Do you really, truly want such a man as Prime Minister?
Politics is a dirty business. J.K Rowling pointed that out rather cleverly when Harry and his friends had to flush themselves into the Ministry of Magic via a public toilet. But that dirty business has since become dirtier still.
Jinnah and Gandhi had little in common except their chosen professions and an interest in politics. But their approach to politics was very different. Gandhi, the man who later dressed in just a homespun loincloth, represented his people in their fight for independence from the British, as a Hindu leader and social reformer. Jinnah, on the other hand, the debonair man who lived in a style well within his ample means, represented his people in their fight for a separate homeland as a lawyer who happened to be Muslim. Their rhetoric was different, and their choices in life very different. Gandhi married within his caste and religion at the age of six. Jinnah made a similar choice initially, marrying his cousin at an early age. She died within a few months of marriage. He did not marry again till he was in his forties, and this time he married very much by choice – Rattan Bai, a non-Muslim, by whom he had a daughter.
To bring Jinnah’s name into an argument is to open a can of worms although God knows we like to have his portrait stuck on the wall everywhere, just as, figuratively, for important religious figures.  But let’s open the can just far enough to allow the dignity to be visible. It would be hard to hear what Jinnah said at any given moment because this is the man who never yelled into a mike.
Gandhi was assassinated a few months before Jinnah himself died. Here is the statement issued by Jinnah on the occasion of Gandhi’s death:
‘I am shocked to learn of the most dastardly attack on the life of Mr Gandhi, resulting in his death. There can be no controversy in the face of death. Whatever our political differences, he was one of the greatest men produced by the Hindu community, and a leader who commanded their universal confidence and respect. I wish to express my deep sorrow, and sincerely sympathise with the greater Hindu community and his family with their bereavement at this momentous, historical and critical juncture soon after the birth of freedom for Hindustan and Pakistan. The loss to the Dominion of India is irreparable, and it will be very difficult to fill the vacuum created by the passing away of such a great man at this moment.’
Nawaz Sharif, just removed from his elected position as Prime Minister of Pakistan has the dubious distinction of joining a long list of Prime Ministers, some of whom resigned (Chaudhry Mohammad Ali, Suharwardy, Chundrigar) or were assassinated (Liaquat Ali Khan), or were simply removed from office….all the rest, not counting those who were serving an interim term. The British newspaper, the Independent, calls this removal ‘a double edged sword’ for Pakistan, saying that this, yet another premature dismissal of an elected government, could reinforce the army’s grip over the country’s fate. Although the Independent is also right when it says later that the army already dictates in this country, and might no longer wish to ‘officially’ take over by means of a coup.
Note the contrast in dignity between earlier political figures of this country and those today.
When the verdict was announced, the PTI celebrated the Supreme Court’s verdict by distributing ladoo. Imran Khan praised the country’s judiciary for disqualifying Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from office. Khan believes this verdict will help eliminate corruption from the country, and at a news conference called the disqualification a “good omen” for Pakistan, adding that everyone who looted the nation’s wealth should face a similar fate.
He then asked his party supporters and other countrymen to make their way to Islamabad to celebrate the opposition’s victory in a “battle against corrupt elements.” He of course will be there, along with his close supporters, most of whom are wealthy landowners and – well, very wealthy.
As I wrote this article, on Sunday, the PTI was getting ready for that celebratory rally in Rawalpindi. That rally that, as we saw, was full of those who expect the dismissal of the government to be a ‘new beginning’. How na├»ve can you get, to imagine the puppet is moving on its own with nothing in view except accountability? At least the Khan may claim the excuse of a bouncer to the head at some stage in his earlier career.
That the route to Sharif’s dismissal is paved by a million hollow blocks appears to be lost in the current mindless atmosphere. We have Imran Khan proudly saying on public television, that one of the judges on the bench that convicted Sharif told him to ‘bring the Panama Case to the Supreme Court, and he would handle the rest.’ Would you consider a man who admits to such communication with a Supreme Court judge – whether or not this claim is true – to have any inkling whatsoever of justice, much less governance and democracy? Do you really, truly want such a man as Prime Minister?
Do you really think that the verdict issued by a panel containing a judge who could say such a thing, even one who would be in contact with an interested party, to be valid?
Really, the stink in this public toilet is enough to make a person sick, but as hard to stomach is the fact that many people appear to think the stench is attar of roses.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

THERE ARE MANY WAYS TO SKIN A CAT

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2017/07/24/there-are-many-ways-to-skin-a-cat/

Each political party must make it clear exactly what it stands for: rationally, not emotively
To skin the cat painlessly and well represents the goal – the one thing that many parties have in common, the common weal, good governance, whatever, which guarantees a cut for the skinner. Never mind that the cat dies in the process.
In today’s atmosphere in Pakistan, with politicians switching political parties, you wonder why politicians do such things with the monotonous regularity laxatives aspire to.
Political parties, in the modern sense, did not come into existence until sometime in the 1600s. The ancient Greeks had none, even though ancient Greece is where democracy began.
The ancient Romans had patricians and plebeians, which were not ‘political parties’, but lobby, or interest groups. The patricians were the nobility, or the upper classes, and the plebeians the merchants – what is now the middle class. Their interests were represented by these groups. The words patrician and plebeian continue to be used to refer to those groups of persons today.
In some ways not much has changed. The upper and middle classes are still the main actors on the stage. It is a different matter that the middle class has far greater rights and influence now than before. The two classes have organised themselves into parties with guidelines as to their makeup. The patricians, are more or less the Conservatives and the Republicans, who tend to prefer the status quo. The Plebeians who translate into the Labour Party, or the Democrats on the other side of the Pond, are said to be more open to change.
The Economist calls this a closed vs open model of society.
The Chinese have just one party and Pakistan has many. Something in between is good as an example. So we’re using American and British political parties as examples, although switching parties is nowhere as common in those countries as in Pakistan.
There is now a greater intermingling among these groups. You can have Tories with Whig-ish sentiments and Republicans with less conservative and more Democraticsensibilities.
Also, now, a third, anti-establishment group has emerged on the far left of the spectrum, led by Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and Bernie Sanders in the US. This appears to represent the most liberal, thinking segment of society. It will be interesting to see what they manage to achieve.
The one thing all these parties have in common is an agenda. Most political parties in most countries have a written goal, a manifesto, a written declaration of views and aims.
In what seems to be a contradiction, it is hard to judge a political party by its manifesto. One of the parties with a well written manifesto and it is also a better organised party than others in Pakistan is the MQM. But it being an exemplary party at present unlikely.
Most parties profess the same thing, more or less. But they approach what they profess differently. The Guardian said a couple of years ago about the party manifestos in the UK that all of them ‘are decent, civilised, kid-gloved affairs, reluctant for the most part to go on the offensive against the other parties for fear of negative campaigning. By a striking coincidence, almost all of them advocate a prosperous economy, a better deal for young people, a better deal for old people, a better deal for farmers, babies and badgers, a world-class educational system, affordable housing, controlled but fair immigration, the best possible start in life for your child, higher wages for everybody and equal opportunities for all. Only the Greens break with this bland consensus by having a special policy for helping bees.’
It’s like the saying ‘there are many ways to skin a cat.’
The cat represents the country, the common factor.
To skin the cat painlessly and well represents the goal – the one thing that many parties have in common, the common weal, good governance, whatever, which guarantees a cut for the skinner. Never mind that the cat dies in the process. Let’s ignore that.
The person skinning the cat is a member of this party or that. He skins the cat using his party’s methods.
Some ways of skinning the cat are more painful to the cat than others. Some ways present the person skinning the cat in a better light, makes her or him look prettier or not, or are more advantageous to the person skinning the cat, which guarantees he will get the job in future. Because yes, there are other persons behind this person, all hoping for a chance to skin the cat, a chance no other person might have if the first person plays his/her cards right.
Is it time to consider penalties for ‘doing a lota’ greater than losing a seat in the Assembly? That has been tried in some countries, but it hasn’t worked. Can we come up with something?

So taking all that into account, there is what is called the ‘lota syndrome’ in Pakistan. All that means is that if it becomes obvious that no one else is going to get a chance to skin the cat on this side of the table, the people in waiting roll like lotas to the other side of the table. And when that side of the table doesn’t work either, they roll to yet another side. And so on, there being as many sides to a table as political parties in the country, and there is always the independent, the guy who stands in the middle of the room skinning a cat all by himself. And of course the Greens, who have a special policy for skinning cats, or bees, but I don’t think we have them here. In Pakistan we’re free to pollute and plunder the earth anyway we like.
Honestly, it makes you silly, this issue. But it’s a silly sight, all those lotas rolling around, people who have no convictions or principles, no concern for anything but the skin and to be in the limelight. Ms Ashiq Awan, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, and Sheikh Rasheed are just three examples.
There have been rumours going around today of yet another roll. Whether that turns out true or not is to be seen.
Is it time to consider penalties for ‘doing a lota’ greater than losing a seat in the Assembly? That has been tried in some countries, but it hasn’t worked. Can we come up with something?


Unless each political party makes it clear exactly what it stands for, rationally, not emotively, and distinguishes itself from other parties by specific methods and pathways towards attaining its goals instead of indulging in rhetoric, uncivilised shouting matches, accusations and counter accusations, lotas – many of them – will always be rolling around. What does it matter if they skin this cat or that, this way or that? The point is to look as pretty as possible while doing it, and the getting your hands in where the action is. That, at present, is all that appears to count.

Monday, July 17, 2017

ACCOUNTABILITY FOR ALL

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2017/07/18/accountability-for-all/

The people of Pakistan need a better perspective on world events
The press and the people of Pakistan, and the US have, each separately, been following the sordid woes of the ruling families of their countries. Meantime, in these countries, and elsewhere in the world tragedies have taken place, many of which are ongoing.  The attention given by the public and media to these tragedies is nothing as compared to the attention Trump and the Sharifs receive.
Here in Pakistan, according to the news, maids, girls of an age where they should not be in employment, have been brutally tortured, and murdered. The other day a young boy employed by a landowner was punished by this employer for allowing the employer’s cattle to stray. The boy was tied to a donkey and allowed to be dragged on the ground as the donkey ran. The boy died.
What happened to employment laws? Why were these employers not worried about repercussions to themselves? Where was their compassion?
A few weeks ago 215 people died. They were so poor and so ignorant – as the bulk of this country is – that instead of running in the opposite direction they rushed to collect the spilt oil when an oil tanker overturned. They were killed when the fuel exploded.
Why did they not fully understand the danger? Why did their needs override their caution?
In the United States, according to NESRI, a human rights initiative, ‘32 million people are without health insurance; the most distressing is the number of preventable deaths – up to 101,000 people per year – simply due to the way the health care system is organised.’
Is this government for the people?
To quote Al-Jazeera: ‘On June 29th, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) published a comprehensive report confirming that the nerve agent used in the Syrian regime’s April 4th attack on Khan Sheikhoun that killed 92 was sarin.’ That attack on April 4th was one in which children as well as adults died. The symptoms displayed by these victims, innocent citizens, had given rise to strong suspicion that nerve agents were used. It is this suspicion that was confirmed by the OPCW.
Check out the parties involved, and their claims.
In Mosul, the humanitarian situation is hellish. “The level of destruction in the Old City is almost total,” Al-Jazeera reports just last week. “Virtually every single building is either completely or partially reduced to rubble.” According to the Iraqi military, about 15,000 civilians are still in the area of the Old City, with many of them being used as human shields by ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIS).
There are those who use the name of religion for their own ends.
In Saudi Arabia, that staunch ally of the greatest freedom loving nation on earth, eleven people died of suffocation in a house with no windows. These men were all migrant workers from India and Bangladesh who shared this house between them. Poor migrant workers in Saudi Arabia are known to live under inhumane conditions. The Saudi government has now also imposed a tax on workers and their dependents.
The mind boggles at the fact that conditions at home must be even worse, or why would these men leave their families behind to live in such death traps as the one these eleven men died in.
‘Al-Bakistan’ registration on plates anyone?
In Yemen, millions of people are on the brink of famine. That’s approximately 17 million humans like you and I with not enough to eat. About one in four of these 17 million are severely short of food, which means they have so little to eat that they are in imminent danger of dying from hunger. People are selling their daughters to get food for their families.
Also, according to the World Food Programme the child malnutrition rate in Yemen is one of the highest in the world.
Should the richer segment of Pakistan spend on food as they do? Any way we can help?
To compound an already dire situation, there is a cholera epidemic in Yemen. It is this country, or rather the Houthis in this country that the coalition headed by Saudi Arabia aims to crush, this country that it has been bombing and shelling. But since when have bombs and shells been discerning? The Saudis have been criticised for indiscriminate bombing in this, one of the poorest countries in the world. This military action is supported by the US which has signed a deal to provide the Kingdom with a further 110 billion dollars’ worth of weapons including warplanes, which are likely to be used for…you guessed it, further bombing.
Custodians of holy places?
Viewed against this background the woes of people who own tall towers and live in lion encrusted mansions do seem trivial by comparison. Why is it such a big issue if the spoilt scion of one of those houses is made to wait for some time in a room by himself, and if photographs of him doing so are made public? So does the rest of the country. Sure this was deliberate. But so?
And it is no issue at all that another scion of another wealthy family, the son of a man popularly elected to office had meetings and deals with representatives of an enemy country, in search of dirt on an opponent. Why should anyone care? Was anything else expected by such a man or his family? He after all is what the majority wanted.
The similarities between the two houses would be amusing if it were not sickening. Both have great wealth, the children of both are spoilt and in the public arena without public office.
The respectable newspapers of Pakistan, of which there are several, ought to give more coverage to other disasters and tragedies, to draw the public’s attention and sympathy much more than they do at present towards such other situations. People need to be aware what happens to human rights when armies take over and apply it to such eventualities in their own part of the world. To see what happens when economies collapse, when extremists control nations. They know it as yet only on an emotive, distorted basis, not on as an analytical, deliberate, graphic presentation.
No one can achieve anything while so beset by personal issues. In Pakistan the civilian government is being hounded, as is democracy.


While in the case of the US, the alternative to the POTUS is said to be even worse, in the case of Pakistan there does not appear to be any palatable option. This is an elected government. It is not the best – or even close- but it is managing. It isn’t too bad for the economy either. If anyone is serious about accountability, that’s good. Make everyone accountable, fully understanding the dangers of this explosive situation.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

ONCE UPON A TIME, THERE WAS A GOOSE

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2017/07/11/once-upon-a-time-there-was-a-goose/

Making discrimination easier and differences prominent
The Nazi regime in Hitler’s Germany barred Jews from holding public office, and from marrying persons of another race. Later of course many Jews were shot, and others gassed in concentration camps, and the Jewish Holocaust came to pass.
But in the beginning, before all this took place Jews in Germany were simply issued with special identity cards, and made to wear six-pointed star badges. The reason? So they could be ‘easily identified.
Authorities in the Island of Mindanao in the Philippines today are also recommending special identity cards for Muslims living on that Island. And they are suggesting that the rest of the country take similar measure.  The reason for this recommendation for special ID cards is the same as in the time of Hitler: so that Muslims can be ‘easily identified.’
More than 70% of Mindanao’s population consists of Christians, mostly Catholics. Muslims constitute the second largest group, at more than 20%. There are rebel groups among this Muslim population, groups that are fighting for autonomy. Therefore the island has witnessed clashes between police and militants. The militants are also said to have links to IS, the so-called Islamic State. This is why the Philippine President Duterte declared martial law in Mandanao this year in May for a period of 60 days. This is also the reason behind the suggestion for special identity cards made by authorities in Mindanao.
History,” as Eduardo Galeano said, “never says goodbye. It only says: ‘see you later’.” And honestly, if one sees nothing beyond the cycle upon cycle of life and death except the life and death, if one fails to perceive the results of all those acts in between, acts committed by those who once lived and are now dead, all of humanity can be said to have lived and died in a kind of perpetual and futile re-enactment of tragedy.
If on the other hand history is studied, there is a wealth of lessons to be learnt from this knowledge. A huge lesson is that discriminatory measures and collective punishments, measures that pick on an entire community and make it pay for the crimes of the few achieve nothing at all. That is to say they achieve nothing positive.
In the case of Germany, this massacre by the Nazi government resulted in nothing but tragedy in which more than six million Jews were killed. Some estimates put that figure at more. Today, Germans continue to hang their heads in shame at the atrocities committed by their forefathers.
Internationally, the Human Rights Watch website notes that: ‘The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other human rights treaties to which the Philippines is a party prohibits discrimination based on religion.  The IDs could also violate the rights to equal protection of the law, freedom of movement, and other basic rights. Requiring Muslim-only IDs in response to a perceived failure of Muslims to prevent Islamist fighters from entering Marawi City (on Mindanao) is a form of collective punishment.’
In Pakistan, following the recommendations regarding identity cards in the Philippines, many people expressed anger, and rightly so.
However, what is considered to be an unfair act when performed by the goose should also be considered unfair when performed by the gander. In which case let’s consider our own identity cards in Pakistan, the application forms for which contain a column that requires you to specify which religion you subscribe to. The choices are: Muslim, Christian, Ahmedi, Hindu, Parsi, Sikh, Others.
Surely, asking such questions is trespassing on Divine Ground. It is also, once this column is filled out, akin to a special ID card.
To make matters worse, in some other forms in the Punjab, there is even a column where you are required to specify your caste. There is really nothing to say with regards to this question except: What?! Those who consider this section valid should NOT check ‘Muslim’ for themselves on the ID card form.
There are no repercussions for mainstream Muslims in filling out the ‘religion’ section on forms. But it must cost minorities a pang to state their allegiance so openly in a country where sectarian violence is a daily occurrence. You would think, that for that very reason the least and the first thing authorities would do is remove this question from all forms throughout the country. A government too scared to do that, or a government that doesn’t agree this should be done is ineffectual and/or unqualified to govern.
Forms in Jordan used to ask this question. As of this month, they do not. The question has been removed, expunged, deleted from forms in that country. Well done people and government of Jordan.
What, after all, do such questions achieve? Why would anyone wish to know what a person believes in? There are elections to find out what people think politically. There can be referendums to find out their views on particular questions. Why would their allegiance to this God or that come into the public domain? When did our method of worship become the province of mortal rulers? When was this information taken away from the divine database and made the business of men?
And so you know what religion David belongs to. Or Harjit, or young Bapsi. What are you planning to do with this information? Will it be used to provide more facilities for people, to make more temples and churches? Will it be used to provide more jobs for Christians if there are more Davids than Harjits in society, but less Davids in employment? Will it be used to build more Dakhmas for Bapsi’s people, or more stupas or mosques, depending on the answers on those forms?
We know this is not so, because none of this happens, so one can only presume that the reason for this question is something else, something more insidious. What do you suppose it can be? Do you suppose the reason is that people outside the mainstream ‘can be easily identified?’
Special ID cards, anyone?

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

AN AUTOPSY DOES NOT PREVENT MURDER

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2017/07/04/an-autopsy-does-not-prevent-murder/

There’s a photograph of the man who can do no wrong, the Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, his wife, the Belgian Premier Charles Michel and his wife seated at a small red picnic table outdoors. There is takeaway food in front of them, and soft drinks in cans. That is lunch. Although this is certainly not the average meeting between foreign heads of state, and it was ‘probably a publicity stunt’ as people scoffed, the mind boggles at the very idea of Mian Nawaz Sharif in a similar setting. Why can our publicity stunts if we must have them not be centred around such themes, of simplicity, and careful spending of public funds, instead of mug shots of the entire Mian Sharif family on Ferozepur Road? Why is it that pomp and ceremony and a very obnoxious variety of ostentation dogs the upper echelons of our society to the extent that it does?
Photographs of the Sharif family estate in Raiwind reveal an array of stuffed lions, gilt, gold, velvet and marble in an estate the size of which can and does house thousands of families in Allama Iqbal Town. Sadly, few people consider this disgusting. Most in fact aspire to it. After all, if the PM can have it, why can’t we?
Asia, a cook, has just spent two lac rupees on furniture for her daughter’s dowry. Farhat, another cook has spent one lac on clothes for her daughter in law. This is achieved by means of loans which take years to pay off.
When Iffat, a one-time cook died, visitors brought ‘joras’ for each member of the bereaved family. That is a custom here, not among the well off, but among the poor, who in their attempts to mimic their employers manage to make a farce out of something that is already ridiculous. This is because nothing those employers do takes into account those who keep an eye on them with the aim to imitate.
It isn’t as if it can’t be done.
Jose Mujica was President of Uruguay until 2015. Uruguay’s per capita income as of last year was $20,000 as compared to Pakistan’s $5,100. Yet the President of that country lived on a ramshackle farm at the end of a dirt road outside the capital, although more ‘befitting’ accommodation for the President does exist, but Mujica would have none of it. The President and his wife worked on the land themselves, growing flowers, donating almost his entire income to charity.
Joyce Banda was President of Malawi until 2014. She was also an educator and a women’s rights activist. She was named by Forbes as the most powerful woman in Africa, and in the world. After she was elected President she sold the presidential jet and the fleet of 60 Mercedes limousines as part of an effort to promote austerity. The money earned from selling the jet helped to feed more than a million hungry people. Malawi’s per capita income is $1,100. It is a poorer country than Pakistan, but clearly its politicians have a brain or two.
Warren Buffett is an American business magnate and investor. As of this year he is said to be the fourth wealthiest man in the world with a net worth of $73.3 billion. Yet he lives in the same house he bought in 1958, and does not believe in luxury cars and other items. He has pledged 99% of his fortune to charity and is trying to get taxes raised on himself and on the other 1% with wealth similar to his.
Pakistan with its energy, water, and other crises needs someone who can not only enumerate these problems, but is able to empathise with a general population that suffers beyond words because of them.  A man (or men – or women) who move around the world in private jets and stay in expensive hotels, who live in luxurious homes with zero power load shedding, whose businesses are protected against it too, such people have no idea of the enormity of problems this country labours under. You have to sleep an entire night without a fan (or try to), and then another night and another to be able to understand what power shortage really means. Nor, may I add do their detractors know what it means. They may not live as luxuriously but live luxuriously enough and have little idea of what the common man really endures. Not only that, but by setting an example that is detrimental to the country in every way, as well as not being prescribed by any decent code, they harm the country living the way they do.
It is as stupid to rely on audits, enquiries and JITs to prevent the problem, as it would be to rely on autopsies to prevent murder. There ought to be a stricter code for people in public office, and a stricter system of accountability, neither of which exists at present. A person’s conscience or personal decency is not enough, since very often, as we have seen neither of those exist either.

Friday, June 30, 2017

TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD

this was printed in PT in hardcopy but not online

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD?
By Rabia Ahmed

How right is it to install blockades against a helpless country?

Eid in Pakistan will of course take place when the relevant departments succeed in sighting the moon. While those attempts to spot the moon are ongoing, in a world that has studied the moon’s effect on the magnetic field of the Earth, on emotions, the universe and landed on it too, the government has announced a three day holiday for Eid. Comments on this announcement ranged from ‘Well done!’ to ‘Good job!’
Yay for a government able to achieve so much.
Meantime Saudi Arabia has already performed the incredible feat of spotting the moon, meaning it is Eid in that country today, Sunday. On Eid, the Saudis, already given to taking it easy will be taking it easier still.
While all this happens, Yemen is facing the world’s worst outbreak of cholera.
Yemen the second largest country in the Arabian Peninsula is the poorest country in the Middle East. As an ultimate irony, in ancient times Yemen was called ‘happy Arabia’ by the Romans, as opposed to ‘deserted Arabia’ for the rest of the peninsula. The Romans seem to have been skilled at puns. And Yemen has clearly seen better days.
Cholera is an infectious disease caused by infected water. It leads to severe watery diarrhea due to which patients become badly dehydrated. In the worst cases this leads to death. It is mostly children who are affected. In India between the years 1900 and 1920 around eight million people died of cholera.
Risk factors for cholera include poor sanitation and poverty. Yemen as a desperately poor country proves this is true.
Yemen has been subject to political crises including civil war for the past five or six years. Mr. Hadi the President of Yemen has had a tumultuous tenure. In 2015 he fled to Riyadh  but after a bombing campaign conducted by a nine member coalition led by Saudi Arabia in his support, he was able to return to Yemen a few months later.  
This coalition led by Saudi Arabia is composed of mostly Sunni Arab states who have been alarmed by the rise of an opposing group (Houthis) who, the coalition believes, is backed by Shia Iran. The reason behind this coalition’s existence is therefore mainly sectarian, its aim is to restore a Sunni leader, Mr. Hadi of course being Sunni.
According to the BBC, the coalition receives logistical and intelligence support from the US, the UK, and France.
Air strikes by this coalition have led to the death of almost 8,000 Yemenis since 2015. The air strikes, the crises, and the blockades put in place by the coalition have led to a massive humanitarian disaster in Yemen.
A blockade should not be confused with an embargo, or sanctions, which are legally imposed trade barriers. A blockade is ‘an effort to cut off supplies, war material or communications from a particular area by force,’ a prevention of all ingress and egress into and from that area. Blockades lead to famine and medical epidemics since food and medicines are not able to come into the country. It is what happened in Iraq when children died untreated, and it is happening now in Yemen.
Historically there have been many, many instances of blockades around the world. Some blockades in the recent past were the Indian blockade of East Pakistan during the Bangladesh War in 1971, the American, British and French no-fly zones against Iraq 1991 - 2003, and the 2001 - 2007 attempt by the Australian Maritime Border Protection agencies to ‘disrupt, deter, and deny’ the entry of boat people into Australia.
None of these blockades were popular internationally, with a substantial number of opponents even in the countries that set these blockades in place. All these blockades were condemned in Pakistan by those who were aware of the news. None of these blockades were humane and none of them produced any positive results. The only results were death, destruction and misery. In short, they led to humanitarian disasters. The blockade in Yemen which began in 2015 and is ongoing is no different. With this fresh humanitarian disaster in the shape of the massive cholera epidemic, it is time we re-examined our priorities.
Saudi foreign aid to Pakistan since that country came out of the desert so to speak has been substantial.  In the ten years since 1976 it was USD 49 billion, second only to the aid provided by the US, although at present they both face competition in the shape of China.
In a blog written a couple of years ago for the Rand Corporation by Jonah Blank, Mr. Blank says that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have major reasons for seeking each other’s friendship. Pakistan’s seems to be financial aid (isn’t it always?) while Saudi Arabia views Pakistan as a major ally against Shia, oil rich Iran.
But in the case of Yemen when the Saudis asked for Pakistan’s support in fighting against the Houthis two years ago, Blank mentions that Pakistan refused.
It will remain one of Pakistan’s few sensible decisions.
Since then, Gen Raheel Sharif, Pakistan’s retired Chief of Army Staff has this year taken over command of the forty one nation Saudi led military coalition.
Any Saudi led coalition is likely to have an anti-Iran thrust, and these days also an anti-Qatar thrust. And it is also likely to have a major patron in the shape of the US, which is as mentioned before, a major financial donor to Pakistan. It is a complicated swirl of khichri (kedgeree) with one flavor supporting the other in a myriad ways.
Given this new involvement in a Saudi led coalition...how many different coalitions can a country have with how many different aims...it will be difficult for Pakistan to make a choice based on what is right. The chances are high that as usual it will pick what is expedient. That has always been this country’s ultimate tragedy. In the end it is the mockingbird the innocent, helpless segment of humanity that suffers. And to kill a mockingbird is not just a crime, it is a sin. It is not just Harper Lee who said that.



Tuesday, June 20, 2017

THE VARIOUS OUTPOSTS OF TYRANNY

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2017/06/20/the-various-outposts-of-tyranny/

A little sickening all around

Political doublespeak is sickening. And Republican doublespeak doubly so, not that Democrats are much better. But in this truly nauseating respect they stink a little less.

In 2004 when George W Bush, a Republican, was re-elected to office, his Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described Cuba as one of the few ‘outposts of tyranny’ remaining in the world. How well the term evokes old Western movies where the good guys (now a Trumpism) fight the bad guys (ditto) somewhere in some cavalry outpost…in fact wasn’t there a film,  ‘The Last Outpost’, starring, why what a coincidence, Ronald Reagan, another star on the Conservative horizon?
So, Cuba is one of the few remaining outposts of tyranny in the world?
Cuba remained under Spanish rule until the Spanish American War in 1898, when, as a result of the Treaty of Paris it became an American Protectorate which gave the US economic and political dominance over Cuba. But then along came the Cuban Revolution in 1953, led by Che Guvevara and Fidel Castro, and in 1959 Batista, Cuba’s authoritarian President, was ousted and replaced with a socialist state, organised along communist lines.
The Revolution had important repercussions on the country, and also on its powerful neighbour to the north because it meant an end to the economic and political benefits enjoyed by the US in Cuba.
However, Batista returned to power once again by means of a military coup in 1952. Once again American organisations were given preferential treatment. This time around Batista was far less responsive to public welfare. He even established organised links to criminal groups that were unabashedly in his personal interests and to his benefit. Yet it seemed that the outpost of tyranny had become suddenly less tyrannical.
Batista’s government fell again in 1958, and this is when, following a revolution, Fidel Castro became Premier.
Castro’s government introduced antiracist laws. It made strides in crucial fields, health, communications, employment and education – for all citizens regardless of race. All races in the country became functionally literate. Corruption dropped, and the country enjoyed better sanitation. The government also supported arts and entertainment.
Castro considered biases such as gender and racial bias hypocritical. Woman participated strongly in the revolution. Contemporary Cuba provides equal constitutional rights to women. Women hold 48.9% seats in the National Assembly, they represent almost half the scientific and technical sector, and more than half of bank employees are women. ‘The National Association of Innovators and Rationalizes sees the contribution and participation of women on the rise.’
According to geographer and Cuban Commandant Antonio Jimenez, at the time of the revolution the bulk of Cuba’s arable agricultural land was foreign owned, mostly by American companies. The government implemented land reforms and nationalized all U.S. property in Cuba in August 1960 leading to greater social equality.
In response, the Eishenhower administration froze all Cuban assets on American soil, severed diplomatic ties and slammed a trade and economic embargo on Cuba, including a travel embargo. In case anyone is interested, Eisenhower was Republican.
It was Obama who tried to roll back this embargo but it appears since to be rescinded by his successor, whose favourite solution to world problems takes the shape of travel bans – generally bans, reminiscent of the most bearded of extremists in Pakistan.
So, if the prime villain Cuba is tyrannical, let’s take a look at Saudi Arabia, the prime favourite.
According to Reuters, only 30-40 % of working Saudi’s hold jobs, and as few even wish to seek jobs. Most of those working are employed by the government. The IMF has warned that the wage bill is not viable in the long run. The workforce in the private sector consists of 90 % non-Saudis.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights expects every person to possess the right to leave any country including his own. Anyone working in Saudi Arabia however must possess a sponsor. This sponsor is empowered to permit the worker to enter or to leave the country, to the extent that the worker’s passport is retained by the sponsor. At times the sponsor also holds the passports belonging to the worker’s entire family if they reside within the country.
The first time women voted in elections in the Kingdom was in 2015.
Women’s employment options are severely restricted in Saudi Arabia. It was only in 2003 that a woman did not require her male supporter’s testimony to obtain an identity card. Now, although women do not require that testimony to obtain an identity, they still require it to travel abroad. Domestic violence was legally criminalized for the first time in the country in 2013. And Saudi women are not allowed to drive. Manal-al Sharif, a woman’s rights activist started a right to drive campaign in 2011. She was jailed for nine days for driving a car.  Also in 2011 a court sentenced a woman to ten lashes for driving. The ruling was overturned by the King. The Kingdom considers women drivers to be a threat to security, employment and morality, not to mention a well-publicized fatwa that said women who drove were no longer virgins.
Despite all these factors, Saudi Arabia and the United States remain close allies, and enjoy a ‘special relationship.’ They have, according to Wiki, been allies in opposition to communism, in support of stable oil prices, stability in the oil fields and shipping, and in the economies of Western Countries where Saudis have invested  – which is of course the crux of the matter.
There is no mention of the two supporting democracy around the world (Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy) or any talk of human rights (think sponsor keeping the passport), or human rights (remember the lashings for a female driver). So whither outpost of tyranny, in this case?
Certainly it is about all about money, which is not to make a new or shrewd observation by any means.
An interesting point is whether by supporting tyranny a country becomes tyrannical itself, or itself an outpost of tyranny?
Political doublespeak is sickening. And Republican doublespeak doubly so, not that Democrats are much better. But in this truly nauseating respect they stink a little less.
Pakistan’s friendships in the region, for all our moralizing in the public arena are as two faced as any Republican government’s. Meantime it serves the Saudis to have a huge Pakistani workforce working for them.
But even petro dollars have their limits. Has anyone prepared for a time when they are not as readily available? Also, it will be interesting to see Pakistan’s stance with regards to the sudden fiasco surrounding Qatar. Will Pakistan choose its position based on its Saudi and American advantages, or will it base its stance on what is right?

Monday, June 12, 2017

MORE PIOUS THAN THE POPE?

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2017/06/13/more-pious-than-the-pope/

What are our laws achieving today?

The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) believed in and lived up to everything God taught him, the teachings of Islam. Seeing that all but one chapter of the Quran began with the words ‘In the name of Allah, the Beneficent and the Merciful,’ he tried to be incorporate those attributes of Allah within himself as much as humanly possible, to be himself beneficial and merciful towards everyone who crossed his path in every way he could. Therefore when he was once asked to pray for the destruction of a people who were being more than usually vindictive against the Muslims, as well as being cruel to him personally, he refused. The reason he gave for his refusal was that he was sent as a blessing and a mercy for mankind, not as a curse.
What a man. Who could fail to admire him?
There are countless examples of the Prophet’s mercy (PBUH), and his forgiveness. There is a short video doing the rounds which details just five such examples.
Thumama Ibn Uthal was one of the most powerful men at the time of the Prophet (PBUH). He was the leader of Al Yamamah, an area east of what is now Saudi Arabia, and one of eight leaders who were sent letters, inviting them to accept Islam. Thumama responded by killing several of the Prophet (PBUH)’s followers. Yet the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) forgave Thumama Ibn Uthal. Thumama converted to Islam following the Prophet’s forgiveness.
Safwan Ibn Umayyah belonged to the Qurraysh tribe of Mecca. Both he and his father opposed the Prophet (pbuh), and tried to assassinate him. After the battle at Badr, Safwan paid someone to assassinate the Prophet but the plot failed and Safwan himself was captured alive. Yet the Prophet (pbuh) gave him amnesty after the conquest of Mecca and in fact gifted him several camels. Safwan too, converted to Islam.
Abu Sufyan Sakhr Ibn Harb was a leader of the Qurraysh of Mecca, as a result he was one of the most powerful persons in Mecca. When they were boys, Abu Sufyan and Muhammad (PBUH) were friends. When Muhammad (pbuh) declared prophet hood Abu Sufyan’s enmity began. He showed it in several ways, writing satirical poems against his childhood friend and his people and leading military campaigns against the Muslims, including the battle at Uhud. He tried to assassinate the Prophet on several occasions. He too was forgiven by the Prophet (PBUH), and afterwards when he became Muslim, granted a pension.
Wahshi Ibn Harb was appointed by Hind bint Utbah to kill one or all three men, the Prophet himself (pbuh), his cousin Ali, and his Uncle Hamza. During the battle of Uhud Wahshi succeed in killing Hamza, the Prophet’s beloved uncle. The Prophet (PBUH), in spite of his grief, forgave Wahshi when he repented, although as with Hind, he asked Washi not to appear in front of him, presumably because the thought of the desecration Hamza’s body had suffered after he was assassinated was painful to him.
Hind bint Utbah ordered Hamza killed in retaliation for the death of her uncle. Afterwards, when Hamza was martyred by Wahshi during the battle, Hind climbed on to a rock and shrieked out her triumph. She and some of the other women mutilated the dead bodies and hung the ears and noses around their necks. Hind also cut out Hamza’s liver and tried to eat it. When she could not, she spat out what she had bitten into. And yet the Prophet forgave her at the time of the conquest of Mecca, although the sight of her was so painful to him that as with Washi he requested her never to come before him.
Today, we like to think that we carry the torch on the Prophet’s behalf (PBUH), and believe we are spreading the light of Islam in the world.
…really?
On the 9th of June, just a few days ago, an Anti-Terrorism Court sentenced a man belonging to the Shia sect living in Okara to death for posting something blasphemous against Islam on Facebook. The man, apparently posted something derogatory against certain prominent Sunni persons, the Prophet (PBUH), and his wives.
We like to practice Islam today by paying flowery compliments to its prominent figures while paying no heed whatsoever to their teachings. In a glaring example, if the Prophet (PBUH) forgave people who tried to assassinate him, fought against him, wrote against him, against his people, his family and his teachings, it is interesting that we can sentence a man to death for doing something as silly as posting derogatory comments on social media. Surely, that would be classified as being more pious than the Pope, or as the Persian saying goes, the bowl being hotter than the soup?
The people the Prophet (PBUH) forgave were invariably so impressed by his magnanimity and dignity that they accepted Islam, going on to become important figures within the religion they once rejected.
What are our laws achieving today? Is anyone impressed by their dignity and magnanimity?

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

THE PLAGUE IN KARACHI

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2017/06/06/the-plague-in-karachi/


The mind boggling idea of plague in Karachi
There’s a story about a wife who tots up her husband’s total spending on beer for twenty years and tells him he could have bought an airplane with that money. He asks how much beer she’s had in the past twenty years to which she proudly responds: “None!” So he asks her “Where’s your airplane then?”
You’re reminded of that story when the PPP…and another P’s juvenile political aspirant Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and his less than salubrious parent sneer about the PML-N. Without in any way shape or form being a PML-N supporter, one nevertheless feels that criticism from the PPP’s leadership is a bit rich, when having had their stint in government not once but several times with Karachi as their ‘home base’ as Lahore is for the Sharif family they managed to do squat for its welfare. Well, look at that port city, once the capital of the entire country. Or smell it. And this does not refer to the recent worse than usual stench that has been enveloping that city, which as the WWF informs us is due to the decaying ‘bloom’ of a marine species, which occurs twice a year, and has occurred a bit earlier and much smellier than usual this time. No, that ‘look at Karachi and smell it’ referred to the usual every day muck, also composed of dead and decaying matter in which that city is mired and is mired all year round, and the increasingly higher piles of that dead and decaying matter that have accumulated in every available spot, and the particular smells that arise from them.
Karachi used to be a wonderful city. It still is, despite its lack of leadership. Or even simply despite its leadership. Sir Charles Napier, the first governor of Sindh is quoted as saying:
‘You will be the Glory of the East; Would that I come
 Again to see you, Karachi, in your grandeur!’
Karachi remains Pakistan’s most diverse city. It is also Pakistan’s most liberal city. And although Lahore was once that, it is now Pakistan’s most intellectual and culturally vibrant city. Most of all, believe it or not, Karachi was once Pakistan’s cleanest city, perhaps the cleanest city in all of Asia. No kidding.
Plague, the disease, was not restricted to seventeenth century London. In London about a 100,000 people died during the Great Plague, almost a quarter of that city’s population. Two centuries later, at the end of the nineteenth century, the citizens of Karachi were faced by the results of lack of sanitation in the shape of another epidemic of bubonic plague. The fleas carrying the disease found a congenial environment in the city’s filth, and thousands of citizens of Karachi died, presenting a very real challenge for the British, then the rulers. But that government rose to the challenge. The plague was contained in a few years, largely because henceforth the British provided the city with an effective garbage collection system, and once it was collected with an efficient garbage disposal system. And they constructed decent sewage, and made sure the city was regularly cleaned. Which is, you know, the sort of stuff governments are supposed to do.
All that however is in the past. Today, Karachi is a garbage dump. Rather an egalitarian one because it isn’t just the ‘lower class’ areas (nasty phrase) that have the rubbish problem, it is also the ‘upper class’ areas (another nasty phrase) that do. There are piles of rubbish bang in front of Bilawal House, in fact. Clearly the inmates are among those who chuck their rubbish over the doorstep, happy so long as the mansion is clean.
So now some expensive garbage collection equipment has been imported by the government in power in Sindh, no doubt with the usual kickbacks. This equipment apparently includes tricycle refuse vehicles, handcarts, dustbins, tree cleaning showers, mechanical sweepers and street-washing vehicles. Whether Pakistan makes mechanical sweepers and street washing vehicles is a moot point, but it is incredible that equipment such as handcarts and dustbins were also imported, but we’ll let that pass. A Chinese firm is to be paid…wait for this…Rs2 billion a year to lift and process the incredible amounts of waste produced by this massive city. But we’ll let that pass too. Anyone who has an idea of the scale of work involved would agree that that is a justifiable and unavoidable price to pay. Garbage disposal is a crucial and integral aspect of life in any city, small or large. In a place Karachi’s size it assumes imperative dimensions.
The thing is that if the plague could strike once, it could strike again. The various components are all there: absence, and I mean ABSENCE of sanitation, rats, ignorance, and close living as a result of poverty. Is a government that was unable to perform a function as basic as waste disposal without foreign aid equipped to handle a health crisis of the dimensions one would assume if it (God forbid) struck the largest city of Pakistan? It is a question that the Department of Health should add onto its agenda on a priority basis, as well as looking into some kind of cooperation with sanitation units.  Hospitals in Karachi are doing a good job, with several run philanthropically offering wonderful service to citizens. But the plague…?