Saturday, April 24, 2010

The politics of listening to the elders

It is not possible to decipher correct information through print and electronic media, nor is it possible from hearsay. Getting unbiased information is only possible through experiencing it. Let me put forward my arguments: Looking at the Pakistani soaps, dramas, movies, sitcom and all such mediums claiming to represent Pakistan; an outsider would think that Pakistan is a place where there is love everywhere, Pakistan looks something quite similar to UAE or Thailand, and that girl-guy chasing around is very obvious. But let me assure you that Pakistan is nothing close to such notions.

Similarly, we all hear from people visiting the US that the family structure there has annihilated. We see in the soaps and movies of armed macho men and fighting people, happy marriages, easy college life, happy-go-luckies, freewheeling car chases, burgers and cokes for a penny each and what not. These movies and dramas portray a life where you are free after seventeen or eighteen years of age, to do whatever you want to do. The print and electronic media show us that the Americans are free to make whatever decisions right or wrong even if their parents oppose. My notion was that the Americans are very well-mannered and polite, just like the British gentlemen are supposed to be, I could not imagine them Americans not listening to their elders. In fact I always thought that we the Asians, supposed to revere our parents, are actually not doing so but the Americans do so.

To believe it you have to first see it. What I saw is truly outrageous and annoying. I never thought that kids over there would not listen to their elders and make use of the experience that they transfer. But this is exactly what Mr. Former President Bush did. Whatever his reasons to attack Iraq, let us assume them to be true (which have been proven otherwise) should he have done what he did? His father also attacked Iraq, in fact he led the world’s largest deployment after World War-2 to attack Iraq and liberate Kuwait. But Mr. Bush Senior and his successor, Mr. Clinton knew that if they dislodge Saddam instability will ensue that they will not be able to control. That is why they did not dislodge Saddam and controlled him through ‘other means’. Americans could have attacked Afghanistan during Clinton’s tenure, but sense prevailed to some extent at least, and he settled for only some surgical strikes.

But the smartest President of the American history did the otherwise. True enough he followed in his father’s footsteps by attacking first Afghanistan and then Iraq, but then he tried to outgrow the boots, and now look at him! Not only did the Americans started hating him (a fact represented by elections and his popularity ratings), the war acted as a catalyst to the economic bane induced by the mortgage scandal. Now Americans are losing jobs faster than the speed of light. One of the reasons why Americans had to move towards d├ętente during the early 1970s was that there was stagflation and they were in a crunch because of heavy financial losses in Vietnam. The Soviets, it is alleged, was felled by the little strokes of Afghans, into retreat just like the Americans in Vietnam. It is an anomaly that big powers lose small wars; and I suppose that since the US is the biggest power today it should lose the smallest war (that will be decided by history).

What’s the catch for us? Nothing; we the people of Pakistan have nothing to gain. However, the US aid, on which depends the lifeline of our ruling elite, is not pumping in enough blood to keep us up. Already the state of Pakistan is feeling numb in the feet (Baluchistan and Karachi) and we have a backache in NWFP. There are symptoms that there is stomach upset because the breadbasket is on a diet because of wheat shortage. I do not buy into the Balkanization theories because such things have been in the news since Pakistan was created. Just another passing comment before we move on: Those who talk of our Atom bomb falling in the wrong hands should not forget that to use modern light weapons there has to be at least a month’s training, even if the nuclear arsenal (God forbid) falls into the wrong hands the best use they’ll be able put it to would be to sell it in scrap (talk about proliferation!)

So what does Mr. Obama do to control the damage in Iraq? Simple, wash the dirty hands off the problem and leave the job unfinished. He can’t be blamed, he didn’t do it, and there is no way it can be mended. What does history teach as a lesson to our brand new Mr. Obama? When the US pulled out of Vietnam they did not try to find another place to make a scapegoat. But the only lesson that history teaches is that people don’t learn lessons from history. This is exactly what Mr. Obama is doing; now he wants to shift the theatre from Iraq and slowly from Afghanistan and right into Pakistan. He should have at least asked the former presidents who met him, and Mrs. Clinton should once in a while ask her husband what he suggests doing. I don’t want to warn him because he would not listen. I just want to let the readers know that a rolling stone gathers no moss, only remorse – but then it’ll be too late. The readers can wait and see if I am wrong or right. The motivation factor behind Obama’s change (for better or for worse)is that he carries the name between Barack and Obama is Hussein. This, and the other fact that he being an African American, make him more prone to criticisms that he is not a true American. To counter this argument Obama will go beyond the limits not yet crossed by any other President of the US.

The lesson learnt here is that the Americans really have lost it in the cultural and moral landscape, at least it is true for the American presidents of present times. They don’t listen to their elders and they don’t try to learn from past mistakes, experiences and history. For once I am forced to believe that there is some truth in what the media portrays.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Desperately seeking hope

Let us hope – and I am sincere in this expectation – that Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani’s Washington yatra will make the present government more confident in setting its direction and in lifting, somewhat, the spirits of the nation. We are, at this time, desperately seeking hope in the survival of the present arrangement.

Let us also hope that the incoming prime minister of Pakistan can speak to the outgoing American administration with more confidence and coherence than he had ‘addressed’ the nation. Gilani’s performance will be very much in focus during the next few days because of the media splash that such a visit is bound to make. Traditionally, our leaders have toured abroad to perk up their image in the country. Will Gilani be able to use this opportunity for some kind of damage control?

He has certainly tried to place himself at the centre of the stage with a meeting with editors and senior journalists in Islamabad on Friday. In reports published on Saturday, he has been quoted as saying that he was not a powerless prime minister. He also asserted, with whatever credence, that Asif Ali Zardari was only the leader of the ruling party and was not interfering in the affairs of the government.

Personally, I do regret to have to project my disillusionment with the prevailing state of affairs, week after week. Irrespective of what the top functionaries of the government have to say in their more than frequent encounters with the media, it is hard to disengage yourself with the popular mood. Conscious attempts to be objective and, at the same time, to retain that inherent partisanship with the party that is leading the so-called coalition have not been able to suppress or camouflage an emotional anguish about the national drift.

While we wait to see if Gilani’s visit can cheer us up to some extent, there are apprehensions about what would transpire in the prime minister’s meeting with Nawaz Sharif in London, en route to Washington. Obviously, the issue of the restoration of the judges has cast a deep shadow on the solidarity of the alliance that had initially put us in buoyant mood. It did seem too good to be real – and events, unfortunately, have validated our worst fears. What had Zardari to do about this affair of the government?

We know America’s concerns about the situation in the tribal area but official statements emanating from the White House for public consumption are expected to be supportive of the PPP-led government. Commentaries sent by our media representatives that are based in Washington suggest strong US endorsement for the present democratic setup in Pakistan. There may also be hints that the Bush administration’s long-lasting patronage of Musharraf has weakened.

Still, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, while in Australia, repeated on Friday that Pakistan needs to do more to help curb the flow of militants across into Afghanistan. This confirms the thought that the situation in FATA would be on top of the agenda of talks. Incidentally, the present government, during the four months of its tenure, has not been able to contain the surge of the Taliban and there have been some scary reports of how we may lose the Frontier province if the present trends continue.

One explanation is that the integrity of the state is at stake because the establishment has been pursuing America’s war on terror. But our rulers have continually asserted that this is not a proxy war. We are in it for our own sake. In any case, the entire operation appears to be jinxed. And this causes the most severe anxiety about the present drift in the minds of moderate and liberal elements in the country, the same segments of population that have traditionally supported the PPP and also the ANP that leads the NWFP government.

This brings me back to the overall gloom that engulfs us at this time. As I have said, it becomes difficult to be upbeat about the performance of the PPP-led government. Until some weeks ago, I used to be mildly chastised by some friends and ‘fellow travellers’ for being unduly critical of a government that has to steer through a minefield of problems. They would explain to me the dictates of the realpolitik.

I concede that the challenges this government confronts are frightening and that it has assumed charge at a critical hour. It deserves sympathy and support. But a time of crisis demands resolute action and it can, proverbially, be an opportunity. There is no point in recalling how Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was able to mobilise the people and give them hope at the darkest hour in our history. The pace at which he moved after December 20, 1971, was astounding. For instance, his federal cabinet was sworn in at two in the morning. His impromptu address to the nation the night he took over had a dramatic impact on the morale of a defeated country.

I can refer to many friendly conversations that I have had on this issue but this space would not allow it. I also receive a number of e-mails on my columns and I am sometimes inclined to respond to a few of them. There was this message from Bilal Qureshi from Washington D.C. whom I do not know. He was responding to my column on the 100 days of this government and suggested that one should not “paint too bleak a picture to destroy public confidence and morale”. He did not ask me to not demand answers but to be patient. “I am requesting caution, not censor”, he wrote.

We had an interesting exchange of e-mails and discovered agreement on a number of issues, though I was saddened by his opinion on the lawyers’ movement. What had worried him was the “drip drip effect”. He added: “In other words, the chorus of failure about the current government is only going to get louder …. and the entire setup might collapse, paving the way, once again, for a saviour. God help us if we have to go through that dark tunnel again”. Very logical, isn’t it?

In any case, after a subsequent column, he wrote: “I can’t help but agree with you, entirely. In fact, I am terribly conflicted because I want this government to succeed, even though it is far from perfect. On the other hand, I can also see things spiralling out of control”.

Finally, this excerpt from Bilal’s comments on Gilani’s address to the nation: “It would be the biggest understatement of the week to suggest that the Prime Minister Gilani’s speech was a disappointment. No, it was actually a disaster, let’s be honest about it”.

Let us pray that Gilani can do better in Washington and our expatriates there, like Bilal, have something to at least smile about.

Under the ISI’s shadow

Whatever else the ISI may be able to do, with its fearful capacity to pull off clandestine projects, it does not seem to have the power to perk up Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s performance as a travelling salesman for Pakistan. In fact, its real or perceived shenanigans in forbidden territories did painfully add to Gilani’s discomfiture during his engagements in Washington DC. And now he is in Colombo, carrying his jet lag and also the lingering shadow of the ISI.

Indeed, Gilani’s arrival in Colombo to attend SARRC summit on Friday was greeted with an Indian statement that its relations with Pakistan had reached their lowest point in four years, with an obvious reference to tensions over a terrorist attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul and incidents on the Line of Control in Kashmir.

We know that a formal visit to America by a new Pakistani leader is designed as a foreign policy extravaganza. It is very much like a theatrical production in which the stage, the props, the lighting and the background music are carefully orchestrated to glorify the main character. But here was a lead player who did not have very impressive lines to speak. Did the ISI, with its past experience of destabilising governments of its own country, write the script?

Be that as it may, the invisible presence of the ISI was the highlight of the Gilani visit. As for the prime minister’s own tangible presence, its impact was visibly diluted by his less than satisfactory performance. Some embarrassing details of his encounter with the Council of Foreign Relations, with specific respect to his answers to questions, have been published by this newspaper. Yes, he did receive some grace marks for maintaining a pleasant demeanour.

At one point in that question-answer session, he said: “This is my ninth appointment. And I still have one more”. To this, CFR President Richard Hass responded, perhaps with tongue in cheek: “Well, in that case, you need to save your energy, sir, and pace yourself. It’s going to be hard to sustain this rate then for too many more years”. A question that can now be put to the Foreign Office is: why was the prime minister, with his lack of expertise in this domain, burdened with this pace and with such a format?

It is also unfortunate that the prime minister’s visit began and ended with reports that alleged that the ISI had a key role in the suicide bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul. On August 1, The New York Times reported that “American intelligence agencies have concluded that members of Pakistan’s powerful spy service helped plan the deadly July 7 bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan”.

Earlier, the same newspaper had reported that a top CIA official had travelled to Pakistan to confront senior Pakistani officials with information about support provided by members of the ISI to militant groups. In Friday’s report the NYT said that “India and Afghanistan share close political, cultural and economic ties, and India maintains an active intelligence network in Afghanistan, all of which has drawn suspicion from Pakistani officials”.

The report also had this para: “When asked Thursday about whether the ISI and Pakistani military remained loyal to the country’s civilian government, Adm Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sidestepped the question. ‘That’s probably something the government of Pakistan ought to speak to,’ Admiral Mullen told reporters at the Pentagon.”

Pakistan, according to an AFP dispatch from Islamabad, has “angrily rejected” this report. However, the news agency said that the NYTimes report comes amid growing signs of a rift between Washington and the ISI that could affect efforts to tackle Taliban and Al Qaeda militants.

Incidentally, Gilani’s US visit was launched under the ominous shadow of the ISI – and this had nothing to do with what the ISI has been doing. There was this sudden and surprising decision to put the ISI under the complete control of the Interior Ministry, headed by Rehman Malik. The timing of this notification was somewhat intriguing. It was issued when Gilani was leaving for London, en route to Washington. So, it took some hours before a reversal or a clarification was issued in the small hours.

This episode, with some hints about how covert operations are conducted, raises a number of questions about the present government’s relationship with the ISI and the military establishment. More confusion emanates, for instance, from the fact that the Cabinet Division has not formally withdrawn its original order of transferring the ISI’s control from the Defence Ministry to the Interior Ministry. A report by Ansar Abbasi in this newspaper on Saturday had this headline: “Is ISI still under Rehman Malik?”

Meanwhile, fighting in the naturally serene Swat Valley between security forces and militants has continued and the death toll had risen to 73 on Friday. This is only one facet of the threat of religious extremism that our country must confront at a time when a new government that represents the vindication of liberal and democratic elements is struggling to find its feet.

To be sure, the delay in the resolution of the judicial crisis has seriously undermined the credibility of the PPP-led government. And it would have helped if the prime minister could deliver a great address to the nation and respond to difficult questions in Washington with intellectual agility and finesse. Still, the problem of dealing with the rising tide of the Taliban is of the highest priority and the ISI should be expected to play a major role in this struggle for the soul of this nation.

This thought becomes relevant with the advent of August. The countdown to August 14 –

‘ulti ginti’, if you can recall that promise to restore judges within a specific time frame – has begun. This is the season to unfurl the national flag and celebrate the gift of freedom. At the same time, the occasion calls for a reflection of what we have made of this freedom.

What we must immediately face up to is the rise of extremism and militancy not just in the tribal areas but across the country. This would also call for a review of the role that the ISI has played in defending our national security. The irony here is that the forces of militancy have gained strength during the same period in which we were supposedly fighting the menace. What was initially defined as America’s war on terror has now become our own war for survival. But there is still great confusion in the minds of our rulers about how to deal with religious extremism, with its breeding ground in the tribal areas. Does this confusion also extend to what the ISI is supposed to be doing?

Games nations play

Pakistan is the sixth largest country in the world, in terms of population. It is one of the seven declared nuclear powers. It has one of the world’s largest standing armies, perhaps sixth or seventh. But how many Olympic medals does it win?

This relationship between a country’s economic and social stature and the performance of its athletes was agonisingly present to me as I watched the incredible opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games on television on Friday evening. And as I write these words on Saturday forenoon, I am sleep-deprived because not only did I wait to also see the recorded version on Geo Super but such was the impact of the occasion that I was sleepless for many hours.

Of course, this dazzling manifestation of China’s astounding progress and achievements during the last about three decades overlapped a major crisis in our national affairs. The decision of the ruling coalition on Thursday to impeach President Pervez Musharraf has pushed Pakistan into uncharted waters. Every columnist and commentator would be obliged to focus on this grave issue. I feel compelled to do this in the mirror of the Beijing Olympics and the rise of China as a great power.

Without any doubt, August 8, 2008 will live in the annals of history, like dates on which great wars begin or revolutions mark their culmination or world leaders are assassinated. Why? Because this is the moment when China has confidently claimed its place at the centre of the world’s stage. Let the word go forth from the Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing that the twenty first century is an Asian century.

In recent days, the international media has been preoccupied with China and how it has used the Olympic Games to make a statement about what it has achieved. On Friday, in different time zones, the entire globe saw this spectacle, in awe and disbelief, of the glory of a major civilisation. Yes, there will still be some disparagement of China’s political system in the west with reference to its democratic credentials. But the ordinary people everywhere, apparently more than half of the entire population of the globe, must now confirm China’s great stature.

Here, in Pakistan, we are about to ‘celebrate’ the sixty-first anniversary of our freedom. Incidentally, the Communist revolution in China came two years later. If you refer to those times, in a historical context, you may conclude that we had a better chance of moving ahead. But what have we really made of our freedom, considering also the loss of the eastern half of the country?

Another regret that I have is that though we are such close friends with China and also share borders with it, we know very little about the country in an academic sense. Yet China, with about one fourth of the world’s population, has a recorded history of more than four thousand years. No other nation has ever made so much progress in such a short time. Do we have the intellectual capacity to understand all this and decipher the reasons for our backwardness? After China, another neighbour – India – is moving ahead of us in some significant areas. Why?

I have said, at the outset, that medals won in Olympics and in other competitive sports should reflect a country’s economic, social and political status. In doing this, I am not really leaning on that George Orwell quote, that “probably the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton”. Modern sports are a different ball game and China itself presents a convincing argument in this respect. All you need to do is to look at the medals won by China in successive Olympics. This tally has risen in synchronization with China’s economic progress and now it is aiming to win the most Gold medals and for that it would have to beat the United States.

By the way, a BBC feature this week listed ten apparently insignificant countries from the point of view of achievement in sports “whose athletes have the potential to cause a stir”. Ah, Pakistan in not in the list of these “countries to watch”. The ten countries are: Sudan, Botswana, Panama, Ecuador, Iraq, The Korea, India, Afghanistan, Montenegro and Romania. I am not arguing that this list is any certification of these countries’ economic or social potential because just one Gold-winning athlete can make some difference.

Coming back to the present state of Pakistan, the impeachment process has brought to the surface many of our political and constitutional derelictions. It may even be seen as an attempt to exorcise the ghosts that have haunted our socially dilapidated mansion. At the heart of this predicament are our frequent deviations from the path of constitutional rule and political morality. Can we correct the course now, considering that tragic lapse on the part of the ruling coalition of not attending to this issue immediately after the February elections?

This delay, unfortunately, has generated many ambiguities and uncertainties in the minds of the people. One problem for the coalition is to reinvent itself, after a dismal performance of four months. August is surely an appropriate month in which to finally make a new beginning. It was in March last year, another month that marks a historic event in Pakistan’s history, that the promise of a new freedom was launched with the lawyers’ movement.

In any case, we must now try to pick up the pieces and recreate that hope of early spring. That Musharraf is still not willing to depart is one of those misfortunes that have denied our people not only democracy but also economic and social well-being. We have an example here of how some individuals at some critical moments can seriously damage the cause of a nation.

What really baffles a rational person is that a number of individuals in authority, the ones who are seemingly well-educated and aware of the lessons of history, can wilfully indulge in immoral, corrupt and shamefully expedient practices without any concern for the good of the country. Removal of Musharraf, hopefully without the trauma of the impeachment, has become necessary to undermine the scope for wickedness in our polity.

We regularly have disclosures about how our rulers have cheated the nation in the past. One such report, published in this newspaper on Saturday – yesterday – is based on a new book by Ron Suskind, a US journalist. ‘The Way of the World’ includes the episode of Benazir Bhutto’s negotiations with Musharraf with the involvement of the United States. In one telephonic conversation, recorded by the US intelligence, Musharraf told Benazir: “You should understand something, your security is based on the state of our relationship”.

If such revelations confuse and sadden you too much, the Beijing Olympics can serve as a temporary antidepressant.

Safe passage for Pakistan

We may detect some similarities between commando culture and cowboy culture. After all, there always seemed something personal in the bond between Pervez Musharraf and George W Bush. And this thought may remind us of Hollywood’s classic John Wayne westerns. One similarity could be the tendency to shoot from the hip. In cowboy culture, it would be to shoot first and ask questions later. Well, are you thinking of March 9, 2007?

In any case, we may also recall John Wayne riding into the sunset, when the story has ended. In Musharraf’s case, another reference comes to mind: old soldiers never die; they just fade away. But Musharraf seems to be taking his cue from Dylan Thomas: “Do not go gentle into that good night… rage, rage against the dying of the light”.

Still, there is nothing poetic about this long, painful departure of President Pervez Musharraf. For all this week, headlines have been promising a decision within hours. One morning they announce that the deal is done and the next day that it is undone. Analysts, quoting official sources, keep telling us that the president would have to resign before the agony of impeachment is set into motion — if a safe passage is assured.

The general impression is that the army, though it has evidently distanced itself from politics, would not want its former chief to be humiliated. At the same time, so many ex-servicemen remain hawkish, demanding Musharraf’s trial for treason. Meanwhile, hectic diplomatic activity has gone on behind the curtains. We are told that mediators from the US, Britain and now also from Saudi Arabia are making hectic efforts to find a solution to the flaming political impasse. This newspaper, quoting reliable sources, reported on Saturday that “if the international mediation succeeded, President Musharraf would leave Pakistan forever”.

Incidentally, this high drama is taking place at a time when we find ourselves in deep crisis. This was particularly the week that inspired serious deliberation on the present state of affairs. On Thursday, we celebrated our Independence Day. It was attended by that ritualistic show of patriotic fervour. Those touching, emotionally uplifting national songs did provoke some hope that we can come together and make a new beginning.

At the same time, dire warnings about what could happen to Pakistan remain in circulation. There are indications that the United States is distancing itself from Musharraf. The White House has said that President Bush believes only Pakistanis should decide who they want to lead their country and observers see this as a signal that the US would not rescue Musharraf from an impeachment move. But the real issue is whether the US is also distancing itself from Pakistan.

Perhaps it is Pakistan that needs a safe passage into a future that protects its integrity and its democratic dispensation. We do need to worry about it against the backdrop of dark apprehensions by foreign experts about Pakistan becoming dysfunctional as a federation. One focus is on our struggle against militants and terrorists in the tribal belt, with intimations that the Taliban are gaining influence in settled areas. Combined with rising commotion in the economic sector – the price of dollar being an alarming indicator – the challenge for the present government is truly formidable. But its quality of governance breeds despair.

All this would demand that we get the Musharraf issue out of the way as soon as possible. And it is not just the departure of Musharraf that has to be hastened but also the restoration of the judges. They belong together as an obstruction in the path of our democratic revival. In spite of all this confusion that surrounds us, we must not forget that it was the lawyers’ movement, in close cooperation with the media and civil society, that led to the outcome of the February elections and the predicament in which Musharraf finds himself.

On Friday, the Balochistan Assembly passed a unanimous resolution demanding of Musharraf to seek a vote of confidence or step down. Again, the tally was decisive. The resolution was adopted by 58 legislators in a house of 65 – and there was no one there to oppose the move. Thus, all four provincial assemblies that are a part of the president’s electoral college have overwhelmingly rejected Musharraf. Add to this the defections that have taken place in the King’s party and you can certify that Musharraf must go.

Yet, there is still a great deal of suspense about how he will depart. Also on Friday, the ruling coalition of the PPP and the PML-N finalised its draft of the charge-sheet against Musharraf to be presented to parliament when the impeachment process begins. A joint session of parliament is expected to be summoned in a day or two. But it would not come to that if Musharraf is willing to resign.

I have referred to Pakistan’s birthday and how it came in rather ominous circumstances. Musharraf’s own birthday fell on August 11 and at least this year, it was not a lucky day for him. By the way, General Ziaul Haq’s birthday was August 12, though this proximity does not make much astrological sense because it is hard to imagine two military rulers who were so different in their personal tastes and inclinations. At some level, they have been very similar. Their legacy would be comparable in terms of what the country had to suffer during their rule.

We will have time, though, to assess and analyse Musharraf’s legacy after he has departed. How many more hours or days it would take is uncertain. We continue to hear from his fast diminishing supporters that he would not resign and fight the impeachment charges. Whether the army leadership would like that to happen is also a big question. Indeed, one keeps on wondering what the army leadership is thinking. Much has depended on their wisdom and their actions in our unfortunate history.

And when it comes to learning from history, both our army leaders and our ruling politicians have a lot to ponder. Their wisdom and their prudence, as well as their intellectual abilities, will charter the course our country will take in the immediate future. Musharraf’s departure is foretold but its consequences are very variable. As I have said, we need a safe passage for Pakistan.

On Friday, all major foreign newspapers suggested that Musharraf was ready to resign, that the Musharraf era was over. They also seemed to share the concern expressed by The New York Times: “His departure from office seems likely to unleash new instability in the country as the two main parties in the civilian government jockey for his share of power. It would also remove from the political stage the man who has served as the Bush administration’s main ally here for the last eight years”.

This column is taken from The News.com

Deadened by deadlines

This question has constantly been posed during the past few months: why is Asif Ali Zardari so hesitant to restore the deposed judges, particularly Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry? Yes, the National Reconciliation Ordinance is generally mentioned in conversations that take place on this issue. Speculation, of course, could extend to somewhat trivial matters, though the perception that the Americans do not want Justice Chaudhry to head the Supreme Court has the weight of a veto of some sort.

Be that as it may, Maulana Fazlur Rehman was rather candid on Friday night when he told Kamran Khan of Geo that Zardari had told him about why he needs time to restore the judges. This is because of his dealings with different forces — quwwaton — in the process that saw the departure of Pervez Musharraf. This does seem very credible. And many might condone this ploy for reasons of expediency.

How would one react to this revelation by the redoubtable Maulana, himself quite adept in playing politics? As for the people who are opposed to the restoration of the judges, a small minority at the popular level, any justification for such dalliance would be fine. But there has been considerable evidence, based on properly conducted public opinion polls, that an overwhelming majority of the people of Pakistan support the lawyers’ movement. And if this logic is to be negated in a democratic dispensation, what is all this hullabaloo about the demise of dictatorship?

Another question that is very relevant relates to the identity of the forces that may have persuaded Zardari to renege on solemn agreements that he had made in writing and in public, something that flies in the face of his macho image. The obvious explanation is that it could either be the military establishment in the country or the United States or both. This is what realpolitik is all about.

However, this realisation also brings into question the manner in which the impeachment drive against Musharraf was orchestrated. Apparently, some political elements were taken for a ride in this process. Besides, if extra-democratic elements – to be seen as extra-constitutional – have such sway at this stage of our present arrangement, the prospect of Pakistan finding its sense of direction becomes very unsure.

In any case, Nawaz Sharif has agreed to a new deadline for the restoration of the judges and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has assured that there is no scope for a minus-one formula. Thus, Wednesday, August 27, is the new D-day. This development has taken place at a time when Pakistan is slipping deeper into crisis, with economy in a virtual meltdown and the surge of militant and terrorist forces in the northern areas is becoming more and more alarming.

Indeed, the two suicides bomb blasts that took place on the outer gates of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories in Wah Cantonment on Thursday are extremely scary. It is instructive that the Taliban readily claimed responsibility and threatened more such strikes. Every major city in the country is vulnerable. According to one report, shopkeepers of the Rainbow Centre in Karachi, the grand bazaar of entertainment CDs and videos, have been warned to close their business. The writ of the state is being constantly challenged, with impunity.

On the economic front, too, the situation is very grim. Our rupee weakened to a record low on Friday. It fell — or rose? — to 77.15 against the dollar. This could not have been imagined in the recent past. The stock market has also been falling. There are other very striking reminders of growing disorder in the economic realm, one of them being the partial strike of goods transporters at the Karachi port.

Because of these major disruptions, little attention is being paid to the overall law and order situation and the social disarray that this environment has aggravated. One example: two women were killed by the Taliban “moral force” in Peshawar on Wednesday. Expressing shock and alarm over this incident, Asma Jahangir of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan noted “the extremists’ tactic of taking human lives on whims”. To add to all this, South Africa has pulled out of next month’s ICC Champions Trophy, citing security fears.

Meanwhile, there is also a new focus on the presidential election. You could have forecast the PPP chorus in support of Zardari’s candidature, though as president he would not be able to preside over the affairs of the party and dominate the political exercise of power. As a ‘proclaimed offender’, in terms of my sympathy for the PPP, I am worried about the manner in which the party is making its decisions. There is no indication of any serious and sincere debate being conducted within the higher ranks on very crucial matters.

It was only on Monday that Musharraf had announced his resignation, with a very unconvincing elucidation of how he thought he had served this country. In a sense, this was a great victory of the people’s will as it was expressed in the February elections. It also called for jubilation among political and civil society activists. Yet doubts lingered about how this departure had been arranged and the involvement of foreign mediators was so obvious. One can only imagine what could have happened if he were a politician and not a former chief of the army. And they would still talk about the supremacy of law and of constitution.

Because of this rush of events and the predicament regarding the restoration of judges, a major event that took place only this week has, to some extent, receded into the background. We feel totally engrossed in the judiciary issue and, at another level, in what is happening on the ground with reference to the economy and the war against terrorism. Six months have past since the elections and the pace at which the rulers are moving remains disconcerting.

It would be pointless to remind our rulers that they were swept into power, without any doubt, by the tide that was raised by the lawyers, the media and the civil society activists after that defiance shown by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry on March 9, 2007. It is undeniable that without the lawyers’ movement, the outcome that we had on February 18 this year would not be possible.

It would be a great tragedy if this movement is not fully vindicated and the consequences are bound to be dreadful in terms of our survival as a democracy. We still have not come to terms with the loss of East Pakistan. One aching regret is that our politicians did not mobilise public opinion in West Pakistan about what was happening in the eastern wing of the country. This time, though, the people have spoken. But can our present rulers hear this voice?

Wages of a Zardari presidency

A forbidding thought it may have been but the reality of Asif Ali Zardari as the president of Pakistan cannot be wished away. We know that Pakistan has not been lucky in recent months. You only have to look around, from an uncovered ditch in the village of Baba Kot in Balochistan, to the battlefields in the northern areas and to the misery of the ordinary people everywhere to underline that eerie feeling that something very disastrous might happen at any moment. Well, we do have some ominous developments.

In my recent expressions of dismay over how the Pakistan People’s Party is dealing with emerging crises, I have been careful to confess my lifelong sympathy for this great party. It has been the only parking place in the political arena for the liberal opinion. But the drift that we have witnessed after Zardari reneged on his solemn promise to restore the judges sacked by Pervez Musharraf on November 3, 2007 – something that cannot even be justified by the normal standards of political expediency – is truly heartbreaking.

And when I contend with these feelings as a supporter of the PPP, I can imagine how those who have always detested the party would feel. This, then, is the most fundamental objection to the Zardari presidency. He is a contentious figure. He is also the unchallenged and strong leader of the largest party. There should be little dispute with the need for the president to be neutral and non-controversial. Zardari has always been a controversial figure and some recent reports, including the one in the Financial Times regarding his medical certificates, have surely not removed any misgivings about him.

“What’s all the fuss about?”, asks my friend Ayaz Amir in his column in this newspaper on Friday. Yes, he is right in arguing that “anyone has the right to stand as president and be elected, given the right numbers”. But does this mean that we should have no concern for moral principles and the essential spirit of democracy – irrespective of the electoral drill. Haven’t they always been saying that elections alone do not make a democracy?

Even when we invoke the democratic principle, we can be sure that the majority of the people would not approve of this outcome. You have to bear in mind the circumstances in which the electoral campaign was conducted, the coalition was formed and solemn pledges were made, including in writing, to restore the judges. You should also look at the alliances that the PPP has made to get Zardari elected. Remember May 12, 2007?

Again, expediency may be considered a somewhat legitimate instrument of democratic politics. Yet, the values of trust and credibility cannot totally be set aside. This would also appear to defy the fundamentals of the ‘yaron-ka-yar’ syndrome. The only explanation for Zardari to change his mind on the deal that he had struck with the Pakistan Muslim League of Nawaz Sharif would be that ground realities had changed and that new strategies had become indispensable for the resolution of national crises.

If you look carefully, you may conclude that these crises have really been intensified by the refusal of the PPP to abide by the promises it had made. The irony of all this is that the PPP leaders have been very right in insisting that they had valiantly campaigned for the cause of the sacked judiciary. We have the footage to show that they were in the forefront of the lawyers’ movement. There is also that statement made by Benazir Bhutto. And at the same time that they highlight the party’s role in the popular movement, they keep on insisting that the judges would, after all, be restored. Ah, with Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar as their chief justice?

Alas, what we see them doing in this regard is very painful for their supporters in the civil society. There is a lot of ambivalence and a hint of deception in how the party’s newly inducted leaders, the Rehman Maliks and Farooq Naeks, are playing the game. One suspects that the great hope that was born with the formation of the grand coalition after the February elections was a camouflage and all moves were made to pave the way for the Zardari presidency, even though he initially had the airs of a Mr Sonia Gandhi.

Let us try and recap the events that have marked our political journey from March 9, 2007. First, we must admit that it was a day that changed many things. It was a silver lining on a dark horizon. Recall the emotions of the people of Pakistan as they got involved, if only as spectators, in the movement launched by the lawyers and carried forward by the media and the civil society activists. Try to re-live, in your imagination, the excitement of those days. We did have that feeling of Pakistan having been re-invented.

It can be argued that it was this movement that set the stage for the return of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif to the country. Benazir’s welcome on October 18, 2007, was another great event to bolster people’s faith in a new beginning, in spite of the suspicions that were prompted by the deal she had made with Musharraf and also that devastating terrorist attack on her procession. Her assassination on December 27, inquiry about which seems to have faded into the background, had shattered the nation. In many ways, we have not yet recovered from that terrible loss and it is certainly the PPP’s responsibility to redeem the hope and the expectations that she had symbolised.

Go back, also, to November 3, 2007, and its consequences. At that dark hour, our history was lit by the defiance of a majority of the judges of our superior courts, who refused to take oath under another PCO. Justice Dogar was the beneficiary of that act of infamy – and he remains the beneficiary of what Zardari has wrought. Remember also the ban on the media, the vicious beatings of the lawyers, journalists and political activists. Should all that be allowed to go in vain?

As I have hinted at the outset, the nation is in a deep crisis. Many aspects of this crisis do not directly relate to what our politicians are doing. Our social, moral and intellectual deprivations get little attention. The young constitute a massive chunk of our population and they are uneducated, ill-educated and utterly frustrated. They verily constitute a time bomb. And we need political stability and social order to be able to deal with such emergencies. Can Zardari’s presidency, essentially divisive, provide us with stability and order?

A long route to Sao Paulo

With all this gloom that remains settled on our minds, it does become a relief when we share our thoughts with social development experts from other developing countries. You realise how challenges faced by other societies are no less daunting. And what really becomes a tranquillizer is the fact that these crusaders for social change want to be messengers of hope and not of despair. Hence, I sincerely feel encouraged by this experience.

But first, an explanation of how I became a recipient of this experience in, without any doubt, such spectacular circumstances. The encounter I am referring to took place in a resort tucked into a hilly rainforest near Sao Paulo in Brazil. What made this location so much more dramatic was the lake, formed by a reservoir, that skirted the resort.

Well, how did I happen to be there, in the company of some well-known and perceptive civil society activists? In the first place, I was able to be present at the global meeting of senior fellows to Synergos, an institute founded with the goal of bringing people together to address poverty and inequity around the globe, not in my own right but as a spouse. My wife Sadiqa is one of the senior fellows chosen for the current three-year term.

This has been my first time as a spouse, though we both have had the good fortune of attending seminar and conferences. It was good to interact with the Synergos community and we had ample time to share our ideas at breakfast and meal times. Peggy Dulany, the founder and chair of Synergos was also there and we also had a brief conversation on, in a sense, the state of the world.

There is also a background to why I happily became a spouse. When talking about my travels abroad, I often express my regret that there still remain two continents I have not set my foot on: South America and Australia – and there is not much time left to do that. Australia one can imagine to be familiar with. South America, on the other hand, seemed a world apart with its revolutionary stirrings and its distinctive historical and cultural tapestry.

So, Sadiqa put me up as a spouse for this Synergos meeting set in Sao Paulo. The actual location of the proceedings became a discovery of another kind. We added a few more days to make a better acquaintance with this vast country of continental size. Rio de Janeiro, of course, could not be missed. But I am still very unhappy to miss Amazon, the great river, because it is so far away. This will remain a regret because I collect rivers.

Travelling to Sao Paulo was also an adventure. We took a Sehri-time flight to Dubai and after about three hours, boarded the longest nonstop flight of my life so far – a few minutes short of 15 hours. To add to this, the flight was totally packed and there were families with little children.

But my boast about taking the longest nonstop flight of my life to arrive in Sao Paulo quickly wilted in the face of other flight plans I learnt about at dinner and during breakfast the next morning. It took 40 hours for one participant to come from Manila, via Amsterdam, with a 12-hour wait in the middle. The lady from Kenya, who was with us from Dubai, had to travel in the opposite direction from Nairobi.

But the story that could become a news item in a travel magazine was told by the young woman from India. For health reasons, she had directed her travel agent to not have any flight exceeding ten hours. So she was booked from New Delhi to Munich to JFK (New York) to Sao Paulo. With this crooked itinerary, you are bound to become jinxed. Because of some problem between two airlines, she was stranded in New York for nearly twelve hours. Even those who came from the United States had tales to tell about their not so direct connections.

I have made this diversion – or stopover – mainly to underline this sense of Brazil being almost a forbidding place for many of us. Because it is so far away and so different even in a Latin American context, Brazil demands a particular effort to be explored and understood. Unlike other countries in South America, it speaks Portuguese. Such is its linguistic autonomy and pride that it becomes very, very difficult to find people who can understand English.

Now, it is simply not possible to try to describe this visit in the context of my thoughts and observations. There is so much that calls for a patient and contemplative analysis. Every developing country, like every unhappy family, confronts its problems in its own way. But the very purpose of the exercise that was conducted by Synergos was to learn from each other. The same approach would be valid for a journalistic survey of projects that relate to social development in any country, irrespective of its unique circumstances.

Incidentally, the title of the Synergos meeting was: ‘Partnership and public policy: working collaboratively for social change’. I must confess that though I remained on the periphery of this meeting, as a spouse should, the experience has been very educative. Because of my own profession and my involvement with human rights issues, I almost became a participant.

The first thing in my mind was to look at Sao Paulo in the mirror of Karachi. Both are mega cities with intimations of a certain urban disorder. You think of the forever expanding slums and rising disparity between the rich and the poor. This disparity becomes so much more remarkable because Brazil is making very good progress economically and already has an impressive infrastructure and industrial base.

However, I am mystified by the extent of poverty in Brazil. Yes, the red-brick little houses that cling to sloping hills around Sao Paulo and in the vicinity of Rio are an improvement on what we see in our own or South Asian slums. Still, Brazil should be in a much better position to deal with such potentially dehumanizing incongruities. The attempts that are now being made to deal with these issues constituted a good part of our discussions. There were some field visits to look at the work of some successful civil society organizations.

I accompanied the visit to a project for very young unwed mothers who may have nowhere to go. Here was a good opportunity to look at some moral and social contradictions that a professedly religious society – Brazil is dominantly Roman Catholic – can spawn. But we can hardly relate to the sexually permissive ways of the young (and poor) people of Brazil.

Finally, there is another aspect of Brazil that I will have to take up on another occasion. I was really impressed by the intellectual infrastructure that is being built, beginning with education. And Sao Paulo has no kinship with Karachi because it has a wonderful public transport system, ranging from metro to surface railway and an efficient network of buses.

Or is it business as usual?

Rio de Janeiro is a very distracting place. Its unique location, its touristy sites and its strange urban flavour, particularly for first-time visitors to Latin America, can leave one breathless with excitement. After two nights in Rio, we – my wife and I – took an inter-city bus back to Sao Paulo and we were two hours out of the city when a text message on our cell suddenly transported us back to Pakistan.

The message that we received at about noon in Brazil was short and vastly intimidating: “A bomb blast at Marriott Islamabad. Forty persons dead. God save Pakistan”. Immediately, we sought to make contacts with friends and relatives. This was difficult because we did not have our Pakistani sims or address books. But our daughters in Los Angeles and London, with access to Geo transmission, soon established a line of communication. There was a constant flow of information until we boarded our long flight to Dubai at midnight.

It was an eerie and lonely experience because no one around us seemed aware of what was happening in Islamabad and to us as concerned citizens of a deeply wounded society. Everything seemed to change for us and the scenic ride through thickly wooded hills, with overcast skies, became a cinematic expression of contrast and an emotional disconnect. Pakistan seemed a world apart, literally as well as figuratively. Every television screen we searched out at the busy Sao Paulo airport was showing a game of soccer, the abiding obsession of Brazil.

Eventually, of course, we landed back to suffer the old wounds and the raw winds of our country. The Sunday newspapers at Dubai offered some clarifications. But mystification about what had happened and what it meant has survived. We have been conditioned to massive acts of terrorism and violence and it is curious how we tend to take all this in our stride. But nothing since the tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto nine months ago has something shattered our hopes and equanimity to this extent.

All this week, we have exerted our minds to try to understand the meaning and implications of the Marriott blast. Many difficult questions have been posed and people who are expected to provide some answers – the Rehman Maliks of the present arrangement – have only succeeded in confusing the issue. How was this possible in the most protected sector of the country? Does this mean that the state is withering away? And how can our rulers contend with a challenge of this magnitude?

Alas, the response that we have seen so far does not inspire any confidence in the ability of the government to deal with this most threatening crisis in our recent history. A sense of insecurity, bordering on panic, has spread across the country. Every day, there is fresh evidence of how the jihadists have gained in their operational abilities. Even when our intelligence apparatus and our law enforcement agencies score a hit, as they did in Karachi in the small hours of Friday, the perception of threat does not recede.

Meanwhile, a lot of action is taking place in the tribal areas and our security forces seem to be taking the initiative. But the very, very serious issue of the Americans’ manifest resolve to cross over into our territory on hot pursuit or ‘actionable’ intelligence has apparently not been resolved in President Asif Ali Zardari’s meetings with President Bush and other American officials. Indeed, there have been some perilous encounters on the Afghan-Pakistan frontier. On Thursday, General David Petraeus, who will take charge of US forces in this region next month, said in Paris that “Pakistan faces a threat that certainly seems to be an existential threat”. And we have not been unfamiliar with such expressions of alarm.

So what are we doing to counter such dire warnings? In the first place, there is this dangerous split in the national public opinion on whether this war against violent militancy is our own war or is it America’s war that we are duped into fighting. One would think that after the Marriott blast, an attack on the bastion of security in the capital, would leave us with no doubt that it is a war for our own survival. Still, some apparently very sensible individuals, perhaps motivated by their ideological confusion, are arguing that it is America’s war and if we stop our operations in the tribal belt, things would improve. I wonder what they had said when Ziaul Haq was really fighting America’s war and our religious brigade was totally going gaga over it.

Against this flaming backdrop, Zardari made an important observation in his press conference in New York on Wednesday. He said: “The people will have to realise that we are at war….terrorism cannot be eliminated by having wishes and hopes”. Now, what should people expect when they are told by their powerful leader, irrespective of our parliamentary system of government, that their country is at war? And how are we at war when there is still debate about whose war is it?

Even more confusing is the thought that when we are at war, our top leadership is abroad. Not only Zardari is in New York, but the chief of the Army Staff is in China. One can also name other names, such as Nawaz Sharif and Maulana Fazlur Rehman. Yes, this is umra time and we do need prayers to win our battles.

It may also be argued that Zardari’s visit to New York was crucial. But what impression has he conveyed during his New York visit about his involvement with the conduct of this war? Is he in a long-distance control of the entire situation, portraying the sense of urgency and resolve that this situation demands? Ah, what we know is about his colourful meeting with Sarah Palin. He may have made a legitimate, light-hearted comment but the message it has conveyed is certainly not positive. You have to look at the response on the net, including on the CNN site.

The point I am making is that there is no impression of our being at war, which should have united us and created a huge nationalistic fervour. Instead, what we have is business as usual. Meanwhile, things are surely falling apart. We are afflicted by not just rumours and inexplicable fears, major events are taking place every day. For instance, there was an explosion on a train near Bahawalpur on Friday. On Thursday, great confusion followed red alert on airports, after a bomb threat. On Thursday – five days after the Marriott blast – the US suspended its consular services such as issuing visas. Britain had done that earlier and suspended British Airways flights to Islamabad.

Inconstant, as always

We know why Shakespeare’s Juliet would not let her lover Romeo swear “by yonder blessed moon”. She cried: “O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon, / That monthly changes in her circled orb / Lest that thy love prove likewise variable”.

Our distinguished religious scholars of the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee, with the help and assistance of the entire administration, seem to have a similar vacillating attitude towards the new Shawal moon. Year after year after year, they seem unable to decide the definite appearance of this moon in the sky and keep the nation from celebrating two or even three Eids.

And so it was this year, with some additional predicaments. Indeed, the decision seemed to have been forced by Frontier’s Senior Minister Bashir Bilour, who announced that Eid would be celebrated in the province on Wednesday even when the Ruet-e-Hilal decision was pending rather late on Tuesday evening. The Central Ruet-e-Hilal Committee, then, made up its mind just before 11 pm.

Writing about this moon-sighting confusion would, of course, be a ritualistic exercise because we could have taken it for granted. But isn’t this something to think about? Confusion, it appears, has become our way of life. This moon business goes back to the days of Ayub Khan and I can recall Syed Mohammad Jafri’s humorous poem on two Eids. But this is no longer funny. That we feel content to live with it is the real issue.

I wonder if this attitude, this tolerance of something that seems patently irrational, is so ingrained in our minds that our ability to deal with socio-political and national security crises has also been undermined. We do not demand decisive action on major issues and continue to prevaricate. We generally tend to play both sides.

Playing both sides is what our government has been accused of by some American critics in the specific context of the war against terrorism. But this war that our security forces are now fighting in the tribal belt, particular in Bajaur, has become serious and it is not about to end. In this gloom of war, we again feel very confused about what it actually means and whether it is our war, after all.

In a sense, this debate about whether this war against terror is America’s war or Pakistan’s battle for survival is a reflection of the abiding polarisation between modern-liberal and radical Islamist sentiments. Somehow, the overall thrust of the culture of the tribal areas is not in harmony with the demand for progressive social change. Hence the ignominy of the bombing of girls’ schools in such places as Swat.

Meanwhile, tensions are mounting in every sector. There is confusion not only about who is fighting whose war but also on issues that have to be tackled on a priority basis. One thing, however, is certain, The sense of insecurity in the country is rising. We have not yet recovered from the shock of the Marriott bomb blast two weeks ago. In fact, its reverberations continue as it was only on Thursday that the United Nations decided that the spouses and families of its staff in Pakistan should leave the country and be relocated for an interim period. A similar decision was taken by the British High Commission.

Even the Eid holidays were not without an incident of terrorism. On Thursday, the second day of the official Eid, a very serious attempt was made to assassinate ANP chief Asfandyar Wali but he survived the Charsadda suicide blast. It was still a very disturbing attack and another indication of the reach of the terrorists. It is instructive that Asfandyar was shifted to Islamabad for security reasons.

With all this focus on the war against terrorism and the disruptions that this war has caused, the economic crisis has somewhat receded into the background. But this still remains the most difficult challenge for the new government, though it should no longer be considered so new. Unfortunately, the pace at which the government is taking its decisions is very slow. Again, we sense confusion about what they want to do. The federal cabinet remains unfinished and there is hardly any sense of urgency about moving forward, in whichever direction.

The Pakistan Army, though, has taken the initiative and its operations are likely to produce a long-term impact on the state of affairs in the tribal areas. In a report datelined Peshawar, the New York Times said on Friday: “After years of relative passivity, the army is now engaged in heavy fighting with the militants on at least three fronts”. The title of the report: “Confronting Taliban, Pakistan finds itself at war”.

One important dimension of this war, apart from the displacement of about 250, 000 people, is the involvement of lashkars that are willing to take up arms against the Taliban. Perhaps this indicates a shift in the alliances that are being made in the tribal areas. But the impact of the war is to be felt throughout the country. There has been this fear that the Taliban may also have infiltrated the congested Pakhtun settlements of Karachi.

In a larger context, our minds are also preoccupied with the economic crisis of the United States and about the focus on Pakistan in the political campaign of the presidential elections now just one month away. Irrespective of our ambivalent feelings about the United States, our linkages with the sole superpower of the world are deep and we may feel the shock of its economic meltdown.

Indeed, there is this debate about how the status of the United States as the only superpower may be threatened. According to John Gray, a former professor of the London School of Economics, this is “a historic geopolitical shift in which the balance of power in the world is being altered irrevocably”.

Well, if the balance of power does shift, how would it impact Pakistan? On the face of it, we do not seem to have the intellectual resources to worry about these things. In many ways, we remain engrossed in matters of the moment, be that the sighting of the moon. But our ability to comprehend the global developments and adjust our vision and our priorities in accordance with the new realities remains restricted. We are bogged down in a locale that seems so far away from the modern world.

And yet, we are at war. We are fighting this war for our survival. It is another matter that we are also very confused about all this. I am reminded of the concluding lines of Matthew Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach’: “And we are here as on a darkling plain / Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, / Where ignorant armies clash by night”.

Our defences against insanity

Writing this column, week after week, is verily a disconcerting exercise. One is constrained to keep chewing the cud because the overall situation remains grim and threatening. Yes, there are always new pegs on which I can hang my thoughts. I do get some respite when I have an occasion to travel abroad. Yet, on the domestic front every major development is plugged into the continuing war against terrorism and the terrorists’ war against Pakistan. The more you think about this conflict, the more you wonder if there is any silver lining on the horizon. And suicide bomb blasts are never in short supply.

Obviously, the picture that is painted in the print and the electronic media is clouded with gloom. This gloom is overwhelmingly reflected in your daily encounters with friends and relatives. In recent days, this darkness has deepened with the global economic meltdown and it becomes a larger concern in the middle class because many of the bright and the beautiful of this class have emigrated to the realm of the free market.

Against this backdrop, I had some difficult thoughts to think about media’s role in mental health awareness and advocacy. Of course, Friday was observed worldwide as the mental health day and we had a number of seminars to mark the day in a rather ritualistic manner. After all, the calendar is strewn with such occasions and every subject has a perfunctory dimension of looking at the role of the media in that specific context.

Anyhow, I participated in a panel discussion at the seminar held at the Aga Khan University and remained unsure about the media’s role in improving the mental health situation. One disturbing thought was whether the media, if it were to do its duty meaningfully, would not aggravate the situation in terms of generating more anxiety and depression among the people. Even though our television channels, though unduly afflicted with the breaking news syndrome, have done a great job of portraying the lives of the poor and the depressed, the reality of our existence, in all its clinical details, remains camouflaged.

Before our panel discussion, an AKU psychiatrist made a brief presentation on the current mental health situation in Pakistan. We do realise that the situation is very depressing. But the facts that emerged in the presentation were truly horrifying. It is the same, yes, in other sectors. Still, the health scene, taken in its entirety, is such that its knowledge can make a healthy mind sick. Is this the reason that the rulers resort to the defence mechanism of not looking at it? Are we not in denial because we do not know what can be done to change all this?

I always find it interesting to confront popularly held views about the media. Irrespective of how rational or irrational these views are, it is also difficult to defend the media in its institutional functioning. This surely is not the time to deliberate on this complex issue. However, it becomes hard to contend with antagonistic attitudes that are prevalent in our society. It is established that a certain percentage of people are afflicted with mental disorders in every society. In our case, the fact that the society is in a state of disequilibrium is a matter of additional concern.

Having said all this, I do recognise the need for providing some hope and cheer to the aggrieved populace and though the rulers have a larger role to play in this context, the media could also make a large contribution in this enterprise. So far as medical treatment for mental health patients is concerned, our deprivations seem insurmountable. A recent WHO report said that three in four mental patients in developing countries receive no treatment. It could be worse in Pakistan, considering its position in any index that relates to human development.

In spite of all this, we can recall the time not too long ago when the morale of the people was high and they could breathe hope in the air. Yes, I am alluding to the lawyers’ movement for the restoration of judiciary sacked on November 3, 2007 – the first anniversary of which is about three weeks away. The role that the media played in that movement was also a great assertion of its power and ability to promote the cause of morality and rule of law.

That mood – though May 12, 2007 was a sinful demonstration of how the aspirations of the people can be subverted with the use of brute power – somehow sustained during the political campaign for the elections. We should also try and understand the impact of the brutal assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December. It was an act of terror and changed the entire dynamics of our politics. However, the outcome of the February 18 elections served as an antidepressant for the nation and the repeated promises for the restoration of the judiciary, made in solemn agreements, sustained our hopes that a new beginning was possible.

Come to think of it, the betrayal of that promise has effectively derailed that process that had injected a tranquillizing element in the national psyche and what we have now is the depressing realisation that our rulers are not committed to high ideals of morality and integrity and trust. If this looks like a diversion, my point really is the paucity of social virtues in our system. Add to this the rise in terrorism and the apparent lack of a sense of direction about how to deal with it. Our very, very poor governance exacerbates every malady. Consequently, fear and anxiety and depression have worsened our mental health situation. Just think of the poor, ordinary people who find it so hard to just survive.

So, how can we cheer ourselves up and retain some hope in our distressed lives? It was noted at the seminar that mental health does not only mean absence of mental disorders but a sense be wellbeing in which individuals can realise their potential and lead productive lives. That means that we should build social capital and an intellectual infrastructure to be able to understand our problems.

This is a struggle that demands the involvement of all concerned citizens. Social activism, then, is one palliative that may reduce our pain and anguish. We need to regenerate hope at the collective level. Perhaps the anniversary of the sacking of the judiciary by a military dictator can be a good occasion to renew that sense of involvement in a collective endeavour.

Unfortunately, the overall situation has prompted most of us to seek individual solutions for collective problems, manifested by private guards, private schools and private clinics. But, ultimately, there is no escape from the reality of our collective existence.

Battles we’ve lost on our campuses

There was a time when we tended to be self-righteously offended by any shockingly negative assessment of Pakistan. We looked at those assessments as biased or conspiratorial. Gradually, though, damning indictments of what we have made of our country are becoming hard to challenge in the face of a reality that is too glaring to disregard. Now, we have a fair supply of apocalyptic scenarios that are totally home-grown. Any one headline, whether it relates to the ‘war on terror’, the foreign currency market or the cost of living, can push us into a state of depression.

In these circumstances, not much notice was taken of a despatch from Washington, published on Thursday, that portrays Pakistan being “on the edge”. And this is the assessment of 16 US intelligence agencies including the CIA and the FBI. This observation is part of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) to be presented to the US administration and lawmakers later this month and the McClatchy newspapers have revealed the contents of the NIE draft.

Anyhow, US intelligence officials who have prepared the NIE have said that increased violence, massive energy and food shortages and political instability threaten to destabilise Pakistan. The draft describes the situation in America’s key ally in the ‘war on terror’ as “very bad” and “very bleak”. There is considerable focus, of course, on the “intensifying” Islamist insurgency in FATA.

Ah, but this NIE assessment is not the focus of this column. I have only referred to it to highlight the perspective in which we need to comprehend our present state of affairs and try to make some sense of the main causes of our apparent loss of a sense of direction. In fact, more appropriate would be a reference to the Global Competitive Report 2008-2009 of the World Economic Forum, released this week.

What does this report say? Well, it puts Pakistan at 101 out of 134 global economies in terms of competitiveness. The rankings have been calculated from both publicly available data and the Executive Opinion Survey conducted annually by the World Economic Forum. India, in this table, stands at 50. Sri Lanka is well ahead of us, at number 77. But Bangladesh is left behind, at 111. Fortunately, we are not at the very bottom because there are so many African countries in the list – and Chad is at 134.

What I particularly noticed is that Pakistan fares even worse – it is 123rd – in the specific category of higher education and training. Since this report takes into account the latest situation, one wonders what the great hullabaloo about revolutionising the higher education by the Musharraf regime has finally yielded. Obviously, our competitiveness in any area should have a lot to do with the quality of the manpower produced by our institutions of higher learning.

We do have a few – four or five, perhaps – centres of excellence but in the sixth largest country of the world in terms of population, the state of the public universities is really pathetic. It is this shortcoming that I sometimes think is the most eloquent expression of our intellectual and cultural deprivations. Indeed, it is astonishing that our universities have not made any significant contribution to the generation of new ideas and promotion of creativity when campuses are universally regarded as nurseries for invention and enterprise.

But let us look at the consequence of the massive investment in higher education during the past eight years. This reminds me of a Rauf Klasra report published in this newspaper on Tuesday. Its intro: “Former minister Ishaq Khan Khakwani on Monday blasted the outgoing chairman Higher Education Commission, Dr Attaur Rahman, for what he termed the massive misuse of billions of rupees during his eight years in office”. There was also a demand for a special audit of the HEC accounts.

Now, I am not concerned here with any alleged financial irregularities. The point simply is that billions were at the disposal of HEC. Khakwani mentioned the surprisingly high figure of Rs26 billion. There must surely have been plans and promises and a certain strategy to raise the standards of education and the quality of human material coming out of the universities. Possibly, there may have been some gains.

Still, the overall impact should have manifested itself by now. The tragedy here is that in almost all sectors, we grieve for paucity of funds and there is always this argument about what percentage of the GNP is allocated for health or education. However, here is more evidence that financial resources alone, though always in short supply, do not always bear fruit.

One excuse may be that it is too early to make a final judgment about Dr Rahman’s or HEC’s performance. This should be untenable because eight years is a long time. With proper effort, initiative and will, the world can change in less time. Our successive governments have been unable to provide mass literacy when socialist countries like Cuba were able to achieve this goal in just a few years. Besides, it can be argued that primary education is more important than higher education, particularly in respect of the government’s basic responsibilities.

We have the example of such Far Eastern countries as South Korea that invested heavily in primary education, particularly in education of girls, in their times of trouble. Everything else could later fall into place. Incidentally, one reason why the war against religious militancy is our war is that the Taliban are bombing girls’ school in Swat and they have already destroyed more than 140 schools.

Our rulers, alas, do not seem to be concerned about these things. But this is evidently a suicidal approach. That famous quotation that “the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton” is profound in its message. Ultimately, the quality of human beings that our educational system produces will determine our place in the world. Education, certainly, should be taken in its wider sense, including the character and social virtues of our graduates.

And this brings me back to the issue I had raised at the outset. We must be mindful of the rankings we are assigned in the area of social and human development. I will need to write another column to illustrate the environment we have on our campuses. You should have read a number of news stories about violence on our campuses, the latest incidents being reported from Quetta. Every now and then, one meets a degree-holder from a major university who is not worthy of even a school-leaving certificate. It is really very, very depressing. Can we also borrow, from the United States or China, some social and intellectual capital to be able to survive as a nation?

Our patch of darkness

At a time when the world is illuminated by the miracle of democracy, manifested in the election of an Afro-American as president of the United States of America, we remain imprisoned in our own patch of darkness. And a fresh reminder of this bondage was quite timely. One day before Americans voted for Barack Hussein Obama, the rulers in Pakistan expanded the federal cabinet and appointed, among others, Israrullah Zehri and Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani as ministers.

The contrast in the two unconnected events – one a monumental shift in global history and the other a typical aberration in an unfortunate land of sorrow – is remarkable. “Change we need” was the slogan of Obama’s campaign. “Yes, we can,” was its inspiring refrain. Obama has personified the realisation of a dream that had yet seemed impossible. In its time of troubles, America has been gifted with a charismatic leader who signifies hope in the midst of fear and uncertainty.

In our case, the rulers have effectively extinguished the hope that had heralded their assumption of power. In some ways, the yearning for change has been countered with a partial reassertion of primitive, tribal and feudal values. That is how the presence of someone like Israrullah Zehri in the cabinet becomes symbolic. What is truly incredible is that this choice has been made by the leadership of a party that had initially promised progressive social change and empowerment of the oppressed people of Pakistan.

Zehri, a senator from Balochistan, hit headlines some weeks ago when he defended the honour killing of women in his province. It related to an incident in which three women were reported to have been buried, either alive or after being killed, in the name of honour. Zehri had argued that “these are centuries-old traditions and I will continue to defend them.” Irrespective of how such remarks can be explained, brutal killings of young women who cross boundaries that primitive customs have set for them remain frequent in the domain of the tribal and feudal lords who make it to the federal and provincial legislatures on tickets awarded by our major political parties.

There has been considerable comment this week on the expansion of the cabinet – 40 of them in one go – at a time when the country is in dire straits financially. Zehri’s inclusion has rightly angered our social activists. One does not know if all this criticism can ruffle a few feathers in the corridors of power. Still, it is not possible that at least some stalwarts in the Pakistan People’s Party, with their professed commitment to liberal and progressive values, are not privately troubled by these developments.

The party has a number of women leaders who have struggled for the emancipation of women and against such practices as honour killing. Why are they not able to raise their voice and defend the image that their party has had? This, perhaps, is another tragedy of how party politics has evolved in our present circumstances. It was also sad to see Makhdoom Amin Fahim finally falling in line, though he too belongs to the feudal sphere of the party’s influence.

Now, the choice of Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani, PPP MNA from Jacobabad, as the Minister of Education also deserves attention. It goes to Hamid Mir’s credit that he highlighted the incongruity of this appointment in Geo’s “Capital Talk” on Thursday. It so happens that Bijarani was allegedly involved in a jirga decision to hand over five minor girls to settle an old dispute. This issue, if you remember, was heard last year by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and he had ordered Bijarani’s arrest.

Irrespective of the details of that case, and even if we accept Bijarani’s argument that he had been cleared by a lower court, the fact that a feudal leader should be assigned to steer the educational policies of this government is in itself very instructive. Education, we know, is the seed of social change. It has been certified that educating the girls is the most effective and fruitful strategy for modernising a society.

Consider, also, how we are caught in a pincer movement from the religious militants on one side and the tribal and feudal leaders on the other. As a consequence, the majority of women in our country are generally considered less than human. This is a tragedy that our rulers are apparently not able to even comprehend. The irony is that the PPP is the only national party we would expect to make some decisive moves in this respect. Incidentally, a symbiotic relationship between suppression of old customs and the expansion of literacy and education was properly underlined in Thursday’s “Capital Talk.”

I suggest that the PPP should conduct an objective analysis of what its elected members have done in their own constituencies to promote education, social awareness and enforcement of human rights. If the level of corruption in the education departments of Sindh and Balochistan is any measure, the findings of this study should be unbearable for any leader who has a conscience and a sense of responsibility.

With this focus on how our present mode of governance is unmindful of the imperative for social change, I have been distracted from celebrating the phenomenal triumph of Barack Obama. We were lucky to be able to witness this emotionally overpowering event. Let me confess that I was almost in tears when I watched Obama making that acceptance speech in Chicago’s Grant Park in front of hundreds of thousands of his jubilant supporters. It had come after a sleepless night when results from different states built up a scintillating climax.

It should take some time for us to fully absorb the significance and the meaning of the historic transformation that democracy has made possible in America. One point that I want to stress is that in a deep crisis, the task of a leader is to inspire hope. This is only possible when the people from across the national spectrum, particularly the young, are mobilised into social action, to participate in the political process.

Can this irrationally bloated federal cabinet of ours generate hope and confidence in our people? Alas, the state of affairs is so grim that our loss of hope is deepening by the day. Every conversation you make with friends or acquaintances – or even with complete strangers in the bazaar or a restaurant – is infused with deep anxiety and apprehension. On the face of it, the challenges that we face are also an opportunity for our rulers, if only they have the courage to creatively respond to the needs and aspirations of our people. And they can begin with decisive action against primitive, inhuman customs that have suppressed our women.

The importance of being human

One of my refrains, when dealing with relations between Pakistan and India, is that South Asia – the expanse that lies under the shadows of the Himalayas – is jinxed. There is something terrible about how primitive passions can be aroused in this region, the great carnage that attended the birth of two independent countries in 1947 being an exceptional illustration of this dereliction.

At the same time, there have been times when the people of the two countries that dominate South Asia have fondly embraced each other almost like blood brothers. And the rulers, too, have occasionally taken vows of friendship and have expressed their commitment to the imperative of peace, even calling the process as irreversible.

Well, something like the traumatic Mumbai attack more than two weeks ago could definitely subvert all the hopes that had most recently been raised for improved relations between the two countries. Indeed, when we look at our chequered history, we would be amazed by how this journey has been a real roller coaster. It becomes so easy for hostile and jingoistic feelings to overwhelm the lingering, humanistic craving for peace and progress.

In the immediate context, however, Pakistan has come under pressure because of India’s assertion that the terrorists who wrought havoc in Mumbai were citizens of this country. Fortunately, there is general appreciation that the government of Pakistan was not a sponsor of this incredibly audacious act of terrorism. Still, the complexity of how a country that is itself a major victim of terrorism and is also held responsible for not being able to wipe out terrorists from within its territory is compounded by severe economic, social and political difficulties. Heading of the Fareed Zakaria column in the latest issue of Newsweek is: “End of the Line for Islamabad”.

A weak and inefficient political administration is suddenly burdened with dire challenges, including the ones that emanate from UN Security Council’s resolution to ban four militant organisations. A countrywide crackdown was launched on Thursday against Jamaat-ud-Daawa and in addition to the arrest of many of its activists, Daawa chief Hafiz Saeed was put under house arrest. Pakistan must fulfil its international obligations and abide by the ban that, instructively, is this time backed by China.

Incidentally, the UN ban was announced on Wednesday, December 10 – the Human Rights Day. On the same day, of course, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari received the United Nations Award in the Field of Human Rights that was conferred posthumously on his illustrious mother, Benazir Bhutto. Six other international personalities received this award for promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms.

This was the occasion to mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – a document that enshrines the rights and freedoms that the oppressed people of South Asia are still struggling to attain. We know how comprehensive are the rights that are listed in the UN Declaration. And the concept has evolved during the past six decades, with increased emphasis on such ideas as the dignity of human beings, the status of women and the rights of children. We should look at peace and human security as essential prerequisites for the enforcement of fundamental human rights.

In this perspective, the overall deprivations of South Asia mock the wisdom and sagacity of its rulers. We, in Pakistan, lag behind other countries in the region in this context. Our social indicators that are officially tabulated, particularly in the UNDP’s Human Development Index, do not at all match our nuclear status and the strength of our military forces. It is about the same in India, given the obsession that both countries have about the other. But as Pakistanis, we should be more concerned with out own state of affairs.

Surrounded as we seem to be with grave dangers, this may be a good time to think over the wages of our ruling ideas. Would not have we been stronger and more stable as a nation if our people were sufficiently empowered with education, social security and economic development? This question will surely prompt a heated debate on our national sense of direction. And our tragedy is that in public discourse on national security matters and on our relations with India, the liberal – I would say rational – voice remains suppressed.

Because I have had some affiliations with the peace process in South Asia, I can recall occasions when momentum for peace seemed unstoppable. But those interludes, like ‘the days of wine and roses’, were never long. Something would always happen to interrupt the progress that had resulted from prudent and far-sighted initiatives on the part of the political leadership in both countries as well as non-governmental pressures.

Obviously, the potential for animosity and discord is also rooted in our history and there are elements in both countries that have flourished by exploiting these sentiments. That this path has brought us to a dead end is manifest in the present situation, in the wake of the Mumbai tragedy. Hopefully, the realisation that the well-being and even the survival of the multitudes that populate our two nuclear-armed countries depend on peace and prosperity will again assert itself. One only wonders if the possible revival of hope will again be thwarted by dark forces that seem to be afflicted by some kind of a death wish.

We, in Pakistan, have a terrifying crisis on our hands. This crisis has been building up for some time. Bruce Riedel, a CIA veteran who is now an adviser to US president-elect Barack Obama, has reiterated that Pakistan is the most dangerous place in the world, in an interview published in German magazine Der Spiegel on Thursday. In Pakistan, he said, “international terrorism, nuclear proliferation, the threat of nuclear war, drugs, democracy deficit and Islam all come together in an extraordinarily combustible way”.

Hence, what do we need to do to avoid a conflagration, in the face of mounting pressures from different sources? The first thing, perhaps, is to coolly and judiciously review our position in the region and in the world. This should be possible, in spite of the heightened emotions and somewhat chaotic developments. My regret, though, is that our mass media has almost been taken over by right wing, conservative opinions and the liberal and enlightened points of view are pushed into the background.

Arnold Zietlin, a veteran US media professional who reported from Pakistan in early seventies and has numerous friends here, posed this question in an e-mail exchange of views that flowed from his Eid greetings to his friends: “Why has it always been so difficult for progressive thinkers in Pakistan and elsewhere in the Islamic world to make their influence for being part of the modern world felt?”.

Food for thought

Moving around the dinner guests in that relaxed and somewhat dreamy setting, I sensed an underlying current of anxiety and disquiet. Again and again, our conversations drifted towards the fighting in the north. We talked about civilian casualties and displaced persons and how non-combatants are trapped in a military campaign.

Ah, but this was Colombo, earlier this week. We were there as participants in the Asia Pacific Editors’ Roundtable on Inequality and Hunger, sponsored by UNDP and Panos, a media development NGO. And also because of what we had deliberated during the day, our minds were very much preoccupied by the abiding sorrows of this region, with particular reference to our jinxed South Asia.

Sri Lanka, of course, is passing at this time through a critical phase in its history. After a long and bloody civil war, the Sri Lankan forces have prevailed upon the retreating Tamil Tiger rebels. Coincidentally, the two-day roundtable overlapped with the Independence Day ceremonies of Sri Lanka. Rehearsals for the national day parade, held on Wednesday, had started when we arrived in the city.

Since our hotel was close to the site of the parade, our proceedings, held on Monday and Tuesday, were at times drowned in the roar of fighter jets. All around, tanks and armoured vehicles and roadblocks provided a real backdrop of how our poor countries, afflicted with massive human deprivations, tend to locate their glory and pride in their military prowess.

This juxtaposition of the issues of inequality and hunger that we discussed in the conference room and the intimidating presence of the military in our surroundings was, I feel, very instructive. During our very brief stay in Colombo, our activities and our movements were affected by the arrangements made for the national day. Those of us who were flying back on Wednesday afternoon had to be shifted, on Tuesday evening, to a resort hotel on the other side of the airport.

There, I had time to watch the live transmission of the parade. This Independence Day must have been very special for the government, marking the dismantling of the mini-state that the Tigers had established in northern Sri Lanka. In this process, though, about 70,000 lives had been lost since 1972, when the civil strife began. It was the glorification of the soldier that the parade seemed to portray.

Sri Lanka is a beautiful country, with a vast scenic treasure. Its people, when you come in contact with them, are easygoing and peaceable. You don’t feel insecure even on lonely beaches. But this serene place has been home to Asia’s longest running civil war and very vicious acts of terror and violence. Swat comes to mind. The story of our patch of heaven for tourists also tells a dreadful tale. Like law and order, we have also forsaken tourism, as evidenced by the appointment of Maulana Attaur Rehman, brother of Maulana Fazlur Rehman, as federal minister of tourism.

I had only a few hours to while away in Colombo and was able to revive some memories with a cocktail they have named Colombian Sunset, right when the sun was setting in the sea. With me was a prominent Indian journalist and we jointly grieved over the latest downturn in relations between our two potentially irrational countries, distinguished not only by the might and the size of their armies but also by the world’s largest percentage of malnourished children.

Media was the main focus of the Roundtable in the context of how it can increase awareness of hunger and poverty issues. We had some very bright and experienced media professionals and the discussions ranged across the spectrum of media’s role in social change. As an aside, I was really pleased by the appreciation that many participants had for the courage with which Geo had confronted the highhandedness of the previous administration.

I am not intending to summarise the proceedings of the Roundtable in this column, also for lack of space. Usually, such deliberations that I have had the opportunity of attending relate to South Asia. Here, we also had editors from Thailand and Cambodia. We thus had a sense of Asia. Having properly done their homework, the senior UNDP officials set the stage with their presentations that were based on research and official statistics.

And the overall picture, within the frame of inequality and hunger, was obviously quite bleak. That also means that challenges, not just for the media, are formidable. One challenge is to resolve conflicts that are raging in almost all countries of the region –Pakistan and Sri Lanka being in the forefront. Our major resources are diverted to security needs and attention is also diverted from the sufferings of the people. Another major challenge is gender equality and Pakistan may want to keep its record in this area in ‘purdah’. Again, Swat stabs our hearts like a dagger.

The latest issue of ‘Newsweek’ has a write-up on the food crisis. This is how it begins: “Fears over global hunger are back, this time driven by both high food prices and plunging incomes. As the global recession deepens, unemployment is rising, but the price of staple foods is not falling with other commodities, like oil”. It has been noted that this crisis will be severe in developing countries.

Our debate on what the media can do to improve public understanding of these issues was intensive and extensive. We shared discerning views about the power as well as the powerlessness of the media and I sought to invoke the recent Pakistani experience to make my points. This is an issue that calls for a separate analysis. With a little regret, I am also unable to recap some very gratifying personal encounters that took place on the sidelines of the Roundable and that keeps me from mentioning names of a few very accomplished individuals I came in contact with in Colombo.

Two days after I returned from Colombo, on Friday morning, I learnt about the demise of Pakistan’s leading journalist Khalid Hasan in Washington. What a great loss this is may be seen in the context of one point I had made in Colombo. Khalid Hasan was exceptional in his access to both English and Urdu. His translations of Manto introduced the great Urdu short-story writer to an international audience. He wrote brilliant columns, with a literary flourish and I always envied his considerable gifts as a human being and as a journalist. The real tragedy is that I see no one taking his place. His death has underlined my constant lament that we are also intellectually and culturally malnourished. It is this deprivation that is not fully understood in a country that is starved of enlightenment and open-mindedness.

Source : The News