SHINE Humanity

SHINE Humanity is a registered NGO dedicated to providing high-quality healthcare and clean drinking water to underserved populations.

As President of SHINE Humanity’s Youth Board, I gave a presentation on SHINE’s charitable activities to the students and faculty of Karachi Grammar School.


Hunting Dragon-Slayers

My article for ARY Blogs:

Hunting Dragon-Slayers

The war on doctors in Pakistan and how we can end it.

Once upon a time, in a city by the sea, there lived a people haunted by dragons. These great beasts would pour forth fire and brimstone, leaving those touched by their wrath either dead or disabled. In time – as often happens in such stories – there arose an elite band of braves who rejected the status quo and travelled far and wide, sleeping little by day and studying much by night, in their ceaseless quest to discover the secret to the dragons’ destruction.

These scholar-soldiers called themselves ‘dragon-slayers’ (‘Dr.’, for short) and set up academies to train new heroes from the populace. They built strange, white castles called ‘hospitals’ to defeat the creatures and opened the gates to all who had been troubled by the foul beasts. They worked hard to perfect new potions and to test those potions rigorously before use. And, in contrast to all those who had claimed to be heroes before them, they used the immense power of the ancient magic of ‘science’ .

Through many years of trial and error, the heroes’ hard work paid off. Soon, many of the beasts had been quelled – the monster known as ‘small-pox’ was the first to be dispatched and soon others such as ‘TB’, ‘polio’ and ‘malaria’ were driven back to their caves – though they proved much harder to kill. The people rejoiced, for a time, but soon they took for granted the doings of these men of science and, while they respected them, they were ignorant of the ‘hows’ and the ‘whys’ behind the successes of these clean, white castles.

Eventually, a time came when some of them took to murdering the dragon-slayers who belonged to tribes different from theirs and, after each such killing, they would proudly proclaim their heinous crimes in the blood-drenched streets of that city by the sea. And all the while, the dragons grew stronger.

The heroes – disgusted at the unfairness of it all – packed up their families and potions and, wiping a small tear from the corner of their eyes, took one last, long look at their beloved motherland before pushing off into the stormy sea for distant lands. And with their passing, that strange, distant Land of the Pure sank deeper into a new dark age.

This fable is our reality.

Our doctors are leaving Pakistan.

Polio is on the rise.

Here’s what we can do about it:

· Learn how to use the mosque. A national, pan-sectarian consensus exists on the unlawfulness of the murder of innocents and the promise of hellfire for those who dare to do so. Proclaim it from the pulpit. Every pulpit. In every mosque. Repeat ad infinitum.

· Devolve, devolve, devolve. Have a small clinic attached to one mosque in every UC. It will be staffed by one doctor and will employ people of the same UC to promote the concept of ownership and to have transparency. Major roundabouts will have one ambulance – stationed at all times with a paramedic – donated by philanthropists of the same area who can see their money put to good, noble use. At the town level, there will be a larger trauma centre equipped with an X-ray machine and an ultrasound and the truama centres will, in turn, report to tertiary care facilities (e.g. Abbasi Shaheed). Most patients will be dealt with on the smaller levels to avoid swamping the tertiary care centre and to promote preventative, public health at the grassroots level.

· Educate. Make it mandatory for every madressah to have time devoted to basic scientific principles. Teach them about Avicenna and Rhazes, Avenzoar and Geber. It’s our fault for not reaching out to them and sitting in our white castles. It’s time we changed that.

This prescription is provided gratis with the hope that some version of it may one day be implemented, that our heroes may return and the dragons banished forevermore. 


Why You And I Are Not Civilised (Yet)

WE have vanquished slavery, sexism and racism or, at the very least, reached a near universal consensus on how bad they are and why they have no place in a civilised society.

The next great frontier isn’t space; it’s class. As long as the vast majority of humanity can be denied the opportunity to realise their untapped potential — reduced to mere shells of men, vying for scraps dished out by fickle gods — we cannot call ourselves civilised.

We are the same savages of old; forced to sell every second of every minute of our brutish, short, insignificant lives; forced to fight in the gigantic coliseum called society for the chance to extend our suffering by another day.

And all the while, we are watched —indifferently — by those who make the laws; pay the wages; and own the land, factories and faceless corporations.

Labour produces marvels, palaces, beauty, technology and skill, but only for the select few. The worker is left with the world of animal function — personal adornment, eating, drinking and sex — to give meaning to his pitiful existence.

What can one say about a society where profits are privatised and losses socialised?

What does one say about a world where the three richest individuals possess more financial assets than the lowest 48 nations combined? A world where some countries throw excess wheat into the sea while others struggle to feed masses of malnourished men.

Perhaps one day, many thousands of years hence, when everyone reading this will have long since turned to dust, and our words and thoughts and emotions will be as ancient as the sun: people will look back at us and denounce the homo sapiens of the 21st century as thugs, little better than the slave owners, racists and misogynists of ages past for they failed to see that — though man can be reduced to a savage, competitive, selfish brute — he has the potential to be so much more, if only given the chance to express himself creatively.

Inequality is the last great battle before we can embark on the next stage of our evolution as a species.

Civilisation has yet to arrive.

But we’ll get there.

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The Dark Side

First published in ‘The Ism’, the newspaper of the Karachi Grammar School World Affairs Society. 

OSLO was once a far away city, synonymous with the welfare state, aurora borealis and fjords. And then Anders Breivik went on a murderous rampage, and Oslo became as real as the violent, tempestuous Karachi outside my window.

It’s tragic enough that over sixty human beings were massacred, but the reality really hits home when you see them as the idealistic young men and women they were, the same age as you, with similar political convictions, united by a burning desire to serve their nation. And their dreams were shattered by a madman, who fed off of conspiracy theories and an Islamophobic discourse constructed by disgruntled, fringe elements of the right.

But the real reason this was so shockingly personal was that I knew Breivik. We all do. We’ve all come across people in our lives who hate entire communities for no rational reason, who write off entire nations on the basis of the actions of a single person. Many such individuals live in my country. The India-hating uncle, the Jew-hating cousin, and the colleague who is adamant that America is behind every bomb blast in Pakistan. They generalise that all people belonging to certain sects or races must all behave in the same way. But mankind isn’t like that. Time and time again, painstaking research has proven that there is more diversity in intelligence, behaviour and personality between people of the same community than people living on different continents. The idea of ‘race’, —that people with the same physical characteristics all behave the same way— has long been proven to be throughly unscientific nonsense.

Then why do enmities, grudges and stereotypes continue to exist? Because people are afraid of change, of anyone who is different. Xenophobia persists precisely because it is the easy way out. You’ve never been to a country, never roamed it’s streets, or spoken to it’s people. It’s safe to assume that all must be terrorists, who hate you and your way of life.

But if humanity is to embark on the next stage in it’s evolution as a species, we must be willing to put aside the superficial differences between us and embrace each other as fellow human beings. Only by letting go of prejudice can we open our eyes to the rich, diverse world around us. Every man is a story, a piece of that great jigsaw puzzle that is our history. It is precisely in these Manichean times that we must defeat the Breivik in us all and learn to truly see our vibrant, diverse world as a source of strength, not weakness. It is our differences, once we get around them that lead us to discover that people really aren’t so different after all. They may, at first, be scared, or wary of anyone who doesn’t look like them, but deep down all they want is to be accepted, and loved for who they are.



Martial law is darkness at high noon. It is neither an order nor a system.

This form of lawlessness will take us back to the law of the jungle, where only the strongest survive. Most of our people are weak and backward. They will perish in such an arrangement.

Force, naked and brute, moody and mad cannot be made the sole criterion of our honour and our respect.

Zulfi Bhutto, (1928-1979)

In the picture below, my maternal grandfather, Wg. Cdr. Saeed Akhtar, meets Mr. Bhutto at Badin Airforce Base, somewhen in the 70s.

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City: An Animal Farm

ONCE upon a time there was a large, seething, huddled mass of humanity, affectionately known as City.

A beautiful place full of concrete, asphalt and smog, City is a haven of in-Equality, Opp-ression and Conform-ITY. In fact, the national crest of City proudly bears the words: in-Equality, Opp-Ression, Conform-ITY.

There are three distinct ethnic groups in City. The dominant ones are called Boo. They can be identified from certain genetic traits such as their condescension for the other two groups; and their breath, which smells perpetually of sushi, French toast and Dubai.

The second group are the Proles. They are, according to a respectable English daily of City “the worst dregs of humanity to grace the earth. Slow, stupid and sluggish, Proles wouldn’t appreciate culture if it slapped them in the face after biting their behind. The poor animals spend their short, harsh days searching for Work and Food. This newspaper firmly believes that if they can not find Food they should eat Caviar, like the Boo do.” The Proles smell of hunger, fatalism and something that many have said bears an uncanny resemblance to the spit of the Boo.

The constituents of the third group are called WoMen. They are told from birth that the purpose of their existence is to be a source of Pleasure for Men. They try to do this by buying excessive quantities of exotic products called MakeUp and AnoreXiaNerVosa with which they hope to attract Men so that they can take them for mates and then be put to work in Work-Houses as House-Wives.

The people of City, like all good monotheists, worship one God. He is affectionately called CapitAL. CapitAL has laid down some Command-Ments that the people of City must follow religiously.

ONE: “WoMen are Slav-es.” (a) They must make Sand-Witches in the Kit-Chen and work 24-hour shifts as House-Wives for no pay. (b) At all times, more than 99% of the property in City must be controlled by Men. All heil CapitAL!

TWO: “in-Equality is E-quality.” (a) Only the Boo are fit to Rule. They are more HuMan than the Pro because they learn HuMan-ITY at Country-Clubs, Private-Schools and via Face-Twitter. (b) The Boo are to be paid at least 999,000,000,000,000,000 times more than the Pro because they are smarter, more intelligent and have larger brains. They deserve it because they were born to be Boo and because they go to Private-Schools where they become HuMan. All heil CapitAL!

THREE: “Conform-ITY is Life.” (a) Those who rebel in the name of accursed Individual-ITY must be put to death. Do not let pity move you. ‘Tis CapitAL’s Will. (b) School’s are to be factories of Conform-ITY. If any child does not Conform, he is to be labelled a Retard-LosER and put to sleep. All heil CapitAL!

City is chronically religious. It is dotted with temples to CapitAL. These temples are called Ban-KS. High priests worship at the temples from 9-5 everyday, sacrificing the blood of the Proles in their admirable, selfless quest to appease their God.

And now, some words on the curse of Individial-ITY. In every generation, some children are born who try their hardest to break the ancient, venerable tradition of Conform-ITY. If born as Proles, these vile rebels try their hardest to keep their hearts alive and not let the drudgery of every day life reduce them to mere flesh and bone. They refuse to be commodities, to be bought and sold by the Boo, preferring instead to live a blasphemous version of Life, where they do not obey the Command-Ments of CapitAL.

A good Boo child is brought up to know the cost of everything and the value of nothing, but a Retard-LosER child is less than HuMan because it feels that society is unfair and unjust and so this abomination is either put to sleep or exiled. If a Wo-Man she is made to watch episodes of Gossip-Wo-Men until brainwashed or until she dies of brain haemorrhage.

Some axioms of City merit mention:

First, the Axiom of Tautology: “Those who Work, acquire nothing; those who acquire anything, do not Work.”

Second, the Axiom
of NonSen: “The Boo are the Boo for the benefit of the Proles.”

Third, the Axiom of BullSh: “Political power is to be defined as merely the organized tyranny of one group over another.”

A peculiar trend among the inhabitants of City is that they all believe the year to be perpetually 1984. Also, some make mysterious, cryptic references to an Animal Farm, though most of those who do are promptly shut up in asylums where they are fed on a strict diet of Functionalism and FOX News.

Many of the Boo keep pets. The animals are fed on Food. It is a crime of the gravest order to let a pet die of starvation within the borders of City.

Every night, before going to bed, Boo
children whisper a special prayer on their pets. It has been passed down, from generation to generation, for thousands of years.

“All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”


Of Students, Politics and Student-Politics

Those who refuse to participate in politics are destined to be ruled by their inferiors.


A YOUNG boy stands on the roof of his house and watches with wide eyes as an astonishing scene unfolds below him. A large group of students barricade the gates of Islamia College, Karachi. The students stand in lines, chests bared. Opposite them, a contingent of army personnel are arranged, guns cocked and pointed straight at the young, defiant students. A line stretches between them and a magistrate sternly warns the students of dire consequences if they cross it. In response, those courageous youth bare their chests to the guns and move forward. They cross the line shouting, “How many will you kill? How many?”

That young boy was my father and he vividly remembers the student protests against General Ayub Khan’s increase in sugar prices. The students were instrumental in overthrowing his regime and many sacrificed their lives for the sake of justice and freedom.

And this has always been so. Students have traditionally been at the forefront of revolutions. They played a monumental role in the creation of Pakistan. Without the young, passionate, idealistic graduates of Aligarh, it is doubtful that Pakistan would ever have been achieved.

Today, the youth of Pakistan are disillusioned. Their hearts are broken and they do not know how to achieve their forefathers dreams of a vibrant Pakistan. They complain that politics is dirty and that we lack capable leaders. And in the same breath most refuse to contemplate ever joining politics. What they fail to see is the negative feedback loop created by such thinking.

General ‘Generous’ Zia gave us many gifts. Two exemplary examples would be extremism and the Kalashnikov culture. But there is another present he gave us which, perhaps, is worse than the other two combined. This was his ban on student unions in 1984. By doing so, he deprived Pakistan of a generation of new leaders.

Why are student unions so essential? Well, where else will you get leaders from? General Zia’s measure was akin to demolishing all medical colleges in the country and then crying over the fact that we lack capable doctors.

Student unions would hold debates between students from opposing parties. This helped create tolerance for differing viewpoints and helped students learn the ‘agree to disagree’ approach. Regular elections would be held that would teach students how to campaign and build a support base. Often, coalitions would be formed between groups from different parties. This taught compromise. Students learnt the power of a vote and leaders learnt that they must be humble or face a rout in the next election. The youth is the future of Pakistan. If they do not learn these basics of mature politics, how can you expect politicians of calibre to appear?

An article published in the New York Times (Aug 28, 2010) talks about how politics has remained the domain of a few members of the landed class. This is again thanks to the ban on student unions! When you stop a whole generation from entering the political arena, who will fill that gaping void? Sons of feudal landlords come to mind. This is how the tradition of dynastic politics begins.

A frequent question asked by students is how will we get rid of dictatorial heads of political parties? How will we change the corrupt system?

Pakistan’s biggest problem is that we want a knight in shining armour to whisk away all our problems with the wave of a wand. Instead of a top down approach, why not begin from the grassroots? Once the foundations are changed, it is easy to change the head.

When passionate, determined students enter politics, they can change the system. Most importantly, they can take charge of Pakistan and with the help of an independent judiciary and a free media, help Pakistan face all her problems in a mature, solution-oriented way.

Pakistan Zindabad!


Unity in Diversity

THE BALUCH independence movement; the Kalabagh dam; and until very recently, the NFC award. These are the issues which characterise Pakistan’s fractious federation.

The problem can be expressed in one statement; strong centre, weak provinces. In Pakistan, the essence of the federation was forgotten after a succession of bureaucrats and military generals increased the power of the centre so much so it resulted in the partition of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh.

Pakistan was made on the basis of a federation. The first of Mr Jinnah’s fourteen points was that ‘any future constitution should be federal with the power resting with the provinces.’

The Lahore Resolution clearly stated that the Muslim majority areas of India ‘should be grouped to constitute independent states in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign.’

Since 1947, the government began to strengthen the centre without regard to the provinces. This culminated in the One Unit Scheme of Mr Iskander Mirza which amalgamated the independent identities of all the provinces into one. Apart from this, forcing one language onto a country with more than five widely spoken languages was folly of the highest order.

We must understand that Pakistan is made up of multiple peoples, each having their own culture, language and tradition. Failure to tolerate and accept differences is what leads to extremism, xenophobia and unrest in society.

Embracing this diversity as a source of strength is the only way forward. We must understand that forcing smaller provinces to the bidding of larger ones is a sure road to our own destruction.

Unless full provincial autonomy is granted, I fear we will witness multiple nations rising from the embers of Pakistan. There are places in Baluchistan where the national flag is not raised and 14th August is a day of mourning. This should be a warning to Islamabad that strong undercurrents of nationalism are brewing.

Full provincial autonomy, as envisaged by the 1973 constitution, strengthening of democratic institutions and the just and equitable distribution of resources, is the only way to avert this looming crisis.

An independent judiciary and agreement in the NFC formula are, no doubt, steps in the right direction. But more needs to be done urgently before it is too late.

One ’71 is more than enough for any country.


Democracy or Dictatorship?

Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.

Reinhold Niebuhr


The freeman, casting with unpurchased hand the vote that shakes the turrets of the land.

Oliver Wendell Holmes

IN AN auditorium at a prestigious school of Karachi, a large number of students sit restlessly. They are all members of the Young Leader’s Society of Karachi Grammar School and are here today to participate in a discussion forum. The topic of the forum is “Democracy vs. Dictatorship”. Ahead of them, the projector displays a large picture of the former President General Pervez Musharraf.

I was very excited to be a part of this forum. My interest in politics had been steadily increasing since the previous year and I looked forward to participate in what was sure to be an engaging debate. I was ill prepared for the rude shock soon to come.

The moderator asked for a simple show of hands for those who believed that democracy was what our country needed. I raised my hand and, to my surprise, discovered that apart from one or two more students, the rest sat with their hands firmly on their laps. I had unwisely decided to sit near the centre and now many of my peers were looking at me with less than favourable glances.

Although the ensuing debate was quite balanced and fair, my faith in my peers was shaken. Here I was, surrounded by some of the most brilliant youth this country has produced; students who, in years past, had gone on to become the movers and shakers of Pakistan. But excluding a handful, they preferred a fascist, totalitarian, police state to democracy.

Perhaps I exaggerate. Maybe a few had noble intentions. Perhaps they felt that someone without a formal education is less of a human; he is unfit to vote or to lead. Or perhaps they feel safer knowing that they have no say in the government and their fundamental rights can be taken away at a moment’s notice. Maybe they don’t want an independent judiciary.

Truth be told, the blame cannot be placed solely on the students. A major portion of it deserves to be lavished on our education system, specifically on the way history is taught in schools across the nation.

Students are not shown how to analyse major events and connect them to previous ones. All they are taught is that Muslims are good, Hindus are bad, India is behind everything nefarious and we are a great nation because we defeated the Soviet Union. Oh and of course 1971 is glossed over in a few words (read: pretend it never happened).

A case in point is the origin of our history syllabi. It seems that before Muhammad bin Qasim landed on the shores of Sindh, there was nothing of note here. No mention of the great Indus Valley Civilisation. Forget about other religions, even the tolerant and liberal Sufi saints are not mentioned.

Skip a few pages and we read that first of Mr Jinnah’s fourteen points was the demand for a federal form of government in India. This is not contrasted with the One Unit scheme of Mr Iskander Mirza nor does it bear any comparison with the Awami League’s demand for a loose federation. The words of the Lahore Resolution that clearly state that Muslim majority regions of India ‘should be grouped to constitute independent states in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign’ are likewise glossed over without any analysis.

We are not taught that Pakistan was hijacked by the bureaucrats (Mr. Malik Ghulam Mohammad and Mr Iskander Mirza) and military dictators. Only a brief period of democratic rule was allowed before the other powers take over the reigns of our country and decide that democracy is not for us. No… we are stupid, rabid animals that deserve, and are desperately in need of, a ‘danda’ to keep us in line.

We don’t question the fact that the 1965 war was fought under General Ayub Khan. We are not told about Operation Gibraltar. No, we are a peace-loving nation. We could never start a war. Similarly, we don’t think that it was under General Yahya Khan that East Pakistan was brutally raped. Nor do we see that the terrorist attacks that bleed our nation today are a direct consequence of another military dictator, the Amir-ul-Mumineen, General Zia-ul-Haq and his glorious defeat of the atheist Soviet Union at the behest of another superpower. We do not think because we are not taught how to.

No one can question the Two Nation Theory, even though Hindus and Muslims lived together peacefully for hundreds of years. No one questions our draconian laws which are misused time and again to persecute the minorities of this country. Mr Jinnah’s crucial 11th August speech to the Constituent Assembly is hidden and obfuscated.

I wrote this article to encourage my fellows to think and question the status quo. Do not take things for granted as it leads only to stagnation and repetition of past follies. My friends, we are the future of this country… you and I. We want to live in a vibrant, stable and progressive Pakistan. A country we can be proud to call home. The dictators have had their chance. Our flawed democracy is due to their erosion of the very institutions that are vital for ensuring a strong democracy. It’s true that we face many hardships but this is only because we have been denied the inevitable for over 60 years. As you are well aware that it is an awkward and difficult phase; one in which we may question the futility of even trying. But it must be passed in order for us to get back on track. It must be passed for us to mature as a nation.

We can all play our part in this by creating awareness on vital issues, by talking out our differences instead of resorting to personal attacks or violence, by not resorting to conspiracy theories at every turn, and by understanding that democracy – with its guarantees of free speech, protection of fundamental rights and inbuilt checks and balances – is the only way forward for Pakistan.