The veil face-off

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By Zubeida Mustafa

TO veil or not to veil, that is the question. And that continues to be asked in Europe where France, Belgium, Spain and Italy have imposed a ban on the niqab in public places. The niqab shrouds the entire face and leaves small slits for the eyes. The ban does not apply to the more ubiquitous hijab, a head scarf that leaves the face fully exposed. No country has so far restricted the hijab.

The latest to pronounce a verdict on this controversial item of the female apparel is the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg where a French woman SAS (identity not disclosed) of Pakistani origin filed a case against the French law forbidding the use of the full-face veil in public places. SAS claimed that the law violated her “freedom of religion and expression”. Continue reading

8 Comments | Posted in Human Rights, Islamisation, Justice, Minorities, New, Social Issues, Women |

Our own insecurity

global-insecurity

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE 2014 global attitudes project of the Washington-based Pew Research Centre has been widely cited to show that a majority of people in Pakistan do not look upon the Taliban favourably. According to Pew’s finding, 59pc of those questioned felt negatively vis-à-vis the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Last year, when a similar survey was held this number was slightly lower, with 56pc expressing disapproval of the militants who have no qualms about blowing up people, including women and children, in brutal acts of terrorism. Yet 66pc said they were concerned about religious extremism. It seems many of the respondents did not regard the TTP to be extremists, which speaks volumes for public perceptions in Pakistan. Continue reading

3 Comments | Posted in Islamisation, Law & Order, New, Terrorism and Violence |

No standards set

Medicine_health

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE health sector should be of concern to all — even to those who go to the best private medical practitioners. Disease transcends borders, and strikes the rich and poor alike, though the latter are more vulnerable. Besides, health issues affect the country’s international status as was demonstrated by the polio emergency that led to the imposition of new conditions on Pakistanis embarking on foreign travel.

Hence should not the concerned citizens be involved in what can be termed the regulation of the medical system as they are reaching out in the education sector? Not just altruism or civic responsibility but also narrow self-interest should prompt the intelligentsia to take more interest in the healthcare delivery system. Continue reading

2 Comments | Posted in Administration, Health, New, Social Issues |

A cry for help

By Zubeida Mustafa

WITH the Pakistan Army’s attack on the militants in North Waziristan, a human tragedy of gargantuan proportions has been unfolded. Unsurprisingly, the government failed to anticipate the consequences of this move and did not act in time to avert a catastrophe. It has only compounded the crisis the country faces.

The latest avoidable disaster to visit us is that of the internally displaced people or IDPs — the hapless victims of Operation Zarb-i-Azb — who have been forced to leave their homes in North Waziristan. This was inevitable if Pakistan is to be saved from our self-created Frankenstein that was intended to provide the country with the questionable advantage of strategic depth. The crackdown has come, belatedly though, with no preparations for the aftermath.

As a result we have the suffering of nearly 450,000 IDPs on our conscience. This phenomenon could have been anticipated. It just required greater sensitivity from those whose responsibility it is under international humanitarian law — specifically the Geneva Convention IV, 1949 — to protect the rights of civilians displaced by hostilities in war-affected areas. Under this convention one doesn’t even have to cross an international boundary to become an IDP. And 75pc of those who have fled their homes are women and children. Continue reading

3 Comments | Posted in Defence and Disarmament, Development and Poverty, Human Rights, New, War and Peace |

TV then and now

guest-contributor

by Rifaat Hamid Ghani

TV started out in Pakistan as a government monopoly dressed up as a semi-autonomous corporation. There was every reason for PTV to be a disaster, yet it was an enviable success.

President Field Marshal Ayub loved it for its power as a propaganda tool that dispensed with literacy requirements and had more magnetism than the radio. Aslam Azhar, PTV’s defining and trail-blazing station-manager, loved it for what it could do to educate and inform. That was the idealist in him. The actor in him loved it because it was a creative medium. The PTV he nurtured with a board of imaginative mandarins to back him, had an egalitarian working environment and it changed norms and mores.

All within the parameters of the Ministry of Information’s most stringent rules the new medium empowered women, dignified the artiste, and changed social conventions. PTV gave the artistes and creators of drama, music, dance, a place to go and be and earn. It gave the entertainment industry a respectability which assured parents their young could participate despite the amazingly irregular working hours and rather low grade recognition granted the programme producer, bureaucratically speaking. Of course the outreach of PTV’s state propaganda was soul-deadening – but even so programmes like Alif Noon redeemed much. And in terms of professionalism and entertainment value the quality of PTV programming and production and technical transmission dominated the region and was an exemplar.

Cut to now. Continue reading

4 Comments | Posted in Culture and the Arts, Education, Guest Contributor, History, Human Rights, Media |

O the rankings again

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By Zubeida Mustafa

THE Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings released last week offers some food for thought — that is, if we do not dismiss this annual exercise as a Jewish conspiracy. For Pakistan the bad news is that none of our universities figure in the first 400 institutions of higher education ranked globally. Pakistan failed to make it even to the top 100 Asian institutions.

Using carefully selected criteria, THE ranks universities across the globe according to their “core missions — teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook.” As can be expected, American and European universities have the highest ranking — the California Institute of Technology, Harvard University and the University of Oxford are the top three. Asia also boasts of 20 universities that are part of this prestigious global list — the University of Tokyo was judged as the best in the continent, and China, Korea and Singapore are making remarkable headway. Continue reading

2 Comments | Posted in Children and Youth, Economy, Education, Information |

How the women of Pakistan cope with war, honor killing and prejudice

By Zubeida Mustafa

How do women cope in Pakistan? This is a question I am very frequently asked by people in the West who are flooded by news of all the incessant outrageous happenings in my country. One cannot deny that in times of crisis that have global bearings—as in the Afghan war of the 1980s and the post-9/11 years—Pakistan receives more than its share of publicity in the international media. Regrettably, most of it is negative. And quite a lot of it is also true.

However, like the proverbial half-empty or half-full glass, the impression one forms depends on the context in which one sees a situation. Since the reporting tends to be heavily based on received wisdom, the truth does not emerge fully. As a result, only the bad news of the half-empty glass is reported, which reinforces the fears of skeptics: The fires of violence in Pakistan will engulf the world and destroy it. But there is no mention of the half-full glass that gives many of us hope. Continue reading

Leave a comment | Posted in Development and Poverty, Education, Human Rights, War and Peace, Women |

Somewhere buried

guest-contributorBy Rifaat Hamid Ghani

SOMEWHERE  buried under multitudinous leaders lie we the people. What is it like to be a citizen of Pakistan, a plain ordinary citizen who does not want or cannot aspire to dual nationality? An anonymous citizen unlikely to be granted asylum or residence in Dubai, London, Saudi Arabia; or green cards in greener pastures:Citizens with horizons so narrow as to be nationally rather than globally oriented. Citizens threatened by terrorism.

None of us want to be bossed around by the foot soldier with an officer behind him. But neither do we enjoy being served the way we are by civil politicians, be they with the opposition or the government of the day. There is a limit to the amount of tomfoolery that can be endured in the name of democratic dissent and freedom of speech. Or perhaps there is not for we remain easy prey to demagogues and fallacy-mongering. Continue reading

1 Comment | Posted in Guest Contributor, Law & Order, Politics, Terrorism and Violence |

Human side of jobs

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By Zubeida Mustafa

A MAJOR challenge faced by Pakistan’s economy today is one of providing opportunities for income generation to the fast-growing manpower. With the country’s population escalating at the rate of 2 per cent per annum and three million young people coming of age every year the first priority is obviously job creation. But barely 700,000 new jobs are generated annually.

According to statistics given by Michael Kugelman of the Woodrow Wilson International Centre, Washington, this has led to a massive exodus of young people to cities and this has caused rapid urbanisation in the country which, in turn, has created difficulties of its own. Continue reading

2 Comments | Posted in Development and Poverty, Economy, Labour, New, Women |

Education myths

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By Zubeida Mustafa

IT is budget time in Pakistan and one issue of special concern to the people is the attention that the education sector will receive from those who hold the purse strings. In the federal budget for 2014-15 Finance Minister Ishaq Dar announced an allocation of Rs63bn for higher education. The true picture will emerge only when the provincial budgets are presented, as they address the bulk of the education sector.

There are, however, a number of myths that surround this vital area of national life. One that has been perpetuated for long is that the more funds poured into education the more the latter will improve. For long the size of the education budget has been used as a yardstick to measure the government’s commitment to this sector. Hence the boast generally in budget speeches about the size of the education expenditure. Continue reading

4 Comments | Posted in Constitution, Culture and the Arts, Economy, Education, History, Human Rights, New, Social Issues |