Sunday, December 25, 2016
By LILY HARRISON
Elton John has just lost a close, longtime friend.
Just minutes after the news that George Michael had passed away at age 53 was released to the public, the iconic singer and songwriter took to social media to weigh in on the heavy, tragic news.
"I am in deep shock," he began by writing alongside a photo of the two of them together.
"I have lost a beloved friend—the kindest, most generous soul and a brilliant artist. My heart goes out to his family and all of his fans. #RIP."
Earlier today, Michael's publicist released the following statement upon announcing that the former Wham! singer had died.
"It is with great sadness that we can confirm our beloved son, brother and friend George passed away peacefully at home over the Christmas period. The family would ask that their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at this stage."
Michael and John were not only friends for several decades, but they collaborated on the hit "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" back in 1991.
The track was originally recorded as a solo for John in 1974, but the live duet picked up the majority of the popularity when it was released.
There was an angry reaction in Afghanistan to news that the first female fixed-wing pilot in the country's air force was requesting asylum in the United States after completing an 18-month training course.
The Afghan defense ministry confirmed on Sunday that Captain Niloofar Rahmani, 25, had sought asylum after the Wall Street Journal quoted her as saying that she feared her life would be in danger if she returned home.
A recipient of the U.S. State Department's "Women of Courage" award in 2015, Capt. Rahmani had been a symbol of efforts to improve the situation of women in her country, more than a decade after the fall of the Taliban regime.
Mohammad Radmanish, a defense ministry spokesman, said the government hoped that her request would be denied by U.S. authorities who have spent billions trying to build up Afghan security forces.
"When an officer complains of insecurity and is afraid of security threats, then what should ordinary people do?" he said. "She has made an excuse for herself, but we have hundreds of educated women and female civil right activists who work and it is safe for them."
Capt. Rahmani, who graduated from flight school in 2012 and qualified to fly C-208 military cargo aircraft, had been in the United States on a training course and had been due to return home on Saturday.
In a conservative country notorious for the restrictions placed on women, Rahmani's story stood out as a rare example of a woman breaking through in areas normally reserved for men.
Her success came at a price, however. The citation for the "Women of Courage" award said she and her family had received direct threats not just from the Taliban but also from some relatives, forcing her family to move house several times.
However, there was little sympathy on Afghanistan's active social media networks, which were replete with comments criticizing Rahmani, accusing her of wasting government money spent on expensive training and avoiding her responsibilities.
"Niloofar Rahmani took a million dollars from the pockets of the people of Afghanistan to pay human traffickers to get to America to seek asylum," one Facebook user wrote in comments typical of others.
Dozens of Afghan troops receiving training in the United States have gone missing over the past two years, and at least one has been detained while trying to cross the border to Canada.
By Shezad Baloch
Quetta walas have become all too familiar with the sound of disaster. As soon as a loud explosion is heard in the valley, people switch on their TVs and start flipping through channels to determine where the blast took place and, more importantly, whether their loved ones are safe.
Three days ago, a suicide bomber struck at a hospital in the heart of the city, wiping off what is being called “an entire generation of lawyers” and media men within a matter of seconds.
The sound was followed by thick smoke, which gradually cleared to reveal horrific scenes: carnage everywhere, bodies lying in pools of blood, their clothes ripped apart; some charred beyond recognition. More reporters, law enforcement agencies, and first responders arrived at the site and soon news about the attack began to emerge. And among the names of victims flashing on TV was Shahzad Khan. My dear friend, Shahzad Khan. A 30-year-old who worked two-three jobs to provide for his family; a father who dropped off his child at school and was murdered in cold blood an hour later in the line of duty. How can that be? Did his daughter, seven-year-old Abeera, know that that morning would be the last time she kissed her father goodbye outside school? Worst yet, did she know her father was working as a cameraman, considered the most dangerous job in this part of the world, and that too for a mere Rs25,000 ($250). Certainly not. Shahzad wasn’t the only journalist who lost his life that day. Twenty-six-year-old Mehmood Hamdarad, a cameraman for Dawn News, was also critically injured and later succumbed to his injuries. Dunya News reporter Freedullah and a camera crew member Amin were wounded. They were among the at least 73 people who lost their lives, and over 140 who were wounded, 26 of them critically, in the attack. For the injured, the “fortunate”, life will now be one of pain and hardship, as is the case for so many victims of bombings. Timeline of deadliest insurgent attacks in Pakistan Monday’s bombing at the hospital was the second time terrorists chose to attack the state-run hospital.
The hospital was crawling with over a 100 lawyers and many journalists, who gathered at the Emergency Gate following the killing of Bilal Anwar Kasi, the former president of the Balochistan Bar Association. Kasi’s body was being shifted to Provincial Sandeman Hospital in the heart of the city, and without a moment of hesitation Shahzad, like many of his colleagues, went off to cover the incident.
‘He wanted to put a smile across everyone’s face’
Reporters, camera crews and other newspaper and new channel staff are a close-knit group. Because of the nature of their job, they often spend more time with each other than they do at home with their families. At the Quetta Press Club, the always-cheerful Shahzad has a strong presence. Just last Thursday, he messaged me, in his characteristically generous and caring way, asking about my health and my future plans. He wanted to put a smile across everyone’s face. “Just have fun Jani (dearest), and enjoy life,” he would say to colleagues. That’s just how he was.
But life was not easy. Shahzad had struggled to get a job at Aaj TV channel. He came from very modest beginnings, born into the family of a health department employee in Kandao, a small town in Mastung, about 25-kilometres from Quetta. All the houses in the town are made of mud, and most people live below the poverty line, barely able to feed their families.
I have known Shahzad since I started my career at a local newspaper over than a decade ago. His first job was as an office boy with the Quetta Daily Kohistan. He moved on to Darti TV where he worked alongside journalist Irshad Mastoi, who was later brutally gunned down at his Online International News Agency office on Quetta’s Jinnah Road. Shahzad’s career rise did not stop there. Being extremely hardworking and proficient at his job, he was soon hired by Dunya News. However, he needed to work two and three jobs to feed his family, since media outlets aren’t known to pay well. After Dunya News, he worked as a copy editor for a local newspaper. Later, he was offered a position at Aaj TV, earning a pay package of Rs25,000 per month. The increase in salary was significant, given that his earlier position had earned him a mere Rs15,000.
This was his final place of work before he life was cut short this Monday. The main breadwinner of his family, Shahzad was laid to rest beside his father in his ancestral home of Mastung. He leaves behind a widow and three young children — two daughters and a son — the eldest only seven years of age. He is also survived by his 26-year-old brother, who works at the health department since the death of his father.
The most dangerous job in the world
Recently, I was fortunate enough to attend a training session in Islamabad with Shahzad. We were among 20 journalists from Balochistan receiving training in reporting from a conflict zone. I can clearly recall Shahzad saying, “Media owners never let us attend trainings in another city. It’s good that I got to see Islamabad and could experience it.” Shahzad was not the first member of the media to fall victim to the violence pervading Quetta. Many journalists have been killed or wounded in similar incidents across the city. The news desk and the employers, however, observe the briefest of pauses after each deadly incident before once again laying pressure on cameramen and reporters to get maximum coverage. This goes against professional ethics of journalism, and so does showing scenes of death and destruction. But few seem to care or are unaware of the ethics and even the dangers of reporting. “We are the poorly paid, and still we risk our lives,” said Quetta’s most senior photographer Banaras Khan who has been working as a journalist for the past 27 years. “I appeal to international organisations and trade unions of journalists to provide training for people who work at TV channel news desks.” Employers aside, government and law enforcement agencies in Quetta have failed to implement appropriate security measures despite the frequency of deadly attacks in the region. Quetta Civil Hospital has now been targeted twice using the same vicious modus operandi—first the attackers target a high profile figure in the city; then they target those the mourners.
Leaving Balochistan lawless
The law community in Balochistan was one that remained at the forefront of protecting human rights and shinning a spotlight on the restive province. The general perception is that terrorists targeted the community perhaps because of its popularity among the masses. What’s certain is that the government’s security plan has miserably failed and it failed to protect the lives of its people, once again. In the past, four similar large-scale attacks have taken place in Quetta, one in the Police Lines, another at the same hospital, the third at the Bolan Medical College Teaching Hospital following an attack on Sardar Bahadur Khan Women University and the fourth at at a snooker club in Marriabad area. Despite this, politicians repeatedly get away with blaming hostile foreign agencies for these massacres. Their primary responsibility is the protection of all citizens. All citizens, not just politicians, security chiefs, and government buildings. Quetta, it seems, is a safe place only for the chief minister, the frontier corps (FC) chief, the police chief and other bigwigs.
No end in sight
We have lost many friends and we will continue to do so because I don’t see any planning, implementation or appropriate measures being taken in the near future. Add to that, it’s unfortunate that not a single government spokesperson or representative has come forward to brief the media with details of the attack. We had to dig for information on our own.
Bloody déjà vu in Quetta
It seems the government cannot be trusted to utilise the huge sum of money—over Rs30 billion — allocated for the maintenance of law and order in an appropriate manner. The current government has increased the law and order budget by 12%, offsetting that with a decrease in the education budget. Despite this, nobody feels remotely secure in Balochistan. Quetta has witnessed the killing of journalists, lawyers, doctors, police, security forces, politicians and citizens. The massacres continue unabated. I’m not a cynic, I’m telling the truth as I see it. People have resorted to adapting to an increasingly perilous environment. They have learned to expect that law enforcers will harass them in the name of security rather than prevent deadly attacks. And have come to accept that all leaders, law enforcers and gatekeepers have to offer are weightless political statements and empty condemnations of terror. Any hope of reclaiming the beautiful city of Quetta is fading, and may soon be lost.
Democratic transition in Pakistan after every martial law gets prolonged and complicated as duality in the power center exists even after the formal end of the military dictatorship. The deep state brazenly continues its shenanigans as weak civilian dispensation tries to find its feet. The aforementioned phenomenon has been visible after the general elections in February 2008, that have supposedly commenced a transition towards the establishment of a full fledged federal parliamentary democratic system enshrined in the Constitution. The approval of 18th Constitutional Amendment in 2010 for purging the Constitution of the distortions and deformations imposed on it by military dictators was a remarkable achievement. But the diarchy in the state system did not come to an end. Even after getting rid of General Pervez Musharraf, the Asif Ali Zardari led elected government had to work under a long shadow of the security establishment.
A similar situation persisted even after the general elections in 2013 when elected assemblies completed their constitutional term for the first time in the political history of the country and when power was smoothly transferred from one elected government to another one without intervention by non-political forces. But the euphoria generated by the success of democratic transition was short lived as fierce political agitation by myopic and adventurist outfits was used to expand the military’s control over not just forming key state policies and resource allocation but also over day to day governance. By using vast propaganda resources of the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) and manipulation by military’s powerful intelligence agencies the security establishment was able to considerably weaken the authority of the elected government. The so-called lock down of Islamabad, the public show of strength by the extremist elements working under the cover of Defense of Pakistan Council and the so called Dawn Leaks were important elements of the final showdown between the elected government and the outgoing leadership of the Army. These moves were also aimed at influencing the decision of the Prime Minister about the appointment of the new head of the GHQ.
The Prime Minister deserves credit for playing his cards well (and he kept his cards close to his chest up till the very end). He was able to foil the designs of elements hell bent on “continuity” in the conduct of the top brass. But Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has certain advantages over all other political leaders of the country. One, he has a solid political base in the Punjab that is the core area of the present Pakistani state as opposed to the periphery that is politically and economically marginalised. Punjabi civil-military bureaucracy and big business enjoys a decisive domination over Pakistani state and economy. Two, he heads the Muslim League, a political party that traces its political origin to Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. Being an authentic Punjabi leader and having claim to Jinnah’s legacy makes it very difficult for his detractors to label him a traitor, a title that is very generously bestowed upon political leaders from oppressed nationalities such as Baloch, Pashtun, Sindhi and those belonging to Gilgit Baltistan. Three, Nawaz Sharif has rich and long experience in dealing with Army both as its political friend and foe. By appointing General Qamar Javed Bajwa as the COAS he is the only political leader in Pakistan who has to his credit the appointment of six heads of Pakistan Army. All this enabled Nawaz Sharif to withstand the pressure and choose his moves.
The dominos seem to have fallen in Nawaz Sharif’s favor. Imran Khan had to retreat and return to parliament after vanishing off the “script”. The exuberance of “defense analysts” and TV anchors wired to the deep state in doomsday prognosis has mysteriously evaporated. Moving forward towards the general elections in 2018 seems only natural. Despite all this it is difficult to agree with Mariam Nawaz Sharif’s analysis about the “end of the storm”. It is at best a lull in the storm. Nawaz Sharif has a breathing space of about six to eight months. It is because the role of individuals in the clash of the institutions is quite limited. The civil-military institutional imbalance in the state system is very much there and it is bound to resurface in future stand offs between civil and military leaderships.
The ultimate solution to this problem lies in a continuous and consistent process of reforms. But as I have repeatedly said in this space, the reform process can be effective only if the political parties start it from themselves. Introducing genuine democracy within political parties, stopping parliamentarians from using development funds, bringing the culture of patronage to an end and implementing meritocracy can be some meaningful steps in this direction. Standing on high moral ground, the political leaders will have the strength to not only implement the Constitution in letter and spirit but also for bring to book the violators of Constitutional norms.
But it is disappointing to see the ruling PML-N not moving in this direction at all. There is no sign of any reform agenda whatsoever. On the contrary, intoxicated by its recent successes, the ruling party seems to be moving in the opposite direction. For example, for checking the rampant corruption in state and society there is need for bringing in more monitoring, oversight, transparency and the system of checks and balances. But the government has significantly undermined it by bringing regulatory bodies under the control of their concerned ministries. In this way they have ceased to be regulatory bodies. And this has been done without the approval of CCI, which is a constitutional requirement. This is really shocking. One wonders how can people in their right mind do such a stupid thing? I am sure resistance by opposition political parties and judicial intervention will thwart this move but the government is squandering its political capital by defending this stupidity. Similarly, by dithering on the census and a new NFC award the government is undermining its own credibility. For bringing the democratic transition to a logical end it is incumbent upon both the ruling and opposition political parties to focus on reforms.