New Age Islam Edit Bureau
29 September 2016
By Tanuj Garg
By Chris Cork
Women In The Mainstream
By Awais Anwer Khawaja
Power Politics in Pakistan
By Syed Hamzah Jilani
By Iftekhar A Khan
By Susan Abulhawa
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
September 28, 2016
This is my 70th column and an extremely
tricky one for me to write in view of the ongoing tussle between the two
countries. I’ve visited Pakistan a number of times and have made potentially
lifelong friends living in Lahore and Karachi. I don’t suppose that these deep
equations will or should change because of what is happening politically.
I am going to abstain from ranting on the
political scenario in a Pakistani publication, as it will sound predictably
biased and not get taken constructively. Propounding oft-heard drivel about the
need for law-makers from both the sides to sit peacefully in a room and sort
out the mess is now silly and futile. I don’t see this as a possibility in the
conceivable future, and cynical as this may sound, Kashmir isn’t getting
resolved in this lifetime.
There remain a host of uncomfortable
questions which haven’t been answered by either side. With the frighteningly
excessive spewing of vitriol, the war is already on in full thrust on social
We are passing through a very sensitive
phase of history. Doing nothing has been the preferred option all this while
but way too much water has flown beneath the bridge. Hard action (and I don’t
mean war) not based on impulsiveness or emotion, is the need of the hour. Go
Being Fawad Khan
It is encouraging to be a hugely loved
pin-up boy in an enemy country. Except that when war-like symptoms emerge the
pin-up boy is left to pay a price.
Whether Fawad Khan was exiled by India or
returned to Pakistan on paternity leave is the subject of speculation. Indians
who are suddenly fed up with the art-cannot-be fragmented-by-boundaries talk;
want to know why he hasn’t taken a stand on Uri despite reaping the benefits of
enhanced Bollywood-induced stardom. In the same breath, Pakistanis are
displeased about him pursuing what is a promising career with the neighbour.
I wouldn’t like to be in Fawad Khan’s shoes
at the moment. It’s a very sticky situation to be in — a serious dilemma —
anything the man says will be misread, misinterpreted and used against him. He
cannot afford to offend his countrymen by uttering anything that sounds even
remotely pro-India (even if he means it from the bottom of his heart) nor can
he lambast India which has generously showered him with love, luxury and bucks.
Even if he has only a cameo in it, the title Ae Dil Hai Mushkil could easily
sum up his predicament.
The Brangelina Farce!
There’s something sickening about the
Brangelina divorce, far more than Brexit. The couple that married two years
back after a decade of living in, has decided to go their own way with complete
disregard for their battery of kids for whom they claim they got married in the
After Brad and Angelina selfishly paraded
the adopted and biological kids like trophies around the world to elevate their
own image, they suddenly felt the need to call it a day. Worse still, Angelina
accused Brad of child abuse, giving this already shameful saga a farcical turn.
Deep beneath the veneer of shambolic PR sat
the horrific leaked (by nannies) stories of the kids turning into brats. One
drank wine and drove a car round the ground, one was obsessed with
cross-dressing, and one developed an unhealthy penchant for lethal weapons —
all this while Angie was busy pulling one kid at a timeout of the cupboard to
accompany her on the numerous trips to war-torn countries.
The troubling part is that now these
somewhat damaged children will have no choice but to watch their parents
separate in the glaring spotlight.
Flying out of Gilgit last Sunday on a
sparkling morning there was a sense of realisation that I had left another
country. I wrote last week of the changes in Gilgit-Baltistan since my last
visit, of how they were for the most part positive and flagged up a potential
problem in the future with youth unemployment — but that is only part of the
The changes are profound and they are part
of an ongoing process, it is not as if they have been made once and for all and
then everything stops at whatever the new position is. They are progressive in
virtually every sense of the word, from the role of women in a range of
cultures across the region, to trade and industry and international relations.
Not unnaturally the people of the area, particularly Gilgit, Nagar and Hunza
look northwards to China which for many years and for its own reasons has been
the benefactor. The giant mostly friendly uncle that exercises a discreet — and
not so discreet — guiding hand. For many of those living in G-B is, quite
literally, another country. And China less so.
Setting unsourced stories aside it is clear
from the conversations that I had that there were high levels of awareness of
what is going on in and around the homelands of the inhabitants, and that there
is very much a sense of cultural unity at least strongly latent if not already
developed. People are finding new ways to work together rather than fight one
another and that is going to be a powerful determinant of their long-term
Although not featuring large in local
political life today, the small nationalist parties have clung on to life as
the mainstream parties try to make the best of having no clout in the corridors
of power down-country. They are unlikely ever to have a mainstream future but
they are able to act as the irritants that whilst not protogenic pearls do
serve as change-catalysts rather than as stand-alone change agents themselves.
Perhaps as a reaction to the deadlock that
embraces all parts of the country that are still unhealed from the wounds of
Partition, it is local bodies and institutions that in a newly minted
atmosphere of peace, are re-finding and refining themselves. There is a
pragmatic realisation that the unresolved legacy of Partition has to be worked
around and that a local or national solution to the areas status — not a
province of Pakistan and not likely to be one in the foreseeable future — is
not on the horizon.
The tiny team — 43 was the number mentioned
to me — of UN observers buzz around here and there, their flags and pennants
looking distinctly faded and in need of replacement. Nobody seemed to know — or
care — what they were supposed to be doing. Irrelevant or not they are an
ever-visible reminder that if the region is to have any sense of its own
mastery then there has to be a rethink around the business — very much the business
— of daily life.
It is the political impotence of the
faux-institutions set up over the years by the governments in Islamabad that
paradoxically is promoting the growth and expansion of what started in the 80’s
and 90’s as grassroots local organisations and now are moving on to the next
stage of development. And this time around it may be fast-forwards rather than
the slow burn of the past.
The absence of conflict provides fertile
soil to germinate in, and I overheard some detailed discussions as to how some
of the obvious gaps may be plugged and who should do the plugging. I found a
willingness to collaborate, for hitherto at-odds groups and institutions to
work together, for some genuinely out-of-the-box thinking to emerge as the
realisation dawned that the creation of opportunity was so much easier if it
was not encumbered by being viewed down a gun barrel.
Geopolitical resolution is yet far away for
the people of G-B, but a nexus of development paths ranging from the macro of
the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to the micro of the tiny puttoo weaving
project for women entrepreneurs in the remote village of Hopar, is creating a
fast emerging future.
Women in the Mainstream
September 29, 2016
Women are conventionally tasked with the gruelling
responsibility of educating our children. What we need is a deeper sense of
appreciation that women can also be trusted with other mainstream roles.
According to a report published by UN
Women, a UN organisation dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of
women, the male employment-to-population ratio stood at 72.2 percent, while for
women it was 47.1 percent in 2013.
The report further says that when paid and
unpaid work are combined, women in developing countries work more than men,
with less time for education, leisure, political participation and self-care.
Despite some improvements over the last 50 years, in virtually every country,
men spend more time on leisure each day while women spend more time doing
More women than men work in vulnerable,
low-paid, or undervalued jobs. As of 2013, 49.1 percent of the world’s working
women were in vulnerable employment, often unprotected by labour legislation,
compared to 46.9 percent of men.
Women were far more likely than men to be
in vulnerable employment in East Asia (50.3 percent versus 42.3 percent),
South-East Asia and the Pacific (63.1 percent versus 56 percent), South Asia
(80.9 percent versus 74.4 percent), North Africa (54.7 percent versus 30.2
percent), the Middle East (33.2 percent versus 23.7 percent) and Sub-Saharan
Africa (nearly 85.5 percent versus 70.5 percent).
Women are responsible for 85-90 percent of
household food preparation worldwide. In developed countries, women contribute
more in their economies compared to developing countries. Similarly, women in
developed countries get a chance to perform mainstream roles more consistently
than those in developing countries. Fundamentally, a number of factors –
education, culture, societal behaviour and the social fabric of a country –
provide women the opportunity to get a mainstream role.
Women in Pakistan are no exception to the
plight of women in developing countries. There is a lot of trumpeting of
women’s empowerment by various quarters these days but in substance Pakistan
still needs to go a long way to achieve its long-term goals to this end. While
Pakistan is still lagging behind in its targets of achieving an improved
literacy rate, retain enrolment and increase net primary enrolment, there is no
visible effort to educate the 25 million children who are presently out of
school; the majority of them being girls.
According to the UNDP’s 2011 Human
Development Report, approximately twice as many men as women receive a
secondary education in Pakistan. According to the UNDP’s 2010 report, Pakistan
ranked 120 in 146 countries in the Gender-related Development Index (GDI) and
it ranked 92 in 94 countries in terms of Gender Empowerment Measurement (GEM)
According to a report published by the Food
and Agriculture Organization in 2015, women farmers in Punjab lack authority in
decision-making due to the patriarchal society that limits their role. Women
spend 12 to 15 hours a day in agriculture-related work. This work done by women
is usually ignored, unpaid and not regarded economic activity.
Owing to the lack of a holistic approach in
the enfranchisement of women, progress on of the idea of women assuming
mainstream roles has been lackadaisical thus far. Although Pakistan is one of
the few countries in the world that voted a woman into office as prime
minister, the majority of our female population is still disenfranchised.
Some women holding mainstream roles in
Pakistan are doing no less better than their male counterparts; and some of
them have outperformed their male peers. The recently appointed chairperson of
Ogra,. Uzma Adil Khan, has completely turned around a previously dysfunctional
public authority. After her assuming office, a marked improvement in the work
environment of Ogra was witnessed. The public authority’s building which
previously looked like a deserted army bunker, is now resuscitated to a
contemporary workplace without incurring any major expense. Likewise, Ogra
officials are more disciplined now in terms of punctuality and other workplace
ethics, and a renewed sense of responsibility can be seen amongst them. The
overall efficiency of the public authority is improving significantly, and the
entire midstream and downstream oil and gas sector of Pakistan will eventually
benefit from the exuberant and coherent approach adopted by the newly appointed
chairperson of the regulatory authority.
Similarly, Dr Maleeha Lodhi, the permanent
representative of Pakistan to the UN has outperformed most of her male peers by
any rate. Her diplomatic acumen has not only served the cause of Kashmir but
also furthered the interests of Pakistan on many other fronts.
From the private sector, Jehan Ara,
president of the Pakistan Software Houses Association for IT & ITES is
running a Google-funded incubation space and is a staunch supporter of cyber
freedom and net neutrality.
In the same vein, many other women holding
mainstream positions are doing commendable work. That being said, a number of
mainstream roles assumed by women in Pakistan are still there to be taken up.
One of the major reasons behind women not
having assumed sufficient mainstream roles is the lack of a coherent and lucid
policy on women’s participation at the national level. Although some steps are
being taken in the right direction – such as legislation against harassment of
women – a more goal-driven and object-oriented approach is yet to be unveiled.
Empirical evidence suggests that economies
perform better when they have significant women’s participation. The state
alone cannot shoulder responsibility for this; every citizen has to appreciate
the role of women in all spheres of life in an individual capacity. This will
eventually benefit the economy on a national scale. Such a sense of appreciation
can only be nurtured by educating all of society.
Furthermore, our education system also
needs to be reformed so as to encapsulate the material significance of the
benefits of women’s participation. The social fabric of our society needs to
evolve in tandem with the changing requirements of the present day.
Military has a very unique association with
the political system of Pakistan. Perhaps this is the only country, or one of
the very few countries, in the world where such a love-hate relationship exists
between the armed forces and politicians. Though there is nothing wrong with
having the army’s defined role in the national policy-making process, in the
case of Pakistan, political involvement by the military has trespassed the
prescribed limits. It is also a reality that a majority of the prominent
political leaders of Pakistan came to power with direct or indirect support
from the army, also known as the ‘establishment’ in Pakistan’s political
If we analyse the political trends
prevalent in Pakistan over the past few decades, three major political patterns
regarding political-military relations are vividly visible. All three patterns
have been followed by the same political characters. The first pattern was
total acceptance of a military ruler and open support to the political role of
the army. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was very close to President Ayub Khan and he was
the first civilian to be the chief martial law administrator as well. Mian
Nawaz Sharif was very close to President Ziaul Haq and many of his critics even
say that he was brought into politics by the establishment. The present day
parliament of Pakistan comprises members who openly extended their full support
to President Musharraf but now they have changed their stance. However, with
the passage of time, trends of politics and democratic norms have changed
across the globe and the army’s involvement is now considered to be no less
than a curse. Because of these political developments at the national and
international level, the politics of Pakistan have taken a new turn and raising
one’s voice against dictatorship and military rule became the most marketable
political activity in the country.
Benazir Bhutto, in the post-Zia era,
floated and successfully used the slogan “democracy is the best revenge”
clearly against military dictatorship. Other politicians in Pakistan also
started to, slowly and gradually, dissociate themselves from the Pakistan army,
preaching that democracy was under threat from the military, which was
portrayed as a power-hungry institution that could at any time topple an
elected government and assume the leadership role. In the recent political
upheavals of the country, especially in the lawyers’ movement, suspicions
against expected interference from the military rose to such an extent that
General Kayani had to communicate his institution’s position in this regard
more than once to make it clear that democratic institutions would flourish
without any political involvement of the army. The present chief of the armed
forces, a focused soldier, has given the same message on different occasions in
his short tenure.
Ideally, this should have made the
advocates of democracy very happy but here the third pattern emerges, which is
the most interesting of all. This time, opposition leaders, except Imran Khan
who is fighting with pure political strength, have very carefully engineered
their fancy manoeuvres. Today, they want full support and tacit approval from
the army to destabilise the government. Some of the opposition leaders have
even gone to the extent of saying that the army, as a result of their
revolutionary tactics, will force the present government to resign and will set
up a caretaker government. This is essentially a three-pronged strategy where
the opposition wants political intervention by the army in order to throw out
the present government and set up a new system. At the same time they are
intimidating the present regime that has had the rough experience of
government-toppling military action in the past. Most interestingly, they want
to remain or at least appear to remain dissociated from the army.
Panama revelations have provided the
opposition parties a long awaited opportunity to hit for a six; and they have
recently filed a disqualification-reference against the Premier, perhaps with
an intention of another political misadventure. In the ultimate analysis, it
appears, on the face of it, that some of these vocal opposition leaders want a
situation to be created where the army is forced to act independently against
the government and provide them safe passage to the throne.
Without any doubt on the integrity and
commitment of the Pakistan army, I must say that politicians should stop using
army-ladder to reach the corridors of power and should rely on their own
political strength, letting the military focus on internal and external
challenges being faced by the country. The exercise of coaxing the military
into power politics, so far, has proved to be a source of embarrassment for the
armed forces and confusion for the people of Pakistan. In order to correct the
political system of Pakistan and restore the professional image of Pakistan’s
armed forces there is a need for the entire political culture of using the army
for political gains to be done away with. This is the only way in which we can
set up a democratic system with a clearly defined role for all institutions.
Amal and Zaytouna, a flotilla of two boats
with all-women crews and passengers, set sail from Barcelona en route to
besieged Gaza in another maritime attempt to break Israel’s illegal blockade on
the tiny strip of Palestinian coastal territory.
This is a place where 1.7 million
Palestinians have been locked for nearly a decade in what many describe as the
“world’s largest open air prison”, a human laboratory that Israel uses
periodically to test its weapons.
As with previous civilian voyages to Gaza,
these boats are carrying prominent international figures who hope to use their
stature to focus international attention on continuing Israeli crimes against
There are 11 women in each boat, including
Malin Bjork, the European Parliament member, Mairead Maguire, the Nobel peace
laureate from Northern Ireland, Fouzia Hassan, a doctor from Malaysia, and
retired US army colonel Ann Wright.
There have been more than two dozen such
voyages since 2008, with only five actually making it to Gaza. The rest have
been intercepted by the Israeli military, which often confiscates the boats and
other equipment, and arrests passengers.
And while the boats do often carry aid,
including medical, building and educational supplies, organisers regard these
costly and risky endeavours as largely symbolic.
It is perhaps difficult to see the real and
material impact of international activists setting sail to try to visit Gaza,
only to be intercepted, arrested and deported. But the significance of these
endeavours becomes apparent when viewed in the wider context of popular
movements taking root around the world.
One of the most visible current examples is
happening in North Dakota. As the Women’s Boat makes its way to Palestine, an
epic battle is being waged by the Standing Rock Sioux nation to halt
construction of an oil pipeline that threatens the integrity of their land and
As in the case of Standing Rock, such immediate
coalescing of leftist movements in common cause has been a powerful
reinforcement to the Palestinian struggle against Israel’s settler colonialism.
Further, the traditional response of power - namely, the use of violence - has
For example, when Israel boarded and
attacked the Gaza Flotilla in 2010, killing 10 unarmed passengers, the Free
Gaza movement was flooded with requests from around the world to join their
Overnight, the coalition grew from six to
20 organisations, including groups from Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain
Predictably, power - whether corporate,
state, or both - has thus turned its attention to preventing the dissemination
One of the most powerful tools available to
activists recently has been the relative ease in accessing news that bypasses
traditional gatekeepers of information, such as mainstream newspaper editors
and corporate television producers. Social media, independent news outlets, and
citizen journalists have effective forums of communication with the world.
The theft of Palestine and destruction of
its native society is the world’s last vestige of settler-colonialism. It is
the link between that ignominious era and contemporary neoliberal destruction
of life, lucrative war-making and wholesale destruction of our planet for the
profit of few.
The women on the Amal and Zaytouna are
mostly from powerful nations, or at least stable ones. They are using their
privilege and access to resources in the best possible way: to lend solidarity
with the struggle of a besieged people and to help forge a new concept of