Yearly Archives: 2018

Fighting harassment

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE theme of Tehreek-i-Niswan’s fourth Peace Table held a fortnight ago was sexual harassment. This was very timely. #MeToo has made a controversial debut in the country with no consensus on the issue. As a television actor aptly said, “Women in our society remain united when it comes to keeping their mouth shut, and are divided when they speak up.”

The country now has a law in place, Protection of Women against Harassment at the Workplace. Yet women are hesitant to step forward and speak of their personal experiences. Our patriarchal culture, a flawed law and a weak machinery for implementation put women on the defensive. While some respond meekly, others give vent to their anger (usually on social media) to lash out at their oppressors. Continue reading Fighting harassment

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US-Pakistan relations at a razor’s edge

The Torkham border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan. (Wikimedia Commons)

Truthdig is proud to present this article as part of its Global Voices: Truthdig Women Reporting, a series from a network of female correspondents around the world who are dedicated to pursuing truth within their countries and elsewhere.

By Zubeida Mustafa

A sober anniversary last month reminded us of the U.S. attack on Afghanistan that took place on Oct. 7, 2001, in the wake of 9/11. The consequences of that American invasion were severe for Afghanistan, but the impact also crossed the long border shared with Pakistan.

Both Afghanistan and Pakistan continue to stagger under the effects of an international conflict that extends back almost four decades. It is generally believed across the world that the Soviet Union triggered that conflict when it invaded Afghanistan in 1979. But we now know better, thanks to an admission in 1998 by Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser. Brzezinski said Afghanistan became a flashpoint when he and the then-president sent “freedom fighters” from Pakistan into Afghanistan to force the Soviets to defend the Afghan government. Gen. Zia ul-Haq, the military dictator who ruled Pakistan at the time, went along with this scheme to break out of the isolation he found himself in after he ordered the hanging of former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Today, Pakistan and the U.S. face a stalemate in Afghanistan. Since President Donald Trump announced his South Asian strategy in August 2017, relations between the two countries have cooled visibly. Trump’s strategic plan put new pressure on Pakistan to stop protecting terrorists on the Pakistani-Afghan border.

Islamabad denies that terrorists enjoy sanctuary in Pakistan. It claims militants causing devastation in Afghanistan and destabilizing that country have done so on the Afghan side of the border after they were driven out of Pakistan. But deadly incidents contradict that claim—just last month, a prominent Afghan police chief was assassinated by a young man who had trained with the Taliban in Pakistan.

In 2017, Pakistan began to build a fence on its 1,600-mile border with Afghanistan. The $532 million fence is expected to be completed next year. The Pakistan army claims this elaborate barrier will prevent terrorists from infiltrating the Durand Line, which has always been a porous border. But will it check infiltration? Skeptical observers doubt it because the border is dotted with tunnels that terrorists have used when border crossings became difficult.

A quick visit to the region by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in October 2017, as a follow-up to Trump’s August announcement, confirmed that all was not well between Washington and Islamabad. The two sides were courteous, but each maintained its stance. Tillerson presented Pakistan with a list of names of supposed terrorists, who were to be handed over to the American army. If Islamabad didn’t comply, it was to suffer undisclosed consequences. Pakistan, as usual, denied the existence of terrorist havens on its soil.

A key change in the geopolitical situation in this region occurred in mid-August of this year when a new government was installed in Islamabad (led by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, or PTI), but that has not turned the tide of international politics in Southwest Asia.

A hectic round of diplomacy between Pakistan and the U.S. since the election has been counterproductive. In early September, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo made a five-hour stopover in Islamabad, which appears to have been a scouting mission to assess the PTI’s approach to strategic issues in the region. It does not appear that any progress resulted.

Last month, acting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Henry Ensher told The Wilson Center in Washington his government would continue to pressure Pakistan to “change its policy toward regional peace and stability.”

Another exercise in diplomacy proved futile last month when Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was in the U.S. to attend a United Nations General Assembly session. His second meeting with Pompeo—this time at the White House—did not even produce a joint statement, so far apart were the two sides in their views on the region.

The deadlock is rooted in the two countries’ differing perceptions of Afghanistan and India. Washington wants to make India the key regional player in the Great Afghanistan Game. The U.S. has forged close economic relations with New Delhi in recent years, and Trump has called on India to reciprocate by supporting the pro-American Ashraf Ghani administration in Kabul. (The U.S. helped facilitate Ghani’s election.) Washington wants Pakistan to help sustain the status quo and to stop competing for influence in Afghanistan.

The U.S. also wants to revive trust between Islamabad and Washington by implementing all military agreements between the two countries signed in the post-9/11 years. Those agreements have centered on eliminating terrorists in Afghanistan.

The demands Washington is making run counter to the strategic aims of the Pakistan army, which has the final word in policy matters. The ruling PTI—which has benefited from support of the military—hardly has any leverage in the situation.

For its part, Pakistan wants the U.S. to focus on New Delhi-Islamabad relations and to promote détente between India and Pakistan, both of which are armed with nuclear weapons. India has been considered Pakistan’s Enemy Number One since the two South Asian neighbors emerged as independent states in 1947, but many Pakistanis have not agreed with this policy, deeming it unwise and dangerous for their country’s survival. Until recently, there have been periods of stability and near-détente, and the U.S. has helped by adopting a policy of mediation and conciliation on India-Pakistan issues.

Peaceful relations with India would enable Pakistan to focus fully on its western front, which is the main theater of war against the terrorists in Afghanistan.

With no understanding reached on several regional issues, the stalemate continues. To quote Pompeo, the objective of “resetting” the direction of U.S.-Pakistan relations has not been achieved.

Looming Economic Crisis

Islamabad has to find a way out of this crisis by strengthening its hand with regard to security and the economy.

For decades, Islamabad has found strength through strategic links with Washington, including the arms aid it has received for its military operations. Since the 1950s, it has also received massive economic assistance from the U.S., although critics say injudicious use of those funds has made Pakistan overwhelmingly dependent on foreign aid. Much of the money went for projects that never became functional because they were inappropriate for Pakistan’s conditions, while a lot of money in “tied” aid went back to the donor country. (Under the conditions of tied aid, the country that receives funds must spend that money on goods from the donor country.) Newsweek reports that some funding may even have been embezzled.

Getting out of the debt trap isn’t easy, with an economic crisis staring the country in the face. As on 21 previous occasions, the government in Islamabad is approaching the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout. An IMF mission is visiting Islamabad this week.

The PTI government also has been seeking economic aid from allies, notably Saudi Arabia and China. Prime Minister Imran Khan managed to get a bailout of $6 billion from Riyadh at the Future Investment Initiative last month. He has also visited Beijing. and China has assured him it will help Pakistan in its present crisis but shrewdly has not announced any details, leaving those for future negotiations. The Chinese likely are waiting to see the outcome of the IMF talks.

Since 2013, China has emerged as Pakistan’s biggest economic partner. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is an integral part of Beijing’s One Belt, One Road initiative, which will open shorter overland and sea routes to enhance China’s connections with the Middle East, Africa and Europe.

To ward off criticism from several quarters, the Chinese declared recently that CPEC was not the cause of Pakistan’s current economic malaise. That is true. Every Pakistani government since the 1950s has contributed to the country’s debt burden by borrowing millions of dollars from the West and the IMF. But what’s also true is that when the repayment of the $50 billion in CPEC-related loans begins in 2023, the crisis will escalate. Topline Securities, a brokerage house that analyzes CPEC-related finances, estimates Pakistan’s debt to China will balloon to $90 billion in the 30-year repayment period.

The basic fact is that Pakistan’s failure to live within its means has brought its economy to the brink. Its biggest expenditure has been on defense, which has limited its capacity to improve human resources. Conditions imposed by Pakistan’s creditors has restricted its options in every walk of life because much of the aid has been earmarked for military equipment and unfeasible civic projects.

Military Security at Stake

To bolster the country in terms of military security, Pakistani policymakers have turned to states that compete with the U.S. in the global race for strategic supremacy. Pakistan has been closely involved in military exercises with China on a regular basis since 2004, claiming they promote peace and reinforce the preparedness of Pakistan’s defense forces. That is nothing new—the two countries have had close defense ties since the 1960s.

Russia has not been a stranger, either. True, a long period of Pakistan-U.S. military alignment alienated Russia from Pakistan. But didn’t someone say that there are no permanent friends or foes in international affairs? Russia and Pakistan have seen periods of amity as well.

In 2014 Islamabad signed a defense cooperation pact with Moscow, when global politics appeared to be reverting to an erstwhile confrontational pattern. Since then, Russia and Pakistan have held three military drills to strengthen cooperation and exchange expertise on counterterrorism. The third drill, dubbed Druzhba-III, ended last month. If nothing else, these exercises amount to a show of strength and a warning that the U.S. should not expect an easy victory if it confronts Pakistan.

Pakistan has also held war games with Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey. Apart from military benefits, these exercises show that Pakistan is not isolated. However, this regional involvement has dragged the government into disputes that it has long sought to avoid. For example, Gen. Raheel Sharif, Pakistan’s retiring chief of army staff, was appointed commander in chief of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (formerly the Islamic Military Alliance). The appointment was made by the Saudi government with the approval of the Pakistan defense minister, although Pakistan’s National Assembly voted against it. Public opinion in Pakistan strongly disapproves of the government’s involvement in Saudi conflicts in the region.

Pakistan’s economic and security challenges are daunting. With China’s support, short-term solutions are being found, although in the long run Islamabad’s woes will become direr than ever. Trump’s inability to take a multidimensional view of the region, especially of the India-Pakistan conflict, will destabilize the region further. This area is home to two states with nuclear arms, and even a skirmish could trigger a devastating war.

Source: Truthdig

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To cling or go?

By Zubeida Mustafa

SPEAKING at a seminar, a medical professional once described the changing relationship between patients and physicians. He recalled the time when for centuries, physicians had the upper hand by virtue of their superior knowledge and their ethical standards.

Then the parties achieved a balance in their relationship as public awareness about health issues grew and patients could question the physician’s diagnosis and treatment. They also got more space to decide on the options for treatment available to them. Continue reading To cling or go?

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Child at the centre

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE discourse on education in Pakistan has focused invariably on higher education. Whether it is about textbooks, deficiencies in teachers’ training, curricula or language, the starting point of most activists is college or university. The closest they get to school education is when they argue about numbers.

It surprises me how little is said about primary education or even early childhood education. There is not even a hint of an understanding of the roots of the problems that policymakers and activists talk about. They lie in the malaise that grips our primary education sector. Our society is not at all child-centric. It is time we started looking at educational issues from the child’s point of view: how children learn, what interests them and what motivates them. Few policymakers would have read William Wordsworth’s words, “The Child is father of the Man”.

And fewer still would have pondered the report published in this newspaper a few weeks ago that a study in Karachi found that 58.5 per cent of students aged 14-18 years nursed suicidal thoughts.

In this context, it was instructive to talk to Baela Raza Jamil when I dropped in to see her on her return from the UN General Assembly session with another feather in her cap. She has been co-opted to the Platform for Girls’ Education — a British-Commonwealth initiative. A word about Baela for the few who don’t know her well enough. She is a dynamic driving force in the education sector who is also the CEO of ITA (Idara-i-Taleem-o-Aagahi), has been a commissioner in the Education Commission (a global initiative seeking inclusive and quality education with innovative and adequate financing) and is the founder of the Children’s Literature Festival that aims at unlocking the power of the child’s mind.

What ails our education system?

What ails education in Pakistan, I ask. She is very clear-headed in her answer. “Pakistan faces a crisis of learning and the problem of 23 million out-of-school children.” I will not quibble about numbers. Even if it is 3m, it is bad enough. The real challenge is to put these children in school and resolve the learning crisis (that in effect means improve the quality of education).

This is a very profound observation. What use is it to put all children in school but teach them nothing? The political and bureaucratic will to achieve this is missing. One must ask why are millions of children not going to school? After all, Article 25-A has made education compulsory and free for all children of five to 16 years of age. It is simply because the schools do not exist for them or their standard of education is so poor that no one wants to go there. According to the Pakistan Economic Survey 2016-17, there are 164,300 primary schools in the country with 21.6m children on their rolls. Once they complete Grade 5 they try their luck and seek admission in one of the 77,420 middle and secondary schools which accommodate a measly 10.5m students — a whopping dropout rate of 50pc.

This is further accentuated, in the case of girls, by the quadruple discrimination against them on account of gender, poverty, disability and conflict/displacement. For those from the minorities, faith becomes an added factor.

The immediate need is to expand the primary and secondary sectors keeping the ratio in view. This is important because a majority of the out-of-schoolers are girls and the worst sufferers. This programme of upgrading needs to be accelerated. There is no shortage of funds because the budget allocated to education is not even fully utilised. Charity begins at home. Foreign aid follows in normal course.

The other issue — poor learning outcomes — is interlinked. It drives children out of school and instils no motivation in them; it also has a negative impact on the standards of education. I have observed personally how untrained teachers with no motivation themselves fail to create any enthusiasm in the students. Teachers training programmes when undertaken seriously and consistently can make a difference.

Baela also suggests that innovative strategies such as adopting inter-sectoral approaches, the use of new technologies and imaginative teaching methods would not only attract more children to school but also retain them there.

These have been tried in other countries, but at random in Pakistan. They include school lunch programmes, monthly allowances for girls who enrol and health check-ups for all children. They certainly help provide incentives to parents to send their children to school. But they should be consistently implemented. Also it is important that the ‘learning crisis’ should be addressed concurrently by trying innovative teaching methods using new technologies.

But all approaches should be integrated and tried concurrently on an equal priority basis. For instance, providing lunches or snacks to school children without giving them good teachers to enhance their learning outcomes is a waste of educational funds.

Source: Dawn

 

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Whose girl is she?

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE Sindh police are under fire, which is not something unusual as its performance can hardly be described as satisfactory. It is also alleged to be notoriously corrupt.

A fortnight ago, the Sindh chief justice rebuked the defenders of the law for their failure to recover 22 children who had been missing for several years. An NGO, Roshni Helpline, had filed a petition in the Sindh High Court on behalf of their parents.

In spite of the directive, the police had not set up a team to look into each case. Continue reading Whose girl is she?

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No magic wand for education

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As we enter the ‘Naya Pakistan’ age with high hopes, it would be pertinent to ask two questions about the proposed education reforms that are on the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) agenda.

Does the PTI government have the vision to bring about the right changes in the education sector? If so, how will it realise its vision?

Clearly, no one has a magic wand that can be waved to transform the state of education in Pakistan. The malaise runs deep and this is an area which has never received any serious thought.

Education comprises many sectors and sub-sectors, and even the best educationists in Pakistan fail to understand the close correlation among the various areas. These champions of education invariably become advocates of their own areas of expertise, which is of no help. If one is drumming the cause of university education without addressing  the problems at the primary level, nothing will change. If another is  more down to earth and focusing on primary schools, but has no understanding of the need for a child to be taught in their mother tongue, that will make no impact either. A comprehensive approach is  needed.

Listening to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s maiden address to the nation, I felt he has the vision but no strategy. He seems to understand some of the basic issues which are:

• Need for access to affordable and good education for all.

• Importance of  upgrading government schools.

• Regulating the private sector.

• Madrassa reforms.

• Investing bigger sums in the education sector.

One believes Imran Khan still has to chalk out a strategy to achieve the proclaimed goals and  that is not going to be easy.

Here, I will point out some key areas in which action could be taken to set the ball rolling.

Learning rote-style: Students at a madrassa.

The first step should be to clarify the area of jurisdiction. The impression one gets is that the leaders seem to have forgotten that education is a subject that was devolved to the provinces by the 18th Amendment of the constitution in 2010.  Since 2013, when the People’s Party — the main champion of provincial autonomy — lost power over  the federal government, there has been a quiet struggle behind the scenes by  Islamabad to regain its control over education in bits and pieces. The mechanism of the Inter-Provincial Education Ministers’ Conference was employed to draft a new education policy and draw up a new curricula. Sindh never participated wholeheartedly in this process.

Imran Khan has been talking about  education’s myriad problems and has promised to rectify them. He may succeed, to an extent, in Islamabad, KP, Punjab and Balochistan because the first three are under the PTI, while Balochistan is governed by a coalition. However, Sindh, with the worst record in the education sector among the provinces, is not under the PTI. Mindful of this, Imran Khan qualified his statements by stating that he will act in cooperation with the Sindh government.   

An indicator of things to come is the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)’s strong reaction to this stance. MNA Nafisa Shah, the information secretary of the PPP, reacted   by saying that PM Khan was clueless about the provincial rights guaranteed under the Constitution. “It seems he doesn’t know that governance is a multi-layered subject,” she added. She reminded the prime minister that “to reform the health and education sectors he will have to talk to the provinces which, in fact, give effect to policies.” Another constitutional battle in the province is the last thing Sindh now  needs to raise the standard of  education.

The large number of out-of school children in Pakistan – approximately 23 million by the government’s own count – has been noted by the prime minister and it is a relief that he understands the gravity of this issue. I hope he is aware that a huge chunk of these are girls. In this case the gender factor will have to be carefully addressed. Not only do girls need better access to schools, but also  educational institutions with boundary walls, toilets, electricity and drinking water near their homes. The societal barriers are tougher for girls than for boys and society’s patriarchal mindset has to be taken into consideration. Although the education of girls has gained more widespread parental acceptance, it still has to be pursued vigorously. Misogyny continues to abound.

Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood has been speaking of innovative initiatives  to expand the school network. Before embarking on any venture, he should visit some schools in the backwaters of Pakistan to understand that school structures are not the only thing we need. Trained teachers, good textbooks and rational  management, which includes monitoring  and a meaningful exam system, are also needed to make these schools functional and useful. Quality is as important as quantity.

Expansion of schools has to be a planned process. For instance, a stupendous number of schools are only one or two-room structures with one teacher.  Neither is it logical to have 150,000 primary schools and only 49,000 middle schools. This results in  a high dropout rate, since many children after passing their primary level, have no place to go and their education ends abruptly at age 10.

Since school education  is the state’s responsibility under Article 25-A,  attention is inevitably focused on schools. And there has been criminal neglect of this sector. The state has never taken ownership, despite its constitutional obligation to do so and, hence, it has emerged as a public-private partnership sector. Academic quality has been provided by the private sector with the support of affluent parents. The public sector has tried to cater to the needs of the huge majority, but quality has been sacrificed as funding has been measly.

Imran Khan has recognised this basic flaw in our system and has promised to address the education in the public sector, so that more children move back to the public sector schools that have gradually been drained of students.

There is also a need for social regulation of the private sector  that is necessary to remove the disparity and anomalies  that have fragmented our education system. With so many systems operating in the country concurrently, socio-economic fissures have appeared which have made us one of the most unequal societies in the world. The gap between the rich and the poor keeps growing – in large part it is directly related to the quality of education received.

If we could have the same system but of a higher standard with equal opportunities, it would benefit the country considerably. What we have at present are a handful of high quality elitist institutions catering to the needs of the wealthy who control the reins of power to govern the poor, illiterate, underprivileged  masses who are denied good education.

If school education is steered in  the right direction, higher and professional education will become  easier to manage. A system of public-private partnership in tertiary and higher education  may work better. Unlike school education, it would call for more diversity  and would have to be closely linked to the market and the academia. In the absence of disparity, merit would be the main criterion for admission to universities and to employment.

All this calls for increased funding of this sector. But it must be transparent, because the education sector is notorious for rampant corruption. Moreover, the increase in funding must be planned and coordinated with the capacity created. If that is not done wisely, pumping money randomly in this sector  will lead to corruption as has happened in recent years.    

These questions are all important,  but there are two  issues that are overarching and affect every sector. One is language in education and the other is religious instruction. They have profound implications  for  education as well as society itself.

We are a country which has still not been able to decide in which language we should teach our children. The elite and their hangers-on, who benefit from them, want their children to learn English and also to study all their subjects  in English as well. They are anglicised and want their children to be the same as that gives them a special status socially  and many advantages, both economically and politically. The underprivileged also want their children to be taught in English, even though the teachers are not familiar with the language. This is undermining our education system. The indigenous languages are being destroyed. The children, by and large, have no proficiency in English and their cognitive  thinking is stunted. As a result the majority derive no benefit from their English-based education while the small elite minority, because of their better education, move on and society is further stratified.

Another major point to ponder is, how religion should be taught to Muslim students. If the aim is to inculcate true Islamic values in them,   there is need to rethink the pedagogy adopted for Islamic Studies. Instead of addressing this issue, policymakers have periodically been increasing  the religious content in the curricula on the false premise that this approach will resolve the problem of intolerance and extremism.

In his maiden speech, the prime minister spoke about the madressahs, another challenge governments in office have faced since these institutions proliferated in the Zia years. Imran Khan spoke about reforming these institutions so that they develop the capacity to produce engineers, doctors and other professionals. How he does it is the moot question, given the fact that previous governments failed to even get the madressahs to modernise some of their curricula and disclose their sources of funding.   

A concerted effort is needed to change the state of education in Pakistan. Issues must not be prioritised. All issues have to be addressed concurrently if any impact is to be made. 

Source: Newsline (Sept 2018)

 

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Language myths

By Zubeida Mustafa

A MAJOR debate on education has been sparked by an announcement from Islamabad that a uniform curriculum for the country — from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to Karachi — will be introduced. Given our national obsession with conformity and aversion to diversity, such a move should not surprise us. But that does not detract from its unconstitutionality as former chairman of the Senate Raza Rabbani has correctly pointed out. Under the 18th Amendment, curriculum-making was devolved to the provinces. Continue reading Language myths

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Pompeo’s Five Hours in Islamabad

By Zubeida Mustafa

He came, he talked briefly and he left. All in one afternoon. That sums up U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s fleeting visit to Islamabad on Sept 5. Since expectations were not high, both sides opted to be discreet about disclosing what they had discussed. No doubt they were courteous and conciliatory. That would have helped to create the atmosphere needed to “reset” relations between the U.S. and Pakistan, the main purpose of this exercise in diplomacy.

Continue reading Pompeo’s Five Hours in Islamabad

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Was Jinnah Wrong?

By Zubeida Mustafa

MANY who listened to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s maiden speech on Aug 19 would not have failed to note the striking similarities in his address and the Quaid-i-Azam’s oft-quoted speech of Aug 11, 1947. That’s not really surprising, given that Khan described Jinnah as his role model, one who practised politics with a mission. Both speeches expressed deep concern at the prevalence of corruption and the absence of justice for the poor. They also spoke of the need to address the welfare of the common man.

But on one vital issue they differed: the status of religious minorities. Imran Khan touched on this in passing, in the context of the rule of law and everyone, including the minorities, being equal before it.

The Quaid, on the other hand, was more emphatic regarding the role of religious minorities and dwelt on the subject in a substantial way. He categorically declared, “You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or any other place of worship … You may belong to any religion … that has nothing to do with the business of the state”. He hoped that ultimately this equality would lead to “Hindus [ceasing] to be Hindus” and “Muslims [ceasing] to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state”.

Seventy-one years have passed since these words were uttered and we have still to reach that goal. It is unlikely that we ever will, because at one stage — under Gen Zia — we changed direction. Only if naya Pakistan had held out hope for these eight million citizens, they would have been reassured of a better future. This reminder came on Aug 11, which has been observed as the National Minorities Day since 2009. A convention held in Lahore demanded that the oft-quoted speech of the Quaid be incorporated in the Constitution. Weren’t the minorities supposed to be, in equal measure, a pillar of the political structure of Jinnah’s Pakistan?

Minorities are being gradually marginalised.

We started on the right track as was Quaid-i-Azam’s vision and mission. Chaudhri Muhammad Zafrullah Khan, an Ahmadi — a community later ostracised because of its faith — was the foreign minister. No one questioned his beliefs. Justice Cornelius, a Christian, was a highly celebrated chief justice. There were numerous other non-Muslims who held important positions in the judiciary, administration and even the armed forces. They were all trusted and have left their footprint in their respective fields.

But suddenly the tide turned.

It is strange that the attempt at ‘Islamisation’ should have brought with it discrimination. It should not have been so, as Islam exhorts us to treat non-Muslims on an equal footing.

Yet the religious minorities are gradually being marginalised. Take the present set-up. In the first cabinet named by Prime Minister Imran Khan, not a single non-Muslim has been given a slot. This may be an oversight, but it sends a negative message to the people.

Peter Jacob, executive director of the Centre for Social Justice, recalls how the minorities have suffered over the years. He tells me that since 1997, the religious minorities have been subject to over 100 attacks. These include acts of violence against 45 churches and 11 residential settlements. Then there is the suffering inflicted on them on account of often baseless blasphemy allegations.

Shantinagar and All Saints Church in Peshawar are names that have been carved in blood on the collective memories of all those who stand for social justice.

I wish the government would take a firm stand supporting religious diversity and condemn intolerance vis-à-vis the minorities. Many practices are so ingrained in our system that they are not even questioned. The most widely affected is the education sector which in turn makes an impact on the minorities’ prospects in professional life. Take, for instance, the practice of giving extra marks to those memorising the Quran. Non-Muslim students find themselves in a dilemma as no alternative option has been announced for them.

The state’s indifference has encouraged extremists to take matters into their own hands. A number of young Hindu and Christian girls are reportedly abducted and forced to convert to Islam. One can understand how many among the minorities live in fear and trepidation for their daughters’ security. It is shocking that at times even the courts have failed to provide redress on one ground or another.

Hence one can understand the demand by the convention held two weeks ago to rectify the numerous contradictions in the Constitution which go against the principles of equality spelt out in the chapter on fundamental rights. In this context one would strongly support the demand for a law defining grounds for prosecution and punishment for acts of religious discrimination.

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Inequality kills

By Zubeida Mustafa

OURS is an unequal society. The more unequal we become, the more fiascos will visit us as we have been witnessing lately. How correct was Justice Louis Brandeis of the US Supreme Court when, many decades ago, he famously said words to the effect ‘you can have extreme inequality or you can have democracy — you cannot have both’. We love to delude ourselves with the belief that we have democracy in spite of inequality.

Today, the world’s attention is focused on the issue of inequality which has become a major subject in the global economic discourse. In 2015, the UN Assembly adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, one of which states that by 2030, governments will progressively achieve and sustain the income growth of the bottom 40 per cent of the population at a rate higher than the national average. Continue reading Inequality kills

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