Stories published in May, 2020

Revisiting Syed Mohammad Jafri’s biting poem ‘Ruet-e-Hilal Committee’

The moon – even the Eid version of it – is a recurrent theme in world literature, signifying beauty and joy. However, in countries like ours, it can also become a divisive issue, especially when politicised. Pakistan’s minister for Science and Technology has repeatedly called for the dissolution of the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee, the body responsible for the sighting of the new moon. In the past there have been repeated clashes between the clerics in Peshawar and the central committee in Islamabad, and recently between the government and the committee itself. Notwithstanding the controversies and politics over the sighting of the moon ...

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Covid-19 and the looming food crisis

A potential risk posed by the Covid-19 pandemic is rising food insecurity and its potentially debilitating impact on local and global food systems, especially in developing countries. According to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), nearly 265 million people could possibly have to face acute food insecurity, as opposed to 135 million people prior to the advent of the pandemic, by the end of 2020. Even before the pandemic, a worldwide food-price spike was expected to occur. According to the United Nations (UN), an unprecedented humanitarian crisis of “biblical proportions” may result from Covid-19 and the global fear ...

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The Mao of Sindh: Remembering Hyder Bux Jatoi 50 years on

Hyder Bux Jatoi, who passed away 50 years ago today, was one of the great people who lived and worked in Sindh during the last century. Jatoi joined the Sindh Hari Committee after resigning from his government service in 1945. He remained the leader of the struggle of the peasants for a quarter of a century, thus making the Hari Committee one of the most powerful social movements in the Indian subcontinent in the 20th century. He kept struggling for the national, democratic, social, cultural and economic rights of the people. From the period of studentship to his death in 1970, ...

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The Covid-19 pandemic: Education response for Sindh

Around 6.7 million children were out of school in Sindh even before the pandemic brought its carnage to Pakistan. The province was already in a learning crisis and the ongoing pandemic will further strain the education system while negatively impact learning outcomes. It is undeniable that it was the need of the hour to shut down educational institutes, as keeping them open would further exacerbate the ongoing health crisis. But now as educational institutions gear up to open on July 15, the situation is calling for difficult decisions yet again. Policymakers are faced with a strange dilemma, where when they do ...

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Why is Monal allowed to operate inside a national park?

I’ve never liked going up to the touristy Monal restaurant up in the Margalla Hills National Park adjacent to Islamabad. Why would anyone allow a large concrete monstrosity to be constructed inside a national park, which is supposed to have reserved flora and fauna with no human intervention? We would hear the usual stories about the “influential people involved” and despite sporadic protests in the media and occasional rulings by the Islamabad High Court and even the National Assembly, no action was ever taken. In fact, Monal became even bigger, adding more patios to its spacious outdoor seating area. The ...

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Unpacking Shehbaz Sharif’s shocking revelations

In a recent interview, President of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, Shehbaz Sharif claimed that prior to the 2018 general elections two reputable journalists carried to him a message from the establishment promising that he would be the country’s next prime minister. According to Shehbaz, until a month before the elections he was negotiating with the establishment and was even finalising the names of his cabinet ministers. While the interview has been discussed extensively over the last couple of weeks, neither Shehbaz nor the establishment chose to deny its contents. Over the ...

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The politicisation of the Ahmadi issue – Part 2

This is the second part of a two part series. Read part one here. ~ On September 7, 1974, Pakistan’s parliament by an overwhelming majority passed what is known as the second amendment stripping Ahmadis off their Muslim status and declaring them to be non-Muslims for “legal and constitutional purposes”. This move was and to this date remains unprecedented as Pakistan remains the only country to do so. But why did it happen? Once again, the matter was politicised by the religious right, but the state response was different. The immediate stimulus for the agitation came from a skirmish between Ahmadis ...

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“The people’s poet is your balladeer”: Revisiting Habib Jalib’s tribute to Ho Chi Minh on his 130th birthday

In 1954 Vietnamese rebels gave the French army a tremendous beating at their supposedly invulnerable base in Dien Bien Phu. After a century of conquering colonies, France had to exit Vietnam in a hurry, and it was then the United States’ turn to enter the region. It is indeed quite unbelievable that the self-proclaimed “greatest country in the world” also suffered a humiliating defeat in this tiny, poorly armed country populated by many who lived below the poverty line at the time. A peasant of slow gait and few words led both of these exploits. His name was Ho Chi Minh, born 130 years ...

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Sorry Kipling, but we are not your burden

What was once hailed as a tribute or even a sort of egging on of imperialism by Rudyard Kipling in his poem of colonial days, “The White Man’s Burden” is now something that can barely be acknowledged as a distant truth. The coronavirus, it seems, has exposed all the nations for what they are truly worth and it has shattered the delusions of many. Is this the burden and duty, Kipling was talking about? Are their sons ready now to come out of their homes on exile, to want in heavy harness and to teach the sullen half devil ...

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The politicisation of the Ahmadi issue – Part 1

This is the first part of a two part series. Read part two here. ~ Although Pakistan is no heaven for any minority, religious or otherwise, the discrimination and bigotry against Ahmadis is staggering. Despite the fact, that they have already been declared non-Muslims through the second amendment in the constitution, and are extremely marginalised, the hatred against them keeps growing. In fact, to even defend them on humanitarian grounds is extremely difficult and becoming more so. Moreover, in recent times, literally all political parties, even those with secular leanings, have tried to weaponise anti-Ahmadi sentiment for gaining political mileage. We, as a ...

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