No room for misogyny

AT a point in time when the PML-N is facing an uphill battle to stay in the saddle after the next general elections, some leading lights of the party are once again revealing an ugly side which is repulsive beyond words.

I was travelling last week and was jetlagged, and so was unable to follow even social media and missed the misogynistic diatribe, outrageous to say the least, of PML-N stalwarts Rana Sanaullah and Abid Sher Ali.

Also read: Misogyny in politics

It was left to a PTI supporter to bring the two mindless remarks to my attention, even as he made insinuations about my affiliations and accused me of being selective and hypocritical in ‘championing feminist’ causes.

Will women voters remain unaffected by the thinking of Rana Sanaullah and Abid Sher Ali?

Initially a bit miffed at being unfairly attacked, one can only be grateful to the angry and sarcastic young PTI supporter for pointing out the outrage. The remarks have been widely reported in the media and were just so awful that I have no wish to repeat them.

Both the PML-N leaders, I am told, belong to the Nawaz Sharif camp. Therefore, the embarrassment, shame actually, they brought reflected terribly on the disqualified prime minister rather than Shebaz Sharif, the Punjab chief minister.

It was to the credit of the Punjab chief minister and then some level-headed PML-N ministers such as Ahsan Iqbal and Khurram Dastgir Khan to slam their colleagues for the use of language for women that was totally intolerable.

Again if I missed their reaction and they did actually issue a condemnation, apologies to them but I have yet to hear what Nawaz Sharif or Maryam Nawaz had to say regarding the remarks subsequently withdrawn by Rana Sanaullah on a TV channel with few signs of remorse.

The problem for the father and daughter duo is two-fold. They feel they are under attack and may even be convicted. Then, there is clear evidence of pressure on PML-N constituency-level big guns to abandon ship and move elsewhere where there may well be offers that their electoral success could also be facilitated.

This pressure may have succeeded in forcing the change of loyalties of a number of southern Punjab legislators who have historically found the lure of power irresistible and have gravitated towards whosoever is in power or represents it.

Elsewhere, particularly in the central Punjab PML-N heartland, the scenario is less clear and at least till the central and provincial governments are dissolved and the caretaker setups are in place it appears there are no dramatic shifts in loyalties.

Once, of course, their governments go and with it the party’s ability to approve projects and development schemes, who knows what will happen, particularly given the experiences of the past such as the formation of the PML-Q.

Understandably, neither father nor daughter seems keen to test the loyalty of any party lieutenant. This is evident in the softly, softly approach to dealing with senior leaders who are making such obnoxious remarks. Nawaz Sharif may also feel that such attitudes don’t cause the party damage as might, for example, the disciplining or sacking of a stalwart and even more if such an attempt is met with defiance.

These may well be some considerations for Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz. They must also consider the fact that it is their ‘principled’ stance that may be the source of many of their hardships but it also may explain the apparent surge in support in their power base of Punjab.

Taking positions on the basis of principle in some areas and succumbing to political expediency in others gravely undermines their case for support and may even appear hypocritical to the voter on the fence who may shy away from casting a vote in their favour.

Women in general and those in the urban areas in particular can’t be unaware of the impact that systemic patriarchy and worst still misogyny have had on them and their lives. Will such women voters remain unaffected by the thinking of Rana Sanaullah and Abid Sher Ali?

Last month in these pages, I had pleaded with all political parties to sign up voluntarily to a code where attacking women would be frowned upon as the election campaign got under way and gathered steam and momentum.

It was a forlorn hope then and it remains so, given the recent outbursts targeting women and their person for no other reason than misogyny. A PTI leader also made a misogynistic remark though he may have used slightly less offensive language.

Only one politician contacted me to say he was initiating a move in his own party for such a code. For the record he belonged to the Pak Sarzameen Party.

All political parties — the PML-N and PTI in particular as the two have demonstrated a greater propensity to use such tactics — need to really think whose hands they are strengthening each time one of their leaders uses such language and displays such attitudes.

There can be only one answer: those who tend to gain from discrediting democracy. And, mind you, such elements belong to many institutions and different religious denominations. Any lesser esteem for democracy will be a collective loss for us all.

The dissolution of assemblies is round the corner and as attempts to engineer a ‘positive’ outcome intensify with the largest chunk of the media now more or less totally compliant in the game, the election campaign will be inevitably spirited.

The PML-N in particular will likely see its public meetings as an opportunity to counter the combine opposing its return to power. Against such a backdrop it is imperative that political parties at least decide within their own top-tier leadership to never degrade or attack women. That is if they are reluctant for whatever reason to sign up to a formal code.

Hazara massacre

I RECENTLY received an email from a reader that made me ashamed for not having written earlier about the Hazara ethnic/sectarian cleansing taking place in Balochistan.

The young Hazara woman writes: “… in Quetta we are imprisoned to a few kilometres … we can’t go out of this confined area… I am writing to you because I want you to support us, write about us, stand by us, stand against Shia killing and the genocide of Hazaras….”

Reinforcing her perception, Human Rights Watch reported a few years ago: “There is no travel route, no shopping trip, no school, or no work commute that is safe for the Hazaras.” According to this organisation, at least 509 Hazaras have been killed in this campaign that began nearly two decades ago. Hazaras put this figure closer to 3,000.

The recent hunger strike in Quetta by Hazara women emphasised the daily horrors the community faces.

Out of the reported 900,000 or so Hazara citizens who live mostly in Balochistan, around 70,000 are said to have fled, mainly to Australia, where there are reports that hundreds may have drowned during this perilous sea journey. Those who haven’t been able to make the attempt are confined to two ghettoes in Quetta guarded by police and military check posts. But once they leave to shop or work, their lives are at risk.

The recent hunger strike in Quetta by Hazara women emphasised the daily horrors the community faces. And the fact that they called off their protest after meeting the army chief, Gen Bajwa, rather than accepting the promises of security made personally by Ahsan Iqbal, the interior minister, is an open indictment of the failure of successive governments to protect them.

The Hazaras have not been protesting for better living conditions, or schools, or jobs: all they are demanding is the basic human right to live. This right is enshrined in our Constitution, international law and in all religions. And yet, a spokesman for the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, while accepting responsibility for most of the Hazara killings a few years ago, added that his group was exacting vengeance for the death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of American commandos.

In fact, some suggest that the slaughter of Pakistani Hazaras began in earnest after 9/11 when the Afghan Taliban found safe haven in Quetta. Part of their baggage was apparently the desire to continue the genocide in Afghanistan where they had killed thousands of Hazaras for supposedly siding with the Northern Alliance.

Pakistani groups like the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan who had fought with the Taliban turned their guns on the Hazaras. Malik Ishaq, a founding member of the former group who is alleged to have masterminded the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore in 2009 from behind bars, was released on bail by the Supreme Court in 2011.

Unsurprisingly, elders of the Hazara community had expressed their apprehension at his release. Around the same time, several prominent Shia-hating extremists broke out of Mastung jail, possibly with inside help.

So when the Supreme Court chief justice conducts his suo motu hearings of the Hazara persecution in Quetta next week, I hope he will keep their fears of such collusion in mind. One possible nexus he might want to explore is the one mentioned by Jalila Haider, a Hazara lawyer and human rights activist, in a recent TV interview. According to her, Hazaras were being forced by the killings to sell their properties at throwaway prices to avoid the killers who were targeting them at their shops. Could they be acting in conjunction with some of the land mafias that thrive across the country?

The other thing to ask is how come Balochistan, the most heavily militarised province in the country, is so deadly not just for Hazaras, but for Baloch nationalists and non-Baloch workers as well. After all, if the many intelligence agencies and paramilitary forces operating there have managed to largely contain the separatist rebellion, why can’t they smash groups like the Laskhar-i-Jhangvi and the Sipah-i-Sahaba?

More than the Panamagate scandal, I blame Nawaz Sharif and his henchmen for their abject failure to implement the National Action Plan to end religious extremism in the country. Had they been even half-serious in taking the tough measures involved in cracking down on hate speech in our television chat shows, classrooms and mosques, we might have a chance to end the massacres the Hazaras are being subjected to.

Instead, we are stuck in our normal cycle of killings of minorities, crocodile tears from politicians and the media, and then business as usual.

Corporate Social Responsibility

When ordinary citizens looking to change their communities and their destiny, may looking around and shall find so many ordinary people who are making an impact, an spark and following their dreams. The key, the solutions to Pakistan’s problems are its people. As much as problems we enclose, so as the opportunities we have to address those issues! From individual to collective level, there is a huge horizon of possibilities!

Pakistan is in transitional phase towards development, while taking development as a much broader phenomenon than just economic or income growth infect the utility of development is to achieve both economic and social structure for the transformation of society. Indeed, economic growth may be seen as only one of the outcomes of a complex development process. Phenomenon of development is about effectively integrating the various elements that are required for state to develop; these elements are mainly economic, social, political and administrative.

Development its self a multi demonical and lie on multitasked holders and actors, development cannot be achieved by governments alone, it requires the active participation of all people. The Major Groups, representing key sectors of society, help channel the engagement of citizens, economic and social actors. It is not only the responsibility of the government solely but private sector should also come forward and play pivotal role in economic progress of the country. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a very useful tool for social development and mostly multinational organizations are engage in that area.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is an evolving concept and is generally understood to be the way in which a company achieves a balance or integration of economic, environmental and social imperatives, whilst at the same time addressing shareholder and stakeholder expectations. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a broad term used to describe a company’s efforts to improve society in some way. These efforts can range from donating money to nonprofits to implementing environmentally-friendly policies in the workplace.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become one of the standard business practices of our time. Corporations can improve their public image by supporting nonprofits through monetary donations, volunteerism, in-kind donations of products and services, and strong partnerships.
By publicizing their efforts and letting the general public know about their philanthropy, companies increase their chances of becoming favorable in the eyes of consumers. When companies show that they are dedicated to improving their communities through corporate giving development programs, they are more likely to attract and retain valuable, hardworking, and engaged employees.

For instance Unilever Pakistan, the company has outlined a number of goals to be achieved by the year 2020. It focuses on reducing the environmental impact of products through reduction of greenhouse gases, optimization of water usage and waste management. MCB Bank Limited holds an approved Corporate Social Responsibility policy by the Board that shows Bank’s commitment to serve the community. The Corporate Social Responsibility commitments of Pakistan State Oil (PSO) include focus on four main areas namely: education, healthcare, environment, community development and disaster relief.

CSR should not be understood simply as corporate giving and neither should it be understood as compliance with laws and regulations and externally imposed buyer-codes. On the contrary, CSR should be seen as the corporate sector’s contribution to sustainable development.

Civil society organization can be bridge by performing the role as a facilitator to engage community in the development process lead under CSR initiatives. The relationship between civil society organizations and the demands of the communities and people whose needs they seek to meet is deeper than common misconceptions would suggest. Need to enhance an organic linkage is evolving between the issues being addressed by larger NGOs and their partner Community based organization (CBOs), and also NGOs working at the community level are changing their agendas in response to the needs asserted by the communities themselves.

While it is commonly argued that Pakistan is a country that is still lacking in CSR practices among companies there have been certain organizations that have taken the lead and must be lauded for their efforts in contributing to the society and people of Pakistan.

Engro is one of the leading group of companies with their CSR practices of development vision through Engro Foundation, delivering enormous and meaningful contribution in Education, Infrastructure, Health, livelihood and Skill development. Engro has undertaken several investments in improving the quality of the physical infrastructure in their stakeholders’ communities.

These development issues on which Engro Foundation working are comprehensively linked to Global Sustainable development Goals (SDGs) which provide a broader view on worldwide challenges and guide how can make parallel strategy and operations to contribute to tackling some of these challenges pertaining to the sphere of economic, social and environmental challenges from grass root level along local prospective towards global development agenda.

It was recognized that achieving sustainable development would require the active participation of all sectors of society and all types of people.

The corporate sector enhance and expand their development services and play a due role to contribute lessening the suffering of people in Pakistan. It is a high time that more private companies should adopt CSR policy and start development activities. It is therefore hoped that a majority of Pakistani companies will be encouraged by the recent initiatives taken by institution like Engro and some leading corporate leaders to introduce a viable and flourishing CSR culture in Pakistan. As a first step, efforts should be made to encourage companies to publish their CSR policies and practices and such statements or reports should be made a voluntary part of the Code of Corporate Governance for listed companies. This will help establish CSR standards and promote competitive culture amongst companies in the field of corporate social responsibility. Besides corporate sector, political parties and Non government sector of the country should also be held responsible regarding CSR which was a basic part for making improvements in the society.

There is no need to complain, recoil and blame others. Work towards ideas, support causes, start own cause, involve community or neighborhood, establish businesses, take action and engage others, from individual to collective level . High time for Pakistan to address development issues with mutual approach, positive sprit with keen understanding of local to global prospective and connection towards achieving sustainable development and resilience societies.

About Samreen Khan Ghauri
Samreen Khan Ghauri is a passionate Advocate of human/women’s rights, and Development Practitioner. Alongside works as a committed Multi-Media Journalist and an aspiring Entrepreneur, she can be access to [email protected] & @samreen_ideas

Load-shedding returns to Karachi

FOR many people in Karachi, load-shedding was becoming a receding memory. An even larger number may not agree, since load-shedding in areas designated as ‘high loss’ never really went away. Industrial areas and those localities where recoveries were better, however, are now used to virtually uninterrupted power supply, except for the occasional technical fault.

But all that changed towards the end of March, when a sudden dispute erupted over provision of natural gas to the power utility, which runs most of its power generation fleet on gas. The dispute broke out in the midst of a heatwave, when demand for electricity had spiked, and K-Electric put in a request for enhancement of gas supplies by a minimum of 120mmcfd for a few days, and an average of 190mmcfd through the summer.

The request was refused and almost immediately load-shedding returned to the city that was largely unprepared for it. Since then it has been a relentless bout of blackouts that remind everyone of the bad old days of the late 2000s. What happened to reverse the situation so fast, and why is it persisting? And almost immediately, a rather unseemly public spat broke out between the gas supplier and the power utility.

Since K-Electric bore the brunt of the public ire, it went first with accusing SSGC of reducing the supply of gas, which meant the company could not run one of its newer turbines to meet the additional demand. SSGC responded that the supply of gas “has not been reduced or increased, despite what K-Electric says”.

It went on to say that the company “is receiving less gas from fields and as per gas load management plan, it is providing gas to domestic consumers first and then to other customers with whom it has contractual agreements”. To conclude, it claimed K-Electric “has no such supply agreement and yet it continues to provide it with reasonable gas supply, just for the people of Karachi”.

Cutting off supplies to press for payment is tantamount to holding the entire city hostage to a single payment related dispute.

That’s when the confusion began. A quick check with the ministry of petroleum showed there were no problems at any of the gas fields that supply SSGC, and all supplies were in fact normal. When it was pointed out to SSGC that the matter is not of “reduced supply” but rather of failure to entertain a request for increased supply due to onset of summer and increased demand for power, their response brought a new element into the picture: they were demanding payment of outstanding arrears from K-Electric before entertaining the request.

The next day another tweet from the company added this new element. KE should, the company said from its official account, “clear all its outstanding dues and come on table [sic] to sign a valid GSA” (Gas Supply Agreement). Fair enough, but in a 24-hour period, the company had totally shifted its stance as to why it was refusing a request for increased gas supply. One day they claimed that their own supplies were limited, the next day they admitted the matter related to a payment dispute.

The payment dispute is a bit complicated. When K-Electric’s new management came in, SSGC served up a bill of almost Rs78 billion outstanding against the power utility for consumption of gas in years past, as well as late payment charges (which the company calculates as Rs48bn), interest and other billings added to it. In fact half a decade ago, both of these utilities reached an agreement that K-Electric will pay the amount billed for gas consumption, which was agreed at Rs10.8bn, while all monthly payments will remain current. Throughout these years, gas supply to K-Electric did not create a dispute large enough to disrupt the life of the metropolis, until today.

Outstanding payment disputes exist all along the power supply chain, but rarely if ever is a company allowed to stop the provision of fuel, or power, to another utility on account of lack of payment. There are two precedents worth recalling here. Sometime in 2008, then MD Pepco had made a decision to halt the supply of grid electricity to Karachi in a sudden move, also on account of lack of payment. The result was disastrous: the city ground to a halt instantly as all power fell out once its own generation plants tripped on account of the sudden jolt administered to it from the grid.

The second example was barely a year later, when then CEO of K-Electric announced that his company would be cutting the power supply to the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) which is one of its largest defaulters.

A short while after taking these steps, they were both removed from their position. The reason is that in the business of utilities, you cannot cut off supplies to press for payment. That is tantamount to holding the entire city and its residential, commercial and industrial life hostage to a single payment related dispute. Such disputes can sever business relationships between supplier and consumer in many other fields, but not between two utilities that serve millions of people.

Supplies can be cut for other reasons, such as a policy decision taken at the highest levels of government, but even here, there is no precedent ever to curtail supplies to an entire city just to press for payment. Policy decisions can also be taken to curtail supplies to specific sectors or categories of consumer, like the CNG sector, but they are never taken against entire utilities in this way.

Whatever the dispute is between these two companies, it must be settled between them without disrupting the life of the city’s residents and businesses. It is difficult to imagine what happened so suddenly to force SSGC to take such a radical step as curtailing supplies, but whatever it is, somebody in the petroleum ministry needs to issue orders to end this matter, and pursue outstanding claims through channels that have already been in play for years.

PTI’s Punjab dilemma

THE PTI was supposed to bring tabdeeli to Pakistan but the induction of a ragtag of electables in this past year, say its critics, has ‘tabdeeled’ the party itself.

The critics are not entirely wrong. For a party that came into being to clean the Augean stables, it now seems to be wallowing in the ‘filth’ itself. Those covered with the proverbial dirt of traditional politics and its accompanying sins are now welcomed with fanfare. And this, say many, has upset the original PTI jiyalas who spent so many years working for the party in its years of obscurity.

However, the tabdeeli has in many ways been imposed on the party by electoral realities.

The 2013 election — despite the PTI’s rona dhona about rigging and an election stolen — was also an eye-opener for the party (and for those who crunch election numbers). In Punjab, which is where the PTI sees itself as having a strong support base, it threw up only a handful of victories. Six directly elected seats (seven if we add the one won by Sheikh Rashid), and of these most were won by known men who had been part of the hurly burly of politics in the earlier decades.

None of their new (and clean) faces rode the tsunami to victory in the plains of Punjab as they had in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Take the example of Rawalpindi; here the PTI won three of the seven seats in the district, which was a huge blow to the PML-N — it saw Rawalpindi as its bastion after Lahore.

The ‘tabdeeli’ has in many ways been imposed on the party by electoral realities.

But it’s noteworthy that the victories went to known names. Indeed, Khan won one of the seats and this can be put down to his personal popularity and charisma (which didn’t fare so well in Lahore). The second seat went to Sheikh Rashid (who, was closely allied with the PTI) and the third to Sarwar Khan.

Part of the PML-N and Q governments, Rashid has lost in Rawalpindi only once in 2008 and he has never really been the face of any tabdeeli in Pakistan.

Sarwar Khan, like his rival Nisar Ali Khan, is an old hand at constituency politics. Nisar and he have been battling it out since 1990. In 2002, he joined the Q League government. In 2008, he lost but still managed around 50,000 votes to Nisar Ali Khan’s 72,257. In other words, Sarwar had his own solid anti-Nawaz vote bank, experience of running and managing an election and just needed a bit of help to cross the finishing line — a party which could bring him some votes. This is what happened on election day — Sarwar Khan beat Nisar by less than 10,000 votes.

But there were few such victories around Punjab. The PTI was forced to realise that while it had support, especially in the urban areas, its own vote bank was perhaps not enough for winning a seat. It needed electables — politicians who had the votes as well as the know-how to fight and win elections. Newbies, with clean reputations and little experience, may look great on paper but they weren’t of much use on D-Day.

Its senior leadership has, on more than one occasion, pointed to the 2013 results in NA-176 where Ghulam Mustafa Khar (who has since joined the party) got around 74,000 votes while the PTI candidate lagged far, far behind with about 2,500.

No wonder, the party has welcomed the electables, whose perceived and real sins it has been raging against. A senior leader of the party once argued that the PTI might be able to curb such people while in power as well as do some good, adding that without them the party may never make it to power.

The argument isn’t without merit. A political party’s first and foremost aim is to come into power — and this does take precedence over principles if it’s to be a political party and not a pressure group. This compromise within the party coincided with a changed political scenario in Punjab. The anti-Nawaz vote in the province has no choice but the PTI.

This means the party doesn’t have to try too hard to attract the constituency politicians — fasali bateras, as they are pejoratively called — from the PML-Q and the PPP. The challenge will be to hold on to some form of its original agenda of tabdeeli, corruption-free governance, and its so-called nazriyati voters as it adapts to the Pakistani political system and the inherent flaws in order to come into power. But how well the party deals with this challenge will only become clear once it comes into power.

There appear to be two options — one, with the disappearance of any other anti-PML-N option in the province, the PTI can easily transform itself into Punjab’s second option and just leave it at that. However, this will leave it vulnerable to irrelevance as happened with the PML-Q and simply being replaced by another, more attractive such party, if one comes up.

If, however, it can hang on to its own vote bank and a semblance of its original identity, it might find itself on more solid ground.

In the past, the PPP too made such concessions. A party for the dispossessed and the unprivileged, in many constituencies it ended up becoming the preferred option for the ‘feudal lords’ who wanted to attract the vote of the rural poor. But this embrace of the forces the PPP was formed against, didn’t cost it its identity. It managed to retain its ideological moorings as well as its vote bank (and then 2008 happened).

It now remains to be seen if the PTI can hang on to its support base, in the face of its newly acquired hard-nosed realism. If it does, it might enjoy a longer inning at the crease than if it goes the way of the PML-Q. It will not be an easy match in any case.

Skripal affair: a counter view

IF one were to anchor a TV programme with the archival revelation that it was Benazir Bhutto who introduced Theresa May’s husband to the future British prime minister at an Oxford reunion ball in 1976, many of us would perhaps happily spend a lot of our precious time glued to the looped and re-looped discussion.

On the other hand, if one were to ask whether Prime Minister May posed a bigger threat to a stable world order than does President Donald Trump it would likely pass for a precipitous canard. This despite that fact that we are ever so often cautioned about the rear view mirror in the car: the objects one sees may be closer at heel than they appear. The warning can be easily applied to international politics.

What we see, or believe we are seeing, can be different from what is afoot. What seems distant or remote could be the trigger for what passes for domestic turbulence. Astute social scientists call it dialectics, whereby everything in the world can be connected with everything else.

Take the poisoning of the double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury or consider the latest chemical attack near Damascus in the rebel-held region of Douma. There are legitimate ways of seeing a link between the two. But the way the avenues of news and information have been dumbed down, it would be a challenge to engage an average citizen in a discussion on what to them would be a distant blip on their mirror, if not an imagination of a foggy mind.

What seems distant or remote could be the trigger for what passes for domestic turbulence.

So let us quickly come to the facts at hand, and we can crosscheck them too. It is a fact, after all, as distinct from false news, that Trump was elected US president in November 2016. Wasn’t he? Then his election was soon declared to be the handiwork of Russian agents. Right?

Indeed, Trump continued to annoy the deep state. He wanted to befriend Vladimir Putin and questioned the purpose of Nato. He went a step further. He began to question intelligence reports passed to him or leaked to the public.

Then came Theresa May to the rescue of the deep state with its roots on both sides of the Atlantic. When Trump in his pre-political avatar was misbehaving with women, May was already her country’s home secretary. She held that position from 2010 until she was elevated to lead her party and country in July 2016.

Her tenure as home secretary saw the destruction of Libya and the savage assault on Syria. Even more importantly, she was in the cockpit when the Crimea crisis erupted. And she had a good view of it even if she may have been privately appalled at the less than robust response that Nato was willing to offer Russia.

When she became the first foreign leader to visit President Trump on Jan 26 last year, Ms May was nursing another headache on the tour. And so her round trip to the White House included an equally vital stopover in Turkey on the way back. Leaders of both countries on her itinerary were allies of Nato and both were veering perilously close to Vladimir Putin. In a jiffy, she saw the centuries-old British policy of garrotting Russia slipping under her feet.

The mirror on the driver’s side may be telling us to watch out for Donald Trump, who everyone, including most Americans, agrees is speeding ahead rather recklessly on an uncharted trajectory. The mirror on the other side though is showing us a blip, and in a lane where it shouldn’t be. As far as the naked eye can see, the more threatening blip looks like Theresa May. Stated bluntly, Trump may be a decoy.

Double agent Sergei Skripal was swapped by Russia with the US in 2010 and sent for safekeeping to UK. There are some questions about his illness the Russians have asked, including the question: what purpose could it serve to bump off a use- up Russian double agent on the eve of a presidential election, or just ahead of the World Cup that Russia will be hosting? There can be a legitimate suspicion that Skripal and, unwittingly, his daughter fell victim to a strike by someone whose cover Skripal had blown.

But we could also ask, on the other hand, whether it is impossible for another country to replicate the poison that one country has manufactured. The question holds the key when the other side claims to know what that poison is. In other words they have the substance or can produce it to develop an antidote or, why not, to keep it in store for a useful false flag attack. This is not how it happened. This is how some questions come to mind.

A poor scientist died of smallpox in England, after all, when a laboratory accidently released the virus in 1978. The cause of Janet Parker’s infection sent shockwaves through the medical profession. It was reportedly accepted at the time that the virus had travelled through an air duct connecting a smallpox lab with Janet’s office directly above.

To assert that both attacks — in Salisbury and in Douma — can be blamed on Russia, is to state the obvious. A more involved discussion could look at the rise of John Bolton as the new national security adviser to Trump. He has advocated war with the Iran, and the alleged Syrian chemical attack may tie up with that objective, as a ruse.

But why has Trump changed his tune on Russia? Has the deep state got the goods on him, in a manner of speaking? If so, Theresa May should have a better grip on the narrative. It was a former British agent in Moscow, after all, whose report is said to have brought the president of the United States to his senses, if that is the word.

Hail the Pakistani woman

IT is indeed a huge tribute to the indomitable spirit of the Pakistani woman that we continue to see her survive and thrive as an individual and a professional, given the obstacles in her path.

Just read a report this newspaper carried last Wednesday, which was accompanied by a photograph of the honourable Chief Justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar snapped with three stewardesses on board a PIA plane. The news item reported on a ‘light-hearted’ conversation between the chief justice and senior counsel Naeem Bokhari, who was appearing before him in the Supreme Court. Predictably, this exchange had to do with the chief justice being photographed with three women.

Mr Bokhari mock-threatened to lodge a complaint against the chief justice on account of the photo and the honourable chief justice said the counsel appeared to be jealous. The matter was settled when the chief justice explained that he could not say no when the stewardesses, who were like his daughters, asked for a photo. Naeem Bokhari agreed.

When I tweeted my unease that such an unnecessary conversation took place at all in this day and age, there were a number of ‘C’mon, be a sport’ type of responses. Believe me, I am a big sport and have no issues with light-hearted banter but does it have to focus on women as an object? How many jokes do we tell where roles are reversed? Not many, even for the biggest ‘sport’ among us, must be the honest answer. That lies at the core of the issue.

In the run-up to the polls, is it too much to expect political parties to sign up to a code where isolating women and attacking them is seen as repugnant and against the norms?

When the PML-N has given hundreds of reasons to its opponents to take it to task, what does the brightest new entrant in PTI ranks do? Amir Liaquat Hussain’s timeline on Twitter will let you see the precise words he used to attack Maryam Nawaz. Words that can’t be reproduced here. And, no, I don’t agree with those who say this is karma, while mentioning the then Nawaz Sharif-led opposition’s malicious personal attacks on PPP leaders Benazir Bhutto and Begum Nusrat Bhutto in the late 1980s/early 1990s.

What is wrong is wrong at any point in time and regardless of who the perpetrator is and who is/was being targeted. One need not be a rocket scientist to figure that out. Equally, despite his often self-righteous indignation at one and all, it is extremely repugnant to target Imran Khan’s spouse whatever the compelling (self-serving) reason advanced as some have recently.

Those in positions of power and authority need to set an example by treating women on a par with men, along with the need for a sensitisation programme involving the media to drive home the message.

The armed forces parade this last March 23 was another example where the commentator, demonstrably with the best of intentions, mentioned the women’s contingent as being ‘our mothers, sister, daughters’.

Again when someone objected to this on social media and drew criticism for always seeing things in a ‘negative’ light, someone else asked how many times have the all-male contingents taking part been bracketed as fathers, brothers and sons.

Why bracket women as such when men are not? Admittedly, the armed forces have taken a hugely positive decision to induct women in roles as varied as communications specialists to fighter pilots; it should be drummed in though that they are soldiers doing a job as are men.

When you still hear in the media major male players in all fields using phrases such as ‘crying like women’ how can attitudes change elsewhere when opinion moulders are so unaware of what is acceptable and what is not.

Earlier this week in these very pages, Asad Hashim clinically dissected the misogyny and other factors leading to some of the nastiest comments on Malala Yousafzai, one of Pakistan’s proudest daughters ever since she survived a Taliban bullet to her head and went on to earn global acclaim for being an iconic symbol of women’s right to education and equality.

A similar diatribe has been hurled at the late Asma Jahangir, a giant of a woman and an indefatigable torch-bearer for our fundamental rights. Frankly, I know no man who faced so much malice and slander with such fortitude for merely vowing to safeguard our collective freedoms and liberty.

Allow me to say that not just indiscretions by men but even their crimes are often papered over because they are men while lies are invented to mock women and deny them their hard-fought and well-earned place in their professions and in society at large.

It is indeed incredible that despite such bias, that so many of us aren’t even aware is so deeply ingrained and that we display at the drop of a hat, Pakistan has had a woman prime minister, speaker of parliament, leaders of opposition in both houses, generals in the military (even if so far only belonging to the Medical Corps), surgeons, professors, scholars, editors just to mention some in merely one breath.

Women have excelled in more areas as professionals than I can count. Yes, you could argue that most falling in this category largely come from privileged backgrounds. But let me ask you if you are aware of what contribution the unpaid woman makes to our agricultural output as she works alongside men in the fields?

As the pre-election battle heats up, would it be asking for the moon to expect all contesting political parties to sign up to a code where isolating women and attacking them is seen as repugnant and against the norms?

And this code must extend beyond the elections. After all, to progress we cannot continue to maintain the status quo. In any democratic order, equality must be the norm and discrimination of any kind should be frowned upon as unacceptable.

A Daring Dream of Development

Beyond the flashy presentation, crisp speeches, beautiful phrases and affluent vocabulary that elaborate Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in a very proficient manners, revealing outcomes, progress and implication right from grass root level to policy making authorities, there is a basic question arise in my mind that how do we turn the Sustainable Development Goals from aspirations on paper to achievements around the world? May be the answer is by action!
There is no shortage of analysis pointing out the policies and transformations that are necessary to inaugurate a more just and sustainable world, but the most urgent question for engaged citizens must concern how to create a worldwide movement that can shift real power back to ordinary people.

The Peoples Forum on Sustainable Development 2018 is exactly the forum where these kind of people’s movements starts , the vibrant forum of common people where more then 100 civil society organization (CSO) representing communities across Asia Pacific region get to gather in the 3-day event. The 5th Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD) themed ‘Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies’ held in consultation with governments and UNESCAP. The CSOs gathered at the event under the umbrella of Asia Pacific Regional CSO Mechanism (AP-RCEM), a platform for CSOs to engage with United Nations in this region. Asia Pacific forum on Women, Law & Development is main coordinating and organizing body of the event which aims to engage people in meaningful dialogue to discuss global development agenda 2030 and take it up to next level.

To make SDGs understandable what meant for a common person- The SDGs is a kind of global blueprint towards development, an agenda or plan of action adopted by united nations in 2015 to peruse and accomplish those well-defined 17 development goals with 169 targets over the next fifteen years till 2030.

The 2030 agenda for SDGs has offered a set of bold, ambitious and innovative package to transform the world, therefore the expectation around the goals are high therefore the scale and ambition of the new agenda requires a revitalized all level from community to global partnership to ensure its implementation. Governments, the private sector, civil society, the United Nations system and other actors must be mobilizing all available resources to make this world worth living.

We need people around the world taking action in their communities and holding their governments accountable for keeping the promises they made. But in order to have action, we need awareness. People must know about the global goals before they can embrace them as their own. A social development activist can help make global issues relevant to local communities by finding out how local communities are connected with small actions and initiatives.

And if we as ordinary people, are truly concerned about ending the injustice in development, then maybe we should apply the same question to ourselves: where’s the missing part? Where’s the caring, the compassion, the concern for defending the basic rights of those who live in a continual state of want and penury?

The challenges , government ambition has to be measured against its ability to carry out policy and institutional reforms. The SDGs will provide an opportunity to revisit the way the government approaches and undertakes development is something to be explored. Meanwhile, federal and provincial governments need to determine governance structures and accountability mechanisms required at national and local levels.

Political parties must work to mainstream sustainable development within national discourse. Strong political will and sturdy democracy can lead towards achieving SDGs. Their manifestos might highlight social and economic issues, but ensuring they are SDG compliant would shape the electoral debate to specificities rather than broad rhetorical pledges. Media and Civil society organization can play a vital role to promote SDGs with inclusive and participatory approach.

We as a social development activist while I suppose every citizen has to be, should needed to adopt and own SDGs in our life as a lens to review, recall and reclaim our basic human right to live with dignity and prosperity, to live for and with development justice! We are fully committed with spirit of global solidarity, in particular cohesion with the poorest and with people in vulnerable situations. we dream for ending the global emergency of extreme human deprivation, we dream for resilience, inclusive and sustainable societies! and we would start this movement form our own doorstep! The development agenda 2030 –the plan of action for people, planet and prosperity must be kick off from our own community by and now!

Empire strikes back

IN a little over a year, US President Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ posture has been translated into an extensive and aggressive agenda to reclaim US global pre-eminence: the strategic containment of China and Russia; the denuclearisation of North Korea; the regional and nuclear reversal of Iran; a stabilised occupation of Afghanistan; a pliant Pakistan; an extended ‘war’ against ‘radical Islam’ and the acceptance, by allies and adversaries across Asia, Europe and the Americas, of US economic supremacy.

Threats, coercion and force are the preferred modus operandi to achieve these ambitious goals. Such behaviour is a throwback to an earlier era; before international law, reflected in the UN Charter, prohibited the use or threat of force in interstate relations (except in self-defence or when authorised by the UN Security Council) and prescribed cooperation as the means to promote peace and prosperity.

In the past year, US air strikes have been conducted in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan and Pakistan’s border regions. US ground forces are engaged in military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and the Sahel. North Korea and Iran have been threatened with pre-emptive strikes.

There are five areas where America’s current postures could lead to disastrous consequences.

There are five areas where America’s current postures could lead to disastrous consequences.

First, the strategic contest with China. This involves three dimensions. Trade is the simplest among them. Trump’s tariffs are meant mainly to appease his rust belt constituency. Washington knows that the trade ‘imbalance’ is unlikely to be corrected through tariffs and restrictions. The US and Chinese economies are closely intertwined and interdependent. Higher tariffs will hurt American consumers; Chinese retaliation will hurt US farmers, workers and investors. The tariffs so far announced by Trump will affect only around five per cent of Chinese exports to the US. China’s response is also carefully calibrated.

The core of the Sino-US contest for future economic and military leadership involves access to and utilisation of advanced technologies. China was technologically far behind the US; but it is catching up rapidly. The US is specifically attempting to restrict China’s access to and development of those advanced technologies which Beijing has targeted in its 2030 vision plan. This is likely to be a long and complex contest.

The most dangerous dimension of the Sino-US ‘contest’ is the prospect of a US challenge to China’s claims in the South China Sea and, even more seriously, the possibility that Washington may reopen the ‘One China Policy’. As President Xi recently reiterated, China will use all its capabilities to defend its ‘territorial integrity’. US miscalculation could lead to conflict.

Second, the strategic resurgence of Russia. Despite their economic disparity, Russia is keeping pace with the US in the modernisation of nuclear weapons, missile and anti-missile systems and conventional armaments. In Europe, there is now a military stand-off between a weakened Nato and a confident Russia. The US and Russia are also competitively engaged in several other countries and regions: Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Pakistan, Central and Northeast Asia. Furthermore, Russia has formed a strategic partnership with China that spans Eurasia.

Third, the North Korean challenge. The young Kim Jong-un has displayed strategic and diplomatic adroitness. Trump has accepted his proposal to discuss denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula in a US-North Korea summit. The odds are against success. Kim is likely to propose a staggered process of denuclearisation accompanied by reciprocal removal of US and UN sanctions, US military withdrawal from Korea and guarantees for North Korea’s security. An impatient Trump will find it difficult to accept such a process and could revert to coercion and threats, reviving the danger of war.

Fourth, the confrontation with Iran. This perhaps poses the most proximate danger of a conflict. Trump and his principal advisers are now unanimous in their opposition to the Iran nuclear deal and Tehran’s expanding role and influence in the Middle East and beyond. Mattis reportedly nurses a grudge for the 1983 Beirut bombing that killed over 200 US marines. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is urging renunciation of the nuclear deal, elimination of Iran’s military presence in Syria and military strikes if Iran revives its nuclear programme. Saudi Arabia and its GCC allies are of similar mind.

Matters may come to a head soon. Trump has reportedly threatened to denounce the nuclear deal in May unless America’s European allies secure an indefinite extension of the 15-year restraints on Iran’s nuclear programme and a halt in the development of its long-range missiles. Iran has rejected these demands.

Fifth, the Afghan quagmire. Trump was reportedly convinced by his previous national security adviser, Gen H.R. McMaster, and the Pentagon to undertake another mini-surge to bludgeon the Afghan Taliban into accepting a political settlement. Expanded air strikes, special operations and Taliban retaliation have resulted in an increase in Afghan civilian and military casualties. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has offered a “dignified dialogue” to the Taliban who, however, want to talk only to the Americans. Nor is it clear if the proffered political settlement would be designed to facilitate a US withdrawal or merely to ease its indefinite stay in Afghanistan. The war continues by default.

There is considerable concern that Trump’s domestic troubles — the alleged ‘electoral collusion with Russia’ and myriad sex scandals — and the appointment of uber-hawks, Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, may propel the US president into an external conflict.

Pompeo is an anti-Muslim, anti-Iran, tea party Republican. Bolton is an ultra-nationalist; but not an ideologue. (In our first meeting at the UN in 2005, Bolton demanded deletion of the reference to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in a UN document under negotiation. I agreed, but asked just as adamantly for removal of the reference to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. He agreed. After that, we got along famously!)

Bolton is an experienced and a strong-willed bureaucrat and is likely to play a central role in policy formulation and execution. He is aware of the danger of destabilising Pakistan (“Iran on steroids”). He may not be as committed as the US generals to an unending and expensive war in Afghanistan. It may be timely for Pakistan’s diplomacy to explore a mutually acceptable solution in Afghanistan with the new Trump team.

Gender malaise

LOOKING at the poor status of women in Pakistani society, it’s hard to imagine that Pakistan has been a signatory to three major international agreements on women’s empowerment: the International Confe­rence on Population and Development in Cairo, 1994; the UN Conference on Women in Beijing, 1995; and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women in 1996.

Pakistan has also signed on to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals and Sustainable Development Goals, which include gender equality. Yet despite this enthusiasm, the country has been unable to meet any of the targets set by these international agreements. For the last two years, the country has found itself in second to last place on the UN’s Gender Gap Report, ahead of only Yemen and Syria — two weak nations ravaged by war. So what has gone wrong in Pakistan?

Pakistan has not yet committed to an overarching ‘gender equality act’, in which systemic discrimination against women is declared punishable by law, with fines, jail terms, and repercussions for businesses, organisations, and individuals made part of the legal code of the nation. Because of complex political, societal and religious constraints, it has instead adopted a piecemeal domestic approach to fulfilling its international commitments, enacting a National Plan of Action for Women in 1998, the creation of a National Commission for the Status of Women (NCSW) in 2000, and in 2002, a National Policy for Women Development and Empowerment.

Is Pakistan ready for a gender equality law?

Various women empowerment plans and policies usually refer to Article 25 in the Constitution, which pledges equality for all citizens and equal protection under the law regardless of sex, bans discrimination on the basis of sex, and declares that “nothing in this article shall prevent the state from making any special provision for the protection of women and children”. Yet the vital issue of women’s empowerment was demoted from federal to provincial jurisdiction in 2010 with the 18th Amendment, just as revisions in the draft of the National Policy for Women Empowerment were scheduled for 2012-2013, putting on ice hopes for a solution to a national problem.

Another part of the Constitution appears to limit the scope of Article 25; the Objectives Resolution, which states that Pakistan’s laws must be in conformity with religious doctrine, was a preamble until 1985, when Gen Zia added it to the Constitution in Article 2A. Today, laws which make distinctions between men and women on this basis cannot be challenged because this would be equivalent to challenging Pakistan’s ideo­logy. These laws include qisas and diyat, where the blood money received for murdering a woman is less than for murdering a man; the law of evidence, in which two women’s testimony equals one man’s; and various other statutes, in which, according to Ayesha Khan, senior researcher at the Collective for Social Science Research, “evidentiary,

punditry and compensatory prescriptions are inherently equal”.

Khawar Mumtaz, who has been NCSW chairperson, argues there is space for diverse interpretations of Article 2A, which mean that women’s rights, roles, positions and responsibilities can be quietly strengthened without running into severe opposition from religious groups. Another approach, Ayesha Khan notes, is to stay away from issues of doctrine, focusing on affirmative action policies, such as reserved seats for women in elected bodies, reform in election laws, and increasing numbers for women in government service, as well as enacting and implementing protective legislation — laws against violence against women, sexual harassment, domestic violence, etc.

There has been some progress in both areas, but not enough; in 2018, quotas for women in government offices range between only five to 15 per cent, while the 2017 SECP Companies Act declared that public companies need have only one woman on their board. A domestic violence bill was declared un-Islamic and then defeated in parliament. Fragmentation of a national gender policy into provincial policies, lack of political will to iron out contradictions in the Constitution, and a lack of resources and staff at NCSW, the nation’s major statutory body dealing with women’s empowerment, reflect a flagging of efforts to institute gender equality.

So a national gender equality law for Pakistan, it would seem, is not yet a possibility. But as Khawar Mumtaz says, the malaise could be a sign of a bigger problem: that “society has not come to terms with the concept of equality of citizens”.

Perhaps we as Pakistanis are not truly invested in the idea that women and men should have equality. Perhaps we’re too comfortable with the illusion that our current laws treat women with fairness rather than justice — gender equity, not equality — but then, we’re nowhere near that in 21st century Pakistan either.