Facing challenges in bringing peace to Karachi

By Zubeida Mustafa

I will not be over stating if I say the challenges to a peacemaker in Karachi are phenomenal and nearly insurmountable. I have been asked to speak on how you as teachers can help your students to cope with stress and trauma that has become the norm for Karachi’s youth. If you want to promote peace and the cause of children you must be familiar with some basic facts yourself, even though the information is for you to enhance your understanding of the dynamics of the Karachi situation. Thus you can become the model that your students so badly need to help them cope with the dilemmas violence creates in their minds. It will also equip you with the knowledge you need to answer your students’ questions which will be inevitable if you follow the approach suggested by experts.

There are numerous factors that have reduced the state of law and order of this megalopolis to what it is today. If you look at the number of people who are killed – and that does not include natural deaths or road accidents – you will be stunned by the humungous loss of life.

i-am-karachi-teach-for-peace-conferenceThe Human Rights Commission of Pakistan gave some horrifying statistics in a report earlier this month. It said 2,909 people were killed in Karachi in 2014, and of these 78 were children. The only positive aspect of this data is that the figure was slightly less than the killings for 2013 when 3,200 people had died. These are not statistics only. Those who were killed were somebody’s sons, daughters, fathers , mothers, sisters and brothers. This number includes a dear friend of mine, Perveen Rahman.

Of course death especially by violent means is the most traumatising event not just for children but also for adults. I remember Zohra Yusuf, the Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, once said that someone who dies a natural death in bed in Karachi is indeed fortunate in times when so many people are dying of violence related causes.

The reasons for this violence

Why has Karachi become such a violent city? Many of my generation who are Karachiites would remember the Karachi of yore which was described as the city of lights, the city that never slept and a welcoming city that accepted all people coming here. It was also described as a safe city and as a child I would cycle in the bylanes of PECHS and go to school by bus by myself without feeling unsafe, insecure or anxious.

Karachi’s streets were said to be paved with gold. People from all over the country came to Karachi in search of livelihood and got it too.

What happened then? The factors responsible are economic, demographic and strategic. Each of these factors could have been turned to the advantage of peace. But they went the wrong way and have made the city what it is today. Karachi’s multi-ethnic population could normally have provided the diversity to the place which goes into the making of the richness of cultures in a place. This has been brought out powerfully by Rumana Husain in her book Karachiwala which captures pictorially the variety of cultures, communities and languages that exists in Karachi and makes it such a lovely place to live in.

Karachi is a city of migrants. The demographic composition was not so much a challenge as the pattern it followed. Migration came in waves – six in all.

First wave: After Partition, the initial influx was that of the Mohajirs from India who poured into the city in search of a home.

Second wave: The next migration came in the sixties and this time from the NWFP (as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was previously called) when the pace of industrialisation picked up. There was a demand for labour. There was plenty of it available in this province. Initially the sturdy Pakhtuns would come by themselves leaving their families behind and would visit them periodically.

Third wave: As Karachi industrialised further many capitalists migrated from Punjab to make their contribution to the national economy.

Fourth wave: The East Pakistan crisis followed by war in 1970-71 and the emergence of Bangladesh provided the next exodus which came to Karachi. They were the so-called Biharis from East Pakistan.

Fifth wave: The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the war in the post-1979 years – in which Pakistan’s participation was unwise – provided Karachi yet another influx of migrants from Afganistan. They were accompanied by their families as well.

Sixth wave: The Afghans who migrated in the wake of the war on terror waged by the US and Pakistan. Add to this the illegal migrants who have trickled into Karachi from neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar (Burma) and even India and you will get a fuller picture of the demographic mix of this huge city of 22 million. The migrations I have described above came in such quick succession that the inter-communal relationships had no time to stabilize. A new wave would disturb the demographic balance. Thus society was always in a flux. This multiculturalism so created was not handled sensitively as it should have been.

Then politics intervened. Man is a political animal and politics is something which takes over a society even against the gut instinct of people. Each leader tried to make the community his constituency which created the compulsion for him to be exclusive and emphasise the differences and distinguishing characteristics of his community to win political support.

Economics also got mixed up with politics and that can be a dangerous mix as we see it happening today. Karachi still remains the financial hub. It is the biggest source of revenues for the national treasury – 65 pc. Its share in the GDP is 25 pc and its share in the national labour force is 40 pc.

New vested interests were created when strategic concerns – again many of them unnecessarily created – came into play. The war against the Soviet troops in the eighties on behalf of the US and the war on terror in Afghanistan in post-9/11 years made Karachi the hub in the heroin trafficking route and in the transit of NATO supplies in which the Pakhtun played a key role as they virtually control transport not only in Karachi but also on the highway to Kabul across the Durand Line. At one stage this was fetching US$ 500 million a year according to Laurent Gayer in Karachi: Ordered Disorder: The Struggle for the Soul of a City. He describes Karachi as a contested city and no one has a sense of ownership for it. In today’s age of neoliberalism Money is King and that is exactly what has led to this lack of ownership, for Karachi is a cash cow where people come to make money. But not much development is taking place and there is an increasing trend towards the informalisation of housing, water supply, employment, security and conflict resolution. Extortionists, smugglers and criminals are having a field day.

The real need is to create a sense of ownership in the people of Karachi which includes the youth. That is the only way peace can come to this turmoil ridden city. Had this been understood something would have been done earlier. It is not just our children whose lives are at stake. It is the future of Pakistan that is in the balance. I really don’t have to tell you this because many of you would understand this better as you know more about it than I do because you have the experience of interacting with children and observing their reactions every day.

How violence affects children

Violence begets violence, it is commonly known. A child will grow up to be what she is exposed to in the sensitive period of her life. Here I will remind you of a few verses from the poem “Children Learn What They Live” by Dorothy Law Nolte.

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

Apart from our education system which is destroying our youth there is the electronic media which is striking the last nail in the coffin. All the evils in the environment, all the violence I have identified and other negative features that exist are magnified several folds with no regards to who the viewers are and how it affects them.

Our indifference towards children is evident from the fact that television makes no distinction between the viewers in terms of age. In countries which care no programme that is harmful for children’s psyche is shown early in the evening when a child could be watching. Even later a warning precedes a programme even if there is a slight doubt that it could upset a child or even “faint-hearted adults”. Mind you the talk about the right to information is a cover-up for sensationalizing news.

It is not what information you give that matters. It is how you do it. Do you have to have those loud thunderbolts to announce breaking news even when the prime minister sneezes? Do you need those shrieking announcers and anchors to discuss threadbare a tragedy which has shattered so many homes? Can’t it be done in a calm and quiet tone?

The medical profession worldwide has been documenting the harmful impact of television programmes on children’s minds. But who cares in Pakistan?

How you can educate children for the future so that a day will come when Karachi will be a city of peace

Given the numerous factors at work, one can well ask how can teachers help? Here I am reminded of UNESCO’s constitution that was adopted in November 1945 which stated in its Preamble:“Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.”

What are these defences, especially those that teachers can build?

The first defence is knowledge and information. It is well known, as the UNESCO constitution says, that “ignorance of each other’s ways and lives has been a common cause of that suspicion and mistrust between people” that has led to conflict.

The second defence is the democratic principle of dignity, equality, and mutual respect. The absence of this is nurtured by ignorance and prejudice.The third defence is a culture of “justice, liberty and peace” that instils confidence in everyone.

The importance of these defences lies in the fact that they have to be built at the popular level. A peace imposed by governments from above cannot be durable. It has to be based on the moral and intellectual solidarity of people.

Now you would see where the teacher has a role to play. These defences can only be built through education and teachers are the linchpin of an education system. All international human rights instruments speak of “full and equal opportunities for education for all in the unrestricted pursuit of objective truth and in the free exchange of ideas and knowledge” with the idea of gaining a better understanding of and knowledge of each others’ lives.

Our failure to educate our children is this country’s biggest failure. While other countries have moved on to provide education to their youth, Pakistan has been lagging behind. It was only recently – in 2010 to be precise – that the Constitution was amended to incorporate Article 25-A which makes education compulsory and free for all citizens between five and sixteen years of age.

Thus it became incumbent on the government to make provisions for this education. That doesn’t mean that the law will actually be implemented. There are still millions of children out of school in Pakistan. The principle of universalization of education will not necessarily attain results if the question of quality is not addressed simultaneously.

Here each of you can play an outstanding role as many of you must be doing. You can teach children how to love, be tolerant and appreciate diversity rather than be jealous and feel insecure. If you improve your own knowledge of Karachi you will be passing on these qualities to them. This is your challenge because the textbooks will be of no help to you. In spite of the much touted curriculum reform our textbooks conform to what has famously been called a curriculum of hatred. As teachers you would know how to bypass that. Our textbooks are full of spite against our minorities belonging to another faith.

I have written a lot pleading their case and since they correspond with me I know exactly how threatened they feel and I feel ashamed that I cannot offer them reassurance. You would know better how to teach love. It would also involve a process of unlearning as there are children who have already been taught bay say bandooq, tay say talwaar. hay say hijab and jeem say jihad. And we all know from where those books came.

How you can help children cope in the short term with the stress that violence brings.

Matters have reached a critical point now. The Army Public School Peshawar tragedy was waiting to happen. The terrorists understand the psyche of children better. They knew that by attacking innocent children they could deal a terrible blow to people’s morale. They could also see that a nation of traumatized children was the best way to destroy society.While keeping the long term goal before you of teaching love and tolerance and respect for others to children, you as teachers will also have to offer support to children many of whom are traumatized. Others are anxious and these are states of mind that affect a child’s capacity to learn, think and concentrate.

One basic strategy which is widely suggested by experts for people to keep them strong to cope with any kind of stress is physical exercise. For this you don’t have to wait for a crisis to occur. It is something all medical professionals worth their salt encourage people to make a way of life. In fact most of them lament the shrinking of open spaces that were a trademark of all schools of yester years. Even the peela schools had huge playgrounds. And physical education and sports were an integral part of our education. The land hunger of the powers-that-be swallowed up whatever empty space was available. I don’t expect you to go looking around for play grounds. That is the job of town planners. You could conduct 15 minutes of exercise before lessons begin. It could be done in the classroom itself. I do my exercise on a little mat two feet by two. The Chinese – all citizens – did it twice a day at a specified time where ever they were —in public places, roads and factories. It is invigorating and releases chemicals in the brain that help the mind cope with stress even in normal times. And these are not normal times we live in. Our children need to be encouraged to leave their video games and other electronic devices and start to play physical games. Play teaches sportsmanship.

The other technique advised by psychiatrists is to let them express their fears and anxieties and provide them space for dialogue. But here a lot of skill is required. If not done subtly it can cause more damage. On the other hand, you should always be available to a child who has questions to ask or needs reassurance, for that is what children need most. But let the child set his or her own pace. What needs to be emphasized is that there is no set uniform pattern of behaviour for children and their response to a stressful situation. The response of one may be different from that of another. So you cannot set uniform and rigid codes for yourself. And on no account should you force a child to speak because you think she should. The rule of the thumb should be that you should be available to listen and you should be prepared to answer her questions without making her feel guilty or responsible in any way for a tragedy that might be giving rise to fear and anxiety. You should be calm yourself and should appear confident and supportive. The Army Public School teachers did an excellent job especially at a time when they themselves and their students were so directly affected.

The universal method adopted in helping people and even children is to ask them to keep a diary and write their inner thoughts. Younger children may not be able to do that. They can be asked to draw pictures. For teachers it would be an excellent way to get their students to practice the art of writing. But the inner purpose would be to help them release their tension by expressing their fears and worries. These are just pointers and I am sure someone more qualified than me would be a better guide in the matter.

Finally, a word about television because that is something I feel qualified to speak about, being a media person myself. The electronic media needs to reform itself. I will not go into details here. It is not a solution to the problem. It is emerging as a problem itself. We already have serious problems on our hands. But their impact is magnified because the media is trying to draw mileage out of it. It is something like the reflectors which enhance the brightness of the light that falls on it. The television’s amateurish and juvenile style of reporting shows that its staff has not been trained in crisis reporting. You cannot go and train the staff of various channels many of which are masquerading as the mass media. You can do one thing though. Ask your students and their parents to stop watching TV.

Speech delivered at SPELT’s “I am Karachi Teach for Peace Conference” Karachi: 25 January 2015