Category Archives: Women

International Crisis Group : Reforming Pakistan’s Electoral System

Pakistan’s dysfunctional electoral system has hampered democratic development, political stability and the rule of law; major electoral reforms would bolster a still fragile democratic transition.

via International Crisis Group : Reforming Pakistan’s Electoral System.

Reforming Pakistan’s Electoral System

Asia Report N° 20330 Mar 2011


Electoral rigging has hampered Pakistan’s democratic development, eroded political stability and contributed to the breakdown of the rule of law. Facing domestic pressure for democracy, successive military governments rigged national, provincial and local polls to ensure regime survival. These elections yielded unrepresentative parliaments that have rubber-stamped extensive constitutional and political reforms to centralise power with the military and to empower its civilian allies. Undemocratic rule has also suppressed other civilian institutions, including the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), which is responsible for holding elections to the national and four provincial assemblies, and local governments. With the next general election in 2013 – if the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-led government completes its full five-year term – the ruling party and its parliamentary opposition, as well as the international community, should focus on ensuring a transparent, orderly political transition through free, fair and transparent elections.

General Pervez Musharraf’s eight-year rule gravely eroded the ECP’s already limited independence, impartiality and competence, reducing the institution to providing a façade of legitimacy to military rule. Handpicked chief election commissioners (CECs) oversaw widespread rigging of two local government elections, a presidential referendum, and a general election. Musharraf’s Legal Framework Order, enshrined in the constitution though the seventeenth amendment, massively distorted the political system, tilting the electoral playing field towards the military’s civilian allies, including the Islamist parties.

These constitutional distortions were repealed in April 2010, when parliament unanimously passed the eighteenth amendment to the constitution, undoing Musharraf’s political legacy and introducing new provisions to strengthen parliamentary democracy. The amendment package enhanced the ECP’s independence by making the appointment of its key officials more transparent and subject to parliamentary oversight. The CEC and other ECP members, previously appointed by the president, will now be selected through consultations between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, and subsequently vetted and approved by a joint parliamentary committee comprising, equally, government and opposition members. While encouraging, this is only the first step in a longer process of electoral reform.

To curtail opportunities for the military to manipulate the political process, the ECP must be made independent, impartial and effective. The commission remains poorly managed, inadequately resourced, under-staffed and under-trained. Promotion prospects for ECP personnel are limited, and recruitment policies fail to attract strong candidates; top positions tend to be filled by civil servants from the regular federal bureaucracy, primarily because ECP officials lack the necessary skills. There are no systematic training programs for ECP staff, and the organisation devotes few if any resources to researching and analysing past elections and raising important electoral issues.

Electoral reform on all fronts is urgently needed. Highly inaccurate voters lists are responsible for disenfranchising millions. Polling procedures are often manipulated; accountability mechanisms for candidates and political parties seldom employed; and the electoral code of conduct routinely flouted. Dysfunctional election tribunals, characterised by corruption and prolonged delays, prove incapable of resolving post-election disputes. Such internal weaknesses constrain the ECP from overseeing credible elections and an orderly political transition.

The ECP has taken some steps to address these problems. In May 2010, it produced a strategic five-year plan, with significant international assistance, listing fifteen broad electoral reform goals, divided into 129 detailed objectives with specific timeframes, which range from improvements in voter registration and election dispute management procedures, to the creation of a comprehensive human resource policy. Although there were some, albeit limited, steps towards meeting targets for 2010, more substantive progress is unlikely unless parliament assumes political ownership over the plan, oversees its implementation, and holds the ECP accountable for unsatisfactory progress.

Credible elections, however, require far more than just structural reforms. Many discriminatory laws remain in place, including easily manipulated qualification criteria requiring electoral candidates to be of good Islamic character. Moreover, an interventionist military high command appears bent on shaping the political order to its liking. Although the PPP’s main opposition, Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) has repeatedly expressed its support for the democratic transition and refusal to unseat the elected government via unconstitutional means, it must match rhetoric with action. In the past, both the PML-N and the PPP have instead chosen to collude with the military at times.

A new population census, originally due in 2008, is scheduled for August-September 2011, presumably followed by a large-scale redistricting exercise. The last redistricting, under Musharraf in 2002 and 2005, ahead of national and local elections respectively, was designed to serve narrow political objectives. Political violence and ethnic conflict could be sparked countrywide by a flawed census, gerrymandering and a rigged election.

The international community, too, particularly the U.S. and EU, should realise that a flawed general election in 2013, if not sooner, would pose a serious threat to Pakistan’s stability. Donors and Western capitals should immediately shift their programs and advocacy to support for a smooth political transition, rather than wait for the election season to begin.


To the National and Provincial Governments of Pakistan:

1.  Transform the parliamentary subcommittee on electoral reform to a permanent, full committee.

2.  Increase the independence and improve the functioning of the ECP by:

a)  appointing without delay new members of the ECP, according to the provisions of the eighteenth and nineteenth constitutional amendments;

b)  granting the ECP complete financial autonomy by passing legislation providing for budgetary allocation to the commission, reflecting to the extent possible its determination of needs;

c)  making the ECP’s code of conduct part of the electoral law, and requiring the ECP to revise it for each electoral cycle;

d)  requiring that the ECP’s nominees for election tribunals be approved by the permanent parliamentary committee on electoral reform;

e)  ensuring that all federal and provincial executive authorities assist the ECP, as required by law, particularly in enforcing the code of conduct, including provisions relating to the use of government resources for electoral purposes;

f)  ensuring that all executive officers deputed to electoral duties are subject to ECP supervision, and not of their parent department; and

g)  removing the condition that the CEC and members of the ECP be retired judges, instead opening up the selection process to people of integrity and experience.

3.  Submit the ECP’s five-year strategic plan for review and a vote by the permanent parliamentary committee on electoral reform which should make amendments where necessary; require regular reports by ECP officials on steps taken to achieve the plan’s objectives; and hold ECP officials accountable for unsatisfactory progress.

4.  Ensure that a new population census is carried out in August-September 2011, as scheduled, as well as a credible redistricting exercise ahead of the next local or general election, based on the new census; empower the permanent committee on electoral reform in the National Assembly, and similar committees in the provincial assemblies, to hold public hearings on the ECP’s redistricting exercise, to review and approve the redistricting plan for national and provincial constituencies; and subject final approval to vote in the relevant legislature.

5.  Remove all qualification criteria for electoral candidacy that are based on vague definitions of moral suitability, including adherence to Islamic injunctions.

To the Election Commission of Pakistan:

6.  Prioritise the timely implementation of the Five-Year Strategic Plan (2010-2014).

7.  Enhance accountability of voting processes, election officials and electoral candidates by:

a)  ensuring to the extent possible that all electoral constituencies are roughly equal in population size, and abide by other criteria in the Delimitation of Constituencies Act, 1974;

b)  revising the code of conduct for each electoral cycle;

c)  barring temporary election staff from officiating in their home districts, and taking action against those found guilty of corruption or bias;

d)  instituting an independent mechanism for challenging the appointment of polling officials;

e)  providing election observers unfettered access to polling stations;

f)  rejecting the proposed incorporation of electronic voting machines (EVMs), and instead improving the existing system of paper ballots and manual counts through better training and neutral observation;

g)  simplifying complaints and appeals procedures by reducing the number of administrative personnel tasked with processing petitions, and streamlining all relevant administrative mechanisms; and

h)  introducing robust measures for scrutinising annual statements of assets and liabilities filed by parliamentarians, and prescribing punishments, to be administered by the ECP, for elected officials filing false statements.

8.  Improve the polling process by:

a)  prohibiting candidates from contesting elections in more than one constituency;

b)  implementing complete computerisation of the voter registration process, including photographs of voters as a further guarantee against bogus voting; publishing the final voters list on the ECP’s website; and abiding by the new constitutional requirement for revising the list annually;

c)  preparing a permanent list of polling stations through consultations with all stakeholders, providing their locations on the ECP website and providing written explanations for any changes made by district returning officers; and

d)  expediting the pilot project on computerised electoral rolls and expanding it countrywide.

9.  Improve infrastructure, enhance training and research, and increase human resource capabilities by:

a)  implementing a comprehensive human resource policy, preparing job descriptions for all positions and devising a clearly defined path of career progression for all permanent staff;

b)  recruiting ECP officials in Basic Pay Scale (BPS)-17 through the Federal Public Service Commission, and establishing an Electoral Service of Pakistan along the lines of other occupational groups in the federal civil service;

c)    recruiting qualified people from the non-govern­ment sector as temporary staff for election day duties, rather than strictly from the executive; and determining the terms and conditions for temporary staff recruitment, investigating misconduct and taking disciplinary action against polling officials found guilty of misconduct;

d)  developing specialised courses in electoral administration, taught by professional instructors;

e)  expanding the role of the Federal Election Academy by equipping it with trained staff and improved facilities;

f)  adopting a comprehensive training program with two components: a basic orientation course that familiarises recruits with the history, functions and powers of the ECP, and its conduct of previous elections; and specialised instruction in specific areas of electoral administration, such as the preparation of electoral rolls, delimitation of constituencies and electoral dispute resolution; and

g)  establishing training programs for all temporary staff recruited for electoral duties on the role and functions of the ECP, responsibilities in managing assigned polling stations, and effective response to poll-related violence.

To the International Community:

10.  Support a still fragile democratic transition by prioritising democratisation programming, sending unambiguous signals to the military high command that any interference in the political process will be unacceptable and would result in the suspension of military assistance; and shift the focus of programming and engagement towards ensuring a credible and orderly political transition after the next general election.

11.  Acknowledge that elections are not a purely technical but an intensely political process and adjust programming to engage beyond the bureaucracy with the full spectrum of stakeholders, including parliament and political parties, and secure political ownership at the national and provincial levels over election-related programs.

12.  Support the development of specialised training programs for dedicated instructors in electoral administration.

13.  Provide the ECP with technical support towards timely completion of its five-year strategic plan, with particular focus on:

a)  developing a comprehensive ECP information technology (IT) policy, including modernising the ECP’s IT Directorate, as well as supporting a strong IT infrastructure at the ECP secretariat, provincial election commission offices and field offices;

b)  computerising electoral rolls and building a serviceable electronic voter database;

c)  establishing linkages between all polling stations, and between polling stations and the computerised voter rolls;

d)  building a serviceable electronic database to track electoral complaints; and

e)  providing geographical information systems to digitally map electoral areas and ensure that constituency delimitation takes place along scientific lines.

14.  Insist that the Strategic Plan Management Committee (SPMC) and the Review, Assistance and Facilitation Team (RAFT), be activated and made accountable to donors.

Islamabad/Brussels, 30 March 2011


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Bruce Riedel: The Spy Who Knew Everything – Newsweek

Bruce Riedel: The Spy Who Knew Everything – Newsweek.


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Laaga Chunri Main Daagh by Arif Waqqaar – BBC URDU

وہ جو بیچتے تھے دوائے دل وہ دکان اپنی بڑھا گئے

پاکستان کے شہر لاہور میں واقع تاریخی بازار حسن وہ بازار ہے جہاں پچاس کی دہائی میں قانونی طور پر ناچ گانے کی اجازت دی گئی تھی۔ لیکن ملک میں دہشت گردی کی لہر سے یہ ثقافتی مظہر بھی ویران ہوگیا ہے۔ راتوں کو جگمانے والے بازارِ حسن میں خاموشی کا راج ہے۔ کچھ لوگوں کا خیال ہے کہ لاہور کا بازارِ حسن شہر کا کلچرل حوالہ تھا جودہشت کی گرد میں دھندلا گیا ہے۔

عارف وقار

بی بی سی اردو ڈاٹ کام، لاہور

علامہ اقبال نے ابلیس کی جراتِ انکار کو خراجِ تحسین پیش کرتے ہوئے اسے جبرئیل کے مقابل لا کھڑا کیا ہے جہاں وہ نیکی اور بھلائی کے مجسمے جبرئیل کو للکارتے ہوئے کہتا ہے:

دیکھتا ہے تو فقط ساحل سے رزمِ خیروشر

کون طوفاں کے طمانچے کھا رہا ہے ،میں کہ تو؟

انسانی معاشرے کے سمندر میں بھی جہاں عورت کبھی ماں کبھی بہن کبھی بیٹی اور کبھی بیوی کے معزز کردار میں ساحل کے پرسکون ماحول میں زندگی گزارتی دکھائی دیتی ہے، وہیں سمندر کی پرشور اورتندوتیز لہروں کی زد میں عورت کا ایک اور روپ زندگی سے نبرد آزما نظر آتا ہے۔وہ ایک طوفان سے نمٹتی ہے تو دوسرا طوفان اس کا منتظر دکھائی دیتا ہے،ایک بھنور سے نکلتی ہے تو دوسرا بھنور اسے گھیر لیتا ہے۔

ایسے ہی حالات شاعر کی زبان سے لفظ بن کر یوں نکلتے ہیں

زندگی ہے یا کوئی طوفان ہے

ہم تو اس جینے کے ہاتھوں مرچلے

موت سے کھیلتی ہوئی اس زندگی کو طوائف کا نام دیا جاتا ہے اور معاشرہ اسے کسی بھی نگاہ سے دیکھے، شاعر اور ادیب نے ہمیشہ اسے ہمدردی کی نگاہ سے دیکھا ہے۔قدیم یونان، چین، یورپ، مصراور ہندوستان سے ہوتا ہوا یہ کردار جب جدید اردو ادب تک پہنچتا ہے تو مرزا ہادی رسوا کی امراؤجان ادا، غلام عباس کی آنندی اور منٹو کی ہتک کا روپ دھار لیتا ہے۔

اٹھارھویں اور انیسویں صدی کی اردو غزل میں عشوے اور غمزے دکھانے کے بعد نازو ادا کی یہ لہراتی بل کھاتی ُپتلی بالا خانے کے پردے چاک کرکے بیچ بازار آن کھڑی ہوتی ہے اور ساحر لدھیانوی کی زبان میں چِلا چِلا کر کہتی ہے :

ثناخوانِ تقدیسِ مشرق کو لاؤ

یہ گلیاں یہ کوچے یہ منظر دکھاؤ

اکیسویں صدی کے’ شاعرو صورت گر و افسانہ نگار‘ کے لیے طوائف نہ تو دل بہلانے کا کوئی کھلونا ہے اور نہ کوئی ملعون و مطعون کردار۔

’لاگا چنری میں داغ‘ کی ایسکورٹ گرل ہو یا اقبال حسین کے کینوس پر نقش ایک بازاری عورت۔۔۔

آج کا فن کار اسے نفرت سے مسترد نہیں کرسکتا۔وہ جانتا ہے کہ اس عورت کو بازار میں کون لایا ہے، اور یہ بھی کہ اس کی کھوئی ہوئی نسوانیت اسے کیسے واپس ملے گی۔

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woh jo bechtay thay Dawai dil …wo dukaan apni……..

رقص و موسیقی کی جو عظیم روایت نوابوں، جاگیرداروں، راجوں اور مہاراجوں کے درباروں میں پروان چڑھی تھی وہ تو جاگیروں اور راجواڑوں کے ساتھ ہی دم توڑ گئی لیکن بازارِ حسن کی شکل میں اس کی جو باقیات رہ گئی تھیں، اب وہ بھی آخری دموں پر ہیں۔ لاہور کا بازارِ حسن جسے پرانے لاہوری شہر کے ماتھے کا جھومر کہتے تھے، اب گمنامی کے اندھیرے میں کھو گیا ہے۔

لاہور میں واقع تاریخی بازارِ حسن میں ناچ گانے پر موجود حالات کی وجہ سے مکمل بندش کے بعد بازار میں واقع ان تمام کوٹھوں پر تالے پڑگئے ہیں جہاں روزانہ رات کو رقص کی محفلیں سجتی تھیں۔

یہ ملک کا وہ بازار حسن تھا جہاں پر پچاس کی دہائی میں قانونی طور پر ناچ گانے کی اجازت دی گئی لیکن ملک میں دہشت گردی کی حالیہ لہر سے یہ بازار ویران ہوگیا ہے۔

تاہم بازار حسن کے باسیوں کا کہنا ہے کہ جہاں دہشتگردی کے خطرات کے پیش نظر بازار میں ناچ گانے کا سلسلہ بند کروا دیا گیا ہے وہیں اب یہ کاروبار شہر کے مختلف علاقوں میں پھیل گیا ہے۔

دس ماہ پہلے اس علاقے میں کم شدت کے دھماکے ہوئے تھے جس کے بعد یہاں رقص کرنے والے لوگ یہاں سے چلے گئے اور اس طرح برسوں پرانی ثفاقت ختم ہوگئی۔

ڈاکٹر شہزاد آصف، ایس پی لاہور

شہر کے اس قدیم بازار حسن میں لگ بھگ تین سو سے زیادہ کوٹھے تھے جہاں روزانہ رات کو تین گھنٹے کے لیے ناچ گانا ہوتا تھا اور دس بجے سے ایک بجے تک رقص دیکھنے کی قانونی اجازت دی گئی تھی جسے بعد میں کم کر کے گیارہ بجے سے ایک بجے تک کر دیا گیا تھا۔

لیکن اب رات کے وقت یہاں خاموشی کا راج ہوتا ہے۔

اس علاقے کی بااثر شخصیت ندیم علی کا کہنا ہے کہ دہشتگردی کے خطرے کے پیش نظر پولیس نے بازار میں رقص کا سلسلہ بند کروا دیا ہے۔ ان کے بقول اس اقدام سے کئی افراد بے روزگار ہوئے ہیں اور اب ان لوگوں کے لیے دس بیس روپے جیسی معمولی رقم بھی بڑی اہمیت کی حامل ہوگئی ہے۔

انہوں نے اس بات پر حیرت کا اظہار کیا کہ بازار حسن میں تو رقص کو مکمل طور پر بند کر دیا گیا ہے تاہم شہر کے دیگر علاقوں میں رقص کی محفلیں سجانے کا سلسلہ جاری ہے۔

گانے اور رقص کو تو بند کرا دیا گیا ہے مگر اس کی جگہ برائی کا کام شروع ہوگیا ہے۔جس کام کی اجازت ہے وہ بند ہوگیا ہے جس کام پر سزا ہے اس کی اجازت ہے۔

ندیم علی

ندیم علی نے کہا کہ بازار حسن کے جن گھروں میں گانے اور موسقی کی محفلیں ہوتی تھیں اب ان گھروں پر یا تالے پڑے ہیں یا ان عمارتوں کو کاروباری لوگ خرید رہے ہیں۔ ان کے بقول ’اب بازار میں جوتوں کے کارخانوں کی تعداد زیادہ ہوگئی ہے‘ ۔

انہوں نے کہا کہ حکومت ساتھ دے تو بازار حسن دوبارہ آباد ہوسکتا ہے اور یہاں رقص اور موسیقی کی محفلیں شروع ہو جائیں گی۔

ادھر لاہور پولیس کا کہنا ہے کہ اس بازار میں رقص اور موسیقی کی محافل کی مکمل بندش کی بڑی وجہ دہشت گردی ہے۔

لاہور پولیس کے ایس پی ڈاکٹر شہزاد آصف خان کا کہنا ہے کہ دس ماہ پہلے اس علاقے میں کم شدت کے دھماکے ہوئے تھے جس کے بعد رقص کرنے والے لوگ یہاں سے چلے گئے اور اس طرح برسوں پرانی ثفاقت ختم ہوگئی۔

ڈاکٹر شہزاد نے اس تاثر کی نفی کی کہ پولیس نے خود بازار حسن سے رقص اور موسیقی کا کام بند کروایا ہے۔

بازارِ حسن میں رقص کی بندش سے متاثر ہونے والوں میں کوٹھوں پر کام کرنے والے سازندے بھی شامل ہیں۔ ایسے ہی ایک سازندے حیدر علی کا کہنا ہے کہ ناچ گانا ہونے سے انہیں بھی روزگار مل رہا تھا لیکن بازار بند ہونے سے ان کی آمدن بھی بند ہوگئی ہے۔

بازارِ حسن میں رقص کی بندش سے متاثر ہونے والوں میں کوٹھوں پر کام کرنے والے سازندے بھی شامل ہیں۔بازار بند ہونے سے ان کی آمدن بھی بند ہوگئی ہے۔ اب ان سازندوں کی آمدن کا دارومدار بنیادی طور پر اندرون ملک و بیرونِ ملک طائفے لے جانے والے ان پروموٹرز پر ہے جن کےدفاتر اس بازار میں کوٹھوں کی جگہ کھلے نظر آتے ہیں۔

اب ان سازندوں کی آمدن کا دارومدار بنیادی طور پر اندرون ملک و بیرونِ ملک طائفے لے جانے والے ان پروموٹرز پر ہے جن کےدفاتر اس بازار میں کوٹھوں کی جگہ کھلے نظر آتے ہیں۔

اس بازار سے رقص و موسیقی کی رخصت کا اثر کبھی یہاں سجنے والی محفلوں میں آنے والے شائقین کی خاطر بنائے گئے کھانے کے مراکز کی بِکری پر بھی پڑا ہے۔

اب ان دکانوں پر وہ رش دکھائی نہیں دیتا جو کبھی اس علاقے کی پہچان تھا۔ اس بازار میں واقع سری پائے کی ایک مشہور دکان پر موجود شہزادہ پرویز بھی مشکل کا شکار نظر آئے اور ان کا کہنا تھا کہ بازار کی بندش سے آنے والوں کا رش بھی کم ہوگیا ہے اور ان کا کاروبار پہلے سا نہیں رہا۔

ہیرا منڈی یا بازار حسن میں بچ جانے والے افراد کی آج بھی یہی خواہش ہے کہ ان کے علاقے میں وہی روشنیاں دوبارہ جگمائیں جو اس بازار کی پہچان تھیں اور یہاں کی رونقیں دوبارہ بحال ہوں تاہم ایسا ہونے کا اب کوئی امکان نظر نہیں آتا۔

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Once Upon a Time in Afghanistan… | Foreign Policy

Once Upon a Time in Afghanistan… | Foreign Policy.

Once Upon a Time in Afghanistan…

Record stores, Mad Men furniture, and pencil skirts — when Kabul had rock ‘n’ roll, not rockets.


On a recent trip to Afghanistan, British Defense Secretary Liam Fox drew fire for calling it “a broken 13th-century country.” The most common objection was not that he was wrong, but that he was overly blunt. He’s hardly the first Westerner to label Afghanistan as medieval. Former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince recently described the country as inhabited by “barbarians” with “a 1200 A.D. mentality.” Many assume that’s all Afghanistan has ever been — an ungovernable land where chaos is carved into the hills. Given the images people see on TV and the headlines written about Afghanistan over the past three decades of war, many conclude the country never made it out of the Middle Ages.

But that is not the Afghanistan I remember. I grew up in Kabul in the 1950s and ’60s. When I was in middle school, I remember that on one visit to a city market, I bought a photobook about the country published by Afghanistan’s planning ministry. Most of the images dated from the 1950s. I had largely forgotten about that book until recently; I left Afghanistan in 1968 on a U.S.-funded scholarship to study at the American University of Beirut, and subsequently worked in the Middle East and now the United States. But recently, I decided to seek out another copy. Stirred by the fact that news portrayals of the country’s history didn’t mesh with my own memories, I wanted to discover the truth. Through a colleague, I received a copy of the book and recognized it as a time capsule of the Afghanistan I had once known — perhaps a little airbrushed by government officials, but a far more realistic picture of my homeland than one often sees today.

A half-century ago, Afghan women pursued careers in medicine; men and women mingled casually at movie theaters and university campuses in Kabul; factories in the suburbs churned out textiles and other goods. There was a tradition of law and order, and a government capable of undertaking large national infrastructure projects, like building hydropower stations and roads, albeit with outside help. Ordinary people had a sense of hope, a belief that education could open opportunities for all, a conviction that a bright future lay ahead. All that has been destroyed by three decades of war, but it was real.

have since had the images in that book digitized. Remembering Afghanistan’s hopeful past only makes its present misery seem more tragic. Some captions in the book are difficult to read today: “Afghanistan’s racial diversity has little meaning except to an ethnologist. Ask any Afghan to identify a neighbor and he calls him only a brother.” “Skilled workers like these press operators are building new standards for themselves and their country.” “Hundreds of Afghan youngsters take active part in Scout programs.” But it is important to know that disorder, terrorism, and violence against schools that educate girls are not inevitable. I want to show Afghanistan’s youth of today how their parents and grandparents really lived.

Original caption: “Kabul University students changing classes. Enrollment has doubled in last four years.”

The physical campus of Kabul University, pictured here, does not look very different today. But the people do. In the 1950s and ’60s, students wore Western-style clothing; young men and women interacted relatively freely. Today, women cover their heads and much of their bodies, even in Kabul. A half-century later, men and women inhabit much more separate worlds.

“Biology class, Kabul University.”

In the 1950s and ’60s, women were able to pursue professional careers in fields such as medicine. Today, schools that educate women are a target for violence, even more so than five or six years ago.

“Student nurses at Maternity Hospital, Kabul.”

When I was growing up, education was valued and viewed as the great equalizer. If you went to school and achieved good grades, you’d have the chance to enter college, maybe study abroad, be part of the middle class, and enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. Education was a hallowed value. Today, I think people have become far more cynical. They do not see the link between education and a better life; they see instead that those who have accumulated wealth and power have not done so through legitimate means.

“Most hospitals give extensive post-natal care to young mothers.”

This infant ward in a Kabul hospital in the 1960s contrasts sharply with one I visited in 2004 in Mazar-e-Sharif. There I found two babies born prematurely sharing the same incubator. That hospital, like many in Afghanistan today, did not have enough equipment.

“Infant ward at feeding time.”

In the 1960s, about half of Afghanistan’s people had access to some level of medical care; now a much smaller percentage do. Today’s hospitals are crowded, the facilities limited; nearly one in four babies born in Afghanistan today does not reach its fifth birthday.

“A laboratory at the Vaccine Research Center.”

Above is a vaccine research center attached to a Kabul hospital in the 1960s. Today, medical care across the country is limited by several factors, including lack of electricity. Less than 20 percent of Afghans have access to electricity; many homes are lit by kerosene lamps, with only fans running to combat the heat.

“A villager welcomes visiting nurses to his compound.”

The central government of Afghanistan once oversaw various rural development programs, including one, pictured here, that sent nurses in jeeps to remote villages to inoculate residents from such diseases as cholera. Now, security concerns alone make such an effort nearly impossible. Government nurses, as well as U.N. and NGO medical workers, are regular targets for insurgent groups that merely want to create disorder and terror in society.

“Hundreds of Afghan youngsters take active part in Scout programs.”

Afghanistan once had Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. In the 1950s and ’60s, such programs were very similar to their counterparts in the United States, with students in elementary and middle schools learning about nature trails, camping, and public safety. But scouting troops disappeared entirely after the Soviet invasions in the late 1970s.

“Park Cinema, like many others, provides the needed entertainment.”

This movie theater was located near where I once lived, and we could even see Hollywood movies there. (I remember seeing SpartacusThe FBI Story, and The Dirty Dozen.)

“Mothers and children at a city playground.”

I also remember a playground a few hundred yards away from the theater, where mothers used to take their children to play. Now, only men loiter in the city parks; it is unsafe to bring children outside.

Skilled workers like these press operators are building new standards for themselves and their country.”

Light and medium industry, like this metal shop in the Kabul suburbs, once held great promise for Afghanistan’s economy. But today, how could you run such an operation without ample electricity? Now there are only small shops, people who work at home — no major industrial centers. Currently, Afghanistan’s chief export is opium.

“Sarobi hydro-power plant on Kabul River is one of the country’s foremost power stations.”

With German assistance, Afghanistan built its first large hydropower station, pictured here, in the early 1950s. At the time, it was state of the art. It is still in operation, but unfortunately, in the last eight years, Afghanistan’s government has not been able to build a single large power plant of any kind. The only sizable accomplishment has been the expansion of a transport line to Uzbekistan so that power can be imported from the north.

Gulbahar Textile Plant is one of the most modern in Asia.”

When I was growing up, Afghanistan did have medium and light industry, such as the textile factory pictured here. There was a sense then that Afghanistan had a bright future — its economy was growing, its industry on par with other countries in the region. Back then, most of the cotton processed in a plant like this was grown locally. But three decades of war have destroyed industry and the supply chain.

“Kabul is served by an up-to-date transportation system.”

Compared with the 1950s and ’60s, fewer women work outside the home, and their outfits are much more conservative than what you see here.

“Central control panel at Radio Kabul transmitter. Transmitter can be heard as far distant as South Africa and Indonesia.”

If you flipped through the radio dial in the 1960s, you would hear broadcasts of world news, local news, music programs, funny skits, political discourse, maybe an art program, a children’s show. Radio Kabul, a state-run station whose old offices are pictured here, was launched in the 1930s.

Recording room pre-records many interviews, special service programs for delayed broadcast.”

Modern Afghanistan actually has a greater number of private radio stations, as well as broadcast and satellite television shows. This is one bright spot. But access to radio and TV depends on electricity, and so in a practical sense, the audience is therefore limited. Only the most well-to-do families have private generators to ensure uninterrupted electricity to power electrical devices.

“International trade fair at Kabul.”

During the annual commemoration of Afghanistan’s independence, Kabul was lit up at night in late August and early September for nine evenings in the early 1960s. Now the city is dark. Even driving at night gives an eerie feeling. There are hardly any lights on; the streets are desolate, and there is no night life.

“Textile store window display.”

Clothing boutiques like these were a familiar feature in Kabul during my childhood.

“Phonograph record store.”

So, too, were record stores, bringing the rhythm and energy of the Western world to Kabul teenagers.

“Furniture display room.”

Today, furniture stores like this one are a rarity. Most furniture is manufactured outside Afghanistan, and only a small percentage of Afghans now have even simple furniture like this in their homes.

“Fresh fruit bazaar.”

When I visit Kabul today, it is only the fruit bazaars that still look the same.

“Cabinet in session.”

The education level of Afghanistan’s cabinet today is far less than it was 50 years ago, when this photo was taken. Back then, most high-ranking government officials would have had master’s or doctoral degrees. Western dress was the norm. These days, government meetings in Kabul are conducted among men, many with long beards, big turbans, and traditional garb.

“In the absence of dependable international peace, national defense plays an important role in the affairs of the nation.”

Afghanistan’s once strong and functional defensive forces are today only a memory. After the Soviets left, Pakistan was instrumental in destroying the country’s armed services. Since the 1990s civil war, the subsequent Taliban takeover, and the U.S.-led intervention, domestic security forces have proved extremely difficult to build, even as security remains a top concern.

Mohammad Qayoumi is president of California State University, East Bay. He grew up in Kabul and came to work in the United States in 1978. Since 2002 he has volunteered his time in reconstruction efforts, serving on the board of directors to the Central Bank and as senior advisor to the minister of finance.

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DAWN.COM | Columnists | Persecuted by all

DAWN.COM | Columnists | Persecuted by all.

By Rafia Zakaria 
Wednesday, 24 Feb, 2010
People from Pakistan's Christian community rally to condemn attacks on their fellows in Gojra.—File photo by AP
People from Pakistan’s Christian community rally to condemn attacks on their fellows in Gojra.—File photo by AP

At least one of three Sikhs who were abducted for ransom about a month ago by the Pakistani Taliban was killed on Sunday, Feb 21.

The murdered man, Jaspal Singh, and his fellow kidnap victims were Pakistani citizens who lived in Khyber Agency’s Tirah Valley. 

Their abductors were demanding a ransom payment of Rs30 million, to be delivered by Sunday. The other two in the group are allegedly still being held by the Taliban, although there is some confusion since some reports say that two beheaded bodies were found in Orakzai and Khyber agencies.

There are also unconfirmed reports that decapitated heads were delivered by the Taliban to the gurdwara in the area, and that letters found with the bodies warned elders in the region not to disclose the case to the media. 

The killing of minorities by the Taliban is not a new issue; their elimination and demands for the payment of a jizya tax have been an ideological staple of the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The plight of Christian, Hindu and Sikh minorities in and near Swat and the tribal areas is particularly precarious, with their livelihoods and day-to-day existence threatened by the encroaching presence of the Taliban. 

Yet the Taliban are not the only threat to Pakistan’s religious and sectarian minorities. The past few months have seen the emergence of horrifying cases of systematised persecution of religious minorities.

These instances extend from the individual, such as the case of 12-year-old Shazia Masih who was allegedly tortured and killed while she was employed by a former president of the Lahore Bar Association, to cases such as that of Gojra and Korianwala where mobs were mobilised and Christians were burned alive in their homes. 

The latest case of Siddiq Masih is an illustration of the lack of societal outrage against the persecution of minority groups. In this instance, the Punjab minister for prisons,Chaudhry Abdul Ghafoor, reportedly persuaded two Christian brothers to convert to Islam and transact a real estate deal that would hand over a 16-marla plot in Christian Colony owned by their brother Siddiq Masih.

According to some reports, the two brothers were addicted to drugs and wanted easy cash with which to procure them. In 2004 they converted to Islam and then produced fake ownership documents that showed them as the true owners of the land. 

The deal did not go through as planned and in October 2009 the two accused their Christian brother of blasphemy and alleged that he had desecrated the Quran.

Siddiq Masih had already lodged a case against his brothers but provincial minister Abdul Ghafoor is now said to be involved in the case, and is reportedly pressing him to withdraw the case and turn the land over to his Muslim brothers — so that he may purchase it at a pittance. 

If the story is true, and many insist it is, the case demonstrates the manner in which the blasphemy laws have become convenient instruments in the hands of anyone who chooses to target minorities.

These laws, contained in various sections of Pakistan’s criminal code, forbid the damaging or defiling of a place of worship (Section 295-A) and outraging religious feelings (Section 295). Section 295-C states: “Whoever, with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of any person, utters any word or makes any sound in the hearing of that person or makes any gesture in the sight of that person or places any object in the sight of that person, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.” 

The trial must be presided over by a Muslim judge in a sessions court. Defaming the Holy Prophet (pbuh) can lead to a death sentence and defaming the Quran can lead to life imprisonment.

In practice, evidentiary requirements for witnesses are sometimes relaxed by judges overcome by religious zeal to inflict punishment on the accused.

The blasphemy laws have thus in effect become legal tools allowing the majority religion to persecute minorities or the weak under pretextual charges of having defamed the Quran or the Holy Prophet. 

Despite calls for the repeal of these laws from minority groups as well as human rights organisations, recent debates on the blasphemy laws are being directed toward the revision rather than repeal of existing legislation.

The appointed (rather than elected) minister for minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, has promised that a “revised” blasphemy bill will be introduced in parliament later this year.

This move again reflects the lack of political will to take on Islamist political parties such as the Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan, which has declared that no one “has the power to touch the blasphemy laws” and has threatened legislative and street protests if the revised bill is introduced. 

All this despite the fact that scholars such as Asghar Ali Engineer have declared the current form of the laws to be un-Islamic in that they were introduced to legitimise Gen Ziaul-Haq’s regime, and make little effort to ascribe to the evidentiary or doctrinal standards of classical Islamic law. 

If the Taliban kill minorities as part of their project to attack the Pakistani state, the Pakistani state in turn allows the perpetuation of a legal system that leaves minorities vulnerable to persecution at the whim of anyone who chooses to accuse them of blasphemy.

This juxtaposition blurs the moral lines between the state trying to maintain the rule of law, and anti-state forces such as the Taliban trying to destroy it. At the heart of the problem lies the assurance that the lives of minorities who are crushed between the barbarity of the Taliban and the corruption of the state are ultimately expendable and unworthy of protection. 

The recent beheading reflects in gruesome detail the tyranny of the Taliban. But the continued existence of the blasphemy laws are perhaps equally damning indictments of the Pakistani state.

The writer is a US-based attorney and teaches constitutional law and political philosophy.

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Morality isn’t the monopoly of any faith

Morality isn’t the monopoly of any faith

February 17, 2010 by alexpressed


Consider this demographic projection for the UK, and ponder its implications for a moment: within five years, the majority of babies will be born to unmarried parents. However, before you put this down to yet another example of Western immorality, just remember that all these babies will have the same legal rights as those born to married couples.

This trend is part of the wider decline of marriage as an institution. According to a recent study, the figures for people getting married in Britain is at its lowest ever since these statistics began to be compiled nearly 150 years ago.In 2008, only 21.8 per thousand adult men of marriageable age actually took the vow. At 19.6, the figure for women was even lower. And the average age for men getting married for the first time was 32, and for women it was nearly 30.

These figures reveal not so much disillusionment with the institution of marriage, as much as they do a widespread rejection of religion. Church marriages are still favoured by the middle classes, but more for the pomp and glamour of the wedding dress worn by the bride, and the finery sported by the guests. Indeed, attendance for church services has fallen steadily, and most Brits only go to church for weddings and funerals.

A glance at the European table reveals that the belief in a god is generally quite low in all the major countries. Sweden, with only 23 per cent of the population believing in a deity, is the least observant, with the UK at 38 per cent. Germany and France are similarly atheistic or agnostic. Interestingly, Catholic countries seem to be more staunchly Christian, with Poles, Spaniards and Italians being among the most fervent of believers.

Indeed, a lack of belief in a supreme being has long been the hallmark of Western intellectual thought since the Enlightenment of the 18th century. Hence, lawmakers have tried to separate religion form politics, few more so than the Founding Fathers of the United States. Both Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were fiercely agnostic in their views.

Scientists, too, have tended to question the belief system they were born into, as revealed by this quotation from Albert Einstein: “Science has been charged with undermining morality, but the charge is unjust. A man’s ethical behaviour should be based on sympathy, education and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.”

Many have condemned modern Western civilization for its ‘godless’ ways, pointing to widespread cohabitation between men and women, men and men, and women and women. Alcoholism, nudity and drug-abuse are also frequently cited. All these lifestyle choices are mentioned in arguments over the superiority of Eastern religions and societies. Yet the firm belief in religion and an afterlife in our part of the world do not necessarily translate into better societies.

In the Transparency International table for global perceptions of corruption for 2009, there is not a single Muslim country in the twenty most honest states. However, seven Muslim countries figure among the ten most corrupt states. Interestingly, Sweden, the most godless state in Europe, comes in at joint third with Singapore as the least corrupt country in the world.

There is an argument that corruption is a function of poverty, and once societies have acquired a measure of economic well-being, they tend to become more honest and accountable. While there is some truth to this assertion, how to explain the fact that Saudi Arabia, one of the richest countries in the world, is listed as 63rd by TI? And Kuwait comes in at 68. Clearly, then, there is little direct linkage between religion and morality.

Nevertheless, billions around the world continue to believe deeply in the faith they have grown up in. They derive comfort from following the belief system of their forefathers, and most of them have never felt the need to question it. Indeed, the poor obtain solace for their wretched condition with the promise of compensation in the afterlife. And the rich in our part of the world try and assuage their guilt by giving alms generously, thereby hoping to buy a place in heaven. If only they would pay their taxes with the same zeal, we might be able to make a better world in this life.

In religiously inclined societies like Pakistan, we are fond of criticising Western materialism, while holding up our supposed spirituality as being superior. Even the millions of Muslims who have chosen to migrate to the West make the same assertion. However, I have not noticed any of these people denying themselves the conveniences and the advantages of these same ‘materialistic’ societies.And frankly, I do not see too much evidence of our vaunted ‘spirituality’ in our behaviour or attitudes.

These differences have been sharpened after 9/11, with more and more people in the West now seeing Islam and Muslims as being behind the rise in extremist violence in much of the world. Muslims, for their part, see themselves as victims of a rising Islamophobia.  Interestingly, the trend towards atheism and agnosticism is far less marked in the United States than in Europe. Well below five per cent of Americans assert they do not believe in any god.

Indeed, some Evangelical Christians in America think they have more in common with Muslims than the ‘godless Europeans’.

One reason it is so difficult for many Muslims to become assimilated into the societies they have chosen to live in is the huge cultural differences they encounter. Generally coming from deeply conservative backgrounds, they are shocked with the free and easy lifestyle they encounter. Rather than encouraging their children to integrate, they seek to insulate them from Western values, thus causing a state of mild schizophrenia in second- generation immigrants. Some of these young people become quickly radicalised, and seek clarity in the black-and-white world of religious extremism.
Unfortunately, too many of them lack the education to realise that ultimately, no set of beliefs or values is inherently inferior or superior to another. Morality, as we have seen, is not the monopoly of any faith: an atheist can be more ethical than a religious person. At the end of the day, what matters is that humans behave with consideration and decency, and avoid imposing their beliefs on others.

This essay was originally published in DAWN on 17th February, 2009.

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