Tagged with " politics"

This all pervasive misogyny



Every country has its fair share of misogynist politicians trying to tell women not to drive or have abortions, wear or not to wear burqa or contest elections, but Pakistan beats them all with the likes of Sheikh Alauddin who not only is openly misogynist, he is also ill mannered enough to call his colleagues – female members of Punjab Assembly – all kinds of names, names so impolite that not only some of the TV channels refused to air his tirade against women MPAs before censoring it, but the speaker of the assembly also had to get those nasty bits removed from the records. 
Women MPAs protested against his spiel about the non virtuous nature of his female colleagues, but when he refused to stop, Seemal Kamran, an MPA Pakistan Muslim League-Q threw a shoe at Alauddin and all hell broke loose. Ms. Kamran was barred from entering the assembly premises by the Speaker next day, was involved in a skirmish with the security guards and when she later tried to file an FIR against Sheikh Alauddin for harassment and misconduct at workplace, she was told that an FIR can only be filed against an MPA after directions from the speaker of the assembly.
It is sad to realize that misogyny is seeped so deep in our society that a woman as powerful as one sitting in the assembly cannot file a report against a co worker for workplace misconduct and harassment despite video evidence. It is so ironic that a place that is supposed to make laws for workplace harassment houses some of the worst offenders who have no qualms in calling their colleagues circus whores (the exact words of Sheikh Alauddin were maut ke kuwo-on mein nachnay wali aurtain among other things).
While some TV channels showed restrain and did not air the abusive language of Shaikh Alauddin, some other TV channels aired selective footage where Seemal Kamran threw a shoe at him but aired it with sensational copy and did not show the abusive and misogynist behavior and speaker’s lack of response which prompted that incident. People who have witnessed the assembly proceedings say that Kamran’s response may seem a little over the top but the women in Punjab assembly are only returning the favour after putting up with four years of verbal & physical abuse during assembly sessions. No wonder legislation against misogynist practices, domestic violence runs into snags repeatedly because our assemblies are full of people who consider misogyny a way of life.
It is also to be noted that Shiekh Alauddin’s rant against women MPAs has openly mocked the constitutional provision of reserved seats for women by calling them the group that violates the sanctity of the house. Election commission of Pakistan should take notice of this at soonest of it wants its authority as the supreme body for electoral process to be respected. 
Women rights groups demands action against Member Punjab Assembly, Sheikh Allauddin for using abusive language for women members of the house on 20th June 2012 which of course is an appropriate demand, but it is not just the action of one man, the incident represented a mindset that cannot accept women either in public spaces or in a position of power. We must condemn people like Alauddin for their reprehensible behavior but the society in general and women’s groups in particular need to look for ways to redress the way we view women in public spaces and positions of power and deal with this all pervasive misogyny. 
Originally written for  The Express Tribune, this is the unedited version.
Jun 8, 2012 - PTI    3 Comments

Khan vs Khan

It was rumored a couple of months back that A.Q.Khan would be joining Imran Khan’s Tehreek-i-Insaaf and I for one was looking forward to it. Not only the two man share the same surname, they both discovered the power of right wing dogma and stupidity on the op-ed pages of The News; Khan junior did it back in 1990s when he wrote op-eds on sanctity of “Chador and Chardeewari”and declare jeans as an almost haram piece of clothing and Khan senior did it in the 21st century when he decided to copy webpages of western universities and pass it of genuine piece of analysis. 
They both are also fond of giving headline worthy quotes to newspapers and have narcissist tendencies which meant that we would have been entertained on regular basis. Sadly Khan the scientist has decided not to join politics following advice from people who clearly do not want the newspaper readers of Pakistan to be entertained. 
I have a feeling that Khan vs Khan in PTI would have been more entertaining than spy vs spy.
May 26, 2012 - population, published work    2 Comments

Where are the health stories in the newspapers?


A country where 58% of the population is food insecure and over 43% children are malnourished, health is an outstanding concern all the time. Add the repeated misery of floods of 2010 and 2011 and displacement of population in hundreds of thousands because of military operations in KPK and FATA and it becomes an ever more pressing concern. When a matter is that critical, you expect to see highlighted everywhere. Unfortunately, the Pakistani media is, by and large, silent on this issue.
Let’s start with the health issues of children. Not only neonatal mortality is responsible for 57% of all deaths in children younger than 5 years in the country, the country also has the dubious distinction of having the highest neonatal mortality rate in the region. Nearly two million children less than five years of age die of pneumonia. Similar number dies of diarrhea every year. According to UN figures, around 432,000 children die before reaching the age of five in Pakistan and the majority of these lives are taken by pneumonia, diarrhea, measles, malaria, tuberculosis and tetanus. But if you go through any newspaper in Pakistan or watch any news bulletin on any of the TV channels, you would think that the only disease killing children in Pakistan is Polio.
Pick any newspaper, almost 90 per cent of the news items about children’s health cover stories about polio vaccination drive of the government, its success, failures and the political mileage politicians get out of it. Half of such stories would be based on statements by political personalities such as Aseefa Bhutto Zardari, Farzana Raja and Shehnaz Wazir Ali during various campaign launches. Ironically we are not even doing that very well and Pakistan is one of the three countries — the other two being Nigeria and Afghanistan — in the world which still has the disease. Pakistan has not done much to meet the millennium development goal of reducing childhood mortality by 2015 and control of infectious disease which should have been the topmost priority remains neglected.
Health experts have noted that the higher occurrence of communicable diseases among children and acute malnutrition in the country is primarily due to poverty, higher illiteracy rate among mothers and the government’s lack of commitment towards ensuring food security to each and every citizen. They also attributed it to the inherent problems in infant feeding practices and access to “right” foods, a problem that can be addressed if media makes it a priority and educated masses about it. Unfortunately media is busy pursuing its own agenda and is content with airing stories of nurses fighting it out with traders in the streets of Lahore during protests for increase in their wages. 
As far as health issues of adults are concerned, one sees stories only about cases of criminal negligence, medical malpractice, lack of infrastructure, absentee doctors and protests and strikes by medical and paramedical staff. There is hardly any coverage given to issues relating to nutrition, health policy, legislation and drug pricing policies, etc.
With the devolution of the ministry of health following the Eighteenth Amendment, Pakistan faces the challenge of developing a reliable provincial infrastructure that would integrate the efforts of various stakeholders in promoting better health outcomes. Unfortunately, we are not even at the stage where a workable policy is developed and budgetary priorities are reassessed, so developing a workable provincial infrastructure remains a distant dream.

Written originally for The Express Tribune, this is the unedited version. 

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 15, 2012 - published work, Society, women    1 Comment

The problems with Jamat-i-Islami

The war of the words between Jamat-i-Islami (JI) and Mutahidda Qaumi Movement (MQM) is neither new nor shocking. The residents of Karachi and newspaper readers all over the country are well aware of it. However, the latestround of spat where JI head asked the government to deal with their coalition partners – the MQM – in a high handed manner ostensibly to bring peace to Karachi borders on ridiculous, even for a party that boycotts elections and has not had any noticeable presence in the national and provincial legislative assemblies for quite some time.
For starters, MQM is the single biggest representative of the people in Karachi in the parliament and has been consistently getting the votes since ’88, kicking them out of the government and dealing with them in a “high handed” manner will not yield any lasting – or temporary – results. JI has been so long out of the parliament that its leaders have forgotten that popular politics is about taking care of the wishes of the electorate, not dealing with their mandate in a high handed manner.
By constantly targeting MQM, a party with a decent enough mandate in the province of Sindh, JI is indirectly proposing the political isolation and disenfranchisement of a large group of people. In a country where sense of victim hood is high among so many marginalized sections of the society, adding one more to it is tantamount to internal security hara-kiri, but JI is vigorously following this policy. Instead of working to bring in more groups into the political arena, they are trying to push away those who are part of it.
JI is supposedly a national party but they are only concerned with safety and security of Karachi – an issue that gets enough coverage in the media and is never out of the discussion. However, one is yet to hear a single word of condemnation from their leadership on the premeditated targeted killings of Shia Hazaras in Quetta, probably because the ‘banned’ organisations that have taken responsibility for most of the attacks are ideologically identical to the JI vision of a Pan Islamic Sunni hegemony.
While they are quiet on the Hazara genocide, JI decide to speak against the sectarian violence in Gilgit – Baltistan and are supporting the protests by Majlis Wehdat Muslemeen in front of the parliament. However their denial about the causes of the violence continues and they are blaming the ‘foreign enemies’ for the latest spat of violence in Gilgit-Balitistan. To add injury to the insult, they are seeking council from the right wing militant Sunni outfits – the very perpetrators of the violence – seeking to bring about the peace in the region.
JI also opposes the bill on the domestic violence which was presented again the national assembly recently after being lapsed. What JI should realize is that they have lost their right to protest legislative amendments when they boycotted elections. Only the parties with presence in the assemblies get to discuss and amend the constitution.
If Jamat wants to be taken as a serious political contender they need to focus on the issues that are relevant to the people of Pakistan instead of blaming MQM for violence in Karachi and USA for everything else that is wrong with the country. But if their previous record is anything to go by, it is pretty obvious that Jamat does not want to be a serious game player and is happy to play the rebel rouser with a nuisance value and not much else. 
Originally written for The Express Tribune, this is the unedited version. 

A slap — and then some

If you happen to live in Pakistan and have access to any kind of media, mainstream or otherwise, you would know the step by step details of Waheeda Shah’s slapping of a polling officer roughly two weeks ago. The commotion that followed the incident may be justified but if looked closely, every episode in this murky saga including the initial slap truly reflects the society we live in and is
nothing out of ordinary.


A well heeled feudal woman slapped a government servant to show her might. She did it because she knew that she can get away with it. Had that slap was not recorded by the television cameras in all its violent glory, she definitely would have gotten away with it – something that happens every day in this country.


The media rightly reported the incident as an act of violence and desecration of the election process but then went on to add dramatic music and some crafty edits to make it look like a case of repeated slaps. Our esteemed media turned a grave violation of law into a caricature which is quite the routine.


Pakistani police also stayed true to its character in this sorry tale. Waheeda Shah slapped the poling officer right in front of a senior police official – a DSP – who did nothing to stop the aggression of a powerful and connected feudal.


Under duress, an FIR was registered against Waheeda Shah, but instead of booking her for assault on another human being which carries harsher punishment, she was charged with ‘disorderly conduct at polling station’, an offence punishable with just three months imprisonment, a fine of Rs 1,000 or both.


When a PPP candidate is involved in shenanigans of the worst kind, how can Pakistani judicial activism be far behind? The Supreme Court of Pakistan also decides to jumps into the fray and takes suo moto notice against Ms. Shah because, let’s admit it,  her slap is the biggest issue threatening the core of the country. Incidents like genocide of Hazara Community  in Quetta and brutal killings of Shias in Kohistan do not merit the same response. Just like the country it represents, the apex court has its priorities straight.


Some women rights activists on social media  criticized Supreme Court’s decision to take suo moto action and said that higher judiciary’s judicial activism is directed to women alone because they are easy preys, be it credit card theft case of Shumaila Rana of PML-N, possession of alcohol; case of Atiqa Odho of APML or PPP’s Waheeda Shah’s misconduct during elections.


After ECP disqualified the election of PS 53 Tando Muhammed Khan, PPP should have graciously accepted defeat and vowed to get their act together before general elections. But as Pakistani we never learn from mistakes and PPP officials also supported their candidate with Agha Siraj Durrani refusing to buy the rumpus that followed the incident saying that Shah had “only slapped the staff!”

As if the whole brouhaha surrounding the incident was not enough, Raja Riaz of PPP decided to add his voice to the commotion. He first denied Shah’s assault on the presiding officer and said she was just “pressed.”He then defended Shah’s act of violence as the grief of a traumatized widow and then blamed the victim in true Pakistani fashion for rigging the elections.  Waheeda Shah and her act of aggression is not unique, Pakistan has turned into this Orwellian nightmare where might is not always right, it wins in the end as well. 
First published in The Express Tribune,this is the unedited version.

Mar 9, 2012 - Punjab    16 Comments

Imran Khan running away from Awami Tsunami?

If anyone is handing out awards for writing the most refreshingly hilarious news copy without even trying, this Dunya Tv report is the top contender for it. 
Imran Khan went to attend a political rally in Kala Shah Kaku last month and true to his elitist roots, got flustered with awami love. He first pushed an over exuberant fan, then scolded his party leaders for the ruckus and then jumped off the stage when that love and affection got too much for him. When asked why he jumped off the stage, Imran Khan quipped with “Abhi tau main Jawan hoon. ”
Looks like Tsunami Khan is not too enamored with Awami Tsunami, but what awami leader wants to run away from awami junoon?



PS: You gotta know Urdu/Hindi  to enjoy the clip to the max
PPS: PTI workers looked extremely happy eating stolen oranges. 
Feb 24, 2012 - published work, women    6 Comments

Politics is far too important a business to be left to men alone


Pakistan is a strange country. While on one hand it has had the first female prime minister of the Muslim world and has the maximum percentage of women in its legislative assemblies in the region; politics has not been used as a tool of empowerment for women at the grassroots.
It is a curious paradox and the reasons can be as varied as politics being a classist business in the country to general lack of women’s access to public spaces. If political parties are scrutinized, most female politicians are either siblings or children of the party heads or are married into the political families. There are hardly any role models, if any, of women political workers who assumed a leadership position after serving their parties over a number of years. Political ascendency on meritorious grounds is a novel phenomenon in Pakistan but more so in case of women political workers.
With exception of Bushra Gohar and now Nasreen Jaleel, no other party barring ANP and MQM has women holding pivotal positions in their parties and they too need to do a lot more. MQM’s Rabta Committee has a disproportionate number of men and the regressive elements in ANP still bar women from exercising their right to vote – as late as November 2011 when all the eight contestants of the constituency KP61, Kohistan decided not to allow women to cast their votes.
Importance of being out and about in politics is obvious to anyone with passing interest in it. The women’s rally staged by MQM last weekend showed us that politics is far too important a business to be left to men alone.
In a country where women are losing ground in the public spaces and confining themselves to fit to the desired patriarchal norms, the rally and its message that a strong Pakistan is dependent on independent women was a timely reminder that women need to go out and reclaim the spaces they have receded and find newer avenues to call their own such as political space at the grassroots. 
MQM may have wanted to show the world that Karachi is still their home and other political upstarts have a long way to go before they lay any claims to the city but what also comes across from this is that women as voters and citizenry are important and must be viewed as such by other political powers. The large numbers that turned up also showed us that women are interested if they are taken seriously and want to engage in the political process.
It is about time the political parties realize that women are a political constituency and their concerns needs to be addressed and fought for, not only in the parliament but also in their party ranks. This is the election year, should we not demand all parties to include issues important to women in their election manifestos and genuinely try to bridge the gap that exists.
In politics, the importance of constituency cannot be overstated. The MQM rally brought to fore the fact that the constituency of women across the ethnic, racial, tribal and class exists and needs to be catered to by all the political parties. Women’s caucus in the parliament have voted across party lines on issues that mattered to them as a group most and if the parliament is a microcosm of society, it can happen at a macro level as well. 
First published in The Express Tribune

PS:  The reason I have only mentioned ANP and MQM is that these are the only two parties where women hold positions as central as  Senior Vice-President and Deputy Convener. PPP’s CEC has a fair number of women, in addition, there are a few female politicians from PTI,  and the high profile female parliamentarians of PML-Q. With Maryan Nawaz Shareef, even PML-N is trying to score with women and young adults.

Feb 3, 2012 - published work, terrorism    5 Comments

All you wanted to know about Difa-e-Pakistan Council but were too afraid to ask


One cannot be faulted for assuming that Difa-e-Pakistan Council comprise of officials of defence ministry, four star generals and decorated admirals who wish to ponder over the defense needs of the country and make major strategic decisions. To find out that it is actually a motley crew of 40 odd religious parties, banned terrorist outfits like Jamaatud Dawa (JuD), a few other political has beens like Sheikh Rasheed and Ijaz-ul-Haq, and the former spy master Hameed Gul among others can be shocking. To figure out what it stands for can be even more astounding. Let’s try and figure it out by asking a few questions. 

So what does this Council stands for? According to Hafiz Saeed of the JuD, it is a coalition with the aim to “defend Pakistan”. What do they actually do apart from claiming to defend the country? Not much besides holding rallies in different cities and threatening the government of dire consequences if their demands are not met. 

What are those dire consequences? Chaos, anarchy and suicide bombings. But don’t we have them – anarchy, chaos and suicide bombings – already? Yeah, but they have promised to upscale the operations if their demands are not met.

And what are those demands? For starters, they want the parliament to not restore NATO supply lines. But those supply lines have always been open and were blocked only a few weeks back, why this sudden realization that it undermines the sovereignty of the country? Well, it is better late than never, isn’t it?  
What else do they want, surely they cannot spend millions of rupees on all those public gatherings to seek that government does not restore the Nato supply lines? The ultimate goal is to severe all diplomatic, cultural, political and economic ties with United States of America. Errr, can our country survive this ultimate isolation? Most probably not, but the Council would surely like the government to try that. Is it Just USA that they want to do away with or has any other country faced a similar wrath? They hate India just as much and are angry with the government for awarding them Most Favoured Nation status.

But by regularizing trade with India, the government will not only discourage cross border smuggling of goods but will also benefit from taxes and duties levied on the imports which can be used for public welfare, surely that cannot be bad? Difa-e-Pakistan Council is not concerned with public good, According to its chairman, “the council’s sole agenda was to ensure the integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan.”

What legitimacy do they have, if any, to demand all that? Between the 40 parties and organizations of Difa-e-Pakistan council, only JUI-F is in the parliament and they too have only 8 seats. One can surely figure out their legitimacy by their underwhelming electoral performance. They, of course, would like to think otherwise. According to Maulana Sami-ul Haq, Chairman Difa-e-Pakistan Council, their gatheringsare a clear message to US and it is a referendum for the government of Pakistan to immediately reconsider relations and foreign policy for US and its allies.

Does any of it make any sense at all? Not really, but then our politics has never been about logic, finding solutions and peace and harmony. It has always been about rhetoric, confusion, demagoguery and posturing and Difa-e-Pakistan Council is doing one hell of a job of it. 

First published in The Express Tribune
Jan 27, 2012 - Shahbaz Sharif    2 Comments

The buffoonery of Shahbaz Sharif



The buffoonery of PML-N leadership is well documented in Pakistani media but the Mian Shahbaz Sharif’s interview last night with Javed Chaudhry was so gallactically stupid, it makes one want to cry – literally. 
A few gems from this epic interview are:
“All conspiracies against Punjab government and corruption schemes are designed in the President House.”
 If the staff at President House managed to find some time off from fighting one case after another from a very partisan judiciary, they would’ve loved to hatch a scheme or two against Chotay Mian Sahib. Sadly they are busy fighting battles for the survival and finishing the term. Mian sahib should look closer to home if he wants to pin the blame – his own government.
“President Asif Ali Zardari is the responsible for everything that ails the country.”
Seriously? Is that your argument? Is that how you are gonna win next elections? By pinning the blame on a man who willingly gave up his presidential authorities to the parliament? Of course Asif Ali Zardari – the co chair of PPP – has control over the party and the government but you cannot blame his office for it.  

“CNG shortage is artificially created by the federal government to sabotage the public transport system introduced by PML-N’s government in Punjab.”
Gas is an exhaustible natural resource, and you would do well to remember that. No government, no matter how suicidal it is, would want to face public’s wrath during election years by making basic utilities unavailable – even if it is trying to make Chotay Mian sahab’s life miserable. 
“I don’t consider this person [Asif Zardari] the president of Pakistan.”
Errr …. All legislative bodies including the one you lead unanimously elected that person as your president. You may hate his guts but you can’t deny the fact that he indeed is the democratically elected president of the country. What makes it more ironic is that this statement was issued the same day when PML-N offers conditional support to the President.
“I am willing to take responsibility for the security of Mansoor Ijaz.”
I am so glad that Rehman Malik plans on filing a request for a ‘contempt of court’ notice against the chief minister.
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