Yearly Archives: 2010

Karachi mafia seek political clout with land grabs

Taimur Khan

KARACHI // Sometimes, politically motivated killings in Karachi rise, as they did after a councillor was assassinated this year and more than 100 people died in 72 hours of revenge attacks.

But on most days, the hum of death in Pakistan’s largest city is steady and routine. It is fuelled by the city’s ethnic political parties and their “land mafias”, who fight to control property that provides profits and political power. Continue reading Karachi mafia seek political clout with land grabs

Dark shadow of child labour

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

HERE is some shocking bit of news that bodes ill for Pakistan’s future. A seminar organised by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) was told that child labour was on the rise in Pakistan.

Given the flawed data collection, it is difficult to ascertain accurate statistics but the labour force survey of 2007-2008 put the total number of 10- to 14-year-old child workers in Pakistan at 2.6 million.

But in 2005, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan estimated that nearly 10 million children were working in the formal and informal sectors. It seems that the government conventionally under-reports the size of the child labour force. With 21 million children in this age group of which only seven million are enrolled in school, a whopping 14 million have to be accounted for.

True, not all of those absent from school are in the work force. But a substantial number are. Their plight casts — or should cast — a dark shadow on our collective conscience. There is something seriously wrong with a country which not only fails to educate all its children but also depends on them to keep its economy afloat. These dreary facts have grim implications. Pakistan is heading back into the Dark Ages with only a few lucky ones receiving education.

Hidden in the numbers are some alarming and hideous truths.

Truth #1: Poverty is on the rise compelling many parents to send their children to work for a pittance. If they don’t they will starve. They don’t have a choice. It is better to make a child work rather than ask him to beg or, worse still, to sell one’s children.

Truth #2: All our tall claims about educational reforms notwithstanding, education is a failing enterprise. The millions we have begged and borrowed to pump into this sector have gone down the drain because a majority of children who join primary school do not go on to the secondary level. In other words, most of them drop out after a few years of initial schooling. They are back to square one to lose whatever literacy they have acquired.

This dual phenomenon reflects poorly on a system that is unable to retain its students in school because the quality of education is poor and not relevant to their lives. Moreover, secondary schools are more inaccessible than primary institutions and not sufficient in number.

Truth #3: Our economic productivity is on the decline since the presence of children in the work force in large numbers does not really improve the performance of the various economic sectors. Children may be intelligent and quick to learn but they are no substitute for qualified, well-trained adults with mature minds.

Truth #4: Our population planning programme is in a total mess. A country with 12 per cent of its population in the age bracket of 10 to 14 years seems to be fighting a losing battle with demographic explosion. Forty per cent of Pakistan’s population is under 15, which presents a gloomy outlook for the future.

Truth #5: Ours is a nation of exploiters. How do children find a job especially at a time when unemployment is so high?

The fact is that selfish employers opt for child workers because they are paid less and can be manipulated. An adult is capable of demanding higher wages and resorting to unionising to have his rights conceded.

Truth #6: We are adept at passing laws and signing conventions but inept at implementing them. There are many laws on the statute books to protect children from the evil of child labour. The government is also a party to many international conventions such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 and ILO conventions 182 and 138.

Two laws, namely, the Employment of Children’s Acts of 1991 and 2001 specifically address child labour while the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1992 is applicable to children as well. There are lacunae in these laws that need to be removed for which civil society organisations have been lobbying.

It is a pity that the gravity of the problem of child labour has not been recognised in the country. It is not just the size of the population affected that makes the issue so grave.

The exploitative conditions in which children work are horrifying. Since they are not in a position to defend themselves, children become the victims of oppressive treatment meted out to them by their employers. Young children have lost their lives because of the brutalities inflicted on them.

The worst sector is that of child domestic labour which often involves children of a very young age — even five- or six-year-olds — and creates great emotional stress for the victim since he is isolated from his family and vulnerable to the excesses of his employer, which may include very long working hours, a low salary and verbal, emotional, physical and sexual abuse.

The worst part of the malaise of child labour is that it is not widely recognised as such. People are known to even purchase children for domestic work. They feel that the financial transaction has given them rights over the services of the child. The human dimension does not strike most people who employ children and rob them of their childhood, something they would not do to their own children who are the beneficiaries of the services of the child worker.

Until this nation learns to treat its children as the future of the country and invests in their education, health and security while seeking to nurture them, the outlook for Pakistan will remain as bleak as its present.

The State of Pakistan’s Children, 2009, (a report that has been prepared meticulously and with devotion to the cause of children since 1997 by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child) speaks of the need of building with like-minded organisations alliances against child labour. This is a valid recommendation if public opinion has to be mobilised against child labour.

The anatomy of advocacy

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

AT a recent art exhibition on honour killing in Karachi and that was curated by eminent art critic and editor of NuktaArt, Niilofur Farrukh, the presentations to articulate various concerns were followed by a lively dialogue.

One member of the audience raised the point that the exhibition and discussion should have been held in Nasirabad. This is a district in Balochistan where some women were allegedly buried alive in a case of honour killing in 2008 that shocked the nation. It was to the memory of these women that the exhibition was dedicated.

The idea was that a dialogue at the site of the horrendous incident would have raised awareness among followers of such obscurantist customs. No one would dispute the need to enlighten people in under-developed regions. But exercises such as the exhibition, the dialogue that was preceded by the screening of Beena Sarwar`s film on Mukhtaran Mai, Attiya Dawood`s poetry recital, Khadija Hussain`s poignant report on her visit to Nasirabad and an inspiring talk by Amar Sindhu are designed not just for consciousness raising. They are also intended to be a political statement and designed to give a voice to people in similar circumstances.

Moreover, in the Nasirabad case the act of defiance came from the victims themselves who seemed to be fully aware of their right to choose their own life partners. They must also have been aware of the risks they took. Theirs was an act of courage. Unfortunately, the affected party was too weak to even make its voice heard — their death gave them the publicity that could have helped them.

The Nasirabad women do not need any more education. It is their killers who definitely need to be told that there is no honour in killing. But will an exhibition of this kind in the heart of the region where such crimes are committed so brazenly change the male mindset? A heated debate in the Senate did not stir the conscience of those who uphold honour killing as a `custom`. They were not politically ostracised. On the contrary, one was appointed a minister.

So depraved is our political culture, that more than a decade ago a wealthy businessman and head of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Chamber of Commerce could arrange for the murder of his daughter in her lawyer`s office in Lahore for the `crime` of seeking release from an unhappy marriage. This heinous deed did not cast a blot on his public standing and the Senate refused to condemn his action.

Hence the need of the moment is to lobby and arrange advocacy campaigns all over the country to convince the powers-that-be that they will have to address the issues of women`s rights as well as many other concerns that have a direct bearing on the lives of people.

Often the laws do not protect them and need to be changed. If the victims are weak they can`t make inroads into the corridors of power. Since they are generally disadvantaged due to the discrimination they face they need help in penetrating the wall of apathy that surrounds our decision-makers. The Women`s Action Forum and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan are doing this vigorously.

Many other causes call for advocacy. Be it Aasiya Bibi`s death sentence under the blasphemy law or the injustices minorities suffer on account of their religious beliefs or the denial of rights to disabled people, there is much for human rights activists to take up.

In a country where social injustice is rampant, democratic traditions are weak, illiteracy rates high, intolerance is common and the rule of law virtually absent, no disadvantaged section of society can take it for granted that it will get its rights in due course and must depend on advocacy and lobbying to move its cause forward, bringing it to the attention of lawmakers, the judiciary and administration. Even when parliamentarians espouse their cause — sometimes they also become a part of the advocacy exercise — there is need to keep the pressure on.

The US which claims to be a democratic dispensation recognises lobbying as an institutional process but carries it to the extreme by reducing it to a financial transaction. This involvement of money negates the very concept of advocacy for the rights of the weak by making it dependent on financial empowerment.

Therefore, advocacy and lobbying must be accepted as a tool to promote the rights of society`s weaker sections. Its aim should be to influence the thinking of people who are in a position to introduce changes in the system.

To be effective, lobbyists must do their homework well. They must spell out their demands clearly and must also give wide participation to the people whose rights are being sought. That is important to make advocacy convincing. That is why I believe advocacy groups should have strong links with organisations working at the grass-roots. Thus alone will they be able to bring out people in large numbers in protest marches whenever these have to be held as a show of strength.

Another area where advocacy groups have to improve their performance is that of the selection of the causes they espouse. It is politically incorrect if they address one issue because it has won international publicity and not another because it is too mundane to make headline news even though a blatant violation of human rights is involved in both.

In a recent News Night programme with Talat Hussain on DawnNews, five guests who spoke on the issue of the rights of people with disabilities complained that no mainstream body in Pakistan is championing their cause.

This is strange considering that these rights have entered the domain of law through the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (that Pakistan signed in 2008 but has not ratified). The number of people with disabilities is sizeable — nearly 10 million. Is it, as Zahid Abdullah, an activist in Pakistan`s fledgling disability movement, says, that disability issues are not `glamorous`?

Wikileaks tests our media

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

IN Pakistan, the WikiLeaks drama confirms conclusively — if confirmation was needed — that the media has opted for its information and entertainment roles in a big way while abandoning its education responsibility altogether. By making this choice it has also made itself vulnerable to exploitation by vested interests. This has grim implications for the future of democracy in Pakistan and the media itself.

In the 1970s when strong voices of discontent were being raised against the inequitable international information order of the day, Unesco`s director-general Amadou Mahtar M`Bow, an intellectual stalwart of his time and a man of courage, responded to the concerns expressed. He set up a 16-member commission under Sean McBride, the Nobel laureate from Ireland, “to analyse communication problems” and “define the role which communication might play in making public opinion aware of the major problems besetting the world, in sensitising it to these problems and helping gradually to solve them by concerted action at the national and international levels”.

Warning that human history was becoming a “race between communication and catastrophe”, the commission suggested among other things that the information and education function of communication (the term used for the media) should be given importance equal to entertainment. The report published in book form in 1980 under the title Many Voices, One World carried a special message for Pakistan`s media which was at the time under pre-censorship clamped on it by Ziaul Haq.

We have certainly come a long way in terms of the freedom won after a vigorous struggle in which journalists played a key role. But what is disappointing is that the media, as it has evolved, has failed to meet the challenge of maintaining a delicate balance in its three roles of information, education and entertainment so that none detract from the other. What we see today is that the entertainment role has become predominant, with information being woven into it with great dexterity.

One should really have no objection if information is provided like a bitter pill sugar coated with entertainment. But the problem is that in this process of synthesising information, the media often trivialises it and facts are not clearly distinguished from fiction. A lot of the content of the media now consists of sensational information which is presented for its `entertainment` value. This is the case with many television programmes that dole out a lot of half-truths or fantasy.

It is a pity that this should have happened to Pakistan`s media at a time when it has entered the age of democracy. Of course it is not democracy that made freedom inevitable. The fact is that today the government cannot control the flow of news and views even if it wants to on account of the advance in communication technology that has made information so easily accessible. There is also the tilt towards the private sector that has robbed the government of its virtual economic monopoly over the levers of advertising.

But at the same time those in office have nothing to worry about. They only have to develop the capacity to laugh at themselves and desensitise themselves to the volley of criticism the media directs at them.

The WikiLeaks cables vindicate this opinion. It has been widely observed that all that was said in the cables Ambassador Anne Patterson dispatched to her bosses in Washington revealed nothing new. All this was common knowledge in Pakistan. Yet the leaks are being cited as proof of the wrongdoings of our leaders — because our own media has lost credibility and needs an outside stamp to verify its credentials. Then one newspaper group goes overboard and publishes a doctored version of the information said to have been contained in the WikiLeaks disclosures (the agency that provided the item is being blamed) to suit the interests of one of the key players on the political stage.

The new twist in this drama comes in the observation of some analysts that WikiLeaks is intriguingly releasing only pro-US establishment information and that too through selected newspapers such as the “ultra pro-establishment New York Times ” which decide what is to be released of the 250,000 documents said to have been submitted to Wikileaks. So far, only a little over 600 have been released. The recent split in the WikiLeaks team led by Julian Assange on the grounds that there was no transparency in his style of operation has also detracted from WikiLeaks` credibility.

What has been our media`s response to this development? It has picked up on the leaks to disseminate them. The focus has been on the information dimension. Information is basically the raw data that the human mind collects. It may arrange it to make it usable. But to become knowledge, information must have been analysed, processed, contextualised and integrated. In that form knowledge becomes meaningful and allows the person receiving it to develop an understanding of the issues to enable him to apply his own critical thinking to them.

This has not been done. Hence the `gossips` and scandals released were titillating. But they did nothing to promote a cognitive understanding of the issues raised, some of which are extremely crucial to the country`s security and the peace of the region.

Here I would like to reproduce a passage from a note appended to the Unesco report of 1980 that is so relevant for us even today. Written jointly by the renowned Colombian author and journalist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and another member Juan Somavia from Chile, it reads: “We want to emphasise that the `technological promise` is neither neutral nor value-free. Decisions in this field have enormous political and social implications. Each society has to develop the necessary instruments to make an evaluation of alternative choices and their impact.…[it needs to be] highlighted more strongly the basic importance that serious professional research will continue to have in promoting understanding of all these issues and clarifying the underlying structural phenomena.”

How many are too many?

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

HOW many schools do we need to educate our children? According to the senior minister for education, Sindh, the province needs no more schools. In fact he has announced that 1,100 schools would be closed down as they are “non-viable and unfeasible”.

Given the state of the education sector, this has unsurprisingly invited scathing criticism. In fact, I have learnt from reliable sources that the minister has informed foreign donors (the World Bank, the European Union and USAID) that the school census for 2009-10 conducted by the Sindh Education Management Information System (Semis) found 5,500 schools closed which are now being reopened on an ad hoc basis after ascertaining their location to ensure that no other school exists in the vicinity.

The education department believes that of these only 550 would meet the criteria to be deemed feasible. That in effect means that most of these earmarked schools will be closed and not revived. Since many areas in Sindh have no schools at all, a halt to further expansion of the school system is not sound policy.

A grim picture emerges. According to the figures by Semis, of the 6.2 million children aged five to nine years in the province only 2.7 million are enrolled in government schools. An estimated 1.6 million attend private schools. Nearly 1.9 million are out of school. The dismal quality of education is another cause of worry.

According to Semis which has been conducting a count of public-sector schools in Sindh for several years, the province has 49,000 primary schools of which 10,000 are without shelter and 24,000 are one- or two-roomed structures. With few exceptions, they have only one teacher. If the teacher cannot attend and no replacement is found, the school stops functioning.

This is a colossal challenge which the Sindh government has to address. Explaining the strategy adopted, Azhar Adil Dahar, the deputy programme manager at the education department`s Reform Support Unit, says as a first step he is trying to rationalise the functioning and location of the primary schools. Three districts have been selected to try the clustering of schools by merging their administrations.

Under this experiment, schools will not be closed down but share teaching resources. Thus a teacher may be posted in any school in a cluster where required. This should, at least on paper, ensure that no school stops functioning because the teacher is not present.

The second strategy is to address the dropout issue by creating a rational ratio between the secondary and primary schools. Currently, Sindh has 1,800 secondary schools with an enrolment of 850,000 students. Figures for the private sector are not available.

The lack of capacity explains why the dropout rate is so high. There are not enough secondary schools for children to attend once they complete Grade 5. So they stay at home. Worse, they forget what they have learnt and often lapse into illiteracy. Hence the government plans to open new secondary schools to fill this gap. The number will be decided after the primary sector has been set in order.

Again, what we have is a perfect plan on paper. Will it actually work?

To start with, Semis has to get its data right. For the census it depends on local functionaries — district officers and assistant district officers (ADO) — who in turn ask the heads of every institution to provide the information required. It was only last year that the government discovered that the censuses were riddled with inaccuracies because the questionnaires were in English and many of the headmasters who filled them out did not understand the language.

Now the forms have been translated into Urdu and Sindhi and a workshop held to train the enumerators. For the last census, five per cent samples were used for internal verification by ADOs. Next year, a consultant is to be hired for third-party verification.

The main issue that we do not hear much about at the moment is whether the existing number and location of schools that the education department says it will manage are enough for the number of children in Sindh, who must be educated. The complete statistical picture is not available.

Semis does not have the mandate to enumerate the private educational institutions. Many of the private schools funded by the World Bank have attracted enrolment from already existing private schools charging a fee. This means enrolment is not growing; it is shifting from one school to another. goth

Assuming that the province will have 45,000 primary schools (that includes the 100-plus Sindh Education Foundation schools and excludes the 5,000 closed schools the education department feels will not be opened) one can ask if this number is sufficient to ensure that not a single in Sindh goes un-served.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that there are areas with children but no schools. If it is ensured that there are enough institutions in appropriate locations to give every child access to a school, a policy of closing unviable schools will check financial misappropriation and streamline the system.

Closely linked to the viability issue is the distribution of teachers. There are far too many teachers concentrated in coveted areas like Karachi, Larkana, Naushero Feroze, etc. There are other places where teachers do not want to be posted. How the education department plans to get around this problem is not very clear although it is aware of the tactics teachers employ to evade unsavoury postings.

Positions are sublet to unqualified people or the teacher shows up in school only when a supervisor`s visit has been scheduled. It is difficult to say how the training programme is faring. This speaks of the flaws in the monitoring and supervision mechanism.

Senior officials in the education department do not make frequent and unannounced field trips. They obtain information from their subordinates who are not always reliable. With corruption so rife at all levels one is sceptical of the effective implementation of policies.

Blasphemy law amendment

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

THE uproar following Aasiya Bibi`s death sentence for alleged blasphemy has a familiar ring to it. If the past is anything to go by, we can be assured that Aasiya Bibi will not go to the gallows.

For every time a case of an alleged blasphemer sentenced to death has come into the limelight, there has been a hue and cry from the enlightened section of Pakistani society as well as human rights activists abroad, and the ruler of the day has had to give a reprieve to the condemned.

What next? Here is the example of Mohammad Younus Sheikh, a doctor/teacher in Rawalpindi, who was hauled up in 2000 under the infamous Section 295-C, found guilty and sentenced to death. Dr Sheikh won the support of some media persons and diplomats. His appeal led to a retrial that resulted in his acquittal. Dawn

Ardeshir Cowasjee and I wrote in support of Dr Sheikh in . After he had left Pakistan this erstwhile death row prisoner wrote me a letter of thanks.

I quote verbatim from his communication to convey the emotions of a person who had faced the hangman`s noose for “false and fabricated charges”: “The retrial was held in November [2003]. This time in view of the threats my lawyers had received, I decided to conduct my own defence. I was acquitted on Nov 20 and released in great secrecy on the 21st. Following my release I spent several weeks visiting family and friends, but during this time I received indirectly a number of threats to my life, and in the second week of January I heard that my accusers had appealed against my acquittal. I realised that for my safety I had to leave my country.”

He continued, “Happy though I am to be free, I cannot forget that as long as the blasphemy laws are on the statute books, they will continue to be misused. At this very moment [January 2004] there are at least 100 innocent people, victims of these black laws, languishing in various jails and lock-ups in Pakistan awaiting an uncertain future.

“It is a sad reflection on the state of society in Pakistan that even when individuals are exonerated, their lives may still be threatened by the fundamentalists and many will be forced to flee Pakistan. The state seems unable to provide us protection. I was not at all eager to leave my country and would willingly have stayed with my family and friends.”

That should give us an idea of the fate that awaits Aasiya Bibi. This is how it has been since the 1980s when Gen Ziaul Haq changed the laws in vogue since colonial times to introduce a draconian provision (Section 295-C) that prescribes the death penalty for making derogatory remarks against the Holy Prophet (PBUH). Isn`t it strange that a law that is supposedly designed to deter blasphemy has actually led to a rise in the number of cases reported?

Between 1927 and 1986 (the year the amendment to the Pakistan Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code became effective) 10 cases of blasphemy were reported. In 1988-2005, 647 people were charged for offences under this law and half of them were non-Muslims. More than 20 were murdered while they were under trial. A judge who acquitted an alleged blasphemer was also killed.

It requires no profound wisdom to see that the law is being abused to settle personal scores, tyrannise over the minorities and for economic gains. The laws have become a weapon for the fundamentalists to inflict fear on a society that has been becoming increasing intolerant. If people like Dr Sheikh have been saved it is because activists raised a hue and cry. But this speaks of a fire-fighting approach — the blasphemy law remains intact.

All kudos to Sherry Rehman, the PPP MNA, for taking the bold step of introducing a bill in the National Assembly recently that seeks to amend the blasphemy law. Ideally this law should have been done away with altogether. Sherry Rehman also admits that. But she says “there is no appetite for repeal”. Hence she has moved an amendment to take the bite out of the law. That is the approach she adopted for the Hudood laws — and succeeded.

As a tenacious fighter for human rights causes Sherry Rehman has sound credentials, and she must be supported. After all who would understand the mindset of her fellow parliamentarians better? Explaining the amended law, Sherry Rehman says that the blasphemy amendment bill requires the accuser to establish the “malicious intent” of the accused.

Since the death penalty has been removed and sentences reduced in the law, the incentive to use the law for other advantages has also been removed.

To deter false accusers with mala fide intent a clause has been added that penalises strongly all false accusations and there is a provision that all blasphemy cases will be moved to the high courts where higher public scrutiny is possible and miscarriages of justice less likely.

Dr Sheikh, who now lives abroad and campaigns for the repeal of the laws, wrote to me on “behalf of the victims of blasphemy laws” to say they “welcome” the proposed amendments. He suggests some additions which the mover of the bill could consider to further strengthen it.

First, compensation should be paid for the expenses incurred, the time spent in prisons which could have been used for socio-economic activity, for the life of a person killed or injured while in prison or on bail, or after being acquitted by the courts. Secondly, a criminal case against false accusers and false witnesses should be instituted automatically. Thirdly, the proposed amendments should apply to all the cases registered with the police since the introduction of the blasphemy laws. n

Dr Sheikh has a valid point. It is time for the Assembly to begin a serious debate on the blasphemy laws now that Sherry Rehman has taken the plunge.

The whole truth?

Reviewed By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

Paradise Beneath Her Feet captures succinctly the contradictions in some Muslim societies where religion is a powerful force that exercises an overarching influence on the socio-cultural, economic and political life of people.

As women exposed to modernism struggle for their rights to education, economic empowerment and political representation in the power structures of a country, they very often find their progress obstructed by elements propagating an obscurantist version of Islam. In many parts of the Muslim world they have had to devise strategies to overcome these barriers. Isobel Coleman, the author of the book under review, terms this approach ‘Islamic


According to her, after ceding the space of religious authority to conservative forces for centuries, women in the Islamic world are now trying to gain control of their own lives by demonstrating that equality and change is possible within the ambit of the faith.

Female scholars are now studying the Quranic texts to advance a liberal and progressive interpretation of the religious doctrines which is not in conflict with women’s rights as perceived in the modern context.

By adopting this approach ‘Islamic feminists’ do not have to enter into a confrontation with the ulema. They also find it easier to enlist supporters from the masses for their cause by using a liberal religious discourse. Female activists are now using the power of religion to empower women.

Research in Islamic laws on the status of women forms the underpinning of this strategy. Be it Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia or Iraq, women are engaged in finding the Islamic solution to the challenges posed by gender inequality in their societies. And they are succeeding, if the author is to be believed.

Isobel Coleman, who is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Washington, has reached this conclusion after studying the status of women in a few Middle Eastern countries for a decade and travelling to them to interview activists and scholars engaged in projects for women’s development.

They are trying to establish that Islam and women’s rights as we understand them today are not in conflict. Coleman is firmly convinced that the only road to emancipation for women in the Muslim world lies in this strategy.

That is why she attaches so much importance to the birth of Musawah (equality) in 2008 in Kuala Lumpur which she describes as a ‘global movement’. It is intriguing, though, why a movement that is supposed to be global has not even gained a toehold in most parts of the Muslim world, including Pakistan.

Pakistan’s is a case quite different from the others. It appears that Coleman, who had already reached some conclusions about Islamic feminism, attempts to stretch her ideas to fit the women’s rights situation into her hypothesis.

Coleman concludes the chapter on Pakistan in these words that seem a bit too far-fetched: ‘Women’s rights in Pakistan will continue to be a hotly contested cultural, political and social arena where tribal, feudal, religious and liberal secular interests clash. Islamic feminism is helping women and men to work across these lines to encourage women’s empowerment.’

The author’s research on Pakistan appears to be sketchy. The fact is that activists who tried to work within the Islamic framework found it impossible to reconcile the conflicting doctrines advanced by different sects and jurisprudence that claim to represent the ‘true’ faith. Justice Munir who had looked into the violence against the Ahmadi community in Lahore in 1953 had testified to the absence of consensus on various issues among various schools of Islamic thought.

Small wonder Women’s Action Forum (WAF) clearly announced in its charter in 1990 that its approach will be secular (Coleman fails to take note of this). Besides the fundamentalist religious lobby in Pakistan has been so strong that those on the other side of the divide have found it impossible to make a dent.

It is therefore not surprising that Dr Riffat Hassan, the moderate Islamic scholar interviewed by Coleman, failed to counter the retrogressive Farhat Hashmi of Al Huda fame whose reach has been growing phenomenally.

The Iqbal International Institute for Research, Education and Dialogue that Hassan set up in 2005 under General Musharraf’s patronage with funds from the ISI (as reported in the book) failed to create an impact.

Coleman would do well to research the subject in greater depth in Pakistan. She is again way off the mark when she projects GEO TV as championing the cause of liberal Islam. Those who have watched the obscurantism being spewed from the channel would be taken aback at the claim made in the book that GEO has stimulated ‘critical thinking’ and controversy on many sensitive issues.

The strength of the book lies in the first chapter titled ‘Why Women Matter: The payoffs from women’s rights’. It sums up succinctly how women make an impact on society when those working at the grassroots level are given some support financially and policy wise.

Some notable examples that Coleman cites are the kitchen women in Somalia who keep schools going during civil war and famine, the Bangladeshi women who borrow from Grameen Bank for small businesses and in the process benefit their families and Chaggibai Bhil, the Dalit woman who became the head of a panchayat in Rasalpura (India) and changed the lives of people in her region. These examples prove that whenever women achieved some success it was as a result of secular empowerment.

If religion has exerted such a powerful influence in the Islamic world it is because women in Muslim societies were kept in a state of illiteracy and ignorance for centuries. Education and enlightenment are necessary to lift them out of their backwardness. Research into Islamic doctrines will not empower women unless changes on the ground make an impact on their lives and thinking.

Changes are taking place in Muslim societies but the process is not holistic. As a result small pockets of liberalism in an ocean of backwardness have been created. How far this will empower women in these societies is the key question.

As Coleman points out, in Saudi Arabia nearly 60 per cent of graduates are women, but only five per cent of the workforce comprises female workers.

She does not adequately explain the sharp disparities between the highly empowered women and the under-privileged. Apparently a conservative cultural tradition rooted in religion continues to hold back progress.

Paradise Beneath her Feet: How women are transforming the Middle East
(women studies)
By Isobel Coleman
Random House, New York
ISBN 978-1-4000-6695-7
352pp. Rs2,050

The question of nationalisation

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

PRIME Minister Gilani stirred a hornet’s nest when he termed Z.A. Bhutto’s 1972 policy of nationalisation of schools and colleges as a mistake.

Most people, especially those who have watched the slide in education over the years with dismay, have joined forces with the prime minister on this issue. Others have defended the PPP’s founder on grounds of principles. In the debate that has ensued, the polarisation between the two sides is sharp.

It has also clearly emerged that there is very little understanding of the conditions in which the nationalisation policy was pursued in the education sector and the reasons for the poor results we see today.

In today’s age when the marketplace reigns supreme no compunction is felt when the poor are left to their own devices by limiting the role of the state in the social sectors. It is a pity that none of those who have argued for or against the statement made by Mr Gilani has deemed it necessary to place the issue in its historical and ideological context to understand why such an extreme move was contemplated and why it failed. When it is dubbed a ‘mistake’, the yardstick presumably used is the appalling state of public-sector education in the country today.

But this gives the impression that it was all hunky dory in the education system in Pakistan in the pre-nationalisation era. The fact is that the system was flawed even then; the only difference was that the flaws were of another kind. A solution was needed but to be effective it had to be more focused than the nationalisation policy.

Before 1972, the public sector in education — at least at the school level — was larger than the private sector. There was no private university at the time. The performance of government schools was considered to be satisfactory enough if not ideal. Their examination results were relatively better. The key problem of the education sector was that of accessibility. Expansion of the government school network was not taking place fast enough to reach all sections of society and not keeping pace with the rapidly growing population. The private sector could not step in to meet the shortfall.

Another problem was that private institutions, with a few exceptions, were mismanaged. The teachers were treated with contempt and corruption was rife. A report by a committee set up in 1969 by the commissioner, Karachi division, to probe “into the affairs of the private colleges in Karachi with particular reference to irregularities and malpractices prevailing in those institutions” was quite an eye-opener.

Some findings are worth quoting: “Salaries are not disbursed regularly … [the teachers] were not paid their salaries for several months…. The teachers were forced to sign on higher amounts of salaries than actual payment.” Maltreatment and abuse of teachers was commonly reported and this included “the slapping of teachers by the proprietor”. In one case a part-time teacher served as the principal of a college and the hiring of under-qualified teachers was quite common.

Some of these irregularities were confirmed by the Hamoodur Rehman Commission set up by the Ayub regime to investigate the causes of unrest in universities. Anita Ghulam Ali, who was then the president of the West Pakistan College Teachers Association, recalls that her association had sent a charter of demands to the PPP leader in April 1970. Among other things it suggested that the government pay the salaries of the teachers of private colleges while setting up a body to regulate the working of these institutions.

Nationalisation did not rectify the weaknesses in the system existing at the time though not because the government could not cope with the financial responsibility it entailed, as is generally suggested. It was more a case of bad management that characterised the working of many private institutions as well.

All senior, experienced and meritorious teachers above the retirement age were sent home and the positions vacated were stuffed with loyalists of the ruling party. Time and again it has been proved that loyalty is no substitute for merit.

Intrinsically, the nationalisation of schools cannot be faulted. It was its flawed implementation that doomed it from the start. It was not that the government could not bear the enhanced expenses incurred on education. Previously the government had been subsidising the private sector considerably to make education affordable for all. It was another matter that much of this subsidy went into the owners’ pockets. After nationalisation the subsidies were discontinued and have never been revived.

The need of the hour was, and still is, the regulation of the private sector and the expansion of the public sector concurrently under an efficient management system. That is why the denationalisation policy introduced in the Zia era and the boost to the private sector thereafter failed to improve education in Pakistan. Even today when the private sector is having a field day and private institutions account for nearly a third of school enrolments, matters have not improved. If anything education is in a mess.

The simple reason is that the private sector cannot provide education at affordable rates. It has to earn a profit on its investment. Neither can it make education universal at the school level. It will not open a school in a remote low-income area — be it rural or urban. Only the government has the resources and political compulsion to do that.

The problem with the nationalisation policy was that it was implemented in a ham-handed manner and not professionally. The sooner Mr Gilani understands that the better will it be for education in Pakistan. The upscale private institutions that are providing excellent education to the elite are no solution. The bulk of the children who need education are not from the elite class.

Yet the government wants to shed its responsibility of educating the youth of Pakistan by entering into partnerships with private entrepreneurs. The world over education is preponderantly in the public sector and does pretty well in providing this service to the people. By criticising Bhutto’s nationalisation policy Mr Gilani appears to be looking for a pretext to renounce his government’s role in the education sector.

Atoning for our sins

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

IS change in the offing? I should hasten to add that I am not talking about political change in Islamabad which is perennially the subject of much speculation. It is socio-economic change I want to write about this week.

Recently at a two-day conference of stakeholders titled `Floods and Beyond` hosted by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research some speakers spoke of the changes that will mark people`s lives in the post-floods period.Dr Kaiser Bengali, adviser to the Sindh chief minister, pointed out that the floods have brought a general awareness of the measure of poverty in the rural areas and what this means for the people. According to him, this has stirred even the residents of Defence Housing Authority to talk about it today. This should augur well for the future.

Two days later, at the Hamza Alavi distinguished lecture, social analyst Arif Hasan delivered a thought-provoking talk on feudalism and the process of change. Arif Hasan pointed out the numerous changes — many of them very subtle, nevertheless profound — that he has observed over decades of travelling to big and small cities and the rural areas of Pakistan. He considered these changes inevitable because the nexus between the administration and the landlords that held the social structure in place has broken down.

Given the dismal state of existence of the overwhelming majority of Pakistan`s population today, these prophecies of change should give rise to hope. But why is there scepticism? There are a number of reasons. The general awareness that has been created, which Dr Bengali so correctly identified, can only be translated into reality if those in a position to act actually do something. The awareness that had sent many into a state of shock is fast dissipating. qurbani

The back-to-normal atmosphere on Eidul Azha would have been reassuring to those who want the status quo to continue. Cows and goats were sacrificed in massive numbers at a time when the headcount of livestock losses in the flood was said to be 234,982. Plea for conserving cattle and making cash donations to the flood victims as a symbolic fell mostly on deaf ears.

Can we then hope for change? The feudal who is no longer believed to be as strongly entrenched as before can still not be written off for he continues to control the lives of the people living on his lands. They have nowhere else to go and they seek his help for their livelihood or for other `favours` which in democratic societies are citizens` fundamental rights. To acquire the latter, `connections with high quarters` are not needed.

This explains why change is such a difficult process in our society. Arif Hasan attributed the difficulties being encountered to the failure of the intelligentsia and the media to provide a value system I think more to blame is the failure of the state to provide protection and the basic human rights a person seeks to make life tolerable. wadera

Apart from employment he also needs healthcare, shelter and education for his children. If the system cannot guarantee these, he has to turn to someone — be it the family, community or the .

And don`t think it is only the poor who suffer from insecurities of this kind. Remember the axiom `uneasy lies the head that wears the crown`. In the absence of state protection and a social security net even the elites fear change. After all, how can they assume that a change would be in their favour?

Change, especially if it comes fast, can be emotionally destabilising. It is human nature to create a comfort zone where a person feels settled and relatively stable as he adjusts to the changes in his wider environment. But if he has to make adjustments in quick succession that can be a challenge for even the most well adjusted. Linked to this is the need one feels to be in control of one`s own life.

Pakistan`s poorest have never enjoyed that luxury. Upward social, economic and political mobility has enhanced the control factor progressively. But today, as recent events have shown, upward mobility is virtually absent and whatever informal support systems people had created for themselves have become fragile. It might be a natural disaster, an act of violence, a criminal activity or even a policy decision by a foreign government that can play havoc with a person`s sense of security today.

It is interesting to see how people have responded to this growing insecurity that has quietly crept into their lives over the last few decades. Religiosity characterises our national ethos. More are turning to religious rituals that enable them to hand over responsibility for their own actions and decisions to a supreme creator.

If it had simply been a case of the whole nation adopting religious values, should not there have been a fall in corruption, a rise in ethical norms, a decline in crimes and an increase in human compassion? After all, we are told that this is what Islam teaches us. On the contrary, this is not happening. Many who are suspected of being involved in wrongdoing of the most heinous kind resort to rituals in a big way because they believe that these are atonement for the evils they have committed.

Take the case of Eidul Azha. On account of soaring prices of sacrificial animals the number of sacrifices offered may have declined somewhat. But that was because of economic compulsions and not in support of conservation. Those who were financially well endowed, celebrated Eid as they have always done — with ostentatious display of their sacrificial booty.

Scant attention was paid to this telling verse from the Holy Quran published by the newsletter of a philanthropic eye hospital in Malir headed by a leading ophthalmologist of Pakistan, Prof M. Saleh Memon: “It is not their (sacrificial animal) meat nor their blood that reaches Allah; it is your piety that reaches Him.” (22:37)”


Pakistan’s health burden

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

THE government has ingenious ways of naming evils in our society. A ghost school is termed as a dysfunctional institution. Quacks are called “unlicensed medical practitioners”. The National Assembly was informed by the health minister last Friday that Pakistan has 200,000 — bluntly termed — quacks who are posing a serious threat to people’s life.

This unpleasant fact of our health system has been known generally for long. But what has not been fully known so far is that conventional wisdom regarding the flaws of our health delivery infrastructure needs to be updated.

It is generally believed that quacks flourish because health facilities are not accessible to the common man who is forced to visit the so-called unlicensed medical practitioners when he falls ill. The government is held responsible for this failure since it has not opened enough dispensaries, clinics and hospitals to address the health needs of the ailing population.

The data released by the federal health ministry for 2006-07 is quite dismal. With the ratio of one doctor to population being 1,475 and one health facility catering to the need of 11,413 people, we cannot really expect the scenario to be satisfactory.

Besides, national averages present a distorted picture. For instance, if the health facilities are concentrated in the urban areas when the bulk of the population lives in the countryside, most people would be denied easy access to healthcare. Thus there are only 595 basic health units in Pakistan which is said to have 45,000 villages.

It can be said that people are forced to turn to quacks. And that is why the government does not even bother to crack down on them because it knows that it does not have the capacity to provide the service, howsoever spurious, the quacks are providing — while posing a serious threat to the lives of many people.

However, an uneven picture emerges in the urban scene. Many low-cost primary health facilities catering to the needs of the common man have sprung up in big cities like Karachi and Lahore. parchi

Those set up by the private sector charge a fee, but a nominal one (ranging from Rs30 to Rs100), which people pay willingly if they are assured of good professional care. Besides, some departments of the public-sector hospitals offer excellent services while charging a few rupees — the fee as it is called since Gen Ziaul Haq deemed the people to be undeserving of any free healthcare whatsoever.

In the government hospitals the services offered depend on the head of the department concerned. If he is an honest, compassionate and dedicated medical practitioner with a vision he manages to uplift his department notwithstanding the constraints a public-sector institution faces.

There are quite a few such examples, the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation being a notable one. With an OPD attendance of 700,000 patients per annum, the institute has come a long way from its humble beginnings. It has grown into a leading urology/nephrology centre in Pakistan that does not charge a penny from its patients and has an international standing.

All this is not enough. Many people have remained outside the pale. That has benefited the quacks. Cracking down on the quacks will drive them underground if alternative facilities are not provided. In this situation it is shocking to see how minimal the government’s role has been in the area of preventive medicine. Reducing the incidence of disease would automatically reduce the burden of the health sector. This has always been the Achilles heel of our public health system.

It is well known that sanitation and the supply of potable water would cut down phenomenally diseases, especially diarrhoeal disorders and parasite-borne illnesses. The dissemination of health education can also help people lead healthy lives without visiting hospitals and doctors to obtain treatment.

Why is it not being done? We do not know where the funds for sanitation, the malaria control, AIDS prevention and family planning programmes and immunisation drives go. These efforts do not appear to be paying the expected dividends although none call for great expertise. But they do call for commitment, integrity and dedication that have been eliminated instead of the parasites and viruses that cause disease.

Another neglected area is that of public health education. The electronic media which should have been an excellent instrument for the dissemination of knowledge on health has apparently forgotten its social responsibility and is more concerned about the rat race. If a health message is linked to an ad — as one exhorting children to wash their hands — it will receive much air time because it generates revenues. But not every message has a commercial dimension.

Health professionals should seek to fill this gap by arranging for trained volunteers to talk to people who visit hospitals and clinics. The waiting room of any hospital or private practitioner is jam-packed. Here many patients would benefit from a health talk. This can be done by volunteers who could be briefed about the kind of information they should disseminate.

Given the prevailing state of ignorance on health matters — even the educated are not always well-informed — and the constraints on time that doctors are faced with, it would make a difference if enlightened and educated volunteers talked about health issues as patients await their turn.

This would certainly help to reduce the disease burden in the country and lighten the load on the health sector. It would also improve the quality of life, enhance productivity of the labour force and upgrade the academic performance of students.

A study estimates that childhood and infectious diseases (most of which are preventable) account for 66 per cent of the burden of disease in Pakistan. Chronic diseases and injuries were among the top 10 causes of HeaLY (Healthy Life-Year) loss. With health education, the spread of disease can be minimised.