Monday, March 31, 2014


Despite fearful rhetoric to the contrary, terrorism is not a transcendent threat. A terrorist attack cannot possibly destroy our country's way of life; it's only our reaction to that attack that can do that kind of damage.

The horrific incident of an attack on Express TV’s anchor Raza Rumi in Lahore on Friday night underlines the precarious condition of security for the media in Pakistan. Two motorcyclists, who Rumi thinks were waiting to ambush his car, opened fire with submachine guns while he was on his way home from work. The hail of bullets killed his driver and wounded his police guard. Fortunately Rumi received only minor cuts and abrasions. Reports say the killers had obviously been carrying out reconnaissance on Rumi’s routine. The media group he works for has had more than its share of unwanted attention from violent elements of late. 

This attack in Lahore is the fifth on the group since last August. Two attacks on the group’s offices in Karachi last year wounded five people, three of its employees were murdered in cold blood when their TV van was ambushed in Karachi, a bomb planted outside the group’s Peshawar bureau chief’s residence was fortunately disabled, and now this first of its kind attack in Lahore has yielded one death and injuries. The question arises why the group has been targeted in this manner. One explanation on offer is that the media group’s policies have annoyed extremist elements that are now seeking to silence it. Certainly this can be claimed in the case of Raza Rumi without fear of contradiction since he is well known for his outspoken views against the Taliban. 

Rumi himself did not speculate about the identity of the attackers when speaking to media after the incident, but did point to the reports of a hit list prepared by the Taliban to target media they considered ‘hostile’. Given this background, the cast of usual suspects is headed by the Taliban, specifically the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which ironically is engaged these days in ‘peace’ negotiations with the government. The TTP, as we have repeatedly argued in this space, is playing a tactical game of ostensibly engaging in peace negotiations while ‘sorting out’ some of its perceived enemies, particularly in the media. These actions are not only not claimed by the TTP, they are denied and ascribed to ‘rogue’ or ‘splinter’ groups such as the Ahrarul Hind (claimed to have been responsible for the Islamabad courts complex attack but which some reports say was ordered by the TTP). While the Lahore attack has been roundly condemned by everyone from top to bottom of the government, political parties, traders, lawyers, doctors and other citizens, the journalists’ bodies had resolved to carry out protests on Saturday. Unfortunately, these bodies too have ‘woken up’ late to the threat posed to the media in Pakistan. 

A number of journalists have been killed over the years, earning Pakistan the dubious title of the most dangerous country in the world. According to Reporters Without Borders, seven journalists were killed in Pakistan over the last year alone. Alarmingly, neither the media industry itself nor the authorities seem to have any plan in mind to protect and secure journalists. Pakistan’s other dubious distinction, despite its lively media, is that it occupies 158th position out of 180 countries in press freedom rankings. This status is owed to pressures from powerful state and non-state actors, both of whom often use muscle when ‘persuasion’ fails to get their way.
It must be admitted though that the terrorist threat is not confined to the media alone. PPP patron-in-chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has revealed that he has received a threat from the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), and said if anything happened to him, the Punjab government would be held responsible for its alleged soft attitude towards groups like the LeJ, widely believed to be based in Punjab and enjoying relative freedom of movement and action from there. It is good that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has responded to the report by ordering an investigation into the matter. 

The Punjab government has faced criticism over the last six years for allegedly allowing sectarian groups like the LeJ safe havens and operational freedom in Punjab, which arguably has fed into their sectarian horrors against the Hazara Shia in Quetta and Shias generally. The greatest illusion regarding groups like the TTP and LeJ is that they would be ‘grateful’ for such concessions, if any, and repay the ‘generosity’ by keeping their ‘base’ peaceful. Any attempt to keep one province an oasis of peace while the rest of the country burns is not something likely to enjoy a long shelf life, thanks to the predilections of the terrorists.
Courtesy Daily Times 

Sunday, March 23, 2014


The death of any human being is always cause for sadness, but today our sadness is also a celebration of a keen mind and a prodigious wit. Khushwant Singh (1915-2014), who died at the age of 99 in his beloved city of Delhi, has left our world poorer for his passing but richer for the hundreds of irreverently insightful works he left behind in articles, books, poems and essays. 

According to his son he died peacefully and with his mind as alert as ever. The author of more than 100 published works, Khushwant Singh was a towering figure in the culture and literature of the subcontinent, whose name remained a byword for honesty and laconic wit, a touchstone for generations of future writers wanting to explore the life of India. Born in Khushab, in what was then united India, to a prominent Sikh family, he attended Government College Lahore, before reading for the bar at Temple's Inn, London. A colourful career led him into legal practice, then the Indian Foreign Service soon after partition.

It was in the early 1950s that his career as an editor and writer began, working for the Hindustan Times and other newspapers, and penning his first story collection, The Mark of Vishnu and other Stories, which revelled in the irony and criticism of religious superstition and communalism that he was to become famous for. As he himself said, “Writing is where I succeeded. I was a flop in everything else.”
A strong proponent throughout his life of friendship and close relations between India and Pakistan, perhaps his most famous work, Train to Pakistan, explores the traumatic events surrounding partition and the communal violence that followed in its wake. Train to Pakistan reveals not only the heartbreak and upheaval of that time, the destruction of age-old communities and friendships, but is also scathingly critical of government and the manipulation of the poor and ignorant by the wealthy and powerful, a theme that remained constant throughout his career. 

Another constant, which earned him a degree of notoriety, was his explicit and graphic exploration of sex and the sexual life of India, through which he lampooned numerous figures from Mughal emperors to modern politicians. No one, especially no one in power, was safe from his jibes. When asked how he was such a prolific writer he quipped, “They haven't invented a condom for the pen yet.” This naturally earned him a reputation for a roving eye, but he remained a committed husband to his wife until her death thirteen years ago.
Khushwant Singh's passing is a moment of great sorrow, but his rich legacy remains to guide us, best summed up in his own words: “Your principle should be to see everything and say nothing. The world changes so rapidly that if you want to get on you cannot afford to align yourself with any person or point of view.” RIP Khushwant Singh, you will be missed.

Courtesy: Daily Times 


Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we've been ignorant of their value. -R. Buckminster Fuller

The environment has never been high on the list of government priorities in Pakistan, at either a federal or provincial level. Successive governments have either had more immediate problems
like terrorism, or never thought the issue important enough. 

However, with Pakistan’s international ‘image’ a prime concern for the present political leadership, it is possible that a recent report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that lists three Pakistani cities — Lahore, Peshawar, and Quetta — among the top 10 most polluted cities in the world may spark some government interest in the environment and sustainability. The report used measurements of particulate matter in the atmosphere; the sources of particles include dust from construction and building materials, burning wood, coal or animal dung, industrial emissions, and most importantly burning fossil fuels for power generation and transport. 

The Pakistani cities combine these factors, though the lion’s share is attributable to industrial emissions and petrol and diesel fumes churned out by inefficient car and truck engines. Anyone driving in Lahore knows what it is like to get a mouthful of diesel when one of these smoke-machines drives by. There are no emissions ratings or other safeguards.
The environment, however, is not a single-policy problem. Environmental changes through human activity can substantially alter the quality of life in societies, which is why aware governments go to great lengths to preserve natural ecosystems and habitats. The necessity for sustainable sources of energy production is increasingly clear, with governments investing heavily in solar, wind, or other forms of environmentally sustainable energy generation. Pakistan’s pervasive requirement for power won’t allow such solutions in the short term as the government plans more coal-fired power plants. However, more research must be funded and projects developed to shift the burden of power generation away from fossil fuels. 

Habitat and forest preservation are another key aspect of environmental policy, which have been left hostage to various timber and poaching ‘mafias’. Pakistan has about 4.2 million hectares covered by forests, which is equivalent to 4.8 percent of the total land area, down from around 14 percent in 1947. Compare this to Japan, which, despite having a higher population density, still has 70 percent forest cover because of far sighted environmental policies. Forest, marsh, and river communities are among the poorest segments of society, being heavily dependent on the environment for their livelihoods. Forest degradation affects rural livelihoods, especially for those at the bottom of the socio-economic scale. 

Sustainable energy development, preservation of natural habitats and forests, curbing timber and land mafias, and emission controls and penalties for industry and vehicles must be prioritized in order for Pakistan to remain an environmentally sustainable state. The efforts of many countries show that development and environmental preservation aren't mutually exclusive; in fact they are deeply intertwined.  
Courtesy: Daily Times