More hollow rhetoric

In one of my previous posts, I talked about mere rhetorical promises by our honourable leaders both inside and outside the government. I commend our people who continue to listen to these ornamental speeches, promising them heavens and treasures beyond one’s imagination and still think that these would materialize.

In today’s newspaper I read one such rhetorical promise once again: “Education is a matter of life and death for us,” announces the PM, as if we did not know it before. And as usual, the vow came when the PM was addressing a national conference that titled, “School of Tomorrow, Freedom to Learn.” We listen to such slogans everyday when a minister or a dignitary is inaugurating or opening a new school, factory, institution or even planting a tree.

Now this latest rhetoric came just days after the decision of the Sind Government to close down over one thousand schools for want of funds and teaching staff. If we do not invest in our primary education, how can we ensure our learning and freedom? Perhaps our education and freedom lies in the European style schools that are mushrooming in Pakistan. Schools that teach our children a language they do not understand and even when they are made to learn it, they fail to translate their learning into the horrific illiterate environment around them.

We have already gone past the time when we should have taken stock of our vision for the schools of tomorrow as none at present is able to produce children who could rid this country of illiteracy, which is stagnant for past so many decades. Rather like tree plantation drive each year, which instead of yielding is reducing our area under forest, our education is suffering at the hands of government officials who have comfortable office at the cost of funds for running schools.

It was not long before when the Higher Education Commission (HEC) had stopped paying the scholarships to students that were sent abroad for higher education and Ph Ds by the previous government. It was not long ago when the HEC stopped funds to the universities in the country and the vice chancellors had threatened to resign in protest.

Under such environment, the hollow rhetorical promises are not only painful to listen to, but also paint a grim future for our children. Perhaps this is what people call politics – promise everything but give nothing. We wait on for a messiah to save us from such false promises, and fake politicians, and give us some hope for future.

Related Reading: Hollow Rhetoric

Blog Action Day 2010 – Water

Have you ever wondered that while you can buy bottled safe drinking water from the market, more than one billion people around the world cannot afford this luxury of clean drinking water? Join countless bloggers around the world to participate in the Blog Action Day to raise awareness about the clean and safe drinking water for those who cannot afford it or don’t have access to it. Remember access to clean water is not just a human rights issue – it is an environmental, animal welfare, and sustainability issue. Water is a global issue, and affects all of us.

Blog Action Day is an annual event held every October 15 that unites the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day with the aim of sparking a global discussion and driving collective action. So be part of the fifth Blog action Day 2010 which is dedicated to the accessibility to clean drinking water. The theme was chosen by vote on Change.org’s blog, with Collis and Cyan Ta’eed as its co-creators.

Those who haven’t heard of the Blog Action Day, may I add for their information that it is all about grass root level activism, based on the philosophy that ordinary people can make an extraordinary difference. Join the cause and celebrate the day with your own post at your own blog, as I have.

Photo courtesy: Diets in Review.com

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)

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.

Who was that virtuous man?

Yesterday, my friend Hamid Haroon sent me an SMS which was both awesome and soul shaking. It is about the funeral prayer of one of the most pious spiritual personalities of his times – Khwaja Bakhtair Kaki. When the saint died, a large  number of devotees and saints came from all over the then Indian subcontinent to pay homage to the man who was revered both by his friends/followers and even those who differed from him on his religious interpretations and beliefs.  It seemed as if the entire world has gathered to attend the funeral of this great saint. Just before the burial, his will was read which explained as to who should lead his funeral prayers. The will was both strange and demanding and when it was read, the entire gathering of thousands put down their faces with shame and utter despair.

The will read, “Let my funeral prayers be led by a person who fulfills four conditions: A person who has never skipped any of his obligatory prayers. He who has never left the four sunnahs before the Asr prayer. A person who has never left the Tahajjad, the late night voluntary prayers. And last of all,  the one who had never eyed a nah-mehram (a woman one can marry) woman after reaching puberty.”

This extraordinary will fell as bombshell and the entire gathering fell silent as there was none who could fulfill all these four preconditions. Even the most pious of the pious present found it impossible to declare the fulfillment of these four preconditions. It looked as if the funeral prayers would never be led, a shame for the entire community. The entire day went by and there was no one to come forward. Everyone looked with the corners of one’s eyes to see if there was someone. But seemingly there was no one.

Then after the Asr prayers (the third prayer of the day offered in the afternoon), there rose a man and started walking slowly towards the head of the funeral congregation. Everyone was stunned to see that man as almost all knew him very well. The man with his head bowed down extremely low as if the best of his well kept secret has been exposed. He had tears rolling down from his eyes, which had drenched his shirt. I t looked as he had been weeping since the time the will was read as he perhaps knew that his secret will be exposed which no one knew before that day.

The man led the funeral prayers and after he finished, he said with a broken voice and tears still falling from his eyes, “This pious man has on this day of his death has disclosed others secrets and piety.”

Do you know who was that that man. He was none other than Shamsuddin Altamash – the then ruler of India.

The anecdote has left me without any words. If today we try to correlate the same will, perhaps there will be no one like King Altamash. Even leaving aside one’s religious obligations and responsibilities, if we try finding a man to lead us with any of the following pre-conditions, we will be utterly dismayed:

  1. A man who had never evaded the taxes due to him.
  2. One who had never misused his authority for his personal gains.
  3. A man who has never usurped others rights or taken advantage of.
  4. The one who has never taken a penny more than due to him in lieu of his services.
  5. Someone who has never betrayed his electorate of the promises he made before being elected for a public office.
  6. A man of honour who had never lied in his life.
  7. And …..

The listing reminds me of the famous poem, God give us men a time like this demands and I find no one stepping forward.

Related Reading:  God give us men! A time like this demands