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DAWN - Letters; 18 August, 2004

August 18, 2004


'So much to do'

This is with reference to Mr Ardeshir Cowasjee's column of August 1 entitled 'So much to do.' This column can be divided into two parts.

The first is in praise of Dr Manek Bijonji Pithawalla, one of the former principals of BVS School, Hoshang Dinshaw, a great Parsi philanthropist, Dr Dosturan Dastur Maneckji Nusserwanji Dhalla, a great scholar, Godrej Sidhwa, keeper of the Dastur Dhalla Memorial Library, and some conscientious people of the Parsi community who retrieved or bought back the precious manuscripts of the Dastur Dhalla Memorial Library from a 'thief' who was trying to sell them to the British Library.

The other part is about three government colleges, former Forman Christian College, Lahore (whose building has been handed over to the owners), St. Patrick's Government College for Men in Karachi and St. Joseph's Government College for Women, Karachi (about to be denationalized).

This is what Mr Cowasjee has to say about these three colleges: "These three institutions were nationalized some 30 years ago and during that period they have surely churned out an unenviable lot of some hundred thousand souls, many of whom, imbued by our national curricula, have been brainwashed into believing that life is not a gift of God and there is 'honour' in killing".

If analyzed, this remark exposes a number of the writer's prejudices. His extremely irresponsible allegation that teachers and students of these colleges are directly or indirectly involved in propagating honour killing is offensive not only for those directly involved but for all government teachers in the country.

As principal of St. Joseph's Government College for Women, I deeply resent Mr Cowasjee's comment about the teachers and the students of my college. The 32-year period of St. Joseph's history as a nationalized college includes ten years when Sister Mary Emily of the Catholic Board was the principal and ten years when Mrs Munira Gulzar was the principal - she is now performing the same job at Hamdard College.

The 'unenviable lot' as designated by Mr Cowasjee includes a large number of Pakistanis who have unquestionably excelled in their professions. The way he has juxtaposed his esteem for the honourable educators of the Parsi community of Pakistan and his contempt for government teachers, who are certainly much more representative of the unfortunate miserable have-nots of this country than he himself is, reveals not only his religious insularity but also an intrinsic class bias, which is so commonly shared by the elite around us.

This makes him appear to have a mindset no less tribal and myopic than of those 'brainwashed by the national curricula'. I believe Mr Ardeshir Cowasjee owes all teachers of Pakistan an apology.


Principal, St. Joseph's Government College for Women, Karachi

Quaid's Pakistan

On August 11, 1947, the Quaid laid down his vision of a modern democratic Pakistan. He told the future legislators of Pakistan that religion had "nothing to do with the business of the state".

He stated that "in any case Pakistan, is not going to be a theocratic state, to be ruled by priests with a divine mission". The Quaid tried to ensure that his vision was achieved, by formulating a Constituent Assembly, with the task of formulating and approving a constitution, which in his opinion was the foundation on which a modern state could have been built.

No individual or political party or group of people had the moral or legal authority to tamper with the Quaid's vision of a modern democratic Pakistan. After the Quaid's death, the task of constitution was delayed. Therefore allegations that this was intentional hold some ground. Some people perhaps wanted to have a constituency of their own.

The 1958 martial law effectively disenfranchised the majority Muslim population of East Pakistan, and those who lived in Pakistan. It was the last nail in the coffin of Pakistan's ideology, as specified in the Quaid's August 11, 1947 address. It ultimately led to the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971.

In a way the people of East Pakistan were more loyal to the Quaid, and their support to Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah in 1962 elections was proof of their ideological commitment.

Democratic self-rule alone will guarantee the survival of Pakistan and the sooner this is done the better it would be for the unfortunate people of this nation, who have gone through turbulent times in a brief period of 57 years.

The Quaid emphasized enlightened moderation, freedom of expression and equal rights for all, without discrimination as to caste, creed or religion. He envisioned a democratic Pakistan, in which power was to be vested in the people.

All the natural resources, including land, belong to the masses, The state must therefore stop this plunder of resources by the few and give more to those who are deprived. The deprived people of Balochistan have genuine grievances, which need to be resolved politically and judiciously, without resort to force.



Resolving the Darfur crisis

The situation in Darfur is a matter of great concern for two reasons. First, because of the reported killings of thousands of people, displacement of about a million, as also the rapes and other crimes.

Second, due to the apparent haste with which the western media and some leaders, notably Prime Minister Tony Blair, are demanding western military intervention. The Sudanese government (as any other) must do its utmost to protect the lives and property of its citizens, whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims.

John Laughland, a Sanders Research Associates analyst, suggests that tensions have risen between nomads and herders, as the former are forced south in search of new pastures by the expansion of the Sahara desert. Each tribe has its own army - and the inevitable violence.

The western media puts the figure for dead at 30,000 or 50,000 whereas Khartoum puts the total on all sides at 1,200. Laughland asks why is such attention being devoted to Sudan when in neighbouring Congo, some two or three million people have died in its war.

Another fair-minded western assessment comes from Jonathan Steele, a writer, who has decried the western media's push for military intervention and rejected it by arguing that the conflict in Darfur differs from Kosovo, etc. in that there is a channel of negotiation and the gap between the parties is not as wide.

The Arab League has also rallied around Sudan and said it should be given more time. Asma Jehangir, as the UN Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial killings, has in a report called on the Sudanese government to quickly disarm the irregular forces and also protect Darfur residents.




IS there some semblance of truth in the uproar about atrocities in Darfur? If it is true that atrocities have been committed, then hard times are ahead for Sudan. Americans seem to be waiting for Muslim armies to arrive and police Iraq so that its own troops go back to their homes. And when elections are held and if Bush is installed again, they can turn their attention towards oil and other minerals in rich Darfur.



Reading habit

A few weeks ago, I had a chance to visit a high school and two public libraries located in a small town in America. The libraries I visited offered free and easy access to various research books, newspapers, journals and Internet facilities.

At a high school, I was amazed to look at the different posters placed on the walls, motivating students to read. Also at their airports, I found people engrossed in reading while waiting for their flights. Their curiosity to know and learn fascinated me.

Unfortunately, we in Pakistan have failed to inculcate this habit in our young people. The first message advocated by Islam to its followers was to read. In the past, taking a cue from this, Muslims built institutions like Jamia al-Azhar in Cairo. And then about a 100 years ago, Muslims of the subcontinent, with meagre resources at their disposal, established the Aligarh University.

Today, regrettably, most of our educational institutions are not really interested in preparing their students and graduates for a life of learning and research. I urge the education minister to take cognizance of this situation.

The curriculum should be designed to develop in students an urge to know and learn. We need to produce quality literature and reading material so that students would want to read books from early on in life. We need to have more libraries where one can also watch educational videos.

We must realize that our dreams of prosperity can only come true when we take steps to educate our people. We need to show urgency in this regard. Nations can develop only if their people are equipped with modern knowledge and skills.




It was quite wise on the part of the late H.S. Suhrawardy, one of the founding fathers of Pakistan, to change the name of his faction in the Pakistan Muslim League to the Awami League.

It appears inappropriate vis-a-vis the present political scenario in Pakistan to stick to the same old name of Muslim League (the successor of the All-India Muslim League).

When the name of the All-India Muslim League, after independence, was changed to Pakistan Muslim League, it would have been wiser on the part of our founding fathers to name it as the Pakistan National League or Pakistan League or Awami League as adopted by Mr Suhrawardy.

By this proposed change, all denominations of the population, no matter what caste, creed they belonged to or what religion they practiced, could have joined the party and thus would have eliminated the chance of discrimination among the people of Pakistan.



Kashmir: India's basic position

This is with reference to Mr Kuldip Nayar's article 'Kashmir: India's basic position'(July 31). Mr Nayar has found it convenient to forget Jawaharlal Nehru's promise to the Kashmiris in October 1947 that he (Nehru) would allow them to decide on accession to either India or Pakistan once peace returned to the state.

It was implicit in that promise that Kashmir is a disputed territory. Nehru's promise is binding on every prime minister of India who succeeds him because it was made in his capacity as prime minister.

If Nehru was a true disciple of Gandhiji he would have fulfilled that promise. After all, it was Gandhiji who said: "Never make a promise in haste. Having made it, fulfil it at the cost of your life." Nehru was prime minister for 15 years.

If he had truly intended to fulfil his promise, which wasn't made under duress but out of his own volition he would have found the necessary ways and means to implement it.

Mr Nayar seems to insist that the Indian parliament has passed a resolution claiming Jammu and Kashmir to be an integral part of India. He then goes on to assert that unless India's parliament annuls the previous resolution with a two-thirds majority it cannot be conceded that Kashmir is disputed territory. It is thoughtful of him however to say: "Without using the word 'dispute', India has indeed conceded the point."

Kashmir belongs to the sons of its soil, the Kashmiris. Whatever de facto presence India has in Kashmir is against the wishes of the Kashmiris. As for the presence of the relatively small Pakistani army in the territory west of the LoC, that army is treated by the Kashmiris as their own and not as an occupying force as is the case with the Indian army in the Valley.

If Pakistan, as Mr Nayar says, is obsessed with Kashmir, it is because the Kashmiris of India-held Kashmir look upon the Indians as an occupying power. The right thing for India would be to hold a UN-conducted plebiscite in the occupied areas so that the dispute can be settled once and for all and after taking into consideration the wishes of the Kashmiri people.



School vans

This is with reference to a letter on carelessly driven vans (August 5) which touches an issue that the authorities, especially the traffic police, need to take note of.

Every morning, one can see dozens of van drivers playing with the lives of innocent children. They break signals at will and often drive on the wrong side of the road in order to reach school on time.

Even when bringing the children to their homes, the drivers seem to be in a great hurry. In our country we don't believe in precautionary measures to protect our children.

Managements of schools should also take cognizance of this and employ drivers who have proper licences, a mature temperament and respect for traffic rules.



Broken promises

I had booked an apartment in a project in the Clifton area in 1992. The builders had spent a huge amount on mass media advertising, due to which many naive people like myself had booked apartments in this project for residential purpose.

I paid in instalments a substantial amount to the builders. This project was then abandoned due to some litigation and my entire dream to live in a decent accommodation was shattered.

It is really unfortunate that our designated authorities do not check the details of such projects at the time of approving the proposals. Action is taken against the builders only when individuals or a group lodge a complant.

In this case, they "found" out that this particular project was being constructed on an amenity plot and it might have floors higher than the prescribed building height in the said area. I would request the city nazim and the Sindh government to look into this matter and find a solution.



Care for children

It has become a regular practice amongst our well-to-do families to leave the dropping and collection of children from school to drivers and maids. This is an irresponsible practice.

In one instance, a mother regularly sent her driver to collect her seven-year-old daughter from school since the school timing interfered with her prayer timings. It was later discovered that the driver had attempted to molest the daughter.

Parents need to exercise great care when leaving children in the care of hired help. Also, drivers, when not with their employers, tend to drive rashly and without due care. This is also a dangerous trend that needs to be checked.




The government has taken action against the collection of donations by various groups under the guise of charity. I am a regular visitor to the Neighbourhood Park in Clifton, Karachi. Here, a religious organization has set up a stall within the park premises, with the help of the park attendant, a CDGK employee. The employee convinces visitors to the park to donate to this organization. Such activity needs to be checked at the earliest.



VIP security

After the recent attempt on the life of Mr Shaukat Aziz, the government has decided to reinforce the security of VIPs and plans to spend Rs2.5 billion on this account. It is a pity that we spend a mere two per cent of our GDP on education and less than half of that on health, but are willing to spend so much on protecting VIPs.

Are our rulers that unpopular that huge sums of money need to be spent to protect them? The terrorist acts are a result of extreme frustration and resentment in the country. True leaders are those whom ordinary people want to protect and who do not have to live in guarded palaces at a cost to the national exchequer.



Chinese 'jihad'

We have seen lots of items in our market coming from China. They are attractive for consumers like us who want cheap and new products. Not only in Pakistan but all around the world, the Chinese have placed their goods with the reach of their customers. Even at the holy places, people go for Chinese products as gifts for their loved ones.

This is I call the Chinese jihad. I ask all Muslims, why can't we go for such a jihad where our brothers and sisters can learn and make things that can make them economically powerful?


Via email

Principled stand

Pakistan has been brought under the American umbrella for the purpose of combating terrorism. Pakistan has and will receive billions of dollars, the military will remain at the helm to serve US affairs and thus the possibility of full democracy is quite remote.

The acceptance as non-Nato ally status has elated the military but the chance of becoming a democracy is very bleak. All this US largesse has a cost, which is to you must listen to the big brother all the time.



Rent for MNAs' apartments

Members of parliament are charged approximately Rs4,000 every month as rent for apartments in Islamabad. The flat includes two bedrooms, a drawing room, a dining room and a kitchen.

Since many MNAs are rich landlords in their own right, it seems a bit of a joke to charge them a meagre Rs 4,000 as rent. Each MNA is also given Rs 10 million in development funds. Sometimes they don't even pay their utility bills on time. What example are they setting for their constituents?