Flu fear
Awareness and precaution is all one can take when swine flu hits
By Ammara Ahmed
Swine influenza is an infection of the respiratory tract caused by a type of virus that is endemic and common in pigs worldwide. Influenza A causes acute sickness and serious complications sometimes leading to death. The flu is transmitted from an infected animal to an uninfected animal through direct contact and can increase through intensive farming. People who work with poultry or swine are at an increased risk, such as cattle farmers, veterinarians and meat processing workers.

Yeh Woh
By Masud Alam
All the men and women lounging around me have two things in common: we all want to fly, and we donít know why we are being treated as a haraam animal with four legs and a prominent snout, that is certain never to fly.

politics
Old demands in new reforms
Though PML-Nís 10-point reform agenda for the government sounds valid politically, it is quite unrealistic with all the ifs and buts
By Alefia T. Hussain
Last week, Pakistan Muslim League-N Chief Nawaz Sharifís plea for ambitious reforms made Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillaniís government face a new wave of opposition. In reaction, the government ended up looking directionless, weak and desperate to keep the ongoing democratic process rolling in the country.

State of religion
Isnít it ironic that in a country where the constitution and laws are said to be all in consonance with Islam, people still resort to an extra-legal course
By Dr Tahir Kamran
The murder of Salmaan Taseer and the reaction it has evoked among the general public are symptomatic of the social and cultural stasis which begs us to mull over a few vexed questions afresh. The most important is the role of religion in the affairs of the Pakistani state.

Not at home
Hindu families in Quetta are left with no option but to seek asylum in India
By Muhammad Ejaz Khan
The recent surge in target killing and kidnapping has forced the Hindu families to seek asylum in India, belying the Balochistan governmentís claim to have restored law and order in the province.

 

 

Extreme centre

An analysis of the reported blasphemy cases in Pakistan since 1986 (the year when 295-C was made part of PPC by General Zia) reveals that majority of these cases occurred in a few districts of central Punjab.

The data collected by National Commission on Justice and Peace (NCJP), an NGO working on the repeal of blasphemy laws, reveals that since 1986, 1058 people (456 Ahmadis, 449 Muslims, 132 Christians and 21 Hindus) have been charged under the blasphemy laws.

"Around 80 per cent of all these cases have been registered only in eight districts of central Punjab -- Lahore, Faisalabad, Toba Tek Singh, Gujranwala, Sheikhupura, Sialkot, Gujrat and Kasur," Peter Jacob, Executive Director of NCJP tells TNS. The worst part is that so far 37 accused blasphemers (16 Christian, 15 Muslims, five Ahmadis and two Hindu) have been killed extra-judicially. "Twenty-seven out of them have also been killed in these districts. The killing of nine blasphemy-accused in police custody or jail also took place in this part of the country," says Jacob.

He believes that in majority of the cases, the blasphemy accusations are used by people for settling personal vendettas and disputes over property or business or to discriminate against minorities. Ziaís dictatorship and affluence (both came to the region in late 1970s) instigated intolerance in central Punjab. "Both factors combined with Afghan war played an important role in extending the reach of religious fundamentalists to the area."

Jacob believes the Pakistani society was polarised when Gen Zia introduced Islamic studies as a compulsory subject in 1977 at school level and a separate electorate in 1985.

Experts on society and fundamentalism agree with Jacobís argument, but say they also need to see the issue in larger perspective. "It is not easy to pinpoint one reason for the radicalisation of central Punjab over the years," says Muhammad Amir Rana, director of Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) and editor of the quarterly research journal Conflict and Peace Studies.

He thinks, "We also need to check the demography of Christian minorities in Pakistan. More than 50 per cent of total Christians and majority of Ahmadis of Pakistan live in these 7/8 districts of central Punjab. Christians, initially, had been living on the fringes of cities and towns away from the majority population to avoid direct contact with them. But as the population increased manifold over the last few decades, their localities have become part of cities and towns making their properties more valuable and bringing them into direct contact with Muslim majority."

Rana does not rule out the role of religious parties in this regard. "Religious parties always play a very important role in blasphemy cases. Central Punjab, being the most economically developed areas of Pakistan, has become the most lucrative area for religious parties. More than 20 major religious parties belonging to all sects have their headquarters in Lahore or in its surrounding areas," adds Rana.

He says that businessmen and traders are the main supporters of these religious parties as they ensure security to them.

"It is also important to note that madaris have developed at a good pace in central Punjab over the years, but interestingly an overwhelming majority of teachers and students in these madaris hail from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Kashmir or Southern Punjab. They do not have emotional or historical connection with these areas and that is why they do not care about hurting the feelings of others. They also force minorities to convert to Islam."

Shafqat Tanvir Mirza, expert on Punjabi culture and literature, believes that central Punjab has always been a centre of reformism and liberalism. "Just take the cases of Guru Nanak, Waris Shah, Bulleh Shah, Faiz and Iqbal. They all were against Mullahism and in reaction Mullahs started concentrating in this area. They have got some success, but fundamentalism is not the main discourse of majority in central Punjab."

Sabiha Shaheen, Executive Director of Bargad, a Gujranwala-based NGO, believes urbanisation and media played the most important role in radicalising the society in central Punjab. "Urbanisation has been providing opportunities to minorities for upward social mobility, which is resulting in awareness about individual rights in society. The feudal mindset has not accepted it. Increasingly radicalised mullahs are helping landowners in rural areas and traders in urban areas to maintain their stranglehold over minority workers."

She says radicalisation of women has also been fueling the issue. "In Gujranwala district alone, we have around 40 degree-awarding madaris for women while there are less than 20 government colleges for girls.

Arif Hassan, expert on urbanisation, says that all major right wing Islamic movements in the world are the products of urbanised areas. "Income generation opportunities are most visible in urban areas. Urban areas also provide more space for the expression of social and economic inequalities. In Karachi, MQM provides the opportunity of expression while in central Punjab religious parties do the same."

He believes that doctrine of rationality has vanished from our society. "Right now two factors have been ruling the thinking of our urban society -- megalomania (we are the best) and paranoia (that the whole world is busy conspiring against us)."

 

 

Flu fear

Awareness and precaution is all one can take when swine flu hits

By Ammara Ahmed

Swine influenza is an infection of the respiratory tract caused by a type of virus that is endemic and common in pigs worldwide. Influenza A causes acute sickness and serious complications sometimes leading to death. The flu is transmitted from an infected animal to an uninfected animal through direct contact and can increase through intensive farming. People who work with poultry or swine are at an increased risk, such as cattle farmers, veterinarians and meat processing workers.

The symptoms of the disease include fever, sore throat, runny nose, lethargy, pressure in chest, rapid breathing, bluish or grey skin colour, low blood pressure due to dehydration, no desire of liquid intake, dizziness and confusion, very high body temperature and respiratory failure, lack of appetite, coughing, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. The virus is spread through migrants and is extremely transmittable. The symptoms are comparable to the common flu and therefore often create confusion in diagnosis.

According to National Institute of Health (NIH), some 85 people have been tested positive for H1N1 virus this winter. There are four basic subtypes of this flu -- H3N2, H3N1, H1N2, and H1N1. January is the peak season for this infection. However, the NIH officials believe the situation is under control.

Maximum numbers of cases have been reported in Punjab (28), followed by Sindh (19) and KP (10). The H1N1 virus does not survive cooking temperatures of 71ļC or more. Nonetheless, like all other viruses it can adapt to different environments, evolving through gene modification.

H1N1 is the same strain which causes the common cold but the latest version has evolved into a wholly human disease now, which can spread among people through coughing and sneezing. Over-crowding, moving in public places and sharing a room with many family members increase the risk.

"A wave of fear has gripped people and even a slight temperature and flu causes the fear of swine flu," says Dr Rizwan Qazi, a senior physician at Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) in Islamabad.

Two patients of swine flu, including a female in her 30s, have been under treatment in the Isolation Ward of PIMS.

Sindh Health Minister Dr. Sagheer Ahmed had recently inaugurated the Sentinel Influenza Surveillance Laboratory and the Medical Out-Patient Department at Civil Hospital Karachi (CHK) with the help of international donor agencies. The centre will provide treatment for viral diseases in the province, including swine flu. It has a special H1N1 Surveillance Cell. Dr. Sagheer Ahmed had promised to activate the lab and give accurate results, but conceded that natural disasters like the recent floods have taken a toll on the national exchequer leaving little to be spent on health and development.

"According to international recommendations, we are required to closely watch the behaviour of the virus. For laboratory-based surveillance of seasonal influenza virus, Pakistan has a robust laboratory network consisting of an apex laboratory at NIH, as well as one laboratory each at King Edward Medical College, Lahore, Civil Hospital, Karachi, Bolan Medical College, Quetta and Hayatabad Medical Complex, Peshawar. Two more laboratories will be set up in Gilgit and Muzaffarabad in collaboration with the Centres for Diseases Control, Atlanta," says Executive Director of NIH Dr. Birjees Mazhar Qazi.

Children, pregnant women, old and those who are already ill are more vulnerable. It is, therefore, important for health departments of all the provinces to run public awareness campaigns, especially for the vulnerable groups, which deal with animal farming.

"During the high transmission season, samples will be collected from the OPDs of hospitals under standardised SOPs to determine the range of the circulating influenza virus. It will also enable us to study the characteristics of last yearís pandemic strain and to detect any possible changes," adds Dr. Qazi. "Vaccination is an important tool for self-protection. Seasonal flu vaccine is now available in Pakistan."

Fluarix, a vaccine, has been dubbed to protect people for almost a year and costs Rs500 to 600. Acetaminophen, a five-day course of anti-viral is also prescribed. It costs Rs2000 per course.

Health officials need to be deployed at international airports, seaports and border posts to screen suspected patients, install thermal scanners and provide pre-pandemic vaccine at hospitals. Children and adults with flu symptoms should refrain from attending educational institutes.

Expensive swine flu scanners were placed in Pakistanís major airports but most of them are not working now. Isolation wards need to be set up and vaccines need to be stored in bulk in all major hospitals across Pakistan.

There is no cure for swine flu, only precaution. The swine flu can be prevented by improved hygiene, avoiding contact with flu patients and coughing animals.

 

Yeh Woh

By Masud Alam

All the men and women lounging around me have two things in common: we all want to fly, and we donít know why we are being treated as a haraam animal with four legs and a prominent snout, that is certain never to fly.

Common sense dictates that if you buy an air ticket, get to the airport in time, manage to go through security with your sanity and your luggage intact, reconfirm that the airline is still in business, and that the plane is waiting to be boarded, then you have everything to take to air, no? Apparently not.

Here we are -- a couple of thousands of us -- sitting or half-lying in rows of fake leather chairs; hanging about internet stations and always finding them taken; spread on the bare floor; gawking at pretty faces Ö heck, even ugly ones; picking various facial orifices; and every now and then picking a fight with ground staff, losing it and then going back to one or more of the engagements mentioned above. This is the departure lounge of Karachi airport. And we are all passengers waiting to be flown to our destinations.

The more relaxed ones -- those whispering sweet nothings into their mobile phones or sipping hot coffee while browsing their laptops -- have been here only a few hours. Those who have run out of computer and mobile phone batteries, and for that matter wax in their ears and bogies in their nostrils, donít even remember life outside this airport. Iíve been here for 13 hours.

I left my home in Islamabad for Multan at 6 am. The flight was delayed -- an hour at a time -- and was still not announced by midday when I decided to call off my plans. No reason was given for the delay and I wasnít really looking for one. Itís not the nature or the airline, itís me. If not the fog, something else would have gone wrong, for the day that starts before sunrise never really shines on me.

And I did not mind waiting six hours at all. One, I discovered that Islamabadís humble airport has a swanky business class lounge, hidden behind an unpainted, unmarked plank that I must have passed by dozens of times but always associated with some kind of maintenance work going on. And two, through someoneís mistake or oversight I was issued an economy Plus ticket.

Now as much as I detest class divisions -- especially since I am always assigned the cheapest available, of everything, everywhere -- I was overcome by curiosity, and just a little bit of envy for the Ďbusiness classí to use the facility. Comfortable sofas, morning papers, steaming chai and coffee, famous PIA service Ö and all for free. The waiters did seem to see through me in my attempts to get their attention, but that could be just me. And anyway there were too many customers with PIA staff passes or with interesting skin colours for them to serve ahead of me.

In time I had my tea with biscuits and later my omelette breakfast with coffee, and must admit this is the best tea in this building. Its only competition, the economy class canteen upstairs, is easily the worst.

A five-hour road trip later I am at Lahore airport with a boarding pass for the early evening flight to Sukkur. That one is cancelled too. What do I do now? The duty officer, I am told, will be here shortly to explain. Indeed, the duty officer shows up, but with a mobile phone glued to his ear, a junior female staff trying to get his attention, and a bunch of passengers trailing them, trying to figure out what is going on.

"Sir I am telling you I upgraded both mother and daughter to first class Ö Sir these passengers want to know Ö Excuse me miss, is he the duty officer? Ö but sir the front row was taken, I offered them Ö Miss is there another officer who is not on VIP duty? Sir believe me the protocol people are my witness Ö"

Eventually, I did get a plane to Karachi which was to connect with an early morning flight to Sukkur. That morning flight was delayed, an hour at a time, and eventually cancelled. Now all I wish is to head back to Islamabad but the 7am flight is still grounded at 1pm. No reason given for the cancellation of one and delay to the other.

"Itís the weather," a fellow passenger tries to console me. No my dear sir, itís the fog. The fog settled over the decaying matter that was once Ďgreat people to fly withí. These people can hardly fly now, let alone carry others, or even communicate with them on why they canít.

 

 

politics

Old demands in new reforms

Though PML-Nís 10-point reform agenda for the government sounds valid politically, it is quite unrealistic with all the ifs and buts

By Alefia T. Hussain

Last week, Pakistan Muslim League-N Chief Nawaz Sharifís plea for ambitious reforms made Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillaniís government face a new wave of opposition. In reaction, the government ended up looking directionless, weak and desperate to keep the ongoing democratic process rolling in the country.

Nawaz Sharifís reforms perhaps constitute the crux of Pakistanís problem: broadly, remove ministers, bureaucrats and heads of other bodies and corporations allegedly involved in corruption, set up an independent accountability commission and reconstitute an independent Election Commission, implement the Supreme Courtís decision on the NRO, reduce the size of the cabinet, at least 30 per cent cut in governmentís expenditures, formulate a plan to end the energy crisis, and steps to ensure a check on the prices of items of daily use to provide relief to the masses. The PML-N has also urged the PPP government to initiate action against those who have got their loans written off and bring money back to the national exchequer.

But Sharif is demanding. He has set a 45-day deadline (by Feb 20, 2011) for the government to implement the reforms. Or else, "the situation may become too complicated for the PPP to handle," warns PML-N spokesman Ahsan Iqbal. The N-League also threatens the Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif will sack the PPP ministers if the proposed reform agenda is not enforced within time.

This charter, known to all as the 10-point reform agenda, was announced by the PML-N party chief on January 4, 2011 after meeting his partyís Central Organising Committee, and gave the PM and his government six days to respond -- in "yes" or "no".

And the PM did respond. In fact he moved pretty fast. Last Sunday afternoon, a day ahead of the expiration of the six-day deadline, he managed to end the runoff by agreeing to the proposed Ď10-point reform agendaí. "We (the PPP government) will do the doable and discuss what is not possible with a three-member coordination committee of PML-N headed by Senator Ishaq Dar," he announced at the press conference called in Islamabad soon after saying "yes" to the N-Leagueís proposed reforms.

Later, Ahsan Iqbal acknowledged that PPP has managed to stabilise the Centre and maintain the coalition in Punjab intact, but he warned the political crisis was not over. Defining the role of the three-member committee to be headed by Ishaq Dar, he said, it will play an advisory role and will help the government implement the agenda -- and in 45 days strictly. After that the N-League will "announce its strategy", Iqbal iterated.

Among analysts, the PML-N demands have generated a mixed response -- "doable", "old demands", "clichťd", and so on. But much scepticism has been expressed by them on the 45-day implementation period laid down by the N-League.

"Some of the points are valid but to expect the government to implement these in the prescribed timeframe is quite unrealistic. In fact it has failed to see the consequences of its populism while forcing the government to make these reforms in as few as 45 days," says senior political analyst Zahid Hussain.

Analysts, however, have expressed more serious concerns about the PML-Nís resistance to fuel price-hike, RGST and flood tax when the country is already struggling to cope with a widening fiscal deficit by borrowing from the central bank. Already, in the first few days of the year 2011, the government succumbed to MQMís pressure by reversing the 9 per cent raise in petrol price thus causing an estimated loss in the range of Rs5 billion per month.

"Depending on the trajectory of oil prices internationally which are expected to remain high until March at least, we are looking at a revenue loss of anywhere between Rs15 to 25 billion for the rest of the fiscal year," speculates renowned economist Asad Sayeed.

In normal circumstances, experts suggest, such a loss could have been papered over with limited inflationary borrowing. But after the floods, this is an extraordinarily difficult year. "And in a situation where the PML-N and MQM have not let the government impose the RGST or the flood tax or the fuel prices increase, the government is left with two options: One; that the government does not initiate reconstruction in the flood hit areas, and two; if it does it does through printing a lot of money to cover its deficit. If the first option is taken, this possibility will sow the seeds of a deep rural-urban divide in the country. If the second option is taken, it will result in hyper inflation. The main losers of hyper inflation will be the urban middle and lower classes. So, we see an explosive situation in the short to medium term," estimates Sayeed.

Going by the PML-N demands, one wonders, even if the accountability commission is constituted and boards of corporations are changed, will reduction in corruption compensate for the revenue loss in this fiscal year and by how much. "Corruption reduction is a systemic and structural issue in Pakistan," he elaborates. "It is good to score points on television but I do not see anything in terms of concrete proposals from anyone on how to reduce it and its impact on the fiscal situation in a given time frame."

The demand to reduce non-development expenditure by two-thirds actually astonishes him. "Their demands are, to say the least, irresponsible," he emphasises. "For a party that is the government-in-waiting at the Centre to go against the vast body of professional opinion as well as donor sentiment is not exactly inspiring."

But, Sayeed agrees, PML-N is caught in a hard place politically. They have to appear to be oppositional on the one hand and also ensure the democratic system remains on course. "It is a difficult balancing act to which they have reacted by unleashing further economic uncertainty and hardship on people."

PML-Nís political aspirations aside, for the time being at least the government is in control of the parliament. This state of current affairs has come after a rush of petty political squabbles spread over the last fortnight or so -- starting with rift with JUI-F over the Haj scandal, quitting of MQM from the federal cabinet, and the outrageous fury over the blasphemy laws and finally the tragic murder of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer. Will the government be able to maintain this calm, and for how long?

The writer can be contacted at alefiath@gmail.com

 

 

State of religion

Isnít it ironic that in a country where the constitution and laws are said to be all in consonance with Islam, people still resort to an extra-legal course

By Dr Tahir Kamran

The murder of Salmaan Taseer and the reaction it has evoked among the general public are symptomatic of the social and cultural stasis which begs us to mull over a few vexed questions afresh. The most important is the role of religion in the affairs of the Pakistani state.

Some of the icons of Urdu journalism with all the smugness of the world are convinced that the most fundamental questions about the nature of Pakistani state and its relationship with religion have been resolved through Objectives Resolution. Such enunciations are simplistic, to say the least. They do not take into account the perplexity emanating from the situation where religion is considered a key criterion in determining the rights of citizens.

Should we conclude then that Muslims and Muslims only are entitled to the citizenship of Pakistan? Or the question more worth asking is: Are Aasia Bibi and Fazlur Rehman or Malik Mumtaz Qadri equal citizens of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in a practical sense? Of course, constitutionally they are. But the perplexity continues to haunt us.

The question as to who is a true Muslim is yet to be settled to the satisfaction of the religious right. On January 4, Salman Taseer joined the ignominious but burgeoning coterie of ĎKafirsí. Undoubtedly, he would not be the last one to be denounced like that. After 1974, when Ahmedis were declared non-Muslim by the parliament at the behest of the religious forces, it was thought that the outstanding issue was settled. But subsequent developments belied the issue.

The debate was triggered once more when Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan came into existence in September 1985. During Ziaul Haqís reign, extra-parliamentary actors got phenomenal influence and power. It was then that the belief system of the Shias, or the Rafzis as the rightwing religious literature calls them with derision, was put to a critical scrutiny and they were later denounced as Kafirs. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a militant wing of Sipah-e-Sahaba, was established in 1994 that started a campaign of physically eliminating these ĎKafirsí.

In such circumstances, what is the role of clergy vis-a-vis the parliamentarians? So far, the clergy have used extra-parliamentary means to exert pressure on the parliament and with unprecedented success. What then is the role of the parliament is a legitimate question to ask.

Tehreek-e-Tahafuz-e-Khatam-e-Nubuwwat (TKN) is the re-incarnation of the practically defunct Majlis-e-Ahrar-e-Islam which has wielded far more influence than any other faction or even political party with a popular acclaim.

Established in January 1949 in Multan under the leadership of Ataullah Shah Bokhari, Ehsan Shujaabadi, Tajuddin Ansari and Hussamuddin, it spearheaded Tehreek-e-Khatam-e-Nubuwwat in 1953 against the Ahmedis. That movement could not achieve its desired goal but succeeded in bringing down Khawaja Nazimuddinís government. Besides, it gave currency to religious activism punctuated with violence instead of political negotiations and agreement.

Their goal was achieved in 1974 when even Prime Minister ZA Bhutto buckled under pressure and acted on the bidding of the TKN leadership. Anti-Shia sentiments were whipped up with impunity during late the 1980s and 1990s by the clerics, profoundly influenced by Tehreek-e-Khatam-e-Nubuwwat. Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, the founder of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, was a devout follower of Ataullah Shah Bokhari.

If, as in the present case, the clergy and the instruments of state (parliament and executive or judiciary) are poised to take divergent positions on an issue like the amendment in blasphemy laws, we clearly know whose Ďwillí shall prevail. If the trend is allowed to continue, the erosion of the state is a foregone conclusion. Like in most Middle Eastern states, if religion does not act as a conduit to state then anarchy is bound to ensue. Or what is left as alternatives are the models of Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Both Iran and Saudi Arabia are oil rich. Therefore they can take care of their people without paying much attention to international opinion. More importantly both of these countries are run by a legal framework that solely reflects the essence of one particular fiqh (jurisprudence). Whether such a dispensation can be applicable in Pakistan is yet another of the vexed question? Besides, the state apparatus is brutally firm in these two countries and it does not allow any kind of adventurism. Even religious appeal that implies any subversion or detriment for the existing political elite is muzzled forthwith. Unlike Pakistan, they strictly monitor the foreign influences impacting the inner social or political fabric of the country.

These models as well as the model followed by the Taliban in Afghanistan are not likely to work in Pakistan, given the polarisation among the religious clergy and the militancy in Pakistan. Madaris and mosques are not allowed to demonstrate any autonomous inclination there. Both the institutions work under the panoptical vigilance of the state.

All said and done, religion could be a worthwhile tool if it works for the stability and integrity of the state, but in Pakistanís case it has worked to yield contrary results putting the countryís stability at stake. Isnít it ironic that in a country where the constitution and laws are said to be all in consonance with Islam, people still resort to extra-legal and extra-constitutional course.

The writer is Allama Iqbal fellow at Wolfson College, Cambridge University. Email: tk393@cam.ac.uk

 

 

Not at home

Hindu families in Quetta are left with no option but to seek asylum in India

By Muhammad Ejaz Khan

The recent surge in target killing and kidnapping has forced the Hindu families to seek asylum in India, belying the Balochistan governmentís claim to have restored law and order in the province.

Threats to Punjabis and non-Muslims are on the rise. The abduction of 85-year-old Hindu priest Maharaj Sain Lakmee Geer, who had been holding this religious office since 1946 in Balochistan, has left the Hindu families with no option but to migrate to India.

"As many as 27 Hindu families from Balochistan have sent applications to the Indian embassy for asylum," disclosed the regional director for the federal Ministry of Human Rights, Saeed Ahmed Khan, at a seminar in Quetta last week.

The abduction of four Hindus, including an octogenarian Hindu spiritual leader, last month has infused fear among the Hindu community living in Balochistan that has sparked angry protests from the community members across Quetta. While three Hindus were kidnapped from Khuzdar and Jafarabad, their spiritual leader was abducted while he was on his way from Kalat to Khuzdar district on Dec 22, 2010.

Over 100 groups involved in kidnappings for ransom are operating in Balochistan. The incidents of kidnapping have taken a serious turn since the province witnessed a sharp increase in the kidnappings of Hindu community people including its religious leaders and traders.

As many as 86 cases of kidnapping have been registered in 2010 compared to 43 in 2009. There is an aura of terror hovering over the city. As far the interior Balochistan is concerned, majority of the kidnapping cases are not lodged due to the "rough" attitude of Levies, a sort of tribal police, and partly due to ignorance of the people about legal formalities.

The Hindu community people are compelled to lodge strong protest in the province. The protestors raised slogans "provide us protection or allow us to migrate". Dozens of people belonging to the Hindu community gathered outside the Quetta Press Club last week to voice their concern.

Since the kidnapping of their spiritual leader, the Hindu community is protesting and demanding the Balochistan government recover the four kidnapped Hindu victims and provide them security in the province.

"We have taken up the issue in several meetings with the Balochistan government and the provincial assembly but our spiritual leader has not been recovered as yet," says Jay Parkash, who is a minister in the Nawab Aslam Raisani-led coalition government, while talking to TNS. "If the incidents of kidnapping are not stopped then the Hindu businessmen would be left with no other option but to migrate from the province."

The minority Hindu community has also organised protests in Khuzdar, Kalat, Naushki and provincial capital Quetta and blocked the National Highway and RCD Highway on Wednesday.

Kailash, a Hindu trader, told TNS the government has failed to protect the life and property of the people, particularly the minorities. The Hindu Panchayat also organised a protest demonstration outside the Quetta Press Club demanding early recovery of the kidnapped spiritual leader.

Hindus have been living in Balochistan for centuries, providing various services in a number of cities of the country where their ancestors settled. Many Hindus preferred at the time of partition to go to India while several thousands chose to stay in the province.

Over 100,000 Hindus in Balochistan, who were guaranteed protection and freedom in the previous tribal system, are feeling insecure these days. Uncle of Vinod Kumar, another kidnapped victim, told TNS that Hindus have been living in Balochistan for centuries and have contributed to the richness of the province. "Now it appears that the right of living and livelihood is being snatched from us."

The police authorities claimed to have widened the scope of investigations to recover the kidnapped victims. "We are scrutinising all possibilities for the early recovery of the Hindu priest," IG Police Balochistan Malik Muhammad Iqbal tells TNS. He adds that anti-kidnapping cells have been established in all the districts of the province, besides establishing pickets at Sindh-Balochistan border to bust the gangs involved in kidnappings.

Senator Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo of the National Party condemned the kidnapping, saying his party is against all kinds of kidnapping and target killings. The Balochistan Assembly has already taken up the issue, condemning the kidnapping of Hindus and others.

Hafiz Hamdullah, deputy secretary-general of JUI-F, told TNS that his Jamaat has launched a massive campaign against target killings and kidnappings in Balochistan.

The worsening law and order has also taken its toll on business activities in the province. "Our businesses have collapsed due to lawlessness in Quetta and the government is oblivious of the gravity of the situation," says a businessman of Quetta, Haji Ashiq Achakzai, while talking to TNS.

The cityís resilience is wearing thin, but people are carrying on as best as they can, hoping against all odds that someday, sometime, things will improve.

 

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