As things rise and fall
How should we react to things that rise and fall in quick succession and
never give us breathing space to adjust? The difficulties of adjustment
lies in the fact that rising things keep on rising and never fall, while the
falling things keep on falling. They seldom rise. Take the case of utility
bills and tell us if they promise any relief. The authorities that bill
their customers for using power, gas and water are in cutthroat competition
to charge more and more. They do not stop at any point. They have their
own logic and they do not wish to know that their customers have limited
income. They are reportedly under compulsion from the IMF to squeeze the
last penny out of their miserable clients. But they have also some extra
reasons to justify every new hike. The recent rise in the fuel price has
triggered a new wave of price hike. The rise in POL prices came when the
fuel prices were falling in the international market. That violated the
promise that POL prices would be adjusted in accordance with the price
trends in the international market. The government which imports most of
its petroleum products from abroad enjoys an advantage to charge at will.
Having failed to generate enough revenues from various taxes, it finds it
convenient to raise revenues by increasing fuel prices. With the government
in desperate need to meet its IMF obligations, it matters but little whether
we import fuel or whether we produce it locally. The point is well borne
out by the government's recent decision to allow some 60 per cent increase
in the prices of natural gas, which is very much an indigenous product. The
rise came from the cabinet's decision to withdraw the so-called Rs 5 billion
subsidy. 'Were we being allowed such a huge subsidy on our own gas?' That
was everyone's wonder on hearing the shocking announcement. And as people contemplated the prospect of having to pay more for gas, the Wasa came up with the announcement that it was going to increase water charges by 60 per cent. The reason for the new water rate is said to be the higher power charges the civic agency pays to Wapda.
Those worrying about the enhanced water charges would do well to think of the water levels of Mangla and Tarbela, which have fallen to their minimum. Isn't it a blessing that Lahore has enough underground water and does not have to depend on supplies from Mangla, Tarbela or Rawal dams? That makes a perfect recipe for staying happy in miserable conditions.
But there is one more thing that may offer some comfort to everyone here.
India has increased its defence budget by 13.8 per cent but Pakistan is no
mood to follow India and lose its cool. Being a peace-loving country,
Pakistan has expressed deep concern over India's defence budget increase.
It has warned that the new increase will upset the military balance in South
Asia. 'The massive acquisition of arms by India is a cause of concern for
Pakistan because the bulk of India's army is deployed on Pakistani
borders," said Foreign Office spokesman Riaz Mohammad Khan. Being in a
hard-pressed economic situation, we are surely in no position to vie with
India and enter into an arms race. Such was the view of a retired army
general debating India's rising defence spending on PTV. That was a
realistic assessment of our situation. We hope we will avoid raising our
defence budget. It is surely no utility bill that can be raised at will.
Having answered India with six nuclear explosions following its Pokran
atomic blasts we need not go further to challenge it in the build-up of its
conventional forces. This is notwithstanding that we will be depending more
on our nuclear option in the event of a possible conflagration.
India's rising defence budget may not impress some of our religious leaders
supporting the jihadi groups in Kashmir. Days before India's announcement
of its defence budget a well-known religious party leader delighted the
zealots by saying that every moulvi was an 'atom bomb" in himself. No one
should be in a position to challenge his assertion, although it may be
relevant to ask why we wasted so much money to build our nuclear arsenal if
he had the facility of so many "atom bombs" around us.
Two scholarly women
Two US-based Pakistani women scholars who visited Lahore one after another and lectured on topics of their choice last month showed a striking
similarity in their reformist views on Pakistani society. They were Dr
Ayesha Jalal, historian, and Dr. Riffat Hassan, a professor of comparative
religions. Both exhorted Pakistani women to confront their obscurantist
adversaries by reinterpreting Islam in the light of Allama lqbal's thought.
Dr Ayesha Jalal spoke on 'Women as ornament and woman as prostitute:
Rethinking the women's question in Pakistan.' She urged female activists to
have a thorough understanding of Islam to win their rights by launching a
crusade from within the community. Quoting from Iqbal, she said Islam was
all about equity, justice, and general public good. But, she stressed, the
face of Islam being presented by some zealots was quite different from the
original message. She said women had made some progress in recent years but there were still some hurdles to be crossed. This was not a very likeable
stuff for liberal women among her audience. Some of them questioned the idea of matching ideological accomplishments in their fight for rights.
Dr Jalal said Islam was nobody's property. The religion in its essence
meant equality, justice, and public good. Dr Jalal said there must be some
reason why only 150 people gathered on the call of rights activists as compared to much large gatherings held in the name of religion. She stressed the need for overcoming the shortcomings in the activists' methodology to realize the target.
Dr Riffat Hassan's topic was 'Islamic Society and Civil Society; A
direction for Pakistan.' She said in Islam, service to God could not be
separated from service to humankind, and that believers in God must honour
both Haqul Allah (rights of God) and Haquq al-ibad: (rights of the people).
Dr Hassan also emphasised ijtihad or a modernist version of Islam in the
light of lqbal's ideas. She thought Islam did not believe in discrimination
against women. Nor was it in conflict with human rights. Her modernist view
of Islam was in no way different from any enlightened Pakistan's view. All
went well until she read out her open letter to Gen. Musharraf, which was
published in a California-based Pakistani newspaper on February 25, 2000.
The letter, which was part of her paper described as notes, showed that
the lady had pinned high hopes on the military regime for improving the
human rights situation. Had she carefully monitored the regime's
performance on human rights, she would not have made the letter a part of
her thesis. The Chief Executive who initially projected himself as a
follower of Kamal Ata Turk did not live up to the promise when his regime
caved in to pressure from the fundamentalists. Now it is no secret that his
regime believes in placating a tiny minority of zealots to gain political
mileage against major parties in the country. Dr Riffat who conducted
research for 25 years in the US does not impress anyone by faulting Benazir
Bhutto for her human rights performance and pinning hopes on the military
regime to put up a better performance in the same area. Military regimes
that derive sustenance from suspension of fundamental rights should be least
credible for improving the human rights situation. -VIEWFINDER