ADD ‘or commerce?’ to the question in the title. With the examination
season in full swing, to be followed by college admissions a few months
later, this is naturally the question being asked by many young people
aspiring to higher education.
Gone are the days when the choice was more or less evenly spread
across all disciplines, with arts having a slight edge over the others.
Individual aptitude, the job market and the capacity available in
colleges determined the ultimate picture that emerged.
Our ‘education’ — going to school, coming out of home, learning to be
with ‘others’, making and losing friends — might well be the most significant as
well as broadest range of social interaction for an individual in his lifetime.
It prepares and defines the person for non-familial contact and the process of continuous
learning that accompanies life. In that sense education is essentially
KHAIRO Dero, gulan jo sehro/ Sajay dunya jo khair/ Khairo Dero maan
theendo (Khairo Dero, a garland of flowers/ The whole world’s goodness
will/ Start from Khairo Dero. (Nazar Husain Shah)
So sang the devotees of Nazar Husain (fondly called Jabal Shah) when
they performed for me on a hot summer evening in Khairo Dero where I was
on a short visit recently. Nazar Hussain, a Sufi, came to Khairo Dero
from Layyah when he was 14 years old, after he fell into a well and was
rescued. The legend says he received instructions to make Khairo Dero
his home, and his dargah now stands here.
When twice within a span of 10 days you are reminded of the ‘freedom
of expression’ Pakistanis supposedly enjoy, it makes you wonder. First,
it was a retired ambassador, Karamatullah Khan Ghori, who reminded the
audience at his lecture on the Middle East at the Pakistan Institute of
International Affairs (PIIA), that in Pakistan the press is more free
than in the Arab world. He was right, but it irked me. If we need a
yardstick, does it have to be a region which is the worst model of
Then came the Adab Festival’s debut in Karachi last month. In the session on Nasim Zehra’s outstanding book, From Kargil to the Coup: Events that Shook Pakistan,
we were told by a retired general – Wasim Ghazi – that civil society
had failed to present alternative narratives to the conventional stand
adopted by the army on various issues. That was very surprising.
THERE is a problem with our health sector. It has been heavily
‘medicalised’. Taking their cue from the pharmaceutical companies, many
physicians and surgeons tend to adopt the curative approach
preponderantly, depending on diagnostic technology and drugs. Preventive
medicine has been pushed aside, as have been its essentials — public
health awareness, nutrition, personal hygiene, lifestyle and sanitation.
As a result, healthcare has become so costly that it is increasingly
out of reach of the masses. Only the rich and privileged can hope to
obtain satisfactory treatment when they are ill, while the country’s
national health indicators are shockingly dismal.
ON March 1, a burst of gunfire snuffed out the life of a gentle soul
in Washington D.C. He was a social worker helping the mentally
challenged and drug addicts. He was Jawaid Bhutto, a teacher of
philosophy and a progressive scholar in Pakistan before he moved to the
US. I knew him as my friend and the husband of a former colleague Nafisa
Hoodbhoy. Bhutto’s death grieved us immensely.
The irony didn’t escape me on this occasion. Here was a man who was
known to be an ardent advocate of peace and love as well as gun control
laws being killed by someone who was not entitled to be carrying a gun,
given his mental state, so it was reported.
WE ARE now more than
six months into a federal government formed by the PTI. The party disrupted the
emergent tradition of two main federally operative parties: the PPP and the
PML(N) have now to contend with a powerful entrenched third factor.
Today, the PTI’s voice resonates as the
country’s. Apart from a reiteration of the conviction that the PPP and the
PML(N) are entirely responsible and answerable for each and every ill that
besets Pakistan; what is it saying for us and to us? And what is it doing to
treat those maladies or to dispel political and socio-cultural misgivings as
felt and voiced by the people themselves rather than presumed or ascribed to
The tables have turned. The Taliban, the militants who sheltered the 9/11 attackers and earned the wrath of America, are now meeting their arch-nemesis in Doha, Qatar. Conducting the talks is Zalmay Khalilzad, a senior diplomat of Afghan descent who is currently serving as the U.S. State Department’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation.
Since August 2018, the two parties have met five times. Last Tuesday,
Ambassador Khalilzad tweeted: “Just finished a marathon round of talks
with the Taliban in Doha. The conditions for peace have improved. It’s
clear all sides want to end the war. Despite ups and downs, we kept
things on track and made real strides.”
It had been hoped that the peace talks would reach some positive
conclusion by spring and a cease-fire announced. This has not happened.
Ambassador Khalilzad has returned to Washington for further
What is holding up the negotiations? The special representative
touched on this issue when he identified four major points on which
agreement was essential for further progress. They are:
Withdrawal of U.S. and NATO-affiliated troops
A comprehensive cease-fire
In the February-March round now adjourned, an agreement has been
reached on the draft of the first two questions only. It is obvious that
these are the less complex issues on which anyone wishing to end the
17-year war in Afghanistan would agree readily. As it is, both sides, as
well as Afghanistan’s neighboring countries, are now feeling uneasy and
anxious about the intensely unstable situation in South and Southwest
U.S. President Donald Trump is also keen on reaching a consensus, as
he has promised his people that he would bring American troops home.
Since the agreed-upon draft has not been revealed one cannot comment on
it, especially on the nature of the assurances regarding anti-terrorism.
The Taliban are expected to pledge not to allow anyone to launch a
9/11-like attack against the U.S. again. What safeguards will be offered
to ensure this is not known—neither has any time schedule for troop
withdrawal been revealed.
The last two issues are trickier still, as they will determine the
future political structure of Afghanistan. It requires no knowledge of
rocket science to understand that the Taliban are negotiating from a
position of strength and want to translate their military strategic
advantage into political control over the country. This is a test case
for the U.S.
So far, the Taliban have been adamant about having no truck with the
Ashraf Ghani government in Kabul. It is dubbed an “American puppet.”
There is no doubt that Ghani cannot survive in office without U.S.
military backing. Today the Taliban control over 30 percent of Afghan
territory. The capital is still held by Ghani thanks to America’s
military presence. As U.S.and NATO forces have gradually been pulled out
of Afghanistan, the Taliban have gained in strength. America’s attempts
to train the Afghan army and arm it with modern weapons have not
succeeded in converting it into a strong fighting force capable of
defending the country.
If the Ghani government is sidelined to allow Khalilzad to make a
deal in Doha, it would amount to Washington’s political surrender to an
enemy it has fought for 17 years. The American electorate could well ask
their current and former administrations to explain the loss of over
6,000 American lives in a prolonged and deadly war which failed to yield
any political or strategic gains.
Taliban authority is inevitable if the leadership in Kabul is kept
out of the talks. Without his government’s participation, Ghani would
have no say in the implementation of the final settlement and the
power-sharing arrangement that is worked out. Moreover, once the U.S.
forces are out of Afghanistan, it would be a walkover for the Taliban.
Taliban leaders have already been discussing their future plans.
Theirs would be an Islamic state, but they have moderated their tone
somewhat, not wishing to revive memories of the ideological state they
created from 1996 to 2001. Yet their extremist anti-female and
anti-culture stance and militancy invites skepticism given their past
record while in power.
They have also promised to cultivate cordial and friendly relations
with Islamabad. This is to be expected. After all, Pakistan has been a
friend that has provided them support and helped them break out of their
isolation. Islamabad’s role in paving the way for the Doha talks has
been acknowledged by Washington.
These developments have profound implications for Pakistan’s
geopolitical prospects, which currently appear to be bleak. Taliban
policies are bound to evoke a reaction from their rivals in the north of
Pakistan. To begin with, it is feared that as soon as the U.S. leaves
Afghanistan, in-fighting will break out, leaving Pakistan to cope with
the mess that is bound to be left behind. That has happened before, and
it will happen again. Pakistan lacks the capacity to address the ensuing
crisis. It might complicate matters further. The U.S. withdrawal will
create a vacuum if an agreement with firm international guarantees is
not drawn up.
Pakistan will be back to square one—but in a worse regional scenario
than ever before. The situation as it has emerged today has Russia and
China eying the happenings in Afghanistan closely.
Since 2014, various forums have been set up to tackle the Afghan
crisis. These have included Russia, China, the Taliban, Ashraf Ghani’s
rivals, India, Pakistan, Iran and even the U.S. itself in various
combinations. It was Trump’s categorical announcement about pulling out
of Afghanistan that triggered the Doha framework that was firmed up by
bringing Khalilzad into the negotiating process.
Even before the fifth round of negotiations ended on March 12, the
world faced another crisis of grave dimension. India and Pakistan came
to the brink of war on Kashmir. Considering that those two states are
now nuclear powers, a full-fledged war between them would have led to
nuclear havoc in South Asia.
Sherry Rahman, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the U.S., reminded
readers in an article published in Dawn that in the four wars India and
Pakistan have fought since 1947, they have suffered a combined death
toll of 22,600.
She cited a study by the International Physicians for Prevention of
Nuclear War that says in a nuclear confrontation in South Asia, 21
million people could die, and it could cause global famine resulting in
the death of two billion people worldwide.
Rahman’s article was a powerful reminder that Kashmir had re-emerged as a dangerous flashpoint which should not be ignored.
At this stage, Kashmir will cast its long shadow on the talks in
Doha. Though neither of the two nuclear powers are interlocutors in the
Afghan negotiations, Kashmir will remain in the backdrop. Afghanistan,
India and Pakistan have had a complex triangular relationship since
1947, when the British departed from the subcontinent.
Now we know more about the happenings in the region last month. The
newspaper Dawn has revealed after due investigations that it was the
Trump administration that played a key role in preventing the sparring
between the two neighbors from spiraling out of control into a conflict
of serious magnitude.
The goings-on behind the scenes will certainly have an impact on the
Doha talks when Khalilzad returns to Qatar at the end of March
THE road that takes you to the Khatoon-e-Pakistan School, Karachi, is
a steep one. It has been an equally uphill drive for Shehzad Roy’s
Zindagi Trust to transform the institution it adopted in 2015.
The school was in a shambles a few years ago like all peela schools I
have visited. They have huge buildings and expansive playgrounds
testifying to the vision of their founders from the early years of
Pakistan. But lacking maintenance and good governance, they have fallen
THERE is bad news and there is good news for our environmentalists,
agriculturalists, healthcare givers and all those who care for the
welfare of Pakistan. First, the bad news.
In January, the Prime Minister’s Office announced that Cargill, the
global food and agricultural producer with an annual revenue of $114.6
billion (2018), will be investing $200 million in Pakistan in the next
two to five years. This announcement came after two top-ranking
executives of Cargill met Prime Minister Imran Khan. It seemed
innocuous, at least to people who know little about biotechnology
One of them, Monsanto (now merged with Bayer), fathered the
genetically modified organism (GMO) in 1983 which did terrible damage to
numerous crops and farmers all over the world. As a result, we saw a
spate of high-profile lawsuits in which the company admitted to having
bribed officials abroad. At least 35 countries have now banned GMOs.