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DAWN - Features; January 23, 2006

January 23, 2006

Meal ban confusion

When a marriage party arrived in a wedding hall in Korangi the other day, it was served a traditional meal of several dishes by the bride’s family. When a relatively smaller group invited by the groom’s side for the valima landed in a Federal B Area marriage hall, they were served only with Kashmiri chai.

One irate guest publicly expressed his anger and disappointment at what he saw as the stinginess of the bridegroom’s family. The hosts tried to placate him saying that the serving of meals at weddings and valimas was banned.

The boy’s family was seen as the better off, and the sense of outrage was therefore greater. The guests had travelled a long way from Korangi and obviously expected to be treated to a decent repast.

Such incidents happen because of the confusion surrounding the whole issue of wedding meals. Although the Supreme Court has imposed a ban on such meals, many find this to be no inhibition. Hotels, clubs and wedding halls have found one way or another to feast their clients, though at a higher cost to the host. For instance, the guests may dine in the hotel’s restaurant, where the law’s long hands do not reach, instead of the dining hall.

The meals ban was first imposed in 1997. The Punjab government later passed a law allowing one dish meals at weddings. The Supreme Court struck down this law and re-imposed the ban in 2004. But in Sindh, the authorities are believed to have told the police to tread softly on this issue. The better-off and well-connected usually manage to circumvent the law.

But some town administrations have begun to assert themselves to enforce the ban. Last week the Orangi Town municipal officer warned the owners of marriage halls under his jurisdiction that if they violated the ban on serving meals at weddings, he would take strict action against them.

The TMO also formed a team comprising police and administrative staff to carry out raids at wedding functions to check possible violations.

The Liaquatabad TMO followed with a similar warning to owners of marriage halls and hotels in the limits of Liaquatabad Town, telling them to ensure ‘strict implementation of the Supreme Court decision regarding the ban on serving meals at wedding ceremonies’, or face ‘severe legal action’. He also formed a three-member vigilance committee.

Nobody would object to a ban on ostentatious and lavish spending on wedding ceremonies. But all such laws should be equally applicable to the well-off and the not-so-well-off. Those with the right connections can get away with anything. Even when the ban was strictly imposed the affluent living in sprawling bungalows organized wedding dinners at home, where no restriction applied, making a mockery of the law. Those who could not afford to have weddings at their small homes were forced to go to public places, and there they faced the likelihood of action against them.

Whether there should be one dish, many dishes or no dishes at all, it needs to be ensured that the law is uniformly enforced.

Thar Express

Many people in Karachi are jubilant at the prospect of the reopening of the Khokhrapar-Monabao rail link between Pakistan and India. The Thar Express is set to steam off from Karachi on February 4. The 145-kilometre Khokhrapar track has been completed at a cost of Rs1 billion in, what the authorities say, a record time of eight months. Normally, they say, this task would have taken up to 20 months.

Eager to see their relatives after 40 years, which is a long, long time, members of divided families are dusting their passports and buying gifts for relatives across the border. Many have already acquired or applied for visas in Islamabad to be able to visit India as soon as possible.

The India House building in Karachi is being renovated and whitewashed at a quick pace. People going through Fatima Jinnah Road, traffic movement on which is restricted, may witness the hectic destruction and construction activity under way on the premises.

Police efficiency

A police official was travelling by a coach (PE 4182) from Defence towards Merewether Tower last Thursday morning when he was deprived of his cellphone by a pickpocket. When he discovered his loss, he ordered the coach’s driver to stop near Punjab Colony. Wearing a jacket over his uniform which hid his rank, the policeman said he was sure that the thief was still in the vehicle.

He compelled the passengers to file out of the vehicle. The phone set was found lying under a seat.

Buoyed by the success, the policeman set out to discover the culprit. The driver, the conductor and the passengers argued that as the stolen property had been ‘recovered’, no more of their time be wasted. But the policeman did not heed the protests.

He began an investigation, treating each passenger as a probable thief. Finally he picked out a young man and began slapping and kicking him, ignoring the latter’s protestations of innocence. When the policeman finally tired of his labours, the conductor said: “Sir, this man had just embarked and, I haven’t even asked him for his fare yet.”

* * * * *

LAST week when a student group held a demonstration in protest against the US airstrike on Bajaur Agency killing 18 innocent people, one of the placards read: “America is the ‘bigest’ ‘tarroist’.

— Karachian

Terror in the ICU

IT is surprising that some people, even in modern Islamabad, still firmly believe that hospitals are stepping-stones to the graveyard. For one such person, who in his 75 years’ life had never been admitted into a hospital until recently when he was admitted into the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of a public hospital, his experience there had only confirmed his morbid fear about such institutions.

Having suffered from a respiratory problem for several years but refused to go near any hospital, he was eventually admitted into ICU last week and put on the respirator and drip. On the second morning of his stay there, a visiting relative inquired from him about his condition, and his reply was: I’m hanging on a cross.

Later on in the afternoon, he anxiously told another relative: Take me out of here; they’re going to kill me! By evening, he was visibly distressed when he pleaded with relatives visiting from outstation to get a couple of constables with pistols into the ICU to shoot and kill all the medical staff!

An experienced doctor or intensivist (physician specializing in intensive care medicine) might have diagnosed his condition as ICU psychosis, a form of delirium or acute brain syndrome which occurs in patients who are being treated in an ICU. The organic factors known to contribute to ICU psychosis include dehydration, hypoxia (low blood sugar), heart failure, infection and drugs.

But if one takes a closer look at the environment within the ICU itself, little wonder why the patient was going bonkers. Two things frightened him: what had happened with him at the ICU, and what he saw happening around to other patients.

In the evening on his first day at the ICU, his wife had noticed that his clothes were getting all wet, especially on one side. When she informed the nursing staff, they said that it was due to the catheter. It was on the second morning that his wife noticed that the glucose drip was leaking from the top and this was the reason why his clothing on one side was all drenched.

But what was more alarming was the fact that the patient had hardly been receiving the glucose drip at all since it had been leaking. And since he was not prescribed the appropriate oral diet as yet, the very sick and weak patient was being deprived of essential nutrients for almost two days. He could have died.

When his wife pointed all this out to the nursing staff, they pleaded with her not to complain against them because their jobs would be at stake.

Not only was the patient deprived of nutrition, medicines were not readily available since these were not provided by the hospital, even on payment. The medicines were also not available on sale at the pharmacy in the hospital, as a result of which his wife had to send someone or go herself out of the hospital to the nearest pharmacy each time she was told to get a particular medicine for her husband. This obviously meant loss of precious time in administering the appropriate medication to the patient to stabilize his condition.

The second thing that terrified him was the suffering and deaths of other patients in the ICU ward. There were some seven other patients with him in the same large room, and he was not the only one who suffered from the mistakes of the medical staff.

Also during his three-day stay in ICU he could see and hear all the commotion that went on whenever one patient or the other went into critical mode and doctors and nurses frantically tried to save them. The fact that three patients had died in front of him was just too much for a critically ill person to bear.

At the insistence of the patient and his wife, the former was eventually shifted from the ICU to a separate single room in the private ward on the fourth day. The patient’s ICU psychosis went away immediately when he left the ICU. He was much more calm and relaxed.

However, on the fifth day a minor surgical procedure had to be put off because of the non-availability of an intravenous anti-biotic. A relative of the patient went round all the well- known pharmacies in the twin cities, but could not find the particular drug which the doctor had prescribed.

Modern hospitals are not only supposed to look after the medical needs of patients, but also to help patients and their relatives cope with critical illness more easily. As it is widely recognized elsewhere nowadays, the mental attitude of patients and relatives is a very important part of recovery, and the role of the hospitals in providing support and encouragement in this respect is important.

But as the above typical example shows, our hospitals tend to compound the difficulties and worries of patients and their relatives, who have not only to deal with the illness itself but have to struggle to cope with the hospital environment as well.

As it has often been reported, the non-availability of medicines and other supplies in our public hospitals is a big hassle for patients and their relatives or attendants, who are usually asked to get all the life-saving drugs, painkillers, bandages and other necessary medical supplies themselves from private pharmacies, even for first aid treatment and emergency operations.

In addition, the non-availability of certain facilities, e.g., MRI, and the frequent breakdown of equipment in our public hospitals add to the woes of patients and their relatives. Only last week a newspaper report had highlighted how patients at a well-known government hospital in Rawalpindi were inconvenienced by the breakdown of the endoscope (an instrument for viewing the internal parts of the body). Very often, relatives even have to get certain tests of their patients done from other hospitals or private clinics.

The health ministry has often reiterated the government’s commitment to providing better health facilities, promising to equip the public sector hospitals with the latest diagnostic facilities. It has also claimed that the health budget has been increased more than 200 per cent since 2002.

Last year, the health minister even revealed an ambitious plan to upgrade the top public hospital in Islamabad to international standards in order to attract patients from the Middle East and other regions. The scheduled inauguration today of a renovated and modernized emergency ward in this hospital is undoubtedly part of the effort to improve our public hospitals.

Despite this, it is obvious that a great deal more improvement is needed before the services of our public hospitals can match international standards. As for attracting patients from the Middle East and other regions, even our top private hospitals, which supposedly provide better quality healthcare, have not quite been able to accomplish this yet, what to talk about the public hospitals.

Kalabagh dam deferred: a comprehensive victory!

IN a comprehensive victory both sides are the winners — attributed to Lord Buddha.

WHETHER a tactical move to gain time or a strategic withdrawal in the interest of national integrity, President Gen Pervez Musharraf’s announcement to proceed with the construction of the Bhasha dam first reflects statesmanship at its pragmatic best. This should greatly ease the stand-off between the state authority and the political hubris threatening national harmony.

The Balochistan cauldron, however, remains on the boil and needs to be cooled down as quickly as possible.

The MQM, the party to have challenged the government directly on the twin issues of the KBD and the ‘military action in Balochistan’, appears to have won the race. Party chief Altaf Hussain, in a ‘live’ telephonic address to the party workers minutes after the president’s address, termed it as a ‘historic victory’ for the people of Pakistan, especially of the smaller provinces’.

He thanked the president and the prime minister for ‘bowing’ to the ‘popular’ demand against the Kalabagh dam. Mr Hussain’s joy over the ‘victory’ of his party is natural and richly well-deserved.

On Jan 9, the print and electronic media had carried reports of two marathon telephonic calls between Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and President Musharraf with the London-based MQM chief — each lasting some 55 and 45 minutes, respectively. Such a close contact between heads of government and state at one end and a political party chief on the other should be seen as one of a kind.

The telephone call was in response to an MQM ultimatum to the authorities to desist from building the Kalabagh dam except on the basis of a national consensus and to ‘halt’ the ‘military operation’ in Balochistan. January 14 had been set as the deadline for the government to meet the MQM’s twin demands.

In case the government failed to meet the demand, the MQM said it would quit the provincial and central governments. This could create a grave politico-constitutional crisis.


The MQM’s journey from Mohajir to Muttahida has been an eventful one. Besides its organizational cohesion, this was in no small way made possible by the ouster of the two major parties, the PPP and Muslim League-N, from the political mainstream.

According to the statement issued by the MQM international secretariat in London, President Musharraf assured Mr Hussain that the dam would not be built. Only those dams would be built on which there was national consensus. Fur-thermore, no army action wou-ld be launched in Balochistan.

Even after the ‘understanding’ was reached on the telephone, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz described the KBD as the country’s lifeline. Even a day or two before his wide-ranging address to the nation, President Musharraf reiterated his resolve to build the KBD at all costs, and that terrorists would be ‘wiped out of Balochistan by all means’.

Mr Hussain threatened to topple the government in a matter of days if the president would still insist on the KBD project and go on with military action in Balochistan. Instead of issuing yet another ultimatum he would quit the coalition without forewarning the government.

Mr Hussain would even suggest an uprising if the military action in Balochistan went on.

While the MQM and the government were still engaged on the KBD and Balochistan issues, a third and more violent front was added in the aftermath of the American bombings of the North Waziristan and Bajaur tribal areas on January 9 and 15.

While holding the US-led coalition forces responsible for the attack, killing eight, in Waziristan, the foreign office pleaded ignorance of who might have been actually involved in the incident. And the matter ended there.

The US air strike in Bajaur, killing 18, mainly women and children in their own homes, led to a countrywide protest and outcry. The massive air raid hit the house where Ayman al-Zawahiri was supposed to have been invited to an Eidul Azha dinner but missed the Al Qaeda leader.

The MQM chief ‘condemned’ the army for its ongoing operation in Waziristan and Balochistan and failure to defend Bajaur against outside invasion. Whether it was a missile or an air raid hardly mattered. What mattered was that US forces had violated Pakistan’s air-land space at and got away with that.

“If the army is incapable of defending the country’s borders, then there appears to be no need for this institution,” said Mr Altaf Hussain.

The military would do well to analyze the impact of such public statements. Coming as they do from the chief of one of the coalition partners of the government at the central and Sindh levels, these cannot be simply ignored.

— The writer is a retired brigadier of the Pakistan Army

India’s bumpy ride from Tehran to Riyadh

DEATH TO AMERICA, Death to Israel, Death to Saddam Hussein and Death to the Soviet Union — these are slogans as old as the Iranian revolution. Every Friday a huge congregation at Tehran University would end its prayers with loud chants of the nation’s battle cry, sometimes led by Hashemi Rafsanjani, sometimes by Mohammad Khatami, sometimes by the spiritual leader, Ali Khamenei, himself.

Two of the slogans have found their target. The Soviet Union and Saddam have passed into history. In the case of the Soviets, an entire nation that once strutted about as a superpower simply disappeared from the world. As for the former dictator of Iraq, he looks chastised, to put it mildly. The Western world applauded the spotless erasure of the Soviet Union and also the contrived end of Saddam’s rule. Iran may have had little or no hand in these episodes, but it must be satisfied that at least part of its prayers have been answered.

In recent days some people have expressed concern at Iran’s verbal diatribes against Israel as though these shrill warnings are something new. They should look again. These slogans were shouted by the West’s very own preferred ‘liberal’ Iranian president Mohammad Khatami whenever he found time to lead the prayers at Tehran University. And, again, Iran is merely shouting on television something to the effect that a new Israel should be created in Europe, arguably because Jews were persecuted in Europe. It’s a provocative argument even if it has many listeners.

Yet, when it comes to actually making nations disappear from the face of the earth, as opposed to the Iranian mullahs’ mere theories, is there any equal to the West? Where is Yugoslavia today? And where is Iraq headed with the active connivance of Washington’s occupation army to divide its people?

This is the background that the Saudi king and the Indian prime minister would need to bear in mind this week when they have a landmark meeting to discuss bilateral relations and key regional issues. Some would say the discussions are a cover for India’s diplomatic transition from Tehran to Riyadh via Washington. There is something else the two leaders would be well advised to do. They should read Patrick Bishop’s report from Damascus in Saturday’s Telegraph.

Instead of brooding farcically over Iran’s facetious comments on Israel, or speculating over Tehran’s wildly alleged nuclear weapons programme, the report highlights an unexplored area of interest to the world. It says: “The Arab street has a new poster boy. Whatever Europe and America may think of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president’s anti-western rhetoric is winning him heroic status among the Middle East’s masses.

“Strong men loom large in the recent history of the region. The prototype was Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian who inspired a generation of Arab nationalists.

“Then there was Saddam Hussein, whose defiance of America won admirers even among Arabs who detested his tyranny. The position of Middle East strongman is currently vacant. Mr Ahmadinejad may be a Persian, but that does not appear to disqualify him from the job.”

It is no coincidence that America’s biggest bugbears today — Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden — were once its key allies. If India were to follow Washington’s lead on global issues, particularly in the Middle East, it could end up being similarly trapped in a duplicitous bargain, most likely on the losing end of it. There are other good reasons to doubt the public postures of both Iran and the United States, particularly when they seem to be locked in a life-threatening standoff.

The Iran-Contra scandal was not the only occasion when the two were clandestinely cooperating while the rest of the world was jostling to take sides in an imaginary diplomatic war.

The Iran-Contra scandal can be traced to the 1980 presidential election between incumbent Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. In the fall of 1980, Carter was marginally leading Reagan in the polls with the election right round the corner. The release of hostages before election day presumably would have ensured the election for Carter.

The Reagan team conspired to negotiate a deal with Ayatollah Khomeini. Campaign manager William Casey and George Bush, who went on to become vice-president and president, met President Bani-Sadr in Paris in October, only weeks before the US election. At that time Carter had a slight lead over Reagan.

Part of the deal cut between the Reagan team and Iran was to provide military weapons which Iran desperately needed in its war with Iraq. As it turned out, the 52 American hostages remained captive in Tehran. Carter’s popularity continued to plummet, enabling Reagan to be elected in November, and ironically the hostages were returned at 12 noon on January 20, 1981 when Reagan was inaugurated.

So where would India figure in it if this duplicitous game of name-calling for public consumption and secret deal-making were to be repeated yet again?

In this game of wheels within wheels who is to be trusted more? Does the world have a full measure of what lies behind the veneer of either President Bush or President Ahmedinejad in their verbal duel with each other?

We were not privy to the deal between Bush Sr. and Bani-Sadr, but according to credible American accounts, while in Paris, the Republican team gave $40 million to the Iranian government as a gesture of good faith that the Reagan team was serious in dealing with the Khomeini government. The terms required that the American hostages should remain captive until after the November election. Therefore, consider the following fact. The Iranian New Year’s Day or Nowroze falls between March 19-21. On Nowroze of 2000 then US secretary of state Madeleine Albright was attending a party thrown by Iranian expatriates in Washington DC amid hopes of an early thaw with Iran.

Even at that time Iranian worshippers were chanting Death to America and Death to Israel. Also at that time Iranian scientists were carrying out their research on nuclear technology in their secret bunkers. What, if anything, has changed for to kick up the brouhaha today?

* * * *

ON JANUARY 24, when he arrives as chief guest for India’s Republic Day parade, King Abdullah would become the first Saudi monarch to visit New Delhi in 50 years. That is almost as old as the Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan has been raging. It could be a coincidence, and an important one for India, that the organizers of the parade are planning to stage a moving tableau depicting the Karavan-i-Aman (caravan of peace), the name given to the Muzafarbad-Srinagar bus. The tableau will have dancers and musicians from Kashmir and offer a clear opportunity to Indian President A. P. J. Abdul Kalam to elaborate on India’s peace efforts with Pakistan with his honoured guest.