DAWN - Features; October 13, 2003

Published Oct 13, 2003 12:00am

Mitty Masud folds his wings

By Air Chief Marshal Jamal A. Khan


One of the PAF’s most courageous leaders, Air Commodore M. Zafar Masud, HJ, SBt, breathed his last on Oct 7. In 1953, my first posting after operational training was to a jet fighter squadron at Faisal air base, Karachi, which was commanded by the legendary F. S. Hussain. The squadron commander’s fatherly figure was balanced by Flight Lieutenant Mitty Masud, our tough, uncompromising second-in-command.

Masud led us through the hazards of combat flying with the same energy and disregard for danger as he showed in his spirited embrace of Karachi’s social milieu. Ever visible was the infectious idealism — the reason for his nickname, an allusion to the fictional Walter Mitty — that drove him to set for himself and his subordinates difficult-to-achieve standards.

Masud retired from the PAF in Sept 1971, his promising career cut short by his opposition to the military suppression in East Pakistan.

Coming from a Gujranwala family, Mitty was by 1947 already an air force pilot and became the youngest pioneer of the newly born Pakistan Air Force.

An exceptional fighter pilot, Masud was at his best when given really challenging assignments, but even when asked to take on some mundane tasks he tackled those with great energy and inventiveness. Quite remarkably, within days of taking over a new unit, the men under him would begin to identify with his goals, and the experience always left them better trained and stronger advocates of professional values.

In 1958 Air Marshal Asghar Khan chose Wing Commander Masud to organize, train and lead an aerobatics team of 16 Sabre jets that set a world record, validating the PAF’s place among the well- regarded air arms of the world.

Within months of that event Masud was assigned to set up and command the Fighter Leaders’ School, the premier institution of the PAF that today runs under the name of Combat Commanders’ School. Then came a Staff College course in England from which Masud returned with the best foreign student award.

1n 1965, Group Captain Masud became a war hero for his courageous leadership as commander of Pakistan’s key air base at Sargodha. The team of officers and men under Masud fought back the Indian Air Force assaults on Sargodha with skill and disciplined confidence. Simultaneously they punished the IAF in other combat zones, and assisted in halting the Indian Army from Sialkot to Kasur. Among his pilots were dead and living heroes the nation has come to know well: Rafiqui, Alam, Munir, Alauddin Ahmed, Yunus, Middlecoat and Cecil Chaudhry.

Masud’s men gave the best that he demanded of them, and for his war leadership he was given a high medal for valour, the Hilal-i-Jurat. In the post-war years he continued to add to his reputation by excelling in other pivotal appointments including that of chief of all air force operations.

By the late 1960s, Masud, now an air commodore, was widely respected and regarded as a probable future air force chief. In April 1970 he was assigned to Dhaka as the top PAF commander in the eastern wing. In the twelve months he spent in East Pakistan, Masud studied, with increasing distress, the rapidly mounting military-political threat that none of the power wielders seemed able or interested to resolve.

With Pakistan in deep crisis in the last week of March 1971, Air Commodore Masud displayed an even higher measure of courage than in 1965. For that audacity, he was relieved of his command. Spurning other assignments, he preferred to leave the PAF. The air force thus lost one of its finest leaders.

When Gen Yahya Khan visited Dhaka in March 1971 to break the Mujib-Bhutto impasse, Masud demanded an opportunity to brief the president. On March 15, Gen Tikka Khan’s staff at the Eastern Command headquarters were the first to present their assessment of the civil and military situation to Yahya Khan and the army’s top generals accompanying him.

Air Commodore Masud then took the rostrum and for well over an hour gave a candid, fact-filled evaluation of the civil- military environment. He forcefully argued that the turmoil in East Pakistan could never be resolved with military force. His military experience and patriotism compelled Masud to argue for averting a suicidally mismatched war with India and he appealed for a political solution, even if that meant a loose confederation between the two wings.

He said that in the prevailing military imbalance, a semi- autonomous East Pakistan was far preferable to the certainty of a military defeat in the event that India decided to intervene. Coming from a relatively junior officer, this evaluation was startlingly less-rosy than the army’s presentation. It was also irrefutably well-reasoned.

Yahya interjected several times to agree with Masud’s arguments, and at the end said: “You must surely know that I too do not want a war and am doing my best to persuade Mujib and Bhutto to find a way out of the crisis.”

Masud was elated during the first few days of Yahya Khan’s stay in Dhaka but stunned when after a week, Yahya ordered the military crackdown. As the president boarded his Karachi-bound Boeing on March 25, Masud tried once again personally to persuade him to change his mind. But Yahya’s inner council had convinced him that the East Pakistanis could be easily subdued and normalcy quickly restored.

An angry and frustrated Masud could clearly visualise the debacle that the president had set in motion. Within the first few days of the launch of military suppression in East Pakistan, Masud had decided on what was for him the only honourable course, but one that he knew would end his career in the PAF. He would not allow the combat aircraft under his command in East Pakistan to be used in a police role, to kill civilians who were being incited to rebellion by Mujib.

In his view, the application of such an excessively destructive power to wipe out emotion-charged mobs would violate the laws of war. He would rather conserve the scant PAF resources that East Pakistan would desperately need in the impending war with India.

The official history of the PAF records Masud’s courageous stand in these words:

“At the end of March, when Operation Blitzkrieg was in full swing, Masud was asked, as he had feared, to mount an air strike against a mob of armed civilians on the outskirts of Dhaka. For Masud it was the worst imaginable moment of truth: should he allow the PAF to participate in what he believed to be a wholly dishonourable operation? On the one hand was his revulsion at the brutality of the proposed strikes when viewed against his concept of the justifiable use of military force. On the ether hand was the oath he had taken years before which now demanded his unquestioning obedience...”

Masud later told me that he refused to demand to send combat aircraft to kill rebellious Pakistani citizens armed with spears and sticks because according to his interpretation of military honour an unlawful demand was being made on him. Having studied every detail of the 1970-71 debacle as well as the formally defined norms of professional military ethics in various countries, I remain convinced that Masud was right in refusing to assign his pilots and aircraft to commit an unlawful and dishonourable massacre of civilians. But more than Masud’s strong integrity and cold logic, what merits greater recognition is the courage that he brought into play as he dealt with both a moral and personal challenge. I believe he set a very high standard of courage and honour when he made his decision.

Unique in his style of command was Masud’s capacity of being both a demanding, almost harsh but fair professional task master as well as a practitioner, after working hours, of the joy-of- living among his friends and those he led. Always quick to see the humorous side of any situation, his witticism always sparkled with underlying intelligence. He left a deep impression on the PAF with his integrity, creative brilliance and strong-willed leadership.

Air Commodore Masud was very happily married to his devoted wife, Elizabeth, for 45 years and their son Salaar works as a software analyst in Europe. Elizabeth Masud, a German lady, speaks Urdu fluently and has, despite her own frail health, lovingly remained by her husband’s side, including his long and difficult battle with Parkinson’s disease. As a PAF commander’s wife, she was a leading member of the PAF Women’s Association and made strong contributions to the families’ welfare schemes. She was especially supportive of her husband’s particular attention to the living conditions of the lower paid employees. Many still remember fondly her energy and enthusiasm in projects dealing with child care and pre-school education at the PAF bases at which Masud served in various capacities.

Those who knew Air Commodore Masud as both friend and leader (as this writer did) were happy to see that the Air Force never forgot him and his services to the nation. The PAF attentively nursed him throughout his illness, and gave a fitting farewell to one of its bright and courageous stars.

Contamination-free cotton

STATE Bank Governor Dr Ishrat Husain, during his visit here the other day, underlined the need for contamination-free cotton to compete in the international market.

He was speaking at a reception arranged in his honour by the Bahawalpur Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI).

He said BCCI office-bearers should come forward to make this campaign of the government a complete success, and for this purpose persuade growers to supply contamination-free cotton to the ginning factories thus paving way for superior quality cotton.

He said if TCP and Aptma failed to lift the stocks of cotton from ginners, then SBP would formulate its own policy to export the superior quality cotton and save the ginners from losses.

He said the government was keen to promote Islamic banking, and for this purpose all banks desirous of opening Islamic banking in their branches were being accorded approval by the SBP.

He said ATM facility would be introduced in about eight per cent banks of the country by 2004. He also announced formation of a local credit advisory committee comprising representatives of financial institutions and BCCI to deal with the problems of clients of different banks.

At the reception, BCCI president Shaikh Abbas Raza highlighted the problems being faced by industrialists and traders of the three districts of Bahawalpur, Bahawalnagar and Rahimyar Khan.

He demanded advances on cotton limits in accordance with the market rates of the cotton and not to recover ‘margin on phutti’ and cotton from the ginners and traders. He said the banks should not recover ‘collection charges’ on bank drafts within a radius of 50 kilometres.

At the Department of Management Sciences of the Islamia University, Dr. Ishrat Husain announced internship at the SBP for four students, (two each male and female) of the Islamia University, who topped in the university examination.

He informed the students that the SBP was ready to award scholarships to position-holders for their PhDs in foreign countries. The State Bank was making efforts to create about 500 jobs for the outgoing students in various banks of the country during the next year. He claimed that country’s economy was now sound as Pakistan had reserves of $11 billion.

Islamia University vice-chancellor Prof. Dr. Munir Akhtar apprised the governor of university’s uplift programme.

H H H H H

Residents of Satellite Town and its adjacent colonies have urged the PTCL to shift its customer centre from Old Campus University Chowk to Satellite Town.

Satellite Town and the areas located around it are thickly populated, but their residents are without fax, telex and PCO facility since 1959.

The town has its own digital telephone exchange which was opened in 1997. At the time of its construction a separate hall in the building was built to open a telegraph office plus PCO. But, later on, officials dropped the idea with the result that hundreds of thousands of consumers are facing inconvenience. Currently, this hall, which had been lying vacant for the last several years, is being used as a store. It can be utilized for telegraph office and PCO.

In this connection, a number of social workers and bodies have urged the PTCL to shift its customer centre to this vacant hall. The centre is running in loss. If it is shifted to Satellite Town, it will prove economically viable.

People living in the vicinity of the main commercial centre of Farid Gate have also demanded that the PTCL telegraph office functioning inside a narrow bazaar of the Walled City should be shifted outside where buildings on rent are available.

H H H H H

PEOPLE of Satellite Town and other adjacent localities are facing difficulties in getting their computerized national identity cards from Nadra’s Swift Centre located near Habib Colony.

The distance of swift centre from the Baghdadul Jadid railway station is about 10 kilometres. Rickshaws charge about Rs100 for a return journey from Satellite Town and other places to the centre. But people with low income cannot afford this overcharging and avoid going there with their family members. The people are justified in demanding that another swift centre be set up in or around Satellite Town so that the residents living on the eastern side of Farid Gate may also be able to get their CNICs without high expenses.

Same is the case with the passport office, located at Welcome Colony near the Bahawalpur railway station, which is at a distance of over 10 kilometres from the second railway station, Baghdadul Jadid of Bahawalpur city. Passport applicants have demanded the interior ministry that the passport office should be centrally located for the convenience of the people of all sides.

The man who was Ganga Ram’s biographer

I AM indebted to Mr Ahmad Salim for giving me the following information on B.P.L. Bedi, the man who wrote Sir Ganga Ram’s biography.

Ahmad Salim writes:

“Baba Pyare Lal (BPL) Bedi, a typical Lahorite, graduated from the Government College, Lahore, and the University of Punjab. He went to Hertford College, Oxford, in 1931 and passed his BA Hons in politics, economics and philosophy. He went to Berlin University as an Alexander von Humfoldt research scholar for economics but came back without a doctorate, due to conditions in Germany after Hitler came to power. He became a Marxist while at Oxford. He married Freda Houlston, a fellow-student, in June, 1933.

“In 1934, Mr and Mrs Bedi came to India and settled in Lahore. Bedi joined the Congress and started work among students and peasants. He became joint secretary of the All-India Kisan Sabha in 1936-37. He was also a member of the National Executive Committee of the Congress Socialist Party from 1938. He was arrested under the Defence of India Rules in 1940, went to the Deoli concentration camp where communist and socialist detenus from all over India were kept. He went on hunger-strike in 1941, was sent to the Gujrat jail (Punjab) in 1942 and was released in April 1942.

“He joined the Deoli Communist Consolidation, organising a guerrilla movement in Punjab the same year. He helped Sheikh Abdullah in drafting the ‘New Kashmir’ manifesto of the National Conference.

“Bedi was also editor of Contemporary India (1935-38) and the weekly Monday Morning (1938-39). The weekly was a big success during its short life. Mr Bedi was a promising writer. Harvest from the Desert is his best known book. In collaboration with his wife, he compiled and edited books like India And India Analyzed (3 vols.).

“After partition, when Sheikh Abdullah became chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, the Bedi family spent a few years in Srinagar but could not establish themselves there. Coming to Delhi, they found themselves in the wilderness. And then sheer frustration turned them to spiritualism. Mrs. Freda Bedi found refuge in Buddhism. B.P.L. Bedi tried to combine his own idea of Marxism with the traditional spiritualism of his forefathers.

“Well-to-do and educated people started coming to him for advice and solace. Finally, he went to Italy, married an Italian lady and settled there. He died in 2001.”

In his foreword to the Ganga Ram biography, The Writer’s Word, Bedi wrote: “The Italian poet Ariosto imagined, with some allegorical vagueness, that at the end of every man’s thread of life there hung a medal stamped with his name, and that, as Death severed life’s thread with its fatal shears, time

seized the medal and dropped it into the River of Lethe. Yet a few, a very few, of the stamped medals were caught as they fell towards the waters of oblivion by swans, who carried off the medals and deposited them in the museum of immortality. Ariosto’s swans are biographers. By what motive ‘asks Sydney Lee,’ are they impelled to rescue these medals of personality from the flood of forgetfulness, into which the mass sink?”

Similar was the question with which I was faced when I was asked by Sir Ganga Ram Trust Society to undertake the writing of Sir Ganga Ram’s Life. From our very childhood we, who have lived in the Punjab, have heard the name of Sir Ganga Ram mentioned not in one but in many connections... as a distinguished engineer, as a brilliant farmer, and as a warm-hearted philanthrope. On closer examination, I found that his was a career which was in perfect conformity with the classic definition of a fit biographic theme — ‘serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude.’

Thus I had no difficulty in accepting the invitation of the Trust. Today, when I have finished my narrative, I feel that it has been my privilege to depict a personality which was rich with the fullness of life, its experience, its joys and sorrows. Sir Ganga Ram had a powerful brain combined with dynamic energy, and in him was that rare combination of the visionary and the lover of detail and hard work.

He had a rare gift of sensing the completeness of things, and he gave many a remarkable instance of it. One day in 1925, Mr M.C. Mohan came to Sir Ganga Ram with the proposal that his biography might be written, and added to the Library which he had founded, together with a framed portrait for the wall. His reply was typical: “I am not for these. These things are to be considered after death — not in my life.”

He was right for “death is a part of life, and no man is a fit subject for biography till he is dead, because death withholds the finishing touch.”

Ganga Ram will go down in history as a great Indian. The story of his life is the story of a man who by birth was at the bottom of the ladder of success, and by his own patient and persistent effort, his idealism and love of work, succeeded in reaching the very top. Engineering with him was a matter of feeling, not simply a matter of figures. It came to him with that instinctive spontaneity which comes from love and understanding. And agriculture to him was also a matter of feeling — and a matter of faith. His unshakeable belief in the possibilities of a farm, and the profits it could yield, urged him on to great and successful experiments on his own farm at Gangapur, and later on, this belief was his inspiration when developing the wasteland of the Punjab and reaping a “harvest from the desert”. He was a true son of the soil, and few have loved Mother Earth more than he did.

In the ‘difficult art of giving’ he seemed endowed with a natural gift — perhaps because he never gave for show or to unburden his conscience, but out of the pity and tenderness of his heart. The warm-heartedness with which he gave lent charm to his charities, and since he always gave where the need was most urgent, they bore rich fruit even in his lifetime — in terms of human happiness.

He died in 1927, and it is well over a decade after his death that this biography appears. The writing of it has had a chequered history, and it finally came into my hands nearly two years age. It was not an easy task, because material was scarce — I might almost say precious — there being nothing at all in the way of diaries, notes, or letters to guide me.

My own delay is bound up with my own work in the villages of the Punjab, and the many demands on my time that could not be refused. It is only this summer in the green stretches of the Kangra Valley that I have been able to find the time and undisturbed quiet necessary for its writing.

In conclusion, I must express my gratitude to Mr M.C. Mohan, the Assistant Secretary of the Trust, who besides giving me great help in procuring the necessary documents furnished me also with an account of Sir Gang Ram’s charities which proved most useful as raw material. Acknowledgements are also due to The Journal of Indian Engineering to which I am indebted for very accurate and interesting descriptions of the agricultural and engineering projects which took up the major part of his life.

Particularly inspiring was the help given by Raja Jwala Parshad, his old friend and colleague, ..... Sir Ganga Ram can be congratulated on possessing a friend who had such a unique faculty for remembering details. He told of events which happened many long years ago with a freshness and accuracy of detail that brought them vividly before my eyes. His attractive way of telling a story and his evident enjoyment in remembering things that happened as long as thirty and forty years ago recreated for me the subject of this biography, and made him live again in my imagination...

It’s a mixed bag

THERE is indeed no denying that for most of us who live in this mad, mad city, life is no bed of roses. Barring a minuscule minority who do not have a care in the world, all of us have our burden of problems — discomforts, disappointments, frustrations. This is putting it mildly. Add to the list fear, pain, sorrow, agony. Many, if not most, of these can be resolved, given a modicum of common sense in our lazy and insensitive public services.

Mind you, we as citizens are far from being a model of rectitude. The stickler for discipline and propriety would simply tell us to our faces that we get what we deserve. In other words, we don’t deserve any better. This is also very largely, if not entirely, very true. There is so much that citizens together can do to make life less of a torment. Keeping our street clean is also our social obligation. Why curse the municipal service, knowing that these services, too, are under pressure and not adequately equipped.

Who is to blame if there is too much of noise pollution around us? Most motorists play with their car horn as if that was some instrument of musical relief from the din and noise in our streets. We take a drink while driving and thrown the bottle or the carton out of the window, regardless where it would land. Throwing away cigarette butts here, there and everywhere is the done thing with us. There is hardly a staircase that does not have these tokens of what we are. Even more to deplore are the maroon splashes for which we owe to our pan-chewing fellow citizens.

And on top of it all, the perpetual grumble about this, that and the other. There are so many other real problems and also those that we have our fertile imagination to thank for. When this be the pattern of life and our responses to it, frustration is the inevitable result. The more one thinks, frustration only deepens. Sooner or later we are bound to become frustration addicts, and just love to be frustrated. Our eyes are extra quick to see stains, almost irresponsive to any change for the better, unmoved by any sign of improvement. Even the ridiculous fails to coax a simper from us.

If anyone in company would dare to suggest that all is not lost beyond redemption, that if much is unlovely, loveliness is not totally banished from life in Karachi, he would find himself in a minority of one against the rest.

Take the subject of roads. Almost every one of us has to be on the road as a matter of unbroken daily routine. Unused to torrential downpours, this otherwise sturdy city and its hardy people presents a pathetic look when the rains come down. In every place inhabited by sane human beings, rain is received as a blessing from the heavens. Here it turns into a calamity.

This year’s monsoons were unusually generous (or unkind?). For us the downpours only left so many problems — because we did not have the good sense to be ready to receive them. Many of the major roads suffered badly. Some were virtually washed away. What is so nice to note is that they are working to repair the damage. This kind of activity is in evidence in many parts of this megalopolis. Let us admit that quick and sustained work is not a virtue we were ever famous for. But, work is under way.

No doubt an enormous amount of damage has to be repaired. However, considering our record, the work under way should be a source of some relief. A good word where it is deserves would cost us nothing but it may encourage those engaged in the work that needs to be done quickly and well. About the quality of the works the lay citizen cannot tell but the speed at which it is being done is visible and so commendable. You do not find many people taking note of some good work.

While on this subject, one must raise the point about the quality of the work as far as the roads that have been washed away be concerned. Here is something that the authorities concerned owe it to themselves to evaluate the performance of those who constructed those roads that could not withstand a couple of heavy showers. This is something that ought to be taken into consideration and if it is clear that the damaged roads uncover the bad work done by the contractors. There should be some way to bring them to some kind of accountability.

Also to be noted with some satisfaction is the progress on a couple of flyovers that are under construction. Once ready and commissioned, there would be considerable relief at some of the notoriously choked junctions. Let us hope that the city would be a shade less inconvenient once the work on the roads and flyovers is completed.

What one finds lacking is an adequate sense of urgency in the public works. Why don’t they work round the clock? Public works contractors should work without any break. They should not stop even to take a deep breath. Just recall the way the contractors worked on the Mangla Dam and the Warsak. It was work in uninterrupted perpetuity. They completed those gigantic projects before the deadline and earned a handsome bonus for that. Why can’t our contractors take a page off the book of international standard construction contractors? They can finish the work in half the time if they work round the clock. This is also something for the government officials in the public works departments to think about.

The inveterate grumblers may note that there is always a couple of paintings shows in Karachi’s dozen or so galleries. There are more formal book launching functions in the city than ever before. A word must in fairness be said for the Arts Council. It is more active, and getting more and more so by the passing day. Varied indeed is the fare the Arts Council has to offer. Some of the recently held music functions have been well above the average. Its auditorium is coming up fast. And that, one should expect, would be a shot in the arm for the Arts Council. There is some talk, still pretty vague, about a ‘culture city’ in Karachi. Let’s hope something worthwhile is worked out in that context.

The Chinese way

At the time of the partition of the subcontinent, Karachi had three Chinese restaurants in Saddar, which was then noted for the haute cuisine it offered to lovers of good food.

One Chinese restaurant, South China Cafe, was situated near the passport office. An old-timer recalls that the restaurant was frequented by the Tommies before Independence.

Cafe Canton on what was then Invariarity Road, renamed Sarwar Shaheed Road, also drew droves of Chinese food enthusiasts. It was run by a Chinese Muslim called Aziz. Receiving a hefty pagari (goodwill money) from a local bank, he moved to another place in the 1960s on Allama Iqbal Road in PECHS. He thought that his regular clients would continue to come to his eatery regardless of its location. He turned out to be wrong.

Dwindling profits forced him to try his luck elsewhere. He moved to Hyderabad and opened the first Chinese restaurant in the second largest city of Sindh. Much to his consternation, the people of Hyderabad did not take a liking to Chinese cuisine. He eventually migrated to Toronto where he set up an eatery in a locality where Pakistani expatriates lived in large numbers.

The one to last the longest was ABC Restaurant on Zebunnisa Street. It closed down only a few years ago, mainly because of parking problems. It remained the most economical of Chinese eateries.

Cafe Hong Kong on Sir Abdullah Haroon Road was the first Chinese restaurant to open after partition. It was pricey compared to the previous three restaurants but the food and the decor were first class. It was also the first airconditioned Chinese restaurant in the city. Cafe Hong Kong went out of business last year, though it offered high-quality food till the last.

The second Chinese restaurant to open in the city was Four Seasons in Hotel Metropole. This eatery also did not last too long. However, the closure of these restaurants does not mean that Chinese cuisine is no longer popular in the city. Far from it. It is the only non-subcontinental cuisine which is an all-time favourite of Karachiites. Apart from Chinese restaurants in four- and five-star hotels, there are many places in different parts of the city which offer Chinese cuisine. Then there are food courts at shopping malls which also serve Chinese food.

Life in apartments

They certainly don’t build apartments like they used to in Karachi. Gone are those high-ceilinged, airy rooms that at least gave the impression of light and space even if their actual dimensions were quite modest.

Today’s commercial building ventures have resulted in the proliferation of highrise apartment buildings around the city but without the architectural elements or intelligent planning that characterized the earlier buildings. Not much better than cubby holes, most of them are dank, dingy, airless and utterly unaesthetic. Bad planning is the main disadvantage that robs the inhabitants of the little privacy their tiny living space allows. The small square area that was meant to be a garden is nothing but a heap of stones and sand as there is little water to be spared for making plants grow, and no one really cares.

But if the architects and builders are to blame for the insipid and inconvenient design, those who dwell in them should be held equally responsible for the poor maintenance of their homes. Stairwalls and corridors regularly feature red “paan” stains, and the garbage from the flats is strewn liberally all over the parking area. The washing is hung out for the passersby to see. Choked gutters flow out on to the road.

Strangely enough, the inhabitants are also least bothered about ensuring that safety features remain in place. Faulty lifts with doors that sometimes don’t shut so that there is a black space large enough for a team of agile children to fall through are not uncommon.

If those living in apartments around the city don’t appear to bother about their immediate surroundings, can one blame the architects for their uncaring attitude when it comes to planning buildings?

Civil defence set-up

There is a sign on Abul Hasan Ispahani Road which proclaims that a certain building is a Civil Defence Training Centre. From the outside it looks quite clean, and let us hope that those inside it are doing their job well. Let us not, in the time-honoured Pakistani tradition, and without any evidence, blame them for things they may have done or may not have done.

The issue, however, is not this particular training centre but the entire civil defence set-up in Karachi. Has anyone heard of civil defence workers or volunteers being on the scene of an accident or a calamity?

Civil defence is an outdated concept, which has outlived its usefulness. But it does have a role as a relief agency in case there is a bomb blast, an accident or an act of terrorism. However in Pakistan, on such occasions, it is almost always Edhi volunteers and ambulances that swing into action long before various government relief agencies even think of stirring themselves.

Why aren’t civil defence people there on the scene of carnage? Were they there when a bomb exploded in a car passing by the US consulate, or when the bus carrying French engineers was blown up, or at Clifton when the Tasman Spirit spilled its oil and destroyed the fish and the beach?

It is time the Civil Defence Department let’s know why it exists, what precisely its functions are, and what role it is supposed to play in emergencies. It should also tell us whether it has any programmes to train volunteers among students or others who are willing to learn first aid and other relief jobs.

Bazaars for women

In her capacity as adviser to the prime minister, Nilofer Bakhtiar has been doing one thing or another for the welfare of women . She recently announced that she would inaugurate a weekly bazaar in Karachi for women this month.

Weekly bazaars, also called Bachat bazaars, are doing a great service to the people of the city. Families save a lot on groceries bought at such bazaars. Items such as shoes, garments, school bags and crockery can also be bought at reduced rates.

People living in low-income localities mainly benefit from these bazaars, but the weekly bazaar off Khyaban-i-Ittehad for the residents of Defence and Clifton also draws a large number of buyers.

Belligerent medicos

How do our young medicos feel about the sanctity of human life? One would have expected them to feel a sense of revulsion at anything that destroys life since they are being trained to save human lives. But unfortunately this is not always the case as emerged clearly in a students debate held in a medical college in the city the other day.

The topic was “Romance is the essence of life”. Quite an innocuous subject by all standards. The level of the debate was pretty good. The speakers were, by and large, confident and presented their views forcefully. It was a pleasure hearing such good English language oratory, and the involvement and participation of the audience was remarkable.

One would have liked to believe that such intelligent young men and women would be capable of independent thinking and decide what is good and bad for the country. But no way. Of course they were warned initially that they could not criticize any public figure, religious leader or political personality. So no rules were broken when a speaker spoke in glowing terms about our nuclear programme and the audience went into raptures about it.

It was a solitary remark but it betrayed the mindset of the youth. Is it the endemic violence or the propaganda dished out by the electronic media day in and day out or the textbooks they read in school which has robbed our youth of the love for life every child is born with?

— By Karachian

email: karachi_notebook@hotmail.com

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