A crumbling megapolis - I
Two events have shaken Pakistan. The first and the most important, the spontaneous and unprecedented countrywide uprising of people sickened to the core by the carnage against Shias being repeated across the country and eventually resulting in the death of about 100 Hazaras, and the decision of the relatives of the victims to sit in on freezing Quetta roads in protest forcing the prime minister to visit the city and accept their demands while the now-sacked chief minister was in the UK.
The other event was the sudden descent of a latter-day saint entrusted with the job of leading the nation somewhere while remaining encased in a bullet proof container. As his deadlines were repeatedly extended, I was not quite sure if even he knew what his entire agenda was. That may be the most significant aspect of what seems to be becoming a Farce Majeure.
Perhaps reading an impending 'Bastille Day' situation in the not-too-distant future, all the staunchest upholders of democracy scrambled to gather in force in the Raiwind palace. As I write these lines, these 40 odd people fill the TV screens across every news channel. From Fazlur Rehman to a now ascetic looking Mustapha Khar, all were united in their concern for democracy - as most have always beneficially known it, irrespective of and through every military or civilian occupation in the past 50 odd years - being threatened.
Concerned with how I would reach home since Karachi's major roads are jammed and under fire and the city yet again under siege for or against the prime minister, I flipped channels hoping one would tell us the ground situation in this once wonderful city that pays the most taxes for nothing, pays the most bhatta for survival, is nearly permanently under siege, is the battle ground for turf wars between political parties, has the highest national death toll, and is almost permanently dark in every sense of the word.
But the fate of Karachi and its citizenry was irrelevant to our media moguls. It was a nearly tearful Nawaz alternating with a nearly apoplectic Qadri.
The bile in my throat continues to rise as I and thousands of other fearful citizens brave the jammed roads trying to get to wherever we need to alive and in one, frayed, piece.
Dr Mervyn Hosein,
A crumbling megapolis - II
Every time Pakistan's economic hub Karachi faces a strike, the media reports a loss of billions of rupees in lost revenue. Recently, the metropolitan city saw a complete shut-down, after which Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Haroon Agar said in a statement published in an English newspaper that up to Rs 4 billion were lost in trade, including imports and exports, government revenues, and daily productions. The people of the city are directly affected by these losses. The hundreds of thousands of daily wages workers in Karachi suffer the most.
There are up to 15 days of strike in Karachi in a year. That means a total loss of about Rs 50 billion. This is no small amount.
All this money can be saved if the police performs its duties in Karachi. If the motorway can be protected by an honest and professional force, then Karachi too can be protected by a well-trained police force with good salaries.
A crumbling megapolis - III
As Karachi came to another sad standstill over the killing of an MQM lawmaker, all political forces that are anxiously waiting for the coming elections are worried.
The city has been in the grip of all sorts of violence for the last 25 years. MQM appeared as a strong and mainstream representative of urban middle classes of Karachi in 1987 for the first time in their sweeping victory in local body elections. Since then they have largely dominated the city politics with little challenge from other political forces. Dominance of MQM meant the end of an era of the city's political support to right leaning forces.
Political meetings of the secular progressive MQM always began with political slogans combined with music of political nature from late 80s to all through the 90s. In all those years, right wing forces were opening seminaries and embarking upon active religious activism through public gatherings and mass campaigns of reaching out to people belonging to all walks of life.
Twenty five years ago there were hardly any religious seminaries in MQM dominated localities but today you find strings of seminaries of all sizes and schools of thought producing entire generations of right leaning men and women.
The MQM has also tried to keep pace with this change by putting a lot of religious rhetoric into their public meetings in the last few years but it seems the party is struggling to keep pace with the radicalization in the biggest Pakistani city.
Recent attacks on MQM from ultra-right forces must have rung bells for all the liberal forces in Karachi. It will be a big challenge for the MQM to not only retain their political position but to ensure that they don't lose their base to the fast advancing institutional radicalism in a city which has so far been the citadel of whatever is left of liberalism in Pakistan.
Get the ball rolling
The Pakistan cricket team has travelled to South Africa to play three Test matches, five One Day Internationals, and two Twenty20 Internationals. The series will start with the Test matches. The first match will be played on 1st February at New Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg.
Pakistan has played 18 Test matches against South Africa so far, of which it has won three, lost eight, and seven were drawn.
Pakistan played its first series against South Africa in 1994/95. It was a one Test match series which was won by South Africa. Pakistan hosted South Africa in 1997/98, 2003/04 and 2007/08. It won the two-match series in 2003/04, whereas South Africa won in 1997/98 and 2007/08.
Pakistan and South Africa also played a series at the neutral venue of United Arab Emirates in 2010/11 which was drawn. Pakistan visited South Africa in 1997/98, 2002/03 and 2006/07, losing two series and drawing one. Pakistan has not been able to win a Test series in South Africa so far.
The Misbah XI have an opportunity to change history, but we must remember that South Africa are ranked number one in the ICC Test rankings. Pakistan defeated England, when it was number one, in a series played in the UAE in which Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman played a vital role.
The upcoming series will be played on fast pitches, and Pakistani fast bowlers Umar Gul, Junaid Khan and Mohammad Irfan will have to perform extraordinarily to take Pakistan to the victory stand.
All that has been happening on the political front in the country in the last six months leaves everyone totally confused. Widespread speculations vis-a-vis the rapidly changing political scenario add to this growing confusion. People are at a loss to understand which political group they should believe in.
With national elections fast approaching, all of them seem to be harping the same tune. They are making tall claims of bringing about the much needed 'change' that this country so badly needs. They are also talking about empowering the electorate of this country who actually possess the power to put people in positions of authority to govern.
These political groups are also making big promises to the people of Pakistan to fulfill all their basic needs of life (food, shelter, education, health, employment etc) as enshrined in the constitution. Bringing progress and prosperity to the country and the nation, and making Pakistan stand out in the comity of respected and developed nations of the world are some other important commitments these political parties are making to the people.
Undeniably, whatever they are saying or promising are issues that have always been central to the interest of this nation. The fact of the matter is that such commitments were also made by every government that was elected to power by the masses in the past. Unfortunately, however, none of them made any sincere effort to fulfill them. Had they been sincere, today's Pakistan would have been a different Pakistan. It would have been the Pakistan that was envisioned by its founding father Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
The best and the only way for the people to ensure that they are not deceived once again is to exercise their right to vote judiciously.
M Fazal Elahi,
A lot has been written and said on the Hazara killings in Balochistan in recent times. The Hazara claim that they have lost more than 1,000 people in the last eight to ten years. Many have migrated to other countries, including Australia, the country I live in. I interact with them on a daily basis and have noticed that they are a sophisticated people, culturally and religiously very close to some Afghans and Iranians because of their historical links. It is sad that they have become a soft target in Pakistan in recent times. The reason for that is also obvious.
After the military takeover of Gen Ziaul Haq, the Pakistani state adopted the path of Islamization, which turned the country into an exclusive state. Balochistan has traditionally been a province of fiefdoms and the state has never been functioning there in full force like in other parts of the country. There have been A areas and B areas with nominal state writ. There have been two groups of Baloch leaders - the pro-establishment Sardars and the anti-establishment Sardars. In the 1980s, the state established a web of religious seminaries in the province, particularly in the areas of the pro-establishment Sardars. It was part of an effort to neutralize the centrifugal trends among the masses. Since a majority of the population followed Sufi inspired inclusive Islam, the only anti-thesis to that was a militant Salafi version.
Similar efforts were made in interior Sindh as well, but the ethnic groups fought back, strengthening the Sufi inspired Islam. It is actually the fear of backlash from strong Sindhi ethnic forces that has kept far right forces in check in rural Sindh.
The policy has now taken roots in Balochistan and has fractured the Pakistani society to almost an irreparable extent. The anti-pluralist orthodox rightwing forces have gained so much power that these forces are now putting their agenda in practice. It may be pleasing for some elements inside the establishment but in reality it is suicidal for Pakistan.
Atif Mahmood Majoka,
The deprived people of Balochistan suffered at the hands of terrorists yet again earlier this month, when more than 90 people belonging to the Shia Hazara community became victims of a terrorist attack.
When this carnage took place, Balochistan chief minister Nawab Aslam Raisani was in the United Kingdom. He did not even condemn this act of barbarianism and said that he was not responsible for law and order in the province. Referring to the Hazara community's sit in, the chief minister said if those people were so upset he could send them tissue papers to wipe their tears. Had this kind of statement been given by an official in another country, he would have been forced to resign.
This reminds me of what happened in Rome. The city burned down while its emperor Nero was busy playing flute.