Handle with care

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

geust-contOur media feeds us news-shockers and pop intellectual celebrity responses to the latest political sin of omission or commission on a daily basis. The storm of noise obscures (perhaps unintendedly) that the root problem for national authorities in Karachi is the approach to Bilawal House and the PPP: How different can it remain from the approach already taken to 90 and the MQM? Thorny difficulties arise when handling principled and pragmatic aspects of the matter, whether deterrent authority dons a political velvet glove or shows a military iron hand.

The nettle will have to be plucked though, for Karachi truly is a cosmopolitan city: Its populace might not count for much other than statistically, but what happens there and to it has high visibility. Continue reading “Handle with care”

Justice in Pakistan: Unmasking Perween Rahman’s Killers

by Zubeida Mustafa
-Pakistan-

The “weakness of women”, widely believed to be a natural phenomenon, is actually a myth. Women are resilient and there are many cases where “woman power” won the day because women fighting for a cause refused to back off.

The valiant social activist Perween Rahman was gunned down two years ago in Pakistan’s port city of Karachi. Perween was the director of the Orangi Pilot Project-Research and Training Institute, in which capacity she was working to improve the life of the poor. An architect by training, she shunned thirty years ago the opportunity to make a successful corporate career. After joining an architectural firm, soon after her graduation, she said to herself,” I do not want to spend my life building palaces for the rich. I’d rather build homes for the poor.” And that is what brought her to the OPP, at the time the recent creation of its founder Dr Akhter Hameed Khan. And she did exactly what she wanted to do, help the poor build shelters for themselves at affordable prices. She went on to do much more – show the poor how they could live with dignity and self esteem. In the process, Perween instilled confidence in the people she worked for – both men and women – and empowered them. Such was her charisma and the magic of her personal humanism. Continue reading “Justice in Pakistan: Unmasking Perween Rahman’s Killers”

Save Karachi

RCover

By Zubeida Mustafa

RUMANA Husain’s recently published Street Smart: Professionals on the Street comes as a reminder of how we are losing the city where many of us have lived and worked for most of our lives. Karachi is no more what I remember of it when I was a child.

Some categories of the blue-collar workers, as Rumana calls the people who are the subject of her book, no longer exist. Mechanisation, technology and lifestyles have made them redundant. That is change, as the new replaces the old. But the tragedy is that the street professionals no longer knit the community together as they once did. Continue reading “Save Karachi”

Changing mindsets

By Zubeida Mustafa

TALKING about prisons, the chief justice of Sindh said last Saturday that more than retribution and deterrence the main purpose of imprisonment should be reform and rehabilitation. In Pakistan, where the prison system is by no means in ideal shape — Karachi jail has 6,000 prisoners when its capacity is for under 2,000 — the need to address the moral correction dimension is conspicuously inadequate.

To step into this unsavoury situation with the idea of bringing about reform is in itself an act of courage. Saleem Aziz Khan, the founder of the Society for Advancement of Health, Education and Environment (SAHEE), has nevertheless decided to meet the challenge. Along with Azhar Jamil, he launched the four-step Criminon Programme in the Karachi jail in 2007. The two now want to expand the project as they feel they are making an impact.

Having borrowed the concepts from internationally recognised and tried projects, Azhar defends the project as being “a secular programme that teaches common-sense values”. Continue reading “Changing mindsets”

Insecure rights

By Zubeida Mustafa

A WEEK before Sabeen Mahmud, the ever-smiling ‘active’ human rights activist was gunned down in Karachi, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan launched its annual State of Human Rights report for 2014.

It is widely believed that Sabeen’s decision to host a seminar on Balochistan invited a terrible retribution from the powers-that-be. It is indeed saddening that this staunch defender of all the rights covered by the HRCP report is no more amongst us to act as society’s conscience to remind us that each of us becomes an abettor when the state violates any right the citizen is entitled to and we remain silent onlookers. Continue reading “Insecure rights”

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”

A plague of saviours

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

  •  Musharraf’s specific contribution to the toxic cauldron in which Pakistan’s polity stews and bubbles was the imposition of his military will without a declaration of martial law. The visible outcome a bit more than a decade later is a widespread non-perception of any infallibly observed and consistently applicable laws at all. Civil law was clearly treated as of no consequence in the ‘countercoup’ and it died without a whimper. No one heard justly esteemed legal personae renowned as civil rights champions and constitutional experts haranguing military trespass.

The simple fact on the ground was that Nawaz Sharif was using his party’s once popular absolute parliamentary majority (there had been extensive disgust with the presently hallowed Benazir in her second tenure) to make legal nonsense of its origin: The legislature or rather too many of its members were on the verge of legislating the PM’s office repugnant dictatorial political powers. Musharraf averted Sharif’s obtaining these legally by appropriating them for himself unlawfully. Why was the interventionist COAS more representative of popular as well as intellectual sentiment at that juncture than the democratically elected prime minister? Because he blocked the misapplication of Islam in politics that Nawaz Sharif was using to whitewash his proposed 15th Amendment.

The point to be made here is that it is not just a COAS Vs PM tussle our political experiences have familiarised us with, but a religious practice Vs democratic practice choice that is constantly if variously posed us. There is a lingering and misleading assumption that a martial law or fidelity to the supremacy of civil authority choice is mirrored in what we view as an Islamization or parliamentary democracy option. Civil politicians and military dictators have, as demanded by the times, been exponents of either. Continue reading “A plague of saviours”

Karachi seeks peace

By Zubeida Mustafa

JO dil par haath rakho tau/ faqat itna hee kahta hai/ Woh Isa Chowk ho ya Das Manzil ka koi mandir/ Lohari Gate ho ya Goth Qasim ki koi basti/ Woh Babul Ilm ho ya Masjid-i-Siddiq-i-Akbar ho/ Hussainabad ho ya woh meri Farooq Nagri ho/ Jahan bhi golian chalti hain meray dil pe lagti hain/ Har ek woh ghar jahan maatam bapa hai mera apna hai. — Ishrat Afreen

(I place my hand on my heart/ and all it says is/ whether it be Isa Chowk or some temple of Das Manzil/ be it Lohari Gate or a neighbourhood of Goth Qasim/ be it Babul Ilm or the Siddiq-i-Akbar mosque/ be it Hussainabad or my Farooq Nagri/ where bullets fly they strike my heart/ every home in mourning is my very own.)

These verses draw a startling picture of Karachi torn by sectarian/communal violence. The picture is of a fragmented city. The verses also poignantly capture the poet’s pain and sense of shared grief with the victims irrespective of their caste or creed. This theme — horror and empathy — has recently found resonance in the numerous conferences held under the banner of the ‘I am Karachi’ peace campaign. This is the need of the hour in a city that lost over 1,100 of its citizens to violence in 2014. Continue reading “Karachi seeks peace”

We are to blame

By Zubeida Mustafa

LAST Tuesday’s carnage by the Taliban in Peshawar has left the nation in grief and shock. Such was the enormity of the crime — more than 130 young lives snuffed out brutally — that the emotions it stirred have yet to subside.

The post-Peshawar reactions are intense. But will this be a watershed event? Many think not. Public attention has already started to wander. The discourse is changing. The lifting of the moratorium on the death penalty that has led to a spree of hangings has invited Continue reading “We are to blame”

Breaking the cycle

By Zubeida Mustafa

PSYCHIATRISTS in Pakistan have been crying themselves hoarse about the rise of mental illness in the country. Ever since militants and religious extremists have unleashed their terror on the hapless population, the incidence of anxiety and depression has been on the rise. But these disorders are stigmatised and are not publicly discussed.

There is much talk about poor governance, corruption and even the falling level of tolerance in society but no one wants to mention the impact of these problems on the mental health of the people and how the latter’s attitudes and mindsets reinforce the conditions that gave birth to the problems in the first place.

  In an article in the New Internationalist Magazine, Samah Jabr, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist in Jerusalem, pointed out that worse than the 2,133 deaths, 11,000 injuries and the destruction of countless homes caused by Israel’s brutal attacks on Gaza in July-August 2014 was the psychosocial damage inflicted by the war. She said, “the destruction of life at a physical and material level is also the destruction of a way of life, the destruction of a point of view: physical warfare brings with it psychological warfare”. She warned that violence will “beget an unending spiral of victimhood and revenge, of polarisation … [and] of further trans-generational trauma”.

Also read: Psychiatrists concerned about plight of IDPs

This is precisely what is happening in Pakistan. Most upsetting is the psychological warfare taking place and the ground has been softened for it by the ineptitude and corruption of successive governments. The destruction of our education system, moral Continue reading “Breaking the cycle”