DAWN - Letters; 24 November, 2004

Published November 24, 2004

Dams, canals & CBMs

The water issue is gaining serious dimensions in Pakistan. The increase in population, mismanagement, wastage, unjust distribution, water theft, an outdated barrage system, poor maintenance, ill-planning and greed by some at the cost of the tail-enders and the lower riparian are but a few causes of the pervasive malaise.

For quite some time now it has been the need of the hour to handle the issue deftly and take some immediate measures to build confidence among the stakeholders. But unfortunately the government is doing just the opposite.

Instead of being objective and impartial, the government has become a party. It is doing the bidding of a powerful lobby that enjoys the goodwill of the so-called establishment. Its policies have alienated a large number of people and created mistrust and disharmony among the provinces. This doesn't augur well for the future of the country.

What measures can the government take to prevent the situation from deteriorating? First, it must give up its cavalier attitude and start listening to all the voices. It should not serve the interests of only a powerful section of society.

It shouldn't favour any province at the cost of the others. For example: there are multiple resolutions passed by three out of the four provincial assemblies against the Kalabagh Dam.

The Sindh Assembly has also demanded that work on the Greater Thal Canal project should be stopped, fearing that water shortage in the province would worsen if the gigantic irrigation project becomes operational. What does it tell us when the government ignores these concerns?

For its own good, the government has to take seriously the argument that there is no extra water for any new mega dam (Mangla and Tarbela dams could not be filled this year even though it is claimed that they have lost capacity due to silting).

Future cuts in water availability as India diverts more water under the Indus Basin Treaty and any possible dams on Kabul River should be kept in view too. Water losses due to seepage and evaporation from a huge reservoir can't be ignored either.

Plus there are world wide concerns against mega dams. One should take note of the violent anti-mega dam protests in China, India and other countries. Several alternatives suggested by experts should be given due consideration.

The government also needs to take some confidence- building measures to create an atmosphere of goodwill and trust among the provinces. The CBMs could include implementing previous accords and understanding on the distribution of water (starting with the 1945 Sindh-Punjab water agreement), operation of the Chashma-Jhelum and Taunsa-Panjnad link canals, filling of Mangla Dam and compensation to Sindh in lieu of the operation of certain canals, provision of required water for downstream Kotri, provision of adequate water for human consumption for Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur and other cities and towns, keeping in view the increase in population.

The CBMs should be given some time to work. In the meantime talk of divisive mega dams and work on the Greater Thal Canal should stop. After a reasonable cooling off period, a democratically elected government that enjoys the confidence of all parties and doesn't depend on the politics of water for its survival may try to reach a just and lasting solution to this vital issue.


Via email

Child rights: lip service

On the eve of the 15th anniversary of the signature of the UN Convention on Child Rights (CCR) on Nov 20, the usual lip-service was paid by the government to safeguarding the rights of the children.

Gen Pervez Musharraf in his message described the children as "our greatest resource" and claimed to have carried out substantial reforms for their betterment. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz took pride in the fact that Pakistan was one of the six initiators of the World Summit for Children in 1990 (Dawn, Nov 20). But what is the reality?

On July 9 I asked a question in the Senate whether it was lawful to sentence to death juveniles and how many juveniles had been sentenced to death in the country. To our horror the Senate was informed that even though sentencing juveniles to death was unlawful, 1,648 juveniles in Punjab, 313 in the Frontier, 187 in Balochistan and 691 in Sindh had been sentenced to death and were languishing in death cells. Subsequently, a motion and a resolution were moved to discuss the issue but these have yet to be taken up.

On Oct 22 a meeting of the Human Rights Committee of the Senate was requisitioned by the opposition members to discuss the FCR and the sentencing of minors under it by political agents in the tribal areas.

When I produced a clipping from the Oct 4 Dawn about a three-year-old girl sentenced to three years under the FCR, the Fata secretary, security, protested and dismissed the press reports as fabricated. His words were: "A political agent would be out of his mind to sentence three-year-olds under the FCR."

Upon this categorical assurance of a senior state functionary, a former brigadier, the matter was not pursued and the committee was content to recommend that if such reports were found true, women and children sentenced under the collective responsibility clause of the FCR should be released forthwith.

A few days ago I secured an official list of convicted persons un Section 40 of the FCR confined in different Frontier jails. The list included at least 17 small children between two and nine years sentenced to three years in jail under the FCR.

Instead of offering meaningless platitudes, Gen Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz would do well to set aside the death sentences against juveniles and also order the immediate release of women and children sentenced under the FCR.



Asif Zardari's release

Mr Asif Zardari has finally been released on bail after eight-year imprisonment. His release has come at a crucial time when the country is at the brink of what could be one more turning point in the turbulent governance system of Pakistan.

President's decision to shed or not to shed the uniform is almost a month away. In this situation it is hard to buy the idea that this development has taken place without any under-the-table deal between the government and the PPP, which consequently makes the current government set-up even more questionable.

With differences among MMA members and the release of Mr Zardari, the opposition has become nothing but a paper tiger.




Mr Asif Zardari has finally been set free after spending a good eight years in jail. So this means that all the hue and cry about the Surrey Palace and horses and BMW cases was nothing more than just a storm in a tea cup.

If he had to be set free in such a dignified and triumphant manner, why were the NABs and RABs formed after spending millions from the national exchequer to counter corruption?

Whether the outcome of a political deal or meant to mellow down the uniform issue, this move is set to affect the credibility of the Musharraf government and shake the confidence of the average citizen.




Mr Zardari's release is a mockery of justice. Detaining a person only on suspicion without proof for eight long years on supposedly a non-bailable offence is nothing to be proud of.

The torture Mr Zardari must have suffered and gone through! The wastage of eight years of his prime life! How will he be compensated for this?



Twin office bill

This refers to a report (Nov 14) according to which a citizen on Nov 13 asked the Supreme Court to prevent the federation from issuing any ordinance about the "President to Hold Another Office Bill 2004" and declare it as against the Constitution.

Democracy is much more than the rule of majority especially in a country where parliament can pass a bill defying the spirit of the Constitution and common sense. Going by the trend, the National Assembly can pass another bill by a simple majority to perpetuate itself and save millions in recurring elections.

Sovereignty belongs to the state and all other institutions, the army and the legislature, are subject to it. Any law negating the norms of democracy can be challenged in the apex court.

Ayub Khan nursed the idea of becoming a king but he was advised against it. He ceded the point but reluctantly. Julius Caesar wanted to declare himself emperor of Rome but the senate killed both the proposal and him.

The Supreme Court will hopefully take due note of the anomalous bill, prevent it from becoming law and save us the embarrassment we as a nation are going through as a democracy with a serving general on top.



Ban on wedding meals

This is apropos of the Supreme Court ban on wedding meals, including those served at valima ceremonies. First of all, serving meals at valima functions is an Islamic tradition.

Hence it should not have been forbidden. Secondly, some relief should have been given to people who had weddings previously scheduled. Lastly, the objective of the verdict will not be achieved as people would have to pay about the same amount of money for a cold drink as they pay for a one-dish meal in a marriage hall or a hotel.

They will also have to bear the additional cost of serving meals at home for outstation guests. Besides, not everyone has a large home to be able to arrange meals for outstation guests whose number sometimes run into the hundreds.

I request the apex court to reconsider the decision. Valima and one-dish meals should be allowed.



'A love-hate relationship'

This is apropos of Mr Ayaz Amir's article "A love-hate relationship" (Nov 12). The MQM, since its inception, has been the victim of a dual tragedy.

It has not only been presented in a grossly distorted form, but writers, columnists, and commentators have either made no effort to find out the truth about the party or turned a blind eye to facts furnished to help them understand the objectives the party has set before itself for the kind of change Pakistan requires to be a modern, democratic, liberal state where each one of its citizens is guaranteed equality, justice and fairplay.

It is these principles that have helped countries in the West and the Far East reach a level of prosperity and ensure civic rights for their people. These states, as also India next door, have reached their level of affluence by building a strong middle class, and by ensuring maximum participation of their people in the affairs of the state.

The MQM too has been engaged in this task, but since it has to demolish the well-entrenched system of feudalism and tribalism, its philosophy has been resisted by almost all powerful vested interests. Journalists, unfortunately, have failed to appreciate or even understand that the attainment of such an objective is the need of the hour.

Mr Ayaz Amir's column is a mixture of fiction and fantasy. To say that the MQM was created by Gen Ziaul Haq is not only a travesty of the truth, but a gross insult to the perceptions of millions of people who without fail since 1987 have solidly been backing the party because of their faith in its principles.

Altaf Hussain and his colleagues in their student days went door-to-door in Korangi and other slums of Karachi to collect wheat, flour, old clothing, and whatever else they could manage for the Pakistanis returning from the country's former eastern wing, and charted a course to fight against discrimination in admission policies of Karachi University and its affiliated colleges for Mohajir students.

They were forced to do that because, before them, nearly a dozen politico-ethnic organizations like the People's Students Federation, the Punjabi Students Federation, the Pushtoon and Imamia Students organizations and the Islami Jamiat-i-Talaba had put up their camps to vitiate the atmosphere in the academic institutions of urban Sindh.

Students and slum dwellers who had no one to look after them saw the MQM as a messiah, backing it with overwhelming support in the municipal elections of 1987. The party's success in Karachi, Hyderabad, and Mirpurkhas must have been a shock for Zia, Ghous Ali Shah, and their secret services who saw the emergence of such a popular party as yet another threat to their design to keep the country depoliticized.

The crackdown by Gen Asif Nawaz was a conspiracy against democracy and against the efforts of selfless people to restore dignity and honour to the poor, oppressed people of Pakistan, and give them their inalienable right to rule.

Mr Ayaz Amir's assertion that the MQM was a counterweight to the PPP reflects poorly on his understanding of politics. The PPP was never strong in Karachi and had managed just one seat in the 1970 elections.

Let me also inform him that Altaf Hussain had returned suitcases full of money sent to purchase him by an army general who is still alive and could verify the fact. Even at the height of the crisis of the army action of 1992 and even afterwards, he kept his followers steadfast by leading from the front.

As for Gen Naseerullah Babar, defending him is a slap in the face of the Urdu-speaking people who want nothing but to be treated on merit as equal citizens of the state. Whether Aslam Beg had a soft corner for the MQM, he alone can answer.

There is no evidence to support the argument. Altaf Hussain has already achieved successes that have made people envious of him. The MQM continues to rule the hearts of the masses which is evident from its repeated success at the polls.

I would advise Mr Ayaz Amir to study the Karachi situation dispassionately. I am sure if he does he would be sympathetic to the MQM. He has made some very uncharitable remarks about Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ebad Khan, but can he say how the same governor has helped restore peace and sanity to Karachi and the rest of the province?

As for Altaf Hussain's remarks about Pakistan, there is nothing wrong in a retrospective analysis. Altaf Hussain has himself explained that the LoC is not a permanent border, just a starting point for negotiations on Kashmir, and if Pakistan was meant to be a Muslim state, why were its doors shut on the Muslims of India and elsewhere.

Israel has still kept its doors open for the Jews of the world. The term Pakistan ideology, let me remind the writer, was the brainchild of the Jamaat-i-Islami and was articulated officially by its spokesman, the information minister in Yahya Khan's cabinet, Gen Sher Ali.

Altaf Hussain's visit to India has been a great success. His views, expressed in public or at meetings with government or opposition leaders of India, including Vajpayee, Advani and Natwar Singh, carried weight.

India, like the rest of the democratic world, knew Altaf Hussain's influence on his country's public opinion. They did well to respond quickly and the announcement soon came from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about reduction of forces in held Kashmir.

Public leaders do the groundwork and those in the government have to build the edifice as a sound structure. Altaf Hussain has done his job. That should be enough satisfaction for him and his supporters. If cynics still think otherwise, they are entitled to their views.


(CM's Adviser on Information) Karachi

Hijab and Muslim women

I Admire Professor Anwar Syed for his no-nonsense straight talk on the matter of the 'hijab' (Dawn, Nov 21). Reading about the run-ins that Muslims scattered around European countries and North American have had with the authorities, one might conclude as if hijab was the most central element of faith.

The overzealous defence of this option reveals a deeper motivation as the professor has rightly identified - a desperate desire to establish one's identity in a different culture and country.

While, in principle, residents of any western country have every right to fight for the freedom to wear the hijab, which at least in North America they do, one hopes that they will save their energies for more substantive matters than this 'non-issue'.


New Jersey, USA

Ensuring merit

This is with reference to the article by Mr Syed Shahid Husain (Nov 13) regarding accountability and corruption. He has highlighted important issues and I hope people in power will think seriously about this double standard.

Incompetency and corruption go together. A competent person can survive without corruption but an incompetent person will depend on corruption for his survival. Mr Shahid Husain has rightly said that "when men of low competence, poor intelligence and dubious character are appointed to high offices, corruption and chaos are bound to ensure."

It is time the authorities started giving top priority to merit in all aspects of life. Without merit we will not be able to survive in a world of high competence.



Press freedom

Recently, Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed stated that the government believed in "100 per cent" freedom of the press and the media. If his claim is accurate, how does he justify the existence of his ministry? Or, is the minister and his entire staff getting paid for doing nothing?


Louisville, KY., USA

A job well done

We, as citizens of the otherwise troubled Karachi, warmly congratulate Dr Adib Rizvi, Dr Anwer Naqvi, their colleagues and support staff at the SIUT on the extraordinary manner in which a kidney was flown from Europe and transplanted in 18-year-old Uzma.

This is a tribute to their integrity, years of commitment and professionalism. As citizens, we feel a debt of gratitude to the Euro transplant Foundation, to PIA pilots and staff, and others concerned who responded so positively to the request of SIUT in bringing the kidney from Maastricht to Karachi in record time.

We hope that the Sindh government will appreciate the role SIUT has been playing in the largest public sector hospital of Karachi, and support it more generously.



Law enforcers

It is astonishing that five policemen were deprived of their official weapons in a single day in different localities (Dawn, Nov 4). How would the law-enforcers protect a citizen from criminals when they could not protect themselves?

It is time the authorities evaluated how these criminal activities can be stamped out. On a number of occasions it appeared that some law-enforcers are involved in crime - whether it is hijacking an automobile, dacoity or looting a bank or an innocent person. Tall claims to curb crime come from high-ups but no remedial step to check these activities.

Would any competent authority shed light on it?





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