Green Architecture

Clip_15There is no question that Pakistan and other parts of the still-under-construction world must build green. The building sector is a major contributor to climate change and local environmental destruction because of construction materials used; energy expended for lighting, heating and cooling; and water consumption and waste discharge. This is the threat. There is an opportunity as well. Most of Pakistan is still unbuilt—over 70 per cent of the building stock is yet to be constructed—so unlike the rest of the already developed world, Pakistan can build anew in efficient and sustainable manner. But how?

Over the past few years the idea of green buildings has gained popularity—everybody, it would seem, has turned a new leaf. Across the country large and small constructions are advertised as the greenest of green. To prove that they are indeed environment-friendly, the business of certification has also grown. There are agencies that now rate and award stars to individual buildings based on certain parameters.

All this is important but do we know what green means?

When we began asking this question, what surprised us was the hostility with which it was received. Nobody wanted the new God to be questioned. Nobody wanted to be asked something as simple as what the post-commissioning performance of a green building was. We realised that the interests—of architects, builders, auditors and certifiers—in this new industry were already entrenched. It was a cozy club and nobody was keen to give us entry.

We dug in our heels. Buildings are the key to a cleaner and greener future. The building sector uses, already, some 40 percent of the country’s electricity generation. So, every effort made to reduce energy intensity of buildings will go a long way. We wanted to know what was happening and what more could be done to reduce the material-use footprint and emissions of every construction.

What we discovered is not a convenient truth.

First, the general approach is to build wrongly and then “fit” in the green features. For instance, glass-enveloped buildings are certified green, simply because they install double or triple insulating glass or five-star air-conditioners to cool places that were first heated up deliberately.

Secondly, rating systems are being pushed through government and municipal schemes without any evidence that green-certified buildings are actually working.

Thirdly, all these so-called green technologies end up hiking costs to the extent that buildings become unaffordable to most. What Pakistan needs are building standards that are appropriate and cost-effective. Green architecture should not be a barrier to inclusive growth.

This is where old knowledge has a role to play. Traditional architecture is based on the principle of “localising” buildings so that they can optimise natural elements and be efficient in resource use. This “science and art” of engineers for nature needs to be infused with the new material knowledge of modern architecture.

Many architects, engineers and builders are innovating with this old-new science. That’s how the knowledge and practice of affordable and sustainable buildings will evolve. But big builders will adopt it only if and when the façade of green buildings is lifted.

Tax Revenue Has Increased Due to Higher Withholding Rates

Clip_75Despite ongoing tension in the federal capital for more than one-and-a-half-month, the Federal Board of Revenue witnessed 14 per cent growth in revenue collection in the first quarter of the current fiscal year from a year ago.

In absolute terms, revenue collection in July-September 2014 reached Rs549 billion from Rs481bn a year ago.

In the budget 2014-15, the government had projected a revenue collection target of Rs2.810 trillion as against Rs2.266tr collected in last fiscal year, an increase of 24pc.

The collection in September stood at Rs230bn as against Rs202bn over the corresponding month of last year, reflecting an increase of 14pc.

Revenue collection witnessed a growth of 3pc in July 2014, followed by a 24pc growth in August this year over the corresponding month of last year.

A tax official said that revenue collection may witness more growth when revenue figures would be finalised in the next couple of weeks. He said growth in revenue collection was achieved despite ongoing tension in the country. The official said most of the revenue was generated through Karachi ports, therefore, sit-ins had little impact on revenue collection.

According to the tax official, revenue collection under the head of income tax, sales tax witnessed a substantial increase in the first quarter of the current fiscal year from a year ago.

A marginal increase was witnessed in the collection of federal excise duty and customs collection during the period under review over the corresponding months of last year.

The highest growth recorded in the collection of income tax was due to revenue measures taken in the last budget. These measures include new withholding taxes as well.

Increase in excise duty collection is the outcome of the revenue measures announced in the budget, especially increase in excise rate for beverages and cigarettes.

The Saudis are Destroying Mecca’s History

by Ziauddin Sardar

No one can now possibly describe Mecca as ancient, or associate beauty with Islam’s holiest city. Pilgrims performing the hajj search in vain for Mecca’s history.

Clip_46The dominant architectural site in the city is not the Sacred Mosque, where the Kaaba, the symbolic focus of Muslims everywhere, is. It is the obnoxious Makkah Royal Clock Tower hotel, which, at 1,972 feet, is among the world’s tallest buildings. It is part of a mammoth development of skyscrapers that includes luxury shopping malls and hotels catering to the superrich. The skyline is no longer dominated by the rugged outline of encircling peaks. Ancient mountains have been flattened. The city is now surrounded by the brutalism of rectangular steel and concrete structures — an amalgam of Disneyland and Las Vegas.

The “guardians” of the Holy City, the rulers of Saudi Arabia and the clerics, have a deep hatred of history. They want everything to look brand-new. Meanwhile, the sites are expanding to accommodate the rising number of pilgrims, up to almost three million today from 200,000 in the 1960s.

The initial phase of Mecca’s destruction began in the mid-1970s, and I was there to witness it. Innumerable ancient buildings, including the Bilal mosque, dating from the time of the Prophet Muhammad, were bulldozed. The old Ottoman houses, with their elegant mashrabiyas — latticework windows — and elaborately carved doors, were replaced with hideous modern ones. Within a few years, Mecca was transformed into a “modern” city with large multilane roads, spaghetti junctions, gaudy hotels and shopping malls.

The few remaining buildings and sites of religious and cultural significance were erased more recently. The Makkah Royal Clock Tower, completed in 2012, was built on the graves of an estimated 400 sites of cultural and historical significance, including the city’s few remaining millennium-old buildings. Bulldozers arrived in the middle of the night, displacing families that had lived there for centuries. The complex stands on top of Ajyad Fortress, built around 1780, to protect Mecca from bandits and invaders. The house of Khadijah, the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad, has been turned into a block of toilets. The Makkah Hilton is built over the house of Abu Bakr, the closest companion of the prophet and the first caliph.

Clip_42Apart from the Kaaba itself, only the inner core of the Sacred Mosque retains a fragment of history. It consists of intricately carved marble columns, adorned with calligraphy of the names of the prophet’s companions. Built by a succession of Ottoman sultans, the columns date from the early 16th century. And yet plans are afoot to demolish them, along with the whole of the interior of the Sacred Mosque, and to replace it with an ultramodern doughnut-shaped building.

The only other building of religious significance in the city is the house where the Prophet Muhammad lived. During most of the Saudi era it was used first as a cattle market, then turned into a library, which is not open to the people. But even this is too much for the radical Saudi clerics who have repeatedly called for its demolition. The clerics fear that, once inside, pilgrims would pray to the prophet, rather than to God — an unpardonable sin. It is only a matter of time before it is razed and turned, probably, into a parking lot.

The cultural devastation of Mecca has radically transformed the city. Unlike Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo, Mecca was never a great intellectual and cultural center of Islam. But it was always a pluralistic city where debate among different Muslim sects and schools of thought was not unusual. Now it has been reduced to a monolithic religious entity where only one, ahistoric, literal interpretation of Islam is permitted, and where all other sects, outside of the Salafist brand of Saudi Islam, are regarded as false. Indeed, zealots frequently threaten pilgrims of different sects. In 2013, a group of Shiite pilgrims from Michigan were attacked with knives by extremists, and in August, a coalition of American Muslim groups wrote to the State Department asking for protection during this year’s hajj.

A 19th-century engraving of the Kaaba, the symbolic focus of Muslims, at the Sacred Mosque in Mecca.

A 19th-century engraving of the Kaaba, the symbolic focus of Muslims, at the Sacred Mosque in Mecca.

The erasure of Meccan history has had a tremendous impact on the hajj itself. The word “hajj” means effort. It is through the effort of traveling to Mecca, walking from one ritual site to another, finding and engaging with people from different cultures and sects, and soaking in the history of Islam that the pilgrims acquired knowledge as well as spiritual fulfillment. Today, hajj is a packaged tour, where you move, tied to your group, from hotel to hotel, and seldom encounter people of different cultures and ethnicities. Drained of history and religious and cultural plurality, hajj is no longer a transforming, once-in-a-lifetime spiritual experience. It has been reduced to a mundane exercise in rituals and shopping.

Mecca is a microcosm of the Muslim world. What happens to and in the city has a profound effect on Muslims everywhere. The spiritual heart of Islam is an ultramodern, monolithic enclave, where difference is not tolerated, history has no meaning, and consumerism is paramount. It is hardly surprising then that literalism, and the murderous interpretations of Islam associated with it, have become so dominant in Muslim lands.

Ziauddin Sardar is the editor of the quarterly Critical Muslim and the author of “Mecca: The Sacred City.”

PM Modi’s September US Visit Not a Huge Success

The Indian media, coupled with of course the Modi government, is trying to give an impression as if the PM Modi visit was a huge success. It wasn’t as no major deals were signed and the two leaders could not achieve much, except for getting a joint statement issued condemning terrorism. If it is compared with PM Nawaz Sharif’s trip during the same month, then perhaps it was something to write home about.

In a get-to-know-you visit fraught with awkward undertones, President Obama and PM Narendra Modi of India  just sought to repair a strained relationship between their nations on September 30, 2014, emerging with expressions of good will but little in the way of concrete deals.

Clip_64 (2)At an Oval Office meeting and during a stroll around the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, President Obama and PM Modi emphasized what they had in common as democratic leaders who overcame personal obstacles, campaigned as outsiders and embraced technology as a vital tool in politics and governing.

But their talks yielded no resolutions to thorny disputes over taxes, trade and civilian nuclear energy cooperation that have divided the United States and India in recent years. And there was little sign that human rights — a particularly sensitive topic for PM Modi, who has been accused of being complicit in deadly anti-Muslim riots — was a major item on the agenda.

“Human rights and the importance of inclusive governance were part of the discussions between the president and the prime minister,” the White House press secretary told reporters. But a statement issued jointly by the United States and India after the talks made no mention of the issue.

The White House has grappled with the perceptions of a visit meant to spotlight the president’s high hopes for working with PM Modi while not lavishing the full measure of White House pageantry on a leader who until recently was barred from entering the United States because of the allegations of human rights abuses more than a decade ago.

Still, in a striking gesture that PM Modi later said gave their relationship a “new dimension,” the president left the White House on September 30 to give Modi a personal tour of the King Memorial, recalling President Obama’s own visit in 2010 to the onetime home in Bombay of Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian champion of democracy and nonviolence who was a model for the American civil rights leader.

At a luncheon at the State Department not long after, PM Modi was effusive in thanking President Obama “from the core of my heart” for leading him around the memorial. “He took out a lot of time,” PM Modi said. “We were together yesterday and today for quite some time, and today in fact he took me around, and with such ease and such humility.”

PM Modi had been denied a visa to visit the United States because of accusations that he failed to stop religious violence in Gujarat in 2002, when he was chief minister there, which took the lives of more than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims. On Thursday, while PM Modi was in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, the human rights group American Justice Center filed a lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan against him on behalf of two survivors of the rioting, seeking a judgment that his conduct was tantamount to genocide.

American officials have declined to comment on the case, except to say that sitting heads of government enjoy immunity from lawsuits in American courts. But human rights activists had pressed the Obama administration to get the president to raise the issue with PM Modi while he was in Washington.

If he did, it was in private.

“The purpose of these meetings was to improve U.S.-India relations, so we weren’t expecting Obama to give him the cold shoulder, but we were hoping there would be a little bit of measure in the red-carpet treatment, so we were surprised by the Martin Luther King side visit,” said John Sifton, the Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. “Delivering a message about human rights is always awkward.”

It was hardly the only tricky element of PM Modi’s visit. Their get-together began on September 29 night with a small dinner in the White House Blue Room that was a protocol nightmare: PM Modi was in the middle of a nine-day fast to observe the Hindu festival of Navratri, but insisted his hosts go ahead and eat. PM Modi sat in front of an empty plate and had warm water for dinner while President Obama and the two leaders’ entourages ate avocados and goat cheese, crisped halibut and basmati rice, a pumpkin crème brûlée and a California chardonnay.

The 20-person dinner was a stark contrast to the lavish affair President Obama threw for PM Modi’s predecessor, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in November 2009, when more than 300 guests dined on arugula salad, curried prawns and pumpkin pie tart at an event whose bill came to more than $570,000.

This two-day meeting did produce some agreements, including the renewal of a 10-year defense cooperation framework, a pact to cooperate on maritime security and several clean-energy initiatives. And as President Obama intensifies the American campaign against the Sunni militant group known as the Islamic State, the two agreed to improve their counterterrorism cooperation and intelligence sharing.

“We discussed the issues of trade, issues of making sure that maritime rules are observed, and we discussed how we can continue to work together on a whole host of issues from space exploration, scientific endeavor, to dealing with humanitarian crises like Ebola in West Africa,” President Obama said after a two-hour meeting with PM Modi in the Oval Office.

PM Modi, for his part, said he wanted to resolve disputes that had stalled the implementation of the American-India civilian nuclear agreement and stymied progress on trade. He said the two leaders had a “candid discussion” on trade.

“We already have the foundation of a strong partnership,” PM Modi said. “We now have to revive the momentum and ensure that we get the best out of it for our people and for the world.”

Human Rights Protection, Peace Building Should Go Together

by Abhishek Kumar Dash

Clip_45In 1981 during the 36th session of the United Nations, a resolution was passed to observe the third Tuesday of September as the International Day of Peace. Later in 2001 during the 55th session of the UN, the General Assembly adopted a resolution to observe September 21 as the International Day of Peace.

We are living in a world where conflict is an existing reality and peace is an existing necessity. As a human being peace is our necessity. Without resolving the conflict, peace will never sustain in the society. The term peace building in the broader field also includes conflict prevention efforts, conflict resolution and reconciliation initiatives, conflict management, and what is increasingly being called conflict “transformation” work. Violation of human rights is one of the root causes of conflict. Denial of human rights also contributes to the emergence of conflicts. Numerous conflicts have been caused by human rights issues such as, limited access to resources, exploitation, forced acculturation, limited political participation, the quest for self-determination and discrimination. Denial of human rights occurs not only as a result of active violations (which can be defined as explicit, direct and intentional actions by the State and its agents), but also as a result of passive violations which can be defined as those violations resulting of the negligence or inability of the State to protect the rights of its citizens, especially in the socio-economic domain; passive violations can contribute to the deepening of societal cleavages and conflicts, and thus can lead to the emergence or escalation of conflict. So there are many linkages between human rights and peace building which can be easily established.

Demand for human rights is a cause of conflict. State’s inability or unwillingness to protect rights is a cause of conflict. Human rights violations are a conflict escalator. Human rights violations are direct symptoms of violent conflict. Human rights violations are direct or indirect consequence of violent conflict.

In order to understand the deep relationship between peace building and human rights, three different stages of conflict can be taken into consideration such as the c onflict intensification, armed conflict and post conflict.

In the context of Odisha conflict can be broadly divided into three categories

Resource base conflict: Here conflict is occurring because of resources. Land issues, community agitation against the State, community resistance against the multinationals firms like Vedanta, Posco,  Bhushan, Jindal and Tata etc.

Identity base conflict: This is the rapidly growing conflict in Odisha. Ethnic violence, persecution on people of certain faith, atrocities on Dalits and Adivasis have been increasing day by day.

Gender base conflict: Domestic violence, atrocities on women, female feticide, sexual harassment at workplace is growing repeatedly. But such issues usually receive negligible coverage.

Human rights advocates and peace builders working on different issues share the common goal of constructing stable societies based on the rule of law. But their approaches are often at odds.

Human Rights Defender (HRDs) usually focuses on the restoration of rights where as Peace Builders focus is restoring the peace. Among human rights activists, common goals included strengthening local human rights organisations, increasing public awareness of rights, reforming laws to bring them in line with rights standards, and monitoring compliance with human rights provisions. Among Peace Builders, common goals include instilling a culture of support for conflict resolution efforts, encouraging research and education in conflict prevention/resolution, inducing representatives of competing factions to change from adversarial to cooperative approaches, fostering dialogue among parties to the conflict, and strengthening civil society prevention mechanisms.

In the short run, both seek to end violence, loss of life, and other suffering as quickly as possible. In the long run, both HRDs and Peace Builders try to assist societies in taking steps to ensure that the violence does not recur and that the rights of every human being are respected. Yet the methods each uses to achieve these goals, as well as their underlying assumptions, are different. As a result, at times they adopt contradictory or even mutually exclusive approaches to the same problem.

The dichotomy between human rights and conflict resolution communities is more pronounced in the international sphere where resources are scarcer and activists are more likely to work in close proximity. As conflict is an existing reality, hence the problem is not conflict, but the way we choose to deal with conflict really makes the difference.

Activists from the two communities agree that violent conflict can be prevented. Restoring the rights never assure restoration of peace. And unresolved conflict often leads to violation of human rights. Protection of human rights and peace building should be mutually reinforcing. Respect for human rights is a necessary precondition of a lasting peace, and conflict resolution efforts offer opportunities for creating forward looking mechanisms to ensure rights are respected.

Human rights advocacy typically emphasizes naming the violators. As such, human rights strategies are often adversarial and confrontational. Organisations engaged in peace building by contrast tend to emphasize cooperative approaches to their work, relying heavily on the principle of impartiality. Peace building work follows the diplomatic tradition, developing interest-based cooperative strategies while being closed and remaining out of the media spotlight.

Human rights norms help address these asymmetries in two important ways. First, they help empower the weaker party, a norm that the Peace Builders community already endorses. By strengthening the salience of human rights norms, third-party conflict resolution processes can achieve greater efficacy by giving a weaker party the support it might need to negotiate from a more equitable vantage point.

Second, human rights norms are important in reinforcing the notion that a State’s sovereignty carries with it a responsibility to protect the civilians within its borders. Most importantly, those designing and implementing conflict resolution processes for peace building in intra-State conflicts cannot assume that human rights are not our issue.

So, how both of them could be accommodated? Peace Builders usually eager to achieve a negotiated settlement to a conflict with minimum loss of life.

They may insufficiently factor in the relevance of human rights to the long-term success of their work and to the protagonists they seek to bring together. HRDs by limiting their activities to shaming, negative publicity, and judicial condemnation of responsible individuals, may miss opportunities for human rights improvements that could be achieved through the use of negotiation and diplomatic techniques upon which Peace Builders rely.

The writer is working on human rights and peace building and can be reached atabhishekorissa@gmail.com

Regulation of Electronic Media is Weak

IMG_0847Just as the nature of news is volatile and unpredictable from minute to minute, the manner in which electronic news media should report events is vulnerable to variable factors of spontaneous utterances and actions, competitiveness, speed and sensation. All these elements fused into a potent, explosive mixture to make the live, unedited transmission of allegations against the ISI and its chief on April 19, an archetypical example of content regulation’s complexity.

Equally, the episode underlined the inadequacy of media themselves being the sole determinant of the imperatives that should shape their content. A serious, unproven accusation against a state institution and an individual was projected instantly to virtually billions of people around the world. This incident was actually a crisis in the making from the very inception of independent, privately owned electronic media in Pakistan onwards of 2002.

The Pemra Ordinance 2002 was the third version of a law unprecedented in Pakistan’s history.

First came the Emra Ordinance of February 1997 by the unelected caretaker government of president Farooq Leghari and prime minister Meraj Khalid which was deliberately allowed to lapse in June 1997 by the elected second government of prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

IMG_1955The second version was a draft law known as the Rambo Ordinance twice approved by the cabinet of president Musharraf in 2000 but not actually promulgated. Then came a slightly revised version known as the Pemra Ordinance in March 2002 which, with subsequent amendments, remains in force today.

Though assailed by some, the Pemra law and Pemra as a regulatory body have actually helped transform the electronic media landscape. For better and worse. We went rapidly from the extreme of monopoly to the extreme of abundance. Despite a few lacunae, several failures and weaknesses in enforcement, the Pemra law and Pemra have significantly advanced freedom of expression and media. Public awareness and engagement on vital issues have been radically enhanced.

Yet a curious simultaneity of construction and deconstruction occurred. Even as the number of channels took the giant leap, the will and capacity to enforce unwritten norms of propriety, and written laws and rules took several steps backwards. This became all the more strange because in this very period, government control of the regulatory body increased, rather than decreased.

The decline in regulatory effectiveness was vigorously enabled by the superior judiciary. This state pillar remains willing to promptly issue stay orders against Pemra’s attempts to discipline media conduct. Stay orders are prolonged for years instead of weeks. The judiciary permits the law to be flouted: non-licensed religious channels are allowed to continue broadcasting.

In addition to Pemra’s official Code of Conduct, the Pakistan Broadcasters’ Association has a ‘Proposed Voluntary Code of Conduct’ that has been in a ‘proposed’ state for the past four years. One reason for this delay is sheer arrogance. By making adoption of this code contingent to the laws of the land being amended to reflect the PBA’s wishes, media owners set themselves above an elected parliament which alone has the right to make laws. The PBA also creates a convenient escape- and-exemption clause by stating that: “…the Code will not be applied stringently on entertainment programmes, satire, drama, films and such [sic] genres”.

The cumulative result: better detailed elsewhere but suffice it here to say that we have a mixed bag of content.

No channel regularly informs viewers how to register complaints. No report is broadcast by channels on the number and nature of complaints received, actions taken. To cap it all: some PBA member-channels viciously malign each other.

Over the past 12 years, while the first category of state regulation was hyper-active, the second category of content regulation (by the state, and through self-regulation) became virtually paralysed. Effective self-regulation is viable only within the framework of public law enacted by strong leadership that should respect the people’s rights more rather than their own timid reluctance to challenge media’s misdemeanours.

Public law alone can oblige media to be transparent, accountable and responsible. Otherwise, self-regulation becomes a cover for self-indulgence and leads to the protection of narrow self-interest.

Farewell Letter by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Clip_25For reasons of health, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombia’s illustrious Nobel Laureate for literature, has declared his retirement from public life. He has terminal cancer and sends this letter of farewell to friends and lovers of literature.

If God, for a second, forgot what I have become and granted me a little bit more of life, I would use it to the best of my ability.

I wouldn’t, possibly, say everything that is in my mind, but I would be more thoughtful of all I say.

I would give merit to things not for what they are worth, but for what they mean to express.

I would sleep little, I would dream more, because I know that for every minute that we close our eyes, we waste 60 seconds of light.

I would walk while others stop; I would awake while others sleep.

If God would give me a little bit more of life, I would dress in a simple manner, I would place myself in front of the sun, leaving not only my body, but my soul naked at its mercy.

To all men, I would say how mistaken they are when they think that they stop falling in love when they grow old, without knowing that they grow old when they stop falling in love.

I would give wings to children, but I would leave it to them to learn how to fly by themselves.

To old people I would say that death doesn’t arrive when they grow old, but with forgetfulness.

I have learned so much with you all, I have learned that everybody wants to live on top of the mountain, without knowing that true happiness is obtained in the journey taken and the form used to reach the top of the hill.

I have learned that when a newborn baby holds, with its little hand, his father’s finger, it has trapped him for the rest of his life.

I have learned that a man has the right and obligation to look down at another man, only when that man needs help to get up from the ground.

Say always what you feel, not what you think. If I knew that today is the last time that that I am going to see you asleep, I would hug you with all my strength and I would pray to let me be the guardian angel of your soul.

If I knew that these are the last moments to see you, I would say “I love you.”

There is always tomorrow, and life gives us another opportunity to do things right, but in case I am wrong, and today is all that is left to me, I would love to tell you how much I love you and that I will never forget you.

Tomorrow is never guaranteed to anyone, young or old. Today could be the last time to see your loved ones, which is why you must not wait; do it today, in case tomorrow never arrives. I am sure you will be sorry you wasted the opportunity today to give a smile, a hug, a kiss, and that you were too busy to grant them their last wish.

Keep your loved ones near you; tell them in their ears and to their faces how much you need them and love them. Love them and treat them well; take your time to tell them “I am sorry,” “forgive me, “please,” “thank you,” and all those loving words you know.

Nobody will know you for your secret thought. Ask the Lord for wisdom and strength to express them.

Show your friends and loved ones how important they are to you.

For you, with much love,

Your Friend,
Gabriel Garcia Marquez

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 249 other followers