Some Girls Looking for Strong Boys

Clip_35Pakistan’s oldest red light district was for centuries a hub of traditional erotic dancers, musicians and prostitutes ─ Pigalle with a Mughal twist, deep in the heart of the vibrant city.

But as an e-commerce boom revolutionises how Pakistanis conduct the world’s oldest profession, locals say the historic Heera Mandi district is under threat.

Balconies where beautiful women once stood are now empty, while rust eats away at the locked doors of vacant rooms. The only stubborn hold-outs are shops selling instruments that once facilitated the aperitifs of music and dance.

Men now can book a rendezvous online through escort websites or even directly with women over social media, instead of searching out streetside solicitation.

With location rendered meaningless, prostitutes like Reema Kanwal ─ who says the business “runs in my blood” ─ have abandoned Heera Mandi.

Clip_27The district, whose name translates as “Diamond Market”, is close to the echoing, centuries-old Badshahi Mosque.

During the Mughal era rule in the 15th and 16th centuries, Heera Mandi was a centre for mujra, traditional singing and dancing performed for the elites.

The wealthy even sent their sons to the salons of tawaifs, high-class courtesans that have been likened to Japanese geishas, to study etiquette.

Later, when the British came, distinctions between courtesan or mujra dancer and prostitute were blurred.

Dance and sex became intertwined, and Heera Mandi began its long slide into sordidness ─ but even so, Reema remembers “glorious” days.

Reema’s mother and grandmother were also prostitutes, making her part ofHeera Mandi’s generations of women who danced and pleased men in the market.

“People used to respect the prostitutes of Heera Mandi, we were called artists,” she says ─ but all has changed over the last decade.”

“Now we don’t have any honour.”

She blames the loss on a rush of girls without her family background taking up the profession who have not been taught “how to treat people” the way she has.

Diamonds in the rough

Clip_26Such girls, she says, need nothing to market themselves but a mobile phone, with which they can advertise on Facebook or Locanto, some offering services over Skype for as little as Rs300.

Dozens of escort services with online bookings claim to serve thousands of clients in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad ─ some even in Dubai and Singapore.

In a Muslim country where prostitution is banned and sex outside marriage is criminalised, one website says it caters to roughly 50,000 customers.

With the old traditions falling by the wayside, girls also no longer need an entourage of musicians and teachers, say the owners of the music shops that are the final remnants of old Heera Mandi.

The intricate mujra dancing that was such a foundation of the red light district required years of teaching and live musicians. Now girls learn easy but provocative dance moves via YouTube.

“They take a USB or sometimes they don’t even need that, they have songs in their cellphones, they plug a cable and play the music,” laments Soan Ali, one of the music shop owners.

Like Reema, Ali’s family has also been in Heera Mandi for generations, and he proudly recalled his father’s “hospitality” as he attempted to lure clients for his mother.

He takes a deep breath. “We are having a lot of difficulties,” he admits.

“Whoever is in this field is going through hard days.”

‘Heera Mandi is no more’

Clip_252For those who have migrated beyond Heera Mandi, however, the future is bright.

Mehak, who declined to give her full name, is a cosmetic surgeon by profession, a feminist by ideology, and by night one of Pakistan’s most elite madams.

Seven sleek Persian cats prowl among the expensive wooden furniture of her home, which doubles as a brothel for upper-class Pakistanis in a wealthy residential neighbourhood of Lahore.

Mehak, who is in her mid-50s, says she recruits most of her girls through elite parties ─ but adds “this online thing has really changed the business”.

“A girl no longer needs a pimp to market her, she has Facebook, Twitter,” she says.

Heera Mandi is no more… even if a girl is from Heera Mandi she would never reveal it because the client would never risk sexually transmitted diseases and the bad image associated,” she added.

Outside of the Diamond Market, she says, business is good.

“Medical students and MBAs have the highest rates, they get a hundred thousand (rupees) for one night,” she says.

Clip_19Now she plans to expand and offer male prostitutes.

“Girls from the elite class come to me and beg for boys,” she says.

“They say they are ready to pay, but they need strong boys.”

Pakistan Needs a New Social Contract

By Saeed Qureshi

Clip_28Throughout its existence since August 14, 1947; Pakistan has perennially remained in troubled waters. From the anarchy of the initial years to the interspersing of democratic stints, to military dictatorships, it has been overshadowed by a constant threat of disintegration as a state. This disintegration came off in 1971 when its eastern part then known as East Pakistan was truncated.

The incumbent PML-n government has been embarking on the same track that was being traversed by Musharraf and later by the PPP dispensation in combating the religious militants. Pakistan army has been braced for over a decade now against the radical religious bands to honor Pakistan’s commitment with the international community to annihilate terrorists. Pakistan has been reaffirming her role as an unflinching ally of US in latter’s war against Islamic extremists.

In such a bleak and murky scenario, the amelioration of the appalling socio economic problems of the people cannot be effectively addressed with the urgency and seriousness that it merits. The economy of Pakistan has always been in doldrums and seriously impaired to an alarming extent as evidenced by an all-time high inflation and parity rate between dollar and Pak rupee. Apart from other countless maladies we have seen that a whole panic stricken nation waits in long queues for a bag of flour or else buy food items at an exorbitant price. The other commodities are so expensive as to reach out of the poor sections of society to buy.

A nation is decaying and dying on account of hunger, disease, deprivation, poverty adulteration lawlessness, and rotten civic life. All these afflictions have fallen on a Muslim nation of 200 million still struggling for its survival. These distortions are the consequences of the wrong doings of the leaders, lacking vision and sincerity. The motives and agendas of successive leaders have been to capture power and milk the national exchequer.

Every year loans of billions of rupees are conveniently written off. These loans are granted to robber barons whose bellies and bank accounts are already bulging like swelling balloons. There is the least accountability for rapacious robbing of the national wealth which must be spent on people’s welfare and country’s advancement. Panama Leaks speak volumes the way the ill-gotten wealth of this poor country has been dumped abroad by top notches in politics, business and in service.

Pakistan is in emergent need of a new revolutionary social contract that should encompass radical remedial changes in every domain and discipline of our society. It should start from abolition of feudalism and Sardari system to abundant and adequate availability of civic facilities namely electricity, water, transportation, good roads, railways, jobs etc. Social and legal justice should be liberated from the onslaughts of the pressure groups and influential individuals and bribery.

There is an appalling mess all over in Pakistan that instead of diminishing is accentuating. Democracy is the finest system of government provided it can ensure social justice and equality of opportunities and basic services. We need dedicated, visionary, and honest leadership that can put Pakistan on the way to economic and institutional stability and civic galore, as we witness in the Western countries.

It all depends upon the quality, sincerity, and caliber of the leaders whether they make or break a nation. We in Pakistani have been having gangsters, thugs, custodians and savior of an exploitative system with such despicable manifestations as feudalism, elitism, untouchable military and civil bureaucracy and so on.

It is therefore; absolutely imperative that Pakistan’s socio- economic and political landscape must be completely reoriented and refurbished. The status quo must be quashed, and new vigorous radical and revolutionary agenda should be evolved. A new social contract must be written that brings about structural and institutional changes in all spheres of society.

The change in attitudes, social behaviors, the modernization of civic facilities and social services should be accorded the utmost and top priority to ensure a decent and worthwhile quality of life of the citizens. The Pakistan nation is mired in a primitive mode of life with rampant superstitions, myths of mystical healings, graves and tombs worshipping, power of the voodoos and fanciful stories of the past beguiling the people to remain mentally backward.

Pakistan is stuck up in a morass of abysmal degradations of all kinds: open sewage lanes, cattle stalking, pollution of smoke and noise, human and animal excretion blanketing the entire country, pervading stink in the air, narrow roads, heaps of rotting garbage, traffic madness and overstuffed public vehicles, life threatening adulteration of food and medicines, vermin infested water, power cuts et el. The officialdom and the departmental network are corrupt, too ill trained, too myopic, too ill equipped, too poorly financed and too outdated to take the bull of these stupendous challenges by horn.

Here are a few broad outlines of a social contract or an agenda that can be instrumental in initiating the much and long coveted transformation in Pakistan. As already stated only a leadership that is genuinely sincere and dedicated to making Pakistan a civically neat, environmentally modern and politically progressive, prosperous, democratic and egalitarian state can enforce it. There might not be immediate and forthcoming results but a direction and course would be set in motion and the first momentous steps could gradually change the whole dismal scenario into the resplendent one with hope and a will to move forward.

  1. The galloping growth of population must be restrained both by persuasion and official caveats. Two children recipe is certainly desirable and ought to be made binding.
  2. For devolution of powers, rapid and optimum progress, Pakistan needs to have more provinces. The existing administrative divisions should be changed into province. Besides creating more provinces out of existing four provinces, the FATA, Kashmir and Northern Regions should also be designated as provinces with maximum autonomy, permissible under the constitution.
  3. The constitution should be re-written with necessary additions and subtractions. All those caveats should be expunged that bar Pakistan from being a true federation, a genuine democracy and modern polity. During the past few years a few meaningful amendments have been injected in the constitution but more are needed such as abolition of feudalism and separating religion and state.
  4. While the Feudalism, Sardari and clannish over-lordship in all shades must at once be abolished, the taken over lands should be effectively and veritably distributed among landless peasants. People should be freed and liberated from the centuries old vestiges of land-based fiefdoms and indigenous colonialism by taking away the privileged positions and royal status of super land lords against their tillers and bonded labor.  The divisions and discriminations of being high and low between citizens should be replaced with equality for all. This is what our religion warrants and this is what a modern civil society demands.
  5. The pivotal role of judiciary must be ensured and strengthened at all costs by creating an independent judicial system consisting of intrepid, clean, conscientious and upright individuals who cannot be influenced by any trickery of bribe, pressure, political influence or similar other questionable and dirty means. The deposit of court and other fees through stamp papers (in local term it is called Ashtam) and should be deposited in banks. The Accountability courts should form part of the judicial system. Pakistan can take a cue from other modern societies for establishing a strong and transparent judiciary. The ramshackle and old court buildings need to be redesigned as most of the existing edifices look like cattle stables. These have mostly broken furniture and lack heating or air-conditioning facilities. The judges and their staff is exposed to violence and intrusion.  In the open place one can see all around make shift cabins of stamp paper venders, advocates and their agents. If someone wants I can send the design of one of the district or county court buildings in Texas to see a sea difference between those in Pakistan and here in the United States.
  6. The entire civic and municipal system should be completely revamped. The civic problems are directly related to the people’s lives and their mental and social awareness and quality of life. People are desperate to have their pressing and local and civic issues such as orderly traffic, trash collection, encroachment and cattle free footpaths, streets and roads etc.to be addressed effectively and regularly. For these fundamental reforms the “City and County” system of local governance should be adopted whose blueprints can be borrowed from the United States or any western society.

It would be an epic milestone if the people in the coming elections vote for the candidates and parties that relatively have a clean record and a fair name in the public service.

If the same chronically corrupt leaders and highway robbers return to the assemblies, Pakistanis will forfeit a unique chance for a big leap forward and a rare choice for a better future and good governance, although physically it may still remain on the world map.

The writer is a senior journalist and a former diplomat. You can also read this and other articles on his blog www.uprightopinion.com

You can write to him at qureshisaeed50@hotmail.com

 

Mitti Pao on Kidnapping of Children in the Punjab

Clip_12A wave of anxiety has gripped the most populated province of Punjab, following the kidnapping of more than 700 children within this past year.. Several areas in Punjab particularly Lahore has witnessed a sudden surge in child kidnappings. There have been reports of the dead bodies of missing children surfacing in deserted areas, with their organs missing.

Incidents of missing children from Punjab have been on the rise recently. More than a dozen children went missing from the Badami baagh (garden) area of Lahore in the past few months. Recently a dead child was discovered in Lahore, who had reportedly been murdered after being tortured.

In the face of these incidents, the Punjab police unabashedly claim that most of these children were fleeing from domestic violence. In a rather controversial statement, the Inspector General of the Punjab Police, Mushtaq Ahmad Sukherha, had reportedly said that the kidnapping of children was not a serious issue. It had been wrongly portrayed by the media, as the majority of the children ran away from home due to the harsh attitudes of their parents. The astounding gravity of the matter failed to grab the attention of the state until a suo moto action by the acting chief justice was in order.

On August 3, 2016 the Additional Inspector General (IG) Punjab, Nadeem Nawaz, had submitted a report to the Supreme Court, after it began hearing suo moto cases of child kidnappings. According to the report, 766 children were kidnapped in Punjab in the past seven months. 715 children have been found and 52 cases are under investigation. The report also stated that the Police are working on complaints related to the sale of organs of kidnapped children in Gujrat and surrounding areas.

The court noted that despite the hue and cry raised by the parents of missing children, the police have failed to register the cases. When the state fails to protect the life and property of its citizens, then the judiciary has to intervene, the court added.

Ironically, the Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Operations, Lahore, Dr. Haider Ashraf, has rejected the reports that more than 700 children have been abducted from the province in recent days. Perhaps the respected DIG does not regard the kidnapping of a child of the poor worthy of investigation. Are these children suffering for being children of lesser gods? Is the protection of law a luxury that only those with deep pockets can afford? Is the state obliged to protect the life and liberty of the rich and influential? Sadly, in an elitist society like Pakistan, the answer to these difficult questions is an unapologetic “yes”.

IMG_2479The State has turned a blind eye to the plight of the hapless parents who are unable to even register an FIR with the police. The state’s apathy is a blatant violation of the fundamental rights of life, liberty, safety and free movement.

There is mass hysteria amid the fear that the state has failed to protect its citizens. The inaction of the police to apprehend the criminals has caused people to mistrust the state apparatus to deal with the matter. They have resorted to mob justice. On August 1 a suspected kidnapper was caught and thrashed by a mob in the Ghaziabad neighborhood of Lahore. When the police arrived to control the situation and arrest the wrong doers the angry mob charged the police. The police officers fled.

Law enforcement agencies are groping in the dark to deal with these unscrupulous elements in the society. On the night of July 30, traffic wardens and Dolphin officials tortured a driver of the Edhi ambulance on suspicion of kidnapping. The driver was transporting 12 children recovered during a search operation of the police on the Edhi Home in the Gulberg area of Lahore.

Instead of formulating an effective strategy to curb the incidents of kidnapping, the police are busy trying to prove that 96 percent of the missing children ran off from their homes due to family conflicts and only four percent were abducted. Many of those abducted have reportedly been sexually abused.

There has been an unprecedented rise in violence and crime against children and adolescent females in the last few years. Of the total population of Pakistan, 164.6 million children are below 19 years of age. They comprise more than half of the country’s total population. Considering the aftermath of lawlessness, violence, frustration and denial of their basic human rights to which the youth of Pakistan are subjected, can one possibly expect a better future for the nation?

Children in Pakistan are most vulnerable, prone to being beaten, sexually exploited, forced into bonded labor and murdered. Child sexual abuse in particular is crippling Pakistan and its future. Cases go unreported as the subject is taboo and attracts the wrath of the religious clergy. Sexual abuse is perceived as shameful. Hundreds of innocent children live their lives in the shadows, reliving memories and the trauma of their assaults.

There is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with its children. There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected, that their welfare is protected, that their lives are free from fear and want and that they can grow up in peace. When the lives and the rights of children are at stake, there must be no silent witnesses. It is time that the state confronts the reality of the situation, rather than sweeping it under the rug.

The Largest Number of Lawyers Ever Killed in One Terrorist Incident

Clip_14 (3)The Pakistani nation goes gaga each time a major terrorist incident happens. This is amazing that such events have been taking place since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979; and routinely since 9/11.

But the innocence of the Pakistani nation continues. The same statements and same concerns are constantly being repeated. A cartoon correctly depicted this phenomenon with a bureaucrat telling someone to replace references to the APS attack in Peshawar by the August 8, 2016 on the lawyers in Quetta, and release it to the press.

Clip_15The attack has so far killed 73 persons which includes 63 lawyers, and two journalists, the photographer of Dawn and Aaj News channels and injured more than 120 persons including women and children. The attack followed the assassination of the President of the Bar Association of Balochistan, Bilal Anwar Kansi, who had called for a boycott of the Balochistan Courts, in solidarity with another lawyer who was assassinated two days before.

The massacre took place when a large crowd including many lawyers had gathered to pay respects to the assassinated President of the Bar Association.

Clip_13This attack is one of the worst massacres to have taken place in Balochistan. Prior to this attack, there had been calls for the military and the government to play a more positive role in suppressing terrorism in the area and to ensure security. However, both the military and the government have failed to take any special action despite the constant reports of violence and disturbances in the area. Clearly, the government has failed in its duty to protect the people and to maintain the rule of law.

Clip_12According to reports, immediately following the massacre, the military has authorised the intelligence services to make arrests as they wish throughout the country. The most obvious results of this would be the arrest of many innocent persons and given the previous record in these areas, it would not be surprising if many enforced disappearances and extra judicial killings take place in the aftermath of this massacre.

Of course everybody strongly condemns the barbarity and condoles the death. But is this all the citizens of Pakistan can do.

Through the meticulously planned attack, the terrorists have been successful in exposing the vulnerability of the so called fool-proof National Action plan (NAP), a plan made by the security establishment and the civilian government to combat terrorism, which has thus far proved to be ineffective and unable to stop the attacks.

Jammat ul Ahrar, a terrorist outfit of the Taliban, took responsibility for the attack. However the questions to be asked are “Who was supposed to protect the victims? Why do the government and the agencies responsible go on the defensive after such attacks? Who is responsible for the blood bath and who is responsible for stemming the tide of militant attacks?”

The Balochistan chief minister was quick to point fingers at RAW (the Indian Intelligence agency) blaming it for the attack even before the dust from the debris had settled. The familiar state rhetoric of blame game has been reiterated ad nauseam. Why does the state law enforcement spring into action after the damage has been done? Why aren’t any pre-emptive measures taken to ensure the safety and security of the common man?

The FC has been in Balochistan for almost two decades. It has police power and check posts all over the province. Besides the FC, all the 19 intelligence agencies are involved in operations against the terrorists. However, how is it possible that agents of other countries can operate in Pakistan? Instead of asking about the failures of the security establishment, the government finds it easier to relieve itself of the responsibility of providing for the safety and security of the people.

On June 8th, the principal of the law college of Quetta, Barrister Amanullah Achakzai was shot dead and on August 2nd, unknown assailants shot dead Jahanzeb Alvi, a prominent lawyer in Quetta. All of the attacks appear to be planned measures to silence the voices of dissent and to pave the way for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

The Government and Chief of Staff of the Army termed the attack as “an attempt by the enemy to sabotage CPEC”. The blood trail of the economic corridor appears to be lost on the Government. The innocent human lives lost as a result have no significance for the state which appears to be too pre-occupied.

In a barricaded and cordoned city, it belies common sense that the planned murders of lawyers have been going on unabated right under the nose of the law enforcement agencies with no one being apprehended for them. How is it possible that the terrorists managed to go scot free, in the presence of check posts and barracks every 1 kilometre? Doesn’t the inaction of the state amount to a silent assent to continue with the barbarity of such a grotesque proportion?

Given the massive number of killings it is unlikely that Pakistan investigating services would be willing and capable to carry out a credible investigation. The sheer incompetence of the investigating agencies in Pakistan is one of the major causes for intensification of violence in many parts of Pakistan including Balochistan.

The Indus Delta is Dying

Clip_9 (2)An ecological disaster has gripped the Indus delta.

In February 2015, experts shared an ominous report before the Senate Standing Committee on Science and Technology: if urgent remedies are not employed, Thatta and Badin will submerge by 2050 and Karachi by 2060.

Experts of National Institute of Oceanography mentioned that water does not flow to the sea for 300 days in a year, which is a causative factor behind the sea intrusion. The likelihood of this happening was also echoed by a research report of IUCN “Coastal Erosion in Pakistan: A National Assessment”. The report underlined the perils of coastal erosion by revealing that if the current trend persists, sea level in Pakistan will rise by 5 cm in the next 50 years. This will have grave implications for coastal areas.

WWF has placed Indus Delta among the ecologically significant 200 eco-regions in the world.

River Indus, which forms the Indus delta, originates from Himalayas and debouches in Arabian Sea after traversing a distance of about 2,900 kms.

The Indus River at the point of confluence with the sea forms a valuable mangrove eco-system that bestows sustenance to a highly productive marine eco-system on the 330 km long coast of Sindh. Coastal communities earn their livelihood through traditional fishing, agriculture and forest resources in the delta. The marine eco-system husbanded by the delta, contributes over two percent of the national exports and is the primary source of livelihood for local communities.

Punjab often complain that 20 to 35 million acre feet (MAF) of water are being wasted to sea every year. The data, however, shows a different reality. Except for high flood years, flows below Kotri barrage have remained far less than even 10 MAF agreed in the water accord of 1991. Looking at the 13 year period from 2000-01 to 2012-13, it can be seen that flows at Kotri barrage surpassed 10 MAF in only 6 years i.e. less than half of the years. The average surplus in the last 15 years remained only 3.32 MAF. Whereas the average surplus flow between 1999 and 2009 remained merely 0.3 MAF. It was the enormous flow generated by the unprecedented floods in 2010 that augmented the averages of past 15 years. Even these meager flows are available for only two months coinciding with the peak monsoon time. This provides only a fleeting relief to delta and cannot rejuvenate its ecology. Hence, the average surplus flow has remained highly erratic and unreliable to propose any large dam.

The people living on both sides of the Indus live in misery which spreads over 100 kms between Kotri barrage and sea during lean flow years. Even if one surmises that 20 to 35 MAF water is flowing to the sea, one wonders why the ecology of the delta is continuing to suffer. This simple logic corroborates the claim that the Indus delta needs much more than current flows for its ecological sustenance. Probably this is the single largest cause of the environmental havoc in the delta and all other impacts are only by-product of this major cause. 

Till the 19th century, the delta would receive annually approximately 150 MAF water from the river system. This quantity was gradually curtailed due to upstream developments in the shape of a series of dams and barrages. After the conquest of Punjab in the second half of the 19th century, the British government initiated massive irrigation development projects to divert Indus basin’s water to the fields of Punjab through a series of barrages and an extensive canal network including Sutlej valley development project in the early 20th century.

After the country came into being, a number of huge water sector development projects including two big dams Tarbela and Mangla along with Jinnah, Kotri, Marala, Taunsa and Guddu barrages have been implemented without taking into consideration their downstream ecological impacts.

Under the Indus Basin Treaty three eastern rivers were completely surrendered to India. The treaty was ensued by an extensive replacement network of link canals in Punjab but no replacement was considered for Indus delta that lost 10-15 MAF water that used to flow from the eastern rivers.

According to a document of the IUCN, “Mangroves: Status and Management”, this relentless upstream diversion shrunk the active Indus delta from 26,000 sq.kms to approximately 1190 sq.kms. Indus delta originally occupied an area of about 600,000 hectares, consisting of creeks, mudflats and forests between Karachi in the north and the Rann of Kutch in the south. There are 16 major creeks making up the original delta but due to reduced flows below Kotri, only the area between Hajamro and Kharak creeks now receives water from the Indus, with one main outlet to the sea, Khobar Creek. The active delta is now only 10 per cent of its original area. According to some recent estimates, more than two million acres of land in coastal districts of Sindh have been devoured by sea.

Till the slate 70s, the mangrove cover was spread over 260,000 hectares, which reduced to 160,000 hectares in the early 1990s. The recently conducted studies by WWF put the figures to a shocking 80,000 acres only. Mangrove eco-system supports the marine life chain while acting as a nursery for fish and shrimp. About 150 fish species are known to depend on mangroves, some of them with significant commercial value.

A major cause of the dreadful conditions is inadequate freshwater flow to the delta since the mangrove forests require sustained fresh water flows to maintain water salinity levels. Increasing salinity levels has resulted in asphyxiation of four mangroves species in the Indus delta. Out of the remaining four species, the predominant one is the species that has a high level of salt tolerance ,“avicennia marina”. This accounts for more than 97 per cent of the surviving mangroves forest.

Reduced fresh water flows resulted in less silt deposition to abate the sea vector – this has invited more erosion through tidal action. The resulting loss of land is coupled with a hazardous accumulation of salts, which has also rendered local aquifers unfit for agricultural and human consumption.

According to a report of The World Bank “The Indus Basin of Pakistan”, over the last 20 years, at least 2 million acres of arable land have been lost in Sindh as a result of salt water intrusion. Just a few decades back, the area was known for its agricultural product and it was a primary source of livelihood. Fishing has replaced the economic focus of the area and the whole scenario has been subjected to a big socio-economic turbulence. This transition has resulted in loss of livelihood for several thousand people, pushing them below the poverty line.

According to a report “Study on Water Escapages Downstream of Kotri Barrage to Address Environmental Concerns” issued by Kotri Barrage Study-II Consultant Group in 2005, at least 8.7 MAF water is required for Indus delta. However, the study suggested that the water should be evenly distributed over the year by ensuring at least 5000 cusecs on daily basis. Unfortunately, the recommended quantity of minimum daily flow is flagrantly violated by the water bureaucracy of Pakistan.

There is an urgent need to conduct a detailed study to assess environmental and socio-economic impacts on the Indus delta and its communities after construction of dams and barrages during recent decades. Sindh coast should be declared an eco-disaster hit area and a comprehensive eco-rehabilitation program should be launched in the area. A similar program should also be launched to monitor sub-surface and on-surface sea intrusion. This would also require monitoring of ground water quality at least up to 100 km upstream of sea in Thatta and Badin districts to establish the pace of sea accretion.

For regular monitoring of impact on Indus Delta, a comprehensive baseline should be conducted on natural resources and socio-economic conditions in the delta. GIS and satellite imageries should be used to make the data free from human errors and prejudices. Concomitant to that, a long term rehabilitation program for Indus delta eco region should be launched. The program should focus on resuscitating natural resources of Indus delta and rehabilitating coastal communities who have paid enormous price for economic prosperity in the upstream areas. Unfortunately, coastal communities are not even recognised as affectees of mega projects in the water sector.

A rich and prosperous agriculture economy in upstream areas has deprived coastal communities of their livelihood resources. Vagaries of climate make the Indus delta even more vulnerable to sea intrusion, cyclones, tsunamis and other potential disasters.

A Draconian Law on its Way in Pakistan

Clip_11The Prevention of Electronic Crime Act will infringe upon citizens’ fundamental freedoms.

Though this bill was under discussion for the past two years, in a dramatic move it was quickly passed by Senate’s standing committee on Information Technology, headed by a senator from the Awami National Party, which has always remained against such draconian laws.

Rights groups believe that the bill was passed due to pressure from the security establishment.

The Electronic Crime bill criminalizes activities such as sending text messages without the receiver’s consent, or criticizing government actions on social media with fines and long-term imprisonment.

Industry representatives have argued that the bill would harm business as well.

Online criticism of religion, the country, its courts, and the armed forces are among the subjects that could invoke official intervention under the bill.

The bill has been criticized by digital rights groups as an arbitrary measure by the state to curb free speech over social media, which is the only available platform to vent public anger at state atrocities.

As the electronic and print media, albeit privately owned, are controlled by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), the government now wants to extend its tentacles into cyber space with the enactment of the Electronic Crime bill.

Section 34 of the bill empowers the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to monitor the cyber activity of citizens.

Despite apprehension and criticism, the state forcibly pushed the bill through the National Assembly, and on July 26, 2016 the bill was approved by the Senate committee on information technology, clearing the final hurdle.

For nearly a decade now, the PTA has been blocking websites containing pornographic, blasphemous or otherwise questionable material. It blocked YouTube on grounds of blasphemy; the ban on the site was lifted after nearly three years and on the behest of right groups who moved the courts against the ban. During the hearing of the case, the Chairman of the PTA admitted that as PTA does not have the technology to block access to one particular derogatory video, the only way to block access was therefore to block YouTube altogether.

Given the limited expertise of PTA, digital rights group rightly fear that crowd-sourced websites such as Wikipedia, Facebook, Daily motion, and other social networking sites are at risk of being blocked completely by PTA for a single transmission, such as any picture, video, or caricature shared by a single user.

Earlier, the PTA was not empowered to be Pakistan’s lone Internet regulating body. The Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-organization) Act 1996, under which the PTA was formed, did not expressly empower the authority to regulate, manage or block Internet content. That used to be the job of the Inter-Ministerial Committee for Evaluation of Websites. The Senate subcommittee did not seem to have any issue with empowering the PTA to censor the web; in fact, it seemed adamant that there is no harm in giving PTA the authority by the Electronic Crime bill.

The bill is replete with loopholes that will allow minor offences, like making or sharing a meme of a political figure, to be punished, while allowing a cyber-thief stealing millions or a hacker wreaking havoc with the system, to go scot free. The unprecedented advancement in technology at breakneck speed will ensure that complex system infrastructure remains fragile and susceptible to attack by hackers vowing cyber warfare on state owned sites.

A mere perusal of the bill reveals that the true intention of the government however, is to curb freedom of expression, rather than reduce and restrain cybercrime.

Not only is the bill arbitrary, it is also severely unjust. The wordings of the law are overly vague; the law will open a flood gate of frivolous litigation on behalf of the state against dissenters, and atrocities to harass them.

The bill is deliberately left ambiguous to provide the government the crutches for censorship and suppression. Several provisions, particularly sections 8, 10, 19 30 and 32, could prove detrimental for freedom of expression.

Under section 8 specifically, the law enforcement agencies have been granted arbitrary powers; if they deem any offence to fall under the ambit of cyber terrorism, they may treat the said offence as cognizable and arrest without court permission or warrant.

Of course, cyber terrorism is not clearly defined, leaving it susceptible to misuse by law enforcement agencies.

It is ironic that Pakistan’s electronic media was given more freedom under the dictatorial regime of President Musharaff, rather than the present civilian government bent on robbing citizens of their rights.

Strangling free speech on the internet may backfire for a nation already sick of being muzzled and oppressed by the state. No state that denies its citizens the right to freedom of expression can last long.

Hussain Haqqani Responds to Sartaj Aziz

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