Wednesday, April 24, 2019
Blog Page 22

Understanding ISIS

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This is the first part of two part series. The latter one being:

Benedict Cumberbatch hit the nail on the head when he said ,“You cannot kill and idea with a bomb”

ISIS has been a noteworthy phenomenon, which has overtaken -almost by surprise- huge swathes of land reminiscent of Blitzkrieg some 70 years ago. To engage with them in the right manner, they need to be analyzed rationally, taking any morsel of anger and resentment out of the equation.

We have to understand them thoroughly and not superfluously. The origins of ISIS require a deep examination and their demands and motivation must not be outright dismissed but looked at. This is not to say that their demands are met but to understand why those demands exist? And why is there is such a strong committed to the cause?

ISIS is a neo-Wahabi organization with Abu Bakr Baghdadi at its helm. It is the latest monster that has broken the shackles and emerged from the Al-Qaeda laboratory and is now roaring in Sumeria; Boko-Haram and Al-Shabab being the previous two. It would be wrong therefore to label it Sunni or Islamic, as its actions grossly misrepresent the mentioned groups. To see how these monsters are created one has to look at the picture that paints global conflicts.

There are a lot of questions in the grief ridden Muslim world about existence of global morals and conscience. For instance why the UN never seizes to disappoint in resolving problems that have been pending for decades (Kashmir and Palestine)? Why the Arab spring backed up by west has lead to creation of headless states that have not quelled anxiety of populace but fuelled it. Why many a countries in Muslim world cannot furnish dignified lifestyle to their citizens let alone a secure future? A case in point is the recent siege of land on the West bank (Palestine) and the not to mention the massacre in Gaza. The world watches silently as the wounds get deeper.  And in that rummage, rise these fighters feeding of the injustice and riding on waves of religious fervour that doesn’t help to question the world around them but urges them to grab it by the scruff of the neck. For any sincere effort to neutralize the threat of ISIS it is imperative to earnestly address the problems in the Muslims world that have plagued them for decades.

ISIS are much sophisticated and structured than what one associates with clan of tribal warrior. They have a proper hierarchy and operational wings, with role of every member defined.  They have more technology at their disposal than ever before. Their efficacy in usage of internet and social media to boost their recruitment drive is now apparent after more than a thousand people from Europe alone have gone to join their cause. It can also be extrapolated that they have sister organizations and individuals who are working both actively and passively (gathering funds) in every major country. To date they are the most well financed Neo-Wahabi organization leaving Al-Qaeda for dead.

The ideological features and modus operandi of ISIS are similar to Boko-Haram and hence to avoid repetition, the commentary on it can referenced form this link.

When ISIS was formed they found their strength in prophetic traditions that narrate rise of warriors that would conquer “Hind” (the modern day subcontinent) and will go on to capture Syria. Although the authenticity of these traditions are disputed but clearly ISIS are trying to model themselves along these lines.  To further their cause, the persecution of Sunni Muslims in Iraq by Nouri al –Maliki government and suppressing of the Arab spring in both Syria and Egypt found them many recruits.

They will be counting on a military strike and will do their utmost to provoke a reaction. And this is exactly why we must not get trapped in thinking that military strike is the only solution. On the contrary, it works in their favour as it would provide a sense of verification for their own warped views. It would  drive up the numbers of recruits. War is an industry for people with nihilistic mindset. We have to act differently to deal with this menace of modern day fascism.

How do we kill an idea? This will be the subject of the second article so watch this space.

Sustainable Karachi: Water Conservation

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Water conservation in Karachi
Water: The juice of life

Sustainability is the current “buzzword” that has swept global conscience. This is understandable as in recent times apocalyptic tales seem to be taking over the imagination of masses and doomsday conspiracies are making way into the mainstream. My visit to Karachi this summer left me aghast with many of the abrupt changes that have taken place. Although the city was never really renowned for its town and urban planning but recent developments are a pending disaster.

In light of this I have decided to write series of articles that would address issues pertaining to sustainability in Karachi. These articles will aim to provide solutions to chronic problems such as water and power shortage, pollution and population control, transport and economy and other facets of sustainability.


The absence of a proper governing structure for a metropolis and presence of a skeletal municipal cooperation has been taken into account. Therefore steps and in some cases baby steps towards sustainability will be rolled out that are within the grasp of any individual willing to take the initiative.
In 1998 the Meteorology department in Karachi pointed out that the city might be engulfed in a civil war by the year 2010 due to water shortage. By the year 2002, a further scare surfaced that Karachi is losing 30% of its water because of supply pipes out living their effective life. For a metropolis in an arid zone this is utterly unacceptable. At present, majority of Karachi’s population is affected by the scarcity of water and are living under a cloud of anxiety.

It wasn’t always this way. I remember it was a sunny afternoon in the early 90’s when as a teenager living on the outer stretches of University road, I witnessed a bearded man of heavy built using a pickaxe to strike a hole in a wide concrete pipeline. The area was near “Safoora Goath” and was at the time was thinly populated. This activity was being carried out at a point that was shrouded by Keekar (Prosopis Juliflora) shrubs. I was able to view it from my balcony; the elevation gave me the perfect vantage point. While Keekar itself poses several ecological problems but that is a topic for another day. My initial thoughts were that the man might be a KDA inspector or a technician trying to inspect the line. After several attempts he finally succeeded in creating a hole as wide as a football. Water came out gushing and a puddle started forming. At this point I noticed the man brought forward his tanker truck, pushed a rubber hose inside the mains pipe and turned on an external pump. It took him about 25 minutes to fill up his monster vessel before he drove off in the sunset. A growing pool of water was left behind. I was shocked by this act but did not know whom to report. I had just witnessed the emergence of tanker mafia in Karachi. That hole was patched a week later i.e. after several tankers had binged on the “new” commodity.

Water is a precious resource and no one can do without it. 2010 came and passed. There was no civil war in Karachi, mainly because people had tapped into underground aquifers. In areas like Shah Faisal and Model colony, water could be pumped by digging boreholes only 70 feet deep. Recent reports however suggest that the water levels are receding and now deeper boreholes are required to access the juice of life.

In the present situation, we have to stop relying on purely adhoc solutions and look at the long term. We cannot just delay the apocalypse, we have to cancel it. Karachi has to take several steps towards water conservation from fixing the seeping pipelines to curbing the tanker mafia. But in a city where water supply is a billion dollar industry, to stem the flow people need to be empowered through awareness and education.

Due to scarcity, water usage per captia in Karachi is already in check. People are generally conservative in their water usage as they have to pay a hefty premium on its overuse. However steps can be taken on an individual level to further reduce its usage. For example, spray taps (tap aerators) can be used which enhance the washing effect of water but reduce its consumption. The amount of water that is wasted while performing ablution could also be reduced and mosques should lead the way in incorporating this apparatus in their ablution areas. This measure alone will save millions of gallons of both fresh and brackish water.

A prominent Hadith also cements the concept of water conservation. It is narrated that one is not to waste a single drop of water even if one is to perform ablution near a flowing river.

It is now well established that more plant attracts more rainfall while increasing green areas require water, bringing us to a chicken and egg scenario. A possible problem out of this is Karachi’s precipitation, which is not the highest but experts have highlighted its great potential for rainwater harvesting. Data issued by Meteorological department suggests that although Karachi’s monsoon variability is getting high (due to climate change), but the overall trend is an increase in rainfall. Harvesting that rainwater by open top tanks on roofs and rock catchment areas is a small step towards not only increasing our water resource but also beautifying the city in the process.

The wider solution perhaps is desalination of sea water. I recently witnessed a portable water desalination unit used by the military that produced 9 US gallons (30 litres) of water in an hour on a 110 Watt power input. The unit costs 5600 USD but could be run easily run with a solar PV panel. PCSIR, NED and Hamdard University have produced similar units using solar thermal technology (which are cheaper) as research projects. Some of these projected have been commissioned, but the lack of funding and concerted efforts have confined many of them to newspaper archives. It should be noted that modern desalination units that run on renewable energy have minimal maintenance costs.

Thus if the industrialists and Industrial units in Karachi – which themselves use fresh water intensively- pool in the money to raise capital for desalination units, the citizens could get access to pure water at almost a fraction of cost they currently pay. In addition, it could kick start an industry (desalination plant production) that would not only provide much needed employment but also bring revenue by exporting expertise and products abroad.

I once heard Gil Grosvenor, Chairman of National Geographic, mentioning that availability of fresh water will become an index by which prosperity of a nation will be measured. It did not make sense at the time but it certainly does now. Let’s start our journey to prosperity by stocking up the basic element of life, water. Let’s start appreciating that we don’t spend hours in acquiring it and let’s make sure that we keep it that way in the future too.

Memoirs: Karachi 1998

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The year was 1998, month was June, which in Karachi is normally a very hot affair. And yet there was something about that particular year that everything felt different, was different. Occasionally during summers in Karachi, a system of low air pressure occupies the region for months, keeping the skies cloudy through the summer and blocking the scorching sun. The residual heat is whisked away by a constant sea breeze. It was one of those years.

As a sophomore at NED University I was perpetually elated, basking in glory of my admission in arguably then the premier engineering institute in Pakistan. My newly found friends from the university were trusted by my parents, which gave me higher degree of independence. With that package also came the feeling of invincibility.

Along with my friends, I could conquer the world and so crashing weddings particularly ones from where barbeque smoke would arise, was never problematic. The city and its citizens as a whole were magnanimous, after all it was the cool and breezy summer of 1998.

 

In those days game consoles were unheard of. “Pentium” was state-of-the-art machine owned by a privileged few. Internet was rare and mystical.  In the air was the hype of the long awaited movie “Saving Private Ryan”. In fact any upcoming Spielberg movie created the same sense of interest and anticipation (at least in my tech savvy university).  Whether that movie would be played in Nishat (only cinema house to play A-list Hollywood movies) was another story.

Technology to summon specific and relevant information was taking shape. And using just that, we unraveled quite a few mysteries about the movie (cast, budget and release dates) through a cyber cafe offering internet usage at 30 Rs per hour.  At that time, internet cafes were cropping up across Karachi’s ever changing cityscape, most of them used for chatting on MIRC. Some even offered 5 star environment and refreshing ambience along with complimentary and copious coffee/ tea.

The term “surfing” was more popular than “browsing”. Needless to say that “Google Chrome” didn’t exist and we were at the mercy of either a “Netscape Navigator” or a dodgy “Internet Explorer”. I still remember how awestruck we were to discover the latest feed and images from Mars Pathfinder through NASA’s website. It was the awesome summer of 1998.

 

Sunset (Sea View Karachi) Image Courtesy: Umair Adeeb
Sunset (Sea View Karachi)
Image Courtesy: Umair Adeeb

While at NED, the computer engineering lads would roam the corridors with 3.5 inch floppy disks neatly tucked in their pockets.  This was more a statement of their smug nerdiness than anything else. The more enterprising students hovered about the Mech corner (the secluded canteen of the University). The machos among them could be seen ordering succulent beef rolls while the girls preferred their spicy “Channa Chat” with a generous sprinkle of extra spicy “Slims” chips. Losing hours here along with brain cells was never a problem after all it was the careless summer of 1998.

It was the time when communication technology was our slave and not the other way round.  Mobile phones were rare and no one could be spotted glued to a small screen. Karachi was a living, breathing and thriving city. The traffic may not have been ideal but it was limited and on a motorbike it took minutes not hours to charter the city. Amidst that dynamism of both us and Karachi, the football world cup started.

PTV like before was to telecast all the games. France 98 kicked off with Brazil as the favourites but it was a certain Dutch team that captivated the audience. The tangerines were star studded with stalwarts like Bergkamp, Davids and exciting players like Overmars, Kluivert, Seedorf, Stam, De-Boer. Team Holland were playing with flair reminiscent of the days of Van Basten and Johan Cryuff.  They certainly took a huge portion of Pakistan’s de-facto Brazilian support.

 Chumbawumba’s Tubthumping upturned Ricky Martin’s La Copa De la Vida to become the unofficial world cup anthem.  Official world cup cassette/CDs occupied the display cabinets in music shops and I became the happy victim. The air waves were ruled by only a single FM radio channel and yet the city rocked. It was the swinging summer of 1998.

 Coming home from university, there was nothing that could match watching football with a chilled mango shake.  The world cup carried on with Brazil triumphing Holland to surprisingly meet the host French team in the final. At the end it was Zidane, Zinidine Zidane that would eclipse the joint strike force Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Babeto. It was Zidane who overpowered Dunga, Taffarel and Roberto Carlos. Finally the nation who had initiated the tournament got their hands on the trophy. As the summer started fading, Karachi got two new attractions, the Air- Force museum and the bouldered sea front at tail end of “Sea View”. That was the fulfilling summer of 1998.

16 years on, I am visiting Karachi after a long sojourn. Another summer and another world cup. It all brings forth a flood of memories but this time the city feels different, is different. Dispersed are my mates, fragmented is the city gone are the places I loved, perished has the sense of invincibility. Sigh! Karachi my same Karachi is laboring me with vulnerability and burdening me insecurity. A city with million dwellers but no custodians. But hey-ho, all is not lost. Peshawari ice-cream has survived and just like an oasis in the city’s empty, hobbyless and disinterested souls, the PIA Planetarium still stands…….. (just for the record, I was never interested in the airplane standing beside it). Karachi still breathes, Karachi is still alive.

Muslims’ Attitude Toward Dogs

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Dogs, the mere thought of them makes many muslims wince, whimper, jolt and even shudder. What is about a dog that is so repugnant and fearful to almost a third of the global population?

Around 10 years ago while in UK, I came across a guide dog for the first time in my life. It was walking a blind man. Like an unfolding revelation, it stopped me cold in my tracks and made me marvel its ability. It was a moment of utter mesmerisation. When that dog came across a pedestrian crossing, with a swift movement it positioned itself in front of its owner  with such awareness and poise so as not to trip him. The blind person stopped and searched for the button to summon the green man on the signal. As soon as the signal called, the dog ushered him across the road. It kept walking till it came to a bus stop, where it halted its owner again. The bus came and it took him on board. All that while, I remained frozen in observation. It wasn’t that I didn’t have any experience of  a dog’s company, but the utility that I witnessed was inspiring and it completely transformed my attitude towards them.

I went back and searched on a documentary on guide dogs and was further amazed on how much independence (from other people) they are able to provide to those who are physically impaired. From morning till night, helping them out of bed, helping them getting dressed, taking them out,  administrating medication times and fetching things are just a few of the daily errands they run. And I haven’t even mentioned their contribution as pets. Since that day I made it a point to contribute to Guide dog charities.

And yet walking along with my colleagues and even members of my family, I see bizarre reactions when passing by a dog. They would freeze, they would jump on a ledge and climb a pole if they had too. They are completely overtaken by a phobia. This reaction for me understandable but is disrespectful.

Most of the dogs in the third world and muslim countries are stray.  During the night time when human movement subsides, they would roam freely and mark their territory. Come the following morning, the first people to enter their territory are in for a chase. This is where the fear of dogs stems from but to add to this there is also a prevalent perception of dogs being unclean (from Islamic point of view).

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The Quran tells the story of the “seven” sleepers of the cave. While the Quran points to the fact that their number (of sleepers) is irrelevant, it always mentions the presence of dog with those pious men. It is for muslims to ponder that why would God almighty put an unclean “dog” in a confined space with those penitent men? And no, your state of ablution or purity remains intact if touched by a dog. So muslims need to revise their perceptions and change their behaviour.   It is the extreme reaction that shows a complete disregard of their service to humanity.

For thousands of years dogs have served humans as shepherds, as guards and even as hunting aid. They have rescued countless people in avalanches. Even in modern times they are used at the borders/ports for policing and for the war against drugs. If not in the field of duty they are testing out effects of smoke. There is a lot they have done for us and there is a lot they will do and can do. I hope we (muslim’s in particular), will learn to appreciate this beautiful creature and give credit for its services.

Let’s face it dogs can do without us but we certainly cannot do without them.

The real life Game of Thrones in Pakistan

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As the Wildling of the north i.e. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) wreak havoc with their focus now towards the south, it is getting irresistible to draw parallels between the popular HBO series and rising chaos in Pakistan. A game of thrones is indeed being played right under the nose of the current Pakistani government. A naive king at the helm “Nawaz Sharif” paints the perfect picture of Tommen Baratheon, both childish and shy of being in the lime-light. The juxtaposition of characters yields some remarkable results.  Lacking even an ounce of statesmanship the prime minister is more interested in gadgets and lavish banquets than taking notes of the unfolding events under his watch. Perhaps just like his on screen counterpart, he has left the state of affairs to his clan till he comes of age, if ever.  Which brings us to the question of person playing Tywin Lannister? The nominations are Chaudhry Nisar and Shahbaz Sharif, both feisty and fiery. Shahbaz however pips Nisar as he is the blood relative of the king.  I wouldn’t go as far as labelling Mariam Nawaz, Queen Cersei.

Similar to the wildlings, the TTP are nihilistic and the only thing standing between them and civilized world is the Night’s Watch. In our case it is the brave men of Pakistan Army. The army may not have “The wall” to keep the anarchic out but certainly have a resolve as high.  As the battles begin and the confrontation grows one can see the army taking hits from all sides. Let’s just hope the lines do not get thinner.

Going back to “GoT” series one, the story is set in motion with the murder of the “Hand of the King” Lord Jon Arryn at King’s Landing.  Dr. Imran Farooq’s murder in London similarly started off an equally intriguing chain of events. Intriguing, despite the bulk of the populace having a good measure of the hand behind it.

With his cheeky grin and connivance, I am sure everyone will agree there is no one worthy of claim to represent Lord Petyr Baelish than our very own Asif Zardari. In fact George R.R. Martin should take a leaf from Zardari’s manual to make Baelish’s character more colourful.

Competing for Lord Varys character are Maulana Fazl –ur Rehamn and Najam Sethi.  Both have supported the realm and will shift moral stance to protect the status quo. Lords Varys certain unmentionable disability tilts the scale in favour of Maulana but than again his being Master of whisperers favours Sethi. I will leave this one for the readers to decide.

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Lord Najam Varys

Tahir ul Qadri rightly cuts a figure of the pseudo leader Stannis Bratheon, although arguably Shiekh Rasheed is in contention for that title too. Both challenging the status quo, waging a confrontation and trying utmost to usurp the throne.  But standing in their way at the gates of Kings Landing  is Shere-Lahore, the Mountain, Gullu Butt.

Gullumountain

Gullu “The Mountain” Butt: Smashing skulls for a hobby

Imran Khan’s PTI can be compared to the “House of Stark”. The only force that can be perhaps branded morally superior. Having been continuously wronged, the party of wounded was sent to the cleaners after the elections in 2013.  PTI had its red wedding through 35 puncture.

And finally somewhere far from the turmoil of Westorosian Pakistan, championing the rights of the financially enslaved, our very own Targaryan girl Fatima Bhutto is growing in stature abroad each passing day. She indeed is the rightful heir of the house of Bhutto. Let’s hope that she doesn’t need dragons and an army of unsullied to bring order out of chaos.

For someone who follows Pakistani politics, the thickening of the plot, the twists and turns, the webs of deceit are far more riveting than the fantasy series. Winter might be coming in Westoros, but the great game in Pakistan might see the climax during midsummer.

Readers are urged to let their imagination run wild and inform about other analogies that they find relevant. I will endeavor to add them and give due credit.

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