Monday, July 12, 2010

She is still there, still waiting

He left her there, all alone
She is still there, still waiting
Drifting memories keep coming back to her
Acceding her rave with divergence of her past and present
The past carries the cherished days

The days when he loved to be lost in her eyes
There were fights and sorrows
But every fight or pain never lasted longer
As it dissipated in hugs, laughter and joy
Love was life and freedom
Now he is gone with a promise to return
She is alone there, still waiting
Asleep, awake, by night or day

Hours flying by, days pass into months
Waiting for him is a special affair
Reminiscence is her best refuge
A source of happiness for her un-satiated soul
A Reminder of being alive
A hope for her desperate heart
That there will be a day when they will meet again

She awaits for him all day and night
But in her heart, also abode her fears
The fear which is her worst nightmare
What if he does not come back?
Like all those promised phone calls he never made
What if all her wait goes in vain?
Her fear and hope, her past and present
She is still there, still waiting

Friday, June 18, 2010

Traffic Chaos in Lahore– a public policy failure

Traffic in Lahore city is chaotic, unruly and roads are often jam packed with both motorized and non-motorized vehicles fleet. Due to its magnanimity, rising ‘traffic’ poses a big challenge for all those institutes responsible for planning, devising and implementing transport policies.

Traffic is chaotic because drivers, whether of a bus, a wagon, a car, a rickshaw or a motorcyclist, like driving in their own peculiar way. They are always in such a hurry that most of the time they forget whether they intended to turn left or right. They don’t mind parking their vehicles on sides of congested roads without realizing that their parked vehicle may end up blocking the entire traffic flow. In case of a traffic jam, almost everyone on road, rather than waiting in vain, would worsen the traffic jam by self assuming the responsibility of the traffic wardens and devising a way out for their vehicle only. They also love honking on roads where government has advertised in Urdu “honking is prohibited on this road’.

Perhaps, following no rule is the new rule on roads. Dr. Shabih-ul-Hassan Zaidi thinks that driving license issuing authority is also to be blamed for the behavior of drivers on roads. “Currently, bribing is the standard operating procedure to obtain a driving license. Wanna-be drivers or car owners, who seek a driving license through bribe, do not have to go through the standard test and their driving licenses are delivered at their doorsteps. It is a governance failure”, he added.

Besides people’s behavior on road, there are other multiple issues which are adding up and pointing toward a public policy failure. Firstly, private vehicles (including cars and motorcycles) are increasing at an alarming rate of 12.2% per annum. Dr. Shabih-ul-Hassan Zaidi, a senior town planner was of the view that, for the past six years, the car ownership rate is growing at least five times more than the population growth rate of the country. We have also witnessed the widening of roads to accommodate the increasing number of motorized traffic. “This rapid increase in number of cars is straining the capacity of the existing road infrastructure in Lahore. But widening of roads by reducing the size of green belts is not a viable solution”, pronounced Dr. Shabih-ul-Hassan Zaidi.

One major reason for increase in number of vehicles (cars or motorcycles) is the absence of an efficient public transport system. According to the Lahore Rapid Mass Transit study 2006, there are only 1053 buses for approximately 200,000 regular commuters. In addition to buses, there are 518 mini buses, 475 mini wagons, 34156 rickshaws plying on Lahore roads but still the supply side of the existing public transport system does not match the growing public demand. Secondly, the condition of all public buses, mini buses or wagons is very terrible. Bus services such as New Khan and Daewoo, which started some ten years back, have increased their fare many times but apparently maintenance of these buses is the least priority.

Thirdly, is the role of the corporate sector which has exploited the existing gap created due to the wretched public transport system, by offering easy car leasing options to people. Now anyone with a few months of job experience can lease out a car. Neither the corporate sector nor buyers think for a second the environmental consequences of selling or buying cars. Of course, the former is aiming at more profit and the later their own convenience.  

Fourthly, there is the issue of governance or the lack of it, which is exacerbating the problem. For instance, there are number of government bodies responsible for managing and planning traffic and transport issues of the city. Some of these departments include Punjab Transport Department, Traffic Engineering and Planning Authority, City district government, Urban Unit of Planning and Development Department, City Traffic Police etc. “roles and responsibilities of all these departments’ overlap. Additionally, they work in isolation and coordination is completely missing”, says Dr. Ghulam Abbas Anjum, Chairman of City and Regional Planning Department.

A joint-up government is the new approach, which requires involvement of all relevant government departments, has been employed in countries like Australia to solve wicked problems such as traffic congestion. Nevertheless, such an approach is completely missing in case of city Lahore. Here, the Transport Department of the Government of Punjab is developing a transport plan of the city but unfortunately, Traffic Engineering and Planning Authority has not been taken on board prior to embarking on any future transport plan. It appears that the introduction of joint-up government concept would take some time in countries like Pakistan.

Similarly, the knowledge of experts, working in various government departments of Lahore, about existing national framework for transport is also a matter of great concern. I talked to Mr. Mohammad Ozair, Senior Transport Specialist of the Urban Unit, Planning and development department and asked whether Pakistan has any national transport policy. Mr. Ozair was completely ignorant about any such policy at the national level even though such a national level policy was formulated through assistance of Asian Development Bank.

But what experts say to resolve the traffic congestion issue in Lahore. Dr. Shabih-ul-Hassan Zaidi thinks that policy planners should adopt the multi-nuclei concept of town planning. This concept entails decentralization of town centers by developing new town centers. This will reduce the traffic congestion by distributing traffic to multiple town centers. By doing so, the average travel time would also be reduced. On the contrary, Dr. Ghulam Abbas Anjum, Chairman of City and Regional Planning Department, was of the viewpoint that the only viable option is to provide an efficient public transport system to the city dwellers. “Traffic congestion would be reduced to a great extent if government considers the option of rapid mass transit bus or rapid mass transit rail system. Lahore Rapid Mass Transit Rail Project (LRMT) is already on the table but there were serious delays due to unavailability of funds”, pronounced Dr. Ghulam Abbas Anjum.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Hate Speech, Our actions and Inactions

Today, I came across couple of pictures on twitter which was a clear enough evidence of how minorities are treated in Pakistan. The first picture tweeted by Beena Sarwar, a veteran Pakistani journalist, captured a banner displayed outside Lahore High Court with the slogan “Jews, Christians and Ahmedis are enemies of Islam”. The second picture, tweeted by Shahid Saeed, was of a billboard with the logo of Auqaf Department Punjab, stating “Friendship with Ahmedis is a revolt against Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)”. This kind of provocative banners and billboards perpetuate nothing but sheer hatred against minorities such as Ahmedis.

We have already witnessed the resultant effect of this hate speech on May 28th, in a massacre of two worship places of Ahmedis, which killed at least 100 civilians and left many injured. Ironically, despite such a massive bloodshed of a minority community, the reluctance of the Government of Punjab to order removal of all such provocative banners is outrageous. Rather, Government of Punjab is allowing Auqaf Department to continue sponsoring provocative billboards to win support and avoid wrath of religious parties. By doing so, Punjab government is not only neglecting its constitutional responsibility of protecting minorities but it is also fanning hate speech against Ahmedis. Should not it be called a ‘state sponsored terrorism” against Ahmedis community?

Similarly, there are our so called leaders of religious parties who have been campaigning against Ahmedis for so many years. Recently, these religious leaders have condemned the attacks on Ahmedis but they have also declared  these attacks as a western ‘conspiracy’ to build pressure on Pakistan to amend blasphemy laws, to do more for the US led war on terror and to create justification for a possible attack on southern Punjab. It is pertinent to note that these religious parties have been infusing people’s minds with such ‘conspiracy theories’ since ages. Subsequently, what they have accomplished is support from masses to spread the hate speech and also religious bigotry.

But leaders of religious parties did not limit themselves by highlighting the so called conspiracies, some of them pronounced blanket statements on minorities protection. For instance, the attention-grabbing statement by Syed Munawar Hassan, Ameer Jaamat-i-Islami, also surfaced in the media, who said that “minorities are secure in Pakistan”. Such statement seems inane if we look at the history of persecution, indiscrimination, intimidation and gross atrocities faced not only by Ahmedis but also other minorities such as Christians. Pakistan’s treatment of minorities has been called ‘worse’ time and again by the Human Rights Watch and Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. There are innumerable examples of gross atrocities committed against monitories in our country. For instance, Gojra massacre, May 28th carnage etc. Similarly, displaying anti-Ahmedis banners and hoardings at public places and the inaction of our provincial government is a reflection for us to acknowledge that minorities are neither respected nor secure in Pakistan.

How many people protested against and condemned the May 28th massacre on Ahmedis’ community? Well, there were only 40 people who turned-up at Islamabad press club to attend the protest and same goes with other cities of Pakistan. On the contrary, on May 31, country wide protests were arranged in Pakistan to condemn Israel’s attack on a flotilla of aid ships going to Gaza. Does not this attitude elucidate our double standards? We are in a state of denial and live with our own prejudices. We are intolerant toward minorities (whether Ahmedis, Christians or Hindus); we disrespect them and deny their fundamental rights. We don’t reflect upon our own actions and inactions and blame others for hatching conspiracies against us.  

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Rehman Malik on Twitter - Is it a news worth reporting???

Across the world politicians use popular social networking sites such as facebook and twitter not only to mobilize people (particularly younger generation) but also to win their hearts and minds. It is very much normal considering the modern age's information and communication revolution and the advent of technology. Nevertheless, why is it such a surprise if Pakistani politicians, following footprints of their western counterparts, also join such social networking sites? Recently, Interior Minister Rehman Malik has joined twitter after the facebook ban in the country. Surprisingly, ‘Rehman Malik's Joining the Twitter bandwagon” is big news in Pakistan as both print and electronic media reporters have consumed their energies yesterday in reporting this unprecedented holy event. It is pertinent to note that all the news reports, highlighting Rehman Malik’s joining the twitter, point out the same thing such as : Why Rehman Malik joined twitter, how many people are following him at present, what sort of questions followers are asking from him and what replies our Interior Minister has furnished so far.

This news, first reported by Chris Allbritton of Reuter, was also filed by Pakistani journalists with the same vigor (and a little bit of editing as the contents remains more or less same as that of Chris Allbritton’s report). But this raises few questions:

  • Firstly, Rehman Malik Joining Twitter is really some news worth publishing particularly when there are hundreds of stories (worth publishing) being ignored by Pakistani media. For instance, there was no coverage of PC hotel workers strike in Karachi though it was actively covered by Pakistani bloggers like Dr. Awab Alvi. Similarly, there was no media coverage of Mai Jori Jamali’s election campaign, a peasant woman who contested bi-elections in Balochistan. Likewise, press conference of Dr Awab Alvi and other activists on facebook ban and consequent manhandling of Dr. Awab Alvi by angry mobsters (including some journalists) was also not covered by the media?? Why? Only because all (the cases which I mentioned above) were raising their voice against status quo?
  • Secondly, why media exert their energies on reporting on non-issues when there is a plethora of real issues? We have always been hearing by our politicians and development workers that media could play a role of a change agent because of its level of influence and reach to common people. In that regard, why women issues are given less coverage? Why corruption in society is not highlighted the way it should be?? Why gross human rights violations are never surfaced?? 
  • Thirdly, why media has such an ambiguous stand on certain issues, for instance facebook ban?? Is not this ban anti ‘freedom of speech’ and if yes then why media is not very vocal and express what is rational???
I don’t have any answer to these questions but I would request my readers to shed some light on questions, I underlined above, and enlighten me with their responses. Besides, if  you guys would like to read the news of Rehman Malik joining twitter and want to get amused then you can find it herehere and here….

Note: originally posted at 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Women Employment in Public Sector in Pakistan

In Pakistan, the popular aphorism is that the concentration of women workforce is higher in education and health sectors compared to other sectors such as engineering, telecommunication etc.  Perhaps, women would be working more as teachers, doctors or nurses but at large, proportion of women working at administrative or decision-making posts in education and health departments also present a very dismal picture particularly when the government’s initiative of increasing women’s employment in public sector is concerned.

Women’s meagre participation in the public sector is not specific to one province or locality, but all provincial departments are by large male dominated. In one of the discussion fora in Karachi, I heard Mehtab Akbar Rashidi, former secretary culture, government of Sindh, saying that “out of 28 government departments in Karachi, only two women are working at the decision making level”. Experts quote gender stereo-typing as one main reason for the prevalent gender gap in government offices.

The recently accumulated statistics by the Ministry of Labor and Manpower confirm that a significant gender-gap exists in Pakistan’s public sector. At present, women constitute only 10.7% of the total workforce in the country and their proportion in public sector is even less than 2%.  Another study commissioned by the National Commission on the Status of Women reveals the absence of women from decision-making positions in the public sector. In lieu of the situation, NCSW had recommended the government to allocate a 50% quota for women in all public sector jobs. Nevertheless, NCSW’s recommendation has never been adopted by the government due to a lack of political will.

Later on, the Government of Pakistan, as a pre-condition of availing technical assistance from the Asian Development Bank, introduced the Gender Reform Action Plan with women employment in the public sector as being one of the key reform areas. As per the GRAP policy, the government aims to take measures at both pre and post induction stages in order to engender the entire induction process. Proposed with an intention to encourage more women to join public sector, these measures include:
“Establishment of career development centers for young female graduates; affirmative advertisement of public sector vacancies; reservation of employment quota for women in all public sector jobs; inclusion of at least one woman member on every selection or departmental promotion committee; appointing at least 3 women members on the Federal Services Commission and enforcement of code of ethics to protect women from sexual harassment at workplace and so on and so froth”.

The overall picture of achievements of policy measures to enhance women’s participation in the public sector is still very murky. Recent findings of a research study conducted by the Citizens Commission on Human Development highlights that the GRAP has not achieved its key policy objective of increasing women employment in public sector both at the federal and provincial levels. Instead of the proposed 25% quota a meagre 10% quota has been introduced through a directive from the Establishment Division at the federal level.  While in key departments women friendly infrastructure( rest rooms, toilets, day care centres) has either been up-graded or developed, where found missing.

In case of Punjab, career development centres in four public sector universities have been established and an internship program is underway too. Even though there is no scientific data available on the success of initiatives being taken, an ADB representative from Punjab opined that career development initiatives have no visible impact so far due to delays in implementation.  While in the remaining three provinces (Sindh, Balochistan and Pakhtoon Khawa) the progress is almost negligible due to multiple reasons such as lack of ownership, issues of capacities, inadequate planning and gender partial policy framework.

There is a realization among key government functionaries and parliamentarians about the slow progress in increasing the proportion of women employees in all government offices. For instance, Ms. Tauqir Fatima Bhutto, Minister of Women Development Sindh, in a public debate organized by the CCHD, pronounced that  

“Women development department had conducted an assessment of all departments to check whether women employees make-up at least 10% of total workforce and we find out that women were even less than 2%. The women development department has also apprised the Chief Minister time and again about the progress made so far. All departments have been  requested to send reports specifying percentage of women but the response is very luke- warm. We can not achieve our policy objective without full cooperation of all relevant departments”.

But this realization is not enough for bringing a transformation in our society. What is needed is a change of men’s mindset, who are responsible for policymaking in majority of cases. If this doesn’t happen, then GRAP and its accompanying set of reforms will be reminiscent of all previously envisaged policies, concerning women empowerment and equality, which were only words and no actions. Women rights activists believe that with a large number of women parliamentarians in national and provincial assemblies, this is the right time to make headways to mainstreaming gender in public institutions, process and policies. 

Monday, May 24, 2010

As I let myself sink

Walking on this never ending dark alley
Do I Know Where I am?
And where are you?

Weren’t you there a while ago?
Standing besides me, holding my hand
Smiling and crying
Promising me to never leave me alone
Or was it just a dream?

What am I doing in this dark alley?
Looking for those lost moments?
Searching for you, your smile and your promises
Drowning myself in my own tears
Where are you? I look again

I close my eyes
I see some light
And I saw you standing there
Saying good-bye
You turned around with apathy, Ah, and I saw you go

Don’t leave me, I hear myself crying
You did not hear that
You are too hurriedly walking away; yes away from me
Something breaks inside me with a bang
Something bleeds too
And I stand like a stone while you disappeared in the dark

Yes, it is dark inside too; I don’t know why
I open my eyes to find hope outside
Ah, I am in that purgatory dark lane again
Guarded by my own tears,  and my own sorrow
Numbness creeps inside me

I succumb myself to water 
Letting myself sink deep down there
Remembering (Ah, memory)
Once you said
“I am water and you are fire”,
I let myself sink in water
Because water is you…..

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

No Water Conservation Drive??

Today, on my way to the office, I had a short conversation with my office driver on hot weather in Lahore and the ‘brilliant’ coping strategy adopted by him for dealing with the heat waves during nights. The driver apprised me that at night he leaves a running water pipe in his room cooler so that water in the room cooler does not finish off in the middle of night. Surprised at his inane approach, I asked him that is not he contributing toward wasting our already ‘depleting’ water resources. My office driver gave an outstanding reply to me saying “No, water is available in abundance in Pakistan. I have installed a water boring machine and a big water storage tank in my house. Every day, I pump water through that boring machine in the water storage tank. The stored water is sufficient enough for my family even if I leave one tap running the whole night”. The bottom line of his message was:  My water tank is full and it belongs to me. I have the full authority to use it the way I want .Even I can leave one tap open at night for my own convenience and it is no wastage”.

Whether call this attitude ignorance or lack of civic responsibility but wasting water is widespread in Pakistan, a country which is declared as ‘water scarce’ in 2009 research conducted by the Woodrow Wilson Centre. In urban centers like Lahore, People would leave their taps running for hours in their houses, or they would wash their houses and streets everyday (though after washing streets they do not mind littering the streets with the same fervor, hence wasting not only water but also their own effort of cleaning the street) or they would wash their cars everyday for hours besides cursing the government for not providing them electricity for 24 hours everyday. Contrarily to this, in remote part of the country people do not get clean water to drink and there women have to cover a long distance to fetch water for drinking and other household uses. But do we know and do we care that water resources are not easily accessible to many Pakistanis.

But do they know that Pakistan has scarce water resources and the rapidly growing population of the country is further exhausting the limited water resources. Or that only 10% of available water resources have been allocated for consumption (for drinking and sanitation purposes) at the household level for the entire population of the country. Or that besides wastage of water by them, there are also system losses or leakages in municipal water supply system. Perhaps they also do not know about the very recent prediction by the Water and Development Authority that the per capita availability of water in Pakistan will further decrease from 1,038 cubic meters in 2010 to 809 cubic meters in 2025. Or that in wake of current water crisis, some responsibility also fall on their shoulders to discontinue old practices of wasting of water.

And why the common masses do not know all these facts? Because, our national media (both print and electronic) is busy in selling products ( beverages, shampoos etc) but its role in spreading awareness pertaining to water conservation to the general public is completely non-existent. Meanwhile, in developed countries such as Australia (which is also a water deficient country), electronic media (television) is actively engaged in spreading water conservation awareness (including recycling of rain water) to Australian population. Similarly, our government is also silent on this issue and same goes with the non-state actors or civil society organizations, whose efforts on promoting water conservation in the country are not very visible. In short, a collective approach for water conservation is altogether missing, which requires all stakeholders including policy-makers, civil society organizations, media and common people to strive toward one goal of using water rationally and responsibly.

Pakistan commemorates World Water Day every year; on this year’s water day, the participating organizations (government and non-government) vowed to raise awareness across the country on water conservation. But that pledge, like many more pledges, has not yet materialized in concrete actions.  Perhaps, government and non-government actors are waiting for the next year World Water Day to make the same pledge again of ‘awareness pertaining to water conservation’.