DAWN - Letters; 18 December, 2004

Published December 18, 2004

Secularism and democracy

This is with reference to Mr R.H. Usmani's letter "Islam and science" (Dec 14) in which he has quoted Mr Asghar Ali Engineer as saying: "In fact, religion and democracy are not incompatible with each other" (Dawn, Dec 4).

Mr Usmani wonders if Mr Engineer's viewpoint destroys Mr Henry Kissinger's statement: "Democracy in the West evolved over centuries. It required first a church independent of the state; the Enlightenment, which asserted the autonomy of reason from both church and state; The Age of Discovery, which broadened horizons; and, finally, capitalism with its emphasis on competition and markets (Dawn, Nov 8).

The question arises whether or not a country which is not secular can have true democracy. Let's take the example of our country which is an Islamic republic. The minorities are barred from holding top positions such as head of state.

One may argue that democracy is about the will of the majority and if the majority want to exclude the minorities from holding top positions, it should be respected. But it must be realized that democracy is not just about the majority making laws but about minority rights being protected at the hands of the majority.

One of the essential characteristics of democracy is that no discrimination is to be made on account of religion, sex, race and creed. Religion is a personal matter between God and an individual and the state should make no attempts to regularize the life of individuals based upon the religion of the majority.

The problem in our country is that there is apprehension that merely by being a secular country, we will deviate from our religion. I wonder how that can happen when the majority of the people are Muslims.

Besides, what makes us think that a non-Muslim will be less patriotic than a Muslim? If we had been living in a secular country, leaders of that country would not have used religion to achieve their political goals. Similarly, laws such as the Hudood ordinances that have played havoc with the lives of thousands of women in Pakistan would not have been enacted.

The problem is that as a nation we are sentimental and get carried away by the rhetoric of religious parties. The only way we can have true democracy and a population which is enlightened is by having a secular set-up.



'Realtors' paradise'

This refers to Mr Ayaz Amir's article "Realtors' paradise" of Dec 10. We all know what is happening in this 'estate of Pakistan' run by the military. Frankly, if they are good at it, it proves that if you try hard enough you can achieve proficiency at anything even if it is real estate.

Air Marshal (retd) Nur Khan (in a recent interview with an English-language daily) said that it ill-behoved the defenders to become property developers. What Mr Amir is saying is that there are effectively three parties in the field - 'The Property Party' (TPP), the PPP and the PML-N. A new system is in place: one where men of property do well and the rest are on their own.

Corrupt civil and military leaders, taking turns, have played havoc with this piece of land called Pakistan. The head of the TPP (no matter who) has a passion to punish the leadership of the other two; exiling here, hanging or suing there and slamming others in the jug on treason charges.

Every reasonable man in the canton is treasonable. Most of our generals are acquisitive. They have requisitioned the whole country by cutting down on education, health and social services. The army, a trust of the nation, is a toy in their hands to be used as, when and where they want.

One runner of guns and drugs put religion into the government; the other is trying to take it out of it. For this century we have been status quoed. President Eisenhower had warned in his departing speech about the military-industrial-complex taking over his country.

All the major decisions take place in the Pentagon and they are now forever on the lookout for enemies and wars. We have been run over by the same complex. It will take some doing on our part to crawl out of this pit. They say every republic ends up being a tyranny.

Starting from tyranny, we have yet to become a republic. We barely have tasted freedom. Fundamentalism in Pakistan is of two types: religious and military. The mullahs declare everyone kafir and the generals issue fatwas of disloyalty to anyone challenging their extra-constitutional misdeeds.



NFC member's resignation

I have read with interest the news that Sindh's National Finance Commission member Abdul Karim Lodhi has resigned from the NFC. Mr Lodhi has charged that the "NFC has been unfortunately reduced to no more than a handmaiden of the central government."

The first time I met Mr Lodhi was in 1989 when I was governor of Sindh. Mr Lodhi was making a courtesy call as the chief secretary-designate, government of Sindh. As soon as we sat down, Mr Lodhi told me that there was no need to change the then chief secretary, Mr Kunwar Idrees.

Mr Lodhi spoke highly of the man he was designated to replace, saying that Mr Idrees was competent, dedicated and honest. Although I concurred with Mr Lodhi's estimation of Mr Idrees, such appointments were not within the scope of my authority.

It was quite refreshing to see Mr Lodhi's reluctance to accept a very powerful bureaucratic post. Especially so when earlier in the year, albeit in a different context, the then president Ghulam Ishaq Khan had told me: "You know we bureaucrats are a special breed.

When a senior bureaucrat is appointed to his post, he truly believes that his predecessor was an incompetent person. When this bureaucrat ceases to hold high office, he is equally convinced that no successor will be able to ever match his ability." However, in our brief first meeting, Mr Lodhi had left a very different impression of the bureaucracy in my mind.

Even after his appointment as chief secretary, it was reassuring to see Mr Lodhi voicing his views without fear or favour. In at least one high-level meeting I remember Mr Lodhi intervening to disagree with the then prime minister Benazir Bhutto, stating that the issue could not be resolved in the manner suggested by the prime minister.

He was equally at poise in expressing his disagreement with president Ghulam Ishaq Khan, saying that the president was not fully aware of the situation in Sindh. In my estimation, Mr Lodhi's resignation from the National Finance Commission is a loss for the NFC.



Nationalization of gold

Gold should be nationalized in Pakistan under a proposed "Gold Bonds Certificate Scheme", which has already been done in the US, Germany, most of Europe and India. The impact of the nationalization of gold, as well as of diamonds, on Pakistan's economy would be positive.

The social impact would be the elimination of corruption and other social evils since gold can be described as one of the main causes of practices such as dowry, bribery and dacoities. The use, investment and trade of gold are tantamount to making a dead investment. Moreover, they also affect the circulation of money.

The use of gold and gold ornaments used to be a sign of slavery. The movement of women was constricted by the use of bangles, chains and rings of steel and iron, which, with time, were made with gold and silver.

Under the proposed scheme, gold bond vouchers and certificates would be issued against the prevailing market value of gold to people who would be able to convert them into cash after 10 to 15 years. Nationalized gold could then be sold in the international market to retire foreign debts since a major portion of our annual budget is allocated to foreign debt servicing.

According to a survey, there are more than 3,000 metric tonnes of gold available in Pakistan. And the value of instant gold is equivalent to $3,500 million, which is enough money to retire foreign debts. In the era of denationalization and privatization, the nationalization of gold in Pakistan under such a scheme is the need of the hour.



Child labour

Only 37 per cent of Pakistan's 25 million school-age children complete primary school, while the global average is 79 per cent and the South Asian average is 50 per cent. If the same rate continues, then by 2005 less than a third of Pakistan's children will attend school.

Hence, more research into the cause of child labour and its effect on families and communities is needed before policymakers make any major suggestions for the health and education of children.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan estimated the number of our working children to be about 12 million out of which 3.3 million are on the payroll. The world wide population of children under 14, who work full-time, is thought to be over 200 million. The medium age of children now entering Pakistan's workforce is seven, and four years ago it was eight. Two years from now it may be six.

Pakistan has a unique problem as it was targeted for defying child rights and its goods were not cleared for export because we were employing children on wages. Studies have shown that preventing children from working is likely to exacerbate their problems.

Children are working in factories, fields and on the streets. Most export industries have relocated to Pakistan because of the abundance of cheap child labour and lax labour laws. Children should be studying in school, and the government and civil society need to make sure they have money and employment through income-generation schemes.



BBC and militants

In his letter "BBC and militants" (Dec 12), Mr Muhammad Abd Al-Hameed complains that "every time a Muslim is involved in militancy, the BBC describes him as Islamic". How else should the BBC describe him? As a Christian, a Jew or a Hindu?

He then goes on to state that "the only explanation for the BBC editors' outrageous use of this word is that they want to create hatred against Muslims". Does he think that an attack in the name of Islam on an office building full of innocent people by a group of terrorists who call themselves Muslims will not cause any hatred against Muslims but the BBC's calling these terrorists Islamic, which is just a description of reality will?

The entire context of the recent series of terrorist attacks is crystal clear to the world, i.e., a handful of misguided, fanatical Muslims are on the loose and every now and then their hatred of humanity shows its ugly head somewhere in the world.

This context has been generated by these people themselves. If a news organization simply puts an event in its context, it indicates realistic journalism. The anomaly of Mr Al-Hameed's grouse over this is truly outrageous.

Mr Al-Hameed has brought up the matter of the Catholic-Protestant conflict in Northern Ireland. This conflict may have had its genesis in religious tensions centuries ago, but by the time the BBC got into the picture, this conflict was more political in nature than religious.

I am not trying to justify the violence of the IRA, but the IRA used to launch attacks after warning the general public to get out of an area where a bomb was to explode. Of course, many times the warnings failed to precede the attacks or arrived too late (terrorists cannot really be friends of the public).

However, the IRA never took a plane full of innocent people and flew it into a tower full of innocent people, or killed children in a school as it happened in Beslan, Russia, or kidnapped and then beheaded innocent people. It did not declare a religious war or a Jihad, per se.

The problem is not the BBC but that a group of fanatics seems to have hijacked Islam. Moreover, the problem is compounded by the fact that many Muslims tragically continue to downplay the danger these people pose to humanity.


Louisville, KY, USA

Political patch-up

The objectives set by Gen Pervez Musharraf for his recent visit abroad as enumerated by him have been achieved. He has not only been heard attentively but also been assured of greater cooperation in matters relating to defence and economy. Major powers are now willing to work with him in the international arena.

With his enhanced stature, he is useful to Pakistan. He must therefore be accepted and respected as a world leader. The main reason for his non-acceptance is the political mess he has landed himself in within the country.

He must sort it out quickly and earnestly work for political reconciliation. His actual strength lies in his domestic strength which unfortunately at this juncture is not enough.

He should establish first hand contact with leaders who matter, including those living in exile and those in jail. He should take them into confidence about the internal and the external situation and tell them frankly about the compulsions that force him to stay in uniform.

They are patriotic Pakistanis and, if approached in a conciliatory manner, will respond positively. They should be invited to play a role in mainstream politics.

This step will further enhance his image abroad and enable him to work with more confidence. He should also consider early elections despite what his cronies and sycophants may suggest.



Mobile phones and driving

Voltaire's assertion that 'common sense is not so common' must have been said with the Pakistani nation in mind. The absolute lack of common sense in the way we conduct ourselves in public is evidence.

We witness this on our roads. It is common to see underage driving, people speeding, using pressure horns and breaking traffic signals, and we are increasingly seeing people using mobile phones while driving.

When you use a mobile phone while driving, you not only get distracted but driving with one hand does not give you total control of the vehicle. There have been a number of accidents because of this. Even motorcyclists have been seen using mobile phones while trying to balance their vehicles with one free hand.

The use of mobile phones while driving has become illegal in Pakistan as it is in most civilized countries. The same people who do this in Pakistan would not dare do so in other countries.

Our national dictum is: if you can get away with it, get on with it. What is surprising is that a majority of people driving with mobile phones appear to be educated, unlike speeding bus and truck drivers.

While flouting the law is common in Pakistan and enforcing it almost impossible, drivers could perhaps use some common sense and save themselves and others from coming to grievous harm.



Women ministers

Again there is talk of inducting more ministers into Shaukat Aziz's cabinet. Without discussing the reasons, please note that no woman from Sindh has been able to find a place in the largest cabinet the country has ever had.

It has five women ministers from Punjab, one from the NWFP and one from Balochistan, but none from Sindh. Can Sindh expect to be heard when it asks why its women continue to be ignored?



Restoring rail links

I agree 100 per cent with Mr Syed Ahmed (Dec 11) that there is no reason to wait two years to open the Sindh-Rajasthan rail link. In fact, a train service is already running from Mirpurkhas to Khokhrapar on a weekly basis. I know it because I travelled on it last year.

According to PR officials, it can operate more frequently if needed. The suggestion that passengers can take other means of transportation from Khokhrapar to Munabao, a distance of about 10km, is more feasible than travelling via Wagah. Indian visas should be available in Karachi.


Edmond, Oklahoma, USA

Car price hikes

I invite the government's attention to the way local manufacturers and assemblers have recently increased the prices of cars. Not only have they successfully kept import barriers intact, they have also controlled production in a way that allows them to maintain a perpetual shortage and long delivery periods, enabling them to fully exploit the market.

In addition, they continue to increase the prices of locally assembled vehicles on one pretext or the other as has recently been the case. Last month, a motor company stopped accepting fully advance-paid orders on various excuses.

Until Nov 20, their dealers continued to say that they would not accept orders indefinitely since the company is managing its backlog. Then, three days later (Nov 23), the dealers started booking and on the same day, they announced a Rs30,000 to Rs40,000 increase in the prices of various models of the cars concerned.

This increase in prices is illogical, and the government must immediately move to revert the price hike to safeguard the interest of the people.



DHA uplift charges

This refers to a letter from Mr Abdul Basit Kurta Walla (Nov 19)). The writer has very rightly termed DHA development charges controversial. This uncalled-for levy will not now be restricted to DHA, but to all CDGK and private housing schemes, and will open up a Pandora's Box in organizations that have failed to develop within the stipulated time.

The DHA administrator has failed to answer queries raised in letters that appeared on Oct 3 and Oct 5. The DHA administrator does not make a convincing argument when he says that DHA is trying to stabilize the high prices of DHA Phase VIII lands by demanding exorbitant development charges from people who had already paid it two decades or more ago.

None of this is his business. Why should only old B category members suffer at the cost of new development projects now being undertaken, such as the sea front and the renovation of old phases, etc.

Why are category A members exempt from these development charges? We request the Corps Commander, Karachi, who is also the DHA chairman, and other seniors to look into the affairs of DHA and intervene for justice.



Cell phones in mosques

I fail to understand why people do not shut down their cell phones when in mosques. It is possible to have a security system installed in mosque premises to jam mobile phones when worshippers enter the premises.





Noshki killings
Updated 14 Apr, 2024

Noshki killings

It must be asked why Baloch separatists continue to target civilians as well as security men despite large deployment.
Upholding the law
14 Apr, 2024

Upholding the law

THE recent discord in Bahawalnagar offers a chance to reflect on the sanctity of the law and its enforcement across...
Tragic travels
14 Apr, 2024

Tragic travels

FOR those embarking on road and boat journeys, the probability of fatal accidents has seen a steady rise. The recent...
Security lapses
Updated 13 Apr, 2024

Security lapses

Ensuring the safety of foreign citizens is paramount, not just for diplomatic relations but for our economic future.
An eventful season
13 Apr, 2024

An eventful season

THE Senate chairman and deputy chairman were elected unopposed, and 41 new senators were sworn in on Tuesday,...
Living rough
13 Apr, 2024

Living rough

WE either don’t see them or don’t want to see them — not even when they are actively trying to get our...