Afia Salam's Blog

Life is a journey

Posts Tagged ‘Bangladesh

That date.. December 16th!

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16th. December should be a date seared into the psyche of Pakistanis right? But is it? Twice this date has brought immeasurable grief to Pakistan.Grief, ignominy, shame, pain, loss, and a lingering question of why it happened and could it have been prevented.

I am of course referring to the two cataclysmic events in our history; events that led to the fall of Dhaka (Dacca as it was known as in those days) on 16th, December 1971, and the murder of our innocent school children and their brave teachers in the Peshawar Army Public School on the same date in 2014.

What do you remember about December 1971?  I was still in school, but old enough to remember the 1965 war, which just brushed by the Karachiites, so the sight of tracer bullets in the sky was something strange on that cold December night in 1971 when Karachi was attacked. Because of 1965 and the the belief that was fed to us post 1965, until Air Marshal Nur Khan busted the myth, we were sure that since  we had won the 1965 war, we would overcome the enemy in this one too.

After all, weren’t we holding out in East Pakistan despite great difficulty? Didn’t we just hear our President Yahya Khan say we would defeat the enemy? It was all over the newspapers too and of course the contrarian news on BBC was just plain lies and that Mark Tully was anti-Pakistan anyway!

Even when the entire city lit up due to the missile strike on the oil tanks at Karachi’s shoreline, where my father worked; even  the shaking of the ground due to the bombing by Indian Aircraft which led to loss of life in areas like Agra Taj colony, it didn’t really shake us out of the belief that ultimately we would prevail. Despite the immense sadness at loss of precious lives in the missile attack on our naval ship Khyber in which a dear neighbour went down, the enormity of the situation was lost on us because of the narrative we were consuming.

And on December 16, that sanitized narrative spoke of a ‘ceasefire agreement’  and laying down of the arms by ‘Tiger’ Niazi in Dhaka. We didn’t understand the ashen faces of our elders, many of whom wept like children. Fall of Dhaka was a term coined much later. The attention shifted from us schoolgirls going house to house collecting for the defence funds to collecting stuff to make packets for the POWs. That became part and parcel of the school activities which had resumed soon after.

Fast forward many years to when I was working with a leading channel of the country. I was responsible for the content of our morning show that was 180 degrees opposed to the kind of shows aired these days. It handled important subjects sensitively and intelligently through the @Ayeshah Alam and @Faisal Qureishi duo.

We did special programmes on special occasions. When I suggested that December 16 should be dedicated to this unfortunate chapter in our national history, there were raised eyebrows, but only because some in the team, the generation that grew up after 1971, were not aware of the significance of the day. They however readily agreed.

However the initial reaction had given me another idea.. to spur the discussion, we sent a reporter, @Huzaima Bukhari to an elite school to ask what the significance of that date was. The answers were too embarrassing to even narrate here. The reporter called back to say she had not been able to get one correct answer. We told her to go to the history teacher to ask why none of the children knew the answer and no marks for guessing what she said!

We, a nation of  ostriches, just buried our head in the sand, and moved on as if nothing happened from which lessons needed to be drawn. True to the saying that ‘we learn from history, that we never learn from history,’ we kept alienating our own, we kept on a path of discriminatory development, making the wrong friends, creating enemies right left and center, and nurturing snakes in the backyard.

Fast forward again to another 16th. December, in 2014, when these snakes hissed and bit us, at the Army Public School in Peshawar. The heart kept sinking lower and the entire atmosphere bore a pall of gloom as news of the attack trickled in. Not just Pakistan but everywhere those images of brutality against the innocent students and their brave teachers went, people recoiled in shock and horror. There was not a dry eye when the parents bid farewell to their beloved children. Toughest of journalists broke down when they went to APS.

The State seemed to suddenly wake from its slumber and resolved not to forgive, or forget. while offering the salve of ‘martydom’ of these children, who had been brutally murdered. It launched the Zarb e Azb. The shock and awe treatment was supposed to have wiped out these barbarians. The National Action Plan was supposed to ACT against all those elements who were perpetrators of horror against our soldiers, our children, the ordinary persons in the street going about their business in bazaars, the people in masjid, mandir, imambargahs and churches.

Today, two years after APS, we again remember those innocent souls and pray for the families who lost their loved ones. There are promises of never forgetting them. But in between there are many others who jostle for a place in our collective memories. Shirakpur reminds us that the NAP was perhaps napping, the large gatherings of the proscribed organizations, the threats hurled by sectarian organizations, the targeting of ‘minorities’ (the word I hate to use, because for me constitutionally, there are none); the glorification of killers like Mumtaz Qadri, the intransigence of Lal masjid mula Abdul Aziz, and the deep deep sorrow of the people of Quetta like the Hazaras, families of police cadets and its entire generation of young lawyers indicate inaction rather than any action or a plan.

After what recently happened in Chakwal to the Ahmadiyya community, can we really say that there is a NAP? Even after what Justice Qazi Faez Isa has put down in the Quetta Inquiry Commission Report?

Can we really claim that we will never forget December 16?








Written by afiasalam

December 16, 2016 at 10:18 am

with 3 comments

April, 2013

Climate change: change we can?

Content-wise, the National Climate Change Policy is welcome even though a mixed bag. But what about implementing mechanisms?

Afia Salam

A large body of people, including scientists in the West, especially the U.S., is still debating the veracity of warnings pertaining to the rise in earth’s temperature and the resultant disasters clubbed under the term of Climate Change.

 On the other hand, countries that have been listed in the category of ‘threatened’ or ‘vulnerable’ have already started taking measures to deal with the threat, which has, in the recent past, proven to be a clear and present danger for them.

Small island nations like the Maldives, Bangladesh, India and even the UAE are far ahead of Pakistan in taking measures to combat the effects of Climate Change. They have put themselves out there for the world to notice and assist them in combating climate change through mitigation and adaptation measures.

They are rapidly turning to alternate energy, green buildings and zero carbon areas, even cities, something Pakistan probably needs to do on a day-before-yesterday basis!

Until now, Pakistan’s response, despite being ranked the highest on the global vulnerability index, had been sporadic and disjointed, and was more ‘project-oriented’ than planned.

The Ministry of Environment, which stood devolved in the aftermath of the 18th Amendment, was going through a crisis of identity. Not only was it divested of its powers, it also lost its name, and after a while morphed into the Ministry of Disaster Management, and has now finally evolved into the Ministry of Climate Change.

While Climate Change may not cover everything that falls under environment, at least it spurred efforts to finally come up with a plan to deal with it. This led to the unveiling of the National Climate Change Policy which was the culmination of the effort of the Task Force constituted in 2008 for its formulation by seeking inputs from stakeholders drawn from the scientific community, academia, NGOs and the civil society.

The areas of focus, especially in an under-developed country like Pakistan, of course, were water, food and energy security. It also talks about the conservation of the Third Pole, the glaciers in the Hindukush-Karakoram areas.

Disaster resilience and disaster risk reduction also had to be factored in due to the incontrovertible evidence of increase in extreme events impacting millions of lives as in the floods of 2010. The lean economy, too, has no cushion against the losses amounting to billions of dollars in the wake of such disasters.

Such events not only create environmental, human, economic, and social stresses, they set the country back on the achievement of development goals as it does not have the coping mechanism to absorb such repeated shocks.

This is exactly what has happened in Pakistan and our poor development indices are proof.

A World Bank report rings another warning bell for all countries falling within the South Asian region, of which Pakistan is a part.

It states that: ‘In the South Asia Region (SAR), the number of disasters per year has quadrupled over the past four decades. Resulting damages have accumulated to over US$25 billion in the past five years alone. Despite increasing disaster risk in SAR, awareness and understanding of this risk among individuals and governments remains low. As an emerging topic, exposure and vulnerability to natural hazards and their consequential impacts are not yet at the forefront of development agendas.’

So what does the National Climate Change Policy entail and how will it change the situation. It touches on all of the aforementioned issues, along with the conservation of biodiversity and issues related to the forest cover.

It adds to Pakistan’s collection of very well made policies, something the country is famous for. Its policies have even been adopted by other countries, like South Korea, which peaked as an economic power through its implementation.

Implementation at home, however, has always been the weakest link in the chain. The fears cited by those who have gone over the NCCP are no different. An important subject like the environment has been devolved, much against the reservations, and recommendations of the experts in the field.

It is now a provincial subject and in the hands of ministries and departments, who fall way short of the capacity to implement or govern this agenda or the vision contained within this agenda.

While critics of the devolution process have been saying it in other instances, too, here it has been pretty much a case of putting the cart before the horse. If even while the debate on the 18th Amendment was ongoing, and an effort had been made to upgrade and upscale the capacity of the provincial ministries, the situation may not have been so depressing.

However, in the current scenario, there is no answer to the question as to how the National Climate Change Policy will be implemented by the provinces when all related sectoral functions are also devolved, and disconnected; like agriculture, food, water, forestry, transport, which impacts the air quality, disaster management, etc. They do not fall under one umbrella.

On the governance front, too, while Punjab has functioning green courts, they do not exist elsewhere, and the writ of the EPAs has been flouted and violated in instances that are too many to recount!

Then, again on a broader level, the vision for the conservation of the glaciers is commendable but that transcends the borders of the country. That is a regional issue. How can a policy that has to be implemented by the provinces extend its writ to regional issues?

Then again, the issue of generating adequate financing for achieving all that is contained within the policy has not been clearly spelled out. Pakistan needs huge financial assistance to develop climate resilience.

At a recent forum, The Director General of Environment, MoCC informed the audience that at the U.N. Conference on Climate Change that was held in Doha in November-December 2012, Pakistan succeeded in the establishment of funding mechanism for preparation of National Adaptation Plans through special Climate Change funds operated by the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

Pakistan also successfully pursued the formation of an international mechanism for addressing the issue of “Loss and Damage” caused due to floods, sea level rise, Cyclones and other Climate related disasters.”

This is an encouraging move. But not enough is said in the policy about generating financing through Clean Development Mechanisms, or about emissions curbing through reforestation despite being a signatory of REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestations and forest Degradation).

The effects of Climate Change on heritage sites and the changing pattern of monsoon and its severity on aviation has also not been looked into adequately, despite the unfortunate crash of Bhoja Airlines which, in the opinion of aviation experts, as well as environmental experts, had all the elements of an unexpected weather phenomenon hitting the aircraft, causing it to crash.

Climate change’s impact on gender, health, and rapid urbanization, an increase in the number of cli-migrants or climate refugees has not been extensively dealt with either. And to reiterate, even if all these issues had been highlighted, one wonders what the implementing mechanisms were.

The fear is that like many other policies that spell out a vision without a clear roadmap with goals for implementation, this will remain a document that will become obsolete because of the lack of an action plan that needed to be rolled out in tandem.

What we have to wait and see at this juncture in our history is that with political parties readying themselves for elections and unveiling their manifestoes, how many have an understanding of critical national issues like these.

Commendably, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf got a head start by adding environment to its list of other policies for the electorate to ponder. What makes one sit up and take notice is the fact that it was prepared by Malik Amin Aslam, former minister of state for environment and current Global Vice Chairman of International Union for Conservation of Nature, and Climate Policy Advisor to the UNDP.

He is one of the few persons in Pakistan who command knowledge about how the carbon market works and how Pakistan can generate finance through the CDMs.

As far as our National Climate Change Policy is concerned, we really need to figure out how a global, transboundary issue can be tackled by implementers who are going to be largely provincial in focus!



The truth about 16 December, 1971

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Topic: The truth about 16 December, 1971

Description: The mere mention of December 16, 1971 evokes so many emotions. More so for the people who witnessed our history’s biggest upheaval first hand. However, we, as a nation, need to hear about the trauma to be able to deal with it.

What happened in our history that resulted in the events of December 16, 1971? Can we ever reach the stage of forgive and forget? Have we, and the people of Bangladesh moved on?

Written by afiasalam

August 25, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Interview with Shahid-ul-Alam

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Topic: Picture is worth a thousand words

Description: While renowned Bangladeshi journalist, Shahidul Alam is not a man of few words, the storytelling he indulges in through his pictures are more powerful than words can be. Founder of DRIK photographic agency, he has traveled the world, and has worked for organizations like the National Geographic. However, it is work where he showcases the development challenges of the marginalized and under represented that have made him the persona of a teacher and an activist.

How do you think you can depict the problems of your area through photographs?
Do you think they will be a better medium than the words at expressing your thoughts?

Language: Urdu

Asia Cup: Bangladesh Cry Babies?

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Topic: Asia Cup: Bangladesh Cry Babies?

Description: Sports these days is an aggressive business. A lot hinges on the result of a tournament; money, prestige and professional growth. This is why sportsmen play hard. The laws that govern the sports get tougher for this very reason. But what happened after the Asia Cup that just finished in Bangladesh? Pakistan won, Bangladesh players cried because they missed by a whisker, but then they decided to cry foul! In the final analysis, not only did they lose the Asia Cup, they lost a lot of sympathy and goodwill that the people and players of Pakistan had for them. See cricket analyst Sohaib Alvi discuss this aspect.

Do you think the Bangladesh players didn’t know the law? Or were they ill advised to file a complaint?

Language: Urdu

Written by afiasalam

March 28, 2012 at 6:50 am