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Monthly Archives: September 2014

Imran Khan’s Followers — His Weakness or His Strength?

Posted: 09/09/2014 5:00 pm EDT Updated: 09/10/2014 12:59 pm EDT
FARAHNAZ ZAHIDI

Pakistan’s political frenzy is continuing as the world looks on. It is almost a month since the wave of protests began in Pakistan’s Federal Capital Islamabad. Thousands have left their homes at the call of Pakistan’s most popular political figure, Imran Khan, and the relatively progressive cleric Dr. Tahirul Qadri. The demonstrators have camped outside the Prime Minister House and Pakistan National Assembly, demanding their voices be heard. The protests are in essence against Pakistan Muslim League-N’s elected government and the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who both Khan’s party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awaami Tehreek (PAT) wish to oust. Their reasons differ, but the end goal of both parties seems the same: “Go Nawaz Go” is the resounding chant in Islamabad, reverberating across Pakistan. Whether Sharif goes or not remains to be seen, as for now, democratic forces have saved him from a forced resignation. Khan and his followers believe that Sharif came into power through heavily rigged elections, and so it is not a democratically elected government in principle. Evidence supports Khan’s claims, but heated debates continue whether democracy should be “derailed” or should Sharif be allowed to complete his term.

Through it all, Khan, already the nation’s “national hero” has emerged as a populist leader. Cricketer and philanthropist, Khan is undoubtedly one of the most followed leaders Pakistan has seen. His integrity because of his past record is unquestioned. Pakistan’s disgruntled masses love him even more for being non-political and non-dynastic. Khan’ s charismatic good looks and his image as one who leads from the front has added to it. He gives his supporters the much-needed hope of freedom from the clutches of dynastic politics, nepotism and corruption. His followers believe he will eventually be the prime minister of Pakistan and solve all of Pakistan’s problems and create a just, fair and secure Pakistan, which he calls the Naya (new) Pakistan.

It is natural then that parables are drawn between Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Khan. Bhutto was a revolutionary and mobilized Pakistan’s masses politically. His daughter, Benazir Bhutto (BB), carried the torch of democracy after her father was assassinated, and was eventually killed at the hands of extremists. Yet their political party, the PPP (Pakistan People’s Party) remains a major political force in the country.

While the mass appeal is similar, Bhutto and Khan have many differences. If the Bhuttos were leftist in their ideology, Khan is considered right off centre. His ideology, his background and his political prowess differ from the Bhuttos. But there are, ironically, jarring similarities.

Let us take a look at Bhutto. Some 35 years later, Pakistanis still remember Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in an awe-struck manner. They never got over Bhutto, whether they agreed with him or not. Bhutto was charismatic, a visionary, one of the proverbial leaders who “come along in centuries”. He connected to the awaam (masses) and his voice resonated with them. His manifesto addressed the pains of the people. He seemed God sent. The way he was snatched away from this country made him an even bigger hero. And Bhutto is that point in the history of Pakistan where the Jiyalas (staunch loyalists) were born. Infact, the term so effectively described the state of mind of Bhutto’s followers that the word became synonymous with his loyalists. His were a breed of loyalists who were ready to protect their leader and to die for him because they believed in him blindly. Rich and poor, urban and rural, illiterate and from the intelligentsia, these loyalists were varied in many ways but common in their reverence for Bhutto.

Till this point, it was all good, and natural. Except for one thing. These staunch supporters, somewhere, left their sense of judgment buried behind their admiration for the messiah. The purpose and the vision of democracy and equal rights to all citizens of Pakistan became packaged in one and only one package. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Without him, they were lost.

Fortunately for Pakistan, the reigns of the PPP were taken over by the defiant, strong, politically groomed and well-meaning BB as her father’s political heir. The military dictator General Ziaul Haq’s era of oppression and the fact that BB was a woman fighting a dictator further brought out the protectiveness in people. What came out of it was not just a belief in Bhutto’s ideology, but also a belief in the Bhutto dynasty being saviors and almost infallible. They, and not the vision, became the focus.
Sadly, this is what was exploited by those with hidden agendas. Absolute adulation corrupts. This is what many good leaders have fallen prey to in human history. Their followers stopped seeing their leaders’ shortcomings. What remained of a brilliant ideology were slogans and a reactionary brand of personality-worship.

BB’s widower Asif Ali Zardari made an entrance as a non-Bhutto yet the closest in line after BB. He may have successfully completed five years of a democratically elected government, and is today being lauded for his political wisdom, yet his very advent into politics was dependent on this unquestioned adulation. BB’s son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is the coveted political heir of the dynasty, ultimately expected to take over, whether he is deserving or not.

Let us come back to Imran Khan. People either follow him with absolute conviction or are against his fiery, often agitational brand of politics. But undisputedly, Khan’s biggest strength, like the Bhuttos, is supporters who are ready to lay down their lives for him. They believe in his sincerity of intention and his integrity when it comes to money matters. He has proven his persistence. And he is the one man who has the guts to challenge the status quo to the point of dismantling it. This is all good and all true.

However, the flip side is that the pitfall is ironically the same as what the Bhuttos faced. While the PTI is a completely non-violent party, members are known be hasty and reactionary if anything against Khan is pointed out.

As one who believes that Khan is well-meaning and can do a lot for Pakistan, the one thing I wish I can say to him would be, “O captain, my captain, the last thing you need is blind following. What you do need is a sincere following.”

The state of mind being pointed out here is not just limited to followers of Bhuttos or Khan. We see the same in other political parties in Pakistan as well, where a hushed silence ensues when the leader speaks, and there is no allowance for disagreement with the leaders who are seen as saints. Till now Khan has done well, because his followers love him despite knowing his shortcomings. The “human-ness” owing to these shortcomings either increases people in his love or his opposition.

For Khan, it is just the beginning. While he does need the sincere support of his followers, he needs, as a part of that sincerity, that they point out where he goes wrong. He needs to develop a culture in his party where the people who are his support are tenacious enough to stand by him, but awake enough to alert him to his mistakes. This will help Khan be the change he promises. A welcome fact is that Khan has repeatedly said that if hypothetically he were to be Pakistan’s prime minister, he would want that his faults be pointed out. Will that actually happen remains to be seen.

The hope is that the great Khan remains under check and balance. Only then we can hope for great things from him. Otherwise, it will be de ja vu all over again, where a good leader would fall prey to being idolized.

“I was raped hundreds of times, by the man I was married to”

Published: September 10, 2014

It has taken her years to even be able to talk about this. For the longest time, she was exisiting in a zombie-like state of mind. PHOTO: REUTERS

That phase of her life ended three years ago with her divorce, but 35-year-old Naila* will never be healed of what she went through during the nine years of her marriage. This is a true story; the true story of a woman who suffered a plight faced by so many women. Sadly, the crime committed against them is not even considered a crime.

“Every time my husband approached me, it was sheer torture. Sometimes physical, and forever mental and emotional torture. He was physically brutal and wanted me to indulge in behaviour I was not okay with. He never cared about what I wanted or needed. He did not care about whether I was unwell or pregnant or had recently given birth to a child,” says Naila.

It has taken her years to even be able to talk about this. For the longest time, she was existing in a zombie-like state of mind.

While laws to punish perpetrators of rape have seen considerable headway in Pakistan, how does one even begin to talk about an act that is not even seen as something despicable, leave alone a crime? Talking to even educated people makes one realise that most Pakistanis, even women, do not recognise it as something that should even be discussed openly.

Naila tried to talk to her family about her plight many a times,

“They thought something was wrong with me. ‘You have to fulfil his needs. He has a right over you. Besides, your three sons will suffer. Think of them’, is what they’d say every time. So many times, I wanted to say ‘but what about my rights?’ but did not have the courage. When something is packaged in social norms and misunderstood religious ethics, one is conditioned into staying silent even in the face of pain and suffering.”

When asked if Pakistani law recognises marital rape as a crime, Maliha Zia Lari, lawyer and women’s rights activist, explains that earlier the law described rape as a crime committed by a man against a woman other than his wife. Lari says:

“In 2007, the part that said ‘other than his wife’ was removed. That technically means that the statute has changed. However to the best of my knowledge no cases have been reported”.

In her opinion, it all boils down to social bias, stress on women in particular when it comes to conjugal rights, and the fact that marital rape is not even seen as a crime,

“There is so much silence around the issue”.

Naila’s saviours came in the form of some friends who made her realise that religion neither condoned nor allowed a man to be physically cruel to his wife, even when it came to spousal physical rights.

“I began to study and talk about it with people who had knowledge, and realised I was being wronged. I realised that just like I am not allowed to cause harm to others, it is also a sin to allow someone else to harm me. Allowing a man to physically hurt you and treat you like an object with no feelings is not piety,” she says.

The change took long. The process took even longer. The first person who needed to understand that this was wrong was Naila herself. The most difficult part was making the decision, because her husband was not a habitual wife-beater, yet was often violent when it came to the area of physical intimacy. But Naila finally struggled her way out.

According to barrister Asker Husain who practices law in the UK, those from the civil society or human rights’ camps should not be disheartened if social change is not swift.

“In England, marital rape wasn’t recognised as an offence until 1991, and it took a very long time and much effort to change centuries’ old thinking that somehow the act of marriage was tantamount to the woman ‘consenting’ to everything,” says Husain, adding that even in the UK, that there aren’t many marital rape prosecutions.

“There are a number of reasons for this. Sometimes it’s simply because the wife doesn’t want to bring a case against the man she loves and/or is the father of her children, or reasons like economic dependency. It’s also very difficult for the prosecution to establish the absence of consent. But evidential issues are faced in other arenas too and are not unique to marital rape.”

Seeing stories like Naila, one is forced to wonder whether what Bertrand Russell wrote in 1929 in his book ‘Marriage and Morals’ still holds true. Russell had said that,

“Marriage is for women the commonest mode of livelihood, and the total amount of undesired sex endured by women is probably greater in marriage than in prostitution.”

Whether one gives the act the tag name of ‘marital rape’, or chooses to call it by a milder name to avoid severe reactions from certain quarters, the fact remains that use of force and violence, and lack of consideration of the wife’s feelings is something unacceptable, both religiously and ethically.

Change takes time. For change, all segments of society must be slowly brought on board, including the men. For this, baby steps would have to be taken. And the first step is to break the silence around the issue.

Change may take decades, but the process must start.

*Name and certain details have been changed to protect this person’s identity

Success stories: From Balochistan to Karachi: Sewing lives back together

Zarmina and Bakhtawar display the dresses they have made. PHOTO: FARAHNAZ ZAHIDI/EXPRESS

Whenever a well-dressed woman appears on television, Sohrab Khan Marri calls out loudly to his daughters Uzma and Sanam. “Look. This is the latest design. You can make something like this for your clients,” he says.

A year ago, the environment in this house in Quetta was very different. While Marri and his wife are educated people and allowed their girls to get an education, working outside the home was taboo for women in their family. All that changed after the two sisters stepped out of their comfort zone and travelled to Karachi to attend a six month-long fashion design course, introduced by Institute for Development Studies and Practices (IDSP) to help empower young women from Balochistan. “Before the course, I did not know I had a purpose in life. Now life is so exciting! I have realized I have the power to be a role model for the women of my area. I now teach women at Darul Aman Quetta the same skills I learnt. I also try and build their confidence,” says Uzma. “All of the 20 girls who were chosen for the first batch are from Balochistan. We extend help to anyone who we feel is marginalised and is from vulnerable segments of society,” explains Asma Zafar, Manager Institutional Support at IDSP. Zafar is in charge of these projects, and shares that the second batch of girls will soon start the course. The young women come from communities across Balochistan but they have one thing in common: life has not been easy on them. Their problems are mostly an overlap of poverty, insecurity and violence. “There have been cases on Saryaab Road area in Quetta where acid was thrown on women simply because they ventured out of their homes to work,” says Zafar. According to her, if these women step out of their homes to work, the Pashtoon rikshaw drivers will not take a Baloch woman as a passenger, and vice versa, as they do not want to get involved with the responsibility of helping a woman from another community commute to work. “The girls come to us with social conditioning and ethnic bias at times. But the same girls who initially do not want to talk to each other have, by the end, become best friends,” says Zafar, explaining how the project also serves as a peace-building initiative. Zarina and Bakhtawar speak to each other in Dari when asked if Karachi has been the safe haven they hoped it would be. They are from the Shia Hazara community and migrated to Karachi from Quetta more than 15 years ago, in search of a more secure and comfortable life. But while Karachi has given them a lot, it has also taken away a significant amount. Zarina’s 32-year-old brother, along with two others, was shot earlier this year at Karachi’s Maskan Chowrangi just because he belonged to the Hazara community. “An FIR was lodged but there was no follow-up. My brother has left behind five children, a young wife and our parents,” says Zarina. A resident of Manghopir area, there are 18 family members in Zarina’s house. The ISDP provides these girls with the basic materials they need for the course, like fabric. The profit is shared on a 50-50 basis between the girls and IDSP. In addition the girls are paid separately for the hard work they put in. To help girls like herself, Zarina is teaching 10 girls in her neighbourhood. “I charge them Rs200 each and earn about Rs2000 a month from that too. Recently, a supporter of the organization internationally exhibited the clothes designed by these girls and sold them. “We are taught everything, right from sketching, drafting, cutting and stitching,” says Zarina. What is most interesting is how these girls, in this women-friendly space, learn each other’s traditional stitches specific to the culture of each community. Zarina, for instance, displays very fine embroidery done in the Qibtimaar stitch, typical to the Hazara community. The course includes more than just fashion design. The girls are taught basic skills like oral hygiene and self-grooming techniques. “The first girl from a family comes to us with a lot of difficulty. But once they start earning, the male family members also come on board. The entire family transforms. But this is done one girl at a time,” says Zafar. Uzma adds, “I think we have succeeded in opening a small door to opportunity for the other girls of my family.” Published in The Express Tribune, September 12th, 2014.

Reproductive health: ‘Healthy mothers mean a healthy nation’

Published: September 12, 2014

Research shows that when a mother dies, the children that are left behind are more likely to grow into adults with psychological issues. PHOTO: SHIRKATGAH

KARACHI: If you ask me what the government is doing about maternal and reproductive health of women and family planning, my answer will be ‘nothing’, said Planning Commission of Pakistan population section chief Shahzad Malik.

Malik – along with members of provincial assemblies, government officials, gender activists and members of civil society – said this at an event held at the Beach Luxury hotel on Wednesday. Organised by the Shirkatgah Women’s Resource Centre, ‘Next Steps: Achieving universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights through a coherent post-2015 framework’ was a national consultation with stakeholders.

The discourse remains relevant as ever, with an estimated 30,000 women dying every year due to birth-related mishaps. While Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) in Pakistan may have improved – dropping from 490 in 1990 to 260 in 2010 – a lot still needs to be done. MMR is the number of women per 100,000 live births who die of pregnancy and childbirth related complications. A staggering number of abortions – somewhere between 800,000 and 900,000 – are carried out in Pakistan every year, and most of them classified as unsafe abortions. Lack of contraceptive facilities and absence of timely family planning are the major reasons, as most women getting abortions are married women getting rid of an unwanted pregnancy.

Representatives from each province shared their experiences and problems. Balochistan’s representation was sorely missing as the speakers could not make it to the event. However, some jarring issues came to the fore in the discussions, such as the fact pointed out by moderator Imran Shirvanee. “Only two political parties bothered to talk to health experts when designing the public health manifesto, before the 2013 general elections,” said Shirvanee, refusing to divulge the names of the parties.

Punjab MPA Dr Najma Afzal Khan shared information about positive reproductive health initiatives and headways made in the province of Punjab. “The Punjab chief minister is committed to improving maternal health,” she said.

“In Punjab, there has definitely been progress,” said Dr Zafar Ikram, provincial coordinator of the Maternal, Neo-natal and Child Health Programme, Punjab. “However, problems such as unmet need of family planning methods persist. Gestational diabetes is on the rise and there is hardly any emphasis on post-menopausal cancer.”

The problems in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP), as pointed out by MPA Arshad Umerzai, are mostly to do with the security situation. “Also, while the policies of the provincial government in KP may be commendable, a lack of coordination and strained relations between the federal and provincial governments hinders progress.”

Issues related to governance and social and demographic dynamics were also discussed, and recommendations were made to improve the situation. Some of the problems pertaining to funding owe to the confusion that still exists between provincial and the federal governments after the 18th Amendment.

As the participants pointed out, it is time for maternal health to be taken seriously, especially since research shows that when a mother dies, the children that are left behind are more likely to grow into adults with psychological issues. Such issues, experts shared, are likely to fall into extremist behaviour as well.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 12th, 2014.

One month later: Remembering the drowned

Published: September 5, 2014

Sixteen-year-old Omar Zaib was one of the 40 who drowned at Seaview on July 30. For his family, the pain is still fresh, even though the tragedy is no longer in the news. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS

Sixteen-year-old Omar Zaib was one of the 40 who drowned at Seaview on July 30. For his family, the pain is still fresh, even though the tragedy is no longer in the news. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESSSixteen-year-old Omar Zaib was one of the 40 who drowned at Seaview on July 30. For his family, the pain is still fresh, even though the tragedy is no longer in the news. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS
KARACHI: He left home to celebrate Eidul Fitr with five of his friends. Three of them never came back.

Sixteen-year-old Omar Zaib was one of the 40 who drowned at Seaview on July 30. For his family, the pain is still fresh, even though the tragedy is no longer in the news.

“He was very talented and used to work as a skilled helper for jewellers to help support our family,” says Omar’s grieving brother Fazal Kareem, asking despairingly, “How do you console a mother who has lost a young son?”

The police are initially unwilling to share the list of the names and ages of those who drowned. But a look at this list makes the tragedy hit the reader harder. Ayaz, 13, son of Sawali Khan. Amir, son of Umar Illahi, aged 15. Fourteen-year-old Ejaz Ahmed, son of Ali Zaman. A mere glance shows you who would flock to the turbulent seas even in the high tide of the monsoon season. They were all between 13 to 27 years old. They were all young men. They were residents of Sohrab Goth, Baldia Town, Orangi Town and Bhains Colony.

https://i0.wp.com/i1.tribune.com.pk/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/seaview-memorial-drown-drowning-marker-graves-photo-athar-khan.jpg

With few options for entertainment for the recreation-starved public, the trend of taking to the sea will continue. “We see high risk-taking behaviour in this age group, because they have excess energy and not many responsibilities,” says clinical psychologist Sarah Jafry, who works with adolescents at War Against Rape. “If we cannot provide them with healthy outlets, seeking thrills even at the risk of life will continue, and even after seeing bad examples, young men will not be able to resist the urge.”

While Karachi commissioner Shoaib Siddiqui says that most of the beach has now been reopened, the public trying to visit it says otherwise. Anwar Bhutto, the duty officer at Darakhshan Police Station, confirms that Section 144 had been imposed for 90 days and the beach remains off-limits. Siddiqui, however, maintains that only the area behind Dolmen Mall is closed. “This is because it is reclaimed land and we have suspicions about dredging and depression in that area,” he says, adding that there should be evaluations about how construction near the beach might enhance risks.

Most of the bodies of the drowned were found on the same day, but it took three days to recover Omar’s body. “We kept trying to console and pacify the relatives until the bodies were found,” says Anwar Kazmi of the Edhi Foundation. “Some of them were recovered from distant areas such as Manora and Keamari.”

Omar’s family, and the families of the others who drowned, still await monetary compensation. Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah promised them Rs0.2 million, while Malik Riaz pledged Rs1 million.

“I cannot comment on why Riaz has not given the money he promised,” says Siddiqui. “As for the sum promised by the CM, the cases have been sent to the Relief Commissioner and hopefully the families will get the money soon.” He added that they should call 1299 to follow up on it.

“We have always honoured our social welfare commitments,” says Bahria Town’s marketing manager Nida Zahoor, when asked about Riaz’s pledge. “We are only waiting for the list of the deceased from the Sindh Governor.”

Meanwhile, Kareem, whose family is from Buner in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and now resides in the Boulton Market area, has only this to say: “We are poor people. We could use that money to marry off our sisters. But we have no hope.”

Published in The Express Tribune, September 5th, 2014.

Can an older woman marry a younger man in Pakistan?

Published: August 31, 2014

While those considerations are not entirely unfounded, they seem rather fickle when compared with more substantial things like chemistry, understanding and a shared vision. PHOTO: FILE

“I got a very nice proposal,” said a friend who was at a stage in life where she wanted to settle down in marriage.

“But there is an issue. I am 31. And he is 26. I am five years older. I really like him but my mom says that in another five years mein uski maa lagoon gi (I will look like his mother). I will have to say no,” she said with resigned acceptance.

But fate had other plans.

The “boy” liked the “woman” very seriously it seemed. He pursued her. Her heart relented. They got married and are now in the seventh year of their marriage. Her hair has begun to show scattered touches of salt and pepper and her husband recently asked what she would like to do on her 40th birthday so that he can start saving up. Remember, he is still just in his early 30s.

But it was not an easy ride for her. It is not an easy ride for anyone who wants to break any social stigma. The age difference issue is definitely almost a stigma. Most of us have an unsaid but set idea about how much the ideal age difference should be. But an attitude of categorically judging the prospect of partnership with someone years apart seems problematic to even the very broad-minded ones.

I had once asked a friend if the man she liked was someone we both knew; someone who was eight years older to her.

“Disgusting! How can you even ask me that?” was her response, her face showing she was genuinely disturbed at the idea.

When we like or choose someone as a life partner, what inevitably comes up is the social conditioning that we are subconsciously exposed to all our lives. Even people who are thought of as pragmatic and are led by their head, not heart, are influenced by a fantasy they nurse inside themselves. Conversations on family dining tables, Bollywood movies, observations, attending wedding ceremonies, things friends say…  it could be anything that carves an image in our head. We have already created a rough sketch of that person with a brief bio data in our heads.

But in isolated cases, the brave ones think outside the box and sometimes make exceptions, like the couple I mentioned. Sometimes these risks work out, otherwise not. With marriage one never knows. But it is important to realise that there is so much to a person that makes him or her “the” person, that in some areas one has to readjust one’s fantasies.

I will on purpose avoid the word ‘compromise’ because that word has a negative ring to it. Maybe you are making an informed decision that this person works for you. Maybe you had a taller person in mind… or a person from the same profession as you… or from a certain ethnicity. But then someone special comes along and challenges everything you believed in and you are even willing to take chances you never thought you would because it… well… it just feels right. And this could be true for both arranged or love marriages.

“Marry someone four years older than you beta” is what an aunty was caught saying to a 17-year-old. “That is ideal age difference. He would have already completed his education and would have a job by the time you complete your undergrad. And bachi, you have a tendency to gain weight, so never marry someone your own age.”

While those considerations are not entirely unfounded, they seem rather fickle when compared with more substantial things like chemistry, understanding and a shared vision.

It is also important to think and talk about this issue because in most cases, the brunt of the age difference is born by the woman. She feels guilty for no reason and the man whom she may be equal to or may be better than on many counts, becomes this hero because he gave the ultimate sacrifice of marrying “apnay se baray umar ki aurat” (a woman older than himself). If she is also divorced and widowed with children, then he is lauded for being azeem (great).

What actually matters in the end is what both of you are bringing to the table when it comes to the combination. We see perfect matches failing and we see the most unexpected relationships working out fabulously. Humans are beautiful and complex creatures. No one formula works for anyone.

The end hope is that two people planning to spend the rest of their lives together have a predominantly happy life. That they are attracted to each other, enjoy each other’s company, have a strong connection, have similar values in life, are supportive and respectful, and have figured out a way to lovingly work out their differences.

It is shallow and fickle to ignore these bigger factors and focus on things like age, physical features or ethnicity. Society needs to take a back seat and stop with the endless commentaries, as these put an unnecessary pressure on a relationship. If miyaan biwi raazi, then others don’t matter.