Monthly Archives: January 2013

Lessons of ‘long march’

By Zubeida Mustafa

DR Tahirul Qadri’s long march to Islamabad is over and done. It shook the political spectrum — at least for the five days that it held the nation in thrall. Whether it will produce any long-lasting impact and change the direction of Pakistani politics is doubtful.

As people continue to speculate about the ‘who, wherefore and what’ of the long march it is time to focus on one incontrovertible aspect of the event, namely, Dr Qadri’s ability to mobilise a huge crowd. I will not even attempt a guesstimate of the size of the crowd and start a debate on that. The fact is that the crowd was bigger than what we generally see in rallies organised by activists, to whom Najma Sadeque, a journalist, likens Dr Qadri. He himself doesn’t lay claim to political leadership. Continue reading Lessons of ‘long march’

Changing mindsets

By Zubeida Mustafa

WHEN Sheema Kermani launched her play Zehreela Dhooan, she probably didn’t realise how formidable would be her battle against the cigarette. In this play a cast of eight earnest people take on the mighty tobacco giants. That is what it amounts to when one tries to persuade smokers to quit smoking, as the play attempts to do.

Photograph courtesy of Tehrik-e-Niswan. Photograph by Lesley D. Biswas.
Photograph courtesy of Tehrik-e-Niswan. Photograph by Lesley D. Biswas.

A powerful presentation — patterned on street theatre with penetrating dialogues rather than elaborate stage props — Zehreela Dhooan does not allow the spectators to go home without provoking some serious thoughts.

True, we are all well-informed about the dangers of smoking — the warning on cigarette packs are a constant reminder of the hazards for smokers. But the play goes beyond that. It stirs one’s emotions. Who will not share the grief of the mother mourning her deceased daughter who fell victim to tobacco? That is what all of Sheema’s presentations set out to do to make a powerful impact on the audience when it identifies itself with the characters in the play and internalises its message. Continue reading Changing mindsets

A weapon-free Karachi?

By Zubeida Mustafa

ACCORDING to media reports 2,500-3,000 people fell victim to violence in Karachi in 2012.Ironically, the same year in September UN member states adopted a treaty pledging to rid the world of the scourge brought upon it by the illicit manufacture, transfer and circulation of small arms and light weapons, and their excessive accumulation in many parts of the world.

no-weapons-1They also committed to mobilising the necessary political will and resources to implement this programme. By not working for the deweaponisation of Karachi, Pakistan is moving in the opposite direction. Have we resigned ourselves to living on the edge with bullets flying around us?

The scale of violence is stunning. But what is more astounding is that the killings continue to take place in brazen disregard of the concern expressed by the Supreme Court which had taken suo motu notice of the crisis in Sept-Oct 2011. Declaring the violence to be “not ethnic alone” but “a turf war between different groups having economic, socio-politico interests to strengthen their position/aggrandisement, based on the phenomenon of tit-for-tat with political, moral and financial support or endorsement of the political parties”, the court had specified some measures to end the violence in the city. Continue reading A weapon-free Karachi?

One who opted for change

By Zubeida Mustafa

“Human beings make their own history. They do not do it in circumstances of their own choosing. Their actions are framed by the economic, social and political structures of their age. But, subject to these constraints — indeed, because of them — human beings face a succession of choices.”Neil Faulkner

Abdul Jabbar (left)  receives a plaque from Dawn's editor Zaffar Abbas at the farewell party held for him.
Abdul Jabbar (left) receives a plaque from Dawn’s editor Zaffar Abbas at the farewell party held for him.

HOWEVER everyone doesn’t look for the choices that one can create for oneself. Fewer still actually exercise these choices. Most just sit back and let the state or society make decisions on their behalf. They are mostly the victims of fatalism — kismet or naseeb as they choose to call it — but the fact is that they have opted for the line of least resistance.

Those who consciously decide to bring about change in their lives become the exceptions. They may not make history by spearheading social change on a grand scale. But these individuals initiate the process of change in the lives of their own family that affect generations to come. These quiet actors do not seize the limelight but their courage must be respected.

One such man of courage is Abdul Jabbar. Dressed primly in a shalwar kameez and always wearing a white cloth cap, sporting a white untrimmed beard, and with a gait that characterises deference to others who cross his path, he is quite a venerable figure. Finding something very striking about him — his cultured mannerisms and speech, his chaste Urdu which is not his mother tongue (he speaks Hindko at home) and his courtesy — I was curious to know more about him before we went our separate ways.

Abdul Jabbar was a peon in Dawn’s editorial section for 46 years when he decided to call it a day on Dec 31 last year. He planned to return home to his village on the outskirts of Abbottabad, the city that shot into world headlines when it was found to have Osama bin Laden’s secret sanctuary.

I had always been impressed by Abdul Jabbar’s tolerant approach to Islam. I had discovered this aspect of his character soon after I came to know him, his deceptively orthodox appearance notwithstanding. He accepted diversity in religious beliefs as something very normal. When discussing events with religious ramifications he displayed a remarkably broadminded worldview and a matter-of-fact acceptance of the other’s right to have his beliefs.

Never dogmatic, he was more tolerant than many of the supposedly highly educated. When the preacher in the mosque had been intolerably irrational in his Friday sermon, Abdul Jabbar had much to say when expressing his disapproval. That is how I discovered that he — who would be classified as the silent majority — had a mind of his own that could think. There are many Abdul Jabbars I have met in Pakistan. I do wonder who are the people who are selected for the surveys that the Pew Centre, Gallup and others conduct to show that an overwhelming majority in Pakistan are intolerant bigots.

The only thing that I found different in Abdul Jabbar compared to others of his kind was that he had the courage to stick to the moral high ground he had selected for himself. He was not one who would succumb to a mob mentality to suffer from remorse when the passion had died.

I attribute that to the good education he received in the government school he attended in his ancestral village of Tanoli where he was born in 1946. He studied till Class VI — one of the few boys who attended school in those days — his only regret in life today is that he didn’t study further.

To leave school and come to Karachi in 1960 in search of a job was a considered decision he took. His father was in poor health and had left his job to return home. The family was facing a financial crisis. “I left home without even letting my father know since I didn’t know how he would react,” he says. Initially, life was tough as he worked as a labourer until the turning point came. He landed a job as a peon in Dawn’s editorial section.

Education — though only six years of it — made a profound impact on Abdul Jabbar’s thinking in two ways. He sent all his children — four daughters and two sons — to school and ensured that they completed their schooling. When he took this decision education for all and gender equality were not creating the hype they do today. All his six children — that include four daughters — have completed their schooling. One boy studied mass communication and is a journalist.

The second impact that Abdul Jabbar’s schooling had on him was that it paved the way for, what is termed today, continuing or lifelong education. It equipped him with the capacity to assess people and learn from those who impressed him. It developed his critical thinking. He says that he learnt from all the editors he served. There were eight of them. He rattles off how they influenced his thinking and his observations about each of them are succinct. If one was good at talent hunting, another knew how to weld together and lead a team. Yet another recognised the value of hard work and still another understood the importance of human dignity.

In the context of the violence around us, he says, “All I have learnt is that if you save one life you save humanity. Whereas you take one life and you kill humanity.”

The writer was assistant editor at Dawn from 1975 to 2008.

Source: Dawn

The MDG failure

By Zubeida Mustafa

IN the context of education in Pakistan, 2012 will be long remembered as the Year of Malala Yusufzai. Nobody can forget that fateful October afternoon when this teenager from Swat, whose love for education is legendary, was shot at point blank range by two armed men. She was on her way home from school. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. Malala was lucky. She escaped death and is now recovering in a British hospital.

The Millennium Development Goals are a UN initiative. Image Credit:

More significant than this act of terrorism was the outcry it evoked. It proved above all that the people of Pakistan – with a few obscurantist exceptions – stood for education for their children. Could they be blamed if the government denied them this right? Continue reading The MDG failure

Remembering Baldia victims

By Zubeida Mustafa

LAST week the 13th Akhtar Hameed Khan Development Forum came as a timely reminder of the injustice befalling the workers in a country where it is a crime to be poor. The forum focused on the Baldia fire tragedy, which has almost faded from public memory.

Now an annual Karachi landmark, the forum commemorates the philosophy and work of that iconic development theorist-cum-activist, whose insight into human nature and society was profound. Dr Akhtar Hameed Khan’s message of self-reliance and a participatory approach to development is most relevant today and has been kept alive by the Orangi Pilot Project, Research and Training Institute (OPP-RTI) under the able stewardship of its director Parveen Rahman. Continue reading Remembering Baldia victims

2013—the year of the snake

By Zubeida Mustafa

Here we enter a new year and I wish all my readers a 2013 that is peaceful, happy, healthy and prosperous. I am a bit late but I know my friends will forgive me for being forgetful. Here are greetings for Christmas. I cherish the message of love and amity this occasion always brings for mankind.

How should one greet the new year? Hope? It may bring new tidings and prove to be a turning point in one’s life. Fear? All the dreadful events taking place in our lives can be scary. A step further, many look forward to predictions – especially of the soothsayers’ variety. But I  am not an avid champion  of horoscopes. They mean nothing riddled as they are with ifs and buts that nullify what is stated. Read this prediction, for example.

“The Chinese horoscope shows us that this 2013 year of the black Snake is going to be an exciting year for many. There will of course be both ups and downs, and for some the ups will be quite high and the downs will be quite low. For everyone, there will be good and bad and highlights and lowlights.” Continue reading 2013—the year of the snake