militancy
North Waziristan offensive
Kamra airbase attack shows TTP militants will not sit back silently in the face of 
likely military operation
By Aoun Sahi  
Though Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has claimed responsibility for the audacious attack on Kamra Airbase, it is still unclear whether the attack was in reaction to the possibility of a military operation in North Waziristan.  
A debate has already been underway in the country around these attacks. Apart from the belief this was an expression of defiance against the likely military operation in North Waziristan, there is a view that it could be a reaction of militants against the air force which has caused major harm to the militants in the tribal areas.  

A feminist before feminism
Helen Gurley Brown, the legendary editor of Cosmopolitan, was instrumental in encouraging women to be themselves, career-oriented and fun-loving
Dr Arif Azad  
Helen Gurley Brown, legendary editor of Cosmopolitan for more than thirty years and still at the helm of its international editions when she died, was a larger than life figure. Her impact extended far beyond her magazine to the cultural life of the swinging sixties. It is no wonder then that her death, at 90, on August 12, 2012, has generated wider ripples and an unceasing stream of tributes from the aligned worlds of media, advertising and publishing.  
Born to a family of modest means in Arkansas in 1922, she was exposed to early privations, at 10, when her father, a school teacher, suddenly died in a lift accident. This unforeseen and tragic death tipped the family into obscure poverty, further compounded by Helen’s elder sister contracting polio which left her paralysed for the rest of her life.  

Yeh Woh
Ask or perish
By Masud Alam  
It’s all about asking the right questions — the questions we are not asking, or we are not allowed to ask, or we don’t care enough.  
Fed on a staple of lies, half-truths, and twisted logic in matters of religion as much as that of statehood, for generations, we have come to accept everything and believe nothing. We are not sure if our armed forces are left with any resolve or capability to protect us from an external threat. We are unsure if the highest court in the land can dispense justice. We are not sure if the religiuous figure or sect we follow is the religion as it was revealed, or a corrupted copy. We don’t know if there is anything at all our government machinery is capable of doing right. And we suspect our elected representatives do nothing in parliament other than exchanging favours and filth.  

firewall
Real threat in virtual world
Going digital without precautions exposes Pakistani 
journalists to unimaginable risks 
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed  
Who says journalists land into trouble when they transgress certain ideological or geographical boundaries? That’s not always the case. Today, it’s not necessary for them to travel to lawless zones to risk their security. They are equally vulnerable to dangers even within the confines of their homes if they care less about their security in the virtual world.  
This is the gist of a recent report commissioned by the Internews Center for Innovation & Learning and conducted by Bytes for All (B4A), a Pakistani human rights organisation with a focus on information and communication technologies.  

Children at bay
The child rights situation in Pakistan is depressing 
By Arshad Mahmood
Recently there was a debate in the National Assembly about failure of the provinces to legislate to safeguard child rights following the 18th Constitutional Amendment which has made child rights a provincial subject. A parliamentary caucus has been established to look into the situation and make recommendations. 
Following the 18th Constitutional Amendment, the Concurrent Legislative List has been deleted, leading to confusion within the relevant ministries, departments as well as among other stakeholders. The civil society welcomed the 18th Amendment and started actively coordinating with concerned provincial government departments for related legislation. However, the devolution does not absolve the federal government and federal legislature of its responsibilities towards children in light of the Constitution and Pakistan’s international obligations — the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and other UN and ILO Conventions.

Sceptic’s Diary
Obscenity in court
By Waqqas Mir
While gentlemen with beards approach our Supreme Court often, it is rare that a model/Bollywood diva’s legs force Lady Justice to peek. Ms Katrina Kaif’s legs, in ways she may never have imagined, have made it to the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The issue in question: obscenity on television. The purported evidence, as ever, is eye-catching. 
Obscenity, as Manto’s spirit would testify, is hard to define but is often tailored to convenience. How does one define obscenity especially when one Qazi Hussain Ahmad and a retired justice are complaining about it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

militancy
North Waziristan offensive
Kamra airbase attack shows TTP militants will not sit back silently in the face of 
likely military operation
By Aoun Sahi

Though Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has claimed responsibility for the audacious attack on Kamra Airbase, it is still unclear whether the attack was in reaction to the possibility of a military operation in North Waziristan.

A debate has already been underway in the country around these attacks. Apart from the belief this was an expression of defiance against the likely military operation in North Waziristan, there is a view that it could be a reaction of militants against the air force which has caused major harm to the militants in the tribal areas.

Chief of the Army Staff General, Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani, has already hinted at the use of force against the militants in his Independence Day speech at Kakul Military Academy, Abbottabad. He described the war on terror as “our own war and a just war too” in so many words. He also acknowledged the difficulties in fighting one’s own people, but said “no state can afford a parallel system of governance and militias,” and asked the nation to stand united or face the risk of a “civil war situation”.

The TTP spokesperson has again threatened that the TTP would fight back strongly with its suicide bombers if the military carries out an operation in North Waziristan. He claimed that the TTP attacked the Kamra airbase to avenge the killing of Osama bin Laden and Baitullah Mehsud.

Saleem Safi, senior security analyst, says North Waziristan is a stronghold of the TTP and other militant organisations. “They can launch preemptive attacks to put pressure on the military before the operation. It is true that they could not launch a major attack during the last one and half years or so against security installations, but they were busy preparing suicide bombers and propagating their philosophy,” he says.

North Waziristan is one of the most difficult terrains and it has been a centre for militants since the Afghan war. Locals of the area have strong affiliations with the militants. “To carry out a military operation in this area will be a difficult task,” Safi says, adding the TTP is not an organised militia anymore. “It is a combination of people from different backgrounds with different philosophies and priorities. It is true that religious tribal people, who have strong links with Afghan jihad, are a driving force behind the TTP, but sectarian organistaions like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi are also there to support them.”

Safi thinks all the activities are not carried out with the consent of the main leadership and different groups within the TTP launch attacks according to their priorities. “The LeJ and TTP Darra Adam Khel would always attack Shia community. In Bajaur, their priority is to destroy schools, while the TTP Swat is a fierce enemy of shrines and attack them. But it is true that the present TTP leadership is strongly anti-Shia.”

He says that drone attacks have killed several top leaders of the TTP and it has become very tough for them to coordinate. “Military operations in Swat, Bajaur, Mohmand and Khyber Agency have also weakened them to a great extent. So, we can say they are a weak organisation now as far as infrastructure and network is concerned, but their extreme philosophy and anti-America slogans have become very popular and they have even penetrated in the mainstream organisations.”

Safi says the TTP has successfully created its collaborators and informers in different organisations and departments with a good number of sleeping supporters everywhere in the country. “We can say that its capability of launching big attacks in settled areas has diminished to a greater extent, but its capability of launching small attacks in big numbers has increased manifold.”

It is also believed that the TTP has already shifted major portion of its infrastructure and leadership to Orakzai, Mohmand and South Waziristan. Some experts believe a military operation in North Waziristan can be helpful for the TTP to widen its network as it can push Hafiz Gul Bahadur to the TTP’s camp. He still has a peace pact with government of Pakistan intact and an operation in North Waziristan can be fatal for the future of this peace accord.

“After drones, Pakistan Air Force has caused major harm to the TTP’s infrastructure. It is too tough for the TTP to attack air force jets so the only way to take revenge from air force is to attack its installations,” an insider of the TTP tells TNS. He says that Punjabi Taliban mainly control attacks in cities.

Ayaz Wazir, former ambassador of Pakistan to Afghanistan who belongs to tribal areas, says that it would be tough to pinpoint the exact motives behind the Kamra attack and the Shia killings, but one thing is clear these attacks are reaction to the war on terror. “We need to look into how militants succeed in attacking the security installations. Is it possible for people sitting in North Waziristan to know which plane is parked in which hanger? We need to find insiders in all departments who help these militants. We need to find the causes of their resentment.”

Wazir says, “If we want to be part of war on terror, we need to be sincere to the cause of this war. Our security establishment, the government and people need to be on the same page if we want to win this war. But, our words and actions are contradictory which create confusion among masses and allies in the war.

“Have we ever thought how come an educated young man from Khyber Agency has become chief of al-Qaeda in Pakistan. When our army would attack its own people without taking nation into confidence, it can never win the war,” he concludes.

 

A feminist before feminism
Helen Gurley Brown, the legendary editor of Cosmopolitan, was instrumental in encouraging women to be themselves, career-oriented and fun-loving
Dr Arif Azad

Helen Gurley Brown, legendary editor of Cosmopolitan for more than thirty years and still at the helm of its international editions when she died, was a larger than life figure. Her impact extended far beyond her magazine to the cultural life of the swinging sixties. It is no wonder then that her death, at 90, on August 12, 2012, has generated wider ripples and an unceasing stream of tributes from the aligned worlds of media, advertising and publishing.

Born to a family of modest means in Arkansas in 1922, she was exposed to early privations, at 10, when her father, a school teacher, suddenly died in a lift accident. This unforeseen and tragic death tipped the family into obscure poverty, further compounded by Helen’s elder sister contracting polio which left her paralysed for the rest of her life.

With two children to feed, her mother had a hard time of it, eking out a living by tagging shop shelves in local stores. This had profound influence on Helen’s thinking which seeded in her the notion of raising children as an unnecessary encumbrance which was to show up in the way she helmed and directed Cosmopolitan (The Cosmo Girl package was gutted of the ingredient of motherhood). This also meant that Helen was forced to prune her own academic ambitions by taking up a succession of secretarial jobs — seventeen by her own account — despite being a high school valedictorian.

It was, however, at Foote, Cone & Belding, an advertising agency, where she found her métier as a copywriter. In time, her reputation as a sharp copywriter led to her being snapped up by the rival advertising company Kenyon and Eckhardt at double the salary, making her the highest paid female in advertising (those watching the US drama series Mad Men are likely to find unmistakable echoes of Helen’s career trajectory in Peggy Ouslon’s rise from secretarial job to being a copywriter. In the most recent season she, like Helen, gets poached by a rival advertising company at a higher salary).

In 1959, she married David Brown, a successful movie producer, which was to catalyse her rise. In 1962, at the urging of her husband, she wrote her first book Sex and the Single Girl which was an overnight sensation (The book, like Mad Men, was to form the template for the US TV series of the nineties Sex and the City).

On the back of the success of her first book, she was approached by the Cosmopolitan management to turn around the struggling magazine. In the event, she took the job with great gusto and changed the magazine and the prevailing culture of the time for ever.

In her inaugural editorial, she sketched out the contours of Cosmo Girl and future direction of the magazine by tilting the magazine towards “grown-up girl, interested in whatever can give you a richer, more exciting, fun-filled, friend-filled, man-loved kind of life!” In time, this became the ruling philosophy of the magazine which rose in circulation on the back of these neatly packaged aspirations of young girls.

Alongside her influential editorship of Cosmo, Helen continued to produce a stream of books which ploughed in the furrow of advice manual pioneered in the first book.

Yet her strident advocacy of career-oriented girl intent on having it all attracted opposition of different strands of feminist movement. In the 1980s and 90s, she also courted yet more controversy for downplaying the perils of HIV which fed into the already existing hostility. Helen’s response to the early feminist onslaught was that she was feminist much before feminism became a fashion in the sense that she was instrumental in encouraging women to be themselves, career-oriented and fun-loving.

If this was not feminism then it was feminism, she often retorted in her defence (Helen’s first book came out before Betty Freidan’s path-breaking Feminist Mystique’s arrival on the feminist scene). This debate continues till this day with Helen’s place in the feminist pantheon in perpetual adjustment.

Some critics have called Helen’s feminism as the feminism of typists, sales girls and office girls as opposed to the politically charged feminism of bra-burning well-healed and ivory towered vintage.

In 2009, Helen was the subject of a full length biography by an academic, Jennifer Scanlon, titled Bad Girls Go Everywhere. This first academic reconsideration attempted to restore Helen’s place and influence on her times. In the last years of her life, she donated 30 million dollars to Stanford and Columbia universities to set up David and Helen Brown Institute for Media Innovation to pursue innovative journalism. Her husband died in 2010.

Yeh Woh
Ask or perish
By Masud Alam

It’s all about asking the right questions — the questions we are not asking, or we are not allowed to ask, or we don’t care enough.

Fed on a staple of lies, half-truths, and twisted logic in matters of religion as much as that of statehood, for generations, we have come to accept everything and believe nothing. We are not sure if our armed forces are left with any resolve or capability to protect us from an external threat. We are unsure if the highest court in the land can dispense justice. We are not sure if the religiuous figure or sect we follow is the religion as it was revealed, or a corrupted copy. We don’t know if there is anything at all our government machinery is capable of doing right. And we suspect our elected representatives do nothing in parliament other than exchanging favours and filth.

But we accept the armed forces as our saviours and true patriots. We continue to respect the courts even as we drag them into muck on a daily basis. We don’t know what Islam is from the many and contradictory interpretations we grow up on, but we instantly recognise what Islam isn’t and are ready to kill, maim and burn anyone or anything that a half-wit points his finger at. We are happy to bribe our way through government offices and find it easy to live with human rights abuses on a daily basis. And we continue to support a political party with corrupt and disgraceful leaders at its head, in the name of democracy, liberalism, revolution, or some such fancy concept we don’t understand at all.

We badmouth, we taunt, we joke, but we don’t question anyone in authority. Not the news media, not social media, not political leaders, not individuals.

A glaring example was two deadly attacks on two different groups of Pakistanis on the same day. It was the end of Ramzan and perhaps we were too tired of our eat-pray-sleep-watch TV routine to notice it then. Now that we have amassed Allah’s blessings in the holy month and celebrated Eid in the way prescribed by our media and various advertisers, perhaps it’s time to reflect how we took the two incidents, and what it says about us.

Pakistan Air Force base Minhas was attacked by army uniform-wearing men. Within hours we knew how many attackers were there, who they were, what route they used, and what the base security detail’s response was, thanks to the near perfect media handling of PAF. We soon knew who their sympathisers are and some of them were arrested from various cities the same day, thanks to the efficiency of the interior ministry. We also knew from the start that it was a ‘failed’ attack as all the intruders were killed in a protracted gunbattle that produced a single martyr and an injured hero on the other side. But we continued to ask more questions: How did they manage to breach the outer cordon of security? Was it a security failure, or a successful defence? What is PAF doing to secure its bases from future attacks? How did we let them attack the same target thrice? ... These questions filled the better part of the day’s news bulletins, and of course our conversations.

The other incident that was drowned out in this detailed line of enquiry was an attack by army uniform-wearing men on the passengers of a bus convoy. Twenty civilians were selected on the basis of information in their national identity cards, were lined up with their hands tied, and executed. We got the basic information and considered it enough.

Could this attack be called ‘successful’ because the attackers killed leisurely and no one on their side was hurt? Who were they? Where did they come from and where did they go? What makes army uniform so popular with terrorists? Was it a security failure on part of the state? How did we let them attack and kill the same people, in the same manner, three times in six months? What are the dozens of intelligence agencies doing if they still can’t find a lead? How would the state avoid a recurrence of this grisly incident? Who needs more protection, trained and armed soldiers or unarmed civilians? And which is the bigger story: a ‘failed’ attack on a military base or a ‘successful’ one on private citizens?

Issue here is not that we don’t have answers; the issue is we never ask. Until one day the murderers will stop a train or an aeroplane carrying your loved ones, and mine. Only, it’ll be too late to ask then.

[email protected]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

firewall
Real threat in virtual world
Going digital without precautions exposes Pakistani 
journalists to unimaginable risks 
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed

Who says journalists land into trouble when they transgress certain ideological or geographical boundaries? That’s not always the case. Today, it’s not necessary for them to travel to lawless zones to risk their security. They are equally vulnerable to dangers even within the confines of their homes if they care less about their security in the virtual world.

This is the gist of a recent report commissioned by the Internews Center for Innovation & Learning and conducted by Bytes for All (B4A), a Pakistani human rights organisation with a focus on information and communication technologies.

The report titled “Digital Security and Journalists: A Snapshot of Awareness and Practice in Pakistan” reveals a widespread lack of awareness of the security risks Pakistani journalists and bloggers face in their online activities without being aware of who’s following them and for what purpose.

Based on interviews of several journalists and bloggers, the report findings suggest that though a vast majority of journalists uses Internet in their work and take basic precautions such as installing anti-virus software and using strong passwords, they were largely unaware of secure tools such as IP blockers, which can be set up to block access to one’s website from computers or networks that have certain Internet protocol (IP) addresses, such as from particular government entities, and virtual private network (VPN) services.

Many of them face issues such as having their emails intercepted or data stolen, having their websites attacked or hacked and having their identities exposed against their wishes. The obvious purpose of carrying out the study is to highlight the importance of security in using email services, running websites, interacting on social media websites and sharing data, sometimes unnecessarily, with larger audience and later on train journalists to take care of this aspect.

No doubt this training is essential for every person who logs on to Internet, but the reason to focus on journalists first was that their unsafe online practices can harm whistleblowers or their informants, believes Shahzad Ahmad, Country Director Bytes for All, Pakistan. “If the password of one person in a network is taken over, he/she can make the whole network vulnerable.”

Imran Naeem Ahmad, co-founder and managing editor of website JournalismPakistan. com, is one such victim who was not ready for a hacker’s attack. The website was hacked in June 2012 and it took them by surprise. “We had never thought this could ever happen to us, after all hackers often target mega websites.”

They were staring at a blank page on the screens for a good 12 hours and the attacker had deleted all the content. Fortunately, they had back-up of all data and were able to get the website back fairly quickly.

Imran Naeem shares it with TNS that “the hacker then threatened to do it again, making his intentions clear by sending us a message through our website after we were back.” He strongly believes it was not a random action and neither was it the act of some “bored teenager.” Indeed, JournalismPakistan.com was the calculated target of a cyber terrorist, a virtual mercenary. It was intended, he adds.

“We have our suspicions of course as to who could have engineered such a cowardly deed and why. The list is surprisingly short. We have already taken steps to ensure that it does not happen again.”

Imran Naeem has made passwords complex and taken some other precautionary measures to avoid such attacks in future. But the way hackers operate and the advanced tools they have to achieve their end calls for a more professional handling of the menace. The responses gathered from around 80 journalists and bloggers contacted during the study suggest the respondents are least equipped to counter the threats they face.

These respondents were selected using convenience sampling, on the basis of their importance in the media world and the blogosphere, says Shahzad. He adds extreme care was taken to ensure gender and regional diversity, and national scope among participants.

Contacts were made through telephone, email and various sources within the journalist community. A total of 52 people (65 per cent of those initially contacted) completed questionnaires. Seventy per cent of the respondents were working journalists and the remaining 30 per cent identified themselves as bloggers.

A very few of them were aware of the modus operandi of cyber attackers who use spy softwares such as trojans, keyloggers etc to hack email accounts and websites and commit identity theft. They were not aware that careless attitude in the cyberspace can cause severe harm to one’s professional and personal reputation.

Explaining keyloggers, Shahzad states it can be a software (sent to you via email or transferred during downloading sessions) or a hardware device that can record the real time activity of a computer user including the keyboard keys they press. They are hidden within the system and a non-techie user cannot find out easily that his/her online activity is being logged/recorded by someone sitting at a remote computer.

Such softwares, he says, work like viruses that infiltrate your computer system and take over all the resources and digital assets that you have. They can come in via an attachment or transferred via different downloading websites e.g. movies or software portals, which though offer you free downloads but may be spreading such kind of malicious softwares.

The most troubling thing is that once a keylogger is installed on your computer, the person sitting at a remote computer can use your computer for any unlawful activities, Shahzad says. “For example, spamming is a crime in several countries so someone can use your computer power, and bandwidth without your knowledge to spam someone, whom you even don’t know.”

Unfortunately, there are no cyber laws in Pakistan and hence no deterrence against unwanted online activities. That’s one of the major reasons why hackers operate with impunity and the poor victim gets no relief at all.

Muhammad Adeel, a Lahore-based expert in network security, believes identity theft is frequent because people share too much personal information on social media websites and store user names, passwords and other personal information in memory offered by email accounts. “It’s easy for hackers to retrieve passwords by doing guesswork on the basis of personal information.”

However, Shahzad contests this assertion, saying strong password is just the first line of defense in the cyberspace. “There is no guesswork involved as there are softwares to harvest passwords. Digital security experts suggest that the time of passwords is over and now everyone should have pass phrase and that too should be at least 20 characters long.”

He suggests that passwords should also be changed frequently, adding those who want to take over your passwords can also use keyloggers that can send your personal information across. “So it is fairly easy that if you are not observing secure practices to access your digital assets (emails, website, blog or other documents) it can be at risk.”

Shahzad says journalists can also be victims of cyber stalking on social networks. Women and young girls are especially the target of this practice and that is why Bytes for All under its “Take Back The Tech” campaign works with young girls to train them on how to be safe and secure online.

There are several cases of women and girls, who had to face miserable consequences due to their poor digital security. Some of the Pakistan-specific cases are available at https: //www.apc.org/ushahidi/.

One such case is that of a female human rights activist who was harassed online when her profile was created on a fake fan page. It had her name and her pictures but she was described as a prostitute in that fake account. The girl had to write to the Facebook complaint centre that helped her at a later stage in taking it off. Similarly, several girls complained about their fake profiles on Facebook in Peshawar.

Female journalists, especially the popular anchors of TV talk shows, are highly vulnerable to cyber stalking. They must constantly look out for fake pages in their names often carrying their engineered pictures and act before the damage is done, says an Internet addict, who does not want to be named.

 

 

 


Children at bay
The child rights situation in Pakistan is depressing 
By Arshad Mahmood

Recently there was a debate in the National Assembly about failure of the provinces to legislate to safeguard child rights following the 18th Constitutional Amendment which has made child rights a provincial subject. A parliamentary caucus has been established to look into the situation and make recommendations.

Following the 18th Constitutional Amendment, the Concurrent Legislative List has been deleted, leading to confusion within the relevant ministries, departments as well as among other stakeholders. The civil society welcomed the 18th Amendment and started actively coordinating with concerned provincial government departments for related legislation. However, the devolution does not absolve the federal government and federal legislature of its responsibilities towards children in light of the Constitution and Pakistan’s international obligations — the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and other UN and ILO Conventions.

Article 25(3) of the constitution recognizes the special right of protection for children due to their vulnerability and states, “Nothing in this article shall prevent the state from making special provision for the protection of women and children.” Similarly, according to the amended Article 142(b), the federal legislature has the power to make laws with respect to criminal law, criminal procedure and evidence.

On the authority of these articles it can be argued that notwithstanding promulgation of the 18th Amendment and the consequent legislative devolution to provincial assemblies with regard to child welfare matters, the federal legislature cannot be prevented from making special provisions for children and from enacting legislation relating to children’s rights.

A concern raised by the civil society was about the role of federal government in maintaining a minimum standard. Who will ensure that children living in all the provinces and regions have the same rights?

Child protection and welfare legislation has been introduced in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but there is none in Balochistan, Fata or even the Islamabad Capital Territory. There is nobody at the federal level with a statutory status to work for the promotion and protection of child rights and raise such issues and concerns with the provinces and regions. A National Commission on the Rights of Children (NCRC) Bill is in the pipeline for the last three years without any progress though.

Having a look at the state of child rights in Pakistan in light of indicators like Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) or the benchmarks set under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) or even the targets set under the National Plan of Action for Children 2006, the results are depressing. Flood emergencies in the recent years also added to the already complex challenges of conflict and terrorism with poor or no implementation of existing laws.

Unfortunately in Pakistan there has been an increase in the incidents of child labour. One of less acknowledged but potentially worst form of child labour that is rampant in the country is child domestic labour. More than 20 cases of torture to death and lifelong injuries of child domestic workers were reported by the media from January 2010 to date starting from the famous Shazia Masih case in Lahore.

Punjab, being the province from where the highest number of deaths and disabilities through torture of the child workers had been reported, must respond to the situation immediately. Similarly, the federal government should also realise its responsibility and check the menace of child domestic labour.

Another important strategy to eliminate child labour can be the implementation of Article 25-A of the Constitution whereby education has been made a fundamental right for all children from five to sixteen years of age. There is need to enact the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bills at the provincial and ICT levels. Similarly, a Right to Free and Compulsory Education Regulation needs to be introduced for Fata. The progress on this front is very slow again.

Violence against children is also widespread. The unfortunate and terrible incidents of suicides among children and corporal punishment in schools and madrassas are some of the horrible examples of increasing trends of violence against children.

The Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Bills both at the federal and provincial level highlight how much importance is given to this important issue by the legislators.

Similarly, at the policy level no concrete steps were taken for the implementation of the recommendations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child which had called for, among other steps, approval of a national child protection policy and related laws, increase in resource allocation for health, education and child protection, establishment of a national commission on the rights of children and inclusion of child rights in the training curricula of all professional training colleges and academies.

The writer is a development practitioner and tweets @amahmood72

 

   

 

Sceptic’s Diary
Obscenity in court
By Waqqas Mir

While gentlemen with beards approach our Supreme Court often, it is rare that a model/Bollywood diva’s legs force Lady Justice to peek. Ms Katrina Kaif’s legs, in ways she may never have imagined, have made it to the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The issue in question: obscenity on television. The purported evidence, as ever, is eye-catching.

Obscenity, as Manto’s spirit would testify, is hard to define but is often tailored to convenience. How does one define obscenity especially when one Qazi Hussain Ahmad and a retired justice are complaining about it?

“I know it when I see it” is one of the most celebrated and ambiguous sentences ever uttered by a judge. Justice Potter Stewart of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) pronounced these words in a moment of limited eloquence, while trying to define hard-core pornography. Could the same test be treated as valid for “obscenity”? If your answer is yes, then you aren’t helping. By asking others to rely on your reaction you are conceding that, in an overwhelming majority of cases, obscenity is highly subjective.

Another major problem: how do we come up with a shared standard for “obscenity” without curbing free speech?

The fact that the Supreme Court has taken suo motu notice of the issue complicates matters. Usually the “state-action” requirement means that people aggrieved by the state’s action against allegedly obscene material approach the courts to claim redress. In the weighing scales are considerations of freedom of expression too. Here the Supreme Court is acting on its own. The issue should never have been before the Supreme Court. Even if people approached it, the Court should have exercised restraint. The pitfalls are too great. Why should an all-male bench from one of the most conservative professions in the world get to define a word that requires the voice of the people?

The Court already seems to have accepted that there is obscenity on TV requiring a crackdown of sorts. This, I submit, is unfortunate. Of course obscenity should be regulated and it doesn’t always fall under the definition of constitutionally protected speech but it is not ideal for courts to jump upon an opportunity to get involved with these matters. The relevant legislation (PEMRA Ordinance, 2002) and Code of Conduct prohibit obscenity. They also provide for a complaint mechanism that anyone (including people like Qazi Hussain) can use to bring certain matters to the attention of Council of Complaints in each province and the federal capital.

Those approaching the Supreme Court with this could have adopted a more democratic way but they chose not to. Why? My feeling is because they did not want to be losers in a democracy and feared that they may not get their way. Hence the natural choice: approach a more conservative forum — the Supreme Court.

Courts in the US have defined obscenity only as a matter of last resort. The “Miller test” refers to patently offensive sexual conduct as among the ingredients as well as contemporary community standards. Furthermore, the work (taken as a whole) has to lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value. Pakistani courts have stressed community standards too without emphasizing the sexual conduct requirement. The bar here will be lower. In many cases Pakistani and Indian courts have followed standards laid down in the colonial era — standards that didn’t trust the capacity or ability of local communities to absorb unconventional modes of expression. But it is about time we move on from that. Katrina Kaif’s legs will not cause the collapse of this society. Many other things will and maybe our Honourable Supreme Court should pay attention to those. This country did not break up in two and its integrity is not threatened by female flesh.

Violent images without prior warning probably do more harm to susceptible viewers than female flesh. A case for a proper “ratings” mechanism is stronger than one for identifying obscenity. And no, the rating mechanism isn’t the apex court’s job either. It is up to us to exert pressure on PEMRA and the channels till they respond. We may not always get our way but that is democracy. Anyone who wants to escape “obscene” ads on TV can simply switch to religious channels during ads. I mean where does this stop? Will reproductive health advice be considered obscene too? There are people who want that. And they aren’t afraid of approaching the Supreme Court either.

What about a woman’s choice to wear a sleeveless shirt to a TV show? What if she wears an outfit that completely covers her body but shows off her curves? What about the hypocrisy of not applying the same standards to men? Is a shot of actor Abid Ali sitting on a charpoy in a vest smoking hookah in a dhoti obscene or not? And I hope no one thinks that the solution is to ban it all.

My point, I suppose, is that there are no easy and clear answers. But three gentlemen on a bench, no matter how learned, are not the best source of an answer. A better answer can and will come forward if you and I join in the conversation and make our views known. Those who don’t want to watch a Veet ad or a couple holding hands can simply change the channel. If a family isn’t comfortable watching something it has a simple choice — don’t watch it. The rest of the country doesn’t have to suffer. By entertaining such petitions, the Supreme Court is treading a dangerous path. If we don’t speak now, our voices might be gagged for good.

The writer is a Barrister and has a Masters degree from Harvard Law School. The views presented here are strictly his own. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @wordoflaw

We are pleased to announce the commencement of a new column Sceptic’s Diary by Waqqas Mir from this week. Happy reading  -- Ed

 



|Home|Daily Jang|The News|Sales & Advt|Contact Us|

 


BACK ISSUES