privacy
His master’s voice
Pre-recorded phone calls in Imran Khan’s voice are the newest tool in PTI’s armour
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
Many of us have recently had the experience of receiving a phone call from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chief Imran Khan and hearing a message in his husky voice for not less than 30 seconds. This message is pre-recorded but for a moment one believed he himself was on line and asking the recipients to attend his party’s congregation. 

Fatwas rule
Parliamentarians from Kohistan dare not challenge the authority

 
of clerics declaring the activities of NGOs illegal
By Mohammad Awais
The killing of a young woman working for women’s rights in conservative Khyber Agency bordering Peshawar on July 4, 2012, was another testimony to the fact that it is too dangerous for women to work in areas infested with militants. Fareeda Kokikhel, director of Sawaira — an NGO in Khyber tribal region — was shot dead hardly a kilometre off her home in Ghundi area of Jamrud tehsil of Khyber tribal region. 

Yeh Woh
Selling mother earth
By Masud Alam
Property agents and heroin addicts have one quality in common: they are compulsive liars. No, our brand new prime minister doesn’t belong in the same list. A politician’s lies are strategic statements and serve a purpose — Mr Raja wouldn’t be PM today if he hadn’t distinguished himself as a serial liar while being minister in charge of power cuts. Compulsive liars on the other hand lie not because they see a benefit in it but because they fear truth. They don’t decide to lie, the lie decides to do them. The wiring in their brain identifies truth as a potential pitfall and blots it out while processing the reply to a simple question like: When are you getting here?

opposition
A 36-hour journey to defend Pakistan
Resumption of Nato supplies through Pakistan has put the DPC’s significance and credibility at stake. A drive through the GT Road ahead of the Long March
By Waqar Gillani
The Difa-e-Pakistan Council sponsored Long March took 36 long hours to reach Islamabad from Lahore in order to raise alarm bells in the power corridors against the resumption of Nato supplies to Afghanistan through the Pakistani soil.

“The Afghan parliament is a drama”
By Zia Ur Rehman
Malalai Joya is an Afghan activist, writer and an outspoken critic of the Afghan warlords, the Karzai government and the US role in her country. In 2003, Joya became famous by speaking out publicly, as an elected delegate to the Constitutional Loya Jirga, against the domination of warlords. In September 2005, she became a member of the parliament (Wolesi Jirga) when she received the second highest number of votes in her home province Farah. 

Insecure once again
Over 4000 Somali refugees in Pakistan face an uncertain future as their Proof of Registration (POR) Cards expire this year
By Alhan Fakhr
With the collapse of Mahammad Siad Barre’s dictatorial regime in 1991, Somalia plunged into a state of anarchy dominated by ethnic clashes. Amidst abysmal state of affairs, Somali citizens were forced to abandon their homeland and migrate to countries across the globe for safety. Pakistan is also home to over 4000 Somali refugees. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

privacy
His master’s voice
Pre-recorded phone calls in Imran Khan’s voice are the newest tool in PTI’s armour
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed

Many of us have recently had the experience of receiving a phone call from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chief Imran Khan and hearing a message in his husky voice for not less than 30 seconds. This message is pre-recorded but for a moment one believed he himself was on line and asking the recipients to attend his party’s congregation.

There were those also who had a feeling of being too important to be called up by Imran and kept investigating as to how he got their number. These calls, known as robocalls, targeted hundreds of thousands of people in Karachi and there were scores of interesting stories by the recipients.

A TV channel aired the interview of an extremely poor person who had come from Hyderabad. When questioned, he said he had received a personal call from Imran on his mobile phone, and had no reason not to reject the invite.

The message in Urdu (when translated into English) was: “Assalam-u-Alaikum. This is Imran Khan. How are you? I’m coming to your city to bring everyone together on December 25 at Mazar-e-Quaid for a rally. I hope you can break all the shackles and take part because at this rally we need to make the beginning of a new Pakistan. I will be waiting, Thank you.”

This newer way of contacting the targeted audience has received mixed response. The PTI camp is terming it an indicator of how forward-looking and innovative the party is whereas the opponents are calling it a type of spam calling. The PML-N loyalists claim it was their leader Mian Nawaz Sharif who tried this option much before Imran, but have no answer when asked why he is not using this tool now.

This scribe, who is based in Lahore, also received a similar call in which he was requested to attend the PTI jalsa in Ayub Park, Quetta. It appeared quite contrary to the PTI claim that only a specific set of people is targeted and calls are not random. Anyhow, the experience of receiving the call was quite interesting.

Dr Awab Alvi, author of Teeth Maestro blog and the mind behind the PTI’s social media initiative, tells TNS the idea of using robocalls to reach people paid back a lot. Though there were a few problems in the start, things got better later on. For example, he says the company they hired started making calls as early in the morning as 6 am on weekend which perturbed many, but on the whole masses enjoyed hearing Imran Khan’s voice.

Awab, who himself recorded Imran’s message, says they have set a trend which others may follow. However, he is clear that calls made by other leaders may not have equal acceptance or appeal. His point is people want to hear Khan’s voice on their phones and not that of Mian Nawaz Sharif, Asif Zardari etc. “They may be political leaders but do not have the charisma of Imran Khan.”

Awab disagrees with the people who call robocalls a spamming tool. “When you receive a call for the first time it is not spam, but when someone keeps calling you and you are not interested in the call, it’s a spam.” He tells TNS that in foreign countries the telemarketing companies have to maintain a Do Not Call Register (DNCR). Any person who does not want to receive further calls from a telemarketer can get his number registered here and will not be called, he says, adding he has heard that Pakistan Telecommunication Authority is also working on these lines.

On the cost of calls, he does not disclose any figure but terms it to be a specially negotiated one with a Lahore-based company Global IT Vision. The company, Awab says, has a leaning towards the PTI and, therefore, they got an ideal package.

Anyhow a visit to the company’s website shows that standard costs offered for robocalls are Rs 3.75 per call for a 15-second message, Rs 6.6 per call for a 30-second message, and Rs 9.3 per call for a one-minute message. Minimum order quantity is 50,000 messages based on 30 days consumption period. The PTI is believed to have made robocalls at 300,000 landlines in Karachi alone, costing the party over Rs two million.

Awab says more robocalls would soon be made but this time the audience would be registered subscribers of the PTI who have not provided their NIC numbers to the party. When asked who provides the data for calls, he says the PTI maintains data of those registered through 80022 SMS service, whereas Global IT Vision has its own databank.

Omar Zaheer, CEO of Global IT Vision, tells TNS his company is the only legitimate company in Pakistan offering robocall services. The service, he says, is highly cost effective as the message is delivered to each and every person on the target audience list. Another benefit, he says, is that billing is made only against the calls successfully executed and received.

He says that robocalls were used extensively during the 2008 elections by Nawaz Sharif, in the Lawyer’s Movement and the “Go Musharraf Go Movement” etc. As the company has a natural tilt towards the PTI, it seems Nawaz Sharif has distanced himself from it, says Omar who is the Chief Coordinator of the PTI election cell in Punajb.

This form of communication becomes highly important when there is no electricity to power televisions, radio sets etc and literacy level is so low, especially in rural areas, that people hardly read newspapers.

On spamming charge, he clarifies that his company is well established in the country and has tried and tested data in its base. “Calls are always target-oriented and not at all made at random.”

Samina, 43, a Lahore-based media person, brushes the ‘target-oriented’ claim aside. “What do they mean by target-oriented. My privacy is invaded when I get an unwanted phone call.”

A PTA official shares with TNS they are working on a plan to make telemarketers maintain DNCR. This provision has been there in the PTA regulations namely “Protection from Spam, Unsolicited, Fraudulent and Obnoxious Communication Regulations, 2009” but could not be enforced even after the passage of three years.

 

 

 

Fatwas rule
Parliamentarians from Kohistan dare not challenge the authority

 
of clerics declaring the activities of NGOs illegal
By Mohammad Awais

The killing of a young woman working for women’s rights in conservative Khyber Agency bordering Peshawar on July 4, 2012, was another testimony to the fact that it is too dangerous for women to work in areas infested with militants. Fareeda Kokikhel, director of Sawaira — an NGO in Khyber tribal region — was shot dead hardly a kilometre off her home in Ghundi area of Jamrud tehsil of Khyber tribal region.

Kokikhel’s brutal murder lends enough weight to the threats issued against NGOs in conservative Kohistan. This land of mighty mountains has grabbed the media attention for some time now for all the odd happenings. Recently, about 150 ulema of Kohistan issued a fatwa declaring activities of non-government organisations (NGOs) haram.

This is not the first unusual fatwa that has surfaced from this land as a powerful cleric of the area and a former lawmaker, Maulana Haleem, recently asked NGO women, during a Friday sermon, not to enter Kohistan otherwise they would forcibly be married off to Kohistani boys. The same cleric also gave a fatwa that using niswar (chewing tobacco) does not break fasting.

Social customs in this difficult mountainous terrain are so strong that the state machinery seems helpless against them.

With the promulgation of Sharia Nizam-e-Adl regulation on January 16, 1999, the judicial system throughout the Kohistan district is managed through Qazi Courts, Zilla Qazi (district and sessions judge), Alla Allaqa Qazi (senior civil judge) and Allaqa Qazi (judicial magistrate). But despite these Sharia courts, the centuries old Jirga system is popular among the general people, who want to get their issues resolved through it.

Parliamentarians from Kohistan and adjoining districts gave very cautious responses when asked about fatwas by ulema against activities of NGOs — the main reason being general elections activities that have already started there. No lawmaker from the opposition or the treasury wants to get involved in any controversy.

Furthermore, local lawmakers could lose their popularity or even seat in the assemblies by speaking against ulema in Kohistan because they enjoy immense influence in the area. But statements of lawmakers are apparently too good to believe.

Mehmood Alam, a PPP MPA from Kohistan, vehemently denied that NGOs have ever been threatened in his areas. He says they are actively working in the district for over a decade and nobody has ever created problems. He says he does not know whether any fatwa declaring activities of NGOs haram has been issued. “It does not matter if somebody has said anything against NGOs in his personal capacity as fatwa is issued in a written form. Verbal fatwa has no value.”

However, he says, NGOs should work in the district while keeping the local traditions in mind. “NGOs should not send their female staff to far flung areas of the district. This is a difficult hilly terrain and female staff could face security threats.”

KP Forest Minister Wajid Ali Khan, an ANP MPA from Swat, says situation on the ground is different from what was reported in the media. He says if the media reports discrimination against women in Kohistan or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the same is happening in other parts of the country. However, he admits Kohistan district is a very backward area in terms of girl education, adding the provincial government is taking several steps to promote girl education. “We have made a policy to give Rs1500 to Rs2000 per student financial aid to parents for sending their daughters to schools.”

Dr Haider Ali, another ANP MPA from Swat, says there is no threat to NGOs in their area. “Swat and Kohistan share almost same culture and environment. In both districts, NGOs are encouraged to work because people know that they are working for our welfare and betterment.” But like all other MPAs, he also says NGOs should work while remaining in the cultural bounds of the area.

Women rights activist, Dr Farzana Bari, says fatwas and jirgas are never documented, therefore, nobody could produce evidence against them. She says information about jirgas or fatwa leaks only through the people who attend jirgas or journalists working in these isolated areas. She contradicted the statements of lawmakers from Kohistan and adjoining area that NGOs face no threats there. “The ANP claims to be a liberal political party, but it struck a deal with Taliban in Swat for political benefits. Even this party defends the cruel jirga system.”

Dr Bari says, “Kohistan is not the only place where NGOs are facing threats. In other areas, including Northern Areas, Dir and Malakand, NGOs have to suspend operations after threats.” She says the state machinery is totally inactive in the area as there is no police and no court in Kohistan.

caption

No access.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yeh Woh
Selling mother earth
By Masud Alam

Property agents and heroin addicts have one quality in common: they are compulsive liars. No, our brand new prime minister doesn’t belong in the same list. A politician’s lies are strategic statements and serve a purpose — Mr Raja wouldn’t be PM today if he hadn’t distinguished himself as a serial liar while being minister in charge of power cuts. Compulsive liars on the other hand lie not because they see a benefit in it but because they fear truth. They don’t decide to lie, the lie decides to do them. The wiring in their brain identifies truth as a potential pitfall and blots it out while processing the reply to a simple question like: When are you getting here?

A heroin addict with visible withdrawal symptoms visits a friend and fellow podri nice and early in the morning: “I ran out of poder last night. Been awake and super miserable since then. You know how it is bro. Please let me have a chase, just one chase.

That’s terrible buddy but sorry, I had friends over last night, finished all the stuff I had. I’ll try and get some this evening.

This evening? I won’t survive that long bro. Look at me, I am shivering all over, I can hardly stand on my feet, my heart is murmuring its last … you know you are my only friend bro, you must have a little bit left over. Come on bro …

Swear on my father, mother and grand parents I don’t have any at all.

Then do it as a favour bro. I need your charity. Save my life today and I’ll return you the favour some day. Come on bro …

Swear on God and the holy book we used up the deposit on the coin and inside the sucking pipe too.

Come on bro …

Swear on mosque’s loudspeaker and prayer mat I am telling you the truth.

Come on bro …”

This dialogue goes on for as long as the two can push, and then the host takes out a little plastic bag from somewhere and both sit down with a silver foil between them to chase heroin. And it happens at least once every week but the frequency doesn’t take away spontaneity of the situation, emotional involvement of both actors, and freshness of their lines.

Property dealers are just as natural, though not even half as dramatic. They have their own reasons to treat lying as an essential business tool, like a stethoscope to a doctor. For one, their business is a lie. No one asks them to provide a service but they expect to be paid a service fee every time a tenancy contract is signed between two parties, simply because they showed the property to the prospective tenant.

The owner puts up a ‘to let’ sign on the property. The agent spots it during his survey — which is a fancy term for going around every street of a particular sector, every day, looking for signs — and advertises it in free classifieds. He also puts dummy ads for spacious, stylish, and solid properties at throw away prices and rents. The clients who take the bait, are fated to view his entire current inventory rather than only what they wish to see. Many a time the property is viewed only from outside because the agent can’t find someone to open the door. So much for ‘showing’ the property.

If the client settles for something, the agent shifts into the next gear of lying. ‘The owner is abroad’, ‘owner’s mother-in-law just died’, and statements to this effect simply mean he is trying to find out who the owner is. ‘I have recommended you to the landlord’ is the confirmation that he’s found the owner. And ‘I’ll let you talk directly with the owner’ means he has already been blacklisted by this party he’s avoiding. He’ll not put you on to the owner for any other reason.

Those who buy and sell large portions of real estate, however, are cured of the pathological disorder of lying. The money they amassed by lying during their time as a small time agent affords them the power to do as they like, admit their frauds in public, and look law in the eye before putting it back in their pocket when confronted on their self-confessed crookedness.

So young women and men, go out there and try to be the next real estate tycoon. If you fail you can always join the swelling ranks of drug abusers. But you’ll have to learn to lie in either case.

 

 

 


opposition
A 36-hour journey to defend Pakistan
Resumption of Nato supplies through Pakistan has put the DPC’s significance and credibility at stake. A drive through the GT Road ahead of the Long March
By Waqar Gillani

The Difa-e-Pakistan Council sponsored Long March took 36 long hours to reach Islamabad from Lahore in order to raise alarm bells in the power corridors against the resumption of Nato supplies to Afghanistan through the Pakistani soil.

The DPC, an alliance of Taliban supporters and sympathisers, religious parties, politicians and former generals, had vowed to resist the reopening of supply routes and the long march towards Islamabad was their first show of strength, to be followed by more marches.

A few thousand people participated in the march, comprising hundreds of (empty) buses with people on their rooftops, carrying Jamaatud Dawa flags throughout the way. The caravan was led by the religious parties’ top hierarchy mostly travelling in expensive land cruisers with well-armed bodyguards of the DPC.

Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, chief of JUD, who concluded the march in front of the Parliament House on July 9, 2012, said, “We are defending Pakistan just like Madina. Afghans are just like our brothers who have the same faith, practice and beliefs. Our jihad is aimed at restoring peace and ousting infidels and enemies from Pakistan. We will invite everyone to Islam and we will wage jihad if some country attacks us.”

His speech was less focused on the Nato supply; rather it was seen as another attempt to advocate the DPC’s usual agenda of mobilising people against America and India. He stressed upon the DPC members to prepare for an “Islamic revolution” following the Tahrir Square uprising. “We will have to get rid of America and maintain this pace of resistance for an Islamic revolution and system in the country,” he said. “India, our enemy, has benefited much from this American intervention and control in Pakistan. India has developed a strategic partnership with America and has dropped a ‘water bomb’ on Pakistan by building 62 dams after blocking Pakistan’s water. We will have to break this nexus.”

The march was controlled and managed by the JUD’s own well-armed security personnel wearing special khaki and black uniforms. The markets were open throughout the route of the march on the GT Road, but at some points shops were closed down temporarily until the march passed by.

Muhammad Talha, a bearded young man carrying a JUD flag, was very excited to be a part of the long march. He says their mission is to block American supply line and oust the Americans and partners from this region. “Afghans are our Muslim brothers and we are their sympathisers and supporters. We will not let the American and western agenda to be imposed on this Muslim society.”

“I don’t know what are they up to. Yes, I am against Nato supply, but I don’t think that we can do anything,” says Muhammad Siddique, 47, a shopkeeper who was waiting for customers in his garments shop in Shahadra on the GT Road. “These religious parties are just polishing their politics.”

“This is useless politics. Why should we join it?” asks Muhammad Imran, 20, who was playing cricket with his friends along the GT Road while the caravan passed by.

Maulana Samiul Haq, chairman DPC, termed the long march an attempt to bring “Islamic revolution”. “This march will help create awareness among the masses against the “crusade” being waged by Jews, Hindus and Christians,” he declared.

Ayaz Amir, columnist and MNA, tells TNS the DPC show is being seen as a face-saving attempt. “The DPC had announced it would not let the Nato supply reopen but this happened and the religious groups in the councils could do nothing,” he says. “The significance and credibility of the DPC would have been maintained if they had not allowed restoration of the supply.”

Amir says there is an impression that the DPC enjoys backing of certain ‘powerful’ elements. “Pakistan’s history shows that political and religious parties with “certain connections” and backing by “certain elements” always enjoy power and form governments.”

Lt Gen (retd) Talat Masood says that the DPC projects a bad image of Pakistan and the world thinks they are promoting Islamic radicalism and anti-west and anti-US sentiments through their activities and massive propaganda. “These elements say nothing about the brazen attacks on security forces taking place almost everyday in different parts of the country.”

He says that after the restoration of Nato supply, which is obviously opened with the army’s consent, the DPC is trying to promote its radical agenda by making this issue as an excuse. He says that these non-state actors will continue to project their agenda unless the state and especially the military establishment clearly decides to stop these elements.

To further mobilise the public, the DPC has announced marches on the routes of Nato supply on Quetta-Chaman and Peshawar-Torkham roads later this month.

The march reached Islamabad in front of the Parliament House from The Mall Lahore in 36 hours after a night’s stay in Gujrat where seven soldiers were killed by unknown Taliban.

[email protected]

caption

The leadership. The foot soldiers (below). Photos by Rahat Dar.

 

 

 

 

“The Afghan parliament is a drama”
By Zia Ur Rehman

Malalai Joya is an Afghan activist, writer and an outspoken critic of the Afghan warlords, the Karzai government and the US role in her country. In 2003, Joya became famous by speaking out publicly, as an elected delegate to the Constitutional Loya Jirga, against the domination of warlords. In September 2005, she became a member of the parliament (Wolesi Jirga) when she received the second highest number of votes in her home province Farah.

However, she was suspended on May 21, 2007, for continuing to criticise the warlords and drug barons for destroying her country. Joya wears a burqa to disguise her identity after surviving six assassination attempts and lives in different safe-houses.

In 2010, Time magazine called her one of the world’s 100 most influential people, Foreign Policy magazine listed her among its Top Global Thinkers and BBC termed her ‘the bravest woman of Afghanistan’.

Joya was born in 1978, and is married with no children. At her safe-house in Kabul, The News on Sunday got an opportunity to talk to her on issues relating to security situation, parliamentary development and women’s rights in Afghanistan.

 

The News on Sunday: How did you enter politics in a war-ravaged country like Afghanistan?

Malalai Joya: I belong to a middle-class family of Farah province. Because of the worse security situation, my family migrated to Iran and then Pakistan to live as refugees. Due to financial problems, I got education till grade 12 in Peshawar. In 1998, we came back to Herat province of Southern Afghanistan where I started teaching. At that time, it was a dangerous venture as Taliban strictly forbade educating girls beyond the age of eight. For those who broke the rules, extreme punishments were meted out. I still remember some horrific memories of the Taliban rule. Along with running an underground school, I was also active in social activities which helped me in my election as a member of parliament in 2005 from Farah province.

TNS: Why was your parliament membership suspended?

MJ: I contested the elections because I wanted to highlight the sufferings of Afghans. Women and children suffered the most during the civil war and the Taliban rule. But I found the parliament a drama and not a democratic institution. I knew from the very first day in the parliament that it is a meeting place for the worst enemies of the Afghan people. Majority of the MPs are warlords, drug lords and human rights violators. It has not brought anything positive to the Afghan people in the past years and it will not do anything for the Afghan people in future.

In May 2006, my membership from the parliament was suspended just because I criticised the warlords and drug lords sitting in the parliament who were involved in destruction of my country and killing of thousands of innocent people. I was physically and verbally attacked by fellow members of the parliament.

TNS: How has Afghanistan changed since the fall of Taliban?

MJ: The current situation of Afghanistan is a disaster and is getting worse. The US and its allies occupied Afghanistan after September 11, 2001, under the pretext of bringing peace, democracy and women’s rights. But they replaced the barbaric Taliban with the brutal Mujahideen associated with Northern Alliance who look different but are mentally similar. They were in power before the Taliban and in Kabul alone they had killed more than 65,000 innocent people.

The US destroyed Afghanistan for taking revenge from the USSR. Today, Afghanistan is not only a safe haven for terrorists, it is a mafia state and is ranked at the top of the most unstable and corrupt countries in the world. Afghanistan produces 93 per cent of the world opium and even some ministers are involved in this dirty business.

TNS: What is the state of women in Afghanistan today?

MJ: The situation for women is as terrible today as it was before. In some big cities, some women and girls have access to jobs and education, but in most provinces women’s lives are hell. In rural areas, most women do not even have a human life. Forced marriages, child brides and domestic violence are very common.

TNS: How do you see Afghanistan after the US and Nato forces withdraw in 2014?

MJ: In my opinion, al-Qaeda, Taliban, Mujahideen, drug lords and warlords are products of the White House’s cold war. The announcement of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan is the Obama’s administration’s political gimmick which they used to deceive the American people in order to win the upcoming US elections. No nation can liberate another nation.

On the one hand, the US is talking about pulling out its troops from Afghanistan and on the other they are busy signing new strategic agreements and increasing military bases in Afghanistan. The US would not withdraw troops from Afghanistan as announced, because they have geo-political and strategic interests in the region. Unfortunately, all neighbours of Afghanistan, including Pakistan, Iran, Russia and China, are their enemies and all of them want to occupy the natural resources and minerals of the country.

The level of our people’s political consciousness and awareness has raised and they do not accept the domination of foreign invaders or local criminal forces any more. This gives me hope for a bright future.

TNS: How do you see the ongoing peace negotiations with Taliban?

MJ: All the key leaders of Taliban are present in Afghanistan. Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, Mullah Wakil Ahmed Mutawakkil and Mullah Rahmatullah Hashmi, all are roaming in Kabul freely. The Afghan people want to put them (Taliban) in the cages, but the Karzai government is busy appeasing them by calling them ‘brothers’ and ‘moderate Taliban’ and deceiving Afghan people.

TNS: What is your opinion about the Afghan presidential elections 2014?

MJ: Talking of elections in the world’s most corrupt, mafia-ridden, and occupied country like Afghanistan is ridiculous. The Afghan parliament is working as a mouthpiece for the imperialist forces. The Afghan people have no interest in the elections where such infamous elements are candidates. That is why millions of Afghans don’t exercise their voting rights, and this truth is also corroborated by international independent election monitoring organisations. People know well that there is no difference between Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah.

TNS: What security precautions have you taken after life threats?

MJ: Since I was expelled from the parliament, life has been very difficult for me inside Afghanistan. I have been restricted from free movement and meeting people in different parts of Afghanistan, so I have tried to advance my efforts on international platforms. I change places often and can’t have an office. I wear a burqa outside and travel with private bodyguards. I don’t attend public meetings. But I still don’t feel safe. The expenses of bodyguards are paid by contributions of my local and international supporters, anti-war and leftist groups.

(The writer conducted this interview in Kabul where he was part of the Pak-Afghan Media Exchange Programme. Email; zia_  [email protected])

 

 

Insecure once again
Over 4000 Somali refugees in Pakistan face an uncertain future as their Proof of Registration (POR) Cards expire this year
By Alhan Fakhr

With the collapse of Mahammad Siad Barre’s dictatorial regime in 1991, Somalia plunged into a state of anarchy dominated by ethnic clashes. Amidst abysmal state of affairs, Somali citizens were forced to abandon their homeland and migrate to countries across the globe for safety. Pakistan is also home to over 4000 Somali refugees.

“My parents migrated to Pakistan back in the 90s as the security conditions worsened back in Somalia. My grandparents, uncles and aunts stayed back in hope of a stable future. However, my parents felt it was necessary to raise us in a secure environment,” says Fateema Hassan, a Somali medical student residing in Lahore.

Fateema and her family are scheduled to return to Somalia this year as their Proof of Registration (POR) Cards, issued by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in collaboration with Nadra, are expiring in December 2012. Fateema adds, “Though Pakistan has provided my family a secure environment, our future in Pakistan is unpredictable.” Fateema fears that if the UNHCR and the Pakistani government fail to decide about the status of Somali refugees by the end of this year, all Somali refugees will be deported back to their homeland.

Mohammad Abidi, an employee at the Society for Human Rights and Prisoner’s Aid (SHARP), a project of the UNHCR, and a student at the Punjab University’s Department of Pharmacy, interacts with his fellow countrymen in Pakistan on a regular basis to ensure their safety. Abidi states: “Somali refugees in Pakistan can be classified into two categories. The first category includes families which reside in urban centres like Islamabad and Karachi while the second consists of students. These students migrate to Pakistan to pursue degrees in Medicine, Pharmacy and Engineering.”

Abidi says, “Pakistani universities offering affordable education are popular amongst the Somali youth which is not enjoying the same opportunities in their homeland.”

“Even though these Somalis acquire education in Pakistan they are unable to make any use of it if they continue staying here,” elaborates Abidi. “The language barrier is the primary problem Somalis face here which also hinders them from doing well at university.”

However, their problems don’t end here. Most Somali families residing in small neighbourhoods in Karachi and Islamabad are facing financial problems. “Like most members of my community, I am being financed by my family back home. Even though the amount they send doesn’t suffice, something is better than nothing, especially given that I’ve been unemployed for over a decade now,” says Umaar, a father of two.

Abdullah Muhammad, another member of the Somali community in Pakistan, expresses reservations about the opportunities available to Somalis in Pakistan. “I do realise that we look different. However, it’s sometimes saddening to see that our people are discriminated against due to our appearance.” Abdullah will return to Somalia in 2013 once he finishes his degree in medicine. He hopes to serve his country and satiate the demand for doctors in Somalia.

Pakistan isn’t the only country Somalis have settled into. “The educated and English-speaking Somalis have gone to countries like the USA and Canada,” says Abdul Qadir Yousaf, an engineering student at The University of Engineering and Technology, Lahore. Yousaf lodges in the hostel of the University of Punjab along with ten other Somali students.

The future of the Somali community in Pakistan is uncertain. “I don’t know how long I’ll be allowed to stay in Pakistan once 2012 comes to an end. There is a lot of speculation regarding the renewal of the Memorandum between the UNHCR and the Government of Pakistan about the status of refugees,” says Mohammad Abidi.

The Somali population in Pakistan has already started to shrink. “Their population is expected to be around 2500 by the end of this year,” says a UNHCR official. While some Somalis have started packing up, others are exploring options of migrating to other countries.

Umar Ali, an official at the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions, was also confused about the future of Somali refugees in Pakistan. However, he says, “The issue will be resolved before December.”



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