Storytelling

If the storyteller is good, children listen with rapt attention

By Zubeida Mustafa

READING is an essential element of education, and textbooks are an integral part of the curricula of formal education that can’t shrugged off. But reading books other than course texts helps children enrich their minds and makes them superior to their ‘non-reading’ peers.

Yet the general impression is that our children are not into the reading culture. This is surprising because in the last few years children’s books have flooded the market and some of them are really good. They have all the qualities a book should have to grip the readers’ interest — a lively style, strong storylines and characters with which our children can connect.

To confirm this observation, I decided to test four books by a published author, Shahbano Bilgrami, in the Munna Man and Baby Lady series on two young avid readers aged 11-12, studying in two elite English-medium schools. I chose them as the subjects because their mothers offered their full cooperation in my experiment. This explains the secret of these youngsters’ interest in books — their mothers facilitate their hobby.

Schools do not motivate their students to read books.

Age-wise the girls seemed to be appropriate for the books. This was my conjecture. Both enjoyed reading the books which they finished very fast and understood fully. They could connect with the characters. The places mentioned were familiar to them. Significantly, they said they wanted more of such books to be available to them.

Why then, one may ask, are people still lamenting poor reading habits in our children? The fact is that the love of books is inculcated in childhood. In spite of the availability of good literature, young readers are not being provided incentives by their parents and teachers.

One must remember that increasingly our society is being bifurcated — those reading English books and the ‘others’ — the latter being the underprivileged majority. The English-reading children have too many non-book-related occupations to keep them engaged. Likewise their parents also have no time for them as they are busy with their own non-literary pursuits. The children of the ‘others’ hardly read storybooks because not all are enrolled in school and most have parents who are illiterate.

The schools — even those that have libraries — do not motivate their students to read books. They are too focused on textbooks, exams and results.

Another major dividing factor is language. Take the books by Shahbano Bilgrami mentioned above. My students from The Garage School where I teach, aged 15, couldn’t cope with them. In 20 minutes they read only one page with a lot of prompting from me. It was unfamiliar to them and the language was difficult. Fatema and Ursula, the students from the English-medium school, on the other hand, finished the entire book in 20 minutes or so.

What is needed is a measure of uniformity — even though graded — in the children’s literature market and more bilingualism in our schools. The children, whose mothers start speaking to them in English soon after birth, should be more familiarised with Urdu/ their mother tongue. A lady from a purely Urdu-speaking background sarcastically informed me that she teaches Urdu in English in one of the upscale schools.

Musharraf Ali Farooqi, our renowned author, who is bilingual, is trying to change this culture through the new books and pedagogy he has developed to make Urdu more familiar to children who are losing touch with their own language. What could be very meaningful in the context of the reading habit is the new approach Musharraf has developed towards storytelling.

He firmly believes that storytelling engages children’s imagination and emotions. These faculties create a bond between the child and the spoken word. When the child reads the text, she revisits that world of imagination — created during storytelling — to relive that experience.

The ‘memorise, connect and improvise’, or MCI, method of storytelling he has developed emphasises interactive storytelling and the formation of a comfortable bond between the storyteller and his/her audience. The pleasure of storytelling is amplified both for the narrator and the audience when it becomes a group social activity. Reading out a story does not allow this bond to be formed if the narrator’s focus is on the book being read and not the audience. Musharraf has developed many such books that are profusely illustrated and serve this purpose well.

Shahbano could rewrite her lovely books in very simple language for the non-English speaking readers so that the MCI technique could be applied to them too. Any story that engages the children’s imagination or their emotions can be narrated effectively. The storyteller can exploit its elements through theatrics or drama. It is time schools tried out this approach to get children to read books for pleasure.

PS: My apologies for writing Sohail Fida’s name as Sohail Zia in my last column.

Source: Dawn

 

New American Strategy in South Asia Targets Pakistan

By Zubeida Mustafa

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s return to Washington after a hectic week in South Asia and the Middle East leaves us speculating on the purpose and result of his mission.

World attention was focused on his exercise in diplomacy for no other reason than that his trip was a follow-up on President Donald Trump’s announcement in August of a new South Asia strategy.

One would believe the move to be a simple case of the U.S. pushing for its goal of defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan and bringing peace and stability to the war-torn country. The new strategy spells a major shift in tone that seems to say, “America means business.” This can have a deep impact on regional politics. As is his style, Trump does not adopt a low-key or discreet stance. As a result, he alienates even potential allies.

The key features of his administration’s strategy are:

• U.S. troops will be ramped up in Afghanistan. “We will fight to win,” Trump said.

• American military will be given more autonomy in planning attacks on the Taliban.

• Washington will continue to seek a political settlement in the region.

• Pakistan will have to stop providing safe-haven for terrorists. Trump was definitive when he said, “We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars, at the same time they are housing the very terrorists we are fighting. … That must change immediately.”

The president also called on India to “help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development.” His stated rationale for this was the advantage India derives from its massive trade with the U.S.

America’s top diplomat was mercifully more subtle in his choice of words than his boss. But semantics failed to clear up the ambiguities in the American security plans in the region.

Because Pakistan is the main target of what many saw as American pressure, the reaction in this country was the most negative.

Top leaders in Islamabad of all political loyalties, who have not always been on the same page with the military on its Taliban policy, were equally vocal in expressing their displeasure with Tillerson. The chairman of the Senate (the upper house of Pakistan’s Parliament) likened Tillerson’s attitude to that of a “viceroy.” Foreign Minister Khwaja Asif mockingly pointed to the failure of the U.S. to curb the insurgency in Afghanistan, saying that the secretary of state could not even leave the U.S.-built Bagram Air Base during his visit. In fact, Tillerson’s visit to Kabul wasn’t announced in his itinerary and was shrouded in secrecy. This indicated the country’s low level of security despite 16 years of American military presence there. Pakistan’s foreign minister categorically refused to be a “scapegoat” for U.S. failures in Afghanistan.

What clearly emerged is that the U.S. is determined to destroy the safe havens of terrorists with or without Pakistan’s support. These havens include that of the Haqqani network, which is said to enjoy the Pakistan military’s backing. Tillerson gave a list of 75 names of so-called terrorists to his host, demanding that they be handed over or that information on their whereabouts be supplied to the U.S.

Yet in his post-visit briefing in Washington, Tillerson insisted that the U.S. had not made any demands on Pakistan. He did not use the word “demand”—a new vocabulary was created for the occasion. The word “expectation” substituted for “demand” and “good and open exchange” replaced “lecturing,” but both sides knew what was being hinted at. The undertone was clear. What remains a mystery to the public are the consequences of noncompliance, which Trump had indicated earlier would not be disclosed for strategic reasons.

It is not clear what is in store for Pakistan. The government has put on a brave face, and three days after Tillerson departed from Islamabad, the Foreign Office issued a statement asking the U.S. not to supply spy drones to India, as it would destabilize the region. America’s embrace of India is also disturbing for Pakistan.

It is not clear what role India would be encouraged to play in the region. Ostensibly it is to step up its economic activities. But it is understood that economics can lead to enhanced political clout, as well as military influence, in Afghanistan. This could exacerbate India’s already fraught relations with Pakistan. The constant worry is that rising tensions could trigger a nuclear war.

International politics in the region are more complex than they appear at first sight. Perhaps that explains why nothing was reported about the Pakistani army chief’s reaction to Tillerson’s visit, though he attended Tillerson’s meeting, along with the prime minister.

A number of existing splits make it a challenge for the center to hold in Pakistan. In addition to the basic civil-military divide, there is the alienation between the provinces, irreconcilable differences and infighting among political parties, the mushrooming and metamorphosis of militant groups pitted against one another and the polarization between the classes. Civilians in Pakistan are vulnerable and defenseless against the terrorists. All this is taking place in an economy that depends heavily on foreign aid.

One has no inkling of the strategy the U.S. plans to adopt. Will it be one for which a precedence exists? Simply step into Pakistan’s territory to execute its foreign policy piecemeal? This will evoke a reaction from the Pakistani public as well as the army.

The Abbottabad operation in 2011 convincingly demonstrated the U.S. capacity to act on Pakistani soil without cooperation from the host country. Osama bin Laden was seized and killed by SEALs transported by American helicopters, which flew over Pakistan’s air space without being challenged.

According to a New York Times report, a similar operation was recently considered to obtain the release of a Canadian-American couple and their children. The couple had been abducted by terrorists in 2012 and were being held in Pakistan. The Pakistani army pre-empted this blatant violation of Pakistani territory by taking steps to have the captives released just a week before Tillerson’s departure from Washington.

Is this to be the future shape of military operations? Will American boots be seen on Pakistani soil? The drones that attack from the air are not as effective or accurate and inflict high collateral damage.

Another cause for disquiet is the Trump administration’s obvious move to kill two birds with one stone. Trump wants to tame Pakistan and mobilize Saudi Arabia and a few other states in the region to form an anti-Iran coalition to neutralize Tehran’s growing influence. This would explain Tillerson’s need to act as a mediator between Riyadh and Doha—Qatar’s capital—and participate in the Saudi-Iraq Coordination Council while extending support to Saudi policy in Yemen. Trump recently pulled out of the Iran deal negotiated by his predecessor and is now polarizing the region.

Beyond his ambition to control the oil-rich Persian Gulf region lies Trump’s goal of countering Beijing’s loudly touted One Belt One Road Initiative, designed to make China a world power. Pakistan perceives the initiative as the only countervailing force to resist American economic hegemony.

These moves will create dilemmas for Pakistan, given its own ties with these countries—relationships that often require skillful navigation through stormy shoals.

The fact is that U.S. diplomacy today has gone far beyond the sinister aim disclosed by the Jimmy Carter-Zbigniew Brzezinski team of making Afghanistan the “Vietnam” of the Soviet Union in 1979. This strategy worked effectively and led to the dismantling of America’s archenemy at the time, the USSR. Islamabad pitched the support of its war machine behind the Afghan “freedom fighters,” who operated from sanctuaries in the border areas of Pakistan. This operation, known now as “Charlie Wilson’s war” or “Operation Cyclone,” received massive aid from the U.S.

The success of the Afghan “jihad,” which combined religious zeal with military prowess, was instructive for Pakistan. It learned how foreign policy could be conducted by using nonstate actors to infiltrate unfriendly neighbouring countries, ultimately destabilizing them to achieve military-cum-political goals. Throughout the 1990s, Pakistan adopted this strategy in Afghanistan, as well as in the Indian-held Kashmir Valley. This has continued in the post-9/11 period as well.

It needs to be remembered that there comes a time when Frankenstein’s monster loosens itself from the clutches of its creator. The Taliban, the freedom fighters of yesteryear, have turned on their benefactors, whether the erstwhile ones (the Americans) or the current ones (Pakistan’s intelligence agencies). The Pakistan army, like American forces, also has lost many soldiers at the hands of the terrorists.

At the root of these troubles is the failure of India and Pakistan to peacefully coexist 70 years after their birth. In the absence of coexistence, Pakistan always feels threatened and in need of strategic depth. In plain words, Pakistan needs a friendly Afghanistan on its border.

Trump’s new policy indicates another shift in U.S. South Asia strategy. He appears to have abandoned the even-handed stance Washington conventionally adopted vis-a-vis the two major powers of the region. This balance was missing during Tillerson’s visit. The secretary of state later disclosed that he had offered to help resolve the Kashmir issue, but he never explained why this offer—or its outcome—was not publicized during his visit.

Trump would do well to read up on history. I would recommend William Dalrymple’s “Return of the King,” which recounts the 19th-century Great Game, when Britain tried to effect a regime change in Kabul by going to war. Reviewer Tom Kyle summarizes a key section of Dalrymple’s work:

It was a sharp-eyed young officer on the walls of Jalalabad who saw him first, slowly riding a bedraggled and exhausted pony across the barren plain at the foot of the high mountain passes of Afghanistan.

When a rescue party reached him, they found a shadow of a man, his head sliced open, his tattered uniform heavily bloodstained.

He seemed more dead than alive but, when asked ‘Where is the Army?’, Assistant Surgeon William Brydon managed to reply: ‘I am the Army.’

It was January 13, 1842, and the 30-year-old Scot was all that remained of the British force that had invaded Afghanistan three years earlier.

The Army of the Indus, comprising 20,000 soldiers and twice that number of camp followers, had set off in the spring of 1839 to fight in the First Afghan War.

Trump should remember, too, that there were no Taliban or their Pakistani backers then.

Source: Truthdig

 

The legendary Ahmad Ali Khan

LAUNCHING THE ISLAMABAD EDITION OF DAWN: (R-L) Ahmad Ali Khan, Saleem Asmi and M.Ziauddin (2001)

By Zubeida Mustafa

DAWN of Karachi is 70 this year. Over the decades, scores of people have joined hands to help the paper sustain its standing and standards. But there is one man whose contribution was singular. Without the direction he provided, Dawn could not have risen to the heights to which it has, notwithstanding the numerous crises it has had to weather in its eventful life. Continue reading “The legendary Ahmad Ali Khan”

Fragility

Sabeen Mahmud was killed for her liberal views

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

JUST a few weeks ago there was an example of the inter-related fragility of our political-religious equilibrium. The wording of the oath for elected representatives was altered. The drift of reaction was that the reworded version insulated avowal of the finality of prophet-hood.

The previous wording was rapidly restored before cries of heresy and the like gained violent momentum. But the matter gave clerical-conglomerate cause for a rally; and the fact of the cancelled alteration is there to be referred to by those who choose to find Islamic intent deficient in the way persons or parties of their naming practice politics. Continue reading “Fragility”

Sorry, Dr Zulfiqar

Demonstrating against the death penalty in Islamabad

By Zubeida Mustafa

OBITUARIES should not be set aside for another day. But I am writing one after two years when I have summoned up the courage to write about a man who was hanged on May 6, 2015.

There was a time I wrote frequently about Dr Zulfiqar Ali Khan when he was living. I wanted to save his life. He remained in prison for 17 years — seven years on death row — before the hangman got him. The night before his hanging I had received a desperate message from Justice Project Pakistan if I could help get him clemency. I, a retired newspaperwoman, have no clout. The next morning, JPP informed me that Zulfiqar was no more and I felt I had let down his two young, motherless girls. I had also failed the cause of education in Pakistan. Continue reading “Sorry, Dr Zulfiqar”

Narratives

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

You cannot exclude the religious factor in Pakistan, whatever you dub the republic and to whatever you ascribe the founding urge. And it can be asserted with equal validity that the secession of East Pakistan and proclamation of Bangladesh demolished the two-nation theory commonly claimed to be the rationale of Pakistan’s creation. Or that the RSS and Modi’s Hindutva confirms it. The communal Hindu-Muslim power struggle is a continuity in the subcontinent’s historical chronicle around which narratives fabricate –- some spontaneous and incremental; others conscious and didactic. They are often supplementary and reactive. Continue reading “Narratives”

Whither feminism?


IS feminism changing in Pakistan? That is the question that should be asked by those who are interested in women’s issues. That is the question that I pondered over at the Women’s Peace Table I attended recently in Karachi.

Organised by Tehrik-e-Niswan (TN) and a few other civil society groups, this gathering was the third in the series that was launched in 2015 on the call of the Peace Women Across the Globe. The idea is to encourage women to be involved in the peace process in regions in the grip of conflict. Continue reading “Whither feminism?”

Much ado about something

 

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

MUCH has been made of the legislative dexterity that allowed Nawaz Sharif to return to being official president of the eponymous PML(N). What leaves anonymous citizens confused is that there are (at least) two starkly different interpretations of that bit of legislation.

One reading has it that the move exposes parliament as a farcical misrepresentation where parliamentarians connive in trampling public interest underfoot and are better circumvented in the cause of the state’s eco-political interests. The other reading is that parliament is to be congratulated for asserting its electorally mandated legislative powers and has embarrassed extra interventionism. It’s a tug of war figuratively speaking right now, but the mandated government and the mandated opposition seem determined to keep on pulling till something snaps.

For the PML (N) this isn’t  corruption, but adherence to parliamentary democratic form.  For the PTI, the party  is almost certainly the only real opposition — the only clean alternative, overwhelmingly beloved by those who eschew political evil. Foe the PTI supporters elections that do not endorse a leader’s popular presumptions and incontestable assumption of the highest office are an electoral nonsense.

We all agree our democratic process is sadly flawed and needs watching and weeding. But we do not all feel it is entirely worthless and best written off when short of the PTI standard. The reckless PTI logic of reworking the existing democratic mandate can take us down the path of judicial politicking and military social regularisation. Having established the parliament as wanting, it need not be beyond our powers to turn it inside out.

Radical departures and experimentation by elements where the only manifest is a carte blanche inevitably create question marks regarding the nature and intent of governance.  In the case of unscheduled or abruptly altered modes of popular reference , questions could be asked about Pakistan’s orientation and direction by friends and enemies.

Our conspiracy theories are hard to dispel as our theorists fight shy of specifics. They rely on portentous innuendo and vague warnings but they can predispose audiences by creating an ambience by using the social media– tweet and tweak. If I were to make so bold as to attempt to deconstruct intangible prefabricated conspiracies; I would discern two distinct genres. One where the components are all indigenous, no matter how varied the forms and combinations and propositions. The other where foreign partners are involved as controllers. They need not necessarily be regarded as rogue in their own contexts but would lack bona fides with us and by definition be subversive.

Political executive power may be experienced as a frivolously delightful end in itself. It can be purposive and sought to serve an agenda. Human nature being what it is, for the less cerebral even the trappings of power may be enticement. And so people can be used without much caring why or how or even without suspecting it. From this point of view it is reassuring to know our intelligence agencies are alert and active. And, from the same point of view, we can also watch out against a tendency to paint them black. True, there is much to be held against them historically, but we must also allow their more virtuous endeavours – especially in an ongoing  operation – cannot be publicised but do exist.

Part of the unsettling media-exacerbated buzz hums about the non-existence or incoherence of foreign policy, a conflicted interior ministry, a politically oriented divisive civil-military friction and divergent goals. Of course this could well be taken as indicative of a systemic failure of governance. Debate surrounding the response to external provocation and insult, excoriate pusillanimity rather than finding wisdom in considered deliberations. Harping on the interior ministry’s over-use or lack of access to its due power; habitually denigrating the motives of those in public office or service, whether intentionally or unintentionally, supplement the thesis of rampaging governmental irresponsibility and incompetence. Security can appear imperiled to a degree that generates popular panic. There is a right to information but there is also a need for editorial judgment.

Politicians appear fools or knaves when they treat crucial issues (reforms in FATA and the problem of religious bigotry) as cannon fodder to blast the government. Are ethnic nationalism, ‘righteous’ rage, mob fury, stoked deliberately or thoughtlessly? Cannot politicians see what the silent majority sees: the common good in using the parliamentary forum and working calmly till the next mandated electoral verdict. Why seek upheaval? Are ‘they’ scared this government may work? And so I come back to a question rather than a theory – who is conspiring with whom?

Imran Khan is said to have said Nawaz Sharif is instigating institutional conflict and inviting martial law so that he appears a victim and is politically resurrected. Poor thinking: Nawaz Sharif already appears victimized. And as for his political resurrection: He is as yet far from politically dead. And yet again, accountability in the public eye at any rate, has already become a witch hunt.

But the significant democratic development – which gives cause to put in a good word for the effects of a decade of the ‘rotten’ democratic system – is that the witch-hunting this time is not conducted by the democratically empowered government. Also, although the former PM has been disqualified his party goes on: not banned, not defunct, but mainstream. Let the next election further clear the waters.

Are the stage hands, props and managers of our political theatre listening?

Mother of all tongues

By Dr Tariq Rahman

The book under review is a collection of 24 articles with a foreword by Professor Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, and an introduction by the editors. An afterword by Ahmed Kabel brings the work together as a conclusive whole. As anyone at all familiar with the academic discourse in the teaching of the English language will immediately understand, this is the latest endeavour by people who have not accepted the hegemony of English without question: rather, they have chosen to make people conscious that English has become a hydra, in the sense that it is weakening the other languages of the world.

Indeed, writers, like Robert Phillipson and Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, have been raising key questions about this hegemony for a long time. In a sense then, this volume revives some of these old anxieties, with the help of new case histories of countries as diverse as Iceland and China, and helps explain what precisely is at stake in the field of education in general, and language-learning in particular. Continue reading “Mother of all tongues”

Gender unit

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE Sindh government’s apathy towards gender inequity in education is almost proverbial. I was, therefore, taken aback when the minister for literacy and education in the province quoted the age-old adage: “When you educate a boy you educate an individual, but when you educate a girl you educate a family.”

It left me wondering why his party which has been in power in Sindh for a decade failed to achieve 100 per cent literacy in the province. Has wisdom been late in dawning on our policymakers? Continue reading “Gender unit”