93 Million Women Who Matter

Kainat Soomro

Last year, Newsweek Pakistan published an impressive list of 100 women who shake Pakistan. This was an inspirational list of strong Pakistani women like Asma Jahangir, Mukhtar Mai, Sherry Rehman, and Aamna Taseer. The women who made Newsweek Pakistan’s list represented a cross section of religion, class, politics, and ideology, but they all shared one trait which is the strength and courage to try to make a difference in their country. This year, Newsweek Pakistan has updated their list which they have renamed 100 women who matter. It is another list of inspirational women who represent almost every aspect of society, but this year I could not help but take some slight offense. You see, there were important names missing from the list: mine and yours. The fact is, every women in Pakistan matters.

Pakistan has long presented a paradox for women. This country has given birth to historic leaders like Prime Minister Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, and young women like Maryam Nawaz Sharif and Shehrbano Taseer are carrying this tradition into the future.

But this is also the same country where Mukhtar Mai was sentenced to be gang raped. Where women like Fakhra Younus suffer horrific acid attacks. It is a country where 41 per cent of our daughters do not complete their primary schooling.

These tragedies are continue because a mindset persists in our society that says women do not matter. This dark mindset is so powerful that being born a girl can itself be a death sentence.

Daughters are not a burden. They are parliamentarians and cabinet members. They are fighter pilots. They are police officers. They are top athletes. They are brilliant students. They are mothers.

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy dedicated her historic Oscar award to “all the women in Pakistan who are working for change”. This dedication was appreciated by every Pakistani woman, because in our own ways we are all working for change. And we will continue, each of us in our own way, to do so. Because last year nearly 1,000 Pakistani women were murdered in the name of ‘honour’. And while we might now know all of their names, every single one of them matters.

Nuclear Powers and Economic Powers

In a recent opinion piece for The News, former operations advisor at the World Bank Abid Hasan argues that Pakistan needs a new aid strategy, one that prioritises grant aid over loans and gives more attention to the effectiveness of aid programs. Whether you agree with some, all, or none of Hasan Saheb’s points, he makes a mostly reasoned case for his position. I say “mostly”, though, because at the very end of his piece he repeats a mantra that I hear fairly often which simply doesn’t make any sense.

Mr Abid Hasan ends his piece about aid strategy with the following sentence: “As a nuclear state, and the sixth largest state in the world, Pakistan should be an economic powerhouse rather than an international beggar.” Like I said, this is something that we’ve have heard before, specifically when spoken last year in a speech by Shahbaz Sharif.

It was particular ironic to read this as the day before, it was reported that American President Barack Obama is planning to slash America’s nuclear programme. At the same time, the US economy grew slightly. So what’s the connection between a country’s nuclear programme and its economy?

During the Cold War, renowned Canadian-American economist John Kenneth Galbraith explained that accelerated military spending actually hurts the economy.

The general effect of massive military expenditures has been a transfer of capital away from civilian industry over the years and a resulting weakness that is easy to see. The specific effect within the industrial system is even more visible. Modern military spending concentrates on , and certainly benefits, the narrow range of industry and the highly specialized technology that serve missile, aircraft, and marine weaponry. But this development and the associated distortion in the allocation of resources–the technical competence, capital, labor, and other resources lavished on this small specialized sector of the economic system–have been at heavy cost to the industries on which we depend for domestic or international competitive performance. As we have pressed ahead on a narrow band of industry that serves our weaponry, we have left behind, left competitively vulnerable, our steel, automobile, textile, chemical, and a great range of other industries.

Sounds familiar? Obviously this doesn’t mean that the we should slash military spending – just ask India. But it means that we need to take a rational approach to military budget and let logic and not emotions determine spending priorities. We have nuclear weapons, and no one is going to take them from us. But investing in more nuclear weapons isn’t going to improve our economy. Investing in education is.

Dual Nationals – A Different View


The issue of dual nationals is making headlines again. As I noted last December, the ECP decision to bar dual nationals from contesting elections while allowing dual nationals living overseas to vote in elections back home created the bizarre outcome that people who don’t live in Pakistan and have no intention of ever living here can decide elections, but people who actually live here can’t contest elections. Based on the latest petition before the Supreme Court, though, it appears that it’s not all dual nationals that are being targeted, only certain ones.

According to the petitioner, former secretary of the Election Commission of Pakistan Kanwar Dilshad has said there are 35 parliamentarians with dual nationality. So why is the Supreme Court concerned about 4 MPs only? Is it coincidence that the only four out of 35 possible dual nationality holders being investigated by the Supreme Court are PPP members? Or is the Supreme Court preparing another bargaining chip to use against President Zardari?

It should also be noted that the petition in the case Syed Mehmood Akhtar Naqvi has a history of filing cases against PPP. He petitioned the Supreme Court against Waheeda Shah even though ECP had already taken notice of her case. He petitioned the Supreme Court to overrule the government’s elevation of Justice Gulzar Ahmed to the Supreme Court. He even petitioned the Supreme Court to disqualify every single one of PPP’s Sindh Assembly members in 2011.

But lets leave aside the obvious political games being played in the judiciary and look at the issue of dual nationality from a sober and rational perspective.

How many of our dual nationals are people who traveled overseas to take advantage of some of the world’s best universities, and after taking their degrees were accepted in positions with world class companies where they obtained top level skills and experience that they then brought back home to Pakistan?

Pakistan suffers more than any other country from what is known as ‘brain drain’ – the flight of highly skilled people to countries with more and better paying jobs. Often people are able to get these jobs by starting on a student visa, then getting a temporary work visa after their degree, and then residency or citizenship is often required. They’re not swearing allegiance to some other country, they’re just following the rules so that they can advance in their training and career. Do we really want to send the message that if you make the sacrifice of living overseas to get an education and build expertise in your field…don’t come back?

It is also important to view the issue of dual nationality in a historical perspective. For most of the past 35 years, Pakistan suffered under one military dictatorship or another. Gen. Zia especially treated his political opponents brutally and without mercy. Martial Law Regulation No 53 left an indelible stain on the nation and many families were forced to look for security abroad.

Even during brief periods of democratic rule, politics was a high stakes game that ruined lives. We should remember that before the NRO was spun into a ‘get Zardari’ campaign, it was considered as a way to deal with the fact that the judiciary had become a weapon used against opponents. Just as the Supreme Court seems interested only in 4 cases of dual nationals, it seems to have forgotten that the NRO affected not only Zardari’s case but 8,000 others.

And the dual nationality issue affects every party and political ideology also. Just because the PPP is the only party being targeted by the Supreme Court, we should remember that even Imran Khan has said that dual nationals “should be treated equally”. Actually, PTI is taking much of its funding from foreign countries and some top PTI officers such as Fauzia Kasuri are dual nationals. Does this mean that she is not loyal to Pakistan? Imran Khan himself was married in England where he lived for part of every year for almost a decade. Maybe he too is a dual national. Does anyone honestly think that he is more loyal to the UK than Pakistan? Ridiculous.

All of this points to one conclusion – compared with the serious issues facing the nation – terrorism, law and order, economy, energy – the issue of dual nationals in parliament is a non-issue. Rather than making a blanket accusation against someone’s loyalty when you don’t know the true background of their case, anyone who thinks an MP is acting against the interests of the nation should point to specific things that that person is doing. If the people who elected them determine them be untrustworthy, they can choose to replace them in the next election. In the meantime, stop wasting the government’s time with non-issues so that the elected representatives of the people can deal with real ones.

Imran Khan’s Greatest Fear

It’s hard to believe that it has already been a year since we met the future of Pakistan in Mr Zohair Toru. That means it was a year ago that I criticised what I saw as the politics of privilege – the attitude that wants a national saviour to fix everything without any effort or compromise. Here’s what I wrote then.

There is no doubt that people are frustrated – and with good reason. But we need to ask whether we’re channeling our frustration into pragmatic solutions or whether we are acting out and throwing tantrums in the hopes that daddy will buy us a new Prado with better features than our old car. We need to ask whether the “Revolution” being peddled by these spoiled middle class kids isn’t the same thing as trashing the car so that daddy will HAVE TO buy them a new one.

When Imran decided to boycott the by polls, I suggested that PTI’s new election strategy is the same as PTI’s old election strategy – boycott the elections and declare yourself the only “pure” party. This allows PTI to remain ‘untested’ because they won’t ever take the pitch. And if Imran Khan has learned nothing from his old failed election strategy, it seems that he’s learned nothing about the reality of governing from newcomers like Javed Hashmi and Shah Mehmood Qureshi either.

Scared Imran KhanSpeaking to reporters on Thursday, Imran Khan said that he will only govern if his party sweeps the elections to get a clear majority. If PPP wins a plurality and forms a coalition, PTI will sit on opposition benches. If PML-N wins a plurality and forms a coalition, PTI will sit on opposition benches. I’m not a gambling man, but I think the odds are pretty much zero that any party is going to sweep to a clear majority. Like his electoral strategy, Imran Khan’s governing strategy pretty much guarantees that PTI will have no say in policy decisions.

Here’s what it looks like to me: Imran Khan is scared.

Imran Khan doesn’t want to contest elections because he’s afraid his tsunami will end up looking like more hot air than tidal wave. He doesn’t want to govern because he doesn’t want to be held accountable when his magic formula for ending corruption in 7 minutes (or whatever ridiculous timeline he’s giving these days) turns out to be a unrealistic as it sounds. He wants to be worshipped as a saviour, not judged as a politician. He wants to stay pure and not get his hands dirty in the unpleasant work of politics. As long as he keeps boycotting elections and boycotting coalitions, he can keep claiming whatever he wants – he’ll never have to prove it.

Asif Zardari, Nawaz Sharif, Altaf Hussain, Maulana Fazlur Rehman – these are the type of guys everyone loves to hate. But they’re the ones who have the courage to take difficult decisions and face the masses. They don’t agree with each other on much, but they weigh their priorities, make difficult compromises, and try to move the country forward one day at a time. In return, they face insults, rumours, and threats. They sacrifice their privacy and some – like Hussain Ali Yousufi, Imran Farooq, Salmaan Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto – even sacrifice their lives.

Every day, politicians across the country from across different parties fearlessly and courageously do the work of governing the country. They take their ideas to the people and they ask for their votes. Sometimes they win, sometimes they lose. They explain their ideas to their colleagues in parliament. Sometimes they get what they want, sometimes they don’t. But they keep working, they keep trying, and they keep pushing the country forward one step at a time. It’s not as glamourous as giving speeches at a rock concert jalsa, but it’s what it takes to really solve the nation’s problems.

Imran Khan has spent almost 20 years complaining without taking the risk of being held accountable for any of his claims. Judging by his strategies, it looks like he plans to sit on the sidelines and complain for 20 years more.

Maybe actually having to be held accountable for something is just too scary for him.

Education and National Security

libraryIn America, political and policy leaders are asking whether the American education system, one of the top of the world, is falling behind and whether this lack of attention to education is a threat to their economy and national security.

“The dominant power of the 21st century will depend on human capital,” the report said. “The failure to produce that capital will undermine American security.”

The report said that the State Department and intelligence agencies face critical shortages in the number of foreign-language speakers and that fields like science, defense and aerospace are at risk because a shortage of skilled workers is likely to worsen as baby boomers retire.

Compare this with another article published the same day, this time in Pakistan.

Criticising the removal of jihadi material from syllabus and replacement of the lesson, The Holy Prophet, with ‘Three Days to See’, heads of various seminaries called it a deviation from the path of Islam. “The rulers, in fact want to enforce secularism and the removal of jihadi verses and replacement the Holy Prophet’s lesson is a first step towards an anti-Islamic system,” they said while addressing a news conference on Monday… “Those who shared their ideas regarding the new syllabus and replaced the Prophet’s lesson with a non-muslim writer’s lesson committed Kufr,” they decreed. They also slammed the removal of two other lessons, the ‘Voice of God” with “Giant Man” and “Hazrat Omar” with Quaid-e-Azam.

Have we really come to the point where we are rejecting any syllabus that includes the ideas of non-Muslims? Have we really come to the point where even lessons about Qaid-e-Azam are deemed Kufr?

It’s quite trendy lately to claim to be “defenders of Pakistan”. But look at what these groups are preaching – closing relations with other countries, closing minds at home. They’d rather our children be proficient at assembling kalashnikovs in the dark than than proficient in science and language. They teach a distorted version of history that guarantees we will continue to face a distorted future. They support people who burn down schools, and they think they’re making us safer.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is looking at their own failings and adjusting. They are investing in education because they know that without an educated population, no country can truly be secure. If we really want to defend our country, we need books not bombs.