Tuesday, January 30, 2018


Mahtab Bashir


The three prized possessions people of Sindh elegantly flaunt are Ajrak on their chests, Sindhi Topi on their heads and smile on their faces while every individual can raise a full throated slogan- “Kal bhi Bhutto Zinda tha- Aaj bhi Bhutto Zinda hay” for the reasons best known to them.

During educational excursion of journalists from Islamabad and Lahore to the Province of Sindh, we have chanced to visit few of educational institutions recently upgraded/ set up by the Higher Education Commission which we found amazingly designed with having state of the art technology.

Other than visiting historical Lang lake (resort), one of the largest settlement of the oldest civilization Mohenjodaro, the pride of Pakistan’s Irrigation system- Sukkur Barrage and the majestic Kot Diji Fort were few of our stopover places.      

Riazul Haq from Express Tribune contributes: One of the victims of the much-hyped devolution post-18th amendment is cultural heritage. The subject may not seem important enough for decision-makers to dwell upon, but a single glimpse of these invaluable relics tells that they are screaming for attention.

The Fort of Kot Diji, a glory of the past built in the heart of Sindh – Khairpur – is in ruins and nobody bothers to even talk about it, maybe because it is not the top priority or will ever be.

A visit to this epic masterpiece of the Talpur dynasty shows a sadistic picture which triggers feelings of gloominess and gives a prime example of how a state’s neglect can cost the nation to this extent.

The fort was built in 1785 by Mir Sohrab Khan Talpur, also the founder of the Kingdom in northern Sindh. The fort is situated in the Kot Diji town which is a few miles east of the Indus River and at the edge of Nara-Rajasthan desert.

At the entrance of the main gate to the fort, a drug addict is begging for a few rupees and a middle-aged man is selling plastic toys on his wooden cart. “A few years back there used to be traditional dresses and replicas of antiques but now the number of visitors to the fort has gone down so nothing sells here,” said a local shopkeeper, sitting in his shop a few yards away.

The entrance to the main 18 feet gate is through a small four feet gate. Both the gates have huge (two feet) pointed edges made of iron probably to stop elephants as during the era when the fort was built elephants were used in war.

The plaque inside the fort reads that it was constructed on a limestone hill with kiln-baked bricks. The hill is about 110 feet high and the fort has walls 30 feet higher. It has three strategically placed towers about 50 feet tall.

The fort is divided by three elephant-proof gates into as many overlapping levels with walls segmenting about 50 bastions and an 18 kilometres boundary wall, easily witnessed from the highway. All the walls and bastions have arrow-slits allowing defenders to attack their enemy from a decent height.

Besides the bastions and towers, an ammunition depot, water reservoir, the harem, probably for Mir(s), a prison, a place for holding court and cells for accommodation of guards and sepoys are also part of the fort.

The fort was never attacked due to its strategic location and well-planned construction, but the march of aging, coupled with the apathy of the Sindh and federal governments, has aged the beautiful building.

Before devolution, the federal government had the possession of this fort while in 2011 it was handed over to the Sindh province as part of the devolution of Ministry of Culture.

Scattered and broken bricks, deteriorating bastions, and absence of caretakers or anyone from the management tells the tale of the colossal neglect.

Altaf Aseem is a member of the consultative committee on Mohen-jo-Daro and a former anthropology teacher at Shah Abdul Latif University Khairpur. He lamented that in 2007 when the then minister for culture arrived at the fort and asked him how much had been allocated in this budget for the fort, the reply that Rs5,000 had been allocated for the renovation and conservation, surprised him.

In the same breath, he said, “The Sindh government, after 2011, could have done better.”

Another aspect he highlighted is that the government gives renovation work to contractors with no experience of handling and working on such buildings which spoils the existing vibes.

Friday, July 14, 2017


Whatever the law may permit, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif must do the right thing by democracy and step aside, at least temporarily.The JIT report submitted to the Supreme Court has now been pored over by experts, politicians and citizens alike. It is not a perfect report and the PML-N has already raised some important objections that will eventually have to be addressed by the court.

But the JIT report has laid out a number of very serious and specific allegations against Prime Minister Sharif and his children. Simply, no democratic order ought to have a prime minister operating under such a dark cloud of suspicion.

The PML-N may urge Mr Sharif to stay in office and Mr Sharif may be tempted to hunker down and fight, but the toll on democracy would be too great. The prime minister has a clear alternative: step aside, fight whatever charges are brought against him or his children in court and, if he is eventually cleared of the charges, he can seek a return to office as the law permits.

To be sure, stepping aside now would not be an admission of guilt. It would, in fact, be a necessary sacrifice for the protection and strengthening of the democratic order. The country does not need and cannot afford the distraction of an incumbent prime minister fighting corruption charges in the courts.

Moreover, with the JIT report now public, the principal PML-N allegation that the Panama Papers investigation is nothing more than a witch-hunt stands significantly diminished. Anti-democratic forces may exist in the country and they may wish Mr Sharif ill, but none of that prevented Mr Sharif and his family from providing evidence to the JIT that would corroborate the family’s claims.

The JIT conducted its entire investigation while the political stakes were crystal clear to the country and to the Sharifs themselves. Surely, the Sharif family should have gone the extra mile to provide evidence and explanations to the satisfaction of a reasonable investigation. As the JIT report makes clear, the Sharifs have not done so.

The other option would be for Mr Sharif to call a snap election. If Mr Sharif’s case is sent to the National Accountability Bureau, the presence of a caretaker government would dispel concerns of a manipulated process, NAB being prone to intense interference by the executive.

A fair but expedited accountability process would allow Mr Sharif to contest the next election without a cloud of suspicion hanging over him and his family, assuming a NAB process clears the family. Whichever option Mr Sharif chooses, it should be clear that the status quo is not an option. A prime minister preoccupied with fighting corruption charges is a prime minister no democratic polity deserves.

Mr Sharif may have his doubts about the fairness of the system, but the system has doubts about him. The system must prevail over the personal.

Courtesy dawn

Saturday, March 26, 2016


Pakistan’s former military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf has left for Dubai on Friday morning (March 18) to ostensibly seek medical treatment for a “decade-old illness”, after the interior ministry removed his name from the Exit Control List (ECL). Musharraf’s departure all but brings to an end the saga of his treason trial after nearly three years. On Wednesday (March 16), the Supreme Court (SC), ordered the removal of Musharraf’s name from the ECL, but this did not preclude the government from reinstating restrictions on the movement of the former president. However, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan addressed a press conference and informed that his ministry would follow through with the court’s order after receiving assurances from Musharraf’s lawyers that he would eventually return to Pakistan after seeking his required treatment to face his charges. Many observers, however, view this assurance with skepticism and the consensus view is that the treason trial has whimpered to a close.

Back in 2013, Pervez Musharraf returned to Pakistan after a period of self-imposed exile in order to participate and lead his nascent political party in the then-upcoming elections. However, he was disqualified from standing in the elections; moreover, in an unprecedented move in the country’s history, the former dictator found himself facing arrest, after a warrant was issued by the Islamabad High Court in April 2013, over charges of suspending the constitution, dismissing judges and placing them under house arrest, and imposing an emergency. In addition to these charges, he was also charged with the failure to provide adequate security to former Prime Minister (PM) Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in December 2007. After winning the May elections, a confident PML-N’s federal government took the extraordinary step of bringing fiver charges of high treason against the former dictator in a special court. Predictions and assertions were made in December 2013 that the trial would be speedily concluded. There was an unquestionable amount of hype around the treason trial, as it was being touted as a historic occurrence that would reshape the contours of democracy, redefine the civil-military relationship, and set a positive precedent that would inhibit any future imposition of martial law.

But putting a former dictator and chief of the country’s most powerful institution on trial for treason was never going to pan out the way the government desired. The investigation and trial of Pervez Musharraf for imposing the 2007 Emergency was always underlined by perceptions that this was a matter of personal vendetta for PM Nawaz Sharif, whose government was overthrown in 1999 by the then Chief Of Army Staff. As a result of this desire of the Sharifs to get back at the man who forced them into exile, the proceedings exclusively targeted Musharraf, while no case was built against any of his alleged co-conspirators. The choice of focusing on the 2007 emergency was also a curious one when the much graver original sin of the 1999 coup d’├ętat made for a more logical case of treason. The 1999 coup, like all previous coups, was ratified by the SC and hence there exists a dire need to rectify this harmful precedent. Principles of justice and democracy demanded that an example be set so that in the future overthrowing an elected government and abrogating the constitution is not hailed as ‘saving the country’ but treated like the treasonous act it is. But to avoid risking drudging up its own past sins, the Nawaz government focused on the 2007 case due to its perceived straightforwardness, thereby compromising the integrity of the proceedings. It soon became clear however that the case was poorly and hastily prepared and that Musharraf still enjoyed the support of his former institution.

The trial played out farcically, as the former president easily avoided appearing in court by pleading ill health while the government and prosecutors manifestly lost their will to see the case through when faced with the possibility of drawing the military’s ire.

The entire saga reeks of a missed opportunity. Had the government’s prosecution covered all of its bases, perhaps we could have witnessed a historic trial that would have done the unthinkable: holding someone accountable in this country. The only kinds of accountability drives we witness in Pakistan are politically motivated as they are lopsided and transparently designed to fulfill vendettas against specific individuals and political parties. Whether it is the case against Musharraf or the various campaigns undertaken by the National Accountability Bureau, what is missing from all of the above is a rational, transparent and objective methodology that respects principles of justice. 
Courtesy: Daily Times