Thursday, June 3, 2010

PML-N and Militancy

“It is the duty of the government to protect the life and property of any citizen belonging to any faith and sect,” says a statement by Nawaz Sharif in the aftermath of the tragedy in Lahore where over 80 members of the Ahmedi sect were murdered. The body count is still rising. This comes only two months after Rana Sanaullah was seen campaigning with Muhammad Ahmad Ludhianvi of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, a hitherto disbanded organization, in Jhang. When confronted with this, Sanaullah said that campaigning with SSP makes political sense as it has a big vote bank in Jhang. This statement coming from the Law Minister of Punjab of all people. It should be noted here that many people now fear that the PML-N has given a new lease of life to SSP. It also helps organizations like Jaish-i-Mohammad and Lashkar-i-Taiba to stay active and above the law as documented by Ayesha Siddiqa who calls the Punjab Government "a district administration that has lately been going out of its way to hide the activities of an outfit. The game is that you are not allowed an opportunity to prove anything because the evidence suddenly disappears once you raise a hue and cry."
The fact that militant organizations in South Punjab are allying themselves with the Taliban in the frontier region is also well documented, but yet again denied by the Punjab government, who lets these groups operate freely and without fear. It has even pleaded with the Taliban to leave Punjab alone, such is their disregard for human life. So no, Mr. Sharif, you do not get to condemn the events in Lahore today, you do not get to condole the grief of these people, you do not get to say that the "government shall not spare the terrorists," because the fact of the matter is that you have not only spared them but supported them, unflinchingly so. If you are the man of principle that you would like us to believe, then go to Jhang and Khyber-Pakhtoonkhawa and congratulate these people for what they have done today in Lahore.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Iqbal ka Pakistan

In a country otherwise unsure about its heroes, two men stand head and shoulders above the rest. The place Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the Quaid-e-Azam, and Allama Sir Mohammad Iqbal hold in the history of Pakistan is uncontested, and that is a problem, especially when it comes to the latter, which is the concern of this paper. While Jinnah’s speeches and correspondence have laid out a relatively concrete vision of what his idea for the new state was, the role of Allama Iqbal is controversial. In standard texts, both government issue and those used in private schools throughout the country, we are told Iqbal wanted an Islamic Pakistan. This, strictly speaking is true, but what is left unsaid is much more important than the facts that are stated. What is left unsaid is how Iqbal, a man who studied philosophy and law in Germany and Cambridge, and was impressed favorably by these democratic societies, came back to make a complete u-turn on his earlier convictions, and advocated a separate Muslim homeland as the only route available to Muslims of the subcontinent.

How did he come to this decision? How did his thought process evolve that he went from arguing for a unified India to arguing for a break up of India as the only logical solution, both with equal conviction? What caused this change of heart? How is his legacy relevant to today’s Pakistan? Was it even practical before partition? These are the questions this paper attempts to answer.

It should be said outright that Iqbal is one of the most perplexing personalities of the partition movement, and his narrative and ideas have been manipulated by many parties, not least the government of the state he conceived of, and there is no one definitive answer to any of these questions. However, to state that he wanted an Islamic Pakistan is simplifying his whole thought process almost to the point of willful deceit, and serves as a rallying cry for Islamist parties and people such as Zia-ul-Haq, and lately, Zaid Hamid. It is also noteworthy that the official narrative has erased Iqbal’s advocacy of a unified India and presents only his later ideas.

Mohammad Iqbal was born in Sialkot in 1877. His initial education was in Sialkot and Lahore, but he later went abroad. This was in the year 1905. Up to this point he was a firm Indian nationalist, a “patriot in the western sense,” so much so that he wrote his Taranah-e-Hind in 1904:

Our Hindustan is the greatest country in the world.
We are her nightingales, and she is our gardener.
Religion doesn’t preach rift.
We are Indian, and our country is Hindustan
Greece, Rome and Egypt are no more
Yet we continue to flourish
Something within us makes our existence worthy of note
Though unsmiling fortune has been our enemy.

Hindustan in the sense that he uses here refers to a geographical place, and has no religious connotations. When he says Indian in the fourth verse, “it means ‘pertaining to Hind’ in general, and thus Indian,” without any religious associations.

Iqbal also talked about Rama (in Imam-e-Hind) and Guru Nanak in glowing terms, calling the former a religious leader of India and the latter a perfect man, and he felt that all religions could co-exist together in one unified India, “with Muslims and Hindus living side by side like brothers.” In his beloved Punjab, he could not even think about partitioning it into two, and it was here, with roughly equal numbers of Hindus and Muslims, that his early nationalistic poetry took on a sense of urgency.

This all changed, however, when he went abroad for higher education. He went to Germany and England, and returned a changed man. The one thing Iqbal hated more than anything else was injustice. “He was well aware that the true antithesis of his age was not between East and West, but between more fundamental things. This he expressed in a variety of ways; the history of the twentieth century is writing them down as the principles of social justice and social injustice.”

When he returned, it was 1908, and he saw all around him Hindus educating themselves, while Muslims lagged behind. The Aligarh Movement by Sir Saeed Ahmad Khan had also been concerned with this during Sir Saeed’s lifetime. He saw lingering resentment in the Muslim population as a result of the Mutiny of 1857, and after seeing the hypocrisy of the democratic England’s treatment of its own citizens as opposed to the citizens of its colonies, he resolved to work towards the goal of “a federal India with a strong emphasis on provincial autonomy,” a goal which would later turn into a struggle for outright freedom.

Thus it was this sense of injustice which prompted Iqbal to change his view of the current political situation, nothing else. From now on, he would work tirelessly until his death to bring about the change he so yearned for, one that he did not live to see. As an example of is new goal, he reworked his original poem, the Taranah-e-Hind into a new Taranah-e-Millii. Some selected excerpts:

Central Asia and Arabia are ours, Hindustan is ours
We are Muslims, the whole world is our homeland.
The trust of oneness is in our breasts
It is not easy to erase our identity
Oh pure land! For your sacredness we have been cut down and died
Till now our blood moves in your veins
Our leader of the caravan is the Chief of the Hijaz
Through the name the peace of our spirit lives on.

These two poems are meant to go together, to reflect on one another. He wrote this in 1910, two years after his return. There are similarities, but the conflicts are much more telling. The purpose of the former seems to be for people to relate the two.

The opening verse of the Taranah-e-Hind says that Hindustan is better than the whole world, while the corresponding verse of the second poem says that our homeland is the whole world. And the closing verse of the first poem speaks of solitude, isolation and dejection while the corresponding verse of the later poem is rather reassuring, where the caravan is being led by the Prophet himself.

Taranah-e-Millii roams the whole world, in contrast to Taranah-e-Hind, which confines itself to Hindustan. In the former poem, we are free of territorial restrictions, which would from now on, become a major part of Iqbal’s theories. He rejected territorial demarcations, considering faith alone as enough to identify people, dismissing western nationalism as “idolatry.” He called for the formation of a boundary-less “supra-national nation of believers.”

As a corollary of his new found philosophy, he also considered the notion of the Indian Muslim as a contradictory one, since Muslims have no boundaries, and are a global community regardless of borders, bound by their faith, which he considered as more than a simple religion; he saw Islam as an “action oriented system.” Iqbal also expounded on the notion of pan-Islamism, calling it “the political goal of the Islamic World.” He took a lot of interest in foreign political movements at this time. He had this to say of Turkey:

“The truth is that among the Muslims nations of today, Turkey alone has shaken off its dogmatic slumber, and attained to self-consciousness. She alone has claimed her right of intellectual freedom, she alone has passed from the ideal to he real - a transition which entails keen intellectual and moral struggle.”

This was before Ataturk’s abolition of the Caliphate, of which Iqbal had a markedly different opinion. When that happened, Iqbal wrote poems glorifying the conscripts as “Defenders of the Faith, when they were really victims of a moldering past, while a new future was being opened for their country by Kemal Ataturk.”

He also strongly supported the Khilalfat Movement that was dismissed by Jinnah as a ‘religious frenzy.’ Later, Iqbal also distanced himself from the whole episode as its effects became clear. He was interested in these movements because he saw these as a part of the Islamic millat, and as part of the pan-Islamic ideal he espoused. Iqbal’s, both in his speeches and in his poetry, played on emotions of the down trodden Muslims by indulging in nostalgia. However, he never quite laid out how his vision was going to work.

While rejecting territorial limitations, he stated that “the life of Islam as a cultural force depends on its centralization in a specified territory” This was not the only issue with his vision for what would ultimately become Pakistan. He never laid out concretely how an Islamic Pakistan would work. He had no faith in Mullahs and prayer leaders, criticizing them no end in his poetry and in his other works, including an open letter to Jawaharlal Nehru. His only concrete thought regarding his vision was the use of ijtihad, which most mullahs opposed. He wrote to Nehru that " ‘Mullahs have become extremely conservative and do not allow any freedom of ijtihad, the mystics keep everybody in a kind of superstition and blinding actualities, and Muslim Kings have only heir own self-interests at heart, and sell their country to the highest bidder.' Among these, it was the mullah, as a representative of a lifeless religion, and the sheikh, whom he attacked violently from the first to the last of his life.”

The mullah is intoxicated by talking and the mystic is drunk with the climax of mystical states. He called these people the ‘four deaths’ of Islam: the sufi-sheikh, the mullah, the moneylender and the governor. Nothing expresses his contempt for these people so vehemently or so eloquently, especially the mullahs, more than his poetry:

Being present myself, my impetuous tongue
To silence I could not resign
When an order from God of admission on high
Came he way of that revered Divine;
I humbly addressed the Almighty: Oh Lord,
Excuse this presumption of mine,
But he’ll never relish the virgins of heaven,
The garden’s green borders, the wine!
To meddle and muddle and mangle,
And he, the pious man - second nature to him
Is the need to dispute and to jangle;
His business has been to set folks by the ears
And get nations and sects in a tangle:
Up there in the sky is no Mosque and no Church
And no Temple - with whom will be wrangle?

Iqbal had good reason to think like he did, for a Mullah had once passed a fatwa on Iqbal as well, when he penned a poem inspired by a Hindu scripture. He also ridiculed the mullahs in ‘Virtue and Vice’ where he criticizes mullahs through satire for castigating Iqbal for accepting Shia’s in the fold of Islam. Holy men are further attacked for caring about the numbers of their following and not God, for banning music, and attacking Hindus.

So who exactly was to be administer Iqbal’s Pakistan? His answer to this was Asrar-E-Khudi, a masterpiece by Iqbal, at the same time brilliant and surprising. “Secrets of the Self” charts the stages through which people have to pass to finally become a vice-regent of God on earth. This whole work deals with the individual and addresses issues such as ego and individual achievement, which is what Iqbal thinks will form the base of his vision of Pakistan. The book dealt with ‘self-discovery’ leading to a reigniting of Muslims to rediscover their inherited Islamic culture. Iqbal clothed his timeless idea of individualism in a nostalgic, Islamic appeal to the Muslims to go back to their roots. Iqbal held that if Muhammad was to come back today, then he would not recognize the religion he left 1400 years ago, so much had it been corrupted by various negative influences. He followed this up with The Mysteries of Selflessness, “concerned with the healthy development of the individual within a healthy society, which he no longer expected to find in a united India.”

The Secrets of the Self generated a largely negative reaction from the religious authorities and some members of the public. The central concern was the issue of agency, as people felt that Iqbal had taken prerogative away from God and given it to man. As always, Iqbal had an answer ready. “He defined the system of government labeled as ‘theo-democratic’ government as a divine democratic government, because under it the Muslims have been given a limited popular sovereignty under he sovereignty of God.” The controversy soon died out.

So was every single member of the new Pakistan going to decide their own way in the country, whenever it would be created? This was pointed out by Jinnah who had exactly the opposite idea for the nation he would create in 1947, who pointed out that Pakistan was going to be a secular democracy, as he pointed out that Islam had over 70 different sects, which would make it impossible to administer Shariah Law.

Another issue with Iqbal’s ideology is that he banished Ahmedis from the fold of Islam, considering them a threat to Muslim unity. He had only two criteria for Muslims, Tauheed and Risalat, and since Ahmedis didn’t fulfill the latter, they were not Muslims. He downplayed the Sunni-Shia schism as a result of the myopic mullahs, which as mentioned he had no respect for.

Iqbal, however, was aware of many of these issues. “He never denied the irrational background of religious phenomena in general and Islam in particular.” He stated that Islam cannot be looked at through a rationalist lens. Conceding that “reason and faith do not fuse,” he even admits that his “personal opinion may be wrong.” He criticizes the Greeks for their logic, saying that Islam cannot possibly be understood because it is inherently “unanalyzable,” but once again he extols the virtues of Muslim scientists and explorers such as Ibn Khaldun, who he thought excelled in a proper Islamic environment. He talks about “the return of new life” in Islam, but never elaborates on how this will come about. Iqbal also points out that “new sanctions created by Christianity were working division and destruction instead of unity and disorder,” which is exactly what is happening in the Islamic world, but this does not figure in his book. He does make allowances for his vision not being realized, saying “how far these possibilities have become actualities is largely a matter of how far the actual circumstances offered inducements for making use of the possibilities.”

No matter what the ideological issues with Iqbal’s ideology, or problems with his ideology translating into reality, the biggest problem with his vision being realized was not theological, it was in the form of a person, and he was no ordinary person. Mohammad Ali Jinnah towered over every other Muslim leader after the 1937 elections confirmed his worst nightmare, as the Congress completely ignored the Muslim League. The relationship between the two was rocky; at one time they ended up on opposite factions of the split Muslim League in the aftermath of the Simon Commission. Iqbal was critical of the Jinnah-Sikander pact of 1937, which cemented support for the Pakistan Resolution, because Iqbal thought there should only be a single party representing Muslims, and feared the Red Shirts of Sikander Hayat Khan would affect the Muslim League in Punjab, which was to become the largest province of Pakistan.

However, conscious of the vulnerability of Muslim interests in an undivided India, they shared one significant aim, the creation of a separate homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent. They got in touch in 1937, and Iqbal was supportive of Jinnah, calling him the Muslim’s only hope for what would become Pakistan.

These two men’s journeys are mirrored; both of them started out as advocates for an undivided India, something which in the case of Iqbal is rarely mentioned in official narratives, and ended up as proponents for a separate state. As has been shown, Iqbal’s u-turn had little to do with Shariah Law, as is portrayed today, and more with the injustice that the Indians, and more specifically the Muslims (especially after 1857) were forced to endure from their British masters. “Iqbal hated injustice; his protest, first made in the name of India, continued in the name of Islam; in this form it was reinforced, rather than superseded, by a protest in the name of the common man, the disinherited of all lands.”

The Islamic State he envisioned was a very abstract concept, which even at the time it was conceived of, had not been active except during the heydays of the Muslim Empire of almost a millennium earlier. In any case, Jinnah would have none of it and still firmly believed in the nationalism that Iqbal had long ago condemned as a “sham.” Iqbal to his last days lamented as to

Why hast Thou made me born in this country,

The inhabitant of which is satisfied with being a slave?

He was distraught at the moral disintegration of the Muslim community; he wrote “Gabriel and Satan”, in which the latter taunts his former companion that it is he, not the angels or God, who makes men think and act boldly. Iqbal has also written about men such as Alexander the Great and Timur; saying their reigns ended with “the long nights of the grave.” It would not be out of place to say the same thing about his vision of Pakistan, a state he never lived to see come into existence.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

MQM in Punjab

Altaf Hussain's latest sermon is somewhat confusing to me. He says that the country's debt will be paid off by selling the land of the feudals. A very effective political argument, but one that doesn't really hold water in reality. Sadly the two are mutually exclusive in Pakistan. How exactly is the distribution of land going to take place? Does Altaf Hussian expect poor farmers and tenants in the countryside to pay off the external debt of the country by buying this land, debt which stands at around $50 Billion today and is projected to hit the $75 Billion mark by 2015? These are people who have barely enough money to get through a single day, and are mostly without a steady source of income, yet the great absconder from justice that is the head of the MQM, expects them to cough up money to the tune of $50 Billion. A newspaper report said that Altaf Hussain urged people to remain calm as the 'MQM made its way to Punjab.' How accurate that those were the terms chosen to describe the MQM. After all, this is a party whose most memorable legacy is the 12th of May bloodbath in Karachi. He asks the people of Punjab why they keep voting for people who are plunderers and looters. A very valid question, except one glaring fault. Corruption has not been the downfall of this country, a failure to bring those indulging in corruption to answer for their crimes has been the downfall. A lack of justice has been the downfall of this country. People are corrupt because they have no fear of the judicial system, which includes the entire judiciary, not just the handful of judges of the apex court. Of course, he couldn't frame the argument in these terms, because he himself has benefited greatly from this lack of accountability. If this country was truly just, Mr. Hussain, you would be behind bars for life right now.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Jewish Presence in Pakistan

The Karachi Jewish
According to estimates, there were about 2,500 Jews living in Karachi before 1947. Most of their ancestors had migrated to Karachi from Persia (Iran) in the 19th century, and lived here as tradesmen, artisans, poets, philosophers, and civil servants. The native language of this group of people, known as Bene Israel, was Judeo-Marathi.
According to one account, the Magain Shalome Synagogue on Lawrence Road (now Nishter Road) in Karachi was built in 1893, by Shalome Solomon Umerdekar and his son Gershone Solomon.
Other accounts suggest that it was built by Solomon David, a surveyor for the Karachi Municipality and his wife Sheeoolabai, although these may be different names for the same people. The synagogue soon became the centre of activity for the small Jewish community. Abraham Reuben, who became a city councillor in 1936, was one of the leaders of this community.
A number of associations existed to serve the Jewish community, among them the Young Men’s Jewish Association founded in 1903. Its aim was to encourage sports, and to promote religious and social activities among the Bene Israel in Karachi.
In addition, the Karachi Bene Israel Relief Fund was established to support poor Jews in Karachi. The Karachi Jewish Syndicate, formed in 1918, continued to provide homes for poor Jews at reasonable rents.
Relations between the Jewish community and others in Karachi continued to be harmonious immediately after the establishment of Pakistan in 1947. However, incidents involving violence against Jews began to occur some time after the creation of Israel, leading to feelings of insecurity within the Jewish community.
The synagogue in Karachi was set on fire, and several Jews were attacked. The frequency of attacks increased after each of the Arab-Israeli wars, i.e. 1948, 1956 and 1967.
The decade-long period under President Ayub Khan saw the gradual disappearance of Jews from Pakistan. They migrated to India, Israel, or the United Kingdom. The Jews also had a small community in the northern city of Peshawar that was served by two synagogues. By the 1960s, this community too had ceased to exist, and both the synagogues were closed.
Reportedly, several Jewish families remained in Karachi beyond this period, but out of concern for their own safety, and as a reaction to increasing religious intolerance, many of them concealed their Jewish identity, sometimes passing themselves off as Parsis or Christians.
The synagogue in Karachi became dormant in the 1960s and was demolished by property developers in 1988 to make way for a commercial building.
Reportedly, the last custodian of the synagogue, Rachel Joseph, lived in Karachi in a state of destitution. She also acted as the caretaker of the Jewish graveyard in Mewa Shah, an old locality of Karachi.
Parts of this graveyard have now been absorbed by another graveyard. Rachel Joseph, until her death, claimed that the property developers had promised her and her brother Ifraheem Joseph an apartment in the new building, and also space for a small synagogue. Unfortunately, both Ifraheem and Rachel Joseph passed away before they received any compensation.
Many of the Jews who left Karachi now live in Ramale in Israel and, in remembrance of times past, have built a synagogue there called Magain Shalome, Karachi, their former home, seems to have conveniently forgotten all about them and their contribution to the history and architecture of this city.
My family has a strong connection with Karachi, and probably accounted for most of the very small community of European Jews there. My great-grandfather, Simon Wyse, ran the Great Western Hotel, and my grandparents ran the Killarney Hotel there. The Killarney was first housed in a building that later served as the Russian Consulate which, I believe, has been restored as part of the Bay View School.
In the early 1930’s the hotel moved to a ‘palace’ built by a Parsi entrepreneur and was renamed the ‘Killarney Hotel, Marder’s Palace’. The building was, unfortunately, demolished in the 1970s. In its place stands the modern Sheraton Hotel.
My father grew up in Karachi before going to school in England, and went back in 1939 to serve in the Indian Army during the War. He now lives in the UK. One of his aunts married Moses Somake, an Iraqi Jew who, I have learnt, was one of Karachi’s leading architects. One of his buildings is the Flagstaff House that later became the home of Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
Unfortunately, I have never had the opportunity to visit Karachi, but have heard many of my father’s and grandparents’ stories. I am in touch with many of our relatives, including Somake’s descendents.
— As narrated by
Jonathan Marder

Originally published in DAWN on 27/02/2010

Other relevant articles:

This article is referred to in this email by one Deborah Dorian, who lives in Australia:

"My father was born in Karachi in 1927 to Jewish parents. He went to the Karachi grammar school. They all fled Karachi and Pakistan. Why does no one know that there were Jews for centuries in the carpet business living in Karachi?

"An article two years ago featured the woman who was the last custodian of the Magen synagogue. Rachel Joseph was my father's teacher. Rachel still holds the keys to the last synagogue, which was pulled down to make way for a shopping centre. My father was so distressed to read articles in the Indian newspapers and on the Internet describing her fight with developers for compensation.

"We now live in Sydney, Australia. A mother I know and her son fled Karachi when India was partitioned in 1947. Five brothers could not get out: they left in 1960 as they could not sell their property. The Pakistani government insisted that they leave without compensation. All money left behind had to be ploughed back into the Islamic community.

"Only two years ago, General Musharraf became the first leader of Pakistan to recognise the Jews of Karachi on his trip to New York City."

This email has been taken from Point of No Return, where it was originally published.

Other relevant articles:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Update on Subsidizing PIA

I sent the previous post as a letter to DAWN, which they published, to which a reply was published soon after by the Managing Director of PIA. This is what he has to say:

This is apropos of Ahmad Sultan’s letter ‘PIA: govt needs to set its priorities right’ (March 21). Mr Sultan is unaware of the facts and has based his analysis on his misunderstanding of PIA’s financials.
For instance, PIA has not received any subsidy from the government since the present management assumed charge in 2008 – unlike the other organisations and departments -- nor have we asked the government to give us financial assistance to start new flights.
PIA suffered a loss of PKR 39.72bn in 2008 which was mainly due to abnormal increase in international fuel prices, which were over 34 per cent higher on a year-on-year basis and 24 per cent devaluation of the Pak rupee against the US dollar. The impact of these two items alone explains the reasons for the incremental loss in 2008.
With just a little research, it will be learnt that these high fuel prices impacted the whole aviation industry and had led to bankruptcy for several airlines.
The total industry losses in 2008 as per the IATA report are $16.8bn. These factors are beyond control of the airline although several measures have been taken to mitigate the loss.
The airline has reduced its losses by over 84 per cent in 2009 versus 2008. This is very a significant achievement given the ongoing recession in the international markets
Regarding the contention that PIA’s fleet is not cleared to operate in Europe, we are pleased to state that all such aircraft that PIA intends to use to fly to Europe have all the requisite clearances.
The overall technical reliability of PIA stands at 95 per cent and 99.5 per cent for Haj operations.
This great accomplishment was achieved by PIA’s highly skilled engineering staff.
Granted, we have our challenges of past accumulated debts, and of rebuilding this great national institution to return to the glorious past.
We at PIA are committed to keep the flag up and that we appreciate our customers to continue to guide us with their valuable constructive suggestions in meeting your expectation of being the great people to fly with.

Managing Director, PIA

I responded to his response in a letter that DAWN did not publish. Here is my response:

In this newspaper's article titled 'PIA seeks finance to start new flights', it was said that "The PIA management said that there were three options for improving its liquidity which include financial injection by the government." To me, this sounds like the Airline is asking for a government injection of money in absence of which things would be very difficult indeed. If that is not the case, then it is this newspaper's fault for publishing a report outlining events that, according to Mr. Haroon never happened. Mr. Haroon says that I have based my analysis on a misunderstanding of PIA's finances. Is it not a fact that the airline has lost money every year since at least 2007, which by the way was before the economic crisis that Mr. Haroon refers to happened?The author goes on to say that most of the loss is attributable to rising oil prices and the devaluation of the rupee. In light of this, I would like to ask him two questions: Are oil prices going down? The answer is that they are not; oil peaked at $86.84 only yesterday, this being an 18 month high price. While this is substantially less than the $140 all time high-price, the fact is that, by PIA's own prediction they will lose money this year too, and oil prices will only increase as the economic recovery gathers steam. Secondly, is the rupee devaluation going to stop anytime soon? All indications point to the contrary being true. In any case, it is not going to appreciate any great amount, which might curtail PIA losses. The article also says that "the respective governments have approved bailout package for Air India and Japan Airlines as the year 2009 has been the worst year in the aviation history." This was the point of my letter. If PIA had not been a public airline, it too would have failed. While the fact that the present administration has not taken any subsidies is appreciable, were PIA ever close to the point of bankruptcy, the government will act as it must: as a lender of last resort. This statement also doesn't hide the fact that PIA has, from 2007-2009, posted losses of 120 billion rupees. Where does the money to make up for this loss come from? Surely it comes from the government, which has bailed out PIA in the period before this new administration in any case. My point was merely that PIA provides a service that less than 1 percent of this country uses, yet gets bailed out to the tune of hundreds of billions of rupees, while the government sees fit to allocate Rs25.4 billion to health, something which affects 100 percent of Pakistanis. Surely this paradox isn't lost on Mr. Haroon?

This is the article I refer to:

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Subsidizing PIA

As reported in DAWN newspaper, our national airline, PIA is seeking new finance to start new flights. This is an airline which has wasted over a hundred billion rupees of the public's money during the last four years alone. One would have to go back a long way to find PIA making a yearly net profit; it made a net loss of 13 billion rupees in 2007 which had increased to 72 billion rupees last year; this year promises no better. And since this is a public airline, it can never fail; the government stands ever ready to bail it out with billions of rupees of the public's hard-earned money, the overwhelming majority of which have never stepped foot on an airplane, and they never will.
This is the same airline which the EU grounded in 2007, banning 35 out of its then 42 airplanes because of safety concerns. PIA posted losses of 120 billion rupees from the period 2007-2009, which comes to a loss, which effectively becomes the subsidy, of more than 3 billion rupees per month. Compare this with the amounts allocated to some sectors in our budget for the year 2009-2010: 9.4 billion rupees for education, 22.5 billion rupees for higher education, 25.4 billion rupees for health, 41.3 billion rupees for the power sector, and 9 billion rupees for agriculture. This out of a total budget of 2.5 trillion rupees.
How about, instead of providing PIA with endless subsidies for providing a service that over 99% of this country's citizen's don't use, the government lets PIA fail. Then what will happen is that the airline will have to cut back to it's most profitable routes in hopes of turning a profit, and maybe it won't need a subsidy from the government. However, if the more likely scenario occurs, and the PIA is still posting a loss, which is likely, given their inept handling and the current economic situation, then PIA will have to shut down; that will be good news for Airblue and Shaheen, which is good if they are to compete with airlines from the Gulf region as they can pick up a large share of the customers which will allow them, in time, to expand their international routes as well. I doubt a lot of people would mourn the passing of the national airline. Besides, it's high time that the government gets its priorities right. Allocating 25.4 billion rupees for health, something that affects every living Pakistani, while bailing out PIA to the tunes of hundreds of billions of rupees is criminal.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Religious Minorities in Pakistan

Not many Pakistanis know the names Dinshah Mehta or Jal Patel. They can be said to have played a very crucial part in the formation of this country, yet we are ignorant about them. These two gentlemen were doctors in Bombay, whose patients included one Mr. Jinnah. In 1946, an x-ray was taken of Jinnah, which unmistakably revealed signs of tuberculosis. Had his doctors decided to break doctor-patient confidentiality, and released these findings for all of India to see, it is very possible, indeed probable that Pakistan might never have come into being. They were both Hindus, yet they never acted in any untoward way. Another Hindu, who most of us do know is Justice Rana Bhagwandas, who took his place as acting Chief Justice in the enforced absence of Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, and presided over the court which restored the Chief Justice to his rightful position.
Dr. Abdus Salam hails from the Ahmadi community of Pakistan, and is a name Pakistani Muslims would really like to forget, for,as we keep reminding ourselves, he was not a Muslim, yet he remains the only Nobel Laureate this country has ever produced (for work done entirely outside of this country, mind you). People from the Parsi community include Bapsi Sidwa, a brilliant author, and Ardeshir Cowasjee, a columnist for this newspaper, not to mention the latter's father, who established the Cowasjee group, a shipping agency. (Former) Christians include Mohammad Yousaf, who used to be Yousaf Youhana before Inzimam-ul-Haq turned the cricket team into a missionary group.
In sum, these and no doubt many other people of these communities, our minorities, have done a lot to serve Pakistan, almost as much as our Muslims have, who are in any case more visible for their role in events resulting in death and destruction. Yet they live as second class citizens, at the mercy of mad mullahs and mad self-styled 'security analysts' and even madder Alims who can't wait to use their pulpits as a stage to give the call for murder without any reason or provocation. It is beyond me how Zaid Hamid and Liaquat Hussain can say the things they do and yet remain untouched by the state. Have they broken no law? Or are they simply immune to it? How these people have not already been arrested, convicted and executed is beyond comprehension. A while back, a brutal multiple murder took place while the victims were returning from work. Their crime? They belonged to a religious minority. And yet we continue to live in denial. They were somebody's son, somebody's father, somebody's husband, somebody's brother, but we do not care.
In Naudero on New Years Eve of 2007, there was a cry from the crowd by an average Pakistani, right before the reading of Benazir's will: Pakistan na khappay. I remember that voice today, because this is not a Pakistan I want to live in. Today, I am ashamed of being associated in any way with this country, where the majority sits silently and does nothing, where an extremist strain of thought has hijacked the country's most fundamental ideals, as a result of which it is becoming increasingly difficult for religious minorities to live in peace. Make no mistake, they don't reside here by choice.
All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. And when we do nothing, we are complicit in this evil, we enable it, indeed encourage it with our lack of opposition. I feel like I have lost my country, but the truth is I never had it to begin with.