January Issue 2005

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 17 years ago

It was a New Year’s eve like no other. The mullah at a Clifton mosque in Karachi began tilawat over the loudspeaker turned on full blast, around 11 o’clock and continued till the clock struck twelve and a burst of fireworks lit up the sky.

A case of, if you can’t join ‘em, beat ‘em! The minders of our morals were back in business, threatening to attack all who dared to party that night. And predictably, all hotels pulled down their shutters to avoid any untoward incident.

The bearded brigade does not believe in holding charity balls, but what’s to stop them from doing charity? Being the ‘good Samaritans’ that they are, they could have fed and clothed the poor sleeping on the footpaths of Karachi on that cold December night.

But the mullahs, as represented by the MMA, obviously have more ‘pressing issues’ on their mind. Currently, they are locking horns with the Aga Khan Foundation. Extremely troubled by their increasing presence in the Northern Areas, which they view as their turf, the religious groups are threatening the Foundation with dire consequences and, equally abominable, warning the Aga Khanis of relegating them to the ranks of minorities like they did with the Ahmedis.

Surely quality schools, as opposed to madrassas that preach sectarianism and hatred, and well-equipped medical units that provide succour to the region’s poorest, rather than abysmal outfits that go by the name of dispensaries, should pose no threat to the mullahs. And yet the beards are up in arms: two staffers of the Aga Khan health services were shot dead and their premises ransacked, allegedly by members of a banned religious outfit. Incidentally, this is not the first episode of it kind. Other Aga Khan outfits have been targeted and threatened, the latest being the Aga Khan Education Board that is being unjustly accused of secularising the curriculum.

All this in the times of Musharraf’s war against terrorism and ‘enlightened moderation.’ And not a squeak from the General. Or his men. But then Musharraf’s band of Leaguers are no less ‘fundo’ than the MMA. Why, they supported Qazi Hussain Ahmed in his demand to include the religion column in Pakistani passports, something which even Saudi passports don’t require. And earlier when the question of repealing the Hudood Ordinances, as recommended by the government-appointed National Commission on the Status of Women cropped up, Musharraf’s government consigned it to cold storage. This, in order to oblige the MMA for its support in the passage of the 17th Amendment that legalised the LFO. How many more compromises and deals will the General make in order to retain his uniform?

While January 2005 saw Pakistan still grappling with the uniform issue, most of South Asia was attempting to come to grips with a disaster of epic proportions: the tsunami that left 1,50,000 plus dead and wreaked massive destruction in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and the Maldives.

And there were stories aplenty — of courage and compassion and a coming together to ease the victims’ trauma and suffering; stories that were a testament to the human spirit; stories that resurrected one’s faith in the goodness of humankind and rekindled our hopes for a better world.

And a happier tomorrow…

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.