27th September each year is celebrated since 1980 as the World Tourism Day under the auspices of United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). The purpose of this day is to raise awareness on the role of tourism within the international community and to demonstrate how it affects social, cultural, political and economic values worldwide. This year the theme for the day is “Tourism –Celebrating Biodiversity.” Official celebrations will be hosted by China on 27 September, with many other events taking place around the world, including the 30th anniversary celebration of the establishment of the UNWTO.

The theme selected for this year would help focus on the world’s cultural wealth and role of the tourism industry in revitalizing local traditions and making them flourish as these cross other cultures. The local customs and traditions are generally reflective in the languages, food, architecture, religion, attire and even the natural environment.

Like all other countries, the culture and traditions of Pakistan are unique, attractive and awe inspiring. These are a fine blend of our millennium old cultural heritage stemming from the Mehrgarh Civilization, which as old as 9000-7000 BC, and the following Moenjodaro, Kot diji, Taxila and Gandhara civilizations. With the arrival of Islam in the 7th century and the incursions from the North by the Mongols, Turks, Afghans and the Moguls, Pakistan has become a showcase window of the cumulative effect of all these civilizations, religion and empires.

The city of Lahore is rich in its cultural heritage while remains of Mehrgarh (Balochistan), Moenjodaro and Kot Diji (Sind), Taxila and Harrapa (Punjab) and Rehman Dheri and Buddhist remains (Khyber Pakhtunkwa) provide an insight into our rich cultural heritage. The customs and traditions of Pakistan are diverse in nature and each province has its own peculiar traditions that are found in their way of life, food, languages, music, festivals and literature.

Pakistan is also a haven of natural wonders and landscapes. From the snow covered pinnacles of the north, that include the K2 (the second highest mountain after Mt Everest) and many other peaks that top in the world listing, lakes with picturesque view. The lush green Deosai Plains are the highest plains in the world. Punjab offers vast green pastures, while Sind and Balochistan have wide tracts of desert and semi desert terrain. Near Ziarat (Balochistan) one finds the second largest Juniper Forest of the world with trees as old as 5000-7000 years. The Arabian Sea that skirts the 1200 kilometres coastline of Pakistan along Balochistan dn Sind provinces is home to still virgin beaches. The mangrove forests in Sind are unique in the world.

Pakistan is also home to some of the endangered species like the Snow Leopard, the Marco polo Sheep, Markhor, Hooubara Bustard, the Himalayan Brown Bears and the Blind Indus Dolphins. Besides Pakistan attracts millions of migratory birds from around the world each year in search of warm waters to its countless wetlands and lakes and is an ideal place for the bird watchers.

The people of Pakistan are extremely simple, hearty and hospitable. Those who venture out to Pakistan carry back pleasant memories of love and care by their Pakistani hosts. It’s fun to be in Pakistan, despite many misconceptions.

Related Reading: Pakistanpaedia (the mini pedia of Pakistan)

Workplace Wellness – World Heart Day 2010

The theme for Word Heart Day this year was something that is needed the year round: Workplace Wellness. We bring home an ailing heart form our workplaces where pressures, intensity of work, bullying by bosses and intrigues by colleagues make people sick, morose and pulled down. The depressive tendencies finally take a toll of our heart and add to lifelong miseries. The theme of 2010 thus aimed at promoting better behaviours at our workplaces to prevent or at least reduce chances of a stroke or depression that may lead to a stroke.

It is our collective responsibility to ensure that we provide congenial work environment to our colleagues and subordinates. And if one happens to be the CEO, then his responsibility to enforce a healthy work framework in his organization so that subordinates do not take a heavy heart back home. As a sick workplace not only affects the overall working environment of the organization but the productivity as well. It also affects the families back home and ultimately adds to an unhealthy society.

We need to help each other, providing a helping hand whenever we can. We need to reach out to people finding it difficult to cope with the intensity of work and try helping them in carrying on. Smiles at workplace enhance healthy environment, specially when schedules are tight and everyone is glued to the seats rather than finding a break.

We must also bring physical activity to our workplace. Take stairs rather than elevators, go for a walk during breaks and encourage others as well. Physical active people are not only active, but also are able to take stresses more than those who are inactive. Take files to others rather than others coming to you to collect their share. This will not only induce personal touch but would also allow you a break from your seat.

Also encourage stress free moments. Instead of having a snack at your desk during breaks, go out, take a stroll while munching. A fresh air breathing would ensure filling in fresh air into your lungs and airing out that stuffy and cramped air of enclosed offices.

Be happy yourself and make others happy around you – it will keep your heart smiling!!

Lamenting Scars of the Soul – A rejoinder

Sometime back, I narrated a real story that carried in itself the hidden cries of a young woman, Yasmeen (who once worked in our house as a maid), the cries she tried to hide. But there were times that when her anguish could be visibly seen and felt. She would invariably break down and cried in front of my wife. Although my wife would cajole her and try to comfort her, it was she alone who was to bear the grief and sorrow that befell on her and her family on 8 October 2005 – the day a powerful earthquake struck the northern areas of Pakistan. Her lamenting tale was but one of the many such heartbreaking realities that still echo in the valleys and villages where life is now returning to normal.

We had hardly recovered from the shock of that dreadful earthquake, that yet another calamity fell on us last July. Though far less deadly (in terms of human losses) than the earthquake, it is far more devastating in terms of damages to communication infrastructure, houses and buildings. Other than that, it has affected over 20 million people all along the length of the Pakistan from the north till the southern edge of the country at the mouth of the Arabian Sea. Of the over 20 million people that have their fragile houses washed away along with their lifelong possessions, are some six million children whose laughter has also been drowned in the ravaging muddy flood waters.

Recently I heard a story of a boy who saw his house crumble like a pack of card right in front of his eyes and then vanish forever. Riazuddin, a boy of around 10-111 had a one room house on the bank of Swat River before the July floods, where he lived with his parents happily. He played with other children of the area, threw pebbles in the river and brought water for domestic use. Life had been happy for him since he was born. Though very poor, he was happy like any other child, always hopeful of the future and had fewer expectations from life. He didn’t have many possessions as a child, but a bat and some other broken toys he collected from the garbage.

Then July 2010 came. There have been unusual rains and he along with other children bathed in the rains and made merry. But at the same time, the water in the river started to swell and rise. He heard his father saying that the river seems to be in floods. Then the otherwise clear water of the river started getting muddy and muddier with its level rising very rapidly. But no one had any idea how wicked it would turn into. Soon the water was touching the brims of its banks, but little Riaz’s one room house was still a few feet higher. The night came but the roar of the gushing water made everyone sleepless. From a friendly river since his childhood, the river had become monstrous. He along with his father went out and saw the foamy water was almost touching their door. Alarmed by this development, his father ordered everyone out and with all they could grab, they left the house and moved to the higher ground above their house. And then it happened. The water became more violent and soon Riaz’s house was inside the water and the very fast current pounding on all its sides. Right in front of his innocent eyes, suddenly his house gave in and crumbled like a pack of cards and in seconds was washed and eaten away by the river – leaving none of its traces back.

For Riaz, it was as if his best had been lost. A friend, who nurtured him, protected him and his family from weather hazards since he was born, and perhaps was his best childhood friend. With the house, his bat and broken toys were also washed away – leaving him nothing but the memories of the good days. Today, he lives in a tent village, hoping to get back one day, where his father may rebuild the house once again. But his toys will never come back. And he will remember the days before the floods and the flood day that took his dreams away.

This is just one story – there are countless stories of similar kinds buried in the hearts of mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and husbands, who lost their near and dear ones. Though they continue to live on, the scars of the soul will never be healed for God knows how many years.

Related Reading: Lamenting scars of the soul

A time of change, I swear it’s not too late!

Many many years ago, To everything turn turn turn was one of my favourite songs – song that carried many good things in it. Today, the political milieu of Pakistan reminds me of that song and I wish we change for its still not late (I have replaced “peace” with “change”).

Pakistan today faces yet another turning point of its history. Having been ruled by corrupt rulers for a long time, that finds no end to itself till date, we are at the crossroads once again – the crossroads that require an urgent change to put the miseries being faced by the country to a possible end. On every TV channel there is a debate going on what to do, but there aren’t any suggestions – just wild guesses. Some advocate martial law, others contend for change within the parliament. While the military option is clear (and dangerous), the change within the parliament is vague and ambiguous.

The Supreme Court’s orders and decisions are being disobeyed openly and there seems a clash of titans very soon. But the epic court can only give decisions – but if these are not implemented, then where goes the rule of law. The elected representatives insist all issues to be resolved within the parliament, while the Supreme Court insists implementation of its decisions. Both the parliament and the Supreme Court seem to be at logger head with each other.

Those politicians not part of the parliaments have loud claims, but they cannot do anything being out of the parliament. Dragging Army once again would be disastrous as if the Army also fails to harness the sorry state of affairs of the country, then what would become of all of us?

There is a need to have realization by everyone that the present situation is harmful for the country. The already fragile economy has been hit hard by the floods that have destroyed almost half of the country’s communication infrastructure, dislodges more than 20 million people and destroying millions of houses and buildings. And above all, the flow of foreign assistance is being hampered due to widespread corruption and resultant credibility issue. Due to bad governance and no hold on the affairs of the state by the government, corruption is rampant in the country. Even an elected representative of the ruling party claims openly that corruption is their right and words to that effect.

We are thus faced with a political, economic and social dilemma and yet find no solution to escape from it. The IMF and WB are out there demanding enforcement of stringent financial discipline that would create an unprecedented price hike in the country – which will only hit the poor and the middle class besides the flood victims more than anyone else. Those who have brought the country to this abysmal situation would never be harmed by the conditions of the country as they have the vaults full of money and villas in posh localities all around the world. If God forbid something happens to the country, they have all escape routes opened to them.

A time has finally come for change; I swear it is not too late. We can still keep the genie inside the bottle lest any delay would allow him to escape. To my reckoning, there are following four options to keep the genie inside the bottle and these be considered in the same order of priority to be followed one after the other if the previous one doesn’t materialize or fails.

1. The Army Chief, being a stake holder and part of the troika (President, PM and himself), should step in and use his weight on the former two to take stock of the situation, uphold the rule of law by implementing all decisions of the supreme court in letter and spirit, ensure good governance and resolve the credibility issue by taking corrective measures (and everyone knows what measures I am referring to).

2. The president should step down from being the party head of the PPP, hands over all powers to the PM and himself becomes a figurehead as is done in any parliamentary form of government, India being a fine example of it. Here it may be mentioned that any change inside the parliament by changing the PM would not resolve the issue. We need an impartial president who allows functioning of the government through a strong and powerful PM.

3. The Supreme Court to order the Army to step as per the relevant clauses of the constitution and take stock of the situation, especially till earliest rehabilitation of the flood victims and control over the economy. A timeframe be spelt out by the epic court, after which elections be held and government handed over to the new elected government.

4. If all three options fail, the last options would be that of martial law – but a stringent martial law to really cleanse the mess rather than prolonging it with devastating after effects.

I hope sanity would prevail and need to resort to options 3-4 doen not arises. This is the only way we can bail out of the present turmoil temporarily– what is being termed as a constitutional change.

Having said that, I would also add that we also need to analyze whether the parliamentary system is still a workable system for us? So far it seems that presidential form of government has been more suited rather than the parliamentary system we follow. Our past record shows that the country progressed more in the times when we had a powerful president rather than a prime minister. But at present we may not be ready for the system change. We need to deliberate more on it, lest we plunge into another nightmare.

Related Reading: Constitutional Change (By Syed Asghar Javed Shirazi)

Most important men in the life of the Man and Woman

Ever wondered who is the most important person in the life of  a man and woman? Well I don’t know about you, but my younger son one day told me so. He asked me the same question and gave many options to him, but he had some sinister ideas.  So when all my options dried out, he came up with his version of these two important men.

“For mother”, he contended, “Mr Muhammad Hussain is the most important man.” “Mr Muhammad Hussain?”, I asked in amazement as I had never heard of this name from my wife. My son smiled and said, “Mr Muhammad Hussain is the pseudo name of her tailor.” It made me smile too and I admired his observation and judgment. Because the way a tailor is addressed, even if he stitches the shirt from the cloth meant for the trousers and the trousers from the cloth of the shirt, it is all smiles with a mild reprimand. But imagine the same blunder being committed by her husband – only married men would know the answer.

Still curious and inquisitive about who could be important to me, I started to get the idea based on the tailor thing. But I still persisted to know from my son the answer, just to cross check my wild guess. And yes, I guessed it right. My car mechanic, Muhammad Naeem.  For those, who do not know the ABC of the car engine and its problems, the car mechanic is the most authoritative person. As this man can, just like a wife, knows the art of getting as many blue notes out of your wallet as he pleases after a quick look at your face and the car. The more perturbed you look, more you have to pay. From simple tuning costing Rs. 500, the bill would swell to thousands as suddenly it would be announced that many other parts need replacement, lest you want to visit him very soon the next time. So once in the auto workshop, make sure you carry a swelled wallet to buy many accessories and parts before you drive out to the satisfaction of your mechanic. And that satisfaction is clearly visible on his face as you start to count the blue notes one after the other. A blue note amounts to Rs. 1,000.

I am much wiser now – may be you are too.

Gilgit – the China Town of Pakistan

It was awhile ago that I along with my family decided to see Khunjrab Pass – it was a rather hasty decision and hence we did not cater for the hurdles en route and the total length of journey and the leave that I have. And we just left by road. Although, Gilgit is connected by air with Islamabad but due to uncertain weather, road travel is much preferred. Though some tourists choose to travel Gilgit by air since the road travel between Islamabad and Gilgit by Karakoram Highway takes nearly 18 hours, whereas the air travel takes a mere 45-50 minutes. 

We took the N-5 and stayed a night at Abottabad. Early next morning we reached Mansehra and from there we headed towards Pattan – where a Road Maintenance Battalion of the Frontier Works Organization is stationed (the unit is responsible for the repair/maintenance of the Karakoram Highway – the KKH).  Next morning our journey resumed and soon we were on the right bank of the roaring Indus river with its gushy muddy water ( far different from its rather bluish water at Attock). At Thakot, we crossed Indus and now we started moving on the left of the river. The small town en route were Chilas, Dasu, Besham.

Near Gilgit, the KKH branches off and continues to head towards Khunjrab Pass through Hunza (Karimabad) and Sost. We finally reached Gilgit in the evening – which is the hub of various valleys to the North Hunza and China. To the South, Diamar, Kohistan and Swat, to the East Skardu and Kashmir, and to the West Ghezir and Chitral.  Here we were told that the air service had been suspended for the last five days and while thanking our stars for choosing to travel by road, we had a pity on tourists stranded for days altogether in hotels and messes.

The Gilgit bazaars are infested with Chinese good, decoration pieces, cloth and what not – it looked like a mini China Town. While my wife got busy in looking for Chinese cloth, we window-shopped for Chinese decoration pieces and carpets. By the time we came back, we had loads of small decoration pieces and naturally ladies garments.

There is much to be seen other than Chinese stuff in and around Gilgit. There is a monument to commemorate the fact that the boy scouts of Gilgit were the spark that set the flame in the battle between Pakistan and India for supremacy over Kashmir.  Two miles out of town there are a pair of Buddha’s carved in to a high rock. They go back to the 5-th century. From where we parked our car, the path up to the rocks was a nice hike – and the carving looked really awesome. I admired those who did this.

One bright sunny day morning, we kicked off towards Khunjrab Top – but luck was not in our favour. Near Hunza, we were told that the road ahead was blocked and wont be open for days. So the trip ended in a mere flop and we could only visit Karimabad and the Baltit Fort – something one mustn’t miss when in Gilgit. This wooden fort is a class of its own. The fort is said to date back around 700 years. The architectural style is a clear indication of Tibetan influence in Baltistan at the time. The Fort is also listed as one of the UNO sponsored world heritage architecture. On our way back, we stopped to eat some of the most delicious apricots in the world – fresh from the apricot gardens. When we asked the garden owner to pack us a few kilos as souvenir for relatives back home, he told us that those apricots were so delicate that they would not withstand the heat even out of Gilgit – still we insisted and true to his words, those melt hardly a few hours out of Gilgit.

The best lunch that I ever had was at a  place from where the mighty Raka Poshi is seen rising from the ground and reaching its pinnacle. The Raka Poshi View Hotel was a small hutment but served us sizzling hot “parathas” with scrambled eggs and hot tea. A feast I would always cherish.

The beautiful valley of Naltar – some 35 kilometers to the south east of Gilgit has lush green pastures and green carpeted ground make it a jewel of the Gilgit. It is a forested (pine) village known for its wildlife and magnificent mountain scenery. It also houses the Skiing School operated by Pakistan Air Force. We were offered a helicopter ride to Naltar but having reached the helipad, we were told that due to extra load, we could not be accommodated – so a golden opportunity was missed out.

Well then we finally returned. En route we also encountered a road block due to falling rocks and had to wait for 4-5 hours till the road was cleared. Even when cleared, the road still had lot of stones and rubble. So I asked a pick up to carry may family across the bottle neck and slowly moved my car over the rubble and finally made it with lots of unhealthy noises coming from the down under. Luckily, there was no damage to the car.

Dr Afia’s Sentence – a case of (false) Pride and Prejudice

Yesterday an American court sentenced 86 years to a 38 years old neuroscientist Dr Afia Siddiqui on charges of “attempted murder”, which was committed in Afghanistan years ago. No one in the world gets 86 years for attempting to kill a person. Even the drama of “killing” the US soldier seems fabricated and seems to have planned only to indict the female doctor to settle some other scores.

 I would not go into the details of the attempted murder allegations. But would only say that no terrorist roams around in a city, infested with American soldiers and agents keeping an eye on every one, with a handbag containing maps of “sensitive places.” And when caught in the town of Ghazni, and taken to a police station, she picks up a rifle “innocently left by a marine” in the room where she was detained and opened fire on a US soldier and FBI agent. “Luckily” the Americans escaped the fire, but Dr Afia got injured instead by the fire they opened on her. Despite the fact that her finger prints were not found on the rifle she allegedly grabbed, she gets 86 years from the court of country always advocating upholding of justice. It seems as the verdict was just a ceremonious formality and the sentence had already been readied to be announced even if she was found not guilty.

Have a closer look at the photo of Dr Afia, as it appeared in the newspapers around the world, which speaks of a women fatigued, tired and seemingly tortured. One only pities those who had detained her and found a fragile woman to torture to “get the truth.” And when nothing could be proved, she was sentenced to rot and be humiliated in some dungeon like cell of a prison all of her life.

After yesterday’s verdict the judicial system of the USA has suffered a huge loss on moral, legal and logic planes. And if someone attempting a murder gets 86 years, what about those presidents and prime ministers who lied to the entire world that Iraq had amassed WMDs and an invasion by allies was essential to destroy those WMDs before the same destroyed the world? And in the process killed countless Iraqis, besides devastating a developed country and turning into a heap of rubbles. Shouldn’t they be held accountable for their deeds by this “supreme” law?

I abhor terrorism of any kind, whether by the so-called Al Qaeda or the social terrorism as committed yesterday in the USA. The verdict shows the false pride of a nation that is highly prejudiced and unjust. The verdict is a mockery of the slogans of Liberty, Justice and Freedom.

Weep, free world weep. One of your daughters has succumbed to the pride of nation and its prejudices.