My Thoughts

The “Viral-ity” Problem! Suffering in Silence

My heart broke yesterday, when I saw the video of a small boy shaking in the snow laying on the road side in Quetta. In the freezing temperature he was out to shine shoes so that he could make ends meet and probably get food for himself or his family. There was widespread outrage, the images were haunting, everyone wanted to help that poor boy. TV screens lit up, the government of Balochistan announced that this boy will be their responsibility from now on. Not sure if that boy was found again or not, and neither knowing that but we all collectively felt good about ourselves. We had seen a poor boy suffering and we all had gathered around him, wanting to help him and support him, and at the first sign this had happened that help had somehow reached him, we all patted ourselves on the back.

Before seeing those viral photos and videos, we probably deep down, had an idea that this boy or boys like him existed. Yet, we weren’t compelled to seek him out. This is what I call selective amnesia. We chose not to acknowledge him until we saw it. We choose not to act until it was shoved in our faces. We choose not to care until it was drilled into our empathy lacking conscious.

Many people would have also seen this boy on the street, and dismissed him like we ordinarily do when we see the poor and destitute on the streets. Only when one individual was affected by the boy and his condition – that individual chose to act. The individual who we know nothing off made a video and posted it online. I am not aware if the individual who recorded the video chose to help the boy. My first inkling if I see a semi-frozen child shaking violently is not to make a video, but to get him some help, to give him some food and to get him some warmth. A rational first inkling wouldn’t be to make a video and post it online. One can assume – even if it is a bit of a stretch – that if some help was given to the boy by the video maker he or she would have shared that too. Yet, to give the benefit of the doubt I am going to argue that for whatever reason that person did not have any other recourse. I am going to think that that person couldn’t help that boy in any other way beyond what he or she did. 

Now, why did this boy affect us so much and not all those bystanders on that street? I am going to argue this was because that boy on that street for those walking was a routine occurrence. We are all so used to seeing someone suffering on the street. We also are all so used to doing nothing about said suffering. Yet, when that boy was presented to us on social media, where we like to think highly of ourselves and also which is our exclusive domain away from such things, it touched us and got to us. We had to act. It was as much a display of sympathy as it was a feature of our own human psychology. There probably were other such unfortunate souls on the street that day too. In a country where poverty is so rampant why wouldn’t they be? Yet, they continue to remain invisible for us. Forgotten into the pits of our selective amnesia. 

I can’t fault anyone who like myself felt sorry for that boy, or who wanted to help him. I felt the same. It is strange that what we see often rarely affects us any more. We see people suffering on the street too often so we ignore it. We see people suffering on social media rarely so we act. Maybe our real problem isn’t that boy who was suffering on the street that day, it is our indifference which lets so many like him suffer in silence, while we pick one case that is brought to us, try to do something about it or express remorse and move on feeling good about ourselves for nor real reason.

PTI’s “High Moral Ground” is Its Biggest Weakness

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and its leader Imran Khan, bank on a very important assumption about themselves. They say they are not corrupt, they are unfathomable and that they have a high moral ground than any other political party in Pakistan. They haven’t looted the nation, they haven’t robbed it of its wealth and they are against everything that makes this country a worse place to live in for its citizens.

This same moral ground is used by all supporters for PTI. They believe like their leaders that they are better than anyone else, better than any other party and they are unfalable. This is why whenever the PTI loses or does not come out on top, its supporters and some of its leaders say that Pakistan can never change. This is what Pakistan deserves. This is what you people deserve. This form of self-righteousness has been a key feature of both PTI and its followers.

Because of this belief that they are so unfalable and the only ones who are the solution to Pakistan’s problem. The party also believes that whenever it doesn’t come out on top and doesn’t win, it is only because of something that was done against them. It was rigging, it was corruption, it was voter management. Had the contest been fair, there is no possibility that PTI would have ever lost.

When NA154 happened, these were exactly the kind of response we saw. This is what they thought, and this line of thinking can be very dangerous for any political party. Dangerous because it creates this environment where a party will blame other people for its own mistakes.

What happened in NA154 was that after years of preaching against dynastic politics, the PTI nominated Ali Tareen, it gave different definitions of dynastic politics and tried to convince itself and its vote base it wasn’t doing the very thing it has been speaking against for so many years. This obviously was a contributing factor, coupled with a realatively weaker candidate fielded by PMLN.

When you go off message you have consequences. One of the arguments that PTI’s supporters made was that why did people accept dynastic politics in NA120. Well, what they again don’t understand is that PMLNs base is perfectly ok with dynastic politics no matter how much they or even I may disagree with it.

It is also dangerous because when you feel like you can’t do no wrong, and are and always will be victim to external designs: you lose the opportunity to reflect and correct yourself.

PTI has seriously gone off message. It has not revolutionized KPK during its government. It has not ended VIP culture. It has also not ended corruption, and amongst it has corrupt leaders too. It has not ended nepotism and it has not been vastly or even slightly better than any other provincial government over the past five years, no matter what the media or social media wing of PTI may say, and no matter how many abuses it may hurl.

The PTI needs to understand that its urban, middle class and educated base needs it to hold true to its promises. Because, its central assumption is only valid if it didn’t have a shot at power. But, that is not the case anymore.

There is still time. I want to see change in Pakistan. I want to fix this broken system. I can’t expect that change from PMLN, PPP or the religious parties, but it seems sadly I can’t expect that from PTI as well.

PTI’s high moral ground is its biggest downfall. Arrogance never takes you anywhere.

Nawaz Sharif has a choice: Democracy or Himself? 

The JIT report has come in and quite frankly it’s a shit storm for the PM and his family. You can argue for the bias and flaw of the report as much as you can. But, enough pieces of evidence are damning. From the letter from BVI, Dubai and the #FontGate scandal.

Nawaz and Co. have played their cards badly since day one. Starting from stopping the NAB from opening an initial investigation which could have possibly saved them from all this to lying or forging documents.

Now the question is what should Nawaz do? Nawaz is Nawaz he will try to hold on to power as long as he can. That sadly will be the end of him. Nawaz has a choice he can either save himself or save democracy and even save his government.

Many argue that there are hidden powerful forces behind the JIT. The powers that be that are in general behind this have done what they had to do. This was their end game. Corner Nawaz through the JIT and let the Supreme Court do the rest and whatever happens happens. It was about exposing Nawaz and they have.

Nawaz can choose to hold on. If played correctly he could have avoided it. But, now it isn’t a matter of the properties anymore. It isn’t a matter of money trail. It is a matter of perjury, forgery and deception. All crimes that were committed now, in front of the Supreme Court and in front of the JIT. The rest is irrelevant. This is enough to permanently destroy the Sharif’s future.

If Nawaz holds on he will invite more trouble. He will fight against the opposition, the powers that be, the Supreme Court. But, at the same time he will risk himself out in the open. He will be vulnerable to disqualification proceedings which can cause him the next election.

Now, lets get this straight. It’s not like the powers that be, the people, Nawaz’s compatriots and the court didn’t know this. Everyone knows that everyone in power is corrupt. If this is a shock to you, you need to wake up and smell the coffee. But, what this does mean is that after Nawaz everyone else will be taken to task too, Nawaz will make sure of it. On his list above all is Imran Khan. He had troubles of his own in providing his money trail, and his disproportionate living style in ratio to his income.

The Supreme Court will be wary, it will not take any action that can compromise the country, it’s economy and political system too much. This might be some sort of saving grace for Nawaz. This is what his spin doctors will try to spin it in a last ditch effort. It is half threat and half truth. If Nawaz is going down it won’t be easy and it won’t be pretty.

The court could refer this case to NAB or to trial court. This will give Nawaz breathing space. Legally he can continue to serve. Morally? Well who cares about morals in Pakistani politics anyway? If Nawaz can make it and survive till the next election, he can live to fight another day. But, this depends on what the court will do. However, the opposition and specially Imran Khan will ensure that the noose is tight around Nawaz’s neck throughout all this.

Another side to the story is that Nawaz still has options, and everyone is watching. Resignation, fighting on, early election? The only problem with the early election is the completion of the census without with as per the Supreme court’s orders an election can’t be held.

Nawaz might have lost respect in some circles, but who cares? Pakistan’s population has a short memory span anyway. Nawaz would try to become a political martyr. How he will do it will have the fate of the country resting upon him.

However, when the worst comes down. If the hard decisions come in. If it is decided that Nawaz must go, and whatever implications that may or may not have. Nawaz will have the option of going nuclear and taking everyone down with him including his own government. It will be in Nawaz’s best interest to resign and fight his battles, battles he thinks he can manage. But, to protect the system will be paramount.

Will Nawaz do the right thing? If history is to go by, he won’t. That only means bad news for all of us.

Aisa Roza na Rakho!

Today while my car was at an intersection, the signal turned green and I started moving my car forward. Just as my car reached the center of the intersection a taxi came flying by; I was lucky to stop the car in time otherwise it would have been a disaster.

I have been seeing this since I was a child. My oldest memory of Ramzan is when I was going home from school, hardly 5 years old, and two drivers were fighting with each other. Over the years I would see many sights like this. It would always make me wonder, what is the point?

We are supposed to fast, so we can be patient, so we can learn to understand the needs of the needy. It is not an exercise in staying hungry! It is not an exercise in staying thirsty. It is an exercise to learn to be patient and to be steadfast.

Yet, what is our typical Roza? People abuse, people fight, people use Roza as an excuse to be dishonest in their work. People cite Roza as the reason they can’t do things they are responsible for. People use Roza as an excuse. An excuse to abuse, an excuse to break laws and an excuse to justify actions which are plain wrong.

Allah didn’t intend Roza for this. So, do everyone a favor don’t keep Roza if you are going to do all this. Because this is not what Roza is for! If your Roza is going to do more harm than good! Trust me, Allah doesn’t want your Roza!

Doctors: Victims or Mafia?

Last night, I posted about the Umerkot incident where doctors had refused treatment to a sanitary worker just because he was filthy. This resulted in a lot of backlash from doctors. They felt like they were being threatened or treated badly or blamed.

Full disclosure, my parents and my sister and half of my family are doctors. The truth is I honestly understand and get it. There are a few professions that are very difficult, but in my experience the two most difficult professions in Pakistan are being a doctor and being a teacher. In both cases, you are essentially dealing with a human being and not a product. This makes it difficult. I will write about teachers another day. But, lets focus on doctors for today.

Sometimes patients think that doctors can do everything. Doctors can’t work miracles. They can try and help. But, I have seen doctors getting abused, being beaten and their patients questioning their judgement. Doctors spend years studying and years working on low salaries during their trainings. In general, only those who get high grades and the brightest opt for this profession that too amongst fierce competition in medical schools. After that if they face abuse and questions on their judgements that can be daunting.

At the same time, what a lot of people don’t understand, medicine is equally art as it science. There are no guaranteed cures and life and death are obviously in the hands of Allah. Yet, mob mentality made worse by media can create havoc and many issues specially for doctors. On the one hand you have people saying they are only in it for the money, obviously everyone is as they have to provide for their families, on the other hand doctors complain it is a thankless job.

However, mob mentalities and media exploitation aside, just two weeks ago a patient was brought to my mother for a routine check up whose husband was a reporter in a third rate news channel. He said if my mother didn’t see him first he would show it all over his channel and give a bad name to my mother. My mother horrified had called me and I asked the reporter to please go to another hospital.

Doctors face many challenges. While, they have gone on strike for money because they were and are genuinely underpaid. They exercised the only option that they had to walk out. But, is it right for a messiah to do so? Well no. But what other option does the messiah have?

Yet, this treatment has sometimes made doctors so sensitive to any form of criticism that they combine together to defend one of their own. Like in the Umerkot incident if the doctor didn’t treat the patient then he should face disciplinary action.

We need to come to our senses about a lot of things in Pakistan. This is one of them. People need to understand doctors do their best, and not unnecessarily blame them or assault them. If doctors earn money, there is nothing wrong with it! They studied and worked hard to do so. Doctors also need to accept there are shortcomings amongst human beings and they need to be fixed. However, needlessly persecuting or needlessly defending any doctor is wrong!

Donald Trump’s Pakistan

The whole world is angry at how Trump is treating Muslims. How in the name of security Muslims and certain races are being detained, banned and unfairly treated. How wrong is it that because of some people you can’t target a whole religion or a whole country. We all are angry and quite frankly disgusted with what Donald Trump has done to the world.

But sadly we are hypocrites!

The same thing has been in happening in Pakistan. Sadly now, it has taken an even greater turn. In the name of security we are racially profiling Pathans and Pakhtoons. By checking people from certain ethnicities and by demanding documents from only certain ethnicities we are promoting the same hate that Donald Trump promotes against Muslims in America.

This is not the way to make Pakistan more secure. Specially when 1/4th of our population is Pathan. This is not the first time we are discriminating in our history. We did it with the Bengalis. We didn’t let them use their language. We didn’t give them their share of seats as per their population. We spent the money they generated on us. Look at where that led us.

I am getting messages and reports of increased racial profiling and racist policy from our state in the name of security. People are hurt. They are hating Pakistan. Any country that would discriminate on the basis of your race will produce the same affect. So my question is why is our state inherently making us more insecure and inherently destroying our social cohesion and fabric.

Racism and racial targeting in the name of security is never justified and it history teaches us that it never leads to anything good! So I urge you to not let Pakistan be Donald Trump’s Pakistan!

It has been beautiful how so many in America have stood up to racism and so should we!

Share this if you agree!

APS and the Inconvenient Truth

Let me be honest with you. I didn’t remember that the APS attack happened today two years ago. They say you block out bad memories and traumatic experiences. My mind was probably trying to do the same. But, I had a very bad dream last night and I woke up screaming and sweating. Breathed a sigh of relief that it was just a dream. But couldn’t sleep again.

I dreamt that I saw on tv: my son’s school under attack. Shots were being fired. There was blood on the walls. Blood was flooding out the doors. I immediately ran to the school, where I was stopped by soldiers from going any further. It looked like Islamabad – but wasn’t. The shooting continued and there was a huge explosion. Everyone was dead. I saw my son’s body in pieces. His face was half blown away and the other half expressing extreme pain. I saw bodies of young children all around me. Mutilated. Bleeding. Lifeless.

I am sure ever since the terrible incidents of 16th December 2014, all of us have had similar dreams. We as a country have been haunted and hurt. All of us have wounds which nothing can ever heal. Pain that the passing of time doesn’t ease. But, it just isn’t about APS. It just isn’t about those souls. It’s also about the countless children whose childhood has been stolen from them as IDPs who are forced to live in camps. It is about all those children in FATA and Swat who had their lives taken by barbarianism.

APS wasn’t the first attack on our children. It was the first one that hit home. It wasn’t the last attack on our children either. We saw that just a year later another attack happened in Charsadda. More of our children died.

At the second sad anniversary of this attack we live in a Pakistan where we see terrorism to have lessened. We feel more secure and at ease. Yet, we forget the inconvenient truths that always come back to bite us, haunt us and destroy us.

The APS attack was our own doing. We are responsible. We are responsible when in the 80s and 90s we supported a movement in a proxy war that would ultimately go out of our control. We are responsible that we didn’t quell terrorism swiftly and quickly when it reared its ugly head almost 8 years ago. It is our own doing when we wanted to negotiate with murderers and barbarians who defamed our religion and killed our fellow countrymen.

The lives of these kids, their sacrifice at APS did one thing that hadn’t happened for three decades. They united us all of us. We pledged to let go of all our power struggles, our greed for corruption, our inaction. We promised to get revenge. We released anthems and we made a National Action Plan. No terrorist was to harm another Pakistani boy or girl ever again.

It hasn’t been two years and we are back again to where we were. Our institutions fighting for power. Our government sweeping its corruption under the rug. An opposition that doesn’t care much about terrorism at all, just about removing the Prime Minister. Our National Action plan remains unfulfilled. We have had no reforms for Madrassas. We haven’t developed a counter narrative to the false religious ideology of the terrorists. We haven’t educated our own children let alone “dusham ke bachon ko parhana”.

We did kill terrorists but did nothing to kill the thought, the process that radicalises them. We released three songs to try to remind us of what happened. We bought ourselves some time. That’s all we did. But our time is almost up.

Unless we do something and do something fast. Unless we implement and not just introduce reforms. Unless we eradicate all support for terrorism. Unless we work with our neighbours to ensure their soil isn’t used against us. Unless we wake up and say fighting terrorism and getting rid of it is our number one priority and we will work day and night to do it. Unless our institutions stop fighting for power and our leaders stop being selfish. APS like events will happen again. I am scared. I am scared that my worst dream about my son will be my nightmare-ish reality. So, let’s remember those who died in the APS attack. But, not remember them to insult them by doing nothing to make sure that what happened doesn’t happen again.

She Said No! He Didn’t Stop!

I didn’t know what to expect today as I picked up my phone. I had received a harrowing message from a girl last night who had asked for my number. She didn’t say much. All her message said, that she needed to talk, and didn’t have anywhere to go to. I am not in the habit of giving out my number. But, I had a few mutual friends with the person in question, so sent her my public number. I told her to call me tomorrow morning.

My phone beeped, and I received a text from her. She asked if it was okay to call. I replied that it was. The next second the phone rang. I picked up. She was crying. She said Salam. I replied. She said she didn’t know who to turn to. I asked what happened. She told me her story.

She liked a guy in her college. She was from Islamabad. They had been together for over two years now. It was an ordinary day, they went out on a date. She said this was nothing unusual and that she would go out with him regularly. She said that she was quite intimate with him. They hadn’t had sex, but they would make out and be intimate. She said she always felt safe with him. She trusted him and he would always be respectful of her.

They drove around until they decided to go to her home. They would do so often when either of their families weren’t at home or were out of town. They sat down and started watching a movie. They also started being intimate. It was in her bedroom. However, what was a normal date night for her was about to turn into one of the worst days of her life. It was going to be a day that would haunt her. Shatter her. Destroy her.

The guy told her that he wanted to have sex, and she said no. He insisted. She said NO. He insisted again. She said NO again. But, he didn’t listen. He didn’t listen. He didn’t stop. She was left in tears. Asking him what he had done. The guy she said expressed no remorse. She felt hurt and betrayed. She told him to leave and threw him out. She sat their in her own bedroom, trying to understand what had happened.

She completely broke down on the phone at this point. It is painful. The betrayal. The lost of trust. The rape? She had been raped in her own bedroom. The place she spends most of her day and night in. She would have to sleep in the bed she was raped in. She also didn’t have anywhere to go. No one to turn to.

She couldn’t face her family. She couldn’t tell the police. Why were you with him in the first place? Why did you invite him into your room would be what everyone would ask. She chose to stay quiet. I insisted that she go to the authorities. Get a medical check up done. She said she didn’t want to suffer more humiliation than she already had. She said her father would be devastated. She would carry this burden, but wouldn’t put it on her family. There were no witnesses and it was the word of one person against the other. She has to see him every day at college. She can’t say anything.

The injustice of this is absurd. Why can someone who does that walk away. She wanted me to write about her story. So that women and girls everywhere would know that they need to be careful about safe spaces and trust. She said that that was the only good thing she could get out of this. She could save others from suffering her fate. She also wanted me to tell parents, that they should give their daughters the space to tell them whatever wherever and not be afraid. If she was certain her parents wouldn’t punish her for being the victim and punish the criminal she would be willing to press charges against the rapist.

The problem here is that when young people engage in relationships and are intimate they hide it from everyone. Thus, those who seek to oppress and to take advantage can do it with impunity. So, I will ask everyone to be careful. I know it’s wrong to tell women to not get raped, it is not their fault and that is certainly not what I am saying. What I am saying is be safe, and be careful. Monsters build trust and prey on it to get what the want. We also need comprehensive review on police practices and how best to deal with women without them feeling any indignation for being victims of such a heinous crime.

The Revolution Rhetoric

Unfortunately, some have taken the liberty to cloud the minds of our youth and mislead them. At a time when the youth needs to work towards progress in education, industry and economy, a significant chunk of our youth has been ‘brainwashed’ to believe that for Pakistan to go anywhere a revolution is needed. What is even more scary is that some are almost convinced that this revolution needs to be scarred with bloodshed. ‘Hum Inqilaab layen gay.’ (we will bring a revolution) seems to be the every day slogan of many political parties, and it has become part of every day rhetoric now.

Before moving on, it would be useful to talk about the most widely quoted example in this rhetoric, the French Revolution. I donít find it hard to believe that those talking about it are mostly unaware of what actually happened in that revolution.

A decade after, and perhaps following in the footsteps of the American Revolution (which not surprisingly does not exist in this rhetoric), it is indeed true that the French Revolution in 1789 was a watershed event which changed France and Europe irrevocably.

While the exact causes are hard to pin down, historians generally agree that a number of wars had taken place before the revolution and this had taken a toll on the French treasury. This had further weakened the French bank already ailing from royal extravagance. Secondly, King Louis XVI of France, like many other European kings, propagated the idea that kings ruled by divine right i.e. were handpicked by God. This then made them accountable to no one except God, and the argument went that if God was not pleased with what they were doing He would remove them Himself. Thus, the citizenry had no say in the matter. In a time of highly secularised thinking due to the philosophies of thinkers such as Burke, Condorcet, Rousseau and Voltaire, who argued for rights of people, sovereignty and the social contract (particularly Rousseau), the divine right to rule became a concept hard to digest.

The strict French class system had long placed the clergy and nobility far above the rest of French citizens, despite the fact that many of those citizens far exceeded nobles in wealth and reputation. It was not a fight of the poor against the rich, the haves and the have nots as it is played out in this rhetoric. It was a battle to achieve equality and remove oppression. It was both a success and a failure. It led to several rapid changes of regime, culminating in a military dictatorship, the Napoleonic Empire, and the restoration of the monarchy. In the long term it established a fair tax system in which by law everyone was taxed according to their wealth and property rights were guaranteed.

Another quoted or rather misquoted example is that of the ‘Arab Spring’ or ‘Arab Awakening’. Sparked by the first protests in Tunisia in 2010, a series of rebellions have risen across the Middle East and North Africa. Again, the rhetoric goes that Pakistan needs such a ‘spring’. Looking at the causes of these protests one realises that the factors that have led to the protests include issues such as dictatorship, absolute monarchy, human rights violations, lack of an independent media, government corruption and economic decline.

What needs to be understood is that these revolutions had specific goals which could not be achieved otherwise. A monarchy and dictatorship has to be overturned by mass movements because there is no other way. Similarly, property rights and equality in taxing in that particular context had to be fought for.

Pakistan is a different story. It is not a dictatorship right now; it has been, yes, but didn’t we just overturn the last one through the lawyers’ movement in 2008? Pakistan has equal property rights. In terms of taxation it is actually the government that needs a revolution to make the citizens pay tax (only 2% of Pakistanis pay tax!).

We already overthrew our colonisers and oppressors when in 1947 we became an independent state. We established democratic systems and laws, and our Constitution guarantees us all our fundamental rights. I am not saying that there are no problems in the systems we have in place, but nonetheless these are the right systems. We need to rectify the shortcomings of these systems, not destroy them altogether. Some of the propagators of this rhetoric actually want to replace the democratic system we have in place today with another dictatorship or monarchy! They propagate the idea of a reverse revolution, and that can be very damaging to the country.

Actually, sometimes shortcuts seem appealing. Whenever overnight and drastic change comes on the table everyone gets excited, but unfortunately tangible change never does come overnight. It requires hard work and patience, and in our pursuit for the quick short cut we might just end up losing what our forefathers fought so hard for. If we are unhappy with a particular regime or government we have the ability and the authority to not elect it again in the next election. We don’t need to go out and kill everyone involved with that regime.

We don’t need a revolution; we need revolutionary development. This development has to be in the education and economic sector, and both are of course linked. By developing our human resource, expanding our economic horizons and realising our responsibilities as citizens we can rid ourselves of most of the problems we face and address the grievances we have.

The exact nature of this development and these responsibilities is a subject I will address in another column, but the only message that one can hope to give through this is that rhetoric can be dangerous. It can be specially dangerous when it is being used to gather emotive and not logical responses. The youth of Pakistan must understand clearly what their role is and how they can develop this country, and resolve not to be misled by those who choose to use them for their own purposes and designs.

‘Freedom has cost too much blood and agony to be relinquished at the cheap price of rhetoric.’ – Thomas Sowell

The writer is Youth Ambassador Geo and Jang Group.

*This article appeared in The News on the 19th of September 2011.