Articles on this Page
- 09/24/18--05:34: _Is Pakistan ready t...
- 10/04/18--04:21: _When blood becomes ...
- 10/20/18--23:00: _The Naya Pakistan H...
- 10/25/18--05:04: _To squat or not to ...
- 10/26/18--00:40: _Fictitious yet fami...
- 11/05/18--03:57: _Dear private school...
- 11/08/18--02:36: _Life after the Brit...
- 11/13/18--04:11: _One would expect dh...
- 11/20/18--22:00: _Understanding encro...
- 11/23/18--03:23: _Dhaba vs fine dinin...
- 11/24/18--22:00: _Travelling the worl...
- 11/30/18--02:20: _Suhai Aziz Talpur: ...
- 12/04/18--01:01: _The sea is calling:...
- 12/04/18--01:53: _Perhaps pick anothe...
- 12/10/18--02:10: _In conversation wit...
- 12/13/18--04:20: _“Nothing changes he...
- 12/14/18--23:17: _While Balochistan’s...
- 12/18/18--02:34: _Did the government ...
- 12/26/18--00:55: _The year of the judge
- 12/26/18--04:33: _Ali Raza Abidi – An...
- 10/25/18--05:04: To squat or not to squat?
- 11/05/18--03:57: Dear private schools, I am a parent but not an ATM
- 12/04/18--01:53: Perhaps pick another venue for IDEAS 2020?
- 12/26/18--00:55: The year of the judge
Policy and governance are most effective when idealism morphs into realism to tackle challenges and go after opportunities in the real world, while also aspiring for utopia. It is in the middle ground between these poles where effective governance happens. Thus, Imran Khan’s announcement that Pakistan would grant citizenship to refugees of Afghan and Bangladeshi origin should be seen in the same vein as his other policy decisions since his victory, many of which he has backtracked on. Atif Mian’s resignation from the Economic Advisory Committee is a case in point. The decision to oust him was a solid one politically, because the far right’s virulent opposition and the political cost associated with that outweighed whatever economic advice Mian could give to the prime minister. In the end, realpolitik won over idealism. Granting citizenship to the Afghan and Bengali refugees born in this country is a lofty ideal; an emulation of progressive countries where the semblance of human dignity and the concept of fundamental human rights triumphs all national or patriotic values. Any person born within the geographical confines of most European countries or the US is automatically granted citizenship. Pakistanis, however, are a hyper reactionary and jingoistic lot whose notion of Pakistaniat cannot extend to Bengalis and Afghans. The military in particular sees the vast majority of Afghan refugees as a security threat that can turn against Pakistan at any time, and blames them for being involved in heinous crimes and terrorism. The Afghans are also seen as a bargaining chip to be used against Afghanistan, for if relations between the two countries go drastically south, over a million refugees could be returned to Afghanistan, which would result in a crisis of biblical proportions. I don’t understand how the logistics of such a move would be possible, but I'm sure the Pakistani Army high command would have certainly considered this move. Over 600,000 Afghans have already been forcibly repatriated to Afghanistan since July 2016 in the midst of a crackdown. While Bengalis are not viewed with the same level of suspicion, they are regarded as traitors to the idea of the Two-Nation Theory by certain segments. Though generations have lived here since the birth of our nation, the formation of Bangladesh after the abuse and racism suffered by those living in East Pakistan has made Pakistani Bengalis an anathema to ‘true’ Pakistanis. The vast majority of Pakistani Bengalis live in Karachi in shanty towns such as Machar Colony, Musa Colony or Chittagong Colony. They live lives of despair and misery, finding it hard to get jobs legally or even open bank accounts, since they don’t have national identity cards. Bengali settlers have been in Karachi since the early 20th century, but the ones we are concerned about moved from East Pakistan after 1947, or moved to urban areas in Sindh after the debacle of 1971, due to poverty. This continuous migration crossed the 2.5 million mark during Benazir Bhutto’s government in 1995, and now the number would be anywhere from 3.5 to 4 million. Admittedly, these Bengalis are a drain on the limited resources we have to offer, but the country itself would not have been created had it not been for their struggle. If we really believe in the idea of the Two-Nation Theory, then Pakistan should be a refuge for all Muslims in the subcontinent, especially the Bengalis. After all, there is no other home for Bengali Muslims who support the creation of Pakistan, since Bangladesh doesn’t want them either due to their political leanings. To this day, Sheikh Hasina’s government is punishing Bengalis who harbour loyalty towards Pakistan. We chafe at the treatment of Rohingya Muslims, but the Myanmar government has a pretext for their persecution. Much like the Pakistani government, it does not consider them citizens of Myanmar but as refugees who need to be returned to Bangladesh even though they have been living in Myanmar for the past 200 years. It is very easy to express outrage at the treatment of Mexicans in the US, but much harder to look inwards and see what kind of views we espouse towards and the treatment we mete out to refugees. Granted, many Afghan refugees don’t have any love lost for Pakistan; they don’t even particularly like living here, but do so out of compulsion of livelihood or family ties, and more importantly, because Pakistan is more peaceful than Afghanistan. They face extortion, arbitrary detention and nocturnal police raids on a daily basis. Urban Pakistanis blame them for the onset of the heroin and Kalashnikov culture. Moreover, many of them are not even registered in any database, having crossed over illegally. But if their children are born in this country, the principle of Jus Soli or right of the soil applies to them. Interestingly, only 30 out of 196 countries practice the right of unrestricted Jus Soli. What is even more interesting is that Pakistan is one of the few countries which grants this right, as people born within the geographical boundaries of the country are automatically citizens. Thus, it is a gross violation of Pakistan’s Constitution if citizenship has been denied thus far to any of the documented refugees born in this country. Imran did not put forth a novel idea when he spoke about granting them citizenship. He merely suggested we implement Pakistan’s Constitution – specifically the Citizenship Act of 1951. Imran has rightly pointed out that if we do not do anything for these refugees, their population, which will multiply overtime, would become a huge burden for Pakistan, especially for Karachi where most of them live. These refugees cannot get legal employment, cannot open a business or bank account, and cannot gain access to higher education. If they cannot get normal jobs, then realistically the youth will be more inclined towards criminal activities, which is why Karachi has a high street crime rate. It is quite nauseating if one thinks about it: these people might have spent their entire lives in Pakistan, never having stepped foot in Afghanistan or Bangladesh, but since they are not legitimate citizens of the country, they can be tossed out anytime. How can you send them back to a place where they have never lived? Other than this humanitarian notion of citizenship for these downtrodden refugees, Imran may also have an ulterior motive. Over 3 to 5 million people of Bengali ancestry live in Pakistan, mainly in Karachi. If we include undocumented Afghans, the total number of Afghans living in Pakistan may be anywhere from 3 to 4 million. Let’s suppose that out of all of them, 50% were born here. If citizenship is granted to these refugees, then 3 to 4.5 million new minted citizens can form a significant voting bloc, and it is more than likely they would vote for the party which granted them citizenship. If this really happens, then Karachi would always be a home run for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). It is expected of the opposition to create noise and oppose Imran’s every move, but even PTI’s coalition partners such as the Balochistan National Party (BNP) have expressed their displeasure. However, it must be understood that Imran is not giving blanket citizenship to all Afghans and Bengalis living in Pakistan overnight. Rather, he is making a point that something needs to be done about them. Either repatriate all of them – which would be a very ambitious undertaking – or grant them citizenship. Do commit to one action however, because this problem cannot be allowed to linger on forever. Opponents of this move make a very valid point that Pakistan has the largest refugee population in the world. At the same time, it barely has enough resources to provide for its own citizens, let alone refugees. What they overlook is that Pakistan is not a social welfare state, where these newly minted citizens would claim a lot of benefits. Rather, enveloping them in the legal economy and tax bracket would be beneficial for the country’s marginalised economy. Naysayers also cite the example of monarchies such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, where a person is never granted citizenship, even if they are born there or have lived there for generations. However, the question we must ask ourselves is: do we want to emulate regressive monarchies, or look to the example of liberal and progressive countries? It is easy to say that Imran made a naive statement on the topic of refugees and then backtracked from it. However, it is not that he has made yet another U-turn. Rather, it is the juxtaposition of idealism and realism within his mind, evident in almost every other facet of his decision-making – even when it comes to India. He initially took a warm and positive tone towards India. However, when he understood what the ground dynamics are vis-a-vis India, and that the current India government tends to rebuff any positive behaviour from Pakistan’s side, he sent out a nasty tweet. Pakistan is a refugee country; a refuge for marginalised Muslims in the Indian subcontinent. Around one in five Pakistanis in 1947 was a refugee, with the country’s first two prime ministers being immigrants. Pakistani law allows for citizenship for all those born in the country, except for children of foreign diplomats, enemy aliens, and those who migrated away from territories that became Pakistan after Partition. Thus, Afghans and Bengalis born here should definitely be given citizenship in principle, but it’s an idea which will take ages to implement, because Pakistan’s current political ground realities will not allow for this to happen. In the meantime, we should at least register all the unregistered Afghan and Bengali refugees, so at the very least we know the extent of the refugee problem we are dealing with.
Another day, another victim – a child no less! A short while after the death of Amal Umer – 10-year-old girl who lost her life after a crossfire between the police and robbers – the police in Karachi have claimed yet another young life. Seven-year-old Aqsa recently became the victim of a stray bullet, out of all places, while she was at her school! Perhaps what makes this situation direr is the fact that the school she was attending was next to a police training centre, full of police personnel, which is where the bullet came from. Now that we have lost two little girls to gun violence, the question emerges: are we really doing enough to ensure such incidents do not happen again in the future? The answer is an unequivocal no. President Arif Alvi, visibly moved by the active campaigning led by the late Amal’s parents, went on to condole the grieving parents and promised that the government would legislate an emergency service bill that would also be named after Amal. But is that enough? Does that wipe the blood of our children off our hands? Does that even mitigate the issue? https://twitter.com/ArifAlvi/status/1046064772410740736 At the end of the day, the President took notice of the situation, the Supreme Court ordered a probe into the case, while the Sindh Police introduced new rules barring policemen from carrying heavy weapons while on patrol. And then of course, there is the emergency bill named in Amal’s memory. This attention on part of the authorities is encouraging, for it is definitely better than no attention at all. It can be also be said that the same actions, or more, will likely be repeated for Aqsa as well, but until we get to the root cause and eliminate the problem there, we will end up in this vicious cycle of only noticing our children when they are dead. Karachi’s violence problem is not new; it has been a constant in the city for decades. Fuelled by local politics – sometimes national, sometimes sectarian, and sometimes due to the different mafias operating in the city – Karachi hasn’t seen peace in a long time. Ultimately, these factors, along with indifference on part of the state, are largely responsible for Karachi’s gun problem. Guns are now part and parcel of Karachi’s social fabric. Years of political heavyweights vying for influence in the economic hub or trying to control its resources have fostered a culture where being armed is considered a symbol of power. If one happens to be a politician or a local feudal, or even a small-time businessperson who cannot carry guns on his or her person, then they will be seen hiring guards as their escorts. Vigos and other variants of double cabin cars with armed guards sitting at the back was a visual once only seen in the Defence area, but can now be found in most parts of the city. This points towards a city more polarised than it was before. Then there is the influx of migrants into the city, and as more and more people settle into the limited spaces and seek economic opportunities, which are also limited, gun and violence usually result as the outcome. What have the city’s law enforcers done to curb our gun culture, except barring citizens from aerial firing at weddings? We continue to see thugs masquerading as uniformed guards, flashing guns at signals, while sons of influential people roam around threatening ordinary citizens with their steel toys. Often, we see repercussions of this culture when ordinary scuffles result in young men getting killed, such as Shahzeb Khan for instance, and sometimes the police itself is complicit, as seen in the shooting of an innocent Maqsood. It’s not just an issue of gun control either; it’s the prevalent system that has become rotten to the core. It protects the perpetrators and shields them actively, ensuring that victims never receive justice. If that was not so, Shahrukh Jatoi wouldn’t have escaped initially, his parents couldn’t have pressured for a settlement, and when all else failed and Jatoi was thrown in jail, he wouldn’t have been treated like a celebrity. Not to mention the fact that his death sentence has still not been carried out! It is due to such complicated yet entrenched power dynamics that blood has become cheap in Karachi. Most gun carriers have become trigger happy and do not hesitate firing shots for pleasure. And why would they? In the last two incidents, where little Amal and Aqsa became the victims, it was the police itself that was to blame. If there’s one thing that Karachi’s history tells us, it is that Karachi’s police is never held accountable for its actions. As a citizen of this city, I regularly see videos going viral involving police brutality or misbehaviour with ordinary citizens, some of them filmed by FixIt volunteers, others by citizens. Even Jibran Nisar, despite being a prominent activist, wasn’t spared and was dragged and hit by the police when protesting the security protocol of a judge. This is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg; most incidents don’t even see the light of the day and go unnoticed. But the question is: if the police act this way with citizens while knowing they are being filmed, can they not shoot and kill them when there’s no one to witness their actions? Have the police not been directly involved in the death of two little children? How are the citizens to feel safe from criminals, when the same police tasked with protecting them is involved in mistreating them and killing their children? This is Karachi’s collective problem, and it is an apolitical one. However, since the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has been ruling Karachi for as long as one can remember, and since its leadership is heavily composed of feudal lords who happen to be the torch bearers of the VIP and gun culture in Karachi, it’s only fair to demand that the PPP look into the matter seriously and pave way for disciplinary action against the police, without any political interference. Concrete and robust steps need to be taken to prevent more of Karachi’s unsuspecting children from falling prey to bullets, or even its adults for that matter. Effective legislation is required in this regard, to enforce strict rules on gun carriers, even security personnel. Most importantly, all this legislature, both new and existing, must also apply to the feudal members of the Sindh government and its police, for they are the ones disturbingly infatuated with security protocols and employing gunmen to escort them everywhere they go. Only if the head of this snake is crushed can we count on the rest of its body to follow. [poll id="786"]
In keeping with the theme of ‘change’, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government recently launched the Naya Pakistan Housing Programme, aiming to build five million homes in five years. It is evident from the very start that a project of this magnitude will require a lot more input than just land, which the government will be providing. And while they say they will not be involved in construction directly, arranging funds to provide basic amenities to residents alone will be a herculean task. https://twitter.com/ImranKhanPTI/status/1050248198919528448 Though there is no clear framework yet and there remain more questions than answers at this stage, the scheme has managed to generate enormous public interest, as more than 125,000 forms have been downloaded from the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) website, temporarily affecting the site itself. The project, which was initially launched for seven cities, has now been extended to 10 more cities in Punjab. Detractors are of the view that this is just an announcement, and that nothing concrete will take place over the years. The biggest criticism thus far has been towards the fact that the funds-starved government does not have the budget to initiate this scheme. Although the state has remained mum on budgetary matters, the amount of $180 billion has been suggested, which of course seems unfeasible and unrealistic. Provincial Housing Minister Mian Mahmoodur Rasheed also revealed that this project will be a public-private partnership. A land bank will be created through which the government will provide land to builders, who will then be responsible for constructing the houses. Concerns have subsequently been raised over the transparency and monitoring of the construction, to ensure no money is set aside by compromising on the quality of the construction. In my view, the launching of this initiative is a step in the right direction, but the road is full of bumps and obstructions. Cuba, Norway and Singapore are the only countries in the world to have successfully launched public housing schemes, but they did so roughly four decades ago, and their population is significantly low in comparison to Pakistan. India has a ‘housing for all’ initiative and has set a target for the year 2022, with over 1.7 million houses getting a nod from the central government. If our government is serious in carrying its initiative forward, it can either follow the pattern of one of these successful efforts or can come up with its own footprint to complete this scheme. Within Pakistan, we have limited success stories when it comes to the public housing sector. In Karachi, for instance, the government built houses for employees of the federal government in the 50s, now known as the Federal B Area and Buffer Zone. The former got its name because ‘B’ class residential apartments were built for the lower grade staff, while the latter was called so because it acted as a buffer between the housing scheme of upper and lower grade employees. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s ratio of mortgage financing to gross domestic product is extremely low, at 0.25%, especially when compared to the South Asian average of 3.4%. The government will thus have to revise banking rules and provide easier ways to obtain financing facility. Our banking rules for common people are so stringent that in order to obtain a bank loan, people feel they have to prove they don’t really need one. However, housing finance is a safe bet for any bank, and I am confident that banks involved in this project will get their instalments paid on time, depending on how thorough the investigation is before sanctioning the required loan. The House Building Finance Corporation (HBFC) should also be involved in the financing of these houses. HBFC was an active lender in the housing sector for decades, but it seems the public has now lost trust in this institution. However, its involvement will boost this scheme and may provide the impetus required for such a mega project to succeed. Other than constructing the houses, there is the matter of providing gas and electricity. In this regard, alternate energy methods such as solar and wind should be considered for electricity, and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) for cooking purposes. Such alternative options are being used by many new projects in big cities domestically, and in an energy-deprived state with a budding population, these inclusions could make a positive impact. Yes, if this project bears fruit it will indeed not only provide housing but also millions of jobs, but it must be noted that this is a long-term project which will ultimately require more than five years to truly complete, which is why protecting the scheme via laws is also essential so that future governments carry it forward instead of rolling it back. Irrespective of the project’s success or failure, PTI’s government will do a great favour to this nation by keeping this scheme transparent and corruption free, which has always been a problem in the past. Political leaders have suffered and faced the court of law due to corruption done through mega projects such as these. In 1987, former prime minister Mohammad Khan Junejo launched the ‘Apni Basti’ scheme to build 130,000 low-cost houses, but ended up constructing only 35,000. The scheme had many mistakes, including ill-suited locations, poor pricing, a lack of basic amenities, and of course, the end of Junejo’s tenure. The most relevant example is the investigation and arrest of Shehbaz Sharif due to his alleged involvement in the Ashiyana housing scam. For the sake of its anti-corruption narrative alone, the PTI government would not want Imran Khan to face a corruption trial five years from now. The PTI government has stated that Junejo’s effort failed because construction was initiated without evaluating demand, which will not be done in the new scheme where demand will be assessed first, thus the forms. Further, in the past, it was the state that took responsibility of construction, which also led to uncleared dues that affected the project. This will also not be the case here, as contractors will not be paid by the government but by the banks and non-bank financial institutions (NBFIs) who are to finance this scheme. In Pakistan, builders and developers have built a large number of housing schemes for private gain; this is now a test for them to build low-cost housing projects on land provided by the government. In Karachi, for instance, the recent development of Gulistan-e-Jauhar and its adjoining areas is a prime example of fast track development. Fast developments in such areas are an encouraging factor for the government, which can take heart from the fact that if the private sector alone can build houses and convert deserted areas into developed and commercial ones, then with public-private partnerships the potential for development is unimaginable. If everything goes to plan, people may actually get a decent living facility at low cost, while development may be more symmetrical across the country. PTI has always showed its displeasure over mega projects launched by its predecessors. Now that it has initiated its own as part of the government, there seems to be a realisation that not only do such initiatives bring along human development, they also lure supporters and enhance approval ratings – but only if they appear to be fiscally sound. It is thus in the best interests of the state to reveal a detailed, clear and precise plan in order to keep the process transparent and the public up-to-date. If they manage to do so, I remain optimistic that the strategic differences possessed by the Naya Pakistan Housing Scheme will prove decisive in the success of this scheme.
I was one-year-old when my family moved from Pakistan to Botswana. Located in Southern Africa, Botswana is about the size of France, with an astonishingly low population of two-and-a-half-million people. We spent most of our time abroad but would often visit home, and at least once a year we visited Karachi, where I was born. Although it had been a few years since my last visit to Karachi, this is a city that always pulls on my heartstrings, and after spending only a week in the city of dreams, I found myself used to the cultural oddities, such as being yelled at by random strangers, men with kohled eyes staring lecherously at young girls, as well as the beggars, the pollution, the chaotic traffic, and of course, unfortunately – if I can put it politely – the Hershey squirts. However, despite all these wonderful aspects of Karachi, there remains one particular part I still cannot completely come to terms with – the squat toilet. For those who have never experienced the unique blend of pain and pleasure associated with a squat toilet, rejoice. Many of us have taken for granted the luxury of western toilets, and being able to relieve ourselves without getting a massive thigh and calf workout. However, Southeast Asia virtually invented the phrase ‘no pain no gain’, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the toilet system we use. Being indigenous to this region, I have long been familiar with the perils of squatting. But I know people here and abroad who refuse to use public restrooms with squat toilets, even in case of an emergency, because the experience simply is not worth it. When you also consider the fact that most of the locks in the stalls of said public restrooms are either missing or broken, the potential for disaster and humiliation is astronomical. I will spare readers the details, but some of the things I have seen have caused irreversible psychological damage. Comparatively, other cities in Pakistan, such as Islamabad, are somewhat cleaner than our coastal megalopolis, and modernisation has brought with it toilet reform. Shopping malls and mid-to-upscale restaurants are thankfully equipped with the toilets we all know and love, and then some. A restaurant I went to recently had – in place of urinals in the men’s restroom – a glazed glass wall overlooking a bush. Another place I patronised had one of those fully automatic, hands-free style contraptions that you could probably surf the internet on. A welcome change, no doubt, but you have to wonder: is Islamabad losing its disposition? Just as squat toilets are being replaced by sparkling white toilet bowls, much of the old world charm of the city is being bulldozed to make way for commercial real estate and business. It is a bit of a ‘shame-shame’ really, because like being caned by a strict parent, or arguing with an ex, using a squat toilet is indeed painful. And yet it also helps build character, an annoyingly nebulous concept, and is still considered an integral part of life in Pakistan. Interestingly enough, new studies show that using a squat toilet may actually be beneficial for our overall health. Researchers now believe squatting can ease constipation, prevent colon disease, and improve pelvic floor issues. In fact, our bodies certainly are not designed for the modern toilets we use. The alimentary canal ends with the rectum, where waste is stored, and the exterior, where it leaves the body. The tube between the two is slightly kinked, which is what allows you to hold it in. Standing up pinches off the passageway, and to a lesser extent, sitting does the same. This is great when there is no rest stop in sight, but when it is time to release, you want the channels clear. The squatting position straightens out the tube, allowing for free flow. This means a lot less straining, which we can all agree is a good thing. In light of all these benefits, perhaps it is safe to say that squat toilets need not be looked down upon. For all the good and bad memories they hold for me, and for the role they have in our society, I for one will be slightly teary-eyed if one day the last squat toilet is gone. Although truth be told, just like our attitude towards change in general, that is unlikely to happen any time soon.
I enjoyed reading the book Typically Tanya by Taha Kehar, one of Pakistan's most exciting new writers, not just because it’s a book about journalists but because it is a book about life in Karachi, along with all its dramas. Whether it’s the frustrations of finding a Careem to the disappointments that come with power blackouts, it’s all there. Typically Tanya is the story about a young journalist named Tanya Shaukat who is trying to make sense of her work and at the same time coming to terms with her unpredictable life and friends. When the marriage of one friend fails owing to another, Tanya – who plays some part in this – has to make things right. Then there is a colleague who loves Tanya but can’t express himself, ending up in the arms of another. If that is not enough, there is an Indian journalist who wants to work and play with our heroine. And this is just the beginning. Our heroine has to navigate life as the single child of a single mother whose tendency for melodrama only complicates matters. The book’s storyline made me want to read more. I was keen to learn about the trials and tribulations of the main character and all the people that surround her. In many ways, the book reads like a teenage romance. But at the same time, there is so much more. Complicated plots, relationships gone wrong and the usual ungrateful boss who hinders more than he helps our damsel in distress, a journalist whose stories don’t only end up in the newspaper. There are rides on Sea View, receptions at the Golf Club and a garden at a house on Korangi Road where the final wedding of the story takes place. Many of the characters to me are very familiar. I am sure most readers would identify with one or more of them from their daily lives. The beauty of this novel isn’t about what eventually happens in the end, but all that happens throughout. This is Kehar’s second work of fiction. Using his powers of imagination and observation as well as his witty writing style, we have been given a novel that tells us a lot, possibly about our own lives. It is a light read and, in my opinion, perfect for those lazy afternoons when one doesn’t want to worry about the larger worries in life and instead laugh about who and what surrounds us.
The Constitution of Pakistan has, via Article 25A, made it mandatory for the government to provide free education to all citizens who cannot afford to go to school otherwise. However, implementation of this clause has never been enforced in letter or spirit, allowing the private sector to take advantage of the growing gap between private and public schools. Now, be it rich or poor, people from all strata of society are sending their children to private schools irrespective of the teaching standard of such schools. Operating a school has become one of the most profitable businesses in the country, and the mushroom growth of the industry has meant there have been little to no checks on how they are run. Many of these “private schools” are operating in apartments or in small spaces in people’s personal homes, and are devoid of basic facilities. They then charge between Rs15,000-25,000 per month, but despite charging an arm and a leg, they deprive students of drinking water, which kids then have to buy from the school canteen at a price higher than the market. Schools also have flimsy excuses when it comes to raising fees. After my daughter was promoted to eighth grade last year, I received a quarterly fee challan with a 15% raise. When I raised the matter with the school, I was informed that the fee was only increased by 10%, but as fee for her new grade fell under a higher band, I would thus have to bear a 20% rise in her fee. I did not feel this explanation was justified, but nonetheless I consented. Many people like myself quietly kept paying more money whenever a rise in fee was announced. However, recently, 400 parents whose children attend one of the private schools took the lead and protested the 14% fee hike by sitting outside the school for long hours and sharing their grievances on social media. The school responded to the protest by going back to the original sum for the year with a notice stating that parents who could not afford the increased fee should enroll their children in another school from the following year. There were also reports that the children of the protesting parents were made to sit in separate classrooms devoid of basic facilities. Unfortunately, such incidents are not restricted to Karachi but are spread across all major cities in Pakistan, including Lahore and Islamabad. This national crisis prompted parents to knock on the door of the court of law for justice. After protests did not bear desired fruit, petitions were filed in courts. The Sindh High Court, in its decision on September 3rd, bound schools to restrict fee hikes to 5% per annum, as well as regularising the fee structure and returning the excess amount charged by them in the past back to the parents. Instead of following the court’s order, schools instead went to Supreme Court with a plea to overturn the High Court’s decision. It remains to be seen what the highest court of the land will decide. Additionally, many schools these days require parents to submit the fee for an entire quarter (three to four months) together. Not only is this a mammoth task in itself, particularly for salaried individuals, but this alongside the price hikes makes life extremely difficult for parents. Parents are not going overboard and have no intention of getting schools nationalised – our only plea to schools is that they consider parents as the human beings they are and not treat them like an ATM. Most parents have a fixed income, they already struggle to get their children a good education, and frequent and excessive hikes make it difficult to provide for the family while also sending their kids to school. Private school owners are in the business to make money selling an education. Their sincerity can be gauged by the fact that while they continue to receive the fee according to their own demands, they have stopped annual increments of teachers. In Sindh, a teacher’s salary should ideally be equivalent to the school fees of four students, but private schools are blatantly violating this as they know no one will question or challenge them. A lawyer appearing on behalf of private schools argued that Article 18 of the Constitution is violated if restrictions are imposed on the fee hike, but this article allows businesses to operate within the rules and regulations set by the regulatory body. Schools are bound by law to get their fee structure approved by the education ministry, but rarely do they follow this requirement. I would argue that if a cap of 5% is fixed for an annual fee hike, it will not put the operation of schools in any jeopardy and will also be a manageable rise for parents. After the 18th constitutional amendment, education is now a provincial matter. I hope the provincial government will now wake up and enforce stringent regulations for private schools to function. In the past, survey teams from the education ministry used to regularly visit private schools to monitor the standard of education and to check if schools were providing basic facilities to students. This practice needs to be revived, as currently officials take bribes and overlook their jobs by allowing schools to operate without fulfilling basic requirements. The government has failed to provide children with a good education, which is directly responsible for the increase in demand for private schools. In light of its own failure, the state should also support such schools by reducing taxes on them and assisting them with basic utilities through the residential slab instead of the commercial slab, as such measures will subsequently take away some of the burden from parents' shoulders. After all the money we pay for our children to attend private schools, it is still not enough as we now have a ‘tuition culture’ which dictates children attend multiple classes after school which only adds an extra financial burden on parents. Private schools need to introspect and do better instead of simply looting money while also not delivering results on their own. Parents are in a catch-22, because at the moment there is no alternative to sending your children to a private school. The solution for some is to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. If the Supreme Court fails to give relief to parents, life will only get harder. I hope the government can work to improve public schools so parents are not left without options when it comes to providing quality education to their kids. I hope the court will understand the grievances of parents and will facilitate their concerns. But most importantly, I hope private schools stop treating parents as clients and start thinking of them as partners or facilitators, as both share the same end goal: educating a young mind and shaping him or her for a bright future.
As a frequent traveller, whenever I visit another country my first preference is to take the train, and I have many reasons for doing so. Being an environmentalist, I am a conscious traveller, and railways have a smaller carbon footprint than other means of transportation. As a bonus, they also offer an enchanting and panoramic view of the countryside, which you are likely to never forget. Trains are also comfortable – you can book a private cabin and walk, stretch and even sleep in a real bed during your travel. If you’re traveling overnight, you don’t have to pay for a hotel room, and what can get better than a fine meal prepared on board by a professional chef? Nothing, if you take my word for it. But when was the last time you travelled on a train in Pakistan? I honestly don’t remember my experience, because it was a very long time ago and I was too naive to realise at the time that the memory would be a rarity in the future. I do remember bits and pieces, but unfortunately I’m sure most of the youth of today will never have set foot on a train, for the railway has emerged as one of the weakest ministries in the country. However, this was not always the case. Between 1955 and 1960 when it was at its peak, the ministry was generating revenue due to its strong footing, due credit for which goes to the British. It was the predominant mode of transport then, handling 73% of the freight traffic, which reduced to less than 4% by 2011. After the 70s, our priority shifted and more focus was directed towards developing roads. Political interference and corruption are obvious factors for the decline, but a lesser known factor is the support to the National Logistic Cell (NLC), which ultimately eats away at revenue that could have been generated by the railway. Fresh money was also not invested in this sector by the government; between 2005 and 2010, while the government spent Rs155 billion on highways, it only spent Rs45.5 billion on railways. Slowly, both freight and passengers started to decline, and the length of the track was decreased by 11%. Due to this we eventually entered a dark age, marked with poor services, subpar trains, emergence of a transport mafia, tickets sold in black markets, late arrival and delays, strikes by unions, and cheap oil to run trains. Salaries and pensions are constantly delayed, and at times money was frequently collected from passengers to buy fuel to reach the destination. The Indian Railways also shared the same infrastructure and facilities as Pakistan after British rule came to an end. Then why has their ministry not seen the same setbacks as ours? During the tenure of Lalu Prasad Yadav, Indian Railways saw unprecedented success as he strived to cut financial losses and modernise the ministry. Tickets became cheaper, the capacity of trains expanded, more seat categories were introduced, traffic increased, and so did earnings. Decentralisation and lowering unit costs gave the Indian Railways more commercial freedom and the public better services for a lower cost of travel. Despite India having a much larger railway ministry and a much bigger population, they still managed to turn a struggling ministry around with good policies and a proper plan in place. Pakistan too retains the same potential to develop a successful railway sector, particularly due to its rapidly increasing population. The former government under Saad Rafique took some initiatives such as re-launching online booking of tickets, acquiring new locomotives, along with initiating train projects through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), including one from Kashgar to the Gwadar Port. CPEC really has the potential to be a game changer for the future of our railways. The necessary steps on our part will require upgrading 1,872 kilometres of railway track as well as doubling the track from Shahdara to Peshawar. Turkey has also agreed to start a railway to connect states belonging to the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO), making it possible to travel from Islamabad to Istanbul in 15 days. The current setup in the federal government sees Sheikh Rasheed as the minister of railways, and there is optimism regarding faster upgrade of the current track, improvement of infrastructure and reduction of debts in this declining ministry. Rasheed has promised a check on railways even if he has to disguise himself and conduct raids, has stressed on reducing expenses and erasing the deficit, and emphasised on zero tolerance for corruption. The path ahead is a tough one, especially as the media and the populace remain vigilant when it comes to ensuring the current government follows through with its promises. This is how it should have been throughout, as there needs to be a strict check on government officials, particularly on those belonging to regressing ministries. The people need to stay aware of who is not fulfilling the tall claims made during election season, so they can be called out and held accountable. We should by now have a policy that outlines the railway ministry’s road map for the next 10 years. The most important – and most difficult – factor will be the endeavour to develop a mechanism and keep it corruption free, with transparent guidelines for tenders, lease and partnership. We must learn from the Indian Railways and apply its good points to our system. Ultimately, the ministry will have to push through and improve itself drastically in order to win back the trust of the nation. Yes, the past few years have seen an improvement from the mess the ministry was in earlier, and Pakistan Railways is not far from the track of progress and modernisation, but it must choose its next steps skilfully and tackle them with strong footing. One good initiative taken recently by President Arif Alvi and Rasheed is the inauguration of the Dhabeji Express, which makes it possible to travel 65 kilometres for fares as low as Rs25. Another pledge by the government has been to revive the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR), which will not only benefit intercity connectivity but will also improve intracity traffic. Lastly, both freight services and passenger trains have equal importance and significance of their own; one cannot be undermined in favour of the other. Pakistan Railways has the right to a partnership for freight movement, and maximum revenue can be generated via the movement of products, if only the railway is made strong enough to handle the challenge. As with most things in Pakistan, the railway sector has a lot of potential for business, trade and recreation, and if given the chance, it will open up our doors to the rest of the world as well.
In the aftermath of the tragedy in which two kids died after dining out and their mother remains hospitalised, what more can be said except that now eating out in Karachi is killing our children. The plague of substandard food has been upon us for quite some time now, from donkey meat and rat meat to dog meat being sold in markets and cooked by restaurants. Even the sale and use of cooking oil made from the arteries of dead animals hardly comes across as a revelation now, especially since the popular crime show Sare Aam did multiple episodes focusing on this deplorable practice and also did follow-up shows to stop it, but to no avail. I wrote a blog on the same issue two years ago, in hopes of shedding light on the gross food-making practices widespread across the city – filthy kitchens, unhygienic conditions and substandard ingredients being used by renowned establishments, including international food chains, most of them located in posh localities. I also stressed upon the need for a robust system that prevents such eateries from going back to their previous practices once caught or reprimanded, while questioning whether it would take a food disaster claiming multiple lives for the officials to begin a systematic campaign of regulation in this city. Unfortunately, the worst case scenario has taken place and tragedy has befallen us. It would be also pertinent to reiterate that governments in Pakistan only become serious about addressing issues once it’s too late for some people. Of course, why would they pay attention to a blog, when the powers at be have remained aloof towards the frenzied media raiding and exposing such restaurants for years. If one were to write about the unhygienic food practices reported in Karachi even over the past two years, it would take up more than a thousand words, and that would not be including the hundreds of instances documented by social media users. What is even more concerning is that we are no longer talking about small vendors or the food being sold by dhabas. We are now looking at two children who died after reportedly eating out at one of the most high-end restaurants in one of the city’s most expensive areas, one where premium prices are charged for their “best quality food”. According to reports, the famous restaurant had been issued a notice to improve its food handling practices two months prior to this incident. What has manifested in the form of the death of the two siblings is the ultimate deterioration of an illness whose symptoms we have been witnessing for quite some time now. It makes sense if one gets food poisoning, or worse, after eating at a local dhaba or at a small-scale restaurant, as one hardly expects such an establishment to run in a manner that passes all the tests and offers the best standard of food while also remaining cheap, and that too in a city like Karachi. However, if the big brands savoured by the elites and by those willing to spend their monthly savings on a single meal end up doing the same thing and stop focusing on sanitation, hygiene and food quality, then they are defrauding customers willing to pay more in hopes of excellent quality. Thus, if they are found to be the ones at fault, then restaurants like the one responsible in this case aren’t just guilty of food malpractice; they have the blood of two innocents on their name. So what is the way forward for the food industry in Karachi? Should it be expected to correct its way on its own? I don’t think so! Both Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and Punjab have their own food regulatory bodies, and they seem to be working just fine. The Sindh Food Authority (SFA) is relatively new, but that is no excuse for its inept officials failing to govern hygienic food practices. Yes, Punjab has an independent, empowered leader like Ayesha Mumtaz who built its food authority into a force to reckon with, and who is a bipartisan enforcer of the strictest food regulations with raids, fines and sealing of repeat offenders. But lacking a Mumtaz does not mean we stop trying to do the bare essentials of the job. The SFA sprang into action after the children had passed away, but we need action before our children die from eating unsafe food. There is a dire need for an example to be made out of violators; perhaps by cancelling their licenses or banning them completely. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) Sindh leadership has been active when it comes to Karachi’s issues, given the case of Amal Umer and the recent unprecedented demolishing of encroachments, and it should take a strong initiative this time too. The powerless Mayor Waseem Akhtar, who has been at the forefront of the anti-encroachment campaign, can greatly aid in making the SFA effective and providing it with the essential systems to combat unhygienic food practices. It’s time for the Sindh government to act, and for the president and Parliament to step in the way they did in Amal’s case, leading to some reforms. This incident should serve as a wake-up call to the authorities, while the restaurant, if guilty, must be treated as a test case. The matter has gone too far to demand mere fines as punishment. Nothing can be said with certainty since investigations are still underway, but heads need to roll and an example needs to be made out of if the restaurant's complicity is proven. No one except the owner should be arrested and charged, but the restaurant should be banned from ever operating again. Unless radical measures are taken to ensure food safety, the restaurants here will continue to act with impunity, with no fear of consequences as they put lives in danger. The focus must be on the big players, since people are more vulnerable to their substandard food as they promise value and quality for money. We must take some take action now, for no other child in the country should lose their life to substandard food.
The city of Karachi is left with a handful of neighbourhoods where encroachment is not an issue yet, namely the Defence Housing Authority, Malir Cantt and few other housing societies. Rest of the city is plagued with encroachments involving roadside restaurants, car showrooms, push cart vendors, illegal settlements and so on. Sometimes hard decisions need to be taken in order to address an issue that was hard to approach earlier. People will be displaced, businesses will be shutdown and many will go jobless but in the longer run, malpractices and violations will come down significantly. Rule of law can only be implemented with an iron fist. This city has suffered just because the law enforcing authorities were lenient and had an extremely 'accommodating' attitude, therefore a plethora of civic problems engulfed the city since the last few decades. So to better understand why encroachment was allowed in the first place, here are four causes of encroachment: Real estate prices Karachi is home to immigrants from almost every nook and corner of the country. They head towards Karachi in search of jobs, business opportunities and a relatively better lifestyle than the one offered in their hometowns or villages. In a highly saturated and urbanised Karachi, where real estate prices and rents are sky rocketing, most of them prefer to settle down in katchi abadis (illegal settlements) in order to save some money to cover the rest of their expenditures. Those who opt for trading or business, the cheapest option available for them is to set up their carts or cabins on encroached land since the prices of shops in commercial areas are way out of their reach. When established businesses are trying to expand and reach out to other areas of the city, the only factor that keeps them from doing so are the real estate prices. This forces them to violate the building by-laws and they create more spaces by encroaching upon government land in order to facilitate their clients or customers. Dearth of commercial areas In order to make more money out of residential plots, the development authorities in Karachi left very few options for commercial activities. In such a highly saturated scenario, a businessman would either encroach upon government land or start his venture on a residential plot by paying heavy bribes to the officers concerned. This results in an urban landscape imbalance and the sporadic commercial activity on encroached land destroys the aesthetics of the city leaving very few open spaces for the general public to enjoy. Political motives Almost every political party has contributed towards the systematic destruction of this once beautiful city. In order to increase and strengthen their respective vote banks, political parties with mostly rural fan following brought in people from the villages of rural Sindh and got them illegally settled in katchi abadis and encroached land that was otherwise meant for public welfare. As a consequence to this, the political parties enjoying an exclusive urban electoral mandate started settling down their voters in a similar fashion: in illegally constructed housing societies or apartments. The issue of Gujjar naala was lingering on for the sole reason that one political party had its voters settled illegally along the banks of the naala resulting in frequent overwhelming of the narrowed down drain during monsoon season. Similarly, areas like Empress Market, Katti Pahaari and so on were heavily encroached by voters of a political party that used to enjoy a sizable mandate in Karachi during the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government tenure. Lack of civic sense This comes down to the void left by our educational system that has failed to instil civic sense and awareness regarding the responsibilities of a citizen among the people of our city. When people are not even aware of the very basics of cleanliness, discipline and the concept of open spaces in an urban landscape, they will blatantly encroach upon government land without any regard for the law just because they are fully aware of the loopholes in our system. Anyone can get away by merely bribing the concerned officers of the development and municipal authorities of the city. The ongoing anti-encroachment drive is like a breath of fresh air for the city of Karachi. At a time when citizens had lost all hope, the court orders gave Mayor Wasim Akhtar a chance to make his presence felt and help the people of Karachi. They went for Empress Market first in order to send a message that no one will be spared. If this drive is successful and the move is a permanent one, Karachi will have its beauty restored, history shall be preserved and the general public will get to enjoy more open spaces and sidewalks. The mayor of Karachi and the government of Sindh must, however, make alternate arrangements for all those who have been affected by this drive and provide them space where they could resume their business activities. This would also keep them from entering the world of crime which they eventually will turn towards if they are not rehabilitated properly. As a resident of Karachi, I would be the ultimate beneficiary of this entire drive. If this goes through and turns into a sustainable model, we will have cleaner and wider roads, walkways and more public spaces will eventually beautify our city and provide much needed international exposure to Karachi. The city will have some order and after a long time, Karachiites will enjoy exploring areas that were earlier choked with encroachments.
Known for the fresh sub-continental food they serve in an open air atmosphere, dhabas can be dubbed as local fast food joints that offer patrons tasty, traditional dishes at an affordable price. The word ‘dhaba’ has become so popular in fact, that both Indian and Pakistani restaurants abroad have adopted it as a part of their name. I grossly undervalued the economical and cheerful appeal of a dhaba until a few months ago, when visiting the land of gold souks and skyscrapers otherwise known as Dubai. I decided to go for dinner at a posh restaurant called Guilt. This of course is not the restaurant’s real name; alas you were reading a restaurant review. Not knowing any popular dhabas in Dubai, eating at Guilt made sense at the time seeing that I was on holiday and that the restaurant was located inside the hotel I was staying at. As I arrived that evening for dinner, I was shown by the doorman to a woman at the reception desk who showed me to a man who showed me to the door of the restaurant where yet another man takes you to your table – I felt like the baton in a relay race. Guilt was a Michelin star fine dining restaurant, but besides having gone there to enjoy the food on offer, I also went there to see its guests because I am indeed a people watcher. So you can imagine the crushing disappointment of finding that the restaurant was not a sparkling sea of noisy Arabs or expatriates even. In fact, most of the diners that night seemed to be burnt out elder folks with a taste for what I was about to discover was overpriced, undercooked and pretty, yes, pretty food. With hardly any guests to laugh at, I thought I would have a giggle at the food. Good idea, if only I could find it. It turned out there was a sliver of what looked like thinly sliced raw meat on my plate. So thin in fact that when you tapped it with a knife it made a clinking sound. I tried scooping it up with a fork, and then a spoon but neither was successful, so in the end I gave up and just licked the plate. What did it taste like? Well, Carpaccio I guess, with a hint of porcelain. Then the waiter came with the water. He unscrewed the cap as though diffusing a nuclear bomb, and for one glorious moment I thought he was going to ask me to sniff it. But that would have been only mildly ridiculous compared to the main course that night which resembled a Jackson Pollock painting on a plate. So instead he poured a splash of water into my glass. Twenty dollars for a bottle of water, justified only if you get it out of Sana Javed’s bath but pour away I gasped, “it will be fine”. Finally came the bill, which was perhaps the funniest part of all because when translated into English, came to around $200. The Foie Gras alone had been for $60, and for that price I would expect the damn thing to get up and do a song and dance routine. Instead it just lay there, being the dead liver of a fattened duck. Since perception is subjective, readers may be wondering why I am comparing fine dining to a dhaba? Well, amongst the world’s culinary masters, the view is that food should not only entice our palate, but awaken all our senses, at a cost. However, considering the fact that more than half the world’s population lives on less than $2.50 a day, my argument stands: it does not matter how much money you possess; if you wish to create artwork, use a canvas not a serving dish. If you wish to see art, go to a gallery not a restaurant. Some of the most delicious meals I have eaten have also been the ugliest. After dinner at Guilt, trying to figure out why anyone would pay an exorbitant amount of money for otherwise bland albeit attractive food was a hard nut to crack. That said, Dubai is perceived as a city of immense opulence and every such city should have a place which serves cupcakes made of edible gold or how I see it: a giant black hole which swallows up precisely the sort of people the rest of the common herd wishes to avoid. Did I overpay for what was supposed to be a gastronomical experience? Guilty as charged. My experience brought about a new found approval for dhabas and taught me that taste need not be defined by your surroundings. Dhabas with their daigs and charpoys not only offer better food, but a better overall atmosphere. That is why I love visiting purveyors of the finest nihari, chaat and garama garam halwa puri on my trips home. The hustle and bustle, the smell of sumptuous food, a sea of vibrant patrons, the chefs theatrics while pouring a cup of karak chai, the steam rising from within his brewer pot, all make for a lush experience which should not be taken for granted. Interestingly enough, a lot of the classic dishes dhabas serve are derived from ingredients used during the Mughal era, and for a mere $2 you can feel just as an emperor would after a meal: fat, happy and satisfied. Dhabas also represent a focal meeting point for friends or acquaintances and can play an important role in society as being venues for social and political interactions. Karachi is seeing a steady rise in dhaba culture and considering the talkative nature of most Karachiites and our addiction to chai, this trend makes perfect sense. ‘Modern’ dhabas are bigger, cleaner and more family friendly compared to older, more classic establishments thus adding to Pakistan’s insatiable appetite for fast food. My only concern being the westernisation of our traditional eateries, because nothing would break my heart more than finding cupcakes on the menu of a dhaba.
Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Aspiring for a career and finally achieving employment is a blessing for anyone. When I was young, my dream, like many other kids, was to roam around the world, to see far off places and to experience different cultures. One practical way to achieve my goal was to join the Merchant Marine. At a young age of 17, when one is full of hope and ambition, I finally had the selection letter tucked gleefully in my pocket after a gruelling selection process. It was a pleasant February afternoon in 1974 when I joined the Pakistan Marine Academy, Karachi, as a junior engineering cadet for a two-year training period. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="536"] The author in 1974.[/caption] After another three years of practical training at Manora, an island near Karachi, we were finally allotted one of the ships of the national fleet. The day of reckoning had finally arrived! I nervously went to join ‘Warsak’ as a fifth engineer. The smell of diesel, the constant humming sound and the vibration of the electrical generators captivated me as this was the moment I had been waiting for since I was a kid. The most exciting day for me was when we were informed that the ship would be sailing in three days’ time. It is common for seniors to play pranks with newly inducted officers, just for fun and in good faith. On the very first day, my senior engineer told me to bring two kilograms of steam in a bucket. Confused, I got hold of a bucket, went to the deck and asked the chief officer from where to get it. I was sent to all areas of the ship and to all crew members repeatedly to accomplish the given task when finally a kindhearted officer told me that people were just playing a prank on me. Finally, the ship sailed from Karachi. My excitement knew no bounds as I performed my duties as a rookie fifth engineer. But this excitement was short lived as on the third day, three men descended the stairs from the funnel, their faces blackened by the boiler soot, their tongues hanging out due to thirst. Not knowing how to tackle these dangerous looking people, I pressed the fire alarm switch to call for help. After backup arrived, we caught them and it was revealed that they were stowaways, persons who board the ship discreetly and do not possess any kind of identity. No country on earth accepts them and they are a burden to the ship’s staff as long as they are on board. The captain decided to turn back towards Karachi to hand them over to the Port Police. My first port of call was Majunga, a port in Madagascar; I was thrilled to see my first foreign land. Following Majunga was a sail towards New Orleans. While crossing the Atlantic, we crossed the imaginary line of equator. As a tradition, sailors crossing the equator for the first time have to shave their heads, an old tradition which we had to oblige to. As a consolation of shaving off all our hair, we get a certificate on behalf of King Neptune, certifying that we had the honour of crossing the equator on a certain date. My next voyage was to the UK. The ship called the port of Liverpool, Hamburg, Bremen and Antwerp. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Crossing Gibraltar.[/caption] After that we proceeded to our third voyage to the Far East. Visiting Japan for the first time was a dream come true. The culture in 1980 was so different from what it is now. Beautiful Japanese girls in traditional kimonos were seen aplenty. Japanese tradition of bowing was very common and the frequent saying of “arigato gadai masta” (thank you very much) was like honey to ears. We docked at Yokohama in the evening. Young and excited, we could not wait for the next day to visit the city. Hence, wearing faded jeans and leather jackets, stuffing some dollars in our pockets, off we went to explore the city. After walking many kilometres, we finally managed to reach the city centre. Since we only had US dollars, it was imperative that we exchanged it for local currency. After inquiring the way to a bank from a pretty lady, we were informed that since banking hours are over, it would be impossible to exchange dollars that day. We requested her to take some dollars from us and give us some Japanese yen but to our utter surprise, she gave us Japanese yen equivalent to about $10 and refused to take our money. Her argument was that since we are guests in Japan, this is her present for us. This type of hospitality can only be found in Japan. People often ask which place I liked the best during all the years spent in traveling. Although it varies from person to person, yet I liked Leningrad in former USSR. Leningrad used to be the capital city in the days of Tsar and is magnificent. The architecture is superb, so are the parks, the churches and the scenery. There is an out of the world museum known as Hermitage. There I got my first taste of seeing the great master artists’ original works. During the famous siege of Leningrad by the Germans in World War II, which lasted for about three years, these precious paintings were shipped away to Siberia to prevent them from falling in German hands. Talking about the siege, we asked our guide why the colour of the grass is different from normal green. The answer given was that since thousands of Russians laid down their lives for the defence of the city and are buried here, the chemicals from their bones has an effect on the grass. To prove her point, she dug some soil and there it was… the remains of a human hand. Venturing to the other side of the world, visiting Central America is a different experience. A taxi, say Mercedes Benz model of 1939 on the street where no one notices it. The very same car in the US is a vintage car worth thousands of dollars. What justice! We travelled further to South America. Who has not heard of the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, Copa Cabana? Such silver beaches where everyone dares to bare are a treat to watch. I had heard so much about the Bermuda Triangle, mostly mysterious stories of disappearances, that I thought of writing my 'last letter' to my near and dear ones while crossing it for the first time, as there was no guarantee that all of us shall not vanish, never to be found again. As an anti-climax, nothing of the sort happened and the passage went on smoothly. Talking of sea life and not experiencing storms is like taking a plunge in the water and not getting wet. Storms are a part of every sailor’s life. In the days of yore when technology was not as advanced as it is now, storms used to destabilise ships for days on end. Those unfortunate souls who were prone to seasickness had a very torrid time, but as the saying goes, a sailor forgets all hardships of the sea after reaching the port. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] The author in Portugal with a super tanker in the background.[/caption] Once near ‘Cape of Good Hope’, we encountered a very strong storm. The ship was rolling and pitching heavily when suddenly two of our mechanics were injured as a heavy steel plate fell on them, breaking their legs. Since there is no doctor on board a cargo ship, we tried to comfort the injured by giving them morphine injections and diverted the ship towards South Africa. Although South Africa was under sanctions due to apartheid rule back then, they were kind enough to take the injured for treatment and we sailed onward sans our injured colleagues. Spending over 20 years at sea and visiting more than 80 countries enables one to compare their own country with others’. We have seen UAE, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and countless other countries steadily progressing towards a promising future whereas we are marching in the opposite direction. It is high time that we wake up as a nation. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] The author on board.[/caption] It has now been over 20 years since I called it a day and bid farewell to roaring waves. Although my wife and kids sailed with me initially but when school started for my kids, sailing with my family was no longer a possibility. Back in the 90s, I used to write letters to my wife, and my what love letters they were! The best thing about these letters was that one could read them repeatedly during the voyage. I still have those letters preserved as souvenirs of those lovely days at sea. Now doing a shore job since the last 20 years, yet whenever I feel I need a break, I know I have a refuge readily waiting for me with open arms. The sailor in me is still alive and sometimes I ponder:
I must go down to the seas again, To the golden seas and the sky, And all I want is a tall ship, And a star to steer her by.All photos: Jaffar Naqvi
A week ago, three armed men attacked the Chinese consulate in Karachi. Before they could reach the diplomatic staff inside, the militants were killed in a police operation led by SP Suhai Aziz Talpur. The encounter also resulted in multiple casualties, including two visa applicants and two policemen fighting on the frontline. From CNN to Reuters, the news made rounds worldwide. Talpur is being glorified as the daughter of Pakistan, representing the face of bravery and women power. Restoring Talpur pride, her pictures are being juxtaposed alongside Faryal Talpur, who is currently embroiled in a money laundering case. Chinese media too is in awe of Suhai’s courage and beauty, some even commenting on the similarity between her and a famous Chinese actress, and proposals of marriage have poured in from across the border. https://twitter.com/sherryrehman/status/1065890304744714242 https://twitter.com/chaudhry_nabeel/status/1065934149519908864 Meanwhile, a strong backlash surfaced on local news and social media, questioning Suhai’s real contribution and mocking her for what is being labelled a publicity stunt. In a rather distasteful attempt, a local artist came up with a cartoon showing Suhai flaunting a medal and basking in media attention while standing on top of two bleeding bodies of the policemen martyred during the operation. The cartoon blatantly discredits her contribution, while implying that she tried to steal the limelight otherwise deserved by her team members who lost their lives during the encounter. From the contented expression sketched on Suhai’s face, it almost seems as if she took their lives on purpose. https://twitter.com/SyedAliHaider13/status/1066345554089779200 On the contrary, Suhai has repeatedly acknowledged the efforts of the martyred policemen. In an interview, she explained that even though it was her team’s effort, the deceased played the most crucial role in resisting the attack. She has repeatedly stated that the real credit goes to Assistant Sub Inspector Ashraf Dawood and Constable Amir Khan for keeping the terrorists engaged. And yet, with a now familiar sarcastic undertone, people are asking if “mohtarma” (madam) Suhai was even there during the encounter. A news report went on to raise doubts if the pistol in her hand was anything more than mere pretence. Mocking her actions, as seen in the footage from the end of the operation, the anchor suggested Suhai was simply waving the pistol and walking in and out to attract the media’s attention. The anchor further questioned if Suhai was not wearing a bullet proof jacket because she reached the consulate when the operation was almost over, and hence there was no danger requiring protection. In a manner more akin to moral policing, the presenter claimed Suhai hadn’t even visited the families of the deceased policemen who, along with the injured guard of the consulate, are the real heroes. While the martyrs deserve their share of tribute and attention, blaming Suhai for the loss of their lives or the lack of media attention on them simply goes back to our patriarchal mindset. Would Suhai be getting mocked and criticised if she wasn’t a woman? Probably not, and here’s why. On October 4th, the Karachi police completed a “successful” operation against Lyari’s notorious gangster Ghaffar Zikri. The encounter also resulted in the shooting of his four-year-old son who, according to the police, was used as a human shield. This is how a Pakistani news channel detailed the police encounter:
“Karachi’s police chief, Amir Ali Sheikh, who reached the site later applauded the effort.”The news ticker continued to state,
“Killing of Zikri is a huge success: Karachi Police Chief.”Sheikh was repeatedly shown embracing other men at the encounter scene, and answering questions from news reporters. Nobody accused him of stealing the limelight. No satirical illustrations were circulated to judge his actions or statements. What’s worse is that even though a four-year old was killed by the police in this operation, nobody questioned the police. In Suhai’s case, however, the accusations are being levelled almost as if she killed her team members herself. Even those who haven’t blamed Suhai for the media attention she has unintentionally attracted, comparing her with the martyred policemen is no less demeaning. In all honesty, why is there a need to compare Suhai with other men in the operation as if it was a competition of genders? Trivialising Suhai’s contribution in essence goes on to reflect our cynical mindset topped with a patriarchy too ingrained and stubborn to be tolerant of achievements irrespective of gendered identities.
With its 27-kilometre long coastline, Karachi is lined with beaches in the south. Dotted with fishing villages, these beaches are one of the main sources of recreation and entertainment for the citizens of the metropolis. One of the most frequently visited of these is Hawkesbay, a public beach with free access situated near Kemari town. The tragedy, however, is that it has little to offer to the residents of the city. Cleanliness and hygiene, bumpy roads, absence of basic infrastructure including huts, public toilets and restaurants, are some of the issues that need to be addressed but so far very little has been done in this regard. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Hawkesbay beach in Karachi lacks basic facilities and recreational infrastructure. Hawkesbay beach, Karachi, April 15, 2018.[/caption] According to 22-year-old Usama, who was visiting the beach with his family, said
“The main issue we face is the absence of public toilets and affordable food joints in close vicinity of the beach. Food outlets located near Hawkesbay are costly. Before coming here, we have to make sure to bring snacks with us.”The inconvenience caused due to lack of toilets is further amplified by the dearth of properly constructed public huts at affordable prices. Apart from privately-owned huts, maintained by their owners and not accessible to general public, it is rare to come across a properly constructed hut equipped with basic facilities at Hawkesbay. This lack of huts is compensated by putting up tent huts using bamboos and cloth but it does very little to appease the grievances of the visitors.
“The minimum charges for these tents used as huts fall within the range of Rs1500 to 2000 for a day,” said Tauqeer Khan, a visitor at the beach. “They are charging such a big amount for only putting up a tent and that is irritating,” he said, expressing his frustration.[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Demolished hut at Hawkesbay beach. Hawkesbay beach, Karachi, April 15, 2018.[/caption] To address such concerns, in 1990, Karachi Development Authority (KDA), with the assistance of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), proposed the Karachi Coastal and Recreational Development Plan 1990-2000. It focused on the development of beaches and coastal infrastructure in Karachi but to this date it hasn’t been implemented. Farhan Anwar, a sustainability planning advisor and urban planning consultant, said in his research,
“The plan, aiming to rectify problems arising due to unplanned development along Karachi’s coastline, included suggestions to address the construction of formal housing and recreation-oriented amenities as well as the mushrooming of unauthorised fishing villages along the city’s coastline.”Though many plans are prepared, they are also easily forgotten. Another plan of such nature was prepared during 1987-88, but little was invested in its execution, as in the case of the 1990 plan succeeding it. Lack of interest and insufficient investment in the development and maintenance of the Hawkesbay beach has resulted in extreme pollution on its shore. This is mainly attributed to the dumping of solid waste and littering by the visitors. Also to be held responsible are nearby fishing villages that also dump their waste on the beach. This is a threat to the environment of the beach and directly impacts its sustainability, reducing the beach’s desirability and value in terms of leisure and recreation. The Hawkesbay beach at present also faces the daunting problem of lack of adequate medical facilities and infrastructure. The issue is further aggravated in the light of several incidents of drowning at Hawkesbay, especially during summer's peak season when the tide is high. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] PALS lifeguards at work at Hawkesbay shore. Hawkesbay beach, Karachi, April 15, 2018.[/caption]
“There is no hospital nearby,” said Mohammad Asif, manager of Pakistan Aquatic Life Saving Association (PALS) that runs lifeguard services at Hawkesbay. “We have to travel at least 20 to 25 kilometres to reach the hospital, Civil Hospital. It is the nearest one but there is a lot of traffic on the way (because of the truck stop) and during peak hours you get stuck in traffic for at least one hour,” he said.PALS, the only drowning prevention and lifeguard association operative at Hawkesbay, though adequately supplied with required equipment, it lacks professionally trained professionals.
“Our lifeguards are residents of nearby areas,” said Asif in this regard. “Though they are not formally trained, they are habitual of facing the sea from their childhood and can be relied on to carry out adequate drowning prevention exercises at the beach,” he further added.These lifeguards may be skilled enough to compete with professionally trained personnel but lack of accreditation by a recognised body might prevent the development of Hawkesbay as a leisure spot frequented by visitors. It is essential to address these concerns if the economic value of Hawkesbay beach and Karachi's tourism is to be capitalised on to its maximum potential. In this regard, Anwar suggested in his research that “partnership between coastal managers and private sector can prove to be a viable solution and bring in sufficient investment for the development of Hawkesbay coastline”. Hawkesbay has immense potential to be developed into a recreational and holiday resort of sorts by investing in planning and infrastructure such as hotels, restaurants, shores, a variety of water sports and nature tourism. Karachi’s beauty comes from its many beaches; we should concentrate on preserving them and making it a place that people would actually want to visit. Karachiites do not have many options when it comes to recreational or entertainment activities, and our beaches are our main attraction. PM Imran Khan wants to boost tourism in Pakistan, and what better way to do so than cleaning up and properly developing Karachi's beaches. All photos: Mariam Ahmed and Syeda Sana Batool
The 10th edition of International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS) 2018 kicked off in Karachi on Tuesday, November 27th. Reportedly, 50 countries participated in the expo and around 522 exhibitor stalls were set up to showcase defence equipment. Given the diminishing global image and depleting standing of Pakistan, it was undoubtedly an honour for our country to host such an astounding international event which surely elevated the country’s stature in the world. Notwithstanding the success of the event itself, IDEAS inflicted an immense magnitude of discomfort to the public due to its ill-fitted location in the city, coupled with the poor management. It created chaos on the roads due to terrible traffic jams and caused distress to local visitors because of poor administration. As per the data provided by the Sindh excise and taxation department in 2014, there were more than 3.5 million vehicles on the road each day and a meagre force of 3,200 wardens to manage the traffic and it has only gotten worse; Karachi’s roads are literally flooded with vehicles. If one vehicle malfunctions on Shahrae Faisal for even five minutes, it usually causes disruption and delay for at least an hour. Under such an alarming situation prevailing in the metropolis, the administration of IDEAS blissfully blocked many major roads surrounding the Expo Centre locality, taking absolutely no pity on the local populace. They closed the entrance to Karsaz flyover from Shahrae Faisal, blocked the Hassan Square flyover, closed off the path from Stadium road to Civic Centre, ceased access from Liaquatabad to Civic Centre and instead diverted the traffic to University Road and blocked the route from there to the stadium as well. Moreover, the entrance to Karsaz road from Shahrae Faisal was subject to checking which created long queues of vehicles. Dalmia Road was the only open route which resultantly was overflowing with bumper-to-bumper traffic. Due to the disorderly situation, one is obliged to question the improper planning. Did the planners lack management skills or did they simply overlook people’s suffering? If impenetrable security was required for this event, why in the world was it organised in the heart of the city? There were many other alternate locations that could have provided impregnable security, such as the vast confines of the most secured garrisons or the many vacant plots of DHA. It is unfathomable why the management was stingily adamant on conducting it at the Expo Centre, that too at the cost of public peace. Aside from causing chaos and congestion on the roads, the IDEAS administration was wreaking a great deal of torment on the local visitors due to poor planning and miscommunication within the employed staff. In spite of developing a dedicated website, nothing of significant importance was posted to facilitate the visitors. The website made no mention of the dedicated parking areas, different-coloured stickers, entrance policy for children and the specified days to visit the Expo. To better understand the predicament, let me paint you a little picture of the scene. A man decided to attend the expo with his family. When he reached gate number one, he was directed to gate number two for parking. On arriving at gate number two, he was told he cannot park his vehicle inside the centre as he didn’t possess the red sticker. He was then directed to the Stadium parking from entrance number one. Unfortunately, he wasn’t allowed to park there either due to the missing blue sticker and thus the hapless visitor was asked to go to Stadium entrance number two. Upon reaching there, he was denied entrance since he did not have a green sticker. Confused and bewildered, the man asked for guidance to park his car and was advised to go to the China Parking behind National Coaching Centre (NCC). Thankfully, he found a parking space for his car and asked for the shuttle pickup point and was told that he would have to walk with his entire family, including the children to NCC. After a five-minute walk, they reached NCC and were asked to show passes of the entire family, including the kids. Before mounting the shuttle, he was required to show these passes again. Him and his family proceeded to the venue in the shuttle, however, upon reaching the entrance of the Expo, he was told by the checking staff to dismount his kids at the gate as they weren’t allowed to enter as per the policy. He enquired about this policy since nothing of this sort was mentioned on the website or the passes. He questioned why the passes were issued for the kids in the first place if they weren’t allowed inside, and if those passes were for specific dates only, why wasn’t it mentioned on them. Sadly, his questions fell to deaf ears and he was forced to step out of the bus along with his family. The unfortunate visitor walked all the way from the Expo Centre to NCC along with his kids and then went home after wasting almost one and a half hour. Is this how international events are organised? Why hadn’t the management displayed unambiguous instructions on its website with regards to the parking places and the privileged stickers? Why hadn’t it laid out clear and concise rules for children’s entrance? Why were they issuing passes to the kids with validity dates from 27th to 30th when they were actually not allowed to attend the Expo before the 30th? Why was the staff deployed at the entrance confused and miscommunicated? If vehicles without stickers were not allowed to park, why didn’t the staff inform this right at the outset? If children were not allowed, why weren’t they stopped at the first gate? It seemed as if the management was only interested in the comfort of the international delegates and was least bothered about its local brethren. Poor administration at the Expo and closure of major roads makes it clear that Pakistan is unfortunately still far from change. The rhetoric of “Naya Pakistan” is just a jargon uttered to appease people to attain votes. Our elites at the helm of affairs will never shed off their feudalistic protocols and will continue to inflict pain and suffering on the common man. And the common man will never be able to muster the courage to say out loud:
“Enough is enough!”
Unsung heroes often work behind the camera, working relentlessly to ensure everything is on point. It starts with a paper and pen and ends with a compilation, a script. It is about time I shine the spotlight on Faysal Manzoor Khan, a talented Pakistani producer and content creator responsible for the entertainment we regularly witness on screen. He has made a mark nationally with many successful and acclaimed dramas that Pakistanis hold dear to this day. As Faysal unveils his personal side, he speaks to me about his past achievements and future projects. Tell me about yourself! I was born on January 1, 1977 in Karachi. I completed my early schooling from the big city in 1996 and my family shifted to Peshawar a few months later. I did my A levels from ILM Peshawar and then moved back to Karachi. The year 2003 was a milestone for me as I enrolled in Karachi University’s Mass Communication department and started working for Eveready Pictures. I have always been an artist. I learnt the art of dancing at the age of four, despite belonging to a conservative Pashtun and Baloch family. There was a lot of opposition in my family regarding this. My grandfather was furious, but my mother took a stand and said,
“My kids will do what they aspire to do.”Since then, things changed. I never opted for dancing as a profession because of the stigma attached to it. Today I am happy, as it was all a part of the bigger picture. Walk me through your professional life. I love my professional life to the point that it is who I am. I have been able to create stories and characters in Dil Apna Preet Parai, Maike ko Dedo Sandes, Dil Ishq, Zamani Manzil kay Maskharay, Mol, Bholi Bano, Hina ki Khusboo, Sawera, Kiran, Roshni and Maikey ki Yaad na Aaye. I did a project for Seventh Sky as the head of project titled Aurat ka Ghar Kaunsa that won four PTV Awards. I will say, Allah has been very kind! Which of the more popular dramas have you produced, created or written in the past? And why were they successful? I have done more than 100 television dramas and a couple of feature films. Some of my plays were very successful, such as Silsilay – the second highest rated drama ever with a 10.9 TRP, Bholi Bano, Saaya, Mol, Sehra Main Safar, Dil Ishq, Baba Jaani, Koonj, Aurat ka Ghar Konsa and Kahe ko Biyahee Bides. I created most characters and stories. Therefore, I had absolute command over content, which resulted in the success of most dramas. What are your core duties as a content creator? Everything falls under the umbrella of content, including production and casting. The look and true feel of an honest depiction comes through content creation, and I take an active part in all these areas. What do you want your contemporaries to understand about content making? It is not an easy job being a content creator. One has to be devoted and dedicated to the profession, and should understand the social structures that surround us. What are your thoughts on today’s drama serials? Some of them are good, but as of late, I have seen many dramas on child abuse and rape that are intended to generate TRPs in the long run and not improve our society. In storytelling, self-regulation and social responsibility are crucial but unfortunately, many people are not familiar with these terms. As a growing fashion and media industry, we set forth the notion that women deserve better roles. Yet they are portrayed as mainstream victims, not mainstream heroines. Why do you think that is? Our dramas are female-oriented; it is just that the stories are regressive. I have done a few plays in which the female protagonist is portrayed as powerful; Mol, Sehra Main Safar and Kahe ko Biyahee Bides for instance. I hope I can tell stories about powerful women in the future. How is our film industry different from our drama industry? In my case, television is very important. My favourite filmmakers, Krzysztof Kieslowski and Hirokazu Koreeda started from television and ventured to films. In Hollywood, many film actors and directors are working in television. In Pakistan, however, some actors and directors have withdrawn from television, as if it is some kind of a downtrodden medium. I think every medium is of equal importance and has some purpose i.e. to send across messages to reach wider audiences. Where do you see Pakistan’s industry heading in the near future? It will evolve further! What are you doing now? I am working as the head of drama at Babar Javed Films and we will be producing quality dramas and films soon. Prior to this, I was the head of content at a top tier entertainment channel in Pakistan for four-and-a-half years, and worked on almost 50 projects with a success ratio of 90%. What are your new projects? I can’t name them, but I can share the themes with you: social family dramas, horror, romance and spirituality. Have you accomplished everything you ever wanted, or is there room for further exploration? No, I have not. The day I think I have accomplished everything I ever wanted would probably be the last day of my growth. My dream is to tell stories from my perspective and win the Palme d’Or at Cannes one day. Who encourages you to never give up and lose hope? My Almighty Allah. Complete the sentence: ‘I dislike...’ Lies and hypocrisy. Who has been your source of strength in the darkest hour of your life? My mother.
I will conclude with a quote,
“The ways of the mind are ancient but your Self is timeless.”As hardworking as he is, Faysal is one prolific star of our industry. You don’t have to be a celebrity to earn such a title; it is for anyone who devotes time and effort to a profession and embodies timelessness. Given what he has already accomplished thus far in his career and how he has contributed to television and to our culture, it is a no-brainer that we can expect great things from him in the future as well.
In 2015, I left to pursue my Fulbright scholarship aspiring to conquer the world and change the landscape of research in Pakistan. I have always found the general pessimism that prevails in our country to be severely problematic. For instance, how we as a country lack unity amongst ourselves and can never rise above gender differences, religious discrimination amongst the people and the innate negativity against the government. Two years of Fulbright gave me a whole new perspective on life. I discovered a world where things such as age, race, colour, gender and other such superficial constructs were irrelevant and your talent was all that mattered. What pleasantly surprised me the most during my time in the United States was the optimistic nature of the people and how willing they were to follow the laws. I tried to inspire myself as much as I could in these two years and came back to Pakistan with a renewed passion and zest for life. Upon returning to my country, I realised that I may have changed in these two years but my country hadn’t at all. Living away from home, it was easy to forgive all the negativity that defines our country. But the negativity doesn’t really go away. Everyone I talked to back home summarised each conversation with the same ages-old rant: “Nothing changes here! Pakistan was, is, and will always be the same”. All of us have complained about our country at some point in time or the other. Some complain more than others but living in Pakistan, we never really stop complaining. No matter how educated we are, we don’t think twice before throwing garbage on the road, or breaking the signal, all the while complaining about how dirty our country is and how much traffic there is respectively. We exploit our country every opportunity we get. As a society, we’re judgmental, misogynistic and discriminatory towards anyone who is even a little ‘different’. All this may be true but perhaps it is time we focus on the good, rather than just the bad. I have rarely seen anyone talking about the positive changes that have occurred in the past few years, changing the societal norms of our country for the better. One such change is the increased mobility of women. Up until a few years ago, it would have been considered anomalous to see a woman ride a motorbike on the roads of Lahore but just the other day, I saw a beautiful bike draped gracefully in a lilac-coloured net umbrella. Driving the bike was a woman, sitting with her two children. The exotic-looking net umbrella sheltered the children from the heat while the bike itself empowered the woman and was certainly not a sight to be missed. A few weeks ago, I was visiting a friend at Mayo Hospital, located near Gawalmandi in the heart of the old city. Expecting the usual judgmental glances, swarming crowds and poor hygiene conditions, I wrapped a chaddar around myself and entered from the backside of the emergency ward. To my surprise, everything had changed since the last time I had visited the place. The staff was well equipped, the place wasn’t too crowded and the nurses were kind and helpful. Wondering how the place had changed so much in such a short span of time, my friend explained to me that the patient registration system, lab tests and even medicine allocation were all automated now. Patients’ lab reports were now delivered through smartphone apps and the IDs generated by the system were all they needed to access their medical history. All procedures and systems were mechanised and throughout Punjab, all government tertiary hospitals were interconnected. This systemisation was at par with all that I had seen in the US. I honestly had not expected the oldest hospital in Lahore to have the same system in place as some of the most ‘advanced’ nations of the world. As far as changes in people themselves are concerned, we still have a long way to go. As a woman, to experience cat-calling and harassment on the streets of Lahore isn’t something unusual. Importantly, what may come as a surprise to many is that these things are just as common on the streets of Dallas and New York as they are in our country. While walking about on the streets of Puerto Rico, I realised that foreigners are treated with a lot of discrimination and aren’t exactly given a warm welcome by the locals. Regardless, South Asian women (especially in Pakistan and India) particularly become the brunt of such sexually driven attacks. Just last week around seven in the evening, I was driving around Barkat Market searching for a phone shop. As is the custom in our country, particularly in the Punjab, a group of guys started following my car. Since I had long come to accept and also expect this, I wasn’t too appalled and knew exactly how to dodge them and make my way to a safer place. As I attempted to manoeuvre my way around, a few men on bikes encircled my car and also started to follow me. The dolphin police officers sensed that something wasn’t right and decided to interfere. They stopped us, and forced the men out of their cars. I was shocked, confused and nauseous all at the same time and was wondering whether or not I should get out of the car. While I was thinking all this, a member of the dolphin squad approached me and very kindly said to me:
“Madam, aisa issue ho toh aap squad call kar liya karen.” (Madam, whenever you face such issues, call the squad for help)I sighed with relief; never had been I so happy, surprised and relived at the same time. This obviously doesn’t take away from the fact that change needs to occur at a more fundamental level. The idea that men derive some sort of satisfaction from following women around on roads in order to intimidate and terrorise them, is itself appalling at the very least and perhaps we need to sit and think about why we as a society are conditioned with certain beliefs regarding how to behave with the opposite sex. Similarly, perhaps our hospitals should have been automated since the very inception of technology and the idea of women riding bikes shouldn’t be pointed out as being unusual in the first place. It is equally important to note that these changes are most likely restricted to larger cities such as Lahore or Karachi. But the fact remains that we cannot change our history. We have been brought up with certain stereotypes and our governing system has always been inefficient owing to our colonial past. These things cannot be denied and it is highly unrealistic to assume that they will change overnight. Living away from home has taught me to be okay with accepting uncertainty. We cannot mourn over the past and remain pessimistic forever. When it comes to change, we need to slowly and steadily appreciate what’s already happening and think about what more can be done. Change isn’t a tide; it is one drop of water at a time forming a wave. Let’s be a part of this wave and do all that we can to become a ‘change agent’. Let’s spread the changes already in place in the larger cities to all peripheries of the rural regions where conditions are still the same as they’ve always been. We, the educated classes, need to be a part of this change because we are the ones who can read, write, observe and set the bar of what’s right and wrong. Without a doubt, good things are happening around us and we must do our bit by becoming influencers and not detached elites. Let’s make history as ‘doers’ rather than as mere witnesses.
On a cool and sunny November afternoon, Ahmad Habib sat behind his shop, located in Quetta’s main Liaquat Bazar, accompanied by a handful of other local shop owners. They sat together, enjoying the traditional kahwa with gur (jaggery), a drink designed to keep their bodies warm for long. Unlike the past four years, this year’s winter is warm and appealing, mainly due to an abundance of sunny days. More often than not, mid-November is a time when the strength of the heat gradually weakens and cool, dry wind arrives for an extended stay. These cool winds slowly whisper and signal the arrival of rain and snowfall on the mountains, and in the valley as well, making this a great time to visit Quetta, particularly places like Hanna Lake, Wali Tungi and Bolan. As a bonus, Quetta also gets its most colourful sunsets in the winter. Once the snow season kicks off, the Lak Pass and other highly elevated routes across the mountains are closed due to heavy snowfall. Here, the temperature in winter can make it unbearably cold, especially due to gas shortages and power loadshedding that can last for two to three days.
“The local traders too are finding it hard to get by. We have imported the latest brands of gas heaters from Karachi, Faisalabad, and Gujranwala due to the expected cold and dry winter. These new brands are equally equipped with thermostats that automatically cut off the flow of gas a few seconds after the flame is extinguished, as a safety measure. But it is unlikely for the sunny days to continue by the end of November,” said Akram Mengal, as he sat beside Habib.Mengal owns a chain of stores in various parts of Quetta, being in the business of trading gas and electric heaters since 2005.
“As a consequence of increased gas prices, our businesses are affected and people here are more willing to buy electric heaters, hot fans, even traditional stoves, rather than gas heaters to keep their places warm and to prepare food. However, the cost of these gas heaters is far too high when compared to prices over the past two to three years – approximately 600 to 1,000, depending on the size and brand,” continued Mengal.Natural gas is one of the primary sources of energy in most urban parts of Balochistan which is why gas heaters are considered integral, whereas rural areas are still lacking in better facilities and are forced to rely on traditional coal stoves, angethi (furnace) or wood fires. However, it is worth mentioning that these traditional ways of heating have widely come into re-use in most parts of Quetta and nearby areas due to severe gas loadshedding. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="450"] Using wood for fire[/caption] The excitement of the people of Quetta was not pervasive when the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the cabinet decided to not subject consumers to any gas loadshedding in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) in the ongoing winter season. The plan presented by the petroleum division under the Ministry of Gas and Petroleum promised to bring an overwhelming change in the old ways of natural gas supply this winter, and approximately 150 to 200 millimeter cubic feet (mmcf) of liquefied gas will be injected into the system to stop gas loadshedding in Balochistan and K-P. It has been reported that acute gas shortages in the extreme cold weather (minus six to 10 degrees celsius) have resulted in casualties for local residents, particularly women and children, over the past four years or so. In September 2018, the ECC had increased natural gas prices ranging from 10% for the lowest slab consumers to a shocking 143% for the highest slab domestic consumers, while the increase ranged from 30 to 57% for commercial and industrial consumers. This will surely boil down to a steady rise in the prices of electricity, coal and other sources of energy. However, domestic gas consumers have already been overburdened because they have to pay an additional Rs94 billion in the ongoing fiscal year for gas utilities.
“It is quite obvious that the emergency measure carried out by the new government led to more problems than solutions. The ECC’s recent decision to inject a large amount of natural gas in the system will also not be beneficial for the middle and lower middle classes, because such a high amount of gas is too far from their approach,” said Mrs Shaista Khan, a senior science teacher at the Islamia Girls’ High School, Quetta.As she rushed home with a large bundle of examination papers in her hand as well as her two school-going daughters with her, Mrs Khan continued,
“This year we forced the school administration to arrange the annual exams in mid-November, because last year the school’s management did not provide gas heaters in the classrooms and little kids were forced to solve their annual papers as their bodies shivered in the severe mid-December cold. It is not unlikely that a majority of local citizens will go live with their relatives in Sindh and Punjab for this winter. I am also planning to leave along with my family in mid-December and will be back in March next year, though those who do not have relatives in other cities will stay behind to face the harsh weather with no proper sources of energy and fuel, and have to pay a major part of their monthly salary on gas and electricity bills. Either way, the provincial government will not pay attention to our longstanding social and economic problems”.Many provincial and federal government officials argued in the past that the current situation in Balochistan should be treated as a clarion call. According to officials in the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA),
“We are working hard to ensure excellent services are provided to gas consumers all over the province, mainly in Quetta. Moreover, in order to prevent gas theft and meter tempering, gas meters over 10 to 15-years-old are being replaced with more advanced and speedy meters”.On the contrary, a large number of local domestic gas consumers have reportedly been accusing the Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) of demanding Rs10,000 to Rs40,000 on false charges of meter tampering. Though these so-called speedy gas meters were widely rejected by consumers in Sindh and Punjab over serious technical faults, similar cases have been reported in various parts of Quetta, such as Sariab Road, Satellite Town and Pashtun Abad. These stories are not unique. Their variants can be found in other districts and hundreds of villages across Balochistan, especially in the Kalat, Zhob and Ziarat districts. Kalat is located 136 kilometers from Quetta and is known as a historic city of Balochistan. The district has been witnessing gas loadshedding and low gas pressure for the past four years, while temperatures have been falling from minus 10 to minus 14 degrees celsius. Meanwhile, Ziarat, the district once famous for its dense juniper forests, a tree that only grows an inch per year, has seen vanishing junipers due to the widespread cut-off caused by these shortages. Over the last three decades, the people in Ziarat have mercilessly chopped these juniper trees to use them as firewood, due to the severe negligence of the SSGC. The beautiful valley of Ziarat has no natural gas facility, and despite loads of promises in the past, no gas pipeline project is under consideration here so far. The hills of Ziarat look almost barren now, and this reduced tree coverage is having a perceptible impact on the changing climate, the annual amount of rainfall and the scourge of deforestation in the entirety of Balochistan. Despite the fact that Sui, Dera Bugti and other parts of Balochistan have the largest amount of natural gas reserves in the country, people here are miserable, uncomfortable and neglected during the extremely cold winter. The less we expect, the more we are neglected. Is there an end in sight to our troubles? All photos: Saadeqa Khan
The traffic problem in Karachi has gone from bad to worse to the absolute worst in a reasonably small expanse of time. No amount of signal-free corridors, bridges, underpasses and new roads have been able to alleviate what is one of the biggest causes of suffering for the city’s populace. While the recent grand encroachment operation under the Supreme Court’s instructions turned out to be a beacon of light for the citizens, things once again went astray when this too resulted in no significant improvement for the people of Karachi. However, no matter how hard the government tries, it won’t be able to curb the growing traffic issue that results in the loss of millions of hours of productivity, blockage of economic activity and even causes environmental degradation, unless it focuses on the root problem behind the issue – the unchecked number of bikes on Karachi’s roads. In a city already plagued by a disproportionate number of bikes, where the bike to car ratio is ultimately too high in favour of the former, the makers of this single track vehicle continue to set new records for sales. According to reports, Atlas Honda Limited (AHL), a leading bike manufacturer, sold a total of 187,249 bikes in 2017-18 against 136,476 units in 2016-17, and followed by other manufacturers, a cumulative of around 1.6 million units were sold. This doesn’t stop here. Since prices have dropped significantly across the country, as many as 7,500 new bikes hit Pakistani streets with each passing day, adding to Karachi’s traffic woes and making traffic management that much harder for the traffic police. This massive influx of bikes wouldn’t have been a problem of great concern if only it was regulated. But a lack of planning on the authorities’ part, accompanied by the fact that bike owners seldom follow any rules – parking as they please, blocking spaces meant for cars, speeding and violating road safety rules – have turned bikes into a menace. Consequently, traffic jams in most busy parts of the city have become a part of our daily routine, and the traffic gains achieved through infrastructure during Mustafa Kamal’s tenure are long gone. Add to it the lack of investment in sustainable public transport by the government and the gradual decline of available resources, and a city faced with an aggravated transport crisis emerges. Perhaps finally taking note of the growing bike problem and the acute stress put forth by this on the city’s roads, the government introduced a 20-kilometre long bike lane dedicated for bikers on Shahrae Faisal, Karachi’s main artery, and this lane stretches up to Karsaz Road. Wearing helmets has also been made mandatory, accompanied by an awareness campaign to ensure greater road safety measures. As this is a first of its kind project initiated alongside a main road, it was anticipated to be the harbinger of change for the city’s unfettered traffic patterns, with plans to adopt similar measures in other parts of the city too. Unfortunately, none of the anticipated change has materialised and the project seems to be a failure as of now. Despite a ‘traffic enforcement unit’ reportedly being made from within the traffic police to ensure motorcyclists travelled in their lanes, every time I went through the road I didn’t find a single biker travelling in the designated lane, and there appeared to be no supervisory body monitoring this either. Motorcyclists in Karachi are either oblivious to the separate yellow bike lane, or all but refuse to travel upon it. After all, bikers are not known for following traffic rules, and therefore it is quite naïve to expect them to automatically start following the separate lane. This is precisely where the traffic police would come in, where they would not only identify violators but also penalise them with fines. Obviously, that didn’t happen either, but it does make one wonder how bikers are to be fined if most of the thousands are not following the law to begin with. Did the Sindh government really think it could change Karachi’s decades-old bike culture, where there is no concept of lanes and trespassing between lanes is the norm, just like that? The failure to implement the rules in this regard speaks volumes regarding the government’s lack of interest in solving the traffic problem and letting it turn into a mammoth that will only be harder to deal with in the future. Concrete steps need to be taken by the local government to solve the traffic problem and for that, public transport needs to be a priority. Karachi has never needed more buses and green line projects as it does now. New alternatives to public transport, such as the circular railway or even a subway sometime in the future, can help ease the burden on our roads and the increased reliance on bikes can be reduced too. However, if things remain the same, I am afraid Karachi’s trade and business activities will continue to be severely impacted as our traffic issue only worsens and more people take longer to get to their workplaces, causing irreparable damage to the economic hub of the country.
Sylvester Stallone is a great actor, especially after he’s had a few punches to his jaw. If you were a kid growing up in the 80s, Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger were the primary Hollywood heroes giving young men around the world bodybuilding goals. It was, of course, better to watch them than the flogging of criminals on national television during the Ziaul Haq era. One particularly provocative Stallone film which turned out to be a cult classic over the years was Judge Dredd. The idea that a police officer had the authority to carry out justice on the streets – as he deemed fit in accordance with the law – was controversial at the time. The writers probably had no idea this would become a phenomenon in certain parts of the world, going by the name of ‘encounter’ (pronounced In Konter on the streets) or extrajudicial killings. The parallel might be a little off but we can, ever so slightly, relate this to the judicial activism born in Pakistan during the end of the Musharraf era. With Iftikhar Chaudhry at the helm and the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) as the prevalent issue, the judicial machinery had found a worthy cause. All the courts, judges and the lawyers chipped in. Thus was born a Judge Dredd style rule of law: if the government won’t fix it, a suo motu will. It would not be an exaggeration to state that every chief justice of Pakistan (CJP) since Chaudhry has been involved in judicial activism in one form or the other. However, we have never had this penetrative level of government scrutiny at the hands of the judiciary, as seen over the last two years. If I am to trace back the accolades of current CJP Mian Saqib Nisar, whom we can safely address as Pakistan’s Person of the Year, we will have to go back to 2017 and the Panama Papers case. No one could have predicted that Nawaz Sharif would lose his political position due to a corruption case broken by a foreign journalist. At one time, Pakistan was immune to such scandals, but those days are long gone. The joint investigation team (JIT) formed by the initial Supreme Court verdict found enough irregularities to disqualify and imprison Nawaz, his daughter Maryam Safdar and son-in-law Captain (retd) Mohammad Safdar. I wish I could conclude this paragraph by saying this marked the end of their political careers, but as a noted politician once personally told me,
“A (Pakistani) politician’s career is never over, especially after going to jail.”Seems like it’s a rite of passage only those in the know truly understand. This year, CJP Nisar's perseverance in pursuing political cases continued as he courted cases against several other politicians, such as Prime Minister’s Special Assistant Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari. His persistence in prosecuting Bukhari for his dual nationality, going as far as to defy the “tabdeeli” Prime Minister Imran Khan himself, is really admirable. In the latest hearing, he went on to say that,
“If appointments are made on the basis of nepotism, then the court will interfere.”This has got to burn PM Imran. Meanwhile the CJP also needs to understand that nepotism has almost always been a way of life in Pakistan’s civil-bureaucratic universe (the CBU, much like the MCU and DCEU), but he probably has ‘promises to keep and miles to go before he sleeps’. The CJP's public profile received thousands of more likes when he tackled a few civil cases that had come into the limelight due to their complexity, be it political or legal, such as the Shahrukh Jatoi and Amal Umer cases. However, perhaps the most important and popular step taken by the CJP is the dam-building initiative and the start of a dam fund in his own name. While most of his rulings have made him a hero in the eyes of the masses, some haven’t gone down so well. The Supreme Court decision on the encroachments in Karachi led to furore amongst the masses. The key factor here was not only the strictness of the decision but rather the severity of the action taken by the civil authorities in Karachi. Perhaps the mayor and his political party finally decided to work and do something they were ‘told’ to do. The overzealousness with which this destruction took place saw the demolition of people’s homes as well as businesses. From a moral point of view, it could be argued that these people are at fault for doing something illegal in the first place. However, the execution of certain punishments requires a level of finesse which has unfortunately been missing here. Moreover, these actions are also leading to the loss of livelihoods and national gross domestic product (GDP). Please note that I am not using the word national exchequer, because a majority of the businesses that have been cleared out are part of the underground economy. No hard copy receipts and no tax filing – doesn’t mean they haven’t been paying their taxes and weekly bhattas. Numerous political parties have been trying to protest against this, however, these voices are muffled and toothless given the premise that nobody, and I mean nobody, at this point in time wants to stand in contempt of court. Personally speaking, the CJP’s crowning achievement was the Aasia Bibi case. Of particular note was the utter disregard to personal safety that the judicial panel had to endure in order to make a free and fair ruling on the case. It was a happy day that an innocent person was not condemned to death, and an even happier day when the miscreants were booked for troublemaking a week or so later. I don’t blame the people protesting on the roads for the chaos, however, I certainly do hold the leaders of these protests responsible for inciting violence. Anyone with a little understanding of religion would appreciate the importance of the judicial process when it comes to accusing someone of a crime, especially one as grave as blasphemy. There is no verdict without the presence of reliable witnesses and the verification of all testimonies given to the court. Therefore, the verdict should only represent what the evidence points towards. Unfortunately, people like Khadim Rizvi and thousands of zealots like him have become adept at manipulating the public and fomenting dissent against a non-existent enemy. With a judicial process willing to tackle controversial issues and influential personalities, Pakistan’s judiciary has its heart in the right place. However, I am praying this does not lead to the formation of another elite and impeding status quo, which it normally does in Pakistan. We need the CJP to fix issues like these, but I do hope he also fosters more judges like himself who would finally be able to settle tougher cases such as illegal land grabs, illegal places of worship and politically entrenched corrupt behemoths like Mr 10%. It’s a long way to go, but at least the direction is right.
Ali Raza Abidi’s cold blooded murder has left a huge void that will probably take ages to fill. His untimely death has not only taken away a young enterprising politician from us, but has also saddened the culinary world, the blogosphere and the Boston University alumni. Abidi was the father of three beautiful daughters and a handsome young son; he was also a loving husband, an obedient son and a thorough gentleman. His friends and colleagues loved him dearly for his gentle and cultured demeanour. I was also fortunate enough to meet him a couple of times and found him to be extremely down to earth and helpful. His colleagues from his Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) days have a plethora of fond memories associated with Abidi. As a member of the National Assembly of Pakistan, Abidi stood up for the rights of the people who sent him to the legislative assembly. Switching roles from a politician to becoming the chief executive officer of the famous Biryani of the Seas (BotS) was Abidi’s forte. The patrons of BotS remember him as someone who loved to cook and serve. https://twitter.com/murtazasolangi/status/1077633033916874760 It takes a couple of bullets and hired hitmen to snatch away enterprising people from us. Hakim Saeed, Parveen Rehman, Sabeen Mahmud, Shahid Hamid, Amjad Sabri and Azfar Rizvi are a few prominent names from a long list of victims who were mercilessly gunned down in broad daylight in the very city they had been serving with their sweat and blood. When men and women of such stature are targeted by these brutal assassins, the act of such criminals not only affects several families but also shuts down avenues of learning and progress. The city of Karachi has gone through turbulent times when dozens of citizens were killed in a single day over ethnic, linguistic, religious or political reasons. The bordello of blood that Karachi was facing came to an instant halt after Sindh rangers backed by the Pakistan Army stepped in and systematically eradicated all major criminal groups operating in the city. After almost a decade-and-a-half, the people of Karachi experienced absolute peace and tranquillity. The recent events, including the targeted killing of two workers of the Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) and now the murder of Abidi, have left a big question mark on the performance of our law enforcement agencies. Defence Housing Authority (DHA) is generally known to be a peaceful neighbourhood as compared to the rest of Karachi, however, many major killings of late have taken place in the District South, especially in neighbourhoods that are known to be fully secured. In such ‘secure’ areas police can be seen actively stopping cars to remove tints and fancy number plates, but when it comes to nabbing street criminals and hitmen who usually roam around on motor bikes, our law enforcers seem incapable of eradicating the menace. This recent wave of targeted killings should be taken seriously before more precious lives are taken away and the city descends further into chaos and lawlessness. The entire route of Abidi’s assassins can be traced using the footage from the surveillance cameras installed on almost all intersections of DHA Karachi. The solution to this menace is simple: install a network of CCTVs covering the entire city and deploy smart monitoring solutions. https://twitter.com/SherySyed_/status/1077652681106341888 What happened was unfortunate, saddening and infuriating. Let’s not go back to being the city where lives are cheap and terror takes precedence. For Abidi, let’s put an end to these ‘na-maloom afraad’ (unknown people) once and for all. Abidi will surely be missed for a very long time by his family, friends and colleagues for the selfless man we all knew him to be.