Friday, 17 July 2009

Writer's Block-.....Or forever hold your peace - Bushra Hassan

Have you seen the flags all around Islamabad? The flags that fly bold and strong, the flags that are not national but political. The flags that raise eye brows but no questions. Of course in our secret thoughts we wonder why one political party would claim its rights over the arteries and veins of the nation’s capital. Many feel dejected over how each political party must have a show of power. But here is the million dollar question: Why are we, the general public, silent?
Did you witness over half a dozen fires on the Margalla hills that mysteriously appear and disappear? The fires that usually follow a pattern, a line, as if clearing the hills for roads or some other construction fiasco. The fires that have raped the city’s monumental prize, its identity, its prestige. If you have, what have you done about it?
Here is the thought of the week. What is wrong with us that we do not raise our voice over the smallest or the largest of crimes, unless our hands are held by a foreign dictated media? Why is it that we do not rise to protect our own identity? Is it because we are afraid that any criticism of the government will land us in jail? Or because we have given up hope of anyone listening to whatever we have to say? At what point did we stop trying to make a difference? And if we have stopped trying to make a difference, is it the beginning of the end?

Quite frankly, the flags do not bother me as much as I’d like to think, it’s the silence, the fear, the apathy that concerns me. Similarly, while the fire rages in my heart as it does on the hills, I’m more appalled by the silence of the citizens that the hills have watched over, sheltered and entertained for many decades.

Of the many paranoid conspiracy theory, my favorite and most believable, is the one which states that foreign elements are responsible for creating the fires and frequent building collapses (which have been more frequent in the past 5 years than the previous sixty) to raise the level of alarm in the nation, scare them and then immune them to the fatalities, disasters and tragedies. To deprive them of their willingness to protect and rebuild by tiring them emotionally. This is my favourite because this is true. At least about our growing unwillingness to want to protect and rebuild.

Many people have refused to write to newspapers because they feel that their letters would be ignored, not published. But then, you have to choose the papers carefully as well, those known for their credibility or impartialness. More than that, what if the letters came in tens and hundreds; and not trickling in one by one by one. What if we were all one collective force, rather than individual elements trying to make our point? Perhaps then, perhaps then, we might win, we might be heard, we might create change. Perhaps then, we will no longer be dead or dying.

Like always, I will end with a note of hope. I am writing this and sharing this on a site developed collectively. It is not one person’s pursuit for recognition but a collective attempt to affect change. Youth is gathering in small units, through theatre groups or merely through students hanging out at a coffee shop discussing, inspiring and more importantly, waking up. There is still hope, albeit a tiny, flickering one. We have to capture the moment and keep trying. Not give up.

This is beyond parties and flags (although had these been Pakistan flags flying over the capital, the nationalism it would have invoked in our people at this time of crisis would have been historical and moving). This is beyond fires that one Development Authority is trying desperately to control. This is about the people of the country, their innate patriotism and passion, which is dying gradually, unless we decide, today, to change.

I am writing this blog at a time when the new Cyber Crime Act is in place. Where criticism of certain people of consequence is no longer allowed. Now, frankly, I’ve never been a fan of emails and videos that ridicule or scandalize our leaders, true or not. I truly believe that our nation must begin to rise above petty personal criticisms, and focus on policy debates. Personally I have little interest in the Governor Punjab’s family, or how this or the previous head of state spend their evenings. What I do have interest in, is the right of the people to make constructive criticism, rather than living in fear.

What we need is a change in our national outlook, the same that encourages us to judge a person by their clothes, the same that stigmatizes a woman in jeans as a slut, or a well dressed gentleman as gay. It is the passing of judgment over the other, of feeling superior than the other, that I dislike, but this change does not come from being imposed upon by the government, striving to protect itself rather than the people This act will probably have a result similar to that of a child who insists on poking fingers in electric sockets especially when told not to. What we need now, from within us and from the government is a sense of security and pride with who we are, and what we have; and a desire to protect it – be it our forests, our identity and our freedom.

Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair….

I must begin with an apology to everyone, the Blog management and to all the followers, my piece scheduled for last Thursday, got sidelined because of the trip to San Francisco.

Yes, this comes to you from the west coast of the USA, San Francisco, to be precise; having recovered from the 15 hour haul over the North Pole, we got here in relatively good condition; it was not long before I had my camera out and began my collection of Photos of SAN FRANCISCO.

So the first impressions it is always the same, its good be back in SFO! On previous trips We were based out of San Jose and used to drive out to SFO for the day, but this time we are based in the Big City, since my son has moved there 2 months ago. He works with an IT Giant.

Stepping out with the Family to get a feel for the neighborhood where we are staying with my son, Taimoor and daughter in law Aamnah we walk mostly because parking is always a challenge besides the MUNNI or bus service is so convenient and fun to use. This area is just off centre from the central part of San Francisco, and as you will see it is a very interesting city!

This beautiful city and very friendly people, is so full of sights and scenes worth sharing with the readers, enjoy them! more will follow.

More next time, Bye! from SFO for now!

Monday, 13 July 2009

whats going on?

So the local bodies system that has been in place since 2001 has been abolished. The commissioner raj is back. The MPA's and MNA's are back in charge of development funds. We are back to 1999. It seems anything that happened during the Musharraf era good or bad has to be rolled back no matter the consequences. Supporters of the current move point to this fact that since this system was the creation of a dictator it cant be good. Perhaps its execution at all levels has not been good but conceptually this system is the best way of empowering people at the grass roots level.  As the famous saying goes all politics is local. Yet in Pakistan our political dynasties find it anathema to devolve power. Our babus find it disgraceful to let go of their powerful perches as well. Now the all powerful commissioner will carry out the desires of their all powerful political master, the chief minister. People in Lahore will decide which lane of Mian Channu requires street lighting. The head honcho in Karachi will decide which water course to line in rural Shikarpur. Ditto for other provinces. Welcome to democracy Pakistani style. 

Whats my beef here? Well basically we are reversing a system that provides an excellent forum for participatory democracy as well as accountable local government. If lane so in so in Mian Channu requires street lights the residents of that lane can go to their local councilor who can go to the Nazim and get the funds released. This ruffled feathers. This ruffled the bureaucracy who before this systems inception were the all in all and weren't accountable to anyone locally except to someone like the "khadim e Alla" we have here in Punjab these days. It upset our LEGISLATORS (note the emphasis) both at provincial and federal level as well. It deprived our honorable LEGISLATORS of their right to control the funds for development in their respective constituencies. Their grief is understandable given that our LEGISLATORS don't actually legislate so if you take away development funds from them whats the point of sitting in one of the capital cities. Also who knows the local government might throw up future political  challengers to them in their respective constituencies. You will hear critics say that this system bred corruption. Sure it did. But as much as I'm trying to remember the pre 2001 days i cant recall a system in place that was not corrupt. In fact if Transparency international is to be believed we were much more corrupt before than we are now. So all id say is that in addition to power being devolved, corruption also got devolved.

Like any system this system's effectiveness depended on the individuals involved. I'm sure some were bad but then there were others like the Nazim of Karachi who stood out and actually delivered a lot for his city. At the end of day folks, this system gave people all over Pakistan a chance to participate in grass roots democracy where they had people at the local level they could approach for redress of grievances and whom they could boot out if those people were found wanting in their eyes. One final note regarding this system. The empowerment of women that was happening and could have happened even better if this system was retained will be lost. 33% of the 80000 odd councillors were women.

Coming to my second hot topic which is kind of related. Lately the issue regarding the number of provinces has come into the spotlight. Contrary to this nonsensical view that this is not the time to talk about this issue i believe we should have a healthy debate regarding the issue. I for one am in favour of more administrative units as long as these units are not based on ethnic or linguistic lines. The reason I'm in favour of more administrative units is the same for the local bodies system. Majority of Pakistanis don't actually live in Lahore,Karachi, Islamabad,Peshawar or Quetta. A person in some Chak in Rahim yar Khan for instance is light years away from Lahore. Its impractical for a huge number of them to travel to Lahore to have their voice heard. In my opinion more administrative units will also bury the smaller provinces vs Punjab debate. In addition, if done smartly, it could also provide more unity to us all. However there are problems with this proposal one of which is the increase of government expenditure that will happen with the setting up of new capitals. Our new CM's and governors will demand the protocol that our present lot demands and gets.

Finally on a local Lahori note, our famous Food street of Gawalmandi has ceased to exist. it seems the powers that be could not tolerate another of Musharrafs legacies especially in their stronghold of Gawalmandi. Worry not Lahoris because Karachi's famous Barbecue tonight has opened up shop in Lahore. Who needed that tourist and connoisseur magnet food street anyway?