This 23rd day of March

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I have said, and heard, “I love Pakistan” millions of times. At times I have wondered what it really means to love Pakistan. Is it love for the soil? the seas and the sand? or the land that is Pakistan’s territory?

For me loving Pakistan is loving the people who belong to this country; my people. It is this sense of belonging that creates a bond between families, tribes, towns and a countries.

Love, as one of its characteristics, has the urge to benefit and better the loved one; their life and their person. Selflessness is an essential ingredient of love. Benefiting one’s self at the cost of detriment to the other is not love by any stretch of imagination. Yet that is what many of us do, don’t we?

We loot billions while in offices of power, manufacture and sell fake medicine risking each other’s lives, we provide substandard food items and play havoc with the health of our people, we lie through the teeth while selling products deceiving others into paying more for an item that is worth much less, we violate traffic rules putting the lives of our fellows in danger, we remain silent on the miseries of our brothers and sisters – all of this for a little benefit to ourselves, regardless of the grave implications, of our acts and omissions, on the lives of our people. I cannot even think of doing any of those things to anyone in my family, because I love them. If I can do it to someone else, I obviously do not love that someone else.

A soldier’s patriotism is often deemed unquestionable, for he is willing to sacrifice his own life for his country. This is an epitome of love, since life is the most valuable of worldly assets. It is the kind of love that one has for his family. Frequent and shameless vile actions of some in our society and  the inconsiderate silence of others, are acts unbecoming of an emotion as sincere and pure as love.

From the humiliation and agony or being raped to committing suicide for denial of justice, the indifference of our society towards the victim speaks volumes of the care and concern that we have for the victim, or others who may follow. If I am content and do not act as long as the threat stays miles away from my own daughter or sister, it’s the sister and daughter that I love, not my country’s children, not my country.

We jump on an opportunity to criticize the vices of other Pakistanis, all the while ignoring our own ills, grave as they may be. Pakistan bashing aside; bigotry, intolerance and polarization have made us opinionated and judgmental. Peaceful differences of opinion find no space in our interactions. We cannot agree to disagree. For the advocate of each narrative, the believer of another is a traitor or a fool. Be it Malala, Sharmeen, Shafqat Amanat’s unintentional mistake, or any other issue, we find ourselves at each other’s throats for holding an opinion different than our own.

In times of tragedy like December, 2014, we did manage to stand together, but we haven’t yet learned to stand united. At times political affiliations blind us, at others, religious beliefs turn us into blood thirsty primates.

Patriotic songs, flag colored clothes, festive celebratory events, wearing the Pakistani flag on our chests and decorating our homes with it, are all testaments to the assertion, not the fact,  that we love Pakistan. Our actions, not our words or shrieks, will give merit to our claims.

My love for Pakistan would not allow me to distinguish between a Shia Pakistani and a Sunni Pakistani, a non-Muslim and a Muslim Pakistani, a Punjabi and a Pakhtoon, a male and a female citizen, a rich Pakistani and a poor Pakistani. If and when I love Pakistan, I will love them all, beyond cultural, ethnic, religious, political and social divides.

Unfortunate as it is, patriotism, like democracy, is turning into a fiction. It used to be a reality. The fight for independence and subsequent frequent wars with India may have tied our older generations together in a national bond. But as time passes the grip loosens, the bond weakens.

Tall claims, write-ups and promises won’t do us any good. We do not need a messiah or the “perfect” political leader to come and turn us into patriots, we do not need democracy or dictatorship for that either. To love our country we need to start loving each other, it is that simple.

Let’s not make any promises this 23rd of March. Before we go on to celebrate our love for Pakistan, let us first start loving Pakistanis.

 

Agents Agents everywhere.

BeyondTheBlameGameArticle

How dare Shafqat shame this great, honorable nation by making a few unintentional mistakes while singing our national anthem? Even if 90 % of us did not know that he had actually made those mistakes until we were told by the few who knew the anthem by heart and could pronounce it correctly, how dare he!

Before walking out at the Eden Gardens and standing before an Indian Crowd, Shafqat should have known that he is an ambassador of Pakistan and that his performance will honor or dishonor this great, self respecting, righteous nation. He should also have known that any unintentional mistake, petty as it may be, will not go unnoticed, un-bashed, or un-blown-out-of-proportion. We do not forgive, we do forget though, but as long as we remember, we do not forgive. We later forget and do not remember what we haven’t forgiven you for, nevertheless, we never forgive.

Shafqat’s crime is no way any less grave than the crimes of Sharmeen Obaid Chinoi. Sharmeen chose to shame this great, righteous, holy nation by highlighting a non-existent vice i.e. honor killing of women. It was her, who first with the help of CIA hired some men and planted them in different parts of Pakistan to start families and later kill a woman of their family in the name of honor. She then made a documentary on those killings and brought a bad name to Pakistan; this great country of the noblest of  people. It is surprising how some ‘liberals’ haven’t cracked the code, it is so obvious. If the so-called criminals who committed these crimes were not planted by Sharmeen in connivance with the CIA, how did she know where to find them? ehh? ehh?

Shafqat on the other hand was hired later on, as part of the same conspiracy to defame this greatest of great nations. RAW was in on this one. He was paid a huge sum for making an unintentional mistake that would disrepute Pakistan. Motive? If a professional singer can make an unintentional mistake while singing the national anthem, how can Pakistan ensure the safety and security of its nuclear arsenal? ehh? ehh?

Then there is another agent on the list, a madam that goes by the name QB. The foreign intelligence agency behind her has not be identified yet, or has been identified but cannot be revealed. There are rumors that she works for the devil himself. She is responsible for spreading profanity in our otherwise sin-less society. I have to admit she does work in mysterious, supernatural ways. It is heard that in her videos, she subliminally hypnotizes you, making you go back in time and clicking on her videos. Why else would any Muslim brother click the video that obviously has some provocative or profane content in it?

A recent survey based on public opinion conducted by a private secret agency has revealed that 30% of Pakistanis are either CIA or RAW agents. Another 40-50% are terrorist sympathizers, jaahils, paindus, fundoos, falanoos and timkanoos. The rest have just not been exposed yet because they have chosen to keep their opinions to themselves, or do not have a Facebook or Twitter account yet.

Private Schools-Parents-State: The Hate Triangle

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Recent events have changed the way a student looks at his/her educational institution. The parent-school tussle does not have a party that is entirely wrong. Strong emotions from frustrated parents paint a devilish picture of these schools, while stubborn and rigid stances and strikes by the schools makes them seem like monarchs from the past. Both extremes are unnecessary, non-productive and harmful to the society in general, and children in specific.

Resting in the centre of this controversy is an amendment to the Punjab Private Institutions (Promotion and Regulation) Ordinance, 1984 whereby Sections 7A, 12A, 12B and 12C were inserted. Said amendment was the government’s way of responding to protests by parents against unreasonable fee hikes made by the private schools, thereby becoming a necessary and proper party to the dispute. A hate triangle was born where parents, private schools and the government stand firmly in their corners.

Section 7A is the core of contention for private schools. It regulates the process for annual increase in fee by the schools. Seen as necessary by the parents and the government, private school owners see it as a gross violation of their fundamental rights, especially the right to free trade and business as enshrined in Article 18 of the Constitution of Pakistan.

What the parents need to acknowledge, and schools need to admit, is that it is a business. Education and health are two of the most profitable businesses in Pakistan today, primarily owing to the State’s failure in the performance of its obligations. There is no doubt that education, even if taken as a business, is still a noble business. But the nobility depends largely on the priorities of those who undertake it.

A common misunderstanding, intentional or for lack of understanding and knowledge, is that parents are protesting against the exorbitant fees being charged by the heavy weights in private schools industry. That is not the case, and if it were it would have been unreasonable. When a parent chooses a school for his/her child, its standards, faculty, campus, results, facilities as well as fee are all taken into consideration. There is a mark difference between an average private school’s standard and those of an established school with high end, state of the art facilities. It would be plain stupid to protest against the makers of Mercedes for not selling their cars for the price of a Toyota, or against Avari Hotel for not renting out rooms at the rate charged by Gammay da hotel. But once the room is rented out, any increase in its rent which prima facie seems unreasonable and puts an unforeseeable burden on the tenant is exploitation, extortion even. So if I had my child admitted in a school with an annual fee of Rs. 50,000/- and am charged Rs. 1,00,000/- two years later, I am bound to feel exploited, extorted and taken advantage of.

While the schools are within their rights to charge what they want, being a private business, they cannot keep making huge annual increase in fees and consequently enlarging the financial burden on parents without just cause.

When the parents were protesting against fee hikes, there were regular remarks made by some private schools whereby not resorting to legal recourse was shunned. Now after the schools themselves have challenged an allegedly unconstitutional amendment before the High Court, how can they justify shutting the schools down in protest? Is it a protest against the amendment passed by the provincial legislature or against the High Court for an order that they haven’t yet passed? If the amendment is actually unconstitutional and violative of their fundamental rights, the best forum to contest is the court. A strike or shutting down can only be taken as a pressure tactic applied to make the protesting parents back off. If so, it will not bode well for their education-before-profits stance.

As for the case itself, true that freedom of trade and business is a fundamental right as enshrined in Article 18, but like all fundamental rights it is not absolute or unconditional, it is a qualified right. The government is within its rights to impose “reasonable” restrictions on any such liberty. Regulating the process on increasing fee, is in my opinion reasonable. A school owner’s fundamental right to freedom of trade is not above, or independent of, a citizen’s fundamental rights.

In the words of honourable Justice Mr. Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani;

“The Constitution of a country is an organic whole and the import of a certain provision has to be construed in the context of the overall scheme of the Constitution.”

Therefore while enforcing or safeguarding the freedom of trade, the state cannot ignore Article 38 wherein promotion of social and economic well-being of the people has been declared as one of its primary responsibilities.

Justice Jillani further says;

“By qualifying the right to business and trade, the Constitution makers wanted to create a balance between the societal needs and rights of an individual”     

The state has played its due role, it is now a legal battle, let the due process take its course and accept the court’s verdict when it comes. Private school owners should not be portrayed as evil entities, they are within their rights as corporate entities to protect their interests. Parents too, are not engaging in frivolous hate campaign, but are merely safeguarding their economic interests and the future of their children.

As for the news of a strike, in my honest opinion, a strike by the schools at this point will damage their own cause, tarnish their repute and bring undue bad name which demeans their sincere efforts put into bringing quality education within our reach, in the absence of any such provision by the state.

 

A right step to the left?

 

Untiring efforts of Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) leadership – the Zardari group to be specific – made decades old loyal voters abandon the party in general elections of 2013. For the first time since 1980s, these Bhutto fans and voters of the only leftist mainstream political party in Pakistan were made to choose between two rights; Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) and Pakistan Tehrik e Insaf (PTI). A major chunk apparently went to PTI but PMLN did bag its fair share as well.

PPP’s recession has however created a vacuum in the liberal left hemisphere of Pakistan’s political scenario currently dominated by two conservative rightist parties. It is thus easier to launch a new party with a liberal agenda than competing with the already congested right.

As part of a political strategy for the next general elections, any potential new political party and all existing political parties should be eyeing the abandoned leftist voters who have not yet settled in their new voting trends.

Acknowledgment and appreciation of Sharmeen Obaid Chinoi’s work before it fetched her a second Oscar, giving the go ahead for Mumtaz Qadri’s execution, legislation of a now controversial bill for protection of women against violence, seem to be an appeal to the liberal Pakistan; A right step to the left by a rightist conservative party?

These measures may have produced the desired results as far as winning a few liberal hearts is concerned, but are they simultaneously showing the door to PMLN’s religious conservative voters? Can PMLN afford that? and is it a calculated move?

In the bi-polar society that we now are, a political party cannot expect to please voters both on the right and left. Our politics is not a plain, it is a pyramid, there is no staying in the centre. Is PMLN willing to let a chunk of its voters slide to its only apparent rival; PTI?

Until the next census, and in all probability even after that, Punjab will weigh the heaviest in Parliament. PMLN, at the moment leads PTI in Punjab as far as loyalty of the voters is concerned. Surprisingly, a small portion of those voters belong to the religious groups or conservatives. A portion already being shared with PTI since 2013. PTI Chairman does carry a baggage; his statements calling for negotiations with the Taliban and his early opposition to an operation against terrorists did provoke the liberals. PLMN has, after the events of February 2016, gained considerable ground with the leftist voters.

PMLN was comfortable being the only rightist political party for the last three decades competing with the only leftist PPP. With the rise of PTI and fall of PPP, does it now eye being the only leftist party competing with the only rightist PTI?

The strategy seems to maintain the party’s own vote bank, let PTI take as much of the conservative vote as it wants, and occupy the abandoned leftist territory. We will have to wait till the next general elections to know for sure, but if this is the strategy, it sure seems like a smart one.