As expected, PM's Advisor Shahzad Akbar in his press conference said nothing about the involvement of his colleagues in the scam. He pointed out that greater subsidies were given by the past PM-N government. So it seems that no one from the PTI government will be punished (despite Imran Khan's assurance to the contrary).

That said, perhaps this government will try to solve one of the great mysteries of recent times: how did the past highly corrupt government manage to contain inflation and was able to maintain sugar prices at the same level (Rs54 per kilo) for five years from 2013 to 2018?

Shakir Lakhani


Ever since I was a kid, I longed for Pakistan to be a super power. Among my fantasies was one in which I (as prime minister) would broadcast on radio (we didn't have TV in those days) the news that Pakistan was now a nuclear power. Of course at that time I didn't know the destructive potential of an atom bomb. Like most Pakistanis today, I merely thought it was a very big conventional bomb that would destroy large cities in a very short time.

When India suddenly announced that it had exploded nuclear devices, there was immense pressure on Nawaz Sharif to do it as well. There were those (like my late uncle Ahmed Parekh) who doubted that Pakistan had an atom bomb. Bill Clinton offered huge economic aid to Pakistan to refrain from going nuclear. 

In hindsight, I believe the Indians also thought Pakistan didn't have the capacity to explode a device. Either that, or they really wanted Pakistan to go nuclear and face sanctions that would cripple its economy and consequently go through another dismemberment.

In fact, after Pakistan did its explosions, Indian experts confidently predicted that it would collapse due to sanctions, as it was already a failed state. This did not happen due to many other factors. Pakistan did try to wrest Kargil from Indian control, confidently believing that India would not risk a nuclear war. But when it was evident that a full scale conflict would break out, poor Nawaz Sharif had to go begging to Clinton for a face-saving withdrawal. I often wonder if the two countries would have nuked each other at the time. 

The one thing in Pakistan's favor is that it has behaved as a responsible nuclear power, despite its scientists being blamed for trying to aid other countries in developing the bomb. I doubt if Libya could ever have succeeded in going nuclear, it simply didn't have the number of scientists to do so (even if it did get blueprints for designing the bomb from Pakistan).

It is of course undeniable that Pakistan has survived due to its nuclear deterrence. It's only the fear that Pakistan would retaliate with a full-scale nuclear attack that has dissuaded India from attacking us. 

Will our people accept the Covid-19 vaccine?

A few days back I read an article in the New York Times about what would happen if half of the U.S. population refused to get vaccinated against Covid-19 (whenever a vaccine is developed). I found there is a very vocal anti-vaccine movement in the United States (despite its literacy rate being much higher than that of Pakistan). It is very likely that a great number of Americans (probably more than a quarter of the population) would reject the vaccine, risking thousands of lives beside their own.
A few days back I read an article in the New York Times about what would happen if half of the U.S. population refused to get vaccinated against Covid-19 (whenever a vaccine is developed). I found there is a very vocal anti-vaccine movement in the United States (despite its literacy rate being much higher than that of Pakistan). It is very likely that a great number of Americans (probably more than a quarter of the population) would reject the vaccine, risking thousands of lives beside their own.
So I got to wondering what would be the reaction of our people to a vaccine for COVID-19. Our experience so far tells us that many (if not most) Pakistanis would be skeptical and refuse to get themselves or their children vaccinated. We have seen how our illiterate preachers have brainwashed their followers into believing that the polio vaccine is a tool to reduce the population of Muslims. That is why Pakistan is now only one of two countries (along with Afghanistan) where polio has not been eradicated (Nigeria, which was also polio-affected, has not had a case since 2016). Our vaccination teams are routinely attacked and both male and female health workers shot dead in many areas of the country. So how can we expect the COVID-19 vaccine to be welcomed in Pakistan?
“None of my relatives or friends have died of this virus, and I have never met anyone who knows anyone who has this virus, this Corona thing is a hoax”, said the manager of a store in DHA where I buy all my groceries and medicines.
“It’s all a drama”, said a vegetable seller. “They want to reduce the population of Muslims, like they did with the polio vaccine”.
“You can see it’s meant to cause friction within Muslims”, said a PTI loyalist. “When they said people should stay six feet away from each other, my wife left me to live with her parents. Thank God we have Skype, otherwise I’d have forgotten what she looks like by now”.
“Only a thousand deaths in Pakistan in three months”, says the imam of the mosque near my house, “We don’t need a vaccine, it’s not a serious disease”.
“This sanitizer is made from alcohol, before long our bodies will crave it so much that we’ll be forced to drink it to be able to survive”, says a deeply religious man I’ve known for many years
A neighbor of mine said, “It’s always the same, I have never come across anyone whose near relatives have succumbed to this so-called disease”. Why “so-called”? I asked. “It’s a conspiracy, this Covid-19 thing,” he said. “It’s meant for the government to make common people like us contribute to their funds so that our leaders can enrich themselves. This vaccine will make some people very wealthy”.
Then there is this viral message on WhatsApp: “Do you think coronavirus is as dangerous as projected by media? Or is the purpose of the media campaign to create panic so that Pharma companies can sell their products like sanitizer, masks, medicine etc? Or is it Bill Gates and his masters who want to sell their vaccines, install chips and control world population to launch their world government?”
It’s evident that the vast majority of our people believe that coronavirus is not real, it’s a conspiracy hatched by enemies of Muslims to prevent them from practicing Islam. Even though people in Saudi Arabia were told to pray at homes instead of going to mosques they still believe it’s a plot to change Muslims into atheists. And as this was repeated thousands of times, it was only natural that our people should flout all government directives to wear masks and observe social distancing when the lockdown was relaxed. Saudi Arabia has ordered a curfew during all four days of the Eid holidays next week. Do you think our people would passively remain at home if a curfew is ordered in Pakistan during Eid holidays? I would bet that all of them would openly defy it, even if it meant getting shot and losing their lives. So why should we expect them to accept a vaccine, whenever it is available?

It seems Bill Gates is the new villain in Pakistan. In a viral video, a man is heard saying that the vaccine being developed by Bill Gates would turn Muslims away from Islam (without of course turning Christians and Hindus turn away from their religions). How would the vaccine do it? How would Bill Gates ensure that only Muslims would be affected? But then, our people are simpletons, and they easily believe in conspiracies, perhaps because they have very little knowledge of science. And for this we have only ourselves to blame, as we elect ignorant and corrupt politicians to our assemblies.
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. He tweets @shakirlakhani

As a nation, we love conspiracy theories. We are not alone, of course, but due to our high illiteracy rate, we churn out conspiracy theories and a large number of our people believe them. It's been three days since the air crash, and already people have become aviation experts.

First there are those who blame the authorities for allowing the construction of houses and buildings so near the airport. But then, Hong Kong and Dubai have very tall buildings all around their airports. But try telling this to those who have never been to the two cities. They want all buildings near the airport to be demolished, as if doing so would solve the problem of crashing airplanes.

Then there are those who think the pilot was a bit reckless. Perhaps the pilot was drunk, or maybe he was infected by the Corona virus and feeling sleepy. But only the black box will reveal the truth. 

Of course, someone had to come out and say that it was the fault of the staff in the airport control tower. Maybe someone had a grudge against the pilot or someone else in the crew, which is why the pilot wasn't informed that the landing gear was not functioning. But then, the pilot should have known this anyway, unless he was drunk or incapacitated.

Another conspiracy theory is that the landing gear was deliberately tinkered with before the flight. Why would anyone do that? Perhaps the one who did it wanted someone to get killed. Perhaps he is a fanatic who thinks airplanes should not have female passengers.

Which brings me to the female model who died in the crash. There is yet no conspiracy theory to blaming her for the accident, but you never know. Already there are experts on Islam who claim that she will be denied entry into heaven. Maybe they will say that the crash wouldn't have occurred if she'd stayed back in Lahore.

These religious nuts haven't been able to explain why a banker was among the two survivors. Why would the Almighty save someone whose job it is to facilitate the taking and giving of interest? I doubt if even the fanatics have an answer to this.

The French manufacturers of the aircraft have arrived and will take the black box away with them. This made me wonder what would happen if their aircraft also crashed on its way back to Paris? Then we'd have two black boxes, but of course this will give an added impetus to our conspiracy theorists. They will be convinced the second crash was deliberately engineered to prevent the truth about the first crash being known. But it will never be known anyway. We have never been told why all our previous crashes occurred.

It was inevitable, I suppose. Sooner or later I knew this virus would strike a member of my family. My wife's nephew (younger brother of my son-in-law) tested positive on Eid day (yesterday). I do not know if he got it from one of the workers in his factory, or during his frequent visits to mosques. Now it will be a very long time before I'm able to meet my daughter and her children. Yesterday was the first Eid ever when we didn't visit any relatives (and no one came to our house). I didn't meet a single neighbor as I didn't go to the fake mosque in our compound ("fake", because it's built on land which was meant for the kids' play area).

It's been more than nine weeks since I visited the club (it's been closed ever since the lockdown started). Malls were opened last week, but again I'm sure to get infected if I go inside one (if I'm allowed to go in). I often wondered what it means to retire and spend time at home. But I never thought I'd be completely cut off. At least retired people are able to go to libraries, clubs and cinema houses. They're able to move around the town, buy clothes, shoes and everything that's necessary. The only thing I'm able to buy nowadays is edibles. And I am always worried about getting infected by the deadly virus. If it weren't for online books, Whattsapp videos and movies on Netflix, I'd have died of boredom by now. How can one enjoy life under these circumstances?

I never thought I'd see an Eid like the one today. We normally go to visit relatives and have lunch with my wife's brothers and sister. At night we have dinner with my brothers and sisters. But this time, in both places there are extremists who have spent the holy month in the company of other extremists and who don't wear masks or maintain the minimum distance between them. One nephew has fever (which may possibly be due to the virus). Yet he (along with his fanatic father) are doing the rounds, meeting and embracing relatives as if the virus doesn't exist. They will probably infect everyone they meet.

So we have to stay at home today as well, like in the past two months. I can't say I regret it, I am an introvert and don't like socializing. Perhaps it's because most people I know are not known for having high IQs. It's senseless to talk to them on almost any subject under the sun. Only a handful can speak authoritatively on cricket and politics. Almost all of them don't know anything about evolution or past extinctions of life on the planet. Most of them think the earth is flat or that the life span of every individual is pre-determined, so they don't take precautions like wearing masks and gloves to prevent being infected. 

I hope that this virus makes people like Trump and Imran Khan  take more interest in science. But since the former doesn't believe that humans are responsible for climate change, while the latter thinks we should learn "spiritual science" (studying electricity from djinns), I doubt that they will ever change their mindsets.

I decided long ago not to travel by PIA unless there was no alternative available. I saw how "efficient" this airline is about 20 years ago when my plane had to return to Lahore half an hour after take-off. I was accompanied by two Swedes, and we had to spend most of the night at Lahore airport. I forget what the problem was, but I remember I wrote to DAWN about it. This was before I had email (neither did DAWN), my piece is in a dusty file. I have planned to dig up my old files as soon as I get the time. 

There have been instances of PIA taking passengers to Lahore instead of its original destination (Karachi) just because a VVIP was traveling and he ordered it to fly to Lahore. Another time a relative of mine (since deceased) had to spend twenty four hours at Jeddah airport with his family because a minister suddenly arrived with his ten or twenty assistants, and my relative was off loaded (along with others).

A PIA plane crashed three years back in the northern areas (the famous evangelist Junaid Jamshed perished in that flight). The crash in Karachi today is no doubt due to handing PIA over to incompetent people. The PIA Head Office used to be in Karachi, but its top management now sits in Islamabad and Lahore. It was only a matter of time before the tragedy happened.

I saw the CEO of PIA bumbling and fumbling at a press conference a few minutes back. He wasn't even aware that there were two other survivors besides the President of the Bank of Punjab. He's been made CEO just because he happens to be a senior Air Force officer. This is the great tragedy. Everywhere you see military officers doing the work of civilians in this country. It's time this was changed. 

In our family, before chicken meat became affordable, we ate only the meat of goats. I never got around to asking my father and uncles why we never ate beef (which was much cheaper, costing only half as much). Perhaps it may have had something to do with the fact that eating beef was not banned in Gujarat (India) before they migrated to Pakistan. For many years, chicken meat was more expensive than both beef and goat meat. Nowadays it's quite cheap (slightly more than a third of the cost of goat meat, which is twice as expensive as beef). So we consume tasteless chicken meat every day, and often I've wished we could eat goat meat more. 

But now it seems that we may have to give up animal meat altogether. I read today about how calves are ripped from the wombs of cows and the terrible conditions in which cows are kept and injected with harmful steroids to make them produce more milk. Ultimately all the bad stuff damages our bodies, leading to coronary and other diseases. 

The rampant corona virus spread from a meat market, whereas other viruses came from poultry farms. The question arises, do we need to eat so much animal protein? One misconception among our people is that those who don't eat meat (like most Indians) are usually the kind of people who cannot fight in wars. This is not true, as history has shown.

We should cut down on consumption of meat to become healthier. But then, how can we convince our meat eating population to stop eating meat (or even eat less meat?). Only if we tell them that the corona virus will make them infertile if they continue eating meat!

Misused transit
May 18, 2020
Recently, the PM asked chief secretaries to name those involved in smuggling. Imran Khan deserves praise for being concerned about rising prices due to smuggling of edibles to other countries. However, he should also order strict action against smuggling into the country of tyres, tea and supari (the import of which is totally banned but can be found all over the country).
In particular, it is necessary to curb smuggling of goods of industrial items used in manufacturing of paper, printing, electronic machines, etc into the country from Afghanistan and misuse of the Afghan Transit Trade agreement (due to which goods destined for Afghanistan are sold in Pakistan before reaching the border). This has resulted not only in billions of lost revenue to the government but has also caused thousands of industries to collapse.
Shakir Lakhani

Perhaps the most common thing that Muslims say about Islam is that it stresses upon its followers to always remain peaceful. "Islam is a religion of peace", as they say. That may be true, but the fact remains that Muslims (particularly those living in Pakistan) are not peaceful, in fact they are often violent and easily react by killing others. Particularly when it concerns their "honor".

"Honor" of course can mean anything. If a woman asks her husband to divorce her, he thinks he has the right to kill her. The very fact that she wants to separate is enough to prove that she's been having an affair and loves someone else. Even after a court dissolves the marriage, an aggrieved husband is very likely to kill her and her new husband (if she has married again, which doesn't always happen).

Then there is the "honor" which is violated if a woman from one's tribe is seen unveiled or talking to a male stranger, or even looking out of the window of her house. A few years back, three girls in Pakistan's wild north were brutally murdered when a video surfaced showing them dancing at a wedding function with three men. This was enough to rouse their male relatives to a frenzy. The poor girls were shot and buried without anyone protesting.

Now a similar incident has happened. This time again a video showed three girls doing nothing wrong (like dancing). There only fault is that they were standing near a couple of males who were not their brothers or near relatives. One of their cousins shot two of them, the third has gone into hiding. This too happened in the northern areas of Pakistan, the very place where there is intense opposition to the polio vaccine because they think it makes them infertile.

Pakistan is perhaps the only country in the world where this happens (apart from stray incidents involving Muslims in the UK where girls are killed for refusing to marry the men chosen by their elders). The question is, if Islam is a religion of peace, why are Muslims so violent?