All posts by Zubeida Mustafa

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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Textbooks — the real culprit

By Zubeida Mustafa

ALTHOUGH many factors affect the quality of education in Pakistan, textbooks are a major culprit. It is rightly said that children learn what they experience in the classroom. The two agents of learning at this stage are the teachers and the textbooks.

In my last post I had drawn a gloomy picture of the teachers whose impact on the young child’s mind is profound. What about the textbooks?

They can be described in a single word — appalling. More can be said about them. They are gender biased. They are anti-peace. They promote prejudice, anger and hatred.  Above all they do not promote tolerance and love or teach children to think critically as good books do. Numerous analysts, agencies such as Unesco and educationists have pointed this out.

Two years ago, a National Party Senator created a furore in the Upper House when he read out a passage from a textbook being taught in the colleges in Punjab and Sindh. In this the Baloch were defined as an “uncivilised people who remain busy fighting and killing”. He told the house that in another book, it has been written that the “Baloch were those people who lived in the desert and looted caravans.”

Wouldn’t children reading this start hating the Baloch? What an unwise and irresponsible thing to write when the Baloch are already under siege in Pakistan.

Then there is the gender bias that permeates our text books. Unesco, in a study that included 194 textbooks from four provinces of Pakistan for six subjects found that “the national curriculum reflected a significant gender bias towards males in at least three of these subjects.”

The report added, “In the analysis, only 7.7% of the personalities in the textbooks were found to be female, with most of them relating to Muslim history, and the rest were male. In the textbooks on the history of the subcontinent, only 0.9% of the historical icons mentioned were females.”A sentence very often quoted as an example of misogynist writing is: “A hundred sons are not a burden but one daughter bows our heads.”

All this no doubt reinforces the patriarchal tendencies in boys and accentuates gender disparity in society.

Our religious identity is another aspect of our national life that finds strong mention in our textbooks. The approach adopted is summed up by Tahira Abdullah in a review of KP textbooks as one that glorifies war, ‘otherises’ non-Muslims, takes a uni-dimensional view of reality, distorts history and stereotypes women.

This is not a positive style of writing on any sensitive issue, least of all for students who imbibe quickly what they read. These examples make clear why we should not surprised that militancy has taken root in Pakistani society. This has been promoted by a nexus between the “militant, extremist, jihadist and pro-ideology” elements who have come to dominate the education sector in all provinces.

As a result, efforts to revise and reform the curricula under American pressure in the post 9/11 years have yielded no result. Violence has also been used to drive away progressive forces from the reform process. Take the case of Bernadette Dean, a liberal educationist working on the revision of textbooks in Sindh, who  was forced to flee the country when banners and posters came up overnight in Karachi declaring her to be “wajibul qatl”  (worthy of the death penalty). She fled the country when the IG Police told her that he couldn’t guarantee her safety. A few weeks earlier another non-Muslim woman educationist had been attacked by militants.

Article 25-A speaks of compulsory education for all children 6-16 years of age. The need of the hour is not just to make education accessible to all children in Pakistan but also to ensure that the textbooks teach them what they need to learn.

The elections are the right occasion to ensure that textbooks receive the attention they deserve.

Source: Alif Ailaan, Taalim Do

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Pakistan’s elections bring hope and uncertainty

By Zubeida Mustafa

Last week’s elections in Pakistan yielded predictable outcomes, which could take the country in an unanticipated direction. Preliminary results announced Friday by the Election Commission of Pakistan give the victory to Tehreek-e-Insaf (also known as the PTI, or Justice Party) of the cricket-star-turned-politician Imran Khan. Although his party missed a clear majority in the National Assembly, it should be able to easily woo a few independents to its side to form a stable government.

If there is an unpredictable factor, it is the reaction of the major mainstream parties after their emergence as the losers, especially the Pakistan Muslim League of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He and his daughter are now in prison after being found guilty of graft in a property case. A multiparty conference of the main losers (in which the Pakistan Peoples Party did not participate) has rejected the results of Wednesday’s voting and demanded new, transparent elections. Will they pay the PTI in its own coin by staging sit-ins to disrupt life in the country, as Imran Khan did in the years following the 2013 elections?

Even prior to last week’s elections, it was widely alleged that the “Miltablishment”—-the country’s military leadership—was creating conditions that improved the prospects of the PTI. Khan is viewed as the darling of the generals. The military establishment’s move to selectively push graft cases against his rivals on the pretext of accountability while turning a blind eye to the wrongdoings of Khan’s cronies was seen as a one-sided attack on the corruption pervasive in Pakistan’s politics.

In the weeks preceding the elections, there were protests from the media as well as from some members of the judiciary against interference from “hidden hands.” What seems to give credence to these charges now is the preliminary statement issued Friday by the EU Election Observation Mission. While praising the Election Commission’s role in the conduct of the polling, the statement categorically said that the “electoral process of 2018 was negatively affected by the political environment.” It spoke of the playing field not being level and of “lack of equality of opportunity” for all contestants.

The U.S. State Department shared the EU observers’ concerns and questioned the fairness of the voting. Pointing out flaws in the elections, the State Department spoke of constraints placed on freedom of expression and on association during the campaign period.

Meanwhile, the PTI’s Khan has promised the people a naya (new) Pakistan. His victory speech, delivered even before the results were officially confirmed, was widely hailed as a statesmanlike and conciliatory piece of oratory.

The 65-year-old prime-minister-to-be said all the right things in a calculatedly correct tone. This was refreshing after the vitriolic outbursts from all sides during the election campaign. Attributing Pakistan’s problems to corruption and the collapse of governance, Khan promised to rebuild all national institutions and root out graft. He assured the nation that he would create a welfare state to lift up the poor and the underprivileged. He promised to try corrupt officials and apply accountability across the board.

This was music to the ears of the people of this country of 208 million, ruled for decades by status-quo forces that have failed to pull most of them out of poverty. But such promises have been made before. The only difference is that the PTI is at the helm for the first time.

What is significant is the refrain one hears from political observers and analysts: We must wait and see whether the promised reform will actually happen. Skeptics are abundant, but the young, savvy and educated who hold privileged positions are euphoric and say the new leadership should be given a chance.

Many people are tired of the turbulence and violence that often occur when political parties stage protests and rallies. Near the end of the campaign for this month’s elections, three suicide bombings killed three candidates and 180 people. Then came another bomb attack on election day, killing 31 people in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan.

What should interest foreign powers is the line the prime minister-elect will take on foreign policy. In his victory speech, Khan spoke about that policy ambiguously. He didn’t mention his views on defense and security, which could have stirred controversy. He was vocal about bringing peace to the region—without saying how he will treat militant elements, some of which he has expressed admiration for in the past.

Khan mentioned his goals regarding six other countries, but he adopted such an unspecific, broad stance that he succeeded in not stepping on any toes, including those of Pakistan’s defense establishment, which is firmly in control of foreign policy. He said he would seek to:

• Strengthen relations with China
• Bring peace in Afghanistan (to help bring peace in Pakistan) and have open borders between the two countries
• Develop mutually beneficial relations with the United States
• Build stronger ties with Iran
• Help Saudi Arabia resolve its internal tensions
• Improve relations with India, if its leadership agrees; end the blame game between Pakistan and India; stop human rights violations in Kashmir.

The speech was a safe statement of intent; it called for no specific commitments that might be controversial. But a closer look at some of Khan’s previous statements shows him to be anti-U.S., to have reservations about China’s economic practices, to be more pro-Saudi Arabia than many Pakistanis would prefer, to be a hard-liner on India, and to have a soft spot for militants—be they in Pakistan, Afghanistan or Kashmir. Weave into this narrative the military’s own concealed agenda and you will be left guessing as to what the future might hold.

Pakistan, especially its army, has had close ties with China since the 1950s. Islamabad and Beijing have provided each other with unequivocal support—military, diplomatic, economic and political. Sino-Pakistan friendship, said to be as high as the Himalayas and as deep as the Indian Ocean, has benefited both nations in their conflicts with India. Pakistan has used its relationship with China to neutralize the U.S. when the need arose. Today, a time when Pakistan is in deep economic crisis, China’s One Belt and One Road initiative, with its promise of $900 billion infrastructure aid for 65 nations, is a boon for Pakistan, which has yet to become self-reliant.

Pakistan’s relations with the U.S. have seen ups and downs since the war in Afghanistan began, but they have never before reached the current low, demonstrated by President Trump’s 2017 announcement of his “fight to win” policy in Afghanistan, a declaration in which he accused Pakistan of providing havens for terrorists. Then, in his first tweet of 2018, Trump said the U.S. “had given it [Pakistan] more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit.”

Trump also strengthened the hawks in the Pakistan army when he invited Pakistan’s historical enemy India to “help us more with Afghanistan.”

Islamabad’s relations with India have worsened since 2008 when terrorists suspected of coming from Pakistan attacked Mumbai. The previously intermittent dialogue between the two countries remains suspended.

Many believe that in the coming months the new government will make compromises to get everyone on the same page. Khan’s ex-wife, Reham Khan, a television presenter, said in an interview that Khan was known for his “U-turns.” Others—with less of a personal history—agree. Najam Sethi, the editor of The Friday Times, a political weekly published from Lahore, wrote, “Imran Khan … is a different kettle of fish. He may have embraced the Miltablishment as a tactical move but sooner rather than later he will begin to challenge the conventional wisdom of the national security state handed down to him. That’s when all bets will be off.”

The only conclusively reassuring feature of these elections is the failure of the numerous candidates from terrorist groups. Not one of them won. That was the people’s verdict.

Source: Truthdig

 

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The new mandate

 

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

Election day is over: Homage first to the dead – victims and martyrs of our political and institutionerrors – and then thanksgiving for that abiding commitment to home and country apparent in the collective spirit of Pakistan’s people. Provincial governments bicker in the Council of Common Interests; power-accreting centralists fiddle with demographics, delineations and more – yet people in the injured unequal units converge and concur in a quest for good governance and a democratic determination of the way to it. Continue reading The new mandate

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The double disadvantage for girls

ONE of the worst blows the state has inflicted on the citizens of Pakistan is to deny education to a huge chunk of them. For girls this has been a double blow. They have suffered on two counts. First, the state’s apathy has resulted in the non-availability of accessible, affordable and quality education for all. Secondly, girls have also suffered because of society’s gender prejudices that have made education out of reach for many girls. Continue reading The double disadvantage for girls

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Digital dilemmas

By Zubeida Mustafa

EARLIER this year, WHO classified video-gaming as a disorder. It is defined in the draft Eleventh Revision of the International Classification of Diseases as a mental health condition. Understandably, controversy has erupted round this move as many experts believe that sufficient data doesn’t exist to support this drastic diagnosis. Besides, the symptoms defined are too broad to be applied to one particular area of engagement. Thus a person may have a strong preference for any activity that he enjoys to the extent that “he does not stop even if there are negative consequences, the compulsion strains his life, health and relationships” — WHO’s definition of the gaming disorder. Definitely more data is needed. Continue reading Digital dilemmas

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