Category Archives: Human Rights

How we grow

By Zubeida Mustafa

MAHNOOR is 13 years. She studies in the afternoon shift of a school in Neelum Colony. Mahnoor is often late for class because she babysits her six-month-old brother. Her mother is a domestic worker and is away from home the whole day. Mahnoor can go to school only when her nine-year-old sibling returns home from his school to take charge of the baby.

The failure of population planning in Pakistan has robbed many Mahnoors of the joy of childhood and has impacted their education. It has also frustrated our policymakers who have another story to tell. The backlog of 22 million out-of-school children in the country may never be wiped out as 4m new aspirants join the list of admission seekers annually. The government’s capacity to open new schools is limited.

Continue reading How we grow

Trump Leaves Afghanistan and Pakistan at His Mercy

By Zubeida Mustafa

The Doha talks between the United States and the Taliban to work out a peace deal to end Afghanistan’s 18-year conflict began with a whimper a year ago. They ended Saturday with a presidential tweet from the White House that was no less than a bang that resounded around a startled world.

Having come so close to a peace deal, it was difficult to understand why President Donald Trump and thus the U.S. backed off. True, an American soldier was killed in an attack by the Taliban last week along with a Romanian soldier and 10 Afghan civilians. But 15 U.S. soldiers have been killed since the Doha talks began, and the Taliban had yet to formally renounce violence.

Most shaken by the turn of events in the peace process were the Taliban leaders themselves and their patrons in Pakistan.  It had been a Herculean task to bring the killers of 2,300 American and 45,000 Afghan soldiers and 32,000 Afghan civilians to the negotiating table. Then they had to be persuaded to agree in principle to a peace process for power sharing. Some loose ends still had to be tied up, but there was hope. Credit for this goes to the tireless shuttle diplomacy spread over nine months by the Afghan-born American diplomat, Zalmay Khalilzad. He has been strangely silent in the last two days.

Continue reading Trump Leaves Afghanistan and Pakistan at His Mercy

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?

Continue reading Amazed in the maze

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.

Continue reading No guns, please

Rights of rivers

By Zubeida Mustafa

CAN a river have legal rights as, say, a human being? Why not, a Maori would say. Te Awa Tupua, New Zealand’s third largest river located in the North Island, was recognised as a legal entity in March 2017 by an act of parliament. This move came in response to a 140-year-old demand of the Whanganui tribe of the region which has traditionally treated the river as its ancestor. This in effect means that a close link between man and nature has been recognised and man’s obligations towards the river — his lifeline — acknowledged.

This is a unique concept which makes much sense. Within the span of a few weeks, an Indian court followed suit, and the Ganges and Jamna, sacred rivers of the Hindus, were also given legal rights. These initiatives have reinforced the personhood rights of rivers movement, which is rapidly gaining ground worldwide. It has significantly caught the attention of Pakistani environmentalists as well. I first heard of it the other day from Muhammad Ali Shah, the chairperson of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, who spoke of this in his speech on dams at a meeting organised by the Irtiqa Institute of Social Sciences. Who else but the fisherfolk would be the first to ponder the implications of the savage abuse of rivers in Pakistan?

A few facts and figures quoted by Shah should be eye-openers. Of the thousands of rivers in the world, only 292 are defined as large — that is, they carry over 1,000 cubic kilometres water — but only 21 of them reach the sea. The remaining have been depleted by dams and mega irrigation projects.

The worst form of social injustice in Pakistan can be found in water distribution.

What about Pakistan? The Indus, the only river to reach the sea in the country, is in its death throes. Dams and canals are draining the waterway while garbage and solid waste are choking it. As a result, the sea is encroaching on the delta, strangling the mangroves and affecting the ecological health of the coastline and the river mouth. Pollution is another major enemy of the Indus and its tributaries.

And the dams? According to the International Commission on Large Dams, Pakistan has 150 dams of the height of at least 15 metres, including the world’s largest earth-filled dam (Tarbela). Yet we seem to be desperate for another one.

If the personhood rights of the Indus were to be accepted in principle, we would have to ensure that the river is not polluted, no more dams are built on it and water is drawn judiciously so that the river’s ecology is not damaged further or marine life decimated. Many lakes have also been affected by the pollution and depletion of river waters.

Pakistan is a water-scarce country, we are told, and our exploding population needs water to live. What is strange is that the many options available have not been explored seriously. There is no discourse on reservoirs to store the excess water that the heavy monsoon rains and the floods bring. There is no mention of conservation in agriculture (drip irrigation has never been tried on a large scale) and industry, or of the need to check the wasteful practices of the rich. And what about the leaking pipes which drain away as much as 30 per cent of the water in Pakistan’s largest city where the Karachi Water & Sewerage Board rules over the water kingdom. Muhammad Ali Shah’s was a lone voice that spoke strongly of conservation at the Irtiqa meeting.

The worst form of inequity and social injustice in the country can be found in water distribution. It is no wonder that the Supreme Court-mandated commission on water and sanitation in Sindh expressed its “serious resentment” on the “unfair” distribution of water in Karachi recently. Water theft, the operation of a tanker mafia and the prevalence of illegal water pumps are the sad story of Karachi’s water supply system. These illegalities are provided cover by allowing half of the 2,600 flow meters installed on the intervention of the Supreme Court to remain out of order. And who are the beneficiaries? Naturally, the rich and the privileged who can buy water at exorbitant prices to meet their needs, while the indigent continue to be denied even this basic necessity of life.

With the lack of availability of water is in itself the first major issue that has to be addressed, no one speaks about the quality of the water that is being supplied. It is not fit for drinking. As a result, water has become a commodity that is sold in the market and that has made many people wealthy. But there is no guarantee that bottled water is always safe for drinking.

The root of the problem lies at the source. Alas, rivers have no rights in Pakistan. But neither do the citizens, not on paper but in reality. This is certain though, when the rivers die, so will the citizens.

Source: Dawn

Food paradoxes

By Zubeida Mustafa

HAS the sight of a child scavenging for food from an overflowing garbage bin made your heart bleed? This is common in Karachi, where kitchen waste containing a lot of cooked food is thrown away. This child is one of the 31.5 per cent of under-fives in Pakistan who were found to be underweight by the 2011 National Nutrition Survey. Nearly 43.7pc were categorised as ‘stunted’. The figures are expected to rise in the NNS currently under way. Continue reading Food paradoxes

Justice for all

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE judiciary in Pakistan has traditionally been viewed as a rubber stamp for coup-makers who intrude into politics. Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry showed the courage to defy Gen Pervez Musharraf — albeit seven years after the army chief had entrenched himself as head of state. In the words of The Economist (August 2009), “Most people do not care to remember that Mr Chaudhry and his colleagues also took their oaths after Mr Musharraf’s first coup … and owe their promotions to him”. Justice Chaudhry won popularity as a David who took on Goliath.

Today Chief Justice Saqib Nisar’s judicial activism has found some supporters too. And one can understand why. When a vacuum is created in any area of national life, it is inevitable that it will be filled by one or the other force. Matters of governance have deteriorated to such an extent in all sectors that people here are in a state of despair. Continue reading Justice for all

Say no to guns

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE Citizens-Police Liaison Committee, or CPLC, recently released data on crime in Karachi in 2017. It confirms that we live under the shadow of death in this city that was once predicted to become the queen of the East. In 11 months until end November 2017, 54,473 crimes including killings, robberies, kidnappings and extortions were registered. Many were not even reported as the victims did not deem them serious enough to get involved with the police.

Criminologists and anthropologists would enumerate many factors and conditions that account for the rising crime graph in Karachi in the span of a few decades. Continue reading Say no to guns

Pakistanis Draw a Line Against Guns: We Will Not Dance to War Drums

By Zubeida Mustafa

In 2013, my friend, Perveen Rehman, a popular, soft-spoken development worker, was gunned down in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi. She was shot in the neck three times as she returned home from work. The same year, according to media reports, approximately 2,789 people were also killed in the city. Although it’s difficult to obtain accurate figures on the cause of these deaths, it appears that many were the result of gun violence.

In addition to Perveen, two other people I knew were killed that year. Two years later, we lost Sabeen Mahmud, a social activist. She fell victim to armed extremists who wanted to silence her outspokenness.

The high rate of fatalities due to the widespread prevalence of guns has earned Karachi the notorious reputation of being one of the “least safe” cities in the world. Mercifully, the number of killings has declined in the past few years due to a crackdown by law enforcement agencies. However, the gun culture in Pakistan continues to thrive, a result, in part, of its foolish decision in 1979 to play the American proxy in Afghanistan. That opened the floodgates to heroin and Kalashnikovs, which quickly led to the gun violence we contend with today.

Before Pakistan’s involvement in the Soviet-Afghan war, Karachi was a peaceful city. So how did citizens react to this about-face regarding the security situation? Most turned despondent and grew fearful. Given the government’s failure to provide protection, citizens adjusted their lifestyles to ensure maximum protection for themselves and their families by purchasing guns. But a few brave souls chose not to take the situation lying down. One of them is Naeem Sadiq, an industrial engineer who is also engaged in research and activism to promote social causes. About 15 years ago, he started looking into what he calls “the disease of uncontrolled burgeoning weapons that were being used in crime and militancy.”

Sadiq concedes that every society has its share of conflicts and differences. What worries him is the fact that “the ready availability of weapons shrinks the space for dialogue and people tend to pull out a gun to seek a quick solution.”

He is right. Lives have been lost due to petty street crimes. But what should prompt one to ponder the gravity of the situation is that weapons have become tools for people to give vent to anger and frustration. Incidents have been reported, for instance, of a driver pulling out a gun and shooting another driver who dared to overtake the vehicle of the first. Similarly, jilted suitors have been known to use guns to teach their beloveds a lesson for turning down marriage proposals.

Initially, Sadiq expressed his concerns in letters-to-the-editor columns in newspapers and in passionate discussions with friends. Most of them dismissed the issue as being beyond the control of ordinary citizens. But not Sadiq. As his circle of like-minded friends grew, he founded Citizens Against Weapons (CAW).

Formed about five years ago, the group’s members believe that Pakistan should be a peaceful, tolerant and weapon-free society. “The group has a few simple rules. CAW has no hierarchy, no funding from any source, no formal office or registration and complete equality and openness,” Sadiq says. “Any citizen who is committed to peace, tolerance and deweaponization is welcome to participate as an equal partner in this struggle.”

Today, 100 distinguished citizens and 13 prominent organizations—including the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Shehri, Citizen-Police Liaison Committee, Tehrik-e-Niswan, Pakistan Medical Association and the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research—have endorsed CAW’s charter. Twenty members meet regularly to discuss strategy for creating public awareness and act as an advocacy group to lobby with the government.

CAW recently held a seminar in which civil-society members raised their concerns to draw public attention to the issues of peace and deweaponization. According to Sadiq, CAW’s agenda includes a complete ban on the issuance of all gun licences and a demand that weapons owned by private militias be eliminated under a surrender and buy-back scheme. This was proposed by the hosts and endorsed by the audience.

Lawyers involved in CAW are advocating public interest litigation. Since 2007, when former President and military ruler Pervez Musharraf dismissed the Chief Justice of Pakistan and lawyers rallied to have him reinstated, the courts have become active in redressing many wrongs that are inflicted on the people—hence this suggestion by the CAW’s lawyers.

Sadiq, who has campaigned against weapons for years, believes that gun licenses in Pakistan are “a racket.”

“Every gun license issued in the country has been issued without a single mandatory verification or test,” he claims. “There is no requirement for a training session, to attend a shooting range class or to pass a written test. The only criteria to obtain a gun license are status, power, influence and bribe.” The application form for a gun license testifies to that and gives limitless discretion to the bureaucracy, which explains why it is easy for unscrupulous men to buy a gun and hire an assassin for a few hundred thousand rupees to eliminate a rival.

Power and guns go hand in hand. People blatantly display guns to demonstrate their status. Most political parties have armed wings, and in November, an extremist religious party succeeded in holding the government hostage to its demands by blocking access to Islamabad, the capital of the country, for three weeks.

The CAW seminar drove home how guns affect Pakistan’s citizens. Dr. Seemi Jamali, executive director of one of Karachi’s major public sector hospitals, explained that an average of five or six gunshot patients are brought to her institution daily.

Those responsible for tending to the wounded are also at risk. There have been periods in the city’s history when doctors have been targeted by armed militants to create panic. From 1990 to 2004 and from 2010 to 2014, 140 health practitioners were killed in Karachi. At the seminar, the secretary-general of the Pakistan Medical Association said that these losses passed without comment by the government until the doctors went on strike. Even then, the compensation the government eventually promised the doctors’ grieving families was never given.

Although CAW demanded at the seminar that gun licenses should not be issued, it is clear that the problem is not licensing or registration alone, but the guns themselves. Pakistan is said to have 20 million guns, of which only 7 million are registered.

Many rightly feel that when a life is lost, it makes no difference whether or not the gun used was licensed. No bereaved person is comforted to know that their loved one was killed by a licensed gun.

At the CAW seminar, the father of a young man—a taxi driver named Ubaidullah Gilani, who was shot dead by unknown assailants—described his painful inability to answer his grandchild’s persistent query: “Who killed abba (father) and why?” Months had passed since Gilani’s death, and the family was still traumatized.

This explains why CAW is averse to any citizen being allowed to carry arms. It wants the government to revoke all the gun licenses previously issued and get people to surrender their firearms—even legally acquired ones. Sadiq believes that gun possession should be the exclusive domain of the state, and that no public display of firearms should be allowed.

To spread the message of deweaponization, CAW members write letters to newspapers, visit schools to talk to students, lobby with legislators and participate in any available public forum. It has held two walks to raise awareness.

At the heart of the problem is a culture that tolerates violence. In a patriarchal society, guns are a macho symbol, a concept CAW is working to change. At the recent seminar, two schoolteachers spoke about children’s fascination with firearms and toy guns and explained how they try to divert their students’ attention to the beauties of nature. Rumana Husain, a CAW member who is trying to mobilize teachers, also points out the importance of persuading toy stores to remove toy guns from their shelves and replace them with more peaceful playthings. As a children’s book author and an ambassador of the Children’s Literature Festival, Husain is working hard to popularize books in order to replace guns as a leisure pastime.

I believe it is also time to introduce peace studies in Pakistan’s schools, colleges and universities. If youths learn about conflict resolution and the destructiveness of war, their attitudes toward guns and violence will begin to change. At present, only four of the nation’s 163 universities offer post-graduate peace programs. (Two, ironically, are owned by the armed forces.)

The seminar’s final word came from Sheema Kermani, a fiery peace activist who has defied military dictatorships in Pakistan with her bold and beautiful dances and choreography. She recited “What I Will,” a poem by Suheir Hammad, a Palestinian-American poet, which should clinch the argument for peace and deweaponization:

I will not
dance to your war
drum. I will
not lend my soul nor
my bones to your war
drum. I will
not dance to your
beating. I know that beat.
It is lifeless. … I
will craft my own drum. Gather my beloved
near and our chanting
will be dancing. Our
humming will be drumming. I
will not be played. I
will not lend my name
nor my rhythm to your
beat. I will dance
and resist and dance and
persist and dance. This heartbeat is louder than
death. Your war drum ain’t
louder than this breath.

Source: Truthdig