Sunday, 27 January 2013

Natural Disasters: Women and Pashtun society

Part One of Two

By Samar EsapZai

Northern Pakistan is more than often plagued by natural disasters, whether triggered by natural hazards or human behaviour or by the interaction between the two, which affects millions of people for long periods of time. Oftentimes, the effects are quite daunting and last for several decades, even after the disaster has long disappeared from headlines and the news. This, in turn, has dire consequences; especially, when it comes to social and economic development. This article will aim to explore some of the particular issues affecting women – Pashtun women in particular – during natural disasters, and the specific vulnerabilities they face when a natural disaster strikes. Though, it must be articulated that there’s a bit of controversy with using the term “natural disasters,” for it’s often a combination of natural hazards and human action that cause a disaster, which is usually defined as follows:
"The consequences of events, triggered by natural hazard, that overwhelm local response capacity and seriously affect the social and economic development of a region." [1]
Nevertheless, a disaster is a disaster, whether it is human-caused or natural; and usually when a disaster occurs – whether an earthquake, flood or a hurricane – everyone is significantly affected. But, specific groups are impacted differently. It is understood, for example, that poor people are more likely to have less durable homes and live on more marginal lands than the wealthy – they, hence, tend to be more directly affected as a result of disasters. Similarly, women suffer differently from men and are impacted far more greatly.

Conversely, there are a few generalizations that will be drawn upon with regards to Pashtun women’s experiences in disasters. For one, Pashtun women are more likely to die and to suffer ill health effects as a result of natural disasters, such as early pregnancy loss, premature delivery, stillbirths, infertility, etc. There may also be social taboos around norms of what is considered appropriate behaviour and what is not that may further contribute to health problems in young women. For example, in the 2010 Pakistan floods, for every one adult male that drowned in the treacherous waters, there were at least three to four women that drowned. This is because in the Pashtun culture, many women/girls don’t learn how to swim or climb trees as it is considered “unwomanly” and culturally inappropriate, and many are unable to leave their homes for cultural/religious reasons; these reasons include not being covered properly (or at all, in religiously and/or culturally appropriate attire), or the fear of their being seen by non-relatives who are male, or other such factors that limits, and has limited, their exposure to the public sphere.

Further, Pakistan is a country where social and economic rights for women are almost nonexistent, and where women, in their everyday lives, do not enjoy rights equal with those of their male counterparts. This is supported by statistical analysis of the effect of natural disasters on the life expectancy of women and men, which revealed that women were more likely to die in natural disasters and their consequences, and that this effect was strongest in countries with very low social and economic rights for women [2].

Nevertheless, one of the root causes of gender disparities is deep-rooted segregation between male and female populations, which has further isolated women from all decision-making processes and structures. This, as a result, affects their abilities and agency during disaster situations, where they rely on men to help guide them, not realizing that they have the will and power to take their lives into their own hands and find any, or all, means to survive, regardless of the consequences thereafter. For example, in the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan – which killed 73,000 people – women were mostly at home when the earthquake occurred, while their adult male relatives were outside of the home, either working in the fields or running household errands. This is because these women were not aware that they needn’t ask their male relative’s permission, in order to leave their houses, during a potentially fatal natural disaster. Yet, due to this lack of discernment, women were more apt to be injured by collapsing homes than their husbands/brothers/fathers/male cousins; and UN agencies hence reported a large number of women who suffered from considerable physical disabilities [3].

Not surprisingly, though, the Pashtun women who do manage to survive also tend to have higher levels of depression than men after a horrendous disaster has occurred. A UNHCR spokesperson, who ran a welfare center in Pakistan for the victims of the 2010 Pakistan floods, reported that the majority of the women suffered from panic attacks, depression and anxiety. This is due to primarily losing homes and all means of livelihood in the floods [4].

Moreover, inevitable gender inequities are evident in response to most disasters, where many disaster and emergency management agencies are, and have been, historically dominated by men. These men may have the tendency to overlook the special needs of women, especially with regards to sanitation, contraceptives, etc. Thus, traditional cultural patterns and norms present particular difficulties for many women after a disaster has occurred. During the 2010 Pakistan floods, many of the displaced Pashtun women, living in camps, realized soon enough that privacy and maintaining purdah (modesty) was difficult. This is because many had never been around a man who wasn’t a member of their family before. Yet, all of a sudden, they were surrounded and living amongst hundreds and thousands of men, in steadfast tents, who were complete strangers. While already being extremely vulnerable, due to the effects of a disaster that they’d just managed to survive, these women suddenly had to face other qualms and tribulations, which was that of being raped and/or sexually assaulted in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. Additionally, many of the younger girls in the IDP camps were also at high risk of sexual exploitation, which further added to the stress and depression.

So what can Pashtun women do in order to survive natural disasters? Though there is much to deliberate on this topic alone, there are ways in which Pashtun women can survive, as well as utilize the necessary coping mechanisms, in order to avoid the extremely destructive consequences of a natural disaster. These points will therefore be discussed, in detail, in the second part to this article.


[1] Inter-Agency Standing Committee, Protecting Persons affected by Natural Disasters: IASC Operational Guidelines on Human Rights and Natural Disasters, Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement, June 2006
[2] Eric Neumayer, and Thomas Plümper. "The Gendered Nature of Natural Disasters: The Impact of Catastrophic Events on the Gender Gap in Life Expectancy, 1981–2002
[3] Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement, Protecting and Promoting Rights in Natural Disasters in South Asia: Prevention and Response, July 2009.
[4] Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), “Pakistan: Changed Lives after the Floods,” October 2010

The author is a Ph.D. student in International Rural Development, focusing on Gender Studies; Social and Economic Development; and Empowerment of rural Pashtun women. She is also a visual artist and columnist for BBC Pashto. She blogs at Follow her on Twitter @sesapzai.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Qazi and I

this article was written as a memory of the late Qazi Hussain Ahmad , former head of the Jamaat Islami who died recently ed-note.

To say I was a naughty child would be a bit of an understatement; I was quite a handful at the best of times. Having been brought up overseas, I have vivid memories of visiting my family hometown of Peshawar as a child.

Make no mistake about it – I did not enjoy my visits. Being four or five years old I found Peshawar boring, and as the only one my age in a very old family, I did not have much to do except for playing in my grandparents’ large garden. There was not much on television in English in those days. This being the 1980s – the era of the VHS tape – it was an established tradition that once a week over those hot summers we would all sit around my uncle’s television and watch a movie.

My ever-protective female cousins would cover my eyes when scenes too sensitive for my young eyes would occur (so watching Dirty Dancing was a complete no-no) while my elder male cousins would terrify me by making me watch Evil Dead. Such was life in the cocoon that was my childhood summers.
Enter my cousin. To say my second cousin was a rebel would be an understatement. He had gone against the mould in what was a largely apolitical family and joined the Jamaat-e-Islami. The gasps and horror this decision triggered was to lead him to be seen with suspicion.

But like many from the extended family, he was particularly fond of me. He was almost 18 years older than me and quite protective. Then came the day he visited and, in all earnestness, asked my parents if he could take his favourite cousin out to get a movie – and that we would be back soon. Overly protective whenever we visited Pakistan, my parents reluctantly agreed – with a caveat: he would not let me out of his sight for even a second. My cousin readily agreed.

So off we went to the local video store in Peshawar’s Saddar Bazaar. However, my cousin had a small detour planned. He wanted to meet a few of his friends in the Jamaat-e-Islami. These friends included a man called Qazi Hussain Ahmad, another activist called Sirajul Haq Yousafzai and other leaders from Karachi and Punjab. Pleasantries were exchanged, and the JI leaders seemed happy to see their enthusiastic young recruit. Then my cousin realised he’d forgotten to check on me. Sure enough, left to my own devices, I had gone about wandering.

Now there were very few things my cousin was scared of – Allah being first and next would be my parents. Terrified of what would happen to him, and in no way helped by his vivid imagination, he turned to the men who would in a generation be the crème de la crème of the JI and begged and pleaded for their help.

Feeling sorry for their young activist the entire lot of people started their search. Turning the JI headquarters upside down, I – oblivious to all the panic and playing with marbles – was finally discovered by Qazi Hussain Ahmad. Picking me up in his arms he brought me back to my cousin and the others and remarked “this one looks like he is going to be real trouble”.

My cousin returned me home, with some sort of a convoluted excuse about how we couldn’t find the right video tape for me to watch. As for me I went back to playing with my marbles. It would be many years before my cousin would recall the story to me of the day I was hunted by the top leadership of Pakistan’s major politico-religious party and lived to tell the tale.

-originally published by The NEWS on the 10th of January as the Jamaat and I 

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Sherbaz Mazari and his journey to disillusionment

Written by Sajid Hussain & Hakeem Baloch
originally published on Tuesday, 02 February 2010 

Harvard University graduate, Sardar Sherbaz Mazari started his political career by supporting Fatimah Jinnah against Ayub Khan in 1964's presidential polls. He was elected to the National Assembly in 1970 and since then he has dealt with almost all the major power players in Pakistan. His political autobiography ‘A journey to disillusionment’ is perhaps the most insightful book on Pakistan’s political history. A comrade of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, Khair Bakhsh Marri, Ataullah Mengal and Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, Mazari has first-hand observation of the major events of the Baloch nationalist struggle since 1960s. We visited his Karachi residence to interview the 79-year-old politician-cum-intellectual.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Holding the healers to account

by 13

Mrs. N, a middle-aged, slightly overweight lady was operated at my ward for gallstones. Five minutes after she had been shifted to the ward, her breathing was labored, she was blue, her pulse was thready and cardiac arrest was imminent. The doctor on duty quickly moved towards her, tried to resuscitate her but after forty-five minutes of continuous CPR, she did not make it and passed away.
The doctor in his most professional manner explained to the family that sometimes – though – it is very rare, patients who get general anaesthesia are prone to sudden heart attacks during the recovery period. When they heard that she had been pronounced dead, there were loud cries at first followed by curses and swearing and then the male members of the family grabbed the doctor from the neck and hurled him on the wall. They broke windows and doors. Hospital security was called that showed up thirty minutes late. Another thirty minutes and many a threats later, they left the ward saying they will be back later.

Eight months after I have stepped into my professional life, this was the first instance where I saw aggressive relatives hurling abuse and threats to a doctor and the hospital staff. For ten odd minutes, I stood there shocked unable to move or comprehend the situation until a nurse grabbed me from the hand and took me to a safer room.

Mrs. N’s demise was unfortunate and going through her case, I found out that she was operated by a fine surgeon. There was nothing wrong with the procedure. She recovered from the anesthesia and then succumbed to a heart attack. There are still a hundred steps that the hospital could have taken to avoid a situation like that. One, Lady Reading Hospital, has yet to have proper patient charts and hence proper record (that if needed could be produced in a court). Second, ninety percent of the doctors here do not perform a proper CPR which is shocking and compounding that is the fact that there is no equipment for Advanced Cardiac Life Support in wards other than Cardiology. Third, regular “Mortality and Morbidity” meetings ensure that similar mistakes are not repeated – that in itself a rare occurrence at the hospital.

Our relationship with grief is complex and when it comes to the death of a loved one, one really cannot predict or expect a person to behave a certain way. “God’s will” happens to be one of the most common causes of death in our society but when a naturally irate and inconsolable family threatens a doctor when their patient dies, what are they supposed to do? Who should they blame? What will happen if the family decides to sue us? The obvious answer is “nothing”.

Most doctors suffer from the “god complex” partially because patients choose to trust them with their lives. In a society, where people are educated and literate enough to make their own decisions accountability takes a foremost preference before a doctor can attempt anything. Since the concept of holding a doctor or the hospital staff accountable for the death of a patient is still in its infancy in our country, ergo nobody suffers but the bereaved family.

-is a medical doctor working at a major teaching hospital in Peshawar. 

Friday, 11 January 2013

The colours of the 'Parhunay'

by 13

Much has been said and written about Pakhtun traditions. Some have been glorified while most berated – partly because they have been misunderstood and also because over time they have been imposed on the fairer gender of the society out of pure whim. The cultural significance of these customs and traditions has, hence, diminished in the background. One such instance involves the concept of “purdah” or “namus”.

Have you ever been to Peshawar Saddar? The shopping experience aside, if you look around you will find many Pakhtun women adorning beautiful embroidered shawls; in white, black and brown mostly. These are the traditional “parhunay” or “saa’dur” that we wear to cover ourselves when we go out. Like Ajrak in Sindh, “Parhunay” has become a central part of the standard Pakhtun dress code.
In a strictly Pakhtun society, “purdah” is of considerable importance owing to Islamic traditions on one hand and Pakhtunwali on the other. However, “parhunay” is considered a significant sign of egalitarianism in a Pakhtun society. Women from every class of the society are required to cover themselves when they go out, in more or less a similar attire, mostly because it is a cultural obligation rather than religious one.

While growing up, I saw most women in my family wear extremely pretty “parhunays”. The embroidery and colour varied according to occasion. A white one with small multi-coloured square pattern was usually specified for the market, a fancy version usually saved for visiting someone, yet other custom made shawls were given to a daughter’s in-laws as presents and souvenirs.
“Parhunay” or “saa’dur” accompanies a Pakhtun woman throughout her progression in life. A daughter embraces her first “parhunay” as an ornament while growing up , she is covered in it on her rasm-e-hina, draped in it during the baraat, it is kept safe to be passed on to her daughters and in some areas eventually it is also used to wrap the coffin of a woman.

Pakhtun men hold “Namus” – a principle of Pakhtunwali where they must defend the honour of a woman –in high regard. Perhaps, parhunay signifies that a woman needs to be protected and cherished during her life and accentuates the exalted status of a “Pakhtun” woman after her death. -
“Parhunays” also vary according to region and some even have a relevant history behind them. For instance, women in Swabi wear a “chail” which is usually green or white and has red polka dots on them. Hearsay is that the red polka dots signify the blood of martyrs in a war against Sikhs. Another account states that the stains represent the blood of a Pakhtun lady who was a victim of honour killing.
Women in Swat prefer a specific Swati embroidery done in either silk or cotton on their shawls’ borders. In Hazara, “parhunay” is mustard in colour with a sequined orange pattern. In olden times, the material of the drape was hand-woven and the dyes were natural. It was considered an art ; a form of expression. However with modern society on one end and the conservatism that has spread amongst pakhtun society, it remains to be seen whether the ‘parhunay’ will survive.

- Contributor 13 has written this exclusively for Qissa Khwani. She  describes herself as a 'crazy wanderlust buried in a labyrinth of her grey matter.'

United by history, divided by reality

-This article reminded me of the alleged quote by Ghaffar Khan “My son Wali Khan does not represent me. All he wants is some job or some portion from the Punjabis and he will remain in Pakistan satisfied,”. This article was originally titled 'Why I gave up Pashtun nationalist ideals ?' republished with kind permission of the author -ed note

By Jan Achakzai

I am the second generation in my family to have the honour to serve my Pashtun community . It started from a small village in Balochistan's Pishin district when my late father Abdul Nabi Khan Achakzai joined Late Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai Shaheed in his fight against the English imperialism. Since my father spent nearly 2 decades of his life in South India, he knew what it meant to be under the subjugation of English Raj what he used to refer to "Farangi Raj". After partition, he continued to struggle with Khan Shaheed against various dictators in Pakistan. It was due to my father that we all brothers unconsciously knew only one party and one politics: Khan Shaheed's political heir e.g., the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party's (PkMAP) nationalist politics.

This is why my late brother Zarif Khan Achakzai Shaheed during Zia ul Haq's harsh rule, participated in nationalist struggle for democracy. He was frequently arrested due to his political activities under the banner of the PkMAP. He was so invested that it became a ritual for all of us including my self at the school going age that we would spent hours discussing politics. Even one of my brothers was arrested for listening to BBC Urdu service and put behind bars for more then three months.

Later, I continued to participate in student politics and carried anti-martial law activities in late eighties running underground cells involving meetings, anti-martial law publicity campaigns like putting posters on walls, anti Zia ul Haq sloganeering so on and so forth.

But a tragic twist came when my ageing parents were devastated and the whole family was struck by the tragedy of my brother's death who offered extreme sacrifice: his life, at the age of 42 nearly two decades ago in pursuit of his nationalist beliefs. This tragedy suddenly brought in family responsibilities and shaped my next choice to join journalism to write for my motherland continuing my struggle for my convictions in line with family traditions.

After my further education and journalistic career in England, I tuned more mature and kept the burning torch alive writing in Pakistan's newspapers, international media, bloggers and other social media— no wonder, googling my profile on the internet will bring forth hundreds of my articles on issues that were dear to my heart.

However, the broader context in Pakistan also changed, in the meanwhile: with democracy in Pakistan fully restored , Pashtun nationalist forces started participating in elections and thus came into power on and off. I observed that the ideals I and my family worked for relentlessly, became more slogans for vote grabbing; and my ex-nationalists colleagues were confronted with serious allegations of corruption, and misuse of power as were other accused belonging to various traditional parities including the PPP and the PML (N). Serious Issues were relegated to the back burner: more emphasis was placed on one's tribal background; vote soliciting and money power were became criteria for seat distributions. At the end, parliamentary politics toned down nationalist fervour of the nationalist forces.

Now my real change of heart came like this: I always believed that my struggle will ultimately benefit these nationalist forces as they would be the major beneficiaries if the masses supported them. But it dawned on me that they were no more eager to appreciate the kind of intellectual heavy lifting I used to do.

Second, I realised that after democracy and the 18th amendment in the constitution, the legitimacy for "nationalist grievances" particularly of majority Pashtuns in Khyber Pashtunkhwa suddenly disappeared. It was now a struggle of different kind: more autonomy and more powers for the province rather than any rhetoric of Pashtun integration: "greater pashtunistan or Pashtun integration": the bedrock of nationalist ideal. Others like me who have remained leftists or have western exposure had to admit with heavy hearts that their ideals were abandoned by their idolised leaders.

Third, as far Pashtun grievances in Balochistan are concerned, I realised that they were solvable. I came to the conclusion that ultimately Pashtuns were better off if they shared resources with Balochs, of course, under a defined and improvised mechanism of budgetary allocation between the two ethnic groups. Any government with a mandate, all it needs is to introduce a kind of quota in jobs and resources between the Pashtuns and the Balochs perhaps emulating the quota system prevailing in urban and rural Sind. This will simply extinguish any nationalistic aspirations of Pashtun nationalists depriving them of their main reason to get anti-Baloch votes in elections thus forcing them to look for other more mundane ideals of politics (e.g., giving jobs, education, health etc to their constituents).

Fourth, the pressing problems of Pashtuns in Balochistan are mainly creation of more jobs, mattled roads, schools and hospitals. The only party that is at the moment trying to do this job is Jamat Ulema-ie-Islam Fazlur Rehman group (JUI-F) which has a sitting minister almost for every Pashtun-dominated district since the first post Martial Law elections of 1988. This is why they get elected again, again and yet again.

Fifth, talking of Pashtun center right, JUI-F is the only alternative in Balochistan for any aspiring center-left Pashtun politician with a reasonable chance to be elected by the masses. Besides, due to anti-American sentiments , geo-political events next door in Afghanistan and the kind of historic failure of centre left and left political forces in Pashtun areas of Balochistan, centre right politics is perhaps the pragmatic solution for resolving people's problems. Moreover, among the two traditional centres of Pashtun power, the Mosque and the "Hujra", JUI-F enjoys support in both centres as opposed to the nationalists who have a sway in "Hujra" only.

Sixth, having hailed from border area of Chaman/Qilla Abdullah region, I have strong tribal background and having served the BBC Pashtu Service for nearly 15 years, I enjoy quite popularity, impeccable reputation and the love of my people.

I have been approached by different political parties. I have also started meeting senior political leaders of the country including Moulana Fazal Rahman of JUI(F) to decide my next course of action.

For now the pashtun nationalist project is done and dusted.

-The author is a senior journalist and Afghan Affairs' analyst based in London. He can be reached at

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Karachi's disenfranchised voters fight to be counted

by Ali Arqam

Amidst the endless saga of ethno-political violence, faith based killings and a crime rate that refused to abate, Karachi is again in the eye of a storm, this time for another reason. It is the Supreme Court’s move against discrepancies in electoral rolls, directives on voter re-verifications and delimitations of constituencies. The move has faced a mixed response from political parties, public policy and rights advocacy groups and monitoring bodies.

To one side, we have the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), whose leaders and activists have shown anger at a decision that shows the party in a bad light.

On the other side are the rest of the parties who feel they have been given a lifeline since the MQM, they believe, used muscle to manipulate the entire electoral process in the megapolis.

Meanwhile, a contempt of court notice has been served to the MQM Chief Altaf Hussain for his fiery speech on the 2nd of December. This has not been received well by MQM enthusiasts, whose protests and forced closure of businesses brought the city to a standstill for a number of days.

After the initial frenzy, the MQM decided to file a review of the SC verdict on delimitation and has started consultations with legal experts.

Last year, a fact finding committee by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) attempted to trace the roots of violence in the city. After consultations with intellectuals, academics, political parties’ representatives and holding public hearing sessions, they compiled a report, “Karachi: the Unholy alliances for mayhem.” In their recommendations,they stated that,

“Mainstreaming and integrating all communities in Karachi is vital because of the multi-faceted polarisation of the city. Imaginative steps need to be taken to prevent discrimination or marginalisation of particular communities to end the resentment on which violence feeds. No-go areas established by different political parties in Karachi should be cleared and barriers should be removed permanently.”

SC directives on the delimitation also came last year in its judgement in the suo motu case on the law and order situation in Karachi in October 2011. It has suggested the process as one of the solutions to ethno-political violence. The judgment states;

“….in view of relevant laws, delimitation of different constituencies has also to be undertaken with the same object and purpose, particularly to make Karachi … a peaceful city … The Election Commission of Pakistan may also initiate the process on its own in this behalf….”

The delimitation issue

The existing list of constituencies came after the 1998 census report. These constituencies have been finalised in June, 2002 and amended in June, 2007 under section 10-A of Delimitation act of 1974. The ECP has again referred to the powers assigned to them by the relevant law cited above.

The administrative structure of the city was changed with the local governments system in 2001. The five districts comprising Karachi division were abolished to establish a City District Government based on 18 administrative units known as towns. But when constituencies for the elections to the national and provincial assemblies were delimited, in most cases these were based on the old administrative units.

While setting parameters for delimitation, ECP suggests as, “All constituencies are required to be delimited having regard to the distribution of population in geographically compact areas, existing boundaries of administrative units , facilities of communication , public convenience and other cognate factors to ensure homogeneity in the creation of constituencies.”

A closer look at the maps of NA constituencies brings out that some of the constituencies have been demarked by stretching its boundaries to distant and non-adjacent areas, and some neighbouring localities shared out among various constituencies.

“In Karachi, some constituencies are in crescent shape …some are made in the shape of frying pans with their handles protruding into other constituencies. Some constituencies are in the shape of narrow corridors with their length going beyond twenty miles when, in fact, all the above constituencies could have been drawn to make sense...” states The Frontier Post

“The gerrymandering in the delimitation was aimed at benefiting a particular political party. It has been undertaken to keep its support base intact, while the other parties have suffered due to carving up of their support base in different constituencies in such a way, they could not manage to get sufficient votes to be elected from these constituencies,” says Bashir Jan, general secretary, ANP Sindh.

The Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) has an ambitious proposal to make 7 NA and 14 PS constituencies based on adjacent and neighbouring Pashtun localities. They have presented the layout of a large size Karachi map, in which areas with Pashtun populations have been marked in such a way. Though the feasibility of the plan is questionable, the PkMAP, despite its minimal electoral presence, seems to have worked on its theory extensively and have also chalked out a strategy for reaching out to voters.

The Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) have a different take on the issue. They have raised pertinent questions regarding the delimitation bid initiated by ECP. In a position paper, they have analysed the laws governing delimitation and urged careful reconsideration by the ECP and have asked the honourable court for further illumination on some aspects of the issue.

“Ahead of the 2008 election, the ECP had declined all requests for fresh delimitation on the grounds of census-related embargo on fresh delimitation of constituencies/reallocation of seats contained in Article 51(3) the constitution as well as section 7(2) of the Delimitation of Constituencies Act 1974”.

This is the exact position which the ECP needs to respectfully but effectively communicate to the Supreme Court at present. At this stage of the electoral calendar, there are pressing issues before the ECP that must be expeditiously resolved to ensure free and fair elections.”

The electoral rolls issue

Moving on to the issue of the discrepancies in the electoral rolls themselves. All parties concur that a large number of voters have been moved against their consent and their votes have been registered in their native places on the basis of their permanent addresses. But there is a difference of opinion about there actual number.

The number of such votes, says Jamat-e-Islami Karachi Naib Amir Raja Arif Sultan, is around 800,000. “The number of votes trasferred to Balochistan alone are 125,000.”

The ANP’s Bashir Jan disagrees and thinks the JI’s figures are exaggerated. “These amount to 200,000, out of which 137,000 have been restored while around 33,000 are left.”

An MQM spokesman, however, said this figure could be placed at 65,000 out of which only 37,000 are left.

These votes include, quite brazenly, well-known figures as well. “My own wife’s vote is registered back home in KP,” says Irfanullah Marwat, who used to run the iconic Pakhtun-Punjabi Ittehad (PPI) and is now in the PML(N). Another city notable, the ANP’s Rana Gul Afridi, despite contesting provincial assembly seats three times since 1988, hasn’t been able to get registered in the city himself.

Many voters have their names in provisional electoral rolls (PER) but have been omitted from final electoral rolls (FER).

Hundreds of votes can be registered against the same address. The case of 641 seats being registered from a single house saw much media light. This was in PECHS, in the constituency of the MQM’s Syed Wasim Akhtar. Also from PECHS is Faran Hotel, which had 90 votes.

In fact, many houses that have three to four actual votes, have half a dozen ghost ones as well. Many votes registered across the same gharana numbers.

Then there are the scores of votes in every block that have incomplete or dubious addresses. The JI estimates these to be around 400,000. Bashir Jan agrees. The MQM, he alleges, spreads the drifter votes around in diffeent constituencies to decrease their concentrations.

According to ECP statistics, 2.8 million out of the total 3 million unverified votes are from Karachi.

What now?

The ECP had sought two weeks from the SC for coming up with a consolidated plan for delimitation of constituencies. The process of re-verification of electoral rolls will start from the first of January. A staff of 18,000 persons will go on with the door-to-door verification process for disenfranchised or dislocated voters and rectifying other discrepancies to be completed in 65 days. It has called on the political parties through letters not to nominate more than two representatives to attend the meeting on December 20 at the ECP Secretariat, Islamabad. Also, ministries of defence and interior have been asked for the provision of Army and FC to assist ECP in the door-to-door verification of electoral rolls.

Now the onus is on the ECP to address the concerns of political parties and their supporters and add to the credibility of the ECP as an institution.

But all the activism of the Supreme Court and the efficacy of ECP cannot contribute more than a minor change of proportion in the parliament. It would be too much to expect these actions to heal the bleeding city. The key lies in the hands of political elites, who seem indifferent to the sufferings of a commoner in the megapolis. The militarisation which took place due to state’s pursuit of ideological goals has crosses previous bounds.

Farrukh Saleem has stated it well in an opinion piece titled “Why Karachi bleeds” in The News International, “The political elite, for their own interests, manipulate the security concerns of the masses through intentional incitements of ethnic animosities. Neither MQM nor ANP trust that the government has either the ability or the will to protect them against an attack. Then there is a spiralling cycle in which members of Group A mobilise and arm themselves to deter an attack from Group B. Group B, in turn, views the mobilisation threatening and arms itself to deter an attack. Fear leads to bloody conflict.”

The mess cannot be harnessed through cosmetic steps. At the end, it is the people who have to defy all these bounds and fractionation rooted both in fear and veneration.

-This article was first published by Pique and republished with permission of the author. Ali Arqam is a Peshawar University graduate and a freelance journalist, who contributes to and tweets at @aliarqam

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The village where no children play

it is said that unlike your typical village in Pakistan, a visit to Shah Hassan Khel is conspicuous for the absence of children playing. Writer Yusaf Khan explains why.. -ed note.

This is the story of Shah Hassan Khel, a small village of 500 families in the Lakki Marwat district of Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa. Prior to the 1st January 2010 I doubt if even the paper-pushing bureaucrats of the provincial capital, Peshawar, would have known about its existence. On that dreadful New Year’s day in 2010, this tiny village was pulled from obscurity and put on the global map when the Pakistani Taliban detonated an explosive laden pickup in the midst of a local volleyball tournament killing 128, mostly young boys, including the entire volleyball team, wounding equal numbers and demolishing the nearby huts.

The story goes something like this: The area used to have considerable Taliban presence and support--mostly initiated and run by a local cleric by the name of Maulvi Ashraf Ali. While the residents of the village initially supported the so called “rule of sharia” they realized that Ali was effectively running a kidnapping for ransom and stolen vehicle venture with considerable help from Baituallah Masud, the then Taliban chief from the adjacent South Waziristan tribal agency. With the help of the Pakistan Army, the people of the village formed an 'aman lashkar' (resident defence force) against the Taliban and were successful in ousting them from the village, with Maulvi Ashraf Ali escaping injured on a donkey cart. With the village “cleared” of the Taliban the Lashkar organized further village defences and even managed to install an FC/Police presence on the main road leading to the village. The Taliban, smarting from their losses, vowed revenge and continuously sent threatening messages to the Lashkar leaders, which were also relayed to the Pakistani military authorities.

On that fateful day, the leaders of the lashkar had organized a volleyball tournament to which most of the kids of the village had gathered to watch while they themselves were meeting in a local mosque adjacent to the volleyball ground. The Taliban, with the help of Maulvi Ashraf Ali, had managed to brainwash a local 14 year old kid named Obaidullah into becoming a fidayeen suicide bomber and was given the mission of annihilating the Lashkar and taking revenge. Obaidullah, brainwashed and drugged up, was given the keys to a pickup loaded with 600 pounds of explosives. He drove the vehicle towards Shah Hassan Khel, was waved through by the police picket outside the village and entered the village in the direction of the volleyball field. More than 400 kids were present at the volleyball field when Obaidullah drove his truck onto the volley ball field, exploding it and creating a calamity. He even managed to kill his own half-brother who was one of the spectators of the tournament. This massacre absolutely devastated the village as it is a very close-knit community. Generally even when a person dies a natural death no one in the village plays any music for three days so this devastation was more akin to a natural calamity. The fact that the person who triggered the explosives was one of their own hit the people that much harder.

The suicide bombing of Shah Hassan Khel affected me personally because I am from a village just 20 minutes drive away. I have fond childhood memories of that area and find it unbelievable that such peaceful and simple people would find themselves in the midst of such a brutal war. How could people from such a historically cohesive community turn against their own so brutally? It may be easy to lay blame on others but introspection is most necessary. How has the culture changed to allow this behaviour to take root and manifest itself so devastatingly and regularly? What are we doing wrong? Instead of focusing on these critical factors and guiding the community out of its downward spiral, such stories are glossed over either by conspiracy theorists or lack of critical analysis even on the part of those who understand that the perpetrators are not alien.

The story of Shah Hassan Khel was duly forgotten after a few weeks with only a small snippet appearing in a local newspaper stating that Taliban commander Ashraf Ali (who seemed to have progressed from a mere Maulvi to a commander) was killed by assailants and his body buried near Miramshah. But his death has brought no peace to the people of Shah Hassan Khel.

Their lives will never be the same again, their lives have changed forever. Kids have stopped playing volleyball, girls have stopped going to school and people who could leave have left. This is basically a microcosm of what is happening as a whole to my province of Khyber Pukhtunwa. This brutal and senseless war has changed my beloved province forever.

-Today is the third anniversary of the attack on Shah Hassan Khel. Like so many attacks in the region its story is now a footnote in history. The writer tweets under @yusaf_khan, video link courtesy Khalid Munir