expose
Once an insider
Did Nawaz Sharif meet Osama and how many times? Did he really want to impose Shariah in the country and of what variety? Another ex-ISI official spills his share of beans
By Waqar Gillani
As if the packs of "inside information" by Brig (r) Imtiaz Ahmed were not enough for national consumption, another ex-ISI official appears too willing to spill his share of beans. Khalid Khawaja, an Afghan war veteran and a former Air Force officer, has come on the national television to disclose Mian Nawaz Sharif's meetings with no less than Osama Bin Laden. Expectedly, Nawaz Sharif has denied everything Khawaja has said.

"Those who can't do, teach!"
The impact teachers have on society is indeed slow
By Zaair Hussain
I must confess my dismay as I find myself articulating a truism. "Teachers are important" should ideally occupy the same mental space, as "people should have friends". That is to say, tiny, because the premise is so apparently obvious that it merits little discussion or inner discourse before our thoughts once again turn to the more controversial issues, such as whether or not Sex in the City is the worst thing that HBO has ever made.

Historian of ideas
From rigid Marxism to a fascination with religion and morality, Leszek Kolakowski attempted to change the world through his political engagement
By Dr Arif Azad
Three eminent European thinkers -- emerged during the complex interplay of World War II -- died in July, within weeks of each other. In their own ways, and, at critical moments in the post war European history, they exercised vast influence on European politics and thinking. Two of these three -- Bronislaw Geremek and Leszek Kolakowski -- came from Poland. The third one, Ralf Dahrendorf, was a German who made Britain his home, and whose politics was shaped by his experiences of living under Nazi regime in Germany as a child.

Chance encounters of a connected kind
There is something about unexpectedly bumping into unexpected people and making meaningful connections on various levels
By Beena Sarwar
The common thread running through two strings of such encounters I had recently was my late father, Dr M. Sarwar -- his being who he was, and his passing on, led to these moments and the associations they evoked.

RIPPLE EFFECT
Cartels 'r us
By Omar R Quraishi
As Adeel Malik explained in a comprehensive, well-argued and substantiated four-part series of articles on the evolution of the sugar industry and the current crisis, institutional intervention by one or more pillars of the state to reduce the price at which sugar is sold to consumers was really nothing more than a transient short-term solution and did nothing to address real issue which was "do something about the power wielded by sugar mill proprietors."

 

Once an insider

Did Nawaz Sharif meet Osama and how many times? Did he really want to impose Shariah in the country and of what variety? Another ex-ISI official spills his share of beans

By Waqar Gillani

As if the packs of "inside information" by Brig (r) Imtiaz Ahmed were not enough for national consumption, another ex-ISI official appears too willing to spill his share of beans. Khalid Khawaja, an Afghan war veteran and a former Air Force officer, has come on the national television to disclose Mian Nawaz Sharif's meetings with no less than Osama Bin Laden. Expectedly, Nawaz Sharif has denied everything Khawaja has said.

Khalid Khawaja, 58, hails from Jaranwala in Faisalabad and joined Pakistan Air Force in 1970. Islam was not the favourite religion of Khawaja until the French wife of a base commander recommended to him some books on spiritual healing. The books turned his attention to Islam but his conversion to a self-professed Islamist was mainly driven by Maulana Maudoodi's writings. There was no looking back after that. He started preaching to his colleagues and officers through letters.

Following this change, Khawaja told his colleagues he would follow none but Allah and the Quran. From there began his hatred against India, United States and Israel. Following the complaints about his behaviour, Khawaja was referred to Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) by the air chief.

His new job was to report on the air and naval bases of the country. It was in ISI that his interaction with Brigadier (r) Imtiaz Ahmed aka Billa began. The latter told Khawaja he should consider his duty in the intelligence service as "jihad".

A major complaint was made against Khawaja when the family of General Akhtar Abdur Rehman came to Karachi. Khawaja had protested because all vehicles on duty were reserved for their protocol. Similarly, when Ziaul Haq once visited Karachi, Khawaja handed over a letter to him saying, among other things: "Mr Ziaul Haq, there seem two possibilities. Either you are insincere to Islam or you are incapable. For both reasons you should step down." A show-cause notice was served on Khawaja following which he was sent back to the air force. He was eventually forced to retire in 1988. After retirement, a joint secretary-level official named Abdullah Hai -- some of whose family members reportedly took part in Afghan jihad -- convinced him to go to Afghanistan for jihad. There he met Abdullah Yusuf Azzam, the mentor of Osama Bin Laden, and other members of the Islamic group who wanted to spread Islam across the world. He remained in contact with the group till 1997. When Musharraf came into power, Khawaja formed Defence of Human Rights, a non-governmental organisation, with the main objective of taking up the cases of missing persons including jihadis.

"Islamic leaders acting as Afghan war veterans had joined hands with Nawaz Sharif to block Pakistan People's Party's (PPP) entry into power since 1988. These leaders played their part in toppling PPP regime twice and tried to thwart the PPP in the electoral processes," he claims in a telephonic interview with TNS from Islamabad.

Who exactly are these 'Islamic leaders?' "It was a group of active Arabs from different countries and organisations including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Palestine. Abdullah Nafees, Abdullah Azzam and many others were committed members of this movement," tells Khawaja.

"Osama Bin Laden (then known as Abu Abdullah) was a young and quiet member of the group in late 1980s," Khawaja says. "They were busy in Afghan jihad and wanted to spread this movement at the global level. The Islamic leaders believed the US was using jihad for its own purposes; on the other hand, they were making a separate strategy to spread Islam."

Khawaja claims that he used to be close to Sharif because of his friend and Sharif's political aide Senator Asif Fasihuddin Wardag. But that was in the good old days "when they held meetings with the Islamic leaders, Osama bin Laden included." Khawaja is disappointed with Nawaz Sharif and so is the group of Islamic leaders who politically "invested" in him to pave way for an "Islamic revolution." Sharif, they say, has been repeatedly defying promises."

"After Zia's death, which was a huge shock for our leaders, the group planned to counter the US-backed secular PPP. We thought that an alliance of all major religious parties and its alliance with PML-N later in the general elections of 1988 could block PPP's way."

"Incidentally," he says, "ISI was thinking along the same lines. We tried our best to make a Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal style (as done by the Musharraf regime of 2002-07) alliance with PML-N to bring these parties into power. The agencies had planned to make Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi the prime minister in 1988. After all stalwarts, including Jatoi, were defeated, the establishment saw in Sharif a possible player against Benazir Bhutto. Sharif had won the election and was gaining popularity at the time."

Khawaja says they tried to make an alliance with Jamaat-e-Islami and Fazalur Rehman's Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) but it could not happen. ISI hastily formed Islami Jamhoori Itehad (IJI). "When IJI failed to form the government, the establishment invited Benazir to become the prime minister."

"Before finalising Benazir's premiership, efforts were made for reconciliation between JUI (Fazal) and IJI that failed because of the controversy over premiership. Soon after the PPP government was formed, backed by the Islamic leaders, we decided to counter and resist the government in 1989. We believed Benazir's government would damage the cause of jihad."

The plan -- to bring a no-confidence motion against Benazir -- was leaked, and thus failed. Khawaja thinks, "It was because of some mistakes on our part."

Khawaja and Senator Wardag -- political aide of Nawaz Sharif -- made such serious efforts to oust Benazir that they claim to have convinced Makhdoom Talibul Moula to give his seven votes to PML-N on condition that his son Makhdoom Amin Fahim would be made the prime minister. "Sharif, however, agreed two days after the demands. Meanwhile, Talibul Moula had given word to Benazir," says Khawaja. "Sharif has a nature of delaying decisions even at crucial moments. We sought Makhdoom's help when we needed just one vote.

"It was during this time that I came very close to Mian Nawaz Sharif. I was present in many meetings between Sharif and Fazal," says Khalid Khawaja. He also claims to have met Altaf Hussain to win his support against PPP in 1988 "We wanted an MMA-styled government with a share in federal government, NWFP and Balochistan governments."

With this background, Mian Nawaz Sharif as prime minister was all set to move ahead in the direction of setting up an Islamic system of government. "Nawaz Sharif's 'agenda' was to establish a cell to eliminate corruption in all government departments. This would be the first step towards Islamic system [as well as] a plan to help build a positive image of Sharif's government.

"Once I was about to be given an office near PM secretariat but the plan could not be executed due to delays from Nawaz Sharif's side. Lt Gen (r) Hameed Gul was one of the people who chalked out this plan. It was a document prepared after long discussions and deliberations. This cell was supposed to work as "fire brigade unit" to improve the image of the government with the launch of ideological moves and the supremacy of Allah and Quran in society," tells Khawaja.

When efforts for a no-confidence motion against him began in his first regime, Sharif needed the support of Islamic leaders and clerics, including Fazalur Rehman. In his first tenure, Sharif assured them he would honour his commitment to enforce Sharia in the country. "So much so that a speech for Sharif was prepared by the clerics to be broadcast on national television."

According to Khawaja, the speech which he says he co-wrote, was to announce the enforcement of hijab in schools and colleges, and that recommendations of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) would always be honoured. Hafiz Hussain Ahmed of JUI is a witness to these events. "The speech that Nawaz Sharif delivered had little of the 'original' manuscript drafted by Khawaja and his colleagues. This annoyed the Islamists further. It was later found that the speech was edited or rather altered by Nazir Naji, a senior journalist, to whom Sharif had sent the speech for the editing."

Sharif, he says, wanted absolute power gradually and when the clerics asked him to enforce Islamic system, "he said he would refer the matter to the parliament. We were not happy with him. Even in a one-on-one meeting with me, Sharif clearly told me that no one can become PM in Pakistan without US support. I, on the other hand, asked him to be clear and take a stand against the US."

Khawaja Khalid recalls about five meetings took place between Nawaz Sharif and Osama bin Laden. "It was Osama who brought the Sharifs and the Saudi Royals closer. These ties were later strengthened by the Sharifs. Even at a time when there arose differences between Osama and Saudi Royal family, we suggested to Nawaz Sharif to invite Osama to Pakistan formally and give him a reception. The proposed reception was to be followed by the efforts of Afghan Jihad veterans to try to bring about reconciliation between Osama and Saudi Royal family but Sharif rejected the proposal. This would have been a great service of Mian Nawaz Sharif to Islam."

[email protected]

 

"Those who can't do, teach!"

The impact teachers have on society is indeed slow

By Zaair Hussain

I must confess my dismay as I find myself articulating a truism. "Teachers are important" should ideally occupy the same mental space, as "people should have friends". That is to say, tiny, because the premise is so apparently obvious that it merits little discussion or inner discourse before our thoughts once again turn to the more controversial issues, such as whether or not Sex in the City is the worst thing that HBO has ever made.

"Those who can't do, teach."

I begin this series of observations about the profession and art of teaching with this statement for it summarises beautifully the poisonous wool that too many have placed over their own eyes.

The etymology of the saying probably dates back to 1903, when George Bernard Shaw wrote, "he who can, does…He who cannot, teaches" in his Maxims for Revolutionists.

For the sake of perspective, maxims were at that time the contemporary equivalent of bumper stickers. Furthermore, in the same enumeration of revolutionary adages, Shaw seemed no less bitter about parents, writing: "The vilest abortionist is he who attempts to mould a child's character".

Consider, for a moment, this statement:

"Those who can't live, parent."

Although this statement follows first, it would be considered almost universally absurd by the same chaps who are happy to go on blurting "those who can't do, teach" like emotionally scarred parrots who had terrible experiences in their younger days at Parrot Convent.

There are good teachers and bad, to be sure, just as there are good parents and bad. But it is prima facie outlandish to dismiss either parenting or teaching as unimportant, especially as a bad teacher (or parent) can do at least as much harm as a skilled teacher can do good.

We entrust our most profound responsibility -- our children and later our youth -- to teachers for some 26,000 hours of their lives not counting preschool, after-school and college. Are we a nation of terrible and reckless parents? Or do we merely have no more understanding of cause and effect than a barnacle has of King Lear?

How is it possible that we discourage some of our best and brightest from taking up their posts as the guardians of more enlightened tomorrows?

How is it possible that we poison the wellspring from which our children, and then our youths, and then our intelligentsia must drink?

How can we -- knowingly, willingly -- cripple the vanguard of our future?

Our woefully tenuous grasp of causal relationships is disappointing, but understandable. In our collective life as a species, we have matured little since the time we discovered the relationship between cuddling an adorable grizzly cub and being mauled to a horrific death by its enraged mother. By comparison, the impact teachers have on society is very slow indeed.

But if we fail to grasp this concept, we damn ourselves to a terrible fate: to be no better tomorrow than we are today. There are children on the opposite ends; those who have nothing within them for even the greatest and most creative teacher to foster, and the natural born geniuses who would excel no matter the external stimuli, or lack thereof. Those two extremes, if not entirely theoretical (neither I nor anyone I know fell within those narrow margins) are very rare. And in between lies the balance of our future.

Those who can't do, teach? Socrates, Plato and Aristotle would like a word with you. In case you don't recognise the aforementioned teachers of antiquity (and if you don't, congratulations: all your teachers just felt a piece of their living soul wither and die), they are the men who, for lack of a better term, invented western civilization. Between them, they pioneered and/or astronomically advanced medicine, logic, the scientific method, dialectics and mathematics. It is no coincidence that these great thinkers appeared in overlapping generations; the one taught the second, who in turn was teacher to the third.

Pythagoras, known as the father of numbers (yes, all of them. Feelings of inadequacy at this point are entirely normal) became a teacher late in life, establishing an institution in Croatia, which fashioned students known as Exoterics and Esoterics.

Ibn Khaldun, perhaps the most prolific and prominent Muslim scholar of the medieval era, is considered to have fathered more disciplines than most men (even here) father children. He is not infrequently credited with being one of the (if not the) prime movers behind the creation of demography, cultural history, historiography, the philosophy of history, sociology and even economics as they exist today. At the apex of his career and towards the end of his life he devoted much of his time and energies to teaching in madrassas around Cairo.

This, mind you, was after having been a prime minister and having written his seminal Al Muqaddimah, which the incomparable British historian Toynbee considered the greatest work of its kind in history.

Confucius was a travelling teacher, though it is unknown if his famous quotations included caustic witticisms aimed at those who took the profession lightly. I shall not deign to highlight his accomplishments. In all seriousness, you should be ashamed for asking.

Oh, very well: he created the cornerstone of Chinese philosophy and education for the next two thousand years, give or take a century. Try not to think of that while celebrating your next "achievement"; the violent rush of perspective will knock you unconscious.

Had these beacons in luminescence been merely philosophers (literally, lovers of knowledge) their influence would have been as a candle in the darkness. As it so happened, they were passionate teachers and through their works and the works of their legion of illustrious students their influence grew till it was no less than the noonday sun, illuminating us from across the heady span of millennia.

Too bad none of these people could "do", right?

Too many parents treat classrooms like black boxes: students go in and, x number of years later, productive, qualified members of society are churned out like cars on a production line. This is a tragically banal reduction of the profession.

Confounding the hopes of most parents, a good teacher does not aim merely to precipitate some osmosis of knowledge. They encourage us to question prosaic truisms and delight as they become exciting uncertainties. They help us take the critical step beyond the what into the territory we so dearly wished to explore as children but almost inevitably forgot in our youth: the why. Why do these sects war? Why has such and such country evolved the way it has? Why are these the social and cultural mores? Why is E=MC2? And perhaps most importantly: Why do I think about certain things the way that I do?

True educators routinely challenge how we perceive the world, but their greatest gift is often to challenge how we perceive ourselves. They challenge what we assume to be true; they challenge our blind trust in parents and preachers and politicians; they challenge the limits that we imagine for ourselves.

The obvious becomes the unexplored, black and white issues run together till they are a glorious and terrifying grey. A good teacher does not try to mould young minds, as the saying goes, but rather seeks to free the reasoning and imagination of students bound only by fetters inside their heads. For freeing young minds, Socrates was executed by men who recognised the power of a teacher, and feared it would shake their world.

Among the tragedies of the world, and certainly of poorer nations, there are few so poignant as waste. Imagine, for a moment, those born writers and mathematicians and academics who, but for the want of a good teacher, would have filled the world with the bloom of their florid prose, the towering symmetry of their logic, the jubilant cries of newborn ideas. So many are wasted every year, and the world grows ever poorer. Teachers are almost uniquely able to see the raw potential of students, the stuff from which greatness is sculpted, and fashion from it a brighter future.

Zaair Hussain lives in Lahore and can be reached at [email protected]

 


Historian of ideas

From rigid Marxism to a fascination with religion and morality, Leszek Kolakowski attempted to change the world through his political engagement

By Dr Arif Azad

Three eminent European thinkers -- emerged during the complex interplay of World War II -- died in July, within weeks of each other. In their own ways, and, at critical moments in the post war European history, they exercised vast influence on European politics and thinking. Two of these three -- Bronislaw Geremek and Leszek Kolakowski -- came from Poland. The third one, Ralf Dahrendorf, was a German who made Britain his home, and whose politics was shaped by his experiences of living under Nazi regime in Germany as a child.

From amongst this trio, Kolakowski is by far the best known and widely revered for his contribution to recent European politics. He had a role in the eminence of ideas in European thought; little wonder his passing was marked in the Polish parliament, which interrupted its proceedings and observed a one minute silence. It says a lot about the hold of political ideas on Polish life.

Kolakowski was born to well-to-do parents in Rodam in 1927. From an early age, he had acquired a taste for imbibing ideas and knowledge. During the war, while forced to live underground, he continued his education with the help of underground resistance teachers. As a young man he joined the Polish Worker Party in which he played an influential role. After completing his PhD on Spinoza in 1953, he began lecturing in philosophy at the University of Lodz where he rose to be a professor. Kolakowski's party work also involved editing two influential magazines Nowa Kultura and Po Prostu which accord him a pole position on ideological debates within the party.

But Kolakowski 's ideological attachment was to undergo a radical shift in the wake of the 1956 uprising that installed Gomulka as the new party leader. From this point onward, Kolakowski was set on an irreversible course of revising his own views on Marxism. Increasingly, he veered away from mainstream Marxism and began to inch towards a more humanistic form of Marxism. This ideological switchover was to land him in the bad book of party officials. His long-entrenched view that Soviet-imposed system was unsuitable for Poland against the backdrop of Russian-Polish historical enmity gained firmer hold with the passage of time.

Despite his independent revisionism, he managed to retain his party card until 1966 when he was expelled from the party; expulsion from University of Warsaw, where he was working as professor of philosophy since 1964, was to follow in 1968. Upon this, after enduring years of censorship and official disfavour he went to exile, first in Canada and then in the US where he taught at McGill and Berkley universities respectively.

In 1970 he became a senior research fellow at All Souls College, Oxford which remained his permanent habitat. In the same year, he published the fruits of independent thinking on Marxism in the form of Towards Marxist Humanism which previewed his consolidated alternative current within Marxist thought. In the following years, he published his three volume magnum opus Main Currents of Marxism upon which he had been working since 1958. The book, a grand survey of European Marxist thought, cemented his already consolidating reputation as a historian of ideas. This was a landmark study in the exposition of Marxist thought in Europe. The main thesis of the book being that Stalinism was hardly an aberration of Marxism but a natural culmination of it. The book was read widely among intellectuals and students in Poland and the world beyond.

Kolakowski's revisionist vision drew sharp response from British Marxist historian EP Thompson who criticised him in a long letter published in the left's theoretical journal The Socialist Register. As a reformist ex Communist he came to exercise major influence on political developments inside Poland. In this he was joined by Noble Prize Winner Czeslaw Milosz and other exiles scattered abroad. Together, this band of exiles worked to promote human rights and freedom inside Poland and mobilised support from international community for such reforms. Out of such concerted efforts against the system, a new civil society movement and the solidarity movement grew up which laid the basis of dissolution of Communist regime.

More significantly, these prominent exile intellectuals centred Poland as the hub of new ideas in European politics already gripped with political upheavals in Eastern Europe. This strategy of placing central Europe at the heart of Western Europe was to result in Poland joining as a new member of European Union in the first wave of new entrants.

Another important strand in his evolving thinking was his reversion to the issues of morality and religion. This growing fascination with religion played a key role in re-orientating him to the solidarity movement that enjoyed support from a vast array of supporters, including the Catholic Church. Earlier on, Kolakowski's tract on manifesto against hopelessness suggested a greater oppositional role for different social groups and civil society in totalitarian state.

With the passage of time, Kolakowski's reputation as a philosopher and historian of ideas became known the world over. This led to a number of much-coveted prizes flowing his way when he entered the autumn of his life. He was awarded the MacArthur Foundation fellowship known widely as the genius grant. In 2003, he became the first author to receive John Kluge prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Humanities and Social Sciences, given in scholarly areas not covered by Nobel Prize. Back home, he was awarded the Order of the White Eagle, Poland's highest honour.

His vast influence on Polish life was acknowledged by famous dissident writer and journalist, Adam Michnik, who credited Kolakowski as the creator of contemporary Polish life. His biography shows how a public intellectual can change the world through his ideas and political engagement.

The writer is chief executive of the Network for Consumer Protection. [email protected]

 

 

Chance encounters of a connected kind

There is something about unexpectedly bumping into unexpected people and making meaningful connections on various levels

By Beena Sarwar

The common thread running through two strings of such encounters I had recently was my late father, Dr M. Sarwar -- his being who he was, and his passing on, led to these moments and the associations they evoked.

It first started when, ignoring disparaging comments by friends about 'snail mail', I went to the post office. There had been heavy thundershowers in Karachi a couple of days earlier, but the roads were less inundated than before, thanks to the storm drains inserted under several main roads (during agonisingly long-drawn out construction periods). A large pool of rainwater blocked the gate of the low-lying post office. An unexpectedly courteous policeman guided me to a side entrance. Inside, marks on the post office walls indicated the 2-3 feet of water that had inundated it.

How they salvaged the place, I wondered aloud. Credit went to the cleaners (still industriously wiping off stains from the walls), said the supervisor, who turned out to be Qadir of the Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party (CMKP).

For all its small size the CMKP has made waves with Laal, a band comprising CMKP members. Laal has popularised the revolutionary poet Habib Jalib amongst the younger generation, starting with their first number, a rendering of Jalib's satirical 'Mein ne uss se yeh kaha' (I told him this). They used visuals of the mayhem in Karachi on May 12, 2007, as political and civil society activists faced bullets while heading for the airport to receive the then deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. Over 40 people were killed that day. This musical response to May 12 was a huge hit on YouTube. Their first album took off when Geo TV launched it (with revised visuals -- but then, they owe their larger audience to this compromise).

I remember meeting Jalib at a book launch at the Karachi Press Club in 1981 or so with my father, who rarely forayed out. "Do you know who this man is?" Jalib asked me, my father towering over him. "This," he added affectionately, "is my guru". Dr Sarwar hemmed and hawed and pooh-poohed. Jalib grinned.

Dr Sarwar's role in the 1950s student movement had made him an icon for many. I was posting the CD of an audio interview of my father to Farooq Sulehria, a journalist and activist with the Labour Party Pakistan whom I've known since our Lahore days. The package also contained the photocopy of a book edited by the poet Ibne Insha about Sarwar's older brother Akhtar, a journalist who had died early. These people have passed into history but their legacies and dreams for a progressive society with universal education and justice live on.

As I left, a man arriving on a motorbike removed his helmet and greeted me -- Mehmood Alam Khalid, editor of Farozaan, a monthly environmental magazine in Urdu. He said he was planning to visit me with the reference of Iqbal Alavi, one of the founders of the Irtiqa Institute of Social Science, a platform for progressive writers, youth and intellectuals. Iqbal Alavi, my father's fellow-activist and jail-mate, had initiated the reference for Dr Sarwar at PMA House, Karachi.

Another voice said hello -- the post office was a happening place. It was the soft-spoken psychiatrist Dr Shifa Naeem whose husband Naeem Sadiq persistently writes and sends open letters to the relevant authorities, aimed at steering the country towards a secular, progressive vision that grants its citizens dignity. Shifa and Naeem were among the founders of the War Against Rape, an NGO that takes up issues of violence against women.

Naeem's long-standing causes include a crusade for public toilets. A recent one, which seems to be getting more results, involves questioning Karachi's army-run Defence Housing Authority (DHA) about a form real estate buyers had to fill that included their 'religion/sect'. Naeem's campaign led to the DHA backtracking with the belated announcement that there is "no need to fill out 'religion/sect' column". Naeem responded by asking why they did not modify the form instead of issuing press briefs.

The prominent Justice (retd.) Majida Rizvi was among the signatories to his plea to the Sindh High Court seeking clarification about "the requirement of Religion and Sect from its application forms and other related documents, so that the citizens of Pakistan are not discriminated or divided on the basis of religion or Sect." The court has since taken suo moto notice (vide C.P.No D-1861/2009).

Another string of connected encounters started as my mother and I flew to Lahore to participate in a reference for Dr Sarwar initiated by the energetic Dr Farrukh Gulzar, a 'follower' as he puts it.

Across the aisle in the plane sat Khurram Sohail, a young journalist and playwright I had met at T2F, that 'more than a coffee shop' happening place. As we talked, a child of about 10 or 11 sitting next to Khurram occupied herself with an Ipod. I had seen her in the departure lounge with a slim blonde woman in shalwar kameez and Pakistani man in jeans and t-shirt. This was shortly before Independence Day, and their green hats emblazoned 'Pakistan Zindabad' attracted much friendly attention.

The parents were seated in a row removed behind us. The child sitting on her own was open and friendly, unafraid to talk to total strangers. Her name was Syra, her family lived in the Boston area. She had visited her father's country Pakistan before, loved it, and even spoke a little Urdu.

Her father Rafay Mehdi joined us, standing in the aisle to chat. He is a medical doctor at Harvard; his wife Heather Schmid is a well-known singer (twice nominated for the Emmy). She was doing a benefit concert in Lahore for the internally displaced persons from Swat.

During the 2005 earthquake, Rafay had been among the doctors who had come to help out in Kashmir. Heather called, wanting to join him. He tried to dissuade her. "What will you do here?"

"I'll do what I can, I'll sing for them."

"What if someone plants a bomb under the stage?"

"Then, you can tell people, 'she died doing what she believed in'."

"That's the kind of woman she is," he added. "After that I didn't try to stop her. She came and did concerts to raise funds for the earthquake survivors."

Syra has obviously inherited this eagerness to connect with people. She refused Rafay's suggestion that he take the seat in the middle row and let her sit with Heather. "I want to meet people," she told him. "I can't do that if I'm sitting with you or mom."

Rafay vacated the aisle space so Heather could talk to us. Her card introduces her as an 'international recording artist' with a company called Goddess Inc. She talked about her awakening interest in Sufi music. Khurram, who always travels with a collection, gave her several suggestions. He had already hooked Syra onto Coke Studio and she sat cheerfully listening to his Ipod while we talked. Heather passed along her Iphone to us -- we heard a bit of her powerful, uplifting hit single 'Touching Down'. There were also photos of her at the Grammy awards – the closest we've come to this ceremony!

On Saturday, after the reference for Dr Sarwar at the HRCP, we attended a performance by Nahid Siddiqui's students at the open-air theatre at Peeru's Café -- a wonderful space created by the Peerzadas on the outskirts of Lahore next to their Museum of Puppetry, itself the first such institution in Pakistan.

The performance was a soul-stirring experience. Pakistan's foremost kathak dancer has developed her own style of kathak, set to kafis, stripped of ornamentation; she often even does away with the traditional 'ghungros' (ankle bells) in order to keep attention focused on the form. Besides the choreography, she had composed the taranas she used, and rendered the vocals along with her cousin, the talented Fareeha Pervez. Young Hasan, Nahid and Zia Mohyeddin's son played the tabla -- a calling he has taken up professionally.

At the end, as we mingled, we bumped into the family from the plane. They were with Fareeha Pervez -- she and Heather are talking about to collaborating musically.

I later forwarded Heather a press release from Salman Ahmed in New York about his concert for Pakistan on September 12 at the UN. She promptly offered to donate a performance at the concert. It did not materialise, given the short notice -- but here's to more chance encounters of a connected kind.

Postscript to post office encounters: My Sweden-bound registered parcel reached its destination in less than a week. Thank you Pakistan Post.

The writer is a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker – www.beenasarwar.wordpress.com

 

RIPPLE EFFECT

Cartels 'r us
By Omar R Quraishi

As Adeel Malik explained in a comprehensive, well-argued and substantiated four-part series of articles on the evolution of the sugar industry and the current crisis, institutional intervention by one or more pillars of the state to reduce the price at which sugar is sold to consumers was really nothing more than a transient short-term solution and did nothing to address real issue which was "do something about the power wielded by sugar mill proprietors."

In fact, much of what Malik, a lecturer in development economics at Oxford University, said is true for large chunks of the Pakistani economy -- where business and corporate groups, if they can, try and appropriate for themselves as much corporate and political power as they can. This power and its appropriation is a key tool used by such groups in the maximisation of profits. So, instead of a competitive economy, what we have is a highly non-competitive and oligopolistic (from the term 'oligopoly' which means a market dominated by a few firms) economy where a primary factor for profits are not innovation, enterprise or increased quality of a particular good or service but the existence of cartels.

For those who don't have even a basic understanding of economics, how this works is pretty much like match-fixing, where both teams do not play in a competitive match but rather act in a deliberate fashion to engineer a result -- a result that is usually beneficial to all the players involved. Much in the same way, in a cartel in an actual economy, the firms collude together to keep prices at levels (this can usually be done by withholding output) where all firms increase their profits, or where all of them make enough money to make profits for a long period of time.

Perhaps the most famous cartel is OPEC but since the players involved are governments themselves it is not deemed illegal. However, within an economy such behaviour is usually considered illegal -- for the simple reason because the firms that are part of it increase their revenues/profits not because of competition and fair business practices but by basically ganging up together and profiting at the expense of consumers. In developed countries safeguards are usually in place to check such anti-competitive and anti-consumer behaviour by companies and a good example of this is America where action against firms which act in this way often happens and usually ends up in punitive charges. (This is not to say at all that the world's largest economy doesn't have its fair share of cartels and companies that work together to gain from consumers, but the point being made is that the government does act in such countries to safeguard the interests of ordinary citizens and to ensure, to some extent at least, that they are not fleeced or exploited by companies.)

Perhaps the most celebrated case where the US government acted against a major corporation was when the Department of Justice acted against software giant Microsoft. The charge -- and to many Pakistanis who use Microsoft's products this may not even be an issue -- was that Windows was being sold in a manner that anyone who would buy it would also automatically be paying (in part) for a browser (Internet Explorer). Microsoft's competitors rightly pointed out that this was anti-competitive behaviour because it precluded most people from even considering browsers that were not Internet Explorer (which is a pity given that many computer users think that other browsers, especially Mozilla's Firefox, are far better). Prior to this, AT&T, which used to be a single telecommunications company and more or less a monopoly was broken up into seven different companies after action by the US government, so as to make the telecom market more competitive.

In Pakistan we used to have the Monopoly Control Authority which was quite a toothless body. The most it could do was to impose a fine of a few thousand rupees per day on companies which in its view had acted in monopolistic/collusive manner and tried to manipulate the price of the good or service that they were manufacturing in order to increase revenue and profit. The ineffectual body was converted into the Competition Commission (and this happened not because we wanted to take on the business and corporate giants) but because our foreign multilateral donors mandated that this be done. The body recently was in the public spotlight after its head, a bureaucrat by the name of Khalid Mirza, was transferred a couple of days after the commission made an unprecedented finding vis-a-vis the country's cement industry that it was highly cartelised and fined companies over six billion rupees.

Other than cement, we have banks which act like a cartel (and hence the industry has among the largest spread in the world, i.e. the difference between the interest rate a bank charges on loans to borrowers and that it pays to its account-holders) and hence many continue to thrive even in times of economic recession. We also have the automobile industry where, again despite an economic slump, prices of cars have continued to rise. The only plausible reason for that would have to be that manufacturers are working (read colluding) to ensure that prices do not fall and that all earn sustained revenues/profits. The cartel power of this industry can be gauged from the fact that those who want prompt delivery of cars have to pay money over and above the listed price -- and this is public knowledge and the government does nothing about it. Clearly, in such a situation (and most probably in the cement and sugar industries) the collusion is not between just firms but also between industry and the government, or certainly some sections of the government.

Bodies that fight cartel in developed countries are financially independent of the executive and their officers have vast powers to take punitive action against companies that collude to fix prices or output -- the reason for that is straightforward: that in paying taxes citizens expect the government to fulfil its responsibility (or as Jean Jacques Rousseau would have said the 'social contract') and that is to safeguard the rights of taxpaying citizens whose interests in a democracy are paramount.

But in Pakistan, the world is upside down -- those who break the law are the ones who have it good and breaking the law is not something considered bad, or even unethical. (By the same token those who abide by the law are losers, and a good example of that can be experienced by anyone who tries to stop at a red light in a major city past midnight.)

The writer is Editorial Pages Editor of The News.

Email: [email protected]

 

 

 


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