In the Line of Ire: Free Speech and Civil Society in Pakistan

If President Gen. Musharraf has plans to write a second book about his tempestuous last five years, he would do well to title it `In the Line of Ire.’

In the last few years the general has antagonized all three smaller provinces, Sindh, Balochistan and the Northwest Frontier Provinces with an autocratic style of governance that relies on a policy of` `shoot first and negotiate later.’ The general turned president may have met his Waterloo since March this year, when thousands of people began rallying around the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court he fired on “corruption charges.”

The movement against Musharraf — who wears two hats as President and Chief of Army Staff — has acquired new meaning because this is election year in Pakistan. The President’s reelection grew controversial when he announced he would present himself for a vote of confidence from the present assemblies while still in uniform. It set in motion a campaign by political parties to keep the military out of politics.

Over the last three months the drama around the Chief Justice has acquired an intensity that shows no signs of ending. It all began on March 9, when an unsmiling Musharraf in military uniform served the Presidential reference to Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. Known for his independent verdicts, the Chief Justice had appeared unlikely to endorse Musharraf for President so long as he remained in uniform. To the chagrin of Musharraf and his Prime Minister, the Chief Justice refused to resign and instead became the lightning rod for change.

The movement around the Chief Justice was initially begun by prominent judges and lawyers. Former Supreme Court judge and ex Governor of Sindh, Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim told me that the lawyer community had felt “insulted” by the manner in which the government cut off the phone lines of the Chief Justice and kept him house bound. The legal fraternity struggled to get him released, after which his rallies and speeches began to attract people by the thousands.

Thereafter, the motorcade journey by the Chief Justice, chauffeured by his lawyer, Aitzaz Ahsan became the turning point for his role as populist leader. The eight hour journey from Islamabad to Lahore took 22 hours to complete because of the sea of people who flocked out of their towns and villages to welcome the Chief Justice. The new private television cameras captured the welcome awarded to the man who had stood up to Musharraf, amazing viewers by the apparent referendum against the government.

Since then, the military regime has grown increasingly unnerved with the effects of granting freedom to the media covering the Chief Justice. Television cameras capturing support rallies for the Chief Justice have been smashed, their studio furniture trashed and transmission services cancelled while journalists covering the opposition rallies have been put on the hit list and delivered envelopes with bullets inside.

The ruling party spokeswoman, Mahnaz Rafi has defended the ban on media freedom. In a candid interview with me, she said that criticizing the military amounted to assaulting the nation and weakening it from inside. In her words, a nation with low literacy levels like Pakistan could ill afford to criticize the military, especially when “conditions were not right.”

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has now written to the managements of private television channels, barring them from airing programs which are “likely to encourage and incite violence or contain anything against maintenance of law and order or which promotes anti-national and anti-state attitude.”

It has also forbidden live talk shows and discussions on the reference sent against the Chief Justice. PEMRA has quoted legal reasons: presently the Supreme Court is hearing the Presidential reference against the Chief Justice on a day to day basis.

Meanwhile, with the new restrictions on media, the camera personnel of television stations pre-record live rallies of the Chief Justice and the management censors them before screening. Cable operators have publicly warned television stations against screening footage that the government might consider objectionable. All this hasn’t stopped the Information Department from intermittently pulling television transmissions off the air.

It has led the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists to name Pakistan as topping the list of nations that have taken a “back slide” on freedom of the media.

Despite the curbs on media, the movement for change in Pakistan keeps growing. There is a hardy patience among people that promises to make the summer of 2007 a long hot one. Inflation, unemployment, electricity outages and rising crime are only some of the undercurrents that are from time to time creating waves against the present regime.

Not surprisingly, Pakistan’s close cooperation with the U.S. in the `War on Terror,’ has created a lop-sided society. With a growing military-corporate sector on the one hand, millions of people are sliding into poverty. Although since September 11, Pakistan gets $1 billion U.S. assistance every year, the bulk of that is in the form Coalition Support Funds for the `War on Terror.’ That has left the Pakistan government only US $900 million for health, education and social services – or a paltry $1 per year to educate every child.

The situation is ripe for fomenting fundamentalism and the movement against Musharraf – who is widely perceived in Pakistan as advancing U.S. military interests in the region. While the people’s movement against Musharraf is secular today, if thwarted it can over the long haul be hugely exploited for terrorism against the West.

In recent weeks, the movement against military rule has turned bloody. On May 12, armed gangs put up barriers in Karachi and shot at political party workers and ordinary people who came out to receive the Chief Justice at the airport. Analysts describe it as the fall out of the political blunder by Musharraf, who has allied himself too closely with the armed ethnic party, MQM with which he rules in a coalition government in Sindh.

On that bloody Saturday, the MQM came to the violent rescue of their patron by blocking supporters of political parties who traveled in caravans to the airport to greet the Chief Justice.

When I questioned the MQM’s thin, wiry bespectacled leader, Shoaib Bukhari as to why Karachi was the only location where the rally for the Chief Justice turned violent, he attempted to explain the uniqueness of the situation. In his words, the Chief Justice had made a mistake to ally himself with political parties who had no popular mandate and who merely wanted to assert who controlled Karachi.

And so, to quote the MQM leader, the May 12 carnage became a display of who really controls Karachi. The battle lines were drawn when the administration in Sindh used trailers to block the path to be taken by the Chief Justice from the airport to the city. Undeterred, party workers from the different political parties fought their way through the hurdles. They were fired upon by MQM workers shooting from road sides and bridges. Political leaders told me their workers fell before their eyes — leaving 50 dead and scores of others injured from both sides.

In the backdrop of the Karachi carnage, the scenes transmitted that evening by television channels in Islamabad were a study in contrasts. They showed President Musharraf addressing a rally in Islamabad from behind a bullet proof stand, claiming the people stood with him. Apparently unwilling to be outshone by the Chief Justice, Musharraf’s party men had bused in people from the adjoining areas to enable their leader win the popularity contest.

Afterwards, although the government refused to order an inquiry into the deaths of the Chief Justice’s supporters, the Sindh High Court took notice to investigate the uncalled for bloodshed. It was a bold step, showing the legal fraternity was once again asserting its independence.

Meanwhile, as the political turmoil goes on, the sight of thousands of people lining up to support the ousted Chief Justice is being closely watched by the two ousted, exiled Prime Ministers of Pakistan – Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. Both the former Prime Ministers have vowed to go back to Pakistan this year and contest for the top job. And yet, both experienced rulers are biding their time carefully, knowing that the chance of coming to power will depend on the good wishes of the top army brass, and the U.S. establishment.

The Pakistan People’s Party, whose chairperson Benazir Bhutto was until recently reported to have struck a “deal” with Musharraf is now more cautious about allying with an apparently unpopular President. Watching the political scenario from her Dubai home, Ms. Bhutto has said that a President in uniform would be unacceptable. That, coupled with her statement that she plans to return to Pakistan earlier than scheduled has led to speculations that Musharraf could exit the scene.

But for civil society – which has dug in its heels for the long haul – the questions are not about a change of face in military leadership. Rather, the movement leaders tell me they are trying to bring back rule of law through the leadership of the legal fraternity and civil society. It is an issue worth facing in a nation whose destiny has constantly been shaped by military coups.

Source: Toward Freedom

Pakistan: Identity Crisis

Pakistan is one of the Bush administration’s close allies in the war against terrorism. Yet anti-American sentiment there has been growing with unprecedented force since the US conducted a war in Iraq, another Muslim country in the neighborhood.

In March, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to oppose the start of the war. While the coalition of Islamic parties in the United Council for Action (MMA) led the opposition marches in major cities, they won considerable support from secular forces. The anger has been growing since 2001, when hundreds of ordinary Pakistanis living in the North West Frontier Province lost their lives in the US-led military operation against the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.

Even President Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf and his rubber stamp parliament, led by Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali, have been forced by public pressure and opposition politicians into condemning the US invasion. Although certainly not pro-Saddam, most Pakistanis see the war as an assault on another Third World Muslim country. That has temporarily united the opposition and the government, otherwise at odds over the military’s attempts to consolidate its grip over the nation.

Musharraf’s government has played a front-line role in the war against terrorism since September 11. Faced with anti-American sentiment, however, the military has grown more secretive about its role in helping the US ferret out al-Qaeda elements. Public resentment centers on Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence, which picks up locals at the instigation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and interrogates them about their possible links with the terrorists.

In picking up al-Qaeda suspects, the Pakistan military has attempted to prove links with the nation’s leading Islamic party, the Jamaat-i-Islami. The government stepped up efforts to portray the party as having terrorist ties after a senior al-Qaeda leader, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, was captured from a Jamaat supporter’s home in a middle class suburb of Rawalpindi. Earlier, the FBI had picked up Jamaat member Ahmed Javed Khawaja and his family for alleged al-Qaeda links. Their case is in Pakistan’s courts.

However, Qazi Hussein Ahmed, the Jamaat-i-Islami chief who heads the MMA, has argued that the government is using the current scare to crush the Islamic alliance because of its opposition to US policies in the region. He claims that individual members of Jamaat, not the organization itself, have lent support to al-Qaeda elements in Pakistan.

Avoiding the Issues

Apart from picking up terrorists, the US appears to be paying little attention to rising anti-American sentiment. This superficial approach ignores the fact that the country is currently fertile ground for Islamic militancy directed against the West. For example, the Bush administration has ignored Pakistan’s request to replace thousands of madressahs (Islamic schools) by strengthening its education system. Instead, public education deteriorates, while madressahs thrive with the help of Zakat (Islamic charity) and Saudi funds. They are a by-product of the last two decades, particularly the need to infuse youth with Islamic fervor during Pakistan’s proxy war in Afghanistan.

Reversing two decades of support for Islamic militancy, Pakistan’s Western-educated army demonstrated its flexibility after September 11, arguably becoming the US’s closest ally in dismantling the schools. On the other hand, the military also maintains its hold on Kashmiri militants, supported by sectarian extremists, who are waging a war against Indian forces in the disputed Kashmir territory. Local militants have become cannon fodder for al-Qaeda extremists who have shifted to the region since their ouster from Afghanistan.

Despite its political inconsistency, Musharraf’s regime has earned the support of the Bush administration through its cooperation in hunting down al-Qaeda. Thus, since 9/11, no embarrassing questions have been asked about democratizing the country. Instead, Pakistan’s strategic usefulness in bolstering the pro-US regime in Afghanistan has allowed it to win $305 million in US aid and debt relief totaling $1 billion.

In a thinly attended April 2002 referendum, General Musharraf had himself elected President for the next five years. As in Turkey, a Legal Framework Order (LFO) gives the army a constitutional role in politics. Amending the 1973 Constitution, Pakistan’s LFO authorizes Musharraf to dissolve the Cabinet, National Assembly and Senate, dismiss the prime minister, and hold fresh elections. Opposition politicians are demanding an end to the LFO, but the government has warned them personally to back down or face the consequences.

Just before the October 2002 elections, the LFO disqualified the other major politicians and former premiers, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chief Benazir Bhutto and Pakistan Muslim League (PML) head Nawaz Sharif along with Mohajir Qaumi Movement chief, Altaf Hussein. At the same time, the military helped to create the Pakistan Muslim League (Q) by offering incentives to former supporters of Nawaz Sharif who were willing to defect from his party and support Gen. Musharraf.

Nevertheless, the PPP won the most votes in the October elections. In response, the military encouraged party defections within the PPP Ñ effectively stopping Benazir Bhutto’s supporters from being elected to cabinet posts in the national government and preventing it from forming a government in Sindh, its home province in the south.

The army has also increased its meddling in domestic politics. As the Senate elections were about to be held, a leader of the PML, the party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, was kidnapped by the Inter Services Intelligence, the external secret service agency, which is also interfering in domestic politics in hopes of forcing him to change his loyalties. Other opposition politicians allege that the government attempted to intimidate them into supporting Prime Minister Jamali.

After 10-15 days, during which there were rowdy scenes in the National Assembly, the opposition took the oath of office, but privately replaced LFO wording with the 1973 constitution.

Losing Control

Since the 2002 election, the army-backed government doesn’t have enough opposition support to pass two laws that could curtail press freedom Ñ namely the Code of Ethics and Press Council. As if anticipating this problem, the military imposed an Anti-Defamation Ordinance just before the October elections, mandating a fine of $900 and three months imprisonment to journalists whose writings offend the government.

In March, Brig Ijaz Shah, Home Secretary of the Punjab, summoned the editor of the Weekly Independent, an English newspaper, then pressured him not to run anti-government reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists wrote to the government, expressing concern about the Home Secretary’s threat to act against the paper for opposing the “national interest.” Sindhi newspapers, which tend to be far more critical of the military, allege that attempts are being made to control them by withdrawing government advertisements.

As anti-US sentiment approaches epic levels, opposition political parties, led by the MMA Islamic alliance, are set to mount their biggest challenge yet to the Musharraf government. For the first time, the MMA has been able to bring hundreds of thousands of people into the streets to protest Pakistan’s support for the Bush administration. Just before the US invasion of Iraq began, nationwide protests climaxed with a million man march, convened by the MMA in Lahore.

Faced with rising anti-Americanism, state authorities cancelled a visit by US-supported Afghan president Hamid Karzai at its Pakistan Day celebration on March 23. A meeting between President Bush and Prime Mminister Jamali was also cancelled.

US war in Iraq raises the specter of increased support for Islamic extremists throughout the Muslim world, including Pakistan. TV images of civilian casualties in Iraq, beamed daily into homes through cable and satellite, has already provoked anger and fueling increased Islamic militancy.

Once upon a time, support for al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden was confined to Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province and Balochistan provinces. Conservative Islamist Pashtuns live in these provinces and contiguous tribal areas which border Afghanistan. They form the bulk of supporters for the Taliban Ñ which sheltered al-Qaeda during their six year rule of Afghanistan. Now Islamic extremism is growing in other parts of the country.

In the face of armed aggression in Iraq, more and more people are reaching the conclusion that Islamic militancy is justifiable. How ironic. The Bush administration used the threat of terrorism to attack Iraq, but its policies are also fueling the urge to retaliate, in the US and abroad.

Source: Toward Freedom

Fundamentalism and Social Exclusion

The emergence of fundamentalist movements in Muslim countries, more properly known as Islamism, is being viewed by some scholars as the last wave of anti-imperialism of the 20th century. Muslim fundamentalist movements that show militancy against Western colonial influences include the Hezbollah and AMAL in Lebanon, the HAMAS in Palestine, the National Islamic Front in Sudan, the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Khomeinism in Iran, the Jamiat-I-Ulema Islam (with its multiple splinter groups) in Pakistan, the Mujahideen and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

While the Islamists have different interpretations of the Sharia (Islamic jurisprudence), they believe that all Muslim societies are subjugated and subordinated because of their deviation from the true Islamic path. When Islamists blame the West for co-opting their leaders, they also use Islam as a political ideology to mobilize the disenfranchised Muslim ‘Umm’ (community of believers) against the “corrupting” and “self-serving” ways of the West.

Gender and Muslim Fundamentalism

Women form the core of Islamist debate. Muslim fundamentalists across the board agree on restoring complementary roles between men and women based on their biology – men as wage earners and women as mothers and homemakers. Given the traditional, patriarchal Muslim view of women’s sexuality being ‘disruptive of the social order because of her power to attract the opposite sex,’ Islamists demand that women be veiled and segregated from men at every level of society.

The extremist behavior of fundamentalists and Islamists in particular has proved harmful for the rights of women wherever they have captured state power. Their promulgation of “Islamist” laws and policies in Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, have introduced even more patriarchal norms into these predominantly feudal and tribal societies, and attempted to erode their existing diversity.

The Veil and Four Walls – Women in Pakistan

The Islamists supported the military government of Zia ul Haq, who took over in a military coup in Pakistan in 1977 and ruled for the next 11 1/2 years. This was the period when the concept of ‘chadar and chardiwar’ (veil and four walls) was pushed upon Pakistan women. Women began being discriminated against in the workplace and in the streets. The state used the electronic media to mount scathing attacks on working women and projected the “Islamic woman” as devoted to home and family.

The Zia government passed a series of laws against women. The Zina Ordinance (part of Hudood Ordinances, 1979) makes sex outside marriage a crime against the state. It also does not give maximum sentence on the basis of women’s testimony. Discounting women’s testimony has to date resulted in imprisonment for thousands of poor women, who have been accused of adultery or even been victims of rape. In addition, the equality granted to women under Pakistan’s constitution was subverted with the passage of the Laws of Evidence, 1984 (in which two women’s testimony is equated with one man in financial matters) and the Qisas and Diyat Ordinance, 1985 (in which the blood money for a deceased woman is half that for a man). 1

The effects of the Islamist ideology have seeped into the rural areas of Pakistan where customary laws hold sway. In the last two decades there has been an appreciable increase in tribal customs like honor killings in which the unfortunate woman and her lover can be killed by her immediate family and get away with a lesser sentence.

Religious Minorities in Pakistan

The Blasphemy Laws, passed by General Zia ul Haq have deprived religious minorities in Pakistan – Christians, Hindus and Parsees (Zorastrians) – full citizenship. These laws award the death penalty for anyone charged with ‘blasphemy’ against Prophet Mohammed. At times they have been used as a pretext against non-Muslims who might be involved in a land dispute. Blasphemy charges are also used against the Ahmediya community, who offend the sensibilities of the mainstream Muslims by denying that Mohammed is the last Prophet.

Religious minorities in Pakistan have become further isolated because General Zia’s introduction of separate electorates. The latter requires non-Muslims to elect non-Muslim candidates. With reserved seats for non-Muslims, candidates are now required to contest elections on a countrywide basis rather than from a particular region. This, as non-Muslim voters have testified, makes the candidate unaccountable to his particular constituency and leads to a further neglect of the religious minorities.

The Classic ‘Islamist’ State – Iran

Iran has even less diversity than Pakistan in terms of its religious sects, ethnic communities and women’s movements. The Shia clerics who ushered in Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution in 1979 had been in power for only two weeks when they decreed that women ought to be veiled and segregated. Iran became the classic ‘Islamist’ state where Khomeni received support from all sectors of society, including women, against the Shah’s pro Western policies. Once victorious, the Shia clerics pushed women into the veil, after referring to those in Western dress as “Westoxicated” and, the “painted dolls of the Shah.”

One of the first acts of the Khomeini government was to suspend the Shah’s Family Protection Act. In one go, women lost all their rights of family law. Although the FPA was restored in amended form in 1992, Iranian laws presently weigh heavily against women. Women are treated as subjects within marriage: men can divorce more easily and remarry without seeking permission from their wives, polygamy is more common, temporary marriage has been re-instituted and child custody made more difficult for women. The legal age for marriage for girls has been dropped to nine years, eliminating their chances for finding a life outside marriage and motherhood.

Perhaps the biggest challenge to middle-class women in Iran is the gender
segregation in education and employment. Female literacy has dropped. At the same time, forbidding girls to be taught by male teachers has significantly narrowed their education opportunities. Women’s employment has increased marginally after the 1979 Islamic revolution, but only because of their induction into sex segregated occupations like teaching, “female oriented” fields of medicine and in government agencies that deal with women.

Since the death of Khomeini in 1988, a relatively liberal breed of Shia clerics (presently led by President Khatami) has encouraged “Islamic feminists”. The latter, who are “deconstructing” the Quran and Hadith (sayings of the Prophet) work with secular feminists to improve women’s rights in Iran. They have had limited success. Even these “Islamic feminists” occasionally risk the wrath of hard-line clerics by publishing articles by women poets and interviews of filmmakers from outside the mainstream. Even more likely to get arrested are unveiled women or those espousing secular views.

Inside the Burqa – Outside the Decision-Making Process. Women in Afghanistan
The Taliban, a Pashtun ethnic group who have ruled Afghanistan since 1995, rode the wave of Islamic militants brought into the region by the United States, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia to fight the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. Though the Taliban has an Islamic fundamentalist image, its practices are tribal rather than Islamic. For example, it allows the ‘Jirga” (consultative body of male tribal elders) to make communal decisions on the basis of the Pashtunwali code of honor and shame. Women are totally excluded from participating in this decision-making process.

Since the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, they have imposed the ‘burqa’ – a voluminous covering which women must wear from head to foot with only a mesh for the eyes. Women have been barred even from their Islamic rights of inheritance. Instead, the Afghan tribes are now resorting to a pre-Islamic custom whereby widowed women are being inherited by their brother-in-laws or stepsons. Also, stricken by dire poverty, Afghan farmers (who previously received a bride price for their daughters) are now selling their daughters to pay off loans.

Today Afghanistan tops the list of fundamentalists attempting to stamp out diversity. About 100,000 women teachers, doctors, nurses, administrators and civil servants, who worked mostly in Kabul, have been sent home. Primary schools for girls have been closed (for want of women teachers), while Kabul University – once bustling with female students – has been closed to women.

Religious Minorities in Afghanistan

From time to time, the Taliban clashes with the other minorities – Hazaras, Tajiks, and Uzbeks – who remain unrepresented in this Pashtun based government. Tajik leader Ahmed Shad Massoud continues to fight the Taliban from the North of Afghanistan. In addition, the Sunni Taliban and the Iranian Shia militants have been sighting their battles on Pakistani soil. This has created sectarian clashes between the Shai and Sunni population in Pakistan, mostly to the detriment of Pakistan’s minority Shia population.

The Islamic fundamentalists export of terrorism to the West has now come full circle. Indeed, if any lessons are to be derived from the emergence of Islamists, it is to recognize that the West acted short-sightedly in the background of the Cold War and the oil crisis. The U.S. support to the fundamentalist regimes in Pakistan and Afghanistan not only weakened Pakistan and Afghanistan’s civil societies, it sparked the return of illegal immigration, heroin, debt liabilities and terrorism. It is high time the UN, world governments and religious leaders realized that a hard-line approach to the Muslim world will only elicit more fundamentalist responses – to the detriment of all concerned.

Nafisa Hoodbhoy has worked as a journalist for the last 16 years in Karachi, Pakistan for the English language daily newspaper,`Dawn’. In 1995 she was nominated by Amnesty International as a ‘human rights defender. Presently, she is a Visiting Lecturer at Amherst College, teaching a course on the `Regulation of Sexual Activities and Identities’ relating to Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan.

Source: ICSW

Bank workers resent layoffs, curbs on union activity

KARACHI, Aug 7: Hundreds of bank and other financial institution employees have been transferred, retired, sent on forced leave, retrenched and offered the golden handshake even while their union offices have been closed over the last few months, bank union leaders have claimed.

The union leaders from Habib Bank, Muslim Commercial Bank, Allied Bank and foreign banks interviewed by Dawn maintained that the insertion of Section 27-B, Ordinance LVII of 1962 passed by the National Assembly on May 26, ahead of the privatization of banks, had been a blow to trade union activity – setting back its most active component in the banking sector.

Section 27 B states: “No officer or member of a trade union in a banking company shall use any bank facilities, including a car or telephone, to promote trade union activities… or carry on trade union activities during office hours… nor shall he be a person who is not an employee of the banking company in question.” According to the union leaders, who claim to have lost contact with one another after the closure of the offices, the Services Tribunals (Amendment) Act 1997 had further prevented them from having access to the labour courts, appellate courts or the National Industrial Relations Council, with all labour disputes now to be sent to the Services Tribunal.

“We are expecting the worst after August 14, when there will be retrenchment and the golden handshake will be offered to bank employees ahead of privatization,” said Habibuddin Junaidi, president of Habib Bank General Workers Front Pakistan. Foreign Banks Employees Federation president Mohammed Ajab Khan, secretary-general Mohammed Saghir and finance secretary Farrukh Saleem Khan told Dawn that already the foreign banks, Al Mashriq, Bank of America, Standard Chartered, Hongkong Shanghai and ANZ Grindlays banks had retrenched 30 per cent personnel, foremost amongst them being peons and security guards and replaced their services by personnel from private companies.

Foreign banks union leaders said they had refused to comply with government instructions to vacate union offices and had, instead, filed a writ petition against evacuation in the high court. Muslim Commercial Bank union general secretary Saeed Ghani alleged that while hundreds of employees had been transferred from the MCB (where only 780 out of 14,000 employees were opting for the golden handshake, “pocket unions” were being promoted by the management in a clear cut example of unfair labour practices. At the same time, the union leaders alleged that a number of collective bargaining agents (CBAs) has been bought over by the management. Saeed Ghani, who was in the forefront of the campaign launched during March/April by the Federal Organisation of Bank Employees and Financial Institutions (FOBFI) led by Mohammed Ali Memon of Habib Bank Employees Union (CBA), told Dawn that the top leadership of FOBFI had since advised his MCB union not to go on strike.

While trade union activity is in doldrums, its scattered leadership sharply criticized the government’s appointments of non-technical bank presidents and executive vice presidents “with fantastic salaries” as well as the discretionary powers given to banking heads to advance millions of rupees in loans – “part of which are being used as advances to finance their personal businesses.”

Mushtaq Ahmed Khan Changezi, secretary-general of Habib Bank Progressive Officers Union, alleged that while more than Rs1 billion had been given out in loans by Habib Bank during the last three-four months, only a tiny percentage of the Rs34 billion HBL loans had been returned by defaulters. As a result of the lack of success in recovering defaulter loans, the government had extended the deadline for Habib Bank until September 5, union leaders said.

Mr Junaidi blamed past governments, bureaucrats, bank managements and union leaders for their collective “corruption and incompetence” in bringing banks to the present state of financial ruin. He demanded that while all those who had contributed to the decline of the banks and DFIs should be brought to trial and the “working class should not be victimized.”

In particular, the Workers Front president called for a referendum in Habib Bank. According to him, while the Habib Bank unions had played a leading role in trade union movements from 1974 uptill today, any deviation by the CBAs could only be blamed on the government’s failure to hold referendum since the last four years.

Source: Dawn

Edhi not happy over decline in donations

KARACHI, Jan 14: The onset of the holy month of Ramazan has become a test of popularity for veteran social worker Abdus Sattar Edhi whose Edhi Trust suffered a decline of 40 percent in donations last Ramazan and whose daily receipts have fallen in the same proportion over the last couple of years.

Mr Edhi told Dawn that although cheques for Zakat, clothes and rations had begun to arrive at his head office in Mithadar since Ramazan began on Jan 11, by the 20th of Ramazan he would have a better idea whether donations fetched during the holy month would match up to the funds normally brought in each Ramazan.

Interviewed at his humble Mithadar office, Mr Edhi related that last Ramazan the contributions to the Edhi Trust fell from Rs 40 million to 25 million – with his charitable organisation still not recovered from the set-back. This year, he assessed the situation to have become bad enough to defer the payment of staff salaries till after Ramazan. However, apart from Ramazan, Mr Edhi has suffered loss of ‘khairat’ (charity) normally given by the middle class and business class, with donations falling from an average daily of Rs 700,000 to Rs 400,000. The sharp decline in donations coupled with the severe fall in the value of the rupee has, according to him, forced him to cut down his network of social services across the country.

The experienced social worker said there was a “very small class” that donates to the Edhi Trust. With everything so expensive, they too had been holding back on donations.

Mr Edhi traced the downslide for his Trust as beginning in January 1995 when he returned from a month-long exile in London, undertaken to escape the pressure groups who had been bent on overthrowing the government. He had secretly left on Dec. 8, 1994 to escape the groups (amongst whose leaders he had named Imran Khan and Maulana Israr Ahmed), to prevent them from using him to topple the government.

The veteran social worker said that since the PPP government had been in power at that stage, his departure had created the wrong impression that he was a supporter of the PPP. This was despite his categorical assertion that “I am not a politician”. Mr Edhi declared that he had temporarily fled because he could never collaborate with the vested interests who were dividing people on the basis of being Sindhi, Baloch, Mohajir and Pakhtun. During the ethnic riots, he stressed, his ambulances had been picking up bodies regardless of ethnicity. Despite this, he alleged that “narrow-minded people had been spreading the poison of ethnic differences”.

He was also critical of the Jamaat-i-Islami, claiming that the latter was intent on “bringing the nation to the brink of disaster”. For him, “The only religion I know is that of serving humanity”.

Two years from Edhi’s self-exile, the Edhi Trust is in the throes of a financial set-back, Edhi claiming he is being “punished for speaking out”. He regretted that on its 50th anniversary this year, Pakistan was still far from its goal of achieving unity and the mission elaborated by the Quaid-i-Azam for a comprehensive social welfare system.

Source: Dawn