Monthly Archives: January 2014

Eradicating polio

YASMEEN AFTAB ALI

Black DPIn a report published by Al-Jazeera (Oct 7, 2013) “Pakistan — one of only three countries where polio is endemic — reported nearly 200 confirmed cases of the disease in 2011, the most for any country that year. Pakistan was able to bring that number down through a vaccination program that is supported by the U.N., but threats of violence could reverse its progress. Polio, which can cause irreversible paralysis within hours of infection, is spreading rapidly throughout Pakistan.” We are not talking of mere ‘threats’ of violence here. We are talking of incidents of brutally killing polio workers. About 75 percent of Pakistan’s polio cases can be traced back to certain areas, primarily FATA, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and neighboring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Quetta, in Baluchistan, is also difficult to enter, says Pakistan’s point person for polio, Shahnaz Wazir Ali (npr: ‘How Taliban are Thwarting the War on Polio’ by Jackie Northam on October 17th 2012).
According to Reuters on 20th December 2012, the Pakistani Clerics called for protests against polio workers killings. The report states that Tahir Ashrafi, who heads the moderate Pakistan Ulema Council, said that 24,000 mosques associated with his organization would preach against the killings of health workers during Friday prayers.
But is condemnation by itself enough?
It is extremely sad to note that besides Nigeria and Afghanistan, Pakistan is the third state that is still struggling with polio cases. Whereas according to a local newspaper (Jan 14, 2014) India has successfully completed three years of polio eradication from her lands. Around 2009, India had nearly half of the world’s polio cases, shares the report. United Nations Foundation states reasons for this achievement and includes; ‘strong leadership and political will at every level of government, dedicated, trained health workers and volunteers, public-private collaboration and financial resources and commitments from government and public/private organizations.‘ (Kathy Calvin March 29, 2012)
Although the Taliban are creating roadblocks for polio health workers all over Pakistan, in particular, this issue has assumed grave dimensions in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and also the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). As per an IPS report of 2014, “Taliban militants have killed 17 people in polio-related incidents in the province from December 2012 to December 2013, and continue to block vaccination.” According to CBS News, “The number of polio cases in Pakistan jumped from 58 in 2012 to 91 in 2013. Of the polio cases recorded last year, 65 were located in the remote tribal regions. …The WHO and the government regularly test samples of the sewage water in Peshawar as well as other major cities across the country. During the last six months, they detected the highly contagious polio virus in all the samples collected in Peshawar.” (January 17, 2014)
The question is why are the Taliban opposing the polio vaccination campaign? Can the government do something to turn the situation around? If yes, what? To address the cause we must first know the reason. The first is lack of education and related socio-cultural circumstances. A few days ago, a woman, who as a young girl had worked as a maid for me many years ago, came for a visit. In tow were two of her younger kids. The elder son has been taken by her brother who is a cleric in a mosque for being educated in a madrassa. I was told that he was initially placed in a regular school and was doing very well, bagging the first position, no less. However, the cleric brother told the sister that ‘English educational system is bad for their children who are much better off at madrassas.’ This view was further reinforced by the area’s landlord at Jalalpur Bhatian where she lives. At least, so far as English medium education goes for the surfs. Never mind the fact that his own sons have returned from the US after getting an education. A fact never questioned by these poor people, even in their own minds!! This proved to be the capping view so to speak. The result was the younger daughter has not been placed in any educational institution at all. Being a girl, further acts to her disadvantage. The third off spring is a toddler and too young anyways. How does the government change this attitude? A door-to-door campaign for education? Running an advertisement on TV and radio to promote education?
The second is a deep seated conspiracy theory that is exploited by Taliban. For lack of education in most cases, people fall for it more often than not. The anti-polio vaccination is largely seen as a western conspiracy, a plot aimed to inject Muslims with mysterious fluids to render them infertile. This infertility according to the conspiracy theory will lead to cutting down in numbers of Muslims at inception. I do believe many, including within the Taliban ranks themselves may well believe in this to be true.
The third reason is perceived using of Shakeel Afridi to gather information of the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden. Dr Shakil Afridi was accused of obtaining DNA samples of Osama Bin Laden through a phony vaccination campaign that helped the American spy agency hunt down Bin Laden in May 2011. The people are afraid. They do not know who the individuals employed by WHO may be. Are they genuinely trying to help eradicate polio? Are they fake; snooping and gathering information on them? A huge trust deficit has developed on this front.
The fact remains, this issue needs to be immediately addressed. Besides the fact that the disease itself is deadly, according to a local newspaper report, “The Health Department has been warned by donors and monitoring agencies to strictly monitor its polio immunisation campaigns or face serious consequences including travel restrictions and tough visa policies.” (Published January 4, 2014) How do we go about the job of administering vaccination while protecting the lives of these selfless workers? Will going house to house in line of duty be safe enough? Can so many be provided personal security on one-to-one basis spread all over the country? Does this mean we shelve the anti-polio scheme? Leave our children to be crippled? Can there be a middle way? A way whereby both objectives can be met?
Here is one suggestion: instead of going door to door, jeopardizing their lives and making security arrangements near impossible – polio camps can be set up in local mosques. Each locality has one. This stands true for all over Pakistan Announcements for the camp being set up in the courtyard of the mosque can be made five times a day at least a few days prior to setting up the camps regularly. This action will work positively at two levels. First, with the strength of the mosque supporting the camps for anti-polio drive, confidence of the people; mostly uneducated will stand restored and second; with the workers going to and staying in one specified place, their security will be relatively easy. On the flip side, there is however, always a good chance that people who do not wish to have the children vaccinated simply do not show up and the health workers cannot confirm how many were actually not vaccinated. Can the services of local pharmacies, doctors, hakeems and medicine men by providing exact prescribed dosage to them? WHO may like to explore this option. This suggestion is made in light of the comment posted on WHO official site, “Where community involvement in the eradication programme has been low, OPV coverage has remained low, leading to failure to eradicate polio.”
Some out-of-the-box thinking is required here, a more creative approach towards addressing the issue in face of stumbling barriers. Can Pakistan do it?

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.

Email:yasmeenali62@gmail.com

Tweets at:@yasmeen_9

Cross post: http://www.nation.com.pk/columns/21-Jan-2014/eradicating-polio

Of a National Saving Center!

YASMEEN AFTAB ALI

The major from the Artillery, stood leaning against the wall, slightly stooped, the walking stick in one hand, his hand slightly shaking. His bearing; still upright for his age, gave him away as an Army man that he was. This was the National Defense Saving Center in DHA Lahore. The major had been waiting for his turn for over three hours. The place seemed overflowing, with mostly old, sick people. Mostly alone, some younger faces sprinkled within, accompanying their parents or grandparents. It was the first time I had been there. The major told me many incidents of the 1971 war-then vehemently, as if out of the blue he said, eyes watering, “For a life given to my country, I stand insulted today. Here, almost like a beggar, waiting for hours for alms, which is my right.; profit of my hard earned money.” Before I could think of a suitable reply, an elderly lady standing next to me turned to me desperately, “I have a urine bag fitted, and I cannot keep on waiting here. It will fill soon. It will have to be changed.” She too, had been waiting there for some hours. My breath caught in my throat. I explained the situation to them. The staff was helpful. The lady was promptly paid the money speeding up the necessary procedure.
The National Defense Saving Centre in DHA Lahore is made with supreme indifference to the fact that an overwhelming majority of its customers are old; very old, sick, unwell, suffering from all kinds of physical problems. The seating area is completely inadequate for the number of people coming in. The chairs were taken; every inch of standing area of the small center was taken. No movement was possible without bumping into someone else, or stepping on toes. Many women sat on the lower two steps of a spiral staircase. I shuddered to think how uncomfortable it must be in summers. There are no water facilities. There is one bathroom, on the top floor. “But how can these old people walk up these winding stairs? I wondered. They find it difficult taking the three steps up to the entrance of the center.” Says an elderly gentleman with a laugh, “there is a mosque nearby, men can go there.”I wish I could have joined him in that laugh but I had a nasty feeling he was laughing at himself, in anger and frustration making fun of himself, the frailness of his body and his helplessness to do anything about his situation, shifting his weight off from one foot to another, furtively looking for an empty chair to sit on and finding none, back to shifting weight from one foot to another.
The procedure of drawing profits from dividends is fairly simple. Once there, investors are given a token with a number. Then they wait. I was told, tokens are given out till 1pm on a normal working day, the queues are long and people too many for the small staff of six that I saw. The officer giving out the token is also responsible for taking the cheques for profits. Most of the time, investors do not calculate or even know how to calculate the amounts due. The officer calculates the amounts, fills out the cheques. The investors have to sign or put a thumb impression as the case may be. In many cases, people come armed with as many as ten certificates. This of course, takes that much more time to calculate.
In the meanwhile the line behind the investor at the counter continues to increase. The line moves slowly as there is only one officer looking at the cheques. There are others who need to have new cheque books issued. It is the same officer who checks the data and authorizes issuance. I saw him multitasking. A tough call as only partial work is being done through the computer and the rest manually. Another officer is responsible for making them out. The third officer, whom I took for a clerk, is the manager of the branch. One of the investor tells me he is always working with the staff every day. “There are just not enough people behind that counter to handle the traffic.” I’m told. Unfortunately, it’s the elderly coming in, some once in six months, and some monthly as they survive on this savings – who suffer. After many grueling hours of waiting, comes the turn of an investor to present his cheque to the officer concerned. Duly processed, the investor moves to the cashier. There is more agony lying in wait here. The center boasts of only one cashier. A double line is formed. One for the women, the other for men. The cashier, acting judiciously, attends to one man, then one woman and back and forth. The cash is counted twice. First, by the cashier before handing it over and then of course by the investor. Each person takes time, the line moves at a snail’s pace and the queue lengthens with time.
The quiet resignation of the investors startled me. The staff was polite and did all they could to help quicken the pace – the fact remains; as even a blind person could see; they are hopelessly understaffed. Ideally, another center; bigger, with greater seating and bathroom facilities is desperately needed in DHA Lahore. Some of the investors present told me that this particular center is the only one in the entire Defence area. Hence the load of the area falls upon this one center, not fair either to the staff or the customers. One outlet to deal with the entire DHA area is woefully inadequate. In any case, this center is too small to seat extra staff.  It also does not have the space to seat extra people; a desperate need.
What the government needs to understand is that the customers here are not young people. These centers cannot be treated as ordinary banks. These centers are catering for the elderly. Let the surroundings acknowledge and reflect that fact. Though the staff is efficient and courteous in spite of having to face this rush day in and day out, it’s simply inadequate to deal with the quantum of people visiting daily. Some days are worse; if that possible. I was told dates from the first to the fifth of every month are extremely heavy in term of turnover.
Mostly, its people having invested in government bonds for their old age, this in turn means, and most saving centers stand witness to the fact that it is the elderly visiting these outlets to withdraw money to live upon. Centers must be so designed to offer convenience to their visitors. Owing to lack of space inside, I saw many of those who had accompanied the elders waiting indefinitely in the biting cold, outside of the center.
The government may like to implement a programme for national defense saving centers nationwide; allowing the elderly people to make a power of attorney in favor of another to draw monies on their behalf only(not cashing the securities). In case of the latter, when the investments gain maturity, a special power of attorney to be drawn up, to execute the same. Even in case of a power of attorney allowing another to draw profits, the time period of this can be restricted, let’s say; to a year. After which a fresh power of attorney can be submitted. What is facility will do; is to allow a huge convenience to the elders, many of whom are physically handicapped and ailing from undergoing the punishing exercise.

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.

 

Email:yasmeenali62@gmail.com

 

Tweets at:@yasmeen_9

Cross post: http://www.nation.com.pk/columns/14-Jan-2014/of-a-national-saving-centerNewspaper

Hating India…almost!

YASMEEN AFTAB ALI

I could almost hate India for many steps it is taking for her people that I would like to see Pakistan taking. First, India showed maturity towards implementing a system democratic in spirit with the Supreme Court’s epic judgment in September 2013, allowed casting of “negative votes”, noting that the provision of rejecting all candidates for a seat can be rejected by the electorate. “In the existing electoral system, a dis-satisfied voter does not turn up for voting and this provides an opportunity for unscrupulous elements to impersonate him/her. But if the option of ‘none of the above’ candidates is provided, even reluctant voters could turn up at the booth and press the NOTA button in the electronic voting machine, the Supreme Court said,” says J. Venkatesan in his article. (The Hindu September 28, 2013) ECP announced implementation of NOTA prior to elections 2013. The Headmistress of a leading school wrote to me thus, “Brilliant idea…gives the voter greater autonomy…. much needed autonomy actually.” The excitement to include the slot proved to be short-lived. It was withdrawn, deflating the balloon, leaving the Pakistani voters high and dry!
Now, India has introduced an ingenious concept. Titled Aadhaar, the idea is based on issuing a card to every resident Indian with a Unique Identification Number which is being issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) set up as an attached office of the Planning Commission in 2009. The idea of Aadhaar captured my imagination. The more I researched, the more the simplicity and proposed effectiveness of the concept captivated me.
According to the official website of UIDAI, “Any individual, irrespective of age and gender, who is a resident in India and satisfies the verification process laid down by the UIDAI can enroll for Aadhaar. This number will serve as a proof of identity and address, anywhere in India. Each Aadhaar number will be unique to an individual and will remain valid for life. Aadhaar number will help you provide access to services like banking, mobile phone connections and other Govt and Non-Govt services in due course.”
“I believe that that the most far reaching thing India will have done this decade will not be outsourcing or Mars, but bringing in the marginalized through Aadhaar”, says Manish Thakur, an Indian, who has a twenty year background in investing, finance and public policy.
The Aadhaar number, reports state; will enable identification and will provide a universal identity infrastructure which can be used by any identity-based application (like ration card, passport, etc.) Does this mean that a non-resident, posing as a resident and maybe a terrorist can be checked simply by not having an Aadhaar? Indeed, since each individual will be given a single unique Aadhaar ID number, this makes checking simply, beautifully easier. It will also help in tracing terrorists and criminals coming from outside the country that are using fake ID proofs to stay and indulge in violence and anti-state activities. This number is to be given to an infant or a grown-up. Unlike a national identity card in Pakistan that becomes mandatory only after a Pakistani reaches 18 years of age though Aadhaar does not replace other forms of identity.
The core purpose of the proposed scheme is to zero in on to the identity of the owner. Details that are purely demographic in nature yet crucial to the place of origin and current status of the owner will be duly included. These include photograph, Iris – scan, fingerprints and other pertinent data. Centralized in a data base, every card is unique to the individual owning it. Illegal immigration in India can be checked through this programme. This identification, unique in nature can be checked at any point in time. Also Indian citizens can use this card as their national identity at universal level to avoid any identification problems in India or abroad. Unique identification elements within, eliminates chances for it to be bogus. However, this will not replace other means and form of identification. According to a report by Ritesh K Srivastava (Published October 08, 2013) the Union Cabinet cleared National Identification Authority of India Bill to provide legal status to UIDAI and legal backing to Aadhaar. The new law seeks to create a National Identification Authority of India, which will oversee implementation of the Aadhaar project. It also seeks to define the penalties in case of misuse of data collected under the project.
According to a report by Yatin Ingle (Published: Afternoon Dispatch & Courier September 04, 2013) “Educational institutions have started asking students to submit a copy of their Aadhaar cards, in order to maintain a detailed record of them. The State Education Department, in turn has asked educational institutions to make this submission compulsory.” The programme however received a setback when the Supreme Court decided that this identification be deemed as compulsory for availing social benefits. The Bharatiya Janata Party has advanced the view that the card should be restricted only to Indians not to all the residents in India which it feels; includes illegal immigrants as well running into millions. Private activists and civic societies have shared concern that this data may be misused to cause mischief. According to a Forbes story, “The bureaucracy fought it too, presumably because it threatened the opacity it thrived in. Even the Congress had serious divisions over the project’s broad scope: Many saw it as a threat to existing power equations; most powerful of all, the Home Ministry’s National Population Register (NPR) fought to protect its turf.” (Published Oct 8, 2013) Nandan Nilekani has almost pulled it off; states the story quoting him, “Look at how many challenges we’ve contributed to help resolve: identity, financial inclusion, less-cash economy [cash transactions form the bedrock, globally, for fraud and corruption], direct benefit transfer and subsidy reform,” he tells Forbes India.
To gauge the reaction of an educated Indian; political views apart; I requested input from Rosen John, an Indian oil company executive, working for Bharat Petroleum with degrees in Mathematics and Management, based in Bombay.“Emerging economies – especially those as vassals of former colonies – have been plagued with typical problems-illiteracy, a teeming population, with societies that are rife with religious and gender biases. Feudalism holds sway, and is the single biggest factor hampering the just and equitable distribution of wealth and income, and this gap between the haves and the have-nots hasn’t been bridged at all. Aadhaar seeks to help evolve a medium where every citizen in the country is ‘accounted for’ i.e. every citizen’s physical characteristics are captured via biometrics – the irises, the thumb impressions, the visual snapshots etc… And these are transferred to a database. In the process, the citizen gets a card with his/her photograph and a number. There is also the QR code for each number, that’s unique and which can be captured at will,” he says. By implementing the scheme, each Aadhaar card holder will be compelled to open a bank account. This way, the government can directly transfer monies to the card holder accounts for any welfare schemes etc. Aadhaar number will serve as a reference point.
The scheme makes sense. At first look it looks like it can act like a bridge between the government and various other institutions and the local populace especially at the lower rung of the ladder, thus ensuring funds for various schemes for the poorer lot reaches the beneficiaries. This can be a huge progress in terms of social uplift programme implementation.
We can take a leaf from India’s book here. Unfortunately, in Pakistan the last census was held in 1998- step on it Pakistan!

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws    in Pakistan.

Email:yasmeenali62@gmail.com

Tweets at:@yasmeen_9

Cross Post:

http://www.nation.com.pk/columns/07-Jan-2014/hating-india-almost

3 (1 of 1)My Pic

Pakistan: More cuts than power?

 

His Nibs is at it again. Foreign jaunts, show of extravaganza on visiting dignitaries, but for the common man; no electricity. Come to think of it why would the common man need electricity in the first place? To watch TV? One can do without it. Trust me; I stopped watching it many months ago. At least the local channels. Peace seems restored at many levels as a result of this action. Why else would the common man want to have electricity? To iron clothes? That’s not a big deal really. One can revert to those wash and wear clothes that do not need ironing. To run the air conditioners? Oh come on babes! If you can afford to foot the bill, you can run it on a generator. If per chance you do not own a generator, you are what they call, the “aam aadmi” (common man). In which case, who cares? Go take a hike! Oh OK, you want electricity so the kids can study evenings? Let the kids be, buddy. What will they do with a degree? What are those having one doing? Unless, Papa has the right connections in the right places, they are doomed to be passed over in favor of a candidate whose Papa does have the right connections in the right places, they might as well focus on the little jobs – no? Little jobs for little people. If you were such a great gun, your kids would be studying abroad in any case, America, UK or some other developed place in the world. You feel it negatively affects the quality of your life, you say? You really believe that you have a life? Have you not read what I just said? If you were such VIP your house would be running on so many generators and backups that you would not know when the electricity is going and going. No, that’s not a mistake of expression. It’s how things are going to be, better get used to it. The writing is very much on the wall.
Right, there is an electricity shortage. But someone needs to be serious about addressing the issue. Someone needs to develop a policy of how to tackle the issue. But no one’s interested. Prime example is the Neelum-Jhelum Dam approved in 1989 approximate cost $935 million (969 MW) by 2011 cost up to $ $2.89 billion, envisaged completion by 2016; by then who knows the cost? Lack of focused effort marks successive governments.
There is no rocket science involved here. Like handling every issue, a marriage of short term and long term strategies is needed by someone to get the show on the road. There are many things someone should have done, like yesterday. One; the infrastructure used to transport electricity to the consumers via grid stations pre-dates …fill in the blank with any time period mark you wish to. The system is unable to sustain extreme weather conditions hence most of the grids shut down at extreme temperature or either completely stops working. They need to be repaired, substituted like; superfast by someone.
Two; huge line losses due to electricity theft or illegal usage of electricity. A local newspaper reporting upon the illegal housing societies in Gujranwala (Published December 25, 2013) states, “The district coordination officer ordered Gujranwala Electric and Power Company (Gepco) and the SNGPL to sever electricity and gas connections to all illegal housing societies in the district.” This is not all; illegal theft needs immediate checking by someone.
The famous term “kunda” (putting up a hook) was created for such illegal connections. How come the concerned authorities are blinded to them? Someone must ask. Revenue recovery is low. But instead of punishing areas that pay their dues timely, the high power outrages must be restricted to those areas that do not, as done in Karachi. A building up of “circular debt” is blamed for more and more power cuts. Three; the IPP’s are responsible to provide electricity to half of Pakistan, give or take. Payments made by government is sometimes inadequate or delayed or both. The reasons may be political, financial or both. In any case it is inadequate for the IPPs to perform at full capacity. What also struck me as very odd is the fact that there is no professionally trained organization or a three member panel to deal exclusively with the IPPs and look into issues that stop them from operating on optimum basis. I mean professionally trained people right. Not, politically untrained. Increasing rates of electricity is something someone really needs to look into. If at all, someone is inclined to look into this issue.
Prof. Dr. Khanji Harijan, Professor Mehran University, Jamshoro, in a paper outlined four different types of energy in Pakistan; theoretical potential, available potential, technical potential, and economical potential. This needs close scrutiny by someone. Sensible and pragmatic thoughts are here. Someone needs to seriously look into cutting electricity to illegal connections, improving revenue connection, setting up a professionally trained panel for IPP handling and revamping existing antiquated infrastructure. Many suggest Pakistan to import electricity from India. In a joint statement by US and Pakistan when Nawaz Sharif recently visited there says, “welcomed progress on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline project, and tasked the Energy Working Group to explore possible further US support for the Central Asia-South Asia electricity line, CASA-1000, in close collaboration with the World Bank.” (India Today October 24, 2013).
Even if we brush this aside, this can be seen as a policy approach by US–India towards the region and Pakistan in particular, there are reasons why buying from India will not work out. The Indian delegation that was sent by Manmohan Singh to Pakistan submitted a report upon its return, says Rajeev Sharma, “Pakistan government will have to spend Rs 700 crore on its side to build infrastructure like receiving stations, high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission line and a dedicated grid. It determined that the Indian side too will have to shell out Rs 100 crore to transmit electricity from Patti grid in Punjab to Wagah border. Perhaps the most damning dampener to have come from the Indian Power Ministry’s preliminary talks with the Pakistani government is that the cost of electricity per unit would come to a minimum of Rs 14. Even if the two governments were to okay it, the cost of India-exported electricity for Pakistani citizens would be much more than Rs 14 per unit. Why? Because given the political distrust between India and Pakistan, India would be averse to a government-to-government dealing in this business of electricity exports! The Indians laid a pre-condition that Pakistan will have to purchase the electricity through an Indian contractor, who will purchase electricity from the Power Grid Corporation (PGC) and then transmit it to Pakistan.” (Published July 11, 2013) I am not even talking about the fact that India herself does not produce enough for her own needs and imports electricity. With seasonal spiking demands it will be virtually impossible for India to provide uninterrupted power supply to Pakistan, even if all ground realities are ignored. It will mean Pakistan ending up with electricity consumers cannot afford!
In the meanwhile, Pakistan continues to suffer; industries and businesses go out of work for lack of power supply, someone continues ignoring the crumbling economy and miseries of the common man. But then, luckily we decided at the very onset of my piece that the common man does not count. A very senior analyst tells me increase in Pakistan’s population is directly proportional to increasing power outages, shaking his head. Kidding? Maybe not.

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Law in Pakistan.

 

Email:yasmeenali62@gmail.com

 

Tweets at:@yasmeen_9

CROSS POST: http://www.nation.com.pk/columns/31-Dec-2013/pakistan-more-cuts-than-powerNewspaper