politics
Politics of relief

And the questions we ignore — that there is an uprising in Balochistan, that the historic marginalisation of this far-flung province is responsible for the devastating consequences of the
earthquake, and that the Baloch associate the security forces with daily harassment, disappearances and torture who they think cannot pretend to be neutral aid distributors overnight
By Mahvish Ahmad
After a 7.7-magnitude earthquake hit southern Balochistan last week, flattening entire villages, killing hundreds, and rendering thousands homeless, politics has been treated as a topic best left untouched. Ask the politicians and journalists, governments and state institutions seeing and engaging with Balochistan, and they will tell you that politics obfuscates. For them, bringing the p-word into the equation is both irrelevant and dangerous. Irrelevant, they say, since earthquakes are natural: an inevitable act of God or nature that no one could have avoided. And dangerous, they add, because any talk of politics can hamper urgent humanitarian relief.

essay
Left in Pakistan — II
Sites of innovation

How does the left in Pakistan address the women and the NGO-question?
By Sarah Humayun  

Though ‘class struggle’ is made out to be the prime vector of progressivism in Marxist historiography, it has never been free of its own ‘contradictions’ (to use a choice Marxist term of art). To pick out one issue that is being articulated with increasing urgency: the ‘woman’ question. The problem is not new. “Working class resistance was constituted in the past by defending its own forms of oppressions (against women or apprentices) against the regulation of the state or of the capitalist market. The feminist movement is advancing resistance today by not fearing to “divide workers”,” writes Jacques Ranciére.

Federalism and decentralisation
Against the backdrop of 18th Constitutional Amendment, the
recently held UNDP conference weighs the relevance and
implications of decentralisation
By Amjad Bhatti
The 18th Constitutional Amendment passed unanimously in April 2010 has sharpened the debates on federalism in Pakistan. A number of issues have emerged in the process of implementation and transition management in last three years where a plethora of diverse argumentation have pre-dominated the political and governance discourse in the country.
Some have argued that the 18th Amendment was “too little and too late”, while others have adjudged it as “too much and too soon”. The contest on the relevance, implications and implementation of the 18th Constitutional Amendment continues till today.

health
Preventable deaths

Being well-off does not necessarily promise a long and healthy life as both poverty and affluence contribute to the causes of preventable or premature deaths
By Syed Mansoor Hussain
One of the more interesting concepts in medicine is of the ‘preventable or premature deaths’. Putting aside the effects of trauma and accidents, the two other major causes of preventable deaths are poverty and affluence.
One of the most dangerous points in a human life is birth. This is dangerous especially for the mother but also for the child. Maternal and child mortality continue to be a major problem especially in poor countries including Pakistan. However, it is interesting to note that more than a century ago, child birth was equally dangerous for the rich as well as the poor. 

A crisis long over looked
National Nutrition Survey (NNS) 2011 suggests malnutrition plays a substantial role in Pakistan’s high child morbidity and mortality rates
By Arshad Mahmood
“Well fed people can enhance their dignity, their health and their learning capacity. Putting resources into social programs is not expenditure. It is investment”, LuizInácio Lula da Silva, former President of Brazil.
Finally, the federal government has launched the long-awaited National Nutrition Survey (NNS) 2011 in Islamabad. Findings of the NNS 2011 are depressing and clearly depicts how neglected the subject is in Pakistan. There has been no improvement in nutrition indicators for the last almost four decades and Minister Ahsan Iqbal rightly lamented the fact that the last decade following NNS 2001 has been totally lost as no tangible steps have been taken to improve the situation. 

Food for all
Genetically-modified foods have the potential to solve many of the world’s hunger and
malnutrition problems
By Zeeshan Mazhar
The developed world is fast adopting biotechnology in agriculture and the developing world is also trying to catch up. The ever-increasing demand for food and loss in agricultural productivity due to over-cultivation, pest attacks and diseases demand for scientific development of seeds which can take care of these issue.
While countries are opting for genetic modifications in crops, certain anti-biotechnology campaigners in Pakistan are opposing genetically modified (GM) crops on grounds they are not safe and their introduction will create monopoly of big multinationals in agriculture. 

education
The language trinity

Our medium of instruction
policies are determined too often by political and nationalistic exigencies, playing a divisive role and contributing to fragmentation, exclusion, and growing disparities
By Irfan Muzaffar
Our country has always been multilingual due to our uniquely rich cultural landscape. The language one uses changes not just with geography, but also with each passing hour during a typical day of an average Pakistani.
At home you use your mother tongue, whatever it may be. At the work place your language performance is expected to alternate between English and Urdu depending on your educational background, your position within the institutional hierarchy, and who you are talking to. Pakistanis’ social and educational upbringing programmes them when to switch to the most relevant language to get what they want. We, as a people, are expected to be skilled in more than one language.

Centres of destruction
History suggests that when universities start to act as moral vigilantes, academic standards nosedive
By Tahir Kamran
The widely held presumption that certain madaris are hatcheries of jihadis, target killers and suicide bombers stands punctured after startling revelations about universities in Lahore and Islamabad. Nine al-Qaeda suspects were arrested from a Punjab University hostel, including their handler. Four of them had received jihadi training in Miranshah in North Waziristan, while the other five had expertise in information technology/communication and the making of improvised explosive devises (IEDs). 






politics
Politics of relief
And the questions we ignore — that there is an uprising in Balochistan, that the historic marginalisation of this far-flung province is responsible for the devastating consequences of the
earthquake, and that the Baloch associate the security forces with daily harassment, disappearances and torture who they think cannot pretend to be neutral aid distributors overnight
By Mahvish Ahmad

After a 7.7-magnitude earthquake hit southern Balochistan last week, flattening entire villages, killing hundreds, and rendering thousands homeless, politics has been treated as a topic best left untouched. Ask the politicians and journalists, governments and state institutions seeing and engaging with Balochistan, and they will tell you that politics obfuscates. For them, bringing the p-word into the equation is both irrelevant and dangerous. Irrelevant, they say, since earthquakes are natural: an inevitable act of God or nature that no one could have avoided. And dangerous, they add, because any talk of politics can hamper urgent humanitarian relief.

For them, the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) attacks on army and government convoys carrying food, medicine, and tents, is a clear-cut example of the dark consequences of politics on emergency help.

Here is the problem: Refusing to talk about politics does not make it go away. We might successfully cleanse our conversations of it, but we cannot excise politics from Balochistan, its devastating earthquake, or the relief that it so urgently needs.

There might be a strong urge to just “get things done”, but anyone with that urge needs to be careful that they do not just stumble around in the dark like well-meaning, clumsy giants trying to “do some good”. They will end up breaking everything they run into, because they were either ignorant of the situation on the ground, or too lazy to bother to understand the politics of the place they are getting involved in.

There is an uprising in Balochistan. Those engaged with the Balochistan question can disagree on the scale of the separatist movement, but few can deny that it is a significant force in the province’s politics. This uprising is rooted in a very real disenchantment with the powers that rule Pakistan. And it has gained traction because of the enormous presence of the security forces. According to an Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) press release, there are currently 1000 soldiers from the Frontier Corps (FC) and Pakistan Army stationed in southern Balochistan alone; 700 before the earthquake hit last week, when the army deployed troops to the region from Karachi and Quetta. Another 1000 troops are stationed in Quetta according to a source within the FC, and many more can be found across the province, including Dera Bugti and Kohlu, the homes of the notorious Bugti and Marri sardars. The massive presence of soldiers across Balochistan indicates that even our state institutions recognise the presence of rebellion and discontent with the governments in Islamabad and Quetta.

If the earthquake had taken place in, for example, Balochistan’s northern Pakhtun belt, the politics that we needed to consider might have looked very different. The fact of the matter, however, is that it did not take place in northern Balochistan, but in the province’s southern belt, known for its remittance-fueled, urbanised towns and BLF-sympathetic middle-class Baloch. The epicenter of the earthquake, Awaran district, is also the birthplace of the current Baloch uprising’s most popular militant leader: BLF commander and doctor-turned-guerilla fighter Dr Allah Nazar.

The historic marginalisation of this far-flung province has fueled the support for the BLF, and is one of the driving factors behind the devastating consequences of the earthquake. While those who are opposed to bringing politics into the conversation will claim that earthquakes are God- or nature-given, others who closely analyse and work with natural disasters know that the poor are always disproportionately affected.

The decision by governments in Islamabad and Quetta to finance major development projects aimed at supporting Pakistan’s aspirations for economic growth at best, and filling the pockets of politicians at worst, has meant that those parts of the province where people go about their daily lives do not have infrastructure ready to withstand the threat of earthquakes. There is a reason that earthquake-prone Japan sees nothing near the devastation that we see in Pakistan — they have decided to invest in buildings that will keep their people safe.

To say that politics is irrelevant in understanding last week’s Balochistan earthquake is disingenuous, if not an outright lie.

Relief is no different. Just like earthquakes, relief takes place in a political context. Independent reports in BBC Urdu, which has provided some of the best coverage of the earthquake over the past week, verify that many Baloch in the disaster-hit areas associate security forces with daily harassment, disappearances, torture, and the notorious kill-and-dump policies where families discover the corpses of their sons bored through with holes. The security forces have also been known for launching operations in this region, many of them ignored by the mainstream press in the rest of the country. For example, in late December last year, the FC launched an operation in Awaran district’s Mashky, the home of Dr Nazar. At least 20 people, including women and children were killed in the operation, and the FC established at least 12 new checkpoints in this far-flung part of the country. To pretend that the army can transform itself into a neutral aid distributor overnight is a farce.

Acknowledging that the army is a political player in Balochistan, even after a devastating earthquake, is not the same as condoning BLF attacks on their relief convoys. One’s position on the Balochistan question is unrelated to the importance of acknowledging the tense political context in which the earthquake has taken place, and in which relief is now being distributed. There are some, like politicians in Quetta and Islamabad, who argue that the BLF is just as much a source of fear in southern Balochistan as the army, if not more, and that the militant group and others allied to them have been part of attacks on Punjabis and innocent government officials. Such a position does not change the facts on the ground: that politics matters, and that anyone truly interested in seeing relief effectively delivered and distributed in Balochistan will have to integrate them into their planning.

A relief that is politically aware, rather than politically ignorant or blind, might ensure that the thousands who are affected by the earthquake will finally receive the aid that they so urgently need. Malik Siraj Akbar, the editor of the banned online magazine, The Baloch Hal, has recommended a ceasefire between the separatists and the army, and the involvement of international humanitarian organisations.

Dr Abdul Malik, the chief minister of the provincial government in Balochistan, and Dr Allah Nazar, have both called for the involvement of international humanitarian organisations. These organisations, from Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), know that the contexts within which they work are tense, and their policy of neutrality comes not from a denial of the political, but from an acknowledgement of politics.

Interestingly, it is some of the most unpopular actors, i.e. the federal government and the security forces, that have been less than enthusiastic about international aid workers. When the earthquake first hit Balochistan, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said that it would not be putting out a call for international help. The army has likewise said that it is concerned about whether it will be able to provide security for aid workers. Some have said that federal and security force tentativeness around aid workers is a September 11, post-Dr Shakil Afridi phenomenon, where they are afraid that foreign governments will use the opportunity to send spies into Balochistan — an indication that even aid can be political.

But separatists and their sympathisers disagree, arguing that the government and the army want to keep humanitarian agencies out because they are afraid that their human rights abuses in the province will be exposed.

It is still unclear whether international humanitarian agencies will be allowed into interior Balochistan. Either way, the politics of the earthquake and the relief that surrounds it reveals a larger truth: In the end, few attempt to paint a full picture of what is going on in Balochistan. Sometimes it is because they are stopped from doing so. Access remains difficult for local and foreign journalists, and those that have tried, have been attacked: for example the offices of the Balochi newspaper, Daily Tawar, ransacked a few months ago.

But other times, it is because we naively assume that the state version of what is going on in Balochistan is more correct than what we hear from the Baloch themselves. And because we fail to understand the larger politics of the events in Balochistan. Missing persons cannot be understood without deeper knowledge of the uprising. Attacks on development projects and Chinese engineers cannot be comprehended without knowledge of the historic socio-economic marginalisation of the province. And, earthquake and relief cannot be understood without a sense of the political dynamics at play in Balochistan. Questioning dominant state narratives, and having an understanding of the politics at play is not equal to taking a pro- or anti-Pakistan position, or a pro- or anti-Baloch insurgency position. It does, however, ensure that we do not grapple around in the dark, and that we become far more aware of what exactly it is that we’re dealing with.

Mahvish Ahmad is a journalist and lecturer living in Islamabad. She is also the co-founder of Tanqeed | a magazine of politics and culture (www.tanqeed.org).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

essay
Left in Pakistan — II
Sites of innovation
How does the left in Pakistan address the women and the NGO-question?
By Sarah Humayun

Though ‘class struggle’ is made out to be the prime vector of progressivism in Marxist historiography, it has never been free of its own ‘contradictions’ (to use a choice Marxist term of art). To pick out one issue that is being articulated with increasing urgency: the ‘woman’ question. The problem is not new. “Working class resistance was constituted in the past by defending its own forms of oppressions (against women or apprentices) against the regulation of the state or of the capitalist market. The feminist movement is advancing resistance today by not fearing to “divide workers”,” writes Jacques Ranciére.

This remark finds an echo in the experience of women’s struggles who have not found an ally in the left or have felt the organised left to be an irrelevance if not a hindrance. This 2011 article from Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/jul/20/blue-labour-conservative-female-subservience) shows a woman Labour councillor reminding the anti-market and pro-community Blue Labour that “liberal rights and the role of the state has done a lot to help women — and many other groups for that matter — break out of community bonds that have often been oppressive, unaccountable and male dominated”. Many women in the UK might have a problem endorsing the romantic nostalgia for ‘working-class culture’, for the community-and-union dominated ‘traditional’ leftism that has been much in evidence in the UK, not least among academics.

‘The woman question’ is one of the sites of innovation for those interested in rethinking the left, of taking it beyond the era of base and superstructure, of progress on the back of the planned socialist economy and nationalist struggles for liberation. I found almost all of my interlocutors were thinking along these lines. “The woman is the most political being in Pakistan,” said one in an interesting if enigmatic formulation. Although all but one of the lefties I met were men, they are open, even keen, to acknowledge that the left had a woman problem, that this was not restricted to representation in the party but extended to social and personal relationships in evidence in left circles. In conversation, it seemed that there was a great desire to do something about the ‘woman question’ as well as some uncertainty as to what, specifically, an activism of the left might do here, whether they would go beyond or work with women’s rights advocates and feminist activists.

But were the women comrades comfortable working with the men; did class differences compounded by gender sometimes get in the way of comradely sociability? This question was met with some unease, a pause to weigh up words and thoughts. It is difficult, someone said. Another made a remark about choosing places carefully; another, about the need to maintain gender presentations in order to keep functioning working relationships.

The stories I was told about field activism were predominantly stories about men; men having arguments late into the night, hiding from the police, coming together to play cricket or to drink in what seemed to be cherished times of camaraderie. An office that I visited was a welcoming space, but it was full of men. Personally, the people I met were at ease with mixed-gender groups, counted many women as friends and a few women as colleagues. But the few that were mentioned in connection with party work seemed also to be upper-class academics.

Knowing all the reasons why women can be absent or less visible, often by choice, I’m not sure what weight to place on this. How is the difficult terrain of personal interaction affected by affiliating oneself with a school of thought explicitly committed to equality? Does this mean enfolding the question of gender in class, conceived as the rubric under which difference and elimination of difference is thought? Does taking account of class differences present in the party offer a way out? Or does the ‘woman question’ need another type of articulation, and what might that be, given the commitment to universalist thinking in the left?

Thinking about women and thinking about class may never be a seamless fit, nor will the designation of a class as the subject of emancipatory politics and capital as the object of resistance open out paths to taking account of the diverse ways in which the ‘woman question’ has been addressed. In the intellectual resources open to the left (as well as to other political tendencies) the ‘woman question’ will pose repeated threats of splits and divisions — of the vote, of a homosexual culture i.e. culture of one sex (as Luce Irigaray puts it), of the family and of society.

It will be interesting to see how the left addresses this question, if it ever does, under the sign of ‘merger’. But it should also be emphasised that the principles of justice and equality that left parties everywhere have subscribed to have given greater space for women historically to articulate their concerns (even if they’re labelled ‘marginal’) and to organise resistance. Small differences of political opportunity and intellectual space are important and should always remain firmly in view.

In Pakistan, the debate about women and the left has an added twist. It is sometimes pointed out that in recent history women have done better under the anti-politics, rhetorically liberal dictatorship of General Musharraf. The provision of 33 per cent seats in local bodies, the dilution of the Hudood ordinances, the promotion of education and media and culture (which arguably helps women to claim more public space) were all achieved under conditions when politics, or electoral politics, were in abeyance. This contention deserves detailed and nuanced debate.

But what is emphasised through this type of argument, I think, is that the promotion of socially progressive causes does not need a socially progressive politics that searches out new possibilities of thought and action. It can be done, for example, through personal enlightenment (presumably gained by buying an expensive education), through an investment in social stability and existing norms of citizenship. And by sticking to economic and social formulae that have been shown to work elsewhere.

This type of thinking informs much commentary in the nominally-liberal media. The point being made is that ‘causes’ do better without ‘politics’, do better in conditions where they succeed through an implicit social consensus and a firm government, the ‘writ of the state’. The onus is on citizens to reach consensus and abide by the norms of government and the laws of the state.

NGOs have been linked to projects of citizen empowerment that seek to circumvent political processes by working on projects that bring in both assumptions and funding form ‘elsewhere’ — this is commonly criticised by those on the political right. When it comes to the left, the criticisms are more complicated. Often in terms of field practice and the projected strategic effects of mobilising for this or that issue, they are virtually indistinguishable from the left. As some activists note, in the field they are often identified as NGO-people; and they often give support to NGOs and rights-based campaigns, who have more money to spend and bigger networks to tap for mobilising.

In addition, one would hazard to guess, not a few working in NGOs would self-identify as leftists. In spite of all this, I heard some strong criticisms of NGOs from one activist in particular: NGOs prevent leaders from emerging from within movements, ‘organically’, by creating and identifying key individuals through whom they choose to work and to channel funds. They make these leaders less accountable to movements. They dissolve relationships of solidarity that might otherwise exist, and inhibit internal democracy. They systematically discriminate against working-class knowledge.

Others were more cautious, putting down the antagonism between the left and NGOs to a struggle for identity and ‘intolerance of small differences’. A student activist was not dismissive of the service-delivery aspect of NGO work. He emphasised that ‘urban centres needs social services’ and the left should not overlook this in its work. He disagreed with some people who ‘confuse this with NGO work and refuse to see it as revolutionary’.

But he was still at pains to dispel suggestions that the left received NGO funding. The politics/issues distinction, however, was still in his mind: NGOs work on political issues but not on politics.

Has the effect of NGO-work been non- or anti-political; or is the anti-political a possibility present in any programme of politics? This, again, is a subject that needs a more-than-cursory treatment, and there must be many useful discussions on this subject that I haven’t read. But one can perhaps note that both the civil-society-before-politics argument and the politics of progressive-change-through-solidarity-and-antagonism argument are narrow enough in their own way. Both are tainted with purism and demand certain types of essentialised political subjects before they can get under way. Absence of ‘organic struggles of resistance’ do not necessarily indicate an absence of politics. Nor does the absence of ‘citizens’ as posited by liberal thought mean a dead end for projects that seek to mobilise civil society.

This may suggest a way of looking at another concern often voiced about the left, and no less about NGOs: that they are intellectuals and academics, remote from political reality. Probably many of them are what they are accused of being. But is not clear to me what kind of discomfort is signified by accusation of intellectual/academic: discomfort with smugness, purism, authoritarianism and policing of ideological deviance, which many intellectuals are prone to? Or a discomfort with the always-looking-elsewhere — to other thinkers, places, intellectual traditions and sources — which is a trait of any politics but particularly of left politics?

This ‘otherness’ and foreignness can also exist in what we claim as our own reality. It can appear to offer itself, for instance, as a ‘sufi’ or working-class tradition, or in a sub-nationalist movement that erupts with the promise of a different perception of political reality. But there is always a risk here that the ‘otherness’ is not pure, that a tradition or struggle that claims to be an alternative bears in it layers and possibilities of the status quo.

In my view, this risk can be dispelled neither through intellectual rigour nor through impeccable praxis.

To be continued

Sarah Humayun is a writer based in Lahore. She can be reached at [email protected]

 

 

 

 

 

Federalism and decentralisation
Against the backdrop of 18th Constitutional Amendment, the
recently held UNDP conference weighs the relevance and
implications of decentralisation
By Amjad Bhatti

The 18th Constitutional Amendment passed unanimously in April 2010 has sharpened the debates on federalism in Pakistan. A number of issues have emerged in the process of implementation and transition management in last three years where a plethora of diverse argumentation have pre-dominated the political and governance discourse in the country.

Some have argued that the 18th Amendment was “too little and too late”, while others have adjudged it as “too much and too soon”. The contest on the relevance, implications and implementation of the 18th Constitutional Amendment continues till today.

It was against this backdrop that UNDP’s project on “Strengthening Participatory Federalism and Decentralization” designed an international conference on “Participatory Federalism and Decentralization: From Framework to Functionality” on 25-27 September in Islamabad. The Conference was jointly organised and co-hosted by UNDP, Inter-University Consortium on the Promotion of Social Sciences, Ministry of Inter-Provincial Coordination, the Forum of Federations, the Higher Education Commission, and the National College of Arts.

The conference was aimed at studying different trends, levels, and indicators of institutional interplay between democracy, federalism and decentralisation at national, regional and global levels. Global and regional case studies were presented on the subjects, which provided a technical baseline to inform and facilitate the process of triangular integration between democracy, federalism and decentralisation in Pakistan.

Thirty papers were presented in the conference out of which 13 papers covered international case studies by foreign scholars while 17 papers were presented by the local academia, experts and government representatives from all four provinces. International representation comprised Ethiopia, Canada, Australia, Sri Lanka, India, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Nepal, USA, Russia and Germany.

Besides, political leadership from different parties was invited to provide participants an opportunity to understand divergent perspectives and ideological standpoints of different political dispositions in Pakistan. Prominent among them were Senator Mian Raza Rabbani, Maulana Fzalur Rehman, Mahmood Khan Achakzai, Shafqat Mehmood, Marvi Memon, Taj Haider, Danyal Aziz, Qamar Zaman Kaira and Farhatullah Babar.

Key messages of the Conference:

  • Pakistan being a society blessed with the richness of diversity and multiplicity reached a landmark consensus on federalism through a journey of continuous democratic struggle in last six decades.  

  • The 18th Constitutional Amendment has set new directions for Pakistan as a federal, democratic and parliamentary state – and this has rightly been taken as a point of celebration for the proponents of federalism throughout the world.  

  • Pakistan is in a state where it can learn and teach at the same time. It can learn in this formative phase of devolution management from the countries who have extensive experience of working within federal and decentralised frameworks of governance.  

  • Pakistan can offer its learning to other countries as how consensus can be forged in diverse societies by relying upon the instruments of democratic decisions making. Pakistan has demonstrated its capacity to coin innovations in the structures of governance with a sense of inclusiveness, pluralism and equity.  

  • Subsequently, the incorporation of the values of federalism, decentralisation and inclusiveness can further be facilitated by developing comprehensive institutional frameworks at different levels of the decision-making.  

  • Streamlining of intergovernmental fiscal relations in some countries was not followed by true political decentralisation. This has led to a wider conclusion that fiscal federalism may survive without the political decentralisation only for a limited period of time.  

  • Countries where local government systems have democratised state have also seen major innovations in governance and service delivery. Local governments increase the ability of voters to hold local decision makers accountable and it also strengthens the quality of national democratic leadership. It also broadens the bases of political leadership.  

  • Local government systems need a substantial amount of hard power in order to exercise soft power. You can’t win with the losing hand. This is the fatal flaw in the community governance vision.  

  • Decentralisation is also usually part of the ongoing power struggles between central and regional political leaders. Conflicts between modernising central governments and traditional regional authorities may limit the potential for positive outcomes for women.  

  • The legislation on local government in Pakistan must ensure the compliance of Article 140 by devolving the political, fiscal and administrative authorities to the elected representatives of the local governments. The current legislations on the local government in four provinces do not reflect substantially the intent of the Article 140-A.  

  • The 18th Constitutional Amendment was the beginning of the transfer of power from federal government to the provincial governments, now it is the turn of the provinces to keep in line with the constitutional commands and transfer powers to the lowest tiers of the governance for an effective service delivery and representative governments at the grassroots level.  

  • Some governments implement electoral quotas that can compensate for women’s marginalisation by increasing their representation as legislators.  

  • There have been areas of unclear relationship with federal legislation and the Election Commission of Pakistan which underpinned unclear legislation with significant gaps. There has been number of areas left for regulations to be written by civil servants.  

  • Instead of the Rules of Business of the Federal Government, the rules of Council of Common Interests apply to the National Economic Council. In the view of 18th Constitutional Amendment, the Chairman of the Planning Commission should be appointed by the CCI on rotation basis to represent the Federation. Currently, CCI is not being involved in planning as required by the 18th Constitutional Amendment.  

  • Introducing fiscal federalism, the 7th NFC Award has ushered a sense of autonomy in the federating units and is, therefore, a landmark achievement of a democratically elected government.  

  • The implementation of Article 172 dealing with the joint ownership of natural resources can sufficiently bridge the economic disparities and reduce poverty with indigenous resources in Pakistan.  

  • The Article 10-A introduced by the 18th Constitutional Amendment provides for a comprehensive review of justice system in Pakistan and it necessitates judicial reforms, cleansing the justice administration from colonial codifications hampering access to justice and fair trail.  

  • Article 19-A of the Constitution set benchmark for the transparency and accountability by making right to information a fundamental right. The current legislations on right to information have emerged as disabler rather than enabler laws in the country.  

  • Three nonlinear steps to march towards the course of reconciliation in Balochistan were suggested which include: (a) establishment of Balochistan Truth Commission; (b) redistributive justice as the equalisation of property and wealth ownership by direct political fiat and (c) incorporation of consociational elements into federal design.  

  • A continuous process of dialogue and knowledge exchange between provinces would enable more informed transition management of 18th Constitutional Amendment in Pakistan.  

  • The newly-reinvigorated institution of Council of Common Interests need to be strengthened and as commanded by the Constitution of Pakistan a separate secretariat for the CCI needs to be established which should be providing required data, information and evidence to the CCI on the subjects assigned to it through Federal Legislative List Part II.  

  • Ministries established at the federal level on the subjects devolved to the provinces should be abolished with immediate effect as this has been taken as violation of the provincial autonomy and the demarcation of powers between centre and the provinces.  

  • It was also noted that the reversal of 18th Constitutional Amendment with special reference to those Articles which deal with the parliamentary system of government and provincial autonomy will create political instability in Pakistan.  

  • The conference underlined the need for creating more spaces of mutual learning between political leadership, development partners and academia to deepen the understanding of political, legislative, administrative and fiscal dimensions of federalism. The required technical knowledge base would inform the process of decision-making for a coordinated implementation of massive devolution.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

health
Preventable deaths
Being well-off does not necessarily promise a long and healthy life as both poverty and affluence contribute to the causes of preventable or premature deaths
By Syed Mansoor Hussain

One of the more interesting concepts in medicine is of the ‘preventable or premature deaths’. Putting aside the effects of trauma and accidents, the two other major causes of preventable deaths are poverty and affluence.

One of the most dangerous points in a human life is birth. This is dangerous especially for the mother but also for the child. Maternal and child mortality continue to be a major problem especially in poor countries including Pakistan. However, it is interesting to note that more than a century ago, child birth was equally dangerous for the rich as well as the poor.

Even in modern medical literature, the period before delivery of a child is often referred to as ‘confinement’. That is a serious problem; women that are active until the time of delivery of a child have a better chance of going through an uneventful delivery. The well to do that are confined to bed and await the time, do worse. Child birth is hard work and those that are used to hard work do better.

There is an interesting story of an obstetrician in Vienna during the nineteenth century called Ignaz Semmelweis. He made an important observation about the occurrence of puerperal sepsis (infection during child birth that was often fatal). What Semmelweis noticed was that women who had ‘street births’ or in other words were too poor to come to a hospital had a much lower chance of getting infected than those that delivered their babies in a hospital.

What Semmelweis realised and that is a seminal observation in medical history was that women who delivered babies in the hospital were taken care of by doctors who would come down from the ‘autopsy rooms’ and deliver babies without washing their hands. As such they transmitted infection from the dead to the living. By instituting the regimen of washing hands before delivering a baby, Semmelweis was able to cut down tremendously the incidence of infection.

But then being ahead of your time is never good. Since Semmelweis could not prove why washing hands was good, he was ostracised and rejected by the physicians who thought that washing hands before delivering a baby was beneath their dignity. Germs as cause of infection was yet in the future and after being rejected, Semmelweis fell apart and eventually died in a ‘mental asylum’ after being beaten up.

Today, child birth is still fraught with danger among the poor. First, because of ‘child marriages’. When ‘children’ get pregnant they are often just not physically developed enough to go through a normal delivery. Second, during child birth medical help, including the possibility of a ‘caesarean section’, is not available. Third, the child after a prolonged labour is often not well enough and neither is the mother and without medical help both might not survive.

There are two other factors that increase maternal and child mortality. First is inappropriate nutrition for the mother, most if not all poor women going into child birth are severely deficient in terms of blood strength (anaemia) and even a moderate amount of bleeding during delivery of a child can push them into severe medical problems that they might not recover from. And if the mother is not around or is too sick, the child will also have a hard time surviving.

Once the child is born and is well at birth, there are other problems in store for the poor. The first is malnutrition. Malnutrition in the poor countries remains a major cause of early (preventable) death. But even if a child gets adequate nutrition, the fight for survival has just begun.

Overcrowding, unsanitary surroundings, inadequate access to clean drinking water, lack of education, and almost no access to primary medical care and immunisations all contribute to early deaths. Without going through all the possible diseases, let me just mention the frequent epidemics of ‘gastro’ (short for gastroenteritis) and enteric fevers (typhoid) that are almost entirely due to drinking water contaminated by human refuse or else due to food prepared by persons that don’t wash hands after a visit to the toilet. Lack of immunisation in children often leads to epidemics like the recent one of ‘measles’. Adequate ‘education’ especially of the mothers could well prevent many of these problems.

Overcrowding has an interesting history. Pulmonary Tuberculosis (TB) was the scourge for the last few centuries. TB was called the ‘white plague’; it was also often a ‘romantic’ disease that infected people of a ‘sensitive’ nature. To name two victims, first is the famous poet, John Keats, the second of course is Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. Interestingly, even before the definitive antibiotic treatment for TB was discovered in the middle of the last century, the incidence of TB was rapidly declining and this was due to the fact that overcrowding became less common especially among the well to do and as such transmission of this disease from person to person became less common.

Here two ‘stories’ are of interest. Many of us of a ‘certain age’ were brought up on Indian movies in which one member of a ‘romantic triangle’ often died from TB thus leaving the field open for the friend and romantic rival. Also, while reading a book on the history of TB a few decades ago, I came upon a reference given by the person who discovered Streptomycin during the nineteen forties, the antibiotic that was the first definitive treatment of TB. The person who discovered Streptomycin mentions that he received a letter from a physician who asked for Streptomycin to treat a national leader in the ‘east’ but a few months later the physician sent a letter saying it was no longer needed. Was the patient Jinnah?

And now to the diseases particular to the well off. The diseases that have become the scourge of the modern world, of these two are worth mentioning. First is what we call Adult onset Diabetes (Type II Diabetes) that is almost entirely due to the increasing consumption of refined starches and sugars and the entailing obesity. The second is blockages of heart arteries leading to heart attacks.

Besides, Diabetes and obesity, the most important predisposing factor for blockages of the heart arteries is a lack of physical activity, once again the result of a life style that can only be sustained by the well off. Unfortunately, being well off does not necessarily promise a long and healthy life. In most developing and developed countries, Diabetes and heart disease are now the major causes of preventable (?) deaths especially among the emerging middle class. Interestingly, it is the newly ‘affluent’ that are much more prone to dietary excess.

That leaves two types of disease that make up the second tier of preventable or premature deaths. First is ‘cancer’, frankly if we didn’t live long enough, most of us would never develop cancers. It is for this reason that cancers don’t come in as a major cause of premature death in poor and developing countries. The other category is of diseases associated with aging. Here again you have to live long enough to develop these conditions.

The writer is former professor and Chairman Department of Cardiac Surgery, KEMU/Mayo Hospital, Lahore: [email protected]

 

 

 

 

A crisis long over looked
National Nutrition Survey (NNS) 2011 suggests malnutrition plays a substantial role in Pakistan’s high child morbidity and mortality rates
By Arshad Mahmood

“Well fed people can enhance their dignity, their health and their learning capacity. Putting resources into social programs is not expenditure. It is investment”, LuizInácio Lula da Silva, former President of Brazil.

Finally, the federal government has launched the long-awaited National Nutrition Survey (NNS) 2011 in Islamabad. Findings of the NNS 2011 are depressing and clearly depicts how neglected the subject is in Pakistan. There has been no improvement in nutrition indicators for the last almost four decades and Minister Ahsan Iqbal rightly lamented the fact that the last decade following NNS 2001 has been totally lost as no tangible steps have been taken to improve the situation.

Federal Minister for Planning and Development and the Minister of State for Health Services Regulations and Coordination with the respective secretaries, representatives of the Provincial Governments and the Planning Commission of Pakistan, Donors, UN Agencies and civil society were present at the launching ceremony.

The NNS 2011 was the largest nutrition survey in the history of Pakistan conducted by the Aga Khan University’s Division of Women and Child Health, Ministry of Health and UNICEF with the financial support of AusAID and DFID. The NNS 2011 covered all provinces, Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), Gilgit Baltistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). This included 1,500 enumeration bocks (EBs)/villages and 30,000 households with a 49 per cent urban and 51 per cent rural distribution.

Results from the NNS 2011 indicated little change over the last decade in terms of core maternal and childhood nutrition indicators. With regard to micronutrient deficiencies, while iodine status had improved nationally, vitamin A status has had deteriorated and there had been little or no improvement in other indicators linked to micronutrient deficiencies.

The NNS 2011 revealed that the nutritional status has not changed much over the past decade. The anthropometry of children under 5 revealed that 43.7 per cent were stunted (too short for her/his age/low height for age) in 2011 as compared to 41.6 per cent in 2001 NNS. Similarly, 15.1 per cent children were wasted (weight that is too low for her/his height) compared to 14.3 per cent in 2001. As per World Health Organization’s standards, a national average of 15 per cent or above is labelled as an “EMERGENCY”.

The NNS 2011 indicates that stunting, wasting and micronutrient deficiencies are endemic in Pakistan. These are caused by a combination of dietary deficiencies; poor maternal and child health; a high burden of morbidity; and low micronutrient content in the soil, especially iodine and zinc. Most of these micronutrients have profound effects on immunity, growth and mental development. They may underline the high burden of morbidity and mortality among women and children in Pakistan.

Malnutrition plays a substantial role in Pakistan’s high child morbidity and mortality rates. Due to its correlation with infections, malnutrition in Pakistan currently threatens maternal and child survival and an estimated 35 per cent of all under 5 deaths in the country are linked with malnutrition. It is imperative to respond to the situation if Pakistan has to be on track to achieve Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4; about two third reduction in under 5 mortality.

More than 1.5 million children in Pakistan are currently suffering from acute malnutrition, making them susceptible to infectious diseases which may even lead to death. Long-term (chronic) malnutrition undermines both physical and mental development; nearly half of Pakistan’s children are chronically malnourished, and have their brain development and immune systems impaired, with life-long consequences.

Most of the irreversible damage due to malnutrition happens during conception and in the first 24 months of life meaning that risk begins from the day of conception to up to two years of age also referred to as the first 1000 days.

It was encouraging to listen to the Federal Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal, during the launch of the NNS 2011, who was very clear that it is time for retrospection and that the issue is not going to be resolved through routine approach and all the stakeholders should respond to the situation as an emergency.

Besides, the launch of the NNS 2011 another positive development is Pakistan’s joining of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) initiative at the global level in April 2013. More than 40 countries have joined the SUN Movement so far, Pakistan being the largest country. The SUN is an opportunity which the government should utilise effectively and gear up to improve the situation of nutrition in the country. Key donors, UN Agencies, National and International NGOs are there to support the federal and provincial governments to scale up efforts for nutrition in a coordinated and efficient manner.

The writer is a development practitioner based in Islamabad and tweets @amahmood72

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food for all
Genetically-modified foods have the potential to solve many of the world’s hunger and
malnutrition problems
By Zeeshan Mazhar

The developed world is fast adopting biotechnology in agriculture and the developing world is also trying to catch up. The ever-increasing demand for food and loss in agricultural productivity due to over-cultivation, pest attacks and diseases demand for scientific development of seeds which can take care of these issue.

While countries are opting for genetic modifications in crops, certain anti-biotechnology campaigners in Pakistan are opposing genetically modified (GM) crops on grounds they are not safe and their introduction will create monopoly of big multinationals in agriculture.

They have been alleging that GM crops are ‘untested’ and ‘unsafe’. The fact is that there is no concrete scientific data proving that these crops are not safe for human consumption but there is sufficient scientific data proving that these crops, which are assessed for environmental, food and feed safety by regulatory authorities before being allowed to be grown or sold commercially, are perfectly safe for human consumption.

Regarding their concerns about monopoly of certain seed companies, one can say this debate arises whenever a new technology comes into use and the outdated one has to be discarded. But what happens is that soon after the introduction of a new technology several local and international players enter the market and gives birth to a competitive environment. Why are they going for gene improvement in case of livestock and reluctant when it comes to agricultural production?

All agricultural universities of Pakistan are teaching biotechnology. This means there will be enough expertise soon in the country to challenge monopoly of one or two companies.

There is substantial data available which clearly demonstrates safety and the benefits of the technology to the farmers and environment. Regulators across the world carry out rigorous risk assessment before granting commercial approvals. UN, WHO, FAO, EFSA, Royal Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Sciences, French Academy of Medicine, British Medical Association, 25 Nobel laureates (including Norman Borlaug) all concluded that Bt crops are as safe as conventional crops. Billions of meals from genetically modified products are being consumed globally.

Besides, GM food has been safely cultivated and consumed across the world, including tomato, sweet pepper (China), papaya (USA, China), sugarbeet (USA, Canada), corn (16 countries), potato (Sweden, Germany, Czech Republic) and squash (USA). In meeting stringent food safety requirements and standards, biotech foods are among the most thoroughly tested foods available.

No other food crops in history — including foods currently available on grocers’ shelves — have been tested and regulated as thoroughly as have foods developed through biotechnology. After more than 17 years of commercial production and consumption of the foods produced over hundreds of million acres, there are no instances on record where biotech have had negative effect on human health.

In Pakistan, opponents of crop biotechnology often fear that introduction of GM crops would create monopoly of big multinationals. The Bt cotton was first brought in by the farmers through unofficial channels because they thought it was useful for them and the government was too slow in approving the new technology.

Today, there are a number of approved and unapproved varieties of Bt cotton available in the country competing each other in the market. So where is the monopoly fear created by these anti-science lobbies?

The question here is that is it really possible today to fool the farmer? Obviously, it is not. Studies in countries where biotech products have been commercialised have demonstrated that farmers are the major beneficiaries. Technology not beneficial to the farmers can never be successfully marketed anywhere in the world including Pakistan. Farmers always opt for the seeds developed to suit their local agronomic and environmental conditions. They also look out for the fact whether these seeds can bring them substantial benefits in terms of high yields and better crop management.

The government of Pakistan is likely to introduce GM corn shortly. It will have the capability to significantly reduce the losses caused by certain chewing insect pests and weeds and ultimately result in higher production.

In the United States, where 86 per cent of the nation’s corn acreage is planted with biotechnology varieties, average yields in 2010 were roughly 30 per cent higher than the average corn yields prior to 1996 — the year biotech varieties were first planted. In the Philippines, the only Asian country where GM corn has been commercialised, there has been average yield increase of 15 per cent with herbicide tolerant corn while 25 per cent with insect resistant corn.

Above all, genetically-modified foods have the potential to solve many of the world’s hunger and malnutrition problems, and to help protect and preserve the environment by increasing yield and reducing reliance upon chemical pesticides and herbicides. The majority of these benefits continue to increasingly go to farmers in developing countries. The environment is also benefiting as farmers increasingly adopt conservation tillage practices, build their weed management practices around more benign herbicides and replace insecticide use with insect resistant GM crops.

The reduction in pesticide application and the switchover to no-till cropping systems is continuing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, feeding a world population of 9.1 billion in 2050 will require raising overall food production by 70 per cent (nearly 100 per cent in developing countries).

To meet this challenge, farmers will need to find ways to grow more food more sustainably. Biotechnology has already helped increase food and feed production. For example, biotechnology traits have added 74 million tonnes and 79.7 million tonnes respectively to global production of soybeans and corn since its introduction in 1996. Vitamin A-enriched ‘Golden Rice’, which has been developed by International Rice Research Institute (IRRI-Philippines), is one of the examples of biotech crops that fight malnutrition (Vitamin A deficiency).

Globally, GM crops’ opposition is subsiding day by day as relevant scientific data is convincing more and more anti-biotech campaigners to admit the fact that agricultural biotechnology is safe and should be fully deployed in order to ensure sufficient food for growing population.

World-known British writer and environmentalist Mark Lynas, who helped spur the anti-GM movement back in the mid 1990s, has recently confessed that he was completely wrong to oppose GMOs. In Pakistan too, agricultural scientists have been informing the stakeholders that biotechnology is safe and can be a key to address challenges facing the agriculture sector. University of Agriculture Faisalabad VC Dr Iqrar Ahmad Khan had recently said, “GMOs would lead to the new green revolution and termed the GMOs a great and safe intervention that would enhance the productivity to feed the growing population.”

Agriculture is the backbone of our economy and any wrong decision regarding adoption or rejection of any agricultural technology can have an adverse impact on our country. Therefore, it is suggested that the government should take decision on biotechnology, purely on the basis of scientific evidence and ignore the propaganda of certain interest groups.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

education
The language trinity
Our medium of instruction
policies are determined too often by political and nationalistic exigencies, playing a divisive role and contributing to fragmentation, exclusion, and growing disparities
By Irfan Muzaffar

Our country has always been multilingual due to our uniquely rich cultural landscape. The language one uses changes not just with geography, but also with each passing hour during a typical day of an average Pakistani.

At home you use your mother tongue, whatever it may be. At the work place your language performance is expected to alternate between English and Urdu depending on your educational background, your position within the institutional hierarchy, and who you are talking to. Pakistanis’ social and educational upbringing programmes them when to switch to the most relevant language to get what they want. We, as a people, are expected to be skilled in more than one language.

How has Pakistan’s education policies addressed the problem of medium of instruction in this multilingual context? The short answer is that they have utterly failed to turn this cultural dividend, our multilingual heritage, into an educational opportunity. Our medium of instruction policies have shown utter disregard to pedagogical considerations and are determined too often by political and nationalistic exigencies. These policies have also played a divisive role and contributed to fragmentation, exclusion, and growing disparities.

It all begins at home much before we encounter the effects of education policies at school. In Pakistan, it is not uncommon to find middle class parents exposing their children to a medley of available languages. That’s the sort of language exposure I received from my own parents in early years. I listened to Punjabi, was talked to in Urdu, and less frequently in English. More frequently it was a mix of the three languages. But this wasn’t all. I also came to associate different attitudes with the languages in use. Punjabi was associated with loudness and informality, Urdu with my much sought after bedtime fairy tales and rhymes, and English with cartoon characters and space and time travellers such as those found in Star Trek and The Time Tunnel.

Somewhere along the line, I learned that language was not just about talking and listening and entertainment. It was much more, just like we had a national anthem and a national bird, we also had a national language. Fortunately for me, the national language happened to be the one in which my grand mother gave me my daily doze of fairy tales.

When in school, I also learnt that English was not just about Popeye the Sailor, Star Trek, and The Time Tunnel. I was never explicitly told in those early grades that doing well in English was indispensable to my future success. But there was an unspoken understanding that English was superior/preferred, an understanding constructed at times by being fined for speaking in Urdu. Those of you who have been cadets in the cadet colleges or academies might even recall being asked to frog jump for speaking in ‘vernacular’. In the school, English just came across as much more superior than the so-called national language.

What sort of an odd society it was that first taught me that I had a national language and then fined me to speak in it? To say nothing of the mother tongue, which I did not even remember I had.

There it was then, a language version of the holy trinity — a mother tongue, Urdu, and English. English, being the language of bureaucracy, commerce, science, and technology, was the holiest of all. Urdu, being the national language, was holier. The sanctity of mother tongue was anyone’s guess. It goes without saying that to get the best of this trinity for their children, the parents must choose to send their children to an English medium school — only if they could afford to do so.

While some of our parents could afford to put us on the right side of the language trinity, most Pakistani children had this trinity on their wrong side. Many of my age-mates would never even see a school, and the education of those who’d go to Urdu medium public schools or the low cost private schools would not be prepared to compete with those of us who went to private English medium schools. Little did we realise that more than anything else, it is the language, which most effectively sets up the mutually exclusive social, cultural, and economic zones.

So we have effectively ended up creating categories of persons in our society, differentiated by access to different languages and the ability to speak them. So we effectively ended up creating a range of persons in our society characterised mainly by differences in access they had to different languages. The language trinity could be clearly mapped onto scales of privilege, advantage, and development. Mother tongues and vernaculars were placed on the lower end and Urdu and English on the sophisticated and developed end of these scales. It didn’t matter how well grounded one was in his or her first language, s/he would still be perceived as suffering from development deficit if inadequately skilled in English.

Clearly, we are in a bind on the issue of the demands that language diversity make on education system. At least, in part, it has to do with the lack of willingness of the Pakistani state to fully understand and take on the burden of actually delivering a decent education to all children. Much like any other modern state, Pakistan has always expressed the desire to extend educational opportunity to all children. But in the same breath, it has also said that the state could not finance it and has asked the private sector to pitch in. Among other things, this only strengthened the effects of the language trinity.

The early policies, at least apparently, proposed to turn the first two terms of the trinity around by suggesting a time bound transition to national language. The delegates of the first conference on education held in 1947, while clearly in favour of declaring Urdu as the national language and lingua franca of Pakistan, recognised the importance of the mother tongues and of teaching both Urdu and English as a subject. Some attending the conference thought that [Urdu] “should be taught right from the beginning of the school stage so as to increasingly and progressively adopt it as the medium of instruction in the educational system”. But there were also those who argued that “it would be educationally unsound, particularly when the mother tongues were sufficiently developed…the mother tongues could flourish and develop side by side with the lingua franca and one need not throttle the growth of the other” (From the report of the 1947 Conference on Education). The conference ultimately resolved to require the schools to teach Urdu as a compulsory subject in schools and left the question of medium of instruction to be decided by the provincial governments.

The first conference had resolved to gradually replace English with Urdu by developing the latter further and let the provincial governments determine the medium of instruction in elementary schools. By 1951, different regions within Pakistan were accommodating the language trinity in different ways. While the mother tongue had been made the medium of instruction [at least officially] in all primary schools, Urdu remained the medium of instruction in secondary schools in the Punjab, Balochistan, the [then] NWFP and Bahawalpur. In the case of Sindh and East Bengal, the regional language constituted the medium of instruction and Urdu was taught as a compulsory subject.

With regards to English, the report of the education conference held in 1951 observed that it was only in the universities that English remained the medium of instruction and that the ministry of interior was pondering over the question of time frame needed to fully replace it with Urdu and Bengali in the West and East Pakistan. The Urdu Committee appointed by the minister of interior, Mr Fazlur Rehman, had recommended starting using Urdu on an experimental basis side by side with English as a medium of instruction in the Universities of Karachi, Punjab and Peshawar. The results of this experiment were to be reviewed in 1956.

Meanwhile, the market place for English medium education, then largely being given through the missionary schools and a few selected publicly financed institutions, was allowed to flourish as it continued to produce an exclusive elite. Undoubtedly, the quality of education offered at those institutions was much better than the run of the mill public school. Yet it was only a few who could benefit from this higher quality education. The hypocritical policy elites of Pakistan continued to send their own children to these high quality English medium schools while arguing for replacement of English by Urdu for the rest.

The holy trinity of language pervaded our daily lives, while the education policy looked the other way. The height of this hypocrisy was reached with the first education policy issued by the military regime of General Zia-ul-Haq in 1979. His education policy called English medium schools a colonial legacy and called for the abolishment of this nomenclature. Nothing could be more hypocritical than a policy elite selling to the masses at large what it wouldn’t buy in the education market place itself. English continued to be holiest in the language trinity by preserving its place as the language of the military, the bureaucracy, commerce, science, and technology.

 

 

  Centres of destruction
History suggests that when universities start to act as moral vigilantes, academic standards nosedive
By Tahir Kamran

The widely held presumption that certain madaris are hatcheries of jihadis, target killers and suicide bombers stands punctured after startling revelations about universities in Lahore and Islamabad. Nine al-Qaeda suspects were arrested from a Punjab University hostel, including their handler. Four of them had received jihadi training in Miranshah in North Waziristan, while the other five had expertise in information technology/communication and the making of improvised explosive devises (IEDs).

Obviously, they could not have acquired all the skills they needed from any madrassa, certainly not the diploma in automobile technology and media coordination, with which some of them were equipped. One may surmise that madrassa-graduates may, at best, act as cannon fodder whereas graduates in science and technology from Pakistani universities form the critical mass for the anti-state forces.

On September 3, 2013, an Arab national was apprehended by a premier intelligence agency from a hostel at the Punjab University who had come to Lahore to lead a fidayeen (suicide) mission. He was living in a room allotted to a member of the Islami Jamiat Talba (IJT), whose spokesman denied link with any terrorist organisation. However, anyone having the slightest cognisance of the affairs of the Punjab University knows well that nothing can come to pass without the affirmation of the IJT’s high command.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, one of the al-Qaeda leader, was arrested in March 2004 from the home of a leader of the Jamaat-i-Islami’s women’s wing in Rawalpindi, providing evidence of the latent nexus between the two. If educational institutions are left the mercy of ideological monoliths, such occurrences become a norm and not an aberration. By such means, the largest educational institution in Pakistan has become no more than a conquered estate, to be guarded at all costs against any encroachment by the ‘liberals’. Subjected to the sway of one ideology, the Punjab University is now a hideout for terrorists. This calls for a requiem to a bygone era when the pursuit of knowledge and not terrorism was its emblem.

If this was not enough, in a recent incident one terrorist by the name of Hammad Adil was nabbed from the Sabzi Mandi area in 1-11 Sector, Islamabad. He, in cahoots with Omar Abdullah, Tanveer and Abdul Sattar, admitted to killing Shahbaz Bhatti, the lone Christian Federal Minister in the PPP government, on March 3, 2011. Adil also confessed to the murder of the prosecutor in the Benazir Bhutto murder case, assistance in the suicide attack on the Danish Embassy, burning Nato containers and attack on a general in the Pakistan army. A vehicle laden with 120 kilogrammes of explosives was recovered from his residence in Bara Kahu, in the outskirts of Islamabad.

Worryingly, Hammad Adil went to the Islamic International University (IIU), Islamabad and ‘was convinced to go on jihad during his stay in the hostel’. Similarly, his accomplice Tanveer graduated in Sharia law from IIU. Syed Irtiaz Nabi Gilani, nephew of Asiya Andrabi, the chairperson of the all-women pro-freedom outfit Dukhtran-i-Millat, absconded when police raided his house to arrest him on terrorism-related charges. A huge cache of ammunition and four spy planes were recovered from his house.

Irtiaz too is a science faculty member at IIU. That university, according to senior journalist Khaled Ahmed, was ‘decreed by the Saudi king to consolidate the growing involvement of Pakistan with Hadith-based dogmatic Islam’, and bears the notorious imprint of Abdullah Azzam, the intellectual founder of al-Qaeda, who once served there as a teacher.

Rizwan Omar, an enterprising police officer currently serving in Islamabad, claims that graduates in Sharia-Law from IIU betray a strong subversive streak with reference to the state of Pakistan. If that university is purged of Saudi influence and its curriculum is radically transformed, it can serve the society in a positive way. If not, then institutions like IIU, working to foment someone else’s ideology, are likely to wreak disaster on the beleaguered Pakistanis.

Omar also mentioned the University of Engineering and Technology, Lahore and National University of Science and technology (NUST) as imbued with overriding religiosity. The latter was recently in the news for enforcing a strict dress code on its female students. Another institution of higher education in the medical sciences, the Khyber Medical University Peshawar, also tried to emulate NUST, ostensibly to promote ‘Islamic values’.

The Jamaat-i-Islami, a coalition partner of the Tehreek-i-Insaf of Imran Khan in KPK, is said to be a driving force in enacting such a regulation. History suggests that when universities start to act as moral vigilantes, academic standards nosedive. That is exactly what has happened to our universities in the last three decades or so.

In such a situation, expecting our institutions to impart a liberal-humanist education to our coming generation — which Cardinal Newman identified as the main function of a university — remains a distant dream. Similarly, the Humboldtian ideal of creating scientific minds will remain unattainable for our youth. Thus, Tariq Rehman’s despondency over the indifference of Pakistani universities to the prescriptions of Newman and Humboldt makes perfect sense.

Pakistani universities are churning out youngsters equipped with technological know-how but obsessed with wreaking devastation with it. Things can be improved if instruction in science and technology is coupled with a critical understanding of socio-political realities. That will come only through a carefully thought-out curriculum of social and human sciences, made compulsory for all at the under-graduate level.

The writer is a noted Pakistani historian, currently the Iqbal Fellow at the University of Cambridge as professor in the Centre of South Asian Studies

 

 

 

 

 

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