A woman of substance

By Afsheen Ahmed

What makes a life interesting, well lived? Doing something you love, despite the adjustments that have to be made, and doing it well; travelling to new countries; meeting new people; making professional contacts with a wide range of people — and then leaving the world on a high note. That would be the definition of a life well and fully lived.

Judging by that criteria, Zubeida Mustafa, journalist turned social activist, has led a truly remarkable life. In her book, detailing her 30 plus years working in Dawn’s editorial department, she brings her own unique perspective to how she started out, and how she – and the paper – evolved over the years, with the changing times and the fast-moving wheels of technology. My DAWN Years – Exploring Social Issues is not just an account of an individual’s life but that of an institution, and on occasion, it is difficult to extricate one from the other. Continue reading “A woman of substance”

Say no to guns

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE Citizens-Police Liaison Committee, or CPLC, recently released data on crime in Karachi in 2017. It confirms that we live under the shadow of death in this city that was once predicted to become the queen of the East. In 11 months until end November 2017, 54,473 crimes including killings, robberies, kidnappings and extortions were registered. Many were not even reported as the victims did not deem them serious enough to get involved with the police.

Criminologists and anthropologists would enumerate many factors and conditions that account for the rising crime graph in Karachi in the span of a few decades. Continue reading “Say no to guns”

So sorry Zainab

By Zubeida Mustafa

DEAR Zainab,

I am writing this letter to you a whit too late. Your sparkling pretty eyes have been shut for ever. And you are not there to read my words which are an outpouring of my grief, my anguish, my shame, my anger and, above all, the deep remorse that I feel for having let you down. True, I did not harm you directly. I wasn’t the one to hurt you. Yet I plead guilty because I failed to  create the environment that every child needs. If I had given attention to this aspect of life, you wouldn’t have had to pay the price for my failure. You would have been saved.

So I will not indulge in the blame game I see that is being playedout  around me by politicians and opinion leaders alike who derive some kind of perverse pleasure from accusing their rivals for whatever goes wrong. Continue reading “So sorry Zainab”

Mind’s input


By Zubeida Mustafa

THE problem with the policymaking process in Pakistan is that it receives very little intellectual input. In an authoritarian system, decisions are taken arbitrarily by a dictator or his coterie and that is why these are regarded as flawed.

But in a democracy, as we claim to be, it is unforgivable that the government should ignore the advice of those who “engage in critical thinking, research and reflection about society and propose solutions for its normative problems”. Wikipedia terms such people as intellectuals.

It would be valid to ask how many such intellectuals we have in Pakistan. Not many, it would seem, given the paucity of facilities and opportunities for research in the social sciences in public-sector institutions of higher education and the elitist approach of the private universities many of which also restrict freedom of expression causing students to live in a bubble. Continue reading “Mind’s input”

Pakistanis Draw a Line Against Guns: We Will Not Dance to War Drums

By Zubeida Mustafa

In 2013, my friend, Perveen Rehman, a popular, soft-spoken development worker, was gunned down in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi. She was shot in the neck three times as she returned home from work. The same year, according to media reports, approximately 2,789 people were also killed in the city. Although it’s difficult to obtain accurate figures on the cause of these deaths, it appears that many were the result of gun violence.

In addition to Perveen, two other people I knew were killed that year. Two years later, we lost Sabeen Mahmud, a social activist. She fell victim to armed extremists who wanted to silence her outspokenness.

The high rate of fatalities due to the widespread prevalence of guns has earned Karachi the notorious reputation of being one of the “least safe” cities in the world. Mercifully, the number of killings has declined in the past few years due to a crackdown by law enforcement agencies. However, the gun culture in Pakistan continues to thrive, a result, in part, of its foolish decision in 1979 to play the American proxy in Afghanistan. That opened the floodgates to heroin and Kalashnikovs, which quickly led to the gun violence we contend with today.

Before Pakistan’s involvement in the Soviet-Afghan war, Karachi was a peaceful city. So how did citizens react to this about-face regarding the security situation? Most turned despondent and grew fearful. Given the government’s failure to provide protection, citizens adjusted their lifestyles to ensure maximum protection for themselves and their families by purchasing guns. But a few brave souls chose not to take the situation lying down. One of them is Naeem Sadiq, an industrial engineer who is also engaged in research and activism to promote social causes. About 15 years ago, he started looking into what he calls “the disease of uncontrolled burgeoning weapons that were being used in crime and militancy.”

Sadiq concedes that every society has its share of conflicts and differences. What worries him is the fact that “the ready availability of weapons shrinks the space for dialogue and people tend to pull out a gun to seek a quick solution.”

He is right. Lives have been lost due to petty street crimes. But what should prompt one to ponder the gravity of the situation is that weapons have become tools for people to give vent to anger and frustration. Incidents have been reported, for instance, of a driver pulling out a gun and shooting another driver who dared to overtake the vehicle of the first. Similarly, jilted suitors have been known to use guns to teach their beloveds a lesson for turning down marriage proposals.

Initially, Sadiq expressed his concerns in letters-to-the-editor columns in newspapers and in passionate discussions with friends. Most of them dismissed the issue as being beyond the control of ordinary citizens. But not Sadiq. As his circle of like-minded friends grew, he founded Citizens Against Weapons (CAW).

Formed about five years ago, the group’s members believe that Pakistan should be a peaceful, tolerant and weapon-free society. “The group has a few simple rules. CAW has no hierarchy, no funding from any source, no formal office or registration and complete equality and openness,” Sadiq says. “Any citizen who is committed to peace, tolerance and deweaponization is welcome to participate as an equal partner in this struggle.”

Today, 100 distinguished citizens and 13 prominent organizations—including the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Shehri, Citizen-Police Liaison Committee, Tehrik-e-Niswan, Pakistan Medical Association and the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research—have endorsed CAW’s charter. Twenty members meet regularly to discuss strategy for creating public awareness and act as an advocacy group to lobby with the government.

CAW recently held a seminar in which civil-society members raised their concerns to draw public attention to the issues of peace and deweaponization. According to Sadiq, CAW’s agenda includes a complete ban on the issuance of all gun licences and a demand that weapons owned by private militias be eliminated under a surrender and buy-back scheme. This was proposed by the hosts and endorsed by the audience.

Lawyers involved in CAW are advocating public interest litigation. Since 2007, when former President and military ruler Pervez Musharraf dismissed the Chief Justice of Pakistan and lawyers rallied to have him reinstated, the courts have become active in redressing many wrongs that are inflicted on the people—hence this suggestion by the CAW’s lawyers.

Sadiq, who has campaigned against weapons for years, believes that gun licenses in Pakistan are “a racket.”

“Every gun license issued in the country has been issued without a single mandatory verification or test,” he claims. “There is no requirement for a training session, to attend a shooting range class or to pass a written test. The only criteria to obtain a gun license are status, power, influence and bribe.” The application form for a gun license testifies to that and gives limitless discretion to the bureaucracy, which explains why it is easy for unscrupulous men to buy a gun and hire an assassin for a few hundred thousand rupees to eliminate a rival.

Power and guns go hand in hand. People blatantly display guns to demonstrate their status. Most political parties have armed wings, and in November, an extremist religious party succeeded in holding the government hostage to its demands by blocking access to Islamabad, the capital of the country, for three weeks.

The CAW seminar drove home how guns affect Pakistan’s citizens. Dr. Seemi Jamali, executive director of one of Karachi’s major public sector hospitals, explained that an average of five or six gunshot patients are brought to her institution daily.

Those responsible for tending to the wounded are also at risk. There have been periods in the city’s history when doctors have been targeted by armed militants to create panic. From 1990 to 2004 and from 2010 to 2014, 140 health practitioners were killed in Karachi. At the seminar, the secretary-general of the Pakistan Medical Association said that these losses passed without comment by the government until the doctors went on strike. Even then, the compensation the government eventually promised the doctors’ grieving families was never given.

Although CAW demanded at the seminar that gun licenses should not be issued, it is clear that the problem is not licensing or registration alone, but the guns themselves. Pakistan is said to have 20 million guns, of which only 7 million are registered.

Many rightly feel that when a life is lost, it makes no difference whether or not the gun used was licensed. No bereaved person is comforted to know that their loved one was killed by a licensed gun.

At the CAW seminar, the father of a young man—a taxi driver named Ubaidullah Gilani, who was shot dead by unknown assailants—described his painful inability to answer his grandchild’s persistent query: “Who killed abba (father) and why?” Months had passed since Gilani’s death, and the family was still traumatized.

This explains why CAW is averse to any citizen being allowed to carry arms. It wants the government to revoke all the gun licenses previously issued and get people to surrender their firearms—even legally acquired ones. Sadiq believes that gun possession should be the exclusive domain of the state, and that no public display of firearms should be allowed.

To spread the message of deweaponization, CAW members write letters to newspapers, visit schools to talk to students, lobby with legislators and participate in any available public forum. It has held two walks to raise awareness.

At the heart of the problem is a culture that tolerates violence. In a patriarchal society, guns are a macho symbol, a concept CAW is working to change. At the recent seminar, two schoolteachers spoke about children’s fascination with firearms and toy guns and explained how they try to divert their students’ attention to the beauties of nature. Rumana Husain, a CAW member who is trying to mobilize teachers, also points out the importance of persuading toy stores to remove toy guns from their shelves and replace them with more peaceful playthings. As a children’s book author and an ambassador of the Children’s Literature Festival, Husain is working hard to popularize books in order to replace guns as a leisure pastime.

I believe it is also time to introduce peace studies in Pakistan’s schools, colleges and universities. If youths learn about conflict resolution and the destructiveness of war, their attitudes toward guns and violence will begin to change. At present, only four of the nation’s 163 universities offer post-graduate peace programs. (Two, ironically, are owned by the armed forces.)

The seminar’s final word came from Sheema Kermani, a fiery peace activist who has defied military dictatorships in Pakistan with her bold and beautiful dances and choreography. She recited “What I Will,” a poem by Suheir Hammad, a Palestinian-American poet, which should clinch the argument for peace and deweaponization:

I will not
dance to your war
drum. I will
not lend my soul nor
my bones to your war
drum. I will
not dance to your
beating. I know that beat.
It is lifeless. … I
will craft my own drum. Gather my beloved
near and our chanting
will be dancing. Our
humming will be drumming. I
will not be played. I
will not lend my name
nor my rhythm to your
beat. I will dance
and resist and dance and
persist and dance. This heartbeat is louder than
death. Your war drum ain’t
louder than this breath.

Source: Truthdig

 

Politics of oration

Senator Mushahid Hussain gave the keynote lecture

By Zubeida Mustafa

Pakistan was 70 in 2017, and there were many, apart from the midnight’s children, who also celebrated their seventieth anniversary. One of the outstanding institutions was the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) which was set up in Delhi in 1936 and was moved to Pakistan in 1947.

The PIIA is an autonomous body which describes itself as an independent think tank. Its quarterly journal, Pakistan Horizon, has an uninterrupted publication record of seven decades, though delays at times kept readers waiting impatiently. Its history has also witnessed ups and downs – there being a period when the government took it over and installed a retired army general with a not too savoury record in East Pakistan to act as the administrator. It goes to the credit of what we call ‘civil society’ in retrieving the institution after a court case.

Wth the PIIA’s record of reasonably independent research, quite unlike the Islamabad think tanks which serve as institutions to reinforce the government’s policies, I expected a healthy discourse on our foreign policy at the conference on peace in South Asia organised on this occasion. However, I returned home with a strong sense of let-down   after listening to the keynote address by Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed, formerly my co-professional. By simply reiterating “the Establishment’s” point of view, as the first questioner from the audience put it, the senator tried to convince us that all was well with Pakistan. According to him, it had emerged as the pivot on which world geopolitics revolved, as the founding father had predicted in 1947.

The senator forgot to mention that the pivot has to be strong if it is to take the load successfully and not collapse under the stress it is inevitably required to take. Rahimullah Yusufzai, who mercifully continues to be a journalist and benefits us with his insightful analysis, put it very succinctly when he asked his former editor from his days at The Muslim, why he didn’t touch upon the foreign policy mistakes Pakistan had made so that they are not repeated. Having become a politician, Mushahid deflected the very valid point made by Mr. Yusufzai by sidetracking it.

Having said this, I should point out that Mushahid Hussain made an excellent analysis of the international situation in South Asia, which has created a new dynamic in the region that has spawned the “opportunities and challenges for peace” that were under discussion at the conference. He was spot-on when he pointed out the changes that have come about in world politics which have placed Pakistan at the centre-stage of present-day developments. Thus there is the shift in the centre of global power from the West to the East, as the US is on the decline while China is emerging as the new force for which the One Belt One Road (OBOR) will play a key role. There is the evolution of a new South Asia extending from Kazakhstan to Myanmar and held together by regionalism created by geopolitics, the drive for economic cooperation and the compulsion to solve their problems, especially those posed by climate change and the population explosion, collectively.

There have been complicating factors too that have hindered the peacemaking process in the region. Take for instance the nuclearisation of India and Pakistan and the intensification of the cold war between them. As for human development, even if others in the region do not join hands for a collective effort, Pakistan has lagged behind in improving the life of its people. Poverty is today a major issue in the region.

These are some of the challenges that have to be faced if peace has to come to South Asia. But it was the Establishment’s voice that found expression when Senator Mushahid spoke approvingly of our nuclear bomb which, according to him, has infused confidence in us. He appeared to uphold our role in the Afghan war that we fought on behalf of the US – and as a consequence of which Pakistan played host to three million Afghan refugees. Mushahid Hussain also described our media as free – an exaggeration – because we now have over 100 independent privately owned channels. But the numbers don’t guarantee them their freedom.

Who doesn’t know about the dangers we now face on account of our nuclear bomb and the morass we have plunged ourselves into by getting involved in Afghanistan, especially when it was the US which started the war by infiltrating guerrillas across the Durand line at least six months before the Soviet tanks rolled into Kabul in December 1979.

It is strange that Senator Mushahid failed to acknowledge that a country should be economically powerful, politically stable and socially integrated if it really wants to be a force to be reckoned with in the region, Focusing too much on being a security state is not really helping.

Mr Yusufzai was right when he suggested to his former boss that the people should be told about the mistakes we have made if we want to learn from history. Unfortunately we shy away from that and insist on sticking to some of our irrational policies, especially vis-à-vis India. True, Narendra Modi’s government in Delhi has not been too helpful. But what about us? Haven’t our self-created “strategic assets” robbed us of our initiative in the peace process with India? It takes two to tango.

Some of the speakers who followed in the next sessions were the redeeming features of the conference. Theirs was not just a pep talk to please the audience, but contained serious warnings about the dangers that lie ahead.

Source: Newsline Dec 2017