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analysis
On the road to change?
Do reserved seats facilitate or impede women's political development?
By Razeshta Sethna
The participation and representation of women in democratic processes is vital to the reform, renewal, and modernisation of political parties and governance. It was in March 2002, when President Pervez Musharraf presented the National Policy for Development and Empowerment of Women, aimed at the formulation and implementation of programmes focussed on the empowerment of women in social, economic and political fields.

Newswatch
Larry Pressler redux
By Kaleem Omar
The Defence Bill passed by the US House of Representatives on Monday, which imposes tough conditions on American military aid to Pakistan, has revived memories of the infamous Larry Pressler. He, of course, was the Republican senator from South Dakota who, in 1986, sponsored the notorious Pressler Amendment to the US Foreign Assistance Act, under which all American military and economic aid to Pakistan was stopped in October 1990, when President George H W Bush -- Dubya's dad -- said he could no longer certify that Pakistan did not possess nuclear weapons.

politics
Poles apart on polls
Major political forces in the country are divided over the issue of whether to take part in the forthcoming general elections or not
By Aimal Khan
The Pakistani politics has never been as confused and rapidly changing as it is now. One of the manifestations of this confusion is the breaking of existing and the making of new political alliances. Due to frequent military interventions and a multi-party political system in Pakistan, the alliance politics is not a new phenomenon. The rapidly changing alignment and re-alignment of political forces, however, is peculiar to the ongoing political turmoil.

Enemies of the rule of law
It is the will of the people around which every norm or code must revolve
By Dr Khalil Ahmad
In times of crises, such as the one we are currently undergoing, it is safer to go back to basics than wrangle over which political party is doing wrong and which is doing right. Not only going back to the basics, but sticking to them is in fact a way out; this helps see who is doing what and what it amounts to.

initiative
A handy answer
An organisation has come up with a cheap and creative solution to the clean drinking water problem in some villages hit by the recent floods in Balochistan
By Aoun Sahi
"Only six months ago this was a village of over 100 households," says Doshamby, 57, a resident of Solband village situated some 80 kilometres from the Iran border on Zubaida Jalal Road in the Kech district of Balochistan, pointing towards the remains of houses in an open space.


Learning new lessons
'Yeh Chacha Ka Ghar hai' (this is uncle's house), 'Yeh Raja Ka Ghar Naheen Hai' (this house does not belong to Raja) and 'Yeh Ghora Kalay Rang ka naheen hai' (this horse is not black). The lesson was loudly recited not by a five-year-old, but by 50-year-old Dasar Khatoon in a literacy centre set up in Zoor Bazar of the Turbat city in the Kech district.


Another crisis in the making
The sky-rocketing flour prices have made life miserable for the common people in the NWFP, as their share of the commodity is smuggled to Afghanistan
By Asad Jan
Of the many challenges the Pakistani nation is currently confronted with, for the common people the shortage of flour matters the most. As always, the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) has once again been haunted by the shortage of flour and its sky-rocketing prices. As the province does not produce enough grain, it is always the worst affected during any food crisis. Because of this, flour prices here have recorded an unprecedented increase. The situation has deteriorated further because of the smuggling of wheat / flour to Afghanistan, which traditionally depends on the commodity's supply via the NWFP.


firstperson
"Swat: Heaven in Hell"

Swat is burning and the fire is spreading to the rest of Pakistan.
By Sher Mohammad Khan
Dr Charles Lindholm is a professor of Cultural Anthropology at Boston University, United States. He did his original fieldwork in Swat and has written extensively about the region, including a book entitled Generosity and Jealousy and a collection of essays entitled Frontier Perspectives, the latter published by Oxford University Press, Karachi. He has also written a book entitled The Islamic Middle East, which is a cultural history of the entire region.


A call to disaster
The decision of the previous Sindh government to allot forest land to favourites has had calamitous consequences for the locals
By Jan Khaskheli
While the leadership of Asian nations set a goal to increase forest cover by at least 15 million hectares by 2020, in Pakistan the approach of leaders does not seem to be in line with this target. Reports gathered from various parts of Sindh reveal that the outgoing provincial government doled out favours to its political allies and allotted them forest land for cultivation. This has resulted in widespread displacement of traditional forest communities besides destruction of the wildlife.



analysis
On the road to change?

The participation and representation of women in democratic processes is vital to the reform, renewal, and modernisation of political parties and governance. It was in March 2002, when President Pervez Musharraf presented the National Policy for Development and Empowerment of Women, aimed at the formulation and implementation of programmes focussed on the empowerment of women in social, economic and political fields.

The establishment of 42 gender focal points in the federal government and relevant ministries ensured that programmes planned and executed remained gender-aware, especially within the ministries of the Interior, Law, Justice and Human Rights, Parliamentary Affairs, Health, and Education.

An ambitious ambit was envisaged -- a trafficking ordinance, a criminal law amendment, a law reforms ordinance, the protection of women's rights, together with the establishment of judicial courts, women centres equipped with required help lines, supported by police reforms (entailing establishment of the gender crime cell at the National Police Bureau to control and co-ordinate crimes related to gender) to ensure reduction in violence against women and other gender crimes -- but it was the devolution plan, providing for 33 per cent women representation at all tiers of local bodies, that stood out as the watershed for the political empowerment of women.

Almost 40,000 women triumphantly entered the political battleground of Pakistani politics. Women political schools were established with the assistance of international donor agencies and district resource centres for women became innovative projects, infusing political vision and awareness among hitherto neglected women in rural and semi-urban areas.

But as the 2002 women's reserved seat phenomenon was lauded, reports like that published by the Liberal Forum, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), stated that if political representation was the main goal, then political advocacy and training for young men and women is the solution; and quotas are just short-term measures that are hugely "undemocratic". Revisiting Reservations, a report published in 2006, claims that 76 per cent of women legislatures and 82 per cent of local government representatives are relatives of politicians.

It brought forth that women worldwide, especially in South Asia, are faced with critical social, economic and political challenges that must be overcome. But because they fail to emerge time and again as independent decision-makers, they fail to bring about the required changes in their lives. Examining whether reserved seats facilitate or hamper women's political development, the report informed that women were rarely allocated developmental funds; some of them were not given time to speak during key sessions of parliament; and, as a result, they remained the "sweet dishes of the present democracy."

The report further states that two per cent of women parliamentarians are selected as part of the quota system in Bangladesh and 31.6 per cent in Iraq, the two other Asian countries besides Pakistan that constitutionally allow women's quota representation.

"Elected as a parliamentarian in a general election makes a difference. I stopped feeling that I was a woman in a man's world when I came to know that I could survive on my own. You begin with the entire campaign frenzy, leading rallies alongside male supporters. You remain involved with your constituents at the grassroots level and it is this exposure that is vital. Parliamentarians who are nominated for reserved seats do not always understand the critical issues," explains Dr Fehmida Mirza, an ex-member of parliament who contested the 1997 polls on a Pakistan People's Party (PPP) ticket from Badin in Sindh.

For the PPP's Sindh information secretary, being an elected representative implies getting one's hands dirtied in the field; listening to women's grievances and pressing for change. "Being a medical doctor, I understand issues close to their heart problems of pollution, contaminated water and violence against women included," Dr Mirza says. She does not agree that the reserved seat phenomenon is pointless, but stresses that when women belonging to traditional political backgrounds are taken out of their comfort zone and thrown into parliament at the behest of male relatives, they must be trained to make that difference.

"It was obviously difficult for even male parliamentarians to be heard in the outgoing government. Therefore, it was even more difficult, if not impossible, for women to bring about change. We have to learn to exercise our authority and power as women parliamentarians -- not just talk to the media and make headlines, but work within our constituencies," she suggests.

However, despite these reservations, it would be unfair to say that the women elected on reserved seats -- whether from traditional political families or independently driven into politics -- do not try at all to challenge the all-male driven political agendas. Take the example of Sherry Rehman, the journalist-turned politician, whose latest criticism of PEMRA's new draconic amendments -- aimed at muzzling of the independent media -- holds weight. The PPP's central information secretary, who faced stiff opposition when her party put forth the Empowerment of Women Bill and the Honour Killings Bill, was not alone in her fight. Kashmala Tariq, of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), also joined in the long overdue battle for women's rights.

Terming the Women Protection Bill (2006) "un-Islamic", the six-party conglomerate of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) threatened at the time that its legislators would resign in protest from the National Assembly. Interestingly, despite opposition from its like-minded groups in parliament, the PML-Q supported the bill and saw it through.

The reserved seats for women denote a first step that will in decades hopefully permit women to contend equally with their male counterparts on the political front. Democracy is not achieved solely by bringing in the most able and promising politicians or even the most people-friendly political manifesto guaranteed to work wonders, but through consensual politics and tolerance for diversity.

When the Musharraf government introduced the reserved seats phenomenon for women, it was definitely a step in the right direction. But was that a token concession, like much else, to temporarily appease women campaigning for equal rights to affect decision-making processes? The objective of the quota system was that women must participate in parliament and their voice be heard, but factors inhibiting women's status went largely unchanged -- whether it was the repealing of the Hudood Ordinances or even women's fair access to the judicial redress -- thereby leaving them excluded from the mainstream politics.

Critics might agree with the latter short-term assessment, but many activists are of the view that it will change the general perception of women in politics over time. Therefore, do reserved seats facilitate or impede women's political development? And more importantly, were seats in the past allotted to those women only who served as proxies for their male relatives? The dire need in 2002 was to focus on political education of women, who are mostly selected for nomination on reserved seats not on the basis of their gender but other qualifications. Have these 'quota women' been truly representative or is the political empowerment of women still an illusive dream that, as many observers argue, will take decades of education and awareness to materialise?

A few reminders are important here. The political leadership and the legal system in Pakistan emerge largely from the feudal segment, and women have largely been excluded from this equation. Also, the frequent yo-yoing with the democratic process since 1947 has bred political disarray, erecting obstacles in a space that might have otherwise witnessed the rise of non-traditional groups (in this instance, elected women parliamentarians) as political leaders. Interestingly, even when Pakistan had a woman as prime minister for two terms, women-specific issues were not accorded the importance they deserved. Thus it might be safe to say that women's rights can never be achieved unless they first actively voice their demands and then wage a struggle for them.

Even the National Commission on the Status of Women, formed in July 2000, is more like a pressure group liaising with civil society and the government to make recommendations -- after reviewing relevant laws -- to ensure women's legal status is guaranteed. Yet, it has not been awarded the status of a legislative body and, therefore, has been highly ineffective.

The history of awarding quotas to women within the political mainstream is merely a decade-and-a-half old, with almost 50 countries introducing such changes in their constitutions. Many countries also have voluntary party quotas. Interestingly, it is Rwanda with 48 per cent (2003) of women in the national assembly that has the highest share of women in parliament. It has been followed by Norway (37 per cent in 2005), Finland (37.5 per cent in 2002), Denmark (36.9 per cent in 2003), the Netherlands (36.7 per cent in 2003) and Cuba (36 per cent in 2003). But in Finland, Denmark and Cuba, there is no quota for women, either legal or party-based.

Analysts have argued that it is important that women be present in parliament when bills affecting their lives are passed, but many Pakistani women parliamentarians are known to have complained that their voices remain ignored or gagged. Therefore, they argue, this method has not yielded results as the pace of change concerning women and children within Pakistani society is abysmal. Successive Pakistani governments might have ratified international conventions on women's rights, financed and held conferences and training sessions for parliamentarians to ensure a level playing field, and provided reserved seats, yet many important questions remains unanswered -- have women's issues been addressed holistically or is this just a short-cut to earn some kind of pseudo political empowerment without tangible results in the form of laws to ensure that violence against women is curbed, and honour crimes are perceived as crimes against women and punished in accordance with the law?

Newswatch
Larry Pressler redux

The Defence Bill passed by the US House of Representatives on Monday, which imposes tough conditions on American military aid to Pakistan, has revived memories of the infamous Larry Pressler. He, of course, was the Republican senator from South Dakota who, in 1986, sponsored the notorious Pressler Amendment to the US Foreign Assistance Act, under which all American military and economic aid to Pakistan was stopped in October 1990, when President George H W Bush -- Dubya's dad -- said he could no longer certify that Pakistan did not possess nuclear weapons.

That cut off all US aid to Pakistan, including the delivery of 28 F-16 fighter aircraft, which were part of a larger order for 42 F-16s that Pakistan had placed on General Dynamics Corporation of the United States in 1988. The aircraft were to be paid for in installments under the US 'Foreign Military Sales' programme.

At the time when the Pressler ban was imposed, Pakistan had made only an initial down payment of $ 50 million for the aircraft. Had Islamabad decided not to make any more installment payments, the national exchequer would have been out-of-pocket only to the tune of that initial $ 50 million.

But the then-Nawaz Sharif government, in its infinite wisdom, chose to continue making installment payments of $ 90 million every three months, even though senior US State Department officials had publicly stated on more than one occasion that, after the imposition of the Pressler ban, there was "no question" of the United States supplying any military equipment or economic aid to Pakistan.

Between February 1991 and April 1993, I wrote a series of 14 detailed investigative articles for The News, pointing out repeatedly that Pakistan would neither get the planes nor its money back and urging the government to stop further payments. The trick, in life, is to be wiser BEFORE the event, not after it.

All those warnings fell on deaf ears, however, and the Nawaz government continued to pay the installments as and when they 'fell due' under the terms of the original agreement with General Dynamics, notwithstanding the fact that the agreement had become invalid after the Pressler ban was imposed and the US government had refused to deliver the aircraft.

It was only after the Nawaz government was dismissed by then-President Ghulam Ishaq Khan on April 18, 1993, and the Balakh Sher Mazari-caretaker government took over that Ilahi Bakhsh Soomro, a member of the caretaker cabinet, wrote a letter to the US manufacturer in May 1993 stating that no further installment payments would be made.

By then, however, the total amount that had been paid to the manufacturer had swelled to $ 658 million -- all thanks to the Nawaz government, though it was said at the time that an element of sleaze was also involved in the government's decision to continue with the payments, with millions of dollars of the money allegedly going 'missing' and finding its way into the pockets of Pakistani middlemen.

To add insult to injury, the US government continued to bill Pakistan several million dollars a year as 'parking charges' for the 28 aircraft that were parked at a US air force base in Tuscon, Arizona. And that's where they remained for more than 10 long years, with Islamabad having to shell out some $ 20 million in parking fees.

But what was our old friend Larry Pressler up to in the meantime? Well, he chaired the South Asia subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for a while in the 1980s and the 1990s, but lost his Senate seat in the 1996 mid-term congressional elections, despite receiving substantial campaign contributions from the Indian lobby in Washington as well as from Indian political action committees.

Given this lucrative Indian connection, it came as no surprise to anybody when, in January 2003, Pressler again turned up like a bad penny, this time as an advocate for the US making India an ally, in an article written by him in the Washington Times from Bangalore, India, headlined India: a natural ally.

This is how the article began: "Fast forward to November 1, 2003. The Iraq war is over. Saddam Hussein is gone (somewhere?)! We won! US troops return to ticker-tape parades, the world bows to America's superpower with our citizens living in homeland peace forever after. Right? No, unfortunately, probably wrong.

"After a seemingly inevitable and necessary war with Iraq, President George W Bush may bask in victory. But Americans must also anticipate post-war chaos, as the Muslim world seethes with anti-American hatred. China and North Korea flex their muscles, the threat of terrorism increases, and countries tell US citizens and businesses to stay at home.

"Post-Iraq, America will attempt to engage the Muslim world through diplomacy, but it must also send its Peace Corps volunteers, business leaders and college students with aid and assistance to placate those who hate us. More importantly, we will need to identify our friends and to stand by those countries that reflect our faith in democracy, human rights and religious freedom."

And then came the clincher -- the commercial message from Larry Pressler's sponsor, as it were. "When Mr Bush woos his closest allies in the post-Iraq war era, India should be first among them," he wrote. So now the cat was well and truly out of the bag.

To reinforce his message, Pressler added: "I write from Bangalore in southern India, where the summer sun and the outlook for the town's software companies shine equally bright -- as the ancient Silk Road linked India to the West, so the software trade links it to the United States. But these ties are not nearly close enough. The United States for too long has treated India and Pakistan as equal allies in the region, when America would be better served if it set India and China side-by-side and gave India the edge."

There was more in this fulsome pro-India vein, but you get the picture. What Pressler seemed to have overlooked, however, in his apparent eagerness to serve as a lobbyist for India was that the "ancient Silk Road" he spoke of in his article terminates in what, today, is Pakistan, not India.


politics
Poles apart on polls

The Pakistani politics has never been as confused and rapidly changing as it is now. One of the manifestations of this confusion is the breaking of existing and the making of new political alliances. Due to frequent military interventions and a multi-party political system in Pakistan, the alliance politics is not a new phenomenon. The rapidly changing alignment and re-alignment of political forces, however, is peculiar to the ongoing political turmoil.

Crosscutting issues, such as restoration of democracy and the rule of law, usually bring together different political entities representing various shades of political ideologies on one platform. Besides different political alliances, some like-minded groups have also joined hands with each other in the recent past to pursue their common cause -- such as the Pakistan Oppressed Nations Movement (PONM) or the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA).

The political history of Pakistan is replete with political alliances. The most important ones include the Democratic Action Committee (DAC), 1968; the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA), 1977; the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD), 1983; the Combined Opposition Parties (COP), 1989; the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy (ARD); PONM; and the most recent, the All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM).

Alliance building is a very important feature of Pakistani politics, as different political forces join hands for achieving common goals. Realising the importance of these alliances, the Pakistani establishment has also used them as a tool over the years. For instance, it helped form the Islamic Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) to counter the Pakistan People's Party (PPP). In this rapidly changing political scene, new alignment and re-alignment of political forces is expected, both in the pre- and post-election period.

The existing alliances -- the APDM, the MMA and the Pushtun National Democratic Alliance (PNDA) -- are in disarray, as their constituent parties are divided over the issue of boycotting the forthcoming general elections. After failing in its bid to form a broad-based alliance with its major partner in the ARD -- the PPP, which is reluctant to join hands with the MMA against President General (r) Pervez Musharraf -- the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), along with other some other opposition parties, formed the APDM a few months back.

The PML-N was initially in the favour of boycotting the January 2008 elections, but later -- after failing to take the PPP, the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and the Awami National Party (ANP) on board over this issue -- the party changed its stance and decided to take part in the elections. Aggrieved by the PML-N decision, other parties in the APDM cancelled the party's membership and appointed Mehmood Khan Achakzai as their new head in place of Muhammad Nawaz Sharif.

The MMA also seems to nearing its end as the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) has boycotted the elections, while four of the six parties -- including, in particular, the JUI-F -- in this religious alliance are taking part in them. Similarly, the recently formed PNDA is experiencing a crisis, as the ANP is fully involved in the election process while the Pakhtunkhwa Mili Awami Party (PkMAP) has boycotted the elections.

With the exception of the ANP and the Balochistan National Party-Awami (BNP-A), most other Baloch, Pushtoon and Sindhi nationalist parties have also boycotted the elections. Similarly, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Sami (JUI-S), the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI), the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Haqiqi (MQM-H) and the Communist Party are not taking part in the elections. Irrespective of their electoral performance, the agitation power of the parties that have boycotted the elections cannot be underestimated. These parties term the elections a fraud and claim that they will be heavily rigged; therefore, participation in them is a waste of time and energy. For them, participation in the elections is also tantamount to legitimising the unconstitutional acts of Musharraf.

According to a recent survey conducted by the United States-based International Republican Institute (IRI), 62 per cent of Pakistanis support boycott of the elections. However, it all now depends on the strength and strategies of the boycotting parties that how they would mobilise the salient majority of Pakistanis to distance itself from the electoral process. To say the least, after the decision by the country's two major political parties, the PPP and the PML-N, as well as the ANP and the JUI-F, to take part in the elections, the boycott move has been dealt with a severe blow. It is true that most of the Pakistanis have lost faith in the electoral process, but the local electoral dynamics will at least bring some of them to the polling stations.

The parties that have decided to stay out of the election process have diverse political and ideological backgrounds. For example, the JI and the JUI-S have different views than the PkMAP or the Communist Party. One of the JI-sponsored advertisements urges the masses to boycott the Afghanistan- and Iraq-like sham US-sponsored elections in Pakistan, while the PkMAP does not subscribe to these views, particularly about the Afghan elections. Also it is difficult for some nationalist parties to share the JI's visible anti-US rhetoric, aimed at evoking the anti-American sentiments of the masses in Pakistan.

One of the reasons for the current political turmoil in Pakistan is the increasing intervention of both internal and external actors, who are trying to bring their cronies to power to ensure continuity of certain policies that are best suited to their strategic interests. These actors are also trying to lend legitimacy to Musharraf by exerting various direct and indirect pressures on the so-called 'moderate' forces to participate in the elections, and put the issues of judges' restoration and the media's freedom in the backburner.

Under immense internal and external pressure, instead of giving one last push to Musharraf's undemocratic rule by joining and supporting lawyers, journalists and civil society, the mainstream political parties did not fully support the agitation against the military dictator and instead preferred to sit on the fence. In fact, these political parties remained busy in exploiting the situation in their favour, by getting more and more personal concessions through backdoor deals with the rulers. The key opposition leaders, in particular Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif, have disappointed various sections of the urban middle and upper middle classes by deciding to take part in the elections.

The important question before us is not whether the election boycott option is  

Enemies of the rule of law

  By Dr Khalil Ahmad

In times of crises, such as the one we are currently undergoing, it is safer to go back to basics than wrangle over which political party is doing wrong and which is doing right. Not only going back to the basics, but sticking to them is in fact a way out; this helps see who is doing what and what it amounts to.

Why do we humans live together? Not only that we are gregarious in our nature, but also that we cannot live without fellow human beings. John Dewey, the great American pragmatist, says that the most pressing problem of humanity is living together. When we start living together, there arise more conflicts than even Shakespeare's character Horatio could dream of. So, irrespective of the differences amongst us -- such as that of colour, caste, creed, origin, language, opinion, etc -- we form norms, values, rules and codes, obeying which helps live together.

As the number of human beings increased, the conventional arrangements lost their relevance. They needed to be replaced. The new arrangements came to be formulated not very easily. The older arrangements had their dependents that resisted the change. But the underlying principle of both arrangements was the same: it is the will of the people around which every norm or code must revolve. The authority to enforce the will of the community or rules is derived from the consent of the people.

In newer arrangements, the older norms, values, rules and codes are replaced by such norms that are stringed with fines or punishments in case of disobedience with a specific authority to enforce them. This is law. For those who are in power, there is constitution that lays out the basic principles of governing people; and for those out of government, there are their rights and freedoms. But the spirit of the laws or the constitution is also derived from the will of the people. Again, the authority to enforce laws or constitution is derived from and is accountable to another supreme authority, the will of the people.

Thus, whoever rules draws his authority from the consent of the people. This consent may be vocal or silent. This is sort of an unwritten contract. But when one who rules goes against the will of the people, he or she loses all moral authority, nay legal and constitutional authority, whether the opposition is vocal or silent. The great German idealist, G W F Hegel, talks of a reflex category -- one man is king only because other men stand in the relation of subjects to him. They, on the contrary, imagine that they are subjects because he is king. When this veil of reflex category is lifted, there prevails will of the people in the form of revolt. This state is revolution and is much longed for; but is, in fact, anarchy and lawlessness that benefits only those who wield might.

As regards will of the people, the back to basics is that every authority is constituted to safeguard life and property of all individuals. This lends itself to the derivation of another principle that binds every authority to protect each person's inalienable rights -- since what constitutes one's life and property is one's freedom to live a life of one's choice; to live his ideas and beliefs; to earn, spend and dispose of his property as he or she wishes. In other words, one's life and body and earnings are his or her property, and cannot be subjugated or confiscated by any law or authority unless he or she encroaches upon the rights of his or her fellow beings; or with his or her consent; or with due process of law, with his or her right to appeal intact.

That means no authority can curtail these rights on any pretext; and if it happens, it amounts to a sheer breach of the contract that ultimately leaves people without any option but to revolt to regain their rights and freedoms. This is to revert to an authority that rules them by the force of laws, not by the force of might.

These are the basics of humans living together. But in the case of Pakistan, the big players -- the military, the judiciary and political / religious parties -- have been constantly and willfully ignoring these basics and preconditions of a civilised society. By creating an illusion of the executive (albeit a militarised one), the judiciary and the legislature working independently and separately, they thickened the reflex category veil so that people could not be able to see through it: lest they should come to know the reality that all three are in fact the same.

They tried to give their own rule a semblance of peoples' rule; the ploy used was and still is democracy and elections. The Pakistani pragmatists termed it political space that must be taken advantage of whenever allowed to. But that is no principle. The argument is in vogue again to justify contesting the January 2008 general elections.

Hence, in this anti-people political game, when the judiciary stood up for the rights of people and for the rule of law, that reflex category veil disappeared altogether. So much so that today all the players stand completely exposed before the people. What a shame they are vulgarly naked also! Of these, political parties are the most indecent entities. They have shown, particularly since this March, that they are arch enemies of the rule of law and the rights of people. They just pay lip service to civil society's efforts of strengthening an independent judiciary.

On this list of the enemies of rule of law, the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) is at the top with the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of Benazir Bhutto closely following behind it. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is out to prove that no other party supports the cause of the rule of law more than it does. Imran Khan's Tehreek-i-Insaaf promises the same thing.

But the past conduct of all these and other political parties leave us with no room to trust them. It cannot be ruled out that whenever there is such an opportunity, they will not be tempted to act as the king's party. All of them have been playing that role or have been aspiring for the same, and may be in the queue for transforming themselves into another Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) or the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).

Is there any political party or leader who ever raised voice for the rights of people to be protected and rule of law to prevail? Did they ever speak of the supremacy of the constitution? Did they ever stand for an independent judiciary? What has changed them now? Is there a transformation or a qualitative change now that turns them into friends of the rule of law?

The PPP's decision to contest the forthcoming general elections at any cost also forced the PML-N and other political parties to participate in them, but there is no way of checking their sincerity and commitment to the cause of supremacy of the constitution and an independent judiciary.

 

(The writer is associated with Alternate Solutions Institute.

Email: [email protected])  

 

initiative
A handy answer

"Only six months ago this was a village of over 100 households," says Doshamby, 57, a resident of Solband village situated some 80 kilometres from the Iran border on Zubaida Jalal Road in the Kech district of Balochistan, pointing towards the remains of houses in an open space.

According to him, when the Yemyin cyclone hit the coastal belts of Sindh and Balochistan in the last week of June this year, it destroyed all the houses, except the mosque, carrying away most of the belongings of villagers.

Majority of the 400 dwellers of the Solband village hurriedly migrated to another relatively high, but barren, piece of land known as Nuzrat, some six kilometres away from their village. The first major problem they faced after this forced migration was of shelter and availability of drinking water.

Most of them succeeded in arranging traditional Balochi huts made of wood and grass in two to three weeks, but drinking water was still a problem. Only one source of drinking water -- a well -- was available to the people.

"After settling down, we dug up a deep well in the centre of our new locality some four months back," Doshamby informs The News on Sunday. "But it was very difficult for the around 50 households to fulfil their water needs from that."

"Getting water from the well was the worst household chore," says 55-year-old Jan Bibi. She says that women had to wait for long hours to get their turn to fetch water from the well, "as it was very deep and it took at least 10 minutes to pull out around five to seven litres of water from it with the help of a rope." But she adds that the situation has changed totally after the installation of two hand pumps in the locality in October this year.

"These special hand pumps are known as shallow water pumps and have been approved by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to be set up in areas where water table is very deep. Installing one such hand pump costs more than Rs 50,000, but the cost has been reduced substantially with the community's contribution," says Gulzar Ahmed Gichki, general manager of the National Commission of Human Development (NCHD) in Kech. The NCHD has so far installed 13 hand pumps in different flood-hit areas of the district. Everywhere the community has contributed by digging up the well itself. "More than 250 households and 2,500 people are getting easy potable water from these hand pumps," he informs.

Besides clean drinking water, the hand pumps have ensured  hygienic conditions to the community. According to 35-year-old Muhammad Khan Baloch, before the installation of these water machines many residents, especially children, remained ill for most of the time. "Two months back, all my four children suffered from diarrhoea and the situation was almost the same in every house of the community," he tells TNS. According to him, Malaria was also very common because there was water standing around the well all the time. "The ratio of illnesses has also dropped significantly now."

"A hand pump is sufficient to fulfil water needs of 20 to 30 households, and its maintenance cost is almost nil," says Gichki. He informs that about 10 years back the Balochistan government initiated a community-based water scheme. Under this scheme, the government installed tube-wells in different villages of the province to provide drinking as well as irrigation water. "Each tube-well cost government around Rs 4 million. You will be surprised to know that more than 90 per cent of these tube-wells are now out of order, because poor communities in Balochistan could not afford the high maintenance and diesel costs even though these tube-wells were providing them their very basic necessity -- water."

Residents of the Nuzrat village are not the only beneficiaries of these hand pumps. Many women from surrounding localities also come here to fetch the more hygienic water that takes a lot less time than digging water out of a well.

Kech Executive District Health Officer Dr Saleem Ahmed agrees that ratio of different water-borne diseases has been reduced significantly in the localities where these hand pumps have been installed.

NCHD Chairperson Dr Nasim Ashraf tells TNS that mobilising the community, giving them a sense of participation and a good system of monitoring are the main factors behind the commission's success. According to him, the NCHD is working with different government institutions, especially the district governments, to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). "These water projects are being funded by individual donors, mostly by Pakistani expatriates in the US, in different districts of the country. Most of these projects are very small in size, but their impact on overall living patterns and health of communities is really significant."


Learning new lessons

'Yeh Chacha Ka Ghar hai' (this is uncle's house), 'Yeh Raja Ka Ghar Naheen Hai' (this house does not belong to Raja) and 'Yeh Ghora Kalay Rang ka naheen hai' (this horse is not black). The lesson was loudly recited not by a five-year-old, but by 50-year-old Dasar Khatoon in a literacy centre set up in Zoor Bazar of the Turbat city in the Kech district.

Mother of five, two daughters and three sons, Dasar was reciting her lesson with  great zeal. One could hear her from outside the room, where some small children were playing. She was totally unaware of the Urdu language till three months ago, when she started her education. During the last three months, she has learned a lot. "I can read my book and sign my name as well," she proudly tells The News on Sunday.

As a child, it was Dasar's strong wish to get education. "My parents did not allow me to go to school, because giving education to girls was not acceptable in our society." She is one of the 20 students getting education at a literacy centre, established by the National Commission for Human Development (NCHD) with the help of locals in the Kech district.

"There are more than 100 such centres in the district, where more than 2,000 women who were earlier deprived of formal education due to different reasons have been enrolled," says Gulzar Ahmed Gichki, general manager of the NCHD in Kech.

Interestingly, besides some old friends, two daughters of Dasar Khatoon are also her classmates. "Sitting with my daughters and getting education is sometimes embarrassing, especially when I fail to do my homework. At times, they also make fun of my performance in the class," she says. Her illiterate husband and other relatives, though not exactly discouraging, sometimes quote a famous Balochi saying: "An old dove cannot be trained." But Dasar wants to educate herself, so that she "can read the translation of the Holy Quran and understand its real message."

They come to the centre from 3:00 pm to 5:30 pm. "Earlier we used this time in embroidery and cooking for our family," her 20-year-old daughter Shahida tells TNS. According to Shahida, now her sister-in-law cooks food for the whole family, "because she does not like going to school at her age."

According to their trainer, Mir Jan, 20, who is working mainly as a volunteer and only gets a stipend of Rs 1,500, all the women take the class very seriously. "All of them have the urge to educate themselves and regularly attend the class. All these mothers are now making promises to send their children to school and that is a great achievement for us," she says. According to her, a girl or woman over 11 years of age is eligible to be enrolled at the centre. "These literacy centres are bringing a sea change in the mindset of these poor women and, in next few years, this change will be quite visible in Kech,"

Jan says.

-- Aoun Sahi


Another crisis in the making

By Asad Jan

Of the many challenges the Pakistani nation is currently confronted with, for the common people the shortage of flour matters the most. As always, the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) has once again been haunted by the shortage of flour and its sky-rocketing prices. As the province does not produce enough grain, it is always the worst affected during any food crisis. Because of this, flour prices here have recorded an unprecedented increase. The situation has deteriorated further because of the smuggling of wheat / flour to Afghanistan, which traditionally depends on the commodity's supply via the NWFP.

The province, with a population of more than 20.35 million, needs 2.97 million tonnes of wheat per year. Its current production stand at 1.4 million tones, suggesting a shortfall of 1.870 million tonnes, as about three million tones are smuggled to Afghanistan, according to a report of the NWFP Food Department.

The report says that the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in the NWFP have a 2,400 kilometres-long porous border with Afghanistan, which is increasingly relying upon smuggled wheat /flour from Pakistan. This has made the flour shortage a permanent problem for the local population, especially of the NWFP.

"A 20-kilogram bag of inferior quality flour from Punjab is being sold at Rs 390 in the local wholesale market, while its retail price ranges between Rs 410 and Rs 450. Similarly, a 20-kilogram bag of fine quality flour from Punjab is available at Rs 420 in the local wholesale market, while its retail price ranges between Rs 460 and Rs 480," a local dealer told The News on Sunday.

He warns that the NWFP may face a severe flour crisis in the coming days, because of a rise in the price of the commodity in Punjab and its smuggling on a huge scale to Afghanistan. He also reminds that in Ramazan a 20-kilogram bag of flour was priced at Rs 280, which suggests that there has been an increase of almost Rs 200 per bag in only the last two to three months.

During the ongoing flour crisis, a young man aged 20 has already lost his life while queuing up to get the commodity. "The tragic incident should be a cause of shame," says Ashraf Khan, the father of the deceased. A resident of Haripur, he informs that his son, Abdul Hafiz, visited a utility store in Kalabat early in the morning to buy a bag of flour at subsidised rates. "However, after standing in the queue for three hours in vain, he suddenly fainted and it was later revealed that he had died of cardiac arrest," Ashraf Khan told TNS.

The price fluctuation in the local market has mainly been because of an increase in the ex-factory rates of flour in Punjab. Food and Grain Dealers Association (FGDA) President Haji Raambel Khan tells TNS that flour mills in Punjab produce two types of flour -- one for local consumption, and the other for the NWFP, Afghanistan and the Central Asian States. "The price of flour supplied to the markets in Punjab is lower than at which it is provided to us, because the Punjab government gives a subsidy on the commodity. The reason for this is that the flour given to the NWFP and to other markets outside Punjab is prepared from the wheat that the millers purchase from the open market at a higher price," he explains.

This means that the flour consumers in the NWFP have to pay at least Rs 1-2 more per kilogram than those in Punjab. Haji Raambel Khan laments that flour millers in the NWFP obtain wheat from the provincial food department at subsidised rates, but instead of providing it to the local market they supply it to Afghanistan to earn more profit.

To overcome the shortage and provide quality flour to the people, the NWFP Food department and All Pakistan Flour Mills Association (APFMA) set up 300 fair price shops in Peshawar, where a 20-kilogram bag of flour is being sold at Rs 305.

The provincial government releases 1,500 tonnes of wheat to the millers on a daily basis for this purpose, so that 25,000 bags of flour can be provided to the consumers at subsidised rates. However, both consumers and dealers allege that the flour millers have not provided even a single bag of flour to the fair price shops and continue to export the commodity to Afghanistan, where a 20 kilogram bag fetches as high as Rs 500.

"Whenever there is a crisis, the Punjab government worsens the situation in the NWFP by placing a ban on the export of flour from Punjab to the province," a senior official in the NWFP government tells TNS on condition of anonymity. He complains that it is against the federal government's polices to ban the export of flour from one place to another within the country. The Punjab government treats us as if we are living in a separate country, he laments.

According to a report that appeared in the local media, NWFP caretaker Chief Minister Shamsul Mulk said that the government would solve the problem of wheat / flour shortage in the province on a permanent basis. He claimed that he would take up the issue with the Punjab chief minister at a meeting convened by President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad to discuss the flour crisis. "The Punjab government has imposed a ban on the supply of wheat / flour to the NWFP, which has led to an increase in the commodity's price in the province. The president has taken serious notice of this and has, therefore, convened the meeting in Islamabad on the issue," the NWFP caretaker chief minister elaborated.

Pak-Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chairperson Senator Ilyas Ahmed Bilour believes that outgoing Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and his team of economic managers is responsible for the ongoing flour crisis in the country. Talking to TNS, he alleges that Shaukat Aziz' biased socio-economic policies and flawed decisions are to be blamed for the current shortage of wheat / flour in the country.

"The outgoing prime minister's decision to allow export of 400,000 metric tonnes of flour led to the ongoing crisis in the country. In 1994, the government used to provide 5,000 tonnes of wheat to the local mills on a daily basis, but this quota has now been reduced to only 1,500 tonnes per day, mainly to save the subsidy given by the government on it," APFMA NWFP Chapter Chairperson Naeem Butt deplores. He, however, admits that the ongoing flour crisis in the province is also due to some irrational policies being currently pursued by the NWFP government.


firstperson
"Swat: Heaven in Hell"
Swat is burning and the fire is spreading to the rest of Pakistan.

Dr Charles Lindholm is a professor of Cultural Anthropology at Boston University, United States. He did his original fieldwork in Swat and has written extensively about the region, including a book entitled Generosity and Jealousy and a collection of essays entitled Frontier Perspectives, the latter published by Oxford University Press, Karachi. He has also written a book entitled The Islamic Middle East, which is a cultural history of the entire region.

Dr Sher Mohammad Khan, the interviewer, was professor of Nuclear Medicine at the University of Peshawar and is currently head of the Red Crescent in the NWFP. He was born and raised in Swat. A few years ago, Dr Lindholm and Dr Khan published an article entitled Enlightened Moderation, that discussed the future of the NWFP as well as the relationship between the United States and Pakistan. Now, with the unrest engulfing the region, it is an appropriate opportunity to revisit the issue. Dr Khan, therefore, emailed a set of questions to Dr Lindholm, whose answers are reproduced here in original:

 

The News on Sunday: Why have you have maintained your academic interest in Swat? Is this because of your attachment to the place or because of a desire to find out the root causes of the problems, especially militancy, facing the region?

Dr Charles Lindholm: From my point of view, Swat illustrates many of the difficulties that inevitably occur during the transformation of a traditional society, as old orders break down and new ones are not yet found. Because I know it best, I always refer to it when making larger comparative arguments about the Middle East or elsewhere. At the same time, if my thoughts can be of any help in minimising suffering, I am very pleased to offer them. Whether they will be listened to is another matter.

TNS: In your academic work, you have not mentioned anything about how to change the behaviour of the people for the better. Is that not the job of a social anthropologist?

CL: My first job is to attempt to record and analyse what actually occurs, trying to understand and clarifying the reasons for action. Only with correct knowledge can adequate solutions be found. However, I cannot provide answers. I can only provide information, and hope that it will help and not further oppression. That is the dilemma of my field. We never know how, or by whom, our investigations will be used.

TNS: The Pakhtuns in general and the Pakhtuns of Swat in particular tend to gather around a religious person when they want to resist outside influences. Such men are often outsiders who do not belong to any well-known tribe. Examples of Sandakai Baba, Saidu Baba and his grandson Miangul Abdul Wadud, and Maulvi Sufi Mohammad and his son-in-law Maulvi Fazlullah can be cited in this regard. Can you throw some light on this phenomenon?

CL: The Pukhtuns -- and the middle-eastern tribal people in general -- are governed by strong loyalties to their own kin group (khel). It is very difficult for them to form long-lasting alliances with other related but opposing groups, and even more difficult for them to submit to a leader from another kin group. The basic axiom is that "no one has the right to tell me what to do -- except my own father!" However, religious figures from outside the kin group network do not partake of this rivalry. Furthermore, their claim to authority comes not from ancestry, but from their supposed closeness to God. As a result, they can overcome local kin loyalties and gather people around them, at least momentarily. This is most likely to occur when people are threatened, and are looking for some way to unite without losing honour and autonomy. Generally, loyalty to these leaders diminishes or vanishes once the threat is past or when the leaders seek to impose their own ideology on these tribal people.

TNS: Do you think the present phenomenon in Swat is of local origin or is it fuelled by real or perceived threats to religion by the events in the rest of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the rest of the world?

CL: Taking the 'view from afar', it seems that both must be true. As local authority of traditional landlords in Swat and elsewhere in the NWFP has eroded, the authority of self-appointed mullahs and other religious teachers has expanded to fill the gap. These figures gain power by excoriating the corruption of the state. This strategy is very old -- dating back to the earliest days of Islam -- but has been fuelled and further inflamed by American incursions into Iraq and Afghanistan, and the never-ending conflict in Israel. Because of these confrontations, ordinary complaints about injustice and poverty can easily be magnified and they become identified with a moral jihad, which then tends to spiral into absolutism and violence.

TNS: A lot has been written and heard about al-Qaeda. Hardly a day passes without the network being blamed for sponsoring violence. Is this a ploy to draw attention away from injustices in the wider world?

CL: Certainly al-Qaeda serves a valuable purpose as the new 'evil empire' par excellence, against whom a perpetual 'war on terror' can be waged. Such an elusive enemy serves to unite Americans, who otherwise would have little interest in fighting battles so far from their own homeland. At the same time, al-Qaeda has its own absolutist agenda of destruction, in which only those who are willing to adhere to a narrow and self-generated interpretation of Islam are judged Muslims -- the rest are apostates who can legitimately be killed. This is a threat not only to the West, but also to the whole Islamic world.

TNS: Is it fair to ask you what is al-Qaeda?

CL: Anthropologists would call it a millennial movement. Its ambition is to bring the end of time and the advent of the 'Promised Land' through the destruction of all opponents. Although al-Qaeda is modern in its organisation, absolutism and willingness to cast aside all worldly order, it closely resembles the Kharijites of early Islam, who saw themselves as 'the people of heaven' battling against 'the people of hell', and who were willing to kill anyone who defied them. Another analogy from Islamic history is that of the Qaramatis, whose blend of zealotry and communalism almost overthrew the Abbasid dynasty before they eventually collapsed. Like al-Qaeda, these groups too proclaimed the evil of the status quo and spread through diffuse secret networks. Like al-Qaeda, they thrived on disorder and the corruption of the state. And like al-Qaeda, they were wholly unable to organise any viable alternative to the world they opposed so vehemently, and imploded due to their intransigence and profound disconnection from reality.

TNS: Historically in the West there have been movements, such as the IRA in the UK, the Afro American Movements in the US, the ETA in Spain etc. What are the differences between those movements and al-Qaeda?

CL: The movements you mention are primarily seeking justice and recognition for minorities within state systems. Al-Qaeda is not interested in such goals. Its aim is the total overthrow of the existing order. As such, it resembles transformational movements such as the Nazis or other charismatic cults much more than it resembles the IRA.

TNS: Coming back to Swat, your region of interest, a dominant view is that the majority of people here are economically poor, unemployed and lack access to justice. In short, there is no good governance. These are the major reasons for the present uprising. What is your opinion in this regard?

CL: I agree. In general, religious fervour offers an apparent solution when all other options have failed.

TNS: When the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto raised the slogan of Roti, Kapra aur Makan ('Bread, Clothes and Shelter'), the people of Swat rallied behind him. When Maulvi Fazlullah said nobody would be poor and there would be no injustice, the people of Swat rallied behind him. Why don't governments concentrate on alleviation of poverty and sustainable development rather than quick fixes?

CL: Your examples are good, but none of these promises were realised. Politicians with a weak mandate in an unstable state are unable to pursue long-term goals because of the fragility of their base. Paradoxically, this means that to gain momentary advantage, politicians continually promise far more than can be delivered, and the disappointment that results further undermines the legitimacy of the political process. The answer is a more stable state featuring a secure legal system, a capable civil service and an independent judiciary. People need to believe they can rely on the infrastructure to continue and to pursue pragmatic goals, regardless of who holds the political reins.

TNS: As you know, the borderlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan are important sites historically, archaeologically and culturally. They also feature some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Yet it is also an area of high tension and has 'fault lines' that are natural as well as man made. What do you think should be done nationally and internationally, especially by the US, to help this region's people in the short-term, medium-term and long-term?

CL: To accomplish anything, stability has to be achieved. This is a long-term project dependent upon larger developments in Pakistan and the region. In the short term, the government needs to reach a modus vivendi with the less extreme elements in Swat and the NWFP. The implementation of religious law in a version that is approved by mainstream clerics does not seem too far-fetched to me, and would give the government some legitimacy. The problem is whether religious law should then take precedence over custom (rawaj) or the law of the state. This can be decided by referendum. In the mid-term, regular referenda on matters of law and governance should be held, as well as local bodies' elections. At the same time pragmatic educational opportunities must be offered to offset or at least augment the narrow religious schooling presently provided by madrasas (seminaries).

And, of course, there should be efforts to provide opportunities for local people to earn a decent living. To this end, wholesale destruction of forests must be stopped, a tourist industry developed (with the approval and participation of local communities), and the local agricultural infrastructure supported. It is, of course, very easy to make recommendations; very difficult to implement them. But it is important and encouraging to remember that the 'human capital' of the NWFP, while presently ill-educated and backwards, also has great stamina and discipline, as well as a strong desire for self-betterment. These capacities make them good workers and quick learners, willing to change if the changes make sense to them. The US should do everything it can, financially and also by providing expert knowledge, to help further this important project. Peace in the NWFP would go a long way towards assuring peace in the whole region.

TNS: Islam teaches peace and humanitarian values, and yet those who commit acts such as suicide bombing have a feeling of being morally right. In this day and age of science and technology, cannot this trend be reversed at regional, national and international levels?

CL: The recourse to terror is a desperate measure, arising from the depths of despair. It is compelling only among those who feel the world is so corrupt that it must be destroyed. The solution is not material wealth (the Arab adherents to al-Qaeda are mostly middle class), but a sense of participation in the larger society. Social movements -- even the 'Black Turbans' -- are efforts to take action in the world, and to render it just and meaningful. If these activists can be brought into dialogue with the state, and if they can achieve at least some of their reforms, they then will feel a renewed sense of hope. Of course, some extremists will be satisfied with nothing less than carnage, but a vast majority can and will compromise if they discover that the world as it exists is not wholly indifferent to their suffering.

TNS: Pakistan is passing through a dangerous phase. In what way do you think it can be helped or it can help itself, so that a democratic government is ushered in, militancy controlled and prevented, and sustainable progress and prosperity attained?

CL: Pakistan is a weak state with serious internal subdivisions based on language, culture and ethnicity. The reliance on military and the degree of corruption in the political arena bear witness to that weakness. For Pakistan to survive, it should extend greater autonomy to its provinces, reach a permanent peace agreement with India, shore up its legal infrastructure and focus on providing services to its people. But above all, a culture of participation needs to be nurtured. This can be accomplished by encouraging volunteer organisations, of whatever form, which can negotiate with the state for their own special interests.


A call to disaster

While the leadership of Asian nations set a goal to increase forest cover by at least 15 million hectares by 2020, in Pakistan the approach of leaders does not seem to be in line with this target. Reports gathered from various parts of Sindh reveal that the outgoing provincial government doled out favours to its political allies and allotted them forest land for cultivation. This has resulted in widespread displacement of traditional forest communities besides destruction of the wildlife.

Local environmentalists contend that the receding water in the Indus river is not the only problem to have affected these forest communities. Illegal encroachments on forest land and cutting of trees have also contributed a lot to the displacement of the families that depended on livestock and forest economy. These people used to sell honey, fodder, firewood, vegetables and other edible items to the local markets to make their living.

There used to be wide grazing fields for animals and these forest communities were happy in their natural environment. They had seen many floods in the Indus river, but even these could not isolate them from their natural habitat. Since politicians, parliamentarians and local influentials were awarded forest land on lease as political bribe, they have already started cutting trees, thus displacing local communities and the wildlife.

In Sindh, forests are mainly located in Thatta, Hyderabad, Matiari, Dadu, Larkana, Nawab Shah, Naushehro Feroz, Khairpur and Sukkur districts. The total area of the state-owned riverine forests in the province is 241,120 hectares, out of which 138,000 hectares is wooded. An official of the Sindh Wildlife Department said cleaning forest areas has disturbed wildlife species, including mammals, birds and reptiles, as their natural habitat has been disturbed. According to him, these forests are the natural habitat of hog deer, wild bore, jackal, fox, hedgehog, wild cat, desert hare, partridge, Indian roller, dove, pigeon, waterfowl, etc. He adds that many wildlife species cannot survive out of groves, especially considering the fact that hunters are on a rampage.

According to government rules, those who have been awarded forest land on lease are responsible to grow more trees to save the ecology. But, these people have instead destroyed the environment, which in future, the environmentalists fear, may play havoc with the local communities as well as the wildlife. These environmentalists say that forests provide a protection from floods, especially in the monsoon season. If these forests were cleaned, it would have disastrous effects on the communities residing near riverbanks.

The forest communities that have migrated to the Hala town say that a few families are still living in forests along with their livestock. Others, after selling their livestock, migrated to nearby towns, including Thatta, Hyderabad, Matiari, Hala, Sakrand, Naushehro Feroz, Khairpur, Sukkur and Dadu. But they, being unfamiliar of the urban environment, are not happy there. These communities could afford to keep hundreds of livestock in forests, because of wide grazing fields and free availability of fodder, but it is impossible to keep livestock in such a large number in cities and towns.

On the other hand, farmers say that forests are natural habitats of birds, which play a major role in protecting crops from harmful insects. Since forests are being cleaned, different crops, especially cotton, have to be sprayed with pesticides five to eight times to kill these harmful insects. As a result, earth-friendly birds, which eat seeds and insects, are being killed in large numbers. It is also one of the main reasons that the government could not achieve the set target of cotton production.

Women are the major victims of this human intervention. Besides collecting fodder, water, vegetables and edible items, they have been engaged in looking after livestock, and milking cows, buffaloes, goats and sheep. These forest women have been familiar with this lifestyle, and know how to deal with wild animals and criminals hiding in thick groves.

Now there are no trees in many forest areas and people cultivate the entire land. Some workers of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) claim to have planted trees in the forest area near the Matiari district, but the locals are unaware of any such development and say that there is only a 400-acre forest planted earlier by the World Bank.

Also, water needs a natural flow in the flood season. Looking at the recent disastrous floods in Larkana and Qambar districts of Sindh, one can guess how these encroachments on and cultivation in forest lands could be dangerous in future for the local communities. According to reports, some influential people -- in order to save their own standing crops -- diverted the discharge of flood water, and hundreds of poor families have to migrate because of this and are still facing hardships.

Construction of dams / barrages on the upper reaches of the Indus river, for hydroelectric power generation and irrigation, have also significantly reduced the discharge of fresh water into the lower Indus basin. As a result, 100,000 acres of forests have already disappeared. Moreover, heavy floods in 1978, 1988, 1992 and 1997 altered the course of the Indus river at many places, especially in the lower reaches, thus damaging forests.

Depletion of forests has a very negative impact on socio-economic development and ecological balance. High population growth rate in Pakistan is one of the main causes for rapid deterioration of the physical environment and natural resource base. The flood level has been determining the water available for regeneration and growth of trees and other vegetation. The erosion and accretion processes are caused by water currents that erode and build the forest land respectively. Loads of varying quantities and qualities of sediments have been determining the soil composition of forest lands, besides their water-holding capacity.



 

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