Free and fair?

IS it possible to hold `free and fair` elections with a widely popular political leader facing disqualification by the courts? Should such an election be morally acceptable? And can a government formed through such an election ever make a legitimate claim on the public`s mandate? In a country as full of internal contradictions as Pakistan, there are no easy answers to these questions. Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar recently made a statement suggesting that `free and fair` elections are possible even if former prime minister Imran Khan and other PTI leaders are not allowed to participate. He argued that all politicians who violate the law must pay for their transgressions. In technical terms, he is correct, and if Pakistan were a country where institutions abided by the law, no one would disagree, since the continuity of the democratic process can never be dependent on the legal status of a handful of its leaders. However, we are clearly not such a country, and, therefore, the PM`s position needs greater debate.

In recent months, the state has applied overwhelming force against Mr Khan, his party, its loyalist leaders, their supporters, and even some supporters` families. From refusing to obey release orders, to outright disappearing people; from breaking into suspects` homes, to kidnapping their family members to forcing them to surrender the authorities have ridden roughshod over fundamental rights and legal norms in their effort to cut the PTI to size. Even the ECP has repeatedly violated the Constitution to deny the party the advantage of having public opinion on its side. This excessive action against the PTI has placed it at a considerable disadvantage compared to other parties. It is therefore disingenuous, given this context, to suggest that the freeness and fairness of any eventual polling exercise should be considered without regard to all that has preceded it.

The lesson that the establishment should have learnt by now from the suppression of the PPP in the Zia era, and PMLN`s persecution in the Musharraf and Bajwa eras, is that thwarting the public will by artificial means only creates long-term instability in return for short-lived gains. Banning parties, disqualifying key leaders, forcing politicians to switch allegiances, restricting candidates from campaigning, and queering the pitch in other ways just to secure an electoral outcome that is favourable to a handful of powerful individuals has caused demonstrable and lasting harm to Pakistan`s political structure. One should, therefore, reasonably expect that removing Mr Khan from the political equation now will do as much good as removing Nawaz Sharif did for the country in 201718. Pakistan`s precarious present condition should be warning enough against repeating these failed past experiments. If this cycle is not broken, we will be doomed to repeat it.

Read more

Digital deception in election

Large digital tech conglomerates have greatly profited with the evolution of social media.

Social media has played a crucial role in shaping political and electoral decisions by promptly disseminating information, often perceived as accurate and truthful. However, this information is rarely subjected to any analysis for its merits and demerits. Consequently, we have witnessed people aligning with widely shared opinions on platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The popularisation of information and the utilisation of these platforms by political actors have majorly contributed to the growing polarisation and fragmentation in society.

Large digital tech conglomerates have greatly profited with the evolution of social media. They continue to employ targeted algorithms that micro-target individuals, gathering personal and confidential data, including habits, behaviours and reactions. Thus the use of social media in electoral contexts disrupts the level-playing field. This tool, employed by digital tech entities, has often been termed a game-changer by experts, offering substantial benefits to those investing considerable sums of money.

As a result of targeted messaging, users are exposed to content tailored to their preferences, potentially shaping their thoughts. So basically, through the exuberant use of money, these influential forces align themselves with specific ideologies, packaging information in ways that appeal to the intended audiences. With over 191 million cellphone users and more than 130 million broadband subscribers, Pakistan represents one of the largest markets in the world for such digital tech companies to earn profits.

The tumultuous and politically charged environment has the potential to lead to further chaos and, in some cases, even violence. Clear divisions in political opinions are evident, and often discussions undertaken in the digital realm are heated, with some resorting to abusive language, and even manipulation employing various tactics, including exploiting religion and other such factors for their own gain. The upcoming elections present a significant challenge for the election management body, which itself seems to fetishise increasing the use of social media. Although the Election Commission has included social media in the code of conduct for national media, there are currently no guidelines or frameworks governing social media entities in Pakistan.

Currently, the code of conduct only mentions that media personnel, including social media influencers, should avoid making allegations or statements that undermine national solidarity or incite law and order issues. It prohibits content that could be perceived as personal attacks on candidates. Moreover, regulatory bodies like PEMRA, PTA, PID, Cyber Wing, and Digital Media Wing of MoIB are tasked with monitoring candidate expenditures, while media personnel are encouraged to engage in voter education but prohibited from conducting exit polls, which can influence public opinion.

However, the code’s effectiveness is only limited to candidates, leaving political parties free to employ tactics, especially in the digital realm, that may alter a level-playing field. The Elections Act only outlines campaign finance regulations for candidates, neglecting political parties and individuals incurring expenses on behalf of candidates. Moreover, the code does not address the critical subject of regulating social media entities and their actions. Without a regulatory framework governing such firms, they may continue to exploit the system for profits without considering the country’s future.

The Election Commission should explore best practices and innovative approaches employed by other countries to regulate social media platforms effectively. Moreover, the Commission should urge the relevant regulatory bodies to promptly establish guidelines for the registration of digital tech companies under Pakistani law, ensuring accountability. Caution is warranted when collaborating with such companies, as it may jeopardise the Commission’s reputation for neutrality and impartiality. Moreover, the guidelines must offer explicit directives on the Commission’s plan to address the issues outlined in the code and enforce actions against those involved, extending beyond just candidates.

Read more

All about electoral participation

As elections are likely to be held in January 2024, there is renewed talk about improving electoral participation and making elections credible. On that basis, a discussion paper by Tahir Mehdi holds great value, and must be discussed.

Tahir Mehdi is an activist – compiler of stories of ordinary Pakistanis from across Punjab – development professional, electoral analyst, journalist, and a freelance filmmaker and writer. His recent documentary about floods in Sindh and the disaster of the Right Bank Outfall Drain (RBOD) is a marvellous piece of research work, facilitated by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) facilitated.

Mehdi’s latest work is a 100-page paper ‘Making Elections Credible: A discussion paper on electoral reforms’, which was commissioned by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). As HRCP Chairperson Hina Jilani mentions in her foreword, elections in Pakistan have remained a contested subject where the losing side always questions the election’s outcome.

Undemocratic forces have attempted with full force to manipulate elections and have mostly been able to achieve their targets with varying degrees of success. These repeated manipulations put the integrity of the whole exercise under question, and though people express their will, elections lack credibility. This has had serious consequences for the country’s political stability. Over the last few decades, unelected forces have considered elections just as a tool to fulfil the claims of procedural democracy.

Tahir Mehdi has analyzed seven areas in Pakistan’s electoral system that require reform. As he puts it in no uncertain terms that establishment’s manipulation of the electoral process is an open secret, compromising the integrity of the whole exercise and posing a significant hurdle to strengthening democracy in the country. He says: “The hopes raised by the Charter of Democracy in 2006, the democratic transitions of power in 2008 and 2018, the passage of the 18th constitutional amendment and the Elections Act 2017 have all been dashed by the events of the past five years.”

The second area that he highlights is the delimitation of constituencies that was undertaken after the official notification of the final results of the 2017 population census was announced (2022). The delimitation process failed to address the major problems as it did not follow the principle of equal suffrage and confined widely different populations within the limits of administrative units (districts).

There are no principles and rules for the creation of new districts, and arbitrary carving out of new districts has become an indirect method of influencing constituency boundaries.

Though a recent amendment in the Elections Act 2017 has enabled the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to equalize constituencies, disregarding district boundaries, the ensuing mismatch in administrative and electoral boundaries, may give rise to new problems.

The third point is about the linking of the right to vote with the possession of national identification cards (NICs) which has converted a basic civic right into the citizen’s responsibility – the constitution or any other law does not bind the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) to register every citizen.

NADRA issues an NIC to those who apply for it and fulfil certain conditions. This has deprived millions of marginalized people of their right to vote – unfortunately the vast majority of them are women. Millions of women and other marginalized groups remain underrepresented in electoral rolls, and it may take decades to register every marginalized person as a voter.

Tahir Mehdi also discusses the question of independent candidates who can join a political party after defeating the candidate of the same party. This is sheer violation of basic principles of representation and weakens the development of parties as political institutions.

Currently, the system allows one person to contest on as many seats as s/he pleases, and then vacate all but one. This is a mockery of people’s mandate and waste of resources while fulfilling just one person’s political ambitions.

Then there is the question of qualification and disqualification of candidates under Article 62 and 63. That has become a major tool in the hands of extra-democratic forces to victimize dissenting politicians.

From constituency to constituency, the gender gap varies and the law currently stipulates checks against any action that bars women from exercising their right to vote. But there is no mandatory action to encourage or ensure women’s participation.

Tahir Mehdi suggests that this approach needs revision as in many countries voting is a mandatory duty of all citizens. Polling agents play a vital role in making the polling processes transparent, but currently they lack the capacity to perform optimally. They need special attention from political parties to perform better.

Reserved seats for minority groups is the next area of discussion. Religious groups have expressed their reservations about the allocation of such seats. A major complaint is that ‘members’ elected through the system are neither accessible to them nor have power and resources to address their issues.

Personal relationships with party leaders play a significant role in their reaching a representative status. Most such ‘representatives’ winning on reserved seats are not well-connected with their communities and lack legitimacy; they end up doing little to serve the purpose of minority voices.

Almost the same applies to most of the women parliamentarians elected on reserved seats but having no constituency of their own. They do not end up at par with male members elected directly from geographical constituencies. Many women have performed much better on the floor of the house, still their parties keep ignoring them for allocation of development funds as they remain at the mercy of the party’s central command.

Mostly, female relatives of male members with established strongholds in the party hierarchy get preferential treatment. Women’s direct and independent participation in elections as voters or as candidates has remained miniscule.

Lastly, two main aspects of election financing need attention: election campaign expenses and the requirement to annually submit the parliamentarian’s statements of assets and liabilities. “Though the Election Act 2017 has set a limit for the expenses a candidate can incur for their election campaigns, another clause provides that a candidate cannot be held responsible for any expenses made by another person without their express permission.”

This means that practically there is no limit on election-related expenses, and it preserves the contesting of elections for the ultra-rich elite who can win elections for their parties.

There needs to be a better legal framework for parties to raise funds centrally and spend more on party campaigns to remove the burden of campaign expenses on their individual candidates.

These candidates also submit their statements but can determine the value of their assets themselves. Usually, this self-assessment is below the current market value, and there is no way to rectify these estimates after any reliable verification. The discussion paper also suggests an independent and thorough audit of general elections to provide a solid ground for discourse on electoral reforms.

Independent experts must conduct such audits under the supervision of a parliamentary body with representation from across the political spectrum. This will help in the analysis of all documents and records of general elections with the objective of identifying the strengths and weaknesses of election management in the country.

Recommendations in the discussion paper are all worth considering and can help introduce meaningful electoral reforms in the country.

The writer holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK. He tweets/posts @NaazirMahmood and can be reached at:

Read more

Environmental sanitation

One of the most notable changes in modern times is the rapid urbanization of our planet, which began in the 19th century. While in 1950, 29 per cent of the global population lived incities, that figure is estimated now at around 50 per cent, and by 2030 it will reach 61 per cent.

It is estimated that, by 2030, 54 per cent of the population on that continent will be living in cities. Not only are more people living in cities but the cities themselves are becoming larger and more densely populated. This situation poses unique problems related to the provision of water, sanitation, and a healthy environment.

Since 1990, the number of cities in Africa has increased from 3 000 to 7 600, and their population has increased by 500 million people. Africa has now 19 cities with populations of more than 1 million inhabitants. Because of slow economic growth, lack of effective development policies, and limited resources, the development of infrastructure has not kept up with the increasing needs for shelter and services in growing urban populations.

This is the case for many African cities, where local governments have been unable to keep pace with change and, as a consequence, have been unable to provide dwellers with proper infrastructure related to the provision of potable water and the collection, transportation, processing, and disposal of waste materials.

In addition to the problems caused by insufficient lack of potable water, in developing countries with economies under stress, waste management is a problem that often endangers health and the environment. This situation is given low priority by governments often besieged by other problems such as poverty, hunger, children’s malnutrition, unemployment, and war.

Poor hygiene, inadequate management of liquid or solid waste, and lack of sanitation facilities are contributing factors in the death of millions of people in the developing world due to diseases that are easily preventable. In addition, people living in un-serviced or poorly serviced areas value the increased convenience and privacy associated with improved sanitation.

Lack of sanitation and inadequate disposal or storage of waste near houses can provide habitats for vectors responsible for several infectious diseases such as amebiasis, typhoid fever, and diarrhea. Uncontrolled and inadequate landfills are a danger to the environment and a health risk to the population since they may lead to contamination of water and soil. The health risks associated with poor sanitation tend to be higher in densely populated low-income urban areas. At a global level, more than 5 million people die each year from diseases related to inadequate waste disposal systems.

Contamination of water leads to a whole range of diarrheal diseases, such as cholera, that kill 1.8 million people annually worldwide. An estimated 90 per cent among them are children below 5, mainly from developing countries. Most of the burden can be attributed to unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene practices.

The children that are affected the most are those living in low-income urban areas. According to Unicef, infant mortality rates (IMRs) are almost always higher in poor urban areas than the national average and than those in rural areas. A great proportion of the high mortality among the children of the urban poor can be attributed to diseases common in urban areas such as diarrhea, tuberculosis, and parasitic diseases (intestinal worms) that are frequently associated with lack of safe water and sanitation. Malnutrition in children is often a consequence and a complicating factor.

Microbes, particularly those present in water, food, or on dirty hands are the most frequent cause of sickness worldwide. Although lack of safe water and sanitary facilities are significant problems, they are made even worse by ignorance in the general population, particularly mothers, about the connection between dirt, microbes, and childhood diarrhea.

Several naturally occurring and human-made chemical substances present in drinking water can have a serious effect on health, particularly in high concentrations. Among chemicals that can be dangerous at elevated levels are fluoride, arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury, nitrates, and pesticides.

All these factors stress the need to implement policies that ensure the provision of safe water to the population, particularly in marginal areas lacking basic health and social services.

Africa has the lowest water supply and sanitation coverage of any region in the world. It is estimated that one in three Africans has no access to improved water or to sanitation facilities and the number of people lacking those basic services is increasing. The majority of those lacking basic services live in informal or suburban areas and rural communities.

It is necessary to overcome the lack of integration between the various components of environmental sanitation: excreta, domestic and industrial wastewater, solid waste, and storm water, which are often run by separate agencies or institutions. Better use of synergies can lead to more sustainable and cost-effective solutions.

This article was originally published as: ‘Africa’s Water and Sanitation Crisis’.


Read more

A looming climate crisis

The term ‘climate change’ often raises issues of melting ice caps, raging wildfires, and rising sea levels. However, beneath these environmental transformations lies an urgent and less explored crisis: human health, especially in densely populated regions like South Asia.

Our planet is undergoing significant and long-term shifts in its weather patterns and broader climate systems. These shifts, spanning over decades, are largely the product of human actions. Our dependence on fossil fuels, rampant deforestation, and changing land-use patterns have sped up the release of greenhouse gases. These gases, accumulating in the atmosphere, trap heat, creating a greenhouse effect that results in global warming.

Climate change, a global challenge, has manifested its consequences worldwide. While both developed and developing nations face its wrath, their responses differ considerably. Developed countries, despite being major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions historically, have shown agility in adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change. However, low and middle-income countries (LMICs) have been slower to recognize and address these dire consequences, perhaps due to limited resources or other pressing challenges.

Taking a closer look at the Western front, California’s climate has undergone significant alterations. Extreme heat events in the state have escalated since 1950, becoming notably frequent in the past decade. Such events are characterized by temperatures soaring to or above the highest five per cent of historical records. The Central Valley, known for its fruit and nut trees, has observed a diminishing winter chill, vital for these trees’ dormancy and subsequent flowering and fruiting.

The Palmer Drought Severity Index, a measure of a region’s dryness based on temperature, precipitation, and soil moisture data, paints a concerning picture. From 2010 to 2021, nearly four years’ worth of months registered severe drought levels, with eight of those months plunging into very extreme drought conditions. Looking further north, Canada, despite its cooler reputation, hasn’t been spared either. The nation is grappling with its most severe fire season in recent history. Over 20 million acres have succumbed to the flames, not only posing direct dangers within Canadian borders but also casting hazardous smoke over parts of the US.

Understanding the urgency of the issue, these Western countries have embarked on various initiatives. They are investing heavily in renewable energy sources, transitioning away from fossil fuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Rigorous fire management and prevention techniques, including controlled burns and forestry management, are being implemented. Infrastructure is being updated and modified to cope with the changing climate, be it by building dams and reservoirs for water conservation in drought-prone areas or by strengthening buildings and homes to withstand intense heat or fires.

Public awareness campaigns are being amplified to educate citizens on the role they can play, from conserving water to preparing for extreme weather events. These nations are also collaborating on international platforms, sharing knowledge, technology, and resources, and understanding that climate change is a global challenge that transcends borders.

While these developed regions are actively combating climate change’s repercussions and are often equipped with the resources to do so, the real concern lies with the LMICs. Their relatively slower response is worrisome. The tangible impacts of climate change are felt globally, irrespective of a country’s GDP or development status. Therefore, it is paramount that developing nations also comprehend the long-term consequences of a shifting climate and act with urgency.

South Asia is feeling the direct repercussions of these changes. With soaring temperatures, there has been a noticeable surge in heat-related illnesses, cardiovascular issues, kidney disorders, and respiratory complications. Cities near the Himalayas, known for their breathtaking landscapes, are now choking on their air.

The massive population in the region combined with its geographical ‘air sheds’ causes harmful PM2.5 particles to be trapped, making the air a significant health risk. This isn’t just about the tangible health effects, either. The World Health Organization (WHO) has shed light on a staggering statistic: Since 2020, around 250,000 deaths have been attributed to diseases directly influenced by climate change. This encompasses maladies such as heart stress, malnutrition, dengue, and malaria.

Beyond the immediate health consequences lies an economic dilemma. The WHO has projected that the direct health-related costs due to deteriorating environmental conditions could reach an astonishing $204 billion annually by 2030. This staggering number doesn’t even factor in the costs associated with ensuring clean water, sanitation, and food security.

Among the many challenges brought on by climate change, flooding has become a frequent menace. Data from a study by Lancet indicates that from 2000 to 2016, there was an annual increase of 86 million people at risk from floods, with a tragic yearly rise of around 4,000 flood-related deaths.

Pakistan stands as a tragic example under the brunt of these climatic shifts. Despite its resilience, the country’s limited resources and infrastructure mean it is disproportionately affected and less equipped to tackle these challenges. Disturbingly, it is the already vulnerable sections of society, especially women and children, that bear the burden most severely. Their predicaments are often aggravated due to a lack of gender-specific interventions and strategies. This oversight not only intensifies their immediate hardships but also undermines their long-term socio-economic prospects.

In recognizing the urgency of the situation and the widespread effects of climate change on a global scale, international organizations have stepped up their efforts. The United Nations, for instance, has organized COP28, which will take place in Dubai in December 2023, with focused areas. Foremost among them is the acceleration of the global transition to clean energy sources. There’s a push to decarbonize energy, aiming to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels.

In conclusion, addressing this multifaceted issue demands global solidarity, informed policy-making, and immediate action to safeguard the health and well-being of millions.

The writer is a graduate fellow in health policy and leadership at the University of San Francisco, California. She can be reached at:

Read more

Fair play

THE business model of law firms in Pakistan is oppressive. It is exploitative and unfair, and not meant to attract individuals with talent, integrity and ambition.

One of the major criticisms of the legal profession is that it is ironically manned with many who unreservedly resort to any means, even unfair, to get things done. To ensure that they hold on to their clients, lawyers may provide services of bribing court staff, stenographers and sometimes allegedly even the judges, too. And not all bribes are considered the bad 1(ind; some are expressly asked to be paid by the litigants themselves. The snail`s pace at which the judiciary can be brought to function requires, at times, greasing palms only to get things moving.

There are many reasons why the lawyers in Pakistan are the way they are: dismal legal education, tribalism and politicisation of bar associations, and unprofessional and unethical practices normalised through their pervasive use over the years.

Most ironically, however, it is not a profession that the aspiring and diligent high school students in Pakistan usually have their ambitions set on. Most of the time, the upright ones just want to steer clear.

Structurally, the challenges are many.

To begin with, employment opportunities in law are few, the graduates many.

Pakistan`s economy is primarily informal, not governed by established principles and rules. Second, the judicial system is badly broken and is highly unpredictable.

The better option for litigants often is to opt out of the ordeal of an unwieldy system. Third, the state and moneyed interests, as apparent from recent events, do not consider themselves bound by any rules. The result: there is just as much that the law and lawyers can do in Pakistan.

And then there is this entrenched status quo of lawyers, guarding their monopoly with ever watchful eyes. The `face value` already exists, the stays come easy, with no incentive to pay even below-minimum wages to fresh graduate lawyers. It should come as no surprise that in a society where many lawyers are seen as having few qualms about employing unjust means to obtain relief for their clients, the lofty notions of fairness do not dictate the manner in which the new entrants in the profession are treated.

The results in the courtroom are not necessarily procured on the basis of the cogency of arguments or the strength of evidence. If they were, even for the most part, there might have been a need for people with aptitude and talent. But, it seems there is no such need.

Even without any such need, there aresome brilliant lawyers in Pakistan. And most of them deservingly do get to the top.

But when they do, the bookkeeping instincts of many kick in. Upending the status quo might not fit in their calculus.

And very little is allowed to trickle down, and by design.

Meanwhile, results from the courts, in many instances, can be attained on the basis of other considerations. In a classconscious society, from the perspective of an employer, it can potentially be more rewarding to hire graduates who went to the right school and, even more importantly, who have relatives in the right positions, since that may be a firmer guarantor of ensuring a ready stream of clients and favourable orders. This cohort also comes with the added advantage of not being solely dependent on the meagre stipend initially handed out.

And who cares if any hardworking, ambitious and talented potential lawyers, not from those right schools and backgrounds, are compelled to choose othercareers. Who advised them to do law anyways? The industry monopolised by some, with no meagre contribution from judges, requires a reset. And in such a reset, there is guidance to be sought not from any wisdom produced by the legal minds in Pakistan. It maybe better to look outside, and askance, towards the culture that pervades the world of venture capital, contained in Sebastian Mallaby`s The Power Law: Venture Capital and Making of the New Future.

While the dynamics of Silicon Valley are completely distinct, there is still inspiration to be sought in its original story, which prominently features Arthur Rock and his key insight, that the most opportune investment is in the `intellectual book value` where the emphasis has to be `on the people who you hope will capitalise on their intellect`. As Arthur Rock would put it, it is all about `backing the right people`.

Arthur Rock, `a self-made loner`, also famously said, that `I never wanted to be the richest corpse in the cemetery`, and that too, in a world curated to make money, and not justice. • The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.


Read more

We are causing more than 100% global warming

More than 100% sounds like an unreal alternative fact or does it?

We have all heard the joke that Muammar Gaddafi once got more than 100% votes in an election. People wondered if dead people came out of their graves and voted for their supreme leader? More than 100% sounds like an unreal alternative fact or does it?

Turns out more than 100% is actually quite a reality. Not with Gaddafi’s elections though but in the realm of climate change, it sure is not so much an alternative fact. The math checks out. Actually, we are in it right now. Actually, we are causing it.

Our planet rotates around the sun. The earth has a tilt perpendicular to its orbital plane. The tilt is about 23.5 degrees. It also spins while rotating around its host star. During that spin, it wobbles due to the uneven distribution of mass on earth. It is uneven because the earth is actually not a perfect spherical shape planet. The wobble I am referring to is called the Axial Precession. It is a very slow wobble, like a spinning top. The entire full circular wobble takes about 26 thousand years to complete. If I can explain it in simple words, the wobble resembles a pendulum movement where the earth is the closest to the sun 13,000 years into the wobble and moves away from it during the other 13,000 years.

When the earth moves toward the sun during one leg of the wobble journey, if you will, the seasonality of the earth is quite extreme. The weather is extreme. That is how things were about 12,000 years ago coming right out of the ice age. The warming thawed the ice and paved the way for agriculture in what is usually called the Fertile Crescent. Right now, after 12,000 years, the earth has gone the farthest from the son. The seasonality of our planet is supposed to be not extreme. The earth is supposed to be cooling down mimicking the ice age conditions, which was the climate of the earth before the advent of agriculture.

However, far from cooling down, we know that the earth is warming up. There is extreme weather all around. It is as if the earth had reversed its wobble journey away from the sun and took a U-turn back in the direction of the sun. Extreme seasonality defines the world we inhabit today.

Is there a missing piece of the puzzle that will explain this unusual warming trend or has the earth really taken that U-turn back toward the sun? Well, that was a trick question. I will break it to you: we, humans, are producing and trapping so much heat in the planet that the earth has started warming at a tremendous pace. As I explained above, the earth should be cooling down now in this era of the wobble. Oceans should be receding and more ground appearing. More and more ice should be forming and ever more need for heat would be the focus of the day.

However, we know the reverse is the truth. This clarifies one thing that I have not seen many people pay attention to. Even if the temperature of the earth had remained consistent throughout the last 2 centuries, it would have also meant climate change doing its thing because the temperature should be going down instead of remaining constant. And if you have not been paying attention, the temperature has been consistently increasing since the industrial revolution, which happened about 200 years ago.

In a nutshell, we are burning so much fossil fuel and making so much carbon emissions that not only have we stopped the cooling trend of the earth but we have turned it around and pushed it toward heating up. That is what I meant by more than 100% heating. That is what we humans are capable of. The earth’s head must be spinning faster than its own spin on its axis.

Read more

Votes for women

Democracy in Pakistan has mostly been precariously placed at an edge – barely lifting off before its pulled down by interventions, direct or indirect. While ‘jalsas’ may be huge and impressive, vote turnout has hardly ever been what it should be in a country that has been striving for democracy and whose people – despite all odds – have steadfastly stood by the democratic process, flawed though it may be. A smaller number of registered voters in the country has remained a big challenge for parties. But things have taken a turn – and thankfully in the right direction – over the years. According to the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) latest statistics, more than 21 million voters have been added to the electoral rolls, bringing the total to 126,980,272. One remarkable feature has been the addition of around 11.74 million women to the voters list. This figure is heartening more so when we compare it to the number of newly registered male voters – 9.28 million. The gender gap that was at 11 million in the 2018 general elections has now dropped down to 10 million, signalling a positive shift in the country.

Despite the positive shift, much more needs to be done. Women’s participation in political activity has a lot of space for improvement. Most women do not attend political gatherings out of fear of harassment and name-calling. Others prefer staying at home because participating in political activities is still a taboo in different parts of the country. Also, when women are out, they are more vulnerable to people’s scrutiny. There are still areas in the country where women are actively prohibited from voting – something the ECP and the governing structures have taken note of over the years. In these areas, local authorities such as the District Election Commissions need to take up the responsibility of making sure that women do turn out to vote without any intimidation from local elders or patriarchs. In the past, some political parties have also vouched in unison in some conservative constituencies not to allow women to vote. Barring women from voting is a sign of a larger malice in a society that is essentially misogynist and where women do not receive the due share in even their inherited properties. If anyone discourages women from voting, that person or party does great harm to their constituencies, families, and society at large.

Encouragingly, the updated election law now requires women’s votes to be 10 per cent of total votes in any constituency for the election to be valid. This has allowed more women to exercise their right and have a louder say in the political matters of their country. The rise of social media networking sites and women’s access to such apps has also played a big role in creating a drive among young women voters. Women make 49 per cent of the country’s total population, and each time they have been given this liberty, and right, they have taken part enthusiastically in balloting and even put themselves up as candidates. It’s 2023 – ideally we ought not to be having this conversation. One half of the country being actively discouraged from politics lies at the root of many problems facing the country. Pakistan is already on a regressive path; the fact that more women are registered as voters is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise bleak democratic picture.

Read more

How to protect children

Sexual violence is a heinous crime and a serious human rights violation. A report by the NGO, Sahil, reveals that from January to June 2023, a total of 2,227 cases of child sexual abuse and 53 cases of child pornography were reported across Pakistan.

About 12 children on average were subjected to sexual abuse every day during the period. Further, according to information revealed by the National Police Bureau (NPB), the total number of sexual violence cases registered in the country from 2019 till 2021 stands at 11,160.

The state is responsible for adopting protective mechanisms to combat sexual violence offences and prevent the recurrence of such heinous crimes by convicted or habitual offenders. Therefore, the recent notification (on September 13) of the Anti-Rape (Sex Offenders Register) Rules 2023 under the Anti-Rape (Investigation and Trial) Act 2021 by the Ministry of Law and Justice (MoLJ) is a step in the right direction.

A sex offenders register (SOR) is a mechanism used by several countries to monitor the activities of people convicted of sexual offences against children and adults. Here are some recommendations that can increase their effectiveness in tackling sexual offences.

The SOR is mandated under Section 24 of the Anti-Rape Act, which states that: “The National Data-Base and Registration Authority (NADRA) shall prepare a register of sex offenders.’’

The definition for a ‘sex offender’ is stipulated under Section 2(h) of the Anti-Rape Act as any person convicted under Sections 292A (exposure to seduction), 292B (child pornography), 292C (punishment for child pornography), 371A (selling person for purposes of prostitution), 371B (buying person for purposes of prostitution), 375 (rape), 375A (gang rape), 376 (punishment for rape), 377 (unnatural offences), 377A (sexual abuse), 377B (punishment for sexual abuse) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) 1860 or Sections 21 (offences against the modesty of a natural person and minor) and 22 (child pornography) of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016.

Even though the list is comprehensive, it is not clear if the SOR will include the details of those convicted for the offence of attempt or abetting a sexual violence offence.

Further, Section 2(h) does not include Section 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty) and 354A (assault or use of criminal force to woman and stripping her of her clothes). It also does not cover kidnapping or abduction of children or make references to the Trafficking in Persons Act 2018.

In Australia, for example, the Crimes (Child Sex Offenders) Act 2005 covers trafficking in children “whether intentionally or reckless’’ as to whether the child will be used to provide sexual services.

Turning to the SOR Rules, it is a brief document containing 17 rules and 4 (A-D) forms spanning across 14 pages.

According to Rule 3 (3), the SOR will be maintained by NADRA in electronic form and will not be accessed without express authorization as prescribed in the rules. The institution has been given the responsibility for the “storage, protection, retention and destruction of the data in compliance with instructions issued by the Ministry of Law and Justice developed in consultation with the National Police Bureau and NADRA’’.

Further, Rule 4 provides guidelines on the information stored in the SOR. It includes: given name and surname, alias, father’s name, date of birth, gender, recent photograph, nationality, computerized national identity card number, POR card number or alien card number, passport number, FIR number with police station and district in which it was registered, fingerprints, history of DNA profiling, identifying marks, permanent and temporary address, specific offences for which the offender was convicted, conviction order duly certified by the court, acquittal order duly certified by the court, category of offender, description of the modus operandi of the offence and previous and current status of employment.

However, the rules do not include information regarding the address of the convicted person’s place of employment or the type of employment, if the employment requires the care of children or vulnerable persons, landline or mobile telephone details, or information regarding the public places (such as parks, shops) he/she frequently visits, and details of any username for any online social networks. These are important details to keep children and vulnerable persons safe.

According to Rule 5(1), when an accused is convicted for a sexual offence, the special prosecutor appointed in the special court under the Anti- Rape Act, convicting the accused, will submit the completed Form A (provided in the rules) to the NPB for verification. The NBP will then submit the information received to NADRA electronically through the prescribed application programming interface for storage of data in the SOR.

Rule 5(3) requires that the entry into the SOR be made as early as possible but not later than 15 days of a person being convicted of a sex offence.

However, what is important to highlight is that requests for access to the SOR (through the district public prosecutor) can only be made ‘’for the purpose of investigation and prosecution’’ according to Rule 6. Similarly, according to Rule 7 (2), “The data shall only be stored in the sex offenders register for the specific purpose of investigation and prosecution of sex offences.’’

Rule 7(3) also states that “all authorities with access to and applying for the release of data on the sex offenders registry shall only process it for the stated purpose.’’

According to the 2023 ‘Cruel Numbers’ report by Sahil, 51 offences of child sexual abuse were committed by neighbours, 17 by schoolteachers, 15 by religious teachers, eight by shopkeepers, two by drivers and one by a school guard.

While the data on offenders should not be available publicly, it must be released to employers (such as schools, daycare centres, hospitals) with the aim to protect children and vulnerable persons. In the UK, for example, the police can tell parents, carers and guardians if someone has a record for child sexual abuse under the Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme (CSODS). The scheme is also known as Sarah’s Law, after 8-year-old Sarah Payne who was murdered in 2000 by a convicted sex offender.

Similarly, in New Zealand, the Child Protection (Child Sex Offender Government Agency Registration) Act 2016 is applicable. While access to the register is not available to the public, the police may release information to an affected person (parent, teacher, or regular caregiver of the child) if it is believed that the registered offender poses a threat to the life, welfare, or sexual safety of children.

According to Rule 9(2), the convicted offenders in the SOR will be categorized in three categories: A, B and C. The notification will depend on the years of imprisonment that the offender has been punished with.

According to Rule 10, upon release from prison, the sex offender will notify the officer-in-charge of the police station where the offender resides within a period of three days of release from prison. The officer-in-charge of the police station will submit the completed Form B to the district police officer for onward submission to NADRA through the NPB for updating the SOR. This process shall be completed within 15 days, per Rule 10(2).

According to Rule 11, all offenders on the SOR must notify their details every six months to the police station of the area in which they reside.

Rule 13 requires the offenders on the SOR to notify their concerned police station not less than seven days in advance of any intended domestic travel and within 30 days in advance of any international travel.

According to Rule 16, “if a successful appeal is filed after the conviction, which results in an acquittal, the previous conviction record will be omitted from the sex offender register’’. The conviction order will be omitted from the SOR upon the death of the offender, as per Rule 16(2). However, the rules do not provide details on the procedure which will be followed where an appeal against the conviction is pending in the courts.

It is important to outline that the SOR does not provide the procedure for registering the conviction of a citizen in a jurisdiction outside of Pakistan or the procedure of registration that will be followed upon the deportation of a citizen convicted of a sexual offence.

Finally, under Rule 17, the special committee has been given the responsibility to oversee the implementation of the SOR Rules. Overall, the notification of the rules is an excellent effort by the Ministry of Law and Justice for the protection of children and vulnerable persons.

The writer is a barrister. She tweets/posts @RidaT95 and can be reached at:

Read more

Missing justice

I ONCE read somewhere that there are a handful of languages that have words to describe a parent whose child dies. There`s `vilomah` in Sanskrit but the word means `against natural order` because it is against nature for a parent to bury a child. Yet innumerable people experience the death of their child to disease, disasters, maybe even negligence, their own or institutional.

Imagine then what it`s like to not know whether your child is alive or dead. This is what some mothers in Bangladesh wondered all their lives after their young children were forcibly taken from them in the 1970s, according to a searing exposé in a three-part audio series by The Guardian.

Reporters Thaslima Begum and Rosie Swash uncovered a scandal whose impact can be felt five decades on. Mothers, likely too poor, enrolled their children in what they thought was a boarding shelter for their schooling and care, only to discover a few days later that their children were gone. Many of those children were adopted by families abroad but without their parents` knowledge, let alone consent.

Bibi Haseenar has fleeting memories of her early childhood in Bangladesh but clear memories of being on a plane to the Netherlands in 1976, aged four small and malnourished for her age, according to The Guardian with her brother, and no idea what was happening. `They tied me to the seat with a rope because I could not be calmed. Iwasn`t allowed to go to my brother in the rows ahead; I just felt so alone,` she told the newspaper. She was then adopted by a Dutch family first separately and then reunited with her brother because she was inconsolable without him. She grew up thinking her mother, Samina, did not want her only to learn so many years later that her mother never stopped looking.

While Haseenar would learn the truth in 2017 about herforced adoption through a documentary, and would reunite with her elder brother Kader and family in Dhaka as an adult, her mother had died a decade earlier. Kader, who was 16 when his siblings were taken from them, says `fighting the system for so long took its toll on [my mother]`. He also says `in the process of losing my siblings, I lost my mother too`.

Almost every culture has a variation of a saying that does not wish a child`s death on anyone and I can`t imagine what Samina and other mothers endured, not knowing where their children were, going everywhere in their search and being threatened by the powerful institutions to shut up. Many organisations and governments have been investigating this boarding school scandal but the damage to families cannotbereversed.These forced abductions aren`t unique to Bangladesh. Parents too poor to care for their children following the devastating American war in Vietnam, were reportedly hoodwinked into giving their children up; they didn`t understand they would lose contact with their children. The same happened in Cambodia in the late 1990s as reported by a filmmaker who found many of the 1,000 children adopted and sent abroad were not orphans.

There are innumerable stories of illegal adoptions from developing countries but I`m talking about Bangladesh because we have yet to understand the scale of damage that took place prior to its independence and our role in it. There are so many unopened wounds around Partition and then Bangladesh`s independence that must be examined and somehow healed, though I don`t know how someone can heal from trauma and violence. Academics and historians will have answers on how nationshave addressed their collective past traumas.

Bangladesh, like the aforementioned countries ravaged by war, witnessed heavy floods which destroyed crops three years after its independence. An estimated 1.5 million died in one of the worst famines in modern history.Poor parents thought they were placing their children in temporary care when that was not the case. You don`t need to be a parent to imagine what it feels like not to know what happened to your child.

What does retribution look like? Using DNA kits and social media, adoptees in the Netherlands have been able to find relatives in Bangladesh but is that justice? Haseenar has filed a complaint against the Dutch government about her forced adoption and awaits a decision. It may help prevent future tragedies.

I wonder if there are lessons for parents whose children have been forcibly disappeared in Pakistan. The protests, governments` inquiries, a 2022 court ruling blaming the state for enforced disappearances don`t seem to yield results. It is perhaps one of the most contentious issues in the country. I hope when the Supreme Court takes up the case, we will see a live transmission of the proceedings. Families deserve answers. We must wish justice for them.

The wnter researches newsroom culture in Pakistan.

X (formerly Twitter): @LedeingLady

Read more