Tagged with " KP"
Jan 22, 2013 - published work, women    5 Comments

Making informed decisions

The current session of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Assembly has been in session for almost a month; one would think that a lot must have gotten done in the assembly in terms of legislation and discussing matters that affect a large number of people residing in the province. And while a lot did get done, many matters that affected the women of the province were either brushed aside or were not addressed properly.

One case in point is the Elimination of Custom of Ghag Bill 2012. The Elimination of Custom of Ghag Bill 2012 was presented on the directives of the Peshawar High Court to promulgate a law. Under the custom of ghag, any man can publicly declare a woman to be his and that makes her unmarriageable for other men, restricting her right to choose a life partner. The new law makes the act a cognisable, non-bailable and non-compoundable offence.

According to the law, the violators can be punished or imprisoned for up to seven years. Though the original text of the legislation called for punishment of seven to 14 years, the punishment was reduced to the maximum of seven years. This is a clear and present problem in the province and constitutional petitions have been filed to stop the practice and criminalise the offence.

The assembly also reneged on another piece of legislation affecting girls. Ministers, who publicly lent support to the cause of elimination of child marriage, opposed the Child Marriage Restraint Amendment Bill when it was introduced. Though it was moved by a member from the treasury benches, MPA Munawar Sulatana, it faced resistance not only from the opposition members but also from the treasury benches.

The bill aimed to increase the legal age of marriage for a girl from 16 to 18 and the punishment in the Child Marriage Restraint Act. Unfortunately, the bill was opposed, citing the reasons as flimsy, since ‘the approval of this bill will create a new debate and more issues in the province’ to the factually incorrect ones such as ‘there is no age limit for marriages in other Islamic countries’ to the evergreen excuse of rejecting anything progressive by calling it a “western agenda”.

There are certain activities that only adults are privileged to participate in. In most countries, the age for obtaining a driving license is 18 — a time when a person is supposed to have finished high school and attains adulthood. Similarly, the right to choose an elected representative is also reserved for people over the age of 18 because anyone under that age is considered to be too young to fully comprehend the responsibility that comes with voting. If people are supposed to wait till they turn 18 for something as simple as driving and voting, then how come they are allowed to get married at younger ages when they are unable to make informed decisions either about choosing their life partner, starting or raising a family or financially supporting it? The medical complications that underage girls face after early marriages and pregnancies are an altogether different spectrum of the story.

It is about time our lawmakers stopped making the same old excuses of the imposition of  ‘western agenda’ and started making laws that affect the well-being of a very large group of young persons who will soon be their voters. This will not only help in increasing female literacy and improving family planning efforts, but there will be long lasting health and well-being benefits for that section of the population.


First published in The Express Tribune.

Dec 17, 2012 - published work, religion, TTP    7 Comments

How to stop worrying [about tattoos] and start [allowing more people to continue] living



If Pakistanis are good at anything, it is forgetting the core of a problem and going in pursuit of the frivolous. The recent case of this inanity followed after the weekend attack on Peshawar airport and the PAF airbase adjoining it.

The attack on the airport killed around ten people, including five of the attackers, and wounded dozens. It should have forced us to rethink the possibility of coming up with the alternative counter terrorism, counter-insurgency and intelligence strategies because the ones that are at present in operation are clearly not working.

One would have thought, or rather hoped, that the politicians, policymakers and defence strategists would sit down and try to come up with a long-lasting effective solution but no tragedy in this country is big enough to make us do that. However, a tattoo on the body of one of the slain terrorists has made every politically religious-minded person come out in defence of the TTP (which has already claimed the responsibility for the attack). It clearly indicates that our priority lies not in making the country secure for its citizens but in coming up with excuses that Muslims cannot kill Muslims and in justifying that members of the TTP cannot sport tattoos of fantasy and erotica genres.

From Mufti Naeem of Karachi’s Jamia Binoria to Professor Khursheed Ahmed of the Jamaat-e-Islami to Tahir Ashrafi of the Pakistan Ulema Council, everyone has come out and said that a practising Muslim cannot have such demonic images on his body.

Their argument is fallacious and we know that Muslims kill Muslims all the time; they did that during the Iran-Iraq War, they have been at it since the Soviets left Afghanistan and they are doing it every day in Pakistan. Muslims can and do have tattoos — and with a 97 per cent Muslim population, the tattoo business is on the rise in Pakistan’s big cities. One must ask these gentlemen about the non-practising Muslims or those who probably dabbled in Goth rock previously and then were recruited by the Taliban. We know that nothing is out of the realm of possibility.

This is not the first time we have deviated from what is important and focused on the peripheral. The current adviser to the prime minister on interior has likened attackers in the past — in the case of the PAF Mehran Base — to characters out of Star Wars. Most of us joked about Darth Vader attacking the base but let us pause and pontificate about the feelings of the families of those who perished in the attacks and had to listen to supposedly responsible officials making a mockery of their loss by giving such statements.

ANP ministers in KPK celebrate Dileep Kumar’s birthday in Peshawar and Sind Assembly passed resolutions on Michael Jackson’s death. Parliamentarians in the Punjab assembly do not care about going after the religious extremists and terrorists present in the province, instead preferring to go after tax-paying cellular companies, their customers and their late-night telephone habits. If our parliamentarians cannot discern between the importance of a few hundred thousand teenagers indulging in late-night romance and terrorists involved in heinous sectarian killings and suicide bombings, then they perhaps should not be sitting in the august assemblies lording over our fates.

Tattoos on the bodies of terrorists, late-night phone packages and Dilip Kumar’s 90th birthday are not our concerns; the security of citizens and creating an environment that encourages healthy economic activity are. It is about time we focus on the fundamentals and ignore the frivolous.

First Published in The Express Tribune 

The dead terrorist with the “demonic” tattoo – photo courtesy Reuters

Here are some examples of shariah compliant tattoos

 

May 11, 2012 - published work, religion, Society    3 Comments

The fatwa factory

There is so much that needs to be done in Pakistan that one does not know where to start. The country is suffering the worst energy crisis of its history; it is food insecure like never before and almost half the children in the country are malnourished and stunted. In short, we are teeming millions who cannot feed themselves, have limited access to energy and will be dumber and weaker in future because of stunted mental and physical growth of our children. At such a juncture of history, what is it that we do most? We issue fatwas promoting misogyny and obscurantism; against hygiene, education, health and progress.
The latest in the line of outrageous fatwas is issued by a former legislator. Maulana Abdul Haleem, of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazlur Rehman, came up with a series of misogynist fatwas, clearly detailing what should be the priorities of his political and religious followers. For starters, the fatwa declares formal education for women to be unIslamic. As just declaring the act of going to school and getting some education irreligious was not enough, he also had to reprimand the parents who send their girls to schools in Kohistan and asked them to terminate their education. He told them, in no uncertain terms, that failure to do so will earn them a spot in eternal hellfire.
The fatwa does not end here. It goes on to declare all the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in the region as ‘hubs of immodesty’. He first blames the women working in those NGOs for mobilizing local women on health and hygiene issues and then calls on the local men to marry the unmarried NGO workers – forcefully if they have to – to make them stay at home. Maulana Haleem’s religious credentials are dubious at best as this is the guy who thinks growing poppy for heroine production is shariah compliant. 
In short, a former legislator issues random fatwas during a Friday sermon inciting hatred against a group of people (NGO workers) and declaring the constitutional rights of getting education for half the population haram and no one barring a few bloggers and tweeters raised an eye brow. A non issue like memogate which does not affect the life of any Pakistani other than our former ambassador to USA, gets yards of column space and thousands of minutes of airtime. A religious decree that can affect life and livelihood and future of many Pakistani is not worth pondering or protesting.
Had it been just one fatwa from one cleric in one remote corner, we would have had the luxury to ignore it. Unfortunately we churn out one religious edict after another for most ludicrous of purposes. If declaring vegetarian items like potato chips and hair implant services halal is considered viable marketing gimmick, then abduction of minor girls from minority communities also get a sanction in a fatwa (and a court judgment). Fatwas are so commonplace than even KESC had to resort to seek a fatwa a few years back to get people pay for the electricity. As KESC is still laden with hundreds and thousands of unpaid bills, we all know how effective that fatwa turned out to be. 
A country like ours can ill afford adventurism of any kind, but most dangerous is the practice of resorting to fatwa to get a point across. Not only it breeds a narrow and rigid view of the things, it does not leave any room for dialogue, debate and consultation, making us an even more intolerant bunch. 

Written for Express Tribune, this is the unedited version.
Apr 21, 2012 - published work, terrorism    2 Comments

The geography of news

With its incidents of terrorism dominating the airwaves, Karachi probably is considered the most dangerous part of the world’s most dangerous country. It may be true but it is definitely not the whole truth. Any news originating in Karachi trumps news originating in any other part of the country because Karachi is at the centre of the journalism business and other peripheral areas just do not get similar airtime. A recent study by Intermedia Pakistan on “How Pakistani Media reports terrorism-related conflict”, reveals that the geography of a news item is very important in determining its selection and and placement.
The study came up with some very interesting observations. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), Fata, Balochistan and Sindh seem to be suffering almost daily from incidents of terror. While the print media is giving due coverage to all regions, the priority and non-priority areas are quite obvious in electronic media reporting.
According to the study, Sindh remains a priority area for TV channels. One of the reasons that Sindh is regularly featured with respect to terrorism could be the fact that terrorism incidents in Sindh, specifically Karachi, are usually linked to political upheaval. The fact that the head offices of most news channels with a team of skilled reporters happen to be in Karachi, also helps in detailed reporting of many aspects of the incidents, something which is not possible in remote areas. On the other hand, news about Fata and K-P seems to be relatively underplayed on TV.
The study reports a total of 119 incidents of terrorism in Sindh between January and March 2012. On TV, the region seems to be a priority with 56 stories aired in the monitored bulletins. Balochistan was mentioned as a terrorism target as many as 123 times during the same period but the number of related news items about the province was only 15.
However, it is not only the number of items about Sindh that makes this region a priority area. A look at the placement and significance of news items from here confirms this trend. Television channels give priority to certain news items by putting them ahead in news bulletins; news generated in Sindh is given more priority in prime time bulletins compared with news generated in Balochistan.
Balochistan seems largely under-reported on the electronic media. News from Balochistan makes only nine per cent of news on the nine o’clock bulletin. The whole world knows how bad the situation is in Balochistan and that incidents of terrorism occur every day, yet the province only gets about 10 per cent of the priority time in television news bulletins. The print media has been more responsible regarding this and 28 per cent of priority items that appear on the front page of newspapers are from Balochistan.
News is a serious business and reporting terrorism is a very sensitive matter. Many reporters have lost their lives while reporting from the conflict zones of Balochistan and Fata because militants felt that they were not given enough coverage. If news reporting continues to be about the urban centres, not only will we not know what is truly happening in the areas of our news periphery, but it may also trigger misguided policies at the state level.
The detailed report is available online at Intermedia’s website www.intermedia.org.pk

Originally written for The Express Tribune 

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