Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The way they run that place

Letter to Daitly Times, Lahore published on January 24, 2006

Sir:Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz was in New York last week. So was Mukhtar Mai. It was probably a coincidence that both arrived at about the same time. Mr Aziz stopped here on his way to Washington DC to see President George W Bush. Mukhtar Mai flew in from France, where she was invited to launch a book on her life story. In New York, she was to make a scheduled appearance at the United Nations television studios in a programme called “An Interview with Mukhtar Mai: The bravest woman on Earth”.

While Mr Aziz made all his scheduled appearances in New York, Mukhtar Mai could not because the organisers cancelled the programme at the last minute. However, in spite of all the prime minister’s men (there were, reportedly, 75 of them accompanying him) his presence in the city was not noticed by the New York Times. Mukhtar Mai’s was --- because of the cancellation of the programme. Her story, along with her picture was splashed over half a page.

According to the Times story Mukhtar Mai “was denied a chance to speak at the United Nations on Friday after Pakistan protested that it was the same day the country’s prime minister was visiting... When asked at a news conference why Pakistan had taken the action, Shaukat Aziz said: “I have no idea. You have informed me and so have some other people as I was walking in. I don’t know how the place functions.”

One wonders whether Mr Aziz’s comment related to the functioning of the UN or the functioning of his own administration.

New York

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Image building

Letter to Dawn, Karachi published on January 15, 2006

It seems Pakistan is not the only country that spends lavishly and unnecessarily for personal comfort of few individuals or to project a "better image" to the outside world ( special VIP planes, frequent overseas trips and large entourages etc.) There are others, even poorer than Pakistan, who indulge in similar luxury and are accountable to none. Sudan is one.

Recently, General Hasan Al-Bashir of Sudan decided to buy a luxury yacht , built to order in Slovenia, for $4.3 million. The yacht was shipped to Sudan and then had to be towed overland to the River Nile in time for the African Union summit conference that was held in Khartoum a few weeks ago. The general was hoping to impress the African leaders by ferrying them up and down the river for evening soirees.

The streets of Sudan were scrubbed clean, but unfortunately they are not wide enough to allow a yacht of this size to pass through easily. Overhead electrical cables had to be cut to make way for the boat, plunging numerous villages in darkness for days; trees had to be felled along the roads, and even bricks had to be pried loose from the walls of the private properties along the streets. However, the yacht could not make it to the Nile in time for the summit. And the New York Times, in a story dated January 31, laughed loudly at this wasteful luxury by one of the poorest countries of the world. Some image building!

New York

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Sardars vs Salars

Letter to the Daily Times, Lahore published on Juanuary 10, 2006

The Baloch sardars are once again under attack, both militarily and otherwise, by the 'salars' of Islamabad. The 'salars' are accusing the sardars of blocking Balochistan's development in order to protect and perpetuate their own perks and privileges while the sardars are accusing the 'salars' of stealing Balochistan's resources. The people of Pakistan are confused, as always, and do not know who is telling the truth and whom to believe. All they know is that while the Baloch sardars live on their estates, for the salars of Islamabad the state as their estate.


Sunday, January 01, 2006

Kalabagh Dam

Published in Daily Times, Lahore on January 1, 2006

Sir: I am willing to bet that General Musharraf will not go ahead with the building of Kalabagh dam, his chest thumping notwithstanding. Instead, he will go for the building of Basha dam first, which, in any case, he should have done 6 years ago.

In the past he has always backtracked in the face of opposition (e.g. blasphemy law, Hadood ordinance, madrassas registration) and so he will this time. The opposition this time is substantial.

What will be interesting to see, however, is how all those ministers and advisors, who never tire of recounting the advantages of Kalabagh over other dams, will suddenly change their tune and start singing a new song.

Philadelphia, December 30, 2005


Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Daily Times front page headline:

Basha Dam will be built first: Musharraf

ISLAMABAD: President General Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday announced the construction of Basha Dam as a priority project, postponing a decision on Kalabagh Dam (KBD) until a consensus is built first.