Changing village culture

Cultures are one of the most powerful sources through which we get our values, develop social attitudes and embrace a world outlook. In many ways, our cultures define us, and mark our individuality and identity as a social group. Culture with a set of beliefs underpinning it may facilitate progress or keep a society backward. It reflects itself in the way we think, live our lives and plan for the future. But never is culture an independent social force by itself. Nor is it written in stone. It is path-dependent. Culture can change over time in the way we live and the way we think about ourselves or the world or how we are related to one another. Some of the permanent markers of a culture — religion, history and geography — provide a framework within which changes take place. So, cultural changes never make a complete break with the past. As Western culture is rooted in Christianity, Greek philosophy and Roman law, so will Pakistani culture remain rooted in Islam, cultural streams of the Indus regions and a deep imprint of the Indian civilisation.

Among many factors and reasons, two obvious agents of change in every society are technology and economic development. Let me also add to them the role of ideas in moving a society forward. All these factors have shaped the process of change in the West and many of the post-colonial developing societies. The rate of cultural reorientation varies greatly and depends on when, how and in what measure economy and technology have begun to affect society at the grassroots level. This explanation is necessary because the ‘popular’ social discourse in the country is that nothing has changed, or will ever change. This is a point of view that conflicts with history and common sense.

One more thing that we must keep in mind is that cultural changes are neither uniform in a diverse society like Pakistan nor are their rate of change similar. The explanation lies in uneven economic and social developments across the regions. Most economists and sociologists tend to look at the bigger national picture or overly focus on the urban areas. The villages or rural areas are just considered a cesspools of backwardness, fixed in time and the old feudal, tribal culture holding the population hostage to tradition. While this view is not entirely untrue, what I contend is that the villages are changing, and particularly in central and northern Punjab, they have changed in many ways. Also, in those districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, from where internal migration for work and resettlement in other provinces and overseas employment in the Middle East has been greater, rural life has changed.

Three obvious factors of change are: urban migration, remittances of overseas workers, and use of new technologies for agricultural production. They have all varyingly contributed to changes in the assets families possess, their relative wealth and means of social mobility. Just consider three important indicators — our annual remittances touching billion, Karachi becoming the fastest urbanising city in the world, and Pakistan as a whole becoming the fastest urbanising country. What all this shows are the changes that are taking place in the rural areas. The surplus rural labour and the new middle class is migrating to the cities, one for employment, and the other for better services in health and education. Second, the migrant workers are not only bringing in money to the rural economy, but also ideas and experience about how people in urban areas and the world outside live. Third, the electronic media and communication technologies have brought other worlds into rural households.

These discernible cultural changes can be seen in individual autonomy, the emphasis on education and political aspirations for better governance and more development.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 1st, 2014.

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The Fault in Our Stars banned in schools

John Green’s bestselling novel The Fault in Our Stars, which was adapted into what became one of the year’s most profitable films, has been banned from the Riverside Unified School District middle schools in California. The ban surfaces after a challenge from a parent, Karen Krueger, who deemed the book’s content inappropriate for her children, reported the Vanity Fair.

The novel centralises the lives of two terminally-ill teenagers, who fall in love with each other. Slamming it for its morbid plot and crude language, Kruger said, “I just didn’t think it was appropriate for a child who is 11, 12 or 13-years-old.” With a six-to-one vote, Krueger managed to convince a principal, a committee of teachers, parents and a librarian to pull the novel out of the middle schools.

A committee member and principal of one of the Riverside middle schools, Betsy Schemechel, commented, “The thing that kept hitting me like a tidal wave was these kids dealing with their own mortality, and how difficult reading this book might be for an 11-year-old or 12-year-old.”

Making a satirical comment on the ban, Green wrote, “I guess, I am both happy and sad. I am happy because, apparently, young people in Riverside, California, will never witness or experience mortality since they won’t be reading my book, which is great for them.”

He added, “But I am also sad because I was really hoping I would be able to introduce the idea that human beings die to the children of Riverside, California, and thereby, crush their dreams of immortality.”

Published in The Express Tribune, October 1st, 2014.

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Iran extends military service as birth rate slows

TEHRAN: Iran is to extend compulsory military service to two years because of a shortage of conscripts in the Islamic republic, the army said Tuesday.

The decision to extend the term by three months from March results from a fall in the number of men aged 18, chief conscription officer General Moussa Kamali was quoted by state media as saying.

He said compulsory service would be three months shorter for married men, and cut by another three months for each child in the case of fathers.

A three-month reduction could also apply for service in “operations and security zones”, he said, apparently referring to border regions with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraqi Kurdistan.

Women are exempted from military service in the country of 77 million, whose birth rate has been in decline, while young Iranian men living abroad can pay an exemption fee.

Iran’s armed services are estimated to number 700,000 men, according to foreign experts.

Sell-off: Difficult transactions lie ahead, Zubair says


Pakistan expects to privatise two state-owned organisations within the next four months as part of the government’s effort to plug revenue leakage in inefficiently run companies, Privatisation Commission Chairman Mohammad Zubair said on Tuesday.

Sale of Heavy Electrical Complex, which makes power equipment like transformers, will be completed by the end of October and the National Power Construction Company would be sold in January 2015, he said at a pre-bidding presentation for sale of shares in Oil and Gas Development Company Limited (OGDCL).

“Eventually, we want to privatise the DISCOs (power distribution companies) where the loss is maximum,” he said, explaining that 19% of whatever power these firms receive is wasted because of the outdated system.

“Due to this alone, we lost Rs211 billion last year and then another Rs200 billion was the loss for non-collection of bills,” he said.

Selling the power distribution companies like Hyderabad Electric Supply Company and Multan Electric Power Company is not going to be an easy task especially as the government has to keep the matter of thousands of employees in mind, he said.

“But we shouldn’t forget that the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of people entering the job market and not finding any is important than theirs (Wapda workers),” Zubair said.

About the upcoming sale of over 322 million shares of OGDCL to global and local investors, he added that the government was hoping to raise around 0 million from the transaction.

“OGDCL was always supposed to be a difficult transaction. Nothing like this has been tried in the past eight years,” he said, emphasising that the sale would bode well for Pakistan’s image abroad especially as it tries to sell strategic assets like Pakistan International Airlines.

The government is selling down 7.5% of the paid-up capital in Pakistan’s largest oil and gas producer. KASB Securities is the lead manager for secondary public offering in local capital markets and Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Citigroup will handle the sale of global depository shares.

Referring to the criticism placed on the timing of the ODCGL transaction, he said that it was a matter of opinion. “At any given time, someone is selling the shares, someone wants to buy them and there are those who want to hold on to them.”

But he insisted that 90% of the proceeds from the sale will go towards debt servicing and the remaining amount would be used for programmes related to poverty alleviation.

“This will also help build much-needed foreign exchange reserves.

“We are already short of our foreign exchange estimation by .3 billion as Sukuk transaction and proceeds from IMF didn’t materialise,” he said.

OGDCL CEO Muhammad Rafi said the company plans to spend Rs105 billion in the ongoing fiscal year with nearly half of it earmarked for drilling over 30 wells.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 1st, 2014.

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Stumbling blocks: Biometric system poses major hurdle for IDPs in getting Eid package


The National Database and Registration Authority’s (NADRA) biometric system may have been introduced to ensure the fair distribution of ration and relief goods among displaced people, but it is likely to dampen spirits ahead of Eid as it now refuses to recognise their thumbprints.

The Punjab government released Rs7,000 as an Eid package for each displaced family from North Waziristan, but most have been deprived of the amount as the NADRA system failed to verify the thumbprints of thousands. An official privy to the matter said it was difficult to give an exact number at this stage.

Similar figures were given of the heads of more than 30,000 families could not be verified due to the biometric system. He added displaced people were surviving by the skin of their teeth as most of them had exhausted their life savings.


IDPs in Bannu said most of them could not be verified through the biometric system and argued hard labour had worn away the ridges of their thumbprint. On the other hand, one official believed in an entirely different theory. He said “thumbprints of tribesmen are affected when they rolled hashish cigarettes.”

The lack of money has added to the woes of displaced families, who not only have to spend Eid away from home, but also cannot afford sacrificial animals or clothes for their children.

Aid blunders

Shaheen Islam, a tribal elder, said people recently evacuated from Eidak in North Waziristan were still confused over the procedure for receiving aid. “First IDPs were getting green chits, how we have white slips; this new confusion does not help.”

Seeking temporary shelter at the army-governed Baran IDP camp in Bakakhel, he added many families were getting cooked food, but faced water, drainage and sanitation troubles.

Islam said there was great uncertainty surrounding the cash distribution system. He wondered how recently evacuated tribesmen would get their dues if those displaced in June were yet to get their financial packages.

According to the report of a non-governmental organisation, of the 96,699 displaced families registered with the FATA Disaster Management Authority (FDMA), only 60,586 had been verified by NADRA. It added around 36,000 families were unable to get their initial financial relief packages.

The IDPs have staged numerous demonstrations in Bannu and Peshawar against the distribution systems for cash and relief items. Camp inhabitants repeatedly asked authorities to create an alternative system to the biometric one, saying deserving individuals were being affected negatively.

Tribal elders also met parliamentarians and spoke at length about their problems. The displaced people said the issue was even raised on the floor of the provincial assembly.

Meanwhile, a manager of the cash distribution system said money was given to displaced tribespeople after verification through the biometric system. He denied allegations that Rs300 were being deducted from each IDP at mobile franchises at the time of handing over the cash. This allegation had arisen earlier when IDPs complained money transferred through the SIMs given to them was being deducted by shopkeepers transferring the money.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 1st, 2014.


Taxpayers’ money & media publicity of fraud

People, companies, and agencies need to be held seriously accountable for stupid decisions, dereliction of duty, corrupt behaviour, and subpar performance. Otherwise, we simply foster the expectation that additional waste, fraud, and abuse will be tolerated in the future, and only those who can shove the money out the door or meet the required “burn rate” are to be promoted and rewarded — John F Sopko, the US Special Inspector General for Reconstruction of Afghanistan (SIGAR)

The US Special Inspector General gave this biting conclusion in a rare, blistering critique at Georgetown University, Washington, DC (September 12, 2014) saying, “It appears we’ve created a government that the Afghans simply cannot afford.” He said that the US had spent more than 4 billion for Afghan reconstruction but “what have we gotten for the investment” after committing “more funds to reconstruct Afghanistan, than the US spent to rebuild Europe after World War II under the Marshall Plan?”

SIGAR was created in 2008 by Congress to provide “independent and objective oversight of the US reconstruction effort in Afghanistan”. Sopko’s questions on the “reckless” US spending in Afghanistan offers food for thought to Pakistanis, who wonder how the ruling elite and bureaucracy play havoc with the taxpayers’ money without fear of accountability.

“I was stunned when senior state department officials on my first trip to Kabul suggested how we should write our reports. They even suggested changes to our report titles and proposed that we give them our press releases in advance so they could pre-approve them,” Sopko said, referring to the high-handed attitude of bureaucratic and military officials on ground.

Sopko underscored how SIGAR’s interventions saved hundreds of millions of dollars from being criminally wasted in wrongly prioritised projects. Federal contract officials don’t bother to make site visits, fail to keep proper documentation, fail to enforce standards and fail to ensure work is done before accepting it, he said.

At the same time, he spoke of the utmost importance of publicising fraud or misappropriation of American taxpayers’ money.

“I admit, some ambassadors and generals and nameless, faceless bureaucrats and contractors are unhappy with the fact that we get press coverage, even though our two-person press shop pales in comparison to the squadrons of public relations people at the Kabul embassy, Isaf, or the Pentagon. But that is the cost of transparency and open government.”

One audit of the Department of Defense’s plans for the Afghan National Security Forces saved nearly half a billion dollars for American taxpayers because SIGAR was able to identify areas where there was duplication and unnecessary expenditure. Audit and its publication, according to Sopko, was critical to saving American and Afghan lives and ensuring that the funds were going to the right place in the right way. He also quoted the example of a contractor who got paid but never installed culvert denial systems on roads, resulting in deaths of two US servicemen to IEDs.

Nothing will change if you don’t publicise these problems, the inspector general concluded. “For change to happen, problems need to be placed under the public spotlight.”

Sopko calls it “the foundation of oversight and good governance”, and declares that the taxpayer has the right to know how his or her money is being spent, he underscored.

Though it sounds quite revolutionary, it is actually acceptable and functional in inclusive democracies. That’s why Sopko’s views should serve as a guide for all those Pakistanis who wonder how the elitist governance gobbles up the taxes it collects from its citizens. GST, Zakat Fund, anyone? On VIP security, Hajj quotas, multiple cars for ministers and officials, handouts from Baitul Maal to party cronies or their handpicked nominees? Sponsorship of foreign tours or internal travelling, particularly for media professionals, families of high-placed officials, or medical expenses for treatment abroad for the ruling elite? These are some of the avenues that eat up the public money. Doesn’t the Pakistani public have a right to know how the government uses its tax revenues? Does the auditor general of Pakistan — though not comparable with that in the US — do his job in exposing the financial crimes committed within the governance structures?

Published in The Express Tribune, October 1st, 2014.

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Fashion meets philanthropy

KARACHI: Fashion and philanthropy are often considered to be at loggerheads with each other. With the glitzy world of fashion signifying lack of material restraint, many deem it insensitive towards the plight of the poor. But in the wake of Pakistani fashion bigwits taking a potent role in addressing socio-political issues prevailing in the country, perceiving fashion as being frivolous is no more than a misnomer. To help generate funds for construction of wells in the drought-ridden Thar, Gul Ahmed Textile Mills recently organised an event, which included a fashion showcase celebrating Pakistan’s best. 

Titled ‘Saffron Night’, the event was held in collaboration with the Old Association of Kinnaird Society (Oaks). The evening showcased collections of Gul Ahmed’s menswear and women’s wear, which featured a fusion of traditional and modern designs.

With a diverse colour palette, including hues of saffron orange, red and yellow, the collections epitomised the vibrance of Sindh. The quintessential Sindhi ajrak pattern was featured in pants and the kurtis bore motifs of Thar women, peacocks, camels and matkas. Strutting to Zoe Viccaji’s rendition of Mera Bichra Yaar, models flaunted the famous Thar bangles.

Oaks has been working towards providing healthcare and education to the underprivileged in interior Sindh for the past three decades. Speaking of what drove Oaks to offer relief to people in Thar, the association’s president, Mehnaz Nadeem Karamat, said, “In some areas of Pakistan, men, women and children have to walk miles upon miles… in search of water for their day-to-day survival.”

Karamat said the National Institute of Child Health in Karachi saw an influx of children from Thar, who have been receiving treatment for water-borne diseases. “Recognising that this dire situation needs attention, Oaks has recently undertaken a major project to improve access to adequate water and sanitation facilities for drought victims of interior Sindh,” she commented.

Nassim Saeed Ahmed, who works in partnership with Oaks for the rehabilitation of wells, said implementing the project has been no easy feat. “Rehabilitating a well is one of the most challenging tasks and it’s even tougher to pull the water out,” she said. “We have already completed the rehabilitation of more than 25 wells and have set a goal for another 25 new wells to be completed soon in the village of Chahchro,” shared Karamat.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 1st, 2014.

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Pakistan Premier League: Asif scores four in NBP’s first PPFL win

KARACHI: Muhammad Asif scored four goals to help NBP register their first win in the Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) as they thrashed KPT 4-0 at the Dr Mohammad Ali Shah Stadium on Tuesday.

Asif scored the opener in the 18th minute, before doubling NBP’s advantage in the 28th to send his side 2-0 up at the interval. NBP continued to dominate in the second half and Asif scored again in the 67th minute to complete his hat-trick. The strike then sealed an emphatic win with a goal in the 80th minute to condemn KPT to their first defeat of the season.

“It’s a relief that we’ve finally won a match,” NBP coach Nasir Ismail told The Express Tribune. “We’ve had a slow start compared to last season, but we’ll hopefully catch up.”

Ismail was quick to praise Asif, saying that he is happy with the performance of his main striker. “Asif has finally clicked,” said Ismail. “We were waiting for our combination to come together. We have young players such as Muneer Ahmed, Sher Ali and our goalkeeper, who are just teenagers, so of course they will need time to settle.”


PIA cause upset

In the other match, PIA stunned last season’s runners-up K-E 2-1 at the Korangi Baloch Stadium.

Zeeshan Ali scored the first goal of the match in the 24th minute before Zahid Majeed scored the winner in the 50th. K-E managed to halve the deficit immediately through Muhammad Riaz’s 51st-minute goal but PIA hung on to register a memorable win.


PAF register routine win

In the third match of the day, last year’s top-five finishers PAF thrashed Railways 4-0 at the Jinnah Stadium.

Mansoor Junior scored a brace, while Arif Nawaz and Irfan Junior scored one each.