Sunday, December 26, 2010

The morning paper -- seriously...!

Dawn Images -- front page article by Saadia Reza - what's a "dip-stick" poll? never heard of it -- and most popular tv anchors/talk show hosts -- mathura is one, ok -- but no 2 sonya rehman dawn news and no 3 juggan kazim -- dawn news

seriously saadia -- who did you survey in the "dip-stick" poll? people at dawn news? i would think even loser-from-hell sahir would be more popular than either of these two --

city pages -- front page -- anchor article titled reads as if the holding of the conference itself raises questions -- wake up subs!

also metro section -- inside pages -- coaching centres replace schools and colleges -- since when was this news --- hasnt this been happening for years -- arent the news pages supposed to carry topical news items?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Think-tanks, conferences and more hot air

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/3567/think-tanks-conferences-and-more-hot-air/


As a reporter for Dawn in the mid-to-late 1990s, one of the first beats assigned to me was to cover seminars on various issues in the city of Karachi.

At first this seemed like an interesting proposition but over time it became a drag – not least because on ended up seeing the same people all the time, discussing the same things over and over again, and giving the same solutions over and over again.

Surely, they didn’t need to hold yet another conference on this issue, one would say to oneself, given that the issue had already been done to death and the recommendations were known to all and sundry. Eventually it all came down to an exchange – and quite boring at that – of hot air.

This week as I attend a reasonably high-powered three-day conference in Islamabad on a grand-sounding topic like “Peace and Sustainable Development: The way forward” (organised by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute), I thought about this issue again.

Learning about the forgotten few

There were three sessions today and the yardstick of one of these events (or reading a new paper or listening to a lecture) is whether one learnt anything new. To that effect, I could safely say that the one person from whom I did learn something was founder and co-director of Kali for Women (India’s first feminist publishing house) Urvashi Butalia who told the audience of the neglected world of oral histories of those living on the margins. In this regard she gave the instructive example of a Dalit sweeper in a village in Indian Punjab who said that her family escaped the ravages of Partition violence becuase it was against Sikhs and Hindus and Muslims and since she was a Harijan she and her family were not affected by it. Ms Butalia said that this was an example of how historiography tended to ignore the voices of those living on the margins, such as this Dalit sweeper.

Producing prejudice through the media

The other notable speaker — as measured by what he said — during the day was Ahmed Salim of the SDPI who said that the print media, especially the Urdu press, was one of the chief makers of bias against the minorities in Pakistan. He cited several examples of how Urdu newspapers still used derogatory terms like ‘choora’ against the minorities and suggested a useful set of recommendations for the print and electronic media to follow. Important among these was a suggestion that they give at least equal coverage to issues of minorities and give them — as a group or community — a voice equal to that of the majority in Pakistani society.

Think-tanks lack thought

The last session was supposed to be for brain-storming on how to make think-tanks more effective — and was by invitation only (many thanks to SDPI head Abid Qayyum Suleri for inviting a non-think-tanker to this) — but it turned out to be more of brain-deadening one. I suspect that since some of the donors were sitting in the room, the discussion was quite staid and boring and to an outsider it seemed as if they could have done with some outside/external views.

For instance, the quite obvious issue of the general public (and in turn potentially the government) not see recommendations by these think-tanks as indigenous enough because they are too too donor-driven was hardly addressed.

One of the donors, who had come from a Canadian-funded organisation based in New Delhi did say quite unequivocally that his organisation did not take into account the aims and objectives or agenda of the organisation to whom funds would be given, but then again what would one expect a donor to say at such a forum?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Islamabad, waiting in line & Arif Hasan

What is it about standing in line that Pakistanis do not understand? What your friggin turn! That's what being in line means. And why do the ASF staff want us to turn on our laptops -- what are they trying to check in any case? As for the waiting in line, this happened at the last checking point, once carry on luggage is checked right before the gates area -- waited in line and it wasnt moving and airport staff were bringing morons from the side -- and no one saying anything -- usually its me and when other people start looking at you as if you have done something wrong (AS IF!) -- but thank god another person had the good sense to admonish the ASF tag-checker -- but the latter only smiled and did nothing, which infuriated the admonisher even more -- however the tag-checker could have been smiling because that is all that he could do

once we landed at islamabad airport, shared a car to the hotel with urban planning expert extraordinaire Arif Hasan -- had to introduce myself using my print name -- Omar R Quraishi -- since often thats how many people may (if they do) know of me -- had an interesting conversation with him, especially on urban issues and devolution -- had some good points to talk about, especially how the fracturing of the office of the DC had adversely affected the post-flood relief effort -- also talked about how land-grabbing has thrived because of the lack of magesterial powers which pre-Musharraf devolution used to rest with the local DC

have asked him to write and let's hope he does


Islamabad is a chilled 13 C -- at 7 pm. Why cant Karachi have weather like this as well?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

When a leak is not a leak -- Express Tribune editorial, Dec 11, 2010

http://tribune.com.pk/story/88523/when-a-leak-is-not-a-leak/


Apparently there is conviction among intelligence agencies that Pakistani newspaper readers will believe almost anything. The extraordinary attempt to fabricate WikiLeaks documents marks the latest twist in the saga. News items carried by at least four national newspapers, including this one, claimed the publication of cables stating that US diplomats had affirmed Indian involvement in Waziristan and Balochistan, while describing top Indian generals as ‘geeks’ or persons linked to Hindu fundamentalists. This startled many readers on the morning of December 9. In contrast, Pakistan’s military top brass was praised in glowing terms.

This detail alone points to the direction from where the fabricated documents may have come. The news agency which released the item is seen as lacking credibility and has been associated with intelligence networks. The Guardian, which ran a detailed account of the attempt to use WikiLeaks cables to serve specific interests, said it found no trace of documents containing details of this nature on the organisation’s website. Newspapers which carried the planted material are conducting their own inquiries and this paper has apologised to its readers. Had they existed, the content of the cables would have created a sudden change in the nature of ties between the US and India.

The attempted fraud offers an insight into the desperation of elements behind it. It seems this is the best they could come up with to try and tarnish an ‘enemy’ country and shine up their own standing. It is worth noting that while documents speaking of the weaknesses or wrongdoings of Pakistani politicians have been given much publicity in the country, those that direct attention towards the doing of the military or the dangers posed by activities of groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba have been virtually suppressed. The ‘self-censorship’ of the media plays some part in this; continued agency influence in press circles is a factor too. The whole sorry business should remind newsrooms not to allow themselves to be used. We hope it will also convince those involved in the attempted deception that the Pakistani public does indeed possess some grey matter and is quite capable of recognising efforts to fool it.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 11th, 2010.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The case of the missing cable

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/3353/wikileaks-a-dinner-for-prince-charles-and-david-letterman-in-saudi-arabia/


Here are some interesting nuggets that much of the world press hasn’t reported upon, and isn’t likely to either, because they don’t make for ‘sexy’ reading/content.

The case of the missing cable

The News – and Jang – of December 9 had a lead story which, quite unbelievably I must say, quoted a cable from the US embassy in Islamabad saying all the things that the establishment in Pakistan would want the world to think about:

a) India

b) India’s army

c) India’s chauvinist Hindu parties and

d) Hamid Karzai.

The Express Tribune of December 9 also carried a similar story – by Online news agency on one of its inside pages. Intriguingly enough – or perhaps worryingly – when I scoured the WikiLeaks website on the evening of December 9 for this cable I couldn’t find it. Lest I be accused of not looking hard enough, cables can be searched by embassy location and by date. The report (which has also been carried in Ahmed Quraishi’s blog and websites like Daily Mail News) said many things, including that a former Indian army chief was considered a “geek” and a “bad combat commander”, that the current Indian army chief was a braggart and egotistical and that the Americans were of the view that the Hindu right wing parties posed a far greater threat to regional stability than the Taliban, al Qaeda or the Lashkar-e-Taiba. As Café Pyala has already pointed out, this is BIG news, so why didn’t more papers (other than The News and Jang) carry it? Perhaps the reason for that may have to do with the fact that this cable cannot really be found on the website of WikiLeaks – at least not as of 6 pm December 9. So where is this missing cable? When will it be released? The News and Jang credited “agencies” with this, so which news agency had it? Apparently one of them is Online, and if the publications were fooled into carrying it perhaps they should issue a correction. Is this cable authentic and real and if so why cannot I find it on the WikiLeaks website? Or is it the handiwork of some elements (let’s not name them) who, knowing that the papers are awash with leaked cables every day, thought of introducing some of their own ‘leaks’?

Brazil refuses Guantanamo inmates

A cable from the US embassy in Brasilia, created on May 24, 2005, revealed that Brazil turned down a request from the US government to take in Guantanamo captives whom the US wanted to release and be rid off its hands. The cable quoted a political officer from the US embassy talking to officers in Brazil’s external affairs ministry on the matter, only to be asked in return why the US hadn’t first given these people refugee status. The Brazilian officials are quoted as saying that under Brazilian law, no asylum can be given unless the person applying for it first obtains refugee status and in this instance it was for the US government to give this classification. The American embassy sought help from the US State Department in this matter and also realised that if the Americans gave refugee status to the Guantanamo inmates, then Brazil would still refuse to take them in citing the custom that if a state declares aliens refugees then it should have no issue taking them in by giving them asylum.

Prince Charles is invited to dinner

A cable from the US consulate general in Jeddah, created on Nov 8, 2006, detailed a meeting between the consul general and the prince of Asir province’s “fixer”, a “prominent Western businessman”. The latter told the American diplomat that the prince sought his (the businessman’s) help prior to a visit to the Kingdom by Prince Charles and that during the said meeting the Saudi prince mentioned that like Prince Charles, he too had a love for painting. The businessman told the US diplomat that as a consequence of this the prince had opened a “painter’s village” in Abha, capital of Asir province, and in it the paintings include those of human faces. The businessman said further that the Saudi prince sought his help for hosting a dinner for Prince Charles and that the Saudi prince was “nervous” because of the state of the palace that he was living in. Though the Saudi prince had built a new palace, he was, according to the western businessman, still residing in his deceased father’s old palace and its first floor “needed attention” since the structure was “aged and in dire need of renovation”. The Saudi prince’s nervousness stemmed from the fact that the dinner for Prince Charles was three weeks away. The businessman said that the first thing he did was to “cut of all electricity so that no one would be able to turn on the lights and see what was taking place”. He then “inserted Styrofoam into the holes in the walls” and “set up projectors to project colours and designs on to the walls”. On the evening of the “party” candles were the “only source of lighting throughout the house”. It turns out that this plan was “successful as the Prince of Wales commented on how luxurious and beautiful the palace was. The businessman said that a few days later, he received a “tip” from the prince in the sum of 50,000 Saudi riyals (approximately $13,300). (The Guardian has separately reported that the businessman was British.)

Saudi journalists “free to write what they wish”

A cable from the US Embassy in Riyadh and dated May 11, 2009, wrote an extensive brief on the state of the media in the Kingdom. It started off by saying that the Saudis have a “regulatory system” that allows the ruling regime a “means to manipulate the nation’s print media” and that “Saudi journalists are free to write what they wish provided they do not criticise the ruling family or expose government corruption”. It noted that in any case, “most media in Saudi Arabia — print and electronic — are owned by royal family members” and hence “self-censorship is the order of the day”. The brief, however, noted that things were in fact changing and that one “trend we have noted in all media here: the increase of well-educated relatively pro-US Saudis in editorial positions” and that one of the leading providers of information and news in the Kingdom had been directed by its senior management to “reinforce ‘modern ideas’ that the Saudi leadership wishes to purvey as an antidote to extremist ideology”. The brief including details of Saudi having a “three-hour” discussion with “one of Rupert Murdoch’s sons on a deal to publish an Arabic-language version of the Wall Street Journal” and that one other media group was trying to “win a contract to publish the International Herald Tribune in Saudi Arabia”. The brief further detailed a conversation that a Saudi official had with a US embassy press officer on the TV channel MBC saying that while it was owned by King Fahd’s brother-in-law, half of its profits went to King Fahd’s youngest son Abdulaziz. The press officer also managed to find out that the prince took an active role in the “ideological direction” of the al-Arabiya TV channel.

The cable then goes into some detail on the viewing habits of young Saudis. It quoted an individual, whose name had been X’ed out, who said that “American programming on channels 4 and 5 [incidentally these are available in Pakistan as well] was proving the most popular among Saudis. The point in fact began with the sub-heading “David Letterman – Agent of Influence”. It specifically quoted CBS and ABC Evening News and David Letterman, and the television shows Desperate Housewives and Friends.

The brief said that embassy officials were told that this programming was “also very popular in remote, conservative corners of the country where he said ‘you no longer see Bedouins, but kids in western dress’”. The cable quite clearly said that the Saudis saw this US programming as part of a concerted effort to influence the minds of young Saudis to cajole them away from extremist thinking and ideologies and towards having a more modern worldview. A press officer in Jeddah was told by a Saudi contact, during a “conversation at Starbucks” that Saudis “are now very interested in the outside world, and everybody wants to study in the US if they can” and that they are “fascinated by US culture in a way they never were before”. However, the brief noted that most Saudis, even “liberal-minded supporters of US democracy and society with little use for conspiracy theory” thought that the US government was behind this programming.

The brief later went on to detail just how the Saudi government acts against editors and journalists who don’t follow the rules. For instance, it said that instead of being fired or seeing their publications shut down, editors are “now fined 40,000 Saudi riyals out of their own salaries for each objectionable piece that appears in their newspaper”.

Committees are formed by the ministry of information in all cities and these keep track of articles or commentary that veers off the officially-sanctioned line. In such cases, the brief said, the errant commentator or writer is invited for a chat and suggested alternatives, and further that such a course of action had been “very effective in reining in media opinion that the Saudi Arabian government doesn’t like”.

This article has been revised to reflect the following update:

Update: December 09, 2010

The title of this article has been changed to reflect new information. The first paragraph discussing “a missing cable” has been added to include information that was not available earlier.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Full marks for Gilani, Shahbaz strikes out

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/3273/wikileaks-2-0-full-marks-for-gilani-shahbaz-strikes-out/

So far a few hundred cables have been released – this is out of approximately 250,000 that WikiLeaks say will be eventually released. Newspapers, television channels, blog sites and other sources of information and media dissemination are having a field day, both in Pakistan as well as overseas with the wealth of information that has come out.

The head of Russia’s intelligence service has said that the cables provide a “treasure trove” of information and that his analysts will go through them in detail. Meanwhile Israel is gloating that its stance on many things is the same, both in public as well as private.

America seems to have suffered the most. Although most cynical commentators have said that by and large much the information that has been released is not unexpected. Of course, this doesn’t mean that it isn’t worrying.

But do we realistically think that once this blows over – ( no one knows when that will happen given the number of cables left to release) – governments and militaries will change the way that they interact with each other? Will the next Pakistan army chief or the next President of Pakistan be more reticent in his meetings with the American ambassador or visiting Congressional delegations, out of fear that their off-the-record comments and observations will make it to the world media stage?

Yousaf Raza Gilani: American diplomats and Pakistani leaders seem to have been mostly caught with their pants down in all of this. But in some cases, the revelations are in fact heartening. Take the case of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani who, a cable leaked by WikiLeaks suggests, told the interior minister that he didn’t care too much about the drone attacks “as long as they got the right people” and that the government would complain about it in parliament and then “ignore it”. Prime Minister Gilani gets full marks for telling it like it is and for having the good sense to understand that, by and large, the drone attacks target terrorists who have proven by their deeds and actions to be no friends of the Pakistani people or state.

Shahbaz Sharif: The same, however, cannot be said of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. According to one leaked cable, President Asif Ali Zardari was quoted as telling a foreign dignitary in a meeting that it had come to his (the president’s) knowledge that just prior to the accounts of the Lashkar-e-Taiba being frozen, following a UN resolution, the Punjab chief minister had tipped off the organisation and it was able to empty all its bank accounts. This is the same Lashkar-e-Taiba that has been deemed as a terrorist organisation and banned by America, the UK, India, Russia, Australia, the European Union and in fact Pakistan itself. Furthermore, Islamabad has been trying in a court of law several members of the organisation for alleged involvement in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.

Maulana Fazlur Rahman:The zero-marks prize is shared by none other than Maulana Fazlur Rahman, aka Maulana Diesel, who fulminates against America in public but in a private meeting with the then US ambassador Anne W Patterson suggested that he had qualities to become (or be installed?) prime minister. He also told the ambassador that he liked visiting America. The Maulana is thought by many to have played the role of a go-between the government and the Pakistani state and the Taliban. One can only wonder what the WikiLeaks revelation with regard to his overtures to the American ambassador suggests.

Saudia Arabia: The Saudis also don’t fare too well. While most of us know that America commands great influence and sway in Pakistan, many must have been surprised at the influence Saudi Arabia has on things in Pakistan. A leaked cable quoted extensively from a meeting that US special envoy on Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke had with Saudi Arabia’s assistant minister of the interior, Prince Mohammad bin Nayef. It said that the prince described General Kayani as a “decent man” and that the Pakistan army was the “winning horse” for the Saudis and the “best bet” for stability. This may resonate with ordinary Pakistanis to some extent, ironically the same kind who continue to cherish Pakistan’s ‘hallowed’ relationship with Saudi Arabia. Clearly, the Saudis share the same objective with the Americans in that both are interested in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons not falling into the hands of al Qaeda or the Taliban. But, unbeknownst to many Pakistanis, it seems that the Saudis are able to determine for us the nature and composition of our elected leadership.

On a separate, but equally worrying note, the same cable quoted the prince as telling Holbrooke that as recent as 2003 “radicals were present in 90 per cent” of Saudi mosques.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

WikiLeaks: Whither Muslim brotherhood?

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/3254/wikileaks-whither-muslim-brotherood/

It was never really a secret that Saudi Arabia did not like Iran. Perhaps there may be a sectarian history to this or maybe it is simple old realpolitik with two large states vying for regional power. But Saudi Arabia isn’t the only Muslim country that seems to loath Iran. There is the UAE and Kuwait as well as, albeit to a lesser extent, Qatar.

According to a cable of Feb 9, 2010, from US ambassador to UAE to Admiral Mike Mullen, head of the US armed forces, prior to the latter’s meeting with the UAE crown prince and defence minister, the UAE is one of America’s most trusted partners in the region and “most useful friends worldwide”.

The ports of Dubai and Fujairah are the “logistics backbone for the US Fifth [Fleet]“. The US Navy’s Fifth Fleet is responsible for operations in the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, Arabian Sea and down south as far as eastern Africa. Minhad airbase, some 20 kilometres south of Dubai is “a critical hub for coalition/ISAF partners in Afghanistan, including the Australians, Dutch, Canadians, Brits and Kiwis”.

This cable says that the UAE leadership sees Iran as its “primary external threat”. The defence minister and crown prince of the UAE is said to not believe that the west will be able to put adequate pressure on Iran and also is of the view, according to this cable, that Tehran cannot be persuaded to give up its nuclear weapons programme. As a result, his efforts to build up the UAE’s armed forces is seen as “near-obsessive”. The UAE has “quietly” deployed forces in Afghanistan, being the first Arab country to do so. The Americans are told by the UAE defence minister, much to their disbelief, that Iran is active in destabilising Yemen, by supporting the Houthi (who are said to Shia) rebels.

The UAE’s obsession with Iran seems to run deeper than that of even the Americans. According to cable dated Feb 22, 2010, from the American ambassador to the UAE, the country’s foreign minister Sheikh Adullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, told a visiting delegation of US Congress members in a meeting on Feb 17 that the nuclear issue “is only one aspect of the Iran problem, and that Iran’s regional meddling was a serious concern”. He said further that the UAE was concerned that “Gulf allies were being shut out of Iran sanctions planning”.

A cable by the US embassy in Kuwait dated Feb 17, 2010, detailed a meeting between Kuwait’s interior minister Jaber Al-Khaled Al Sabah and the US ambassador. The minister said that he was “deeply concerned about Iranian actions, particularly in Yemen with the Houthis” and that Iran was the “beating heart” of Islamic extremism, adding that “even Palestinians now aspire to be Shia because they have bought Iranian ‘stories’ about Shia being more prepared to “fight to the end” and stand up to Israel”.

A cable by the US embassy in Muscat, Oman, dated Feb 2, 2010, suggested that Oman was very unhappy about an article in the New York Times that had perhaps suggested that it, along with other Gulf states, was going to receive Patriot missile batteries from America. In a ‘comment’ on the reaction of the government of Oman, the US embassy noted that a statement by a senior Omani official denying any such proposal would also serve to “protect the US/Omani relationship, as any belief that the US would attempt to utilize Omani territory in this way could potentially cause a public backlash that would jeopardize other aspects of the relationship”. Furthermore, while “Iran is Oman’s number one strategic threat; however, the Government of Oman fundamentally believes the threat can be mitigated through careful management of the relationship. Therefore, it works very deliberately to create a public perception of balance in its relationships with the US and Iran”.

According to a cable of Jan 26, 2010, from the US embassy in Ankara prior to a visit by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s stance on Israel came up, especially his “outburst at Davos”. The cable said that both the Americans and “his staff” (meaning that of the Turkish prime minister) were seeking to “contain” such behaviour.

A cable describing a meeting on Feb 8, 2010, between and the US defence secretary and the French foreign minister in Paris quoted the two discussing the situation in Pakistan. It quoted him as saying that it was “astonishing” that President Zardari had remained in power and that the Pakistanis had conducted such effective COIN operations. The defence secretary “commented that one can never be an optimist about Pakistan, but that the changes had been striking”.

A cable from Jan 28, 2009, detailed a meeting between the Dutch and Russian ambassadors to Saudi Arabia, accompanied by a senior US embassy official with the undersecretary for multilateral affairs at the ministry of foreign affairs in Riyadh. During the course of the meeting, discussion came on Iran with the Saudi official saying that if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons “other countries in the Gulf region would be compelled to do the same, or to permit the stationing of nuclear weapons in the Gulf to serve as a deterrent to the Iranians”.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The horrors of living in Clifton

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/2927/the-horrors-of-life-in-clifton/


What is with elitist schools and colleges? Some like Karachi Grammar School (my alma mater and where my son now studies), get all the flak for not being good neighbours, for being elitist (the school’s fees are generally lower than most of its more recent upstart-ish ‘competitors’) and for bringing forth a whole new generation of brats (these people have obviously never met students or alums of L’ecole or Bayview).

Now, to the point, for which this is being written. I happen to live close to a venerated Karachi education institution – the Convent of Jesus and Mary. In fact, my flat in Clifton is quite literally a one-minute walk from the school’s senior section. The back of my flat faces this small lane which is now barricaded on both sides.

Come every morning and afternoon there is a mad rush in this neighbourhood, thanks to the school’s students, and their drivers and parents who come by and drop and pick them up. In the morning it is bearable since the cars just come and drop them and because the CJM administration has a few domestic staff who act as stand-in traffic regulators. However, the afternoon is literally mayhem, with people double and even triple parking – and this on a road which is no wider than a lane in any of Clifton’s various neighbourhoods. On several occasions I have seen a female parent park the car in the middle of the road, get off and walk to the school gate which is about fifty metres away from this side of the barricaded road. This is not an exaggeration. These women just park the car in the middle of the road, with dozens of other cars behind them, and merrily walk away, key in hand, and if you ask them what in the world are they doing blocking everyone’s path, they say:

‘Mein apnee bachee ko school say uthanay jaa rahee hoon’.

Surely, this isn’t the kind of civil behaviour and good sense the CJM nuns would want their students to learn – but quite regrettably its on display everyday for anyone who wishes to see a display of just about the worst kind of civic sense imaginable. I have tried to talk to the CJM staff deployed their during the mornings but they obviously don’t seem to be able to do much about it.

I also asked them about why the school and its cleaning staff dump all the kachra right at the end of the lane, and bang opposite our gate? Can the school not instruct its cleaning staff to transport the garbage to a kachra kundi a little further away? Wait, let me guess, I bet the CJM teaches its students that throwing litter is bad and the work of the Devil. How nice!

This isn’t all.

Cleaning up the neighbourhood

I live in an apartment complex that has 24 flats. It’s supposed to be in a reputable neighbourhood with many consulates nearby — what good is that for me, I wonder though. The head of my apartments association tells me that a private contractor has been awarded a contract by the local town administration (Saddar Town, I think) to pick up garbage and solid waste from the kachra kundi behind the apartment building. However, he came once to the complex and told its residents that if they wanted the garbage picked up every day it could be arranged – provided they paid him Rs2,000 a month. He was told by the residents that they pay municipal charges to the local town administration every month. He laughed and said that if they didn’t pay up then their road and the gali outside would never see its garbage removed.

And then the water issue. All of a sudden, the water in our building has dried up. One of the residents managed to speak to someone at the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) who told him that there was a shortage in the city (when is there not?) and that the water valve – right opposite the Caltex petrol pump at Do Talwar) was opened for only 20 minutes every day. “Why only 20 minutes?”, he was asked. Because that is how long it took for enough water to reach the Indonesian Consulate – which is a few hundred metres before the road ends, Park Towers to the right. Apparently, the KWSB would also like their palms to be greased, though the official hasn’t said so.

What I’m surprised at is how this “citywide shortage” doesn’t deter a whole organised mafia from stealing water by siphoning it from the very pump next to Do Talwar, right under the noses of several police personnel posted nearby. I guess, everyone’s getting a cut of this. This water theft started over 10 years ago and I wrote a small story on it when I was working as a reporter but nothing really became of it. Now, those involved in it have graduated from using horse-drawn carts to using Suzuki vans and mechanized pumps and nifty hoses to steal the water.

This isn’t all.

The giant trash can that is my city

Speaking of venerable institutions, there is another one – SZABIST — situated right next to the CJM senior section, on the same barricaded road. Turns out that the barricades were put up also because this institution felt the need – it also has metal detectors now installed for entry to its premises. The venerable institution has several domestic staff who clean the road outside its premises – they do this every morning or so and then dump the kachra right at the far end of the barricaded street – bang opposite our gate and our building in general. It seems that the cleaners cannot see that there is a garbage dump just across the small road, not more than 20-30 metres away.

The students of SZABIST (I hear it ranks right up there just behind IBA and what not) also tend to loiter around, and this is usually right behind our building. They talk loudly – at least some of them do – and they litter (clearly they didn’t go to schools like CJM) and one day I found an empty Murree Brewery Cossack Vodka bottle in a small stretch of garden behind our wall which we are trying to grow as some much-needed green space. The students, many of whom loiter around at times as late as 10 pm – apparently they have ‘evening classes’ – also smoke like chimneys. They throw their cigarette butts – and chips packets and coke bottles and what not – on the road as if it’s their own giant personal trash can, and by the looks of it every morning – it is.

SZABIST is even worse compared to CJM when it comes to parking, for the simple reason that while the latter has only two times during the day when its students come and leave, this institution has students coming and going all day – and till 10 pm at night. As a result, the lanes around it are one gigantic – unregulated parking lot. No concern of any kind is shown towards the local residents – but then why would it since they don’t have to be fee-paying students.

Other than all this, of course, Clifton is a great place to live in Karachi.

Friday, October 22, 2010

cheap-(ass)munks -- what happened to good sense and judgement in covering music in pakistan

what the hell are the silly ass cheapmunks -- two girls apparently who sing popular songs -- only thing is that they are BADDDDDDDDD -- why is the press in pakistan giving them so much coverage -- surely they have better things to cover -- the same goes for channels like city 89 and radio 1 fm -- what the hell happened to good sense and judgment -- the stray dog outside our compound wall could probably sing better than these two

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A fool and his flag

http://tribune.com.pk/story/58846/a-fool-and-his-flag/

Editorial, The Express Tribune, Oct 6, 2010

Monday, September 27, 2010

rehman malik has resigned it seems -- end of the beginning?

rehman malik has resigned -- family already left the country -- several people telling me -- no official confirmation yet

Saturday, August 14, 2010

After 63 years of independence

http://tribune.com.pk/story/39076/after-63-years-of-independence/

Scenes that could have been taken straight from an apocalyptic vision of the world greet us as we mark this Independence Day. Some are almost eerily similar to those the world saw in the days leading up to August 14, 1947, when an entire sea of people began a desperate march across the border to new homes. This time there are no borders to cross. There are no homes to reach either; not even relief camps to move into. But the sense of desperation and misery on the faces of people are much the same. This time, they seek to escape from a natural disaster so terrifying in its scale that even those who lived through the traumatic events of Partition and through catastrophes of various kinds say they have never seen anything like it.

What is sad is that they have seen, through the years, so many other problems too. Most of these have refused to depart. This is unsurprising since they stem from poor governance. This arises from the constant instability and upheaval we have lived with – since the 1950s – with long periods dominated by military rule. The same sense of uncertainty hovers everywhere today, mingling with the awful stench of decay and disease left behind by floodwaters. Its impact on the national psyche is almost as devastating as the calamity we face. There is little joy on the occasion of this dark Independence Day. Only a few flags have gone up on houses and street vendors report their stocks are mostly unsold. Functions to mark the occasion have been cancelled. There can at such a time be little cheer.

But what there can be is thought. If we are to wade out of troubled waters, we need to construct the sense of unity and national coherence which is key to the ability of nations to prosper and bloom. This spirit has eluded us for over six decades; instead we have seen ethnic and lingual strife, sectarian mayhem and civil war. The unrest simmers on. Even as people cry out for food, for water for some kind of relief, politicians exchange jibes and angry words. Accusations are hurled about and attempts made to claim ‘credit’ for rescue work that is a national duty. The government of at least one province has aired a complaint that that the National Disaster Management Authority has been partial in its disbursal and transportation of relief goods, disproportionately favouring the constituency of the prime minister. This is in addition to the veritable complaints coming from those affected with hundreds of thousands yet to be reached at all.

Instead of the song and parade which traditionally mark August 14, we should be thinking this time on how we can overcome these problems. We should ask ourselves, 63 years after becoming an independent country, are we really sovereign? We should ask ourselves why after 63 years of independence we have been unable to come at a definition of national identity that is accepted by a majority of Pakistanis. We should also wonder why is it that our governments and institutions such as the military or the bureaucracy, or even the judiciary, never learn from the past, why our institutions of state have so dramatically failed in improving the lives of citizens in terms of providing them not only material amenities but also government services which are effective and reliable, and safeguard the security of citizens’ lives and properties. Since 9/11 alone, billions of dollars have poured into the country, much of them under a military dictator. Where did these billions go, especially now that we have to go around begging the world asking for money for those stricken by the floods? Why, given that we are among the poorest countries in the world, do we continue to spend more on our military than on schools, colleges, universities, teachers and hospitals, medicines and doctors? Flood or no flood, at the very least, each of us can pledge to do our bit in trying to change all of these so that, say, a decade from now we will not have to ask the same questions.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 14th, 2010.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Questions about the crash

http://tribune.com.pk/story/32446/questions-about-the-crash/

Editorial, The Express Tribune, July 30, 2010

Thursday, July 29, 2010

What went wrong with Airblue Flight ED 202

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/819/what-went-wrong-with-airblue-flight-ed-202/

Monday, July 26, 2010

wikileaks story and our self-censorship

no channel still running the ISI wikileaks story ---- hmmmmmm
even the newspaper websites -- dawn and ET carrying rebuttals -- and the news has nothing except a short report from London saying that the UK govt has no comment on the leaks -- weird this is -- why such self-censorship

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Express Tribune editorial on General Kayani's extension

http://tribune.com.pk/story/30456/democracy-and-the-generals/

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

nestle's silly advertisement

saw this big billboard opposite bbq tonight -- nestle ad - they now call all their juice products 'fruita vitals' -- what the hell does that even mean -- its prob got something to do with the fact that they cannot claim to call it juice (maybe because it isnt) and because of legal reasons are using this kind of silly name -- perhaps a paper should do a story on it -- hey wait-- nestle advertises heavily in the media -- so no stories i bet!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

what a publisher should NEVER do

http://thenews.com.pk/top_story_detail.asp?Id=30139

just not on -- the speech may have been very good and it could have gone as a small news item, if at all, but to devote an half page of your own newspaper -- not good judgment and in poor taste

Friday, July 16, 2010

In search of a starting point

Editorial, The Express Tribune
July 17, 2010

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s statement made during a press conference on Friday, a day after his talks with his Indian counterpart, S M Krishna, that India did not seem “mentally prepared” to discuss all outstanding issues with Pakistan is alarming – and this is putting it mildly. In a detailed briefing to the media, Mr Qureshi said that India could not choose to be selective and discuss only the issues that it wanted to because bilateral ties between the neighbours could improve only if the concerns of both sides were taken into account and deliberated upon. At the risk of sounding hawkish, we would have to agree with the minister because surely the road to better ties is built on the concerns of both sides being discussed and tackled. India cannot expect Pakistan to address all the issues that are dear to India – foremost among them prosecuting those involved in the Mumbai attacks – and then choose to ignore those that are dear to Pakistan, such as Kashmir, Sir Creek, Siachen and so on.
Of course, no one is denying the fact that both countries have squandered billions of rupees over the decades in fighting wars with each other and in building up their armies and nuclear arsenals. That they have done this while having the world’s largest poor population and among the highest rates of infant and child mortality and illiteracy is downright criminal. But the point is that progress on any issue can come only if the two sides at least are agreed on what the starting point is to be. Mr Qureshi’s rather blunt press conference has brought out the inevitable hawks on the other side of the border, notably the BJP whose Yashwant Sinha (and a former foreign minister) has already said that Mr Krishna should have immediately held a counter-press conference in Islamabad to deny Mr Qureshi’s assertions. Sections of the Indian media have also castigated the Indian foreign minister for not denying his Pakistani counterpart’s statement – during the joint press conference on July 15 – where he said that no Pakistani intelligence agency was involved in carrying out attacks on Indian soil.
To see things in context, perhaps one needs to step back and see the larger picture. The Pakistani side is clearly upset because so far it was understood – and this is something that Mr Krishna;s boss, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, has said on record several times — that India is ready to discuss with Pakistan all issues, including the conflict of Kashmir and other boundary-related disputes. India perhaps wants to convey to Pakistan that the ground rules have now changed and that Kashmir will not be on the agenda until and unless tangible action is seen on the LeT men charged with involvement in the Mumbai attacks. In particular New Delhi must be particularly miffed at what it sees as Pakistan’s complete complacency (and perhaps tacit approval) in letting Hafiz Muhammad Saeed roam around freely in the country, and incite his followers for launching a jihad on Indian targets. Islamabad, however, will see this as confusion in the Indian ranks, and hence Mr Qureshi’s specific example in the press conference – which is generally unheard of – where he mentioned that in his meeting the Indian foreign minister was constantly taking instructions from New Delhi.
The Indians, understandably, want action on the LeT men and Pakistan needs to deliver on that score. It also perhaps needs to set a timeframe within which this is to be done. Furthermore, they want progress on trade and culture ties and this perhaps means a de-linking of Kashmir for the time being, something that the hawks on this side of the border will in all likelihood fiercely resist. The bottom line is that both sides need to figure out a starting point. India needs to understand that any further delays in the resumption of the composite dialogue – which includes discussions on all issues, not just those that India wants to talk on – will strengthen the hands of those who don’t want Pakistan and India to live in peace. Pakistan, for its part, needs to realise that it must satisfy India’s concerns on terror especially given the background of 26/11.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Gwadar gets NINE inches of rain -- and counting

Just check the Met office's website -- the press release was as of 11 am -- and it said that Gwadar had received 222 mm of rain so far -- and it wasnt over -- 222 mm is just under NINE inches -- imagine what could or would happen if that comes to Karachi -- which it is supposed to -- better to be safe than sorry -- good luck everyone

Friday, June 4, 2010

Secret meetings

Interesting letter we carried on June 4 -- by an IBA student -- the rest is self-explanatory

Secret meetings between Pakistan & Israel


After years of denying any sort of contact with Israel at the top level, former Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri disclosed in a TV programme (that has yet to be aired) that secret meetings have been going on between the two countries for the past 50 years. He also disclosed that his meeting with the Israeli foreign minister at the time was not the first one.

However, Mr Kasuri said his meeting was the first one which was publicly acknowledged.

It seems quite ironic that ministers only disclose such secrets when they are not in power and on private TV channels or shows. For the record, this show was taped on May 31 at the IBA where I study and will probably be aired on a private TV channel soon. The audience was made up of IBA students.

Published in the Express Tribune, June 4th, 2010.

The will of the people & the Constitution

Editorial -- The Express Tribune -- June 4, 2010

A member of the 17-judge full court hearing petitions challenging the 18th Amendment said on June 2 that the will of the people was above the Constitution and that upholding and protecting that will was the ultimate objective of every organ and functionary of the state.

Quite clearly, the ultimate objective of every organ and functionary of the state, the judiciary included, should indeed be to uphold and protect that will. However, with the utmost of respect, may we say that the Constitution of Pakistan is precisely the embodiment of the will of the people of Pakistan, especially given the manner in which the 1973 Constitution was drawn up and formulated. After becoming president in 1971, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto appointed a 25-member committee comprising members of parliament to draw up a draft of a new constitution for the nation, still reeling from the catastrophe of 1971. On Oct 20, 1972, the draft bill for a new constitution was signed by leaders of all the parliamentary groups. This bill was introduced in the National Assembly on Feb 2, 1973 and on April 19, 1973, it was passed unanimously. The 1973 Constitution, which exists today — in somewhat changed form because of various amendments — came into effect on August 14 of that year.

Further to this, the passage of the 18th amendment was done in a manner that was in accordance with the Constitution, as in it was passed by the required two-thirds majority. In fact, it would be fair to say that this is the only way that the Constitution can be amended – as in by such a majority in parliament – precisely because it represents and embodies the will of the people of Pakistan. Were the present constitution drafted and decreed by, say, a military dictator, or were it mangled and mutilated by one like what General Ziaul Haq during his time with the insertion of the Eighth Amendment, whose purpose was more to shore up his otherwise sham Islamisation claims, it would be fair to say that it did not reflect the will of the people.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Ahmadies under attack

Editorial

The Ahmadis of Pakistan have been under attack for a very long time, though what happened to them and their places of worship on May 28 in Lahore is quite clearly one of their worst days ever. The second amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan in 1974 excluded Ahmadis from the religion followed by the majority of Pakistanis. The amendment made this exclusion legally in that the phrase “for the purposes of the constitution or law” was used when rendering them non-Muslims. Under law, anyone who is a minority is entitled to equal protection and has the right to due process, but as our history and in fact present show all too clearly, Ahmadis have not been given this entitlement.

Friday’s events are more or less an inevitable outcome of the intolerance and bigotry found in Pakistan today – we say ‘today’ because while it began many years ago and was facilitated actively by the state during General Zia’s days, it persists and has perhaps grown stronger than ever. Those who died – the number is at least 70 and could well rise – are going to soon be forgotten and added to the hundreds of minorities who have been killed over the years by extremists and militants. In fact, one cannot help but notice the tragic irony in all of this. Just a week ago, many Pakistanis were outraged – and rightly so – at an offensive page on a social networking website and complained that the west should show some sensitivity to their religious feelings. And what have we done to our own minorities?

We have, in our midst, a group of people so crazed and fanatical in their faith that they see it as an obligation to take up arms and attack a place of worship and kill those present simply because of their beliefs. We can only wonder how many among us will unequivocally speak up and condemn the actions of these militants and how many will label this (undoubtedly right) action as ‘anti-Islam’?

Published in the Express Tribune, May 29th, 2010.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Parliament and the obeying the law

Editorial -- The Express Tribune -- May 15

Many laws, in other countries as well as our own, are unfair. They discriminate against individuals or set in place measures that are aimed to suit only particular purposes – in some cases undoubtedly ulterior ones. But no matter what the case, laws need to be obeyed. Indeed it is all the more important that people in responsible places or aspiring to such positions try and set the right precedent. There are many reasons to disagree with the rule set in place under the regime of Pervez Musharraf that required those contesting elections to parliament to hold a degree. But the fact is that at the time when the members of the present assemblies contested elections it was in place. In April 2008, prior to the presidential election it was brought before the Supreme Court by two JUI-F legislators and consequently struck down by a seven-member bench headed by then chief justice Abdul Hameed Dogar.
As far as Jamshed Dasti’s case is concerned, he resigned after it became clear to a Supreme Court bench hearing a petition challenging the authenticity of his degree that he was not conversant as a graduate should be. The complication arises because once he resigned he was again given the ticket — this time on the grounds apparently that the graduation condition was no longer required. In comes the prime minister who the other day campaigned for the much-maligned former legislator and now bye-election candidate on a seat from Muzaffargarh. This was picked up in the media and the prime minister came in for strong criticism for campaigning on behalf of a man who had broken the law. In response, on May 13 the prime minister spoke about this in the National Assembly suggesting that the media was trying to malign parliament by saying that a majority of its members have degrees which have been purchased. He also said — and rightly so — that the graduation condition was not a requirement in any industrialised country or indeed anywhere else in the rest of the world and that Dasti has been approved by the Election Commission as a candidate.

We like to respectfully submit that the issue is not whether the graduation condition is a necessary one or not. For the record, it is unnecessary and counter-productive because it immediately disqualifies the bulk of Pakistanis from contesting a parliamentary election and purely on grounds that the lack a certain academic qualification. This in fact runs counter to the spirit of the constitution and was deemed as such by the Supreme Court way back in 2008 — so there really should be little argument about it. The issue, rather, is of the elected leader of parliament publicly meeting and campaigning for an individual who by his own admission broke a law to contest an election. That is something that no body, not even the prime minister, can really defend because by doing so would mean that what Dasti did in forging his degree was the right thing to have done. And even with a law that made little sense, and was put in place at the whims of a military dictator, violating it when the purpose was to become a member of parliament is not something that can be condoned.

In this context, the media is not targeting legislators for having fake degrees but rather raising a very important issue, and that relates to the matter of those running for public office abiding by election rules. This means that even though the law may not be in force now, all those members of parliament who violated it at the time that it was in operation should be held accountable before a court of law. This should be seen as no different than prosecuting those who defraud the general public by willful misrepresentation or those who use deception to gain access to state resources. After all, given the increased lawlessness we see in our country, it is surely important for those holding top positions to do all they can to combat it by themselves ensuring they abide by the law, regardless of whether or not they see it as just.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The curious case of Faisal Shahzad

Editorial --- The Express Tribune -- May 6

Why is it that when it comes to terrorism, all roads – or most of them anyway – lead to Pakistan? As long as the link to the bombing attempt at New York’s Times Square had come through vitriolic messages conveyed by the Taliban over YouTube it had been possible to convince ourselves that these were fabricated.

The dramatic arrest on May 3 of Faisal Shahzad from an Emirates flight bound for Dubai from New York, however, makes such denial impossible. Of course, we still will have the naysayers who will say that Shahzad is an American (he only recently became one) and not a Pakistani (he certainly lived much of his life in Pakistan) and that how could someone from such an educated and ‘good’ family be involved in something like this (Osama bin Laden’s family in Saudi Arabia is among the wealthiest in the world while Ayman Al Zawahiri’s father was a professor and he is a trilingual qualified surgeon).

The investigation that will follow the arrest of a 30-year-old naturalised US national, from an affluent Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa family, may throw some light on his links and how he was lured into leaving a truck, loaded with enough material to make a crude but large bomb, in the middle of New York’s Times Square. So far Shahzad has said that he was acting alone but investigators are likely to discount that theory.

According to one report that quotes details of the charges filed against him in a US federal court, he has admitted to receiving training in Waziristan, and if true, it would corroborate a claim by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that it was behind the failed bombing attempt. The fact that the material in the truck failed to explode is perhaps the only silver lining of this whole episode. However, it does not bode well for the large Pakistani community in North America.

While New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s warning that any attacks against Pakistani-Americans or Muslims will not be tolerated is welcome and timely, it is unlikely to deter those Americans who will want revenge and see Faisal Shahzad as another Mohammad Ata in the making. Shahzad obviously did not realise that his own actions will create immense problems for a community that is known more for its excellent doctors and philanthropists than for breeding terorrists.

But terrorists is how Pakistani-Americans may be seen by many Americans now. The Foreign Office has said that Pakistan will cooperate fully in the investigation with the Americans. This is good because nitpicking whether the man is a Pakistani or not will not achieve anything and is a reflection of the isolationist mindset that many in this country have when it comes to relations between the west and Muslims. The chief military spokesman has already said on record that it is unclear whether the TTP even has the “reach” to carry out an attack inside the US.

What is the reason for making such a statement when the TTP chief himself made this statement just a couple of days ago? Even if, for the sake of argument, Shahzad was acting on his own, he has admitted to receiving training in Waziristan, where he reportedly met Qari Hussain Mehsud. The world is a small place and people know the history of the Taliban and how they were created. If it is proven — or even perceived by the US — that the TTP is involved in this failed bombing attempt, then the case for a military operation in North Waziristan becomes all the more stronger.

So by disputing the TTP link, is ISPR trying to ward off such an eventuality? Right now, the best strategy for the government of Pakistan — and the institutions that come under it — would be to aid the investigation and help find any accomplices so that the rest of the world does not see even an iota of prevarication. The much-hyped but muchneglected registration of madrassahs should be revisited as should be a previous failed attempt to monitor sermons given by prayer leaders in our mosques. And as a society, we all need to ask ourselves what it is that makes us get involved in such things.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A cover-up of epic proportions

Editorial -- The Express Tribune

May 05, 2010


Some things in our country never seem to change. Certain sections of the establishment have, for decades, been accustomed to getting away with all kinds of misdeeds. The tradition continues without check. According to reports in two national newspapers, the three-member committee formed by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to probe the death of Benazir Bhutto has held the police responsible for hosing down the murder site — the one action that most effectively thwarted further investigation in the case.
The finding by the committee means that former chief of Military Intelligence Maj-Gen Nadeem Ijaz has been let off the hook. It is not insignificant that the role of the city police officer (CPO) of Rawalpindi at the time, Saud Aziz, in the hosing down of the crime scene had been mentioned in great detail in the UN Commission’s report on Bhutto’s assassination. As a result of the probe’s findings, it came to light that the police officer had, according to sources (whom the Commission said had spoken to it), been directed by Major-General Ijaz, to ensure that the crime scene was hosed down.
But the prime minister’s committee, headed by the cabinet secretary and including a two-star general, has held that this was not the case and that there was no outside influence on the decision to wash the crime scene. So what do we have before ourselves, if not the stench of a massive cover-up? Surely, the three gentlemen who sat on the committee would know that experience and history would both suggest that a police official could not have in his right mind taken such a decision all on his own, especially when the scene was where a political leader of the stature of Benazir Bhutto had just been assassinated.
And since CPO Aziz has not used insanity in his defence, the only conclusion that we can come up with is that things are at work which prevent the real power behind the decision to hose down the crime scene from being exposed. The result: a scapegoat, a man who has now taken the fall, it seems, for a general. In all of this, we would like to ask the committee on what grounds has the assertion made in the UN Commission’s report been set aside?
Why wasn’t any effort made to probe the matter in reference to the ‘sources’ mentioned in the UN report, who told the Commission that CPO Aziz had in fact been directed by a higher military authority to do what he now claims he did on his own. Given the important nature of the issue at hand, perhaps we should quote a few sentences from the UN report directly: “Sources informed the Commission that CPO Saud Aziz did not act independently in deciding to hose down the crime scene.
One source, speaking on the basis of anonymity, stated that CPO Saud Aziz had confided in him that he had received a call from Army Headquarters instructing him to order the hosing down of the crime
scene. Another source, also speaking on the basis of anonymity, said that the CPO was ordered to hose down the scene by Major-General Ijaz, then Director-General of MI. Others, including three police officials, told the Commission that CPO Saud Aziz did not act independently and that ’everyone knows’ who ordered the hosing down.”

Did the committee examine in any detail the background to the actual day of the assassination, as in the threats received by the former prime minister and the level of security provided to her? Doing so would have perhaps given a context to the immediate hosing down of the crime scene because that one act destroyed most of the evidence which would have been required to carry out a thorough investigation.

Also, what about the circumstantial evidence regarding the autopsy which should have been carried out under the law but which the doctor in charge was ordered not to — by someone, according to the UN Commission report, on the doctor’s mobile phone. There are many questions and very few answers.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Ajmal Kasab verdict & after

Editorial -- The Express Tribune -- May 4

Ajmal Kasab’s conviction on all 86 charges related to the Mumbai attacks brought against him by the Government of India before a special court was a foregone conclusion. We say this given the reams of evidence against him, not least the photographs of him walking through the main concourse of Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus with an automatic weapon in hand. All the other attackers were killed by Indian security forces and two Indian Muslims who were tried as co-accused have been acquitted by the court. While we unequivocally welcome the guilty verdict for someone who can be best described as a mass murderer, it serves little purpose for India to gloat over it and again point a finger at Pakistan. This is precisely what we make of Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram’s statement right after the verdict when he said that it was “a message to Pakistan that they should not export terror to India”. This clearly suggests that New Delhi (or at least sections of the Indian government) is convinced that Pakistan was involved in the attacks at some sort of official level.

For its own part, the best convincing that Pakistan can do is if it tries in earnest the seven Laskhar-i-Taiba (LeT) men that it has arrested for involvement in the Mumbai attacks. These include the LeT’s operations chief, Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi, and several other operatives, who were arrested from outside Muzaffarabad in December 2008. However, it wasn’t till November 2009 when charges were formally made against the seven men in an anti-terrorist court in Rawalpindi. Since then, the case for the prosecution has gone nowhere. In January of this year, Lakhvi sought a transfer of his case and later filed a plea for acquittal. While both were rejected, no movement has been seen as far as presenting any evidence against the men is concerned. Pakistan needs to expedite resolution of the case so that the rest of the world can begin to believe it when it says it will prosecute any Pakistani involved in the Mumbai attacks.

A letter from Bajaur

I wrote this article some time back about the post-operation situation
in Bajaur Agency and sent it to two English dailies but they did not
publish it for unknown reasons. When I came to know about the launch
of your new daily "The Express Tribune", I decided to resend the
article with latest updates. If you dont print this article, it is
okay. I can understand your limitations and also have not pinned any
hopes on you. I have only written this article in an attempt to reach
to the concerned Pakistanis who may realize that "We are also
Pakistanis".
(I had a mobile phone before the operation but since the mobile
services have been cut-off for the last 20 months, my only contact is
through email from net cafe whenever I come to Munda or Timergara
bazar).
Thanks.
Sher Zaman Khan Alizai, Bajour Agency

A so-called military operation is going on in Bajour Agency for the
last one and a half year... We call it "so-called" because it has only
served to target the civilians...
Even hostile forces dont commit the atrocities in occupied lands that
our own army has committed in Bajour Agency. Artillery and mortar
shelling has resulted in hundreds if not thousands of civilian deaths.
Some families have been completely eliminated. I personally know 3-4
families who have lost 7 or 8 persons each to this shelling. The
airforce jets and gunship choppers hit and destroy anything with
pin-point accuracy except the militant positions. The general public
feeling that has emanated from this whole operation is that the
military and the militants are one and the same. They are just playing
a game with each other as the only losers in this battle are the
non-combatants. If the military's daily claims of militant deaths has
to be believed, more than 3000 militants have been killed in the 20
months of operation. However, on the ground nobody can prove the
deaths of more than a mere few. The security forces have destroyed
more than 3000 houses and shops on the Khar Nawagai road from
Sadiqabad to Zor Bandar. Hundreds of buildings in others areas have
also been raised to the ground. The once-residents of these area are
living in Jalozai and Kaccha-Garhi refugee camps in pathetic
conditions for the last 16 months. There are obvious double standards
when it comes to treatment of IDPs from tribal areas compared to Swat
IDPs. The Swat IDPs were treated far better and were sent back to
their homes in just 2-3 months while tribals IDPs have been left like
step-children. The students from Swat were given special fee
concessions by the colleges / universities while tribal students have
been neglected although tribal people have been affected for much
longer time and much more severely than Swat IDPs. We are happy that
the Swatis got what they got but why are we not treated the same way.
Are we from some other country or are some 2nd or 3rd grade
Pakistanis.
Had all these pains resulted in peace and eradication of militancy
from the area, the people would have accepted this as a horror episode
and restarted their lives. Alas! this is not the case. The militant
activities still continue. At night especially, it is the militants
who rule throughout Bajaur except the main GT Road, FC fort and Civil
Colony complexes. The local civil administration employees e.g
Khasadars, health staff, education staff etc are the most affected
because the militants have blown up their houses, kidnapped and killed
them or their family members.
The military gave extreme hype to the capturing of Damadola, Sewai and
Badan areas of Tehsil Mamund. However, the locals know that all major
militant commanders were given a safe exit for unknown reasons. The
militants surrendering to security forces is yet another drama. The
surrendering militants only have to submit an AK-47 rifle and then
they are allowed to go scot-free. None is intorrogated for the
atrocities they committed against the people of the area. The Maliks
and Jirgas that give surety for the surrendering militants to the
authorities are themselves not so powerful to control them and stop
them from indulging in mischiefs again. Even children in Bajour know
today that Maulvi Faqir Muhammad is safe and sound alongwith his top
commanders Sheena, Wali-Rahman and Abdullah in the "Enzari" village
only a few kilometers away from the military's main operational base
in Loi-Sam. Commander Pervez is active from his hideouts in Dhoda
village of Tehsil Nawagai, while Qari ZiaurRehman is operating from
Mattak village of Charmang. The military also knows about them but
dont target them. On the civilian front, however, the military has
huge successes to its credit. A collateral damage consisting of
hundreds of civilians, destruction of thousands of residential and
commercial buildings, barrening of thousands of acres of agricultural
fields and orchards and conversion of nearly 1 million Bajouris into
Psychic patients are the only achievements of the military operation.
Target killing of neutral or pro-govt tribal elders is almost a daily
routine. Over 170 tribal elders have been target-killed in the past
8-10 months. Scores of schools have been blown up in the areas which
the army claims to have cleared. Half a dozen schools have been blown
up just in the last fortnight. The local media journalists also dont
depict the true picture either due to fear of both parties or due to
perks received from govt.
Where should we, the tribesmen, go in these circumstances. We see no
ray of hope. The powerful media, the independent judiciary, the civil
society nobody listens to our voices.
Then the people ask why have these people (tribals) have gone mad and
why are they killing our children in Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Lahore.
It is the same innocence with which Americans asked the world after
9/11 that "Why do they hate us"? Although I am not trying to justify
the killings of civilians in Peshawar, Punjab or elsewhere. But the
fact is that the tribesmen have been cornered and ignored to an extent
that anything can be expected from them. We hate the militants from
the core of our heart but our passions for Pakistan are also drying up
with each passing day. I know it sounds unpatriotic to say this but if
the Pakistanis have nothing to offer to us and if we have to be slaves
forever then why not choose someone else for a master; the Americans
or the Indians or the likes. So that when we fight them in response,
we can die as martyrs and we dont feel the pain of being killed by our
own brothers.

Sher Zaman Khan Alizai, Bajour Agency.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The killing of Khalid Khawaja

Editorial -- The Express Tribune - May 2

Who, or rather, what was Khalid Khawaja? If we get the answer to that we may get some idea of who his killers are. On the face of it, the Asian Tigers, as a terrorist organisation, has never been heard of till now. Khawaja went missing in March as he, Col (retd) Amir Sultan Tarar (also known as Colonel Imam) and a reputed British documentary filmmaker were on their way to meet senior members of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan in North Waziristan.

Several reports suggest that he was on his way to meet Waliur Rahman Mehsud – the TTP’s purported number two – and Sirajuddin Haqqani, who because of his father’s reported ill health, is the de facto head of the Haqqani network. When the three went missing it was said that they were on their way to meet people in connection with a documentary. However, now it turns out that the purpose of their trip was something far more substantial.

And before we explore that further, perhaps we need to take a closer look at Khalid Khawaja — who he was, and what he did. He quit the air force many years ago. Later, he went and fought alongside the mujahideen in Afghanistan and developed close relations with much of their leadership. Of late, he was in the forefront of the missing persons issue, working closely with Amina Masood Janjua, whose husband went missing in 2005 and who has been an outspoken voice on this matter.

When Mullah Baradar was arrested by Pakistani intelligence some months ago, it was Khawaja who filed a petition in court and managed to get an order blocking the Afghan Taliban leader’s extradition out of Pakistan. Reports that he was in fact captured by unknown elements on his way to North Waziristan were confirmed when a videotape was released recently in which Khawaja made some startling revelations.

However, upon seeing the video one could tell that some, if not most, of what he was saying was under duress. This especially showed when he said that he was an agent for the ISI as well as the CIA and that he was the one who had contacted the Ghazi brothers – the leaders of Lal Masjid – and convinced the elder one to come out in a burqa, only to be caught by security forces.

He also said that most jihadi leaders in the country – such as Maulana Masood Azhar and Fazlur Rahman Khalil who were both mentioned by name – were on the payroll of the ISI and had free rein to collect funds throughout the country, notwithstanding either 9/11 or 26/11. He also said that he had been sent to North Waziristan this time by two former ISI officers and this led some to believe that he may have been on his way to broker a deal with the TTP.

Once it became clear that he had in fact been kidnapped, a spokesman for the TTP said that the organisation was not privy to this at all and was in fact working for the release of the men. The TTP also said that Colonel Imam was widely-respected among the Taliban for the work he had done when he was active in Afghanistan and helped raised their militia to fight off the other Afghan factions. Given this background and context, one can only wonder who is behind Khalid Khawaja’s murder.

Are the ‘Asian Tigers’, as is now being put forth by some observers, an amalgamation of a splinter of the Punjabi jihadi/Taliban outfits, who were somehow unhappy with what Khawaja was doing? And if this was indeed the case, what compelled them to kidnap him and then execute him? Wasn’t he one of the main cheerleaders for the Taliban in the country, one who fought cases on their behalf and one who rallied to their defence? Or is there something more to this whole sordid affair? Who will give us the answers to this?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Taking the fall for a general

Editorial -- The Express Tribune -- May 1

The joint investigation team looking into the assassination of Benazir Bhutto has heard quite a different version of events than that told to the UN commission. The city police officer at the time of the murder has now denied he ever received a phone call from the then head of Military Intelligence General Nadeem Ijaz, that he was ever issued instructions to hose down the site of the crime or that he did so for any reason other than his own ‘negligence’.

This version of events from Saud Aziz means that the much-touted investigation against a serving general is effectively over even before it really began. A day earlier, Gen. Ijaz had denied all charges against him, calling them “fabricated”. The question of what is fact and what is fiction becomes even more convoluted than before. Those close to CPO Aziz imply he has little choice but to be Gen. Ijaz’s fall guy. The pressure that would make a senior civilian officer take the blame so that a senior military officer gets off easy is all too understandable and only to be expected in a nation where the military has tended to dominate just about everything.

The major casualty in all this is, of course, the truth. It now seems even less likely that we will ever get to the bottom of what happened that day at Liaquat Bagh, and during the days that preceded the killing. The UN report had thrown up some interesting facts and touched on other angles that needed to be explored. But all that is unlikely to happen now with a civilian apparently taking the fall for a general. Those standing on the sidelines and observing all this will wonder who is telling the truth — the UN or General Ijaz and CPO Aziz?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

editing editorial pages

editing the editorial pages of a newspaper can be a tricky job at time -- but its something that one should take with a bit of humour -- if you dont do that then you wont be able to do your job properly -- and sometimes you will make changes to an article that will be misconstrued or misunderstood -- or sometimes it will simply be a difference of opinion -- the worst thing would be though if you lost a good writer because of that

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What is an Indian FM channel doing in Karachi???!!

yes you read it right -- last night while driving to do an errand i turned on the radio and came across an FM channel where the host was talking in what appeared to be Gujarati -- initially i thought it was perhaps a new channel in gujarati -- apna karachi 107 FM has a segment in Gujarati i believe as well so perhaps someone took the initiative to cater to karachi's sizeable gujarati-speaking population. However, this morning again, as I was checking various FM channels, I came across the same one -- 93.5 FM -- with a man and a woman both talking in a mixture of what seemed to be urdu, English and Gujarati -- the songs were all indian but that doesnt necessarily mean that the channel would be indian because many pakistani FM channels also air Indian songs -- but then came an ad for Bisleri which is India's leading mineral water provider -- Bisleri is not sold in Pakistan so the ad couldnt be for Karachi -- and then it made sense -- this was clearly an FM channel coming from the other side that the border -- Sindh borders Gujarat and hence the Gujarati-speaking RJs -- then i did some googling and found that Ahmedabad has a channel whose frequency is FM 93.5 -- the distance between Ahmedabad and Karachi (as the crow flies) is around 360 miles -- Rajkot, also in Gujarat state, has a channel whose frequency is also 93.5 FM and it is closer to the Pakistan border -- but the distance between Karachi and Rajkot (which adjacent Jamnagar and not too far from the Rann of Kutch) would be still a formidable 230 miles or so -- formidable for FM radio waves to travel -- so does India have boosters near the border -- because till a few days ago this FM channel wasnt available in Karachi -- is this an accident or deliberate -- remember the Azm-e-Nau exercise is going on right now - very close to the border with Rajasthan in Khairpur Tamewali (which is in the Cholistan desert) -- while i dont mind another channel to listen to, and one with a decidedly different sound, i wonder what PEMRA has to say about this -- does remind me just how (physically) close we are to India

Saturday, April 17, 2010

wtf!!!!!

at work today -- we make two days pages on sat which means four pages in all -- a colleague was talking of an impending visit to the US, via dubai and to LAX non-stop -- wanted to ask her how long the flight would be -- and what do i do? i said: "acha, so how many words?" --

The people need to know the truth

Editorial -- Express Tribune -- April 18


Benazir Bhutto’s death was not the result of a few, frenzied militants acting on their own. There seems to be a very real conspiracy behind the blast that killed her. There was evil afoot at every stage. It was aimed at ensuring the country’s most significant political leader would not return alive from her last outing at Liaquat Bagh. By denying Ms Bhutto adequate security, by failing to direct provincial authorities to ensure it was offered to her, former president Pervez Musahrraf at the very least connived and conspired in this. In many ways he is responsible for the fact that she is not amongst us today.

In his comments on the report which he made a day after its release, President Asif Ali Zardari spoke of being vindicated; of the PPP’s apprehensions regarding the murder being upheld. Some of what the report says certainly answers questions about why the government led by Benazir’s party has struggled to make headway in the investigation. It would appear that quarters that wield far more influence than governments made up of civilians may be involved at some level. The knowledge that we are helpless against them is disquieting. It is a reminder of the kind of state we live in and the limitations that in so many ways bind and tie the hands of democratic governments.

The UN report has drawn up some telling conclusions as to the henchmen who executed the plan. The city police officer (presumably for Rawalpindi, which is where the tragedy occurred), Saud Aziz, quite evidently played a prominent role in ensuring that the whole truth could never come out. Indeed, he acted in a way precisely diametrical to that expected of a key investigator, working to conceal key facts rather than to uncover them. The report says he ensured doctors did not carry out a post-mortem – and issued the order (which was hotly-contested at that time by the media as well) to hose down the crime scene. This effectively destroyed any hope that investigators or forensics would have of retrieving any meaningful evidence from the spot of the assassination. There is more evidence that points to a plan worked out at the highest levels; of the involvement of elements too powerful to touch. Rather shockingly the report suggests Mr Aziz’s orders regarding the scene of the crime came from military headquarters and the man who at the time headed military intelligence.

The trail that led up to the assassination becomes clearer. Why would such persons concern themselves with any kind of cover up if they were not somehow a party to what came before. We are all aware of just how intricately orchestrated the murder was, with multiple elements apparently in place to ensure she had no chance of survival. The fact that Ms Bhutto escaped unhurt from a previous attempt to kill her in Karachi may have made those out to get her still more determined. We know too that planning and implementation at this level is something that only a limited number of persons or organizations are capable of. This information in itself exonerates those at whom fingers have been pointed, including Asif Ali Zardari himself. Indeed the UN quite plainly states he or other members of the PPP were not involved, even if there was a failure by them too to provide their leader adequate security. The role of the intelligence agencies, in directing suspicion a certain way and in churning out and then circulating dubious stories about phone calls from Dubai fits in with the broader picture drawn up in the shocking report.

Following its release, Mr Zardari has again emphasized that his party does not seek revenge. While that may be a decision that he is making also in his capacity as Ms Bhutto’s husband, the fact is that the people of Pakistan deserve to know better. They deserve to know the truth – and it really is up to this government and parliament (with the 18th amendment passed now and its supremacy ensured) to ensure that they do.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

writers that you may get to read

the first 4 days the op-ed pages have had the following writers: Farzana Versey, Salman Masood, Sami Shah, Ayesha Siddiqa, Quatrina Hosain, Osman Samiuddin, George Fulton, Mubasher Lucman, Omar Bilal Akhtar, Pervez Tahir, Aaker Patel, Marvi Memon,
Amina Jilani, Kamran Shahid, Khalid Aziz, Dr Rubina Saigol, Fasi Zaka, Dr Meekal Ahmed, Faiza S Khan, Wajahat S Khan, and Feryal Gauhar -- the rest of the week you can expect to read Fahd Hussain, Naveen Naqvi, Dr Asad Zaman, Zafar Hilaly, Sanaullah Baloch, Mikail Lotia, Shandana Minhas, Khusro Mumtaz, Mohd Waseem, Rasul Baksh Rais, Ayesha Ijaz Khan, Absar Alam, Talat Hussain, Ahmed Rafay Alam, Munizae Jahangir, Javed Ch, Abbas Athar, Farhat Taj, Shahid Amin and soon Omar A Khan -- and these are all regulars -- doesnt include unsolicited articles -- and others that may be approached in the near future or are being approached

All's well that ends well

Editorial -- Express Tribune -- April 14


Pakistanis and Indians love a good wedding, especially when it involves famous people who also happen to make a pretty couple. Rational and forward-looking people on both sides of the border will be happy and relieved that after the initial fiasco and controversy Shoaib Malik and Sania Mirza have managed to tie the knot. This, by all accounts, is a happy end to what some had feared would become a long, drawn-out matter. Was Shoaib already married and if not then what was Ayesha Siddiqui doing insisting that he was? Was he duped into marrying a girl who was not the one he said he had met over the internet? And if that was the case, could he be that gullible?

Then came charges that he had defrauded Ms Siddiqui, after which Indian police quizzed him and took his passport into their possession. All this happened until a few days before their marriage on April 12, and that left many people wondering what would eventually happen. While the Pakistani and Indian media focused on this – a bit too much some would say – behind the scenes a deal was more or less made. An announcement was made that Shoaib Malik had divorced Ayesha Siddiqui (one Indian newspaper also claimed that a hefty settlement had been agreed upon) and he was then free to marry Sania Mirza.

Now that the two are united in holy matrimony it would be good if people let them be. To rue her choice and lament about why she couldn’t have found a boy in India is as bad and jingoistic as saying that she is a ‘qaum ki bahu’. She is neither. Sania Mirza is simply Shoaib Malik’s wife, and he her husband. We wish them a long and happy married life.

A new agenda for South Asia

Editorial -- Express Tribune -- April 14


The new goodwill in Washington between Pakistan and its hosts has been becoming increasingly obvious by the day. In a meeting with visiting Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and his delegation US President Barack Obama has made some fairly clear-cut assurances that America has no intention of grabbing Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and trusts its ability to safeguard it. The comments are especially relevant in the face of past US warnings that the Taliban were seeking to seize weapons and were indeed desperate to obtain a nuclear device.

The very possibility of this conjures up visions that are too awful even to contemplate. However, as the US president himself said so to Prime Minister Gilani, Pakistan’s nuclear facilities are ‘immaculately well guarded’. Of course differences remain. During the most recent round of talks the most significant ones concerned Pakistan’s opposition to a ban on new weapon production. The reasons cited for this by Prime Minister Gilani seem logical, only if it reflects Islamabad’s quest for parity with a much more powerful neighbour. And while one can understand that compulsion given Pakistan’s history with India, it may well be worth pointing out here that both countries have between them a major chunk of the world’s poor.

The bulk of both their populations – and this is something we both need to accept – is poor, malnourished, vulnerable to all kinds of diseases and finds it difficult just to find two square meals a day. The point being made here is that while demanding a civilian nuclear energy deal is all well and good, having nuclear energy will not eliminate poverty in Pakistan and neither will it help feed and house the millions who live below the poverty line. To that end, Pakistan – and indeed India – both need to sort out matters themselves and realize that an arms race is in nobody’s interest. If America can help in this then it will be seen by the people of the subcontinent in somewhat positive light.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A new name for a province

Editorial -- Express Tribune -- April 13

The deaths of at least five people in Abbotabad on Monday after protests against the NWFP’s name-change turned violent are most tragic and serve to remind us just how emotional this whole issue is. The lives were lost after police tried to break up protests which had been continuing in the city since the passage of the 18th amendment in the National Assembly late last week. The protesters are part of a movement that seeks to create a new province from NWFP’s Hazara district on linguistic grounds and bases its argument along the same lines as the one that enabled the province to get a new name Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. That said, it is worth pointing out that living in a democracy often means having to accept the views of the majority and this is precisely what has happened in the case of the people of Hazara vis-a-vis the ANP’s successful challenge to the province’s existing – colonial – name. It also means that one can express divergent views but within the boundaries of the constitution and preferably through one’s elected representatives. In that context, one may ask that why wasn’t this disagreement or dissension channelled through Hazara’s MNAs and MPAs when discussions were going on to draw up the draft of the 18th amendment?
We would like to counsel caution and restraint on all sides for now given that the political and administrative centre of the province happens to be in a Pashto speaking area. The police action – which the ANP will inevitably say was unavoidable – is only going to inflame passions further and for that very reason the onus lies on the provincial government to direct the law-enforcement agencies and the local administration in Abbotabad to proactively take steps to defuse the tension. As for the protesters, they need to understand that it would be best if they were to make their point through parliament not in the street.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

new paper coming out on april 12

the new paper that i work for is finally coming out tomorrow (April 12) -- initially in Karachi -- and then in Lahore and Islamabad -- the first day we have Ayesha Siddiqa plus the Pakistan Cricinfo editor, a former founder member of Blackfish, a published author of a book on India and Pakistan and being Muslim, a television host and someone who writes regularly in the NYT -- there is also Zahoor, arguably Pakistan's best political cartoonist

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Mysterious plane spotted at Karachi airport


Yesterday had to make a quick dash to Lahore -- Took a PIA flight at 3 pm -- the plane reversed from the gate and was slowly taxiing to the beginning of the runway -- and i have a habit of looking out of the window as much as i can -- and i saw one of the PAF sheds on one side -- you can tell from its camouflage colours -- and in front of it were three unmarked jets -- with very few windows -- they did not have any tail design or colour -- one however had a blue and red marking on the fuesalage and it said 'meridian' -- saw the same plane when i got back to Karachi later that night. The plane that I saw is kind of identical to the one shown in the picture here. The issue is that it's not a military plane but a private one and hence the question arises that what is it doing at Karachi airport. (Juxtapose this with a well-researched and detailed report by Jeremy Scahill that appeared in The Nation in November 2009 of the presence of US private contractors in Karachi hired by the US government to keep track of the Taliban -- the story came in the American magazine The Nation and was never denied by Washington).

Did a Google check right now and some other research and it turns out that the plane which said 'Meridian' is owned by Meridian Airways, a charter company based in Accra, Ghana and Ostend, Belgium (odd given the two very different geographical locations). Also that its name used to Air Charter Express and that it had changed its name to Meridian recently. More digging revealed that the company flies for the British Ministry of Defence and is engaged in flying to Afghanistan and that one of the airports that is used is RAF Lyneham. Pictures on planespotting websites showed its fleet of planes at airports in Spain, Germany and the Netherlands.
The plane looked very similar to other aircraft that have appeared in news stories every now and then on the whole so-called 'rendition' programme in which the CIA uses private aircraft to ferry prisoners to various countries where they are then interrogated so that US laws regarding prisoners and torture don't have any bearing. Since the UK and the US are both engaged in Afghanistan and it is known -- at least to journalists who are interested in this region -- that Karachi is often used as a port where supplies are sent to the western armies in Afghanistan, the presence of such a plane at Karachi airport needs some investigation. Who came on it? What was it being used for? And how many such planes use Karachi airport in a week? A month? We are taxpayers and our taxes go to pay for installations such as Karachi airport and for the salaries of the air traffic controllers who interact and guide these planes to land -- surely we need to know --who is going to tell us this?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Spoken like a president

Editorial -- Express Tribune (coming out soon in the market)


President Asif Ali Zardari was quite on the spot when he said during a charged speech in Naudero over the weekend that the 18th amendment would prove to be a milestone in the country’s history. Speaking on the occasion of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s 31st death anniversary, the president said that the first two years of the PPP-led government had been spent “strengthening democracy and institutions”. A day prior to this, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani had also said pretty much the same thing – and one would wholeheartedly agree with the assessment of both these men. The 18th amendment, when passed, would be arguably one of the most important amendments to the Constitution of 1973 in that it would hopefully make parliament and its leader -- the prime minister -- the main source of authority and power. It will do away with the infamous Article 58 (2)(b) which has been used by military dictators in the past to dissolve parliament and also put in place a mechanism for appointing judges to the Supreme Court in a manner that will hopefully avoid the kind of confrontation that happened not too long ago between the judiciary and the executive. As for strengthening institutions and the federation, there can be really no debate on that given that one of the key actions will end up in the elimination of the concurrent list, which has been a long-standing demand of the smaller provinces. That alone, to some extent, will go some way towards strengthening the federation and will allow the provinces greater control over affairs of governance and state that should have been in any case been theirs to look after.

Having said this, an impartial look at the performance of the PPP-led government would suggest that the president as well as the prime minister have a lot to do in the months ahead and cannot afford to rest on the laurel of pushing through this historic piece of legislation. For instance, while the constitution does quite clearly mention that the president has immunity from prosecution in a court of law during the time that he is president, the issue has cropped up because of the deal that Mr Zardari and his late wife brokered with General Pervez Musharraf vis-à-vis the infamous National Reconciliation Ordinance. And this would not have been necessary had the president not had several criminal cases registered against him for alleged acts of corruption committed when Ms Bhutto was prime minister. In that context, it would be fair to say that to a great extent Mr Zardari’s image/reputation has not improved over time and allegations of corruption, nepotism and favouritism have plagued this government.

Perhaps the passage of the proposed 18th amendment will help in setting things right for the president in that once implemented it will end up curtailing the powers of the president and make his position a figurehead symbol – as mandated/envisaged in the 1973 Constitution. So for him to acquiesce – and gracefully at that – in what to some may seem the emasculation of the president can only mean that perhaps Mr Zardari has matured as far as politics in concerned. Before concluding we would like to raise one particular – and quite important – point with reference to the planned constitutional changes. This relates to the constitutional provision which requires that the head of state be a Muslim – an outcome when the words ‘Islamic Republic of’ were added to the country’s name. This requirement is patently unfair and discriminatory towards the millions of non-Muslims who are citizens of this country, and who by the Constitution’s own provisions are entitled to equal protection/treatment in the eyes of the law. It would be good for the nation if this particular contradiction was also addressed and resolved as a result of the 18th amendment.

when 'dysfunctional' is not dysfunctional

why in the world are some pakistani newspapers continuing to use 'dysfunctional' to describe the AJK chief justice -- dont they know what it means - if the official communication suspending him used that term then it needs to be put in single quotes -- surely someone in the newsrooms of these newspapers should know that the word 'dysfunctional' is not used in that sense -- wonder what will readers think of the newspaper itself when they see something like this

Friday, April 2, 2010

The power of Facebook

Call it boredom or living the life of a loser but yesterday I decided to play an April Fool's prank on facebook -- just to see the reaction that it would get -- a good joke is always one which people will or should fall for, and hence believability is an issue -- with rumours of late alleging that I am about to switch jobs I thought what better to say just that -- so the facebook status page said that i had decided to 'call it a day' and to 'take the other offer' -- the prank lasted for a few hours, well from early afternoon till late evening when i told people who kept asking me where i was heading to and why i had left to note today's date -- several phone calls and sms's were received and a couple of people said that they had heard i was leaving -- some at work also got calls asking them why i had resigned

hence the title of the posting is quite apt