9 reasons why Pakistan should ban under 18 marriages

This article was originally published in The Friday Times  on 10th Nov, 2017. child Marriage

Many legislators have unsuccessfully tried to put an end to the discrimination of child marriage. The last such attempt was made by Marvi Memon, a member of the National Assembly, in early 2016. This year, it is heartening to see that a brave senator, Sehar Kamran, has moved another bill to amend the Child Marriages Restraint Act 1929. She has proposed to increase the minimum permissible age to 18 years bringing it at par with the limit set for boys. The Child Marriages Restraint (Amendment) Bill 2017 has been cleared by the Senate Standing Committee, and is about to be tabled in the upper house for approval. It is expected to generate a heated debate.

Here are nine reasons why it is important to bring the age limit for girls at par with that of boys when it comes to marriage:

One: legal

Article 25 (2) of the Constitution of Pakistan states, “There shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex”. The Constitution of Pakistan was approved with consensus; it is a sacred document, and the State needs to follow the constitution and do away with this discrimination based on gender.

Two: international

Pakistan has made international commitments by signing international conventions including the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the United Nation’s Convention on Child Rights, and the United Nations Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Pakistan needs to honor its commitments.

Three: personal

We violate our daughters’ other rights by committing the offence of child marriages. Their rights to education, leisure, and to marry a person of their own informed choice are violated.

Four: double standard

We do not consider a 16-year-old girl mature enough to drive a vehicle, manage a bank account, cast her vote in elections, or enter into any other kind of contract, but we think it is alright for her to contract a marriage?

Five: health

Probably the most serious problem with child marriage is how it puts at risk the health of the girl child. A teenage girl is twice as likely to die from complications in pregnancy and delivery than an adult woman. Children born of teenage mothers are 50% more likely to either be stillborn (dead at birth) or to die within a few weeks after birth. Even if she survives pregnancy and delivery, she develops physical complications like fistula.

Six: pressure

The same effect is seen on a child bride’s psychological health. She is not a grown-up woman, yet she is expected to take care of not only her husband’s needs but also those of his entire family. She is too young to deal with the conflicting demands of her relatives, and she has no one to turn to for advice. She loses confidence, and may start thinking that she is incapable or suffer from low self-esteem. This leads to depression, anxiety and many more psychological complications.

Seven: vulnerability

A child marriage is often an unequal relationship between the partners. The power equation is highly tilted against the young child bride. She is not yet equipped with a good education, she has very little or no exposure to the world and its ways. She is not capable of earning anything. On the other hand, the husband most likely has more education, has exposure to the world outside, and is financially independent. This power equation creates space for abuse, and torture with the young girl unable to defend herself.

Eight: financial

Another difficulty may arise if the husband dies, or divorces her; the young girl has nowhere to go, she has no education, no exposure, and may have a child or two to take care of. In such situations, the girl is made all the more vulnerable to suffer more abuse, harassment and blackmail at the hands of society.

Nine: religion

Though I believe the arguments given above should be enough to persuade any thinking person that it is the right decision to raise the age to 18 years for girls, there are many who believe that the religion can be used to end the debate. However, even that argument does not hold much water because the Organization of Islamic Countries has already endorsed this proposition.

Article 26 of the Khartoum Declaration (approved in 2009) states, “Take the necessary measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination against girls and all harmful traditional or customary practices, such as child marriage…” This is a consensus declaration issued by an organization that represents 57 Muslim countries. We can safely assume that the OIC would have looked into the Islamic teachings before signing such a declaration.

There are quite a few Muslim countries which have set the marriage age for girls at a minimum of 18 years. They include Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia, Iraq, Algeria, Uganda, Oman, Syria, and Albania.

Islam has not set any specific age for marriage – neither for girls, nor for boys – nor has it specifically barred anyone from setting an age limit. Hence, setting an age limit would not be going against any specific injunction.


The Christian Guy with a Muslim Name

bachon-ke-duniyaI was hurrying to the shop – the book shop. I wanted to see Zubair, and hoped that the owner would have left. Zubair is a salesman working on that small bookshop situated in a narrow street off the main bazaar. I started walking faster. It was open. I could see a few customers on the counter. Oh! the owner was still around. That means I will have to wait. Cold winds were blowing. It was difficult to wait outside but I had no other option.

The owner is an arrogant person, but Zubair the salesman is a nice person. His name is an enigma for me, I don’t understand it, but I never asked him about that. For me it is simple. He is a Christian with a Muslim name.
He is my class fellow. He opens this shop early in the morning at 6, cleans it, and then the owner arrives at 7. Zubair, then, leaves for school. In the afternoon, he would come back to the shop, and would work there till 9 PM.
Thank God, the owner is leaving. I wait till the owner is out of the small street, and has stepped on to the main street. I rush to the shop.

“There you are” Zubair says on seeing me. I don’t say a single word. He knows what I need. He takes out the newly arrived magazines, ‘two more have arrived, but I will give you one today; the second you can get when you return this one’. I nod in affirmative. It is a routine matter. I already know all the terms and conditions, but he would repeat it anyway.
I get hold of the newly arrived magazine ‘Phool aur Kaliyan’, and before I run away, he shouts again. Remember! not a single scratch or stain or any kind of mark. Return it in mint condition. I want you to be here at 7 before I open the shop’. I run with the magazine and shout back ‘yeah, yeah, don’t worry’. I run towards my home.

I have to go through the whole magazine in one night, and return it to the shop in mint condition early morning so that it can be sold to someone else. If I keep my promise, I will get another magazine tomorrow. and I keep praying to the God that the owner doesn’t find out about this arrangement.

This happened way back in 1989-90. There were no cell phones, no Internet, no Facebook or Twitter. I have earned a lot of money since then, and don’t need to borrow books or magazines anymore. But that Christian boy with Muslim name … I can’t forget him. He made it possible for me to go places, do things, and earn money. I wish I could reconnect with him, and see how he was doing in life. May be, I could help him a little bit.


Note: It is a true story. This shop was situated in a market in Malir Cantt.

16th December – Only Candle Vigils Won’t Do

APS 2Today is one of the saddest days for us all. On this day, we lost East Pakistan back in 1971. We had not come to terms with that loss yet, and then came 16th December 2014 when we lost 144 innocent lives. In addition to that, we have lost another 70,000 lives to terrorism in past 10 or so  years.

We are feeling really sad about all this especially about the the 144 children of Army Public School. Some of us are going to hold candle-lit vigils across the world, while others would be doing Quran recitation sessions. This is all fine, but we need to do a lot more if we really want to make sure we do not have to pick up small yet the heaviest coffins again.

We need to do a lot more. We need to look into the reasons of such tremendous tragedies (I am talking of both the tragedies APS and East Pakistan). We need to ask questions and demand answers – why do we have to face such tragedies again and again? What makes us so vulnerable. We need to look at the bigger picture.

Is this recent tragedy not directly linked to our obsession with ‘strategic depth’ (read strategic death) that we sought in Afghanistan? Has it got nothing to do with the way we wanted to liberate Indian-held Kashmir through proxies? Isn’t it a result of our collective sins to ignore (or even support) the state policies to use terrorist groups for our strategic goals – getting hold of Jammu and Kashmir, and making Afghanistan our 5th province. (Interestingly, we did not bother to make Gilgit-Baltistan or FATA our 5th province.)

We owe it to our children to do some serious introspection, acknowledge our blunders, and make sure we do not repeat them. Over 70,000 deaths should be enough to teach us that nurturing snakes in our backyards with the belief that they would bite only our neighbors is not going to work. We need to learn to govern our own country properly, rather than poke our nose into Afghanistan and India. We need to learn to integrate and govern whatever we have (GB, FATA, PATA, and AJK), rather than create a mess here, and still have expansionist designs against our neighbors.

We need to remember that over 25 million children are out of school in Pakistan, and there are millions of people who do not have access to clean drinking water, and healthcare. We need to set our priorities right. We need to get rid of our obsession with entire Muslim Ummah at the cost of our own people. Nobody bothered to help us, rather so many rich Muslim countries still continue to drag us into actual or proxy wars, and continue to support those groups which are responsible for spreading hatred and extremism in our country. We need to build our institutions, and we need to learn that every institution needs to work efficiently within its own mandate.

If we do not do such serious introspection, if we do not acknowledge our blunders, if we do not change our ways/policies, we are bound to face such tragedies again and again, and we will continue to hold candle lit vigils and Quran recitations in the foreseeable future.

Suggestions for National Action Plan for countering terrorism

Nawaz Raheel

Government of Pakistan has recently announced formation of a Parliamentary Committee to chalk out a National Action Plan to counter terrorism in Pakistan. Though the nation has really very little trust in the government, yet let us give it a chance, and support it as much as possible.

The problem has been analyzed and re-analyzed many a time. We do not have to get into a long exercise to find what we need to do. Here are two sets of suggestions – short term measures and long term measures.

The short term measures:

  1. A clear message should be sent to the entire nation that the government and military are on the same page, and both mean business. Some of the steps that would help send this message in unambiguous terms are:
    1. Arrest of top leadership of all the extremist groups (whatever their current names) especially Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Muhammad, Jundullah and many more
    2. A complete and meaningful ban on extremist and terrorist organizations
    3. A clear and unambiguous message to media houses to stop giving space to Taliban apologists especially Orya Maqbool Jan, Ansar Abbasi, Hamid Gul, Imran Khan, Sami ul Haq, Munawwar Hassan, Abdul Aziz (or their disciples). Government should introduce changes to PEMRA Act if necessary. Channels should be punished if they do not take responsibility for the content.
  2. Cleanse Punjab. No attempt to address the issue of terrorism can be successful if Punjab is not touched.
  3. Madrassahs known for harboring terrorists should be shut down immediately without worrying about the consequences. Mullahs are on the defensive, and the opportunity must not be lost. Nothing more outrageous than the killing of innocent children can happen.

These measures would send a clear signal not only to the people of Pakistan but to our neighbors that the government means business this time. Many half-hearted and less committed extremists would mend their ways, and we would be left to deal with only the hardcore extremists.

The long term measures:

Following are the major issues that need to be addressed:

Army and Foreign Policy

I have clubbed them together because it is army that controls our foreign policy. Parliament needs to assert its authority as the institution that controls Army, not the one that is controlled by Army. ISI needs to focus on anti-terrorism intelligence rather than on making and breaking political parties/alliances.

We must put an end to the use of terrorist groups as a means to achieve foreign policy objectives. We want Kashmir liberated, Okay, but Jihadi groups have brought us no laurels. Let us admit that this strategy has failed miserably, and let us give a chance to diplomacy. Let us make life easier for ourselves and for the Kashmiris as well. It would be a great service to the cause of Kashmir liberation movement.

Similarly, we need to make it clear through our actions (not words) that we would not let our soil be used against any of our neighbors. Afghanistan, India, Iran and even China – all of them have been hit by the terrorists living in the safety of our land. We need to act against terrorists of all hues – including those complicating our relations with our biggest neighbor India by claiming to wage Jihad for the liberation of Kashmir.

Arab Countries:

It has been repeatedly mentioned in national discourse that Arab countries are actively supporting religious organizations (mosques and Madrassahs) in Pakistan. It should be one of the main objectives of our foreign policy to persuade the Arab countries to plug these funds pouring into Pakistan’s jihadi networks. We do not need more Madrassahs, we have more than enough mosques. We badly need schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, and safe drinking water. If they have spare money, they should help us build these facilities. If they are more interested in earning ‘Sawab’, we should request them to spare us, and earn ‘sawab’ through some other means. If they are not going to plug this funding, we must find ways to plug it on our own.

FATA and Other Special Areas:

Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA), and Gilgit Baltistan should be brought under the constitution of Pakistan. People living in these regions should be given equal status under the constitution. FCR should be abolished forthwith. Jurisdiction of Pakistan’s higher judiciary should be extended to all of Pakistan including the areas mentioned above.

Education System:

This is probably the most important issue that needs to be tackled very carefully. We must put an end to various types of education institutions – Madrassahs, Elite Schools, Public Schools, English Medium and Urdu Medium Schools, Mosque Schools.

Government needs to take over /nationalize Madrassahs. Every province should have its own textbook board, its own syllabus, and all the educational institutions (including Madrassahs, Private English Medium Schools, and Public Schools) should teach the syllabus approved by the governments of the relevant province.

The syllabus must be completely overhauled.

  1. All material that is insensitive to gender and minorities (religious, ethnic or other) should be removed.
  2. Lessons glamorizing war should be deleted. War heroes should be replaced with Heroes of Humanity – those who did great service to humanity.
  3. Lessons should emphasize inclusiveness. Lessons should be written for Pakistani students of any faith, any ethnicity, and any gender. The focus on macho Muslim men should be rectified.
  4. Take out the hate material and conspiracy theories from the syllabus.
  5. Falsehood must be removed from all books. Historical facts should be presented without any bias. We, as a nation, should be able to be comfortable with the truth. Teaching falsehood to our kids is not going to make us a great nation – never.

These are some humble suggestions. Please feel free to comment and add to these. Let us make it a comprehensive document. I would like to share the final document with the government and media. Your support in this regard would be highly valued.

Freedom Gate – Where My Freedom Ends

Recently, I visited Wagha Border Post – famous for its parade and Flag Lowering Ceremony. It has been filmed/recorded and many videos are available on video sharing websites including Youtube, Daily Motion and Vimeo. I think the best and most succinct description of the parade is the remark by Micheal Palin. He described it as “carefully choreographed  contempt”.


Freedom Gate on Pakistani side of the border. Picture taken from Indian Side

I had neither time, nor energy to watch the parade. However, a few thoughts from the visit seem worth sharing. The first thing that struck me was the “Freedom Gate” (بابِ آزادی). First, I was stopped by rangers personnel from approaching the very Freedom Gate. I had to park my car as I did not have a special permission, and I did not know where to get this permission from. No such information was available around the Freedom Gate. If you had that special permission, you could take you vehicle very close to the Gate. I don’t mind this restriction, but the information should be available to all.

Anyhow, I parked my car and walked towards the gate. I bought ticket, went further and reached a barbed wire. Another gentleman there told me I could not go beyond that barbed wire before 4 PM. I, along with a crowed of thousands of people, waited there for about 45 minutes. It seemed people from every ethnicity, profession, class were there. The people with special permission were also there waiting in their vehicles. The difference between the haves and the have-nots was peculiar throughout the event.


On opposite site, women’s encloslure. The Green colored seats were meant for the Haves. There men and women could sit together.


Pakistani men waiting for the ceremony to start

As gates opened, the people with special permission were allowed to take their cars inside. The ordinary folks like me walked on. The haves were not gender segregated; the have-nots were. I, along with my brother and father, had to sit in one enclosure, while my mother and wife sat in another enclosure. As I looked across the borders, I saw men and women sitting together in one enclosure. “That’s how human beings live”, I thought.


The Other Side – Indian enclosure can be seen in this picture.

Mobile phones were not working in the parade arena, so we could not communicate through mobiles as well. National songs were blaring through speakers on both sides of the borders. When would the parade start, I asked no particular person. You need to wait till sunset, was the response from someone. I could not bear so much noise and sun for another two and half hours. Luckily, at that very moment, my wife looked at me from the opposite enclosure. I waved at her and gestured to leave. She immediately agreed, and we left without watching the actual ceremony.

As I was leaving, the border gates were opened and Friendship Bus of Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation entered Pakistani territory. People waved at the passengers and shouted welcome slogans. I took a few photos of the bus and rushed to catch up with my wife and mother.


Friendship Bus enters Pakistani Territory.

My head was full of unpatriotic thoughts. I was wondering if the partition (1947) had not taken place, there would have been no Freedom Gate, and I would have the freedom to drive beyond that point without any fuss. I could go to Amritsar, New Delhi, many more Indian cities. In fact, I could go beyond that. I could go to Dhaka, and Chittagong as well. Did I win freedom in 1947, or lost it?

Lest We Forget – A Rejoinder to Dr. Atta ur Rehman

A friend of mine, who would not miss any chance to taunt me for being pro-democracy, shared an article written by our famous scientist Dr Atta ur Rehman who held the position of Chairman Higher Education Commission during the dictator’s regime, and is now president of Pakistan Science Academy. The article is titled “Lest We Forget” and published in The News on December 25, 2013.

I went through the article and learnt how good the economy was doing in 2008 when the great General was made to leave this country. He compares the economic conditions of Pakistan when he took over (usurped power) in 1999 with the time when he left Pakistan in 2008. I was wondering why he needed to remind us all that – the wonderful GDP growth rate, great jump in per capita income etc.

It was in the concluding paragraph that I learnt why the great scientist was reminding us of the great financial successes of the dictator’s regime. He writes “The position of president is purely ceremonial. The power lies entirely with the prime minister”. There I understood that he was actually trying to defend the Commando’s unconstitutional move to impose ‘emergency’. I would have definitely ignored it with a smile but this foolish attempt to defend the indefensible was made by a person who is held in high esteem by thousands of young men and women in Pakistan. It is, therefore, necessary to respond to the nonsense coming from a respected and learned individual like Dr. Atta ur Rehman. I would like to make following arguments against what the respected Doctor has written:

  1. First of all, it is interesting to note the contradiction within the article. Dr. Atta ur Rehman gives all the credit for economic boom to Pervez Musharraf. He forgets that the ‘position of the president is purely ceremonial’. As the power lied with the Prime Minister, the credit should go to the prime minister, not to the ‘ceremonial’ president. However, when it comes to imposition of emergency, the great scientist tells us “The guilt, if any, lies with all of them [Cabinet Members]”. Please do not ignore the words “if any”.
  2. Nation is not the sum total of GDP and Per Capita Income. Nation is much more than that. Our great doctor is so deeply focused on economy that he forgets everything else. So let me widen the comparison between the Pakistan of 1999 with that of 2008:
    • We, the wretched citizens of Pakistan, did not even know of suicide blasts in 1999. In 2008, even five year old kids know about suicide blasts.
    • We had only a few terrorist groups in 1999 (I can recall only two names); we lost count of them by 2008.
    • Swat was a peaceful valley where tourists from around the world were roaming about in 1999; it was under the brutal rule of Mullah Fazlullah in 2008.
    • FATA and Darra Adamkhel were peaceful places where we did not fear to go in 1999; it had become a no go area for everybody except Pak Army and terrorists by 2008. Even Musharraf did not dare visit FATA and Darra.
    • Balochistan was not happy with the federation, but Pakistan national anthem was sung in schools and Punjabis were not killed in 1999; the great commando has left, and we cannot sing national anthem in Balochistan, and non-Baloch Pakistanis are getting killed almost everyday there.
    • Hazara Shias were living peacefully in Quetta, and Balochistan had not heard of missing persons or mutilated bodies dumped around in 1999; Hazara Shia were being targeted in spite of the FC presence, and Baloch families were crying for their loved ones in 2008.
  3. Now let us get back to economy. Would the great doctor expand his research and see that Pakistan’s GDP has always remained high during dictatorial regimes. However, it is interesting to note that as soon as we see the back of a dictator, the bubble of GDP growth bursts and we are left high and dry. Ayub Khan’s era is considered to be the best as far as development is considered but we should see what happened to Pakistan when he left. Within two years, we lost East Pakistan.

I would request the great doctor to conduct a research into the reasons of why Pakistan is found in such a bad state whenever a dictator leaves. I think the doctor would do a great service to Pakistan if he helps us understand this phenomenon. His research may result in the development of a handy tool for future dictators to make good use of, though I really doubt if Pakistan would have the curse of another dictator.

Art and Peace go hand in hand

It is common observation that art is not valued by our society. Many people believe that it happens because of poverty, but there are many countries poorer than Pakistan and they value art and their artists a lot more than we do. If art is not valued, artist is also not valued. That is why most of our artists live their last days in dismal conditions.

Whenever I search for reasons for the lack of respect for art and artists, I cannot ignore the role of the long dictatorial military regimes. Well, others might not know the significance of art and artists, but the military dictators did know it very well. This can be gauged from the bans and restrictions on artists like Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Ahmad Faraz and Habib Jalib. On the other hand, fake artists like Ashfaq Ahmad and Qudrat Ullah Shahab were promoted by them.

It is not easy to explain the bans/restrictions on poets/artists. They usually have no ambition to rule the country, they do not hold guns, their fans are not organized groups which can become a threat to the ruling junta; yet the restrictions, bans, arrests, jails…

Artist (painter, poet, dancer or singer) has the capacity to express the true inner feelings of his/her nation – something the dictator does not want to happen. The true inner feelings of a suppressed populace would always be of hatred towards the dictator. In such a scenario, it becomes necessary to restrict artists, keep them imprisoned or they would come out in the open and shout:habib-jalib

Aisay Dastoor ko Main Nahi Manta

(I don’t accept/obey this law)

The artist creates a verse, and it becomes a national slogan. This is something unacceptable for a dictator.

It does not mean that art has no role during democratic rule. A nation is made up of many groups and sub-groups. For example, Pakistan has difference ethnic groups, people following different religions, and people following different sects of Islam, and then there are interest groups, political groups and many more divisions. All these groups make efforts to safeguard their own interests. This may lead to clashes – civil war is the worst example of this clash of interests. Art provides a civilized way of resolving these issues. Artists present these clashes in different art forms, and generate discussions on simmering issues. These discussions lead towards solutions, and help a society avoid serious clashes or civil war. Thus art plays the role of a safety valve.

Another important aspect of art is that it attracts people from various backgrounds and brings them together at one platform. Though people from different sects would not pray together at the same mosque, but they would meet at a musical concert or a theatre auditorium. Art blurs the various divides in the society.

blog3If we look at our recent past, we see that ours was quite a peaceful society as long as artistic and cultural activities were common. During 1960s and 1970s, films, theatre, music and poetry recitation sessions (Mushairay) were part of our everyday lives. On the one hand, classical singers like Mehdi Hasan would mesmerize audiences in Lahore all night; on the other hand, folk singers like Allan Faqir, Essakhelvi and Zarsanga would enthrall people living in rural areas. Our film industry was doing good business and we were producing hundreds of films annually. Cinema halls were busy places and Poetry Recitation Sessions were attended by thousands of people. Those were the times when Pakistan was a peaceful country.

Enter General Zia ul Haq, who, under the guise of Islamisation, put so many restrictions on art and culture. Since Zia’s dictatorial rule, our film industry went down; around 1000 cinemas have been pulled down making room for shopping plazas. Open air concerts have become a thing of the past. Quality theatre is no more. On the other hand, we have become intolerant people. There is no room for disagreement in our society. Bomb blasts, targeted killings, kidnappings, extortion and ransacking have become norm of our everyday life.

We badly need to revive cultural activities in our society. That can help start a dialogue, generate some tolerance and help us make Pakistan a peaceful and peace-loving country. Let us take the first step.



The Dilemma of Young Pakhtoon & Our Responsiblity

I have come across many people who lament that the young generation of Pakhtoons is shifting its medium of communication from Pashto to Urdu. More or less the same situation prevails in other provinces of Pakistan.Photo0445-599x275

I don’t think we need any thorough research to find out the reasons behind this phenomenon. The reasons are quite obvious. Pashto is looked down upon. Media does not portray it as something respectable. Pakhtoon character in any play on our public and private TV channels is there only to create some fun for the audience. Pakhtoon is almost always playing a servant (family servant or watchman) in a wealthy Pakistani family (portrayed as educated, civilized, using Urdu as its medium of communication). He is brave but dim-witted person who takes naswar. The other image of Pakhtoon that you would find in our media is a cruel man, who is more than ready to kill.

More importantly, Urdu and English bring money, power and authority. Pashto does not promise this. If you do not learn Urdu and English, you cannot get a respectable job. It has been our state policy from the very beginning to suppress our mother tongues. In 1948, some Bengali students were killed by Pakistani authorities who were protesting against the imposition of Urdu as national language and demanding respectable status for their own mother tongue. (That day, 21st February, is now celebrated world-wide as Mother Tongue Day.)

This game has created three classes:

  1. The lower class who speak their mother tongue
  2. The middle class who speak Urdu
  3. The elite class who speak English

Our Reaction

This trend of shifting language is going on for quite some time now. Our elders react to this situation in the following ways:

  1. There are some who willfully encouraged their youngsters to change their language from Pashto to Urdu or English depending on their own financial status.
  2. There are others who lament this trend but do nothing about it except wailing.
  3. There is a third group that took to rebuking their youngsters for depending too much on foreign language for their (youngsters’) communication. They forced their youngsters to speak Pashto, which resulted in a kind of hatred for Pashto.

These youngsters, under the influence of our media, make fun of their own elders declaring them ignorant and illiterate, having no idea of the modern world and its demands. We may chaff our hands at this reaction of our young Pakhtoon, we may take him to task for this attitude, but that would not help us in the long run.

What to Do?

If we want to change this trend, we need to do two things:

  • Resurrect the image of Pakhtoon in the mind of our younger generation.
  • Make Pashto a financially viable language

Both these tasks are not easy to accomplish, but should not be considered impossible (where there is will, there is a way). Here I would discuss the first one only. The second one needs more reflection.

For the first one, we need to have positive presence in media. Ironically, the only Pashto channel available on cable television in Islamabad is AVT Khyber owned by a Punjabi businessman. We badly need to invest in media and have our own TV channels, films, magazines, websites and newspapers. Furthermore, we need to bridge the gap between Pakhtoon and other ethnic groups living in Pakistan.


Badar Munir who ruled Pashto films for decades

As far as Pashto film industry is concerned, the less said, the better. It is not only performing badly, it is doing disservice to Pakhtoon culture. Badar Munir (and his successors like Jahangir Khan) cannot inspire Pakhtoon youth.  Our young generation cannot associate themselves with the kind of hero our films give them. In fact, they are ashamed of those films and avoid talking about them. This cacuum is filled by Bollywood heros (though interestingly enough, Bollywood is being ruled by Khans, which speaks volumes about the talent Pakhtoons have).


We need to give them our own Khans, so that they do not have to look elsewhere. We need to produce films that portray our own aspirations. We need to produce films that touch our own social and political problems. If we do not act now, we will be held responsible for the death and decline of our language and culture by our next generations.

Child Marriages – The Way Forward

In an earlier blog, I had written in detail on the issue of child marriages and its reasons. Now I would like to focus on solving this issue. I know that many organizations are working on this issue and want to get either the existing law amended or a new law enacted. way_forward_signI personally am in favor of getting a new and comprehensive law enacted. The existing law “Child Marriages Restraint Act 1929” prescribes one month of imprisonment and/or Rs 1000 (US $ 10) as fine for the culprits. Furthermore, it discriminated between boys and girls as it sets different age limits for them. A boy should be 18 years old, while a girl should be 16 years old to get married. Even this law is being flouted with immunity and no one in Pakistan is bothered about it (I know I appear a fool lamenting the lack of implementation of such an insignificant law in a country where nobody is bothered if constitution is violated).

An important loophole in this law is the determination of age. As birth registration is not a common practice in Pakistan, determining age of a child is difficult. If caught, parents would claim that the girl is 16 years old. Then there is nothing police can do about it. DNA test is another way to determine age. However, Council of Islamic Ideology has recently declared that DNA test cannot be presented as evidence in rape cases. Only God knows whether Mullahs would allow us to use DNA test to determine a child’s age (or we will have to pull ourselves out of the clutches of Mullahs holding us by our necks, and sucking our blood).

Anyhow, let us get back to the original issue – the way forward. We need to have two-pronged strategy to solve this issue:

  1. New and comprehensive laws covering all aspects of child marriages
  2. Raising awareness among masses about the problems faced by child brides

New Law:

You may be wondering why I emphasize so much on new law. I have already explained a little bit about the problems with the existing law. Additionally, I would like to remind you that after 18th amendment, the federal government cannot legislate on the issues of children and women. In this scenario, the civil society would have to focus their attention on the provincial governments. The new law should cover many more aspects of child marriages rather than just punishing the parents of a child bride. The new laws should cover:

  • Birth Registration: it should be made mandatory. The process should be simple and easy. The local governments at Union Council level should be responsible for this. Proper birth registration would remove the grey areas regarding age determination.
  • Age Limit: Age limit for both boys and girls should be same – 18 years. Remember, a person younger than 18 years is not allowed to drive a car, maintain a bank account, keep a passport or vote in elections. Marriage is a much more serious business. 18 years old person gets his/her computerized national identity card (CNIC).
  • Marriage Registration: marriage registration also needs to be made mandatory. Similarly, CNIC should be mandatory for registration of marriage. If this happens, the child marriage issue would be resolved very quickly.
  • Harsher Punishment: the crime should be punishable by at least 5 years of imprisonment along with a fine of Rs 500,000.
  • Punish All The Parties: The punishment should be applicable to all the parties involved in a child marriage including parents of the bride and the groom, the Nikah Khwan/Registrar, witnesses, and the groom if he is 18 years old.


Law alone cannot help much unless people (at least majority of them) believe that child marriage is a cruel practice. To bring a change in the mindsets, we would need to run exhaustive campaigns to reach out to the people at the grassroots level. We need to communicate following messages effectively:

  • Child marriage is not a solution to poverty. In fact, it ensures that poverty is transferred to the next generation. A person married in his/her childhood is deprived of education. The burden of a family comes very early in his/her life and makes it difficult to get out of poverty cycle. It is very likely that their children, too, would not get good education, and would continue to be plagued by poverty.
  • Teenage pregnancy is something really dangerous and can result in the girl’s death.
  • Child bride is unable to cope with the pressure of taking care of a family, and serving her in-laws – something that is expected of a daughter in law. She lives a miserable life. Physical and psychological violence becomes a norm in her life.

These messages should be conveyed through various means. Media can play a very effective role in this. Street theater and FM Radio can be used to make content in local languages/dialects for this purpose. All we need to do is hold thorough discussions with different communities on this issue and get to know how they perceive this issue. Only then, we can come up with something that would target their perceptions of the issue. The content of the messages must not be developed sitting in an air-conditioned office in Lahore/Karachi/Islamabad.


Another very important means of raising awareness is putting these issues in the curriculum for children. Only one lesson added to the syllabus of class 8 or 9 or 10 could do wonders in the long run. Remember that the lesson would be studied by millions of children in our schools every year. This would be the most cost-effective measure. We may not need to run any awareness campaigns on this issue 10 to 15 years after the inclusion of such lesson in curriculum.

At the end, I would suggest that all the organizations working towards eliminating child marriages in Pakistan should come together and form a network/coalition and make joint efforts to achieve their objective. If we succeed in getting a good law enacted in one province, it would become easier to convince governments in other provinces to follow the suite.



Jirga System – is there a way forward?

A Jirga under way...

A Jirga under way…

Public opinion seems thoroughly divided on Jirga system (Panchayat in Punjab). On the one hand, it has been scorned at by the modern and liberal people; the honorable courts have actually banned it. On the other hand, the general public especially people living beyond metropolitan cities continue to rely on this centuries old system to resolve their conflicts. Both the groups are right to some extent.

The Jirga system has very serious flaws especially in the feudal society of Punjab and Sindh, where the Jirga is always presided over by a feudal lord and decisions are often heavily biased and sometimes outright disgusting as in the case of Mukhtaran Mai in Muzaffargarh a few years back – the case that made us all bow our heads in shame. The Panchayat found Mukhtaran Mai’s brother guilty of having illicit relations with a girl of an influential tribe, and ordered a few men of the aggrieved party to rape Mukhtaran Mai to settle the score. Honor killings or karo kari, and vani like customs are the fruit Jirga has borne.

In Pakhtoonkhwa, we, the Pakhtoons, cannot even imagine that kind of verdict by any Jirga. Yet the situation is not very different when it comes to punishing the guilty. Men are more often let off the hook, and the punishment is borne by the close female relatives – sisters or daughters – of the guilty men. It is called Swara.

Keeping these facts in mind, nobody would dare to defend Jirga (or Panchayat), in fact nobody should. However, it is also a fact that despite a clear ban by the superior courts of the country, it continues to be used to settle disputes. It is a centuries old tradition. No doubt, old habits die hard.

The problem is that the critics would not bother to think of reforming it or making an attempt to integrate it with the existing justice system of the state. The defenders of the system would often close their eyes to the disquieting failings of the system.

Well, it is always easy to keep it or discard it. Reformation of the system is a gigantic task, which would be very tedious and, of course, somebody will have to take a lot of pain to accomplish it. Before I move on towards proposing some reforms, people would be quick to ask why reforms? Why should not we completely discard it?

I have following reasons for taking it along and against discarding it.

  1. Our judicial system is thoroughly corrupt and inefficient. The cases take years to reach the logical end. This inefficiency has created a vacuum, which would keep Jirga/Panchayat alive for long (Of course, a serious effort at reforming our justice system is also an important need of the hour).
  2. Our judicial system does not reach out to grassroots level. The small scale disputes cannot be taken to magistrates sitting a few kilometers away with already piled up cases. The small scale conflicts include cattle theft, damage to crops/property, and land distribution. If Mr. X borrowed Rs 3000 from Mr. Z, and failed to return at the agreed time, it is too small a matter to be taken to district court or local police. It should be resolved at community level. Jirga fills this gap.
  3. Jirga is a centuries old tradition, which cannot be wished away. It is better to focus on reforming it rather than trying to kill it.
  4. And the most important argument is that a reformed version of Jirga system would be more acceptable to the society/people as it evolved here and is owned by the people as compared to the Judicial System imported from the west, which is still not preferred by our people to settle their disputes.

Hence, we need to own our own centuries old traditions and build upon them rather than go for imported systems.

Now let me propose some broad reforms we may introduce in our Jirga System. Please note that these are just loud thoughts to initiate a dialogue, not final recommendations.

We need to set basic criteria for people who want to be on Jirga. The composition of Jirga should be thoroughly discussed. It should have representation of youth, women and minorities. It could vary from village to village or district to district.

The Jirga members for each village/mohallah should have a defined tenure (may be three or five years). A member should not be allowed to have two consecutive terms.

The Jirga members should be notified by the local government (union council or any equivalent forum). We would definitely need to have local governments in place. Thus whenever a problem arises, the administration would not have to find who was on the Jirga. They would already know it and act as according to the law.

The parties should have the right to appeal to the district and session judge if they are not happy with the verdict of the Jirga. Through this right to appeal before the District and Sessions Judge, the Jirga system would be integrated within the existing judicial system. It would become the lowest tier of the system.

The Jirga’s authority to give out punishments should be defined. For example, it should be clearly defined that a Jirga verdict should not affect people other than the guilty. Thus Jirga would have no right to let a guilty person off the hook and use women/girls to settle the dispute.

Other restrictions on giving out punishments could be: Jirga cannot sentence anyone to imprisonment or order demolition of a culprit’s house or confiscation of a culprit’s property. For that, Jirga will have to put up a case before the district and session judge, who would decide the case in three hearings or within one month at the maximum.

The maximum punishment a Jirga can give out for any offence is to ban a person from entering village/mohalla for 6 months.

Maximum fine a Jirga can impose is Rs 50,000. If Jirga feels the fine should be higher, it would have to put its recommendations to the District and Sessions Judge who would decide the case after hearing both the parties and the Jirga and give his/her verdict within one month.

Jirga must not use women/girls for dispute settlement. If a Jirga gives such verdicts, the verdict should stand null and void and the Jirga members should be punished with imprisonment of minimum 7 years, and should become ineligible for becoming members of Jirga for the rest of their lives.

These are some humble suggestions. I hope these generate a productive and useful dialogue on the issue. Your feedback is highly valued.