The media helped rationalise public perceptions and neutralise government propaganda. Is the popular government now going to give it the freedom it deserves?
By Adnan Rehmat
To say that 2007 was a tumultuous year for Pakistan is to put it mildly. At the receiving end of the mayhem, in particular, were the Judiciary and the Media -- the third and fourth pillars of the state, respectively. The aggressors were, principally, the first and second pillars, the Executive and the Legislature. The year culminated on an intense note when President Pervez Musharraf, who was then also the army chief, imposed a virtual martial law on Nov 3 targeting judges and journalists left, right and center. About 60 judges of the superior courts were controversially sacked and virtually the entire independent broadcast media was shut down.
The unprecedented draconian crackdown on the media was given 'legal' shape in the form of amendments to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) Ordinance. These, among other things, immediately banned live coverage (this prevented real-time pictures and commentary of the spirited defiance of naked state aggression by civil society, particularly lawyers, media and political parties); criticism of the person of the president (the man at the center, and cause, of, all controversies that were dangerously devolving into crises of national proportions); criticism of the judiciary (which had now, after the refusal of 60 judges to swear an oath of allegiance to Musharraf, become pliant after taking oath on the Provisional Constitutional Order); and criticism of the armed forces (whose then chief was at open war with the people). Coverage was also banned of terrorist incidents (there were, at that time, gory suicide bombings and beheadings galore against law enforcement agencies, in particular the armed forces); and fines and jail terms for violations of new restrictions were dramatically increased manifold.
In short, Musharraf in effect violated Article 19 of the constitution by banning freedom of expression, the citizens' right to information and unbiased news in real-time about the main issues of the day that were consuming the people's lives -- information about which would help them make the right choices in the then looming parliamentary elections.
Fast forward to Apr 2008 and sweeping changes have emerged in the wake of the crackdown against the Judiciary and Media. Elections have been held, a new popular government is in place, after 10 long years Musharraf is no longer the army chief, the media is back to the Nov 2, 2007 'freedom levels' again and the government has tabled a bill in the National Assembly that purports to remove the thick Nov 3, 2007 cobwebs spun round the media by the former army chief.
It is significant that the first bill tabled in the National Assembly by the new government is an act of undoing General Musharraf's draconian amendments to the Pemra Ordinance. That this takes precedence even over the resolution of the contentious and tricky issue of the restoration of the judges is also momentous. Why was the government in relative haste to effect relief measures for the media? The answers should not really throw up surprises.
That the government prioritized relief for media stems from the nature of the new ruling dispensation. This is an unprecedented coalition government that brackets the country's biggest and most popular political parties. In particular the Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League-N, now the best of friends but it was not always so. Both have been out of power for over eight years and been the target of vicious vilification campaigns, their top leadership in exile and their supporters hounded and browbeaten.
In the trying last decade in general and the last five in particular when the independent broadcast sector bloomed, the dozens of new private TV channels and FM stations helped expose the draconian and coercive nature of the Musharrafian dispensation, which was masked by a pliant government and a parliament with an artificial majority. It was the media licensed by Pemra that despite coercion of the state not only provided PPP and PML-N (as well as other hounded political parties) relief but offered them an effective and sustainable platform to cast aside the biased government's painted lies of their being not just 'unpopular' but downright 'treacherous' and 'anti-state' (hence the exiles of the Bhuttos and Sharifs, Pakistan most popular political families). The independent media, in its classical and traditionalist mode, corrected the picture and helped rationalise public perceptions and neutralise government propaganda against popular democratic forces.
The biggest beneficiary of rationalised and realistic reporting and portrayal of politics at the grassroots (as opposed to the President House and Army House) were without a doubt the democratic and popular forces that refused to sell out to the dictatorial Musharrafian dispensation and opted to focus on strengthening their direct and 'live' dialogue and relationship with the citizens and electorates. Thanks to the real-time media platform for outreach, which developed and reinforced a culture of instant public and stakeholder feedback in the country, the political parties that articulated popular public sentiments reaped rich rewards in the Feb elections.
It is then understandable that the government of media beneficiary parties would want to return the favor in haste. That the first law to be passed by the first popularly elected and truly representative government in about a decade is a legal outcome of remarkably similar (but not surprising) acknowledgement of the role of media in their parties' victory and return to popular representative democracy by Asif Zardari of PPP and Nawaz Sharif of PML-N in their maiden and separate press conferences after the elections.
However, to put things in perspective, it would be naive to assume that the act of removing from the statute books the draconian Musharrafian curbs on the media is a result of mere altruism or 'returning a favor' Removing the restrictions was both a necessary corrective and a litmus test of the democratic credentials of the country's two biggest and popular parties. Both of whom do not altogether have an unblighted or unblemished past record of tolerating an independent and critical media.
The act of the government to remove restrictions is also an intrinsic acknowledgement that the media has emerged as a new powerful player on the political map of Pakistan. It cannot now be merely wished away or put in chains. The media's size and influence has developed a critical mass that now actually makes restrictions counterproductive. The last time either PPP or PML-N was in power the media was a fraction of the size it is today and had nowhere near the influence and impact it commands today. If there is a lesson to their chagrin that Musharraf and his PML-Q has learnt it is this. And it is a lesson that, being direct beneficiaries, the PPP and PML-N appear to have acknowledged as well.
But whether the lesson learnt is complete, or permanent, can be clear when other litmus tests can be passed. For instance, under the bill tabled in parliament, only barely are the Nov 3 Musharrafian restrictions being undone. That still leaves us with, more or less, the Pemra Ordinance, as it existed on Nov 2. That is still miles away from a good law. That law has at least five major things wrongs with it: (1) It's jurisdiction does not extend to the whole of Pakistan as FATA, FANA, PATA and AJK are outside its purview although bizarre random exceptions are at times made to favor the government; (2) It excludes the state broadcast sector (PTV and PBC) from its regulatory purview, effectively allowing two sets of rules for private and government run media; (3) It's drafted from a media owner's perspective rather than a media practitioner's (journalists) or citizens' perspective; (4) It's drafted to emphasize 'don'ts' rather than 'do's' thereby stunting an enabling media environment; (5) It regulates the private, not public broadcast sector yet does not have representation from either the private TV or radio sectors whose fates it governs! Its board is stuffed with public sector officials who have neither the orientation nor the inclination to promote professionalism.
If the government rectifies these five fundamental flaws in the Pemra Ordinance, it will have passed the real litmus test of its professed commitment to media freedoms and the people's right to unfettered information, pluralistic information sources. What kind of information people consume or where they get it from should be the people's business, not the government's.
LUMS hosts the first nationwide competition for Pakistani business schools
By Jazib Zahir
The lawns and verandas of the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) are no strangers to outside visitors. Nearly every weekend, the institution hosts throngs of local students for competitions and conferences ranging from the IEEE Coding Guru contest to the annual Educational Olympiad.
But all these events tend to be focused on the undergraduates. The weekend of Apr 4 however saw the convergence on campus of a somewhat older crowd. Under the banner of Synergies '08, over a 100 business students from all over Pakistan united to engage in contests, seminars and plain old networking.
The idea was conceived by a group of LUMS first year MBA students who realised that there was so much more to their degree programme than case studies and class discussions. A few such students attended a student-initiated conference at the prestigious Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad last year. They were impressed by the sheer scale of this event that brought together business students from around the world to brainstorm and bond. On their return, they vowed to be the pioneers of a comparable event in Pakistan.
"Such conferences are very common in business schools around the world but none have been hosted in Pakistan till this point," said Ali Usman, one of the visitors to India. "We feel Pakistani students are just as capable as their counterparts elsewhere but need more exposure. Synergies was thus initiated to forge stronger bonds between Pakistani business students and exhibit their capabilities to the rest of the world."
Preparations for this conference began in earnest months in advance under the auspices of the LUMS Global Management Club. Much deliberation went into the selection of a theme that would continue to bear relevance as the conference established itself as an annual fixture. The winning title was 'Synergies' underscored by the tagline: Harnessing Corporate and Social Leadership.
"Synergies is a real buzz word in the business word," explains one of the conference organisers, Shoaib Siddiqui. "It is ideal for our endeavour since it signifies the fusion of faculties we seek to tap through the competition. At the same time, we are concerned with grooming Pakistani students for leadership roles both in the corporate sector and society at large." The conference succeeded in attracting business students from local institutions like Government College and Beaconhouse National University as well as those based in other cities like the Karachi University Business School and Institute of Business Administration, Sukkur.
The uniqueness and scale of the event also drew impressive corporate support with AKD Securities and PTCL serving as the principal sponsors. Each major competitive event was judged by professionals associated with the juggernauts of the corporate world such as Ferguson, Abacus Consulting and JE Austin. Guest speakers included luminaries such as the Chief Economist of Punjab and head of the CARE foundation, Seema Aziz. "Being able to attract such notable personalities to our events was one of our major successes," said Ayesha Ali, another chief organiser.
The conference itself revolved around four main competitions spread across the weekend.
Some of the biggest buzz was generated by the Bootstrap event. Participating teams could be found huddled around computer terminals in heated discussion as they competed against each other and the clock in online simulations of business challenges. "This competition was the first of its kind in Pakistan," said chief organiser Javeria Habib. "It was a true test of teamwork, comfort with technology and innovative thinking."
The Sustainable Business Development Plan titled 'Kaavish' fit in with the conference theme of social responsibility and produced some intriguing suggestions on how to construct sustainable enterprises in the sectors of textiles, agriculture and energy.
Clat, French for brilliance, was a competition to propose a viable product or service in response to a specific market need. Participating teams submitted their initial responses prior to the competition in a written format. The competition itself was an opportunity to present the solutions in person before a panel of judges who grilled the participants.
Hippocrates was the case analysis competition. "It stretched the participants to analyse a real world case and suggest the ideal course of action in an interactive format," said the competition organiser Umair Luqman. All the winning teams pocketed cash prizes of as much as Rs. 80,000. Notable side competitions included a public speaking contest and an opportunity to market your dream car.
In between these intense battles, the participants got a breather by sitting in on guest speaker sessions. A well received session was a discussion on fund raising opportunities for Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital conducted by a LUMS faculty member specialising in the management of non-profits.
But the weekend was never meant to be all work and no play. It was kicked off by a formal welcome dinner for all the participants in the LUMS courtyard. Participants could be found mingling around fancy dinner tables while listening to the introductory addresses from the organisers. The next evening, following an intense day of competitions and speaker sessions, all the participants were transported to Peeru's Cafe to unwind over delicious food and musical performances.
What impressed the participants most was how this endeavour was purely a student-driven effort. "Everything flowed so smoothly that I was convinced the university administration must be behind the event, but I was amazed to learn that it was the students who had envisioned and planned the entire exercise," said one participant from Sukkur.
All weekend long, the home institute organisers could be found buzzing around campus in their crisp blue Synergies' T-shirts and adorning their name tags. They were busy ushering participants around, sitting in on events and tending to their guests. The concluding session was another formal ceremony bringing together the participants for an opportunity to bid farewell to each other following a memorable weekend.
Now that Synergies' 08 has been a massive success, the core team is already looking ahead to repeat the effort next year and establish a legacy for upcoming generations of LUMS MBAs to uphold. How will future efforts expand upon the initial success? "We were hoping to involve international students in the conference this year but political instability made it difficult," said Kamran Afzal. "Next year we hope to invite students from around Asia and ultimately, from around the world. It's time the world took notice of what Pakistani students can achieve and what they can contribute to global development."
By Shoaib Hashmi
It is a well known saying, or at any rate it was until my boyhood, that there are thirty-nine great saints lying buried in Multan. Which is a good thing because if there had been forty then the centre of 'Haj' or our pilgrimage would have been Multan! These include Shah Rukn-e-Alam, and Bahauddin Zakria after whom they have named the University and also Shams-e-Tabriz who is not the Shams associated with Maulana Rumi and the eponymous author of the Divaan-e-Shams-e-Tabriz, but another saint of the name.
As such it was well known that among the pious the town was called Multan Sharif; as it happens among some of the pious Lahore too was called Lahore Sharif because there are an inordinate number of saints in Lahore too, though nobody knows how many, and as a chauvinist Lahori I calculate there are even more, although I suspect I am wrong otherwise someone would have counted and said so.
Then the other day I caught up with an old acquaintance who was also interested in the saints of Lahore, and we decided to visit as many as we could remember before the weather got too hot. For some reason the first one we ended up re-visiting was Shah Hussain whom we Lahoris refer to as Madho Lal Hussain.
The shrine lies in Baghbanpura which was the neighbourhood of all the gardeners who kept the Shalimar garden tip-top for Shahjahan and has since overgrown into a tight area with small shops and narrow streets just the city side of Shalimar. The Shah was only a third generation Muslim, his grandfather, Kals Rai having accepted Islam in the reign of Humayun, so that the Saint lived in the times of Akbar.
He habitually dressed in red so he was also known as 'Laal Hussain,' and is remembered mainly for his beautiful and much sung poetry. Apparently he became enamoured of a young Hindu boy named Madho, and the two became so spiritually close that to this day we refer to them by a single name.
He died around the turn of the 'Hijri' millennium, and was buried near the native village of Madho somewhere in the vicinity of Shahdara. Some years later the river Ravi made one of its usual changes of course and threatened to wash away the tomb -- we like to believe that the river wanted to get nearer to the place. So Madho dug up the body and recreated the tomb in the present place. When the young man himself died he too was buried right next to his beloved master.
Up to my youth the saint's 'Urs' called the 'Mela Chiraghan' or the Festival of Lights used to be held inside the Shalimar Bagh which also used to be lit up with thousands of oil lamps, and the speciality was peculiar glass toys full of coloured water which simply disintegrated after a few days. The practice was stopped some years ago, and the festival moved back to the tomb where it flourishes.
If you come towards town from Shalimar, leaving the Engineering University on your right, you come to the locality which is the other side of 'Do Moria Pul'. For some reason in my childhood, when you went to Shalimar on a 'tonga' the tonga drivers had a most peculiar method -- going to Shalimar they always took you via the railway overhead bridge, and the trains passed underneath, but coming back they always came via 'Do Moria Pul'. And we were endlessly fascinated by the fact that the trains passed under us one way, and over us the other way.
Anyway if you take a right turn you end up at the tomb of Ghoray Shah this is a local saint whose name was Jhulay Shah, but, it is said, in his infanthood he was totally enamoured of horses; so much so that he spent his days sitting astride a wall and urging it and whipping it to move like a horse. And such was his spiritual power that one day, it is said, the wall did move! And so he became the saint 'Ghoray Shah', and to this day the thing to take as an offering for him is a toy horse, and every Thursday the whole place is covered with little clay or wooden toy horses!
3500 retired and re-employed government servants in Punjab have been terminated from service by the new government
By Aoun Sahi
As expected, a major reshuffle in bureaucracy is taking place in Punjab after the PML-N government has been put in place. Sardar Dost Muhammad Khosa may have taken oath as the new Punjab Chief Minister but some believe that Mian Shahbaz Sharif has been on the driving seat in Punjab since the formation of coalition government in the centre in March and all decisions are being taken with his consultation. The first major decision he had taken to surprise the bureaucracy was the appointment of Javed Mehmood as the new Chief Secretary of Punjab on March 29. Javed Mehmood has served as Principal Secretary to Shahbaz Sharif during his tenure as Punjab CM in 1997. He was made Officer on Special Duty (OSD) when the military took over.
The first task Mehmood was given was to cleanse the government departments of all illegal appointments made by the PML-Q regime in Punjab. On Apr 9, 2008, the Punjab government immediately terminated around 3,500 government servants; all were given re-employment by Chauhdry Pervaiz Elahi's government on contract after they had attained superannuation. 45 out of these 3,500 were holding key posts in Punjab. Six were serving government in BS-21, 17 in BS-20, 12 in BS-19, and 10 in BS-18. Those who were terminated include eight retired brigadiers, four Lt Colonels, two majors, 20 from the provincial service officers, 10 police officers and a judge. The termination orders were issued by the Punjab Services and General Administration Department (S&GAD) in consultation with the chief secretary. But everyone knows that Mian Shahbaz Sharif had given the final approval to the decision.
The Punjab government was in such a hurry to get rid of these officials that in order to cope with a situation where these officers were re-employed on different conditions, like that of one month notice or salary of a month, the concerned heads of the departments had been asked to deal accordingly. "In case of requirement of one month's notice, salary of one month's period may please be paid, in lieu thereof," directed the notification, which sought strict compliance without exception. The terminated officers have also been directed to vacate official residence within no more than two weeks time period.
According to an official in Punjab Secretariat Lahore, the period of most of the re-employment varied from one year to three years. "Many of these officers were on second or third term of extensions. Ironically, most of these extensions in services were given against the highest of posts and lucrative remunerations, much to the disappointment of those who have been working for their whole lives wishing ultimately to become bosses of the departments," he said. But when they drew closer to become the head of their departments, according to the official, a 'retired' person was unduly posted on them. "Such extensions and re-employments badly affected the careers of many hardworking and honest bureaucrats as well as the performance of government departments," he added.
According to him during the last months of Pervaiz Elahi's government, the re-employment was expedited, especially when the government was nearing its constitutional term and the elections were just round the corner. "The year 2007 can be termed as the year of undue promotions and extensions. The Punjab bureaucracy also remained loyal to its 'benefactors' despite the assembly dissolution and the announcement of elections. And this is the reason Mian Shahbaz Sharif wanted to get rid of all those elements in bureaucracy which unduly benefited the Chuahdries of Gujrat."
The officials who have become the victim of this termination take this as a political revenge. "It was an illegal act, politically motivated to send more than 3,500 government employees home with just one stroke of a pen" said Brig (retd) Aslam Ghuman, ex-director, Anti-Corruption Establishment, Punjab. According to him, what had been happening was that the government wanted to terminate these officials with immediate effect and they kept on typing the orders of termination on Apr 9 till 3am. "There are rules and regulations and they should have been given at least 14 days notice to us. They are acting so haphazardly that it reminds me of Nizam Sakka" he said. According to him, Mian Shahbaz Sharif is behind this move. "The decision is also inhuman as they gave just 14 days to officers to vacate the houses. I am unable to understand what he (Shahbaz Sharif) wants to prove or show by such decisions."Ghuman believes that it will be impossible for most of the ex-officials to vacate houses in the given time period.
Secretary S&GAD Fawad Hassan Fawad does not think that government has done anything against the rules and regulations. "The hardworking, honest and capable officers will be appointed, and no undue favour will be given to anybody," he said. According to him officers have been re-appointing people even when they were not authorised to do so. "This has happened across the Punjab in almost every department during the last five years or so," he added.
The PML-N leadership considers it a just step and wants to go further by bringing these ex-officials to the book. "They were giving jobs and extensions just on the basis of illegal cooperation to their patrons. Their termination is more than legal and they will also be accountable for all their illegal deeds," said Rana Sanaullah, a senior PML-N leader in Punjab. According to him people like Brig (retd) Aslam Ghumman and Ijaz Shah will not be spared and they will be brought to justice by the PML-N government. "Brig(retd) Aslam Ghumman was the person who led the team who badly tortured me in 2003." He said that he would also raise his voice against the illegal appointments of serving military personals in Teveta on very high salaries. According to Rana Sanaullah, Mian Shahbaz Sharif enjoys complete support of PPP in all these decisions.
PPP confirms that it has no problem with the termination of illegally appointed officials. "We are also against such appointments, it is denying the right of appropriate officers," said Javed Akbar Dillon, PPP provincial leader and MPA from Rahim Yar Khan. He thinks that most of these people were appointed on political basis and they were offered very lucrative packages. "We also have no objection on the method used to send them home immediately," he added..
It is clear that Mian Shahbaz Sharif wants 'appropriate' officials on specified posts before he takes charge as the CM Punjab. A week after sending thousands of re-employed officials home, 15 district co-ordination officers in Punjab were also transferred, making many of them OSD while 123 deputy district officers were also transferred on Apr 16, the same day the new Inspector General of Punjab Police was appointed. The new government has also sent a letter to all the administrative secretaries and the district coordination officers, titled 'Contractual appointments in Government of the Punjab' as these officers have been directed to provide a consolidated list of existing contractual employees working in administrative departments, attached department, autonomous bodies and district govts, containing their names, designations, basic pay scales, period of contract and appointing authority. The employees who will be found to be appointed not according to prevailing rules and regulations will also be sent home.
By Tahir Ali
According to latest estimates, Mardan's population is around two million. Whereas Muslims constitute 99.6 per cent of it, there is also a notable presence of different minority groups, especially in the urban area of Mardan. Christians are the biggest minority group in Mardan -- their number stand at around 6,000 or 0.3 per cent of the whole population. The community heads of the Hindus / Sikhs and Qadianis / Ahmadis put their number at 500 (0.025 per cent) and 600 (0.03 per cent), respectively.
Christians have been living here for about 200 years, while Hindus and Sikhs claim a 900-year-old stay in Mardan. The former have four churches here -- one used by Catholics, the other by Brethrens and two by the Protestants. St Paul's (Sarhadi Lutheran) Church, Mardan, is the biggest among them and is part of the Northern Diocese Mardan -- a setup recently contrived to administer the churches and work for the welfare of the Christian Community from Nowshera to Gilgit and Chitral.
For Hindus and Sikhs, there are three functional mandirs and gurdawaras. They practice, however, a denomination of Hinduism and Sikhism that seems to be a combination of the two and is quite distinct from how it is in India.
While Christians have a separate school for their children -- being funded and administered by the Church of Peshawar -- there is no such facility for the other minority groups. The Qadiani / Ahmadi community does not have an open worship-place here -- there was one till a few years back, but it is desolate now.
A vast majority of the Christians are public or private servants. The Hindus / Sikhs are mostly businessmen. The Qadianis / Ahmadis too are predominantly traders and some of the business tycoons in Mardan come from this community, while some of them are public and private employees.
The News on Sunday approached Waseem Ayaz, 35 - the vice-chairman (Clergy) Northern Diocese Mardan; Rawail Chand, 55, and Ashok Kumar Kapoor, 35 - president and general secretary of the Hindu / Sikh Sudhar Sabah, respectively; and Naeem, 65 -the district amir of, what he called, Jamaat-e-Ahmadia Mardan, to discuss issues ranging from religious discrimination to politics.
At the very outset, Rev'd. Majid Masih, incharge of St Paul's (Sarhadi Lutheran) Church and The Guide's Church, Mardan, and Ashok Kumar Kapoor condemned the recently issued blasphemous Dutch film --The Fitnah -- and the caricatures of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), and dubbed them as insane steps and misuse of the freedom of expression.
Rawail Chand and Ashok Kumar said Pakistan was their motherland and most of the Pakistanis were "far better than their Indian counterparts". "We have lived here for centuries. Save some ugly acts of religious intolerance in the charged environment in the aftermath of the partition, relations between the two communities have always been based on mutual respect, tolerance and goodwill," Rawail said.
Ashok recalled how his community was given moral support and assured full protection by the majority of Pukhtoons after the Babri Mosque incident. He ascribes this culture of peace to Islamic teachings, as well as the traditions of Pukhtoons.'.
Priest Majid also seconded his thoughts. "We have been living in Mardan for centuries and Muslims here have always respected us. Both the people and the administration are kind to us and extend full cooperation. Mardan Nazim Himayatullah Mayar constructed a guard room inside the Guide's Church on this Easter and full security was provided to us," he informs.
Naeem, district amir of the Jamaat-e-Ahmadia Mardan, praised the people of Mardan for their tolerance, but added that there always were vested interests everywhere. "There can be no world peace without peace among religions, no peace among religions without dialogue among them, and no dialogue between the religions without accurate knowledge of one another," he stresses.
About security of people, especially in the NWFP, Ashok Kumar believed that it was as much a problem for the majority as it is for the minority. "It is our collective suffering and one should not blow out of proportion incidents of violence in which non-Muslims are victims," he said and hoped that with the installation of the new moderate government, the trend of lawlessness and terrorism would subside, if not vanish altogether.
Minorities mainly keep themselves aloof from political processes and prefer to side by the ruling party. Qadianis, in particular, maintain a distance from politics. Naeem said they were law-abiding citizens and his community was religiously bound to obey the orders of the rulers. Some of the members of the other minority groups, however, have joined the mainstream political parties to be able to "save ourselves from victimisation", as put by a community leader who did not wish to be named.
Rawail Chand was all praise for Z A Bhutto. "Zia marginalised the minorities, while Bhutto got us involved in the political process," he said. Ashok Kumar highly lauded the services of M P Bhandara, the former federal minister for Minority, for the uplift of minorities in Pakistan.
Yet all of them are unsatisfied with the present number of reserved seats for minorities in the National Assembly and the provincial assemblies, as well as their mode of election. Priest Majid and Ashok Kumar said the number of reserved seats for minorities should be increased. "Even if minority candidates are party ticket holders, minorities should be given double votes and authorised to directly elect their representatives from among the contending minority candidates, as is the case in the local bodies' elections," they demanded.
Regarding minorities' representation in the NWFP Assembly, they suggested that the province be divided into three regions - central, southern and northern -- and at least one seat should be allocated to each region with the minorities living there to directly vote for these seats. They also seek reserved female minority seats in the National Assembly and the provincial assemblies, as well as representation in the Senate of Pakistan.
Ashok Kumar urged the revival of District Minority Board (DSB), which, according to him, was a very effective and speedy mechanism to redress the grievances of minorities. Priest Majid Masih said at present a District Religious Harmony Committee is working, but demanded immediate restoration of the DSBs. Rawail vehemently advocated and demanded the exemption of temples from rent. He also suggested a permanent permit system / visa card between India and Pakistan to facilitate visits of the minorities to their relatives and friends.
Ashok said minorities were denied Zakat money, though Islam allows it. He also reminded that National Commission for Minorities in its meeting in 2005 discussed the issue of illegal sale and transfer of communal property by the land mafia and constituted a sub-committee to prepare a report but that is still awaited. They all said they stood neglected in the official housing schemes and insisted that their due share be given to them in the housing scheme announced by the prime minister recently.
By Omar R. Quraishi
US President George W. Bush is probably not too far off the mark when he says that the next attack against America will be conceived and launched not by those hiding in Afghanistan but in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). However, the fact also is that the west is becoming a bit too obsessed with FATA, so much so that such an interest seems to have become overbearing -- especially for Pakistanis who come into contact with western policymakers.
And this brings me again to this conference I attended recently at Wilton Park, halfway between London and Brighton, a couple miles from England's southeast coast. It was titled 'Pakistan: Sources of stability and instability' and was attended by dozens of senior and mid-level ranking government officials from not only the UK but various other European and Asian countries. In fact, the wide level of participations -- numerous key European and Asian nations -- reflected the growing importance and increasing level of interest of some facets of Pakistan among audiences overseas. The interest in large part, as already said before, has a lot to do with how Pakistan tackles terrorism and in that connection FATA and the government's role in governing it and developing it has assumed major importance.
Throughout much of the conference, during which several speakers read out papers, several of the officials in attendance were seen taking copious notes. This led one fellow Pakistani journalist to jokingly say that all these government bureaucrats and policymakers were getting a free lesson on Pakistan at the expense of the speakers who were in attendance and the Pakistanis who were engaged in much of the discussions. A retired general who served as head of the ISI during General Mirza Aslam Beg's time as army chief was one of the speakers and many of those attending seemed to be keen on listening to him but all he really said was (and this was expected of him, unfortunately) that the army did not want to step in and intervene but often felt that it had to. Of course, this riled up many civilian Pakistanis present because yet again they were being fed the establishment's propaganda that the politicians were the ones who were always messing things up and that the military was merely stepping in -- often reluctantly -- to clean up this mess.
Understandably, some provocative questions to the general followed. One, by a publisher of a Lahore-based English weekly, was a lengthy comment at first (most of those asking questions usually made long comments instead) and then a question asking the former ISI boss whether there was any indication from within the army that mistakes had been made and that perhaps an apology was due to the nation. Surely she didn't expect the general to agree with her, although very half-heartedly he did say that if an apology would help it could be considered. Another question, this by a London-based Pakistani television journalist, was more provocative and asked the general whether there was something in the mental make-up of those who applied for jobs in the Pakistani military that made the organisation prone to carrying out coups.
Two former chief secretaries of the NWFP also spoke during the conference and both spent considerable times debating the merits and demerits of the Frontier Crimes Regulations, which the new PPP government had said that it wanted to repeal. The FCR grabbed the interest of many of the western participants as well because in it they saw the potential for socio-economic change in FATA. One of the former chief secretaries was in favour of going back to the system of maliks and tribal agents and said that that the decision to extend adult franchise had had a negative impact on the social structure of the region while the other said that the time had come to move ahead and that giving everyone the right to vote and was a good first step in this regard. In the Q&A session following these two talks, one participant, a Pakistani academic from Islamic College in Peshawar, and currently in residence at a think-tank in London said that using the word 'Taliban' to describe the militants/extremists was wrong because 'Taliban' actually was plural for 'student' -- he suggested that instead of calling them 'Taliban' everyone should call them 'matlooban' -- or the 'wanted' ones.
As for the west's obsession with all things FATA, let me give a few examples from the conference. First, while one economist (also known as quite a friend of military governments) had been invited to speak, there was no one from the education, health and/or science sectors. This absence became all the more telling because speaker after speaker spoke of the need for socio-economic development in Pakistan in general and in FATA in particular as an effective means to counter growing extremism.
It would have been good to hear what the social sector experts had to say on this. One female social sector professional and several men who work in the NGO field were in attendance but they did not present any papers. They did participate extensively in the Q&A sessions but this was not in any way substantive in the manner that would have happened had a proper presentation been made on social sector subjects.
Furthermore, all participants were asked to be part of so-called working groups where more specific issues were deliberated upon and recommendations agreed upon and aired back to the whole forum. One of the working groups (there was one for each day of the conference) I chose was about sectarian and ethnic divisions in Pakistan. The group must have had around 10-12 people with 4-5 Pakistanis. The lead moderator was an academic of Pakistani origin based in the UK. However,we could not really come to any agreement because while to the Pakistanis, ethnic and sectarian tensions meant either talking about the MQM and ethnic rivalries in Sindh (or between Punjab and the smaller provinces, or perhaps even Balochistan), or between Sunnis and Shias and/or Deobandis and Barelvis, the Europeans and North Americans in the group seemed fixated on seeing ethnic and sectarian rivalries through the Pakhtun/FATA/Afghanistan prism. To say that this was perplexing to me, and my other Pakistani participants, is an understatement because we couldn't understand for the life of us why ethnic/sectarian tensions would manifest in Pakistan in any form other than what we were advocating.
On matters more mundane, but no less important, I would like to ask the traffic authorities in Karachi, as well as the DHA and the city government, that why cannot they think more for the convenience of citizens. I am referring to a recent closure of the Clifton underpass where the traffic mess caused by it could have easily been minimised if a few road diversion signs had been placed well in advance of the underpass. As for the DHA, it is presently digging up many roads that lead to one of Karachi's prime recreation spots, Seaview. Here too there is hardly a sign anywhere -- which means that if one is not aware of each and every street that has been dissected (finally to provide the low-lying area a decent drainage system) a lot of time and petrol is wasted in going up all the way towards the main Seaview road only to turn back just a bit before the side lane joins it -- because no signs are posted in advance warning motorists of the digging. When will our municipal agencies begin to think of making life easier for citizens?
writer is Op-ed Pages Editor of The News.