Monday, January 30, 2017


When no place is homogeneously composed of its original people, is exclusivity possible?
There’s a message doing the rounds on social media for the past few days. It says:
‘Standing on an Ikea (Swedish) podium, behind bullet proof Saint Gobain Glass (French), smiling at a 4K Sony (Japanese) video camera, speaking into a Dolby Sennheiser (German) microphone, with vigorous hand gestures giving a glimpse of a Rolex (Swiss) watch under the cuff, he patriotically said: “Buy American, Hire American, Stop Immigrants” – standing beside a Slovenian wife’.
And that begs the question. Is it possible, in today’s world, to stuff the genie back in the bottle, if the genie equals all things foreign?
Not all of anything is made in just the one country today. And why should it be, when there is such a wealth of talent all over the world? Every country has something to contribute to the whole and with modern communications facilitating that, what is to stop individual countries from making the most of what others have to offer, in terms of goods and services? Nothing, and if something tries to, it recoils upon the person(s) who does so.
If foreign doctors left the UK, for instance, the NHS – the National Health Service of Britain – would fold. A study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) quoted in The Independent indicates that a whopping 36 percent of doctors working for the NHS were born overseas. What’s more, more than 27 percent of nurses in the NHS were also born overseas. Working the other way around, the UK is second only to Germany in exporting doctors to other countries. 12,000 British medics, it seems, work abroad.
America imports in total more than 12 percent of global imports – and that includes electronics, machines, cars, oil, medications, medical equipment, furniture, gems, chemical, and plastics. If the world ceased its supplies to the US, it seems the US would fold. All the achievements made by the US – its medical advances, space travel, etc. – everything depends on these things, and, like a ripple-effect, many things around the world depend on American achievements.
If a country imports many things that does not mean that country is a failure. It is what the country does with those imports that matters. Are those items that are imported used to make some larger product? With developed countries that is generally the case. Such dependence is therefore not a ‘bad’ thing, and in the course of the natural progression of today’s world where nothing is static, and as a result no one is static, no place is homogenously composed of ‘orang asli’, the original people of a land.
Russia is probably one of the world’s most self-sufficient countries with much of its own oil, coal, gas, metals, and grain. Yet it imports many things – including medicines which are crucial to its population. Norway would rank next because it, too, has natural resources in abundance – which in turn seem to indicate that self-sufficiency is measured by natural resources. Not every country possesses abundant natural resources, and accessing natural resources requires technology, equipment, man-power – and here’s where the inter-dependence comes in again.
As time goes on civilisations become increasingly dependent on each other. It has always been the case. Better rail networks opened up entire countries, and areas that were uninhabited before became settled: the central parts of Australia, the more remote parts of North America, Africa, Russia and China. Better communications in wireless technology achieved the same. And now, when we have space travel within our grasp, and communication abilities like nothing seen before, how can anyone expect human movement to be restricted? When many countries contribute to the progress of one, when one nation potentially impacts on so many, how and why is it possible to keep the human element out of the equation? To expect it to be so is to restrict progress, not the other way around. It is also one way of reducing security.
To impose restrictions on travel has never led to amicable relationships, and non-amicable relationships are hardly the way to seek peace. There is something odd about those with malevolent intentions: isolation rather than proximity fans their ill-will, because they need to see and dwell upon what those they love to hate are doing. Like in every case, education is the way out of this violent mess. Nothing else will work.

Monday, January 23, 2017


And attitudes filter down from the top
Barack Obama is a lucky man, a highly educated, intelligent, dignified and eloquent man, with an equally intelligent and elegant wife. He had several achievements as President, and health care reform was one of them. Another was that he put an end to certain interrogation techniques that had been initiated by the previous government. There were others.
What makes Obama luckier is that he has been succeeded by a person who makes him look even better.
Trump loses out big time by comparison. Had he not been so ham-handed there would be more questions about the Obama government’s role in Syria and the concurrent tragedy in Aleppo. As it is, all that might be examined later. For now the focus is on radicalism and terrorism, which Trumps policies are very likely to exacerbate.
In his inaugural address, President Donald Trump vowed to fight radical Islamic terrorism and “eradicate it from the face of the earth,” promising that “We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilised world against radical Islamic terrorism.”
You wish he’d share his plans for doing that, since most of the world would love to eradicate terrorism, Islamic or otherwise. We in Pakistan suffer from it as much as any other country. Just recently there was a blast in a bazaar in Parachinar which was said to be caused by an IED, for which the Lashkar e Jhangvi and the Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan are said to be responsible.
Of course terrorism stems from no single quarter, and the definition can be broadened to include any situation that creates terror and destruction. The American attack on Iraq following 9/11 can be called terrorism. So can the war in Afghanistan, and way back before either of these – the nuclear bombs in Nagasaki and Hiroshima when millions died.  Most civilisations have committed terrorism at some stage or another. The intention is not to justify the act, but to identify a fact. Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs acknowledged the role of Japanese soldiers in damage and suffering in World War II, and earlier under Emperor Hirohito when millions of people were massacred and experimented upon.
There were German war crimes, they were also terrorism. When the Wehrmacht had control of Poland, hundreds of towns and villages were burned and the Wehrmacht carried out more than seven hundred mass executions. Altogether, it is estimated that more than sixteen thousand Poles fell victim to these atrocities.
During the Second Boer War, the British rounded up around a sixth of the Boer population – mainly women and children – and detained them in overcrowded camps. Of the more than hundred thousand people interned in the camps, more than twenty thousand Boers died, along with an unknown number of black Africans.
When peaceful protesters defied a government order and demonstrated against British colonial rule in Amritsar, India, on 13 April 1919, they were trapped inside the walled Jallianwala Gardens and fired upon by soldiers. The soldiers, under the orders of Brigadier Reginald Dyer, fired until they ran out of ammunition, killing hundreds of protesters and injuring more than a thousand within 10 minutes. Brigadier Dyer was later held up as a hero by the British public, which raised thousands of pounds as reward for him.
Pakistan is no land of the pure. Its war crimes in Bengal come under the title ‘genocide,’ when in 1971 the Pakistan army and its supporting radical militia killed and raped between 300,000–500,000 Bengali men, women and children. Some sources say this figure is too low.
What else were all these acts, but terrorism?
So, yes, the world does face a problem with terrorism. And yes it currently also faces the problem of so called ‘Islamic’ radical terrorism in a big way. But will a Trump style wall and exclusionist policies achieve any improvement?
Attitudes tend to filter down from the top. Acts that people are afraid or ashamed of, become kosher when they are supported or indulged in by the powers that be themselves. Which makes it rather a dubious start to a jihad against terrorism to have Donald Trump as President, a man whose sordid language and attitude towards women is not unlike that of the Taliban as evinced in Afghanistan. You can strip them, or whip them, where’s the difference?
Ever since Donald Trump won the election, racism and misogyny have been on the rise on American streets and campuses.
Radicalism and terrorism are fostered by resentment, although those are not the only causes. Donald Trump has promised to overturn Obama Care. In one of his first steps as president, Mr. Trump has signed an executive order targeting the health care reforms of his predecessor. If that does not create resentment, it would be very surprising, just as the ‘interrogation techniques’ Obama put an end to must have contributed to resentment.
It really is time that the American Government ceased indulging in short term policies, just like governments in Pakistan. It was American short term policies in Afghanistan that helped create the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and the ISIS, a creation Pakistan had an equal hand in. Governments, if they really wish to eradicate terrorism, should stop contributing towards it.
It is time the military and arms houses took the back seat and acted upon saner advice. Perhaps from think tanks. But all this will be difficult while the present government is in the White House.
America is truly a great country, and one wishes it well. But this time you wonder what they have brought upon themselves, and upon the rest of the world.

Monday, January 16, 2017


Is social media threatening?
It used to be the province of the people’s representatives to disseminate the point of view of governments, political regimes – and of the people of the countries to whom these governments and regimes belonged. Somehow though the voice of the people seemed rather muted and at times outright absent, even though many of these countries were democracies or at least they called themselves so.
Instead, for the last two decades or so the electronic media has taken over the role of disseminating the people’s voice, and has been responsible for driving world events. That platform from which the people have been speaking for the past two decades is not a parliament, an assembly or polling booth, it is social media, across divides and countries. It is a platform that allows people to have their say in a way that those other platforms never did. It can be called one of the main forces on the world stage. Democracy has taken an interesting turn.
Certain spin-offs of a powerful cyber platform have had their down side. The ‘Arab Spring’ an uprising of the Arab people born of a dissatisfaction of the way things were, led to the civil war in Syria now taking place, which has led to so much loss of life and such a huge displacement of people. The uprising took place on the shoulders of the electronic media, by its new and extensive use by the Arab public. At the height of the Arab uprisings (or Arab Spring as it has been dubbed) Facebook had well over 27 million users in the Arab world. In mid-2011, In Egypt and Tunisia, almost all of those polled claimed that social media, Facebook and Twitter, played a large role in their activism. In countries such as Yemen and Libya where social media does not have as large a presence, its people used YouTube, email and cell phones. It seems that the voice of the people, like murder, will out.
Interestingly, in Egypt in addition to social media another powerful platform has been the mosque from where the call for change was issued and widely heard and acted upon.
Good or not good is not where this column leads, it only indicates several points worth noting. It points firstly to social media as a new and powerful platform, of the people, for the people and by the people… a platform that by virtue of being the voice of the people demands respect.
It indicates secondly that perhaps governments and political regimes do not after all speak for the people as much as they would like us to believe. That those traditional platforms, parliaments, assemblies and booths where available have proved ineffective or insufficient, or that in some way for some reason have failed to perform. If people would like these to remain the major platforms then there needs to be some major changes to the way they function.
The third point is that social media and the internet, given that it is the force it is should be given appropriate facilities and opportunities to carry on providing a voice to the people. In countries where social media is suppressed the act can be viewed as synonymous with the suppression of democracy and freedom of speech, making the suppression an undemocratic act. Like the genie, cyber platforms cannot now be stuffed back into the bottle. They are here to stay.
The fourth aspect is that mosques, although not electronic media – unless you take the electronic microphone used by mosques into account appear to have been as loud and powerful as any social media, judging by Egypt’s experience. This is not said facetiously to refer to the indiscriminate use of the microphones by mosques, although the temptation is great. Instead what is referred to is the inherent power of the mosque to provide a platform for Muslims wherever they visit mosques, and for the masses in Muslim countries. Any regulation of social media should include regulation of mosques.
President Obama, as he leaves the Presidency, is said to be worried about the spread of fake news on social media. It is a legitimate concern. According to The Guardian, it seems that ‘fake news – whether claiming that the Pope had endorsed Trump, or that Clinton sold weapons to Isis – actually outperformed real news on the platform, with more shares, reactions and comments.’ But that still does not provide reason for suppressing social media, only reason to regulate it rationally. Which calls into play the question of how much is rational making regulation a tricky business.
The dilemma presented by social media is very similar to that presented by the transition of power from Obama’s more level headed hands – responsible as they are for much of Syria’s trouble today, to Trump’s, the hands of a man who does not have the vote of the majority of American people, only the vote of a majority in the Electoral College. It does not legitimise placing restrictions on democracy as it is practiced in the US but raises the potential of change and/or amendment. As sure enough, following the election results in the US this year there has been debate concerning the electoral system of the USA and whether election by an electoral college is as good an idea as it was meant to be.  If it legitimises placing restrictions on democracy, it is time to question democracy itself, to the extent to which it should and does provide a platform and power to the people.
The restrictions imposed on freedom of information and expression by Pakistan’s new cybercrime laws should be viewed in this light, although perhaps the cyber world has already been viewed as being too powerful for the regime in power, and restrictions placed on it for that very reason. That makes the new laws not for the people but against them. One must ask oneself the question in this country whether this is the direction we would like our governance to take.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


Man, the noblest of animals is at his worst when separated from law and justice: Aristotle

Law tries to prevent as much of the failings of the human mind as possible, while allowing for genuine human frailties. One major human failing is the tendency towards sentimentality and emotion at the cost of what is right and just. One genuine human frailty is a tendency to panic under stress. A trained legal mind will take both these tendencies into consideration, and keep them in mind when writing or applying a law. This is not an easy task and it requires many years of study for a person to learn the letter and principle of law, and a lifetime to understand it.
Quoted below is a case that actually occurred in Britain in the 1960s. The ruling is given later in the column. You will realise that it is easy for a layperson to support or reject a defendant’s version, but in a legal case there must be reasons provided for any given ruling using certain legal precepts. The ruling can then be passed and examined rationally and objectively (rather than emotionally and subjectively), and used as precedent if similar incidents takes place in future.
Mr. Fagan, who had parked his car in the wrong spot, was asked by a police officer to move it. Mr. Fagan obeyed and reversed his car to remove it, and accidentally reversed it onto the officer’s foot.
There is probably not a minute in any day that is free of crime. People are killed, injured, robbed, defamed, cheated, and discriminated against all the time. What appears to have happened is not always what actually happened, or what is claimed to have happened.  Any ruling regarding a case must therefore be made with skill and care.
When the police officer asked Mr. Fagan to move the car off his foot, Mr. Fagan told him to wait, and did not move the car. He was arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer during the course of the officer’s duties.
If you were to judge, how would you rule? If you lift the charges and allow Mr. Fagan to go, why would you do that? If you confirm the charges and convict him, why would you do that? There must be reasons that are not based on ‘but of course!’ rather, clear objective reasons that can be applied to another similar case.
Mr. Fagan’s defense said that ‘the act’ and ‘the mental state’ (there are legal terms for these two things), two crucial elements to this event, had not occurred at the same time. In other words it said that when he drove onto the officer’s foot he did not intend to harm him (although it caused harm), and when he did intend to continue harming him (by not removing the car; mental state: guilty mind), he only omitted to move his car, which was not ‘an act’ because remember, omission is not an act.
Under law an ‘omission’ is not ‘an act’. Also, legally ‘an act’ and ‘state of mind’ must both be present and must take place simultaneously for an event to be a crime. So, now what would your ruling be? If you made up your mind prior to the defense that Mr. Fagan was obviously guilty, then it would be a verdict of ‘guilty.’ If what he said made sense, it would be ‘not guilty.’
It was a cunning defense. But the court refused to accept it. The judge in his ruling said that driving onto the officer’s foot and continuing to stay there constituted one long act of unlawfully touching another (assault) which included the intention to hurt because one overlapped the other towards the end. Mr. Fagan was therefore convicted of assault.
It is possible to agree with this judgement based on a general idea of right and wrong, a normal degree of indignation and a vague concept of what is due to law and order, and law enforcement authorities. But it is not possible for the non-legal mind to arrive at such a judgement (whether right or wrong) based on the reasons given by the court. This is because the non-legal mind is not trained to think this way. It requires a degree of training – or let’s just say, a degree, which the non-legal mind does not possess.
Much less a military mind, which is primed to think in terms of ‘shoot’.
On Saturday the 7th of January 2017 (this year) Pakistan’s special military courts ran out of their lease of life which granted them permission to exist, and pronounce judgement on criminal cases, which would normally fall under the remit of civil courts. May this be the last we see of military courts in the civil sphere of this country’s life. Just as we civilians can ill appreciate military law and requirements, military courts with judges untrained in law cannot adjudicate civil life, and should not ever again. It is frightening to see the support these courts have received from the public. A reason is ignorance but it is also that the civilian government and courts have failed to meet the needs of the people of this country.
So this prayer comes with a clause: may the civilian government realise the importance of doing its job, and get down to doing it. May it also realise the importance of a judiciary trained in law and justice. May it ensure that only trained and experienced judges sit in civilian courts, judges who are allowed to be neutral and dispense justice as they should.  And may the civil courts, including the Supreme court of the land come to understand that to hand over its job to military courts is an abrogation of justice by any definition of the term.

Monday, January 2, 2017


It is almost as if control is viewed as a business in itself
2016 stands out as the year where we lost more than the usual number of good and talented people. Prominent among them was our own Abdul Sattar Edhi, a titan amongst men to whom the people of Pakistan, and others, will forever be grateful on a thousand fronts. We also lost the talented Junaid Jamshed and Amjad Sabri, and the gutsy Qandeel Baloch. Across the international arena those who died in 2016 included David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Harper Lee, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Gene Wilder, Robert Vaughn, Fidel Castro, John Glenn, Richard Adams, and Debbie Reynolds, men and women of immense talent, skill and achievement whose deaths saddened us, and left us with a feeling of loss. But somehow what shook the world most was the election of Donald Trump, a man with a mediocre personality and few talents aside from making money, who now has access to the little red button. His election leaves the world feeling vulnerable and shaken. Little can be done to ensure that events such as the election of Donald Trump do not occur again, other than to suggest that the people of the USA learn a little more about the world and what happens in it. 
But there were other events in 2016 that it is possible to prevent from occurring again, given a bit of intelligence and honesty.
Of such events the one that stands out most for Pakistan, not least because it happened just as the year drew to a close was the death of about fifty persons in Toba Tek Singh as a result of consuming contaminated alcohol, leaving many others seriously ill. These were needless, criminal, senseless deaths which can be prevented in future by a more considered approach to policy.
You’d think that in this wonderful Islamic Republic of Pakistan alcohol would not pose a problem. Quite the contrary however is true.
The husbands of all three women working in our home were for many years addicted to alcohol, and one of them still is. Two of these couples are Muslim, the third is not. The husband of a fourth woman who comes for an hour each day to massage an elderly member of the family is the only one who has not been addicted now or before. That couple is Christian. That, and further such experiences and what one learns from other sources bears out three things. The first is that alcoholism is exceedingly common in Pakistan. The second that the anti-alcohol laws of the country, among the strictest in the world, have failed to work. The third is that an addiction to alcohol occurs – or does not occur independent of whether or not a religion allows the consumption of alcohol. By condemning certain practices aka declaring them haram, religion has done its job of bringing the ills of those practices to our notice. The rest is up to us to handle as intelligently as possible.
Like with most other social problems, widespread alcoholism has links to social conditions. That it is more widespread amongst the least well off classes in Pakistan as opposed to the upper middle class indicates that poverty and its related tensions and frustrations encourage the consumption of excessive alcohol, because it is used as a substance that numbs the mind. In the wake of the tragic event in Toba Tek Singh, Pakistan needs to re-examine its policies relating to alcohol. There is little point in banning a substance that is easily made at home, and which is easily available to whoever wishes to consume it, legally or otherwise. The problem lies with the quality of the substance that is available, and that is what should be monitored rather than the morals of the people of the country which are best left to a higher authority.
As with prostitution. Making prostitution illegal had no effect upon the business in Pakistan. The celebrated Hira Mandi in Lahore lost its lustre only because the persons running the business of prostitution relocated to other areas around the city, not because it ceased. On the contrary.
Increasing an awareness of the hazards of unprotected sex in countries where campaigns have been conducted on the other hand has had an effect on the incidence of sexually transmitted disease.
It is almost as if a control is viewed as a business in itself, a means of making money, by the persons licensed to sell the controlled object or service, as well as by those who are given the task of enforcing the control. At the end of the day, those who sell liquor legally in Pakistan and those who are supposed to enforce the no alcohol law both end up in pocket. As do those who manufacture alcohol illegally, mostly because they use such cheap and spurious ingredients and manufacturing methods. These are the people who must be targeted. For the users, they require education and relief from the deplorable conditions they live in. These are the things that will have results a ban can never achieve. If instead of indulging in verbal abuse and physical violence in places where laws are made our leaders give some thought to such matters Pakistan would become a better place for everyone.