fouzia in America

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INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY: Legislations Passed – The Silver Lining

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Today is a day to highlight the most pertinent issues confronting women, to celebrate our achievements, to identify the  gaps and, most of all, stand in solidarity for change. Today is not a Hallmark day to merely say, “Happy Women’s Day!”
The most prominent achievement for women in the past few years has been the passage of new progressive legislation for women. Perhaps this is the time to reflect on well we have utilized those advances. How many steps forward have we taken and how far back have we slipped. On the whole, we can say that regardless of the passage of good legislation, we cannot move forward unless we all are willing to make it work.
Taking a quick look at the progress made on the implementation of the seven laws passed over the last four years, it seems that the highest marks can be given to the Benazir Income Support Program, the anti-sexual harassment legislation and empowering the NCSW. Although quite different in nature these are the only ones that have an organised mechanism for implementation.
The Benazir Income Support Program Act culminated in a project that made its mark by directly assisting thousands of women to develop themselves. Although there were concerns that the new Government might allow it to lapse, a wise decision last year will allow the program to continue and build upon its achievements.
On the sexual harassment front, within the first year after passage, over 1000 cases were filed and the figure has steadily risen.  However, many complainants are facing increased pressure to drop their cases and several accused have been able to save themselves through high level connections. Nevertheless, the banking sector, including the State Bank, several federal government agencies, such as NADRA, as well as HEC and many universities have shown outstanding results, setting a precedent for the future. At a ceremony in December last year, awards were given to eight organisations and individuals that had built exceptionally supportive work environments. While these achievements might appear limited, the change in people’s attitudes has been revolutionary. Although the private and government sectors are steadily improving, the offices of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Ombudsmen in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, established to support the victims of this crime, have been working below expectation. Collectively, they have employed an insensitive working model that has failed to support victims by making unnecessary delays and failing to understand either the legislation or the issue.
The National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) was re-established early last year under a revised Act. The revised legislation provided a stronger legal basis for the Commission, which is the national watch dog body on women’s issues. However, while the legislation provided autonomy for the Commission, the bureaucracy got its revenge by making the the passage of the implementing rules an unnecessarily long and drawn out affair. As a result, the impact this institutional reform is yet to be seen.
As the devolution aspects of the18th Amendment gather momentum, the provinces have been gearing up their new legislative agenda. Although women’s issues have not been seen as a major priority, there have been some commendable efforts. Sindh started off by passing its domestic violence bill.  Passage of this bill by a province was a bittersweet victory as civil society had failed for nine year to get it passed by the federal parliament. Balochistan followed suit, but with a weaker version. Nevertheless, we give them high marks for their intention and action as an amendment has been promised to fix some critical gaps in the text.
Despite world-wide attention on Pakistan, the amendment to the PPC that criminalized acid burning has not made much difference on the number of cases registered or convictions obtained during the last year. The reason is that this was supposed to be a set of two pieces of legislation, an amendment in the PPC, plus a comprehensive law that fully tackles the full challenge faced when filing a complaint, collecting evidence, and conducting a judicial inquiry. That comprehensive bill was never passed and now must approved by each province individually. Although one feels that In the face of the gravity of this crime, you might wonder who would oppose such a badly needed law, nevertheless the provincial governments have not yet considered it important enough to be taken up for a vote.
The implementation on the PPC amendment on anti-women practices, covering such crimes as forced marriage, exchanging women to resolve local conflicts and preventing women from inheriting their rightful share, has only seen limited results since being signed in December 2011.  Such issues, deeply rooted in the patriarchal nature of our society, have strong backing from the local social elite. Faced with such powerful resistance, the resolve of our state machinery quickly withers.  As with acid burning, domestic violence and rape, these are crimes are committed as an expression of power over women. These will not disappear merely because they are now illegal.  Their impact will be diminished only when our society condemns their perpetrators.
While reviewing the progress in recent years, one point stands out clearly: Implementation of pro-women laws, where it is done at all, results from the efforts of committed groups or individuals that push the process.  In many cases, these committed individuals are themselves complainants who have felt empowered by the new statutes, no matter how painful their journey might be.  These activists know they are cutting against the grain of our society, but they continue to struggle in order to reduce the pain our society inflicts on its own women. These activists are resolute in their efforts because the people in power, who should take it upon themselves to implement these laws, fail to do so because they are too busy resisting or covering their own tracks.

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Another independence day!

With hope for the future I want to make ten demands from our government. The situation keeps getting more complex and the priorities get more urgent. This year it has to focus on security. The demand of the people on this independence day has to be for our lives to be protected. How basic can one get. The killings every day need to be stopped for us to think about anything else for the country. Here are my ten demands for our Government on 14th of August 2013.

1)A seriousness among all the political parties to solve the problem of militancy. ‘How’ is a later question, we the people are not sure if all the parties are serious about dealing with it. All players are not on board yet, so please lead the way!

2) A road map to bring the Baloch separatists into dialogue and move towards a peaceful resolution for their demands.

3) An assurance to the provinces that the autonomy given to them after 65 years under 18th amendment is not something that will be taken away and will not be tampered with again. The Federal government should restrain itself from interfering with the provincial authorities and let them develop.

4) At least a meaningful trade pact with India moving our relations in a positive direction, and yes regardless of the tricks both the militaries would do to prevent this from happening.

5) Get our local bodies up and running. Unfortunately the proposed legislation is diluting its functions, authorities, composition and the women’s role, but I do want the elections so that I can call our Government complete. I do not consider it complete without the third tier.

On other domestic issues:

6) Bijli please!!!

7) It would help a lot if we can modernize our flood warning systems and make some long term plans rather than suffering every year with floods.

8) Pay attention to Balochistan. I think a sound provincial govt. is necessary and not think that a token Government would do, with real powers continue to be with Military, Interior and intelligence agencies.

9) I would like to see a continued attention on women’s issues. The focus needs to be on implementation of policies and legislation and making their lives safe and livable!

10) Appointment of heads of institutions on somewhat merit!!! No more retired Military and retired Judiciary people. No more dominance of these institutions through the ‘retired forces’.

My magic number of keeping it to ten demands on this independence day is over but can we also please get our YOUTUBE back… please….. the pattern of shooting ourselves in our foot has to change…pleeease!!!

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Political Progress in Balochistan

It is heartening to see an article identifying positive changes in Balochsitan in the recent times. We  Pakistanis as a nation have become so cynical that our own attitude comes in the way of progress. The good changes in the politics of the country should be acknowledged and our future strategy should be built upon what is working. The author has identified good indicators of a developing democracy. Out nation should be proud of the good things that are happening so that those who take risks to make such decisions are encouraged. I fully agree that our system is maturing gradually. I will also add to the list the provincial autonomy and the possibility of changes Balochistan now has because of it.  I am sharing the article from The News:

Democracy is winning

Akram Shaheedi
Wednesday, July 03, 2013
From Print Edition

Democracy is winning which means we, as a nation, are winning. Very good news from Balochistan where the Balochistan National Prty (Mengal) has decided to end the boycott of the Balochistan Assembly and take part in its proceedings with a view to strive for the attainment of the rights of Baloch people through the parliamentary forum. The leaders of the Party deserve accolades from all of us who reiterated their commitment in political struggle to get the rights of the Baloch people who had been subject to acute discrimination inflicted by the successive governments, military and civilians, during the chequered history of Pakistan. The resultant political alienation and economic deprivation permeated throughout the province, giving birth to nationalist movements demanding provincial autonomy and total control over their natural resources. The bitter feelings of exploitation of the province by the federation were so strong among the youth and students especially that they started talking of extreme political options.

However, the developments which have been taking place during the last five years of democratic era have started giving dividends as the federation is largely being perceived as a custodian rather than a usurper. President Asif Ali Zardari sought unconditional apology of Baloch people in 2008 that had assuaged their estrangement to a degree. The 7th National Finance Award and writing off Rs40 billion debts by the previous federal government considerably strengthen the financial position of the province to a prodigious scale. Aghaz-i-Haqooq-i- Balochistan was a sincere effort of the PPP-led democratic government under which thousands of youths were provided jobs & scholarships including many federal projects completed in communications, education, health etc. sectors. Army Chief is on record as having confirmed that Baloch quota in the Army has been fully observed. Army is also building a Cadet College in Dera Bugti and has scrapped the plan of building Cantonment there as per the demand of the people of the province. These Confidence Building Measures will precipitate the process of winning the hearts and minds of the people of the province. May 2013 elections vindicate the observation.

May 2013 elections in Pakistan were yet another inspiring manifestation in the context of Balochistan province when all the political parties took part in the elections. It may be recalled for the convenience of the readers that major political parties boycotted the 2008 elections and the erstwhile provincial assembly therefore lacked measured electoral legitimacy. But, the incumbent Assembly is fully blessed with it as it represents the wide spectrums of political forces of the province. With the decision of the BNP (M) to take oath and join the Assembly will be another feather in its representative cap. The prospects of the other dissidents joining the mainstream politics of the province have been surely brightened up which were dampened after the murder of Nawab Akbar Bugti in a military operation during Musharraf era.

The decision of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to give the reins of the province to another Party was a pleasant departure from the established parliamentary practices because his Party had emerged as the largest parliamentary party. But, it was a sensible move seeking out of box solution keeping in view the interest of the province and the people. Mahmood Khan Achakzai, PPKM leader’s heart-warming eloquence at the time of the announcement of Dr Abdul Malik’s nomination for the chief ministership of the province will go down in the history. He said, “From today we have no complaint from Punjab of depriving us from the democratic rights.”

The nomination of Baloch as the Chief Minister of Balochistan sent a strong positive message among the people of Balochistan that democratic mandarins sitting in Islamabad were their friends not foes. The appointment of Pashtun Governor of the province, Muhammad Khan Achakzai, was a judicious decision of the government to keep the balance of power on even keel between Pashtun and Balochs. The incumbent provincial government is best poised to address the challenges facing the province and the induction of Dr Abdul Malik, an educated and committed politician with impeccable integrity, will move the province towards reconciliation, progress and redemption.

Akhtar Mengal meeting with the chief minister to assure him full co-operation was indeed very promising. Provincial government is reasonably better placed to deliver good governance which remained an illusion during Raisani’s stint. President Asif Ali Zardari in his last TV panel interview lamented the previous provincial government when he said, “When people are not interested in their improvement how can you move them towards a cherished goal.” He was obviously referring to the government led by Nawab Raisani who used to spend most of his time in Islamabad or Dubai indulging in extra-curricular activities rather than keeping the governance issues on the foremost. The startling increase in the provincial coffer after the 7th National Finance Award should have made qualitative difference in the lives of the Baloch people had his government channelized these funds to the socio-economic uplift of the people. The impression of filling their deep pockets was wide spread and it was generally believed so.

The new Chief Minister has set the tone of his government when he announced zero tolerance for corruption, and he meant it when viewed in the background of his political career and ideological commitment. His budgetary allocation in the fields of education, health and infrastructure speaks volumes of his level of commitment to the people and his vision. He is most likely to make the real difference in collective and individual lives of the Baloch people. He understands the core issues facing his province and his dedication will undoubtedly make dent in the vicious circle of ignorance, disease, illiteracy and communication barriers there.

The chief minister is rightly convinced that betterment of the province will remain a pipedream unless the security apparatus is not brought under the civilian rule in the province. His plight was confirmed when Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, while talking to media disclosed that Balochistan chief minister has complained to him that the FC and Rangers were not under his control. This state of helplessness of the elected provincial government is the contentious issue of civil-military relationship that hampers the effectiveness of the both. Security outfit should be supplementing the provincial government instead of competing with it or among themselves.

The security forces are deployed on the request of the provincial government which should work under its command but regretfully they are more loyal to their institutional heads than to the provincial government. Malik has hit the nail on the head when he said that the issues of missing persons and shoot-and-dump bodies were critical to bring peace in the province and winning back those who have taken position on the mountains against the state. He observed that this cannot be addressed without the support of the federal government and the Army. Federal government has reasons to extend all assistance and hopefully security apparatus will also make a resolution to the serve the people with passion considering them citizens of Pakistan.

Balochistan is an asset for Pakistan and many observers maintain that the path to prosperity of Pakistan passes through the province because of its strategic location and abundance of natural resources. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s vision to link China mainland with Gwadar through rail and road links is a futuristic thinking with huge potentials for Pakistan to reap the unimaginative proportion of strategic and economic dividends. He also visualizes linking Central Asian Republics and India with motorway, and the amount of transit activities generated as a result is anybody’s guess. The dream of Pakistan becoming trade corridor of the world seems destined to become reality.

Te PPP-led previous government deserves credit for handing over the Gwadar port to China despite uneasiness of the big neighbor who has hegemonic ambitions. Pressure from the superpower was also a big stumbling block.

Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline Project is another milestone of the previous government. Pakistan in general and the province of Balochistan in particular are bound to benefit from these strategic projects in a very big way. It is music to the ears of the people of Pakistan that the present government has reiterated that it would complete the IP project as a national project. Democracy is winning and winning gradually but steadily. In democracy continuity of the policies of national importance is its hallmark. In dictatorship, all footprints of previous government are erased with emasculation to the core through its propaganda machinery which usually runs on overdrive.

The writer is former federal Secretary Information

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Such an insightful decision has come about after a long time for this province. The dynamics of the decision making were very difficult as the old guard and the Baloch tribal leaders were not willing to let go. They didn’t have the legitimacy of no. of seats won in the elections but they were trying to play tricks, using media for puff pieces and fanned controversies of repeating elections. The thing that helped was that the Pukhtuns had more confidence in some one like Dr Maalik and so did Hazara. He is a Baloch but a true leader to represent all in Balochsitan. In addition many factions of Baluch population also trusted him over one of their ‘rival’ Baloch sardars. The credit must go to PML N who saw the dynamics and made a wise decision.  Another thing that helped was that among the Baloch sardars every possible chief had a rival so there was continued infighting and leg pulling on that front within themselves.

After the decision was somewhat made, the proper notification of the seat results by ECP became the last big barrier. ECP was holding on to the the results of Dr Maalik’s seat. This delay provided open space for those who lost elections and wanted a re- election to conspire.  After a proper hearing the notifications were finally issued for all the seats of National Party and there was no bar left for an official announcement by the designate Prime Minister. This was an excellent decision made by PML N leadership and we hope to see a positive turn around in Balochistan.

Congratulations to the whole nation. We all have to stay active on Balochistan’s politics, its time the suffering of our people there ends.

I am celebrating today!!!