By Noaman G. Ali
“This company is being run by 17,000 people,” explains Asir Manzur, Human Resources Group Head at KESC, one of its senior managers. “A company of this kilowattage should easily run with 8,000 people, given the archaic system of distribution and other difficulties we run into in Karachi.” “Any jobs not connected with core functions of generation, transmission and distribution are noncore jobs. T h e s e positions a r e outsourced in the modern world. It is more efficient
Karachi Press Club on April 29 (not May 30). Many also started a hunger strike that lasted 22 days, until Abdul Sattar Edhi, Pakistan’s most respected philanthropist, requested them to end it and take on management directly. After a successful general strike that just about shut down Karachi in May, the workers relocated their sit-in on June 9 to outside the head office of KESC, where they are still encamped. Workers alleged that management has been leveling charge sheets since January in order to gradually expel them. “They put out charge sheets for two hundred employees, claiming that they were stealing electricity,” Mughal says. “Why would we steal electricity? We get it for free.” The union claims that 300-400 workers have already been fired in this way. Indeed, management recently fired the Chairperson of the KESC Labour Union, Akhlaque Ahmed, on the basis of a charge sheet. Manzur confirms it, “We asked him to present his pretty face to a commission, and he chose not to, and when he refused to show up, he was tried ex parte and fired, as per the Industrial Relations Ordinance of 1969!” (The IRO was, of course, imposed by a military dictator losing his grip on the country in the face of concerted working class action.) Ahmed was charged with participation in alleged sabotage. The KESC spokesperson Amin ur Rehman sends me an 18-page document full of allegations of sabotage agains the KESC facilities by the “union miscreants.” The union categorically rejects claims of violence and sabotage. Instead, Mughal accuses management of trying to buy Karachi journalists by sending a group of them to Dubai on an all-expenses paid trip about two months ago. Sources in the Karachi Press Club confirmed that a group of journalists was taken to Dubai on KESC’s tab about two months ago.
5 Sectarian schizophrenia 8 When the Rains came
The story so far
and more cost-effective.” As a result, the jobs of 4,500 workers were made redundant. “We explained the reasons to them till the cows came home, but they weren’t willing to listen!”, Manzur exclaims. In late December, 2010, management offered what he claims was a generous “voluntary separation scheme” (VSS), but only about 400 workers accepted. The rest chose not to. “The VSS was not ‘voluntary,’ it was compulsory,” counters Hayat Baloch, Deputy Secretary of the KESC Labour Union. “At midnight on January 19, whoever did not avail the VSS was retrenched. If it was voluntary, why terminate the rest?” The workers protested and as a result various levels of government intervened. KESC took the workers back on January 24. Management almost immediately declared them surplus workers. Manzur explains, “They are still on the payroll, they are still getting the benefit of medical and everything else, but they will not be given work because the work has been outsourced.” But the workers say they haven’t been paid for two months. Javed Abbasi, a KESC lineman who started out thirty years ago with a montly salary of Rs1,200, says he actually worked for all of April, including overtime. But he only got paid Rs3,000 of his now-Rs30,000 salary. “That’s not even enough for my family’s milk costs.” “It is absolutely correct that they have not gotten salary for one month, and the second month, yes, they will not get paid,” exclaims Manzur. “The basic concept is: no work, no pay.” To sort this out: Management does not want to pay the workers, because they are not working. They are not working, because management does not want them to work. Management does not want them to work, because it does not want to pay them. Or, well, it would have paid them for milling about doing nothing. “From January 24 to May 30, the workers were coming to the offices, they were being marked present, and they were sitting out there,” Manzur says. “The apple cart only got upset when they went out on the street and started demonstrating, they were not showing up for attendance, as per the norms of our policy. We’re not going to pay you for demonstrating against us.” But that’s not the whole story. “On April 13, the management put out a circular that the posts of these 4,500 were abolished,” explains Lateef Mughal, general secretary of the People’s Workers Union. “We tried to speak with them, but they refused. We thought, they’ve abolished our posts, they’ve already outsourced our jobs, so how long will they keep us?” So the workers started a sit-in outside the
Sunday, 03 July, 2011
Illustrated & Designed by Javeria Mirza
arachi has an electricity problem. Just ask Abid Hussain, a rickshaw driver who lives in Lyari Basti. “We have to get our electricity from a kunda [illegal connection],” Hussain explains. “There are thousands and thousands of wires. We have no idea which one is ours. If one breaks, it takes four days to figure that out, and then we have to pay two or three thousand rupees for a new one.” The basti is about as far north as you can get in Karachi – it’s closer to Hub Chowki in Balochistan than it is to affluent Clifton Beach in Karachi’s south. Lyari Basti is named after the Lyari Expressway, not the famed Lyari River, whose construction displaced thousands of poor people. Five years ago, when various levels of government resettled the displaced at the basti, they promised to provide infrastructure for electricity, water and gas. “They said they’d do everything, but they’ve done nothing.” Abid Hussain is a bit animated as he tells me about Sector 91’s problems. I’d probably be animated too if I went without a proper supply of electricity, water, or gas for five years. If I am animated, though, it’s because I’m unused to sitting on the ground, on mats laid out over the humble, dusty floor of friend and fellow rickshaw driver Abdur Rahim Ahmadani’s house. Officially powered by the Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC), there’s a fan blowing in my direction. At least, until the load shedding begins. This typically hot and humid summer has seen several protests across Karachi due to extensive load shedding, and, in many cases, total absence of electricity for hours and even days on end. This is compounded by lack of water supply, especially in poorer neighbourhoods, where people cannot afford generators or UPS batteries as backups. In the midst of all this, several hundred KESC workers are camped outside the company’s head office in the affluent Defence area. Representing 4,500 workers made redundant by management, their story is hardly straightforward. More than typical management dysfunction, this is a conflict between two different views of the way the world is, and the way the world ought to be. It is a reflection of the deep and entrenched inequality that characterizes Pakistan, and the ways in which Karachi has been caught up in global capitalism’s drive to scale back the gains of earlier generations of working masses.
‘Privatization was done on the conditions that there would be, one, no more government subsidies, two, increase in foreigndirect investment, three, new generation created, four, an end to loadshedding, five, no workers retrenched for seven years, and six, no increases in tariffs for seven years’
See more stories on Pg 2-3 Re-nationalise the KESC By Hashim bin Rashid The tale of an incompetent privatisation By Imdad Soomro
Re-nationalise the KESC
The performance of post-privatization KESC and the workers struggle tell us maybe it is time to reverse the privatization of the electricity supplier By Hashim bin Rashid
et me blaspheme for this article. Blaspheme against the values of neoliberal capitalism upon which the logic of the privatization of public amenities was brought to Pakistan. Let me rather argue for the renationalisation of the KESC. This is an argument that requires the re-adjustment of how we t h i n k about public amenities and upon an assessment of the KESC’s performance under privatization. A history lesson: The privatization of the KESC came under then Federal Minister for Privatization and Investment Dr
Rs20.2 billion bid by a consortium of Hasan Associates (PVT) limited with Al-Jomiah Holding Company KSA and Premier Mercantile Services. The consortium had promised to invest $500 million into the KESC over three years. Having secured the company, the consortium
r a t h e r secured a loan of Rs150 billion from various IFC’s and pledged three power houses and nine grid stations and continues to pay a Rs7 billion annual markup on an institution without previous financial liabilities. In a period of six years, the power generation was reduced from 9.3 billion kWh in 2005 to 7.96 billion in 2010. The Al-
A b d u l Hafeez Sheikh in November 2005 upon the payment of Rs15.9 billion of a
The fired workers Categories of worker
Years of Service
Bill Distributors Junior Office Assistants Office Attendants MT Drivers Sanitary Workers Security Guards
Less than 2 years 3-6 years 7-10 years 11-15 years 16-20 years 21-25 years 26-30 years 31-35 years 36-38 years
189 418 490 760 703 699 567 222
Jomiah consortium, without power management experience, leased the company to Siemens, a producer of electricity grid equipment but without management experience again. Siemens allegedly
imported its own equipment and was ejected by the government after its failures came to light. In 2009, the Al-Jomiah consortium was said to have been replaced by Abraaj Capital. The management was handed over, but reports suggest that Al-Jomiah is yet to have handed over the shares. A b r a a j Capital too had n o
service providers. In May 2011 the government warned the KESC that it would take it over if it remained unable to fulfill its obligations including the reinstatement of the employees and failing to invest the $500 million the improvement of electricity generation. This was after the KESC management had twice refused to appear before the house privileges committee. Over the previous financial year the KESC itself received a Rs 45 billion subsidy. Under privatization the KESC h a s
power and management experience and came on-board making a similar set of promises as the previous management. On the 20 January 2011, the KESC management announced the unitary termination of 4500 ‘non-core’ workers. This became the starting point of a now six-
m o n t h long workers struggle. This was 5-days after a voluntary separation scheme expired on January 15. The jobs themselves were not eliminated by the management. They merely decided to ‘outsource’ these jobs to third party
become a financial quagmire a public nightmare.
T h e failure to manage worker relations: T h e essence of a company remains its ability to manage its workers relations. O n e of the consequences of the privitisation paradigm – most glaringly obvious a t the KESC – i s the creation of a t h r e e - t i e r e d structure of worker relations. One: a highlypaid top management. Two: a new contractb a s e d
workforce without job security. Three: an old
02 - 03
Sunday, 03 June, 2011
Politics of PR & fatwas: KESC’s shallow p stands exposed
hen we began a blog to compile stories on the KESC workers matter, a friend responded by sending a video commissioned by the KESC management, promising that I shall ‘hate the workers’ after having watched it. Video Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=B3pNd5jqxkU&feature=share I would call it dark comedy. I t begins
with a question, “Who are these merchants of darkness?” before moving into clips of protesting KESC workers. The statement comes in stark contrasts to its own failure to improve the electricity grid or increase supply. It moves on to declare, “in the name of union demands these people are determined to destroy the city.” …and within this hides its own failure to be able to value its workers. And then moves on to show damaged KESC equipment and
vehicles and supposed attempts to keep KESC workers from going to office before asking the leading question, “Can all of this be declared righteous?” ….and within it declares itself as righteous for terminating 4000 permanent workers. And then the video turns to certain Mufti Muhammad Naeem who declares a fatwa, “Shariah does not allow damaging national installations.” …in another instance showing how capital and religious f o r c e s
Another instance showing how capital and religious forces become complicit
become complicit. Before the KESC voice declares, “The evil-doers shall fail and the travel towards light shall continue,” to the backdrop of the moving Karachi traffic grid (not electricity importantly). T h e
government hired workforce fearing job loss. The story of the KESC workers is not just their own. PTCL and Railways workers have continued to strike and protest in recent times. The Solid and Waste Management (SWM) Lahore workers too had began protesting as soon as the new contract-based wage structure was introduced by the new management. The contract-shift has been a method that newly privitised ex-government entitites have used to, in their own words: ‘cut costs, increase worker efficiency.’ But nothing like the purges of KESC has come to be seen anywhere else. While the blame most certainly falls on the Abraaj Capital appointed management, the blame must be shared with the government for not securing guarantees for the existing workforces continuity. After the dismissals, the KESC administrative office was attacked by the dismissed workers, the KESC began to present itself as martyrs to a public reeling from 14 hours outages. It put a burnt car on its building and wrote, ’20-0111 We will never forget.’ It used the workers strike as a cover for its own failures. Four of the dismissed KESC workers are reported to have died of heart attacks since their dismissals. But the KESC management has continued to use the excuse of being victim to create sympathy for its failure to make substantial improvements to the Karachi electricity grid or any viable inroads into improving the companies balance sheet. A failure to improve electricity supply: Both KESC managements post-privitization have failed to deliver upon their promises. In fact the organization has degenerated. There is a sense that the privatization of the organization was rotten. The Sindh High Court is already hearing a petition contesting
position position funny thing is, that to any sane observer, it is the KESC that has left itself exposed after this advertisement. Though what appears to be a sheer lack of imagination is in complete cahoots with the new managements policy of targeting middle-class values to create a grab around itself. In truth, if the workers have been vile, then the current KESC management has also been similarly vile. And the one’s with the most to lose have been the fired workers. The KESC management would be better advised to not spend its money on advertisements and rather on substantive measures. -Hashim bin Rashid
The tale of an incompetent
Under Abraaj Capital, the KESC has turned only a downward spiral By Imdad Soomro
KESC’s ‘Connected’ Top Management Position Asir Manzur Zarar Nasir Khan Chaudhry Ghafoor Humna Yasir Shahbaz Beg Pir Danish Nayyer Hussain Abdul Ghafoor Asif Hussain Abid Hussain Abrar Hussain Brig (r) Mazhar Ahmed Brig (r) Masood Ahmed Naveed Hussain Tayyab Tareen
Group Head Human Resource Rs 2,000,000 per month Terminated for Rs 6 million fraud General Manager Rs 500,000 per month Brother-in-Law of Asir Manzur HR dept General Manager Father-in-Law of Asir Manzur, 78 years old HR dept Manager Niece of Asir Manzur Electrical Manager Nephew of Asir Mansur, Textile engineer Director Rs 500,000 per month Son of MQM MNA Khush Bakht Shujaat Director Government Affairs Rs 500,000 per month Son of Sindh Govt Education Senior Minister Group Head Technical Rs 2,500,000 per month Relative of PPP MNA Sherry Rehman Group Head Industrial Relation Rs 2,500,000 per month 78 year-old Director Revenue Production dept Rs 700,000 per month Brother of MQM provincial minister Aadil Siddiqui Project Director Rs 500,000 per month Brother of provincial minister Syed Sardar Ahmed Project Director 2 Rs 500,000 per month MQM worker Security Head Rs 3,000,000 per month Former ISI head Security Head Rs 3,000,000 per month Former ISI head 18 Retired Colonels Rs 500,000 per month Group Head Recovery Rs 2,900,000 per month Relative APML leader Humayun Akhtar Group Head Finance PM’s reference
US-NATO war served al-Qaeda strategy This account of al-Qaeda strategy is particularly valuable because of the overall ideological system and strategic thinking that emerged from many encounters Shahzad had with senior officials over several years By Gareth Porter
l-Qaeda strategists have been assisting the Taliban fight against United States-North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in Afghanistan because they believe that foreign occupation has been the biggest factor in generating Muslim support for uprisings against their governments, according to the just-published book by Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times Online’s Pakistan bureau chief whose the Taliban was published on May 24 – only three days before he went missing from Islamabad on his way to a television interview. His body was found on May 31. Shahzad, who had been the Pakistan bureau chief for the Hong Kong-based Asia Times Online for 10 years, had unique access to senior al-Qaeda commanders and cadres, as well as those of Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Taliban organizations. His account of al-Qaeda strategy is particularly valuable because of the overall ideological system and strategic thinking that emerged from many encounters Shahzad had with senior officials over several years. Shahzad’s account reveals that Osama bin Laden was a “figurehead” for public consumption, and that it was his deputy, Egyptian Dr Ayman Zawahiri, who formulated the organization’s ideological line or devised operational plans. Shahzad summarizes the al-Qaeda strategy as being to “win the war against the West in Afghanistan” before shifting the struggle to Central Asia and Bangladesh. He credits al-Qaeda and its militant allies in the North and South Waziristan tribal areas in Pakistan with having transformed these areas into the main strategic base for the Taliban resistance to USNATO forces. But Shahzad’s account makes
it clear that the real objective of alQaeda in strengthening the Taliban struggle against US-NATO forces in Afghanistan was to continue the USNATO occupation as an indispensable condition for the success of al-Qaeda’s global strategy of polarizing the Islamic world. Shahzad writes that al-Qaeda strategists believed its terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 would lead to a US invasion of Afghanistan that would in turn cause a worldwide “Muslim backlash”. That “backlash” was particularly important to what emerges in Shahzad’s account as the primary al-Qaeda aim of stimulating revolts against regimes in Muslim countries. Shahzad reveals that the strategy behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the large al-Qaeda ambitions to reshape the Muslim world came from Zawahiri’s “Egyptian camp” within alQaeda. That group, under Zawahiri’s
Al-Qaeda view of the US-NATO war in Afghanistan, which Shahzad reports in the book based on conversations with several senior al-Qaeda commanders, represents the most authoritative picture of the organization’s thinking available to the public
leadership, had already settled on a strategic vision by the mid-1990s, according to Shahzad.
The Zawahiri group’s strategy, according to Shahzad, was to “speak out against corrupt and despotic Muslim governments and make them targets to destroy their image in the eyes of the common people”. But they would do so by linking those regimes to the United States. In a 2004 interview cited by Shahzad, one of Bin Laden’s collaborators, Saudi opposition leader Saad al-Faqih, said Zawahiri had convinced Bin Laden in the late 1990s that he had to play on the US “cowboy” mentality that would elevate him into an “implacable enemy” and “produce the Muslim longing for a leader who could successfully challenge Title: Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. the West”. Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11 Shahzad makes Author: Syed Saleem Shahzad. it clear that the Publisher: Pluto Press US occupations of Pages: 280; Price: Rs1395/Afghanistan and Available at Readings, Lahore. Iraq were the biggest break al-Qaeda had ever gotten. Muslim religious scholars had issued decrees strategists became aware that Muslim for the defense of Muslim lands against regimes – particularly Saudi Arabia the non-Muslim occupiers on many – had become active in trying to end occasions before the US-NATO war in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by 2007, because they feared that as Afghanistan, Shahzad points out. But once such religious decrees long as they continued “there was no were extended to Afghanistan, way of stopping Islamist revolts and Zawahiri could exploit the issue of rebellions in Muslim countries”. What al-Qaeda leaders feared most, the US occupation of Muslim lands to organize a worldwide “Muslim as Shahzad’s account makes clear, was insurgency”. That strategy depended any move by the Taliban toward a on being able to provoke discord possible negotiated settlement – even within societies by discrediting based on the complete withdrawal regimes throughout the Muslim world of US troops. Al-Qaeda strategists portrayed the first “dialogue” with as not being truly Muslim. Shahzad writes that the al-Qaeda the Afghan Taliban sponsored by the
04 - 05
Sunday, 03 July, 2011
Of a chronicle and a magazine
Regal Chowk Lyallpur turns out to be a valuable repository of the cultural heritage of the 118-year old tow Regal Chowk Lyallpur
By Syed Afsar Sajid
quasi-literary chronicle and a literary journal are the subject of this review. Noted intellectual, researcher and scholar Prof. Ashfaq Bukhari has authored the chronicle whereas the journal is sponsored and edited by well known intellectual, poet and critic (Allama) Zia Hussain Zia.
The town of Lyallpur (renamed ‘Faisalabad’ in the year 1977) emerged on the map of undivided India in the year 1893 as a tehsil of district Jhang; in1904, it was upgraded to a fullfledged district and in 1982, it was further upgraded to an administrative division. Over a century the town has developed into a veritable metropolis with a large techno-industrial base. Prof. Ashfaq Bukhari has launched a series of prestigious publications under the banner of the Lyallpur Kahani Book Foundation. Regal Chowk Lyallpur is the fourth book in this series, the first three beingLyallpur Kahani/Chenab Club (two editions) and Lyallpur Kahani/Halqa Arbab-eZauq Lyallpur. In the present book,
he has projected the Regal Cinema Chowk in town as its centerpiece for its historic-cum-cultural significance. On its conversion from Prem Singh Theatrical Hall into Regal Cinema a few years before the partition of India, the cinema and the chowk named after it became a rendezvous of a wide range of socio-cultural activity. The existence of the mausoleum of a popular saint of the area known as Baba Lasuri Shah tended to enhance the repute and popular appeal of the site. The renowned music maestro Ustad Fateh Ali Khan and his widely acclaimed brother and son Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan and Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan happened to live in the vicinity of Regal Chowk. They regularly performed at the saint’s mausoleum. The contractors of the cinema,
brothers Lekh Raj Bakhari and Malik Raj Bakhari later became leading film producers in the post-partition Bombay. Among others, the Indian film celebrity I.S. Johar, well known short story writer Surendra Parkash, famous educationist Principal Hashmat Khan, Jalal Artist, a promising pupil of Amrita Pritam’s partner and celebrated artist Imroze, Wali Pahlwan, the father of popular political worker and poet Fazal Hussain Rahi, noted intellectual and column writer Hassan Nisar, poet and educationist Azmatullah Khan, and the author himself belonged to the Chowk and its adjoining areas. In a purely literary style, the author has narrated the whole history of the locale, dwelling at length on its bold socio-cultural features. Nostalgia,
Saudi king in 2008 as an extremely dangerous US plot – a view scarcely supported by the evidence from the US side. Shahzad’s book confirms previous evidence of fundamental strategic differences between the Taliban leadership and al-Qaeda. Those differences surfaced in 2005, when Taliban leader Mullah Omar sent a message to all factions in North and South Waziristan to abandon all other activities and join forces with the Taliban in Afghanistan. And when al-Qaeda declared the “khuruj” (popular uprising against a Muslim ruler for un-Islamic governance) against the Pakistani state in 2007, Omar opposed that strategy, even though it was ostensibly aimed at deterring US attacks on the Taliban. Shahzad reports that one of al-Qaeda’s purposes in creating the Pakistani Taliban in early 2008 was to “draw the Afghan Taliban away from Mullah Omar’s influence”. The Shahzad account refutes the official US military rationale for the war in Afghanistan, which is based on the presumption that al-Qaeda is primarily interested in getting the US and NATO forces out of Afghanistan and that the Taliban and al-Qaeda are locked in a tight ideological and strategic embrace. Shahzad’s account shows that despite cooperative relations with Pakistan’s InterServices Intelligence (ISI) in the past, al-Qaeda leaders decided after 9/11 that the Pakistani military would inevitably become a full partner in the US “war on terror” and would turn against alQaeda. The relationship did not dissolve immediately after the terror attacks, according to Shahzad. He writes that ISI chief Mehmood Ahmed assured al-Qaeda when he visited Kandahar in September 2001 that the Pakistani military would not attack al-Qaeda as long it didn’t attack the military. He also reports that Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf held a series of meetings with several top jihadi and religious leaders and asked them to lie low for five years, arguing that the situation could change after that period. According to Shahzad’s account, al-Qaeda did not intend at the beginning to launch a jihad in Pakistan against the military but was left with no other option when the Pakistani military sided with the US against the jihadis. The major turning point was an October 2003 Pakistani military helicopter attack in North Waziristan that killed many militants. In apparent retaliation in December 2003, there were two attempts on Musharraf’s life, both organized by a militant whom Shahzad says was collaborating closely with al-Qaeda. In his last interview with The Real News Network, however, Shahzad appeared to contradict that account, reporting that the ISI had wrongly told Musharraf that al-Qaeda was behind the attempts, and even that there was some Pakistani Air Force involvement in the plot. Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specializing in US national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in 2006.
Sectarian schizophrenia A detailed historical perspective of sectarian strife among Muslim world By Aamir Riaz
he book under review is a rather infrequent work from an author who is serving Pakistan in one field or the other for the last 41 years, and possesses a diverse experience starting from the Foreign Service (1969-78) and continuing as a researcher and journalist. The timing of the book is significant due to the rapidly unfolding sociopolitical and external scenario of the country. While the policy makers are still reluctant to revisit their old prejudices and make amends for past mistakes, intellectuals like Khaled Ahmad and Ahmad Rashid are continuously ringing the alarm bells and acting as a reality check. In 1973, Khaled was awarded a presidential commendation for writing a special report from Moscow. His varied journalist experience started from The Pakistan Times and led him to The Nation, The Frontier Post, The Friday times and The Daily Times. Daily Dawn is the only frontline newspaper that he has not worked for. The genesis of the book is attributed to Woodrow Wilson Scholarship, named in honor of the only PhD US president (191321). Khaled got this scholarship in 2006. A lot has been written on the 9/11 event and its bitter harvest, but Khaled’s distinction is that he started highlighting the issues of fundamentalism, extremism, communalism and sectarianism much before that gamechanging event. In his book, the author has not only given a detailed historical perspective of sectarian strife among Muslim world including the centuries old Syria-Iraq and Arab-Persian divides but also enlightened us on the schism between the Shiite Nawabs of Awadh and the Wahabism of the Nawabs of Bhopal during the second half of the eighteenth century. It was largely due to the efforts of mystics and poets such as Mian Muhammad Baksh, Sachal Sarmast, Shah Hussain Lahori, Buleh Shah and many others who enlightened Sapta Sindhu (Sindh and the Punjab) by strengthening the roots of tolerance and communal harmony during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in our region. Nowadays, sectarianism has become one of the major issues confronting the Muslim world, a foil to its unity. From the late ‘70s Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Iran are facing a situation which strengthened communal and sectarian groups in their respective state structures.
The litany of wrongs that resulted in the present sorry state of affairs is lengthy: the Russian-backed 1978 socialist upheaval in Afghanistan, the Iranian revolution based on a Muslim sect ideology in April 1979, the disastrous Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan in December 1979, sectarian disturbances in the Middle East in the early 1980s, the Iran -Iraq war of 1980-88, the Afghan jihad supported by the USA in 197986, the post soviet withdrawal scenario along the Pak-Afghan borders, exclusion of proIranian mujahideen from the Afghan jihad under the pressure of Saudi Arabia in the late ‘80s, uprising in Indian-occupied Kashmir in 1989, first Iraq war, 1990, emergence of Taliban in 1994, , Saudi Arab and Iran proxy sectarian wars in the 1990s, takeover of Afghanistan government by the Taliban in 1996 gave birth to numerous militant groups , sometimes supported by their respective Title: Sectarian War states of origin. Pakistan’s Sunni-Shia Violence and its link to Khaled Ahmad in his book the Middle East tries to explore the historical and political background Author: Khaled Ahmad of sectarian conflict in the Publisher: Oxford University Press, Pakistan Muslim world. Yet there are Pages: 410; Published: 2011 some important areas where one can differ with the writer. rechecking because it leads to many fallacies His conjecture regarding nonsectarian and non-communal role of the and prejudices. Despite these questions, Khaled’s work British Indian administration needs more debate. The Muslim League won the NWFP is indispensable reading, with no parallel to referendum in 1947 due in part to pirs and judge of equal scholarship. Geo- politics, the mishaeikh who had a marked presence in the intrigues to capture the Gulf trade route by area. Under frontier forward policy British national and international forces, is another Indian administration used all major Muslim angle which is narrated in the book. The sects against Afghanistan in the name of chapter on the Middle East is full of new Jihad. The 1862 campaign around the information along with an in-depth analysis of the region’s past. Afghan border is one example in this regard. No doubt it is a rare source of information Then the term Shia-Sunni also appears problematic as there are numerous other regarding politics behind the fatwas of takfir sects among both communities itself and which shook the Muslim world from within. in many cases one cannot relate with Unlike most post 9/11 publications, this work another. Yet, including Khaled, numerous deserves mass dissemination. Hence, the researchers use this term without hesitation. need for an Urdu translation to educate the Among Shias, they includes Druzes, Ismailis, young cannot be overstated. The writer is a Lahore-based researcher Zydias, Nusayris, Bohras and Asna Ashri’s etc. Similarly, amongst the Sunnis, there and Editor are Wahabis, Deobandis, Barelvis, and Ahle Hadith etc. Such over-simplifications needs
own that Faisalabad is wn that Faisalabad is accentuated by the change of name of ‘Lyallpur’, betrays the dominant mood of the narrative. Thus Ashfaq Bukhari’s Regal Chowk Lyallpur turns out to be a valuable repository of the cultural heritage of the 118-year old town that Faisalabad is.
Zarnigar (7-8) Zia Hussain Zia’s Zarnigar has now matured into a comprehensive literary journal – widely represented, circulated and read in the Urdu literary world. Publication of a purely literary magazine in the given environmental conditions is of course a Herculean task. In the nerve-raking exercise, Zia has had to wear many a hat synchronizing with the multiplicity (and complexity too) of his role as editor, publisher, contributor, sponsor and promoter of the magazine. A cursory look on its stocky size and content would eventually substantiate this observation. The current issue, with its eye-catching dust cover and sober format, carries contributions
of all shades of literary writers like Dr. Anwar Sadeed, Ayub Khawar, this writer, Iqtidar Javed, Ahmad Sagheer Siddiqi, Rakhshanda Navid, Riffat Nahid, Uzma Naqvi, Masooma Shirazi, Anjum Mehru, Tal’at Noreen Sehar, Ali Kameel Qizilbash, Jafar Zia, Dr. Khurshid Rizvi, Shahzad Ahmad, Zafar Iqbal, Dr. Mirza Hamid Beg, Partau Rohilla, Tahira Iqbal, Prof. Ghulam Rasul Tanvir, Mashkoor Hussain Yad, Abid Bukhari, Ghulam Hussain Sajid, Hussain Sehar, Mahmud Raza Syed, Ali Yasir, Ali Zaryun, Sohail Akhtar, Wajid Ameer, Asnath Kanwal, Sami Ahuja, Azra Asghar, Muhammad.Mazhar-uz-Zaman Khan, Salma Awan, Neelum Ahmad Bashir, Seema Piroze, Jafar Hasan Mubarak, Mah Tal’at Zahidi and Zia Hussain Zia. The quantity and quality of the contents of the magazine tend to distinguish it among its peers. Readers in general and critics of literature in particular have now begun to take cognizance of Zarnigar as a readable literary journal.
Title: Quarterly Zarnigar (7-8) Editor: Zia Hussain Zia Publisher: Zarnigar House, Khayaban Colony, Faisalabad Pages: 504; Price: Rs.500/-
Title: Regal Chowk Lyallpur (Lyallpuri Kay Qalam Say) Author: Prof. Ashfaq Bukhari Publisher: The Lyallpur Kahani Book Foundation, Faisalabad Pages: 216; Price: Rs.200/-
In defence of rape
The Jama’at i Islami Ameer comes out of the closet in a disgusting expose on the values that pass for religion in Pakistan By Hashim Bin Rashid
hat if a woman is raped by a man and has no witnesses?,” asks the puzzled newsanchor to Jama’at i Islami Ameer Munawar Hassan. “She should not report it,” the JI Ameer responds firmly. The newsanchor dissents, “But the woman has been raped…” Munawar Hassain responds, “Do not use argument against the Quran and Sunnah.” The stunned newsanchor says, “But I am arguing against a law.” Munawar Hassan stunninly responds, “If you become a Muslim, you will not disagree.” The newsanchor responds, “Are you putting a fatwa on me?” Munawar continues, “If you are going to argue against the Quran and Sunnah then…” The newsanchor has to go into a monologue to prove his Islamic credential before being able to propose a legitimate argument to defend a raped woman’s rights in front of this great Gate-Keeper of Islam. A Gate which has revealed the filth that it hides within it. When the Hudood Laws were brought forth the argument was to incorporate Islamic principles within the legal regimes that apply within
Pakistan. Subsequently, came the four witnesses that filled up Pakistan’s jails with women who had been raped but unable to produce four witnesses before a court. The JI Ameer admits as much, “Who in an Islamic would rape in front of four witnesses?” “So then how would a raped woman ask for justice?,” the anchor rightly asks. “She should not report it for it spreads vulgarity,” Munawar says. “Are you not encouraging rape when you say this?,” the anchor asks. “No. The rapist is encouraged upon being reported,” Munawar says. And so is the logic of Quran and Sunnah completed as per the logic with which Munawar Hassan interprets it. But this is not a logic confined to the religious segment of society. The liberal segment itself has produced its defenders. Our last liberal military dictator General Musharraf proudly and publically declared, “In Pakistan it has become it has become a fashion for women to get raped for international fame,” commenting on the Mukhtaraan Mai case. And so fell in suit our honourable Supreme Court which absolved the gang rape charges in the Mukhtaraan Mai case and stipulated that it was likely that she had been fooled in seduction by the one accused it found guilty. In many ways, what Munawar Hassan spoke is not strictly outside
what passes for common thinking in Pakistan. It is the rape victim that is responsible. It is the rape victim who must be silenced. It only hurts more that patriarchy is covered under the
garb o f
religious values a n d presented as a position no one can disagree with unless he wish to be declared infidel. It so appears that under Munawar’s logic the only right the Woman’s Protection Bill of 2004 compromised was the Muslim man’s right to rape a woman. And that anyone who challenges that right henceforth shall be an infidel…
Excerpts: Sectarian War: Pakistan’s Sunni-Shia Violence and its link to the Middle East
06 - 07
Sunday, 03 July, 2011
Sectarianism: a proxy war of Iran and Saudi Arabia Pakistanis invariably blame Saudi Arabia and Iran for the violence since they funded and trained the partisans of this war. They are aware that Pakistan was subjected to someone else’s ‘relocated’ war. Much of the internal dynamic of this war remains hidden from public view. A kind of embarrassment over the phenomenon of Muslim-killing-Muslim has prevented Pakistanis from inquiring frankly into how the two hostile states were able to transplant their conflict in Pakistan. (Pag xi)
Roots of sectarianism & role of Awadh and Bhopal states Siddiq Hasan Khan, whom Pakistani writer Shaharyar M. Khan19 describes as a bit of an adventurer, succeeded in marrying a widowed Begum of Bhopal and was able to dominate her court. This opened the way for a steady trickle of extremist Wahhabi ulama to the scholarly haven of Bhopal, establishing a final and conclusive nexus between Saudi Wahhabism and India’s Ahle E Hadith. Saad Hammad, a Wahhabi scholar, was to stay in Bhopal for nine years and he was not the only Arab scholar influenced by Siddiq Hasan Khan. There was also the famous Kairuddin Alusi of Baghdad whose hardline thoughts had greatly
buttressed the Wahhabi tradition. He came across Siddiq Hasan Khan’s work on Ibn Taymiyya in Egypt in 1878. (Page 75, 76) It was Chief Minister Hasan Raza Khan under Nawab Asaf alDaula who first sent money to Iraq for the building of the Hindiya Canal that transformed the desert cities of Najaf and Karbala into fertile land and made it possible for the Iranian scholars living in the shrines to convert Iraq’s exclusively Sunni Arabs to Shiism. It was Hasan Raza Khan israin who extended patronage to the Sunnis of Lucknow willing a: become Shia. He is called ‘ghali’ (extreme/ abusive) Shia by the anti-Shia writers of later times. Sunni accounts give a lot of detail scout how Shia mosques were built separately so that the Shia —could manage to stop saying their prayers together with Sunnis. He began to send Shia scholars to Najaf to absorb the true, as opposed the eclectic, Shiism of India, which is supposed to have the currency of the ritual of tabarra (abuse) of the Sunni caliphs and the modification of the call to prayers to include the name of Ali. This was followed by the first incidence of violence— Sunni encounters in the city. (Page 103)
Maulana Manzur Numani Fatwa of 1986 Why were the series of fatwas
apostatising the Shias issued in Pakistan in the year 1986? Why was there simultaneity in the issuance of these fatwas? A book was put together in 1993 titled Khomeini Aur Shia Kay Barah Main ulama Karaam Ka Mutafiqq* Faisla (Consensual Verdict of the ulama on Khomeini and the Shia in Pakistan by someone called Chishti Sabri and introduced by Khalilur Rehman Sajjad Nadvi. The text belonged to an Indian cleric Maulana Manzur Numani (d.1994) who claimed that ‘it is a masterpiece of research’. Why should a collection of fatwas be described as a masterpiece of research? One comes to know that in fact, these fatwas were either never available freely in India and Pakistan or had become unavailable after their issuance simply because of the lack of habit of record-keeping in the country and the latter-day tendency of the madrassas to hide their sectarian past. Page:92
Taliban, Al Qaeda & sectarianism The sectarian cauldron is not on the boil in 2008 as it was in the years following 2001. But it can be stoked again into intense temperatures because of the presence of Al Qaeda inside the tribal areas and the unleashed power of the madrassa in Pakistan. The joining of the jihadi militias with the Taliban and Al Qaeda
has rendered the fight against sectarianism complicated as well as difficult. (Page338)
Revolutionary Iran in the region Khomeini was the first cleric in the region who had acquired a state in modern times. Political Islam envied him, as did Pakistan`s Sunni chief of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Abul Ala Maududi when he said on the death of Khomeini in 1989 that ‘he wished he had accomplished what Khomeini had, and that he would have liked to have been able to visit Iran to see the revolution for himself’. …Khomeini banked on the rallying of the Arab Shia to his revolutionary cause. He saw his aggressive irredentism in the region succeeding in the initial stages and was emboldened to move ahead with his inflexible approach to regional diplomacy. It was a part of his temperament not to give ground and retreat from extreme initiatives. He was determined to cause unrest in countries—from Pakistan to Egypt— seen by him as serving the interests of the United States. He named a street in Tehran after Khalid al-Islambuli, the man who had killed the Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat. (Page 234, 235)
(Book Review on Page 5)
KESC’s capitalist crisis
From page 1 “They were getting educated on the business of Abraaj Capital, the genesis of Abraaj, what kind of business interests we have,” manager Manzur responds. “They were also trained in international journalism, which is value added to their skillset. Being good corporate citizens, it was an initiative that we undertook. We engage in a lot of corporate social responsibility. “Why not ask us about the contributions we made after the floods in Sindh?”
Privatizing social responsibility Abraaj Capital is the UAE-based private equity firm that has a controlling interest in KESC. Founded in 1913 by private British colonizing investors, KESC was nationalized by the Pakistan’s independent and non-aligned government in 1952. It was privatized again in late 2005 under the military dictatorship of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and this move is what lies at the heart of the current dispute. The logic went that the private sector could do just about everything better than the public sector. Navigating the vagaries of the free market, private management would run a profitable operation, and the government would no longer have to keep subsidizing this losing behemoth. “Privatization was done on the conditions that there would be, one, no more government subsidies, two, increase in foreign-direct investment, three, new generation created, four, an end to load shedding, five, no workers retrenched for seven years, and six, no increases in tariffs for seven years,” claims unionist Mughal. “None of those conditions have been fulfilled.” KESC’s own annual report for 2010 shows that KESC’s generation of electricity has declined from a peak of 9.304 billion kWh in 2004-05 to 7.964 billion kWh in 2009-10, comparable to generation figures 10 years ago. “No, it has not,” says Manzur, contradicting the annual report. “The only way it could have declined is when we do not get enough fuel to fire our entire production machinery.” And thus begins a rapid fire comedy of errors (a tragedy, more aptly). Manzur explains that KESC does not get enough gas from its sole supplier, the Sui Southern Gas Company, and furnace oil is too expensive for it to purchase, as it lacks the
necessary hard cash. “The fault lies somewhere else, it is very conveniently put on the shoulders of KESC.” Moreover, Manzur explains, KESC’s biggest defaulter is the government. “The government owes us Rs. 41 billion.” Comically, that’s almost the same amount KESC received over 2010-11 in subsidies (Rs. 46 billion). “Those don’t go to us, those are passed on to the consumer.” Why not cut off government electricity supply? “We tried that, and the Rangers threw up their arms, the police came into action, and they said this is the city of Karachi, you can’t do this in the current precarious law-and-order situation.” The government of Pakistan issued a directive to not cut off supply. What about getting rid of illegal connections, the kundas? “You try doing that, and come back and tell me what happens,” Manzur says. I laugh, “It’s not my job, I’m not running KESC!” “There was a huge uproar. Even to do a small portion of the city, you get a huge uproar from the politicos – there are vested interests.” What about the fuel adjustment charges, the bogus billing and inflated billing Karachi citizens complain about? “That’s not us, that’s NEPRA.” At this point I am wondering if KESC management takes responsibility for anything. No wonder Karachi’s citizens are exasperated. “This is the city of Karachi,” explains Manzur. “There are too many variables in the equation. If you were to correct one, the other goes out of whack.” And herein lies the rub. There’s a yawning gap between the expectations of the proponents of privatization and the reality of Karachi. Neoclassical economics assumes rational, self-interested, disconnected individuals colliding against each other in myriad interactions, building up to an equilibrium in a free market. One can talk of families and firms as collectivities (that, moreover, act like individuals), but that’s about it. Somehow, the theorists forgot to include guns, mafias, collective action or the very lack of market infrastructure in their models – or, for that matter, monopolies, the very opposite of free and competitive markets. KESC itself is a monopoly, with exclusive franchise of Karachi. Consumers cannot get their electricity from anywhere else – except generators.
In the fairytale worlds of neoclassical economics and MBA programmes, where A leads to B, and B to C, and so on, privatization of everything under the sun might make sense. But this is Karachi. Fairytales are few and far in between. Except, of course, where remuneration of executives is concerned. “A teller in the bank starts at about Rs25,000, whereas the president of the bank earns more than Rs6 million a month. That is the market. Unfortunately or fortunately, that’s the way the cookie crumbles,” Manzur says, responding to claims of excessive executive remuneration at KESC. “That’s the market rate, and the value of the skill-set.” But that doesn’t apply to humble workers at the bottom of the food chain. “The salary paid for a driver was up to Rs48,000 a month, the outsourced guy costs Rs12,000.” Won’t this kind of outsourcing lead to a race to the bottom? “That’s not our responsibility, we are running a business,” he says. “We are a private company, but we are in a public role,” says Manzur. But it’s not clear how they are serving the public. Do businesses exist to serve the public, or do public exist to serve businesses? Union leader Mughal’s attitude is the complete opposite of Manzur’s, even if just in rhetoric, “We are fighting not just for our own livelihoods, we’re fighting for all the citizens of Karachi – for an end to load-shedding, an end to tariffs, an end to bogus billing.” He talks about how the GDP has been affected negatively due to a lack of consistent supply of energy, about industries shutting down, about unemployment, about students not being able to prepare for their exams. Responding to allegations of union sabotage or union strikes, he points out, “The people of Karachi are burdened already with loadshedding. We’re citizens, too. So we’ve not gone toward shutting down electricity.” He warns that if things become desperate, it may go that way. “We can stop it. We have that capability. We can stop it whenever we want.”
Putting it all together
I met with Manzur in the exclusive Royal Rodale sports and recreation club in Clifton. It’s so exclusive that the guards wouldn’t let me in because my sandals didn’t have ankle-straps.
‘I only have this to say: please nationalise KESC. This is in our best interests, and in the best interests of all the citizens of Karachi’ KESC’s management seems to operate out of air-conditioned spaces like this when it feels the security situation at the head office is precarious. Indeed, the spokesperson described the head office as being “under siege.” I visited that entirely peaceful “siege” a couple of days earlier, where I met with workers sitting on cheap plastic mats under flimsy tents. There, once again animated because unused to sitting on the ground, I spoke to 29-year old Mohammed Arif. A lineman who has worked with KESC for nine years, Arif earned Rs. 15,000 a month. He started out earning Rs. 5,000—he got his job because his father died working for KESC, and gets a pension as a result. He lives in Karachi’s humble Baldia Town, and is the eldest in his family, taking care of his wife, his eight month old daughter, his elderly mother, and his eight younger brothers and sisters – three of whom are still in school, and only one of whom works, doing day labour. He has no car, he has no motorcycle, he gets around by bus. His younger siblings have not yet been kicked out of school, though he hasn’t paid fees for two months, due to the kindness of school officials. But time is running out. And despite all of that, when I ask him if he has any last words for the interview, he thinks not only of himself, but of himself as part of a larger collectivity: “I only have this to say: please nationalize KESC. This is in our best interests, and in the best interests of all the citizens of Karachi.” –Noaman G. Ali studies the political economy of development at the University of Toronto.
Re-nationalise the KESC From page 2
the KESC privatization on the cheap sale (Rs 16 billion) and loading up of the organization with Rs 150 billion worth of loans. Over a similar period electricity production fell over 15%. The management c i t e s
increased fuel prices, government non-cooperation, NEPRA resisting increased tariffs. But that has not stopped the organization from its own gross overspending. It lately come into light that the top management had been stockpiled on hefty salaries and perks with a set of appointments being made on political connections including ex-ISI officials. The latest turn has come from the Federal Board of Revenue that has seized the KESC’s accounts to recover a Rs 152 million tax surcharge. It is in this financial context that the KESC management has began to spend on a malign campaign against the employees
it fired, side-stepping a legally recognized union. Under the current KESC management tariffs and subsidies have only known one way: up. A preference for PR opportunities: The subsequent workers struggle has focused on calls for restoration. It is a noble idea but it is destined to fail in a climate in which the KESC management has taken a clear anti-worker stance. It has closeted its own failures behind the argument of worker sabotage. It appears in the interests of the current
Karachi’s electricity crisis. The management has preferred to use PR techniques over solid power management embodied in the Turkish power vessel brought in last year to capture the attention of the chattering classes but provide no tangible relief to the city’s power consumers. The question to ask the management is: what substantial improvement has it made to the Karachi grid? The answer is the reverse: under privatization the KESC has degenerated. If the KESC
management to play the blame Karachi’s power woes on the protesting workers whom it has labeled ‘andairay ke sodagar’ (‘merchants of darkness’) in a recent ad campaign while continuing to shirk on its own contractual and service obligations. Facts dictate that the KESC is generating 15% less power six years after its’ privatization and is still gulping an average of over Rs 35 billion in subsidies from the public exchequer to keep it afloat. In this climate, the argument for mere restoration does not promise to solve
management’s own pun were to be used the privatization of the institution was the ‘adheray ka sauda’ (‘the sale of darkness’), and it high time that government step in. The logic for renationalization: While an argument specific to the KESC has been made, it must also be noted that experiences of privatising the power sector have failed in South Asia. The governments of India and Sri Lanka have had to reassume the control of power utilities in Mumbai and Colombo
respectively after failed privatization exercises. The agreement with Abraaj Capital, however, puts the Pakistan government in its own quagmire if it is to reverse the privatization. In a July 2009 agreement with Abraaj, a new article, Article 8.6, was inducted, pinning all liabilities onto the Pakistani government. “The government of Pakistan, in case of a takeover of the company, would pay all liabilities (past and future) of KESC,” it reads. T h i s , while the
Pakistan government already is facing a lawsuit from Siemens for the previous reversal. But facing up to these is better than letting the Karachi electricity grid collapse. The time has come for the government to declare the KESC a failed privatization exercise and retake control before the crisis spirals out of control.
Pictures by the Author
Sunday, 03 July, 2011
When the rains came
Floods in the Degh have passed out of living memory but the bridge that Jehangir built continues to serve, despite overuse and lack of maintenance
By Salman Rashid
ong before he became the emperor of India, Jehangir, Prince Salim for all and sundry and Sheikhu for his father Akbar, used to go hunting in forested country some miles west of Lahore. Later, after a pet deer died, he ordered the building of a memorial tower as well as a water tank and pavilion. He also had a fort built nearby and called it either Jehangirpura or Jehangirabad. Today we know it as Sheikhupura after the emperor’s childhood name. Aside: both the emperor’s names, that is, Sheikhu and Salim are after the saint Sheikh Salim Chishti for whom Akbar had great regard. Like his father Akbar,
Jehangir was a great exterminator of wildlife whose Tuzk (diary) lists at various places rosters of all the animals he bagged during his hunts. Indeed, without seeing the irony in it, subsequent to one hunt his diary complains of the paucity of his bag. But one supposes those were times when nobody connected dwindling wildlife with wanton hunting. Toward the fag end of the monsoon of 1620, Jehangir was encamped with his wives and court at Jehangirabad. It was the month of October and the monsoon had not yet petered out. As the court began the short journey back to Lahore, the rains continued to fall. And they fell with a vengeance. Now, the Degh River that rises in the hills below Jummu, flows past Sialkot and dumps itself into the Ravi south of Lahore, lies between Jehangir’s hunting lodge and Lahore city. As the royal caravan neared its banks, it was found to be a roaring, surging alluvial-red torrent. It was impossible to get across even astride the elephants. For four days the royal court was held up until the sodden tents became too much for the king and his family.
To this day the bridge spans the river and serves as a connection between the village of Kot Pindi Das and the Lahore-Sheikhupura highroad
The rains eventually let up, the water receded and the procession passed on to Lahore. Those were days when monsoon rains were what young people today have never known. Indeed, anyone who cannot recall the rains of 1973 and again three years later takes a shower of fifteen minutes to be a monsoon shower. Those were days when the rain would not cease once it began. When it started to come down it would continue for days on end until the rivers flowed over their banks to flood farmland and cities. To forestall a future repeat of the hold up on the Degh, Jehangir ordered the throwing of a bridge across the river that is normally fordable. To this day the bridge spans the river and serves as a connection between the village of Kot Pindi Das and the Lahore-Sheikhupura highroad. Haroon, my young companion, and I asked for the umpteenth time for Kot Pindi Das before turning off the highway to the right (north). The new black-top road had not been there when I first went this way nearly twenty years ago. This branch lies just after one goes over the Degh River bridge
heading for Sheikhupura and is about eighteen kilometres short of the latter. Kot Pindi Das is six kilometres from the turning and the bridge itself lies a kilometre southeast of the village. We were joined by a trio of pre-teenage boys who said the bridge was probably built by the angrez. I smiled and by way of explanation the tallest among them said all such things had been done by the angrez, hadn’t they. When I told them the bridge was nearly four hundred years old and that was much before the angrez, they wanted to know how I knew. They had heard of the Chugattas – the variation of Chughtai by which the Mughals are known in parts of Punjab, but Jehangir was a name that rang no bells for them. The bridge is actually two separate structures about thirty metres apart. The one to the south has two arches while the main structure is lop-sided with a main arch flanked by two smaller arches on one side and one on the other. And the oncegood river Degh that flows beneath now stinks with dark untreated poison that it carries down from the factories of Kala Shah Kaku.
Yet buffaloes wallowed in the poison and I found myself wondering what sort of milk we would be getting in Lahore if they also drank the water. When I warned my three local companions against swimming in the river, the tall one said the river was good. A minute later he had stripped and was paddling about midstream. Thirty years after this bridge was built, in October 1652, Shah Jehan faced a similar situation as his father: the rains had persisted and the Degh was flooded. Only this time, the flood was so high that even the bridge was submerged. Once again the royal camp had to halt four days because ‘certain members of the forward party of the entourage had already been swept away …’ Floods in the Degh have passed out of living memory. Surely 1976 would have seen the swollen river almost touching the top of the arches. After that rains steadily dwindled away to a time that we now regard a fifteen-minute shower a proper fall of rain. Meanwhile, the bridge continues to serve. We saw tractors with trailers laden with sand or bricks going back and forth and I stood at a respectable distance regarding
the crumbling foundations of the bridge piers. There is a branch of the Degh called the Chhoti or Lesser Degh not many miles to the west. That too has a bridge; only that one collapsed, so they claimed, during the floods of 1976. Its debris lies in the bed of the stream and I cannot but wonder if overuse by laden trailers and lack of maintenance will one day cause the demise of this bridge during a similar flood that may yet come one day. –Salman Rashid, rated as the best in the country, is a travel writer and photographer who has travelled all around Pakistan and written about his journeys.
As the royal caravan neared its banks, it was found to be a roaring, surging alluvial-red torrent –impossible to get across even astride the elephants
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