DAWN - Letters; May 26, 2002

Published May 26, 2002

Meeting the Indian threat

PAKISTAN is passing through a critical juncture of its history. War clouds are looming large on our borders following India’s aggressive posture.

In order to achieve its sinister designs, India is trying hard to create unrest in Pakistan through its agents. It is obvious that the terrorist activities were meant to create panic in the country, render a death-blow to our economy and break the contract of Agosta B class submarines with the French government, which would have strengthened our naval defence.

Since the attack on the Indian parliament building in December last, India has blamed every violent act in occupied Kashmir and India on Pakistan.

So much so, Pakistan has been blamed for the massacre of Indian Muslims in Gujarat/ Rajasthan and the killing of veteran Kashmiri leader Abdul Ghani Lone in Srinagar. This is in keeping with India’s blind obsession with Pakistan.

As a matter of fact the Pakistan government has taken vigorous steps to curb militancy at all levels.

India talks of cross-border terrorism but why is that with 800,000 troops in held Kashmir and hundreds of thousands of troops on the borders it has not been able to check cross-border terrorism? The fact is that the Kashmiri uprising against India is indigenous and the earlier this truth is recognized the better.

The people of Pakistan are with their armed forces to meet the impending threat with full might.




VAJPAYEE’S call for a ‘decisive fight’ was highly irresponsible for a leader of his status. A ‘decisive fight’ means a ‘fight to the finish’ and to the ‘last resort’.

It can be imagined what this means for two adversaries equipped with nukes.



Forced labour

FORCED labour is against Islamic injunctions and the Constitution. International laws and commitments also require abolition of forced labour in all its forms.

It has been more than a decade since the passage of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act. Yet, the country remains plagued by debt bonded labour — widespread in its most virulent form in agriculture and the brick kilns, but also present in other sectors even if less noticed.

In 2000, then Chief Executive General Pervez Musharraf committed Rs100 million for relief, rehabilitation and abolition of bonded labour. The Asian Development Bank has been keen to assist. The ILO has repeatedly given assistance through studies and surveys, and is now preparing a special programme of assistance for the implementation of the ILO Declaration of Principles which include abolition of bonded labour. A National Policy and Plan of Action was approved by the federal government in mid-2001 as a further expression of commitment to abolition of bonded labour. Preparatory efforts for the Poverty Reduction Strategy support strategic, targeted interventions on behalf of marginalized groups.

Yet, there has been no serious action for implementation, despite the formation of provincial and federal steering committees. In some provinces, there is even denial of the problem at the highest levels of government. Hence there is a pressing need for concerted efforts across Pakistan. These can be mobilized and used only through a substantive and enduring partnership of government with civil society. A National Commission Against Forced Labour would serve this purpose.

The commission shall take actions to investigate and analyze the situation of forced labour, and recommend measures, including amendments, extensions, and new rules and laws, that are required to deliver speedy relief, comprehensive rehabilitation, and rapid abolition of forced labour in general and bonded labour in particular. These actions will include:

* Public hearings with affected persons and civil society organizations.

* Consultations with provincial and federal governments.

* Conduct and facilitate surveys and analyses.

* Maintain and make public the record of all private and public complaints, received directly or through district and provincial governments.

* Publication of an annual report, including all actions taken and recommended.

The commission may require any public official in the district, provincial or federal government to make available information in writing or through personal testimony, which may not be denied upon the grounds of security or confidentiality.



Patients at risk

I WAS shocked to read (May 21) that for the last two months, consignments containing life saving drugs have been lying at the port because of a dispute over 15 per cent GST levied on medicines on March 21, 2002.

We all are waiting for customs clearance, hopefully before medicines cross their expiry dates. If the dispute is not settled now, who is going to bear the cost which is in millions of dollars? It might be the government, the importers or the patients. In the case of the last named, the cost would be paid by their lives.

The bureaucrats should think over the question that whether life is important or money, and whether rules and regulations are made for the welfare of the people or for demanding sacrifices of their lives?

I hope that the concerned authorities would take a timely action to solve this problem of ‘life and death’.



A Punjabi song

THESE days a Punjabi song, Main naee boldi, has become quite popular. The song eulogizes the would-be husband or beloved of a lady named Rano.

Some of his qualities are described as follows: he socializes with the ministers, the DC salutes him, the thanedar rolls by his feet and the judge trembles in his chair when he hears her beau’s case in the kutchehri. Well, one expects the art and the music to reflect the society. And here we find a connection with the ministers, the police and the judiciary with a hint towards some kind of corruption. And all that has been merrily glorified.

A word of caution for Rano: get rid of this guy, he can be no other but a criminal.



Non-Muslim students

THE non-Muslim students appearing in the intermediate examination have to offer Civics in lieu of Islamiat. But usually they have to study this subject on their own because college administrations do not care to provide a teacher for a few non-Muslim students enrolled with them.

The problem is further complicated by the fact that neither the prescribed syllabus nor the books on the subject are easily available and those available cover both Ethics and Civics.

It is requested that the concerned authorities take necessary steps to remove these difficulties although the norms of justice demand that non-Muslim students should be examined in their own religion.



Relations with the US

THE Americans asked for one of our bases and we welcomed them. They asked for more, and we kept on agreeing to their demands.

Pakistanis ask the question: were we like Afghanistan, to be so easily conquered by those who thought about invading us in the wake of our refusal to cooperate?

Were we inane enough to be blinded by the talk of American largesse despite being abandoned by our US friends time and again?

I wish we had read the Quran carefully, I wish we had studied our history with greater observation, and I wish we could have differentiated between friend and foe.

Was our cooperation fruitful? Our friends in the USA were the first to point to ‘cross-border terrorism’ when our enemies started their jingoistic speeches.

Our allies in the ‘war on terror’ still commanded us to do more to stop terrorism.

So, who cared if the concept of the ummah was sacrificed in the name of ground realities? Who cared if we became party to the killing of defenceless Afghans under the ruse of ‘exterminating the enemy’?

After all, with friends like these, who needs enemies!

This country is dearer to us than our own lives. I pray that Allah give us the strength to sift the truth from falsehood and give us the power to say ‘no’ to a wrong, even though it means a sacrifice of our lives. Dignity is dearer to a Muslim more than anything else.



Plaza on jail land

YOUR newspaper recently carried a story under the heading ‘Prison demolished in PHC order’s violation’. The Kohat municipal authorities have reportedly demolished a 120-year-old jail building to construct a shopping plaza.

The Kohat authorities are doing something wrong. Prison or jail land is a public amenity space, and town-planning laws do not allow its conversion to commercial complexes. The citizens of Pakistan must rise to protect such amenity spaces, if they want to save their urban areas from being converted into concrete jungles.

The residents of Karachi will soon have to face a similar situation when the builders’ mafia of this city tries to convince their friends in the Sindh government to dispose off the soon-to-be-vacated 60-acre plot of the Karachi Central Jail, located at the beginning of the University Road, for commercial proposes.

We citizens must ensure that the public amenity nature of the prison plot is retained. Conversion of ‘Central Jail’ to ‘Central Park’ would indeed be welcomed.



NHA ad, a formality

THIS refers to an advertisement for the post of Environmental Engineer (BS-18) in the National Highway Authority (May 20). The contents of the advertisement make one believe that the NHA has already made the selection for this post and the advertisement has been published just to complete a formality.

This is evident from some of the conditions mentioned in the ad. Candidates have been given very little time to submit their applications as the last date is May 25, that is, only after four working days.

Further, those already employed in any other government department, have been asked to apply only after obtaining NOC from their department. Everyone knows that to obtain an NOC, one has to do a running about that often takes more than a month. Although the post has been described as that of an environmental engineer, civil engineers, too, have been asked to apply. It would have been fair to ask only those civil engineers whose final year thesis or projects were related to environmental engineering.

I request the concerned authority(ies) to extend the last date or to allow the eligible candidates to send advance copies of their applications, in anticipation of NOC from their departments.



Well done Wapda

I AM an early riser and go for a short walk or jog along the Kotla-Dinga Road. One of my friends is even more ardent and enthusiastic about physical fitness and I meet him daily when he is returning from his walk and I am making my way up the road. We cross each other at almost the same place every day.

I do not know what time he gets up from his nocturnal bliss but it must be at the time of the morning prayers or before — around 4:45 am. I’m a little lazy.

When I met him the other day and it was about dawn — he appeared a bit nervous and in a hurry. I found that he was not wearing his usual shirt, white shalwar and sneakers, but a printed shalwar and a white shirt. Apparently, no one saw him in this somewhat eccentric attire.

I did not like to embarrass him and when after a short while I asked him about his funny apparel on the phone, he told me that he was in a hurry and as there was no light in his house, he apparently wore a shalwar belonging to his wife and his own shirt.

Well done, Wapda! Keep it up. It is still the month of May and real summer is yet to come.



A pertinent question

I THINK there is a very practical question that we, as a nation, must answer. I feel that if we could get our overall philosophy right (overcome our confusion and make up our minds) we may be able to deal with the question. But, before that, the following problems will have to be taken into account:

We are a resource-poor country with low literacy, poor quality higher education, no petroleum, and only 25 per cent arable land.

Our population is growing at a very fast rate. In the four central divisions of Punjab (Lahore, Gujranwala, Faisalabad and Multan), some 50-60 million people live in just 70,000 square kms. As any student of demography would know, when population grows at three per cent a year, the population of youth grows by a much higher percentage. This means that the educational and employment facilities must grow by much more than three per cent. Who is going to do that?

From 2005 we will have to face WTO reforms requiring our textile industry to compete freely with China and Vietnam. It is very tough to compete with these countries. In Vietnam, the labour is educated and hardworking (Vietnam has 92 per cent literacy) and costs 30 dollars a month. And China — who on earth is going to compete with China’s productivity?

Then there is global warming. The result will be the drying up (desertification) of drier areas and more rains for wet areas. Almost all of Pakistan is going to be drier (and much hotter), and on top of that India is increasingly showing disregard for the Indus Basin Treaty by stealing our share of water.

Then we have a very serious reputation problem. We are conceived as an ignorant, mediaeval and violent society. Nobody would like to visit us or invest in our country. And we definitely need knowledge and resources to come from outside.

In view of these facts the question that needs to be answered is: in five years’ time what goods and services will we be able to provide to the rest of the world (export) in order to be able to import petroleum, machinery, food (we are net importers of food in a big way, and due to a fast growing population and drier climate we will need more and more food imports), military weapons, professional and technical knowledge through education abroad and import of experts?


United Nations University,

Tokyo, Japan

Of melons and watermelons

IT is high season for melons (kharbuza) and watermelons (tarbooz). Buyers tempted by the attractive appearance of the fruit, invariably ask the vendor: “Is it sweet?” Without batting an eye he answers: “Shartia meetha varna wapas” (certainly sweet otherwise accepted back). The buyers usually take these words at their face value. When the fruit is cut at home, with rare exceptions, it is found tasteless. One would regret having trusted the vendor.

I have been buying fruit from a certain vendor for years now. As for melons, he has the same style of assuring ‘shartia meetha’ to me. To challenge him I tell him that I would buy after cutting and tasting the fruit. Invariably the first two pieces would be tasteless. But at the third piece, he wins. Not that the melon is any better but I cannot help feeling pity for him for the loss of two melons. So I buy.

Anywhere in the Middle East or the West, one never has to ask the embarrassing question. They are ‘shartia’ sweet. Why is it that we have not been able to develop sweet varieties of the melon? How much disappointment and waste of money is it for the growers, vendors and buyers alike?

Is it not a national loss? We have most favourable soil, water and climate for growing this easy and short-term crop. More than one crop can be raised in a year. With improved varieties it could be a big source of income for the farmers and for earning foreign exchange for the country.

Whose fault is it that our melons are seldom sweet? Not of the farmer, vendor or the buyer. It is the failure of our agricultural research establishment. With due respect, will any of the ever-boastful peers of the Pakistan Agriculture Research Council enlighten us as to why we cannot grow ‘shartia’ sweet melons?



Should justice wait?

Dawn of May 23 carries a news item regarding Supreme Court vacations for three months.

Should justice wait for such a long time?



Lessons from Cuba

JIMMY Carter was recently in Havana on a visit aimed at promoting some degree of understanding between the people, if not the governments of the two countries. The visit has brought to limelight once again the perseverance and fortitude of this tiny island-nation in the face of an incomparably stronger adversary over the greater part of the last half-century.

In spite of being forced into the Soviet camp during the Cold War, the Cuban people maintained their national identity and their government refused to become a stooge of the Soviet Union. This is what has given them the strength to continue to stare their imperialistic neighbour in the eye, even after the fall of the Soviet Union.

We must learn from the experience of this small nation. We might ask ourselves, what are the factors that have mutilated our national psyche to the extent that we shudder to imagine ourselves standing in even minor defiance to the ‘sole superpower’ of the world?

Such a thought conjures up images of total destruction for us. Cuba sits in the lap of that same super power. It can be erased from the face of the earth by the tiny bombs used in Japan in 1945, or barring that, a few daisy-cutters. Still, it remains defiant. And the great super power has not dared to do anything about this state of affairs, except churn out rhetoric.

And we? We have our teeth clattering from fear, the minute the Americans utter a single unfavourable or even unpatronizing phrase at the lowest level. We look at Afghanistan and give ourselves a pat on the back — ‘we saved ourselves from a similar fate’, we announce triumphantly. Did not Cubans witness the same and remained unrelenting? We must come out of this shameful deception of self-praise and give our paralyzed national spirit and self-esteem a little life, so that when we have to fight it out for real, we do not find ourselves paralyzed by fear both physically and spiritually.





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