DAWN - Letters; 30 March, 2004

Published March 30, 2004

NFC: need to redefine priorities

Distribution of resources between the centre and federating units, among the provinces and then up to the local level is the core issue in the present-day scenario. It affects and relates to almost all important factors such as good governance, democracy, provincial autonomy, economic uplift, building infrastructure, education, health and other social sectors, poverty alleviation and most importantly the future of the country itself.

Looking at the situation from any angle would tell us that the NFC awards so far have been defective, inadequate, inappropriate and not in sync with the demands of the times and the people. There is an urgent need to correct basic flaws in the system and to redefine the priorities.

The fundamental question is: what should be the best use of the resources of a country? Should it be the general welfare of all its citizens or to serve the whims and the interests of a few which happen to be the powerful sections in a society? The correct answer should have been the former but unfortunately it is the latter that has been in vogue in our country for too long.

Isn't it an irony that the proponents of the principle of parity prior to the secession of the eastern wing have overnight become the advocates of keeping the population as the sole basis for the distribution of resources in the country? What is the rationale behind this sudden change of heart? Today, three out of the four provinces are crying foul and calling for abandonment of that unjust system. They are demanding adoption of a balanced approach that should be fair to all.

One must, however, emphasize here that no good can be expected from the present NFC parleys until the priorities are set in proper order and the federal government drastically cuts its expenditure.

It should be borne in mind that the provinces are responsible for the welfare and well-being of over 95 per cent of the population. It is just mind-boggling how they can reasonably be expected to bring any positive change in the lives of the people when they in actual terms receive less than one-fifth of the total recoveries.

This highly lopsided distribution of resources is at the heart of many a problem such as unequal development, abject poverty, miserable living conditions, illiteracy, backwardness and despondency prevalent in our country.

The first thing should be to put all the resources of the country in one divisible pool instead of a large portion of the recoveries going directly to the federal kitty and the remainder forming the pool to be distributed among the stakeholders with the Centre again laying hands on a major portion of even that pool. The next step should be the formulation of a just system to distribute funds between the Centre and the provinces and then among the provinces.

One is confident that things could still improve if all the federating units are listened to in this regard and the original constitution is adhered to in letter and in spirit in this and all the other matters.


Corpus Christi, Texas, USA

A US visa applicant's ordeal

I, a 70-year-old former government servant who retired in grade 20, have travelled to the US six times since 1989 to meet my son, grandchildren, nephews and nieces. Six times I was given a US non-immigrant visit visa without even personally appearing for an interview.

In March 2003, however, when my last visa expired and I applied for a new one, I was asked to appear for an interview at the visa section of the US consul-general's office. At the interview, I was asked by the officer to prove that my previous stays in the US had been legal.

I showed him the photocopies of all the extensions granted by the INS. The officer said the photocopies were not acceptable and asked me to bring the original documents. He gave me a chit saying that I should produce the original documents. I got the required documents and went back to the visa office but I could not find the officer.

Since I thought that I merely had to submit the original documents, and thus any other officer would be able to process my application, I went before another officer. But he started a different line of questioning and asked me what guarantee was there that I would come back when the visa expired and that I would not apply for extension there.

I told him that I had to apply for an extension in stay the last time because of my wife who had fallen ill and died there. The officer told me that I was not eligible for a visa.

A few months later, I talked to a gentleman in the visa section over the telephone and he advised me to apply afresh with a new form and a visa fee. I did that but the officer who had interviewed me before told me straightaway to get out of the queue as I had already been denied a visa. He didn't even let me explain my case and curtly snubbed me by calling the next person in the queue.

I then wrote a letter to the consul-general explaining my case. I was being denied a visa under section 214(b) of the INS rules, which says that everyone applying for a visa is considered an intending immigrant to the US unless he proves his strong ties in the country of residence. I explained that I was an old man with immovable property in Pakistan, and had more than 100 close relatives living here and a sound financial background.

I got a reply advising me to apply afresh with a new fee. I applied again, but only to hear the interviewing lady officer tell me, again, that I was not eligible for a visa under section 214(b).

Later on I found out that the first visa officer who interviewed me had written the remarks: "He appears to be an intending immigrant." I could understand these comments if I had been a young man who appeared to be wanting to go to the US in search of a better career or a job.

What would a 70-year-old man like me be able to do there? I had gone to the US six times before, and every time I had come back to my dear ones in Pakistan. Why should anyone have suspicions that I am an intending immigrant?

In the US, I noticed there exists a system whereby if one felt injustice was done to him, he could complain to someone who will look into his case. But here in the US visa section, no one bothers.



Military operation in Wana

The outburst of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri that was broadcast by Al Jazeera on March 25 shows he and his colleagues are feeling the pressure that the warriors of freedom are exerting on them.

He has called President Musharraf a traitor for supporting the war against terrorism. Pakistan does not need foreign policy advice from an international terrorist who is wanted for being one of the planners of the ghastly act of the mass murder of 9/11.

I am glad that President Musharraf saw the natural link between Pakistan's interests and the interests of freedom, helped the world community dismantle the Taliban cult and its Al Qaeda partners, and is continuing to help the cause of freedom.

In his outburst, Ayman al-Zawahiri has declared that Pakistani soldiers who are currently in the midst of an offensive against a cornered gang of fleeing terrorists in Waziristan are infidels. Who has given him the right to judge people's fidelity? How does one's efforts to seize a criminal make one an infidel? This brazen attempt to exploit religion to serve his ulterior motives constitutes an act of blasphemy and must be condemned. Muslims in general and Pakistani Muslims in particular ought to raise these questions.

This man comes from a respected Egyptian family but, to its chagrin, he drifted towards extremism and fanaticism, and eventually found himself in the company of Osama bin Ladin. Now that they and their cohorts are running from cave to cave, they want the Pakistan Army to jettison its historic professionalism and come to their rescue.

The freedom-loving people of the entire world are behind these brave Pakistani soldiers. Tragically, some of them have lost their lives. Eight of them were captured by the terrorists and were later found murdered in cold blood. This shows the level of moral degradation to which these terrorists have sunk. These killers deserve no mercy.


Louisville, KY, USA

Women empowerment bill in NA

A bill has been moved by Sherry Rehman, MNA, before the National Assembly for the protection and empowerment of women. The bill provides for universal female literacy, punishment for domestic violence, and repeal of the Hudood ordinances. One of the main objections to the Hudood ordinances is that they were promulgated by a dictator bypassing parliament.

The bill thus provides an opportunity to parliament to debate and enact laws which will give concrete shape and form to the constitutional provision that the women of Pakistan are to be treated as equal citizens of the state without discrimination.

This is a historic occasion for all enlightened members of parliament to rise above partisan considerations. The empowerment and protection of women is a necessary condition for Pakistan to move forward and compete with the rest of the world.

It would indeed be a black day in the annals of our troubled history if such an important enactment were to be blocked by "technical" objections. Once the bill has been moved on the floor of the house, the proper course, in keeping with parliamentary practice, is to refer it to the appropriate committee of the house for detailed deliberations.

Indeed, the committee seized of the bill would be well advised to conduct public hearings and invite organizations such as the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the Aurat Foundation and the Commission on the Status of Women to make their recommendations.



Dr Aafia Siddiqui's disappearance

In the first week of April 2003 several news items were published in national dailies and broadcast from private TV channel regarding the sudden disappearance of Dr Aafia Siddiqui form Karachi as of other Pakistanis who have been handed over to the Americans. The following is a chronological account of Dr Siddiqi's disappearance and the current status of the situation:

1) Dr Siddiqui, who studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US, for about 10 years and did her PhD in genetics, returned to Pakistan in 2002. Having failed to get a suitable job, she again visited the US on a valid visa in February 2003 to search for a job and to submit an application to the US immigration authorities. She moved there freely and came back to Karachi by the end of February 2003 after renting a post office box in her name in Maryland for the receipt of her mail. It has been claimed by the FBI (Newsweek International, June 23, 2003, issue) that the box was hired for one Mr Majid Khan, an alleged member of Al Qaeda residing in Baltimore.

2) Throughout March 2003 flashes of the particulars of Dr Siddiqui were telecast/relayed with her photo on American TV channels and radios painting her as a dangerous Al Qaeda person needed by the FBI for interrogation.

3) On learning of the above campaign of the FBI about her, she went underground in Karachi and remained so till her kidnapping, apparently by FBI-hired intelligence personnel, at the end of March.

4) Between March 25 and March 31, she rang up her mother from some location in Karachi informing her about her intention to go to Rawalpindi. The following day an Urdu daily published the news of her arrest by the police while she was on her way to Karachi airport. At the time of her 'kidnapping' she was accompanied by her three children, aged three-and-a-half months to seven years.

5) On April 1, 2003, a small news item was published in an Urdu daily with reference to a press conference of Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat when, in reply to a question regarding the arrest of Dr Siddiqui, he said: "She has not been arrested."

6) There was another news item in an Urdu daily on April 2 regarding another press conference when the interior minister said Dr Siddiqui was connected to Al Qaeda and that she had not been arrested as she was absconding. He added: "You will be astonished to know about the activities of Dr Aafia (Siddiqui)."

7) A motorcyclist in plainclothes knocked at the door of the mother of Dr Siddiqui (Mrs Ismat Siddiqui) and told her: "We know that you are connected to higher-ups. But it would be better for you if you keep quiet regarding your daughter. She and her children are OK with us."

8) The June 23, 2003, issue of Newsweek International has been exclusively devoted to the so-called Al Qaeda. The core of the issue is an article "Al Qaeda's Network in America". The article has three photographs of so-called Al Qaeda members - Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, Dr Aafia Siddiqui and Ali S. Al Marri of Qatar who has studied in the US like Dr Siddiqui and had long gone back to his homeland. In this article, which has been authored by eight journalists who had access to FBI records, the only charge levelled against Dr Aafia Siddiqui is that "she rented a post-office box to help a former resident of Baltimore named Majid Khan (alleged Al Qaeda suspect) to help establish his US identity. She was also 'supposed' to support other Al Qaeda operatives as they entered the United States."

9) The article states that Dr Siddiqui was arrested in Pakistan contrary to the repeated statements of our interior minister.

10) On 30.12.03, Dr Fawzia Siddiqui, elder sister of Dr Aafia Siddiqui, saw Mr Faisal Saleh Hayat at Islamabad with Mr Ejazul Haq, MNA, regarding the whereabouts of Dr Aafia Siddiqui. Dr Fawzia Siddiqui is a neurologist, studied at and did her doctorate in the US. She was head of the neurology department at Johns Hopkins.

Mr Faisal Saleh Hayat told Dr Fawzia and Mr Ejazul Haq that according to his information Dr Aafia Siddiqui had already been released and that Dr Fawzia Siddiqui should go home and wait for some phone call from her sister. But, alas, that phone call has not yet come (third week of March) and the whole family of Dr Aafia Siddiqui, including the author of these lines, are in a state of severe mental torture.



Galloping prices

The price control system of the government has failed, particularly in Sindh. The government has not been able to give any explanation as to why the prices of essential items have gone up so fast.

Today wheat flour is being sold at Rs21 a kilo in Karachi (a five-kilo sack is selling at Rs105, but a month ago it sold at Rs70). Mutton is being sold at Rs250 a kilo against last month's price of Rs140 and beef is being sold at Rs130 a kilo instead of Rs80 a kilo.

Edible oil and ghee prices have increased by 30 per cent within two years. The Dairy Farms Association, Karachi, has also increased the price of milk by two rupees with effect from March.

The private transport association has been taking undue advantage of the situation. Within five years, bus charges have been doubled. Is there any authority to check this profiteering?



Utility bills' payment

There is one branch of Habib Bank Limited (HBL) and the other of Bank Al Habib, located opposite each other, in Block-18 of Gulistan-i-Jauhar, Karachi. While the branch of HBL accepts all utility bills, Bank of Al Habib accepts no utility bills.

As a result of this, there are always long queues of men and women formed parallel to each other in the small corridor of the bank and the open space in the service lane. Sometimes, it takes more than an hour to reach the counter for making payment of the utility bills.

To avoid delays, the consumers in their wisdom try to reach the bank 15-20 minutes before it opens. This makes the queue longer. It is requested that the State Bank of Pakistan direct Bank Al Habib to also accept utility bills to facilitate the public. The matter needs to be given priority.



War and peace

Cicero once said: "I prefer the most unfair peace to the most righteous war." Unfortunately, the Muslims differ with this idea. They say that a righteous war (jihad as it is called) is a Muslim's duty - if attacked by the infidels. They believe this way will bring about a fair and just peace.

The Muslims have more wounded enemies than they can handle. For this very purpose, Malaysia's Mahathir Mohamed keeps asking the Ummah: "Take lessons from history and do not repeat mistakes."



A timely proposal

This refers to the editorial "A timely proposal" (March 21). The three-day Pakistan Development Forum (PDF), which concluded in Islamabad on Friday, has done well to propose the drawing up of a five-year infrastructure development programme focusing mainly on water and power.

In Pakistan, the situation of the water and power sectors is frightening, with the population galloping at over 2.4 per cent. The great news is that the World Bank, the main sponsor of the PDF, has agreed to join hands with the government in developing the proposed five-year plan.

What Pakistan needs to do is to attack poverty as soon as possible and its first duty should be to create a number of employment opportunities, particularly in the rural areas, so that the infrastructure of our country can be improved.



Environmental hazards and food

It has been observed in some areas of Karachi that shops dealing in glass-panel, woodwork, spray paints and motor workshops are located very close to shops selling food. This is a serious health hazard for all those consumers who buy food items from such shops. For instance when glass-panes are ground, all the dust that is released settles on the edibles.

Similarly, the food is also spoiled by sawdust, fumes of paint and carbondust from nearby workshops. The same is being consumed by buyers who are totally unaware of the detrimental effects the consumption of such polluted food can have on their health.

The food inspectors and the civil authorities should seriously look into these very important environmental issues.



Kalabagh Dam

A recent statement of a retired chief of army staff of India, published in a section of the press, should be an eye-opener inasmuch as it exposes the Indo-US nexus believed to have been formed to destroy Pakistan's nuclear potential by discouraging building of the Kalabagh Dam.

This would create famine-like conditions forcing the country to beg for grain from the West which could dictate its terms to force Pakistan to abandon its nuclear programme.

So the cat is out of the bag. President Musharraf ought to undertake construction of the dam post-haste.





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