Category Archives: Constitution

Ambivalence

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani                  

  We have so many regulatory bodies, inquiry commissions, supervisors and monitors, that the only reason we don’t keep nervously looking over our shoulders is that we are also on the watch for what could lie ahead.  The ambience is of unfocused anxiety. The analogy of a police state doesn’t come to mind, for the police force too is under scrutiny. However, PEMRA may soon have TV channels genially tell us ‘Big Brother is watching YOU’ for PEMRA is certainly watching them. If they are naughty or complain there could be recourse to a tribunal and the exercise – for this is civil dictation not military – may not be, like General Zia’s 90-day electoral guarantee, liable to indefinite postponement.

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PTI rule

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

‘Corruption’ has been the make and break PTI slogan and the outstandingly ‘corrupt’ leaders of yore have been electorally dis-enabled and the two mainstream grassroots parties left floundering if not quite sunk. Common citizens are gauging what is on the march in the field: Imran Khan (for the party is the man) and his support base. Bear in mind that the mandate to govern was formally conferred by perhaps too gullible an electorate in the framework of the much-amended and sometimes vacillatingly so, as with the 8th amendment, 1973 constitution. It is a landmark consensual constitution that, though unceremoniously stamped upon by boots in 1977 and 1999, has yet to follow Pakistan’s earlier constitutional tomes into the unemptied dustbin of history.

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Amazed in the maze


By Rifaat Hamid Ghani   

Pakistan’s democratic advances and retreats are usually perceived in terms of a tussle between power-belts: a civilian establishment comprised of what– post lateral-entry– we may no longer justly call mandarins, enabled by and facilitating administration and policy for an electorally empowered party leadership: now called chors and dakkus. (Party activists, dissidents, and turncoats of lesser stature we could soon be calling raillu kattas.)  In the scales for charge of the governmental process is the military establishment.

We still term it the khakis. Notwithstanding the fact that the last military coup was essentially a day-long airborne drama, those clad in blue and white do not emerge as coup-Caesars. Perhaps what really matters is what you have on the ground — or the ground realities of the political field.  What are these and who determines them? Supposedly in the electoral democratic process the voters. But who enfranchises and disenfranchises?

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No guns, please

By Zubeida Mustafa

QAMAR Zaman is the father of an infant boy. He works in Karachi’s Defence Authority’s Phase 4 Commercial Area. He had just finished his duty at 6pm on June 10 and had stopped to purchase vegetables for his wife to cook for dinner, when he was knocked out by a hail of gunshots. For him everything went black thereafter.

He later learnt that a guard before a mobile shop close by had accidentally pulled the trigger claiming that he did not know that his gun was loaded. He had just received the weapon from his colleague who was going off-duty.

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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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No child’s play

By Zubeida Mustafa

FOUZIA is 13 and is employed by a working mother of two children. Fouzia is the victim of oppression on three counts. She performs the duties of an adult woman, which would be classified as child labour. She is not attending school as is compulsory for children from five to 16 years of age under Article 25-A of the Constitution.

Above all, she will soon be another example of early marriage as she is said to be engaged. The wedding will take place as soon as she has earned enough for her dowry. In the process, Fouzia has been robbed of her childhood and an education.

These deprivations do not bother this young girl’s family. Their sociocultural norms and, according to many, poverty have landed her in this ugly situation. According to Unesco, from 1987 to 2005, early marriage was the fate of nearly 32 per cent of all children in Pakistan. Continue reading No child’s play

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Quest for schools

Neelum Colony on the fringe of DHA, Karachi

By Zubeida Mustafa

MARCH 23 was an occasion for soul-searching by civil society activists. In a meeting they demanded a new social contract to revive the spirit of the Lahore Resolution. The emphasis was on giving the underprivileged their due share in parliament and national resources. The assumption is that a share in policymaking and the country’s wealth will empower the disadvantaged, that is, the majority. Continue reading Quest for schools

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Language whims

By Zubeida Mustafa

MY last column on language-in-education evoked interesting comments from readers. Some raised valid concerns. Others betrayed unfounded fears about language — and also education. Quite a few of the comments were more an outpouring of emotional biases and not based on rational thinking.

First of all what needs to be clarified is that there is a world of difference between using a language as a medium of instruction (MOI) and teaching it as a subject. Whenever there is a discourse on the language-in-education issue we seem to get carried away by our passion for English. It needs to be understood clearly that a child learning history, geography or even science in an indigenous language can still learn English as a second language just like any German or Korean child does. If English is taught by competent teachers using the correct methodology the child will learn it well and quickly. Continue reading Language whims

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Why English again?

By Zubeida Mustafa

SINCE 1999, when Unesco first declared Feb 21 International Mother Language Day, this issue has received much attention throughout the world. In Pakistan, where the language issue has always had a complexity of its own, educators, linguists and activists are now more vocal than ever.

Will the ruckus being created have a real impact on the language situation in various sectors of national life? The courts have given two major language-related verdicts in the past two years. One was the Supreme Court’s directive of 2015 asking the government to use Urdu as the official language of administration. The second is the recent order of the Lahore High Court asking the Federal Public Commission to conduct CSS examinations in Urdu.

There is a logical link between the two. A person who is to conduct the affairs of governance in one language should be fluent enough in it to pass an exam to qualify as an administrator. The conclusion that follows is that the CSS candidates should have studied Urdu in school as well as college to be able to take examinations in that language. Continue reading Why English again?

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Flipping pages

On the same page?

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

Our country’s history predisposes us to dwell on the tensions of the civil and military relationship and the resultant impact on our politics. Implicit in the spasmodically yet doggedly publicized affaire of Dawn ‘Leaks’ is the underwriting of the thought that the armed forces and the civil government are/may/will be at cross-purposes; or that one or both of these bulwarks of the state may have conflicting currents within them: A more perilously confusing state—domestically and internationally—than the frank impropriety of civil government being subservient to military diktat; or the armed forces blatantly flouting or choosing to act independently of civilian policy’s direction and directives. Continue reading Flipping pages

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