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Welcome to the new Chief Justice in Pakistan

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Justice Nasirul Mulk was sworn in as the 22nd Chief Justice of Pakistan. Although we all are excited about a person who is very honest and committed on fundamental human rights in this position, we are concerned about the challenges he will have to face in a crisis prone environment and power brokers in every sector. he was among the judges who were deposed and suffered equally with the judges who took a stance on the illegitimate Martial Rule.

Mukhtara mai’s gang rape case became an icon for the struggle of women against violence. It went on for 8 years and finally met a disappointing fate at the Supreme court. Only one rapist was convicted all the others equally guilty in the gang rape went Scott free. Among the three judges on the Panel on Justice Nasir wrote a note of decent and fully supported Mukhtara Mai’s testimony. the decision of the case resulted in nationwide protests but at least women were happy that one of the three judges understood the social pressures women have to go through to file a case of this nature and the social dynamics around such cases. His historic note makes him popular among women and at the same time the expectations from him are more than it would have been from another justice.

He comes from the Swat Valley  and was brought up in a politically and socially aware family. His father was a Senator and so was his brother. He did his law degree from Peshawar in 1972 and his higher studies from London. He became the chief justice of Peshawar high court and was appointed as a Judge of the supreme court on 15 April 2005. Being the most senior Judge after the retirement of the last Chief Justice he has been appointed as the new Chief Justice. This smooth transition helps Pakistan’s judiciary to become stronger.

We welcome Justice Nasirul Mulk as our Chief Justice, a person with unblemished record, with the hope that he will keep the Judiciary independent. We need this support to stabilise our democracy.

 


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My experience of working with the women’s ministry

Elitist NGOs, some high-flying consultants and the top brand of development donor agencies still miss the Federal Women’s Ministry. It was so nice to have that small club for women’s issues, mutually beneficial to all players — well, except the women of Pakistan. Long after the Eighteenth Amendment devolved this subject to the provinces, nostalgic sentiments came surging back and small groups continue to lobby with donors to pressure the government into bringing the ministry back. The donors nod profusely in agreement, as going to the provinces is cumbersome. They question the government’s ‘commitment to women’s issues’. Of course, hardly any of these donor countries have a women’s ministry at home, yet all of them have critical women’s issues of their own to address.

Let’s look at the history of the ministry.

The Division of Women’s Development was founded in 1979. Please remember that the most devastating laws against women, the infamous Hudood Ordinance, were brought out in the same year. The division was created right before going to the United Nation’s Second World Conference on Women in Copenhagen in 1980. With all the restrictions and black laws against women, the government wanted to improve its image for the international audience. However, the government continued to trample on women’s rights for a decade while this division became a part of the establishment.

The division was upgraded to a full ministry by Benazir Bhutto’s government in its effort to revive women’s rights. The intention was good and some projects were initiated, but moving the bureaucracy was a serious challenge as it remained resistant to women’s empowerment throughout its existence. The social stigma attached to working at the ministry made this the last choice for postings. As a result, most secretaries were placed there as their last stop before retirement, with a turnover of up to four secretaries a year. With the exception of Salim Mehmood Salim, the others were least bothered about their portfolio.

This ministry was not based on substantive themes, like agriculture, for example. It was also never intended to be an implementing ministry, but to advise other ministries on women’s issues, which almost never happened and its influence on national policy was close to zero. In the 35 years of its existence, the ministry has hardly anything to show as its own initiative. The list of achievements in women’s empowerment were pushed by either strong political leaders or by civil society networks.

By and large, conservative men occupied key mid-level positions and hardly any of them supported the idea of women’s empowerment. They stalled on all progressive measures advanced by political leaders and continuously undermined the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW), established in 2001. Each chair of the commission had to fight with the bureaucracy to get access to their allocated budget and staff. The ministry’s own staff blocked amendments to the NCSW’s law for seven years until 2012, when the commission got its independence in the last government.

While the commission was still intact, the donors who had women’s empowerment as a priority steadily poured funds in the ministry’s bottomless pit to ‘build its capacity’. One after the other, ministry officials set up units inside the ministry with highly paid consultants who would act on behalf of the ministry, hosting big events, so that donors could be consoled that the ministry had improved because of their efforts. These consultants departed as soon as the funds dried up, leaving the ministry with the same bitter men. Over the years I have seen at least six donors engaging in the expensive exercise of ‘capacity building’ and repeating each other’s mistakes. I used to call this ‘propping the ministry with toothpicks’. One heavily funded project on large-scale gender mainstreaming placed in the ministry turned out to be such a disaster that most of the funds were never used. The project evaluation had to be revised thrice so that the donor would not look so bad.

Although I have engaged closely with the division, and then the ministry, since 1987, I learned the details of its operations during the advocacy for the sexual harassment policy and legislation. From 2001 to 2010, I noticed, via first-hand exposure, how this ministry had become a major hurdle in the path of women’s empowerment. In the years 2008 to 2010, when the Alliance Against Sexual Harassment was lobbying for the anti-sexual harassment bills, the ministry did everything in its power to quash the bills. It was only the political leadership that saved the day. At the tail-end of the process, in 2009, I watched the secretary, like a child who could not have his way, purposefully presenting the bills to a Cabinet meeting in such negative way that former information minister Sherry Rehman had to cover it up with her positive comments.

I thank the Eighteenth Amendment Constitutional Reform Committee for pushing against the vested interests in the donor, NGO and consultant community to rid us of at least one of the big hurdles to women’s empowerment. To the policymakers, I ask, if all social sectors have been devolved then why should the women’s portfolio be returned as a federal subject? With the capacity of the federal level openly witnessed in the past decades, they should not raise questions on the provincial capacity. For donors, the Economic Affairs Division is sufficient to channel your funds to emphasise gender issues in sectoral projects at the provincial level. It is rather difficult for us to structure our country to suit others’ convenience.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 20th, 2014.

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HOW PAKISTANI LEADERSHIP CAN AVOID A POSSIBLE CIVIL WAR

taliban pic Decades of indecisiveness about taking an action against the militants in Pakistan in a comprehensive manner has led people to be mistrustful of the main institutions of the country: the military, the government, the parliament and the judiciary. While all make big statements against the Taliban, all have had instances where they looked the other way or showed a soft corner for them. People are puzzled by a half-baked strategy where partially our institutions supported the enemy, partially looked away and partially acted against them to keep a pretext of fighting the war.  Last week’s strikes on Waziristan by our military were a sudden change from the peace talk mantras going on for a while. People waited in vain for a comprehensive explanation from the government announcing this change of policy, outline of a future strategy and instructions for people to position themselves in the context of what is about to happen.  Meanwhile, many people evacuated from Waziristan to Bannu in anticipation of more attacks.

A vacuum of decision making at the highest level, gaps in communication with the people, no joint stance of political forces and seemingly erratic attempts of retaliation can give wrong signals to the powerful and deeply entrenched militant enemy at this point. Such conditions can lead to a civil war if not handled properly. Recent announcement by the PM to form a four member committee is a good step forward. Here are some critical points to consider if Pakistan wants to avoid going into a civil war.

Bringing political leadership together: 

The current attacks in Waziristan seem to be led by military decision makers, with elected leadership giving it a civilian cover. These might have played the role of a catalyst in pushing the Government in making announcements of their next steps, but it should not be seen as the basis for future long term strategy. The government should actively seek consensus on the strategy of all political parties and bring them on one page. Merely announcing a negotiating committee or the beginning of a process is not enough. The consensus building should take place within the Parliament and not outside so that this institution gets stronger. The stronger the ownership of the political leadership the better they will be prepared when the negative consequences come. Later they will not be blaming each other and playing political games by saying this was not a good decision. The religious political factions who are sympathizers or pro-militants might not come together fully, but at least the main popular parties should join hands and build solidarity.

Get Experts in the team:

Pakistan is not the first country to face such a problem. Insurgency, militancy and such guerrilla warfare is something many countries have dealt with over decades. There is a whole field of study around conflicts.  Security experts around the world are available for their opinions and insights to contribute to the strategy for countering militants & negotiating with them. Many of these are Pakistani also. There are also local experts within Pakistan with good knowledge of the militant groups, their members, even knowing which members can be approached and who are the hard liners in these gangs. Pakistan has its local experts, among civil society, academia and journalists, who should be included in the closer circles and teams. Civilian government should not only count on military intelligence but should have its own civilian base of expertise who know and understand these groups and can guess their reactions. Sharing secret information from other countries involved in this war might be useful for the civilian government rather than restricting themselves to a few traditional sources of information.  In addition, the members of the negotiating team should not be all conservatives or taliban sympathizers. Pakistan has made this mistake many times, for example, Ijazul Haq,  son of dictator Zia ul Haq, was sent by the last Government to negotiate with the management of Lal Masjid and he came back after giving them a personal donation of one lakh rupees for the illegitimate madrassa built upon land that was not even theirs.

 Military Operation and citizens: 

It is important to have a buy-in from the people of Pakistan. The state has created high levels of confusion over the authenticity of the insurgency so have people romanticize Mujahidin and protect Taliban. The Kashmir affairs cell in PTV never stops working and the propaganda of showing Mujahidin martyrs and Taliban as anti USA and therefore ‘heroes’, is never ending on our media. The coverage of Hakimullah Mehsood is the most recent example where he was shown as a hero by the newspapers and many leaders. If there has to be a direct confrontation with Taliban we need to have Pakistani people join hands also. A clear message from the government and the State is necessary to clearly define the enemy and get the backing of the people, as was done in Swat. This will help the masses face the negative consequences if any in the form of internally displaced people, killing of innocent civilians, in case the negotiations fail.

The enemy is difficult to define:

It is easiest to fight an enemy outside. An enemy within the boundary of a country is difficult to fight. But it is most difficult when the enemy is not definable. As in some countries, this is not a fight between different ethnic or religious groups. Some may think that our enemy could be identifiable by big turbans and big beards holding guns and bombs but that is not so. The ‘taliban phenomenon’ is complicated. There are those who undermine the government through violence. There are those that pave the ground through propagation of a pro-taliban ideology and develop a volatile religious wicket to play on and gain power. There are those that have infiltrated into every sector, media, civil service, judiciary, police, political parties, civil society, business community and the military. These people continuously undermine the State and the Government and propagate the narrative of the militants. It is very difficult when the supporters of the enemy are deep into every institution of ours. In addition criminal elements have also joined the militancy in many cases who have different objectives to be in the fight. It could get difficult to separate out the militants and the purely criminal elements who are using the situation to gain their own benefits.

The present Government has come with a strong mandate. People are looking towards them for the required leadership. With the other political players they do need to take a lead, develop a strategy, not piece meal but a long term strategy with back up actions ready. They should have teams of experts dedicated to different parts of that strategy. The Prime Minister should talk to the people and build the motivation needed to take this enemy on. It is the elected Government that has to move ahead and the people should back them up regardless of which party they belong to.


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Five-year quick analysis of Pakistan’s Situation & Happy 2014

TEN THINGS PAKISTANIS SHOULD BE PROUD OF OVER THE LAST FIVE YEARS

  1. Devolution of powers and legislative authority given to the Provinces. Re-distribution of finances, NFC award and strengthening of a Federal structure.
  2. Taking off 58 2B and retuning powers of the Prime Minister from the President
  3. Completion of five year govt & a smooth and respectful transition to the next civilian government, without any intervention of the armed forces.
  4. Passage of pro-women legislation (7 laws between 2010 to 2013 after a gap of 50 years). Teaming up of civil society with the Parliament and a clear political active role  of women parliamentarians.
  5. Pakistani nation never voted more than 10% for the religious right.
  6. Active engagement of Pakistani public in elections in the face of violence and death.
  7. Willingness and initiation of peace talks with neighbours  (India).
  8. The beginning of a transition from a Military to Civilian Rule
  9. (eg. military budget-lines discussed in the parliament, court cases on ex ISI head and Chief of Army Staff, no overt interference by military since 2008).
  10. Strengthening of Election Commission and Council of Common Interests
  11. Continous progressive and democratic movement with brave people who would sacrifice anything for the country and the wellbeing of their people.

TEN THINGS PAKISTANIS SHOULD BE CONCERNED ABOUT 

  1. Our pattern of self bashing and disrespecting ourselves as a nation.
  2. Bashing the politicians only- increasing risk of instability and not standing behind our democratically elected governments.
  3. Lack of joint strategy of all stakeholders on militancy – including citizens themselves
  4. Lack of recognizing and unintentionally participating in the narrative of pro-militancy that is seeping into every sector. (trying to delegitimize Malala, organizations that work for progressive change shift focus on drones vs Taliban attacks, increasing moral bashing, who is a good Muslim and who is not. giving every debate a colour of religion.
  5. Continuous isolation in the international scenario which leads to suicidal tendency. very egocentric view of issues. not understanding the vulnerability of our country
  6. Lack of accountability for bureaucracy
  7. Lack of joint front of Pakistanis internally and diaspora, with a joint strategy of putting Pakistan-first and influencing the international dynamics.
  8. People get swayed by ‘selective justice’ which doesn’t always build the institution of justice. Lack of accountability of justice system, especially at the lower and mid level, which should be the backbone of the system
  9. People have learnt to criticize more and active participation less. Capacity of a country is collective. Lack of teaming up of citizens with the government or within themselves to come up with solutions and lobby for them. We need a shift from complaining to engagement mode.
  10. People become gullible to little information & propaganda by media or agencies. Transparency of how much money is coming from countries like USA for the military, government budget support, NGOs etc. (‘amriki agent’, or ‘anti islamic’ have become the most common beating sticks for whoever tries to talk sense).

HAPPY 2014!


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TEN DEMANDS ON THE INDEPENDENCE DAY

Pakistan-Flag-Wallpapers-1920x1200

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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Sexual harassment charges: Shameless elite and the daughters of this nation

Sexual harassment charges: Shameless elite and the daughters of this nation

Published: July 30, 2013 in Express Tribune, Pakistan

The syndicate of Quaid-e-Azam University needs to understand the legislation and realise that it is not their personal discretion or whim that applies in this case, says Fouzia Saeed.

ISLAMABAD: Recently, two universities have let down women students by protecting predator professors from sexual harassment charges. Quaid-e-Azam University, where serious convictions on charges of sexual harassment set a positive tone for the implementation of the anti-sexual harassment law a year ago, has now waivered under the pressure from our shameless elites.One would imagine that after charges of sexual harassment of students have been proven against professors, they would be embarrassed and resign or hide somewhere, but in our dear country they shamelessly fight back, while their friends who obviously do not think there is anything wrong with pulling a student into their office for sexual fulfilment or asking for sexual favours in exchange of better grades, diligently support and protect such culprits.

Two recent cases in Quaid-e-Azam University, where teachers repeatedly sexually harassed students, were investigated thoroughly by a committee set up by the university for this purpose. In the past, the committee has also given honest and brave results. After investigation, the committee recommended that Inamullah Laghari be terminated and Abdul Samad Mumtaz be charged with minor penalties. Charges were proven in both cases. All parties had no complaints on the process and made no verbal or written record of any concerns on procedural grounds. After the committee made its recommendations to the university syndicate, the culprits realised that they would be convicted and started lobbying for a diversion. ‘Technical grounds’ is usually the back door.

The syndicate of Quaid-e-Azam University needs to understand the legislation and realise that it is not their personal discretion or whim that applies in this case. It is the job of the committee, authorised under the law, to do the inquiry. The syndicate only ensures if procedure was followed and endorses the recommendations.

In this case, they did not even bring in the inquiry committee members to ask them questions about the procedure. They simply constituted a new committee. This is the most negative precedent they could have set. This has opened the process to anyone wanting a custom-designed committee when they do not like the decision. In the new committee specially put together for the accused, members like Dr Qaisar Mushtaq — who is a person known to have sided with sexual harasser professors earlier — have been included. As some members made noise to protect the culprits, others watched silently. For how long will our shameless elite remain silent and allow the humiliation of the daughters of our nation?

In the case of Punjab University, a brave decision to terminate the services of a habitual sexual harasser, Iftikhar Baloch, was applauded two years ago. The notorious professor who maintained a bedroom next to his office on campus for his flirtatious activities kept using political elites to come back. Even then-prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and former governor Latif Khosa put pressure on the university to take him back. Recently, interim governor Ahmad Mahmud used his window of opportunity to get his friend back in the university.  A woman high court judge decided that it was up to the governor to take the final decision. Very conveniently, the governor did the necessary paperwork and signed the orders to reinstate him. The university resisted, but the pressure took more of a ‘desi’ turn.

We make a strong appeal to Punjab Government to intervene and keep such predators out of our universities. Also stop them from threatening brave officials of the university who have resisted pressure for the last two years and have stood their ground. Also, for Quaid-e-Azam University, the PM and the HEC should send a strong message that the syndicate cannot go against the law. Legislation and procedure has to be followed. If they argue the soundness of the procedure, they should call the full committee and get a presentation from them. If they see any gaps or have suggestions to strengthen the procedures, they should make those to the committee legally authorised to investigate.

The legislation will only be effective if the intention of our elite and senior university officials is to bring some dignity to these houses of learning. We need to clean up our universities and educate the shameless educated elite — those who harass, those who protect them and those who remain silent and do not put their foot down.

The author is an authority on anti-sexual harassment legislation in Pakistan and has been monitoring its implementation.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 30th, 2013.


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Senator Raza Rabbani, the most suitable candidate for the President of Pakistan

Senator Raza Rabbani is one of the Presidential nominee in Pakistan. Three other political parties have expressed support for him. Negotiations are going on for other opposition parties to take him as a consensus opposition candidate for the position. Our request to PML N, the ruling party, was to let go of their candidate and accept him as a consensus candidate as he commands respect from every party and every province. He also is a symbol in the country for Federalism and democracy. PML N has announced their candidate, Mamnoon Husain, who is a party loyalist but hardly has any credentials. All the players are very active and the game is changing every minute.
The electoral collage for the president includes all the provincial assemblies, National assembly and the Senate which comes to 706 votes. Although it is the prerogative of the ruling party to make their choice just like PPP did at every occasion however a common desire is that they be generous and consider a candidate like Raza Rabbani as a consensus candidate.
The elections originally scheduled to be held on the 6th has now been moved to the 30th of July by the supreme court on the request of PML N. the other parties are upset about this one sided change leaving hardly any time for them to lobby. Lets see how things unfold in the coming days. It is an opportunity for Pakistan to have a president who can make all the provinces comfortable and can guard the provincial autonomy and democratic institutions of the country.

Senator Raza Rabbani. PHOTO: EXPRESS

ISLAMABAD: 

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) – the largest opposition party in the National Assembly – has refused to support the government’s nominee for the office of president. Instead, the party asked the ruling Pakistan Muslim League to support Senator Raza Rabbani for the top slot.

On the other hand, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the second largest opposition party in the National Assembly after the PPP, and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) also unveiled their candidates for the presidential election scheduled for August 6.

Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Khursheed Shah told The Express Tribune by phone from Karachi that Water and Power Minister Khawaja Asif contacted him on Friday to seek the PPP’s support for the government’s candidate.

“I told Khawaja Sahib that the PPP has nominated Raza Rabbani for the slot and believes he is more suitable than anyone else … Instead I suggested the PML-N support Rabbani if they want a consensus candidate for the office of president,” he said. He added that the PPP would also approach other opposition parties to garner support for Rabbani.

After PML-N, the PPP has the largest numerical strength in the lower of Parliament. In addition to that, the party also holds majority in the Senate and Sindh Assembly, which are part of the Electoral College for the presidential election.

Despite this, the PPP cannot guarantee success for its candidate without the support of other opposition parties, since it is heavily outnumbered by the PML-N in both the National and Punjab assemblies.

I tole Khawaja Sahib that the PPP has nominated Raza Rabbani for the slot and believes he is more suitable than anyone else : leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah

Meanwhile, the PTI has named Justice (rtd) Wajiuddin Siddiqui as its candidate for the president. Justice Siddiqui collected his nomination papers on Friday. The party said in a statement on Saturday that the decision was taken by its senior leadership after thorough consultations. It stated that the leadership of both the PML-N and PPP had approached the party to support a joint candidate.

In particular, it mentioned that opposition leader Khursheed Shah met PTI deputy parliamentary leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi and suggested the parties could field a candidate not affiliated with any political party. However, the PTI leaders had consensus on fielding their own candidate.

Separately, PML-Q has named Balochistan-based Senator Saeedul Hassan Mandokhail as its candidate for the presidency.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 21st, 2013.