I’m in Snake Alley… I want to go home… I need to go home… I need… to… go… home…” (Exhaustedly musters up all the energy she has left and inhales deeply) (Lights gradually dim)

That was just one line from the script of the Garden of Hope Foundation’s Taiwanese version of “Vagina Monologues,” which was announced at a press conference on the 20th of April. The script, which will come to life on the stage this year, focuses on the issues of sexual exploitation and sexual assault. It consists of three separated parts: “I’m 9 This Year,” which explores the topic of child prostitution, “The Bartender’s Ballad,” which follows the story of a female bartender serving American soldiers and “Pain Flies Away”, which deals with sexual assault. In spite of its liberal use of black humor, the play offers an accurate depiction of the discrimination that victims face when seeking legal aid and reflects people’s hopes for a fairer judicial system that doesn’t further traumatise the victims.

This year, after 10 years of performing American playwright Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues,” the Garden of Hope Foundation has made the decision to return to its roots by performing a localised, Taiwanese version of the script. Written over the course of 3 years and consisting of 10 uniquely Taiwanese stories, the script was given the title “Shi-Di Episode”. The title is symbolic of the way in which the play picks “up” the life stories of marginalised, oppressed and abused women, thereby “rooting” out the social inequalities and harmful traditional views on women that are deeply ingrained in Taiwanese society. The play features women as its main subjects and focuses on the themes of sexual assault, sexual exploitation and domestic violence.

Guests who were invited to the premiere were left with teary eyes after seeing a dramatic reading of “I’m 9 This Year.” Famous actress Kuei-Mei Yang, who was also at the reading, commended the actress for her professionalism.

From celebrities, professional actors, workers from the the Garden of Hope Foundation to the troup-“Barefoot Alice,” which is developed by GOH, performing “The Vagina Monologues” has been a means of ending violence against women since the Garden of Hope Foundation joined the V-Day Movement in 2005. Performing this piece throughout the years has been a long journey, filled with countless touching stories.

During one performance that left a particularly strong impression, the actors were on stage relating their personal stories. One actor was shouting: “He was a bad person, a horrible person! But mother slapped me and told me to keep my mouth close. When my dad passed away, it felt like a nail that had been rusting in my heart for thirty years had finally been pulled out…” The performance gave many members of the audience the strength and courage to share their own stories about and experiences with abuse, as well as reassuring them that they are not alone with their problems.

Yu-Yin Guo, who is the coordinator of the “Vagina Monologues” project, revealed that coming up with a name for ‘Shi-Di’ (Uproot) was an interesting process: ‘Though in the ten years of performing this play, people have finally become less squeamish about the word ‘vagina,’ we wanted the play to have a distinctly Taiwanese feel to it, and found the title ‘Vagina Monologues’ very limiting. We went through a number of working titles and did a lot of brainstorming before coming up with ‘Uproot.’ Everyone loved the title because of the word’s connotations and because it captured the way in which the play picks ‘up’ the life stories of marginalised, oppressed and abused women and ‘roots’ out the social inequalities and harmful traditional views of women that are deeply ingrained in our society.’

Hui-Jung Chi, the CEO of the Garden of Hope Foundation, reminisced about the year 1993, when the Garden of Hope Foundation united with other organisations to coordinate an event where thousands of people jogged through Snake Alley to oppose child prostitution. It was an appeal to the masses, encouraging people to attach more value of human rights of young girls. The event also played an important role in the renaming of the﹛Child and Youth Sexual Transaction Prevention Act﹜ to the ﹛Child and Youth Sexual Exploitation Prevention Act﹜.

Among the plethora of joggers, Hui-Jung Chi recalled seeing Xin (name has been changed for confidentiality reasons), a young woman who had been rescued by Garden of Hope Foundation in the past. Xin said she had always felt hopelessly alone with her problems, but seeing so many people jogging together and standing up for her on that day swept her loneliness away in an instant!

Hui-Jung Chi explains that Xin was sold into sex slavery when she was in her fifth year of elementary school. When the Garden of Hope Foundation found her, she was around 14-15 years old and had been forced to get an indecent tattoo on her back. Garden of Hope Foundation rescued her and helped her get rid of her tattoo, but Xin had lost all contact with her family and had nobody to turn to for support. It was Xi-Zong Su, a board member of the Garden of Hope Foundation, who helped Xin out of her predicament by offering her a part-time job at his office. The money she saved from her part-time job allowed her to finish her studies and become the independent woman today. The two also became extremely close friends: Even now, Xin still joins Xi-Zong Su and his family for their New Year’s Eve dinner every year.

Actress Kuei-Mei Yang wholeheartedly approved of the idea of women as the play’s main subjects when she first arrived on the stage where “Shi-Di” was performed. She lamented that the East Asian society tends to be very conservative and parents hardly ever talk to their children about sex. She believes, however, that one’s body and physical health are both very important matters and that victims of sexual assault and domestic violence need to speak out after the very first incident in order to prevent subsequent incidents from happening.

Xiu-Yuan Zhang, director of Protection Services at the Ministry of Health and Welfare, stated that there are still three to four thousand cases of child prostitution every year, with both male and female victims, adding that cases of sexual assault range from ten to twelve thousand annually. She believes that everybody should adopt a zero tolerance policy towards domestic violence and stresses the importance of speaking out after an incident of domestic violence has happened, as well as emphasising that the victim is not to be blamed in any way. Xiu-Yuan Zhang believes that “Shi-Di” is a very meaningful and exciting play and hopes that it will be well received by the public.

Josephine, who has been directing the Garden of Hope Foundation’s production of “Vagina Monologues” for ten years, said when women who have fallen victim to abuse took part in the rehearsals, it was as though they regained their identities. Though their bodies sometimes still bore scars and marks from their troubled pasts, these women emanated a radiant shine on stage and Josephine truly believed they will inevitably become real stars one day.

Anile Hao, the playwright of “Shi-Di”, said the three stories presented in the script are all firmly grounded in reality. Because of this, the most difficult part of creating the script wasn’t writing the stories, but looking into their eyes. She was determined not to cry before the characters in her play did.

Hui-Jung Chi concluded by saying that “Shi-Di” aims to educate people on the history of gender equality in Taiwan through drama, as it explores important gender issues and cases that have contributed to equal rights legislations. For example, the play explores the case of Wan-Ru Peng, which paved the way for the ﹛Sexual Assault Crime Prevention Act﹜, the case of Ru-Wen Deng murdering her husband, which led to﹛Domestic Violence Prevention Act﹜, and the case of teenager Yong-Zhi Ye, which necessitated the﹛ Gender Equity Education Act﹜. Hui-Jung Chi hopes the powerful performances will empower women and shed some light on the importance of their role in Taiwan’s history.

The Invisible Sex Industry

Xiao-Hung Pai investigated UK’s sex industry as an undercover. She noted in the forum of her new book “Invisible: Britain’s Migrant Sex Workers” that when the government blames the “increasing illegal immigrants” for the exacerbating human trafficking, they forgot that poverty was the advantageous condition for human trafficking. If there were more harmful policies for transnational migration, the vulnerable conditions of migrants will be even worse.

Xiao-Hung Pai, a writer and reporter from Taiwan, investigated UK’s sex industry as an undercover in a brothel, and then published “Invisible: Britain’s Migrant Sex Workers” on April 9th. The book mentions that the limited job market leads to marginalization and pauperization. This is why Rumanian women have the largest number of sex workers in 60 countries of EU (In the UK, the largest number of immigrants working in sex industry are Rumanian, Russian and Bulgarian women).

When Hui-Jung Chi, CEO of the Garden of Hope Foundation, asked “Why did you interview as an undercover?” Xiao-Hung Pai humbly explained that traditional interview method keeps distant from these women and therefore are superficial. Also, the sex industry that these women worked in was rather secretive and most women did not have legitimate documents. Under these double illegal conditions, she thought the undercover was an appropriate way since she wanted to know the relationships between the labourers and the employers and the working conditions of these women.

Xiao-Hung Pai stated in the interview that there was one sex worker who she remembered most was an immigrant from China. Because of illiteracy, she could only use simple English to talk to patrons of brothel, “50 pounds for half an hour, 100 pounds for 1 hour.” Bai said that most sex workers came here to find a living because of poverty. They lacked of social connections and information so they had no choice but to work in the sex industry. They lived alone under social discrimination with no medical resources. They could hardly get any help.

She also did not hesitate to point out that even so many sex workers are in badly vulnerable conditions, they still chose to stay in the sex industry. Did they make this choice themselves? She believed that although they were not forced to work in the sex industry, it was difficult for them to get out of it due to the heavy economic pressure.

Moreover, unlike the common acknowledge that these women were forced to work in the sex industry, the choice was made by these women because of poverty. But Rumanian and Chinese women who accounted for the most immigrants working in the sex industry did not think they were forced to do this. They thought that sex work is a high-pay job, more money in short terms and a shortcut to escape poverty.

However, not everyone could shake off poverty. With the developing trend of globalization, the transnational movements of capital, technology and human resources are common. But during this process, because of the unequal statuses of exporters and importers in the political and economical structures, these movements lead to more exploitations and inequalities, especially for low-pay labourers.

Take Taiwan for an example, according to the statistics of Ministry of the Interior, there were 801,000 foreigners in Taiwan up to the end 2014. Among them, foreign labourers accounted for the largest number (68.9%), 552,000 people. Foreign spouses who havn’t acquired nationality comes as the second (5.3%). Adding up, the two groups of people accounted for 74%. They were the main ones who did the 3D work (dirty, difficult, dangerous).

Hui-Jung Chi stated that by investigating the sex industry as an undercover, Xiao-Hung Pai described many women who earned living for their families. They were “forced” to choose to work in the sex industry because of the flaws of the structure, the transnational movements and poverty. Most of them were the disadvantaged groups in economically vulnerable countries. They must fight for the basic living but the courage of those women and their difficulties were invisible to most people.

Coalition Against Human Trafficking pointed out that, although there were﹛Human Trafficking Prevention Act﹜(enshrined in 2009) in Taiwan, there were many cases that the accused were lightly sentenced or sentenced by other laws. These led to an increasing number of missing oppressed labourers. Till the end of 2014, there were still more than 40000 of them, about 8%. But, the government only tried to solve the problem by offering whistle-blower award (escape of labourers, illegal employment, mistreatments from employers).

Zhi-Fang Bai, the director of Taipei Women’s Rescue Foundation and the representative of Coalition Against Human Trafficking, also indicated that the conversation with Xiao-Hung Pai reminded her of many cases during the last 10 years in the association. She pointed out that every year there are 140 cases related to the sex industry because of human trafficking in Taiwan. But 55% of the offenders were sentenced for less than 6 months. She hoped that Taiwan would implement the criminal sanctions and adopt compensation system in the human trafficking cases.

Xiao-Hung Pai used the UK as an example and said that, “In the beginning of this century, when many countries in Europe tightened the immigration policies and border control, the governments blamed the “increasing illegal immigrants” for the exacerbating human trafficking, “declaration of war on human trafficking” has been closely related to the policies of combating “illegal immigrates”…… This wrong correation clearly benefited the countries. During this process, the role of the countries…. in fact created favorable conditions for human trafficking, such as poverty……has been deeply forgotten.”

Hui-Jung Chi said that although Taiwan was not a member of CEDAW, the law has been internalized and therefore should be fully implemented. The Garden of Hope Foundation called for the acknowledgment of the social and economical contribution of the female foreign workers had made through the care work and the domestic work for the destination countries and their home countries. All the female immigrants should have their human rights protected, which include the right to life, freedom, personal safety, free from torture and degrading and inhuman treatment, and no discrimination regardless of their sex, race, ethnicity, cultural features, nationality, language, religion or any other factors.

NGOs are Part of Western Imperialist Conspiracy

Domestic Dissent and Foreign Hand: Unending Saga of Citizen- State Relations in India

196854_172855526096803_100001170696882_369284_557285_nHaving left the teaching career at IIM Calcutta and ventured into the field of social development through a voluntary organisation some years ago, I was surprised to learn that an article had appeared in The Marxist (June 1984) which argued that ‘action groups and voluntary organisations  in India were a part of western imperialist strategy’. Written by a party activist Prakash Karat, it described such efforts, based on foreign funding, to be undermining the ‘leadership of the party and misguiding the revolution in the country’.

I found myself confused about my work, and the role of a nascent voluntary organisation I had set up –PRIA. By championing the cause of participation and empowerment of the excluded and the exploited, especially women, I naively believed that I was ‘supporting social transformation’ by contributing, albeit in a very small measure, to redefining relations of power between the rulers and the ruled in India’s democracy.

Thirty years later, I must admit, I am further confused, and somewhat bewildered. The current refrain in public discourse, from press releases of Ministry of Home Affairs (Government of India) to reportage by ‘investigative journalism’, seems to suggest that my work, and that of PRIA, (and thousands of other activists and civil society groups around this country) is still suspect, as a part of some larger and grander post-modern imperialist strategy.

It was during the height of emergency that the then government of Smt. Indira Gandhi had promulgated  an ordinance in 1976 —Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). It was aimed at preventing certain then opposition leaders like George Fernandes and Subraminaim Swamy who were believed to be receiving political and financial support from ‘western powers’ to resist the authoritarian regime during the emergency.

When political democracy was restored in March 1977, George Fernandes became Industries minister in the new Janata Government, and gained instant publicity by banning Coca Cola. Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee was the Foreign Minister and Shri L. K. Advani Information & Broadcasting Minister in the same Janata Government. The FCRA ordinance was allowed to continue during this regime, neither repealed nor lapsed.

When Smt. Indira Gandhi became the Prime Minister again in 1980, she launched an Enquiry Commission, known as Kudal Commission, to investigate those voluntary organisations which were associated with Gandhi Peace Foundation, AVARD and related Gandhian entities, as they were seen to be ‘hosting’ such opposition leaders as Jai Prakash Narain. Over the next seven years, and after producing several volumes of Reports, the Kudal Commission concluded that voluntary organisations “gradually digressed from their aims…and some became hotbeds of political activities.” It alleged (though could not prove in any single case) that foreign funds were being abused to “paint a very grave, exaggerated and false picture of the country”; the Commission alleged that this was particularly so in tribal and border regions of the country.

It is, therefore, not surprising that Prakash Karat decided to denounce all such voluntary agencies as ‘a strategy of western imperialism’ by June 1984. The Khalistan Movement was at its peak then, and Operation Bluestar had been launched to flush out Sikh militants from the Golden Temple. As the movement was supported by Sikh organisations abroad, in October 1984, the then government of Smt. Indira Gandhi promulgated an ordinance further restricting FCRA. End of that month, she was assassinated. When Shri Rajiv Gandhi won 80% of seats in parliament end of December 1984, his government regularised into a law in early January 1985 the amendments to FCRA.

It is in the late 1980s that a large number of voluntary organisations began to focus on building awareness and organisations of the rural poor, particularly amongst tribals and dalits. Participation of the marginalised in their own development began to be accepted as the cornerstone of many government schemes under Integrated Rural Development Programme (IRDP). I saw that as acknowledgement of the work that PRIA had been doing over the past decade.

It was during this period that several social movements began to spread in the country. Women’s groups began to protest against discrimination and violence girls and women were facing, even in government programmes. When tribals and other rural poor began to lose their land and livelihoods due to large dams and industrial expansion, they also began to demand their rights. ‘Who gains and who loses in development’ was a common concern of many voluntary organisations by the end of 1980s.

The voice of dissent, of questioning the dominant development approach, was largely raised through the efforts of the voluntary organisations and social activists. The discomfort that such dissenting and questioning voices posed to government officials and political leaders became the basis for harassment of such voluntary organisations throughout the 1990s and since. Of course, the first question always investigated was about the source of funding. And whenever an organisation, so investigated, was found to have received any foreign funding (even if it also received government funding), it was accused of ‘being a part of the foreign hand’.

I am bewildered today because the same discourse is being ‘re-played’ in 2015. Since the beginning of this century, globalisation and global inter-connectivity are being touted as the major shifts of our generation, supported through a technology revolution. Recent government policies are actively securing ‘foreign hand-shake’ to bring large sums of investments into the country. Over the past decade, government of India has invested in ‘foreign lands’ more than one billion dollars annually to support their development.

Therefore, it is somewhat disturbing that India’s political culture has remained stagnated in the 20th century. Domestic dissent can not be any longer equated with ‘hidden operations of the foreign hand’. If citizens of India ask questions about any policies and programmes of the state and/or national governments, they have a right to do so, without being asked to ‘bare’ their source of livelihood. “Good governance” and “Sabka Saath” have gained current political meaning because citizens have bene demanding the same for decades.

Citizens are more than voters; having elected a government  as voters, as  citizens, they also have a right to comment on the government’s performance throughout its five year term.

Good governance of democracy is ultimately the responsibility of all citizens!

Rajesh Tandon, Founder-President PRIA Delhi
May 2015


The June 2015 Gilgit Elections

101-0102_IMGThe election to the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly on June 8, 2015 witnessed an impressive turnout of voters in a peaceful and well-managed polling process. However, the vote counting and result consolidation processes were not accessible to independent observers.

Despite an efficient accreditation process by the Election Commission of Gilgit-Baltistan (ECGB), the principles of electoral transparency appeared not to have been shared with the government and security officials, who obstructed particularly observers to the results consolidation process.

Due to the heavy presence of army personnel and police officials inside and outside polling stations, observers faced difficulties entering the polling stations. The security officials did not allow observers to observe the polling and counting process in some polling stations.

As many as 13 political parties fielded their candidates to contest 24 Legislative Assembly seats in seven districts of the region. However, the number of women contestants for the general seats remained low, as only five women were in the contest for six seats. PPPP and PTI gave one ticket each to women candidates, while three women candidates contested independently. The PTI candidate contested for two seats in Ghanche district.

Despite the adoption of the Representation of People Act 1976, the final list of polling stations was neither gazetted by the respective DROs nor was it published and distributed among the contesting candidates and other election stakeholders.

Election Day complaints were registered with ROs in five constituencies. The presiding officers in GBLA-13 (Astore-I) complained that voters were not aware of the election symbols allotted to the contesting candidates and that female voters were totally unaware of the voting process. In the same constituency, JUI-F and PTI registered complaints that the voters at certain polling stations were being forced to vote for some candidates, while an independent candidate complained that unauthorized persons were present in some polling stations of the constituency.

Political parties also accused the polling staff of favoring certain political parties at some polling stations of GBLA-3, Gilgit-III. Similarly, independent candidates, along with political parties, complained that the voting process was progressing too slowly and that the RO did not allow the candidates to visit polling stations in GBLA-21, Ghizer-III.

Although the overall quality of elections in Gilgit-Baltistan was better compared to the election quality in other regions of Pakistan, some inconsistencies in implementation of voting processes were visible.

Polling staff continued to overlook important steps, such as filling and stamping the counterfoils and marking the back of the ballot with official stamp and signature which may render a vote objectionable and lead to the rejection of vote during the counting process.

Presiding officers allowed some polling agents to sit and observe the polling without candidate’s signature on their authority letter while others were not allowed to do so. Similarly, there were several polling stations where the secrecy screens were set in a manner that polling agents and/or polling staff could see the voters stamping the ballot. In addition, army personnel stood too close to the secrecy screen, which again compromised the secrecy of the ballot.

Political parties and contesting candidates were freely breaching the legal restriction of no canvassing within a 400 meters radius around polling stations. At some polling stations political parties and independent candidates had set up camps close to the polling stations. Campaigning and canvassing of voters went on freely at these camps, with no action reported from anywhere to curb these activities.

Furthermore, the presiding officers at these polling stations divided the time for polling such that the male voters would vote during the first four hours while the female voters would vote during the latter half of the day.

The ECGB did not set up any combined polling station in the entire Diamer district. Although appropriate staffing was made at female polling stations, initial reports suggested that the local communities continued with their decadent practice of disenfranchising women in many polling areas. For instance, women in Gumari area of Darel valley were barred from voting. Some other yet unconfirmed reports suggest women voting took place only at a few polling stations.

Hijab in the United States

The apprehension usually hits the night before a job interview or a big court case, as Zahra Cheema, a young lawyer, looks at the colorful head scarves and flowing abayas in her closet and silently wonders: “Should I try to make myself look less Muslim?”

“That’s when I’m feeling the pressure,” said Ms. Cheema, who wears the hijab, a traditional scarf that covers her hair and neck, whenever she leaves home.

She ponders: Should she wear a long, American-style skirt or the more conservative, full-length abaya that she prefers? There are no easy answers for an observant Muslim woman navigating the workplace.

“Every time I walk into the room, the first thought is, ‘There’s a Muslim,’ ” said Ms. Cheema, 25, the American-born daughter of Pakistani immigrants, describing that moment when she meets with a potential employer or argues a case in court. “I worry that essentially the hijab will override all my other merits.”

We were talking, just two days after the US Supreme Court ruled that Abercrombie & Fitch had violated a federal ban on religious discrimination when it refused to hire a Muslim woman because she wore the hijab.

Ms. Cheema was elated, at the decision itself and at how it elevated the profile of Muslim women and the challenges some face when they choose to cover their heads as a sign of piety.

It can be “very lonely,” said Ms. Cheema, describing her journey from law school to a law firm here. She grew up in a predominantly white town on Long Island, and her secular family initially frowned on her decision to wear the hijab, a step she took when she was a freshman in college.

“They were like, ‘Who’s going to hire you?’ ” she said, recalling her parents’ concerns and her determination to prove them wrong.

At the City University of New York School of Law, she said, she was one of only a handful of women who wore the hijab. And as she started searching for work, she discovered that even the most ordinary steps in the process had unexpected wrinkles.

Consider the common anxiety that surrounds the crafting of the perfect résumé. Ms. Cheema had to ask herself: Should she include her membership in the Muslim Law Students Association? (Maybe then, employers won’t be so surprised when they see me, she reasoned. Then again, she worried, maybe they won’t call me at all.)

And what about social media? Would law firms ask her in for interviews if hiring managers saw pictures of her wearing a head scarf on Facebook and LinkedIn? After experimenting a bit, she said, the answer was clear: The photographs had to go.

“I get callbacks” when her LinkedIn and Facebook profiles appear without photos, Ms. Cheema said ruefully. “The other way, I don’t.”

Marianna DeCrescenzo, a good friend who has known Ms. Cheema since high school, said Ms. Cheema never complained about such experiences.

Even when Ms. Cheema had a part-time job at a local library and was relegated to the stacks, and repeatedly passed over for higher-paying positions at the front desk, she kept quiet, Ms. DeCrescenzo said.

Ms. Cheema said the job taught her a painful lesson: Some bosses prefer not to place a woman with a head scarf in the public eye. So for a time, when she was an undergraduate, she avoided applying for part-time work that required dealing with the public.

“No secretary jobs,” said Ms. Cheema, ticking off the non-options. “No receptionist jobs.”

She even considered giving up her dream of becoming a lawyer. But she said she found comfort and courage in her faith. By the time law school graduation rolled around last year, she was sending out résumés and praying for the best.

One law firm manager asked flat out whether she was Muslim or not. “Yes, I am,” Ms. Cheema recalled telling her.

Another manager gestured at her clothing and asked, “How does thataffect things?”

“It hasn’t up to now,” she said.

In August, Ashish Kapoor, who runs his own law firm here, hired Ms. Cheema.

“She does stand out a little,” said Mr. Kapoor, who is not a Muslim and who has fielded questions about Ms. Cheema from curious members of his staff.

Clip_50He wasn’t bothered by her head scarf but wondered whether she would feel comfortable working with clients and appearing in court. She quickly proved herself, he said. “She’s very ambitious.”

This month, Ms. Cheema started her own firm specializing in immigration and family law, with support from her parents and from Mr. Kapoor, who is providing office space and referrals. (One of her favorite books, Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In,” also provided inspiration.)

Ms. Cheema knows it won’t be easy. But what is?

“It might be uncomfortable sometimes,” she said, “but I’m going to take that risk.”

40% Males, 9% Females in Pakistan are Smokers

Clip_204Tobacco use has emerged as a serious health challenge in Pakistan that now stands among the top four countries of the world with rapid increase in tobacco market.

Tobacco kills nearly six million people each year in the world, of which more than 600,000 are non-smokers dying from passive smoking. In Pakistan, they say, an estimated 40 percent males and nine per cent females are smokers and the number is increasing day by day.

The Asia Pacific region represents the fastest growing tobacco market in the world with Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan and Vietnam being the top four countries reporting rapid increase in tobacco use. And to make matters worst, the government comes under pressure exerted by tobacco companies on various issues, such as pressure to withdraw the decision of increasing the size of pictorial health warning on cigarette packs.

The government must implement its decision since a pictorial health warning on a cigarette box is a proven strategy to prevent younger people from taking up this powerful addiction that is estimated to kill over 100,000 people every year in the country.

Pakistan spent Rs 5 billion every year on betel nuts imports while Pakistanis wasted Rs200 billion on smoking in 2011, according to a State of Bank of Pakistan report.

The speakers regretted the participation of a diplomat in a lobbying meeting (held in March) where the British American Tobacco (BAT) officials intended to persuade the government of Pakistan to reverse the decision that would mandate large graphic health warning on cigarette packs. This is a breach of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to which the UK is a signatory.

Ironically, the UK parliament has passed legislation in 2015 to introduce standardised packaging for tobacco products to reduce their appeal, particularly among children.

The Pakistan Tobacco Company was established by BAT in 1947 as Pakistan was viewed as an emerging market with large growth potential.

Illicit tobacco trade in Pakistan was 20% of the total cigarette market and main source of smuggling was the Afghan transit trade. The fact that these illicit products were untaxed, unregulated, carried no health warnings and priced cheaper made them more popular in developing countries like Pakistan.

The Pakistani government addicted to the tobacco revenue needs to understand that the revenue of Rs75 billion it generates from the tobacco industry every year is far less than over Rs100 billion that the public spend on treating diseases caused by smoking.

The Federal Board of Revenue statistics state that Pakistan suffered an annual loss of Rs7.4 billion due to illicit tobacco trade,  but prospects of the government controlling the illicit trade appear bleak.

To make matters worst, the tobacco industry is involved in hidden promotional activities. To make matters worst, the ban on tobacco advertising and promotion is not comprehensive in the country and there is a dire need to completely prohibit tobacco advertisement and promotion.

Smoking is banned in indoor offices, restaurants, health-care and educational facilities and on public transportation in Pakistan. But, one can see that there is hardly any implementation of the ban.

Approximately 50 percent of smokers die prematurely, on an average 14 years earlier than non-smokers. Quitting smoking is arguably the most important preventable risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Article on Balochistan That Led to New York Time’s Reporter Declan Walsh Expulsion

Clip_73The bodies surface quietly, like corks bobbing up in the dark. They come in twos and threes, a few times a week, dumped on desolate mountains or empty city roads, bearing the scars of great cruelty. Arms and legs are snapped; faces are bruised and swollen. Flesh is sliced with knives or punctured with drills; genitals are singed with electric prods. In some cases the bodies are unrecognisable, sprinkled with lime or chewed by wild animals. All have a gunshot wound in the head.

This gruesome parade of corpses has been surfacing in Balochistan since July 2010. Several human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have accounted for more than 100 bodies – lawyers, students, taxi drivers, farm workers. Most have been tortured.

If you have not heard of this epic killing spree, though, don’t worry: neither have most Pakistanis. Newspaper reports from Balochistan are buried quietly on the inside pages, cloaked in euphemisms or, quite often, not published at all.

The forces of law and order also seem to be curiously indifferent to the plight of the dead men. Not a single person has been arrested or prosecuted; in fact, police investigators openly admit they are not even looking for anyone. The stunning lack of interest in Pakistan’s greatest murder mystery in decades becomes more understandable, however, when it emerges that the prime suspect is not some shady gang of sadistic serial killers, but the country’s powerful military and its unaccountable intelligence men.

This is Pakistan’s dirty little war. While foreign attention is focused on the Taliban, a deadly secondary conflict is bubbling in Balochistan. On one side is a scrappy coalition of guerrillas fighting for independence from Pakistan; on the other is a powerful army that seeks to quash their insurgency with maximum prejudice. The revolt, which has been rumbling for more than six years, is spiced by foreign interests and intrigues – US spy bases, Chinese business, vast underground reserves of copper, oil and gold.

And in recent months it has grown dramatically worse. At the airport in Quetta, a brusque man in a cheap suit marches up to my taxi with a rattle of questions. “Who is this? What’s he doing here? Where is he staying?” he asks the driver, jerking a thumb towards me. Scribbling the answers, he waves us on. “Intelligence,” says the driver.

The city itself is tense, ringed by jagged, snow-dusted hills and crowded with military checkposts manned by the Frontier Corps (FC), a paramilitary force in charge of security. Schools have recently raised their walls; sand-filled Hesco barricades, like the ones used in Kabul and Baghdad, surround the FC headquarters. In a restaurant the waiter apologises: tandoori meat is off the menu because the nationalists blew up the city’s gas pipeline a day earlier. The gas company had plugged the hole that morning, he explains, but then the rebels blew it up again.

The home secretary, Akbar Hussain Durrani. Pens, staplers and telephones are neatly laid on the wide desk before him, but his computer is blank. The rebels have blown up a main pylon, he explains, so the power is off. Still, he insists, things are fine. “The government agencies are operating in concert, everyone is acting in the best public interest,” he says. “This is just a . . . political problem.” As we speak, a smiling young man walks in and starts to take my photo; I later learn he works for the military’s ISI spy agency.

We cut across the city, twisting through the backstreets, my guide glancing nervously out the rear window. The car halts before a tall gate that snaps shut behind us. Inside, a 55-year-old woman named Lal Bibi is waiting, wrapped in a shawl that betrays only her eyes, trembling as she holds forth a picture of her dead son Najibullah. The 20-year-old, who ran a shop selling motorbike parts, went missing last April after being arrested at an FC checkpost, she says. His body turned up three months later, dumped in a public park on the edge of Quetta, badly tortured. “He had just two teeth in his mouth,” she says in a voice crackling with pain. She turns to her father, a turbaned old man sitting beside her, and leans into his shoulder. He grimaces.

Bibi says her family was probably targeted for its nationalist ties – Najibullah’s older brother, now dead, had joined the “men in the mountains” years earlier, she says. Now a nephew, 28-year-old Maqbool, is missing. She prays for him, regularly calling the hospitals for any sign of him and, occasionally, the city morgues.

Over a week of interviews in Karachi and Quetta, I meet the relatives of seven dead men and nine “disappeared” – men presumed to have been abducted by the security forces. One man produces a mobile phone picture of the body of his 22-year-old cousin, Mumtaz Ali Kurd, his eyes black with swelling and his shirt drenched in blood. A relative of Zaman Khan, one of three lawyers killed in the past nine months, produces court papers. A third trembles as he describes finding his brother’s body in an orchard near Quetta.

Patterns emerge. The victims were generally men between 20 and 40 years old – nationalist politicians, students, shopkeepers, labourers. In many cases they were abducted in broad daylight – dragged off buses, marched out of shops, detained at FC checkposts – by a combination of uniformed soldiers and plain-clothes intelligence men. Others just vanished. They re-emerge, dead, with an eerie tempo – approximately 15 bodies every month, although the average was disturbed last Saturday when eight bodies were found in three locations across Balochistan.

Activists have little doubt who is behind the atrocities. Human Rights Watch says “indisputable” evidence points to the hand of the FC, the ISI and its sister agency, Military Intelligence. A local group, Voice for Missing Persons, says the body count has surpassed 110. “This is becoming a state of terror,” says its chairman, Naseerullah Baloch.

The army denies the charges, saying its good name is being blemished by impersonators. “Militants are using FC uniforms to kidnap people and malign our good name,” says Major General Obaid Ullah Khan Niazi, commander of the 46,000 FC troops stationed in Balochistan. “Our job is to enforce the law, not to break it.”

Despairing relatives feel cornered. Abdul Rahim, a farmer wearing a jewelled skullcap, is from Khuzdar, a hotbed of insurgent violence. He produces court papers detailing the abduction of his son Saadullah in 2009. First he went to the courts but then his lawyer was shot dead. Then he went to the media but the local press club president was killed. Now, Rahim says, “nobody will help in case they are targeted too. We are hopeless.”

Balochistan has long been an edgy place. Its vast, empty deserts and long borders are a magnet for provocateurs of every stripe. Taliban fighters slip back and forth along the 800-mile Afghan border; Iranian dissidents hide inside the 570-mile frontier with Iran. Drug criminals cross the border from Helmand, the world’s largest source of heroin, on their way to Iran or lonely beaches on the Arabian Sea. Wealthy Arab sheikhs fly into remote airstrips on hunting expeditions for the houbara bustard, a bird they believe improves their lovemaking. At Shamsi, a secretive airbase in a remote valley in the centre of the province, CIA operatives launch drones that attack Islamists in the tribal belt.

The US spies appreciate the lack of neighbours – Balochistan covers 44% of Pakistan yet has half the population of Karachi. The province’s other big draw is its natural wealth.

Two conflicts are rocking the province. North of Quetta, in a belt of land adjoining the Afghan border, is the ethnic Pashtun belt. Here, Afghan Taliban insurgents shelter in hardline madrasas and lawless refugee camps, taking rest in between bouts of battle with western soldiers in Afghanistan. It is home to the infamous “Quetta shura”, the Taliban war council, and western officials say the ISI is assisting them. Some locals agree. “It’s an open secret,” an elder from Kuchlak tells me. “The ISI gave a fleet of motorbikes to local elders, who distributed them to the fighters crossing the border. Nobody can stop them.”

The other conflict is unfolding south of Quetta, in a vast sweep that stretches from the Quetta suburbs to the Arabian Sea, in the ethnic Baloch and Brahui area, whose people have always been reluctant Pakistanis. The first Baloch revolt erupted in 1948, barely six months after Pakistan was born; this is the fifth. The rebels are splintered into several factions, the largest of which is the Balochistan Liberation Army. They use classic guerrilla tactics – ambushing military convoys, bombing gas pipelines, occasionally lobbing rockets into Quetta city. Casualties are relatively low: 152 FC soldiers died between 2007 and 2010, according to official figures, compared with more than 8,000 soldiers and rebels in the 1970s conflagration.

But this insurgency seems to have spread deeper into Baloch society than ever before. Anti-Pakistani fervour has gripped the province. Baloch schoolchildren refuse to sing the national anthem or fly its flag; women, traditionally secluded, have joined the struggle. Universities have become hotbeds of nationalist sentiment. “This is not just the usual suspects,” says Rashed Rahman, editor of the Daily Times, one of few papers that regularly covers the conflict.

At a Quetta safehouse I meet Asad Baloch, a wiry, talkative 22-year-old activist with the Baloch Students’ Organisation (Azad). “We provide moral and political support to the fighters,” he says. “We are making people aware. When they are aware, they act.” It is a risky business: about one-third of all “kill and dump” victims were members of the BSO.

Baloch anger is rooted in poverty. Despite its vast natural wealth, Balochistan is desperately poor – barely 25% of the population is literate (the national average is 47%), around 30% are unemployed and just 7% have access to tap water. And while Balochistan provides one-third of Pakistan’s natural gas, only a handful of towns are hooked up to the supply grid.

The insurgents are demanding immediate control of the natural resources and, ultimately, independence. “We are not part of Pakistan,” says Baloch.

Earlier, I had seen Urdu translations of Che Guevara’s “Motorcycle Diaries” being sold in Karachi’s Urdu bazaar and asked a bookseller whether it sold and who bought it. “It sells a lot,” he’d said. “The Baloch buy it the most.”

The FC commander, Maj Gen Niazi, says he has little time for the rebel demand. “The Baloch are being manipulated by their leaders,” he says, noting that the scions of the main nationalist groups live in exile abroad –Hyrbyair Marri in London; Brahamdagh Bugti in Geneva. “They are enjoying the life in Europe while their people suffer in the mountains,” he says with a sigh.

Worse again, he adds, they were supported by India. The Punjabi general offers no proof for his claim, but US and British intelligence broadly agree, according to the recent WikiLeaks cables. India sees Balochistan as payback for Pakistani meddling in Kashmir – which explains why Pakistani generals despise the nationalists so much. “Paid killers,” says Niazi. He vehemently denies involvement in human rights violations. “To us, each and every citizen of Balochistan is equally dear,” he says.

Civilian officials in the province, however, have another story. In November 2010, the then provincial chief minister, Aslam Raisani, told the BBC that the security forces were “definitely” guilty of some killings; earlier this month, the province’s top lawyer, Salahuddin Mengal, told the supreme court the FC was “lifting people at will”. He resigned a week later.

However, gross human rights abuses are not limited to the army. As the conflict drags on, the insurgents have become increasingly brutal and ruthless. In the past two years, militants have kidnapped aid workers, killed at least four journalists and, most disturbingly, started to target “settlers” – unarmed civilians, mostly from neighbouring Punjab, many of whom have lived in Balochistan for decades. Some 113 settlers were killed in cold blood last year, according to government figures – civil servants, shopkeepers, miners. On 21 March, militants riding motorbikes sprayed gunfire into a camp of construction workers near Gwadar, killing 11; the Baloch Liberation Front claimed responsibility. Most grotesque, perhaps, are the attacks on education: 22 school teachers, university lecturers and education officials have been assassinated since January 2008, causing another 200 to flee their jobs.

As attitudes harden, the middle ground is being swept away in tide of bloodshed. “Our politicians have been silenced,” says Habib Tahir, a human rights lawyer in Quetta. “They are afraid of the young.” I ask a student in Quetta to defend the killing of teachers. “They are not teachers, they work for the intelligence agencies,” one student tells me. “They are like thieves coming into our homes. They must go.”

The Islamabad government seems helpless to halt Balochistan’s slide into chaos. Two years ago, President Asif Ali Zardari announced a sweeping package of measures intended to assuage Baloch grievances, including thousands of jobs, a ban on new military garrisons and payment of $1.4bn (£800m) in overdue natural gas royalties. But violence has hijacked politics, the plan is largely untouched, and anaemic press coverage means there is little outside pressure for action.

Pakistan’s foreign allies, obsessed with hunting Islamists, have ignored the problem. “We are the most secular people in the region, and still we are being ignored,” says Noordin Mengal, who represents Balochistan on the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

In this information vacuum, the powerful do as they please. Lawyer Kachkol Ali witnessed security forces drag three men from his office in April 2009. Their bodies turned up five days later, dead and decomposed. After telling his story to the press, Ali was harassed by military intelligence, who warned him his life was in danger. He fled the country. “In Pakistan, there is only rule of the jungle,” he says by phone from Lørenskog, a small Norwegian town where he won asylum last summer. “Our security agencies pick people up and treat them like war criminals,” he says. “They don’t even respect the dead.”

Balochistan’s dirty little war pales beside Pakistan’s larger problems – the Taliban, al-Qaida, political upheaval. But it highlights a very fundamental danger – the ability of Pakistanis to live together in a country that, under its Islamic cloak, is a patchwork of ethnicities and cultures. “Balochistan is a warning of the real battle for Pakistan, which is about power and resources,” says Haris Gazdar, a Karachi-based researcher. “And if we don’t get it right, we’re headed for a major conflict.”

Before leaving Quetta I meet Faiza Mir, a 36-year-old lecturer in international relations at Quetta’s Balochistan University. Militants have murdered four of her colleagues in the past three years, all because they were “Punjabi”. Driving on to the campus, she points out the spots where they were killed, knowing she could be next.

“I can’t leave,” says Mir, a sparky woman with an irrepressible smile. “This is my home too.” And so she engages in debate with students, sympathising with their concerns. “I try to make them understand that talk is better than war,” she says.

But some compromises are impossible. Earlier on, students had asked Mir to remove a portrait of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founding father, from her office wall. Mir politely refused, and Jinnah – an austere lawyer in a Savile Row suit – still stares down from her wall.

But how long will he stay there? “That’s difficult to say,” she answers.


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