an un-mixed blessing
Whereas an attempt to destabilise democracy may indeed be on, it can be no excuse for the unruly behaviour that has been on display
By Kamila Hyat
The horrifying scenes enacted at Mozang in Lahore Tuesday evening, where former minister for law and parliamentary affairs Dr Sher Afgan Niazi was first held within the home of his lawyer by a crowd of lawyers who surrounded it and then shoved, kicked and manhandled when he emerged, demonstrate a continuing descent into a uncivilized state of barbarity.
A similar incident took place only hours earlier in Karachi, where former Sindh chief minister Ghulam Arbab Rahim was beaten with shoes by a mob. The same kind of breakdown of law and the norms of civilized behaviour has been seen before -- when gangs rampaged through cities in the aftermath of Benazir Bhutto's death or when Imran Khan was beaten by Islami Jamiat-e-Tulaba (IJT) students on a visit to Punjab University -- but perhaps never before by a professional group which during its long campaign has claimed to be working for democracy.
The beating up of an elderly politician, simply because he has in the past aired opinions that the lawyers disagree with, is of course an act that goes against all democratic principles. Indeed, the unpleasant odour of fascism hangs everywhere. Through a few hours of senseless hooliganism, lawyers, who are said to have included many younger, relatively unseasoned and immature members of the community, have threatened to destroy all that had been built by members of their community struggling since March last year for judicial independence and by members of civil society who joined them.
There is a need to assess in a little more depth precisely what happened. This is all the more true given that it may have ramifications on future political events in the country. PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari has already said that lawyers could not be permitted to determine the future course of events, and that this right lay with parliament. There is also, perhaps inevitable, speculation of a conspiracy afoot. Aitzaz Ahsan has openly blamed agencies for what happened and has said at least half of those present at the spot were not lawyers. Certainly, the similarity between the incidents in Karachi and then Lahore are rather odd, and they have come amid rumours of a full-fledged campaign being orchestrated by the presidency to undermine the government. Planted Press stories, efforts to create rifts among allies and coercive efforts to force leaders to toe the line are all reported to be a part of this effort.
Whereas such an attempt to destabilise democracy may indeed be on, it can be no excuse for the unruly behaviour that has been on display. The fact that lawyers seem to have moved outside the ambit of control of their leaders is disturbing. As Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan has found, this can result in complete chaos and inflict a great deal of damage. He and other bar leaders need to find a way to keep control over the movement and prevent it from being hijacked by elements who are in no way aligned with the cause of democracy and justice.
The same holds true for political parties. Whereas the identity of the man who hurled his shoe at Ghulam Arbab Rahim within the Sindh Assembly is still being investigated, plenty of evidence offered by the now omni-present television cameras shows PPP activists were involved in attacks on Rahim as he ventured outside the building. Their anger against the venomous former chief executive, known for his love for vendetta and retribution, is easy to understand. But this in no way justifies their actions. Political parties need to be able to rein-in workers and ensure there are no further breakdowns of order.
The fact that the Punjab Assembly has finally been sworn in, and the new government will take charge within days, is, in this regard a positive development. One of the factors in the events at Mozang was the complete failure of police and the district administration to tackle the situation. The fact that the police -- not known over the past months for being shy of using their batons against peaceful protesters -- were apparently unable to disperse a crowd of a few hundred raises questions about the role of authorities in the incident. With the government in control of elected forces, such doubts will subside.
The days immediately ahead are in many ways crucial for Pakistan. The community of lawyers is still re-grouping after the setback in Lahore; leaders seem to be recovering from the shock -- though Aitzaz Ahsan, with the support of deposed chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, seems to have bounced back and retracted a resignation from the SCBA. Dr. Sher Afgan, having recovered from his ordeal, is also extracting full mileage from the situation with his supporters out in protest in Mianwali.
The role lawyers play now and how they tackle challenges ahead may well determine a great deal of what happens in the country over the coming weeks and months.
Musharraf is all set to capitalise on the mistakes of the ruling coalition to build his future career
By Nadeem Iqbal
"I am not sure if there is any change in the government because as long as Musharraf is there, it is he who is going to wield real power," said Mehboob Ahmed, a butcher and also the president of a local market union in Islamabad.
Mehboob's comments only confirm the common perception that short of being a mere ceremonial head of the state, Musharraf would continue to engage in politicking for his personal survival.
Constitutionally, president is a part of the parliament, but it is a unique situation in our history where a president elected by an outgoing parliament has yet to get an acceptance of his candidature by the new parliament through a vote of confidence.
Right now, it seems that both the PPP-led government and the president are avoiding the imminent showdown. President Musharraf has left for China (last Thursday), the day when parliament was to formally start its session. By summoning the session on the day of his departure, President Musharraf only tried to save face so that he does not have to fulfil the constitutional requirement of addressing the first session. This way he has lived up to his tradition -- of owning those parts of the constitution that suit him and violating others that could not be interpreted in his favour.
In this limbo-like situation, incidents of battering of former chief minister Sindh Arbab Rahim and former parliamentary affairs minister Dr. Sher Afgan, both devout protagonists of Musharraf's illegal constitutional stitching, have come about -- though under Musharraf-controlled interim governments in provinces and while law and order remains a provincial subject. Although PML-Q and MQM are putting pressure on the ruling alliance, it can not be held responsible since it has yet to formally take charge in the provinces.
The federal government, burdened by crises of all varieties, is in a fix. Within one week of assuming power, the 29th anniversary of the judicial assassination of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on April 4 came in handy for the PPP government to mobilise and consolidate its popular support. Such political tactics have become necessary as the undisputed ruler of the last 8 years sits in the presidency even though his front-runners have been voted out.
PPP has not many options left except to perform the balancing act by taking along diverse political entities like Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League, Awami National Party, Jamiat-e-Ulama-i-Islam, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) etc.
The show of popular support sometimes does help sail through difficult times. However, it did not work for President Musharraf on May 12 last year when the show of strength in Islamabad backfired, marred by the simultaneous killing of 42 people in Karachi. But the popular display of political muscle delivered in the case of Nawaz Sharif during his last years as prime minister. On Nov 30, 1997, at the height of judicial crisis, Sharif brought in thousands of people on the motorway at the time of its inauguration. Within three days Nawaz was able to force the then president Farooq Leghari and Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah out. Again after the May 1998 nuclear detonation, domestic support was converted into atomic jingoism to off-set the negative economic implications of the blasts. But it did fail to deter the military coup in 1999.
Coming back to the recent political situation, differing news items emanating from the PPP corridors suggest that restoration of judges will not be unconditional or without a price. PPP does not want to bring itself in the unenviable position of Musharraf earlier on when he had to face the defiant judges. Already its lawyers Babar Awan, Latif Khosa and law minister Farooq Naik, close confidantes of Asif Zardari, have not not missed an opportunity to take the protesting lawyers to task. At least two of Zardari's friends Farooq A Naik and Babar Awan have pleaded his cases in the courts too.
In this scenario with Asif Zardari trying to establish himself as heir legitimate to the Bhutto legacy, President Musharraf's role is quite interesting. He is trying to wait for this phase of his unpopularity to be over by going low-profile. He is set to build his future career on the mistakes of the ruling coalition. One does not see him freely interacting with media. Instead, guarded statements are made by his spokesman Rashid Qureshi. Two opposing theories doing the rounds in the capital are: One, that the ruling coalition will not test its over two-thirds majority by moving against the president until it consolidates itself in the provinces as well. Two, that PPP is ready to work with Musharraf as part of a deal it had concluded with him last year.
The PPP's attempts to build partnership with MQM is being seen in this context. Though partnership with the ruling party of the last government undermines the whole concept of defeating the incumbents because of their bad policies. It looks like PML-Q has been made a scapegoat for the past policies while Musharraf's rule remains unblemished. PPP, on the other hand, wants to keep its options open and would love to have a counterforce in the shape of Musharraf against PML-N.
Musharraf also seems to have his sympathisers in the federal cabinet that reflects differring ideologies. Remember Ahmed Mukhtar's statement in the press about Musharraf (though he later denied to have made it). Education minister Ahsan Iqbal is a benign rightist. His mother Apa Nisar Fatima was on the forefront of implementing Zia's anti-women agenda. At a time when the education sector is undergoing reforms by undoing hate speech and bringing in liberal values in the syllabus, the appointment of Ahsan Iqbal does not send right messages to the international community.
Similarly, other PML-N ministers also carry the legacy of an attempt to introduce a Shariat Bill during their government. Prime Minister certainly will have a tough time keeping this balance between the liberal PPP and extreme conservative understanding of PML-N on different policy issues.
April 4, 2008 had a special significance for Garhi Khuda Bux -- this time the political heir to ZAB was also buried alongside
Garhi Khuda Bux, now called a city of martyrs of democracy, has attained a special significance after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto on December 27, 2007, in Rawalpindi.
On the occasion of the 29th death anniversary of Zulifkar Ali Bhutto, every street of Garhi Khuda Bux was decorated with tri-coloured flags and banners of Pakistan People's Party (PPP). Workers and local leaders had arranged camps of Sabeel (clean drinking water) and Langar (free food) in every nook and corner of the city. Camps of Sukkur, Dadu, Nawabshah, Mirpurkhas, Khairpur Mir, Tharparkar, Sanghar, Jamshoro and others districts were set up in different parts of the convention area. The white mausoleum was also adorned with the party flag and banner.
Hundreds of thousands of spirited party workers were chanting slogans of 'Jeay Bhutto sada Jeay' and 'Zinda hey BB Zinda hey'. This anniversary of ZAB was different from all the previous ones because the dead body of the daughter and political heir to Zulifqar Ali Bhutto had also been brought and buried here a few months ago. It was obvious then that a lot more people attended the anniversary this time. The security arrangements in place were stringent.
"All youngsters of the country should come here on April 4 every year because this is how we can pay tribute to our great leader," a young and energetic PPP worker Mumtaz Jokhio told TNS. A new PPP worker, Jokhio belongs to Khair Pur Nathan Shah which is also called the city of martyrs of MRD movement of the 1980s. "I joined the PPP after the martyrdom of BB Sahiba because it is the political party of martyrs." Like Mumtaz Jokhio, thousands of workers belonging to the new generation were seen in Garhi Khuda Bux.
Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani arrived at the mausoleum to pay his respects accompanied by PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, members of the federal cabinet, National Assembly deputy speaker and senior leadership of the PPPP. Later he went to the graves of 20 people killed in the Oct 18 bomb blasts in Benazir Bhutto's homecoming procession at Karsaz Karachi and offered fateha.
PPP (Shaheed Bhutto group) also observed the death anniversary of ZAB in Garhi Khuda Bux but separately. A public meeting was held addressing which Pakistan People's Party (SB) Chairperson Ghinwa Bhutto said that people were still hostage to feudal lords and efforts were needed to jolt them out of their apathy. "We want to bring people's revolution and will not sit idle till the system is changed and goals are achieved."
A delegation of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, comprising Dr Farooq Sattar, Babar Ghauri and others, visited the graves of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto and laid floral wreaths at the graves. On the occasion, Dr Farooq Sattar praised the sagacity and knowledge of ZAB and acknowledged him as a 'great leader'. It was the first time in 30 years that MQM came to Garhi Khuda Bux.
Earlier Asif Ali Zardari, Co-chairman PPP had gone to MQM's central office Nine Zero on April 2 where he and MQM chief Altaf Hussain had vowed to initiate a 'new journey' for the sake of Pakistan. It was Zardari's second official visit to Azizabad over the last 20 years. He had gone there in 1988 along with Benazir Bhutto. During this visit Altaf Hussain requested Zardari to allow him to send an MQM delegation to Naudero to attend the death anniversary of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto which was accepted.
Qurban Mallah from Dadu, Ali Sher from Sukkur, Ali Nawaz from Umerkot and many other participants attending the anniversary from various parts of interior Sindh did not approve of MQM delegation visiting the mausoleum. They were of the view that MQM's 30 years' politics showed it was not sincere with Sindh and the country "so PPP should not enter into a coalition arrangement with them, either in the province or at the centre."
Speaker Sindh Assembly Nisar Ahmed Khuhro, on the other hand, said while talking to TNS: "We want to respect Muttahida's mandate. I think whatever decision our Co-chairperson makes would be constructive for the country."
By Shoaib Hashmi
Dilroz may have earned the makers fame and a fortune but there was another famous medicine and what it earned its purveyors, and more to the point its users was legend. It had the romantic name of 'Amritdhara.' In local mythology 'Amrit' is the nectar of the gods which they extracted by churning the oceans for centuries, and here was a whole stream of 'Amrit' and we mortals can only guess at its efficacy.
It was advertised all over the subcontinent and the advertisements listed hundreds of ailments for which it was the panacea, and never really said what it was for. It simply told you to keep it handy at all times to counter anxiety and danger and whatever. You could also read its real uses from a booklet to be obtained from the pharmacy of the same name situated on Amritdhara Road.
My guess, which is as good as yours, is that it was some kind of potent aphrodisiac. But those were prudent times and we didn't say so overtly. There was a whole string of shops selling medicines of a like nature along Ravi Road and all along Circular Road right up to Bhatti Gate but they said so in pictures and never in words. In fact the most famous advert for the stuff never named it or said what it did. It simply said, "A hundred and twenty year old fakir raises man from the dead and goes to hide in the mountains!" And having thus caught your imagination by the short and curly left you to guess!
And from the ridiculous to the sublime! These were times when there might not yet have been a renaissance, but the spirit of awakening and nationalism was taking root and showed in all kinds of places. There was the high profile Aligarh University, but there were also smaller institutions being set up by the prosperous -- not just selling medicines -- and it will be a pity if they get forgotten.
In Lahore there were at least two which I know about, and which are long forgotten. The Diyal Singh College, and Library and Trust is still going strong, as are the half a dozen hospitals, but did you know there was a school for children on the lines of the missionary schools, and long before the Montessoris took off.
It was called the Sohan Lal School and it was somewhere near the Mozang area, and has left no trace whatsoever, pity. Also, I am not sure but there was another brother called Mohan Lal who was also involved with education because the main bookselling street was called Mohan Lal Road -- we have since changed it to Urdu Bazaar which says not much for our grace.
There was also a women college, called the Fateh Chand College with its own quaint building situated at the junction of Old Anarkali, and Lytton Road and Fane Road, I have not heard the name mentioned for many decades, but hidden behind the ugly and faceless facades of the area, the building with its indigenous twin domes are still there, though they seemed unoccupied and decrepit. In fact I am going to meet a cousin who I recall was a student there, so maybe I'll come back from dinner and add some more!
The death of a couple allegedly by public stoning in the troubled Mohmand Agency points towards the ever-present menace of honour killing
By Delawar Jan
A local court of Taliban, comprising two Qazis, awarded the alleged stoning to death sentence to Dawlat Khan, a resident of Khyber Agency and a woman, Shanoo, hailing from Mohmand Agency after founding them guilty of adultery. Both the victims were already married but had allegedly developed illicit relations and eloped to Karachi.
On their return, they were picked by militants from Nowshera Railway Station and brought to the Baizai area of the agency. The verdict handed down by the Qazis was executed on March 31 somewhere in the agency, where the couple was allegedly stoned for more than one hour.
Instead of showing any repentance, the local militants in the troubled Mohmand Agency have threatened to repeat these 'Islamic' punishments in the future. Though the reported stoning to death has caused public outcry and triggered condemnation from the newly-installed federal government, the Taliban leadership brushing aside such concerns and indignation said that they were not bound to respect the Pakistani or Afghanistan laws but Islamic Laws. They said that no one should expect from them to stop issuing 'Islamic verdicts' on any dispute, come what may.
"About 150 Taliban activists stoned the couple for one and a half hour in an unidentified place here. Both were dead within that period as everyone present there hurled stones at them," said Dr Asad, a spokesman for the Taliban, while talking to TNS on telephone from an undisclosed location.
The detractors of stoning to death are of the opinion that the excruciating killing of the couple by hitting them with stones was a terrible act, but the militants said the couple had committed a more flagrant crime by eloping and deserved the treatment meted out to them.
The spokesman said both Dawlat and the woman were already married but they ignored their marital status and established illicit relations in violation of Islamic teachings and tribal tradition. They ran away to Karachi where they committed adultery. "They confessed their crime before the court," he said while justifying the punishment given to the couple.
Critics question the legal and Islamic status of the Taliban 'court' as Islamic court requires certain qualifications. Every mosque, town, district or agency could not have its own-styled Shariah and Islamic Court of its own liking. The critics further argue that no self-proclaimed Qazi, under Islamic teachings, had the right to issue judgments. The argument is also supported by religious scholars.
But Dr Asad shrugs off the argument and says: "Some people in the cities has protested the decision and described it as inhuman but the Taliban will continue to issue such verdicts in future." Reacting to the condemnation of the federal government, he said: "We will not follow the laws formulated by Pakistan or Afghanistan but will decide disputes in accordance with Islamic Laws," he said and hastened to add that they did not care for the repercussions. "We will not budge from our commitment to punish people in line with Islamic Laws, even if our lives are put at stake."
Militants in Mohmand Agency have full control in Lakaro tehsil and have carried out attacks on security forces in all other six tehsils Haleemzai, Khuzai Baizai, Yakaghund, Pindyali, Ambar and Prang Ghaar. The militants had also attacked 'un-Islamic' businesses and professions in the Agency to purge the society of 'obscenity.' Non-government Organisations (NGOs), music and barber shops were among their targets. Dr Asad informed that Umar Khalid (probably a code name) was commanding Taliban in the Mohmand Agency under the umbrella of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). He insisted that not a single bullet was fired at the couple and that they died of the stone injuries.
However, the Mohmand Agency's political administration and locals have been vehemently rejecting the Taliban's account and say that the eloped 45-year-old woman and 23-year-old man were gunned down by their relatives in line with the tribal tradition. Unfortunately, the people in the agency who think the couple was shot dead, also support the killing of the couple as, according to locals, it was proper punishment for an eloped couple.
The elders of the agency have blamed the international media for giving it the colour of stoning to death incident and attributing it to militant organisations to malign the tribal people. Authorities in the militancy-hit agency and some independent sources insisted that it was an honour killing and there was no weight in the reports that the couple was stoned to death. "I examined the dead body of Dawlat Khat at Agency Headquarters hospital, Ghalanai and saw at least three bullet holes in his chest," a local journalist told TNS. He claimed that the medical staff at the hospital had also concluded that the man was fired at. Eyewitness accounts, according to the journalist, also declare it an incident of honour killing. "Dawlat was fired at by the husband of the woman," the journalist quoted an eyewitnesses as telling him.
Human rights organisations and the federal government had denounced the extra-judicial killing and termed it as inhuman and brutal. Reacting to the incident, Rakhshanda Naz, Resident Director of Aurat Foundation, an organisation working for women rights, said: "It is unthinkable to kill someone by hitting with stones. It was a brutal act done to further terrify the tribal people and points at the inability of the government in providing protection to its citizens. These days it's very easy to cover-up criminal activities in the garb of Taliban, which is a battalion of unemployed people." She said the incidents of honour killings had been registering a sharp surge but the lack of action by the government has encouraged people to continue with the brutal tradition. "Even local journalists are afraid to report honour killing incidents, because they feel themselves vulnerable, particularly after the death of Hayatullah," she added.
Sherry Rehman, the federal minister for information, issued a statement that "no one will be allowed to take the law into his hands" and reiterated the government's pledge to protect the rights of every citizen irrespective of sex or caste.
However, killings in the name of honour have become a routine in settled districts of the province, let alone tribal areas but the government had badly failed to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Tradition or inhumanity
The tribal people describe honour killing as their tradition and do not welcome any interference from outside to disturb this tradition. Tragic incidents of honour killing have been taking place unabated in the Agency and are accepted. Locals said that in a heart wrenching incident, a couple was burnt alive in Nahqi Kandao area of the Agency for having alleged illicit relations a few months ago and their charred bodies were thrown in a stream.
The tribal people are adamant in their opinion that the girl/woman who elopes with a man should be shot dead. The tribal people support honour killing as they think that eloping with someone or developing illicit relations is an unpardonable crime. "It is an immoral act and cannot be supported under any circumstances," a local said. What is termed a shot-to-death punishment to the couple is supported by the local people.
Tribal Maliks have even shown their anger over the coverage of stoning to death incident. Sources close to a number of Maliks said they were furious over the ongoing campaign to condemn the Dawlat-Shanoo honour killing. There is consensus among the people that it was the best way to shoot the eloped individuals dead to 'shed the stigma' and avoid taunts from fellow villagers. Killing is the only way to decide 'Toor Spin.' Toor refers for one who is found guilty and Spin to the one who turns out to be innocent.
Local people say that both male and female are killed even on suspicion of illicit relation, let alone after elopement. They cannot escape even if they run away. Surprisingly, the families spend huge sums to bring back couples to their native villages for giving them punishment. The relatives of the woman in the recent alleged stoning to death incident, locals claimed, had spent Rs.0.8 million to hunt down the couple. Families and relatives of the accused decide the fate of the accused and jirgas have very little role in disposing of honour killing cases, locals said. The relatives of woman shoot dead the woman and family of man kills the man to end the episode of illicit relations.
-- Delawar Jan
Food department, flour millers and the government continue to blame each other for the flour price hike
By Aoun Sahi
"I have been standing here for hours just to buy a flour bag," said Muhmmad Amin, a resident of Garhi Shahu, who was standing in a long queue in front of a Utility Store at Lahore's Allama Iqbal road. He is facing the ordeal because flour in Utility Stores is available at Rs 13 per kg which is no less than Rs 19 in the open market.
Amin had hoped that the flour price-hike would get resolved once the new government assumes office "but the situation is the same and we do not know who is responsible."
Amin is right because everybody is blaming the other for this crisis. The food department is holding flour millers responsible while flour millers are blaming the government as well as stock holders.
A country that produced excess wheat a year ago now faces severe wheat shortage and price hike issues, and is forced to import wheat.
It is believed that 125 Kg of wheat per capita per annum is required in Pakistan. With this formula Pakistan's total wheat consumption requirement is roughly more than 21 million tons. In 2007, the country produced grain of 23.3 million tons and almost 2 million tons were in surplus and the previous government exported wheat.
In fact, the prices of wheat are extremely high in neighbouring countries. They are 30-35 per cent higher in Afghanistan and Iran and more than 50 per cent higher in Central Asian Republics (CARs) A lot of wheat and flour is therefore smuggled to Afghanistan and CARs.
The food department officials claim that the country has enough wheat stock and has also started receiving imported wheat and there is no shortage of wheat in the country. They think that millers have stopped grinding wheat in the last few days because of new procurement price, which created a margin of Rs.4 per kg if they hold stocks for 10 days. "The existing price of wheat is Rs.465 per 40kg. With the government announcing new procurement price of Rs. 625 per 40kg, the millers has stopped grinding to earn extra," said a Punjab food department official. According to him some of the millers have even started hoarding wheat being released by the food department, thus completely drying up the supply line. Food department officials confirm that the government has announced increase in support price but flour mills are being provided wheat with the old price of Rs.465 per 40 kg. According to them there is no point in increasing the flour prices.
The flour millers are not ready to buy the statement. According to them all the flour mills are grinding under the supervision of district governments and food departments. "Even distribution of flour from the mills is being done under the supervision of government department, so how can the flour miller be held responsible for the price hike or shortage of flour," said Habib ur Rehman Leghari, chairman Punjab Flour Mills Association. He thinks the flour prices will further increase after Apr 15.
"The food department will suspend providing wheat quota to flour mills after Apr 15 but wheat in the open market will not be available until then because of the recent rains," he said. According to Leghari, flour millers are providing flour on the rates that the government has decided.
But retailers say that many of the flour millers give receipts according to government rates but actually sell the flour on much higher rates. "Flour millers are selling flour at Rs.70 more than the agreed ex-mill price per 20 kg and that is why we are bound to sell flour at Rs.20 per kg," said Nasir, a shopkeeper in Muhammad Nagar, Lahore. According to him, district government and the Food department force them to sell flour at Rs.15 per kg which will be a loss for them and that is why most of the shopkeepers in the city have decided not to sell flour.
"Flour millers are powerful and have their contacts with the political highups so the government does not take action against them while poor shopkeepers are easy prey," he adds.
Food department officials claim they are taking action against everyone responsible for creating the crisis. "Punjab food department so far has suspended wheat quota of more than 70 flour mills in the province over their involvement in price hike, flour smuggling, and slow grinding," said an official.
According to Seerat Asghar, secretary food department government of Punjab, the wheat supply to flour mills is 25 per cent more than the population's requirement. "We are providing 18,000 tons wheat per day to flour mills in the province," he said. According to Asghar, the department is alert to changes in flour prices and is receiving information from various cities through four independent channels. "People with vested interests are trying to benefit from the situation that arose after the prime minister announced Rs. 625 per 40 kg as the new wheat support price at a time when wheat was being issued to flour mills at Rs 465 per 40-kg."
The secretary knows that one bag of wheat sold in the black market fetches Rs 400 and some millers are trying to sell maximum wheat in the black market in order to make money without grinding it. The government has taken steps to counter this trend but such steps do not show results immediately. "We have received positive signals that the situation has started improving. The price will stabilise in days to come," he said..
Market experts believe that both food department and flour millers are responsible for the crisis. "The Food department, flour millers and stock holders are responsible for this artificial prices crisis. They are all minting money by holding others responsible for the situation," said Muhammad Ibrahim Mughal, Chairman Agri Forum Pakistan. He does not agree with the observation that increase in wheat support price is solely responsible for the latest flour crisis. "It has always been the practice in Pakistan to announce support price in October but this year the government has announced it in the end of March just two weeks before the new crop. So if the support price is the issue, in the past this would have started affecting the flour price even in October which it never did. It means that some serious kind of governance issues are involved in the present crisis."
Snow in April is something that is difficult to reconcile especially if you happen to be a resident of Karachi. Perhaps a sign of global warming or just plain bad weather, it happened this past weekend in London, where I happened to be staying on my way back to Pakistan after attending a major conference on Pakistan organised by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development. The hotel I had booked for myself, via my travel agent, was said to be a three-star and its main plus point was its excellent location -- Bayswater road, right opposite Hyde Park and a short bus ride to Marble Arch and Oxford Street. The room, however, I should say, was no bigger -- and one is not exaggerating here -- than a large shoebox. Let me put it this way: it was so narrow that when I lay in my bed and leaned out a bit, my finger-tips could touch the opposing wall. And I hate closed and confined spaces!
Luckily, there was a lot to do in London and I had several things planned -- not least the many famous museums. My first stop was the V & A and it turns out that many of the things there in its vast South Asian collection were all more or less stolen from the Indian subcontinent. While I did marvel at seeing such fantastic relics as the sword of Dara Shikoh I couldn't but help ask myself, "What the hell is this doing here in British Museum and why don't the Indian and/or Pakistani governments ask for these things back?" The remarks by a junior Foreign Office official whom I became friends with at the conference, that I would wonder exactly this if I went to the museums in London, all made sense, but there were no takers for such existential questions. As for the shopping, forget Marks & Spencer or Selfridge's, there is this relatively new cut-price store in London which is all the rage, and it's called Primark. I happened to stumble on it while walking down Oxford Street from Marble Arch but tell, where in the UK are you going to find ties for two pounds -- and good ones!
There was also of course another major event which took place while I was there. This was the Olympic relay torch and the fracas that became of it. On the snowy Sunday morning that I spoke of earlier, thousands of people lined up major thoroughfares and streets of London, on a day when it snowed through much of the morning and afternoon, to protest the Olympic torch relay through London. In its initial run which began from Wembley stadium, the relay was disrupted for a few minutes by anti-China protesters and police accompanying the cavalcade had to step in and make three arrests. At another location, some of the protesters tried to -- unsuccessfully -- extinguish the flame. The torchbearers included several public figures in the UK including cricketer Kevin Pietersen -- also, the torch was received at Whitehall by Prime Minister Gordon Brown before carrying on to the final leg of its journey in Greenwich.
The protesters, many of whom seemed to have come from outside London, especially overseas, and included several tourists, were holding small cardboard flags of Tibet -- some were however brandishing large-scale flags of Tibet. In many places as the torch relay passed, amid very heavy security -- even the individual runner was surrounded by hordes of policemen and security volunteers running along -- the protesters screamed anti-China slogans. A truck filled with camera crews was travelling some metres ahead of the torch runner.
The flags -- cardboard or cloth -- said at the bottom 'Flag of Tibet -- Banned in China.' At the centre of the flag is a mustard-yellow sun with rays radiating out in red and blue. In the front foreground is a holy emblem associated with Buddhism. Some of the protesters were holding placards saying 'Free Tibet.' Police said they had been notified of six protests, including one in central London where a member of parliament was to attend. However, there were also many neutral onlookers, some residents of areas where the torch was supposed to pass through, who looked at the protesters with some sense of derision saying that they always needed some 'cause or the other to protest' while others were angry at the 'traffic jams' caused on a Sunday by the passage of the Olympic torch. One of the placards seemed a bit of an exaggeration -- for instance one accused China of "killing 1600 Tibeteans every month for the last 50 years."
Not all the people lined up on the route were protesters however -- many were curious residents and tourists who simply wanted to get a glimpse of the Olympic torch. Incidentally, at the same time that the protests against the Olympic torch and Chinese brutalities in Tibet took place in London on Sunday, the city's famed British Museum was seeing the end of one its most successful exhibitions to day, showcasing part of the legendary Terracota Army of the first Emperor of China, Qin Shin Huang, dating back to 210 BCE.
From London, the Olympic torch will pass through 20 other countries before ending its journey in Beijing in time for the opening on the Olympics on August 8 later this year.
writer is Op-ed Pages Editor of The News. Email: [email protected]