New Age Islam Edit Bureau
24 May 2018
Challenging the Gun Culture in Pakistan
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
By Kamila Hyat
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 of us.
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 Islamabad.
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 public places.
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.
Combating Transnational Militancy
By Dr Zafar Nawaz Jaspal
May 24, 2018
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 terrorism.
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) reorganized TTP.
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.
Follow the River
May 24, 2018
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.
Imran Khan’s 100 Days
By Khurram Husain
May 24, 2018
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 five years?
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 privatisation.
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 sahab imagines.
Two Steps Forward?
By Mahir Ali
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 different countries.
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 victim.
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 replacement.
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
By I.A. Rehman
May 24, 2018
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 therefore welcome.
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 democratic order.
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 leaders kept.
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.
Our Youth Challenge
By Nadir Nabil Gabol
May 24, 2018
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 meaningful engagement.
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 classes.
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 and development.
A Faustian Bargain
By Ben Debney
May 24, 2018
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 be okay…
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