Karachi Heatwave

All of us have become so used to seeing tragedies and violence in our daily lives that the death of 3,000 innocent people and creation of mass graves are no longer enough to be a burden on our collective consciousness.

Those of us who are not there in Karachi don’t even feel necessary to protest, let alone come together and help our fellow citizens in the hour of need, apparently because the people who died in the current heat wave belonged to all sorts of socioeconomic, cultural and religious backgrounds and did not had any distinct identity.

This reflects the growth of dangerous phenomenon in our society which points out that we no longer associate ourselves as strongly with our national identity as we do with other religious or ethnic biases.

The people who think that it was largely a natural calamity and the fate had written for these poor people to die on roads without a drop of water are mistaken. It is a result of anthropogenic interference in nature and lack of good governance on part of both the federal and provincial government. The people in power are complicit in the deaths of these people because it was part of their duty to save these people once the heat wave had started to take a toll.

The morgue in Karachi, Pakistan, has had to bury 45 unclaimed bodies to make room for more victims of an intense heat wave.  Credit: Shahzaib Akber/European Pressphoto Agency

The crisis in the city was building up since long as people were unable to get even the minimum water supply and electricity. This shows that there is no longer a government in Karachi as citizens and civil society organizations are providing help to each other and giving those services which should have been provided by the public sector and government officials.

All of us really like to talk about the massacre of Rohingyas in Burma which is no doubt condemnable, but not about the people who are dying on daily basis in our own country. It is time that we come together as nation and start solving our own issues which are grave in nature, because only then we would be in a condition to help those who are suffering around the world.


Freedom of Expression and Paris Attack

The killing of innocent people in Paris this week has once again generated a debate about freedom of expression. It is worth noting that this right was for the first time advocated in the famous declaration, which followed the French Revolution. The theoretical paradigms of free speech were laid down by the famous political philosopher J.S. Mill who argued that self-culture is important for any society if it has to evolve and exist.

Mill also argued that even opinions that go against popular narratives must be protected because they would help in proving the truth as those theories which would not be able to compete or stand the test of time will eventually wither away. It might also be appropriate to mention here, that many of the scientific facts that are now popular were once considered blasphemous by the Church and during the medieval period many scientists had to face persecution, because their discoveries or ideas went against the dogma.

Coming back to the condemnable event that happened in Paris, let us first analyse the aims of those who make caricatures of the Holy Prophet (SAW). The only major aim would be to anger the Muslims so that they respond in a way that will help generate a momentum of hatred among the non-Muslim population regarding them in the western world. So in my own opinion, these caricatures do not fall under the category of freedom of expression. As these acts only generate a reactionary chain of events so they must be avoided. In this regard the debate which is already taking place within UN regarding defamation of religion must again be taken up by the world body and a set of international norms, if not laws, may be set to regulate this behaviour.

This is the way we can help transform the opinion around the world – by trying to create consensus on the fact that these blasphemous caricatures are counter-productive and irrational not by becoming violent. There is also a need to show the world that the barbaric actions of certain individuals do not represent the larger community and generalizations in this regard should be avoided.

I am all in favour of freedom of expression, but anything that is not rational or would not lead to any substantial increase in human knowledge must not be allowed to prosper under the ambit of free speech.

Benazir Bhutto – Daughter of Destiny

Benazir Bhutto had a life full of ‘turbulence, tragedies and triumphs’. The tragedies outnumbered the triumphs. In 1979 as a young girl full of emotions she met her father who was the first popularly elected Prime Minister of Pakistan for the last time in the death cell and she was not even allowed to give him a hug despite her repeated protests the jailer didn’t open the cell door and instead told her repeatedly that the ‘time is up’ and she has to leave. For years, unlike her brothers she had opted to fight through legal and constitutional means for her father – but on that day she must have had second thoughts about her decision.

Many people had thought that she will now leave Pakistan and live a life abroad, but instead she joined active politics and fought for bringing back democracy. During the decade-long struggle she had to spend time in solitary confinement and was arrested multiple times. She led mass protests and campaigns of civil disobedience against the brutal martial law regime and General Zia in a private conversation just months before his plane crash had admitted to Mark Siegel who was accompanying an American delegation that his ‘biggest mistake was to let Benazir live’ and when Siegel narrated this to Benazir, she looked at him and said that ‘he is damn right’.

Benazir Bhutto won this battle of democracy and became the first woman Prime Minister of Pakistan and the Islamic world in 1988. It was not an easy task to win elections in a patriarchal society, but she proved her enemies and skeptics wrong. There was also a deep message for the western world who had always considered Muslim societies to be too conservative to have a woman leader and she brought many pro-people reforms and gave rights to the people which had been usurped by Zia’s regime.

Like many other politicians and leaders of the world she committed mistakes both in her personal and professional life. Instead of following her father’s socialist policies she introduced Neo-Thatcherism and did growth based economic reforms. There were many charges of corruption against her husband – who couldn’t have operated without the permission of his wife. It is also a reality that none of the charges were proved and most cases were withdrawn by the subsequent governments.

Why she married Zardari? This is a question that people often ask because those who knew her could never have thought that she would agree to an arranged marriage. Frankly, Benazir didn’t have any other option because she knew that if she has to operate in the conservative Pakistani society she will first have to get married and due to the multiple pressure tactics of the Zia regime there weren’t many people who could take this ‘risk’ so among the two prospect candidates Zardari was the only Sindhi and hence became her husband.

Despite multiple threats to her life she decided to come back to her country and once again launch a pro-democracy movement, but before coming to Pakistan in 2007 she wrote:

“Some people might not understand what drives me forward into this uncharted and potentially dangerous crossroads of my life. Too many people have sacrificed too much, too many have died and too many people see me as their remaining hope for liberty – so for me to stop fighting now is not an option. I recall the words of Martin Luther King ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’ So with my faith in God, I put my fate in the hands of my people.”

The ‘remaining hope for liberty’ – as she was called was lost on 27th December’ 2007 when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in the same town in which she last met her father.

Happy Independence Day!

Today as we celebrate our 67th Independence day let us contemplate on certain questions because it is a make or break situation for our country and I write this with a heavy heart, but one that is patriotic and feels the pain of his fellow citizens. Patriotism/Nationalism shouldn’t make us blind; if anybody tells you that we are going in the right direction then just ask yourself these questions:

Is this the Pakistan that our founding father – the great Muhammad Ali Jinnah – wanted to see?

Why we haven’t been able to unite and are still divided even after 67 years? Our society is facing an identity crisis. All of us need to build a new common bond and create a new source of patriotism one that is not ‘anti- any other country’ because enemies and friends in the international community keep on changing. Let’s form a new positive identity one that is based on love for our land and not hatred for some other country. We have seen enough hatred in the past its time that all of us build our country and contribute in whatever way we can.

Isn’t this an irony and a tragedy that the minorities of our country don’t feel safe and are at times persecuted usually because of their beliefs, despite the fact that Pakistan was created to protect the minorities of India and Quaid stressed on this during almost all his speeches which he gave after independence? What if he asks us why couldn’t implement his ideals?

It is important that we realize that if our generation fails then the history will blame us and the consequences will be horrific. Sorry for the long post, but sometimes hard facts have to be stated. All of us want to see a much more prosperous Pakistan and we can only realize that dream if we first look at our weaknesses and address them.

I leave you with this speech of Quaid which he gave to the Constituent Assembly – the one which was given the task to make our first constitution – hence its importance can’t be underestimated. Let’s get together and try to create Jinnah’s Pakistan – one that is progressive, tolerant and ‘free’ as Quaid said.


Inhumane International System

If you look at what is going on in the world the only conclusion you reach is that the current international political system – UN, EU and other multilateral organizations- is inhumane and needs to be revamped. The hypocrisy in this system is so apparent that almost anybody can point it out.

More than 100,000 people have lost their lives in the ongoing Syrian conflict and there are more than 400,000 refugees according to UN estimates and what’s the outside world doing about it? Instead of stopping this bloodshed the big powers are instigating more violence by supporting and supplying weapons to particular groups. Nobody gives a damn about the people who die, the families who lost their loved ones and are then forced to leave their homes and live in camps outside their country.

The Syrian conflict not only represents the failure of the international community, but it also shows how indifferent we have become as humans. The tragedy lies in the fact that we first see other people through a particular lens usually defined by our religious, sectarian, ethnic or political bias and then we decide whether their misfortune deserves our attention or not.

The west which is so proud of its democratic traditions doesn’t support it in other countries especially in Middle East. General Sisi overthrows the democratically elected government of President Morsi in Egypt and we are told that it wasn’t a coup because apparently ‘millions of people’ supported it by coming on streets. If this is true then what about the sanctity of the vote? The basis of political authority as defined by western scholars rests on the premise that it will be built with our consent, but the champions of democracy forget their own standards to pursue their interests.

Recently while doing research on Sri Lanka I came to know that the place where thousands of Tamils were massacred is now a tourist resort and this is just one example there are many other stories which never got and will never get our attention as long as we don’t get united and condemn/protest and try to stop the atrocities being committed in the world. It’s time that we start looking at others through a single lens which is defined by humanity – if there is some left in our world.

Descent into Darkness

During the rule of Nazis in Germany many different communities were targeted on the basis of their beliefs. Martin Niemöller gave a famous statement in which he described the indifference and apathy of German intellectuals and public towards the plight of their fellow citizens. Today his words resonate in my mind and by changing the names of the communities we can describe the way different groups have been targeted in Pakistan since 1947:

First they came for the Hindus, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Hindu.

Then they came for the Ahmedis, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t an Ahmedi.

Then they came for the Christians, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Christian.

Then they came for the Shias, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Shia.

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.

The irony is that the country which was created to protect and give equal rights to the minorities of India couldn’t provide safety and security to its own people. Remaining fearful in today’s Pakistan means surrendering to those extremists who challenge our way of life. Our people have showed immense resilience in the last decade and there are many grave issues that we as a nation have to tackle in order to succeed in 21st century, but first we all must get over our religious and political prejudices and unite against all kinds of terrorism and extremism.

If we don’t force the state to take action against those who are killing Shias today then tomorrow they will be after the lives of our loved ones because they are determined to disintegrate our country into different factions. The state knows the identity of the perpetrators, but apparently it doesn’t have the will to take action against them. No negotiations succeed unless they are done from a position of strength and we have seen the horrific results that this policy of appeasement has produced.

There will be protests, sit-in, roads will be blocked, but terrorists will continue to kill innocent people unless our nation gets united and demand action against those organizations which are responsible for this bloodshed.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,” – Martin Luther King


Birth Anniversary of Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Today is the 102nd Birth anniversary of Faiz Ahmed Faiz. He was a revolutionary poet whose poems are an inspiration for all those who are fighting for equality, freedom and justice not only in our country, but around the world. Faiz wanted to see a Pakistan which is progressive, tolerant and in which the state supports the poor and oppressed.

As he once said:

My writings are “in the name of those sad mothers’
whose children cry out in the night’
and will not be silenced by the defeated arms of sleep’
who will not say what saddens them’
Or be consoled by tears or entreaties.”

He described Pakistan during the martial law years as:

“a forest of dying leaves that is my country’                                                                                             an assembly of pain that is my country”