Interview: Sana Bucha

By Maheen Ghani

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She faces off against some of the most influential people in Pakistan – if not the world – on live television and explores some of Pakistan’s most controversial issues every Friday through Sunday on her show, LekinNewsline sits with Sana Bucha for this exclusive interview to get the behind-the-scenes scoop on women in the electronic media and much more.

Q: Does the electronic media offer women a level playing field?

A: ‘Do we play fair?’ is the real question. Men will brighten up their boring suit with a colourful tie but we doll ourselves up. So I believe we do not offer men a level playing field.

Q: Talk shows have generally been regarded as a male domain. How did you manage to break through?

A: Women are everywhere. When I first joined Geo Television, I noticed there were lots of women working there – all kinds of women. There were women in hijab, women in jeans, gorgeous women and plain-looking women.

Back then, talk shows were mostly hosted by men, but I never really believed it was a ‘men only’ domain. I don’t think the media in general is male-dominated. But more importantly, I have never really thought ‘I’m not a man, therefore, I can’t do something.’ Actually, in our society, there are many fields more dominated by women than men. There is a perception, for example, that modelling is a women’s profession, not a man’s.

Q: When you are out in the field rather than the confines of a studio, how do people respond to you? Are they forthcoming?

A: I think the basic difference is that when you go out in the field, people want to talk to you. When you’re doing a show in an air-conditioned studio you need to call people in and beg them to talk to you.

I have done a lot of outdoor work and I think one of my best work was the outdoors shows I did, especially during the Swat operation. It was quite scary but it was exciting, and people wanted to tell you their story. When you are outdoors, there is a story everywhere. There is a story from the place where someone was killed and hung naked from a tree, to the place where there once used to be a little store that sold CDs and does not exist anymore. But when you’re in the studio, you have to create the story. You have to create the storm.

The Swat operation was my launch-pad. It was the first time I came on screen and it was actually by default. I never wanted to be an anchor – I hate criticism and I had no desire to pursue this career for too long a time. But things change.

Lekin is my baby, and that is certainly not by default. It is something I have created and it stands for who I am. It is the counter-narrative of the channel and society.

Q: Recently someone created a Facebook event accusing you of being a PML-N agent? Have you ever been accused of being partisan as an anchor?

A: Yes, all the time. These accusations come from the PTI and the party takes responsibility for them. Members of the PTI have often said things like “aapka tilt nazar aata hai” to my face.

I got Shahbaz Sharif on the show and I take full credit for that interview. He’s got 19 ministries under him and I am the one who exposed this on prime time. I asked Shahbaz Sharif if he thinks he is God and why he’s in charge of so many ministries and why he hasn’t established a health ministry. Subsequently, the fake medicine scandal broke. You will find all of these videos on YouTube. My critics should look at all my Lekin videos before they accuse me of partisanship.

Q: To what extent do Television Rating Points (TRS) determine the content and direction of Lekin?

A: At the end of the day I make the final decision. But my producer is very, very good and everybody on my team has an input. I have about seven people in my team and everyone from the non-linear editor to my senior producer has a say in what we do. This works because we are all on the same side and we all look at things the same way more or less. But sometimes we have differing opinions about specific issues and that also helps because then we have different perspectives and cover each side of the story, not just my side of the story. So while I decide the content, I don’t want to take credit for everything because there are some ideas that come entirely from my team. However, nothing is decided on the basis of ratings – although thankfully we have good ratings even with those stories I thought were not going to be popular.

I know what sells and what doesn’t but I don’t decide my content on the basis of what will sell.

Q: You have covered some extremely emotional stories like the one on the Sialkot lynching. Being a woman anchor, was it difficult for you to hold your emotions in check or did you manage to keep your cool?

A: I am a very emotional person. I try to be professional most of the time, but to be very honest, I am too emotional to be entirely professional. But, I think, the only reason I have created some sort of an impression is because of the way I am.

During my programme on the Sialkot lynchings, I was crying throughout. Regardless of who those boys were and what they had done, they did not deserve to be treated that way. We cannot be an intolerant society and we are not the moral police here.

I went to their house at the time their soyem was taking place, so it was not the most professional environment to begin with. The mother of those boys was far more in control of her emotions than I was. There was an uncle of the boys present who revealed gruesome details of how their bones were so badly broken that they had difficulty giving them the last ghusal. Hence, there were quite a few overwhelmingly emotional moments. I remember, I cried the whole way back on the drive from Sialkot to Lahore and on the flight from Lahore to Karachi. And I could not sleep for two nights.

I cannot take a certain Sana to work and bring home another Sana. I carry everything with me and I have a lot of emotional excess baggage. I bring home the stories from work all the time and I take to work most of the stories that are happening at home. I don’t know how to separate the two. However that did not stop me from doing my job. I was there to get the story out and I wanted my programme to be able to make people understand why it was wrong to kill those two boys. When people are going through such emotionally traumatic experiences they are not going to be sitting there looking pretty for your television channel. You have to be able to strike a chord with them for them to be able to communicate with you otherwise, you are going to walk away with the same kind of interview that most people did. There were four different programmes carrying the Sialkot story simultaneously over the next 48 hours, but I know that my show had an impact.

Q: Do you feel that it helps to connect with people in order to get a better story?

A: The only thing that will help you connect with people is feelings. When you step off the car and get on to the field you drop the whole facade of brandedness; you forget about wearing designer shades and carrying designer bags. I always go in my chaddar whenever I do outdoor shows. Also, I find it very pretentious for women to be totally made up particularly for such shows. For example, I saw that while reporting on the floods last year, some of my competitors wore too much make up and some were even wearing heels in the water. While I am sure that I have also made my share of mistakes in this respect, I feel that the more you look like the people you are featuring, the closer you get to them. It may not always work but it certainly makes it easier.

However, sometimes nothing works. I went to a village in the outskirts of South Punjab by boat which had become separated from its main town as its roads were now streams and had been completely eroded. When I reached there, people started to stone my cameraman and myself because they did not want to be photographed: they wanted to be fed and given shelter.

Q: You have interviewed several national and international figures. Has anyone been particularly intimidating or particularly patronising because of your gender?

A: Patronising, no. Intimidating, yes, although not because of my gender. I do not like Hillary Clinton at all. I have interviewed her twice but I feel she is too diplomatic. I know it is her job to be that way, but you cannot get a straight answer out of her and she is not comfortable with a one-on-one interview. So, whenever I have interviewed her, it has been as part of a group interview. I know that she does not want to say too much or give away too much, but I don’t like that arrangement. So the third time she was here and I was asked to go interview her, I declined.

I interviewed Harbiyar Marri in London and he was very difficult to interview. Firstly, he was so hard to get hold of and even harder to convince. And when I finally got to him in London, with my camera in tow, he just turned around and told me he did not want to give this interview. He hates anyone who will tell him that he’s wrong in sponsoring a separatist movement in Balochistan; he thinks all of us have sold our souls to the establishment. He is very difficult to talk to and with each question that I had asked, I was scared that he might get up and leave. In the end, however, it went well and I ended up asking him everything I wanted to.

Q: There is a general perception that in order to be taken seriously or considered as ‘one of the boys,’ women anchors have only gone for political stories and have refrained from tackling issues related to women. Is that true?

A: When I look at a story, I think, ‘how am I going to do this story without getting myself killed.’ For example, I want to do a story on how we treat are minorities, specifically, the Ahmadis, but I find that the perception exists that if you do a story on a minority, you are part of that community. For example, people ask me if I am Balochi and if that is why I do so many stories on Balochistan.

The only thing that I consider – and I can only speak for myself and not for other women because I do not how they gauge themselves – is that I want to do a story that is going to be of some service to society. The only time I do not do them is when I feel there will be some serious danger to my own life.

There are certain debates I cannot have, not because I am a woman, but because our society cannot take it.

Q: You have reported on some controversial and extremely sensitive subjects. Has that ever proved to be dangerous for you?

A: Yes, I have had serious death threats but I cannot tell you who they are from. The only reason I have not gone public yet is because I live in Karachi and anybody could kill me and then subsequently blame them.

Q: Who among the male and female anchors in Pakistan would you rate highly?

A: I would say Najam Sethi as I have great respect for him and he is somebody I aspire to be like. As for women, I do not even think most of them are worthy enough to talk about as they have no clue as to what they are doing and they are not really talk show hosts. It is very important for any anchor person – regardless of whether they are male or female – to know what they stand for. However if I had to choose, I would pick Munizae Jahangir as she has the knowledge, she has the content and she has the guts.

Published in the April 2012 issue of Newsline Magazine

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Interview: Munizae Jahangir

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Documentary filmmaker, journalist and now a host of her own show on Express Television, the multi-faceted media personality, Munizae Jahangir, has certainly managed to make a name for herself. She has reported on Pakistan’s political affairs and has often risked her life to tell the story. Co-founder of South Asian Women in Media (SAWM), Jahangir shares the struggles faced by her as a woman working in the male-dominated world of the electronic media.

Q: Does the electronic media offer women a level playing field?

A: I think that the electronic media does not exist in isolation. It is part of Pakistan and Pakistan certainly does not allow women a level playing field.

Q: Talk shows have generally been regarded as a male domain. How did you manage to achieve a breakthrough?

A: Women before me had achieved breakthroughs, but yes, I was part of the first crop that made that breakthrough. There’s a general perception that women tackle social issues, while men do the hardcore political stuff. Therefore, there was that initial reluctance to allow women to enter prime time television. Additionally, there is less confidence in women.

Moreover, the guests we call on our shows are male chauvinists – and I’m sorry to point out that among them are several politicians – and they speak to you much more rudely than they would to a man. They are curt with you, they look down on you and if they feel that you don’t understand issues, they become cheeky on television and I find that difficult, especially if the programme is being aired live. On prime time television, you have to handle all kinds of people.

I distinctly remember my first encounter with Maulana Fazal-ur-Rahman. He would not look me in the eye. I was working as a correspondent for New Delhi Television (NDTV) at the time. I would ask him a question and he would look at some other reporter while answering it. At first I found it a bit comical, but then it became irritating as I could not get him to face my camera – which was essential.

Years later, I interviewed him again and I made sure it was a very tough interview. I think with time, as things evolve, people also realise that they have to change their attitudes, which is exactly what happened with Maulana Fazl-ur-Rahman. So I believe, along with us women, they are also learning.

Q: How did your stint as correspondent for NDTV come about?

A: I was living in New York at the time and all of my friends in New School University – which is where I was studying as well – were working for NDTV. It was essentially a young person’s channel and 80 percent of the workforce comprised women; the managing editors were women as well. It is an internationally recognised channel, therefore I was very glad that I got accepted. They sent me to areas that a Pakistani television network would never have. I went to conflict areas such as FATA and Balochistan, and reported from the Pak-Afghan border. In fact, NDTV gave me the opportunity to go to Balochistan when Nawab Akbar Bugti was hiding in the mountains. It was dangerous and we were even fired upon.

Q: You were one of the last people to interview Nawab Akbar Bugti. Any recollections of that last meeting?

A: I have very vivid memories of that meeting. We went to his house, and that was the time that the Frontier Corps (FC) and the Bugti tribesman were eyeball-to-eyeball with each other. There was this ceasefire just for us as we went in. We were shown the Russian ammunition, for example a kind of missile, which had been aimed at his house. Then we were taken into a car that was completely camouflaged with mud. We drove at 100km per hour – not on the road but on the mountain – and the Frontier Corps was watching all the time. There was the possibility of the FC following us and we could end up leading them to Bugti. Also, there was a really high chance of them mistaking the vehicle for a Bugti tribesman’s car and shooting us down – we could have ended up as collateral damage.

These were all very real concerns but we continued with our journey to see Bugti and walked another hour in the mountains to reach his abode. I remember him sitting there, quite calm and collected and, in the interview I did with him, he predicted his own death. He said, “they are going to kill me and they are going to kill Balach Marri as well.” He knew he was going to be hunted down. He knew he had very little time to live and he had made up his mind about what he wanted to do and how he wanted to be remembered in Balochistan. He was very clear on that score.

I asked him, whether the accusation that he was being assisted by foreign powers was true, and he said, “We are not being helped by foreign powers. Formerly Ghaffar Khan and many others, who defied the state, were also accused of that.” But he also said, “I will even accept help from the devil because of the way that we have been treated.” I felt that there was a lot of resentment in him and that feeling still resonates with the young people in Balochistan today. I think the ghost of Bugti continues to haunt us. In a lot of ways, he is much larger in death than he was in life.

Q: It seems that in a lot of ways your job can be quite dangerous. Has that ever discouraged you?

A: I think there is a rush that journalists look for, I’m not saying that they look for danger, but I think it comes with the territory.

I had a very near miss when Benazir returned to Karachi from Dubai on October 18. I was actually climbing that truck to do an interview with her when the first bomb went off and I was very lucky because my cameraman pulled me away in time. We had blood and pieces of flesh in our hair and, as disgusting as that was, we still continued reporting throughout the night.

I think that the story becomes much more important than what is happening to you. And, I think, that in both the Bugti and BB cases, the story was bigger than us. I feel that is always the case with journalists who are operating in conflict areas. When a story is important, the stakes are higher, so you end up forgetting that your own life is in danger.

Q: Has being a woman helped or hindered you when reporting in sensitive or restricted areas?

A: It’s a double-edged sword, because you stand out like a sore thumb over there. They have probably never seen another woman. I remember, when I went to Balochistan, I barely saw another woman – maybe one or two old women who came out to tell their stories, but that was about it. Wherever I went, I felt that people would come out and talk to me because, more than anything else, they were simply curious about seeing a woman.

However, like I said, my gender is a double-edged sword. I remember, in FATA, there was a Taliban commander from Swat, Muslim Khan, who would give interviews to everybody except me. He would not mind speaking to me over the phone for half an hour; but he would refuse to give me a face-to-face interview because he would say, ‘you are a Muslim woman and I will not let you interview me.’ He would let female foreign correspondents interview him but he would not speak to me. So, in that respect, there is discrimination and it prevents me from accessing information.

There was a time when I used to cover some extremely sensitive areas. Now, if you are a woman reporter, and are seen in those places without a burqa, you are basically going out there to get kidnapped.

Q: Are you taken seriously by your male colleagues? How supportive are they?

A: Most men don’t accept authority unless they are younger than you, and that always poses a problem. They will always take a man more seriously, no matter what you do. Hence, all you can do is work harder. Also, I feel that you cannot afford to slip up while a man’s mistakes will be forgotten. Your mistakes will be remembered and you will be reminded of them over and over again.

You also have to look a certain way. Sometimes, I have observed that if you are too dressed up and you have too much make-up on, people tend to take you lightly.

Q: You have interviewed several national and international figures. Has anyone been particularly intimidating or particularly patronising because of your gender?

A: It is not just the men but women, too, who treat you differently because of your gender. You might have seen how our information minister (Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan) behaves with other women on television – I have had a brush with her as well. Women in our country can also be very chauvinistic towards other women. This is something you generally expect of men, but when a woman does it, it throws you off completely.

Q: There is a general perception that women anchors, in order to be taken seriously or considered as ‘one of the boys,’ have only gone for political stories and have refrained from tackling issues related to women. Is that true?

A: Certainly. We try not to but there have been times when I wanted to do a show on something but as a woman, and especially as an unmarried woman, I would have been called vulgar or behaiya so I did not touch those subjects. However, that does not mean that I do not think they are important and that they should not be looked at. I just approach it in a different way.

For example, recently I did a show on Valentine’s Day. The topic was ‘Mohabbat Ki Ijazzat Hai?’ and I know that if I was a man, I would have been much more aggressive on this issue, but because I am a woman I was not and I kept sitting on the fence.

In this culture, when you say things and you say them boldly, there are repercussions – not just for you but for the for the programme and perhaps, even the channel. Hence, you have to be a little careful.

However, having said that, I still feel that you should push the envelope and go as far as you can, and I think that we have managed to achieve that with my show. We have slowly started approaching issues that we would not have touched a few months ago.

For example, we did a show on incest and we drew a lot of flak and were told that that we should not even have brought up the issue. However, my argument is, if you don’t even talk about it, how are you going to solve it?

Another issue that takes us into uncomfortable territory is a debate on sex outside of marriage. Therefore, you cannot talk about it.

Abortion is another issue that is taboo. It is a complete no-no on an Urdu channel. But I think there should be a debate in this country about abortion, because a lot of women are frequenting quack doctors to get abortions. However, the problem is that once the religious aspect enters the debate and a maulvi comes and airs his views, and is very inflexible about it, you lose the argument and then people back off.

Q: There are complaints of sexism and sexual harassment in the electronic media. How does one circumvent such problems?

A: We have an organisation called South Asian Women in Media (SAWM). It was created because a lot of women felt sexually harassed by their bosses, by politicians and, most of all, by their seniors.

Personally, I have been very lucky to work with organisations that have been very supportive. Also, I think people are scared of me, so they probably don’t want to take that chance, but I have also learned that there is a very thin line between being friendly and being aggressive or flirtatious. You have to be able to distinguish whether a person is being friendly or flirtatious. Sometimes they are not necessarily being flirtatious. In our society, we are made to believe that every time a guy smiles at you, you should not smile back but, instead, slap him. I have always gone everywhere along with my producer and my team, but the problem arises when you go alone out on the streets because then you are seen as somebody just out there to be grabbed, which happens a lot – especially during elections and at rallies. There have been umpteen times when I have gone to a rally and been pushed and shoved by people.

Once during Pervez Musharraf’s rally, I felt as if half the rally was staring at me and was not even listening to Musharraf. This problem exists because unlike male reporters, people do not see women reporters often enough on the field. They see them mostly in the studios.

I remember this one time in Peshawar when some men started to surround my cameraman and I had to actually physically run all the way back to our car as they were chasing us.

However, such incidents have actually made me bolder and more determined.

Q: Who among the male and female anchors in Pakistan would you rate highly?

A: Among the men I would say Hamid Mir, and among the women I feel that Sana Bucha is really good and so is Asma Shirazi.

Q: TV talk shows have received a lot of flak for the manner in which they are conducted. Do you feel all this criticism is justified?

A: Absolutely. I think we’ve become a prisoner of the talk show. We are doing shows that are almost repetitive. There is no creativity – there is nothing new or innovative. There is a lot of talk but very little reportage unlike the rest of the world. Look how Mehreen Anwar Raja has been featured on ten different talk shows in one night – I don’t know how far we can go with that.

The FATA areas are practically no-go areas for us. The whole world is watching us because of FATA, but the news that we get [from out there] is from foreign newspapers, such as The New York Times and The Guardian. Why are our local reporters not reporting enough on this?

Also, the problem with conflict reporting is that though people say they are sick of talk shows, it’s talk shows that, at the end of the day, get the ratings. So if you want to be in mainstream television, you also have to be mainstream.

Q: Have you ever been accused of playing partisan politics as an anchor?

A: We are accused of being partisan all the time, but you know you are doing something right when all parties accuse you of being partisan.

Published in the April 2012 issue of Newsline Magazine

Up in the Air: Red Bull X-Fighters Jams Tour

Your adrenaline is pumping and you’re amped up on Red Bull; there’s a biker going full speed, aiming for a frightening-looking ramp. He hits the ramp and is propelled into the air. For a few brief seconds his body slides off the bike, he’s not even holding on to the handles and you think he’s going to fall. The crowd goes wild and your heart skips a beat. But lo-and-behold, he lands back on the seat and skillfully maneuvers his bike onto a second ramp, from which he descends on to the ground all in one piece. You’re still reeling from what you just witnessed, but the audience breaks into applause.

This gravity-defying stunt is known as a ‘no hander’ in motocross-speak. Another neat trick is the ‘superman’ in which the rider grips the handle, raises his feet off the foot pegs, and extends them outwards, parallel to the bike. On April 7 riders showed off several such aerial acrobatic tricks for an enthusiastic Pakistani audience at the jam-packed Moin Khan Stadium as part of the Red Bull X-Fighters Jams tour that has previously taken place in several countries across the globe.

The motocross show included the world’s top riders from New Zealand, USA and South Africa. The daring and exciting stunts were followed by an edgy rock and roll concert by none other than Pakistan’s leading rock icon, Ali Azmat.

The event also comprised a cultural performance which included musicians who played traditional instruments such as the dhol while experts juggled fire-lit props.

Published in the May 2012 issue of Newsline Magazine

When Protectors Become Predators

Earlier this year, a PIA official in Karachi, Irshad Ali Rind was asked to delay a flight bound for Sukkur for the inspector-general of police, Sindh. Not having the authority to do so, Rind declined the request and as a result, the flight took off without the inspector. Soon afterwards, Rind’s house was raided and he was arrested and taken to a police station where he was tortured. Rind was only released upon the request of the Sindh home minister who had been approached by the PIA labour union. Subsequently, the SHO at the police station was suspended for abusing his authority, but no action was taken against the DSP or the inspector- general.

In March, a 14-year-old girl was raped at gunpoint by the deputy-superintendent of the police, Nawaz Wahla, and another man who had broken into her grandparent’s house in Sheikhupura district, where she was residing, tied up the old couple and took the young girl to another room. Afterwards, the men fled the scene. The young girl had to be rushed to the hospital by her grandparents, who later filed a case against the police. While the other culprit with the inspector that night has been arrested, the officer himself still remains at large.

In April of this year, 18-year-old Malik Waqar was admitted to a hospital in Rawalpindi in critical condition after he was found dumped on the road. According to his parents, the police had picked him up on false charges of theft, and when they tried to find him, they learnt that no FIR had been filed against him and that he had been taken to a private location where he was tortured for a week and then left on the road. Subsequently, their son succumbed to his injuries. While the superintendent has stated that efforts were being made to arrest those responsible, no one has been charged for the crime so far.

Also in April, the police baton-charged and tear-gassed members of the Pakistan Paramedical Staff Association during a nonviolent protest outside the Sindh Services Hospital, where they had gathered to demand better pay and health allowances. As some protestors ran into the hospital seeking refuge, they were chased by the police, and in the melée that ensued several patients and protestors were injured, and others detained.

These are just a few vignettes of what is business as usual for local law-enforcers. The idyllic perception one might have of officers of the law-enforcement agencies would be, that of men and women who uphold the law, fight crime and maintain peace – while risking their lives in order to do so. So why is it then that the average Pakistani citizen seems wary of approaching the police for help?

According to a Transparency International survey, in 2011 the Pakistani police was perceived as the second most corrupt department of the public sector. One wonders where it would rate on the efficiency level. Perhaps a closer inspection of the Pakistani police force could answer some of these questions.

In an interview with the The Express Tribune, the director-general of the Anti-Corruption Department, Sindh disclosed that nearly 400 challans were filed against the officers in the anti-corruption court between January and September of last year. That same year, according to a special police report prepared by the investigation wing of the Punjab police, over 80 other cases of corruption were filed against police officers. However, only one of those officers charged with corruption was actually imprisoned. Half of those still remain under investigation.

A flawed salary structure may, of course, be one of the factors contributing towards this staggeringly high number of corruption complaints against the police. The salary of a police constable, who works 12-hour shifts, is Rs 18,000 a month with a yearly increment of Rs 260. This includes all benefits and allowances. If he resorts to taking bribes to make ends meet, it is perhaps understandable – but never quite justifiable. And corruption in the forces works its way down. The higher the rank, the bigger the taking. If a traffic constable pockets Rs 500 from an errant driver rather than hand him a ticket, the price for more serious violations just keeps escalating. The bigger the crime, the higher the pay-off, and the higher-up the cop, the steeper the commensuration.

That’s the monetary corruption. Then there are the innumerable cases of ethical abuse. The HRCP reported that in 2009 the IG of the Punjab Police admitted that 253 gangsters were killed by police personnel during ‘encounters.’ Police officials contend, off the record, that a flawed judicial system and an abysmally low conviction rate – in anti-terrorism cases, for example, the conviction rate reported has been as low as 10% in the last 13 years – often makes the police feel the need to take the law into their own hands, especially when they are convinced of the guilt of the perpetrators.

The police have often also justified the use of torture as a means of obtaining confessions claiming the lack of other alternatives – i.e. more sophisticated means of investigation. According to the Society for Human Rights and Prisoners’ Aid (SHARP), 4069 prisoners in Pakistan were tortured at the hands of the police in 2009. Torture methods included beatings with batons, prolonged isolation, denial of food and even hanging the prisoners upside down in jail cells and forcing their legs apart with bar fetters. Torture has, in some cases, even resulted in the death of prisoners.

A retired police officer disclosed that often during investigations the approach has been “to slap first and ask questions later.” And it is no secret that the police often use excessive force when dealing with protestors, even though the law very clearly stipulates that force should not be used unless the public demonstration poses a threat to public peace. Nonetheless, the police continually use batons and guns to combat even peaceful processions. The officer reveals that this remains by choice, since the Sindh police has been provided with tasers and far less harmful alternatives to subdue protestors.

Then there are the sins of omission as grave as those of commission. According to a report by the Lahore Court in 2009, there have been 139,527 complaints against the police for not registering FIRs filed by citizens. In March this year, the police received a lot of flak after publicly harassing Shahjehan Begum for seeking out Punjab’s chief minister and urging him to punish the cold-blooded murderer of her two daughters – a murderer who had not been arrested nearly a year after the incident, despite eye-witnesses to the crime and its perpetrator. As the media got wind of the case, it received substantial coverage in the news, following which the chief minister, in a gesture that was widely seen as a purely public relations attempt at damage control, issued orders to have the murder suspect arrested.

In what could be seen as a continuing spirit of PR, the Inspector-General of the Punjab Police, Habibur Rehman swore not to take any bribes at a police darbar on March 11, and said that a special cell had been set up to eradicate corruption in the force. He acknowledged the poor performance of the Rawalpindi police, but pledged to continue fighting crime and providing justice to the victims. No news on how effective this corruption cell is, has been reported since then.

Recently, IG Rehman, was invited as a guest on the talk show Awam Ki Adalat, where, in addition to blaming insufficient resources and the low number of police officers, he insisted that the black uniforms of the police were to blame for the rage displayed by the officers. His explanation – which is baffling at best – was that since black absorbs more heat, it causes the officers to lash out more.

A former IG of Sindh police, who requested anonymity, revealed that the biggest hurdle the police force faces is the fact “there is no political will to change.” He also revealed that the police have always justified their inefficiency by cleverly blaming the low number of armed personnel assigned to do the job. However, he explains that the problem is more deeply rooted than that. According to him, the biggest setback that the police force faces is the ever-increasing political interference in matters of policing. He disclosed that political interference has, in fact, now reached an unprecedented level, and that most officers are no longer hired on merit; many are virtually uneducated and untrained, with political connections playing a huge role in the selection of inspectors. Hence, he maintained, the quality of policing has literally plummeted to new depths. According to a United States Institute of Peace (USIP) special report, Pakistan’s policing laws were inherited from a colonial Policing Act of 1861 that was meant to suppress people rather than serve them. While improvements were attempted through the Policing Act of 2002, several of those improvements have since been reversed through amendments to serve the purpose and varying agendas of assorted legislators.

A case in point: The 2002 Act included a provision known as ‘Police Accountability,’ which entailed that if a civilian suffers an injury or is raped while in the custody of the police, then a formal investigation has to be carried out and the perpetrators of the offences are subject to punishment. Through the 2004 amendment, this provision was removed, along with others via more amendments incorporated into the law that year. Against this backdrop, what hope is there for improvement?

Published in Newsline Magazine, June, 2012.

Pakistani Journalists in the Hot Seat

By Maheen Ghani

Last month, as the very public scandal of Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s son broke out, not only did the chief justice himself suffer the consequences but everyone felt the backlash – including the media. Conspirators took to Pakistan’s current favourite forum, the social media, to discredit and “expose” journalists who have allegedly taken bribes from the real estate tycoon, Malik Riaz Hussain. Initially, a list of 7 journalists made its rounds across Pakistan via email and SMS messages; subsequently a more extensive list of 19 journalists was released on YouTube. The list included the names of some of the most credible journalists in Pakistan on a Bahria Town letterhead, along with specific amounts of money, the bank account numbers, the money that was transferred to them and/or the plots of land that they allegedly received from Riaz. And as if that were not enough to damage the credibility of the Pakistani media, on June 14 behind-the-scenes footage of Meher Bokhari and Mubasher Lucman’s interview with Riaz on Dunya TV was also released on YouTube. In the 30-minute long video, the two talk show hosts are shown discussing what questions should be asked next, along with other incriminating information such as Lucman demanding, “Give me a villa like you did Hamid Mir.”

The media has come under severe scrutiny and censure from the public following this scandalous “revelation” and questions are being raised about the credibility of some of the most credible journalists in the media. Are some journalists, indeed, on the payroll of characters like Malik Riaz? Or are the political parties ganging up against some of the most critical voices in the media and trying to gag them, or generally running character-assassination campaigns against them to curb freedom of speech. Or alternately, is this the work of the infamous ‘third force?’

Newsline interviewed some of the journalists featured on that list of 19, to get their version of the story.

Mazhar Abbas, Director Current Affairs, Express News:

Q: Who, in your view, has planted this list of 19 journalists, who are rumoured to have taken monetary or other favours from Malik Riaz, on the internet?

A: I have no idea at all, but it’s obviously someone who doesn’t like me or my style of journalism, who hates my ideas and ideology or wants to defame me. I can’t blame just anyone, but I do hope that the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) will respond to my request of constituting a high-powered commission headed by three retired judges, who had not taken oath under the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO). However, can one actually respond to an unnamed source or an unnamed letter?

Q: How has it damaged your reputation and credibility?

A: It hurt – and it hurt badly. After 32 years of clean journalism, you have to answer these questions. Ironically, those actually involved in corruption were never asked [any questions]. How many people, including journalists, named in the Mehran Bank case have filed a defamation case against Asad Durrani or the ISI? I personally believe that they must become a party in the Asghar Khan case [against the Mehrangate scandal].

But I am glad that those who know me rejected the list before it reached me. These include journalists, leading politicians, lawyers, member of civil society, friends and, above all, my wife and daughters.

Q: What do you plan to do about it?

A: I was the first person who wrote a letter to my organisation, PFUJ, with whom I have been associated for the last 32 years, to probe this matter, punish me and others if found guilty and if not, expose those who tried to malign me and other colleagues. I also wanted to file a case with the Cyber Crime Unit of FIA which was established under the Cyber Crime Ordinance a few years ago but I was told that the Ordinance had lapsed. The PFUJ had also written to the State Bank of Pakistan, regarding the names of the banks that were published, to ask them to clarify their position. So I will wait for the PFUJ report.

Q: Why have journalists on this list gone on the back foot instead of making a noise about it?

A: I can’t say about the others, but I certainly have not. However, so far all concerned parties have denied the accusation. I was told that the PTI boy who had put it on Facebook had regretted it later on. So even if I decide to file a defamation suit there is nobody to file it against. People who have done this should have the moral courage to stand up and bring the evidence forward.

Q: People believe that some of the journalists on this list are on the take. What do you have to say about this?

A: If in doubt, leave it out. First, we as journalists must establish the authenticity of the list before going further.

We all need to raise the issue of “corruption in the media.” We need to define it. We must work on a formula that if anyone – an individual or a group – is found guilty of malpractice, their license must be cancelled (as in the case of the Bar Council, Engineering Council, Pakistan Medical Association).

There are some clear norms. For instance, accepting a bribe in any form is the gravest crime a journalist can commit, which includes accepting plots. Two, journalists must avoid accepting tickets and allowances from the government or private parties. Three, journalists accompanying the president, prime minister or ministers on trips abroad, must be nominated by the editor or head of the channel and his or her company must bear the expenses. Four, journalists must avoid accepting gifts or dinners from their sources. It’s time to get “ethical.”

Asma Shirazi, Anchor for Faisla Aap Ka, Samaa Tv:

Q: Who, in your view, has planted this list of 19 journalists, who are rumoured to have taken monetary or other favours from Malik Riaz, on the internet?

A: It’s quite obvious that ‘the unseen faces’ are the architects of this fake list. It is also a political party whose workers are well-versed with Photoshop manoeuverings. So it’s a co-brand list aiming to dent the image of the media for reasons best known to its sponsors. People who know how to use Photoshop are aware that it’s not that difficult to create a page with Bahria Town’s logo on it and then put anyone’s name on to it. I think there should be a fair investigation on this.

Q: How has it damaged your reputation and credibility?

A: It’s the world where according to Shakespeare, “Fair is foul and foul is fair.” It’s an easy blame game where fingers are pointed without any proof, and I agree that up to a limited extent, it has caused damage. Since we were not serving the purpose of the conspirators, they had no option but to tarnish our credibility. I want to congratulate the conspirators who managed to achieve their target, without presenting a shred of document of proof. But more than that, I think the mediagate scandal of Dunya TV has dented the media’s credibility to a greater extent and people are more concerned about that. I am grateful to my viewers who, despite all this, haven’t doubted my credibility.

Q: What do you propose to do about it?

A: I was on annual leave and out of the country when this issue came forth. But, as soon as I came back, I announced in my first show on June 25, on record, that I would challenge it.

There must be a clear-cut investigation on the issue. The Supreme Court must form an all-powers commission to investigate the matter. I am going to file a petition in the Supreme Court to investigate the said allegations. Furthermore, I am also filing an application with the Public Accounts Committee to take notice of it. I am also filing an application with FIA and the Cyber Crime Wing to identify the ‘hidden faces’ behind this conspiracy.

The Supreme Court should hold an ‘open public trial’ to investigate the allegations, and investigate our assets and accounts to reveal the truth. If we are found guilty, we must be banned from working in the media ever again. Then the Supreme Court must investigate the forces and the motives behind this fake list and expose the whole conspiracy.

Q: Why have journalists on this list gone on the back foot instead of making a noise about it?

A: I am not on the back foot at all. As I said, I was out of the country when this issue was raised, but now I am going to make sure that the issue is investigated and the truth is exposed.

As for journalists in general, they have raised their voices through their own relevant platforms. Yes, they are a bit silent, but it’s not because they are guilty but because the architect of the list has chosen to remain in hiding like a coward.

Q: People believe that some of the journalists on this list are on the take. What do you have to say about this?

A: A few people, if any, on that list may have accepted Malik Riaz’s gifts, but black sheep exist everywhere. So an investigation may help identify who is corrupt and then they must then be taken to task.

Hamid Mir, Anchor for Capital Talk, Geo Television:

Q: Who, in your view, has planted this list of 19 journalists, who are rumoured to have taken monetary or other favours from Malik Riaz, on the internet?

A: The sequence of events seem to suggest that some clever minds tried to mix a bit of truth with some huge lies just to damage the credibility of the media. Allegations of this type first spread in March 2012, when I wrote a column against the then DG ISI, General Ahmad Shuja Pasha. Mubasher Lucman attacked me in some of the shows saying that some anchors were getting paid to spread anti-Pakistan sentiments. In April 2012, Mubasher Lucman began a campaign against me on Twitter and claimed that I received a villa in Dubai. He never mentioned Malik Riaz’s name at the time.

In the first week of June 2012, when Arslan Iftikhar’s case broke in the media, I told the Supreme Court that the timing of the scandal was very intriguing. I told the court that Malik Riaz started leaking information against Arslan Iftikhar at a time when the chief justice was paying a lot of attention to Balochistan and the missing persons case. The same day, somebody by the name of Ali Riaz claimed on Twitter that Hamid Mir was gifted a villa by Malik Riaz in Dubai. Ali Riaz, who is the son of Malik Riaz, immediately clarified that he does not operate any account on Twitter. It was a message for me: I should not point fingers towards the powerful people of the country otherwise someone can start a campaign against me.

The following day, an SMS message was sent accross the country accusing six anchors of corruption. Within days, a list of 19 people was launched on YouTube and then spread on social media. This was done anonymously and no one came forward to take responsibility for it. Past events indicate that this list was launched by some intelligence agency. This is an old method of theirs – to blackmail without disclosing their identity. They mixed up the names of two or three corrupt journalists with those who are not in control of the powerful security establishment of this country. Everybody knows that Marvi Sirmed is not an anchor or a journalist. Why was her name included in that list? Because she is a human rights activist and some of her views are not in keeping with those of the security establishment. Mazhar Abbas and Sana Bucha live in Karachi, but according to that list they have plots in Lahore. Ridiculous. I can tell you that Mazhar Abbas has had plenty of opportunities in his life to make millions but he has always refused. Why would he bow down to a thekedar?

Q: How has the list damaged your reputation and credibility?

A: This is not the first time that I am facing a character-assassination campaign. I have faced similar campaigns several times during my career. Former dictator Pervez Musharraf spread the same kind of disinformation against me and Geo TV in 2007. He used Zaid Hamid against me who declared that I was a CIA agent on a pro-establishment TV channel. When I did some shows on the missing persons in 2010, I was implicated in an audiotape scandal. Some anchors alleged that I was responsible for the murder of a former ISI official, Khalid Khwaja in North Wazirastan. Nobody owned up to this tape but Mubasher Lucman and Talat Hussain conducted shows criticising me. I was told by my colleagues that ISI official, Adnan Nazir, was the mastermind behind this campaign. There was no FIR against me but I faced a big media trial. Finally, nothing was proven in any court of law. A similar campaign was started in December 2011, when some anchors claimed that President Zardari escaped to Dubai and he would not be returning. I said he would come back. When he came back and gave me an interview, some of my colleagues published articles against me in The News and Jang. Another campaign was launched against me on the social media that I had received a bulletproof vehicle from President Zardari.

I have faced many allegations in the last 25 years of my professional life but the people of Pakistan are very intelligent; they know who is acorrupt and who isn’t. Money speaks. And why isn’t Malik Riaz’s money speaking up for me? Why has he declared me his enemy on Dunya TV if I am one of his beneficiaries? I think my viewers and readers trust me and these sort of lies cannot damage my credibility. Yes, people are talking about the credibility of the media, but I am not scared because my hands are clean.

Q: What do you propose to do about it?

A: We should not take it lightly. This is a good opportunity to start a movement for the accountability of the media. We are going to court against Malik Riaz and we will ask the courts to unmask all those journalists, generals, judges, military officers and civil servants who got benefits from Malik Riaz. I am sure the courts will force Malik Riaz to reveal all the names with evidence and then everyone will see the truth.

Q: Why have journalists on this list gone on the back foot instead of making a noise about it?

A: I am not on the back foot but yes, some of my junior colleagues were confused because they were facing this situation for the first time in their careers. In fact, one of them wept in front of me because he lives in a rented house. I told them to file an application in the court of law. They should not worry, if their hands are clean; nothing bad will happen to them. They must understand that somebody is playing with their nerves. It’s a game of nerves. They must not surrender.

Q: People believe that some of the journalists on this list are on the take. What do you have to say about this?

A: Yes, I agree that at least two people on this list are very close to Malik Riaz. You should also write down the names of all those anchors whose names are missing from this list and think about why their names are absent from it. Most of these missing anchors have always been very close to the security establishment. They don’t create trouble for the powerful people and that’s why they are not in trouble.

Sana Bucha, Anchor for Leikin, Geo Television:

Q: Who, in your view, has planted this list of 19 journalists, who are rumoured to have taken monetary or other favours from Malik Riaz, on the internet?

A: It could’ve been Malik Riaz himself, it could’ve been someone he was working with; it could be PTI, it could be PPP. Really speaking, it could be anybody’s game.

Q: How has it damaged your reputation and credibility?

A: It gives people a chance to tell me, ‘you’re going all around the world trying to be credible but this is what you’re really all about.’ So it mars my credibility.

Q: What do you propose to do about it?

A: I am going to the Supreme Court. I have served Bahria town with a notice of defamation and my lawyer is Salman Akram Raja. They (Zahid Bukhari and Bahria) have already denied having written the list, but I don’t want to be clubbed together with the rest of the accused journalists. I guess when you are working with a channel and other anchors are also on that list, you sort of get clubbed together and the channel takes collective responsibility. But me, I do not want to live and die at Geo so I can’t keep waiting for Geo to get their act together and do something about it. I just want to take the Bahria people to court.

Q: Why have journalists on this list gone on the back foot, instead of making a noise about it?

A: I don’t know about the others but I do want to get my name cleared, which is why I am going to take them to court.

Q: People believe that some of the journalists on this list are on the take. What do you have to say about this?

A: I really don’t know. But, the impression we, the media, are giving to the world is that we are not perfect and I think that this message has gone through loud and clear. The Lucman and Bokhari incident is just the icing on the cake. It disgusts me to no end. They all have their own version and it’s kind of a lame story. There are simply no excuses.

Q: Is it true that you have resigned from Geo. Why?

A: Yes, I have resigned from Geo – strictly on principle. Pakistan’s electronic media controls what Pakistanis think; it helps form opinions. And I refuse to share space with Dr Amir Liaquat, who sells piety and religion, and incites extremism through some of his religious views – as witnessed in the past. Geo has, so far, not accepted my resignation.

Nusrat Javed, Anchor for Bolta Pakistan, Aaj Tv:

Q: Who, in your view, has planted this list of 19 journalists, who are rumoured to have taken monetary or other favours from Malik Riaz, on the internet?

A: I believe it is the social media bullies of PTI who have spread this on the internet.

Q: How has it damaged your reputation and credibility?

A: Of course, it has caused a lot of damage to my credibility – in more ways than you can imagine.

Q: What do you propose to do about it?

A: What can I do about a list with no source; a list that no one has taken responsibility for? Unless I know who is behind this, I can’t do much about it, can I?

Q: Why have journalists on this list gone on the back foot instead of making a noise about it?

A: I have not gone on the back foot about this, at all. I can’t speak for the others but I can speak for myself. I have most certainly spoken up, I have appeared on TV shows and written about it in my columns. If anything, I feel like I’m beginning to bore people with just how much I’m talking about it.

Q: People believe that some of the journalists on this list are on the take. What do you have to say about this?

A: If I thought this, I would write about it. Journalists have to be careful. If we make accusations without facts, how can we be [regarded as] responsible journalists? I am a responsible journalist and I can’t accuse without facts.

Arshad Sharif, Bureau Chief, Anchor for Kyun, Dunya Tv:

Q: Who, in your view, has planted this list of 19 journalists, who are rumoured to have taken monetary or other favours from Malik Riaz, on the internet?

A: The fake list was created and put on YouTube to tarnish the reputation and credibility of independent journalists so that people stop believing them as they did at the time of imposition of emergency or other attempts at a soft coup. Activists of a political party, allegedly sponsored by a secret agency, also played a role in sharing it on Twitter and Facebook.

Q: How has it damaged your reputation and credibility?

A: It hasn’t just damaged my credibility, it has damaged the credibility of the entire Pakistani media. All the journalists on that list are in the public eye and people trusted them and believed them, and this list has managed to put doubts in the minds of their viewers.

Q: What do you propose to do about it?

A: I am at a loss to understand what can be done about propaganda campaigns. Encouraged by the response and importance given to the fake list by the media itself, another list is also likely to surface soon to damage the credibility of the entire Pakistani media.

Any government department or the courts can seek and check my assets and account details. If Newsline or any other credible media organisation, such as Dawn or The News, wants to check my assets and account details, I am more than willing to provide all the details to them.

Q: Why have journalists on this list gone on the back foot instead of making a noise about it?

A: Many of the journalists on the fake list have been demanding the accountability of intelligence agencies. It is not surprising that their names appear on an alleged stolen letter pad of Bahria Town, whose owner happens to provide services to intelligence agencies – apart from all his other clients in the corridors of power and political parties.

Q: People believe that some of the journalists on this list are on the take. What do you have to say about this?

A: I am the only journalist who probed and aired programmes about the illegalities of Bahria Town when no one dared to touch Malik Riaz with a barge pole. The two-member judicial commission formed by the Supreme Court should expand its probe and call for all of Bahria Town’s records to learn which media groups and journalists benefited from the largesse of the corporate face of the intelligence agencies in Pakistan. A thorough judicial investigation would reveal a nexus of certain intelligence agencies, political parties, the army, the judiciary and the media with Bahria Town – something which is not likely to happen in the near future.

Published in Newsline Magazine, July, 2012.

Style Conscience

As the international fashion world goes increasingly ‘ethical,’ it was only a matter of time before the concept filtered to Pakistan. While there have been numerous ongoing initiatives of this nature, with groups like APWA, Behbood and Shirkat Gah to name a few, employing women from depressed areas to create fabric and clothing for sale at exhibitions and assorted outlets, with the proceeds going back to their communities, the new age fashion ethic has taken this many steps further.

We saw not-for-profit brand Polly and Me employing artisans in Chitral, helping them earn a living by marketing the bags they created both at home and abroad, simulataneously showcasing their talent to the world. Zainab Ulmulk and Nadia Malik create Krizmah bags to lend a hand to the women in Chitral, while at the same time displaying the traditional culture of the region through the life stories the women weave into the bags. And more recently, Bags for Bliss and Inaaya have come to life, purporting a similar motivation.

Last month I met with Ayesha Mustafa, founder of ethical fashion house, Fashion ComPassion (FC) to learn more about ethical fashion. A business-savvy, socially conscious, fashion-lover, Mustafa turned her dream to make fashion more responsible and simultaneously help change lives into reality with the launch of her retail company, Fashion ComPassion in 2010. The luxury brand retail house, selling a variety of labels manufactured by assorted ethical fashion groups, received a positive response at inception, and soon became a favourite among fashionistas with a conscience. Currently the fashion house is a part of Vogue’s green carpet initiative and several of the items available through its online retail store can be seen worn by the British activist and ethically-minded designer, Livia Firth.

Mustafa explains that the most important aspect of this venture was to ensure that while the workers would benefit from the sales proceeds the company would not be a not-for-profit initiative, where quality is often the last consideration and sales are dependent on “pity-buying.” She wanted to help provide a platform for high quality luxury brands, which also happen to be ‘ethically’ produced and worn by stylish women everywhere simply because they love them.

Mustafa is in a lot of ways far more than just a retailer for these brands. She has contributed towards several of the design elements for brands such as Palestyle. “I know the market and I know what trends people are following. Hence, as a retailer I guide the brand and help them in choosing colours and designs that I know will sell,” she says.

Palestyle has become one of the highest-selling brands of FC. The brand infuses Palestinian embroidery and Arabic calligraphy in its creations. All the products by the brand are created by Palestinian refugee women in need of employment, and a percentage of the sales goes directly back to these women. Among the brand’s most coveted items are their patent leather clutches in bold colours with eye-catching gold-plated calligraphy plaques that display various messages such as ‘charming as the moon’ or ‘magic are your eyes.’

Another growing favourite among fashionistas are clothes, bags and accessories sold under the name of Bhalo – an eco-friendly label that creates its pieces using natural dyes and all of the brand’s items are hand-woven. The brand employs women in rural Bangladesh and is dedicated to providing them with better working conditions.

The latest brand to have become a part of the socially responsible fashion house is Sougha, which was established with the help of the UAE-based Khalifa Foundation. The brand helps provide employment for Emirati artisans. Initially, when the brand did not have a designer, Mustafa helped come up with several ideas that later became the key pieces of their collection.

One of the most popular pieces on their online retail site, Mustafa tells me, is the ‘Burqa dress’ by Beshtar. Beshtar is exclusively hand-crafted by artisans in Afghanistan and means ‘more’ in Afghan Persian. Ironically, the burqa, which happens to be the mandatory dress code for the women of Afghanistan, is a source of inspiration for these daring dresses and makes for a curious juxtaposition. An amused Mustafa reveals, “I like the fact that the women creating these dresses actually wear burqas themselves, but to them it is just a way of life. They find it completely hilarious that they are being made into short dresses, and western women are wearing them and loving them.”

Fashion ComPassion is highly stringent in its selection of the ethical brands sold by it. Currently the fashion house stocks seven different ethically created fashion brands, but Mustafa informs me that not every brand interested in stocking with them makes the cut: “I need to be very vigilant in terms of ensuring how these brands are socially conscious; what kind of an effort they have made to help their employees and what kind of an effort have they made to give back. The selection is made on the basis of whether they are paying them justly and in what other ways beyond that are they helping improve the quality of their lives – i.e do they provide them with training as well as health and childcare benefits? Several brands approach me but I can’t have every single one latching on.”

A percentage of the profits made by FC have so far been donated to various charitable causes it supports. These include the British charity Oxfam and the Pakistani NGO The Citizen’s Foundation. Recently, Mustafa has formed a potentially auspicious partnership with the UN World Food Programme (WFP). Mustafa, with the help of the WFP, will help empower women in areas such as rural Pakistan by enabling them to start their own businesses.

As of this month, thanks to Mustafa, brands such as Palestyle and Sougha will be available at Ensemble in Karachi. Soon after, she tells me, she plans on expanding further and making them available to consumers in Lahore as well as Islamabad. She explains, “there’s a gap in the Pakistani market for good quality accessories. Also, when people look at the wares knowing that they are created in socially responsible conditions and are beautiful to boot, then I think it might bring about a change in mindsets as well.”

Mustafa believes that as a Pakistani it is imperative that she helps local artisans. “I am Pakistani after all and if I’m working with brands from Palestine, India and, even Lebanon and Cambodia, then why not Pakistan? I think there is definitely an awareness about this over here. There should be a platform for artisans here in Pakistan and I want Fashion Compassion to be that platform,” she says.

Published in Newsline Magazine, October, 2012.

Interview: Justice (R) Nasir Aslam Zahid

With more than 1.6 million cases pending in the courtsNewsline turned to Justice (R) Nasir Aslam Zahid, former chief justice of the Sindh High Court, to understand the causes of this backlog and what can be done to alleviate it.

What do you think are the main reasons for so many cases endlessly pending in court?

I don’t believe there are too many cases pending in court. In Sindh, we have less than 100,000 – maybe about 80,000 or 90,000 cases. Look at the population of Karachi; we are 20 million people. In India, there are 30 million cases pending in court.

Isn’t that but natural given that their population is much larger than ours?

No, just look at the figures: Out of a population of one billion Indians, 30 million makes for 3 per cent cases. In Pakistan, with a population of 180 million, if the pendency is 1 million cases, that’s less than 2 per cent of the population. So our pendency rate is much, much lower than India’s.

But haven’t many of these cases been pending in court for years?

That is another point. There are several factors that contribute to this issue. The judiciary is at fault. The investigation agencies – the police – are at fault. Even the litigants are at fault. Our entire society is fault. People think that every case will take ages in court. If they knew a case would be decided within a year or within three months, then people would be more careful about engaging in criminal activities. It’s the same in India. I just read in a book somewhere that one land dispute case has been pending in court for 260 years. It began in 1750 and it’s still pending.

But let’s come back to Pakistan…

Pakistan’s situation is manageable. My view is that there is light at the end of the tunnel if everyone commits to changing the system – especially the government. Right now most of all, I blame the government for the current state of affairs. Till the government doesn’t give priority to the judiciary; till it doesn’t provide funds, nothing can move forward. But of course, this need is not only confined to the judiciary, it applies to every aspect of life, especially the police and other government administration departments.

Hazrat Ali said that the ‘best’ man should be chosen for the position of chief justice. He maintained that this judge should be ameen and shareef (pure and decent) and then with his consent other judges should be appointed. Then those judges should be given such respect that even the head of the state –the Khalifah – should appear before him. There is no mention by him of any provision such as Article 248 which gives exemption to the President and the governor from appearing before the chief justice. Hazrat Ali deemed that a judge should be given all the necessary facilities – a really good package – so that when he is sitting in court he should be concerned about nothing but serving justice. But look at how it is in our courts. The electricity often goes and the judges sit in the heat, sweating, and often writing by hand because the stenographer doesn’t know any English.

Till a judge is given enough facilities things cannot improve. A judge should be given so much money that he is able to send his children abroad to study. He should be made so comfortable that he’s not bothered about other things and is only concerned about what goes on in the cases he’s involved with. Our country’s problem is that there is no sense of priority and I’m not specifically blaming the present government or the PPP, PML-N, PML-Q or anyone. What I’m saying is that no government since 1947 – here or in India – has given the judiciary the priority that it should be awarded particularly in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. If you look at the Quran, the word meezan (tarazu) has been mentioned many times. It talks about the need for justice; the need for social justice, but no one is willing to give it that priority.

Do you think this state of affairs is also largely due to a shortage of judges?

My personal view is that if I had more time with each case, I’d have more than a large number of these cases settled. For example, in civil cases, if the case is regarding a dispute, you can’t read the entire file because you have 50 or 100 cases to hear that day. If I had more time to give to each civil case, I would have disposed of at least two or three every day.

When I was a new judge in the High Court, I was reading a case file and in it I found a letter which stated that the defendant had agreed to give the money he owed, but later refused to pay. Four years after the fact, the case came to me and I asked the two clients to come to the bench. I asked them if they were willing to settle and both parties refused. Then I asked them about the letter. The lawyers objected, but I told them I had the power to discuss the cases with both parties before the trial started. I showed them the letter; I asked the defendant to tell me if this letter had really been written by him. I told him that it was up to him whether to answer or not, and he informed me that he did indeed write that letter. So I said that meant he had agreed to pay the amount involved. He disagreed and said he’d like to fight this in court. But I did not relent and told him that since he had acknowledged writing the letter I was going to pass judgement based on admission and he had to pay. The lawyers, of course, objected vociferously and finally managed to have the sum involved reduced. Ultimately both the parties agreed on the amount. I gave that case about 30 to 45 minutes. But when you have 50 or 100 cases a day, the judge subconsciously feels strained because he knows he can’t spend that much time on each case.

You stated earlier that the number of pending cases is the fault of the judiciary and the fault of lawyers. Why do you think it is their fault?

It’s much more than that. If the police doesn’t investigate a criminal case properly then the entire system falls apart. Why do you think there aren’t enough convictions? Even of the cases that are fought, the conviction rate is only 2-3%.

But that is due to the deplorable state our criminal justice system is in. Just look at how poorly an SHO is paid. Furthermore, appointments are often political. The judiciary should be involved in this selection process and a commission should be made. The commission should select these people. Unfortunately, often, even if a commission is made, the people heading it are themselves politicised. Instead of them if you had good judges at the helm of these commissions things would be different.

Do you agree with the common perception that many judges are corrupt?

What I mean when I say ‘judges are politicised’ is that that there is this fear, this pressure on judges that makes them ask ‘if I take this decision what will happen?’ The judge who was handling Mumtaz Qadri’s case has had to leave and settle in Saudia Arabia. I believe he applied for asylum because he was afraid he might be killed.

Now in this situation, I must reiterate that it is the government’s responsibility. Just take the Yaum-e-Ishq-e-Rasool incident. Did they not have knowledge of what could happen in advance? Couldn’t they have controlled it? I hear that the rangers were absent that day; the police was also standing on the sidelines. The political will was not there.

I work with prisoners. Our courts are about 6 miles from the Central Prison. They give these prisoners breakfast in the morning and then take them to court and bring them back at 5pm. They handcuff them and lock them up in a van and take them to court. And if their families or friends are not there to feed them while they wait for their hearings, they end up starving till the evening. And did you know there are no toilets in city courts? Not for men, not even for women.

Today 12% of the people who are involved in criminal trials are in jail waiting for their hearings. They are called under trial prisoners and constitute those involved in crimes of serious offence such as murder, kidnapping for ransom, or gang-rape case and have been denied bail.

How many judges do you think are needed to ease the current caseload?

In America and Canada there are between 100 and 110 judges per million people. In Pakistan and India we have 10 judges for that same number of people. That alone is such a colossal difference. Forget about the competency of the judges, even if there are 100 Iftikhar Chaudhrys on these cases, there still won’t be justice.

Do you think there are alternate means of settling these cases out of court – other systems that could be implemented in Pakistan?

In New York they have night courts but that won’t be acceptable in our culture. Also, in England, they have adopted a method in which, before going to court , a barrister or solicitor writes to the other party and inquires if they are willing to mediate and then if the other party is willing, they try to settle it out of court. You can even call in a senior barrister or a retired judge and have him mediate cases out of court, or at least suggest how the case can be handled. His decision isn’t binding, but both parties can get an idea of what kind of a decision the court might present. These are methods of settling a dispute outside of the judicial system.

Do you think lawyers are to blame for frivolous litigation they often engage in?

In the lower courts lawyers can charge 100 rupees for each hearing in a case. So the longer a case goes on the more money they earn from it. But the lawyers do not represent a privileged community – they represent the state of society. If there’s an overall degradation of values, then it will obviously impact lawyers as well.

The judge has the power to penalise those involved in filing frivolous litigation. Doesn’t that put the judges at fault too?

A judge can write to the Bar Council for misconduct. But that doesn’t happen because even over there, lawyers are present. So why would a lawyer disqualify one of his own? You will not find a single case where a lawyer has disqualified another lawyer.

What about the ever-increasing ‘judicial activism’ manifest in strikes, demonstrations and protest marches?

I believe these strikes should not happen. My view is that if they feel they have a good reason to call a strike then they should do so for an hour at most, or after 1.00 pm when the courts close.

[These strikes and court shutdowns] cause clients a lot of problems.

Do you think the implementation of the National Judicial Policy has proved helpful?

It can’t work without the government’s commitment. Unless the government gives you support, nothing can work.

This interview was published in Newsline Magazine in October 2012

Helping hand: Several Szabist students pledge to donate organs

KARACHI: Several students of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology pledged to become organ donors after attending a seminar on Wednesday.

Soon after they heard Dr Adibul Hasan Rizvi of the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT) present dismal statistics on organ donation in the country, several students rushed to the booth set up outside the hall and enrolled in the SIUT donor programme. He was speaking to students and the media at a seminar on ‘Deceased Organ Donation’ at the institute.

Dr Rizvi revealed that Pakistan needs on an average 25,000 kidneys, 8,000 hearts and 12,000 livers every year and over 50,000 Pakistanis die of organ failure every year. Deceased organ donation may strike to many as a noble cause but few actually step up and sign up to be donors, he regretted.

Organised by Szabist Social Sciences Department and SIUT, the event sought to remove any preconceived notions that students may have about transplantation and urged them to learn more through the organ donation booth set up at the seminar. Dr Rizvi took questions from the students to give them a clearer picture about transplantation and urged them to continue creating awareness about the procedure. “We have passed the baton on to you,” he said.

“The purpose of organising events such as these is to create awareness and get people to trust in organ donation again,” pointed out Dr SA Anwar Naqvi, a professor of the department of urology and transplantation at SIUT. For two decades, Pakistan was notorious for being the world’s leading ‘transplant tourism’ destination where serpentine organ brokers and private hospitals made a fortune selling kidneys to international buyers, he told The Express Tribune.

The introduction of the 2007 transplantation of human organs and tissue ordinance prohibited commercial organ donation, legalised deceased organ donation and disallowed donations to foreigners in an effort to stop this illegal practice, he added.

The ordinance, passed in 2010, has given organisations, such as the SIUT, a chance to change people’s perception about organ transplantation and encourage them to become organ donors. “Organ transplantation should be about sharing not selling,” said Dr Naqvi.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 24th, 2014.

Afghanistan 2014: Consequences for Pakistan

KARACHI: 2014 is going to be a telling year for the future of the security and stability in Afghanistan as the United States sets to withdraw its forces from the country and the presidential elections, scheduled in April, loom closer with each day.

As President Hamid Karzai refuses to sign the bilateral security agreement, and the Obama administration threatens to pull all of its forces out of Afghanistan in the absence of the agreement, the future for the country, it seems, remains unclear.

Last year’s panel discussion on Aghanistan in 2014 and its resulting consequences for Pakistan, panelist and Pakistani diplomat Riaz Mohammad Khan had stated rather ambiguously that “the crystal ball is opaque.” Well, the crystal ball is foggier now than ever.

Will Afghanistan be able to stand on its own feet or will it inadvertently revert back to the state before the foreign occupation? With the presidential election so close and the US as yet to be in agreement with the Afghan government on maintaining its forces post-2014, will they be able to reach an agreement before the elections? And most importantly, what will the resulting consequences be for Pakistan?

Former high commissioner of Pakistan to the United Kingdom and former two-time ambassador to the United States, Maleeha Lodhi, quoted Allama Iqbal to emphasise the importance of stability in Afghanistan for Pakistan. The national poet once referred to Afghanistan as the ‘heart of Asia’.  She paraphrased the poet who was of the view that “conflict in Afghanistan means turmoil in the entire neighbourhood and peace in Afghanistan means prosperity for all of Asia.” She summarised, “challenges are enormous and the uncertainty is great.”

Former Pakistani diplomat Najmuddin Shaikh rendered a gloomy picture for Afghanistan and as a result of Pakistan. The presence of the US was generating a great deal of economic activity for the people of Afghanistan. For example, the high paying jobs at NGOs that were previously available for the locals are going to disappear and the people in search of employment prospects  will begin to think of ways out of the country. “In the best of circumstances, we will be faced with the influx of another 2 million refugees.” Shaikh also says if there is no US aid the deterioration will be even greater.

Shaikh paints a grim future for the Afghan National Security Forces (AFNS). The US have currently pledged to contribute $4.1 billion for the AFNS which currently stands at 350,000 soldiers. The funds provided will be able to maintain just about 230,000 soldiers, which would mean that unless the US puts up an additional $ 2 billion – which remains highly unlikely – or that the remaining 120,000 soldiers will be dismissed and on the street with their only remaining skill to offer being knowledge on how to wield a gun.

The consensus remained that the refugee problem will be an inevitable outcome of the withdrawal and Pakistan will need to be prepared.

Secret guest at KLF was US Ambassador Richard Olson

Curiously vague in the KLF programme, the Sunday session titled ‘The US-Pakistan relationship: will it endure?’ listed Dr Ishrat Husain as the moderator but the panellist’s space was left blank. As the session began, US ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson entered the stage to Dr Hussain’s introduction of his mysterious appearance as an apparent ‘last-minute surprise addition’.

Since over a decade the US-Pakistan relationship has depended greatly on the Afghanistan situation, a great deal of the session was a continuation of Saturday’s ‘Afghanistan 2014: consequences for Pakistan’ session. In stark contrast to the latter with seven panellists, was this one-man session on the long but tumultuous relationship between the two countries.

“If Afghanistan is no longer of interest, then where does that leave Pakistan?” asked Dr Husain. Olson responded that these matters were discussed in the recent US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue in Washington between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Pakistan Adviser to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz. For the future of the relationship he said, “Will it endure? I think it will.”

For the Afghanistan National Security Forces, Olson insisted that they were capable of handling the Taliban threat, described it as “the most capable army that Afghanistan has ever had.” As for the future of the US within the Afghanistan region, he clarified that the NATO and the US forces, “contingent on the Afghanistan invitation” will not be withdrawing but rather lessening their presence within the region. “We will remain present as a residual force.” Upon the issue of Pakistan’s negative pereception of the US and vice versa, Olson agreed that that was an aspect of the relationship that did need improving. Dr Husain highlighted possibilities of increasing trade between the two countries. “In the spirit of complete candour, I must insist, this is an area we need to work on,” replied Olson.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 10th, 2014.