The Senate chairman puzzle

Who is going to be the next chairman of the senate? The bet was on former Sindh governor Mohammadmian Soomro until, out of the blue, emerged Wasim Sajjad with a PML(Q) ticket for the reserved technocrat seat in Islamabad. Though nobody is prepared as yet to bet on Wasim Sajjad, the odds in favour of Soomro seem to have dwindled a little since the entry of Wasim in the senate race.

Those who believe Sajjad to be a serious contender for the post of senate chairmanship maintain that his election to this office would serve the interest of provincial harmony. The President has claimed on occasions in the past that he holds a Sindh domicile. Prime Minister Jamali is from Balochistan and Chaudhry Amir Hussain belongs to the Punjab province. So, according to the supporters of Wasim Sajjad if a man who holds NWFP domicile gets the office of senate chairman, it would satisfy the notion of power sharing among the four federating units and promote provincial harmony.

In the past all these four top offices used to be distributed among the three bigger and more influential provinces except during Army rule when generals (mostly from Punjab and NWFP) would do all the power sharing. In the second Nawaz government, however, the offices of both the President and the PM were held by persons from Punjab while those of NA Speaker and senate Chairman by those belonging to NWFP. Mr Jamali is perhaps the first Baloch to enter this foursome power house. And now if Mohammadmian Soomro is elected Chairman of the senate, then perhaps for the first time, the NWFP would find itself out of the power house and; on the other hand for the first time Sindh would be holding two of the four top offices. Would not that lead to heart burning in the NWFP which is already behaving like an outcast because of being the odd man out in a setup dominated by the PML(Q) at the centre and three provinces?

Perhaps the last minute induction of Wasim Sajjad in the senate race is an outcome of a rethink on the matter by the powers that be. And it is perhaps to ensure his election without any hiccups that the papers of Dr Farrukh Salim, PPP(P) candidate for Islamabad’s sole technocrat seat, were rejected on the flimsy grounds that he has no national or international achievements to his credit, as if all those whose papers on technocrat seats were accepted did have to their credit such achievements. In fact, Dr Salim was perhaps the only candidate in his category (finance) who had made his mark both in Pakistan and in Canada as a highly successful fund manager and he is also perhaps one of the most read financial journalists in the country.

Here let me digress a little. In my last column I had quoted some detractors of former PPP Senator Iqbal Haider saying that he did not get a PPP(P) senate ticket because he had sent a bill to his chairperson for some legal services he had rendered to her. Iqbal called me up from Karachi and said, in the first place he did no apply for a PPP(P) senate ticket so the question of his not being given the ticket did not arise and secondly that he had never charged Benazir Bhutto or her spouse for any legal services he had rendered to either of them. I stand corrected, Iqbal Haider sb.

Reverting to the subject of senate chairman’s post, Mohammadmian Soomro has remained the favourite for the job all these weeks because he is seen to enjoy the full confidence of the President. And considering the fact that in the absence of the president from the country or his illness, the senate chairman would take over the highest office, it is only natural for the President to pick such a person for the job. But then the subject of provincial harmony is also very near to President’s heart. So, perhaps, at least for achieving this harmony, he would like to see a man with NWFP domicile and having as well enough experience and an unassailable past record in the job to remain in the run until a final decision is taken on this score.

The MMA is making its own plans to spring a surprise on the ruling party in the senate. They need at least 51 votes to win the office of the senate chairman. At the moment they seem to have counted 35 on their side. They need another 16. The elections to the upper house are still about 22 days away. In an uncertain political situation such as is being witnessed today in Pakistan anything can happen between now and February 24. The ruling party is in total disarray. Most of the PML(Q) MNAs and MPAs feel that they have been short changed. They got nothing for all their troubles. It is the PPP(P) patriots who have made a killing in terms of cabinet portfolios. So, already a rebellion seems to be simmering below the surface within the ruling alliance. And this could take an ugly turn at the time of election to the office of senate chairman.

Tailpiece: Strangely enough the Indian media, both print and the electronic in New Delhi, did not consider the meeting between President General Pervez Musharraf and India’s opposition leader, Subramanium Swamy, President of Janata Party last week newsworthy enough to report. Could it be that the New Delhi media has bought lock, stock and barrel South Block’s version of its conflict with Pakistan and therefore, has willingly succumbed to manipulation by the government in this particular case? Or may be the media in New Delhi believes that positive stories about Indo-Pakistan relations do not sell in the atmosphere now obtaining in India vis-a-vis Pakistan. Whatever the reason, India’s new mindset is really intriguing. The Gujarat mandate has perhaps made even the saner Indians suffer from self doubts and therefore, the unstoppable rise and rise of Hindutva which thrives on the hatred of Pakistan and of Indian Muslim. In fact lately, the RSS backed BJP has started making the Indian Muslims pay for what it believes to be the ‘sins’ of Pakistan. The world-wide propaganda against Muslims and their depiction as terrorists by influential countries seems to have accorded a kind of respectability and justification to the on-going atrocities being perpetrated by the extremists in India’s majority community against its Muslim minority.—M. Ziauddin

A new chapter opens

AT last - oh such achingly long last - the Sindh Provincial Legislative Assembly commenced its first session last week. The honourable members may feel good, having taken the first steps. Once again, we witnessed how hard, halting and unsure the first steps can be. Our MPAs made heavy whether of whatever they thought they had picked up so far. One heard some really loud cross talk and pungent exchanges. A couple of walkouts were also thrown in for good measure. All of this has to be taken in the stride as part of the game of parliamentary politics.

We have never been short of critics, censors, fault-finders. So much has already been said about the way our new lawmakers have made their debut as parliamentarians. Admittedly, it has not been a model of sophisticated parliamentary etiquette and culture. But then, who expected a model performance - and why should one expect so? Caustic exchange and some lively wordy duels should cause neither surprise nor elicit sharp censure.

Let us remember that our parliamentarians have had so woefully little opportunity and freedom to find their feet on the floor of a lawmaking chamber. How often, and in what manner, the parliamentary process has been disturbed is no secret. It is said that ninety per cent of the honourable members are first-timers. A measure of sophomoric solecisms should be permissible, at least in the initial stages of the life of this new house.

One must not forget that an elected house is bound to be a miniature of the society and culture that has elected its members. There was noise and fury no doubt. But as a mirror of the reality outside, it was a fairly authentic reflection. This was to be expected. Anyone hoping to be served an exquisitely refined fare was obviously asking for more than the novice lawmakers could be asked to serve.

However intemperate the start, the Sindh lawmakers have made it clear that they seriously intend to take up the two most compelling issues. First, the chronic, and so far intractable, water shortage. The second is the law and order problem. While the water shortage may be Karachi’s own heartache, law and order problem in Karachi casts long and dark shadows across the entire country. As face is the index to the heart, the mood in Karachi is taken by the whole world as index to the health of Pakistan.

Upon peace in Karachi depends the investment climate of the entire country. Upon investment, domestic as well as foreign, depends the health of the economy - development, growth, stability, poverty alleviation. With law and order in a disturbed state in Karachi, the whole country is deprived of its peace and economic stability.

No doubt the law and order situation in this city is far from satisfactory. On this premise there should be little feuding between the Government and the Opposition. But on the question why the situation is what it is, and how it is to be handled, surely there can be more than one opinion. Just as well. So, there should be a threadbare discussion.

The debate continues. If the members can resist the temptation of scoring points, they should have no difficulty in diagnozing the nature of the trouble, pinpointing the causes and proceeding to prescribe and administer the remedy in a businesslike manner. All that the provincial lawmakers need to deliver this much is no more than common sense and good will.

The general state of law and order is nowhere near being ideal. However, a fair-minded observer of the affairs of Sindh over the last decade and a half would concede that, compared with the careers of the four Benazir-Nawaz governments, it is perceptibly less disquieting. The years when Jam Sadiq Ali was ruling (or roughing up?) the roost were simply appalling. One would recall also the ‘Operation clean-up,’ staged under the late General Asif Nawaz. It is a different Karachi, though far from a comfortable city.

In the best of situations, Karachi will remain a rather difficult place to administer and keep out of trouble. It is a conglomeration of extremely diverse elements. It is indeed the whole of Pakistan in miniature. But also more than that. It is no secret that Karachi has come to be the camp for thousands of Afghans who have no means of living normal lives. Millions in Karachi are here all alone, only to make a living. Not all of them are comfortable and at peace with themselves or with this city.

In scores of localities the existing conditions are just ideal for breeding and proliferating crime. And crime in Karachi takes mind-boggling forms. It ranges from minor pilfering to highway robbery, from fisticuffs to cold- blooded, premeditated killing, kidnapping for ransom, daring car hijacking at gunpoint. These are crimes with nothing at all to redeem them. There is political crime — like the violence as a consequence of the ‘No-go Areas.’ There is social crime. Most of it against women and children. Then there is industrial crime, financial crime, professional misdemeanours, and there is crime in the marketplace.

What the honourable lawmakers should start with is a study of the patterns of crimes, and the hurt and damage they cause to society. Having done that with the assistance of experts, they should work out their priorities. No government can mount all-out attack on all crime fronts at the same time. If the government goes about it in a systematic and transparently fair and apolitical manner, they should be able to show results. Once the results become visible, the government would be assured of general public support without which no social reform is ever likely to produce results.

Let them put their best foot forward. Well begun is half done. The second half gets done more easily and surely.

Day-night encounters

THE last day of Basant — Sunday (Feb 9) — will coincide with the first day of the World Cup. I don’t know if the weather will be kind to the kite-fliers next Sunday when South Africa take on the West Indies in a day-night encounter in a Pool B match at Newlands, Capetown.

These day-night encounters can be pretty dicey, especially for teams batting second. It is better to set a target than to chase one when the lights come on. Other day-night games in the preliminary round will be:

Bangladesh vs Canada on Feb 11 in Johannesburg. Kenya vs Canada on Feb 15 in Capetown.

This is important. England will play against Pakistan on Feb 22 in Capetown.

India also play England in Durban on Feb 26.

On Feb 28, Sir Lanka take on the West Indies at Capetown.

On March 3, South Africa play Sri Lanka at Durban.

There are then, seven day-night matches which involve South Africa, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India and the West Indies and they may have some bearing on who makes it to the Super Sixes phase of the tournament. All of these matches, it may be noted, are to be played either in Capetown or Durban.

Three of the 12 Super Sixes games will also be day-night affairs, including the second semi-final. The toss, it is obvious, will play an important role in the final outcome.

***********

THE late Mr Muhammad Saeed was my teacher at The Pakistan Times when he was its magazine Editor. I don’t know why everyone called him ‘Maulvi’ or ‘Maulana’ But for us at PT he was always maulvi. He worked for several newspapers and wrote a few books, among them being Lahore: A Memoir.

The Memoir is a study of Lahore as it was in his days. He ended the book with a piece titled The Beginning and the End. Maulvi Saeed wrote:

“An American poet, Richard Armour, has made a profound observation to which I wholeheartedly subscribe. Says he:

“‘Many a speech ‘You will notice, my friend, ‘Has a pleasant beginning ‘And powerful end. ‘And we, as we listen, ‘Keep wondering whether ‘The two couldn’t be ‘A bit closer together. “I don’t know whether the beginning of this essay was pleasant and its end powerful. I am, however, certain about one thing: I have been constantly endeavouring to bring the two — the beginning and the end — ‘a bit closer together’.”

A powerful ending, don’t you think?

Among other things, Maulvi Saeed talks of Ihsan Danish, the poet. He recalls:

In 1928, when we lived in Mozang I happened to be present at a gathering in the street adjoining ours where a short-statured but a well-built darkish young man recited a naat in a voice which kept the audience spell-bound. The poet was Ihsan-bin-Danish (now Ihsan Danish, for ‘bin’ though in Arabic stood for ‘son of’, in Hindi meant ‘without’). The poet had come from across the Jamuna in search of employment — and perhaps recognition, too. Lahore gave him both; employment which hardly did any credit to this city, recognition, of course, which it never held back.

Ihsan was seen in the evening at the mushairas; in the morning, at the building sites with a brush in one hand and the lime-bucket in the other; or doing a gardener’s job on the Simla Hill. He has recorded the experiences of his early days in a fascinating autobiography — Jehan-i-Danish. In the realm of poetry, he was not a mere labourer, but a master architect.

Mushairas have been an ancient Muslim tradition, traceable, perhaps, to the Ukaz days where pre-Islam poets sang odes to tribal chivalry and hospitality and vanity. The best among the odes was hung by the wall of the Ka’aba. Public recitals had been so popular in the Muslim literary annals that when the famous Persian poet, Anwari, saw someone spiritedly reciting a poem to an enchanted audience, he inquired who he was and whose poem he was reciting. The man boldly claimed that he was Anwari and the poem was his. The poet had nothing further to enquire about! This ‘physical plagiarism’ was indicative of the popularity of this institution.

In the Lahore of the 30’s, it was an indispensable part of city life. Poets from all over the country were invited. The symposium tended mostly to drift into a recreation — even vulgarity, if a seasoned man of letters like Sir Abdul Qadir was not available to keep it from keeling over. Sir Abdul Qadir was a suave, respectable gentleman whose presence in the city lent it charm.

I can still recall Sir Abdul Qadir presiding over a mushaira in Barkat Ali Mohammadan Hall and a poet — fresh, God knows from where — reciting a poem and vacillating right and left, completely lost in the ecstasy of his own voice. He was a huge gargantuan fellow dressed in a long coat and a fantastic cap. Naturally, nothing could be a better object to tickle Lahorites’ frolic vein. Soon his verses attracted impromptu parodies, then mirthful remarks and finally cat-calls. Only the presiding dignitary’s tact could save the poet from complete ragging. Many will also remember how an elaborately planned mushaira outside the Town Hall ended in rioting joviality. A huge shamiana was set up in the Golbagh and the lowest admission fee was an athanni (eight-anna piece). The coin was not of course, as miserable as it looks today for it could fetch two chickens or eight seers of flour or four seers of basmati rice.

The Mushaira started as usual with niceties distilled still nicer by the stage-secretary. Meanwhile, a constant stream of men kept building up to be held back by a shaky wall of volunteers and flimsy bamboo barrier. Eventually, when the mass of ticketless humanity surged forward, these barriers proved totally ineffective.

The management, acting wisely, reconciled with the situation and pulled down all barriers. The mushaira re-started. But somebody from amongst the hitherto silent, dutiful citizens decided to throw all decorum to the winds and shouted: Hai athanni. (Oh! my 8-anna piece). The wail was duly picked up by his co-sufferers and thereafter each verse was cut neatly into twos: the poet was allowed to utter only the first half of it, the rest was “hai athanni”. The show went on till laughter, confusion and din completely submerged it leaving a lingering impression that perhaps no coin so small in worth has been lamented over so vociferously, for so long, by so many!

A more transparent DHA

The patron of the Defence Housing Authority, the commander 5-corps, recently told a meeting of the DHA’s top officials that they should try and solve the problems of residents on a priority basis.

That is welcome, but many who live in what is apparently Karachi’s “poshest” residential area would probably agree that things could be much better only if the DHA administration bothered to take into account the wishes of its residents and if it became more democratic and representative in its make-up.

The fact of the matter is that for a long time, the DHA has been subjected to much criticism from the very people who its hopes to serve. Like most other government departments, the authority is heavy on bureaucracy and red-tape and those who deal with it frequently — say, to carry out transactions relating to property transfers, construction on an open plot and so on — say that transparency and accessibility (from the public’s point of view, that is) are not exactly its strong points.

This is further exacerbated by the fact that it is administered by a serving officer of the armed forces, and manned usually by retired officers, and this means that we have a bureaucratic organization that is completely beyond the pale of public accountability. The public perception is that it’s an organization that is not only bureaucratic but also not accountable to anyone.

The fact that there is little or no civilian representation in the DHA’s administration means that decisions affecting its residents, most of whom happen to be civilian, have really no representative basis. An example here would help. Recently, the DHA did take a good step in clearing empty plots of rubbish. It then pasted a sign saying that it was illegal to dump garbage in these plots. However, the font used in the sign is so small that it’s next to impossible to read it.

Other than that, the authority has frequently been accused of not enforcing building bye-laws and regulations uniformly and complaints have been made that some of its low-level employees have at times acted in a high-handed manner with local residents. And when that has happened, there seems to be no kind of public complaint system in place where aggrieved residents can go and file a complaint. And even if a complaint is filed with a senior officer, one never gets to know whether it was followed up and an inquiry carried out, and if so what the end result was. So, until the government holds local body elections in cantonment areas, it would be good if those who administer these authorities made them more accessible and less bureaucratic, and the formulation of the rules and regulations more transparent.

Stupidity

MANIFEST

Each and every day, one witnesses new things that reinforce the notion that the majority of the human race is oblivious of all forms of common sense and good taste. Given that’s a somewhat grim and rather melancholic way of viewing the world — a sweeping brushstroke that paints all with the same colour as it were. But if it wasn’t for the moronic acts of absolute stupidity the wayfarer witnesses day in and day out, such a sweeping statement wouldn’t have been made.

The newest death fad to grip the city by the sea is the appearance of video monitors on top of the dashboards of many of the metropolis’s cars. One has to say, this takes the cake for lack of total common sense. First, it was the matter of using your cell phones while behind the wheel. Drivers would often be seen having great conversations while managing to stay alive in the bedlam that is Karachi traffic. Some of the more adventurous (read suicidal) drivers actually went as far as sending SMS text messages with their mobiles while navigating their vehicle with the one free hand. Considering such facts, it’s actually quite a surprise that Pakistan hasn’t had more success at the Indianapolis 500 or the European Grand Prix.

But seriously, something even dumber than using the mobile at the wheel has popped up on the scene. The latest trend is to have a brand spanking new VCD\DVD player installed on top of the dashboard with top quality speakers so as you drive by, not only can you enjoy your favourite Saima\Shaan starrer, but you can also let half of Karachi groove along to the digital jhankar from the soundtrack of Kursi te Kanoon.

The fact that the driver’s attention will be diverted from the road to the screen as Kareena Kapoor let’s loose another saucy thumka has been conveniently overlooked. Have we traded in all sanity for mindless conformity? The hazardous driving conditions of the city need not be repeated ad nauseum.

So considering the prevailing situation, something must be done to nip this disease in the bud. If the jokers who risk their lives by indulging in such insanity are not concerned about their own welfare, the authorities should step in and impose hefty fines on whoever has one of these monstrosities installed in their vehicle to safeguard the lives of others on the road.

Fat chance of that happening.

Charity balls

There are some who think that going to charity balls is a complete waste of time. After all, why would anyone want to pay ten or fifteen thousand rupees just to go out and be able to meet several hundred people and dance a bit when they could easily do that for free at a private party.

The city’s has been in the grip of charity ball fever since the end of December and it all probably will not end at least until March. The biggest two of the season so far were the MALC’s New Year’s ball and the Old Grammarian Society’s annual bash at French beach. Around 1500 people attended the first one with all the money — organizers say over Rs 15 million was collected — going to the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre.

One of the members on the MALC’s managing committee, Ainee Shehzad, spoke to the Notebook on the issue of why some people thought charity balls served little purpose. She said the majority of the funds collected did go to the intended charity. “I don’t see what the fuss is all about. Tell me any other kind of fund-raising activity where you would be able to raise Rs 15 million through one event. And what’s the harm if, while doing that, people also manage to have some fun and entertainment. Most of the funds collected, save for the cost of holding the event — and in any case most of the staff volunteer their time — go to fund treatment for leprosy patients.”

The OGS ball also provided scholarships to financially unsound students for study in local schools and colleges though one is not sure how much money was made. There was also the Al-Umeed ball, followed this weekend by that of the Young Professionals’ Association.

Street family

A family of five has settled down on the pavement near Shaheen Complex in the city’s business district. It is a strange family in some respects yet perfectly normal in others. Surrounded by shopping bags, empty mineral water bottles and an assortment of rags, the head of the family is a bearded patriarch who has a poster of the Sehwan Sharif urs pasted on the wall above him. The mother is an extremely emaciated woman who is obviously a drug addict, yet has a distant smile on her face. There are three children too between the ages of seven and eleven, all extremely thin and caked with mud. One of the boys seems addicted to sniffing glue and remains in a trance most of the time.

The father, who seems the most robust of them all, is a malang of sorts and does the cooking on a makeshift stove made of bricks. The children, meanwhile, disappear for large periods to beg and scrounge for food. A healthy and affectionate bitch stands guard over their pavement dwelling with a puppy snapping at her heels.

At mealtimes, the woman is helped by her family to sit up and eat, as her glazed eyes stare into the distance. The dogs sit expectantly as the family eats, and get a share even though the food is barely enough for the family.

It is a strange and moving spectacle watching them go through their everyday lives on the pavement as if it was the most natural thing in the world. The day after a fierce storm hit Karachi on Thursday night, the family disappeared. The shopkeepers nearby had no clue about where they had gone, with opinion divided on whether they would return. Many pedestrians walking past that dreary stretch hope that they will come back home safe and sound.— By Karachian

Email: karachi_notebook@hotmail.com

Updated Feb 03, 2003 12:00am

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