The Afghan reality - Mir Adnan Aziz - Friday, December 31, 2010

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It was on July 6, 1808, that King Joseph of Spain presented a constitution. It allowed the peasants to retain their harvests, an independent judiciary, press freedom and abolition of Church privileges. Till then, abbeys and bishops owned every single building and piece of land in towns and villages. These were inhabited by some of Europe’s most wretched tenants.

The Spanish peasantry still chose to ignore it. Instead, they obeyed the priests who motivated them to fight against the foreign invader’s ungodly innovations. This, because Joseph was Napoleon’s brother, placed on the Spanish throne by French troops. That was what mattered to the Spaniards – not the ideal constitution to better their lives, but the perception about the man behind it. In today’s made-to-order corrupt democracies (including ours), these perceptions are realities.

The hypocrisy is galling when individuals who could never be allowed to function at the junior most level of any sensitive government organisation in Western countries are trussed up to rule the destinies of other nations. It becomes all the more abhorrent when the governments of these unaccountable individuals morph into kleptocracies.

US ambassador in Kabul Karl Eikenberry characterised Hamid Karzai as “a weak individual unfamiliar with the basics of nation-building,” whereas President Zardari (the “greatest obstacle to Pakistan progress”) was branded “clearly a numbskull” by Jock Stirrup, then Britain’s chief of defence staff. These perceptions are not gospel because they come from afar, but because the miserable lives of a crushed multitude bears a stark testament to this harsh reality.

Back to President Karzai. During Milan’s fashion Week in 2002, Gucci’s Tom Ford called him “the chicest man on the planet.” Silvia Fendi termed his attire as worn with “nonchalance and elegance.” Unfortunately for him, Karazai was propped up to govern Afghanistan, not exemplar for models or the catwalk.

Today, with billions invested, and thousands dead, he heads the most turbulent country of the world. His predicament (and that of our chosen King Josephs) is that he is viewed as a US asset. If ever he moves around Kabul, which he rarely does, he does so with American bodyguards; not trusting Afghans with his life. Referred to by many as the “Mayor of Kabul,” there are no imminent signs of increase in his municipal limits.

Dogged by corruption charges and dwindling support, he relentlessly blames Pakistan for all that plagues his land. He also blames the ISI of helping the Taliban, an affront, given the thousands of lives lost here and an economy in ruins.

He has also often repeatedly demanded of the NATO/ISAF forces to enter Pakistan. The cables released by Wikileaks have him alleging that Al-Qaeda training activity on our side of the border has increased. He also wails that the West is unwilling to move against Pakistan.

He demands: “The question now is, why they are not taking action?” He has previously even threatened to send his own forces across the border to a country whose largess he enjoyed for two decades and without whose complete support he could never have been “elected.”

His brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, tainted by massive corruption and drug trade allegations, charged that a peace initiative was undermined because “Pakistan detained Mulla Baradar and Taliban leaders prepared to discuss reintegration with the Karzai government.”

In its edition of Jan 29, 2008, The Telegraph had this advice for the Afghan president: “Mr Karzai must live with the knowledge that every one of his predecessors for the past 107 years, whether kings or presidents, was overthrown violently. Of the ten men who have served as Afghanistan’s president in the past three decades, four were murdered and one strung up from a lamppost and disembowelled.” Was the ISI up and about since the last one century?

Today’s Afghanistan is a battleground between unfounded Western optimism and realism. Optimists think that Afghanistan can be transformed into a made-to-order democracy, a Western satellite; realism cautions otherwise. In public, defeat in Afghanistan is anathema for Western governments; in private it is deemed inevitable. Australian foreign minister Kevin Rudd, the country’s former prime minister, epitomised the West’s mindset when he confided thus to visiting US Congressmen: “Afghanistan scares the hell out of me.”

Similarly, public statements of faith in Afghan democracy are coupled with private expressions of despair when it comes to hopes of even remotely legitimising President Karzai and his administration. Western officials agonisingly admit in private that any real hopes of bringing about this miracle are now dead.

Hostilities, coupled with remote-controlled democracies, breed resentment and resistance over a period of time. In this “mission accomplished” war, we have seen America’s firepower thwarted and blunted. Devoid of military victories, it has only fuelled hatred and global insecurity. Rationally, the US-led West should engage the Taliban positively, although the latter have little incentive to negotiate, given their growing strength and sway in Afghanistan.

If engaged, the Taliban can prevent Afghanistan from being an ungovernable state sliding into warring anarchy and inhibit its present stature as the globally largest, freely enduring, drug producer courtesy Operation “Enduring Freedom.”

Churchill wrote in his History of the Second World War: “When two armies approach each other, it makes all the difference in the world which one owns only the ground it stands on and which owns all the rest.” This is the Afghan reality of today: it has the war theatre, time and history firmly on its side. To face and accept this Afghan reality, though it could be extremely difficult for some, will augur well for Afghanistan, this region, and the West in particular.

The writer is a freelance contributor.


VIEW: Rape shield laws —Saroop Ijaz - Friday, December 31, 2010

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Rape shield laws are statutes or court rules that limit the introduction of evidence about a victim’s character history, reputation or past conduct during a rape trial. One ostensible objective of these laws is to help ensure that rape victims are treated with fairness, dignity and respect during a criminal trial

“There is one custom amongst these people which is wholly shameful: every woman who is native of the country must once in her life go and sit in the temple of Mylitta and there give herself to a strange man....Once a woman has taken her seat, she is not allowed to go home until a man has thrown her a silver coin into her lap and taken her outside to lie with her. As he throws the coin, the man has to say, ‘In the name of the goddess Mylitta’...When she has lain with him, her duty to the goddess is discharged and she may go home” (Herodotus, Histories; 1.199).

A few days ago in Karachi, a horrific though not uncommon incident took place that shakes the very moral fabric of our society. A woman was allegedly abducted, gang-raped and later dumped in a posh locality of the city by unidentified men. The alleged perpetrators are being apprehended and the case is under investigation. It is premature to comment on the outcome of the investigation. Yet the alleged incident and, equally significantly, the response to it raise broader fundamental questions regarding the kind of society that we have become.

The initial statements made by the police authorities were understandably vague as they were made prior to a detailed investigation. However, there were insinuations made regarding the character, manner of dressing, etc, of the survivor by the police, media personnel and politicians, which are a cause for greater alarm. Rape, historically, was considered an instrument for the moral condemnation of women who have not led sexually chaste lives. The law traditionally mandated that the sexual history of a woman who alleged that she was raped was relevant to the truth of her allegation. A chaste woman was considered more likely to have resisted the unwelcome advances and to have lodged a legitimate claim of rape. The absurdity of this argument is intuitive, yet our societal handling of rape cases seems to betray this obvious understanding.

According to the Aurat Foundation, 483 cases of rape/gang-rape in Pakistan (377 in Punjab; 95 in Sindh; four in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; four in Balochistan; three in Islamabad) were reported in the first half of 2010. Given the stigma attached with reporting a rape claim and enduring the ordeal of a public trial, it is safe to assume that the actual incidence of rape is likely to be much higher than the reported figures. These statistics paint a ghastly picture. The victims of rape in a country like ours suffer more than merely the trauma stemming from the incident, both physically and psychologically. They and their families also suffer from the effects of intimidation, ridicule, rude speculations and overall diminished social status. The prospect of being tormented in a police station and/or a courtroom is enough to deter many women from bringing in rape claims.

In the 1970s, ‘rape shield laws’ emerged in the jurisprudence of the US and subsequently Europe with the objective of curtailing the excesses of the chastity requirement. Legislators in those jurisdictions concluded that it was illogical to assume that the complainant consented to intercourse with the accused, or was more likely to lie under oath, simply because of her past character history, profession or the manner in which she chooses to dress. This logic eludes not only our legislators but society as a whole.

Rape shield laws are statutes or court rules that limit the introduction of evidence about a victim’s character history, reputation or past conduct during a rape trial. Rape shield laws generally prohibit the introduction of opinion and reputation evidence about the character history of the victim. They also typically provide that evidence of specific prior conduct of the victim is presumed irrelevant unless it is direct evidence of the source of the incident. One ostensible objective of these laws is to help ensure that rape victims are treated with fairness, dignity and respect during a criminal trial by ensuring that the victim will not be subject to a public airing of her reputation, past conduct, and other irrelevant information. Rape shield laws were designed, in part, to make it more likely for victims to come forward. If rape victims have their entire character history revealed and examined in court as part of a rape prosecution, it is likely that such exposure will deter other victims from reporting rape. This is especially relevant for a society like ours having a misogynist legal and political system that seeks to exclude women at a systemic level. General Musharraf, once commenting on the Mukhtaran Mai case, observed that Pakistani women have come up with a particularly arduous scheme of obtaining foreign visas — by getting raped.

The reaction of our society, police, media and authorities to rape claims is geared towards discouraging rape victims (inadvertently in certain cases) to come forth and prosecute offenders. The legislators have to consider adopting a variant of the rape shield laws in Pakistan, if we aim to curtail the incidence of rape.

The writer is a lawyer and can be reached at

HUM HINDUSTANI: Hounding a healer —J Sri Raman - Friday, December 31, 2010

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Taking a larger political view of it all, the story yields two major lessons based on the sad events of the decade about to end in two of the BJP’s bastions: Gujarat’s anti-minority pogrom of 2002 and Chhattisgarh’s anti-tribal terror culminating in the cruel sentence handed to Sen

December 24, 2010, brought a dramatic shift in India’s public discourse. For months, we had been treated to a series of scams — involving ministers, mandarins and mind-boggling amounts of the taxpayers’ money, besides tycoons and some media stars tangled in tapes of confidential conversations. Christmas Eve, however, brought news of a crucifixion. This came as an even more of a shock in some ways than all those cases of mega corruption.

The day saw a local court in Raipur, capital of the state of Chhattisgarh with a significant tribal population, sentencing an eminent healthcare and human rights activist to life imprisonment. Binayak Sen, a paediatrician and a crusader for primary healthcare for the poor, has figured in these columns before (‘Healing the healers’, Daily Times, June 2, 2007). To recapitulate briefly, he is being punished, if not for serving the tribal people for long years instead of pursuing the traditional course of lucrative private and corporate practice of medicine, then for speaking up for his target patients and their threatened rights.

He has been convicted now on charges of sedition under the provisions of a colonial law and of conspiratorial involvement in a Maoist-led insurgency. It is clear to many, however, that he is being targeted not because he is a dreaded terrorist but for his democratic opposition to what has been and is being done in the name of anti-Maoism. He has been hounded ever since he came out as a harsh critic of a private militia, formed and funded by the state government along with forest contractors and other friends, to put down the tribal people’s rebellion in defence of their resources and rights.

Sen was “picked up” in May 2007 and stayed in prison for two years. All the laurels won by him (including the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights in 2008) and appeals from luminaries (including several Nobel Laureates) did not help to set him at liberty. It was the Supreme Court that gave him bail in May 2009 and freedom that has proved frustratingly brief.

The savage sentence did not make the scams go away from the minds of the public. But they took on a new significance. Almost every immediate, indignant reaction noted that a rare social worker was receiving this treatment, while scammers were roaming the land freely. This should have been welcome news to the main nation-level opposition hoping for the maximum mileage from the scams. It was not.

It was the government of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that the Raipur verdict had put in the dock in the court of the public. Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh, whom the party has been holding up as another example of a ‘development’-driven leader like his Gujarat counterpart Narendra Modi, suddenly looked very different indeed.

Even while reactions have been pouring in from all over, an eloquent silence has greeted the sentence from the highest echelons of the BJP. Neither party president Nitin Gadkari has responded with rhetoric of characteristic rudeness nor his predecessor Lal Krishna Advani with his customary prose of pious hypocrisy. Only party spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad, much lower in the pecking order, has cautioned everyone concerned against “glossing over the naked violence of the Naxalites (Maoists) under the cover of (supporting) Binayak Sen”, without identifying the guilty in this regard.

It has been left to lesser minions, including a couple of journalists, to defend the verdict in television studio discussions. One of them argued that Sen helped an aged and ailing Maoist acquire rented accommodation, this proving his complicity in the insurgent conspiracy. The other claimed that no law could be “outdated” if it stayed on the statute book, thus dismissing all ideas of legal and constitutional reform with disdain.

Supreme Court lawyer Ram Jethmalani, a prodigal who returned to the BJP recently after a six-year parting, has caused some stir by offering to defend Sen. The party has stayed determinedly unembarrassed, and preferred to treat this as his professional decision. Four years ago, Jethmalani had opposed the BJP’s strident demand for the hanging of Mohammad Afzal, convicted in the case of the 2001 attack on India’s parliament. In June 2010, however, a party ticket for the Rajya Sabha (the Upper House of parliament) sufficed to reverse his stand and make him join the hang-Afzal chorus with no condition attached.

The Congress, heading the government in New Delhi, has not covered itself with glory on the issue, either. Official spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi has avoided a direct comment and said that an outright dismissal of the verdict would make India “a banana republic”, implying that this would indicate an inadequate anti-terror resolve. Digvijay Singh, unofficial spokesperson of an unidentified section of the Congress, has asked for a review of the judgement because “Sen is a very fine human being.”

The BJP assumes that there can be a bipartisan consensus on the issue, as on the US-India nuclear deal, on the basis of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s perception of the Maoist insurgency as “the biggest internal threat to India”. The assumption is not entirely unfounded. After all, even Digvijay Singh has taken care not to dissociate Sen from the insurgency.

Taking a larger political view of it all, the story yields two major lessons based on the sad events of the decade about to end in two of the BJP’s bastions: Gujarat’s anti-minority pogrom of 2002 and Chhattisgarh’s anti-tribal terror culminating in the cruel sentence handed to Sen.

In the first place, the tale of two outrages illustrates the fact that ‘development’ of the kind Narendra Modi and Raman Singh have supposedly delivered covers a multitude of crimes against democracy. More importantly, the records of these states, where the BJP does not share power, show what the country can expect if the political front of the far right comes to power on its own in New Delhi.

We must hope for a reversal of the Raipur verdict, against which an appeal to the higher judiciary will soon be made. We must also hope that the public will not forget the lessons of this sorry episode in euphoria over a widely anticipated legal victory.

The writer is a journalist based in Chennai, India. A peace activist, he is also the author of a sheaf of poems titled At Gunpoint

VIEW: US war strategy and the Taliban —Musa Khan Jalalzai - Friday, December 31, 2010

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There is no legitimate government and a legal functioning state in Afghanistan. People in all provinces do not trust either the US-led forces or the President Karzai regime. The non-Pashtuns are deeply suspicious that any deal between Karzai and the Taliban would strengthen the Pashtun hegemony

Many intellectuals in the UK are of the opinion that the US should have adopted a multi-faceted and multi-dimensional war strategy to counter the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. The Obama strategy announced last year badly failed. President Obama faced opposition both from Secretary of Defence Robert Gates and US South Asia representative, late Richard Holbrooke. They were critical of the way the Taliban insurgency is tackled. General McChrystal was fired, Holbrooke died, and the Pakistan Army no more wants the killings of its own people. This is ultimately a nonsensical and immaterial war and may lead to the dismemberment of Pakistan.

To revive Pakistan’s zeal, US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of General Staff Admiral Mike Mullen visited Islamabad to press General Kayani to do more. Newspapers reported Admiral Mullen’s visit to Pakistan with a strong sense of strategic impatience. He complained about the inability of the government in clearing insurgents from border safe havens where they prepare lethal attacks against American and allied forces in neighbouring Afghanistan. Admiral Mullen told General Kayani: “We all have a sense of urgency about this. We are losing people.”

Many Pakistani journalists and men of letters believe that if the US wants to counter the Taliban insurgency in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, it will have to appreciate the cooperation of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), not criticise the agency for its military or political role across the border. In one instance, the ISI is requested to bring the Haqqani network and other Afghan Taliban to the table for talks, in the other it is criticised and humiliated. Intellectual circles understand that this policy of the US government is based on hypocrisy and deception.

US President Barack Obama is looking for another flock of horses for this difficult race to defeat the professional horses of the ISI. For this purpose, Britain’s well-trained horses are being moved to Kandahar to support and reinforce the tired and frustrated American horses effectively. Mr Holbrooke was tired of the performance of the Afghan riders. He was critical of the Obama strategy and told a Pakistani surgeon: “You have got to stop this war in Afghanistan.”

Keeping in view all these internal criticisms and political troubles, on December 16, 2010, the US president declared the revision of his previous failed strategy. Obama said for disrupting al Qaeda and combating the Taliban, Pakistan needs to do more. He complained about Pakistan’s intelligence performance but he knows that Pakistan lost thousands of its troops in this war. Obama noted that Pakistan not only deployed 140,000 troops in that region, but was also coordinating its military operations with the US and Afghan forces.

The revision of US military strategy time and again means that the US government has failed. The Taliban have already informed world media that the US offensives in Helmand have failed. Fresh warnings by the al Qaeda and Taliban leaders have come at a time when the US and NATO forces are facing a tough time in Afghanistan. In 2010, 700 foreign soldiers, including American servicemen, were killed in Taliban attacks. The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office facts and figures show that more than 20,000 officers from the Afghan National Police have left over the past year.

Similarly, the cost of the Afghan war is unpalatable. At present, the US spends about $ 120 billion a year while the internal deficit is one trillion dollars. The government in Afghanistan is widely seen as corrupt. There is no legitimate government and a legal functioning state in Afghanistan. People in all provinces do not trust either the US-led forces or the President Karzai regime. The non-Pashtuns are deeply suspicious that any deal between Karzai and the Taliban would strengthen the Pashtun hegemony. Warlords in the north have become so rich that they are running the black market economy and criminal trade across the country. They have established their own private armies. They provide security to the coalition forces.

The debate on the failure of the Afghan state and its institutions had intensified in the NATO summit. All member states emphasised that a well functioning state in Afghanistan is a must. The present hardly existent Afghan state has never been able to effectively control its territory and deliver good governance. International forces (US, UK, NATO, ISAF) neither gave any importance to the Afghan National Army in maintaining stability, nor used it in tackling insurgency across the country. Local warlords have long been used to fight insurgency. Warlords and their irregular armies neither understand insurgency nor conventional war. The Afghan National Army has no specific counterinsurgency training. The Afghan state has been bypassed and ignored in the war against terrorism. Nation building has barely materialised.

There is a constant need for nation building in the country. More regrettably, Afghanistan has neither a strong educated class nor basic infrastructure that can help in strengthening national unity. The country has been poor and weak throughout the course of its history. Ethnic, sectarian and geographical differences have long been the basis for suspicion and resentment. The state is not able even to collect revenue and manage public resources.

Peace among warlords, criminal trade, black market economy, organised crime, corruption and insurgency are impossible to reconcile. The people of this poor country have been alienated by corruption, mismanagement, brutalities of war and unemployment. They join the insurgency in retaliation. Moreover, poor eradication management of narcotic drugs is another factor that supports the insurgency and national alienation. The whole process is financed by al Qaeda within Pakistan and Afghanistan. Bad governance is going to cost both NATO and the Afghans. The lives of Americans, Europeans, Pakistanis, Indians and Afghans are in constant danger. Nobody can travel by road alone and people are even being kidnapped from the middle of major cities, including Kabul. To tackle this issue, the Bush and Obama regimes never established a clear military strategy for Afghanistan.

Afghan intellectuals say the problem of the dysfunctional western-backed democracy in Afghanistan is much deeper as it is neither a democracy nor a well functioning government. Not only the Afghan state, the corruption of international forces and firms is too significant to be ignored. All this is because the institutions of a hardly functioning Afghan state have been on the decline. Insurgency is slowly developing within the Afghan National Army and hundreds of soldiers are joining the Taliban movement every day. Military experts complain that a major portion of the Afghan Army and the police are still controlled by former jihadist leaders.

General McChrystal cried again and again for help in improving the security situation in Afghanistan. The main reason behind the general’s cry was the need for a unified strategy because there are two war strategies — US strategy and ISAF strategy. These strategies conduct the war on terror in different directions. They have lost confidence and know nothing about what they want to do, how they want peace and who they want to involve in the stabilisation process.

The writer is author of Britain’s National Security Challenges and can be reached at

COMMENT: Why Muslims are where they are —Jamal Hussain - Friday, December 31, 2010

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Without conformity, law and order in a society will break down, but rigid conformity leads to stagnation and regression. A correct balance is the answer. But what is the right balance? There are no simple answers

Discussion on religious issues is never easy. Beliefs are well entrenched and, in most cases, leave little room for the accommodation of differing points of views. There is a tendency to look at things as being black and white; the minority that takes a nuanced approach is generally labelled as being composed of bleeding liberals.

Liberalism itself has many shades. Shorn of its negative connotations it means a firm belief and conviction in one’s faith while being open-minded and accommodating to the beliefs of others. A free and open discussion without prejudice and dogmas can work wonders in the opening of minds. Even if one does not agree with the other, it helps to understand the diversity of methods societies have adopted in their search for the Almighty.

Jews, Christians and Muslims are the followers of the Book that was revealed to prophets Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (PBUH), and the message that had earlier been revealed to Abraham, Noah and Adam — the first human being on earth — besides a number of other prophets in between. With the passage of time, the message invariably got altered but, for Muslims, the Quran is the final message in which the Almighty has taken it upon Himself to prevent any alterations. The Quran is still in its pristine form as it was revealed to the Holy Prophet (PBUH)) but that does not mean that the current practices and beliefs of Muslims are necessarily in line with the revealed message. Different interpretations by different sects have led to a division within the ummah.

A study of the history of Islam and its progress during its first 500 years is very revealing. The message of Islam was revealed to an Arab society that, in that period, was considered primitive and of little consequence in the international arena — the Romans, Byzantines and Persians were the super powers of the region then. Within a few decades of the advent of Islam, Arabian society had been transformed by its new faith and, in less than a century, had become the dominant player and force, overshadowing the mighty Romans, Persians and Byzantines in the process. The Muslim empire continued to expand for the next 500 years before stagnation and decline set in.

What transformed that backward and ignorant community so radically that they were able to overcome the mighty Romans, Byzantine and Persian empires, which appeared to be impregnable then? Two factors were primarily responsible for the exponential growth of the early Muslim era. Islam created the environment that encouraged the seeking of knowledge and establishment of a just system of governance. Compared to other societies, Muslims then had acquired a higher level of knowledge and had established greater justice and fair play. For as long as Muslim society stayed ahead in these two critical areas, they dominated all others. About 500 years on, Muslim society stagnated and even regressed on both these issues whereas Europe began to close the gap. The period of the Renaissance in Europe brought them out of the dark ages at a time when Muslim societies had started to move in the reverse direction — from enlightenment to darkness. When the critical stage was crossed, the mantle of leadership passed on to the Europeans who were predominantly Christian. Today, the huge chasm between Christian and Muslim societies is a reflection of the difference in knowledge and awareness and sense of justice and fair play prevalent in the two societies.

Historians have cited a number of factors for the decline of the Muslim empire, infighting amongst the various sects being one of them. The rot started to set in when Muslims became slaves to the form rather than the spirit of their beliefs. This led to dogmas, stagnation, intolerance and a precipitous decline in the quest for fresh knowledge. Ignorance breeds injustice in society and rapidly the Muslim empire was overtaken by others. In conclusion, a society’s progress is dependent on two factors: level of knowledge and awareness and the level of justice and fair play prevalent in society. Religion plays a key role at least in the second aspect as human nature is such that without willing submission to a concept far more powerful than itself, human society has a tendency to self-destruct because of arrogance and pride.

Are there any eternal truths? Yes, and the simpler they are kept by society the more vigorous they become. What about conformity and independence of thought? A nuanced answer would be: “That depends.” Without conformity, law and order in a society will break down, but rigid conformity leads to stagnation and regression. A correct balance is the answer. But what is the right balance? There are no simple answers. The higher the level of knowledge and awareness of a society the more independence in thought it can handle. The more primitive and ignorant, the higher degree of conformity is required

Rather than education, the terms knowledge and awareness are more relevant because education is merely the pathway towards knowledge, which is the means for achieving a higher level of awareness — the ultimate factor that leads to a more enlightened and tolerant society. Knowledge and awareness without formal education is possible but education, while facilitating the absorption of knowledge and awareness, may not lead to them automatically — an educated person may be shorn of knowledge and awareness while an uneducated one may be blessed with both.

Religious intolerance is one of the leading factors behind the decline of the Muslim ummah in general and Pakistan in particular. The future well being of both depends on their ability to rectify this grave malady afflicting their society.

The writer is a retired Air Commodore, former director Centre for Aerospace Power Studies PAF Base Faisal, Karachi, and former Commandant Joint Services Staff College. He can be reached at

COMMENT: Wage peace, not war —Zafar Hilaly - Friday, December 31, 2010

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Constant American carping that Pakistan should ‘do more’ in return for American largesse is fast driving a wedge between the better off Pakistani, the business crowd, the traditionally pro-American army and the common man whose hatred for the US has reached alarming proportions

A few days ago, the New York Times (NYT) published a story suggesting that the US had lost patience with Pakistan’s dilly-dallying on the North Waziristan operation and was preparing to undertake cross-border operations against the Haqqani Taliban sheltering in Pakistan. Our reaction was prompt and firm. The Foreign Office spokesman said that any such action would be intolerable and that there would be consequences. Thereafter, a Pentagon spokesman debunked the NYT story as being baseless.

This was followed by General Petraeus declaring to the media on December 25 that Pakistani and US forces were coordinating their moves against the Taliban on both sides of the border, and that more such ‘hammer and anvil exercises’ were planned. There was also a suggestion that the US wanted to do more to ‘help’ Pakistan with its own operations.

As welcome as such sentiments were, neither in Petraeus’s utterances nor in the statement of the Pentagon spokesman was there an express disavowal that US forces would cross the border into Pakistan. In fact, Petraeus’s offer to “coordinate with (Pakistan) to help their operations” might mean anything, including conceivably sending US ground forces across the border. Already Pakistan is on notice that the Taliban’s use of Pakistani territories as a sanctuary presents “a clear and direct threat” to American interests and forces in Afghanistan. It was a blunt warning that direct American action is possible; in fact, Bush had ‘cleared’ cross-border raids as long ago as July 2008, and it can be done again by Obama. Nor should we forget that the earliest advocate of raids into Pakistan is Biden, that unguided missile whose salvoes will do more collateral damage than good.

The US has yet to concede that a political settlement, rather than military action, is what will end the war and that there is no military victory to be had in Afghanistan. A major deficiency in the US Strategic Review, released on December 16, 2010 was the absence of any reference to a political settlement. Yet, it refers to 2014, scarcely four years away, as the cut-off date for direct combat operations by US and NATO forces. The thought occurs that if the US does not pursue a political solution while present in Afghanistan in strength, how do they expect to obtain one when they start pulling out in 2014? As long as American policy remains confused and Obama remains an instrument in the hands of his generals, rather than a decision maker, little progress can be made to agree on a strategy for, let alone arrive at, a negotiated solution. As the US searches for the elusive military victory in Afghanistan, any kind of madness is possible including intrusions by American forces into Pakistan.

Petraeus’s Christmas Day statements have suggested to some that he may finally be coming to his senses by recognising publicly what our army has been telling him for quite some time, that it does not want to go into North Waziristan without proper preparations, especially not without consolidating where it is already immersed. But, Petraeus is unwilling to acknowledge that politics must come first and that military action should be in support of a policy that seeks a settlement, not on a take it or leave it basis, but on terms to be negotiated.

While this is a simple enough proposition for us to understand, it is not so for Petraeus. It seems that as long as he is heading the ‘surge’, there will be no movement for a negotiated settlement of the war; Petraeus means to let the guns do all the talking. Needless to say, that is absurd. Neither superior firepower nor any number of skirmishes on which the Americans find themselves on the winning side will have an impact. Force is not a remedy in Afghanistan. It can subdue for the moment but will not remove the need to subdue again. An ideology like that of the Taliban cannot be defeated by physical force alone.

The Taliban movement, like that of the Maoists in India and the recent communist-led insurrection in Nepal, is a product of a society where stark poverty and despair are pervasive. The solution is massive job creation and political and democratic reform for which peace is a prerequisite. A fraction of the $ 130 billion annually spent on waging war in Afghanistan, if spent on waging peace, would make the US safer.

The other incontrovertible fact is that no American strategy for Afghanistan can work unless Pakistan is on board. Pakistan has more at stake than the US in seeking peace and stability in Afghanistan because its long-term security and economic prospects are both tied to a breakthrough in Afghanistan. However, at times the US acts as if what happens within Pakistan does not matter. Well it does matter, and like hell. Similarly, to consider Pakistan a hindrance rather than a partner in the war is becoming a bad American habit. But if not for the safe havens, we are told, the US would by now have defeated the Taliban. Actually, if it were not for the safe havens, the entire country would have become one. Indeed, that is what seems to be happening in Karachi, which is increasingly becoming a Taliban hideaway.

Constant American carping that Pakistan should ‘do more’ in return for American largesse is fast driving a wedge between the better off Pakistani, the business crowd, the traditionally pro-American army and the common man whose hatred for the US has reached alarming proportions. And the longer the establishment and business lobbies remain tethered to the American chariot, the greater will be the loss of their popularity.

All this should by now have been home truths manifest to all but the most insensitive and, of course, the deaf and blind. In that respect, Petraeus’s recent utterances are welcome as they show a greater understanding for the army’s stance. It should make for better cooperation between them but it will do little else. While he concedes that victory in Afghanistan is by no means certain, Petraeus has not given up striving for it, to the exclusion of other means, thereby, postponing the negotiated settlement that his countrymen, Afghans and Pakistanis crave. Seldom has it been truer to say, like Clemenceau, that “war is too important a matter to entrust to military men”.

The writer is a former ambassador. He can be reached at

The ‘let them do it’ spirit - Dr Muzaffar Iqbal - Friday, December 31, 2010

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As the political pack in Pakistan wrangles over nothing and the country dips further into a heavy load that cannot be shed, no matter how long the loadsheddings become, 2010 comes to an end, marking one more point of reference on one of the calendars humanity now uses. The year ends without any improvement on the hope factor and without a hint of any real change in Pakistan or the world in general despite Wikileaks, whose head has mysteriously disappeared from the news media.

That there are no signs of hope in Pakistan may be a direct consequence of the moral and intellectual character of its leadership. But for the world at large to be so filled with dark hopelessness is indeed a great tragedy for the entire human race. The downward spiral with which the century started has yet to see an upward turn: we are still living in the nightmarish world created by George W Bush and his British crony, whose name one does not wish to pronounce, lest it taints the paper with blood. That nightmare was inaugurated by two ruthless wars which unfolded countless human tragedies, most of which will never become part of history as recognisable individual tragedies; rather, they will forever remain collateral damage.

Yet, amidst the ever-increasing collateral damage of the unending war of terror started by George W Bush, one wishes at least to have a hope that there will come a time when someone in Pakistan will have the courage to stand up and say: one more drone attacks in Pakistan or else the US embassy in Islamabad will be shut down.

The fact that Pakistan has lost its sovereignty requires no further proof than the recent statement by its prime minister in parliament, in which he called the drone attacks “counterproductive” and repeated his government’s demand that the US give Pakistan the drone technology and leave to it such actions against militants. What does it mean to issue such a statement in parliament other than acknowledging the fact that the Pakistani government cannot stop these attacks! This amounts to admitting the loss of sovereignty because, for all practical purposes, a drone attack is an attack on Pakistan by another country, not merely an attack on some unknown militants.

During 2010, there has been a sharp increase in these attacks. The number of people killed is anybody’s guess, as no one is counting. The drone war is not recorded anywhere in public debates, neither in the United States nor in Pakistan, occasional whimpers by the Jamaat-e Islami notwithstaPakistan is perhaps the only country in the world which has given the United States a blank cheque; even the servile Egypt receives more respect.

Then there is Hugo Chavez, who has refused to accept Washington’s choice of ambassador to his country, because the nominee, Larry Palmer, made some statements earlier this year suggesting that morale was low in Venezuela’s military and that he was concerned Colombian rebels were finding refuge in Venezuela. Even though the US State Department has said that it stands behind its nomination of Palmer, Chavez refuses to admit him.

“If the government is going to expel our ambassador there, let them do it!” he said in a televised speech to his nation, “if they’re going to cut diplomatic relations, let them do it! Now the US government is threatening us that they’re going to take reprisals. Well, let them do whatever they want, but that man will not come.” What a difference between this bold stand and whimpers coming out of Pakistan!

There are obvious differences between the two countries, but regardless of those economic differences, there is no justification for the servile attitude of Pakistani leadership. The sinking fortunes of Pakistan are not merely related to its economic dependence on the United States; they are a direct result of the moral bankruptcy of its political leadership.

All that Pakistani politicians seem to be interested in is an unending parade of petty political games. In a country where no one feels safe, where all the growth indicators have been going down, and where basic necessities are becoming increasingly scarce, no one seems to be concerned about any long-term strategy to meet the power shortfall or to curtail the ever-increasing gap between the rich and the poor.

It is hard to believe that Pakistan at the end of 2010 is the same country which witnessed one of the greatest tragedies of its national life in this same year. It seems no one remembers the floods anymore. The desperation witnessed during those weeks, the hopelessness of people who would rush to aid workers, fight over rice and sugar, stronger men would slap the faces of women and children to get food away from them, people would pick up grains of sugar from the ground and put them straight into their mouths. These memories of those days, when the entire nation was feeling an urgent sense of moral decay, but also a sincere repentance and hoping for Divine grace, are all gone with the wind.

It is hard to believe that the nation is still filled with the same old habits of life and its entire political leadership is immersed in yet another petty affair. As the year 2010 comes to end, one cannot rejoice in any possible opening filled with hope. Instead, there is this heavy feeling that the same old pattern of national decay will continue in the New Year, and perhaps for years to come.

The writer is a freelance columnist.


Earning disgrace - S Khalid Husain - Friday, December 31, 2010

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This PPP government has “not done” many things it should have, and “done” many it should not have, earning disgrace points on both counts.

If a survey was conducted on which among the “not done,” or “done,” things have earned the PPP government most disgrace points, undoubtedly topping the list in the “not done” category would be its failure to find the killers of Benazir Bhutto, in the nearly three years that it has wielded power. In the “done” category, ruination of cricket in the country and of the national airline PIA will score very high.

Itemising all the numerous other things this government has “not done,” or “done,” and for which it has accumulated impressive disgrace points would only invite a long, weary yawn, and the retort, “So what else is new?” All the “not done,” and “done,” things of the Zardari dispensation will live to torment the PPP for long, much longer than the myth of “roti, kapra aur makan” created by the PPP has lived to frustrate, and torment, the wretched poor. The way the present rulers are governing the country, and the way private fortunes are being piled and assets being acquired, good governance is clearly neither the desire nor the aim of the rulers.

Churchill said of Russia that “it is a riddle wrapped in mystery inside an enigma,” something that Benazir’s murder has also become. Churchill also said, “perhaps there is a key, and that key is Russia’s national interest.” Is it in Pakistan’s national interest that Benazir’s murder mystery be resolved? Or is it in interest of some, or many, that it not be resolved?

From the extraordinary speed with which the murder site was hosed down, even before the Scotland Yard team with its limited mandate arrived, the hasty official declaration that it was the lever on the vehicle’s sunroof which fatally injured Benazir’s head, a claim immediately debunked as impossible by the manufacturers, to the mysterious movements of the lead vehicle after the murder, with a covey of trusted acquaintances inside, the-then head of PPP security and incumbent minister for interior heading to Zardari House in Islamabad immediately after the murder, instead of taking charge of the situation, the refusal of permission for a post-mortem, and other similar actions – all are of the sort that would turn any tragedy into a mystery.

Involving the UN, and then rejecting its report because, while it did not expressly charge anyone or any group with the crime, it also did not absolve anyone or any group. The same treatment has been meted out, for the same reasons, to the Joint Investigation Team’s report. All this gives the impression that what the rulers are only looking for is a report that will absolve them wholly of every failing and omission, including lack of care by party leaders who organised the Liaquat Park public meeting.

After rejection of the Joint Investigation Team’s report, action against some police officers has been taken – three years after the crime. All these strengthen the impression that the rulers, instead of investigating the crime, are only going through time-consuming motions of doing so.

For the people, their cricket team and PIA, the national airline, were a source of pride. For the millions of Pakistanis at home, or those working in the Middle East, Europe, America, Canada and elsewhere, news of the Pakistan cricket team’s triumphs or the sight of a PIA plane at a foreign airport would bring a lump in the throat. No more. For both, the cricket team and PIA, have become a source of embarrassment for Pakistanis wherever they are.

And, all above, to assuage the ego of one man, the president of Pakistan, who nominated the present heads of the Pakistan Cricket Board and PIA, men who have led the two institutions to their virtual ruin. Their continuation appears to have become a matter of personal ego for the president, who would rather see the two institutions run to the ground than hurt his ego by changing what clearly have been his poor choices.

The PIA housing scheme for employees launched with much fanfare boggles the mind. Is PIA a business concern ready to share profits liberally with employees, if the employees help it earn them, or is it a welfare organisation for PPP workers, to house and feed them? There is no indication of where the money for the housing scheme would come from. Nor of how would plans, if there are any, for improvement of the airline’s performance, acquisition of new assets, getting rid of indebtedness would be executed. What level of bailout package would ultimately be needed?

The story of the Pakistan Cricket Board under the nominee of the president needs no retelling. It is being told every day, on the fields of New Zealand, in the world press, by the unending proceedings of ICC against Pakistan players, by the ham-fisted manager, coach, team selectors and other PCB underlings. The man at the top, when he is a poor choice himself, will invariably have underlings who are products of his own poor choices. Someone in the PPP should have told the president that if his government does nothing except rejuvenate the cricket team to enable it to play to its full potential, and win regularly, he would have had to do little else to be popular.

It is hard to say if anyone close to the president does any reading. Otherwise he, or she, could have brought to the president’s attention John Carlin’s book Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation. Or, better still, arranged for the president to watch the movie of the book called Invictus.

The book and the movie are a true story of how Nelson Mandela used the game of rugby to unite white and black South Africans into one nation. He arranged for the Springboks, the South African rugby team, to train unremittingly for the 1995 Rugby World Cup. This generated huge enthusiasm among white South Africans, and a growing interest for rugby in the majority black population. South Africa went on to win the1995 Rugby World Cup, and whites and blacks celebrated as one and embraced each other.

In Pakistan, cricket is probably the only thing which brings the people together as a nation. Instead of using the national passion for the game to unite the people by developing a winning team, he picked the wrong person for PCB chairman, causing the game to be disgraced.

The writer is former corporate executive. Email: pk

COMMENT: Bye bye Mitch —Harlan Ullman - Thursday, December 30, 2010

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Perhaps North Korea and Iran might deploy intercontinental range missiles one day. But unless those states were suicidal, why would they fire instantly traceable missiles at us or our friends, irrevocably painting an unmistakable bull’s-eye on themselves for retaliation?

Former Senate Majority Leader (and legislative giant) Mike Mansfield of Montana responded to colleagues who opposed him even bitterly by countenancing genuine disagreement while never doubting the motives of dissenting senators. In the four plus decades since Mansfield’s departure, boy has that changed in Congress.

The so-called debate, aka Republican tantrum, over approving the new START agreement sadly rejected Mansfield’s view of politics. The principal offender was Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. If the Republicans had backbone, McConnell would be replaced. And the same could be said of Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid but for other reasons.

One could oppose the START agreement. But the arguments against it are quite weak. Quibbles — and they are quibbles — with the treaty ignore the broader strategic relationship to be built with Russia, a relationship that can lead not merely to more effective missile defence but genuine cooperation with Moscow in helping us and our friends regarding Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and even North Korea. Indeed, that argument could have been sufficient for passage of even a partly flawed treaty, which this one is not.

The lead Republican dissenter was Arizona’s junior Senator Jon Kyl. Kyl challenged the future of missile defence as defined in the treaty as well as the warhead upgrade and reliability programmes to ensure our weapons would remain effective for the long-term. Kyl also deplored what he called efforts by the other side to ramrod the treaty through the Senate without time for fuller debate. McConnell’s dissent was more suspect. More about that shortly.

Regarding missile defence, some archconservatives would like to return to the days of Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI), known as Star Wars. However, the putative enemies North Korea and Iran lack any real missile capability, and deterrence still works should Russia and China embark on more menacing courses. Perhaps North Korea and Iran might deploy intercontinental range missiles one day. But unless those states were suicidal, why would they fire instantly traceable missiles at us or our friends, irrevocably painting an unmistakable bull’s-eye on themselves for retaliation?

Besides (one of the fatal flaws in SDI was ignoring the air-breathing cruise missile and manned aircraft threat), should North Korea and Iran consider using nuclear weapons, almost certainly stealthier non-ballistic missile options would seem more prudent in their minds.

As far as reliability of the warhead stockpile, some $ 80 billion over the next decade seems a sizable sum for that task. As far as ramming the treaty through, Democrats rightly argued that new START was sent to the Senate in April with ample hearings and upwards of 1,000 questions asked and answered.

Other critics carped that this treaty neglected tactical nuclear weapons in which Russia has a disproportionate numerical advantage. That is true. However, this treaty is as focused as all other START/SALT treaties on intercontinental weapons. And the criticism ignores why the Russians have maintained large numbers of tactical weapons. As the US and NATO relied on these weapons for much of the Cold War to offset Soviet conventional military power, conditions are reversed. Russia is no match for NATO or for China on a conventional battlefield. Hence, these tactical weapons are Russian insurance against NATO conventional superiority. As there is no chance of a NATO attack, this is a non-issue from our side although paring those numbers is a future step.

Missile defences will be enhanced with Russian participation. NATO’s decision to implement the phased adaptive approach, initially with sea-based Aegis interceptors, is the most effective way to deal with putative Iranian missiles. Given that Russia borders Iran, support for missile defence from Moscow is self-evident.

As a non-strategic expert, did McConnell hear these arguments? Indeed, given how partisan Congress has become, despite Mansfield’s caution, is this not pure pique? With administration wins on the tax compromise and ‘do not ask, do not tell’, McConnell perhaps did not wish to squander November’s Republican success further. Consequently, for entirely domestic political reasons, McConnell sought to derail the treaty and with it Obama’s political momentum.

Given that McConnell’s first priority in the Senate is ensuring the defeat of Obama in 2012, he is consistent. But if that is his key aim rather than supporting and defending the constitution, he is in the wrong pew in the wrong church. A better place would be as chairman of the Republican National Committee or as a private citizen.

Of course, this is wishful and even delusional thinking. To be sure, new START is not perfect. But it does advance our interests and those of our NATO allies. And it is to Russia’s advantage as well. Should broader strategic cooperation not follow, so be it. If it does, then that will be hugely to our advantage.

My new year’s wish is bye-bye Mitch! And I will be very disappointed.

The writer is Chairman of the Killowen Group that advises leaders of government and business, and Senior Advisor at Washington DC’s Atlantic Council

VIEW: Mid-term elections: is it the answer? —Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi - Thursday, December 30, 2010

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Mid-term elections or an interim government are not the solution. The fixing of the system will start from an individual who decides that he will not allow corruption or engage in corrupt practices. We have to become a nation from a chaotic crowd to be able to gain the dignity and sovereignty that we so much crave for

It seems democracy is feeling the heat from citizens around the world. Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi barely won a vote of confidence. French President Sarkozy is still recovering from allegations of bribery on the sale of submarines to Pakistan. British Prime Minister Cameron faced violent student protests after the increase in the tuition fees. US President Barack Obama, a Democrat, lost congressional majority to the Republican Party. The Irish government is facing a loss of mandate because of the economic crisis.

For established democracies in the west, change in public opinion is not a new thing. Over the course of two centuries, they have developed checks and balances between various state institutions that may get rocked in turbulent times but survive and continue in the end. In Pakistan, on the other hand, democracy has always been on a shaky ground. In its 63 year’s history of statehood, intermittent elected governments have been dissolved frequently by military rulers thereby hampering the development of a democratic tradition, which is the bedrock of stable institutions. Time and again, elected representatives proved too weak to steer the democratic ship in storms created by vested interests and non-democratic forces. The most important reasons for unstable democratic institutions in Pakistan are undemocratic parties, unskilled politicians, allure of the establishment to find partners in crime, too many parties in parliament reducing the national debate into small regional interests and masses that do not understand the power of their vote.

Since the formation of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government after the 2008 elections, there have been many occasions when it seemed that it will not be able to survive but it did. In the latest crisis, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) announced parting ways with the coalition government and decided to sit on the opposition benches, while the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) resigned from two ministries at the Centre. As soon as this was announced, the multitude of rumourmongers and conspiracy theorists started concocting all kinds of scenarios to emerge from this. The most talked about are two, i.e. an interim government of technocrats that would stabilise the country before the next elections in 2013 or that mid-term elections should be held for a fresh mandate.

Mid-term elections will just be a game of musical chairs between the existing cadres of leaders but will cost the nation a lot of money and loss of productivity in the economy. There are only two years left in the term of the current government, which is not a long time to wait. During this time, the local bodies’ elections should be held so that an institution for future leaders is reinstated. These elections will be a litmus test of the nation’s choice for the next government in the province and Centre.

But the real question is the structure of our government and how various institutions should behave to create a stable environment for the nation to thrive. Bureaucrats run the real government; a minister is supposed to provide a policy direction based on the ruling party’s ideology. It is never a good idea that a minister gets involved in actual, operational decision-making, which becomes a breeding ground for corruption and cronyism. It undermines the authority of the bureaucrats and damages merit by appointment of choice candidates to facilitate corrupt transactions.

The military establishment has controlled the strings of government directly or indirectly throughout the history of Pakistan. A soldier or policeman without legal authority is no different from a criminal. When a general captures power from civilian rulers, he is undercutting his moral authority thereby damaging the institution that is held in high esteem by the nation. The military today does not enjoy the same moral ground in Pakistan that it used to just 20 years ago. People have realised that the military rulers have done more damage than the combined damage of all politicians.

The social fabric of a nation cannot survive when the judgements of courts are considered unfair or when the state instruments are not able to implement them. Judges who are honest succumb to pressures, if not for money, then for the safety of their families. The judiciary cannot be independent without providing them protection and considering merit in the appointment of judges. It seems that in Pakistan there is no fear of law among people that are rich, influential or part of a religious extremist network. Despite many arrests in terrorism cases, not a single culprit has been brought to justice to pay for their crimes against society. This has emboldened the terrorists to commit more acts without any fear of being punished.

The final blame for the desperate state of affairs in Pakistan lies with the whole nation itself. How is it possible that without the consent of the masses, bad leaders come to power either in bureaucracy, politics, military or judiciary? Imran Khan, chairman Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI), has made compassionate appeals for amendments in the Election Commission regulations to make in holding elections more independent and transparent. No rule or law can ensure fair elections until the people engaged in running the elections feel the responsibility for it. Elections are organised by over 20,000 officials and supported by an even larger number of soldiers and policemen. If not a single person among these have the courage to stand up to the rigging of elections then the nation cannot blame internal or external forces for a bad government. It is the responsibility of the law enforcement agencies and common citizen to protect election whistle-blowers from vengeance.

Corruption or an uncivilised society does not result from a handful of bad apples; it is the deep-rooted corruption of all. Mid-term elections or an interim government are not the solution. The fixing of the system will start from an individual who decides that he will not allow corruption or engage in corrupt practices. We have to become a nation from a chaotic crowd to be able to gain the dignity and sovereignty that we so much crave for. God has instructed us unambiguously in the Holy Quran (13:11) “Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.”

The writer is the president of the Pakistan Chamber of Commerce-USA. He can be reached at

VIEW: Not in the name of my Prophet(PBUH) —Humaira Masihuddin - Thursday, December 30, 2010

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Today, those who do not have any knowledge of prophetic conduct are baying for a woman’s blood, and that too in the Prophet’s (PBUH) name. Islam allows people to return over and over again. That was the creed of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). Let his seerah challenge anyone who says otherwise

I am both shocked and amazed at the audacity with which Aasia bibi’s case has been pursued in the electronic media by people who are supposed to be conversant with Islam. Leading from the front, along with the political maulanas, are some journalists who appear to be showing great loyalty to the personality of the Prophet (PBUH) by insisting that the punishment in Islam for blasphemy cannot be condemned and that it has to be carried out under all circumstances, where there is no room for repentance or forgiveness.

Then we heard that the standard of proof need not be so stringent, that anyone making a claim against another for blasphemy is to be taken seriously even if such blasphemy might have taken place in the privacy of a room. Clearly, those making such ludicrous claims in the name of Islam or Islamic law are committing the vilest of deeds and that too in the face of solid and foolproof evidence from the Holy Quran and Sunnah.

As for the controversy surrounding whether blasphemy can be forgiven or not, all we need to do here is take a seerah-centric approach to study the subject. The Quran unequivocally, and for all times, establishes the gentle and merciful disposition of the Prophet (PBUH) in the following verses: “It is part of the Mercy of Allah that thou dost deal gently with them” — Surah 3, verse 159. “We sent thee not but as a mercy for all the worlds” — Surah 21, verse 106. This kind and gentle disposition of the Prophet (PBUH) remained a constant throughout his life whatever the circumstances, whether during the persecution in the “Makkan crucible” or the days of complete authority and power in Medina. So much so that R V C Bodley in his book, The Messenger, remarks: “I doubt whether any man whose external conditions changed so much ever changed himself so less to meet them.”

One of the most telling incidents from his life is his trip to Taif. Shibli Nomani narrates: “The scoundrels of the city flocked from all sides and stood in lines on both sides of the road. When the Prophet (PBUH) came along, they pelted his feet with stones so that his shoes were filled with blood. His bleeding feet compelled him to sit down, but his persecutors would pull him up by the arm and make him stand and as he moved onward, stones were showered again to the accompaniment of abusing and clapping.” But the story does not end there, it goes on to tell us that as the Prophet (PBUH) took refuge, angel Gabriel came and asked him if he desired to have the people of Taif punished. The Prophet’s (PBUH) famous answer was “No.”

Some argue that this was the Prophet’s (PBUH) conduct in Makkah but not so in Medina when he was in authority, but once again facts show that nothing could be further from the truth. We all know about the kind of treatment Abdullah bin Ubay extended to the Prophet (PBUH). He was known as the Raeesul Munafiqeen (the leader of the hypocrites) in Medina. He deserted the Muslim army along with 300 followers in the battle of Uhud, and with his attitude and words hurt the Prophet (PBUH) grievously yet, when he was dying, this is what happened according to Martin Lings in his book, Mohammad: His Life Based On The Earliest Sources: “The Prophet [PBUH] visited him in his illness and found that the imminence of death had changed him. He asked the Prophet [PBUH] to give him a garment of his own in which he could be shrouded and to accompany his body to the grave...he spoke saying, ‘O messenger of God, I hope that thou wilt pray beside my bier and ask forgiveness of God for my sins’...and after his death (the Prophet [PBUH]) did as he had promised.” Particularly interesting is his answer to Umar when the latter protested that the Prophet (PBUH) should not bestow such grace on a hypocrite. The Prophet (PBUH) replied, “Stand Thou behind me Umar. I have been given the choice and I have chosen. It hath been said unto me, ‘Ask forgiveness for them, or ask it not though thou ask forgiveness for them 70 times, yet will not God forgive them,’ and did I know that God would forgive him If I prayed more than 70 times, I would increase the number of my supplications.”

Another outstanding example of forgiveness is that of the poet Kab ibn Zuhair ibn abi Sulma who used to write satirical verses against the Prophet (PBUH). His brother, Bujair, who was a Muslim, urged him to go ask for the Prophet’s (PBUH) forgiveness in the following words, “He slayeth not him who cometh unto him in repentance.” The poet approached him after the conquest of Makkah and said, “O messenger of God, if Kab, the son of Zuhair came to you in repentance...wouldst thou receive him?” As the Prophet (PBUH) answered that he would, the poet said, “I, O Messenger of God am Kab, the son of Zuhayr.” Then he recited an ode in praise of the Prophet (PBUH) and the emigrants. Upon his finishing, the Prophet (PBUH) took off his striped Yemeni cloak and gave it to Kab. This robe is enshrined in the Topkapi museum in Turkey, a testament of the Prophet’s (PBUH) magnanimity and the relish with which he accepted his former enemies wholeheartedly without rancour and grudges.

Abu Dujana was given the Prophet’s (PBUH) sword to fight with in Uhud. Witnesses say that he fought every man in his path but immediately withheld his sword as he came upon Hind, the wife of Abu Sufyan. He said in later years that he did not think it appropriate to strike a woman with the Prophet’s (PBUH) sword. Today, those who do not have any knowledge of prophetic conduct are baying for a woman’s blood, and that too in his name. They say that during the conquest of Makkah, and despite the general amnesty given, there was a list of people ordered not to be spared but they fail to mention that only three men were killed and those who asked for forgiveness were forgiven. They also fail to mention that among the three who were killed, two were confirmed murderers and one was a torturer. One of the women in the list was killed but two others who asked for clemency were forgiven, including a woman named Sarah who was known to have caused the Prophet (PBUH) considerable harm.

The conquest of Makkah, far beyond being a conquest of territory, was a conquest of hearts. So eager was the Prophet (PBUH) to forgive that when Umair ibn Wahab asked for the forgiveness of Safwan — one of the men on the death list — the Prophet (PBUH) not only forgave, but when Umair asked the Prophet (PBUH) for a guarantee, he took off his turban as his personal guarantee.

If the above cannot prove the fact that there is no point of no return in Islam then nothing can. Islam allows people to return over and over again. That was the creed of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). Let his seerah challenge anyone who says otherwise.

The writer has a degree in shariah and law, an MA in cultural anthropology and an MSc in criminal justice studies. She can be reached at

COMMENT: Tripping democracy — again? —Dr Mohammad Taqi - Thursday, December 30, 2010

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Benazir Bhutto wrote extensively about reconciliation between the Islamic world and the west. Unfortunately, she did not live to see it materialise. But even before that she had started a rapprochement with Mian Nawaz Sharif and had outlined a roadmap for it too

I write these lines on the evening of December 27, 2010 at exactly the same time when Benazir Bhutto breathed her last, three years ago. Her martyrdom remains one of those immense tragedies where one cannot forget the place where one was or the thoughts that crossed one’s mind upon receiving the tragic news.

I was visiting Lahore to see Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan who was under house arrest at the time, with his residence having been designated a sub-jail. Thanks to his family, I managed to slip past the police to see him for almost an hour-long session in his living room. After seeing Barrister sahib, I was ushered back to his law chambers next to the residence. But that is not really what I wish to reminisce about here. Walking into his office, I heard his family and associates talking about a bomb blast at the PPP’s Liaquat Bagh rally and that perhaps Benazir Bhutto had succumbed. It was the dark, cold, blood-soaked evening of December 27, 2007. And I clearly remember the first thought that passed my mind upon hearing the heartrending news.

It was almost like a flashback and relegating the hectic talk around me to the background, I thought of the first time I saw Benazir Bhutto and the first words I heard from her. It was at her mammoth rally at the Cunningham (Jinnah) Park in Peshawar circa May 1986. Peshawar was her second or third stopover after returning to Pakistan from exile in April that year. The news of her historic welcome at Lahore had already reached far and wide. As a young worker of the Movement for the Restoration for Democracy (MRD), I had decided along with my other colleagues from the Pashtun nationalist and progressive parties that we would attend the PPP rally. None of us was a member of the PPP or its students’ wing but having developed a great working relationship with the PPP under the aegis of the MRD, we came in hordes, and early. The rally was scheduled to start around 2:00 pm or so but we came in at 10:00 am only to find that the park was already packed. But Benazir Bhutto’s procession did not arrive till very late in the evening. But it is not even the size of the procession or the magnitude of the rally that I wish to remember. Benazir Bhutto’s first words from that stage were in Pashto: “Za za, Zia za” (Zia must go). The predominantly Pashtun audience immediately bonded with her and erupted in a chorus of ‘Za za, Zia za, za za, Zia za’, calling upon the military dictator Ziaul Haq to go, to leave, to vanish from the political scene. Hearing the news of her death, this is the political statement I remembered hearing from Benazir Bhutto as if it was yesterday.

But did the ghost of Ziaul Haq’s Islamo-fascism ever leave us? Did that ‘go Zia go’ slogan ever materialise? The stark, unfortunate reality is no, it did not. The birds of the Ziaist feather are flocking together again, nay, political vultures are hovering over the current PPP government. They always do. After those 1986 rallies, Zia was forced to cobble together a king’s party. He created his version of the Muslim League and many, including the current prime minister, hopped on to that anti-Bhutto bandwagon.

As a party, that particular Muslim League was not a winning horse on its own but bringing together the Bhutto-haters from across the political spectrum became the establishment’s favourite trick to either keep the PPP out of power or to dislodge its governments, which it has managed to form despite all odds. No one could have put it better than the senior columnist and friend Kamran Shafi who had told the television anchor Nasim Zehra: “Fauj jamhooriyat ko thibbiyan laga rahi hai” (the army keeps trying to trip democracy over). Nothing sums up the relationship of the Pakistani establishment with the left-of-centre political parties, especially the PPP better.

The establishment’s inherent mistrust of the PPP remains entrenched largely in the latter’s popular roots and, to an extent, in both Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto’s maverick style of leadership. Even when the shadows of political adjustments or reconciliation with the establishment have lurked over the PPP’s coming to power, the former remained deeply suspicious of the PPP leadership and feared their independent streak.

Over the last decade, the establishment has included Mian Nawaz Sharif in the list of the leaders it fears. The reason simply being that with a reasonable mass following, the politicians draw political legitimacy from the consent of those governed and tend to free themselves of the dependence on the establishment. This independence — however small it might be — is unpalatable for the deep state because unlike politicians it has no other way to seek political legitimacy. Even the most brutal martial law regimes ultimately had to seek the fig-leaf of rubber-stamp parliaments, ‘mandates’ from the Supreme Court or doctored referenda. No matter how strong the ruling establishment might be, its desire to rule (directly) is eventually incongruent with the nature of the modern nation state.

This fact is not completely lost on the Pakistani establishment but unable to reconcile to this reality, it continues to attempt every so often to manufacture dissent against the democratically elected dispensations. Its allies — with some variation in names and faces — in such attempts to trip democracy remain the usual parasites like the MQM, JUI, JI, PML-Q and Imran Khan. Fortunately, Mian Nawaz Sharif and his PML are way past such blatant intrigues and over the term of the present set-up have shown political maturity that has kept many adventurists at bay.

Benazir Bhutto wrote extensively about reconciliation between the Islamic world and the west. Unfortunately, she did not live to see it materialise. But even before that she had started a rapprochement with Mian Nawaz Sharif and had outlined a roadmap for it too. On the eve of Benazir Bhutto’s third death anniversary, the beat of the political war-drums is getting louder. Nothing would put a damper on those yearning for snap polls, in-house change, benevolent dictatorship or the ‘Chinese model’, except a robust revival of the PPP-PML-N partnership. Benazir Bhutto knew that Zia’s ghost lurks under the surface of such proposals. She would have wanted the PPP and the PML-N to stick together post-haste or prepare to be tripped over, along with democracy — again.

The writer can be reached at

The main fault lines - I.A Rehman - December 30, 2010

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THE question regarding the issue that topped the list of people’s concerns during the year that is coming to an end will elicit a wide variety of responses, depending on the respondent’s belief, domicile, economic condition and social status, thereby providing an idea of the factors that have caused sharp divisions in Pakistani society.

On two points, though, a nation-wide consensus is evident. First, regardless of the four markers mentioned above the people are likely to describe their growing impoverishment as the most important aspect of their plight. There will also be broad agreement on the factors contributing to the process of the under-privileged people’s pauperisation — lack of adequate employment, disruption of economic activity caused by shortage of energy, low wages, a high rate of inflation and an inadequate social security net.

Secondly, there will be near unanimous indictment of the state for its failure to provide relief, especially to the poor and marginalised sections of society.

However, neither of these two factors appeared for the first time in 2010. It will also be agreed that the first factor is very largely a by-product of the process mentioned as the second factor. Thus, in the final analysis all the problems and hardships faced by the people will be attributed to poor governance.

An inquiry into the causes and consequences of poor governance in 2010 will reveal a most intriguing paradox. On the one hand, the outgoing year offered an unprecedented example of inter-party understanding evident in the adoption of the 18th and 19th Amendments to the constitution. None of the political parties represented in the parliamentary committee that drafted these amendments had all its demands met in the unanimously agreed drafts and yet all of them hailed these measures as revolutionary steps in the right direction.

On the other hand, the same political parties failed to agree on measures necessary to resolve the crises in the political, economic, social and even judicial arenas. The government must of course be held primarily responsible for the aggravation of the various crises confronting the state. But the performance of other elements involved — the political parties in the opposition, the media and civil society — too brought them little credit. They were more interested in deriving political capital from the government’s problems and its discomfiture than in helping it to meet the threat to the well-being of society and not merely to the ruling coalition.

The way some political parties chose to defend the interest of their vote-banks while opposing the reformed general sales tax proposal or
tried to placate the militant extremists, or prescribed impractical remedies showed that all talk of national unity was merely hot air.

Thus, the absence of a workable plan to guarantee national survival and recovery through a non-partisan approach to issues was the principal fault line that threatened Pakistan in 2010.

Out of the other fault lines noticed in 2010 three posed the more significant threats to the people.

First, the issue of involuntary disappearances became uglier when dead bodies of some of the missing persons were found abandoned in different parts of Balochistan. A large section of society came to believe that these killings formed part of a design to frustrate the efforts of the apex court, the judicial commission and civil society organisations to trace the disappeared persons, and the reasons are obvious.

These killings cannot be dismissed as simple murders because if those responsible for these crimes only wanted to liquidate their victims they could do so without bearing the cost and running the risk of holding them in captivity. These were not cases of abduction for ransom either, for no report of ransom being demanded was ever received. Besides, the political affiliation of most of the victims and their views on Balochistan’s tribulations suggest political motives behind these killings. What matters, above all, is the perception of the Baloch community that they are being punished for demanding their rights.

The question of involuntary disappearances in Balochistan has capped that federating unit’s alienation from the state, and the threat to national integrity has been enhanced by some political parties’ decision to indulge in partisan politics.

Secondly, the ding-dong battle over women’s rights revealed a fault line which could cause Pakistan much greater harm than is generally imagined. The government did a few things designed to promote women’s rights, such as the enactment of a law to check sexual harassment at the workplace, the appointment of a woman as ombudsperson to take care of women’s grievances and the declaration of Dec 22 as Women’ Rights Day, but its performance did not match its rhetoric. It did not do enough to realise the Millennium Development Goal No 3 or the obligations acquired under the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women and Security Council Resolution 1325.

Apart from the various forms the denial of women’s rights takes, 2010 saw an increase in obscurantists’ hostility to women’s elementary
rights, such as the right to mobility and education.

That brings us to the third and perhaps the most dangerous fault line — the enhanced threat from the religious orthodoxy. The victims included non-Muslim communities, women, Muslim sects disagreeing with militants’ practices they insist on calling Islamic, the democratic polity and the justice system.

Throughout 2010 the state remained the target of militants who ravaged minority communities’ prayer houses, caused massacres at shrines and targeted critics and dissidents. They were able to attack security posts and personnel largely because the state’s policy of appeasing the extremists guaranteed the terrorists safe havens and logistics support throughout a larger part of the country.

Two developments in this area offered a bitter taste of things to come. Firstly the worldwide humanitarian reaction to the award of death penalty to a Christian woman on a blasphemy charge instead of persuading the clergy to reflect on the demerits of an admittedly flawed law led to a hardening of its obscurantist posture. The text of a man-made provision (Section 295-C of the Penal Code) has been raised to the level of a divine injunction and attempts to reform the law are being resisted with fanatic frenzy.

Secondly, the Federal Shariat Court, while striking down some provisions of the Protection of Women Act, has tried to supplant the mainstream judiciary, and repudiated much of the salutary work done by the Council of Islamic Ideology in 2006 when it stressed the urgency of amending the Hudood laws. Pakistan may not be able to survive the retrogressive push the orthodoxy has apparently chosen to administer to the state in anticipation of support from religious parties parading as democratic outfits.

Christmas cheer from The Economist - Irfan Husain - December 29, 2010

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AS I survey the detritus of Christmas and Boxing Day in our house in Devizes where too many people ate and imbibed far too much, I find something to cheer me up in the holiday issue of The Economist.

A consistently excellent publication, the Economist has been indispensable reading for me over the years. But it saves the best for the last issue of the year when, apart from its usual crisp reporting and analysis of a wide range of subjects, the editors include several articles that have nothing to do with current affairs, but that touch on more lasting matters. Some are contemplative, others whimsical, but they all make the reader think, and very often, smile.

In this issue we learn, for example, that on average, people get happier as they age. An article called “The u-bend of life” measures the correlation between age and happiness, and concludes, on the basis of statistical evidence, that we grow increasingly unhappy until our late forties, and then start enjoying life until the end.

The author cites experiments in which happier people were infected with cold and flu viruses, and were found to be more resistant to the illnesses; and even when they did catch them, they tended to shrug them off quicker than unhappy subjects. All the more reason, then, to whistle a happy tune…

As an antidote to this optimistic piece is an article, aptly written by the obituaries editor, about the demise of the British pub. Titled “Time, gentlemen”, the article details the steady decline of the pub, and the implications of the imminent end of this purely British institution. I learned, much to my sorrow, that over the last five years, some 6,000 pubs have closed. Many are derelict, while others have been converted into houses or restaurants. The reasons for this decline range from the high taxes on beer sold in pubs to the ban on smoking in public places. In addition, Brits are now drinking less: alcohol consumption fell by 6 per cent, the fourth drop in five years.

Many pub owners have broadened their menus beyond the bangers and mash and steak and kidney pies that were once the mainstay of pub food. An entirely new genre of eating establishment known as gastro-pubs has swept across Britain, with varying success and quality. Many have introduced Wi-Fi in a bid to entice the younger generation. Our local favourite just outside Devizes is the George and Dragon, and it serves excellent seafood sourced from Cornwall. But given the powerful economic and social factors that are working against this beloved institution, I fear the end is nigh. “Time, gentlemen” concludes with these evocative words: “No single magic formula will save pubs. At present, the strongest current in their favour is the passion they still provoke. Britons are not similarly passionate about restaurants, cafes or shops. But by favourite pubs, they measure their own lives, and Britain’s condition. They see reflected there, as in a glass, the present blights of social isolation, forgetfulness of history, cultural confusion; but they also see the forces of change somehow made to pause. Time slows; company gathers; speech is freed; beer flows, like the very lifeblood of the land. Pubs are needed, even when every social and economic indicator is running hard against them.”

For a foodie like me, “Fire in the hole” has a special resonance. This article celebrates the barbecue style of southern America, and likens its appeal to that of jazz in pulling together African and European influences. The opening is admirably eloquent: “It is a noun, not a verb. You do not barbecue meat; you smoke it until it becomes barbecue. And it is not a meal so much as a meditative process, perched somewhere between science and art, dependent on reserves of judgment.”

The author informs us of a process in which a fire is built “that will smoulder steadily without flaring”, and obtaining a vessel that will “bathe the meat in smoke without subjecting it to too much heat”, where it can take up to 24 hours to cook the meat. Pakistani readers are aware, of course, that our style of barbecuing meat relies on high heat lightly scorching the outside of the meat. The idea of smoking meat over hours flies in the face of everything I have learned about barbecuing over the years. I suspect one reason for our fast-food approach is the real risk of meat going off in our high temperatures. So for us, barbecuing is very much a verb.

While we usually use charcoal in our barbecues, Americans use hard woods that, apart from burning slowly, impart a woody scent to the meat. Sauces, marinades and the combination of the woods that fuel the fire are often kept secret as local competitions are popular events. A European parallel for this American tradition is the Slow Food Movement that began in Italy and now spans the continent. The philosophy driving this movement is that food is too important a part of our lives to rush, either in its preparation or its consumption. Food fairs are held regularly, and local growers and restaurateurs honoured for their commitment to authenticity.

By sheer serendipity, this issue of The Economist also carries an article on the current art exhibition at Karachi’s Mohatta Palace. I wrote about “The Rising Tide: New Directions in the art from Pakistan 1990-2010” a couple of months ago when it opened, and was delighted to see such a positive review in the Economist.

Finally, where else but in The Economist would I have learned about the preferences of Chinese tourists now beginning to explore Europe? In “A new Grand Tour”, the writer informs us about the nouveaux riches of China who scoop up designer clothes and expensive wines to take back with them, but are reluctant to sample European cuisine.

The eclectic nature of the articles this issue of The Economist contains – as it does every Christmas – reminds us that not all is doom and gloom, and that there is much to savour in life. So as this year comes to a close, I wish my readers a very Happy New Year, and begin my wait for next Christmas’s Economist treats.

COMMENT: New Year resolution —Sabiha Mansoor - Wednesday, December 29, 2010

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Helping oneself and others is certainly a better prospect than waiting endlessly for some government intervention that is not likely to happen. In the present scenario, with an incompetent administration and depleted development funds, the change must start from within ourselves and in our own circles

A few days ago a small group of teachers made a New Year resolution: “We will change Pakistan.” After a mammoth discussion in my teacher education class on education reform in a developing country like ours that centred on complex issues ranging from policy to practice, it soon became clear that none of the recommendations would actually work, as the current educational system in the public sector was incapable of absorbing change.

Various factors leading to the present crisis in all spheres were examined. The burning question was: is Pakistan a poor country? The conclusion reached was that this was a philosophical question and poverty a relative term, and though the socio-economic indicators may be at an all time low, Pakistan was not poor. In fact, Pakistan was a rich country, rich in human and physical resources. The only thing holding it back was mismanagement. Poor governance in all organs of the government: a legislature dominated by its feudal and dynastic politics — an executive notorious for its corruption and inefficiency; a hawkish judiciary along with exploitation by the clergy — was seen as the major factor responsible for many of its woes.

The government system is manned by Pakistanis who, after all, are products of our own system. Why was it that the overwhelming majority of citizens who were tolerant and peaceful and trying desperately to get on with their lives were being held hostage by the corrupt few? Why were they passive? Why did they not demand that the members they had elected to parliament look after their interests and provide decent employment and livelihood? Why did they not take to task the bureaucracy for their failure to protect their lives and property and make available adequate education and health facilities? Why did they not clamour that the courts provide speedy justice?

All evidence showed that change was needed in Pakistan to transform the lives of its people. If democracy was to succeed, then there was an urgent need to empower the masses. There was unanimity in the class that the key to the path of progress and prosperity in a democratic system of a ‘government of the people, by the people, and for the people’, was to educate the people about their rights and responsibilities. This was no ‘out of the box’ thinking. Everyone knew the answer. It seemed like we were going in circles and faced, as always, with the chicken and the egg dilemma. Each one of us loved our country and wanted to be proud Pakistanis. The challenge was how was this to be done?

Then a miracle happened in the class. A teacher got up and said with confidence: “We will change Pakistan. If we are blessed with education, we need to give something back to our community.” Then another said, “Each one of us can make a difference, we can change the system.” After much scepticism of whether individual or small group effort could succeed versus policy change, the whole class was in agreement that societal transformation was possible if there was commitment. The common voice was, “Yes, we can do it; today we are 20 teachers from one class but look at our sphere of influence. Each one of us impact the lives of a hundred students each year. Multiply this and we are talking of thousands; multiply again by the number of classes, and then by institutions and the result is mind-boggling.” At the end of the class, we all agreed to adopt this motto as our New Year resolution. Surely, this could be the beginning of a social revolution in Pakistan where various communities of practice live with the belief that they can be agents of change and do their best to spread the light of knowledge.

Self-reliance was seen as a major factor in facing the crisis. Helping oneself and others is certainly a better prospect than waiting endlessly for some government intervention that is not likely to happen. In the present scenario, with an incompetent administration and depleted development funds, the change must start from within ourselves and in our own circles. Stories of success abound. Faced by the massive destruction resulting from the earthquake and the recent floods, all Pakistanis, urban or rural, young or old, rich or poor, educated or illiterate, reached out to their brothers and sisters providing them with any kind of assistance they could muster. As they say, “Never underestimate the power of the individual.”

(Note: This article is dedicated to all teachers in Pakistan who, despite adversity, work tirelessly to empower its citizens)

The writer is Professor and Dean, School of Education, Beaconhouse National University, and currently is Woodrow Wilson Pakistan Scholar. She can be reached at