Zardari Calls for Flood Tax – Will Wealthy Pay?

President Asif Ali Zardari asked the government on Wednesday to levy a one-time flood tax on wealthy people.

“A one-time flood tax will have to be imposed on the well-off and people of means to help shore up relief and rehabilitation efforts,” he said at a meeting of women ministers, parliamentarians and representatives of non-governmental organisations.

“Unless we are prepared to share bread with our grief- and disaster-stricken brethren, we should not expect others to help us.

“I have already advised the government to tap into indigenous resources wherever there is room,” he said.

The president said that funds would be disbursed transparently and every citizen would have access to information relating to the aid received and distributed.

Source: Dawn

Musharraf: Dictator Tendencies Hard To Break

General MusharrafOld Mushy has let the cat out of the bag, hasn’t he? For all his talk about democracy and the constitution, the old tiger can never change his stripes. He’s still talking about forming his own political party, of course, but now he’s also talking about expanding the military role in government. Does he think we’ve already forgotten?

Musharraf said the armed forces need to play a larger political role, as he discussed plans for his own bid to return to power as a civilian. Musharraf confirmed that he would launch a new political party in London on Friday to contest the next elections in 2013 but refused to say when he would return to Pakistan, where he could face treason charges.

He said the army should have a constitutional role, rather than an informal position in the country’s leadership and asserted that the army should play its part in keeping checks and balances and ensuring good governance. He was speaking in a public interview with former British ambassador to the US Christopher Meyer.

You have to hand it to him. He’s finally showing his true self, even asking for more constitutional changes when we haven’t even finished undoing the constitutional mess he made last time!

The fact that Musharraf has the cheek to criticise the present government for not doing enough against militants, though, really made me laugh. Laugh or cry, I’m not sure which.

The Wrong Protest

crying woman

There has been quite a bit of chatter about the demonstrations organized in defense of Dr Aafia, which seems a bit curious to no one but me. Why is it that people are so upset about this woman that nobody knows anything about, but when our own neighbors are abused, tortured, and killed you couldn’t gather a group of people to speak out even if your promised free cell phones to all participants.

Marvi Memon (PML-Q) says that people should get the facts before they speak out defending Dr Aafia. But this seems to be the minority view, certainly in the media. For most people, Dr Aafia is saint. But the saint of what, exactly? I suppose she is right now the ‘Saint of People Who Want To Be Angry’.

But isn’t there enough to be angry about already? I’m not talking about corruption or coups or other bogey men. Actually, I’m talking about other Daughters of the Nation – and real ones, at that. Yes, our actual daughters. And yet unless you mention the name Aafia, everyone is completely uninterested in daughters, aren’t they?

Let’s look at the events of the past few days. MQM takes a massive rally demanding justice for Aafia. Where? In Pakistan. Where is Aafia? In the US.

And why are these people protesting now? Where were these people when Dr Aafia was in the American courts? I keep hearing talk about some Americans and Europeans wanting to come to Islamabad to protest. (Which is hilarious, really. I wonder if The Nation will publish their hotel room numbers and accuse them of being spies?) But if all of these people have information that proves that Dr Aafia is innocent, why did they not go to America and present this evidence? What is the point of holding a giant demonstration in Pakistan when the woman is being held in the US?

Okay, but that is somewhat beside the point. People have the right to be angry if they want to. I’m more interested in why they’re only angry about Aafia and not the other women in our country.

While everyone was angry about the treatment of Dr Aafia – who, by the way, said that she is treated well – nobody seems to notice that a woman in Orakzai was murdered by Taliban for the crime of being seen out with a man.

Is this woman not a daughter of the nation? Is she less Pakistani than Aafia Siddiqui? Why is Aafia worth more to us? Is it because we don’t really care about her, we just like the excuse to be angry?

Or what about the daughters of Pakistan who are being treated like cattle, traded between families to pay debts.

Consider, for example, a jirga convened on Sunday in Kaloo Jatoi village near Shikarpur, which ordered the marriage of two minor girls as a dispute-settlement mechanism. The complainant, a Jatoi tribesman, accused two men of having had an illicit relationship with his two wives, whom he killed a month ago. The jirga decided that two girls from the accused men’s families be married into the complainant’s family as compensation. Consequently, 12-year-old Sadia was forced to marry a man nearly 30 years her senior, while 9-year-old Shami was married to a teenaged boy.

Why does Altaf Bhai not cry out for these daughters of the nation? Are they not useful for his political ambitions?

I’m not the only person who has noticed this. Sana Saleem’s excellent blog post for Dawn makes the case exactly.

However she is not alone. Hundreds of women in Pakistan face severe torture, abuse and are raped in police custody. In July 2008, a 17-year-old girl was abducted by police officials in Faisalabad, and kept in private custody for 16 days, where she was raped and tortured to confess her involvement in the murder of her fiance. But it did not end there; her elder sister was also brought into police custody in order to pressurize her younger sister to confess to the alleged crime. The details, according to the Asian Human Rights Report, are extremely disturbing and very graphic. While in police custody, she was twice raped by a sub inspector, however no action has been taken by the government to prosecute the sub inspector.

Several human rights organisations have reported incidents of people being tortured while in police custody, using methods such as “beating with batons and whips, burning with cigarettes, whipping soles of the feet, prolonged isolation, electric shock, denial of food or sleep ….”

While we raise our concerns of the torture and abuse in jails in the US, our silence on abuse in jails within our country is nothing short of hypocrisy. It is only fair that the government, political and religious parties and most importantly, the people raise their voice against injustices within our country just as much as we do against those committed abroad. Siddiqui’s case has received immense media attention, while thousands of stories of sexual abuse, rape and torture within our own country remain unheard. After all, the ghosts of our prisoners should haunt us just as much as the ghosts of Bargram, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib do.

Have pity on Dr Aafia. Her story is a sad one. Even if she did get caught up with militant groups, it is still a sad story of such promise wasted. But we must keep things in perspective. Dr Aafia is one sad story in a nation with no shortages of daughters who need our help. So where is the outcry for them?

As Pakistan Drowns, the Establishment’s Business as Usual

From reading the Pakistani press, or watching its rambunctious cable television networks, one would never guess that the country has absorbed the worst natural disaster in its recorded history. One-fifth of the country was submerged; 1,800 people were killed; over twenty million people have lost everything they own and are struggling to survive in mud and ruins — with little water, food, proper sanitation, shelter or medicine. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has said it was a greater tragedy than the 2004 earthquakes, the 2005 Tsunami and the 2009 Haitian earthquake combined, calling the Pakistani floods “a global disaster, a global challenge, one of the greatest tests of global solidarity in our times.” Yet the entrenched political Establishment of Pakistan — an odd potpourri of the rich military supported Lahore business class, elements of intelligence agencies, a self-promoting politicized Supreme Court and ultra-conservative religious political parties — have a very different list of priorities on their political agenda than mere flood refugee relief.

Watching Pakistani television is like watching fifty Fox News television stations, but much less restrained, more like staged professional wrestling than objective journalism. In the “anything goes”, government-trashing, US-baiting, conspiracy-obsessed barrage of ignorant talking heads that dominate the Pakistani media, one senses that the Establishment, through its new rabid cable mouthpieces, is once again determined to undermine the still fragile democratic infrastructure of the country, destroy the domestic and international credibility of the elected government, and all but forfeit Pakistani’s place in the community of nations to a pariah state.

When you turn on Pakistani television, or hear the edicts of the politicized Supreme Court, or the anti-government, anti-American rantings of the right-wing political opposition, one hears nothing of relevance to the lives of average Pakistanis, and certainly nothing that will address the crisis in the lives of the flood refugees. There is no talk of economic development or international investment. There is never a mention of opening up world markets to Pakistani imports. One never hears a word about increasing Pakistani agricultural and dairy production and getting protein into the stomachs of our children in public schools.

No, to the pro-military rule Establishment and to those they fund on national television, it would seem that the main problem facing Pakistan is not rebuilding its destroyed infrastructure and finding housing and employment for eight million homeless people, but rather reopening stale twenty-year-old charges of corruption against people now in government who have been elected with the fresh mandate of a newly democratized electorate. These old charges were brought by forces that used this issue for decades to thwart the democratic process.

The fact is that there have not been any new corruption charges brought against this government in its two-and-half years in power, none directed against the Prime Minister or the President. Yet personal hatred of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party and its chairman, President Asif Ali Zardari, removes from the public discourse any sense of cooperation and unity. The Establishment is too busy trying to destroy the government than to help it build a new Pakistan. As the rest of the world acknowledges that the reason that only 1,800 Pakistanis were killed in the greatest natural calamity in its history was the quick attention and mobilization of the Pakistani government to evacuate huge masses of people before the flood waters descended (a sharp contrast to the refusal of New Orleans officials to evacuate the city and thus cost thousands of unnecessary American casualties five years ago), the Establishment assumes as its highest priority is ridiculing Zardari for traveling internationally to mobilize world government action and public opinion to assist Pakistan in its moment of crisis.

Maybe Zardari’s trip to beseech French President Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron was not great politics, but in terms of its results it certainly was good policy. But the Pakistani Establishment will not give the devil his due, and continues its rampage, in the midst of this horrific human tragedy, to undermine and sabotage the government.

It is a sad spectacle, but predictable in terms of Pakistan’s sixty year history. One need not wonder why Pakistan today is increasingly thought of as anarchistic. One need only watch the self-destruction and national abuse blasting 24 hours a day from the Court House to the cable station, to understand that patriotism seems to be a word that the Pakistani Establishment just can’t spell.

Marvi Memon: Dr Aafia Is No Hero

Marvi MemonA prominent, vocal Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) leader Marvi Memon has said that Dr. Aafia is an alleged Al Qaeda and CIA agent; till she is proven innocent in Pakistani courts, she can not be called as the daughter of Pakistan or a national hero.

Marvi, talking to SAMAA, has said that the reality about Dr. Aafia is being hidden and all political leaders and government representatives are trying to gain political mileage and applause from the people by expressing popular sentiments about her.

She added that she and many others did not participate in the parliamentarians’ walk out staged on Monday, so it can not be called as an unanimous walk out in favor of Dr. Aafia. She continued to say that she has the courage to speak her heart out, while others who avoided the walk are afraid of people’s anger and have chosen to remain silent.

Memon further added that apart from the US allegations, she has come to know through other sources that Dr. Aafia has been accused of being an agent of Al Qaeda and CIA.

“She is also allegedly a US citizen and I want to know the reality; she must be brought back and put under trial within the country to expose the reality and the truth behind the allegations leveled against her,” she added.

“I demand that the real facts be brought in front of the nation. Real leaders only speak the truth and do not follow wrong sentiments of the masses. Those who are claiming to be well-wishers of Dr. Aafia are dared to solemnly say that they really convinced of her innocence – or are they just following the popular mood of the masses of Pakistan,” she demanded.

“Earlier she was a citizen of Pakistan; she later acquired US citizenship. She must be brought back as she has broken Pakistani law. She must be probed within the country to expose the real truth. An alleged CIA and Al Qaeda agent can not be called a daughter of the nation or national hero until she is cleared of all the allegations. I can not share the truth told by the others as I personally want to be sure of it,” Marvi Memon commented. SAMAA