Loss of dignity

By Zubeida Mustafa

A FRIEND sent me his greetings on New Year with this verse: “Apnay haathon say dastar sumbhaloon kaisay/ Donon haathon mein kashkol pakar rakha hai.” (How should I hold up my turban when I hold the begging bowl with both my hands?)

The truth of this verse hit me when a news item in this paper reported the proceedings of the Senate recently. The government had come under fire from a PTI member for piling up external and domestic debts to such proportions that servicing them was becoming impossible.

One should not dismiss this as political gimmickry to embarrass the ruling party. After all, which party in Pakistan has even attempted to be self-reliant by adopting austerity as a policy to reduce the government’s dependency on loans? With few parties remaining in office for too long, every ruler spends money with abandon knowing that the chickens will come home to roost when he will not be around to cope with the problem. Continue reading “Loss of dignity”

Enough is enough


By Zubeida Mustafa

THE turnout at the walk organised last Sunday by Citizens against Weapons (CAW) was heartening. Started in 2014 by some concerned citizens, the campaign is catching on. I had joined them at a rally on an intersection of a busy area in Karachi two years ago. There were then barely 50 protesters. On Sunday, there were 400 or so.

One of them, activist Naeem Sadiq, whose motto is ‘say no to guns’, has been working on this goal for a decade. He and his colleagues want to rid the whole country of guns and the message is gaining adherents as a larger number of people — that does not include our rulers — begin to understand the significance of deweaponisation in ending violence. Continue reading “Enough is enough”

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. Continue reading “Measuring peace”

An erratic coalition

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

geust-contPakistan has done many stupid things within the rubrics of foreign and domestic policy. And joining a coalition of predominantly Arab states against ‘terrorism’ where the terrorist and the nature of the activity are defined ad lib could prove one of the most regrettable. There is such a thing as rational neutrality, but it seems to be something with which we are non-aligned.

Of course we are financially indebted to Saudi Arabia (the coalition’s convener) more recently and currently than we are indebted to Iran: But that could also be because Iran has been sanctioned out of prosperity; rather the way Saddam’s Iraq was. And the coalition’s focus is on Iran and Shi’ite ‘insurrectionary’ segments or regimes Iran may be sympathising with in the very troubled Middle East and Gulf states. Iran has never taken a side that is overtly or covertly hostile to Pakistan or vice versa. Are we coalescing to create adversaries for ourselves and foster sectarian differentiations? Continue reading “An erratic coalition”

14 August: A Day for Sombre Reflection

By Adil Zareef
guest-contributorAugust 14, is traditionally a day for rejoicing, much fanfare, military parades, display of firepower and nukes. Symbolically, the patriotic chest thumping and feet stomping at the Wagah border between the erstwhile “traditional enemies” touch a feverish pitch as hysterical crowds on either side cheer their highly charged and battle ready soldiers, hoisting their national flags amid fierce expressions in a crescendo of sloganeering at sunset – the climax of the existential confrontation refuses to ease or ebb with time, despite the epoch making history that has transformed the greater part of our world.

Perhaps we are condemned by history or by geopolitics, or both, keeping us embroiled in a state of perpetual confrontation as other regions have prospered and progressed and long buried the hatchet of hate. Meanwhile, both India and Pakistan are competing in exclusion and exploitation of their respective population, as their state policy inch towards nihilism.

Continue reading “14 August: A Day for Sombre Reflection”

Mind-Boggling Conundrums in the Middle East

By Zubeida Mustafa

The Obama administration has decided to go slow on its troop withdrawal program in Afghanistan. A substantial American military presence is expected to remain in this strife-stricken country until the end of 2015. President Obama said that this was necessary to make Afghanistan more secure.

However, geopolitics in this region is more complex than the American media make it out to be. Now is the time to set the record straight before a new conflict erupts in the Afghanistan-Pakistan (AfPak) area and ill-conceived explanations are offered to confuse public perceptions. To begin with, Americans should know that many of the wars in Asia have their roots in American geostrategic shenanigans. Continue reading “Mind-Boggling Conundrums in the Middle East”

Book, not Facebook

By Zubeida Mustafa

IN his newly published book, Baar-i-Shanasaee, Karamatullah Ghori, a retired Pakistani diplomat, recounts incidents from his professional life that make an interesting read. The book comprises character sketches of nine personalities who are dubbed in the book’s sub-title as the “history makers and history breakers” of Pakistan.

The book is by no means an objective historian’s analysis of its subjects — all of whom were politicians/military rulers, with the exception of Faiz Ahmad Faiz, the Lenin Prize winning poet, and Prof Abdus Salam, the Nobel Laureate scientist. The publication is more in the nature of reminiscences and the author vouchsafes for their authenticity as he was witness to or participant in the events narrated.

An anecdote from Ghori’s account of his encounter with Gen Pervez Musharraf struck me as worth recalling. Soon after seizing power in October 1999, the general visited Turkey where he had spent seven years of his childhood. The author was at that time Pakistan’s ambassador in Ankara. On seeing the ambassador’s personal library and on being told that Ghori was an avid reader, the general commented, “Mujhay parhnay ka shauq naheen”. (I am not interested in reading.) Continue reading “Book, not Facebook”

A leading light

By Zubeida Mustafa

HENRY Wotton famously said, “An ambassador is an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.” Leave aside the pun in this quote, not many of the ambassadors we have produced have lied for the country and maintained a discreet silence about their subterfuge. Many have gone further and lied to promote themselves.

Yet in this complex world of diplomacy there was one ambassador who was too principled a man to lie, yet found ways to safeguard his country’s interests. And he chose not to boast about it. That was Saidullah Khan Dehlavi — Said to family and friends — who lost his battle with death last week in Karachi.

Said was the chairman of the board of trustees of the Aga Khan University, an honorary position he assumed in 2001 after his retirement from the Pakistan Foreign Service. In the obituary announcement issued by the AKU, he was referred to as Ambassador Dehlavi and it is an ambassador in the true and best sense of the word that he remained till the end. In a condolence message, the Foreign Office described him as the leading light and a role model. Continue reading “A leading light”

The Past Was My Country Once

By Nikhat Sattar

guest-contributorSherlock Holmes is credited with the saying ‘the past is another country’. In my case, it was mine, to begin with. Forty two years later, I still find it difficult to comprehend that I am no longer a citizen of the place that reared me and instilled in me the love of all that is beautiful in God’s world. I had to leave it as a child, vowing to return, as I looked at its receding coastline. Return I did, as an adult, several times, and each time as if I had never left. I was frozen in time, 1971 and space, in Chittagong, the second largest city in what is now called Bangladesh.

Chittagong is thousands of years old, and has a rich history of Roman, Arab and East Asian trading by sea. Indeed, its name is supposed to be an Arabic derivative of Shetgang, which comes from Shatt-al-Ganga, meaning Mouth of the Ganges. There are other sources that claim that the name comes from the Bengali Chatt-Gaon, meaning rock and village, referring to the hilly landscape. A sleepy town-village of outstanding beauty, it was a magical place of winding streets going up and down the hills, huge lakes, dense foliage, large fields and pristine beaches. The overwhelming colour was green, but with heavy rains and salty sea, buildings often took on a dark hue that somehow attached itself to my memory. The Kaptai Dam, Foy’s lake, Rangamati, Faujdarhat and Karnaphuli Paper Mills , each a few hours heavenly drive away from settlements are etched into my mind like fairy tales. Continue reading “The Past Was My Country Once”