Saturday, May 10, 2014

Beyoncé - Pretty Hurts

Linguist completes Pashto dictionary after 36 years

When 78-year-old linguist Che Hongcai presented the 50,000-odd-entry, 2.5-million-word handwritten manuscript for his Chinese-Pashto dictionary to his publishing house in 2012, nobody knew quite what to say.
The project had been originally commissioned 36 years beforehand by the Commercial Press in 1978 when the State Council ordered 160 language dictionaries to boost China's international influence in UNESCO.
Pashto is one of the official languages of Afghanistan. It is estimated that there are 60 million people worldwide speaking Pashto. But fewer than 100 people speak the language in China, and most of them work for State-owned organizations such as news agencies and customs departments.
However, the "glorious national mission" was postponed and eventually forgotten by the authorities. Che, a foreign-language teacher in charge of editing the dictionary, was one of the few people who still keep it in mind. The dictionary will be published later this year. Che will be paid 80 yuan ($13) per thousand words.
As most of the old government-assigned tasks have long been forgotten and abandoned, Che's commitment to his task touched many people. Internet users call him the role model of today's scholar. But Che keeps a low profile.
"It is not about money or fame, this is where my passion lies," Che told the Global Times. "Hopefully it will promote Pashto education in China."
Afghan study
In the study of his Beijing apartment, some 100,000 index cards containing Chinese and Pashto terms are piled up on his desk like a mountain. Deep inside the mountain lie a magnifying glass and a laptop, a necessity to create a dictionary in the modern age but a challenge for an old man with poor eyesight like Che.
His son Che Ran remembers that when he was little, there was a huge drawer in their living room, looking like a traditional pharmaceutical cabinet. The index cards were sorted by topic and locked there for decades. No one understands what was written on it except his father.
Che Hongcai's first interaction with Pashto started in Afghanistan back in the 1950s when China started building diplomatic relationships with newly independent Asian-African-Latin countries.
As a third-year student at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, Che was sent to Kabul, Afghanistan for a four-year exchange program at the Cultural Institute of Kabul University to study Pashto in 1959.
Che remembers being extremely excited. "Most of the students were sent to Communist countries, while Afghanistan was a capitalist country back then, and chances like that were really rare."
His first teacher was an editor of a local magazine who could speak both Pashto and English. Che remembers on their first class, the teacher wrote down everything on the blackboard and asked them to write them down due to the lack of teaching materials.
Those years studying in Kabul were fun but not easy, Che recalls. "We were under close watch. The Afghan side was worried the country might 'go red' due to the influence of Chinese students." Chinese students were required to go out in pairs and report their whereabouts.
Three years later, Che went back to China and started his career teaching Pashto at the Communication University of China.
Mission that time forgot
As a special talent, Che was frequently borrowed by various State departments. Performing tasks from interpretation for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to broadcast for China Radio International (CRI), to translating government work reports.
In 1975 the publishing house commissioned Che and his student Song Qiangmin to compile a Chinese-Pashto dictionary. Che received the mission with great confidence that they could finish it within a few years.
As there was no funding, Che borrowed a Pashto typewriter from CRI and picked up leftover papers from a printing plant to make index cards. For the next four years, the two of them buried themselves working in a five-square-meter office and sorting out 100,000 cards.
When it came to unfamiliar terms, Che consulted with some Afghan experts working for CRI and used a Pashto-Russian dictionary as a reference.
Gradually, the university authorities and his colleagues seem to have forgotten about him. Only every half a year, he would get a call from the publishing house to check the updates.
In 1981, when 70 percent of their work had finished, the university asked him to put the dictionary project away temporarily and help to design a new correspondence course.
"I thought I would have to stock the cards in the carbines for a while," Che recalls. "The next time I opened the carbines was 20 years later."
In 1988, at the age of 52, when he finished the course and thought it was time to continue his project, Che was appointed as an analyst of Middle East policy in Pakistan, and then to Afghanistan.
Che did not want to go. He hid at home for three months to ignore the offer. And then when he appeared at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he told them he suffered from high blood pressure and had kidney stones. But the medical staff said he was good to go.
"I felt so upset about leaving my project behind that I locked them up and didn't want to look at it," Che said.
When he returned to China in 1992, everything was changed. His student Song had moved to the US. Nobody seemed to remember his project. Che retired in the mid-1990s feeling disappointed.
"He felt the world had forgotten him. He was so upset that he kept quiet all the time," his wife Xue Ping recalled.
It was the September 11 attacks that got Che's attention back to his dictionary. The Bush administration declared a worldwide "war on terror" and started to look for Pashto-speaking bilingual talents.
The university invited Che to go back to teach Pashto again. The move triggered Che's desire to finish the dictionary. In 2003, he found software made by an Afghan on the Internet that enabled him to record Pashto on the computer.
With the help of his former classmate in Kabul University, Zhang Min, they spent four years finishing all the drafts.
When he arrived at the publishing house with his manuscript, he had only one thing to say "It's finished."

Pakistan's Bonded Laborers Trapped in Cycle of Debt

n Pakistan today, more than two million people, including children, work as bonded laborers, a system the United Nations describes as modern-day slavery. Sharon Behn reports on the life of brick-makers who use their children as collateral for debts to their employers.

Hot Air Balloon Catches Fire at Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival

Weekly Address: The First Lady Michelle Obama Marks Mother’s Day and Speaks Out on the Tragic Kidnapping in Nigeria

In this week’s address, First Lady Michelle Obama honored all mothers on this upcoming Mother’s Day and offered her thoughts, prayers and support in the wake of the unconscionable terrorist kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian girls.

Pakistan's Women: A Pervasive Mindset

Pakistan was the first Muslim country to have a female Prime Minister. Top cabinet ministries, including finance and foreign, have gone to women politicians. However, these landmarks achieved at the national level have not translated into political empowerment for women on the provincial level. Balochistan, for example, is heading for a local government election next month without a single woman candidate. The two main parties have dismissed the idea of a woman as mayor. Balochistan has 12 women members of the Provincial Assembly on reserved seats while one is elected, compared to 65 males on general seats. No minister or advisor to a minister is a woman.
Women quotas were introduced in Pakistan in 2002 to include more women in the legislation and policy-making process. There was plenty of cynicism regarding these reserved seats, with the major criticism being that they would be unfairly captured by the elite and not empower competent women at the grassroots level. Indeed, though women legislators have been lauded for some of their legislation and lobbying for good causes, they are still dependant on their parties for “selection.” This takes away influence from them. There is little room for initiative, questioning party politics and policies. Furthermore, the fact that more men stand on the general seats than women, the election process remains male-dominated. There are unfortunately, very few women leaders who have been voted into office. And in a province like Balochistan, traditionally marred by illiteracy, tribalism and patriarchy- things look even grimmer. The mayoral election in Balochistan next month, in which no woman has been allowed to compete for office, is just one example. The overwhelming attitude is that in the presence of so many competent men, there is simply no room for women. In other words, women are competing for intellectual superiority on an entirely different plane- one where there are no men.
How will the political scenario in Pakistan become more favorable to women? Are reserved quotas helping or feeding into the attitudes that women can’t do without affirmative action to fight on the same professional planes? If it is the latter, then what are the alternatives? At least one of the answers must lie in a fundamental upheaval of the patriarchal mindset, which can come from early education alone. And as the news goes, a militant group in Panjgur, Balochistan’s western district has recently threatened 23 English language learning centers to shut down and proclaimed them “haram.” Amidst this kind of armed oppression, how can we expect middle and lower class women to rise much further than the four walls of their homes, much less into policy-making quarters?

Pakistan’s place in Gulf politics
Much about the Arab Spring, its spillover, and mutation into a bloody sectarian orgy has simply missed Pakistan’s attention. At least the leadership could have, should have been better informed. For example, the average Egyptian would have been quite amused about a half a decade ago if told Mubarak would soon be rubbished to the dustbin of history. Yet the unprecedented series of events set in motion by the famous Tahrir square protests have stood out as an important example for all Muslim countries except, perhaps, Pakistan.
The following year saw the Muslim Brotherhood, not secular and leftist groups that protested, take the polls. But soon there was little to celebrate of the new democracy as the incumbent showed how easily public mandate could be bended to suit party objectives, in this case reframing society in the Brotherhood’s own narrow, far right of centre, mould. And so we had the military back before the ink could dry on (ousted) President Morsi’s wish list. What is more, almost all strands of Egyptians, except of course the mulla lobby, welcomed back the same military they had grown to detest until very recently. Salafi hordes more radical than the Brotherhood, who have since followed the Spring every step of the way, have now been pushed largely to the fringes, into the Sinai desert, where Cairo and Tel Aviv take turns in neutering them.
Pakistan was also without voice as the Spring rolled into Libya, and became practically dumbfounded when Nato partnered with the same al Qaeda groups that they were droning in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. And perhaps the Iranians and Russians were the only ones to smell a diplomatic rat when a similar effort was underway in Syria some three years ago. A horrific civil war and frantic cross-Atlantic diplomatic activity later the US was convinced that the biggest threat of the new century, fundamentalist militant Islamism, originated in the Wahabi kingdoms of the Gulf, and toned down its decades long ‘arrangement’ with their standard bearer, Saudi Arabia.
But under Nawaz Sharif Pakistan made its only, and much criticised, public gesture of embracing the Saudi vision statement for the new emerging Arabia. That, of course, vindicates long standing suspicion that if the Americans ever became awkward, Pakistan would replace them as the royal family’s gate guards. In the present circumstances, of course, the gesture could also quickly expand to military hardware for Syrian rebels, complicating the Arab situation from the outside, and inviting fury from neighbours like China and Iran. It is little surprise the prime minister delivered a more politically correct position when the House became hostile, but the real purpose behind parading Saudi and Bahrani royals across Islamabad remains unexplained.
The Arab street, again except the clergy, received our prime minister’s tilt with visible disgust, rejecting interference from a supposed fort of Islam that only makes news for the wrong reasons, and has hardly ever taken any real interest in the Arab world beyond Saudi Arabia, and a few words of support for the Palestinians.
If only Nawaz studied the Muslim world better, he would invite less problems in his own method of governance. But so long as he remains clueless about the most important political evolution of modern times, he will have little to deliver at home except complications and self defeating positions.

Pakistan's deadly descent into polio contagion

Pakistan was close to eradicating polio 10 years ago. But conspiracy theories, a Taliban ascendancy and drive-by shootings of polio workers have reversed the gains. The BBC's M Ilyas Khan reports from the frontline of the government's war against the virus and the militants' war against its vaccinators.
"Polio workers had been shot in the area before, but we never imagined it could happen to us."
Falak Naz, a member of the World Health Organisation's polio eradication effort in north-western Pakistan, is in a desperate situation.
"I never anticipated I would be stranded in Peshawar city with an injured wife," he tells me at the Lady Reading hospital, where he has been tending his wife, one of several family members injured in a gun and grenade attack on his home in a rural district in April.
"I don't have the resources to take up a place in this city, and going back home is not only unsafe, I don't have proper living quarters there."
That attack on him was the second in a month in which gunmen have broken with the past pattern of drive-by shootings on the streets, and have instead followed health workers into their own homes.
Conspiracy theories
Pakistan is one of three countries where polio is endemic and the WHO recently issued a grave warning about the resurgent threat of the polio virus. Part of the reason is precisely the inability of Pakistan to immunise some of its children in the most vulnerable areas.
The violence is relentless and the source is ultimately the Taliban's conspiracy theories about the polio vaccine. As the death toll of the health workers rises, so does the incidence of polio. In the four months since January, Pakistan has reported 59 new cases of polio, an all-time high for this generally low-transmission season. Of these, 42 cases have been reported from the tribal area of North Waziristan alone. And this is where the reason for Pakistan's failure to eradicate polio lies, says Dr Imtiaz Ali Shah, head of the provincial government's Polio Monitoring Cell in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
"The polio virus is under control all over the country," he says. "Cases reported in the KP, and even in Karachi, are an extension of the situation in Waziristan, where non-state groups do not allow vaccination. It is a political issue, which technical people like us cannot solve."
Pakistan was close to eradicating polio virus in 2005, when only 28 new cases were reported. Dr Shah says if not for the politics, polio could be eradicated in three months. In that year militant groups based in Swat and parts of the tribal region along the border with Afghanistan decided to oppose the polio eradication initiative.
These groups used FM radio sermons to create hostility towards polio vaccination, calling it a conspiracy by the Americans to sexually sterilise children and thereby control the population of Muslims. During subsequent years, health workers were roughed up in communities, or even kidnapped by organised groups. Some of them turned up dead.
The defiance grew more violent after 2011 when a Pakistani doctor was accused of running a fake vaccination campaign to help the American CIA track down Osama bin Laden.
Dr Shah says the present spike in polio cases is directly linked to the July 2012 decision by the groups controlling the Waziristan tribal region to ban vaccination there.
'My sister was shot'
December 2012 was when trained snipers drew their first blood by staging a drive-by shooting of health workers conducting immunisation campaigns.
One of the first workers to fall to the assassins' bullets in Peshawar was a 16-year-old schoolgirl, Farzana Rahman. Her sister and co-worker, Amena Rahman, 20, still remembers that day. "We had been doing volunteer work for WHO for a couple of years to earn pocket money, and also because both of us aspired to become health professionals.
"So as usual, we were operating as a two-member team; Farzana would administer polio drops to children, and I would scrawl the markings on the doors of the houses we covered for future reference." Farzana had just finished administering polio drops to two children at one house, and Amena was chalking on the door when she heard the shot.
"It was a dry sound, like the whack of a small cracker, or if you slap someone," she recalls. "When I turned around, I was shocked to see Farzana sitting on the ground, leaning against the door. A man rushed away from us, jumped on a motorbike behind another man and rode away. A lady who had brought out the children for vaccination pushed the door hard to shut it from inside, and one of Farzana's fingers was caught in it. But she didn't wince." This angered Amena. She first shouted at the lady, and then taunted her sister for being frightened by the sound of a mere cracker.
"She didn't respond, so I kneeled down before her and touched her shoulder. She fell into my lap. There was a gaping wound on the side of her head, and the blood was gushing out of it."
Shaista's polio
And so polio continues to infect the young. The illness contracted by 19-month-old Shaista Gul has come at a particularly bad time for her family.
Her father, Wahid Gul, is just 24, but already wears the look of a withered man.
A brick-kiln worker who can earn up to just about two dollars a day at the best of times, he has been unemployed for the last six months. And since he cannot afford to own or rent a house, he lives with his equally poor in-laws. One night in late March, the family discovered that little Shaista, a vivacious child who had learned to walk and often played with her cousins on a flat grassy ground outside the house, was running a high fever.
"In the morning, her mother tried to stand her on her feet, but she collapsed. She hasn't walked since then," he says tearfully.
"She learned to walk too soon, and she was so nimble-footed. Perhaps she caught an evil eye." The family faces uncertain times. They have no money to pay for laboratory tests and rehabilitation exercises, and no help has arrived from the government's charity funds.
At least 33 field health workers have been killed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province since Farzana, says Dr Shah.
"But there is little evidence of turnover among our teams, which is a sign of their resilience and courage." Her sister Amena is a case in point. Despite having suffered the trauma of watching the murder of her sister, she plans to rejoin the campaign.
"I like this work. If I can save a life, it will make God happy. My parents agree with me."

PPP stages protest over ‘still unrecovered’ Ali Haider Gilani
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Human rights wing on Friday staged a demonstration at Double Phatak Chowk for safe and early recovery of Ali Haider Gilani, the son of ex-Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani. Syed Ali Haider Gilani son of former Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani was kidnapped on May 09 last year. Saleem-ur-Rehman Mayo President of PPP( HR wing) said that present government not taking steps for the release of Syed Ali Haider Gilani, adding that 365 days have elapsed but no development in this case. His mother is waiting for him. It may be recalled that Gunmen on May 9, 2013 had kidnapped the son of a former prime minister on the last day of campaigning for elections and shot dead one of the son’s aides, police said. Ali Haider Gilani, a candidate for the Punjab provincial assembly, was seized in a hail of gunfire on the outskirts of the city of Multan in the province.

Pakistan: Thalassaemia ignored

EVERY year on International Thalassaemia Day, observed last Thursday, we are reminded of the risks this genetic blood disorder poses to the population. Where the public sector is concerned, thalassaemia is largely ignored. However, the numbers are too worrisome to overlook. According to an official of the Thalassaemia Federation of Pakistan quoted in this paper, there are around 50,000 children in the country with beta thalassaemia. And there are said to be approximately 11 million “healthy carriers” of the thalassaemia gene, which means that if two carriers marry, there would be a 25pc chance of giving birth to a child with the disorder. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa reportedly has the highest number of children born with thalassaemia. Treatment is an expensive undertaking, as those suffering from the ailment need to have a monthly blood transfusion as well as chelation therapy. Permanent treatment through bone marrow transplant is prohibitively expensive. In the light of such facts, it is no wonder that medical experts say preventive measures are the best option to halt the spread of thalassaemia.
There are two fronts the state needs to work on to counter thalassaemia. Firstly, there needs to be a widespread public awareness campaign to warn people of the effects of the disorder and the factors that can lead to the birth of children with thalassaemia. People need to be made aware of the risks of marriage between cousins, a common cultural practice in this part of the world, while more significantly, the importance of screening couples before marriage, especially in families where there have been cases of thalassaemia, should be emphasised. Once aware of the risks, people can make an informed choice whether or not to go ahead with the union or to have children. Countries like Iran have successfully controlled thalassaemia through such measures. The second point pertains to free or low-cost treatment facilities. Many of those suffering from thalassaemia are from the lower-income bracket, and the government must do all it can to give them monetary respite.