Monday, July 31, 2017


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


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


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


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


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.