A hill station in decay

The snow covered Thandiani mountaintop in the background  can no more be seen from a point of one's choice due to buildings like this one.
The snow covered Thandiani mountaintop in the background can no more be seen from a point of one’s choice due to buildings like this one.

By: Nasser Yousaf

guest-contributorAbbottabad. The name sounds romantic. But romantic it is no more. The small hill station, named after its first district administrator, is not even a shadow of its former glory. Sir James Abbott had been so greatly enamoured by the pristine beauty of his place of posting and temporary abode that he wrote an emotional poem in its praise. Continue reading “A hill station in decay”

No trashy issue

TWO seemingly insignificant events could amount to the writing on the wall for our municipal administrators all over the country. It is plain, the public will no longer turn a blind eye to poor sanitation. People are now beginning to understand the implications of environmental pollution.

Recently, the inhabitants of a village in Fatehjang tehsil (Punjab) protested against the garbage dump which the district municipality had created near their homes. Some of them actually travelled to Islamabad to meet the director of the National Commission of Human Rights to lodge their complaint. They were not happy with the odour that pervaded their homes. Even more encouraging was the fact that the inhabitants of neighbouring villages refused to allow the DMO to pile garbage near their homes when he tried to shift the dumping site. Continue reading “No trashy issue”

The politics of public policy

javedBy Zubeida Mustafa

Is Pakistan a failed state?

This question has been debated ad nauseam with no definitive conclusion being reached. It has been conceded, though, that there is something wrong with the process by which public policy is formulated. Self-serving rulers – both civilian and military – have projected their style of governance as being democratic, whereas in reality, both have ruled with a heavy hand.

Take the case of education. It would seem strange that after the experience of formulating 10 education policies dating back to the very inception of the country in 1947 – none of which were fully implemented – the present government has failed to announce the eleventh policy which was due in January 2016. Continue reading “The politics of public policy”

Walls of peace

The walls of Rustom Baugh have images of Karachi's famous spots
The walls of Rustom Baugh have images of Karachi’s famous spots

By Zubeida Mustafa

IT is said that art heals and colours are therapeutic. As if proof were needed, one has to only see the transformational effect of a beautiful picture on a distressed child.

In this context it was a brilliant idea to paint Karachi’s graffiti-marred walls with pretty pictures. I am not an art critic but have enough sense to prefer a picture of beautiful animals to slogans declaring adherents of different faiths/sects ‘wajibul qatl’ (liable to be executed). More harmless but equally uncouth are the ads of obscure dawakhanas promising to restore to men their manliness. Continue reading “Walls of peace”

Miracle of the wind

 

Whitelee Windfarm. Photo by Mahdi Hasan
Whitelee Windfarm. Photo by Mahdi Hasan

By Zubeida Mustafa

KARACHI has been abundantly endowed with one of nature’s riches — wind. Located on the Arabian Sea coast, the city cannot complain of being stifled by desultory stillness. Before the city’s horizon changed drastically with the emergence of high-rise buildings, Karachiites had always enjoyed the luxury of cool breezes during summer evenings. The breeze is still there, but has been trapped by concrete and steel structures. Now the breeze has been left only in poetic idiom to give us solace. Faiz Ahmed Faiz captured its beauty in this line, “Jaise seheraon mein haule se chale baad-i-naseem…” (Like the morning breeze in the desert) Continue reading “Miracle of the wind”

Measuring peace

By Zubeida Mustafa

WE seem to be living in an age when countries are constantly being measured, classified and ranked. The trend was set by the United Nations Development Programme 25 years ago when the Human Development Index was introduced. Many others followed suit as new technologies were developed for gathering and collating data from diverse sources that made the compilation of such indices feasible.

Today, virtually no area of national life has been left without being probed. We have international rankings on education, disease, poverty, corruption, press freedom, gender empowerment, religious freedom, and even happiness. Only recently, the Global Peace Index 2016 (GPI) — a relatively new area to be measured — was released which warns us how wars are taking us down the path of self-destruction.

The GPI, a product of the IEP (Institute of Economics and Peace, London) will not come as a revelation to those who aren’t too focused on statistics. We all know that violence has escalated worldwide. Terrorism is at historical levels; in 2014 alone, it took a toll of 30,000 lives. Battle deaths are at a 25-year high, resulting in the displacement of some 60 million people. This bodes ill for the future of humankind. What is, however, significant is that all countries ranked low by this index are invariably at the bottom of all lists.

How does Pakistan fare? Trailing at 153 out of the 163 states ranked, it has all the negative traits the report warns us against. This is not surprising for we figure equally poorly in all other indices.


The emphasis of ‘positive peace’ is on ensuring society’s security.


The fact is that human life cannot be sliced into segments with one part doing very well and the other being in an appalling state. The abundance of analysis of data we are exposed to proves beyond doubt that one sector of life interacts with another, creating a holistic impact on the entire nation.

Hence policymakers should take the information and its analysis seriously when planning their strategies. Take the GPI for instance. It says that for peace to become a permanent feature in the life of a state there are certain qualities that must be promoted on an ongoing basis. This is termed as ‘positive peace’ which is defined as the “attitudes, institutions and structures” that sustain peaceful societies. These focus on achieving “acceptance of the rights of others”, “low levels of corruption”, “free flow of information” and a “well-functioning government”.

If these features are present the other goals stressed by the GPI — meeting citizens’ needs and resolving their grievances without the use of violence — will be addressed in the normal course of things.

Societies that observe positive peace principles are more “peaceable” and cohesive. We tend to neglect the basic fact that it is the instability and uncertainty in their lives that drives people to violence. Lack of control over one’s life deprives a person of equanimity of mind. Hence the emphasis of ‘positive peace’ is on ensuring safety and security in society. This is possible only if citizens are provided social justice that guarantees their basic rights to health, education, shelter and employment. Inequality is another factor that robs large sections of underprivileged humanity of their self-esteem leaving them angry and humiliated and prone to acting violently. We see this happening in Pakistan all the time.

The state itself is often responsible for denying its people the safety and security that they are entitled to. That is not all. We are also seen as promoting violence by allowing weaponisation in society to go unchecked and not lessening tensions with neighbours. Since its birth the country has never been conflict-free for a long stretch of time. It has seen wars and been in the grip of domestic con­flict basically because of political instability and the failure of our leadership — both civilian and military. Our foreign policy has often been criticised. This, together with the feeble efforts put in for achieving political, economic and social strength, has paved the way for the security establishment to take charge.

A study of the GPI establishes that these factors have been present in abundance in all the countries that are at the tail end of the index. Thus along with Pakistan, four other countries — Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Nigeria — have contributed to 78 per cent of deaths resulting from global terrorism.

There are two other factors that characterise the 11 least peaceful countries in the list. First, all of them have suffered some form of military and political meddling in their affairs by the US that has set the tone of war and peace in the region.

Second, with the exception of three in these 11 countries, all of them have a Muslim majority. It would be instructive for researchers to study the impact of the United States’ presence on peace in distant regions and the link between religion and war.

Source: Dawn

Continue reading “Measuring peace”

Cotton crisis

By Zubeida Mustafa

PAKISTAN’S economy is in grave trouble. According to the Pakistan Economic Survey 2015-16, it failed to meet the growth target of 5.5pc in FY2016. GDP grew by 4.7 pc. This was mainly due to the ‘major setback’ (to use the finance minister’s words) in agriculture.

At the heart of the crisis was a massive decline of 27.8pc in cotton production. It should be remembered that cotton is the mainstay of our agriculture and textile industry. The cotton crisis has emerged as a very controversial issue. Well-informed farmers attribute this disaster to the widespread use of genetically modified seeds that were formally introduced in the country in 2010 but were being smuggled since 2005. Now BT cotton (a genetically modified variety) is grown in 88pc of the cotton-cultivated area.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been challenged all over the world as some giant seed multinationals have grown phenomenally thanks to their aggressive marketing. If unchecked, they could dominate global agriculture. GM seeds will undermine biodiversity as the manufacturers ensure their monopoly in the seed sector. Being vulnerable to pest attacks, GM crops need pesticides in large quantities that poor farmers cannot afford. It is no coincidence that the manufacturers of these seeds also produce pesticides which account for a big chunk of their revenues.

Farmers are prediing another year of difficulties


Some facts are indisputable. Cotton production has not increased as promised since BT cotton was introduced. The decline is not fully reflected in the data released by the government because it has changed the measure used to determine the output, which is counted in the number of bales. Previously, each cotton bale weighed 176 kilogrammes. Since 2011 it has been reduced to 150kg. Using the old measure we know that cotton production had hit a record figure of 14.6 million bales in 2004. That figure has never been reached again and last year it was less than 9m bales (by the old measure).The per hectare yield as well as the area of cotton cultivation have been erratic. In FY2012, 2.8m hectares (about seven acres) were cultivated and the yield was 815kg per hectare. In FY2016, these figures were 2.91 hectares with a yield of 587kg per hectare respectively, which means the slight increase in acreage was offset by the lower yield.

The government blames the weather (frequent and excessive rains) and pest attack, mainly bollworms, for the fall in cotton output. In a recent notification, the Punjab government advised farmers to delay planting.

The farmers have another story to tell. They say it is the poor quality of seeds that has led to pest attacks and caused the decline in production. They are predicting another year of crisis. According to one media report this year, many farmers have switched to other crops and the area of cotton cultivation is considerably lower.

In spite of poor results, the government insists on approving GM cotton seeds. Thus in a meeting in February, the National Biosafety Committee (NBC) hastily approved the applications for nearly 100 GM seeds without following prescribed procedures. That is how Monsanto and Dupont were allowed commercialisation of GM corn without large-scale testing and biosafety risk assessment in open fields in Pakistan.

This was reconfirmed by the NBC in another meeting in April on the written orders of the prime minister. This is shocking to say the least. There has been a concerted effort to increase the private sector’s role and space in the seed market. Monsanto, an American biotechnology company, has been a big beneficiary of the changes in the government’s policies. In 2015, the Seeds Act 1976 was changed to “meet the requirements of the modern seed industry”.

Not surprisingly the pressure for change came from the US which wants Pakistan to meet its ‘obligations’ under WTO regulations and create a larger market for private seed producers. Previously, seed manufacturing and its price regulation was in the public sector. Now the private sector — mainly giant biotech companies — has entered the seed market in Pakistan.

WikiLeaks which brought into the open routine exchanges between US diplomatic missions in Pakistan and the State Department in Washington apparently revealed how Monsanto was in the picture in the formulation of cotton policies in the country.

To reject new technologies in a knee-jerk reaction is unwise. But it is worse to accept them indiscriminately without testing them rigorously under local conditions.

The Kissan Board has gone to court to get justice for the farmers. It filed a petition in 2014 challenging the NBC meeting that allowed the commercialisation of BT cotton that year. Its plea was accepted but the government went into appeal and the matter was put on hold. The government has proceeded as usual. Now another case has been filed challenging the government on constitutional grounds and for violation of the Cartagena Protocol. BT’s fate now hinges on the court’s decision.

Source: Dawn

Continue reading “Cotton crisis”

Enemies of the poor

By Zubeida Mustafa

EIGHT years ago, a young woman from Khairo Dero (Larkana district) was so touched by the plight of her people that she decided to work for their uplift.

She had been fortunate to receive a privileged education abroad, was doing a lucrative job and had all that one could wish for in life. Today, she has renounced these privileges to work for her people. .

Thus Naween Mangi set out on her journey of creating a model village for development in Khairo Dero. Continue reading “Enemies of the poor”

Textbooks of hate

Peshawar: Launching of Textbooks of Hate or Peace? on 11 Feb 2016
Peshawar: Launching of Textbooks of Hate or Peace? on 11 Feb 2016

By Zubeida Mustafa

PAULO Freire, the Brazilian educator and author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, said education should aim at teaching students to think critically. They should work with the teacher in creating knowledge.

Freire believed that students should do a lot of “problem-posing” and then seek answers through their own experience and thought processes to discover the route to change.

Can we hope to achieve this change through the kind of textbooks used in our public-sector schools? For decades, critics have mourned the dismal state of textbooks in Pakistan. But no one has batted an eyelid. Continue reading “Textbooks of hate”

Unsilenced voice

By Zubeida Mustafa

JAN 22 was Perween Rahman’s birthday. Had she escaped the assassin’s cruel bullets she would have turned 59. But that was not to be and this devoted social worker, a friend of the poor, was snatched away from us three years ago on March 13, 2013.

Not that she has receded into oblivion. The poor are not ungrateful. Nor have those who feared her mended their ways. OPP-RTI, the organisation she headed, wanted to observe Perween’s birthday and celebrate her life and achievements. Such events help imprint on the public memory the work of selfless and lovable personalities who have made an impact on the lives of those they worked for. Thus alone will many Perweens be born. This is absolutely necessary if this society is to be saved from the avarice of the selfish. Continue reading “Unsilenced voice”