Dharna judgement
Sir: In the Faizabad dharna case, the SC has named Sheikh Rashid, Ejaz-ul-Haq and Sheikh Hameed (PPP) among those who publicly supported the dharna. These three politicians should be tried and punished severely and the apex court should disqualify them from contesting future elections.
Published in Daily Times, February 18th 2019.


It's happening again. The weak, incompetent and highly corrupt government of Imran Khan has decided to arrest its critics in the social media. No longer will we now be able to point out the government's blunders. No more criticism of Imran and his minions, and only those who live abroad will escape arrest for writing about the promises PTI made before the eletions and their frequent U-turns now. 

It's apparent that Imran has not learnt anything from history. One reason for the breakup of the country in 1971 was the total ban on the press from reporting what was happening in East Pakistan. When the truth became known, after the war, people came out on the streets and burnt down the president's house. 

So, despite knowing what happened in the past, Imran Khan has decided to prevent the media from pointing out his failures and the corruption of his minions. Already the print media is heavily censored, while the electronic media is unable to function due to non-payment of past dues as well as a huge reduction in advertising rates. A few TV channels have gone bankrupt, and those writers (like Cyril Almeida) and anchors who were highly critical of the government were sacked under government pressure. 

It won't be long before human rights activists in the West will describe Pakistan as a police state (like China and Saudi Arabia). And of course Imran and his cronies will blame the previous government for his failures, as they have been doing since they were selected by "those who cannot be named" to rule over us.

Around ten years back, the daughter of a relative returned to Pakistan after obtaining degrees in science and mathematics and teaching abroad for a couple of years. She applied to the school she had studied in for a job and was immediately hired for a princely amount. She applied to another elite school and was offered thirty percent more. So she again asked the principal of the first school if they could match the offer of the other school. They agreed immediately. Naturally, she asked why salaries of experienced teachers were higher than those of business graduates and engineers, they told her that there was a serious shortage of science and math teachers in the country.

When I was in school in the 1950s, science and mathematics were the most unpopular subjects. Despite the caning and humiliation meted out to bad students, it was with the greatest difficulty that they were able to get passing marks in these subjects. When schools and colleges were nationalized, teaching standards deteriorated further.

There was a time when even government schools produced very good students who sometimes topped in the matric exams. After the indiscriminate nationalization of private schools the quality of education fell and now you come across people who don’t know how many zeroes there are in a million or billion. Another result of the poor education standard in the country is the country’s information minister claiming that the cost of fuel for a helicopter ride is only Rs. 55 per kilometer. Or Imran Khan saying that in China there are trains which run at the speed of light. And whenever I say something like “250 million years ago, most living things died due to volcanic eruptions, or 65 million years back there was a mass extinction due to a comet striking the earth”, they wonder if they should take me to the nearest psychiatrist. Like most scientifically illiterate people, they believe that the age of the earth cannot be more than six thousand years.

Even in elite schools, the emphasis is on rote learning. Kids are told to memorize math and physics problems before tests. I once taught my grandson an easier way to solve geometry and trigonometry problems, he got a zero because his teacher had told him to memorize them the way she had dictated them to him.

We used to read a lot in our teens. My father would buy two morning and three evening newspapers, besides subscribing to Time, Life magazine and the Readers Digest as well as buying many novels and books every month. If only our leaders had not given up reading, we’d never have heard statements like Jesus not being mentioned in history books or trains in China travelling at the speed of light. Or that vicious killers like Hitler would not have failed if they had taken U-turns.

Before the advent of TV (1968-69), reading occupied most of our time. I know that most of our ministers don’t even have time to read newspapers, they only rely on their yes-men to tell them that everything is fine, the people are very happy, so they don’t know the torture the common man has to go through due to their failed policies.

In our culture, it’s enough to have a bachelor’s degree to be called educated. The really educated person continues to learn right up to the day he dies. If degree holders don’t read a single book after graduation, they cannot be called educated. Most so-called literate people I know would rather do anything than read a book. With smart phone usage increasing, most people like to watch frivolous video clips sent to them by their illiterate friends and relatives.

So I’m afraid I don’t see any improvement in the situation in the near future. More than anything else, we need to make our people realize that education is necessary for survival. To conquer a nation, you don’t have to kill its people; you only have to make them stop reading so they will stop thinking and will accept as true whatever an illiterate cleric or politician tells them. Today’s Pakistan is already a country of slaves, a land where people are like sheep waiting to be led to the slaughterhouse.

Published in Daily Times, February 10th 2019.

When natural gas was discovered in the country in the 1950s, it was estimated that Pakistan had enough to last a hundred years. Since then, many more fields have been discovered, yet we are now facing a serious shortage of gas. The "credit" for this goes to the past government of Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz, who allowed CNG to be used in vehicles. 

Where I live, the gas supply was always constant, but in other parts of the city the gas pressure would go very low and people would complain about it. But we always assumed that in those areas, there was rampant theft of gas and misuse of it in electric generators. Now we have been two days without any gas, and for the first time in sixty years I had to bathe with cold water today. 

The present "selected" government is also to blame, as it did not allow an LNG carrying vessel to berth due to what it thought were very high prices negotiated by the previous government. 

Consequently the majority province would have been without gas this winter, so they transferred gas from Sindh to Punjab to pacify their voters in that region.

I wonder if we'll be able to survive much longer if the situation continues as it has since this government came into power. The country is headed for a breakdown because Imran Khan and his ministers don't know anything about governance. Let's hope we don't have another breakup of the country, as happened in 1971.

I got all three of my children vaccinated against polio, measles, tetanus and diphtheria. But around that time, an engineer I knew refused to do so. According to him, these vaccines were not necessary, they weakened the immunity of children, and were promoted by westerners to dupe the gullible people of the developed world. Then there was the mad cleric Fazlullah, who used to brainwash Pathan women into believing that polio drops would make their children infertile. According to his twisted logic, Anericans were enemies of Muslims, killing them in Afghanistan and Iraq, so why would they want Muslim children to be protected against a disease, unless it also made them unable to produce children? I have met several so-called "educated" men who also share this belief. 
When I meet such people I tell them of what happened in 1961, when a Pakistani flying from Karachi to London infected many Britishers with the smallpox virus, Within a couple of days, sixty people had died, and flights from Pakistan were stopped until the virus was controlled. 
And this is why, I tell the skeptics, Europeans and Americans want Pakistanis to be vaccinated against polio, so that their people will not be infected by polio-virus carrying Pakistanis visiting their countries.
But the resistance remains, and some more cases of children stricken by polio have been discovered in the country recently. Add to this the warning by the U.S. government to its nationals not to visit Pakistan because a super typhoid bug has emerged, which is resistant to antibiotics. I only hope this virus doesn't spread and kill more people (850 have died already).

Money trail

Sir: I’m surprised at Abid Sher Ali and others asking Aleema Khan to provide money trail for the purchase of her properties in the US. She is the sister of the only man certified to be "Sadiq and Ameen" by the Supreme Court, a man who is doing his best to turn Pakistan into the State of Madina.
Next thing they will ask Imran Khan about the money inherited by him to verify his sister’s claim that she got the money from her parents. This will never do. I appeal to Imran Khan to ignore these frivolous demands and continue his campaign against corrupt politicians. The road to State of Madina is going to be long and tough, and the opposition should not demand accountability from him, his family and his party members.
Published in Daily Times, January 29th 2019.

If there's one thing we should learn from history, it's that the Taliban will wreak havoc again if they're allowed to take over Afghanistan after the US withdrawal. Yet our leaders claim to have won a major victory after US and Taliban delegations met in Qatar and the US agreed to withdraw its troops in eighteen months. Shah Mahmood Qureishi chortled like a kid who's just been given a ton of chocolates, crowing at the "success" of his foreign policy. The truth is, as the Taliban said after the talks, nothing has been decided yet. 
But if, God forbid, the Taliban are allowed to rule over Afghanistan again, it will be bad for the whole world, particularly Pakistan. We'll see a flood of refugees pouring into the country, unveiled Afghan women will be killed for appearing in public, and all those who were part of the current government or supported it will be executed. Drugs and weapons will flood Pakistani markets, wreaking havoc with our economy.
If there's one thing that should cheer our hearts, it's that India has lost much face. It has invested billions to help Afghanistan, but if the rebels win, they will boot all Indians out of the country.
The only solution is that troops from Muslim countries should be allowed to keep the peace in Afghanistan after the US withdrawal. But that will not be acceptable to the rebels.
Whatever happens, we're headed towards many more years of turmoil.

I've never been comfortable with fundamentalists. When I was growing up, there was only one deeply religious male relative in the family and he suffered from severe psychological problems. He would disappear every couple of months or so, and when he returned he would sometimes have difficulty recalling where he had been or what he had done.

The recent incident in which the police cold-bloodily killed four people (two of them females) is enough to make a man wonder whether he will end up as the victims did. The cops say the driver (Zeeshan) was either a terrorist or he had links with terrorists. As proof, they have a photo of him standing next to another terrorist (Usman) whom they had killed a few days back. We should be forgiven for not believing what the cops (or all those in Imran Khan's government) say nowadays. I won't go into whether Usman was a terrorist or not, but just because Zeeshan knew him doesn't mean that he was one as well. I know many heavily bearded men, so if one of them has links to a terrorist organization, does that make me a terrorist? Besides, how does one know if one of his acquaintances has become a terrorist? The husband of a female relative of mine became a fundamentalist, took another wife and gave financial help to others whom he associated with. He's now on the run, as he is wanted by the authorities for helping terrorists. Since they've not been able to locate him, they have arrested many close male relatives of his.  

I spend very little time in mosques, because I know that sooner or later I will be persuaded to spend more time with fundamentalists, who have nothing to do but tell others what will happen to people like me after they have died. I have enough problems of my own without having to wonder if I'll end up among those who are consigned to perdition.

That said, I would strongly advise my young male relatives (most of whom have crossed 40) to be very careful, lest they become 
targets in future encounters.

Indispensable measures

 Shakir Lakhani

The first thing is to direct the FBR not to harass existing honest taxpayers (filers). They have been paying taxes for years while the tax evaders have grown rich beyond belief. Recently, Karachi businessman Siraj Kasam Teli told the Finance Minister that if the FBR is disbanded, he would guarantee an increase in revenue collection of fifteen percent. I believe that the FBR should not be disbanded; it should be asked to recover taxes from the millions who do not pay taxes. In fact, tax evaders should be given exemplary punishment to deter others from cheating the government.

The first category of tax evaders are the smugglers. They are so confident of their strength that they proudly say “If a tax man comes here, he will go back a dead man”. They can be found in the thousands in the Karkhano Market in Hayatabad (Peshawer) as well as the many “bara” markets in upscale localities of every city in the country. By recovering taxes from smugglers, the government can earn billions every year. A campaign (similar to the one on dams) should be launched in the media to convince people not to buy smuggled items like electronic items, cloth and crockery. Every time a citizen buys a smuggled item, the nation loses. This will go a long way in teaching people the evil that smugglers do.

The second kind of evaders is those who deal and speculate in real estate. These enterprising citizens have driven property prices sky-high, so much that the common man can no longer buy a house. About Rs. seven trillion in black money has been parked in this sector. Whenever a property changes hands, the FBR should levy taxes on the “real” value of properties instead of “declared” value (which is usually only a tenth of the real value). If a buyer does not agree, the FBR should exercise its power to stop the sale and auction off the disputed property. Again, the annual revenue will be in the hundred billions.

To reduce or eliminate corruption, the high denomination currency notes and prize bonds should be demonetized. It’s so much easier to carry high-denomination notes and prize bonds that people prefer to use them for paying bribes. Only Rs. 1,000 notes and prize bonds should be retained.

The additional tax on non-filers should be increased to one percent. Again, this will tremendously increase government tax collection, besides inducing them to register themselves with the tax department.

Presently the agriculturists in the country enjoy virtual immunity from taxes. Not only this, they pay a pittance for the water they use for farming. Our sugar industry is the biggest waster of water, using up to 7,000 kg of water to produce one kg of sugar (compared to the international usage of 2,000 kg of water for one kg of sugar). The sugar barons have been looting the country for years, now they should be made to pay income tax like everyone else in the country. They should also be asked to pay water charges to reduce wastage.
Finally, a wealth tax should be imposed on all properties. For some reason, this was discarded a few years back. Such a tax, if levied on the actual value (and not the declared value) will lead to a big increase in tax revenue. To penalize the non-filers, they should be made to pay twice the amount levied on tax-payers. There should either be no wealth tax on houses owned by the poor and widows, or only a fraction of the tax levied on others.

I firmly believe that if these measures are implemented, the government can provide much needed relief to the common man, who is groaning under the weight of sky-rocketing prices. Imran Khan will of course face a lot of resistance from some of his own ministers, but he should convince them to agree in the national interest.

The writer is an engineer, a former visiting lecturer at NED Engineering College, an industrialist, and has been associated with the petroleum, chemical industries for many years
Published in Daily Times, January 22nd 2019.