Karachi mafia seek political clout with land grabs

Taimur Khan

KARACHI // Sometimes, politically motivated killings in Karachi rise, as they did after a councillor was assassinated this year and more than 100 people died in 72 hours of revenge attacks.

But on most days, the hum of death in Pakistan’s largest city is steady and routine. It is fuelled by the city’s ethnic political parties and their “land mafias”, who fight to control property that provides profits and political power. Continue reading “Karachi mafia seek political clout with land grabs”

Dark shadow of child labour

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

HERE is some shocking bit of news that bodes ill for Pakistan’s future. A seminar organised by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) was told that child labour was on the rise in Pakistan.

Given the flawed data collection, it is difficult to ascertain accurate statistics but the labour force survey of 2007-2008 put the total number of 10- to 14-year-old child workers in Pakistan at 2.6 million.

But in 2005, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan estimated that nearly 10 million children were working in the formal and informal sectors. It seems that the government conventionally under-reports the size of the child labour force. With 21 million children in this age group of which only seven million are enrolled in school, a whopping 14 million have to be accounted for.

True, not all of those absent from school are in the work force. But a substantial number are. Their plight casts — or should cast — a dark shadow on our collective conscience. There is something seriously wrong with a country which not only fails to educate all its children but also depends on them to keep its economy afloat. These dreary facts have grim implications. Pakistan is heading back into the Dark Ages with only a few lucky ones receiving education.

Hidden in the numbers are some alarming and hideous truths.

Truth #1: Poverty is on the rise compelling many parents to send their children to work for a pittance. If they don’t they will starve. They don’t have a choice. It is better to make a child work rather than ask him to beg or, worse still, to sell one’s children.

Truth #2: All our tall claims about educational reforms notwithstanding, education is a failing enterprise. The millions we have begged and borrowed to pump into this sector have gone down the drain because a majority of children who join primary school do not go on to the secondary level. In other words, most of them drop out after a few years of initial schooling. They are back to square one to lose whatever literacy they have acquired.

This dual phenomenon reflects poorly on a system that is unable to retain its students in school because the quality of education is poor and not relevant to their lives. Moreover, secondary schools are more inaccessible than primary institutions and not sufficient in number.

Truth #3: Our economic productivity is on the decline since the presence of children in the work force in large numbers does not really improve the performance of the various economic sectors. Children may be intelligent and quick to learn but they are no substitute for qualified, well-trained adults with mature minds.

Truth #4: Our population planning programme is in a total mess. A country with 12 per cent of its population in the age bracket of 10 to 14 years seems to be fighting a losing battle with demographic explosion. Forty per cent of Pakistan’s population is under 15, which presents a gloomy outlook for the future.

Truth #5: Ours is a nation of exploiters. How do children find a job especially at a time when unemployment is so high?

The fact is that selfish employers opt for child workers because they are paid less and can be manipulated. An adult is capable of demanding higher wages and resorting to unionising to have his rights conceded.

Truth #6: We are adept at passing laws and signing conventions but inept at implementing them. There are many laws on the statute books to protect children from the evil of child labour. The government is also a party to many international conventions such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 and ILO conventions 182 and 138.

Two laws, namely, the Employment of Children’s Acts of 1991 and 2001 specifically address child labour while the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1992 is applicable to children as well. There are lacunae in these laws that need to be removed for which civil society organisations have been lobbying.

It is a pity that the gravity of the problem of child labour has not been recognised in the country. It is not just the size of the population affected that makes the issue so grave.

The exploitative conditions in which children work are horrifying. Since they are not in a position to defend themselves, children become the victims of oppressive treatment meted out to them by their employers. Young children have lost their lives because of the brutalities inflicted on them.

The worst sector is that of child domestic labour which often involves children of a very young age — even five- or six-year-olds — and creates great emotional stress for the victim since he is isolated from his family and vulnerable to the excesses of his employer, which may include very long working hours, a low salary and verbal, emotional, physical and sexual abuse.

The worst part of the malaise of child labour is that it is not widely recognised as such. People are known to even purchase children for domestic work. They feel that the financial transaction has given them rights over the services of the child. The human dimension does not strike most people who employ children and rob them of their childhood, something they would not do to their own children who are the beneficiaries of the services of the child worker.

Until this nation learns to treat its children as the future of the country and invests in their education, health and security while seeking to nurture them, the outlook for Pakistan will remain as bleak as its present.

The State of Pakistan’s Children, 2009, (a report that has been prepared meticulously and with devotion to the cause of children since 1997 by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child) speaks of the need of building with like-minded organisations alliances against child labour. This is a valid recommendation if public opinion has to be mobilised against child labour.

The anatomy of advocacy

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

AT a recent art exhibition on honour killing in Karachi and that was curated by eminent art critic and editor of NuktaArt, Niilofur Farrukh, the presentations to articulate various concerns were followed by a lively dialogue.

One member of the audience raised the point that the exhibition and discussion should have been held in Nasirabad. This is a district in Balochistan where some women were allegedly buried alive in a case of honour killing in 2008 that shocked the nation. It was to the memory of these women that the exhibition was dedicated.

The idea was that a dialogue at the site of the horrendous incident would have raised awareness among followers of such obscurantist customs. No one would dispute the need to enlighten people in under-developed regions. But exercises such as the exhibition, the dialogue that was preceded by the screening of Beena Sarwar`s film on Mukhtaran Mai, Attiya Dawood`s poetry recital, Khadija Hussain`s poignant report on her visit to Nasirabad and an inspiring talk by Amar Sindhu are designed not just for consciousness raising. They are also intended to be a political statement and designed to give a voice to people in similar circumstances.

Moreover, in the Nasirabad case the act of defiance came from the victims themselves who seemed to be fully aware of their right to choose their own life partners. They must also have been aware of the risks they took. Theirs was an act of courage. Unfortunately, the affected party was too weak to even make its voice heard — their death gave them the publicity that could have helped them.

The Nasirabad women do not need any more education. It is their killers who definitely need to be told that there is no honour in killing. But will an exhibition of this kind in the heart of the region where such crimes are committed so brazenly change the male mindset? A heated debate in the Senate did not stir the conscience of those who uphold honour killing as a `custom`. They were not politically ostracised. On the contrary, one was appointed a minister.

So depraved is our political culture, that more than a decade ago a wealthy businessman and head of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Chamber of Commerce could arrange for the murder of his daughter in her lawyer`s office in Lahore for the `crime` of seeking release from an unhappy marriage. This heinous deed did not cast a blot on his public standing and the Senate refused to condemn his action.

Hence the need of the moment is to lobby and arrange advocacy campaigns all over the country to convince the powers-that-be that they will have to address the issues of women`s rights as well as many other concerns that have a direct bearing on the lives of people.

Often the laws do not protect them and need to be changed. If the victims are weak they can`t make inroads into the corridors of power. Since they are generally disadvantaged due to the discrimination they face they need help in penetrating the wall of apathy that surrounds our decision-makers. The Women`s Action Forum and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan are doing this vigorously.

Many other causes call for advocacy. Be it Aasiya Bibi`s death sentence under the blasphemy law or the injustices minorities suffer on account of their religious beliefs or the denial of rights to disabled people, there is much for human rights activists to take up.

In a country where social injustice is rampant, democratic traditions are weak, illiteracy rates high, intolerance is common and the rule of law virtually absent, no disadvantaged section of society can take it for granted that it will get its rights in due course and must depend on advocacy and lobbying to move its cause forward, bringing it to the attention of lawmakers, the judiciary and administration. Even when parliamentarians espouse their cause — sometimes they also become a part of the advocacy exercise — there is need to keep the pressure on.

The US which claims to be a democratic dispensation recognises lobbying as an institutional process but carries it to the extreme by reducing it to a financial transaction. This involvement of money negates the very concept of advocacy for the rights of the weak by making it dependent on financial empowerment.

Therefore, advocacy and lobbying must be accepted as a tool to promote the rights of society`s weaker sections. Its aim should be to influence the thinking of people who are in a position to introduce changes in the system.

To be effective, lobbyists must do their homework well. They must spell out their demands clearly and must also give wide participation to the people whose rights are being sought. That is important to make advocacy convincing. That is why I believe advocacy groups should have strong links with organisations working at the grass-roots. Thus alone will they be able to bring out people in large numbers in protest marches whenever these have to be held as a show of strength.

Another area where advocacy groups have to improve their performance is that of the selection of the causes they espouse. It is politically incorrect if they address one issue because it has won international publicity and not another because it is too mundane to make headline news even though a blatant violation of human rights is involved in both.

In a recent News Night programme with Talat Hussain on DawnNews, five guests who spoke on the issue of the rights of people with disabilities complained that no mainstream body in Pakistan is championing their cause.

This is strange considering that these rights have entered the domain of law through the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (that Pakistan signed in 2008 but has not ratified). The number of people with disabilities is sizeable — nearly 10 million. Is it, as Zahid Abdullah, an activist in Pakistan`s fledgling disability movement, says, that disability issues are not `glamorous`?

Wikileaks tests our media

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

IN Pakistan, the WikiLeaks drama confirms conclusively — if confirmation was needed — that the media has opted for its information and entertainment roles in a big way while abandoning its education responsibility altogether. By making this choice it has also made itself vulnerable to exploitation by vested interests. This has grim implications for the future of democracy in Pakistan and the media itself.

In the 1970s when strong voices of discontent were being raised against the inequitable international information order of the day, Unesco`s director-general Amadou Mahtar M`Bow, an intellectual stalwart of his time and a man of courage, responded to the concerns expressed. He set up a 16-member commission under Sean McBride, the Nobel laureate from Ireland, “to analyse communication problems” and “define the role which communication might play in making public opinion aware of the major problems besetting the world, in sensitising it to these problems and helping gradually to solve them by concerted action at the national and international levels”.

Warning that human history was becoming a “race between communication and catastrophe”, the commission suggested among other things that the information and education function of communication (the term used for the media) should be given importance equal to entertainment. The report published in book form in 1980 under the title Many Voices, One World carried a special message for Pakistan`s media which was at the time under pre-censorship clamped on it by Ziaul Haq.

We have certainly come a long way in terms of the freedom won after a vigorous struggle in which journalists played a key role. But what is disappointing is that the media, as it has evolved, has failed to meet the challenge of maintaining a delicate balance in its three roles of information, education and entertainment so that none detract from the other. What we see today is that the entertainment role has become predominant, with information being woven into it with great dexterity.

One should really have no objection if information is provided like a bitter pill sugar coated with entertainment. But the problem is that in this process of synthesising information, the media often trivialises it and facts are not clearly distinguished from fiction. A lot of the content of the media now consists of sensational information which is presented for its `entertainment` value. This is the case with many television programmes that dole out a lot of half-truths or fantasy.

It is a pity that this should have happened to Pakistan`s media at a time when it has entered the age of democracy. Of course it is not democracy that made freedom inevitable. The fact is that today the government cannot control the flow of news and views even if it wants to on account of the advance in communication technology that has made information so easily accessible. There is also the tilt towards the private sector that has robbed the government of its virtual economic monopoly over the levers of advertising.

But at the same time those in office have nothing to worry about. They only have to develop the capacity to laugh at themselves and desensitise themselves to the volley of criticism the media directs at them.

The WikiLeaks cables vindicate this opinion. It has been widely observed that all that was said in the cables Ambassador Anne Patterson dispatched to her bosses in Washington revealed nothing new. All this was common knowledge in Pakistan. Yet the leaks are being cited as proof of the wrongdoings of our leaders — because our own media has lost credibility and needs an outside stamp to verify its credentials. Then one newspaper group goes overboard and publishes a doctored version of the information said to have been contained in the WikiLeaks disclosures (the agency that provided the item is being blamed) to suit the interests of one of the key players on the political stage.

The new twist in this drama comes in the observation of some analysts that WikiLeaks is intriguingly releasing only pro-US establishment information and that too through selected newspapers such as the “ultra pro-establishment New York Times ” which decide what is to be released of the 250,000 documents said to have been submitted to Wikileaks. So far, only a little over 600 have been released. The recent split in the WikiLeaks team led by Julian Assange on the grounds that there was no transparency in his style of operation has also detracted from WikiLeaks` credibility.

What has been our media`s response to this development? It has picked up on the leaks to disseminate them. The focus has been on the information dimension. Information is basically the raw data that the human mind collects. It may arrange it to make it usable. But to become knowledge, information must have been analysed, processed, contextualised and integrated. In that form knowledge becomes meaningful and allows the person receiving it to develop an understanding of the issues to enable him to apply his own critical thinking to them.

This has not been done. Hence the `gossips` and scandals released were titillating. But they did nothing to promote a cognitive understanding of the issues raised, some of which are extremely crucial to the country`s security and the peace of the region.

Here I would like to reproduce a passage from a note appended to the Unesco report of 1980 that is so relevant for us even today. Written jointly by the renowned Colombian author and journalist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and another member Juan Somavia from Chile, it reads: “We want to emphasise that the `technological promise` is neither neutral nor value-free. Decisions in this field have enormous political and social implications. Each society has to develop the necessary instruments to make an evaluation of alternative choices and their impact.…[it needs to be] highlighted more strongly the basic importance that serious professional research will continue to have in promoting understanding of all these issues and clarifying the underlying structural phenomena.”

How many are too many?

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

HOW many schools do we need to educate our children? According to the senior minister for education, Sindh, the province needs no more schools. In fact he has announced that 1,100 schools would be closed down as they are “non-viable and unfeasible”.

Given the state of the education sector, this has unsurprisingly invited scathing criticism. In fact, I have learnt from reliable sources that the minister has informed foreign donors (the World Bank, the European Union and USAID) that the school census for 2009-10 conducted by the Sindh Education Management Information System (Semis) found 5,500 schools closed which are now being reopened on an ad hoc basis after ascertaining their location to ensure that no other school exists in the vicinity.

The education department believes that of these only 550 would meet the criteria to be deemed feasible. That in effect means that most of these earmarked schools will be closed and not revived. Since many areas in Sindh have no schools at all, a halt to further expansion of the school system is not sound policy.

A grim picture emerges. According to the figures by Semis, of the 6.2 million children aged five to nine years in the province only 2.7 million are enrolled in government schools. An estimated 1.6 million attend private schools. Nearly 1.9 million are out of school. The dismal quality of education is another cause of worry.

According to Semis which has been conducting a count of public-sector schools in Sindh for several years, the province has 49,000 primary schools of which 10,000 are without shelter and 24,000 are one- or two-roomed structures. With few exceptions, they have only one teacher. If the teacher cannot attend and no replacement is found, the school stops functioning.

This is a colossal challenge which the Sindh government has to address. Explaining the strategy adopted, Azhar Adil Dahar, the deputy programme manager at the education department`s Reform Support Unit, says as a first step he is trying to rationalise the functioning and location of the primary schools. Three districts have been selected to try the clustering of schools by merging their administrations.

Under this experiment, schools will not be closed down but share teaching resources. Thus a teacher may be posted in any school in a cluster where required. This should, at least on paper, ensure that no school stops functioning because the teacher is not present.

The second strategy is to address the dropout issue by creating a rational ratio between the secondary and primary schools. Currently, Sindh has 1,800 secondary schools with an enrolment of 850,000 students. Figures for the private sector are not available.

The lack of capacity explains why the dropout rate is so high. There are not enough secondary schools for children to attend once they complete Grade 5. So they stay at home. Worse, they forget what they have learnt and often lapse into illiteracy. Hence the government plans to open new secondary schools to fill this gap. The number will be decided after the primary sector has been set in order.

Again, what we have is a perfect plan on paper. Will it actually work?

To start with, Semis has to get its data right. For the census it depends on local functionaries — district officers and assistant district officers (ADO) — who in turn ask the heads of every institution to provide the information required. It was only last year that the government discovered that the censuses were riddled with inaccuracies because the questionnaires were in English and many of the headmasters who filled them out did not understand the language.

Now the forms have been translated into Urdu and Sindhi and a workshop held to train the enumerators. For the last census, five per cent samples were used for internal verification by ADOs. Next year, a consultant is to be hired for third-party verification.

The main issue that we do not hear much about at the moment is whether the existing number and location of schools that the education department says it will manage are enough for the number of children in Sindh, who must be educated. The complete statistical picture is not available.

Semis does not have the mandate to enumerate the private educational institutions. Many of the private schools funded by the World Bank have attracted enrolment from already existing private schools charging a fee. This means enrolment is not growing; it is shifting from one school to another. goth

Assuming that the province will have 45,000 primary schools (that includes the 100-plus Sindh Education Foundation schools and excludes the 5,000 closed schools the education department feels will not be opened) one can ask if this number is sufficient to ensure that not a single in Sindh goes un-served.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that there are areas with children but no schools. If it is ensured that there are enough institutions in appropriate locations to give every child access to a school, a policy of closing unviable schools will check financial misappropriation and streamline the system.

Closely linked to the viability issue is the distribution of teachers. There are far too many teachers concentrated in coveted areas like Karachi, Larkana, Naushero Feroze, etc. There are other places where teachers do not want to be posted. How the education department plans to get around this problem is not very clear although it is aware of the tactics teachers employ to evade unsavoury postings.

Positions are sublet to unqualified people or the teacher shows up in school only when a supervisor`s visit has been scheduled. It is difficult to say how the training programme is faring. This speaks of the flaws in the monitoring and supervision mechanism.

Senior officials in the education department do not make frequent and unannounced field trips. They obtain information from their subordinates who are not always reliable. With corruption so rife at all levels one is sceptical of the effective implementation of policies.

Blasphemy law amendment

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

THE uproar following Aasiya Bibi`s death sentence for alleged blasphemy has a familiar ring to it. If the past is anything to go by, we can be assured that Aasiya Bibi will not go to the gallows.

For every time a case of an alleged blasphemer sentenced to death has come into the limelight, there has been a hue and cry from the enlightened section of Pakistani society as well as human rights activists abroad, and the ruler of the day has had to give a reprieve to the condemned.

What next? Here is the example of Mohammad Younus Sheikh, a doctor/teacher in Rawalpindi, who was hauled up in 2000 under the infamous Section 295-C, found guilty and sentenced to death. Dr Sheikh won the support of some media persons and diplomats. His appeal led to a retrial that resulted in his acquittal. Dawn

Ardeshir Cowasjee and I wrote in support of Dr Sheikh in . After he had left Pakistan this erstwhile death row prisoner wrote me a letter of thanks.

I quote verbatim from his communication to convey the emotions of a person who had faced the hangman`s noose for “false and fabricated charges”: “The retrial was held in November [2003]. This time in view of the threats my lawyers had received, I decided to conduct my own defence. I was acquitted on Nov 20 and released in great secrecy on the 21st. Following my release I spent several weeks visiting family and friends, but during this time I received indirectly a number of threats to my life, and in the second week of January I heard that my accusers had appealed against my acquittal. I realised that for my safety I had to leave my country.”

He continued, “Happy though I am to be free, I cannot forget that as long as the blasphemy laws are on the statute books, they will continue to be misused. At this very moment [January 2004] there are at least 100 innocent people, victims of these black laws, languishing in various jails and lock-ups in Pakistan awaiting an uncertain future.

“It is a sad reflection on the state of society in Pakistan that even when individuals are exonerated, their lives may still be threatened by the fundamentalists and many will be forced to flee Pakistan. The state seems unable to provide us protection. I was not at all eager to leave my country and would willingly have stayed with my family and friends.”

That should give us an idea of the fate that awaits Aasiya Bibi. This is how it has been since the 1980s when Gen Ziaul Haq changed the laws in vogue since colonial times to introduce a draconian provision (Section 295-C) that prescribes the death penalty for making derogatory remarks against the Holy Prophet (PBUH). Isn`t it strange that a law that is supposedly designed to deter blasphemy has actually led to a rise in the number of cases reported?

Between 1927 and 1986 (the year the amendment to the Pakistan Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code became effective) 10 cases of blasphemy were reported. In 1988-2005, 647 people were charged for offences under this law and half of them were non-Muslims. More than 20 were murdered while they were under trial. A judge who acquitted an alleged blasphemer was also killed.

It requires no profound wisdom to see that the law is being abused to settle personal scores, tyrannise over the minorities and for economic gains. The laws have become a weapon for the fundamentalists to inflict fear on a society that has been becoming increasing intolerant. If people like Dr Sheikh have been saved it is because activists raised a hue and cry. But this speaks of a fire-fighting approach — the blasphemy law remains intact.

All kudos to Sherry Rehman, the PPP MNA, for taking the bold step of introducing a bill in the National Assembly recently that seeks to amend the blasphemy law. Ideally this law should have been done away with altogether. Sherry Rehman also admits that. But she says “there is no appetite for repeal”. Hence she has moved an amendment to take the bite out of the law. That is the approach she adopted for the Hudood laws — and succeeded.

As a tenacious fighter for human rights causes Sherry Rehman has sound credentials, and she must be supported. After all who would understand the mindset of her fellow parliamentarians better? Explaining the amended law, Sherry Rehman says that the blasphemy amendment bill requires the accuser to establish the “malicious intent” of the accused.

Since the death penalty has been removed and sentences reduced in the law, the incentive to use the law for other advantages has also been removed.

To deter false accusers with mala fide intent a clause has been added that penalises strongly all false accusations and there is a provision that all blasphemy cases will be moved to the high courts where higher public scrutiny is possible and miscarriages of justice less likely.

Dr Sheikh, who now lives abroad and campaigns for the repeal of the laws, wrote to me on “behalf of the victims of blasphemy laws” to say they “welcome” the proposed amendments. He suggests some additions which the mover of the bill could consider to further strengthen it.

First, compensation should be paid for the expenses incurred, the time spent in prisons which could have been used for socio-economic activity, for the life of a person killed or injured while in prison or on bail, or after being acquitted by the courts. Secondly, a criminal case against false accusers and false witnesses should be instituted automatically. Thirdly, the proposed amendments should apply to all the cases registered with the police since the introduction of the blasphemy laws. n

Dr Sheikh has a valid point. It is time for the Assembly to begin a serious debate on the blasphemy laws now that Sherry Rehman has taken the plunge.