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DAWN - Letters; May 12, 2005

May 12, 2005


New passports

THE government recently began issuing new machine-readable biometric passports that contain radio frequency identification device (RFID) tags, which transmit signals of holder’s personal information available on a passport. Anyone who possesses a small RFID reading device can access or download personal data from anyone who comes within range of the RFID reader. This could pose a significant threat to the privacy and safety of the Pakistanis at home and overseas by making them vulnerable to identity thefts and targets of religion and nationality bias.

Nadra claims that the Pakistani machine-readable passport (MRP) is the first of its kind in the world, which has the latest fingerprinting identification technology along with the introduction of RFID tag.

It is the duty of the government of Pakistan to ensure the safety of its citizens by at least encrypting the data transmitted by the RFID, so that it does not land in the wrong hands, and outline steps to ensure that privacy will remain protected.

It is surprising that some political parties strongly resisted the exclusion of the religion column from the new passport, but the legislature and civil rights organizations paid no attention to the encroachment of privacy.




NADRA’s website indicates that the new passport contains a 4KB radio frequency identification device, which could lead to tracking down each individual’s movement, which in fact is an invasion of privacy and violation of human rights.

A similar move was initiated in the US some time back, but human rights activists were able to get the idea set aside. No country has accepted any encroachment through RFID tags on human rights and freedom of movement. For more reading on this, visit

Our clerics were only struggling to get the religion column reinstated in the passport, not envisaging the aftermaths of RFID. It is time for them to get out from their confined notions and have a broader perspective of other important matters as well.

The new passport does not have a signature column on any page. Whilst travelling, the passport is the only ID to prove who you are and what you sign. If any authority abroad wants to verify the signature of a passport holder, this may not be possible unless the passport is swiped through passport reader machines, which are only available with immigration authorities. The US passport does have a signature column on page No.2 and states, “Not valid until signed.” Similarly, there is no place to write down your home address on the new Pakistani passport for emergency contact.

I request human rights and social welfare organizations to immediately step forward and get this incorrect introduction of RFID tags removed from the new passports.



The price of honour

“THE price of honour” by Mr Ameer Bhutto (Dawn, April 30) was bold, containing a challenge for the government and politicians who never fail to claim that they are benefactors of the people.

The system is so deeply rooted that even a judgment of the high court cannot create a dent in that set-up. India abolished the zamindari and jagirdari systems at independence. Unfortunately, all our governments have been dependent on the support of this clan, and military governments too have always sought the backing of the feudals. There seems to be no easy or quick solutions to this social setup.

Dawn’s editorial “What justice demands” (April 30) speaks the truth. There is also the case of Sonia Naz reported in Dawn of April 29. Had MNA Mehnaz Rafi been a little more prudent and listened to the plight of the distressed woman, the latter might have found some comfort. But the security lapse overshadowed the young woman’s plight.

PTV had attempted to expose this tribal system and its serial Marvi had stirred the souls of the viewers, but no dent was made in the system.

Many feudal families now have educated youngsters, both female and male. But they still feel proud of their ancestors. They enjoy affluent lives while ruling over their subjects. If these educated young people disfranchize themselves from their system, relinquish their titles, become ordinary persons and begin living with their people, they can help to dismantle the existing oppressive setup.



Sir Henry Lawrence

THIS has reference to “Roads to heaven?” (Karachi Notebook, May 9). Sir Henry Lawrence was never commissioner in Sindh. The Sir Henry Lawrence described in the history of British India was the brave Lucknow resident who died fighting the mutineers and the Maratha mercenaries of the Mughal emperor, at the culmination of the five-month siege of Lucknow in 1857.

Sir Henry commanded the Punjabi/Sikh recruits and Ismaili Uzbek horsemen, allies of the English in the Afghan wars and the three wars of Sindh of 1843. The monument over the grave of Sir Henry was built by the English, amidst the 33-acre residency that was retaken by the relief army deputed from Delhi at the surrender of Lucknow by the mutineers.

The tattered and burnt Union Jack with gaping canon holes and bloody marks that was flown in the course of the siege, under which Sir Henry fell to the buglers’ call of last post, still remains framed in the museum that is at the entrance of the well-maintained residency.

The name Lawrence in honour of Sir Henry Lawrence of Lucknow was given by the then Karachi town planner, Pedro D’souza, to the single lane road linking the new Goan Christian township of Cincinnatus Town to the Ismaili Jamaat Khana in Lee Market in 1880. Pedro D’souza structured the Catholic colony of Cincinnatus Town with St Lawrence Church as the centre-piece.



Amnesty on forex assets

ACCORDING to a press report (March 13), the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Pakistan (ICAP) has suggested to the ministry of finance to lure overseas foreign exchange assets of both overseas and resident (including former expatriate) Pakistanis by charging 10 per cent income tax.

It is certainly not fair to pay 5.75 per cent interest on euro and Islamic bonds to foreigners while deducting 10 per cent from the legal forex of individual Pakistanis transferred to Pakistan through the normal banking system. In fact, it amounts to forcing Pakistanis to keep their foreign exchange in overseas banks or to buy our euro and Islamic bonds through overseas banks and earn the fabulous interest of 5.75 per cent.

While we need foreign currency for our socio-economic development, it would be logical to immediately restore the Protection of Economic Reforms Act 1992 for all Pakistanis. Its misuse by foreign exchange dealers, as mentioned by the ICAP, can be prevented through suitable rules.

In the end, I must bring to the notice of ministry of finance that forex, including laundered and drug money, worth trillions of dollars from developing countries like Pakistan is being utilized for the development of western countries without any objection whereas, under US pressure, we are creating hurdles even in the way of forex transferred abroad for fear of freezing before May 1998.



Oil prices

SINCE last year the government has increased oil prices many times, giving the excuse that international prices of oil were rising. Will the oil minister care to answer the following points:

(a) When the price of oil (in the international markets) rose to around $58 per barrel, the government passed on the entire increase on the people. Oil prices have now dipped to around $49 a barrel. Why is the ministry not decreasing oil prices even after five weeks of continuous declining oil prices internationally?

(b) America (which is the largest importer of oil) imports oil mainly from Saudi Arabia and transports it all the way to America. There the rupee equivalent of the price is mere Rs20 (approximately). How come Pakistan (with less transportation costs) cannot sell it at the same rate if not less?

(c) The government has kept the oil price determination formula a top secret. Why is this so? All Pakistani taxpayers have the legal right to know the formula used.

(d) The government adds transportation costs to the oil prices applicable to the entire nation. I want to know why Karachi should bear the burden of extra transportation charges for transporting oil to far-off areas like Murree and Gilgit.



Temporizing on transplant law

MS Zubeida Mustafa’s disclosure (April 27) of an incident concerning an indigent Bangladeshi woman who offered an eye for sale to earn some cash and similar transactions of organs should shock civil society.

Ms Mustafa has rightly condemned the sale of organs as a highly unethical practice. But does one realize under what circumstances a person is forced to part with a vital organ? Obviously, this is on account of the socio-economic disparities created by our system which forces people in need to go through this ruthless process. Seeking to curb this practice by legislation alone will not suffice. What we need to do is to also create an equitable and fair socio-economic order that obviates the need for people to undertake such desperate measures.




THROUGH your columns, I would like to congratulate Dr Hamida Khuhro, Sindh Minister for Education, for her very laudable decision to denationalize the two great institutions, St Joseph’s College for Women and St Patrick’s for Men.

It was the high standards maintained by these institutions prior to nationalization and their reasonable charges which made it possible for young people to access quality education in Pakistan instead of seeking it abroad.



Learning a lesson

THIS refers to the report “Sonia pays price for seeking justice” (April 29). This report tells us to what the desperate woman had been demanding from society for the last six months. That was mere enforcement of Section 61 of the Criminal Procedure Code. This section is the backbone of our justice system and requires a police officer not to detain a person for more than 24 hours unless specially authorized by a magistrate (a court of law). When nobody could get her husband produced in a court of law, she decided to go to Islamabad for help and thus made us understand that our justice system is not delivering.

It is hard to describe how a 20-year-old burqa-clad distressed woman travelling alone from Faisalabad to Islamabad entered the National Assembly and went to sit next to a woman MNA, to narrate her story. Ironically, the MNA, despite sitting in a house with the highest number of women MNAs in our history, responded through a point of order to ask how a “stranger” had intruded into the house. The already broken stranger had to face eviction, body search and imprisonment.

Ms Sonia Naz has made me understand that safeguarding the rights of the weaker gender is not guaranteed by 33 per cent reserved seats for women in all elected assemblies. She has also made me understand that democracy in this country is actually widening the gap between the privileged and the unprivileged and also as to why no voice of protest is heard from the unprivileged masses when an elected government is sent home by a general.

I am grateful to Ms Sonia Naz for making me understand so many important things.



Defence housing scheme

THIS has reference to the recent advertisement in your paper regarding the defence housing scheme at Islamabad.

It is amazing how GHQ can justify this scheme as defence housing scheme when the other two services have been given a lower status. According to rules governing this society, serving naval and PAF officers come below retired army officers.

Army officers, according to the new rules, can get the first benefit from defence housing society at 15 years of service and by the time they reach 25 years they can get their third benefit. This means that an army officer will get his first plot when he is a major and by the time he reaches the rank of brigadier, he will have his third plot. Naval and PAF officers have no chance of getting more than one plot. That too after they complete 25 years of service.

Officers of all three services should be governed by the same rules.



Constitution: PCB version

Reference the news item “PCB once again fails to meet deadline” (May 10).

The PCB had assured the senate committee that Justice Karamat Nazir Bhandari would be requested to finalize the draft constitution by April 30. In line with his commitment Justice Bhandari redeemed the pledge and handed over the draft constitution to the PCB chairman on April 27.

The PCB is studying the draft constitution and will forward it to the chief patron along with its recommendations in a few days.


Director, Board Operations PCB


Gas bill

THE Sui Southern Gas Company was for so many years efficient in delivering monthly gas bills at the doorsteps of the customer at least one week before the last date for payment.

However, for the past six months it seems to have forgotten that good practice. Now, one receives bills just a day or two before the last date or even after the due date with the late surcharge added.

I lodged a complaint about the late delivery in March this year but it has made no impression on the SSGC billing department.


Customer No.202558846957090


KU campus

INSECURITY of life and property has been increasing on the Karachi University campus for the last couple of months. About five incidents of robbery have been reported.

This is despite surveillance by security guards and the presence of Rangers. Recently a teacher was robbed by a gunman on a motorcycle.

The situation may be improved by having unwanted bushes removed from the roadside. These bushes are the main hideouts of criminals. Also, the number of patrol cars for security guards should be increased.



Traders’ tussle

THE report “Traders caught in ministers’ tussle” (April 22) leads to the conclusion that evil patronized and encouraged prevails over good, and people who matter have no qualms about being patrons of evil. The chief minister has been reduced to a non-entity.



Medical college seats

DUE to the limited number of medical seats, thousands of students are denied admission every year. There are only two government medical colleges in Karachi — Dow Medical College and Sindh Medical College — and getting admission to these colleges is very difficult. They offer only 510 admissions, 404 on merit and the rest on the basis of quotas and self-finance. Around 3,155 apply to these two colleges and over 11,000 to other medical colleges in Sindh. The number of applicants in each case is far in excess of the places available. There are private medical colleges but not many can afford their fees.

The government should take necessary steps to increase the number of merit seats in government medical colleges.



Responsibility of media

TODAY’s electronic media is not providing enough educative programmes for the youth. Most of the programmes are based on music, fashion, violence, vulgarity, etc.

The electronic media is a force that can help to shape the personality of its audience. It teaches them how to behave, dress and react. It has both negative and positive impacts on society. It s a tool that can help in the progress of a country.

Today’s media is pushing the youth far away from the world of reality. This may cause problems in the future by creating lost and confused adults. The government should pay due attention to this.



Registration of trucks

MOST trucks plying on the roads of Karachi are registered in cities other than Karachi. Similarly, a large number of motorbikes are registered outside Karachi. This causes a big financial loss to Karachi as taxes are not paid here.

Can somebody look into it and save Karachi from losing a big share of vehicle registration fee?



PIA discount

I HAVE read with interest an advertisement that PIA is introducing from May 1 a discount offer on normal applicable fare up to 30 per cent if tickets are purchased 14 days in advance (Dawn, April 27).

As a senior citizen, I hope to get a discount of 50 per cent (since 20 per cent discount is already being given by PIA to senior citizens on all domestic flights (Dawn, April 22).

These points, with the minimum age limit (60 or 65 years old) for senior citizens, may be clarified by PIA through the media for information of the general public.