DAWN - Opinion; 12 October, 2004

12 Oct 2004

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A turn towards violence

By Shahid Javed Burki

In the article published in this space last week I provided some data on the explosive growth of Karachi's population over the last 60 years. Karachi had always attracted foreigners to its shores but the waves of migrants that arrived after the birth of Pakistan, and the selection of this once sleepy port to become the country's first capital, changed the city beyond recognition.

It was to become not only the most important player in Pakistan's non-agricultural economy. It also had a role in shaping Pakistan's political and social texture in ways that could not have been imagined by Mohammad Ali Jinnah when he chose to bring the country's capital to the place of his birth.

Once Karachi had settled down demographically in the sense of having accommodated, albeit tenuously, three streams of migrants within its ever-expanding borders, it was to be subjected to a series of forces that culminated in the production of three perfect storms. These storms - their genesis and how they affected not only Karachi but also the rest of the country - is the subject of this series of articles.

As discussed last week, the migrant streams that inundated Karachi were made up of the arrival of Urdu-speaking refugees from India in the period immediately following the June 1947 decision by the British government to partition India.

This group of migrants was followed almost immediately by another wave that arrived from the poorer areas of the provinces of Punjab and the North West Frontier to build the infrastructure and buildings needed by the new capital.

The third stream was produced by the Afghan refugees who escaped from their country following the invasion by the Soviet Union in December 1979. While most of them were accommodated in the dozens of refugee camps strung along Pakistan's long border with Afghanistan, tens of thousands seeped into Karachi and settled among the Pushtun population of the city.

This mix of communities created the environment for the turbulence that hit the city over a period of a quarter century, from the late seventies to the opening years of the 21st century.

Karachi, in spite of all the storms generated by demography, did not become more violent than some of the other mega cities of the developing world. The perception about Karachi's violence is largely the consequence of some high-profile foreigners having become its victims.

It has certainly not helped the city's reputation that this was the place where Daniel Pearl, a highly respected correspondent of the influential Wall Street Journal, was beheaded by a group of Islamic extremists.

Karachi was also the scene of a car bombing that killed a number of French engineers who were helping the navy. Islamic extremists have also repeatedly attacked the US consulate located in the city.

Proponents of radical Islam directed their wrath not only against foreigners. They also hatched plans to assassinate President Pervez Musharraf and actually carried out an attempt on the life of General Ahsan Saleem Hayat, the highest ranking military officer stationed in the city.

Karachi, in other words, has witnessed all the methods used by Islamic radical groups to disrupt life in other parts of the world. It has seen suicide bombers, car bombings, kidnapping of foreigners, and gruesome murders of prominent individuals with their killings videotaped and placed on the Internet.

While violence in Karachi has a dimension different from that seen in other large cities of the developing world, its roots are not too dissimilar. What has made Karachi different is that some unique developments in the city's demographic situation added a number of ingredients to the socio-economic mix that has made so much of urban developing world prone to extreme acts of violence.

First, let us examine the socio-economic characteristics Karachi shares with other violent cities in the developing world before focusing on some of its unique circumstances.

Demographers define mega cities as urban agglomerations of more than 10 million people with ill-defined boundaries. Most of these were initially in Latin America.

However, as result of the rapid growth of Asian populations, mega cities have also cropped up in this part of the world and have been subject to the same kind violence and lawlessness that has become endemic in Latin America.

Social scientists have studied for several decades the cause of urban violence in the metropolitan centres of the developing world, particularly in those located in Latin America. The story is the same whether it is Mexico City in Mexico, or Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo in Brazil, or Buenos Aires in Argentina.

The cause is almost always rooted in economics. Hundreds of thousands of young people are attracted to the metropolitan areas by the promise of employment that goes largely unfulfilled. Local residents have to compete with the newcomers for scarce jobs and that puts pressure on wages, particularly for unskilled and semi-skilled occupations.

Unable to find reasonably rewarding jobs in the formal and informal parts of the economy, many from among the young turn to gang activity. Gangs develop their own economic interests based on a variety of criminal activities including bank robberies, car-jacking, kidnapping for ransom, and sometimes trade in contraband items such as drugs.

Once the young have turned to violence they get trapped in a vicious cycle from which it is difficult to escape. Since the law and order machinery has poor control in the more violence-prone areas in the cities, the young enforce their own conduct and rules of behaviour.

What further exacerbates the situation in many mega cities is the failure of the state to deliver such basic services as education, primary healthcare, drinking water, sanitation, and shelter.

Most mega cities in the developing world - and some also in developed countries - do not have the means to maintain law and order. These failures of city governments are usually grounded in their inability to mobilize resources to provide adequate services to their citizens.

There are not many examples from around the globe of city governments succeeding to create revenue bases that worked independently of central authority. Competition for scarce resources usually results in corruption and this further burdens society.

Gangs sometimes take over the task of providing the people with the goods and services they desperately need. Karachi's infamous water and electricity mafias are now well established in the city's economic life.

While Karachi fits the mould described above, its situation was further complicated by a set of factors that have roots in its peculiar demographic development. Karachi has known violence but the cause is not always economics.

As discussed above, Karachi's population was formed by three distinct episodes of immigration that brought in millions of people into the city over a period of nearly six decades. These newcomers were accommodated but never fully absorbed. They founded their separate communities without a great deal of interaction among them.

Karachi's bustis developed their own culture; sometimes they also cultivated their own brand of religion. Often these cultures and separate religious identities produced clashes that turned exceptionally violent. While non-economic circumstances played a greater role in turning Karachi towards violence, economics set the stage for this unfortunate development.

Hard numbers on the economic development of a city such as Karachi are not usually available. What I am about to offer are guess-estimates based on using surrogates such as the rate of growth of the modern parts of the economy in the country to estimate Karachi's economic performance.

When Karachi was chosen to become Pakistan's capital, the size of its economy and the per capita income of its population was considerably less than that of Lahore. Lahore in 1947 was the new country's largest city, the centre of education, the centre also of the road and railway networks, and the main source of support for agriculture, the economy's most prominent sector.

However, Lahore was quickly eclipsed by Karachi. This happened for two reasons. Karachi's selection as the capital attracted refugees from India who brought with them the skills and experience the new country desperately needed.

Second, India's decision to halt trade with Pakistan soon after the two countries achieved independence forced rapid industrialization upon Pakistan. Karachi became the centre of industry and the associated sector of commerce for the simple reason that it had the skills and financial resources that were needed to launch this extraordinary effort aimed at attaining self-sufficiency.

Over the next two decades Karachi, went through an economic transition of the scale not seen in many urban areas of the developing world.

The city's gross domestic product increased at the rate of more than 12 per cent a year in the 20-year period between 1947 and 1967. In 1967, Karachi's GDP was almost 10 times as large as it was at the time independence.

However, the population had also grown 10-fold with the result that there was no increase in income per head. This did not matter much since the poorer segments of the population were dominated by the migrants from Pakistan northern areas.

For them, simply participating in Karachi's work force meant a significant increase in personal income. Even if the rate economic growth of the first two decades after 1947 could not be maintained for much longer and even it had declined by 50 per cent to about eight per cent a year, Karachi's GDP would still have doubled every nine years and that would have brought some prosperity to the lower income groups since by that time the rate at which the city's population was increasing had begun to slow down.

At the lower rate of economic expansion, Karachi would have managed to produce a sufficiently large number of jobs to accommodate not only the natural increase in its population.

It could have continued to provide for employment to those in other parts of the country who had fewer economic opportunities available to them in the local economies. That did not happen for two reasons.

The first of these was the decision by President Ayub Khan to move the capital from Karachi to Islamabad. After the move of the capital to Islamabad, the city lost a great deal of its economic dynamism.

Its economy did not stagnate but it lost the vigour and the dynamism that had propelled it forward for nearly two decades. The other shock to Karachi's economy was delivered by the administration of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The latter, as we will discuss in the article next week, was a champion of the city.

Not well tutored in economics, he did not realize that his decision to expand the public sector at the expense of private enterprise would take the wind out of Karachi's economic sails.

Virtual stagnation set in Karachi in the decade of the seventies largely because of the nationalization of large-scale industries and the entire banking sector. These were the mainstay of the city's economy.

Karachi's GDP growth slowed down to a bare three per cent a year in the 1970s. Its economy never recovered from the blow inflicted by Bhutto and set the stage for its turn towards violence.

History's killing fields revisited

By Robert Fisk

I am writing a book about our need to escape from history, or rather, about our inability to escape the effects of the decisions taken by our fathers and grandfathers.

My father was a soldier in the First World War or, as it says on the back of his campaign medal, "The Great War for Civilization" - which is the title I've chosen for my book.

In the space of just 17 months after my father's war ended, the victors had drawn the borders of Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia and most of the Middle East. And I have spent all my professional life watching the people inside those borders burn.

I once sat down with old Malcolm Macdonald, Britain's former colonial secretary, to discuss his hand-over of the Irish treaty ports to De Valera before the Second World War, thus depriving Britain of three great harbours during the Battle of the Atlantic. It was a step which earned Macdonald the undying contempt of Winston Churchill.

Inevitably, though, we ended up talking about his vain attempts to solve the "Palestine problem" in the 1930s. In the Commons, Churchill angrily condemned Macdonald for restricting Jewish immigration to Palestine. I still have my notes of what Macdonald said to me.

"We have a terrific argument in House of Commons, and when we met in the division lobby afterwards, Churchill accused me of being pro-Arab. He said that Arabs were savages and that they ate nothing but camel dung.

I could see that it was no good trying to persuade him to change his views. So I suddenly told him that I wished I had a son. He asked me why, and I said I was reading a book called My Early Life by Winston Churchill, and that I would want any son of mine to live that life.

At this point, tears appeared in Churchill's eyes and he put his arms round me, saying, 'Malcolm, Malcolm'. The next day a package arrived for me from Churchill containing a signed copy of his latest volume of the life of Marlborough."

My father worshipped Churchill, and pleaded with a friend to ask Churchill to sign a book for him; which is why I have in my library today Marlborough: His Life and Times, with the words "Inscribed by Winston S Churchill 1948" in the great man's own hand.

I still take the book out from time to time to look at that handwriting and to reflect that this was a man who sent our armies to Gallipoli, who shook hands with Michael Collins, who stood alone against Adolf Hitler, who campaigned for Zionism in Palestine and sent King Faisal to Iraq as a consolation prize for losing Syria to the French.

"The situation that confronted HM Government in Iraq at the beginning of 1921 was a most unsatisfactory one," Churchill would write in his The World Crisis: The Aftermath, of the insurgency against British rule. His friend Gertrude Bell - and here I am indebted to H.V.F. Winstone's splendid and revised biography of Britain's "oriental secretary" in Baghdad - was that same year trying to set up an "Arab government with British advisors" in Baghdad so that Britain's army of occupation could leave Iraq.

"I don't know what hanky panky the Allies are up to about the mandates," she wrote, "but I am all on the side of the League of Nations in protesting that they must be made public... everyone from the Euphrates provinces says the people there won't accept Sunni officials and the (provisional) Council goes on blandly appointing them ... a Shia of Karbala (sic) has at last accepted the Ministry of Education..."

Bell attended Churchill's famous - or infamous - Cairo conference where the British decided the future of most of the Middle East. T.E. Lawrence was there, of course, along with just about every Briton who thought he or she understood the region.

"I'll tell you about our conference," Bell wrote to a friend in her jolly hockey-sticks way. "It has been wonderful. We covered more work in a fortnight than has been got through in a year. Mr Churchill was admirable..."

It quite takes the breath away; the British thought they could fix the Middle East in 14 days. And so we laid the borders of Iraq and laid out the future for what Churchill would, much later, refer to as the "hell disaster" of Palestine.

I'll always remember the way that Macdonald, talking to me in his Sevenoaks home 26 years ago, turned to me during our conversation. "In Palestine, I failed," he said. "And that is why you are in Beirut today." And he was right, of course. Had we really "fixed" the Middle East, I wouldn't have spent the last 29 years of my life travelling from one war to another amid the lies and deceit of our leaders and the surrogates they appointed to rule over the Arabs. Had we really "fixed" the Middle East, Ken Bigley would not have been murdered in Iraq last week.

Can we escape? Can we one day say - both the West and the peoples of the Middle East - "Enough! Let us start again!" I fear we cannot. Our betrayals and our broken promises - to Jews as well as Arabs - have created a kind of irreversible disease, something that will not go away and cannot and will not be forgiven for generations.

Look, for example, how the West egged on Saddam to invade Iran in 1980, how it patronized him for eight terrible years with export credits and guns and aircraft and chemicals for gas. Looking back now, something else was being done. By supporting Saddam's war, the West was helping an entire generation of Iraqis to learn to fight - and die.

I called up my old friend Tony Clifton in Australia recently. He and I reported the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war from both sides. "Just think," he said. "All these millions of Iraqis were taught about how to fight a big army.

They used to use their tanks as static positions with just their gun barrels pointing over the earth to stop the Iranians. But they weren't allowed to use their initiative. But now Saddam has gone and all those lieutenants and captains are older and can use their initiative and their fighting abilities against the Americans. I think that's why the resistance in Iraq is so successful."

I suspect that Clifton is right, and that the eight-year war with Iran which the West was so keen on is intimately connected to the current insurgency and the savagery with which it is being conducted by the Iraqi gunmen and suicide killers. And what of the Americans themselves? I've been re-reading Seymour Hersh's stunning 1970 account of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. And there's something about the casual attitude to death and cruelty in the way that Ernest Medina and William Calley did their killings there that I find chillingly familiar.

The Americans have a professional army in Iraq, but it is becoming frighteningly casual about the way it kills women and children in Fallujah, simply denying that its air strikes are killing the innocent, and insists that all 120 dead in their Samarra operation were insurgents when this cannot possibly be true.

What about the latest wedding party carnage, another American "success" against terrorism? Because journalists can scarcely travel in Iraq any more, there is no longer any independent witness to this awful war. What is going on in Ramadi and Hilla and all the other cities where US forces carry out their brutal raids?

Tony Blair still thinks his hideous invasion was not a mistake. He still seems to believe in his own version of The Great War for Civilization, just as my father once believed in it. And now I wonder what terrors this disaster holds in store for our future generations, who will also ask themselves if they can escape from history. -(c) The Independent

Muslims must close ranks

By Omar Kureishi

As if the Muslim world did not have enough enemies of its own. We add to the tally by becoming our own worst enemies. Sialkot and Multan were not acts of zealotry. They were acts of madness. The official response has been entirely predictable.

There have been expressions of revulsion and condemnation, cash compensation, the transfer or suspension of some police officers and the promise to leave no stone unturned to nab the perpetrators.

The perception is that Sialkot and Multan were acts of sectarian terrorism. Every Muslim must hang his or her head in shame. This is a period in time when Muslims must close ranks.

Iraqis, Afghanis, Palestinians, Chechens are being killed in the name and the cause of the war on terror. Iran and Syria are being lined up, and our response is to kill one another.

FBI agents in northern California and across the US have started a campaign to visit mosques and question Muslims who might have information related to a pre-election terrorist campaign.

This is a witch-hunt and is low even by the low standards of Homeland Security, which should be renamed the Ministry of Fear. That's what George Orwell would have called it.

I have yet to read a single statement issued by either the Bush or the Kerry camp denouncing this as a violation of freedom of worship, which is enshrined in the US Constitution.

Some support has come from African-American lawmakers who surely know what persecution is and whether it is based on religion or race. These are the people whose forebears pioneered the Civil Rights movement in the United States.

"We do not succumb to the paranoia that exists in this country as a result of the war on terrorism," says Congressman Al Wyn who heads the Congressional Black Caucus's political action committee.

There have been other voices but these are in-house and, therefore, carry no weight. American Muslim Voice director for northern California, Khalid Saeed, says, that American Muslims feel intimidated by the new campaign, which was the fifth incidence of an explicit FBI dragnet against the communities.

He goes on to say that previously the FBI launched four separate rounds of questioning which routinely involved interrogating interviewees with questions about their religious practices and political beliefs not related to terrorism.

I am at present reading Imperial Hubris. The author prefers to write in the name of Anonymous but is a senior US intelligence official with nearly two decades of experience in national security issues related to Afghanistan and South Asia. He quotes Ralph Peters, also an author and analyst. "If there is a single power that the West underestimates, it is the power of collective hatred."

Nothing illustrates better this "collective hatred" than a portion of an article by Atif Adwan, professor of politics at the Islamic University of Gaza, and which is quoted at length by Anonymous.

It is worth quoting here as well. "The perception is based on the partition of the (Middle East) region into small weak sates incapable of posing any threat to Israel and on re-drawing the map of the region accordingly.

This perception includes the achievement of religious goals. US modern politics, particularly in the era of George W. Bush, are based on biblical vision. This is not to say that there are no economic interests involved. These economic interests are parallel with Washington's religious goals.

"Israel and the Zionist Christian movement have played a major role in steering US policy in the direction they wanted. They have done so by misinterpreting Bible verses and playing on the emotions of the US president and politicians.

They have recruited for this purpose large numbers of Christian extremists who are more loyal to Israel and Judaism than they are to the United States and Christianity.

"The anti-Islam campaign has been led by a number of right-wing Christian leaders, who are currently controlling the US administration. They also include the spiritual mentors of the right-wing Christian leaders such as evangelists Pat Robertson, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Baker, Jerry Falwell, Kevin Copeland, Richard Han, and others.

Evangelist Copeland says, "God has created Israel and He is acting to support it. It is a magnificent thing that we (the United States) should support our government as long as it supports Israel."

We tend not to be informed about how systematic has been the campaign that has been launched against Islam by the Christian right, and are even less informed of the close association between the Christian right and the present administration.

Here are some samples of this evangelical wisdom. Pat Robertson says, "Adolf Hitler is bad, but what the Muslims do to the Jews is worse." Jimmy Swaggart prays that "God blesses those who bless Israel and damns those who damn it." And the Reverend Franklin Graham calls Islam "a wicked religion", and says that Christianity and Islam are "different as lightness and darkness".

This is not lunatic-fringe. These evangelists, some with the popularity of pop stars, shape the spiritual values of Middle America, parts of which are called the Bible Belt.

Not long ago, some members of the Christian right would have belonged to the Ku Klux Klan, and some may have taken part in the Birmingham riots and might have clubbed an Afro-American youth or two with a baseball bat.

I am not at all surprised that no Muslim country has chosen to protest that their nationals are being persecuted. Whenever there is a just a sniff of anti-Semitism in some parts of the world, Israel is up in arms and lodges protests and threatens damnation. Have Muslims ceased to be their brother's keepers?

The tormenting memory of Nawabpur

By Omar R. Quraishi

On October 8, several hundred activists and concerned citizens, including parliamentarians, gathered in front of Parliament House in Islamabad, to protest against the government's inaction with regard to the so-called honour killings and increasing violence against women in the country.

This rally follows several previous ones on similar issues and staged in the hope that our elected representatives realize the gravity of the situation and take action to outlaw honour killings.

In the name of honour, to defend a family, clan or tribe's honour, many injustices and cruelties have been perpetrated against thousands of women in Pakistan's history.

Just two years ago, we saw a panchayat in the small village of Meerwala in southern Punjab order an innocent woman to be raped by several men as punishment for an alleged affair that one of her brother committed with a woman from another tribe.

Once the story got out, it made international headlines. All hell broke loose, at least initially, with the Supreme Court calling it the "most heinous crime of 21st century Pakistan" and ordering an anti-terrorism court to hear the case.

Six men were eventually sentenced to death while eight were acquitted. However, their defence lawyers moved the high court and their appeal is currently pending.

For its part, the government gave the woman, Mukhtaran Mai Rs 500,000 and it is believed that aid offers came in from overseas and from private sources as well. She decided that with the money she would build a school in her village. According to a report a few months ago, her school is yet to be completed.

The Supreme Court was right in calling it the most heinous crime seen by Pakistanis in this century. This century yes, but what was the most heinous crime the country witnessed during the previous century, specifically when General Ziaul Haq was in power, a time when the country was exposed to a veritable ocean of arms and drugs and when infamous laws like the Hudood and the Qisas and Diyat ordinances were enacted, perhaps a crime against Pakistan itself. But if one were to single out an incident and call it the equivalent of the Meerwala tragedy, it would have to be the horrific events that took place in Nawabpur, not far from Meerwala, 20 years ago.

Two women and a nine-year-old girl, were paraded naked on March 31, 1984, through the small galis of Nawabpur, a small, sleepy town some 10 kilometres from Multan.

The women's brother-in-law, Akbar, was a local carpenter, who had earned a name for himself by becoming skilled at his craft. The man, according to one account which appeared three weeks after the incident in this newspaper's weekly magazine, was that he had been having affairs with women from the town's leading feudal Sheikhana clan.

As such things are "settled" in a feudal/tribal context, several dozen men of the clan made their way to Akbar's house, severely beat him up and then did the same to his two sisters-in-law and nine-year-old sister.

Apparently, not content with their bestiality, they then proceeded to drag the two women and girl to the streets, naked. According to the report, "Talking to two dead women" (April 20, 1984) by Zafar Samdani: "A group of about 40-50 revenge-drunk men had entered their (the women's house), beat up their brother-in-law Mohammad Akbar to a pulp, stripped them naked by tearing their clothes ... and then herded them towards the main street, waving their arms, pistols, iron-mounted lathis and other weapons victoriously...

When the women tried to hide their bodies with their hands, they (the men) prodded them with sticks or just hit them. When they tried to hide their faces, they pulled their hair so that they raised their faces."

Beaten beyond recognition, Akbar died six days later from his injuries. Talking to the writer of the article, the chief of the Sheikhana clan at that time and chairman of the union council of Nawabpur, Malik Mohammad Baksh, said that the action of the men (he called them "boys") from his clan was understandable given Akbar's shenanigans because of which they were "terribly angry".

He also said that though they were "terribly angry," reports of their "misdeed had been grossly exaggerated". One can only be astonished by the audacity of this man who probably saw it fit to deny or justify the parading of women naked at gunpoint, because one of their relatives allegedly had an affair or affairs with female relatives of the men who came to take revenge.

A military court heard the case and after the incident an amendment (through the Criminal Law Amendment Ordinance 1984 - Section 354 A) was inserted in the Pakistan Penal Code.

It increased the maximum sentence from two years in jail to capital punishment for anyone who forced a woman to strip naked in public. Despite that, the men tried in the Nawabpur case were not given capital punishment or even life sentence.

In fact, two months later they were all released on bail. Akbar's shattered and broken family left the village fearing that the released men might return and persecute them.

Quite ironically, a fortnight after the Nawabpur incident, a military court in a separate case sentenced a man and a woman to 20 lashes each after finding them guilty of committing adultery.

It is 20 years on and one wonders whether anything has really changed as far as the misogynist trends in Pakistani society are concerned. Meerwala, which happened just two years ago, would perhaps tell us that not much has changed.

In fact, the same year, one witnessed several cases of young teenage girls being "gifted" to men to settle tribal disputes. Earlier this year, a young girl in interior Sindh was shot dead by male relatives after she dared to dance during a family wedding ceremony. Perhaps one difference is that when the Nawabpur incident took place the kind of press and television coverage that Meerwala received did not exist.

Other than that, the military man in charge today at least professes to holding views that are more enlightened than those of General Zia. And yes, the National Assembly and the Senate have several dozen female legislators now.

But they haven't really made much of an impact, or to put it more precisely, the male-dominated politics of Pakistan hasn't allowed them to do anything of significance.

One or two members of parliament who do speak quite vociferously on women's issues, such as Kashmala Tariq of the PML or Sherry Rehman of the PPP (Parliamentarians) are either shouted down (as the National Assembly speaker did recently with Ms Tariq), subjected to a thoroughly unwarranted attack on their personal character or are thought to be too westernized and elitist to be of any consequence (as is the case with Ms Rehman).

In fact, a privilege motion was moved recently against Kashmala Tariq by a member of her own party, the PML, after she said, in response to a reporter's question that she wasn't made a minister because she did not have the right surname or connections.

On one occasion she also received comments on her looks from some male members of the National Assembly during parliamentary proceedings, giving the impression that perhaps some of our MNAs had never seen a female face before.

Pretty much the same thing happens at the provincial level. In the case of Punjab, some of the PML women MPAs have said that they often find themselves sidelined during the proceedings or aren't given enough time or opportunity to speak in a debate.

As for the role of women in the Balochistan or NWFP assemblies, the less said the better, especially in the latter where they prefer to be silent much of the time and let their erstwhile male colleagues in the MMA take control of parliamentary proceedings.

If they try and protest against this bias, they are deemed by the men as being too troublesome or noisy. So, while we have lots of women legislators, the male-dominated system doesn't let them do anything at all. In fact, its inherent anti-women attitude is geared towards denying them an effective voice/role in parliament just as it happens throughout the rest of society.

Besides, the role of our so-called intellectuals, who should be more vocal in their demands for social reform, especially in areas such as these that involve the equality of the sexes and human dignity, has yet to materialize.

This is probably why, even 20 years after Nawabpur and two years after Meerwala, various governments continue to procrastinate over legislation against crimes committed in the name of honour.

The fact that the print and electronic media report such things with greater alacrity and regularity than before is a positive sign and is aimed at raising public awareness.

But then, who doesn't know that ordering a woman to be raped for a crime committed by her brother, or parading women naked in public is reprehensible and can be done only by beasts masquerading as humans? Clearly, increased media reporting of such happenings and greater awareness levels have not persuaded any government - not even one led by a self-professed enlightened moderate - to enact legislation to tilt the balance back, however slightly, in favour of women.

In the past year alone, senior government functionaries, up to the ministerial level, have said at least a dozen times that a law will be "enacted soon". The other day it was reported that the National Assembly's standing committee on law and human rights had finally approved a draft of a proposed law on this issue.

If the bill is approved by both houses, and a law is enacted, perhaps a significant change will be witnessed since the abominable events of Nawabpur shook this country 20 years ago.

Email: omarq@cyber.net.pk.