Thursday, February 18, 2010

The bad and the ugly plagiarism – the case of The News


On February 14, 2010 a column “Smokers’ Corner: A herd of sheep?” by a veteran columnist Nadeem F. Paracha was published in Dawn, a leading Pakistani English newspaper. However, four days later on February 18, 2010 the same write-up, by a different catch line and a different author, appeared in the Opinion section of The News, another widely read Pakistani English newspaper. The catch line of the article published in The News  is ‘Our Middle Class’  and the contributor’s name is Agha Haider Raza, who happens to be a blogger.

It is not clear yet whether Agha Haider Raza has tried playing some prank with The News but certainly it is a clear case of plagiarism and a breach of copyrights. The word plagiarism as defined in dictionary is literary theft and any writer can be accused of committing such a thievery if he/she copies any other writer’s language or idea without giving proper acknowledgment to the original writer.

This news has stirred a reaction on twitter, which is a social networking website. Nadir Hassan, who writes for the Newsline Magazine, broke this news first on tweeter and he appeared surprised that how any one could think of plagiarizing Nadeem F. Paracha aka NFP with a supposition that such an act would go un-noticed. Kulsoom Lakhani, who blogs at CHUP was amazed and questioned why Agha Haider Raza had sent that particular piece as his own write-up to The News, despite the fact that he had written NFP’s name as the author in his own blog.

Another famous blogger Tazeen, suspected the judgment of the editors of The News that they had published such a plagiarized article without any verification. But Agha Haider Raza’s plagiarism case is not the only one in the history of Pakistani media. Earlier on January 15, 2009 Owais Ehsan of Pro-Pakistan blog had criticized Geo TV for copying two paragraphs of his article ‘‘Shakeel Siddiqui Pakistani Comedian Beaten Up in India’. Similarly, on February 13, 2009 Kashif Aziz of Chowrangi had also registered his protest of Daily Times’ copying one of his post about a school in Karachi.

It is worth mentioning, that earlier the blame of plagiarism was generally placed on Pakistani students and academics. However, with the surfacing of the information of plagiarism of NFK’s article by Agha Haider Raza and few other cases cited above, it can be inferred that even the Pakistani media is not free of such ills. But the question remains that what impact would such news carry for The News. Certainly, with the wider circulation of this news on social networking sites such as twitter and facebook, the readership of The News would e reduced to a certain degree. Another possible affect could be a case of infringement of copyrights by NFP (if he wants to claim his copyrights) against The News and Agha Haider Raza which would impinge on The News’ reputation and integrity. Hopefully, The News would learn a lesson after this case under discussion and avoid breaching of copyrights in future.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Picture Worth Thousand Words: A Primary School in Rural Punjab

The picture above shows the dismal state of primary education in rural Punjab. This primary school is located in Durkhani Wala, Tehsil Choubara, District Layya. The school neither has any boundary wall nor any black board. In extreme weather conditions, nearby bus stand is used as an alternative. There is no permanent teacher appointed in the school and a temporary teacher is responsible for teaching students. Apparently, with such primary schools, Pakistan aims to achieve its goal of achieving Universal Primary Education by 2015.   

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Judicial Crisis and the Missing Good Governance

On Saturday, the clash between the judiciary and the government was surfaced once again despite the fact that on various occasions earlier both the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice denied publicly of a confrontation between the judiciary and the government. As this drama unfolds, the Chief Justice of Pakistan, in a sou motu action, has suspended two Presidential orders pertaining to the elevation of Chief Justice of Lahore High Court Khawaja Sharif to the Supreme Court and of appointing Justice Saqib Nisar as Acting Chief Justice Lahore High Court.

The prime reason for this suo motu action is that the presidency has not ‘consulted’ Iftikhar Chaudhry, Chief Justice Supreme Court prior to the issuance of aforementioned presidential orders and therefore is a violation of Article 177 of the Constitution of Pakistan. Nevertheless, the government’s stand is that the formal consultation was held with the Chief Justice and judges’ appointments were as per constitution. So far, government has failed to provide a documentary proof of any such ‘consultation’ on the issue of appointment of judges of the superior court. 

The above-stated news has already become the ‘lead’ story of all the Pakistani national newspapers. Different newspapers have used different vocabulary to the nature and severity of this incident. For instance, one English daily newspaper calls the Supreme Court’s verdict as a ‘stinging rebuke’; another English newspaper discusses it as ‘dangerous escalation’ and an international newspaper calls it as a “simmering power struggle”. Undoubtedly, it is a worrisome development for the nascent elected government in Pakistan, who presently is also confronting the looming security threats within the country and a Taliban insurgency on country’s western border. Many political parties have already reacted strongly by categorically calling the presidential act as “unconstitutional”. However, some opposition leaders such as Mr Nawaz Sharif (Chief PML-N), is using it as an opportunity to pressure the government, particularly Asif Ali Zardari. The News on Sunday reports PML-N Chief as saying:

“It is the biggest disservice to the democracy by a person who claimed to be a democrat and happens to be the elected president”.

PML-N Chief has been very vocal for the past two or three years on ‘independence of judiciary’ despite the fact that in 1997 in his term as Prime Minister, he also made a disservice to democracy by ordering an assault on Supreme Court building. Certainly PML-N Chief’s above stated comment elucidates that he is using a different yard stick to check incumbent government’s performance relating to independence of judiciary.

This whole judicial crisis highlights the need for a crucial missing element which is called ‘good governance’. Good governance which as defined by the OECD is “the management of government in a manner that is essentially free of abuse and corruption, and with due regard for the rule of law”. But do our institutions comply with the principles of good governance? Our history suggests that good governance is either used in elections to win people’s votes or the term appears in political speeches of opposition leaders, meant to destabilize the ruling political party.

One of the slogans of our elected government was certainly ‘good governance’ in February 2008 elections. But the current situation of the country (price hike, electricity shortage, security situation etc) has already nullifies the claims made during February 2008 elections by of our elected representatives. The worse of it is that the elected officials and appointed officials, legislatures and executive, at the moment are at war against each other. The recent politico-judicial turmoil is a clash between two personalities, Asif Ali Zardari Vs Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry’, which has been shaped up by now as a clash between the ‘executive and the judiciary’, and as rightly said by Asma Jehangir in her article dated December 19, the clash which began after the Supreme Court’s NRO judgment, has resulted in disturbing the equilibrium of power and an imbalance has been created in favor of judiciary.

Regardless of Prime Minister’s assertion that the country’s institutions will work within their respective domains, political experts of the country view it as “escalating political tension’ in the country which could have dangerous consequences for the incumbent elected government. Mr. Hussain Haqqani, Pakistani Ambassador in the US has been reported as saying that Pakistan would experience massive economic set-back if the democratic process is derailed in the country. This implies that to prevent Pakistan from going through another series of crises, both the legislatures and the judiciary should focus on constitutional provision, responsibilities and institutional integrity.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Traditional Neighborhoods - A Humane Environment?

A few days back, I called an ex-colleague of mine to touch base with her. Surprised to hear my voice after three-year gap, she inquired about my whereabouts and what am I up to these days.  I told her that I have returned to Pakistan and at present, I am living with my mother in our old house located in one of the oldest localities of Lahore. Upon hearing the name of the neighborhood where my house is situated, she said “wonderful, these are the places which still are more humane then the posh and newly built localities”.

I am quiet uncertain about the “more humane” character of the old neighborhood of Lahore; I am living in these days. Nevertheless, like any other Lahori residential locality situated in the oldest part of the city, the residents of my neighborhood also encounter numerous problems on day-to-day basis. Some of these problems are common to all old localities such as frequent power and gas outages, bad sewerage system, no solid waste management system, worsening law and order situation, lack of recreational facilities for children, eve-teasing and harassment, broken roads and streets etc whereas some of these problems are locality-specific.

The occurring frequency of these problems is so high that the populace of such localities including my own neighborhood is not left with no other way to deal with them other than ignoring such problems altogether. In doing so, they also forget that they should avoid becoming nuisance for their fellow neighbors. The same is the case with few of my neighbors, who at the moment are source of utmost annoyance for me and many other neighbors. The problem is that those neighboring houses seem very much found of Indian music. Now many readers of this blog would probably think how fondness for Indian music by my neighbors becomes an issue for me? 

Certainly, liking Indian songs or music is not a problem but playing those songs at full volume whenever one feels like listening is definitely a real problem. Just imagine the scenario that it is 12:30 am and you are fast asleep and suddenly you woke-up because of the silly noise of music entering your ears without any sort of hindrance, would not you feel like banging your head in the wall at that time? Also visualize in your mind that you have an old and ailing family member at home who is advised by the doctor for complete bed rest. But your old ailing family member finds it hard to sleep because your neighbors are entertaining themselves by listening loud music. Also think that your youngest of brother has an exam the next day but he is unable to prepare for his exam because of the loud music being played by your neighbor. What are you going to do in such circumstances?

To deal with the situation described above, my brother and myself discussed the issue with other neighbors and we decided to visit the houses of those neighbors who were fond of playing loud music at odd times, to request them if they could turn-down the volume relatively low while enjoying their favorite music because their loud music is disturbing other neighbors. However, to our surprise our effort to resolve the issue remained counter-productive. Our humble request has not yet been granted by those neighboring houses and they continue playing music at full volume and at odd times. I wonder if I should consider this behavior of my neighbors as “more humane” or as something depicting sheer “ignorance” or “lack of civic sense”. Perhaps, people living in old neighborhoods like mine would be “more humane” and more considerate of their neighbors some twenty years back or so but things have changed considerably today. 

Friday, February 5, 2010

Implications of Lower Dir's Blast

Like me and my colleagues, many people in Pakistan would have spent a major part of Wednesday in tweeting and retweeting Wednesday’s bomb blast in Lower Dir which killed “three US marines”,  four school children and a Pakistani soldier. The blast had also left at least 131 wounded including two US marines, two Pakistani reporters and dozens of school children. The news stirred a lot of confusion and initially, it appeared as a puzzle with some missing pieces because the identity of the people killed particularly of the US soldiers was not acknowledges from the very beginning. Firstly, it was reported that three US journalists were killed, later on it was speculated that three USAID workers had died and then the final confirmation of the death of three US marines came from Pakistani Military spokesperson Major Athar Abbas and the US Embassy’s press statement. The ambiguity regarding the identity of the US soldiers probably arise because one Pakistani journalist overheard a Pakistani military man as saying “foreign journalists have arrived” and hence the journalist assumed that the dead US personnel were foreign journalists and spread these words.

The confusion also prevailed regarding the type of attack. Earlier it was reported that the convoy was hit by a roadside bomb but later on, it was reported that it was a remote-controlled bomb. This confusion still prevailed till Thursday morning as Dawn has still reported it as a suicide attack whereas the BBC and The Wall Street Journal are reporting it as remote-controlled blast. This is not the first time the Pakistani media has spread news as “breaking news” without going into actual verification. Nevertheless, amidst all this utter confusion of who the dead people were and what sort of an attack was it, Taliban has already claimed responsibility of Wednesday’s blast in Lower Dir. Taliban have alleged that the killed US personnel were not soldiers but members of the controversial US military contracting agency ‘Blackwater”.  However, Halbroke has rejected Taliban’s claim calling it “Taliban’s Propaganda”.

The fact of the matter is that the news of Wednesday’s blast was really attention-grabbing because the death of the US soldiers has for the first time revealed the presence of the US marines in Pakistan. According to AP report, at least 60-100 US marines are present in Pakistan with a mission to train Pakistan’s ill-equipped “Frontier Corps”. However, there are few crucial questions which require further explanation. Firstly, why the US soldiers were introduced as “journalists” and why the identity of the killed US marines was kept so secretive by both the Pakistani government and the US Embassy? One possible reason for that as is reported in the Wall Street Journal is the widespread anit-american sentiments prevalent in Pakistan.   

Secondly, the question arises what the US marines had to do with the inauguration of a school located in one of the strongholds of Taliban? The statement issued by the US Embassy sates that the US soldiers were in Pakistan to conduct trainings at the request of the Frontier Corps. Nevertheless, the US soldiers would not be training Frontier Corps on building schools but probably on counter-insurgency techniques. Surely, there was no training of the embattled Frontier Corps organized at the school inaugural. The possibility that the US soldiers were partaking in managing the US development assistance in Pakistan can not be ruled out altogether. As it has already been reported by the NY Times that the “Americans’ involvement in training Frontier Corps recruits in development assistance was little known until Wednesday’s attack”.

Thirdly, the question arises whether “the militarization of the US aid” has also started in Pakistan and it has not made public yet in Pakistan? This militarization of aid has already happened in case of Haiti, Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa where the US soldiers are managing a large part of the US humanitarian assistance. Militarization of aid is partly due to the wider belief within the United States’ foreign assistance bureaucracy that the development workers can not perform well in insecure countries.  Consequently, USAID has also militarized and the Office of Military Affairs (OMA) has already been established at the USAID’s
Bureau of Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance which is meant to act as a regular coordination platform between the USAID and the Department of Defence.

However, the news carries with itself obvious implications. Firstly, the humanitarian assistance work in Lower Dir which was initiated after halting of the military operation would come to a stand still. The poor households which were displaced and then repatriated as a result of the military operation would not receive any assistance at least for some time. Secondly, Taliban can also exploit the situation and can also recruit more people into their camp after their claim of the killed “US personnel” as “Blackwater representatives”. Thirdly, the anti-government forces have another weak point of the government in hand to exploit and use to heighten anti-government and anti-American sentiments among common Pakistani masses.

Assault of a Professor at the National University of Modern Languages

Across the world, Universities are a place where anything can be debated at length and professors are respected due to their scholarship and grasp of the subject matter. But is it the case with the Pakistani universities? On February 4, 2010 in Islamabad, the registrar of the National University of Modern Languages beat-up a university Professor Tahir Malik at a students’ reception ceremony organized by the International Relations Department of the university.
The registrar of the university is an ex-military serviceman who got maddened after hearing the criticism on General Musharaf’s role in power brokering deal with the PPP through the National Reconciliation Ordinance. The registrar also got enraged when Professor Tahir Malik questioned the registrar’s appointment which was made without any advertisement or following the prescribed selection criteria. The registrar is neither guilty of his act nor the university administration has taken any disciplinary action against him as yet other than calling for an inquiry of the incident.
According to “The News” this is not the first incident at NUML where a University professor has been assaulted because of criticizing army. At another such incident, Azaz Syed, a journalist teaching in the NUML’s Journalism Department, was sacked from his job because of criticized ISI’ chief. The News also reports that after these two incidents the tension between NUML’s civilian and military staff (retired army officers) has grown to a great extent.
Surely, NUML is one of the many military businesses or “MILBUS” in Pakistan and as Dr Ayesha Siddiqa Agha discusses in her book “Military Inc.”, the purpose of these MILIBUS like NUML is to ensure a very dominant social presence as well as gain political and economic control. Besides, the recent incident of assault of a professor by the NUML administrator also suggests that criticizing army can not be tolerated by any means if you are being employed by any of the MILIBUS. But then where goes the fundamental constitutional guarantee of “freedom of speech and expression”? Or probably freedom of speech and expression is only limited to books and it has not yet been accepted by the masses and institutions. Or probably we are not that democratic yet and therefore freedom of speech and expression has not become a norm here.
Update: The President of Pakistan who is also the Chancellor of the NUML has ordered an inquiry into the incident. More Details can be found here

originally written for