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.