Time to rescue the people of Parachinar

Parachinar used to be called ‘a paradise on Earth’. Despite its natural beauty and strategic importance, Parachinar is presently in a dire state due to sectarian violence initially instigated by the negative policies of former president Ziaul Haq. The residents of Parachinar, predominantly Shia, have been the target of jihadi entities and this has been the primary cause of sectarian clashes there. This violence has transformed the once beautiful land into ruins, completely destroying infrastructure. The main road connecting Peshawar to Parachinar has been blocked by sectarian extremists who have been brutally killing travellers to and from Parachinar.


Local people have been forced to travel through dangerous routes via Afghanistan and back into Peshawar just to purchase daily rations and essential items. Today, even that route has been closed, effectively cutting them off from the rest of Pakistan. This has caused local merchants to raise prices of staple foods such as flour, ghee, sugar and rice up to six times. There is also a tremendous shortage of basic medical supplies and essential life-saving drugs in Parachinar, in addition to a scarcity of proper medical facilities and staff in the area. The youth of Parachinar are worse off since the lack of even basic education has meant that most schools in the area have remained closed for a long time. In the past few decades, the Shias of Kurram Agency have suffered greatly. This started when General Zia relocated the local Kurram militia from Parachinar to other agencies, upsetting the century-old tradition of keeping a local officer in the militia’s hierarchy or as a political administrator.


When the Taliban took over in Afghanistan, the situation got much worse for Kurram agency. And, after their defeat in 2001, a large number of Taliban, along with al Qaeda members, fled to the bordering tribal areas in Pakistan, settling in regions in upper Kurram dominated by Shia tribes. This resettlement became a flashpoint and the oppression of the locals multiplied when, five years ago, the Taliban blockaded the only road that connects Parachinar with Thal — the first town in the settled area. This affected trade and downgraded the social life of the people, strangulating their livelihood. Consequently, they found it difficult to safeguard their families and find jobs, decent food and sometimes even basic medicines.


The situation of Parachinar is only getting worse. The people of Parachinar still remember, with deep affection, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed as they focused on the betterment of this desperately poor and deprived area in order to strengthen its resources by the rehabilitation of its schools, colleges, hospitals and medical facilities. Shaheed Benazir Bhutto also directed PIA to have a flight connecting Parachinar and Peshawar on a weekly basis at an affordable fare. This stopped during former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s tenure and needs to be reinstated urgently. Currently, only a few wealthy residents of Parachinar are able to afford a flight to Peshawar through a private plane service and it charges a high fare. It is time for us to step forward to rescue the people of Parachinar.


Published in The Express Tribune December 25th, 2010.








The PPP — hope for a new Pakistan

As the Pakistan Peoples Party celebrated its 44th founding day, it is important to remember and retrace the party’s history and principles so that one can get a clearer picture of its commitment to democracy.

The PPP, which was launched at its founding convention on November 30, 1967, is the only party with demonstrated strength in all four provinces of Pakistan. It is, and always has been, democratic and egalitarian, committed to equal opportunity for people regardless of class, region, religion or gender. From its founding statement to the party manifesto, under which it contested and won the 2008 elections, the PPP is committed to a society based on the rule of law and human dignity. It has demonstrated an unshakeable commitment to parliamentary democracy, transparent government and democratic civilian oversight of all ministries under the constitution. Some people have talked about change, some have talked about democracy and how it should be supported and strengthened. The leaders of the PPP, however, have lived and died for it.

The party’s 2008 manifesto, written under Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s direction, explains that the first principle of the PPP, ‘Islam is our Faith’, says that Islam teaches brotherhood, love and peace. The message of Islam is found in the words and verses of great Sufi saints Data Sahib, Shah Abdul Latif of Bhittai, Baba Farid Ganj Shakar and Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. The PPP commits itself to religious tolerance. Religious beliefs of individual citizens have little to do with the business of the state, as the founder of the nation declared in his inaugural address to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947.

The second principle of the PPP is belief in democracy and emphasises the party’s commitment to freedom and fundamental rights. Its sacrifices are many, the greatest being those given by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto, who gave their lives so Pakistan could be truly free.

The party’s third principle is that social democracy should guide the economy so that a just and equitable society with equal opportunity for all citizens is created. The growing gap between the rich and the poor must be bridged by supporting the underprivileged, the downtrodden and the discriminated. The PPP is proud of being the voice of the poor and the working and middle classes. The fourth principle is that power should lie with the people and that the liberal, tolerant and enlightened values of the country be promoted through the strengthening of democracy.

Perhaps the party’s greatest achievement occurred this year, when the Eighteenth Amendment was adopted, purifying our beloved 1973 Constitution from the usurpations of dictators. That struggle was led by President Asif Ali Zardari, through an unprecedented, selfless and principled fight to restore true democracy to Pakistan, though in the process his own powers were diluted.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 1st, 2010.