A LETTER TO SHABNAM

My dear honourable Shabnam,
You must be hearing the uproar in Pakistan about the dacoity case at your house, some 40 years ago. I am not sure how you view it. Perhaps it might have scratched some old wounds, perhaps it disturbed you a lot, perhaps your heart might think you had buried it long ago and now when you were almost over it why is it all coming back again. You are far from us and I am not able to hug you and express my support, but I want to tell you through my letter that you are still very close to us, in our hearts and in our lives.
Please consider the recent uproar on our social media about the rapist and dacoit, Farooq Bandial, as evidence of how much people love and respect you and how angry they still are with that disgusting creature. It all goes to show that Pakistani people still hurt for all the pain you had to go through. Even though Zia ul Haq’s regime and the influential elite protected the rapist, the people have spoken and he has been subjected to the humiliation that they thought he long deserved. Everyone talks about you with respect and love and most of all the honour that you deserve as our legendary artist and a wonderful human being. It is he who has lost his honour (izzat), then, and now.

Rape is something we women, who go through it or work with rape survivors very closely, know takes a long time to heal. It remains fresh if you keep pushing it away and try to suppress. The most effective way to deal with it is to keep facing the pain and allowing yourself to heal. Of all of us who go through this pain, many heal. Perhaps this is an opportunity for you to heal together with your larger family, the Pakistani society. I cried today for your pain and our collective pain that we women have to go through. Please know that we hurt for you and we miss you.

It is unfortunate that rape is not taken very seriously by our society, especially by those in power. Our political parties are still immature, and all have rapists, as well as very good people, in them. They do make such mistakes, sometimes knowingly, braggingly and sometimes unknowingly. They put such dishonorable criminals in positions with power and authority to lord over us. There are ignorant people who support such deplorable rapists and still blame the women. They do not want to use even the new Urdu term for rape, zabarjinsi and keep calling it ziaditi, but we hope to educate them. I want you to know that the majority of our people denounce this crime. With you, they have such a strong bond of love that they will never forgive your culprit and I hope that they are similarly non-forgiving about the culprits of other women survivors.

If this is an opportunity to heal, then let’s heal together. We were very grateful to you when you and your husband returned to Pakistan and later when you came again. We felt that you both had given us respect. We would love for you to come back yet again, for a visit or for good. This is your home and we love you. Facing our fears and pains together, perhaps we all will heal and move forward. We want you to start acting again and enjoy Pakistan as your home. Any government should give you a post of stature so you could contribute to our progress. You are our pride and we love you.
Fouzia Saeed

Meeting of the National Security Committee held on 14th May 2018

Prime Minister Mr. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi chaired the 22nd meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC) held at Prime Minister’s House today. The meeting was attended by the Minister for Defence & Foreign Affairs, Khurram Dastgir Khan, Mr. Miftah Ismail, Minister for Finance, Revenue & Economic Affairs, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Zubair Mahmood Hayat, Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi, Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan, Director General ISI Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar, National Security Adviser Lt Gen (R) Nasser Khan Janjua and senior civil and military officials.

The meeting reviewed the recent statement in the context of Mumbai attacks, as it appeared in the Daily Dawn of 12th May 2018, and unanimously termed this statement as incorrect and misleading. The participants observed that it was very unfortunate that the opinion arising out of either misconceptions or grievances was being presented in disregard of concrete facts and realities. The participants unanimously rejected the allegations and condemned the fallacious assertions.

The meeting recalled that it was not Pakistan, but India that has delayed the finalisation of the case. Besides many other refusals during the investigation, the denial of access to the principal accused, Ajmal Qasab, and his extraordinarily hurried execution became the core impediment in the finalisation of the trial. At the same time Pakistan continues to wait for cooperation from India on the infamous Kulbhushan Jadhav and Samjhota Express episodes.

The National Security Committee resolved that Pakistan shall continue to play its due role in fighting the war against terrorism at all fronts.

Ends.

4 people drown as footbridge collapses in Neelum Valley, 11 still missing: officials

Police on Sunday confirmed that four people have drowned following the collapse of a footbridge over an icy water channel in Neelum Valley of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) while at least 11 others are still missing.

The 11 missing tourists, mostly young students, were among those who were standing on the footbridge when it collapsed on Sunday.

“Though we are yet to confirm an exact figure, it is believed that between 20 to 25 persons were standing on the footbridge when it crumbled,” said Mirza Zahid Hussain, the superintendent of police in Neelum Valley.

“The violent current immediately swept away the victims; so far, four bodies have been recovered,” he added.

The SP said that the figures could vary as teams were collecting the details of all tourists that had entered or left the area from the relevant check posts.

An official at a control room in Muzaffarabad said the deceased had been identified as Shahzeb, Abdul Rehman, Adeem and Hammad, adding that it was yet to be confirmed which city they belonged to.

He said eight students — identified as Anam, Alina, Waleed, Sajid, Hamza, Rashid, Zubair (all residents of Faisalabad) and Iqra Mazhar (resident of Multan) — were rescued and had been admitted to the District Headquarters Hospital Athmuqam where their condition was said to be stable. Another three were discharged after treatment.

neelam bridge

The tragedy occurred when the tourists, many of whom were said to be the students from Lahore, Sahiwal, Faisalabad and Multan, were picnicking along the gushing Jagran Nullah near Kundal Shahi, a town located some 75 kilometres northeast of Muzaffarabad.

Neelum valley is one of the most attractive tourist locations in the AJK, which draws hundreds of thousands of tourists from across the country, particularly in the scorching summers.

The area is, however, prohibited to foreign tourists because of its proximity to the heavily militarised Line of Control, the de facto border that splits the disputed Himalayan region between the nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan.

Raja Mubasher Ejaz, a leader of the PPP, was among those who witnessed the footbridge’s collapse, apparently because of the load of people standing on it.

“The students were enjoying the view of the emerald green water and taking selfies when suddenly it collapsed, sweeping them away,” he told Dawn.

The Jagran Nullah merges into Neelum River some 4 kilometres ahead of the site of the incident.

Ejaz said four of the tourists who clung to the wooden bars of the collapsed bridge were immediately rescued by the locals at the site while the other four were recovered after a little while from a distance.

According to SP Hussain, there is a warning board along the wooden bridge about its maximum load capacity which the tourists ignored.

One of the survivors told reporters that while he and one of his friends struggled to get hold of some rock in the stream and eventually succeeded, others could not withstand the force of rapidly moving water and were flown away. He thanked the locals for rescuing them.

Meanwhile, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa expressed grief on the loss of lives in the incident.

According to a statement by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the COAS directed for all possible assistance to the civil administration for relief and rescue.

“Pakistan Army rescue and relief efforts [are] underway… [and] army troops along with doctors and paramedics have reached the incident site,” the statement said.

It said that two Pakistan Army helicopters had flown SSG special divers to the incident site for the search operation. The choppers airlifted four bodies and 11 injured from the valley to Muzaffarabad.

Meanwhile, a number of people on social media criticised the authorities over a lack of proper guidance to the tourists.

“The government has been squandering millions on unnecessary constructions but unfortunately, it cannot spare funds for projects, such as this bridge, involving safety and security of precious human lives,” wrote Faisal Jamil Kashmiri, a civil society activist, on his wall.

On July 7 last year, a tourist family from Rawalpindi was struck by a dreadful tragedy after three of its young members were swept away by the same violent stream, almost around the same spot.

10 dead, 41 hurt as suicide bombers hit Indonesian churches

Suicide bombers on motorcycles and including a woman with children targeted Sunday Mass congregations in three churches in Indonesia’s second largest city, killing at least 10 people and wounding dozens in one of the worst attacks on the Christian minority, police said.

The first attack struck the Santa Maria Roman Catholic Church in Surabaya, killing four people, including one or more bombers, police spokesman Frans Barung Mangera told reporters at the scene.

He said two police officers were among a total of 41 wounded.

The blast was followed by a second explosion minutes later at the Christian Church of Diponegoro and a third at the city’s Pantekosta Church, Mangera said.

A senior police official said the bombings were carried out by at least five suicide bombers, including a veiled woman who had two children with her.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media.

A witness described the woman with children, saying she was carrying two bags at the Diponegoro church. “At first officers blocked them in front of the churchyard but the woman ignored them and forced her way inside. Suddenly (the bomb) exploded,” said a civilian guard named Antonius.

Shattered glass and chunks of concrete littered the entrance of the Santa Maria Church, which was sealed off by heavily armed police.

Rescue personnel treated victims on a nearby field while officers inspected wrecked motorcycles in the parking lot that were burned in the explosion.

A street merchant outside the church said she was blown away several meters (yards) by the powerful blast.

“I saw two men riding a motorbike forced their way into the churchyard. One was wearing black pants and one with a backpack,” said Samsia, who uses a single name. “Soon after that the explosion happened.”

The bombings were the worst since a series of attacks on churches on Christmas Eve in 2000 killed 15 people and wounded nearly 100. Religious minorities, especially Christians, have been repeatedly targeted by militants.

The latest attacks in predominantly Muslim Indonesia came days after police ended a riot and hostage-taking at a detention centre near Jakarta that left six officers and three inmates dead.

The banned Islamic State militant group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Indonesia has carried out a sustained crackdown on militants since bombings by al-Qaida-affiliated radicals in Bali in 2002 killed 202 people.

In recent years, the country has faced a new threat as the rise of the Islamic State group in the Middle East invigorated local militant networks.

Christians, many of whom from the ethnic Chinese minority, make up about 9 percent of Indonesia’s 260 million people.

SC temporarily bars PIA from placing image of Markhor on aircraft’s tail

The Supreme Court on Sunday temporarily barred the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) from replacing the Pakistan flag on the tails of its airplanes with an image of the Markhor — the country’s national animal.

While hearing a suo motu case regarding the airline’s performance, Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar ordered PIA to halt the revamping of its aircraft until a report on the matter is submitted in the court.

“We have found out that you are planning to replace our national flag [on the tails of PIA aircraft] with the picture of an animal,” the chief justice said to the managing director of PIA, who was present in the court.

“Which animal are you planning to place on the tails of the planes?” the CJP asked, and was told that a picture of a Markhor, PIA’s new mascot and Pakistan’s national animal, will be placed on the national flag-carrier’s tail.

The PIA MD was ordered by the chief justice to present a report regarding the award of contract for pasting stickers of the Markhor on the planes.

“Do you know the cost required for [placing the new mascot on the tail of] each plane?” Justice Nisar asked the MD, questioning if the national flag-carrier is so profitable that it can splash out funds on the stickers.

“Rs2.7 million are required to place the sticker on the tail of each plane,” the official replied.

Unconvinced, the CJP responded that the rebranding of each plane will actually cost Rs3.4m.

Jusitce Nisar also took the PIA MD to task about the delay in his flight from Karachi to Islamabad on Saturday.

“Do you know what time I reached Islamabad yesterday? Why was my flight two-and-a-half hours late?” the CJP asked. He was told that the flight was delayed due to a technical difficulty.

“I will also take a look at your performance,” the CJP warned the PIA MD.

‘Missing’ KU professor returns home safely

Prof Dr Riaz Ahmed, a political activist and head of the Applied Chemistry Department at Karachi University, who had gone missing on Friday, reached home safely on late Saturday night, an associate of Dr Ahmed confirmed to Dawn on Sunday.

Dr Ahmed had left the varsity on Friday evening but went missing at some point on his way home. The professor had made phone contact with another faculty member at around 9:45pm after which his phone was switched off.

Dr Jamil Hasan Kazmi, president of the Karachi University Teachers Society (Kuts), on Sunday said that the captors of Dr Ahmed dropped him near his home late last night.

According to Dr Jamil, he spoke to Dr Ahmed after his return. The KU professor told him that he was not harmed while in captivity, neither was he questioned by his captors. “Dr Ahmed said he knew nothing about the motives of his captors,” he said.

Following reports of Dr Ahmed going missing, activists associated with the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) had connected the incident to an alleged crackdown on sympathisers ahead of its rally scheduled for Sunday [today]. They had demanded the release of Dr Ahmed and several others allegedly detained as part of the same crackdown. Lawyer and activist Jibran Nasir had also said that Hashim Khan, who played an instrumental role in highlighting Naqeebullah Mehsud’s extrajudicial killing, was picked up for supporting PTM.

Past arrest

Dr Ahmed was arrested last year by the Sindh Rangers on charges of possessing a pistol, which he maintains were false and fabricated.

He was picked up minutes before he was to hold a press conference at the Karachi Press Club to demand proper treatment for the late Dr Hassan Zafar Arif, a professor and leader of Muttahida Qaumi Movement-London, who had been in police custody at that time.

Ahmed was released on bail days later.

The associate professor was also the core organiser of a seminar on Balochistan’s missing persons held at KU in 2015 after a similar session was cancelled by the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

Imran Khan is not the judiciary’s ‘ladla’, says CJP during Bani Gala case hearing

The Capital Administration and Development Division (CADD) — and not the Supreme Court of Pakistan — had decided to regularise the illegal constructions in Bani Gala area to facilitate “not only Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan but one million residents” of the area.

This information was shared by the CADD State Minister Tariq Fazal Chaudhry before the apex court on Sunday.

The minister, on Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar’s direction, repeated his statement in court, following which the top judge said: “Imran Khan is not our ladla (blue-eyed boy). The statements issued in this regard are incorrect. Let’s call [Minister of State for Information] Marriyum Aurangzeb and show her the CADD minister’s statement.”

Following last year’s Panamagate verdict — in which PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif was disqualified as the prime minister — the party leadership, including Nawaz himself and his daughter Maryam, stepped up its criticism of the judiciary and often dubbed Imran Khan as the “ladla — the favourite, the blue-eyed boy, of the kingmakers”.

Justice Nisar, heading a three-member bench, was hearing a suo motu case based on a letter by Imran Khan. The PTI chief had invited the court’s attention towards the large scale encroachment on the botanical garden, uncheck and unplanned construction in Bani Gala, massive denuding due to large scale tree felling and pollution of the Rawal Lake due to sewage.

“The government is supposed to take action on such matters [Bani Gala constructions]. What can we do when the government does not take action?” the chief justice asked.

Earlier during the hearing, the chief justice had asked the minister why he was giving the impression that the court had provided a concession to Imran Khan. He told the minister to explain the issue or the court would have to take action against him.

“Why was Marriyum Aurangzeb issuing statements about the court providing concession to Imran Khan? Why do you want to defame the courts?” he asked.

At one point, the minister said that Imran Khan had submitted forged documents to the court. “What action did you take if the documents submitted were found forged,” the top judge asked the minister. To this, the state minister responded that the division did not take any action because the matter was sub judice.

“The court had not refrained you from taking action. You are free to proceed with legal action if you intend to do so,” the chief justice said.

Read: Bani Gala: Built on illegalities

The summary to regularise the illegal constructions at Bani Gala have been sent to the federal cabinet, the minister said.

The chief justice ordered to refer the issue of constructions around Korang Nullah to the federal ombudsman. He asked all affectees to submit their applications before the ombudsman within two days.

The hearing of the case was adjourned for two weeks.

The confusion ahead

THERE’S little sympathy for the chap except for this: he’s getting it in the neck from all sides because there’s another chap who folk dare not say anything against and one who folk dare not think about saying anything against.

So forget about the buffoon in NAB.

And already forgotten is poor Ahsan Iqbal. Political violence is a familiar scar and around elections, an open wound. But violence seems to have been normalised, an accepted fact of political life. Oh, some dude tried to assassinate the interior minister? Shrug.

Read: For Nawaz, it’s not over till it’s over

Now, if someone had shot at an iqama or, better yet, an iqama had been the shooter — sweet justice and national pandemonium. Then again, poor Ahsan Iqbal is probably better off quickly forgotten. Lest someone try and finish off the job.

Can’t talk about the judge, can’t really discuss the boys and their activities — seen up close, it’s much, much worse than what is mostly whispered — and need to stay the hell away from the kooks and loons acting on divine instruction.

Which leaves the election.

And why everyone will struggle. Struggle to win outright, struggle to break opponents, struggle to cross 100 in the NA, struggle to get some kind of mandate. Because it’s mightily complicated.

It’s too early to know the exact shape the contest will take. The revolving political doors have not yet opened for candidates. The first burst of activity will be soon after parliament is dissolved, the second likely after Eid.

Early July, the field will more or less be settled.

But the general problem is already apparent. Over to Ahsan Iqbal from 2013, in part because anyone who has freshly taken a bullet deserves to be remembered a bit. The key to winning an election at the constituency level:

So, a three-digit code for the three big parties, PML-N, PPP and PTI, and the fourth option, a rabble of independents supported by the boys.

“It’s like a three-digit lock on a briefcase. One digit is the party, the other is the candidate’s personal vote bank and the third is the grouping and dharra. Only when the three are aligned does the briefcase open.

“Development can make you lose an election, if you haven’t done any, but on its own it’s not enough to ensure victory.”

So, a three-digit code for the three big parties, PML-N, PPP and PTI, and the fourth option, a rabble of independents supported by the boys. The most complicated constituencies quite obviously will be the four-way fights.

Possible for several reasons — infighting causing the usual two groups in constituencies to subdivide; the exit of a habitual winner drawing in new aspirants; an intensely politicised constituency electorate — they’re relatively rare.

Usually some kind of deal is reached and the panel — the MNA candidate plus his wings, usually two MPA seats — is adjusted to prevent everyone fighting everyone. Expenses can get out of control in multi-candidate constituencies, so they tend to work out something among themselves.

Plus, you can’t really see the PTI candidate and the boys’ independent going to toe-to-toe. A firm hand will likely be placed on the shoulder of one of the two when the time comes, a sign to stand down for the greater good.

Three-way fights are generally more common and may be even more so this time around. Three consecutive on-time elections, two full-term parliaments, the centre changing hands thrice, all major players with provincial governments.

That’s a lot of politics and a lot of time for new entrants to become legitimate contenders.

Three big candidates, three big parties, three dharras/groupings — it could give all three a sniff. The more rural the constituency, the less the party matters and the more the candidate and grouping do. The more urban the constituency, the opposite is true.

Say, they snatch away Nawaz’s winning candidates. That still leaves him with the party vote. The party vote can also be suppressed, but it would need brute force and polling-day shadiness. That could be costly in other ways.

So, run a smart campaign, combine the ouster narrative with Shahbaz’s goodwill among the people and a few extra seats could be eked out here and there by the PML-N — even after major defections.

For the PPP, a three-way fight is probably its best bet, especially in Punjab. If Zardari plays his cards right, most of the PPP candidates will be left alone and there will be minimal interference in the party’s campaign.

Last time around, Zardari’s occupancy of the presidency took him out of the campaign equation and Bilawal was kept far away from potential danger. Now, a more vigorous campaign by father and son could bring back, say, a baseline 20k PPP voters in quite a few places.

Layer on top of that candidates with constituency profiles and groupings to get out the vote, and the PPP could marginally improve on its collapse outside Sindh in 2013.

But it’s the PTI that could be the biggest winner in three-way fights. The party voter, the guy drawn to Imran’s basic message, is spread thin and wide across many constituencies. By itself, the PTI party vote won’t be enough.

But a favourable electoral landscape and the pick of candidates could hand PTI the three-digit codes it needs to unlock the electoral briefcases in constituency after constituency.

And in two-way fights, the likely scenario in a significant number of constituencies, the PTI could be stronger still if the opponent is the N-League. The rabble of independents could be used to chip away at the PML-N vote, bringing its candidates into range for a takedown by PTI.

Two-, three- or four-way contests, it will be an almighty struggle. For everyone.

May the least-worst man win.

Islamabad police only ‘stopped’ journalists’ press freedom rally, officials tell sessions judge

Islamabad police on Saturday told a sessions court judge that its officials had merely “stopped” a group of journalists from marching towards the Red Zone on World Press Freedom Day rather than manhandled them, as alleged earlier.

On World Press Freedom Day, observed on May 3, a group of journalists had marched towards Islamabad’s D-Chowk to protest restrictions placed on the media.

They were, however, stopped and allegedly manhandled by police posted in the area. After reports of the incident began circulating, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar had taken suo motu notice of the case and ordered sessions judge Justice Sohail Nasir to investigate the allegations made by the journalists.

Justice Nasir visited China Chowk, the scene of the incident, today and interrogated Station House Officer (SHO) Khalid Awan and Superintendent of Police (SP) Amir Niazi.

When asked if the policemen present on the site that day had been in contact with their seniors, the SHO responded in the affirmative, saying that “the high command had ordered that nobody be allowed to go [towards the Red Zone] since Section 144 had been imposed”.

He added that the rally was allowed to move forward after the deputy commissioner (DC) issued permission.

The sessions judge inquired what the journalists who attended the rally had carried with them. SHO Awan said that the demonstrators had been holding placards with slogans concerning press freedoms.

The judge then asked the journalists if they had asked the Islamabad DC for permission. He was told by one of the reporters, who had attended the demonstration, that the DC had called him after being messaged through WhatsApp.

The reporter further alleged that the rally was “intercepted” by SP Niazi. He claimed that the police suspected them of trying to cause a disturbance, when they had only meant to raise the problems being faced by the journalists’ community in Pakistan.

The SP, who was present at China Chowk, told the sessions judge that the journalists were unable to produce written permission for the rally when asked.

He added that the officials had asked SSP Najeebur Rehman for directions and were told to contact the capital city administration.

Police and journalists submitted evidence, including video footage and wireless logbooks, to the court. Justice Nasir will resume his inquiry on May 14.

An earlier report prepared by Islamabad police had held the capital administration responsible for the manhandling of journalists.

The report said, “no senior representative of the ICT [Islamabad Capital Territory] administration arrived to negotiate with the agitating journalists”.

The report had recalled that around 35 media persons led by a DawnNews TV reporter had gathered outside the press club and announced their march towards Parliament House in the Red Zone.

Later, about 50 journalists tried to remove barbed wires and barriers “in order to enter the Red Zone forcibly”. SP Niazi along with a police contingent reached there and tried to stop them.

Later, the rally crossed Express Chowk and staged a sit-in there. The protesters also tried to manhandle police officials, the report had alleged.

An hour later, the deputy commissioner had reached the spot and allowed the journalists to proceed towards Parliament House.

The ‘Salam Centre’ brouhaha

IN another country naming or renaming a university’s physics centre or department would be considered utterly unremarkable. But here in Pakistan — if the name is that of Abdus Salam (1926-1996, physics Nobel Prize 1979) — instant controversy is guaranteed. That’s because, on the one hand, Salam commands the devotion of his embattled Ahmadi community. On the other hand, mere mention of his name inspires religious fury among sections of the population.

Some welcomed it — while others were livid — but all were astonished in late December 2016 when national newspapers and TV channels reported that Quaid-i-Azam University’s physics department had just become the ‘Abdus Salam Department of Physics’ (it had not!). Soon thereafter, that the Nati­o­nal Centre for Physics (housed on the QAU campus) was now the ‘Professor Abdus Salam Centre for Phy­sics’ (again, false!). The putative changes were attri­buted to pre-Panama prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

For 17 months everything went quiet. Then front pages filled up again. A parliamentary resolution tabled by Captain Safdar, son-in-law of Nawaz Sharif and a parliamentarian, demanded that the QAU physics department be renamed the ‘Al-Khazani department’ to honour Mansur al-Khazani, an 11th-century Seljuk-Persian star gazer.

Science suffocates when scientists are judged by their religion, race or ethnicity.

Safdar probably took this initiative because he thought that the QAU physics department had indeed been renamed after Salam. But was his resolution — which came suddenly out of the blue — intended to spite or taunt his father-in-law? To garner election support from Ahmadi-hating radicals of the TLP? Or was it to drum up religious sentiment at a time when Safdar is under a NAB investigation for corruption?

In any case he certainly hit sympathetic religious chords. Safdar’s resolution was unanimously approved by parliament, the text of which states that Al Khazani deserves this belated recognition for having shaken the world of physics with his astonishing works (hairat angaiz karnamay).

This time the reporting was factual (I have the Urdu text). But the exaggerated claim amuses for its plain silliness — Khazani was not a physicist, just a court astronomer known only to a few historians. One wonders who proposed his name. Did our parliamentarians fall victim to some prankster or a trickster?

Sloppy journalism, the intellectual laziness of parliamentarians, a general cultural antipathy to the scientific method, and overtly expressed religious prejudice generated fevered emotions. Over the last week, social media erected yet another Tower of Babel and produced tonnes of trash. Surely it’s time to get the facts straight.

Here’s what actually happened. On Dec 29, 2016, the president of Pakistan, on the summary advice of the prime minister of Pakistan, signed his approval to a document titled, ‘Proposal to Rename NCP at QAU as Professor Abdus Salam Centre for Physics’. The summary had been vetted on Dec 26, 2016, by the minister of state for education and professional training. It was then sent to QAU for necessary action.

One does not know for sure what made Mian Nawaz Sharif recognise Salam’s importance as a scientist, belated though it was. During his first tenure as prime minister, while speaking at Government College Lahore in 1992, he read out a long list of distinguished alumni and faculty but had conspicuously omitted Salam’s name.

The change probably came because in early 2016 (third tenure) Sharif visited Cern (European Nuclear Research Centre, the world’s largest laboratory) to cement the Pak-Cern collaboration. It is said he was much impressed to learn that major parts of Cern’s research — including the search for the Higgs boson — revolved around discoveries made by Abdus Salam and Steven Weinberg. He was also taken for a drive on Rue de Salam, a road named after Salam.

The official order for renaming NCP — duly signed by the Pakistani state’s highest executives, president and prime minister — was received at QAU (a state university) and conveyed onward to NCP (a state-owned centre affiliated to QAU). But at NCP it died a quiet death. More than anything else, Pakistanis should worry when state institutions wilfully ignore executive orders.

About NCP: it is now largely funded and operated by the Strategic Plans Division (SPD) of the Pakistan Army. Although NCP has no connection with nuclear weapons research, the SPD is charged with maintaining and handling the country’s nuclear weapons. It also seeks to widen its influence within civil society, particularly in universities.

Earlier, however, NCP had been an independent centre open and easily accessible to all. Like other centres on campus, it was affiliated with QAU. NCP had been conceived in the 1980s jointly by Salam and his student Riazuddin (1930-2013), a respected theoretical physicist who also became NCP’s founding director. Though underfunded, it started off in 1999 on modest temporary premises on the QAU campus.

NCP’s original goal had been to eventually duplicate, albeit on a far smaller scale, the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Italy. Founded by Abdus Salam, the ICTP (now renamed Abdus Salam-ICTP), hosts thousands of researchers from around the world to work in an open, cordial, and intellectually vibrant atmosphere on cutting-edge scientific problems.

But in 2007, NCP underwent a character change and a change of director. No longer was it an open institution. Instead it has fearsome fortifications and an ambience befitting a military institution, not an academic one. Local professors and students have been frightened away as have been the few visiting scientists from other countries. Several have vowed never to return. NCP is now largely staffed by bored retirees, civil and military. With so much deadwood, it offers little of intellectual value.

The bottom line: the brouhaha is over. QAU is highly unlikely to rename its physics department after a barely known 11th-century star-gazer, and it is highly unlikely that SPD (i.e. the Pakistan Army) will implement the orders of a deposed prime-minister with whom its relationship has been problematic.

Physics — or for that matter every kind of science — needs an enabling cultural and social environment to flourish. Science suffocates when scientists are judged by their religion, race, ethnicity or any criterion other than scientific achievement. Though it was but a storm in a teacup, this Salam episode tells us how far Pakistan needs to travel before our soil can produce science of worth.