Monday, October 16, 2017


“…statements ‘distancing themselves’ from Captain Safdar’s views
came several days too late for decency,
and much too late for  a family belonging to the Ahmadi faith
that was shot to death in Sheikupura
a day after Captain Safdar’s speech
in the National Assembly.”

 The similarities never cease to amaze. There’s Donald Trump and his equally unfortunate son in law, and there’s the not very different family in Pakistan that harbours Captain Safdar, who more than unfortunate, is a danger to the society that he imagines has granted him permission to spout his sectarian views. Mr. Kushner’s dealings with Russia might well be on a similar plane, but it is the wellbeing of Pakistan that concerns us.
The Prime Minister of Pakistan Khaqan Abbasi, and the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s statements ‘distancing themselves’ from Captain Safdar’s views came several days too late for decency, and much too late for  a family belonging to the Ahmadi faith that was shot to death in Sheikupura a day after Captain Safdar’s speech in the National Assembly. The husband, wife, and their two year old son were murdered in their home by ‘unidentified gunmen’, while their five year old son who hid under the bed in terror escaped being killed. The heart of each and every person calling himself human must bleed for this family, and for the little boy so brutally deprived of his loved ones, and who witnessed their murders. If Captain Safdar thinks for a single split second that the Prophet of Islam Muhammad (PBUH), a man who loved his grandsons and all humanity so tenderly would condone any such thing, any such thing at all, he is supremely deluded, and commits the greatest blasphemy of all by saying so.
It is no coincidence that the US has seen a sharp rise in racist incidents since Mr. Trump succeeded to the Presidency, and it is no surprise that such an incident as the murder in Sheikhupura took place in Pakistan right after the Captain’s speech in the National Assembly.  Views do filter down from the top and attitudes are given legitimacy when they are supported by people in power, however flawed, feeble and ill their minds may be.
There is a reason for the existence of the constitution of the country which is formulated after much deliberation by some of the best minds the country can afford. The constitution is meant to guide laws and to protect people from just such views as the Captain claims were the driving force behind his entering politics.
There is something seriously wrong with the state of a country if people can openly profess that they entered politics with views such as Captain Safdar’s. You wonder how Captain Safdar means to protect anyone by means of ideas that, as stated by himself, are violent, divisive, and selective in their choice of whom to protect.
According to the Constitution of Pakistan a person stands disqualified from the National Assembly if he or she is found to have opposed Pakistan’s ideology. Do we need a reminder that as per that ideology and according to Article 20 of the Constitution of Pakistan, its citizens are granted the right to profess, propagate and practice their religion? That Article grants every denomination and sect the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions. In which case the Captain stands to be disqualified from his position in the National Assembly, as well as held for incitement to violence and murder, because in his speech he called for ‘action’ against members of the Ahmadiyya community, and praised Mumtaz Qadri. Qadri, remember, is the man who murdered the Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer for showing sympathy for a woman of that community condemned to death for blasphemy.
It is hard to imagine why a person or a group of persons should feel inclined to use violence as a first resort, to defend his or her beliefs. Violence, except when resorted to in self-defence, is by its very definition unconstitutional, and not a rational act. It takes place with the view to hurt, damage or kill someone or something.
The first thing anyone who considers himself to be a patriot must do is stand up to any infringement of the constitution. One of those infringements, quite incidentally, is to consider khaki above green. That just needed to be slipped in.
Standing up for the constitution means upholding the law and justice, and does not mean using violent means. That, strangely enough, is not as understood by lawyers in this country, who assaulted security personnel at the doors of a court of law in Islamabad recently, and threatened the judge in the same court.
Defending the constitution also does not mean ‘taking action’ against any community simply because of their views. Especially if those views have not translated to violence, and the only violence surrounding the Ahmadiyya community is that which has been committed against them.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017


Some individuals in the meantime have the foresight and the nous to seize the opportunity
so obviously presented to them in the Tharparkar district of Sindh,
a large subtropical desert invariably sidelined by the powers that be.
 The CPEC, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, defines itself as ‘a framework of regional connectivity,’ and hopes to provide a ‘better region of the future, with peace, development and growth of the economy.’ sic.
Let’s hope this is so, that CPEC does improve relations and conditions all around. For now, there is an objection from our neighbour to the east, which says that CPEC passes through disputed territory, with the US backing that claim.
There are also other matter that have to do with Pakistan’s past; CPEC tends to raise spectres of the East India Trading Company, and rulers now are no wiser than they were then.
Despite all this it is hoped that the culmination will be somewhat different this time around when once again, another country is allowed in with special concessions. Such tussles are likely to be a feature of this project, and the government would do well to deal with them as carefully and diplomatically as possible. It remains up to Pakistan to steer this venture into safe waters and to use it wisely so it can bring prosperity to its people and the region. Whether or not the government is likely to be able to do this remains to be seen.
Some individuals in the meantime have the foresight and the nous to seize the opportunity so obviously presented to them in the Tharparkar district of Sindh, a large subtropical desert invariably sidelined by the powers that be. Thar has, as a result, the lowest Human Development Index in all of Sindh.  Yet the coalfields of Thar are said to contain the sixteenth largest coal reserves in the world.  According to Wiki ‘a total of 175 billion tons of coal resource potential has been assessed, equivalent to total oil reserves of Saudi Arabia and Iran combined and can be used to produce 100,000 MW for 300 years.’  Thar is therefore now the site of one of CEPEC’s energy priority projects which involves the establishment of coal fired power plants. It is here in Thar, that some women have made up their minds to use CEPEC to better the lot of their families. Otherwise, women in Pakistan have a tough time, particularly those living in less developed areas.
Pakistan trails behind the world where women’s rights are concerned, with the exception of Saudi Arabia where women have just been ‘allowed’ to get behind the wheel – an infuriating choice of words. Women in Pakistan have never been barred from driving on a national, official scale. Pakistan possesses women’s sports teams, and women are not restricted to a few jobs. Yet there are huge social problems facing women in this country, some of which were very much highlighted by the reaction to Qandeel Baloch, and her murder, by her own brother. The antagonism for the murdered woman from a sizeable chunk of the population speaks volumes for the attitude towards determined women who take their lives into their own hands.
It has been estimated that hundreds of trucks will be needed to service the coal mines once they are established. These are not your ordinary little trucks, but large sixty tonne monsters and Reuters reports that each driver may earn up to Rs.40,000 a month. At present, for the coal mine that is now functioning the Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) is already running some trucks, and among the drivers being trained to drive these trucks are thirty female drivers taken from amongst the local population of Thar.
You have to be a woman to fully appreciate the cultural barriers these women are breaking. They are stepping into these jobs in a country where female drivers even on crowded urban streets although they are allowed to drive are invariably harassed. It is a hugely admirable achievement, equal to the conquest of Everest to drive such a large vehicle, in this inhospitable, terrain containing people holding prohibitively conservative views as people do in such uneducated regions. It goes to show the will to survive, and the courage of the people of this country, a will and courage that deserves a leg up.
Pakistan has a lot of catching up to do. The government serves its people only so far. The people go much further to make up the shortfall. There are hospitals in this country run entirely on donations, schools, training institutes and other services. With something like CEPEC coming up, although it lays the country open to many issues, also holds the potential for prosperity. If only those involved are able to bring themselves to look beyond their personal interests and bank accounts, this might be achieved.

Sunday, October 8, 2017


Being in the army is like being caught in a revolving door. You see that settled life you so desperately want on the other side of the glass, just within your reach, but before you can join in, you’re on the move again.

So there we were, posted to yet another place, to a pleasant city but a gloomy cantonment.
I paid no heed to the eerie stories that our cook Abdul told me about the street we lived on. There were banyan trees lining the street, reminiscent of bearded men leaning on their sticks. I was sure the sight was preying on his mind. One evening, however, Abdul came bursting into the dining room and insisted that we follow him to the kitchen.
My husband being male and unable to multitask tried to get Abdul to wait until the korma had been dealt with, but Abdul was insistent.

We saw nothing out of the ordinary in the kitchen until the rolling pin began moving around the counter all by itself. It rolled to the right, then to the left and then to the right again. Just when I thought we may have an earthquake on our hands, the rolling pin lifted into the air and fell back to the counter with a thump of wood on marble.
My husband, a veteran of several border skirmishes and a Siachen incident, was rooted to the spot. I had lost my voice, and Abdul stood frozen beside me.
And that is how it began. The next day, the laundry was spread all over the floor from the clothing line. The day after, my daughter’s bed was turned right around as she slept. Aniya was just three at the time, so no, she didn’t move it herself.
After this, my wardrobe burst into flames that extinguished and then re-ignited several times. When the flames subsided, my wardrobe stood unscathed as before.
Abdul voiced what we were all thinking, that the house was haunted. He suggested I call in an ‘aamil’, a man who prays at the djinns until they leave.
I was afraid Abdul would leave if I didn’t do anything, so I was left with no choice. Tahir sahib, the aamil, came to the house that same evening. He was a pleasant, middle-aged man who entered at a slant, as if walking against a high wind, because he declared he felt ‘some resistance’ to his presence. Guilty of reservations regarding his presence, I offered him Rooh Afza, something of a tradition in my family in times of crisis. Thus fortified, he proceeded to poke around the room whispering in such strongly sibilant undertones that I looked with renewed respect at the bottle of mashroob e mashriq on the table.
I trailed the increasingly agitated aamil around the house. The reason for his agitation was not the djinns, it was Aniya who persisted in shooting him dirty looks as she clung to my shoulder. There are times when she reminds me strongly of my father.
At the end of an hour, Tariq sahib looked so unnerved that I straightened my face, because I knew it was skewed into an irritated expression, thanked him, and gave him some money.
Grateful at putting a distance between himself and the disapproving child in my arms, he tried to make friends with her.
“Seeet seeet, baby!” He hissed, bringing his face close to my daughter. It was an unwise move.
Aniya made a sound like an outraged engine, raised her arms on either side of her head, and screamed,
Please let me explain why she did this. My husband’s aged great aunt had a maid, the unfortunate original of that name. Whenever anything went wrong, her employer would yell for her in just that tone of voice. That foible became a family thing, like our Rooh Afza. Long after Durdana died, as a child, my husband was taught to yell ‘Durdana’ instead of a profanity when he was upset. Sadly, Aniya learnt that trick from her father. At the time Tariq sahib had the misfortune to encounter her, Aniya fell into it occasionally, but whenever a delicate moment was at hand, such as once at the crucial point at a nikkah, she screamed that word at the top of her lungs. The poor man, not being privy to this information, recoiled.
“I think I should leave now,” Tahir sahib declared unsteadily and groped his way out of the room.
Any hopes that the exorcism had succeeded were proved wrong. But by then, we were busy preparing for my mother’s visit.
My mother is one of those people who cannot arrive for a weekend without bringing along all their possessions. I cleared a small trunk for her special blankets, “because it may become colder and your blankets are probably not unpacked yet, Maliha”. Then, I located, emptied, cleaned and placed a small cabinet by her bed for her herbal medicines “because those”, with a dirty look at the Ativans and Glucophages on her side table, “I’m stuck with, but these,” with a beatific glance at the Hajmolas and Sualins, “are holistic.”
I made space in the kitchen for her vinegars, honeys and Earl Grey teas, because “I really can’t see how you can have those dreadful teabags, sweetie, but then you were always such a hearty person,” and in the fridge for her particular dishes because “you’re a good cook beta, but you know my stomach.”
By the time I had done all this and arranged a dozen sweaters, seven novels, three pens and two note books, eight pairs of shoes, four saris, eleven shawls, and three and a half pairs of socks that she had sent in advance, she was with us. And along with her came an additional three suitcases, her maid, and an errand boy.
For the past several days, Abdul had gone around in a red betel haze of anticipation, because he knew that with my mother, came her paan daan. Now, with a paan tucked into his cheek and before I could stop him, he gave her a succinct if somewhat incoherent summary of the recent events.
Amma was appalled, particularly when Abdul informed her that Tahir sahib had been unable to get the djinns to leave.
“Didn’t he recite some surahs around the house?” She whispered, horrified.
I made my mother some Rooh Afza, and coldly asked Abdul to clean the red dribble from his chin.
Amma repeated her question. I sighed.
“Those djinns were not affected by our prayers Amma because they don’t believe in them.”
“And how do you know this?” Amma demanded.
“They told me. Because they are Hindu, they said, not Muslim.”
“They told you that?” My mother stared at me.  “You’ve been talking to them!”
“Maliha…djinns are always affected by the Holy Quran, always. There is no such thing as Hindu djinns.”
And suddenly, I remembered the time I was 12 or 13 and had a terrible stomach ache. The memory was so sharp in my mind that I clutched my stomach right there in my own kitchen. We were at my grandmother’s and I’d just eaten the largest ice lolly that my nani had made me. I even recalled that she called it an ‘Ice Kacang’ that she said meant ‘crushed ice’ in Malaysia. This is always why I associate Malaysia with the cold, even until today.
Maybe I ate too fast and froze myself into a cramp, because then I felt as though an invisible string attached to my belly button had been pulled inwards very sharply.
I doubled over with an ‘Ohhh!’ and my grandmother bent over me crying,
“What is it, Mallo? Are you all right?”
She tried to lead me to the couch but I fell to the floor, groaning and clutching my stomach. Nani flapped around, looking for help. I felt her tugging at my arm and placing cushions under whichever part of me she could lift, and heard her shouting for my grandfather who came running into the room, blowing through his moustache as he did during a crisis.
Nani snapped at him to give her the Holy Quran. He handed it to her alertly. Nani later told her friends that she read the first bit of Surah Nisah, the chapter of the Holy Quran titled ‘Women,’ and blew all over me at intervals. She never explained why she chose that particular chapter, it may have been because I was a girl or perhaps because that’s where the page fell open. Either way, I recovered. Nani claimed it was because of her recitation that the djinns causing my pain went away. She and her friends nodded sagely over the incident over cups of tea, and undoubtedly they told their friends about it and they all nodded over the story in succession.
I studied Surah Nisa many years later. It’s a beautiful chapter of the Holy Quran which tells you with inherent compassion and justice how one must treat women and orphans, and how to divide an inheritance amongst heirs. I still don’t understand, even if there was a djinn possessing me, as to why it would leave upon hearing this chapter.
It was certainly not because my grandmother’s recitation was so good. My grandfather used to say, never in front of his wife,
Allah (SWT)  un ko sehhat day, aur un ki awaz may thori see sheerini bhi day.”
(May God grant her health and some sweetness to her voice.)
Getting back to reality, my mother went on claiming that there was no such thing as Hindu djinns.
“There are many humans who are not Muslim, and many who aren’t affected by prayer either,” I said
“Praying around djinns always works!” Amma declared angrily. “They listen, and they leave!”
“If they don’t believe in our prayers, they won’t,” I said. “There are people, and it seems djinns, who pray differently, or not at all. Everyone’s not floored by religion, Amma. It’s not voodoo, it’s meant to be understood before it can be effective.”
As much as I loved my nani and my mother, I’d wanted to say this for years. I did not wish to stand over my daughter one day forcing her to finish her oatmeal, failing to which I might recite the Quranic condemnation of adultery into her outraged ears.
My mother glared at me.
“We must leave this house immediately,” she said in her firmest voice.
“We will not leave this house, because the djinns are not bothering us now,” I said equally firmly. “And I don’t see why they should leave, either. We’re pulling along.”
Amma mouthed my words to herself in disbelief.  “Djinns don’t not bother, Maliha. You can’t pull along with them either. Besides this is your house.”
“They were here first, Amma. We arrived afterwards, it was we that took over. Besides, we now have a pact with them.”
Amma stared as I told her that the djinns had agreed to live upstairs and we downstairs.
“So now, we don’t bother them, and they don’t bother us.”
“Maybe they aren’t there anymore!” I heard the quaver in her voice, so it was with reluctance that I shook my head.
“They’re there,” I said, thinking I’d better get it over with. “We share the entrance. I meet them at the door, sometimes.”
My mother’s eyes widened.
“And when you ‘meet you at the door’, what do you say to each other, Maliha?” she said with awful sarcasm. “Hello, hello!
I shook my head. “Actually, they say salam alaikum.”
She gave a crack of laughter. “And I suppose you say wa-alaikum assalam jinn ji!
“No,” I replied, “I say shanti, in response.” I raised my voice to drown out her angry hiss. “And we have it, Amma, we have both salam and shanti in this house now.”
“I can’t believe you’re saying this, Maliha! I…I just don’t understand you!” I saw tears in her eyes, and my anger disappeared.
“No I don’t believe you do, Amma, but perhaps it is not your fault.”
Suddenly, I felt very tired.  I put my arm around her shoulder.
“It is, after all, the peace that passeth understanding, and we have yet to experience it in this country, haven’t we?”
I took her into the other room, made her a cup of tea, and allowed her to make me a paan. There is something about those two things that sets everything right.

Monday, October 2, 2017


“Don’t blame us for the Haqqanis,

and don’t blame us for the Hakim Saeeds.

These were the people who were your darlings just twenty to thirty years ago.

They were being wined and dined in the White House.”

Last month, Khwaja Asif made a speech at the Asia Society Forum. The Foreign Minister said, “Don’t blame us for the Haqqanis, and don’t blame us for the Hakim Saeeds. These were the people who were your darlings just twenty to thirty years ago. They were being wined and dined in the White House.” And now, said Khwaja sahib, Pakistan is being blamed by the US for nurturing these people.
Good thing Khwaja Asif is not a retired army officer, because that would have been a bit rich coming from him.
Also, the chief of the banned Jammat ud Dawa/Lashkar e Taeba/Milli Muslim League, Hafiz Saeed has now sued the Foreign Minister for his words. Being a good little man, and a literal one whatever else he condones, he cannot condone that reference to a glass of the tut-tut, even though alcohol is not relevant to what his organisation does or does not do, violence is.
Why did so many people pump their fists into the air, and say: “Yes!!” when the Foreign Minister said what he did? Was it because finally a politician said what should have been said a long time ago?
One of the most significant tragedies to hit Pakistan was a moustachioed dictator with peaked eyebrows. Mangoes were of service to the country then, not that one would have wished any service to take such a shape, but the fact remains that most of the problems that beset the country today were fostered at that time. Then is a good place to start if we wish to study the now, although before those roots came the seed, and before the seed the soil was prepared, religious extremism being a plant that requires careful fostering over time.
It’s an old story, one that we have all heard, but it has been so painted over and put aside, and those involved posture as such heroes, that when finally someone speaks of it, it creates waves as if it were something new. After all, politics is all about information, or the lack of it.
At a time when the world was gripped by the much exaggerated threats of the Cold War the US needed access to Afghanistan and support against the Russians. They were not picky where they got it from, to be honest, and they got it by keeping Pakistan on their side and doing what had to be done via that country’s leaders, one of whom was el-generalissimo. These leaders, like Dickens’ Barkis, were more than willing, because they had their own axe to grind, details of which are given in Ayesha Siddiqa’s ‘Military Inc.’
It was okay, then, to put aside a democracy (however flawed) and support a military dictatorship. It was also okay to foster and support ‘jihadist’ groups. Here is what the New Yorker in 2011 has to say about what happened when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan: ‘President Jimmy Carter, in a panic, offered Zia four hundred million dollars in economic and military aid. Zia rejected the offer, calling it “peanuts”—the term often arises in Pakistani critiques of American aid, but it must have rankled the peanut farmer in the White House. Zia was smart to hold out. Under Carter’s successor, Ronald Reagan, U.S. aid nearly quintupled: about three billion dollars in economic assistance and two billion in military aid. The Reagan Administration also provided three billion dollars to Afghan jihadis. These funds went through the sticky hands of the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, the spy branch of the Pakistani Army. Starting in 1987, the I.S.I. was headed by General Hamid Gul, a cunning and bitterly anti-American figure. The I.S.I. became so glutted with power and money that it formed a “state within a state,” in the words of Benazir Bhutto.’
Aldous Huxley did predict that ‘There will be in the next generation or so a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will have their liberties taken away from them, but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing.’
He could have been talking about the Zia who used religion to create mental concentration camps in which people if they thought for themselves or disagreed with his policies were anti-mard-e-momin mard-haq and all that that implied. If something that issues from a seriously limited understanding and a wily brain can be called brilliant, it was brilliant the way in which religion was positioned in the national arena by this man who pushed aside all laws, all constitutional provisions to put himself in power and to stay there longer than anyone else in the country has been able to before or since.
The point is what can be done now to change the way things are?
Little has changed in the way power is sought by certain groups, that create states within states, and threats where there are none. Instead the real threats, of poverty and illiteracy are hidden behind several curtains. They are in fact used to create more little radicals.
One of the powers that must be contained is military Inc. It is unclear how that can be done unless the public itself recognises just how many Punch and Judy shows are being conducted right in front of its eyes. Unfortunately the public does not realise this.
Khwaja Asif’s speech was important because it enabled this debate to take place. You wish that he or other leaders the world over had the courage to follow up, rationally, peacefully, on all that his words implied.

Monday, September 25, 2017


There was an old woman who lived in a shoe
She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do
She gave them some broth without any bread
She whipped them all soundly, and put them to bed

In his article in the New York Times, entitled ‘Pakistan, Let’s Talk About Sex,’ Mohammad Hanif of Exploding Mangoes fame explodes a few myths, including one that imagines that Bangladesh, because it was once more populous and down in the mouth compared to its Western wing, must be so still.
The separation of Bangladesh from Pakistan occurred in a horribly tragic way, but in the long term it was the best thing that Bangladesh did for itself because since then that country’s economy improved. When it was part of Pakistan it had a greater population than West Pakistan, it now has a population of 163 million. That is 44 million less mouths to feed than Pakistan at present.
You wonder how Bangladesh achieved that.
Soon after its separation from Pakistan, Bangladesh adopted a community approach to family planning. Married, literate women of a given community were trained in basic medicine and family planning, and employed to visit homes where they dispensed contraception and referred women to clinics. According to Professor John Cleland of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, these women ‘acted as a bridge between the modern medical world and the village. They were literate so they were part of the elite, and as villagers they had credibility among a suspicious and very religious population.’
Bangladesh went further. It prioritised education for women, which delays marriage, and childbirth, and gives women greater control over their lives. By means of these policies, Bangladesh has succeeded in halving its population from six to less than three children per woman, from the 1970s to the present.
Why has Pakistan been unable to achieve the same results? The answer, as for many other things, boils down to government apathy and what is known as ‘religion’ (but is not) standing in the way.
Pakistan once possessed a federal Ministry of Population Welfare. In 2010 the federal Ministry of Population Welfare ceased to exist and the job devolved to the provinces in this, the sixth most populous country of the world with a population of 197,015, 955 as of July this year.
Pakistan employs a network of lady health workers too, but it has failed to go beyond that. There is no stress on education for women. A large segment of the population believes that artificial contraception and family planning are against nature and religion, and almost as many people believe family planning is a Western conspiracy to render the population sterile.
The lack of a considered policy extends to a lack of facilities related to conception and childbirth. The numbers for maternal deaths remain extremely high.
There is another country that had interesting experiences with family planning, and that country is Iran.
Once upon a time, couples in Iran were required to attend classes that educated them about contraception. They had to do this before they were married. And contraceptives were free. The government promoted childbirth not before 18 years of age, and after 35.
But the government in Iran did not make education a ‘key facet of the program’ which meant that adults could not make informed choices in the matter. It also failed to ‘address religious opposition to family planning.’ That meant that even though contraception was easily available, and it was free, only 37 percent of women accessed it. The birth rate did not go below seven children per woman.
Of course when the monarchy fell, the so -called Islamic Revolution brought with it the usual interpretation of religion. The legal age for marriage was dropped to thirteen, and the government campaigned to increase the population. Within ten years, by 1986, the population grew from 34 million to 50 million. After the long Iran Iraq war, the government realised it wasn’t easy to rebuild an economy and manage a large population. Suddenly what was un-Islamic before ceased to be so, and a ‘One Is Good, Two Is Enough’ campaign was launched. In fact, when the Minister of Health requested it a fatwa was issued which said that contraception was fine by religion, so long as it was not harming anyone’s health, and so long as it was used with the husband’s consent. In ten years’ time the number of woman accessing birth control went up to 74 percent. The program also impacted on women’s lives. Women became more educated.
This worked. The population fell even below the target six children per woman. It fell to four.
Sadly things were reversed yet again. ‘More Children, A Happier Life’, states a bill board in Tehran, showing a father with his five children, cycling happily on a cycle meant for six. There is no mother in the picture. These facts, incidentally, are taken from a feminist magazine, called
Pakistan can learn several things from its own experiences in the field, and from both Bangladesh and Iran. It can learn to start with that coyness in such matters gets no results. Sex is something that must be discussed, tradition notwithstanding.
Pakistan must realise that planning, long and short term is crucial, geared to the particular conditions in the field. That funding a project is not enough. It is also not enough to make contraception free, or inexpensive. The public must be educated so it can judge the benefits on family planning for itself. And in the long term it is important that women’s education is stressed as well as men’s.
Teams of health workers should belong to the very community they visit to obtain the trust of the people. They must be qualified so that the public knows it is worth taking their recommendations on board. They must also not be seen as a threat to the religious brigade, the existence of which is a common factor in all these three countries.
In conservative societies religion and men have a greater voice than women. Religion or what passes as such has the power to make or break societies, men the power to make and break families. Until women are able to stand up for themselves the religious brigade and men must be on board for any or all of this to succeed. Then alone can family planning succeed in any meaningful sense.

Monday, September 18, 2017


‘We always underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten years. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.’ (Bill Gates)
It would be comical if it weren’t so tragic the way nature appears suddenly intent on conducting a one-sided tirade against people who claim that climate change does not exist. Foremost among those who make this incredible claim is the POTUS, who tweeted in 2012 that ‘the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese, in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.’
Oh please.
Three years later, he tweeted (there really should be another platform for Mr. Trump’s utterances, called ‘Grunter’ or ‘Squealer’): ‘It’s really cold outside, they’re calling it a major freeze, weeks ahead of normal. Man, we could use a big fat dose of global warming.’
Well, he got it, this man who squinted up at the sun during an eclipse, never mind that millions were watching, including children, for whom he should be setting an example. The spate of hurricanes in the US recently, were among the worst that country has seen in decades. There are still at least two other hurricanes said to be brewing out there. Although these hurricanes are not caused by climate change, rising sea levels and warmer oceans make them much worse than they would have been.
And Irma has not been the only natural disaster the world has seen this year.
An 8.1 magnitude (on the Richter scale) earthquake struck the Pacific coast of Mexico on the 7th of September, followed by a Tsunami warning for the area.  Mexico was also hit by a tropical storm in August.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a landslide killed at least 150 people in August. In the same month heavy rains triggered floods and a massive landslide in Sierra Leone.
Cameroon experienced severe floods and mudslides. There were floods in Ghana, Myanmar and Guinea in July, and an earthquake in the Philippines, all in the same month, and drought in Africa. Both floods and drought are one as disastrous as the other.
That is only part of the list. It seems that far from being a Chinese conspiracy, climate change and global warming are a fact. What can be done to minimize these changes in the earth’s atmosphere?
The David Suzuki Foundation works to conserve the environment and provide solutions to climate change by means of research, education and policy. It recommends ways in which the public can help. 1: by choosing its leadership wisely 2: by using energy efficient appliances 3: by using renewable power where possible 4: by eating organic food, and less meat 5: by trimming down waste 6: by slapping a carbon tax on polluting concerns, and providing tax breaks to the energy efficient 7: travelling less by air and more by buses and trains, and walking or cycling wherever possible 8: keeping oneself informed about climate change and global warming and about how to make a difference.
Pakistan can help prevent global warming and minimize climate change. The first would be to convince those who do not believe in it that the issue is real, and neither a conspiracy nor a figment of someone’s imagination.
One of the more sensible things the PTI has done is to launch a campaign for planting a billion trees across the KP. Although it has been criticized by some people who say the trees are the wrong sort, it is a start, and a great effort to reverse the deforestation that is taking place in Pakistan at an alarming rate. Reuters reports that according to a 2015 UN Food and Agriculture Organisation report ‘years of tree felling have reduced Pakistan’s forests to under 2 percent of its land area, one of the lowest levels in the region.’ It seems about 40 percent of the country’s remaining forests are in the KP where the PTI’s tree planting effort is supposed to hit its goal of a billion trees by the end of this year. Trees hold on to soil, and prevent landslides. They absorb the carbon released by industry into the air, and give out oxygen instead.
Although Pakistan makes a less than 1% contribution to the total greenhouse gases produced in the world, this is no thanks to considered policies or any organised effort. With the glaciers in the north, the country is very vulnerable to climate change, with the potential of floods when those glaciers melt, which, given current trends is not a question of ‘if’ but of ‘when’.
Just as the construction industry in the country conforms to no safety standards, other industries such as transport and energy do not follow any guidelines or procedures to minimize waste or pollution, either of the waterways, the soil, or the atmosphere. Nor does the agricultural sector follow any guidelines at all, laying the country open to disaster.
Water is of crucial importance for Pakistan, a predominantly agricultural economy. A lack of water is just as much bad news as is a flood. And yet there is no attention to sustainable farming in this country. There is no reliable system of water storage and supply, and tube wells are overused, they play havoc with the water level of soil. Crops such as rice and sugar cane use a great deal of water, yet they are among Pakistan’s major crops. Most of the rich and powerful landowners in the country, many of them influential politicians from every political party, own sugar mills. What’s more, these men also possess Direct Outlets (DOs) from the waterways, which are extremely wasteful of water. These DOs are not allowed except by special permit, but are given to people who possess sufficient clout.
It is short sighted in the extreme not to concentrate on this issue. The next ten years may be ten years coming, but they will be upon us before very long. Even if the public is able to achieve something, it is likely to be washed away if a handful of people are able to flout the rules. This has always been Pakistan’s curse that this is allowed to happen.

Monday, September 11, 2017


In a world where people struggle to ‘posh up’ their accents, there is one man who worked at getting rid of his to remove all traces of his privileged background.  That man is Carne Ross, who makes an interesting study. More interesting than the man is what he believes in: anarchism.
The most common reaction to the word ‘anarchy’ is to confuse it with a state of chaos. Anarchists protest this is an inappropriate pairing of the two words, yet this is how it remains in common usage. Oddly enough, the word ‘chaos’ is said to be obsolete, whereas a state of chaos is not obsolete at all. Witness Pakistan.
The reason for confusing anarchy with chaos is that anarchy means the state of not possessing a central authority, no authoritative governing body. And since a central authority, an authoritative governing body, is said to lead to a state of organised bliss, the opposite is labelled as chaos.
If science is based on the proof of evidence this label of ‘chaos’ is seen to be unscientific right away since while some authoritative governing bodies do dispel chaos, most contribute to it. As do authoritative bodies and hierarchal systems other than governments. Once again witness Pakistan, and this time its system of feudal hierarchy, a rigidly organised hierarchal system based on the ownership of land, that allots defined roles to every member of society to prevent chaos, but in fact creates it.  As Will Durant said, ‘Civilisation begins with order, grows with liberty, and dies with chaos.’ True again. Witness the increasing absence of civilisation in this country.
Having by such negative means pointed out the failure of a non-anarchic state, what then is anarchism? What, for example, does Carne Ross have to say about it?
Ross was a British Diplomat who ceased to believe in the class system because he ‘felt that the system he battled for and believed in wasn’t working.’ So, although it had been his ambition to be a diplomat since he was a boy, he quit the diplomatic services in 2004. The main events that made him change his mind were the invasion of Afghanistan, and the Iraq war. In fact, Ross gave evidence against the Blair government, regarding its role in misleading the British public about the threat posed by Iraq.  That is when he resigned as a diplomat, and founded the world’s first non-profit diplomatic advisory group, which is called Independent Diplomat. You wonder what that is.
Governments seek diplomats to advise them on various matters. According to Andrew Hudson, Executive Director of Crisis Action “Independent Diplomat fills a critical diplomatic deficit. Its advice and strategic counsel provides its clients – mainly those that struggle to be heard – with the tools to navigate the often closed world of diplomacy.” Describing itself, Independent Diplomat says that it ‘comprises experienced former diplomats, international lawyers and other experts in international relations. It has no allegiance or affiliation to other governments or institutions, and it works with a broad network of individuals and organisations, including law firms, commercial consultancies and universities, who support and assist our work on a pro bono basis. Independent Diplomat holds itself and its clients to strict ethical standards.’
Anarchism, as a political philosophy is ‘a condition of life’ based on principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. In fact Independent Diplomat requires its client to be committed to those principles, which may sound like more of what already exists, politically speaking, only Ross feels that democracy has failed to deliver on its ideals, that it has ‘created conditions in which people are beginning to voice their disapproval of the status quo.’ In an interview with The Guardian, he said that ‘Aberrational political events such as Brexit and Trump, are functions of this frustration.’
Anarchism as a political philosophy recommends self-governed societies based on voluntary institutions, or groups. These are often described as ‘stateless societies’, or institutions based on non-hierarchal free associations. As far as anarchism is concerned, a State, in the conventional sense is an undesirable, unnecessary, and even harmful institution.
Just as one studies comparative religions for a better understanding of religion as an entity, it would be a good idea to study anarchism, to compare and contrast its ideas with the conventional models of politics in the world today, since the conventional models have clearly failed, not just in Pakistan but in many countries of the world. A system, for example, that can bring in an individual of the calibre of Donald Trump and place him in a position of power, a position and power that impacts on the entire world much to its distaste and horror has to be questioned. Whether anarchism provides solutions and viable alternatives poses an interesting question. Certainly it appears to be a system that requires greater education than this country possesses. But even an uneducated population can come up trumps, please excuse the pun.  Maybe it is better to say that even such a population can come up with a few pleasant surprises. That has been the experience of for example organisations that provide microfinance which are loans often to the poor uneducated segment of society, very often women. In this experience the loans have generally produced far reaching, positive change, alleviation of poverty, better education, and a resultant increase in earning power, sometimes by as much as 200-300 percent. The borrowers almost never default on their loans.
It may be interesting if nothing else to look into the work an organisation such as Independent Diplomat does around the world. The group has been involved in working with refugees by facilitating refugee participation in policy decisions regarding refugees around the world, by advising refugee activists and groups. They are trying to pave the way for peace in Syria by working with groups and individuals working for the advancement of human rights, democracy and accountability in that country, and by supporting the Syrian political opposition, and are involved in many other similar ventures around the world.

Monday, September 4, 2017


Last year, the first ever official report on multidimensional poverty in Pakistan was released. It was compiled with technical support from the UNDP and the University of Oxford.
According to this report, nearly 39 percent of Pakistanis live in ‘multidimensional poverty,’ which is a term that defines poverty by examining more than just income and wealth. It reflects the deprivations a people experience with respect to health, education and standard of living, pointing out more effectively the areas in which help is required by means of government funding and private donations.
Every year, the Muslim world spends millions of dollars in animal sacrifice on Eid. More than a million animals are sacrificed in Saudi Arabia alone after Haj. Prescribed portions are consumed by the family performing the sacrifice, distributed amongst neighbours to promote communal goodwill, and donated as charity to the poor.
It was difficult to obtain figures regarding the number of people who own a fridge in Pakistan, but eventually a figure was available in an interesting blog by a Mr. Riaz Haq. According to this it seems that just 47% of people in this country have access to a fridge. This matches fairly closely the figures mentioned with regards to poverty. It means that very, very few of the poor in Pakistan possess a means of refrigerating their food. Therefore the donation of meat in this country can be translated to feeding a family once. That’s it. Any more will not keep.
Is it possible for this massive outpouring of charity to be restructured so that the effects are comparatively long term, more effective, more durable?
The four pillars of Islam include fasting, prayer, zakat and Haj, the last only if it is financially possible. Unlike these, the sacrifice of an animal at Eid ul Adha is mandatory only as the last component of Haj, and therefore it is mandatory only for those performing Haj. For the rest of the people it is an optional ritual, and its method is open to consideration, in other words to Ijtehad, which is the use of one’s judgement in applying a principle recommended by Allah to better suit different times, and varying circumstances, if the Quran fails to present a solution.  The Quran often does present a principle for our consideration, and therefore the word ‘principle’ is underlined above because that is the main aspect of any ritual.
Qurbani or sacrifice of an animal, a (highly) recommended ritual, is prescribed, as we all know, as a reminder, a way of keeping a very important event in history alive in the minds of Muslims; to ensure that people do not forget the great, the very important sacrifice where the Prophet Abraham (pbuh) showed himself willing to unquestioningly sacrifice what he held most precious, his child, in the name of God when the sacrifice was demanded of him. Not only this, but his child, the Prophet Ismael (pbuh) was as willing to be sacrificed for that same reason. Muslims are asked to sacrifice an animal in commemoration, as eventually once both Abraham and Ismael had indicated their willingness for the deed, Ismael was taken away and a sheep took his place on the sacrificial spot.
It is recommended that to recreate the original event as closely as possible, the person making the sacrifice should attend the animal, spend time with it, and strive for a certain affection before the animal comes under the knife.
Feeding the poor and increasing communal goodwill are the other aspects of the sacrifice.
If this is how the ritual is to be performed, it is unfortunate that there is no infrastructure to support it. The absence of storage facilities in this country has already been mentioned. In Saudi Arabia sacrificial animals were burnt or buried until recently when they have started flash freezing them, and the meat is now distributed around the Muslim world.
In Pakistan, streets are awash with blood, gore and carcases after the event, which makes this a health hazard.
A benevolent God does not prescribe waste, either of the money or the animal. If this meat – or the money – is unable to go some way towards helping the poor, or reinforcing the faith behind the sacrifice, there is something lacking in the way it is done.
Getting ‘close’ to the animal is hardly possible now, the way we live. This is no longer a nomadic society, or a small one where cattle lives close to or among humans. In places where they do, those are the places that are the recipients of charity, not those performing the sacrifice. So we have a cow or a goat tethered to someone’s gate being fed by the servants, until it is slaughtered by a butcher. The owner’s interaction with the animal begins and ends with the dispensing of cash to buy it. At present, obviously with many exceptions, the main thrust behind the ritual appears to be to demonstrate one’s financial capacity to spend an increasingly fantastic sum on the animal/s, and to eat as much meat as possible on the day. That, indeed is now the high water mark of the event. The principle behind it, the feeling of a sacrifice, the regret at the death of this animal is entirely absent. If there is a regret it is at the loss of the money that went towards the purchase.
If that point is taken into consideration, it is clear that it is the money that needs to be sacrificed, rather than an animal. It is a quieter, more considerate way of achieving the same purpose
For those who wish to sacrifice an animal in the traditional manner better sanitation facilities must be made available, as they should be available anyway. This manner of sacrifice would also benefit greatly by storage facilities so that the meat might be stored and then dispensed appropriately, in some kind of planned, rational manner.
For those who are willing to consider an alternative, it is worth considering how much difference this huge annual sum would make if it were spent in better maintaining existing government hospitals, and particularly schools in the country. An educated person who is able to stand on his own feet no longer requires charity. The charity initially given would go much further, and so would the memory of the two men whose sacrifice this ritual commemorates.
Eventually, to keep that narrative alive is up to us. And so is the way we do it.

Monday, August 28, 2017


It is only after you have effectively dealt with the past that you can move on to a meaningful future.

 Earlier this month, Donald Trump tweeted, as he does, that “You can’t change history, but you can learn from it.” He carried on to say that he was “sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart.” He was speaking of confederate statues being pulled down around the country following the recent riots in Charlottesville, and probably his sadness was based on the fact that the confederate heroes whose statues were pulled down were his heroes too.
It is probably the one occasion upon which the current President of the United States made an interesting argument, although when the rest of his arguments following this event are taken into consideration, the argument is revealed for what it is: the tweeting of a raving racist.
It is possible to learn from history, particularly when it is visibly preserved in the environment in the shape of buildings, monuments, statues, names, even though they may not celebrate what is currently accepted as ‘good’, but something that was once considered praiseworthy.
Viewed in the present these names and structures simply point to a historic event or fact, bringing that past – which may otherwise be forgotten, to our notice with the question: “What do you think about this thing that once existed?”
The only reason to tamper with the past is an intention to mislead.
In Pakistan where history is regularly distorted and changed, and the names of places, roads, localities, institutions are replaced with ‘Islamic’ versions, a vacuum is created. This vacuum is filled with misinformation such as the controversy surrounding Muhammad bin Qasim, who invaded Sindh in the seventh century AD who was referred to by speakers at a function organised by the Jamat e Islami (JI) as ‘the First Pakistani’. This of course is part of the struggle in some quarters to disassociate ourselves from our Indian roots and move closer to the Arabs, a kind of putting up an ‘Al-Bakistan’ number plate, as it were.
In one of his engaging articles on the subject, Nadeem Piracha points out the two narratives surrounding the subject, the first in which Muhammad bin Qasim was sent here because the governor of Sindh, Raja Dahir, would not control the plunder of Arab ships by pirates belonging to his region. In this narrative Muhammad bin Qasim is said to have ‘brought Islam to the region’.
The second narrative, says Piracha, fails to find adequate evidence to support the first.
It does appear that Qasim came to Sindh, and established a government, but only briefly. There is no proof to support the popularly accepted reason for Qasim’s invasion of Sindh. That it was plain plunder of a rich province of India has not been disproved. What’s more, the Islam that Qasim supposedly brought to the region was short lived. Most converts reverted to whatever religion they had converted from very shortly after his death.
In 1976, during the rule of that great Al-Bakistani Gen Zia ul Haq, who of course subscribed to the ‘First Pakistani version,’ an act of Parliament was passed that dictated that school curricula should ‘Acknowledge and identify forces that may be working against Pakistan’; they should ‘Make speeches on Jihad,” ‘Collect pictures of policemen, soldiers, and national guards,’ and of ‘India’s evil designs against Pakistan.’
There, right there, were some expenditures guaranteed.
Following debate, and criticism, a new curriculum was put in place in 2007 that acknowledged a few glaring facts such as diversity of culture and religion, and mentioned Jinnah’s views on inclusiveness. Efforts are also visible in this curriculum to eliminate prejudice against ‘the non-Muslims of pre-Independence India.’
The damage of course has been done. The country is well and truly infused with the ‘Al-Bakistan’ mindset which will take a much greater and prolonged effort to undo. It is a mindset that other than disowning its roots, insists on everyone falling within a flawed identity, the boundaries of which are topped with barbed wire tipped in poison.
But what should be done with those monuments, roads and names if they celebrate values that are no longer considered ‘right’?
It is difficult to decide what is ‘right’ because what is right for one group is very wrong for another. Besides, who is to adjudicate the matter? But once that is determined, or if something is clearly unacceptable to the bulk of a population, ought these monuments to be removed?
In the case of the statues in Charlotte, Carolina and elsewhere in the US, they were not statues celebrating ideologies such as capitalism or Marxism where there can be debate regarding the positive points of either. They were not statues of religious figures. They were statues of confederate heroes, monuments that celebrate racism, and racism never fails to hurt, damage and destroy. It is something that is now mercifully universally unacceptable, except by some people, and we saw them represented recently on the streets in Virginia. So yes, they should be removed if the public demands it.
Once removed though these monuments should be housed in a museum, not destroyed as was the statue in Durham, North Carolina. They should be preserved where people are still able to view a history that is no longer visible on the streets. People ought to witness and be aware that there was a time when such people were respected, and what resulted from their actions.
Of course museums are in short supply in Pakistan, where also the people have their hands full dealing with the present without going out of their way to check out the past. But that is a separate story.
Someone suggested that the pedestals on which the removed statues once stood should remain where they are. It is a good idea. Also a good idea is to place information on those pedestals about the statues that once stood there, with pictures, and a bit of history. It is after all only after you have effectively dealt with the past that you can move on to a meaningful future.
George Santayana, a Spanish philosopher said: Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Truer words have seldom been spoken.