The false face of reality

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

AT a time when image building is the buzzword in Pakistan it would be interesting to note how others are faring in this exercise. In this age when capitalism, the brand name and consumerism have emerged as the salient features of a market economy and the so-called free society, image is the key factor that determines the worth of an item and also of a person or an institution.

If a brand has a good image in public perception, it will sell, even though it may not actually have the qualities it is supposed to have. Sometimes the image makes a product/institution/personality a status symbol which one must be seen with.

Similarly, a person who manages to project a certain image of himself will find himself to be acceptable irrespective of his true values. Conversely, if a country or a product or a personality has a negative image, it loses out on the advantages its forte should offer. But doesn’t all this presume that one can fool everyone all the time? This, we know, is not possible even if the government in Islamabad tries to sweep all the dismal aspects of our national life under the carpet. Be it Mukhtaran Mai, the low literacy rate or the prevailing poverty, each of these is bound to surface at one time or another and bring a bad name to Pakistan.
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Reviving Circular Railway

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

THERE are three elements that are essential for any development project to be executed smoothly and with the minimum of public dislocation and discontent. They are planning, transparency in the planning and execution process and public consultation at every stage on issues that have a direct bearing on the lives of the people.

When the government, because it has the power to do so, fails to keep these minimum requirements in view, it can lead to a sense of uncertainty and unrest in the public — and much speculation, especially in the media.

A perfect example of how development projects essential for public welfare may lead to a negative reaction from the people is the plan to revive the circular railway in Karachi.

For decades, Karachiites have suffered because of the absence of an efficient and feasible mass transit system in this megapolis which has expanded horizontally over the years.
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APHC’s message to Pakistan

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

THE All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) leaders’ visit to Pakistan came as a watershed in the protracted dispute between India and Pakistan on the status of Kashmir. In the bonhomie and euphoria that met the APHC leaders in every city they visited, some basic implications of the political strategy adopted by the Hurriyat leaders and the Pakistan government’s handling of the situation have been missed.

They indicate U-turns by Pakistan and the moderate Kashmiri leadership and a partial turn around by India. What is most important is that this turnabout is the best thing to have happened to South Asia — termed as the most dangerous spot in the world by President Clinton in 2000 — as it can now at long last hope for peace.

Taking a look at Pakistan we find that it had since independence pinned its entire foreign policy on Kashmir. We don’t have to argue whether it was the dispute on Kashmir which vitiated Pakistan’s relations with India or realpolitik compulsions of the two governments that pre-empted a solution to Kashmir. Whichever it may be, the fact is that India and Pakistan remained locked in a vicious dispute that cast its shadow on all other aspects of their bilateral relations.
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Nonproliferation: failure yet again

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

THE NPT review conference which collapsed with a whimper at the end of May went practically unnoticed in Pakistan. This indifference can be attributed to the fact that Islamabad, along with New Delhi and Tel Aviv, was not present at the conference which brought 188 NPT signatories together in New York for their five-yearly exercise.

Another reason for not taking note of the event is the apathy in this country towards nuclear weapons. The conference ended a day before the seventh anniversary of Pakistan’s own nuclear tests at Chaghai. It might seem rather strange that apart from a few peace activists no one even remembered that catastrophic day when Pakistan opted for the road which can prove to be self-destructive.
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Dilemma of youth

By Zubeida Mustafa

In an article in these pages last week, Barbara Ellen (I wonder what’s her age) referred to a new study that said that we could end up living up to the age of 130. She expressed amazement at the upbeat nature of these reports.

She warned that the chances are that at 130 we will feel 130-years old and not 18. How right she is. For as a transplant surgeon from Germany once remarked, “The challenge is not to add years to life but to add life to years!”

It is a miracle of medical science that one can aspire to be 130 and still not be considered off one’s rockers. But the elixir of youth continues to evade the health scientists. Doctors can elongate your life. But they cannot make you young again. The sooner one accepts this truth the better it would be for his/her peace of mind.

A few decades ago, a person who crossed his sixtieth birthday was considered to be old. In those days the retirement age was 55, after which a person could go home and prepare to meet his Maker. Today, in recognition of the fact that people still have a lot of healthy living in them after 55, the retirement age in Pakistan has been increased to 60.

In the West, they have gone further and people are expected to call it a day at 65 and still look forward to a decade or two of active life. But can those extra years that one gets be put to good use?

The fact is that while age is measured in absolute terms in the number of years one has lived, being old or young is something relative.

A young mother of 28 was taken aback by the surprised reaction of the mother of a little girl who was the friend of her five-year-old daughter. After introductions, she was informed that her daughter had been telling her friend that her mother was really very old! Can you blame the child? After all 28 is a long way to go when you are five.

Conversely, the death of two colleagues in the women’s movement in Pakistan (Shehla Zia and Saniya Husain) and earlier a human rights activist (Maisoon Hussein), in their early fifties, appeared to me as their being snatched away at a very young age. But when my grandmother had died at the same age when I was ten, I had perceived her as being old.

This relativity does affect our attitudes towards age and life. If you are young at heart you will remain young, it is said by many who don’t want to grow old. They would rather look forward to reaching the ripe old age of 130! But the fact is that you cannot defy the physical (and to some extent the mental) process of ageing. You may slow it down somewhat but that, too, not indefinitely.

Hence the over eager health fanatics Ms Ellen talks about are in a way right in their craze. They are not all aspiring for the target of 130. Ask any of them and they’ll tell you that their aim is that till whatever age they live, they should be healthy [wealthy] and wise and not fit the profile Ms Ellen draws of old age.

Those who are walking and exercise buffs will vouch for their non-interest in longevity. For them it is more important that they are not laid up for five years after a stroke and before they make their exit. Who wants to be constrained by restrictions of all kinds to protect their unhealthy hearts from further strain.

What about those who huff and puff around because their lungs have been damaged by their smoking like a chimney. And all this at the ripe old age of 45 — the magic figure mentioned by Ms Ellen.

The pity is that many of us who claim that one is as young/old as one feels, do things which will ensure premature aging. They indulge in the luxury of eating, drinking and other excesses which are only the privilege of the youth. But they consider themselves to be 35 when they are 60!

The sensible ones are those who adjust their lifestyle to suit their biological age. It is nice if one remains cheerful and enthusiastic about living. But for a 63-year-old to do what a 36-year-old does is ridiculous. May be he suffers from dyslexia.

Source: Dawn

How corruption hurts social sectors

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

THE budget season is here. Reports are being leaked to the press — obviously from official sources to improve the government’s image — about the heavy investment the policymakers plan to make in the development of the country. According to one report, the funding for education, health and other social sector projects in the Public Sector Development Programme will go up by 152 per cent from Rs31.3 billion in 2004-05 to Rs78.9 billion in 2005-06.

It is a positive sign that for once the government seems to be mindful of the development of human resources of the country. The federal minister of state for finance has also let it be known that the budget will be a pro-poor budget and will focus on the quality of life of the people.
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