Will Gen Bajwa walk the talk?

IN one of the most noticeable statements from the country’s military leadership, Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Bajwa has proposed that a “people-centric approach based on local ownership” should be adopted as far as securing the “ongoing developmental activity and future trade” in Balochistan under CPEC is concerned.

The army chief also acknowledged that the province has been ‘unfortunately’ neglected in the past for a host of reasons but said that was not the case anymore. Gen Bajwa’s thoughts, shared with an audience in Khuzdar, are significant, given that the army has been the senior partner in the running of state policies, including security affairs, in the province for a number of years now.

If the army chief is prepared to walk the talk and if the government, with a new dispensation at the helm of the army and its intelligence set-up which isn’t hostile to it, feels empowered now to seize the initiative and roll out policy measures aimed at assuaging the pain of the Baloch, a new beginning can be made.


The army chief’s proposal for a people-centric approach to Balochistan is significant.


The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is supposed to bring in direly needed investment to the resource-starved ramshackle infrastructure of the country to boost growth in the economy, and eventually deliver its fruit to the people of Pakistan in the shape of more job opportunities, better standard of living etc.

Therefore, if many voices that represent the Baloch people are expressing concern at the prospect of being marginalised and overwhelmed by the influx of the non-Baloch as CPEC takes concrete shape, then these concerns need to be looked at and addressed.

That is why Gen Bajwa’s view that a people-centric approach and local ownership is needed to realise the benefits of the huge investment in infrastructure and the resultant trade appears significant.

Just as the government, after making CPEC controversial among the three smaller provinces and almost alienating them, decided to include the chief ministers of Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan in last month’s Beijing meeting of the Joint Cooperation Committee to very positive effect, it should take the initiative to invite all significant voices expressing concern in Balochistan to sit around the table and address their misgivings.

One can understand the security establishment’s discomfort with leaders such as Brahmdagh Bugti who have now chosen to seek India’s help, which the Pakistani authorities believe is involved in fomenting violence in the province.

At the same time, there are many, many Baloch leaders (and I am happy to talk specifics should someone be interested) who are still struggling for the rights of their people within the ambit of democratic conduct and the federation. These voices must not, under any circumstances, be allowed to become despondent.

Side by side with such a move possibly by the government, the military, for its part, needs to debate within the institution how far it is prepared to go to repair the damage done to national cohesion by the utterly mindless, roughshod policies pursued by some of its past leaders.

The chain of events leading up to the transformation of Nawab Akbar Bugti, until then one of the iconic pro-Pakistan and pro-establishment figures in the province, into a rebel who took to the mountains and was killed fighting the military, are an abject lesson in how not to handle the Baloch and Balochistan.

Even after his killing, no attempt was made to apply the healing touch to the province and its poor yet proud people. Well before Indian involvement exacerbated the situation, the man described by his own army colleagues as near-psychopathic, one Maj-Gen Nadeem Ijaz, Musharraf’s DG MI unleashed a reign of terror in Balochistan.

Apart from his proximity to his relative Musharraf, there was no apparent reason why Military Intelligence was given the lead role in Balochistan areas traditionally seen as the responsibility of the Inter-Services Intelligence.

The idea here is not to dwell too much on the tragic, bloody past and a still uncertain present but merely to illustrate what may be needed to undo the damage done by callous state policies over the past decade and some.

I have repeatedly written about the disastrous policies of use of non-state actors, most notably sectarian elements, to curb those seen as separatists. The province is still reeling in the aftermath of that policy as characters such as Shafique Mengal are now openly identifying themselves with Lashkar-i-Jhangvi al-Alami and attacking the state itself.

If one wasn’t aware of all the sensitivities and sensibilities in the country and the institutions, it would have been easy to propose a general amnesty, and then a truth and reconciliation commission on the lines of the successful South African model headed by someone of the stature of Justice Qazi Faez Isa.

But no, it won’t work. We have no tradition of such openness and many of those who have wielded power of life and death over fellow Pakistanis, and exercised it once too often, would obviously not like to be identified as most of their actions were from the comfort of obscurity.

One hopes that the next time the prime minister, the army chief and the intelligence bosses sit down to discuss security issues they also have Balochistan on the agenda. I have had the privilege of having travelled in the beautiful province, falling in love with it and having many of its proud sons as friends.

If a foreign hand is indeed actually involved in fanning unrest, an iron-fisted security policy on its own won’t be enough. It rarely ever is. While those who remain hell-bent on breaking the law need to have the book thrown at them (not snatched, shot and dumped), the rest need to see a sincere hand extended to them. This is not rocket science.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

abbas.nasir@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, January 7th, 2017


Author Image
Abbas Nasir is a former editor of Dawn.

He tweets @abbasnasir59.

This start-up helps travelers explore beautiful parts of Pakistan. Should you try it?

Who doesn’t suffer from unhealthy levels of wanderlust? Almost everyone I know dreams about taking a break from the city to discover the wonders of the natural world. Don’t you ever wish to go swimming with swarms of fish, breathe in the fresh mountain air or rediscover yourself as you hike across some of the most beautiful valleys in the world?

While our imaginations know no boundaries, we are often held back because of the logistics and planning that go into these dream adventure holidays.

Finding the right travel service, places to stay, the right gear to pack and attractions to visit becomes an overbearing experience. But one start-up is hoping to bulldoze these hurdles.

FindMyAdventure.pk was created with the aim to encourage people to shed fears associated with venturing out into undiscovered pastures. The startup is looking to make everything from deciding a location to booking accommodation and travel arrangements, as easy as a few clicks.

The people behind the service

It all began with a group of six friends that had to face their own fears in order to bring the vision of FindMyAdventure to life.

Leaving their well-paying corporate jobs for an unexplored industry was a calculated risk Syed Haider Raza, Husnain Malik, Shozab Naqvi, Komail Abbas, Khwaja Raza Abbas and Ali Yousuf took back in mid 2016.

“The choice was between a conventional 9am to 5pm career or a chance to really work on something we cared about and making a difference. The risk of failure, however daunting, was something that did not hold us back.” Haider Raza, co-founder and CEO told us, “We decided to take the risk and pursue our passion.”

The company says it has now served over a thousand satisfied customers and as word of mouth spreads, demand for their service keeps going up.

These entrepreneurs combined their passion of travelling, love for Pakistan and a drive to make create a positive image of their country to create FindMyAdventure.

Design: Is less more — or too little?

Before we get ready to explore Pakistan’s vibrant landscapes, we set down to explore the website itself. FindMyAdventure is keeping everything as simple as possible. Their design aesthetic compliments their vision of providing a simple solution to travelling.

While the minimalistic design of the website is something that pleased me initially, as I spent more time on the service I felt as though the idea was taken beyond its charm and is often over simplistic. The overall design is beautiful and very easy to use for everyone but at times it may seem like work in progress.

My first impression of the website led to the expectation of finding high quality photographs of potential tour destinations. However, I was disappointing to discover that everything is left to the imagination, as the service provides no visual references for any of Pakistan’s heavenly sights. Personally, photographs of places, accommodation and activities would help me make a more informed decision.

How it works

Conventional travel and tourism services usually stuff their homepages with too much information and options, without keeping an eye out for design and usability. This sometimes overwhelms users and results in inaction.

FindMyAdventure is not that website. You begin your experience with a single search box that serves three functions:

  • Type what you are looking for in the box

  • Select a destination you want to go to from a list

  • Select an activity you would like to go for from another list

Both lists appear automatically when you click in the search box.

An exciting promotional video is featured on the homepage, showing the inspirational, feel-good story of a foreign tourist travelling through some of the most breathtaking destinations of Pakistan. I have to say it is quite motivating and by the end of it I just wanted to start packing my bags and be on my way.

While the video is a great promotional tool, it does not touch upon the functionality of the service or show the website being used to make such travel arrangements.

Once you have made your selection and searched for a particular activity or desination, reslts are presented in a neatly composed list. Each result has a basic overview of the adventure, including its price per person. You can further narrow the list using optional filters that can be easily tweaked to fit your requirements.

Additionally, if none of the pre-existing plans fit your criteria, you have the option to request a customised travel plan using the “make my adventure” form.

Once you select a tour of your liking, it is presented in an organised and comprehensive timeline along with highlights and a list of activities for each day. The tour page also features all the main attractions of your destination. If you like what you see, you can book the tour with a single click.

The service offers three payment methods to users, including ‘Cash Collection’ where a representative of the company will collect payment from you from a location of your choosing.

Downside: Not enough answers

FindMyAdventure is a cleverly crafted website but when it’s time to pay, I’d like to see a bit more information than what is provided.

The FAQ page didn’t answer questions like who am I dealing with exactly? Is it the tour operators or FindMyAdventure? Who is responsible should something unforeseen happen? Where is my money going? Do they have the experience to organise all the things they are claiming? How will they ensure safety and security for my loved ones?

Trust is the first step to creating a sense of security and is something the company needs to effectively develop with its users through transparent information and open communication.

The website asks for all my private information and requires me to pay for its services in advance, yet it does not provide clear information about the actual show runners that will be taking me out on tour. They may not be intentionally keeping this information from users but there is little they have done to make it easy for users to know details about their tour operators.

Behind the scenes

Think of FindMyAdventure as an online store where tour operators sell their services directly to consumers. FindMyAdventure promises to supervise the entire tour operation, making sure their partners deliver the best service and their customers enjoy the experience they are promised.

Any tour operator can be FindMyAdventure’s partner but according to the company, they must go through a vetting process to find a place on the service.

One of the most sensitive subjects, when it comes to travelling within Pakistan, is security. It is still one of the biggest reasons why many people are hesitant to explore the country. FindMyAdventure ensures that it only works with tour operators that have plenty of experience and a history of satisfied customers.

“Safety and security concerns are addressed via partners’ work history, profile and an overall background check. Through this process, our customers travel with the assurance that they are in capable hands.” Haider explains in response to questions about customer safety.

Finding FindMyAdventure

Getting in touch with FindMyAdventure is not as straightforward as finding a dream trip using their service. You are given a single phone number and one chat box.

Once I logged into my account, the phone number disappeared and I could no longer see it unless I logged out. There is no ‘About’ section providing information about the company or any additional contact information.

Another major let down for me was the absence of a ‘Policy’ page, something that is vital for a service of this nature.

Furthermore, the website does not feature a single navigation tool directing users to their social media accounts.

Things get worst for smartphone users as the single contact number also disappears completely on the mobile version of the website.

While there is currently no smartphone app for FindMyAdventure, I was glad to hear that it is under development and will be rolled out in the near future.

Verdict

While it may seem as though the cons outweigh the pros, it should be noted that any criticism pointed out can be very easily fixed. I like the name, I love the logo and I like the fact that users can navigate the website without having to sign in.

Travel and tourism is a massive industry across the world and Pakistan has no shortage of its own dream destinations. Startups like this are a welcome inclusion into this industry and can go a long way in connecting people with the beauty of our country and its vibrant cultures.

A visit to Gujranwala’s Eimanabad throws new light on Babur’s legacy

I stood at the threshold of the gurudwara. A small plaque above its wooden door declared that it was Gurudwara Chakki Sahib, Eimanabad. The door of the place of worship was locked, while a Nishan Sahib, the Sikh flag, rose from its courtyard, hoisted on a pole.

Eimanabad city, close to the Grand Trunk Road, is a splendid repository of history. Structures of several temples, now converted into houses, stand tall and proud amidst the houses. Scattered across it are remnants of exquisite havelis and palaces of nobles who once resided here.

One of these havelis was that of Malik Bhago, a corrupt noble who was reprimanded by Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, on the holy man’s visit to the city.

According to legend, Nanak refused to attend the sumptuous feast that Bhago had organised for the priests and Brahmins on the occasion of his son’s wedding, choosing instead to eat at the house of a carpenter, Bhai Lalo. Infuriated, Bhago summoned Nanak to his palace and questioned him over the rebuff.

Taking some bread from Bhago’s spread, the Guru squeezed it and blood oozed out of it. When he did the same with bread from Bhai Lalo’s house, which he had summoned to the venue, it released milk.

The guru explained that this was because the bread of Bhago had been purchased by money accumulated through corrupt means and by exploiting the poor, while Bhai Lalo had earned his money with honesty.

A few streets away is the gurudwara Bhai Lalo di Khoi, where Bhai Lalo’s house once stood and where Guru Nanak and his companion, Bhai Mardana, had stayed. The metal door to this gurudwara was also locked.

The conquest of Eimanabad

Before the the city of Gujranwala emerged as a major trade hub, Eimanabad was one of the most important cities east of Lahore, lying on the route connecting Kabul in Peshawar to Lahore and Delhi. With the rise of Gujranwala, Eminabad became a small town.

In the first half of the 16th century, Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire, crossed the Chenab river, which flows through parts of India and Punjab (in present-day Pakistan), in search of new territory to capture. He came upon a massive city and forces unleashed terror on it, killing thousands of citizens and imprisoning many more.

The city in question was Saidpur, its name later changed to Eimanabad on the orders of its new king. Nanak’s hagiography suggests he was in Saidpur when Babur captured the city. Along with other citizens, he too was imprisoned and forced to work on a stone mill.

According to one of the retellings of this story, Nanak, a saint, did not want to use his hands to rotate the stone mill and is said to have used his magical powers to make the mill rotate on its own.

This is ironic, given that Nanak, in his poetry, has spoke vehemently against superstitious beliefs on magic. Once, when asked if he could perform magic, he is believed to have sarcastically said:

Dwell then in flame uninjured,
Remain unharmed amid eternal ice,
Make blocks of stone thy food,
Spurn the solid earth before thee with thy foot,
Weigh the heavens in a balance
Then ask thou that Nanak perform wonders

When the guards at the prison saw Nanak’s purported magic, they informed Babur, who summoned the Sikh guru to his court and asked for his blessings so he could be successful in his future conquests.

Nanak refused to bless the Mughal king, questioning his audacity to seek his blessings after conquering the land where he lived. However, even without the guru’s blessings, Babur succeeded in his conquests and in spreading the Mughal Empire.

Today, the Gurudwara Chakki Sahib is located at the spot where Nanak was imprisoned and performed this “magical” deed.

Gurudwara Chakki Sahib. (Photo: Haroon Khalid)
Gurudwara Chakki Sahib. (Photo: Haroon Khalid)

Impression of an emperor

Almost 500 years after Nanak and Babur’s meeting, India and Pakistan are divided on the Mughal emperor’s legacy. For Hindu nationalists in India, Babur is an imperialist who plundered their land, curbed religious freedoms and suppressed their traditions.

Some Hindus believe that the Babri Masjid, or the Mosque of Babur in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, was built after demolishing a structure on the Ram Janmabhoomi, or the birthplace of Lord Ram, making it a major bone of contention.

Its demolition on December 6, 1992, by a group of Hindu kar sevaks, is one of the most important political events in India’s recent history and triggered communal riots all over the country.

In contrast, Pakistan, perhaps more so after 1992, began to embrace Babur. It suited the State’s historical framework – the need to depict the superiority of Muslim culture over the Hindu civilisation.

Much like the invaders Muhammad Bin Qasim, Mahmud Ghaznvi and Mohammad Ghori, Babur became a symbol of Muslim nationalism that culminated in the creation of Pakistan.

Several roads and chowks in the different cities of the country are named after the first Mughal Emperor. The State has even named a missile after him and just two weeks ago, Pakistan tested an enhanced version of the medium-range and subsonic cruise Babur missile.

As both the states interpret Babur to suit their narratives, I look towards Guru Nanak and what he had to say about the conqueror.

His poem Babur Bani, included in the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikhism’s central scripture and its 11th and eternal guru, beautifully captures the destruction that the king left at Eimanabad in its aftermath.

He writes:

Bringing the marriage party of sin,
Babar has invaded from Kabul,
demanding our land as his wedding gift, O Lalo…
…The Qazis and the Brahmins have lost their roles,
and Satan now conducts the marriage rites, O Lalo…
…The wedding songs of murder are sung, O Nanak,
and blood is sprinkled instead of saffron, O Lalo.

The poem mentions that his forces did not differentiate between Muslims and Hindus. Both fell victim to his wrath, which Nanak sarcastically calls “justice” of god.

For Nanak, Babur was not a Muslim king bent upon destroying the Hindu culture and neither was an Islamic national who wanted to spread his religion over a the land.

He was simply a king motivated by greed and glory, so much so that anyone, irrespective of religion, who came in his way, was destroyed.



Author Image

Haroon Khalid has an academic background in Anthropology from LUMS. He has been traveling extensively around Pakistan, documenting historical and cultural heritage. He is the author of Walking with Nanak, In Search of Shiva: A study of folk religious practices in Pakistan, and A White Trail: A journey into the heart of Pakistan’s religious minorities.

Ainak Wala Jinn’s Bil Batori is ill and needs our help. Why have we forgotten her?

If you were a ’90s child growing up in Pakistan, there’s no way you didn’t watch Ainak Wala Jinn on TV at least once in your lifetime.

24 years since the cult classic aired, the flamboyant Bil Batori character remains unforgettable. But the actor Nusrat Ara Begum who played the iconic character is now struggling to strive.

After a recent paralysis attack that affected her left leg, Nusrat Begum was rushed to Lahore’s Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, where doctors discharged her with just a prescription. The actor waited for medical aid on the steps of the hospital but no one cared to help.

Nusrat Begum, who currently resides in a one-room house, told Dawn News, “My feet are injured from all the walking, I don’t have a roof over my head, I just wish someone could do something for my accommodation.”

Watch the video here:

Since the news of Nusrat Begum’s illness broke, the Pakistan Baitul Mal has pledged Rs10 lacs for her treatment, reported Dawn News.

Pakistan Baitul Mal has pledged Rs10 lacs for Nusrat Ara's treatment
Pakistan Baitul Mal has pledged Rs10 lacs for Nusrat Ara’s treatment

While her son Amir Raza has said that she will consult doctors at Sheikh Zayed Hospital tomorrow, latest reports suggest that her treatment will begin at Combined Military Hospitals today.

Bank deposits grew 20pc in 2016

KARACHI: Deposits of the banking sector increased 20.4 per cent in 2016, which is notably higher than the growth rate witnessed in recent years.

In its latest statement of position of all scheduled banks, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) said deposits and other accounts of all scheduled banks on Dec 30 amounted to Rs11.2 trillion.

According to Topline Securities, 20.4pc growth in the deposits of the banking sector is significantly higher than the average growth of 12pc in the last three years.

The deposit base expa­nded 7pc in December on a month-on-month basis – a development that analysts attribute to the ‘year-end phenomenon’ that will likely be adjus­ted in coming weeks.

Sales teams of commercial banks make all-out efforts to generate deposits in December to achieve their annual targets. This usually results in puffed-up deposit figures in the end-of-year financial accounts.

The benchmark interest rate is at a record-low level, which means parking funds in government securities is not as lucrative for banks as it used to be in the recent past.

“Strong deposits growth bodes well for the banking sector as volumetric growth remains the key earnings driver in a low-interest rate scenario,” the brokerage said while noting the significance of deposit mobilisation at a time when interest rates are at the lowest level in decades.

Investments of the banking sector went up only 7.5pc to Rs7.2tr in 2016. In contrast, investments grew 32pc and 26pc in the preceding two calendar years.

Like deposits, gross adv­a­nces of the banking sector also grew at a faster-than-usual pace in 2016.

Loosely translated as outstanding loans, gross advances of scheduled banks grew 16.5pc to Rs5.5tr last year. Data compiled by Topline Securities shows the average annual growth rate of gross advances of the banking sector in the last three years was 7pc.

Rising loans are reflective of the banking sector’s newfound willingness to extend credit to businesses. Availability of credit helps businesses expand, which leads to job creation and economic growth.

“Improvements in advances growth also indicate increased credit demand, initiation of CPEC projects and improved macro indicators. Banks are also focusing on high-yielding consumer growth to support their margins and profitability,” Topline Securities said.