Fistula: 3 Strikes: Women, Poor & Rural

One of the worst things that can happen to a woman or girl around the world is a fistula, an internal injury caused by childbirth (or occasionally by rape) that leaves her incontinent, humiliated and sometimes stinking.

Victims are the lepers of the 21st century, and although the condition is almost entirely preventable, it is suffered by hundreds of thousands of women worldwide.

The condition is invisible because it distastefully involves sex, odor and private body parts, and because victims tend to live in impoverished countries and already have three strikes against them: They’re poor, rural and female, and thus voiceless and marginalized.

They’re the same group that is routinely denied education, denied the right to own property, denied jobs and denied any recourse after being battered, raped or married against their will.

There are girls like Marima, who endured a fistula here in Ethiopia.

Marima was a high school student who planned to become a teacher when she fell in love and married another student. She didn’t want to get pregnant but had never heard of contraception, so soon her belly was swelling.

In much of the world, the most dangerous thing a woman can do is become pregnant. Marima tried to deliver at home, and after days of obstructed labor, the fetus was dead and she was left with an obstetric fistula.

A fistula is a hole between the birth canal and the bladder or rectum. Marima had both, leaving her steadily leaking urine and feces through her vagina. In addition, as is common, she had nerve damage called foot drop, so she couldn’t walk.

Marima’s husband abandoned her and took another wife. Marima lay on a piece of plastic on the floor of her brother’s house, unable to move, utterly forlorn and alone, as family members scolded her for the constant stink.

“My sister-in-law said, ‘You’re too smelly; people don’t want to come to our house,’” Marima recalled, crying softly. She stopped eating solid food so that she would leak less feces, and for four months she lay unmoving on the floor and survived on tea and camel milk.

Marima dropped to just 55 pounds. She had bed sores on her buttocks and ulcers on her thighs and genitals from her constantly seeping urine. At 17, she waited to die.

“People said that God had cursed me,” Marima said. “I felt it was better to die than to have this problem.”

Then a family member took her to a branch of Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, a nonprofit that treats fistulas. Today she is walking again, has recovered weight, and the hole with her rectum has been repaired. The medical director said he was still figuring out how best to deal with the leaking urine.

Fistulas used to be common in the West, and there was a fistula hospital in Manhattan on the site of what is now the Waldorf Astoria hotel. But once C-sections became available, they largely disappeared.

Clip_2The way to prevent fistulas is also the way to prevent maternal deaths: Invest more in reproductive health care, including contraception and C-sections; and avoid anal sex. This works: Ethiopia has cut its maternal mortality rate by more than half over 20 years and now aims to cut it in half again over just five years.

Organizations like Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, the Fistula Foundation and EngenderHealth have shown that where women’s lives are a priority, they can be saved.

Proposals to tackle fistula have been introduced in the U.S. House by Representatives Rosa DeLauro and Carolyn Maloney but have stalled.

One simple step would be to help the more than 200 million women worldwide who don’t want to get pregnant and desire to avoid anal sex; they lack access to reliable forms of contraception.

No doubt this seems like a grim or morbid topic, but there is no happier sight than a woman whose fistula has been repaired. Jamila, 31, another woman treated at Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, was radiant. “I’m dry!” she declared triumphantly. “I haven’t leaked for six days!”

“Before, I had lost hope,” added Jamila, who had endured a fistula for four years. “I was like a dead person. And now I’ve risen again!”

Marium Nawaz’ Law Firm Mossack Fonseca

IMG_7914The law firm, Mossack Fonseca, was built on assurances of bulletproof privacy for its clients. But its operations were laid bare by ICIJ by a vast leak of millions of documents that have helped expose the proliferation of shell companies and tax havens for the world’s wealthiest people. The revelations have already prompted Iceland’s PM to step aside and spurred criminal investigations on at least two continents.

PM Nawaz Sharif who is known all along amongst the business and educated circles of the country as a tax evader and in the habit of taking commissions is under immense pressure, particularly from Imran Khan, to resign.

Controversy has long engulfed PM Nawaz Sharif’s family, including three of his four children – Mariam, Hasan and Hussain – over their riches from a network of businesses that include steel, sugar and paper mills and extensive international property holdings.

At various times, depending on the political party in power, the Sharifs – one of Pakistan’s richest families – have been accused of corruption, ownership of illegal assets, tax avoidance and money laundering.

Hasan, who moved to London over 16 years ago, and Hussain have been running family businesses from abroad.

IMG_7946Mariam is being groomed to take over leadership of her father’s political party.

Three children of former and current Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif – Mariam, Hasan and Hussain– were owners or had the right to authorize transactions for several companies.

Daughter Mariam Safdar was the owner of British Virgin Islands-based firms Nielsen Enterprises Limited and Nescoll Limited, incorporated in 1994 and 1993.

Sharif’s first term as prime minister ended in 1993. The companies owned “a UK property each for use by the family” of the companies’ owners. Hussain and Mariam signed a document dated June 2007 that was part of a series of transactions in which Deutsche Bank Geneva lent up to $13.8 million to Nescoll, Nielsen and another company, with their London properties as collateral. In July 2014, the two companies were transferred to another agent.

Mossack Fonseca knew that Mariam Safdar was Nawaz Sharif’s daughter, a “Politically Exposed Person,” and committed to checking her activities twice a year beginning in July 2012.

Hasan Nawaz Sharif was the sole director of Hangon Property Holdings Limited incorporated in the British Virgin Islands in February 2007, which acquired Liberia-based firm Cascon Holdings Establishment Limited for about $11.2 million in August 2007. Mossack Fonseca resigned as agent for Hangon because Hasan Nawaz Sharif was a “Politically Exposed Person.”

The two partners of the law firm came together in an era of political and economic uncertainty in Panama: One a reserved German immigrant whose father served in the armed wing of the Nazi party, the other a gregarious, aspiring novelist whose family opposed Panama’s military dictatorship.

With the nation still under the sway of Gen. Manuel Noriega, the pair merged their small law firms in 1986, creating what would become a powerhouse of secretive offshore banking for the elite. Over the next three decades, Jürgen Mossack and Ramón Fonseca expanded their practice to a staff of 500, with affiliate companies around the world and a client list of the powerful, the famous and, sometimes, the infamous.

In January, a prosecutor investigating the sweeping corruption in Brazil publicly called their law firm “a huge money launderer.”

The partners had become very wealthy, and Mr Fonseca leveraged the firm’s success to gain an influential role in the upper ranks of politics. He told associates that he wanted to clean up the government, serving as a special adviser to President Juan Carlos Varela until the corruption scandal in Brazil forced Mr Fonseca to resign in 2016.

The leak has also brought more scrutiny to Panama’s financial and legal sectors, just as the country’s leadership was trying to shed its longstanding reputation as a haven for the loot of the criminal and corrupt. In February, Panama was removed from a watch list maintained by an international agency that sets standards to combat money laundering and terrorism financing, but it remains under scrutiny as a haven for tax evaders.

Panama’s president has vowed to cooperate with any judicial investigations stemming from the leaked information, which could put him in the awkward position of allowing an inquiry into his former adviser.

Mossack Fonseca has denied that it committed any wrongdoing, and Mr Fonseca proclaimed his firm’s innocence.

“At the end of this storm the sky will be blue again and people will find that the only crime is the hacking” of the firm’s documents, he said.

But some in Panama who know Mr. Fonseca say the leak’s contents are at odds with how he has tried to portray himself and his role in the country.

Among the leaked documents was an email exchange obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, in which the firm’s top partners realized they had worked for years with clients from Iran who had been listed on a sanctions list published by the United States government and the United Nations.

“This is dangerous!” Mr. Mossack wrote in an email to Mr. Fonseca and others at the firm. “A red flag should have been raised immediately.”

Mr. Mossack placed blame for the oversight on employees in the law firm’s London office who were “not doing their due diligence thoroughly, (or maybe none at all).”

The leaks have roiled Panama’s legal and banking sectors, bedrocks of the country’s economy, and chilled Panama’s business class. The country’s bar association has come to the firm’s defense, saying the leak amounted to an attack on the country’s reputation.

“Terrible damage is being done to them, to all lawyers and their country at large,” the association’s president said.

There is a lot at stake for Panama, a country whose economy heavily relies on the legal and financial services industries.

The rise of Mossack Fonseca coincided with the emergence of Panama as a capital of the worldwide offshore banking industry. The increasing flow of global capital across borders during the 1970s and 1980s fueled a market for lawyers and accountants capable of sheltering the money, and Panama was primed to take advantage of the boom.

Beginning in the early 1900s, its station as a trade and shipping center — at the intersection of two continents and at the convergence of the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea — made it an obvious candidate for offshore accounting. International ships flew the Panamanian flag to take advantage of its advantageous corporate tax structure, which some experts say was copied almost directly from the state of Delaware.

Because it has always been at the center of international trade, it was a natural fit for things like offshore finance and international offshore tax planning.

The firm was aggressive and nimble, capable of responding to an evolving regulatory landscape. Its reputation flourished.

But other Panamanian law firms joined the fray, too, including larger and more prominent practices than Mossack Fonseca.

All the important Panamanian law firms have a division like this.

In fact, Mossack Fonseca is just one of countless firms around the globe dedicated to a worldwide industry that harbors trillions of dollars and may deprive nations of as much as $200 billion in tax revenues each year, tax and legal experts say.

Mossack Fonseca’s founding partners bought large homes in exclusive neighborhoods in Panama City as well as luxurious weekend retreats. Growing up, their children borrowed the company plane and took friends on trips.

Distinct Personalities

IMG_7913But despite their parallel ascents in business and society, Mr. Mossack and Mr. Fonseca apparently kept their social lives separate. Friends and associates describe their personalities as completely distinct.

Mr. Mossack was born in Germany in 1948, and during World War II, his father was a member of the Waffen-SS, according to United States Army intelligence files obtained and provided by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism. The family moved to Panama in the 1960s where, according to the intelligence files, Mr. Mossack’s father offered to spy for the CIA.

Mr. Mossack has maintained a low profile, eschewing the party scene of Panama’s high society while adopting a disciplined approach to his work. Though he is more focused on the day-to-day operations, he has so far declined to comment publicly about the document leak.

Mr. Fonseca, by contrast, has for years been something of a man about town. Born in Panama in 1952, he studied at the London School of Economics and later worked for several years at the United Nations in Geneva — “trying to save the world,” as he described it in the interview.

It was then, he said, that he first began to ponder writing a novel. Decades later, in the 1990s, he became famous as a novelist, twice winning Panama’s highest literary prize.

Within Mossack Fonseca, both founding partners had swagger. Former employees said the firm had a staff of aides, whose job it was to arrange hotel, car service and entertainment for wealthy clients when they came to town — like tours of the old city or the Panama Canal.

Experts say that checking boxes is not the full measure of compliance. Rather, it comes with a law firm’s willingness to push its clients to reveal the true identity of those involved in offshore transactions, and the source of their money.

Too often, these offshore firms are willing to take on just about any customer and follow their instructions.

As offshore accounts have multiplied during the past several decades, they have increasingly been used to launder money, evade taxes or finance terrorism. Those seeking to break the law have often enjoyed the same secrecy as accounts used for legitimate purposes.

An international transparency movement developed over the past decade, spearheaded by major international agencies. But Panama, long accustomed to following its own path, was far behind in compliance.

In 2014, the Financial Action Task Force put Panama on its list of countries where transparency and accountability systems were woefully lacking, a major blow to the nation. Mr. Varela quickly pushed through legislation to address the issue, leading to Panama’s removal from the list in February.

The Last Big Holdout

But Panama has been more reluctant to follow a transparency initiative started in 2009 by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. While most other international financial centers, like the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands and Singapore, quickly agreed to the initiative, Panama held back.

Panama is the last major holdout that continues to allow funds to be hidden offshore from tax and law enforcement authorities.

But several tax experts pointed out that Panama, in its refusal to comply with international transparency standards, is in esteemed company: the United States.

Foreign nations have had trouble getting information about accounts their citizens hold in America as well.

“Panama isn’t the real story,” said the executive director of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a research group based in Washington. “This leak is giving a window into a much broader world, but it should be understood as giving a window into how things work in the U.S. as well.”

Since the data leak, both the firm and Mr. Fonseca have said that they are not responsible for the actions of the shell companies they create.

Mr. Fonseca said that the company was careful to vet clients, and that it would drop any it discovered with a “bad reputation.” But he was insistent that his clients were lawyers, accountants and intermediaries — not dictators, for instance.

“We are like a car factory who sells its car to a dealer (a lawyer for example), and he sells it to a lady that hits someone,” he wrote in a message. “The factory is not responsible for what is done with the car.”

Mr. Fonseca said his firm tried to determine “to the best of our knowledge” the actual owner of a shell corporation.

“The industry is becoming more regulated and serious about being used by the bad guys and we welcome this,” he wrote, adding, “But pls remember that 15 years ago the term due diligence was unknown.”

Over the years, courts and government investigators have occasionally managed to puncture Mossack Fonseca’s shield of secrecy.

In Brazil, Mossack Fonseca was linked to a corruption investigation into bribes paid to politicians by companies doing business with the state-run oil company. Investigators began focusing on the firm after finding an array of apartments in the names of relatives of an imprisoned politician.

Recent litigation in the United States uncovered a connection between a shell company set up in Nevada and Mossack Fonseca’s headquarters in Panama. The breakthrough came after almost three years of legal wrangling by the plaintiff, one of the world’s best-financed hedge funds, run by the billionaire Paul Singer.


Mr. Fonseca said he was currently working on a novel about an investigative journalist who is “honest and looking for the truth without agendas.” And he has already begun outlining another book.

History of Student Movement in Pakistan


Hum kae tareek rahoan mein marae gye.

Clip_51We were ambushed in dark alleys a line from a poem by Faiz, unarguably the leading progressive muse of Urdu in the twentieth century.

During their rule over India, the British colonizers, among other self-serving measures, had introduced an education system, which catered to their needs.

In the last five decades of foreign rule, students emerged as a credible force for change. Post WWI the vibrant movement for independence found a resonance among thousands of students. Students organized groups and unions in colleges and universities throughout the Indian subcontinent, but an organization at the national level could emerge only in the third decade of twentieth century

In August 1936, an all India Students Conference was held in Lucknow (UP). Pandit Nehru inaugurated the moot, and M.A.Jinnah presided over it. Nine hundred eighty six delegates chosen by 200 local and eleven provincial student bodies participated in the deliberations.

All India Students Federation (AISF) was founded during the conference. In his welcome speech, Reception Committee Chairman, Prem Bhargva stated that though AISF would not be beholden to any political campaign, yet we will inevitably get involved in the struggle for independence.

Three months after the initial conference, another meeting was held in Lahore, (Punjab). Sarat Bose presided over this moot. Bose in his presidential address dwelt at length on analysis of the political upheaval in the country and shared his thoughts about the role of students. He exhorted the audience to embed intellectual activism in working class and proletariat movements. This session also approved a constitution of AISF.

AISF held its sixth session in Nagpur (CP, now MP) on December 25, 1940. The agenda of this conference was to chart a line of action and policy against the colonial rule. Majority of delegates advocated a more militant stance against British rule than favored by Indian National Congress (INC) under Gandhi. Dr Ashraf, a revolutionary leader branded Satyagraha-passive resistance offered by Gandhi, a weak reed response to the aggressive control of the colonial power. Disagreeing with the prevalent opinion and after failure to evolve a common platform, the section, which favored INC, seceded from the main body and held a separate session under the leadership of M.L.Shah and Aurobindoo Ghosh and formed All India Students Congress (AISC).

AISF gained further strength from the struggle and led by Dr Ashraf and M.Mukerjee, emerged as a credible player in the struggle for independence and remained active in post independence days. In 1947 its membership was 74,000.

In 1937, All India Muslim league (AIML) held a session in Lucknow. In addition to reorganization and expansion work, it changed its political posture and demanded complete independence for India. All India Muslim Students Federation was also launched in this session. It held its first conference in December 1938 at Calcutta (Bengal). M.A.Jinnah presided over the session and Raja Amir Muhammad of Mahmoodabad was elected the President.

Students played a vital and historic role in the movement for establishment of Pakistan. They reflected the yearning of the public for shedding the burden of foreign rule.

At the time of partition the number of educational institution in West Pakistan (now all of Pakistan) was limited to Punjab University (1882), Government College, Hailey College, Dayal Singh and Sanatan Dharam College (current MAO College), DAV College (current Islamia college, Civil Lines) and Islamia College Railway Road all in Lahore, and Murray College in Sialkot, DJ Science College (1887), SM Arts college (1943), SM Science College (1945) Dow Medical college (1945) and Sind University (now Karachi University-1945), all in Karachi.

Before partition Hindu and Sikh students dominated the educational institutions in the Punjab. When they left for India, immigrant students to the province found berths in schools and colleges.

Sindh on the other hand did not experience whole scale exodus of non-Muslims and Karachi was inundated by refugees; its population quickly swelled from about 200,000 to 1,200,000. Educational institutions could not cope with the influx. Private institutions lacking physical structure, libraries, laboratories, or playgrounds mushroomed. They simply attempted to enable students to take examinations and obtain a degree. The system faced all kinds of problems.

In October 1947, the Government of Pakistan (GOP) convened a high-powered educational conference in Karachi. M.A. Jinnah, inaugurating the conference, declared that education and especially relevant education does not require emphasis; it was self-evident. During foreign domination for over a century adequate attention was not paid to public education. If we are to really develop at a fast pace we will have to give prime importance to education in our national agenda. Our education should not only reflect our history and culture but also pay due heed to progressive thought and economic and scientific progress. Our future will depend on how we educate and bring up our children. We must impart technical and scientific training to our people so that in future our trade and industry can obtain a scientific and technical base. We must not forget that the world is moving ahead fast. We will have to keep pace. Our educational system has to impart concepts of honesty, honor and sincerity among our young people.

An educational research center was established after the conference. Its mandate was to advise and guide the government on education policy.

It got mired in sloth, inactivity and indifference.

For lack of basic amenities in educational institutions, students of the Punjab and Sindh were gradually getting restive. Muslim League had degenerated into internecine conflict over distribution of government ministries. Students could not escape these self-centered politics. Muslim Students Federation (MSF) split into factions. And the groups became an appendage of League leaders who used the students unscrupulously. The federation lost credibility among the ranks of students. They faced vestiges of problems created by colonial dispensation and its creations, the feudal and bureaucratic systems. The vestiges pervaded all walks of life and controlled economic, political and social life.

The educational system had been created to provide clerical and subordinate staff to assist colonial rulers to tighten their grip on India. It had not offered any thing but despair, hopelessness and unemployment.

The country succumbed to wide spread corruption, nepotism and favoritism. The face of Pakistan was not what people had aspired to; they had been let down with a thud.

At the end of 1948, responding to this atmosphere of gloom, a few progressive students founded a small group in Lahore called Democratic Students Federation (DSF). DSF did not have a written or formal platform or agenda. It only aimed at amelioration of the educational and academic problems of students. It participated in Union elections in different colleges and obtained a measure of success.

For the next two to three years its activities remained confined to Lahore and Rawalpindi. Prominent among its leaders were Abid Manto in Rawalpindi and Naqvi (A nephew of A.T.Naqvi, the chief commissioner of Karachi) in Lahore. MSF maintained its simultaneous existence, but was not popular and remained ineffective.

In Karachi DSF was formed first in Dow Medical College in 1950.

Post establishment of Pakistan feudal lords had obtained control of the government, which became total after PM Liaqat Ali Khan, Jinnah’s designated heir apparent was assassinated in October 1951.

Jinnah himself and Liaquat had discouraged students participation in political life. They felt that student would better spend time in acquiring education and become good citizens. Their feudal successors had another agenda. They wanted students to behave like good children and train themselves as good servants of the ruling class. Whenever students agitated for their rights and demanded amenities, they were exhorted to refrain from politics. Pakistan had come into existence; there was no more reason to participate in public life. Those who did not toe the line were subjected to discrimination and torture at the hands of state security apparatus. A few sold themselves for a piece of gold.

MSF had disintegrated. Islami Jamiat e Talaba, the student wing of Jamaat e Islami formed in 1948, confined itself to proselytization and convened small gatherings in mosques. They were later to publish a few pamphlets.

Women Parliamentarians Excel in 2015 -16

IMG_7660Women form about 47% of Pakistan’s population but their share in political and economic spheres is not proportionate to their numbers primarily due to cultural barriers that restrict their social and political participation. It was against this backdrop that women were given a 22 percent quota of seats in the Parliament and the Provincial Assemblies before the General Elections in 2002. The reservation of 60 seats in the National Assembly and 17 in the Senate, although not proportionate to their population, was a step forward. The reservation was in accordance with the Article 34 of the Constitution.

Currently, there are 70 women Members of the National Assembly – 60 on reserved, nine on general and one on a minority seat. This makes up for 20.46 percent of the total representation in the House of 342. Similarly, there are 19 women Senators – 17 on reserved and two on general seats. This makes up for 18.26 percent of the total representation in the Upper House that comprises 104 members. Overall, 89 women make up for 18.38 percent of the total membership in the two Houses of the Parliament.

These 89 women Parliamentarians have worked hard to prove that their political capabilities and competence are equivalent, if not superior, to their male counterparts and their interest in parliamentary business is undisputedly unmatchable. From the executive oversight through questions and calling attention notices to motions on issues of public importance and private member legislation, women members have contributed actively to the parliamentary business throughout the current term.

A closer analysis of the Orders of the Day of the National Assembly between June 1, 2015 to February 26, 2016 and the Senate between March 12, 2015 and March 11, 2016 reveals that women Members contributed to more than 44 percent of the agenda, almost three times the proportion of their representation in the two Houses. This agenda included questions, motions under rules 259 and 218, calling attention notices, resolutions, legislative bills, amendment to rules and matters under rule 87. In addition, women members also spoke actively on points of order and contributed to parliamentary debates on a wide array of issues of public importance.

In the National Assembly, women Members sponsored or contributed to almost 60 percent of the agenda during the reporting period. They submitted 1,159 of a total of 1,617 starred questions and 519 of 1,043 un-starred questions, demonstrating their interest in Parliament’s core function of overseeing the executive.  Similarly, 28 motions under Rule 259 of a total of 50 introduced in the Lower House were moved by women members. This was in addition to six motions under this Rule which were moved jointly by male and female members.

The contribution of women members in the submission of calling attention notices in the National Assembly has also remained impressive. Of a total of 96 notices, 24 were raised by women members. In addition, they raised 52 calling attention notices jointly with their male colleagues.

Women were ahead of their male counterparts in the introduction of resolutions. Of a total of 71 resolutions moved by the government and private members in the House, 31 were tabled by women Members, who co-sponsored seven others with their fellow men members. Similarly, women Members individually sponsored two and jointly proposed four of a total of 15 amendments to the Rules of Procedure that appeared on the agenda.

Their share in private member bills introduced in the House also remained high – 22 of a total of 26 bills.

The performance of women members in the Senate is also noteworthy as they contributed to 18% of the total agenda for the Upper House during the year covered in this analysis.

The women Senators submitted 232 out of 1,313 starred questions and 25 of 46 un-starred questions. Similarly, they moved 10 of a total of 93 motions under Rule 218 introduced in the Upper House. Under the same Rule, the women Senators also moved four motions jointly with their male counterparts. The women members sponsored 24 out of a total of 109 calling attention notices that appeared on the agenda for the Senate. In addition, they raised five calling attention notices jointly with their male colleagues.

Women Senators introduced 27 of a total of 113 private member resolutions including six jointly with their male counterparts. Similarly, a female senator sponsored two out of 16 amendments to the Rules of Procedure. In addition, they introduced three of a total of 12 private member bills introduced in the House. Of these, one was passed.

Forced Marriages of Minority Girls

Clip_151According to a report by the Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan, at least 1,000 Pakistani girls are forced into Muslim marriages and made to convert to Islam annually.

The report found that forced marriages usually follow a similar pattern: girls between the ages of 12 and 25 are abducted, made to convert to Islam, and then married to the abductor or an associate.

If a complaint is filed, then “girls are held in custody by the abductors and suffer all kinds of abuse and violence”. Even if the case is taken to court, the girls are threatened and pressurized by their husband and his family to declare that their conversion was voluntary. And so the case is closed. Victims are sexually abused, forced into prostitution, and suffer domestic abuse or even wind up in the human trafficking cycle.

Such cases rarely end in the girls going back to their real families. From the moment the controversy begins, right up until the court hearing, the girls live with their kidnappers and suffer trauma and violence. These fragile girls are told that they “are now Muslims and that the punishment for apostasy is death”.

Many cases of forced conversions are not even reported, because Pakistan’s police and judiciary are often complicit in such crimes, and discourage minorities from taking legal action. The patterns of violence and discrimination through which the law and social attitudes become complicit in providing immunity for perpetrators, and injustice to victims, has largely become institutionalized in the country.

In November 2015, the Pakistani Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Council of Islamic Ideology proudly opposed a potential law on “forced conversion”, sparking dismay and protests among Hindus and Christians. The recently promulgated Hindu Marriage Act 2015 contains a controversial clause stating that “a marriage will be annulled if any of the spouses convert to another religion”. Rights groups have expressed fears that the clause will be misused for forced conversions of married women.

Article 36 of the Pakistani constitution says that:

“the State shall safeguard the legitimate rights of the minorities, including their due representation in the federal and provincial services.”

Article 25 also guarantees equality to all citizens.

Regrettably, the lower social status of the minority groups translates into their poor representation in the political system, which hinders their access to governance and justice.

A Supreme Court judgment of  June 19, 2014 took note of the injustice meted out to the country’s minorities. The Court observed the general lack of minority rights, and how those entrusted with law enforcement are also not fully sensitized to this issue. The judgment explains religion in broad liberal terms, declaring it a fundamental right of every person to “profess, practice and propagate his religious views even against the prevailing or dominant views of its own religious domination or sect”. It is unfortunate that this judgment has not garnered any noticeable reaction from the government.


Rule of Law & Missing Persons

Guantanamo1Judiciary observes meekly as Rangers produce Saeed Baloch eight days after disappearance.

After keeping prominent Pakistan fisher folk leader and front line activist Saeed Baloch incommunicado in illegal and arbitrary detention for eight days, the Pakistan Rangers dramatically produced him in court on January 26, 2016. Earlier, the Rangers had denied that Saeed was in their custody.

On January 16, 2016, Saeed Baloch was called by phone to the Rangers’ office, after which he disappeared and his phone was not reachable. His wife immediately filed a petition for his recovery in the Sindh High Court single bench on January 17, but Judge Justice Ahmed Shiekh refused to listen to the petition, pointing out that the petition against Sindh Rangers cannot be heard by a single bench. This was a classic example of rule of law in the country.

The petition was then referred to the chief justice, who formed a divisional bench consisting of two judges. The bench heard the petition on January 25 (notice that the hearing took place eight days after filing of the petition and this is a habeas corpus petition) and deferred the case to February 1, asking the Sindh Rangers to give comments on the said petition.

Suddenly, on the afternoon of January 26, the Rangers produced Baloch in the Anti-Terrorism Court and pleaded that Saeed and three other officials of the Fisherman Cooperative Society (FCS) were arrested from their residence that same day.

According to the Rangers, the four suspects were arrested on January 26 within the jurisdiction of the Kalri police station, where during initial questioning they confessed to having funded outlawed Peoples Amn Committee leader Uzair Jan Baloch, Lyari gangster Noor Mohammad alias Baba Ladla and the proscribed Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) for a long time. These funds were apparently used to purchase weapons for use in Karachi and Balochistan. The spokesman also said that the suspects gave employment to 150 gangsters in the Fishermen Cooperative Society (FCS) at the behest of Uzair Baloch.

Surprisingly, the administrative judge of the Anti-Terrorism court, who is also a High Court judge, granted 90 days physical custody to the Rangers of the four suspects.

It is no secret to the Sindh provincial judiciary that Saeed Baloch was illegally kept in Rangers’ custody after he was asked to come for an interview at the Rangers’ Kemari station on January 16.

Judicial ineptness and long undermining the judicial role of guaranteeing the fundamental rights of individuals has led to an acceptance of the primacy of law enforcement agencies. Keeping persons incommunicado is seen as their legal right, and their investigations and statements are the sole basis upon which judicial decisions are made. Pakistan’s judiciary thus plays a silent spectator to the human rights abuse meted out to citizens under the various guises of security, morality and national interest.

When the guardians of constitutional rights play the role of a fiddle in the hands of the military, who will question under what law the police and military are acting, and who allowed them to transgress their authority and extra judicially kill citizens?

Why has Pakistan’s judiciary allowed its powers to be usurped by the security forces?

It is high time that the judiciary steps forward and stops the evil nexus of the state and the law enforcement, where the latter helps the former in maintaining its writs and reaps monetary and social benefits thereof.


Feudalism in Sindh

Clip_2Interior Sindh, referring to anything beyond Karachi and Hyderabad, is a caricature in the urban imaginary: the hinterland where landlords cruelly rule over their static dominions and kick their slaves for entertainment, while masses roiling in timeless subjugation vote for dead people in every election.

There is a debate over whether feudalism exists in Sindh or whether the term is now a catchphrase for the rural elite’s exploitation and impunity.

The landed elite did not evolve out of the economic or social imperatives of the province but in the service of broader regime requirements.

There are four distinct waves in the creation of zamindars in Sindh.

The first was a product of colonialism, where landholding revenue collectors were declared cultivators, and gifted land ownership in exchange for services for the empire.

The second set emerged after the construction of irrigation infrastructure starting from the Jamrao Canal to the Sukkur barrage in the 1930s where land was allocated to retired army men, civil servants and to settler cultivators.

The third wave that saw the strengthening of zamindars was during Gen Ziaul Haq’s dictatorship where small owners, indebted feudals and non-cultivators were granted land and allowed to keep armed militias in lieu of support for the regime and opposing the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy.

The fourth wave was during Gen Musharraf’s regime where local contests for power were erased through an equilibrium carved by the local bodies system, delineating niches for each.

Zamindars at different historical junctures had a transactional relationship with ruling regimes. They had an autonomous power base because of their role in the rural economy, wealth, prestige, the ability to implement decisions and the deference of locals. In return for patronage of gifts, titles and concessions, they promised delivery of land revenues, power and a workforce to get decisions executed, control of the rural population, and after the colonial exit, they guaranteed votes for elections.

Now, they pay little agricultural tax, cannot independently get their decisions executed, have no control over the immense social changes in the province; face protests and dissent and have periodically been defeated in elections.

Most zamindars, pirs and gaddi nashins have at some point lost in their home constituencies, voted out by those accused of blind slavery. The 1988 election was Sindh’s referendum against feudalism and witnessed some legendary defeats of feudal lords and tribal chiefs: Pir Pagara, Sardar Sultan Chandio, Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, Sardar Mahar, Nazar Shah were all defeated by middle-class PPP candidates, though they went on to become the new exploitative elite themselves.

But the landed elite no longer have a power base distinct from that of the state. They pilfer state power or refract it onto themselves. Even landlords holding large contiguous tracts of land (keti) have little ability to get decisions executed without utilising state institutions.

Whether using police to get people roughed up or ‘intiqaami karwai’ (revenge through registering fake legal cases) or getting FIRs quashed, making bureaucrats endorse a faislo or jirga in their favour, initiating development projects etc, it all requires access to officialdom. Local bureaucracies are subject to transfer/postings because landed elites fight for officers of their choice, often giving positions to bidders on one-year leases.

The landlord’s economic base is no longer exclusively tied to landholding. Now their presence and influence is there in the capillaries of the state, the petrol pumps, permits, real estate dealings and money from transfer/posting bids.

Others have changed their mode of operation — they no longer oppose schooling and education and try to ensure service delivery in their areas to get benefits for constituents even though that means lessening dependence on land-based livelihoods, albeit through systemic distortions.

The state is no longer peripheral. It is an intrinsic need in people’s lives, and they turn to the elites as a conduit. But the internal logic sustaining feudalism has ruptured; feudal culture exists without a feudal economic base and without feudal power.

The culture is also unravelling. Landlords used to field dalit labourers as candidates to insult their opponents who were contesting elections.

The rising number of court cases filed signal that the mechanism of landlord arbitration of conflicts is breaking down.

Broadcast media has created awareness that transcends literacy boundaries. There are numerous indicators of social change.

But state institutions are the impediment, not the catalyst.



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