New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Challenging the Gun Culture in
By Kamila Hyat
Combating Transnational Militancy
By Dr Zafar Nawaz Jaspal
Follow the River
By Shahzad Sharjeel
Imran Khan’s 100 Days
By Khurram Husain
Two Steps Forward?
By Mahir Ali
Students Take Up Rights
By I.A. Rehman
Our Youth Challenge
By Nadir Nabil Gabol
A Faustian Bargain
By Ben Debney
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Challenging the Gun Culture in Pakistan
May 24, 2018
The tragic death of 17-year-old Sabika
Sheikh, during what should have been a 10-month-long academic term at a US high
school in Texas as an exchange student, has in one way or the other shaken all
For many, the idea that a vivacious,
talented young girl who had won the US State Department’s Kennedy-Lugar Youth
Exchange Scholarship to study at a Texas school will now never return home, is
disturbing on so many levels. Sabika had gone to the US as a youth ambassador
for her country. She had, according to all accounts, represented Pakistan
superbly during her time at the Santa Fe High School, which was cut short by
the shooting spree carried out by a fellow student.
School shootings in the US have pricked
people’s conscience since the Columbine massacre in 1999 when 13 people were
gunned down at a high school in Colorado by two pupils who had carefully
plotted and planned their death. Both are now behind bars and their parole is
due soon. Since then, a large number of school shootings have followed.
In 2018 alone, there have been at least 20
incidents of this nature. Around 35 people – students and teachers – have lost
their lives while many others have been injured. The lax gun controls in the US
have been repeatedly blamed for these attacks. But no action has been taken
with America’s powerful gun lobby that is making full use of a highly controversial
constitutional provision, which permits every US citizen to carry a firearm.
Texas, where Sabika died, is one of the
states with the most relaxed laws on the purchase and ownership of firearms. A
telling video posted on social media soon after a shooting incident in Florida
earlier this year demonstrates that it is possible for a 14-year-old in the US
to be denied access to alcohol, cigarettes, clubs and prescription drugs, but
he or she can easily buy an automatic gun.
There is clearly something wrong with this
logic. Pakistan’s own gun laws are much tighter than those in the US. The
problem is with implementation. According to a global survey carried out in
2007 by an organisation that monitors firearms in societies, there are 20
million privately-owned firearms in Pakistan, with the ratio standing at 11:6
per 100 persons. The survey doesn’t take into account weapons such as larger
automatic guns, including Kalashnikovs, that have become so familiar in our
society. Pakistan ranks sixth on the list of 178 countries on the basis of the
number of guns owned by the people.
Pakistan has mercifully never suffered the
kind of school shootings witnessed in the US. Yes, the attack on the Army
Public School in 2014 can be likened with these incidents. But this massacre
involved trained terrorists rather than schoolboys who had for often obscure
reasons decided to shoot their peers and teachers. Easy access to guns has
undoubtedly facilitated them.
Despite the tighter controls on gun
possession that exist on paper in Pakistan, firearms are easily accessible in
the country. Teenage boys have been known to smuggle guns into schools and show
them off to their peers. Are we then far from a situation where a disturbed
teenager goes on a rampage within a school – that too in this age of
globalisation where the US has become the model for much of what young people
do in terms of social and recreational activities? A drug culture has already
evolved in all our major cities and has taken young students into its fold. We
must pray that Pakistan never witnesses a shooting at a school that mirrors
those carried out in the US.
We must, however, also do more than pray.
Over the past few years, we have seen influential young men use guns to kill
their victims over petty issues. Shahzeb Khan, the son of a senior police
officer, was killed in Karachi in 2012 by two young men from highly influential
backgrounds. The killers were granted bail last year.
In March 2018, Asma Rani, a medical student
from Islamabad, was gunned down by an influential man who had stalked her for
months and expressed an interest in marrying her. She had turned him down
repeatedly. The eventual fate of the killer remains undetermined. Political and
social influence frequently plays a part in meting out punishments – or,
perhaps, failing to do so.
Although Karachi – which was once rated as
the sixth most dangerous city in the world on the basis of murder and other
crimes committed within it – has been able to drastically improve its position
over the past three years, the fact remains that the number of guns circulating
through our society poses a threat to everyone. They come to the aid of
extremists, criminals, and others. Apart from the murders that are committed by
young men who believe that they may be immune from justice, we have also had
gunfights between school students from privileged schools in both Lahore and
There is an urgent need to remove illegal
firearms from the hands of people. Efforts to do so in the past have
consistently failed. As always, we have not been successful in enforcing
policies that are agreed upon at the highest levels. It is worth noting that
the safest countries in the world – including Finland, Iceland and the UAE –
have enforced tight checks on the ownership of weapons and their display in
We need to think about the dangers that
guns pose to us. There have been terrible cases – which have mainly been
reported from the gun-happy US – where children have accidentally shot parents
or siblings using guns that were left within their reach. These, of course, are
tragedies – as are the shooting incidents at schools. But they could be
prevented by simply preventing easy access to guns.
The same rule applies to Pakistan. Our
culture of intolerance and the acceptance of extreme violence means that the
presence of firearms poses grave dangers. Young people, as part of a new
‘gangland’ style culture that has developed among men in many urban centres,
are known to gather in a ritualistic fashion to battle out disputes over
trivial matters such as associating with a member of the opposite sex and
committing petty theft. In most cases, fists or words are used to settle
disputes. But will there come a time when someone will opt for a gun instead?
Our young people are at risk. While a few
schools have banned toy guns on their premises and discouraged parents from
buying these items for their children, a very large number of children – some
no more than toddlers – own toy guns. Some of these toys are accompanied by
camouflage uniforms, tanks, missiles or other weapons. Parents like to post
pictures of their sons dressed in this fashion on social media. This culture is
likely to have damaging effects. It promotes an acceptance of violence and
promotes the notion that guns are acceptable objects for young people.
Our bazaars are packed with toy AK-47s,
Kalashnikovs, pistols and other guns. We need to change this culture. Removing
unlicensed guns from people’s possession will serve as the first step in this
direction. We don’t want shooting incidents in Pakistan where young people like
Sabika, who have their entire lives ahead of them, are killed.
THE successful execution of Zarb-i-Azb and
Raad-ul-Fasaad operations have not only restored authority of the state but
also brought an audible sigh of relief in Pakistan. The law enforcement
agencies preventive measures had thwarted many terrorist organizations fatal
missions and saved the innocent people from the brutal wreckage. Despite these
tactical achievements, the continuity of war on terrorism and nefarious designs
of eastern and western neighbours necessitate vigilance and preparedness.
The suicide attacks in Quetta and Nowshera
on the law enforcement agencies, during the last week, once again send shock
waves in the entire nation. On May 17, 2018, at Taraweeh time five suicide
bombers stormed a Frontier Corps Madadgar Centre in Quetta. Luckily, the forces
foiled the attack and also killed the attackers. Earlier suicide attacks were
made against a convoy of security forces Nowshera city. The attacker was killed
and 11 others were injured in the attack. The appropriate defensive
arrangements and heroic sacrifices of law enforcement agencies officers and
jawans have demonstrated the resilience of the nation to combat the menace of
The heroic action against the proscribed
Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LeJ) underscores that Pakistani soldiers are battling
terrorists fearlessly. On May 16, 2018, the security forces killed the
Balochistan chief of LeJ Salman Badeni, two suicide bombers and arrested one
injured terrorist in the Killi Almas area of Balochistan. During the operation,
a Pakistan Army officer, Colonel Sohail Abid, and a soldier embraced martyrdom
and three other soldiers were injured. Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi
stated: “Our soldiers have paid the price of freedom with blood and there is no
higher sacrifice than it. We as a nation are united than ever against the
coward enemy.” Indeed, such heroic acts of the soldiers are guarding the
freedom of the nation.
Indeed, the Armed forces of Pakistan
quashed terrorist sanctuaries in the remote or peripheral areas of the country.
They have been struggling to erase the terrorists sleeping cells located in the
urban centres. It was reported that during the Operation Zarb-i-Azb the entire
infrastructure of terrorists’, especially their outfits, was destroyed in North
Waziristan. Unfortunately, the anarchical situation in Afghanistan provided the
terrorist organizations, especially Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Pakistan
leftovers to flee into Afghanistan. India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)
with the connivance of Afghanistan National Directorate of Security (NDS)
It is an open secret that RAW has been
providing both financial and material support to TTP for conducting terrorist
acts inside of Pakistan. Neither American forces nor Afghan law enforcement
agencies are erasing the safe heavens of TTP located in eastern Afghanistan. It
was reported that recent terrorist acts were sponsored from Afghanistan.
Therefore, without the proper monitoring of entire Pakistan-Afghan border and
winning the hearts and minds of Afghans, the prevention of cross-border
terrorism is tiresome and challenging.
The radicalised militant organizations
intelligently make use of the religious norms and principals for the recruitment
and radicalisation of ignorant people in a society. Even their narrative
camouflages their extremists’ strategy that is not limited by theological moral
scruples—inhibition in the killing of the innocent, unarmed, civilians and
non-combatants. Consequently, the radicalised militant groups have no guilt
against the killing of the innocent women, children and the unarmed civilians.
Perhaps, the military operations destroy their sanctuaries but do not correct
their mindset. For correcting the perverted mindset counter-narrative is
required. In this context, the political forces, especially the religious
political parties role ought to be enhanced.
Today, combating the transnational
radicalised militancy is nearly impossible by one country. The multilateral
approach or multinational cooperation is imperative for finishing the
transnational terrorism. Islamabad needs to work closely with the like-minded
nations to defeat the agenda of transnational terrorist organizations as well
as the states that have been using them against Pakistan. The radicalised
militancy is a gigantic problem for all the Shanghai Cooperation Organizations
(SCO) members. The ideological motivation through biased interpretation of
Islamic norms; ability to freely move across countries; financial backing
through illicit trade; adept in the use of communication technology; and above
all the protracted global war on terrorism are important sustaining and
enduring constituent of terrorism in the SCO member states. Therefore, the
government of Pakistan could use SCO forum for chalking out a multinational
comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy.
IT is election season — political parties
and pressure groups will resort to anything, stoop to any level, to make their
opponents look bad, basically to prevent themselves from looking worse. Blaming
opponents for one’s own lack of performance does not appeal at the emotional
level, however, hence nothing like an extra topping of parochialism.
Just as when the country has nothing to
show in terms of development and management of its water resources, it is
always the neighbouring upper riparian country, the arch foe, the devil
incarnate, who is blamed for ‘stopping’ our share of water. On the flip side,
when the country gets inundated with floods, it is never our lack of disaster
risk management, early warning systems, or the worsening ecology in which
glaciers are melting faster than you can say freeze. The floods, too, are a
conspiracy of the upper riparian. Since it shivers in fear of our ‘strategic
assets’, the ‘cowardly enemy’ unleashes the fury of surplus water on us.
To go by our leaders, everyone and no one
is to blame.
The same warped theory is employed by lower
riparian provinces against the upper riparian within the country’s water
system. The other day, the ever entertaining Nisar Khuhro of Sindh’s ruling PPP
held a press conference in Hyderabad to thunder against Punjab, which he alleged
is stealing Sindh’s share of water under the 1991 water accord. He warned the
upper riparian to mend its ways or else Sindh’s farmers would block traffic
going through the province towards Punjab and also hold a protest in Islamabad.
Being a small, tail-end stakeholder in
Sindh’s irrigation system, one would welcome every drop of water in our parched
canals and watercourses at this time of year. However, we cannot allow the
elected representatives to insult our intelligence by passing the entire blame for
Sindh’s water woes on to Punjab. Can anyone point out when and how it stopped
Sindh from undertaking water sector reforms? Is it Punjab that dictates to
Sindh’s large landholders to use their political and administrative muscle to
divert smallholder and tail-enders’ share of water?
The law governing the Sindh Irrigation and
Drainage Authority was passed in 1997, yet the Sindh Irrigation Department
still exists in parallel to Sida. Why could only three area water boards be
established in 21 years, when 14 were envisaged in 10 years’ time to manage the
irrigation water in a participatory manner? Why has the number of farmer
organisations, who were to be given the management of irrigation water at the
distributary level, not risen beyond 300 or so, and why has that number
remained static since 2009? Was it the federal entity called the Indus River
System Authority or the Punjab government who did not allow Sindh to develop
and manage its water resources? Do question Irsa if it runs Taunsa and Chashma
link canals without surplus water availability, but also address the equity
question within the province regarding the water that does reach Sindh.
While we are at it, would anyone in the
provincial administration care to enlighten us as to how many thousands of acres
in Sindh have been shifted to a high efficiency irrigation system using the
drip method that provides water direct to crops’ roots, saves inputs like
fertiliser and pesticides, and increases yield manifold? Or are we still
tethered to flood irrigation, where most of the water goes to waste because the
small farmer has no voice and the large holders can steal water, get bigger
outlets, special allocations and have loans written off.
In only March this year, the Balochistan
Assembly passed a resolution demanding that Sindh stop stealing its share of
water. Neither was it the first time that Bolan had this complaint against
Mehran. There was also some noise at the PPP presser that, while Sindh was
faced with an acute shortage, water at Mangla reservoir was being used to
generate electricity. Remember the fracas some time ago, when the federal
ministry of water and power asked K-Electric to not rely heavily on cheaper
hydropower from the national grid, and run its thermal power plants, which were
sitting idle in breach of the privatisation agreement? At that time, it was a
conspiracy against Sindh to deprive it of hydropower.
To be fair to Sindh, the rest of the
country also needs to understand that the flow of fresh water downstream Kotri
into the Indian Ocean is not a waste at all. It is an absolute necessity to
keep the mangrove forests alive, our best bet against sea intrusion.
If we allow everything to become a zero-sum
game, very soon we will have districts competing with provinces for water, and
cities protesting against rural areas, claiming that people in villages have
the audacity to water their crops while people in Karachi lack drinking water.
Winning an election is important, but not by misleading the electorate.
HERE is what I don’t get: all the people
and parties criticising Imran Khan’s 100-day agenda presented over the weekend,
how come they don’t have anything like a vision for what they will do once they
are in power? There is lots to say about Khan’s 100-day agenda, and I
deliberately call it Khan’s agenda because that is how it is described in the
party’s documents and presentations too. But it would be great if other parties
could give us something to compare with Khan’s agenda.
The PML-N has claimed that Khan’s agenda is
a “copy and paste” job from their own Vision 2025. They also ask where the
resources will come from to create 10 million jobs, as Khan’s agenda says it
will aim to do (during a five-year term mind you, not in the first 100 days as
some mistakenly assumed). First of all, there is a huge difference between the
Vision 2025 document and Khan’s agenda, so the allegation that the latter is
copied and pasted from the former is totally wrong.
Take for example what each document says
about police reforms. The Vision 2025 mostly talks about the importance of
effective policing; the only time where it advances a way forward is when it
talks about the need to “enhance the capacity of police, prosecution and public
defenders’ system”. From there it moves on to a “a new security policy will be
prepared to tackle the issue of terrorism”, the elimination of “thana culture”
through a citizen police liaison system, a “local police system” and the
creation of national and provincial databases “of criminals” in coordination
with Nadra. One is tempted to ask: how much of this has been done in the past
Where the track record of the parties in
power is concerned, it is luck and the hard binding constraints that largely
call the shots.
Khan’s agenda, by contrast, presents the
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa model of police reform which will be built upon to reform
the entire country’s police systems. At its core, it is about strengthening the
independence of the police force from political interference. It aims to build
on the model of the KP police reforms. The Vision 2025 document shies away from
making any explicit commitment to promoting the independence of the police.
Another example is provided by how the
documents aim to deal with the state-owned enterprises. Khan’s agenda calls for
the creation of a “wealth fund” to remove the SOEs from the line ministries
altogether. It also highlights the restructuring of PIA, Steel Mill, Railways
and the power sector companies “on an emergency basis”, whatever that means.
The Vision 2025 also talks of
restructuring, but at least mentions privatisation, whether “partial or
outright”, though it’s not clear what a “partial privatisation” looks like (do
we have any successful examples here?). Khan’s agenda makes no mention of
One thing that distinguishes Khan’s agenda
is that it is almost totally centred on the personality of one individual. It
begins with a long description of the party leader, his cricketing success,
philanthropic ventures and leadership skills. Down the page comes a mention of
his “team”. And the document throughout is peppered with references to change
“by emergency” or to “revolutionise service delivery”, meaning they envision a
sudden break with the system and getting onto a new trajectory. This was the
case with the PTI’s White Paper released before the election in 2013 as well.
Five years later, does anyone in KP find that “government by emergency” has
been brought about, or whether it has worked? This is the crucial question,
upon which the party’s (or in this case, the Khan’s) credibility hangs.
One could go on, but at the end we all know
how meaningless these documents eventually are. The hard binding constraints
that the parties have to operate within once they come into power end up making
them all look more or less the same, rhetoric notwithstanding. For all their
claims of having turned the economy around, the PML-N has, in significant
parts, been helped by luck. The fall in oil prices, the arrival of the Chinese
(and no, Nawaz Sharif did not “bring” the Chinese to Pakistan; the Belt and
Road Initiative was ready for implementation around the time he came to power),
and the gradual receding impact of the great financial crisis of 2008, the
crowning achievement of Musharraf and his coterie of toadies.
Each of these factors played a key role in
putting wind in the PML-N’s sails. And what did they do with all this windfall?
Their first budget had development spending of Rs762 billion, and their second
to last budget, where development spending peaked, had Rs1,275bn. This is an
appreciable increase. There were no tax reforms worth the name, other than the
introduction of the active taxpayer list. There was no “restructuring of state-owned
enterprises”, no “partial privatisations” and one clumsy attempt to privatise
PIA. In fact, structurally, not very much changed at all, perhaps with a few
exceptions like the new auto policy.
So where the track record of the parties in
power is concerned, it is luck and the hard binding constraints that largely
call the shots. Whatever their declared intentions at the outset, they are
useful only for understanding the differences in approach that each might
adopt. Where the PML-N emphasised large, high-visibility projects, the PTI
prefers to place the emphasis on social service delivery. Though even here,
they had to admit that foreign borrowing is a necessity and a few roads and bus
services of their own may not be such a bad idea.
And finally, corruption. Here too the
differences between the two parties are basically rhetorical only. Just look at
how they spin Jehangir Tareen’s disqualification versus Nawaz Sharif’s. Fact
is, the great Khan has surrounded himself with people of exactly the same stripe
as his opponents, and no less corrupt. Making a programme out of retrieving
funds stashed abroad is a losing proposition; just ask Musharraf (or his
toadies if you can’t reach him). Besides, there is not as much there as Khan
May 23, 2018
THEY may not qualify as echoes of May 1968,
but a pair of intriguing developments means that May 2018 could go down as a
historic turning point in the political trajectories of at least two very
First and foremost, the Malaysian election
result earlier this month was remarkable on several counts. It was the first
instance of power democratically changing hands in that country since it gained
independence in 1957, and that too in a region where lately elections have
generally served to reinforce the status quo. Furthermore, the ostensible
transformation has been led by a nonagenarian who, until the turn of the
century, personified the status quo, in collaboration with his most celebrated
Mahathir Mohamad, during his 32 years as
prime minister, frequently lapsed into the authoritarian category, especially
in terms of crushing dissent. His most prominent victim was his deputy, Anwar
Ibrahim, with whom he spectacularly fell out following the 1997 Asian financial
crisis. Facetiously charged with sodomy, Anwar was brutalised and incarcerated
for the remainder of Mahathir’s tenure.
He was imprisoned again, on the same absurd
charge, after winning more votes than another Mahathir protégé, Najib Razak.
Last week, Anwar emerged from imprisonment following a royal pardon obtained
through Mahathir’s intercession as the newly elected prime minister, after the
multi-ethnic coalition that includes both men’s parties unexpectedly won the
election on a reformist agenda.
Malaysia and Armenia may be poised on the
cusp of change.
Cronyism was among the accusations by Anwar
on which he fell out with Mahathir in the 1990s, but the latter’s political
machinations were not guided by the goal of personal enrichment. Najib’s
regime, on the other hand, has been cited by the US Department of Justice as
kleptocracy at its worst. Raids on his properties in recent days yielded not
only incriminating amounts of cash in various currencies but also a haul of
Hermes Birkin handbags and various other luxuries. Who knows whether Donald
Trump was aware of his DOJ’s verdict when he feted Najib at the White House and
presented him with a signed photograph inscribed with the words: “To my
favourite prime minister.”
Najib’s biggest scandal revolved around
billions siphoned off from a state fund known as 1MDB, including some $700
million that ended up in his personal account — although it has been claimed
that amount came from personal Saudi donors. It was apparently the 1MDB
embarrassment that was decisive in Mahathir turning against Najib and
successfully seeking reconciliation with Anwar. Even so, no one seriously
expected the opposition alliance to triumph against the Barisan Nasional
coalition headed by the United Malays National Organisation, given the latter’s
penchant for bribery, manipulation and gerrymandering.
But it seems the tide had decisively
turned, and it seems to have helped that the opposition coalition, Pakatan
Harapan, had a familiar figure at its helm — at nearly 93, Mahathir looks at
least 20 years younger and remains perfectly coherent in his speech, which is
still characterised by the sharp tongue that made him an entertaining presence
at international gatherings.
If Mahathir’s late-life resurgence lends
some sort of hope to Nawaz Sharif, others such as Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri
may be more moved by the example of Nikol Pashinyan, who was catapulted in the
past few weeks from protest leader to prime minister in Armenia.
The impetus for change evolved last month
when Serzh Sargsyan, who had exhausted his two terms as president, sought to
parachute himself into the prime ministership of the former Soviet republic —
which has followed the common trajectory of a failed socialist model morphing
almost instantaneously into neoliberal authoritarianism. Widespread protests,
mainly rooted in economic discontent, persuaded Sargsyan to bow out. But his
party, holding a parliamentary majority, initially rejected Pashinyan as a
During the second vote, there were an
estimated 250,000 people in the square and streets outside parliament, awaiting
its verdict — that is, close to 10 per cent of the nation’s population. Enough
members of the ruling party caved in for Pashinyan to emerge as the prime minister.
In that capacity, he has promised to call fresh elections as soon as conditions
are conducive. He has also promised to liberate the Armenian enclave of
Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijan, and thereby to solve a dispute that marred
the final years of the Soviet Union and has persisted ever since.
Of course, in both these instances, one
must concede that the harbingers of hope may be short-lived. Armenia isn’t
exactly out of the woods, and in Malaysia the longevity of the anti-Najib
coalition is difficult to predict now that he is out of the way and quite
possibly headed for the courtroom dock. The hopes that have been raised may be
disappointed. But they might not. If it’s premature for anyone to jump for joy,
there’s certainly no harm in keeping one’s fingers tightly crossed.
Students Take up Rights
GENERAL election time is considered the
best period for the people’s education in democratic norms. But Pakistan’s
political parties are generally so afraid of a conscious and assertive
electorate that they tend to avoid any debate on critical issues. Any civil
society initiative to overcome this deficiency in national politics is
Despite the administration’s efforts to
strangulate civil society organisations, a few of them have been drawing
political parties’ attention to the issues they should include in their
election manifestos. Several associations working on women’s rights have made a
series of practical suggestions for women’s uplift and empowerment. Now there
are signs of students’ awakening to their responsibility to make the people
aware of their rights and persuade the political parties, particularly the
candidates, to adopt a rights-based approach to the establishment of a
It was heartening to learn that students
from various universities of Lahore have formed groups called People’s
Solidarity Forum, Progressive Students’ Collective and Women’s Collective and
that they have launched the Huqooq-i-Khalq (citizens’ rights) Movement. Their
inaugural function was quite impressive not only because of the number of
participating groups but also in terms of the range of their concerns and the
quality of their narratives.
A young student from the Seraiki region
offered a critique of the latest call for a south Punjab province that was
expected from veteran politicos. The waderas behind the new agitation, he said,
were interested only in replacing the present anti-people satraps with another
set of equally unwelcome oppressors. Recalling the history of the Seraiki Suba
movement launched by Taj Mohammad Langah in the 1960s, he declared that only a
popularly backed movement could lead to the establishment of a new province in
the people’s interest.
A youth-led movement aims to persuade
election candidates to adopt a pro-people approach.
Another young student, this one from
central Punjab who has set up an agricultural forum, spoke of the degradation
of natural resources, the drying up of rivers and canals, and the hazards posed
to the people’s health by the dumping of tons and tons of urban waste and
sewage in the shallow waters of whatever is left of Punjab’s rivers.
The students belonged to all the four
provinces and Fata and Gilgit-Baltistan, and they raised issues relating to the
entire body of Pakistan’s citizens. Most of them spoke briefly, in measured
tones and without a trace of rancour. The only one who burst out in anger was a
Lahore student who questioned the ability of the main contenders for power to
bring about a pro-people change, in view of the interests of the company their
Some problems faced by the student
community at Lahore’s universities also surfaced. A lawyer-teacher stressed the
need to not exclude women’s rights while calling for citizens’ entitlements,
and two female students from leading public sector universities vigorously
complained of a lack of mechanisms for protection against sexual harassment.
This, they argued, was contrary to HEC directives and betrayed a general
attitude of indifference to girl students’ grievances.
A Pakhtun student complained of
discrimination on ethnic grounds, sometimes under the cover of national
ideology and on other occasions in the name of religion.
A young activist from GB recalled his
people’s successful struggle against unacceptable taxation proposals and
regretted that through the proposed framework for G-B’s governance Islamabad
had again compelled them to fight for their rights.
On the sidelines one learnt of protest against
an antediluvian provision of the income tax law under which each student whose
annual fees exceeded Rs200,000 is asked to pay a 5pc withholding tax. The GB
students were eventually exempted from paying this tax but quite a few of them,
like all other students, continued to be charged even after the exemption. Is
it possible to imagine a more preposterous rule than asking the students to pay
a tax on a tuition fee that already exceeds the minimum wage? Tuition fees are
not like betting at races that they should be taxed.
The matter must be probed at an
appropriately high level. In view of Article 25-A of the Constitution, the
state must try to reduce the cost of education instead of increasing it. If the
idea is that very rich people should pay more for the education of their wards
than less privileged parents, a proper way may be found. The present levy
imposes an unwarranted burden on all parents, many of whom cannot afford to pay
even the relatively low fees charged by public sector universities.
It is easy to be carried away by any
stirring among the youth. One cannot say how far the students’ movement for
citizens’ rights will go, or will be allowed to proceed, but the undertaking is
wholly laudable. Something like this is badly needed today. If the educated and
conscious youth, especially the students in higher classes, from across the
land, go out to talk to fellow citizens about the significance of their rights
to freedom of expression, information, assembly and association, their right to
vote and to take part in governance, Pakistan’s politics could become better
and start getting truly democratic.
The students too will learn about their
fellow citizens what they do not find in textbooks or media reports. Under
their citizen’s awareness programme they will be expected to convince their
audiences that they should engage with candidates to solicit their support
about their commitment to uphold the people’s basic rights, and they themselves
should vote only for the rights-minded candidates. Of course they must not
become partisans of any particular party or candidate for that will undermine
the sanctity of their mission besides provoking the none-too-liberal government
functionaries and university authorities.
The government and the Election Commission
ought to support citizens’ awareness programmes because their interests will be
served by any contribution to the emergence of an informed electorate.
The recently launched National Human
Development Report (NHDR) by the UNDP Pakistan, titled ‘Unleashing the
potential of a Young Pakistan’, made some startling revelations.
The report revealed that Pakistan currently
has the highest number of youth ever recorded in its history, making it one of
the youngest countries in the world, and the second youngest in South Asia.
However, the report raises concerns that Pakistan’s youth bulge is potentially
a ticking time bomb.
Around 64 percent of Pakistan’s total
population is below the age of 30 and 29 percent is between the ages of 15-29
years. The study further stated that youth between the ages of 15 and 29 years
make up 41.6 percent of the total labour force. This requires creation of at
least 4.5 million new jobs over the next five years. Unfortunately, around 25
percent of the Pakistani youth is illiterate, whereas 8.2 percent is unemployed
and possesses no vocational or technical skills. Furthermore, 76.9 percent of
youth leave education for financial reasons, while the state spends only 2.2
percent of its budget on education as compared to the 3.6 percent on defence.
Pakistan’s youth bulge provides a serious
challenge to the government which, unfortunately, is miserably failing at
addressing the issue. The country is not going through a generational shift; it
already has and will remain a nation of the young till at least 2050. But youth
demand empowerment through better education, employment opportunities and
The current educational net enrolment
growth rate of the country is a poor 0.92 percent. This means that the target
of there being zero children out of school will take another 60 years to be
achieved. Not only is the quality of education in Pakistan poor, it is also unacceptable
as most employers complain that potential recruits are not ready to take on
their respective job responsibilities. This issue is further aggravated by the
fact that we still have multiple educational systems for different social
The Prime Minister’s Youth Programme has
miserably fallen short of providing educational opportunities to the millions
of young Pakistanis desiring to obtain basic and higher level education,
whereas funds are being diverted to controversial programmes such as the Prime
Minister’s Laptop Scheme. Graduates often lack exposure and rigour due to
obsolete, theory-based education system dependent on rote learning rather than
aptitude-building and creative problem solving.
The most talented of Pakistan’s youth is
looking for opportunities elsewhere. Through international programmes such as
the US Fulbright scholarship, and free-of-cost higher education in countries
like Germany, students are able to acquire quality education which includes
creative thinking and ingenuity. Unfortunately, most of these youngsters who
benefit from such opportunities choose to remain in these foreign countries,
resulting in a major brain drain for Pakistan.
Pakistan can learn from models such as the
one being followed in Canada where cooperative education is given preference.
This model combines classroom-based education with practical work experience,
preparing students to join the work force. Similarly, in Germany students are
provided vocational education. We will greatly benefit from an educational
system that comprises of early career counselling and vocational guidance
programmes, starting from secondary schools to universities.
The government needs to divert greater
funds towards educational loans, especially for those seeking and deserving
postgraduate degrees. Further, entrepreneurship needs to be encouraged through
seed funding for tech start-ups, engagement of micro-finance institutions for
establishing and supporting small and medium enterprises (SME), sectors and
business facilitation centres alongside road shows and investment conferences.
Since almost two-thirds of the country is
below the age of 30, the youth is a demographic reality that must be seen and
heard. Meaningful engagement is the final ingredient that will transform the youth
bulge from a challenge to a glorious opportunity. Many young active leaders are
working in isolation on political mainstreaming and civic education of youth
through different media. They are involved in activism in diverse fields of
labour rights, human rights, politics, arts, science and technology.
An open debate on the country’s future and
identity must be encouraged in order to reach an authentic discourse on
democracy and human rights. The energy, desire and motivation in our youth to
contribute to our nation is unparalleled. The young are shouting because they
want to and must be heard, because when they are not heard, severe social and
political ramifications are created which include increase in crime and
militancy. Political parties must encourage the youth to actively participate
in society and politics. The PPP is one good example, as it has a very large
and active youth-wing, the Peoples Youth Organisation, that has developed and
honed young leaders who have gone on to become successful parliamentarians.
The past couple of decades have been dark
for Pakistan – such as the APS tragedy – and have left the country’s youth
severely traumatised. We must collectively work to provide a more conducive
environment for the youth to prosper. I am certain that if the right policies
are made and implemented, by 2050 the youth will harbour a new era of progress
You’re a passenger on the Titanic on its
fateful maiden voyage in 1912. As it draws away from the dock at Southampton
you get a premonition that things are going to go severely pear-shaped, and
that the ship is never going to make it to New York. Maybe you’re an engineer
and your spidey senses are telling you that the captain and crew are far too
cocky for their own good considering that the ship can only sustain damage to
four of the 12 bulkheads. Maybe it’s not anywhere near as unsinkable as the
White Star Line are making out in the name of PR hype…
But you don’t say anything because you know
what people are like when you try to tell them things they don’t want to hear –
they get defensive and shoot the messenger. Why are you being so negative on
such a joyous occasion, who pissed in your bucket such that now you have to go
and piss in everyone else’s? Maybe you should get some professional help. You
know how it goes. So after briefly considering making a fuss and demanding the
boat be turned around, or just jumping over the side and swimming back to
shore, you sit back and say to yourself, I’m in first class, if something
happens I’ll get priority for getting off the boat…
But here’s the rub, because what you don’t
know is that the White Star Line skimped on the lifeboats because they took up
room, and they detracted from the claims about the ship being unsinkable
anyway. So, when the ship eventually hits the iceberg off the coast of
Newfoundland, you get a nasty shock in discovering just how out of luck you
really are. When you could have done something, the problem wasn’t a problem,
but now that it is it’s too late. It was that damn Faustian bargain you made…
And so the exact same logic goes with the
climate crisis. The parallels are obvious; take as our inspiration the
temptations of capitalist individualism set before us, we make the exact same
bargain. The difference in this case however is that we know the disaster is
coming; we don’t even need to worry about what our spidey senses say, 97% of
all climate scientists agree that the capitalist mentality that sees the world
as an infinite resource and infinite garbage dump is warming the atmosphere. We
have even less excuse.
But yet, we still make the bargain,
assuming that we won’t be the ones to go under when the shit hits the fan. But
borrowing once more from our Titanic metaphor, we assume to know all the
parameters from our vantage point of comfort and safety before the full brunt
of the problem is upon us. Well maybe some of those poor bastards in those
low-lying countries South Asia will cop it when the sea levels rise, and maybe
there will be a few islands in the Pacific that might become historical relics,
but we in our nice relatively quiet and peaceful middle-class communities will
We do not need a metaphor in this case to
see just how incredibly dangerous and irresponsible this kind of thinking is.
Let alone the consequences for weather systems and the food chain, which are
already being felt, the wars that have already been fought over
hegemony-enabling oil supplies will be accompanied by more like the Syrian
conflict, that began in the aftermath of climate-change induced droughts around
Mesopotamia. Then there is the movement of refugees to consider, and threats to
water and food security…
We are not thinking of such things however
when we make such Faustian bargains. We are thinking of our stuff, and we are
thinking that we can have our cake and eat it too, though as thinking about the
reality of the situation as per the above train of thought rends to demonstrate,
we can’t. Furthermore, and as Tyler Durden points out in Fight Club, the things
we own end up owning us. Maybe our dependence on conspicuous consumption is
part of the problem, our tendency to invest our identity in ownership of things
instead of developing and independent value system and learning to figure out
what we’re about as individuals.
Maybe part of the problem, to borrow from
Baudrillard, is our tendency to try to compensate for our general lack of
control over the conditions of our own work and of our own lives more generally
by throwing an endless torrent of commodities into the bottomless pits of our
alienation. Maybe we have the same kind of relationship with consumerism and
consumption that drug addicts have with their chemicals, and fear the pain of
giving away our emotional crutches to which we are co-dependently bonded with
the same fear that religiously orthodox types envision abandonment by the magic
man in the sky.
The irony of course is that, like the
passenger on the Titanic assuming that there will be enough lifeboats for
everyone, the trust we put in the institutions and the general mentalities
associated with global conditions as they currently prevail will be
commensurately rewarded. Which is to say that we will be left holding the bag
as those who created the problem run headlong in the opposite direction to
accepting responsibility for the downward spiral of global society into social
and environmental chaos and collapse. Such is the nature of Faustian bargains;
if there is no honour amongst thieves, there will certainly be none amongst
those who have stolen the future.
But just as in waking up from a nightmare,
not least of which being the ones they call the Great American and Great
Australian Dreams (George Carlin: there’s a reason they call them that and
that’s because you have to be asleep to believe it) there is every moment also
an opportunity to choose differently. In every moment, we can choose to think
soberly and responsibly, to act like growth has limits, to act like workers,
women, people rendered the Oriental Other, the flora, fauna and ultimately the
Earth itself are more than mere objects only of value as things that can be
exploited for profit.
To reject the Faustian pact of capitalist
individualism does not ensure that things will all work out like a Disney
movie, but it does mean that they won’t turn out for the worst while we make
calculated choices about whose rights, freedoms, wellbeing and ultimately lives
are more valuable from our positions of class privilege.
This article was originally published as:
‘A Faustian Bargain with the Climate