Sunday, July 23, 2017

Video -- Afghan Dance Music -

Video Report - Afghanistan Pashto News.23.7.2017 د افغانستان پښتو خبرونه

Marines facing 'discouraging' challenges in Afghanistan

By Nick Paton Walsh

The plume of smoke and dust rose over the runway, high above the now-deserted but once costly and vital control towers.
Then a second rocket slammed into the tarmac just feet away from where a C130 cargo plane would imminently land to ferry us out.
The Marines with us at first appeared unfazed. Some were perhaps young and new to it all, while the older ones stood tall, not flinching. I crouched behind a wheel until those tires were used to race us back toward a shelter.
    Seven years ago, it would have been mere minutes before that Taliban rocket team was bombed in retaliation by US forces protecting a thousands-strong base. But in 2017, the US Marines here -- all 300 of them -- seem oddly vulnerable.
    They don't leave the wire much, mostly just to train and advise, leaving the fighting to the Afghans. Yet all the same, three separate rocket attacks hit their bases in three days -- two near us -- one injuring 10 Afghan soldiers, and another an 8-year-old boy.
    This is the painful reality of Afghanistan 2017. The country is in one of the most violent periods of its recent history, and its challenges are deepening. But the sense of exhaustion, of solutions long having lost their sparkle, pervades. And as President Trump weighs his first move in America's longest war, its 15 years make it absolutely nothing new to many of the Marines currently at its sharp end.
    Here's how one hardened, normally optimistic Marine commander, Col. Matthew Reid, talked about lost friends.
    "I don't think I've ever bothered to count. Too many, between here and Iraq," he said. "A lot of blood in the ground."
    Born on September 11, Reid is back in Afghanistan's Helmand Province for the second time. He quips that the 300 Marines he works with now are the number that "ran the chow hall" when he was last there in 2010.
    I asked: How does it feel to have to go at it all over again?
    "Discouraging," he said. "There is a definite feeling of a sense of obligation to get this right because of those who have gone before us."

    The US's options

    How do you get it right? From the limited perspective of our three-day tour -- mostly inside bases -- it seems the Marines have made a difference here. Most importantly, they are now camped just outside the regional capital of Lashkar Gah, which a year ago was on the brink of falling to the Taliban, whose flag you could see just across its central river.
    The Helmand district of Nawa was retaken last week by Afghan National Security Forces, yet at about the same time nearby Gereshk district was attacked by the Taliban, with multiple checkpoints hit, and at one point six overrun. Things are better, but not good. Helmand will probably never be good any time soon, but the Marines' presence and massive aerial firepower have arguably stopped the entire opium-rich region from being swallowed by the Taliban.
    But the Marines are only one part of the picture in a country where, according to the US government's own auditors, the Taliban influence or control about half the land. ISIS too, intermittently rises, and then, after coalition airstrikes, falls -- competing to be the most extreme actor in a crowded marketplace.
    The government in Kabul is weak, ridden by conflict and rivalry between senior players.
    And the West's ideas for stabilizing the country are running out.
    A Chinook helicopter drops off US Marines -- and a CNN team -- at Shorsharak in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. The role of the US Marines now is to assist and advise Afghan security forces.
    So what are President Trump's options?
    • More troops? They tried that with the Obama surge to 100,000 troops, which achieved no real, dramatic drop in violence, or enduring government control.
    • Talk to the Taliban? Tried that too. The Obama surge was meant to force them to come to the table. But Obama set a deadline for the surge's withdrawal, so the Taliban waited them out. Now their new leader is radical enough his son was hailed as a suicide bomber in Gereshk last week, so they look unlikely to jump on diplomacy.
    • Pressure the Pakistanis to pressure the Taliban? They're trying that, but in the end, Pakistan sees a longer game here and has its long-term proxies in the region. Either way, this isn't entirely Islamabad's fault.
    • Leave? America tried that, and now it's back, trying to stop the bleeding, remembering 9/11, the lives lost fighting so Afghans could live better, and what happens when you let a country that's a magnet for extremists collapse entirely.
    • Try more of the same? That's probably the most likely approach that Secretary of Defense James Mattis will put before the Trump White House. More special forces to hunt al-Qaeda and ISIS. Trainers to try and maybe improve the Afghan security forces (the men we were assured -- as the Americans tried to leave five years ago -- were 100% ready to fight the Taliban but who are now subject to record casualties). Perhaps looser American rules of engagement, which will make killing Taliban easier, but killing innocent civilians easier too, which never helps win over the population. Perhaps more contractors, who already massively outnumber the Marines we saw on the base in Helmand, to spread the training burden and reduce the military's exposure.

    When does it end?

    But really it is the mood in the capital which tells you things are still slipping, yet again. Long-term Afghan friends discussing for the first time how they might leave. A top executive saying his employees are leaving their large, high-profile Afghan company to protect themselves from possible attack at their central offices.
    This is not a time for optimism. There is no sign the Taliban are weakened, even though one Afghan official told me hundreds of mid-level leaders have been taken out in raids over the past year.
    Their leadership is more radical than ever, and they are likely to see handsome funds from a productive opium harvest, possibly boosted by a new poppy seed that blooms more quickly, massively increasing production. Afghanistan's bleed is slow, and perhaps hidden or ignored by much of the world, but happening all the same.
    Take this final anecdote from our visit to Helmand, when the Marines took us to a remote outpost where they were advising the Afghan army. We were there to see them pull out, removing themselves from a flat stretch of what Colonel Matthew Grosz called "Taliban country" -- a main thoroughfare between insurgent strongholds. But their advisory mission seemed to have run into one issue: There weren't many Afghans to advise.
    A US Marine stands at the back of a Chinook helicopter en route to Shorsharak.
    On paper there were 500 Afghan troops, and 45 US marines. But as Grosz told me: "There's 200 assigned right now." By "assigned," he meant that there were 200 who had existed, physically at the base. But even that was optimistic, as another hundred had never shown up while the Marines were there. In fact, of the hundred they had seen, some were on operations or on patrol. So really there were fifty to a hundred Afghan soldiers at the base, almost enabling one-to-one Marine mentoring sessions.
    As we sat in the Helmand runway bomb shelter, waiting for the "all clear" after the rocket attack, I overheard two young Marines chatter about 9/11 as though it was a moment of historical import rather than something they had seen live on TV. That's because for them, it is something their parents mourned when they were probably five or six.
    Fifteen years of war sounds exhausting until you remember that for Afghans, it is about 38 years of war -- since the Soviets invaded in 1979.
    So, you may ask yourself: When does it end?
    Forget emotion, or nationalism, or solutions. Just consider the war, and everyone caught up in it, through the prism of one number: 1,600.
    • That's about the number of US bombs dropped in the first half of this year (1,634 to June 30, over three times the same period last year).
    • It's also about the number of Afghan civilians killed in the same period (1,662, most because of insurgents).
    • It's also the number of Afghan soldiers and police who likely died in the first 109 days of this year, based on the death rate in January and February (a SIGAR report has 807 deaths through February 24, but complete figures are unavailable).
    It's become a war whose end will be defined by fatigue, acceptance of lesser evils and which of these above numbers is the hardest to tolerate.

    Pakistani tribal elders support fencing along Durand Line

    The tribal elders of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan declared their support to fencing work along the Durand Line.
    The elders endorsed the work by the Pakistan military during a gathering (Jirga) in Khyber Agency on Sunday.
    According to the local media reports, elders from all the regions of FATA attended the Jirga to discuss the ongoing situation, including fencing work and the deteriorating relations between Kabul and Islamabad.
    The elders of FATA also accused India of using its consulates in Afghanistan to fuel insurgency and claimed that the Afghan soil is being used against Pakistan, a claim which repeatedly been rejected by the Afghan government.
    They also accused President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani of implementing the New Delhi policies and insisted that the fencing work along the line will prevent the movement of militants between the two countries.
    The latest endorsement of fencing work along Durand Line comes as the Afghan officials have repeatedly opposed with the unilateral work along the line.
    The Afghan officials also insist that the sanctuaries of the terrorist groups, specifically the notorious Haqqani network having freedom of movement in Pakistan, should be eliminated in a bid to help secure peace and stability in the region.

    US friendly fire kills at least 12 Afghan policemen in Helmand

    By Sune Engel Rasmussen
    Sources say US gunship bombed checkpoint just 30 minutes after police unit retook it from Taliban. A US gunship has killed at least 12 Afghan policemen in a friendly fire airstrike in Helmand, according to local officials.
    The incident is a setback for the US-Afghan fight against the Taliban in the embattled province, and comes as the US administration and its Nato allies are preparing the deployment of several thousand additional troops to Afghanistan. Since 2001, Helmand has consistently been the deadliest province for both foreign and Afghan forces. Since the international drawdown in 2014, the Taliban has seized territory across the province, leaving the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, and the economic hub, Gereshk, as some of the only areas still in government hands.
    The attack occurred on Friday afternoon, when, according to local police sources, an Afghan police unit retook a checkpoint captured by the Taliban on Thursday. Due to apparent miscommunication, a US gunship bombed the police unit 30 minutes later, according to police sources. The spokesman to the provincial governor, Omar Zawak, said the number of killed and injured was not yet clear. Helmand’s police chief said 12 members of the Afghan National Security Forces died in the strike.
    The incident followed a week of intensified US airstrikes in Helmand. The US air campaign in Afghanistan has reached a level not seen since 2012, when there were almost 10 times as many US troops in the country.
    According to Bill Salvin, spokesman for the coalition forces in Afghanistan, the US has conducted more than 50 airstrikes in the province over the past five days.
    In June, the US surpassed the total number of aerial attacks in Afghanistan last year, with 1,634 airstrikes conducted primarily in the south – in and around Helmand – and against Islamic State groups in the east. Following Friday’s incident, the coalition forces said in a statement: “We can confirm local security personnel aligned with Afghan government forces were killed in an airstrike in Gereshk district in Helmand province late this afternoon.”
    “During a US supported [Afghan defence forces] operation, aerial fires resulted in the deaths of the friendly Afghan forces who were gathered in a compound… An investigation will be conducted to determine the specific circumstances that led to this incident.”
    The deaths in Helmand added to a particularly bloody day for the Afghan police.
    In the northeastern Badakhshan province, the Taliban killed at least 32 members of the local police and government-aligned uprising groups in a push to capture Tagaq district. Some of the people killed were murdered after the Taliban surrounded a house they were staying in, while the rest were shot in an ambush, said Abdullah Naji Nazari, the head of the provincial council.

    Pakistan - Salman Taseer’s granddaughter raises funds to support family of imprisoned Aasia Bibi

    The granddaughter of slain Punjab Governor Salman Taseer is collecting funds for the family of the jailed Aasia Bibi, the woman accused of blasphemy Salman Taseer defended and was murdered over by his own security guard, the infamous Mumtaz Qadri.
    Meera Shoaib, the daughter of the former Governor’s daughter Sara Taseer, is operating a crowd funding page for the family of Aasia Bibi on the website generosity. The website works on a platform in which people can set up pages for any private or public cause which needs financing. The page is then shared and spread through the relevant communities which chip in to the cause and help the person or thing in need. As of now, the page for Aasia Bibi has managed to collect $3147 in 3 months from the donations of 34 people. But the Taseer family has only now publicised the effort after their first success in the venture: buying a rickshaw for Aasia’s family so they may be able to sustain themselves.

    The rickshaw, according to the official page of the campaign, is only the first step towards helping Aasia and her family who is still jailed in Multan. The campaign argues that Aasia’s family has been finding it impossible to get employed because of the taboo surrounding them and the donations will go a long way in making them sustain themselves.
    Meera Shoaib describes the effort as aiming to raise money for the sustenance, legal fees, and jail visitation for the (Aasia) family.” She describes her inspiration to take up the project in the words “For many years, I’ve struggled to find the best way to contribute to the cause my grandfather gave his life for.” Meera goes on to urge people to help the family saying “In Pakistan, even $20 can feed a family for four days. Your contribution, however small, can mean the world to them.”
    The generosity page describes the story of Aasia Bibi and the injustice she faced at the hands of the courts and the blasphemy law. It also talks about the struggle of Salman Taseer and what he did to try and help Aasia when she was in the depths of her trouble, and the price she had to pay for it. Meera Shoaib aptly closes the page story with the words “This campaign is to keep alive the legacy my grandfather left. This campaign is for you, Abba.”
    Meanwhile, Meera Shoaib’s mother Sara Taseer was also active in promoting her daughters initiative and encouraged people to go out and fund the campaign to help Aasia Bibi’s family. Sharing a picture of the family standing in front of the rickshaw, Sara Taseer tweeted ” With pride and joy I bring you this image of Asia Bibi’s family. With corwd funding, has bought them this rickshaw so family can sustain.”

    — Sara Taseer (@sarataseer) July 19, 2017

    Pakistan - The dismal state of education

    By Salman Ali

    Feudal lords don’t want the children of the poor to get quality education in public schools. Hence they make no effort to improve the condition of these schools. 

     The Convention on the Rights of the Child and many of the global education goals, including the Millennium Development Goals, aim at ensuring the right to quality education, which, unfortunately millions of children and women around the world are deprived of. Globally, some 67 million children remain out of school. According to the EFA Development Index, Pakistan ranks 106 out of 113 countries. Similarly, despite Pakistan’s annual economic growth being 4.1 per cent, growth in expenditure on education is less than 2.5 per cent.
    It is also mandated in the constitution of Pakistan to provide free and compulsory education to all children between the ages of 5-16 years and enhance adult literacy. But an annual report released by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) provides a glimpse into the performance of the education sector in the country, during the year 2016. According to the report, the year 2016 witnessed tiny improvements in a few areas of the sector, but continued to see a decline in many. The official figures showed that the number of out-of-school children decreased from 25 million to 24 million, but the adult literacy rate went down from 58% to 56.4%. There was only moderate improvement in the learning outcome score - from 2015’s 52.33% to 54.78% in 2016.
    The most disturbing news of the educational year was that the federal and two provincial governments - Punjab and Balochistan - cut their budgetary allocations for the sector, despite showy claims of putting education first. On the other side, the United Nations Global Education Monitoring Report 2016, released in September last year claimed that Pakistan was 50-plus years behind in its primary and 60-plus years behind in its secondary education targets. That means the country is set to miss by more than half-a-century the deadline for ensuring that all children receive primary education. The report said that Pakistan had the most absolute number of children out of school anywhere in the world, including 5.6 million out of primary schools, around 5.5 million out of secondary schools (48% of lower secondary school age children), and a staggering 10.4 million adolescents out of upper secondary school. According to the HRCP report, in 2016 there was no record of 15,000 teachers, and there were over 900 ghost schools in Balochistn with almost 300,000 fake registrations of students.
    A study titled ‘Pakistan’s Education Crisis: The Real Story’ noted that the United States, Britain and the World Bank poured money into Pakistan’s stagnating public education sector, but the number of children out of school is still second only to Nigeria. The data collected by the Wilson Centre, however, noted improvement in teacher absenteeism, which dropped from 20% to 6% in Punjab during the past five years.
    Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) has always claimed prioritising education and health. However, the HRCP report revealed that most of 28,000 schools in the province lacked basic facilities. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Independent Monitoring Unit said in its May 2016 report that 26% of the government schools did not have potable water facility, and 10% had no boundary walls, despite the province facing a sensitive law and order situation. Also, 11% schools have no toilets and 34% have no electricity connections.
    The most disturbing news of the educational year was that the federal and two provincial governments — Punjab and Balochistan — cut their budgetary allocations for this, despite showy claims of putting education first Different districts’ performance across the country was reported very poor. In Balochistan, according to a report, released by the Academy of Educational Planning and Management (AEPAM), a federal government institution, more than 1.8 million children are out of school. The official data show that there are 13,279 government schools in Balochistan. Of these, 84% are primary schools with only 16% schools offering middle and higher education to students. Almost 54% of the total primary schools operate with only one teacher. Almost 26% government schools in Balochistan function with only one classroom. And across Balochistan, the condition of 83% of government primary schools buildings is "unsatisfactory". Moreover, the HRCP report notes with concern that the federal as well as provincial governments’ priorities seemed misplaced in the field of education.
    Education at primary level particularity in public schools is somewhat satisfactory in cities but in rural or remote areas of the four provinces, the state of education is pathetic. This is because the tribal lords are still powerful and hold influence in the area where they have electoral power. They don’t want the children of the poor to get quality education in the public schools, which is why they make no effort to improve the condition of these schools.
    NGOs have been working to get rural areas’ children registered in public or private schools but to no avail. For this to happen, well-groomed teams should be formed to give lectures to the parents so they can be convinced on the importance of education for their children. But first we need to get rid of the feudal lords otherwise the situation will remain the same.

    Who rules Pakistan?

    By Afrasiab Khattak
    The gloves are coming off as the creeping coup is entering its final stage and is going for the kill. We have been told that the JIT is an extension of the Supreme Court. We already know that it’s also an extension of the premier intelligence agencies of the country that are part and parcel of the security establishment. These power connections explain the inquisition type authority of JIT, which it has used with a vengeance. But it is becoming obvious that the attack is not confined to the “corrupt” Prime Minister and his family. Its target is the entire system that has evolved over a decade or so.
    Of particular concern for the forces of dictatorship is the 18th Constitutional Amendment that was aimed at cleansing the Constitution of distortions and deformations imposed on it by martial law regimes of General Zia and General Pervez Musharraf. The aforementioned forces have never reconciled with the federal democratic and parliamentary system enshrined in the 1973 Constitution. They have never hidden their love for a centralised and authoritarian presidential system. They abhor devolution of power to provinces as it is an obstacle in the way of establishing a dictatorial grip over the country. It is in this context that the recent remarks of Imran Khan (IK), as a main spokesperson of the creeping coup, should be understood. Reading out from the script IK is saying that elections under the present Election Commission will not be acceptable to his party. His party has pulled out of the Parliamentary Committee on Electoral reforms which has already completed its work. Interestingly all the other opposition political parties are standing by these recommendations. But IK is hell bent upon creating the type of crises that would justify tempering with the system by the establishment.
    It goes without saying that the PML-N government has also made a substantial contribution in creating the space for the interference of undemocratic forces by pushing the parliament to irrelevance during the last four years. That’s why Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif isn’t able to go to Parliament and use the forum to challenge the forces that are ambushing the Constitutional system. The ruling party has so far failed to take its own rank and file into confidence, what to talk of taking opposition political parties on board. PM’s record in rallying forces of democracy is dismal to say the least. In 2014 when all political parties including the opposition parties united to defend the Constitution and democratic system the establishment changed its strategy. Starting from the MQM it tackled opposition political parties one by one and made sure that there is no one in the field for putting up a straight fight. The Panama Papers provided a golden opportunity to stage the drama of “crusade against corruption”. Judiciary, as we are informed by Mr. Javed Hashmi, the former Chairman of PTI, was already in the loop. Interestingly the Apex Court did not summon Mr. Javed Hashmi to look into the serious allegations that he has publicly leveled more than once.
    The most remarkable thing during this political high drama has been the hijacking of political discourse. As we all know Pakistan is faced with serious challenges. When confronted with the question, every political leader and media network agree that terrorism poses an existential threat to Pakistan. Failure in implementing NAP is history by now. Pakistan is also regarded by many in the world as a source of spreading terrorism and there are significant moves in the US Congress for declaring it a state sponsoring terrorism. Pakistan’s relations with three out of its four neighbouring countries are in extremely bad shape. Non-inclusion of backward areas of the country in CPEC is creating heartburn and alienation in areas destroyed by terrorism. Bloodshed is continuing in Balochistan and backing out of the government from implementing FATA reforms is creating serious doubts in the minds of Pashtuns about their status in Pakistan. But all these serious issues have been totally sidelined and political discourse is monopolised by a single issue, the Panama Papers. This is the most vicious aspect of political engineering used by the establishment and exposes the real faces of the self-proclaimed super patriots.
    Be that as it may, the real question in the present crises is who will rule Pakistan? The elected Parliament or the security establishment? Pakistan will have to go through a struggle to decide this question and who is better suited to raise this question than the authentic leader of the Punjabi bourgeoisie!

    Pakistan: Monsoon Politics – Analysis

    By Osama Rizvi
    The winds blowing from the Indian Ocean towards sub-continent brings along the southwest monsoon season in Pakistan. Now-a-days, dark clouds gather all of a sudden on the horizon, giving an impression that a storm is coming. But hitherto there only have been pleasant showers. However, on the political horizon things are different.
    The clouds are darker and bear a grim impression. The storm is underway with no signs of abating. The winds are strong. Masqueraders have been exposed as the masks were thrown away by gales of evidences. The politicians taken aback, bedazzled by the thunder of accusations. The masses surprisingly still divided and confused. This might be self-created confusion; a sort of indirect denial. But all that is happening has a tinge of optimism, a promising note for the future.
    For the optimists a new Pakistan is in the making.
    April 2016, the world witnessed the level of adroitness (read: cunningness) of the global politicians, call it financial management! One by one many incumbent/former premiers and government officials were exposed of having off-shore companies and monetary counterfeiting. Few resigned, many apologized but some, obstinately in clear denial, refused to accept the claims, decrying them as propaganda (propaganda all the way from Panama, only for our government?). What followed was unexpected. Because after the first decision was aired we then realized that nothing new was going to happen. However, something has. The Joint Investigation Team, formed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, which was to form an investigation report after 60 days, did a commendable job.
    The interpretations, the inferences of the report’s finding range from “they’ll get out of it” to a clear “game over”, of-course the political affiliations are responsible for fogging the minds of those analyzing it. We can observe three tiers here, who are involved directly or indirectly in the ongoing political soap-opera. The government and that they are unwilling to admit any allegation is all but natural but not at all necessary. The lawyer’s fraternity has a huge arsenal of constitutional weapons and an infantry of laws that they hurl at each other but both sides more or less maintain their ground. The third level is of the common man is not for the weak hearted as it has all kinds of negligent and emotional soldiers. What makes them more dangerous is their lack of knowledge and bent toward one party. They won’t listen to you, not even the most logical of arguments. May be it is not the logic that they want. They are concerned not with what is true or what is false; right or wrong. The vox populi is a tricky thing, indeed.
    The economic picture is not so promising as well. Pakistan Stock Market (PSX), that gave a staggering 46percent return last year, has shed 10,000 points, plummeting from dizzying heights of 53,000 points. Not to mention billion of rupees drained out in terms of losses. After 1st June, 2017, as our market segued from Frontier markets to Emerging Market, hundreds of thousands of foreign investment was envisaged. Unfortunately that event superimposed with this political turmoil and hence during the first half this year foreigners sold stocks of $333 million compared to $41 million during last year. Exports are down, reserves as well. The circular debt is inflated to a dangerous level. Take them as cost to purge the country.
    But, the big question: whether the government is staying or going is still subject to discussion. Maryam Hayat, a friend from the afore-said lawyer’s fraternity, a Barrister here in Pakistan, has a very positive view of the overall proceedings, she says that without taking into account the “winner-loser” approach we should be happy that we are witnessing a precedent here: “The report of the JIT consists of factual content only and is not reflective of the final verdict in the Panama Case papers. It will now be on the Supreme Court to determine the merits of the report. I am sure that the court will decide the case on merits with neutrality and objectivity and continue to exercise its powers under Article 190 of the Constitution. Nonetheless, the eventual precedent will leave a positive impact on the country. This landmark case has set a precedent that even a sitting Prime Minster in a country like Pakistan can be held accountable for alleged charges of corruption. It has set a brand new trend of accountability and transparency for all government functionaries. Let us hope that we will enter into a new era of accountability and curb the menace of corruption, once and for all.”
    So, yes, let’s hope that in future, when the thought of corruption tempts the leader, the tantalizing unfair means of making fortunes lure them; they are, then, able to recall that the country has now changed. That the institutions now work and that they are and will be held accountable. There something bigger than win-lose here. It’s about a change in the mindsets. The origin from where everything else flows.
    Again, advice for those who relish a sanguine mind: Consider these proceedings one of the stepping stones on which a New Pakistan will be raised.

    Pakistan's Child domestic workers - Behind closed doors

    By Enum Naseer
    Child domestic workers are virtually invisible, only coming in the public eye when tortured or murdered. More than 40 have died in the last seven years. What number will propel the government into action?

    Eleven. The number of stitches on Sobia’s head.
    Her crime? Accidentally spilling milk meant for her employer’s children.
    Eleven-year-old Sobia’s traumatic story opens in a posh locality in Lahore, where she used to work full-time as a maid, living in a small, dingy quarter in the premises, largely looking after the employer’s children. Together with her eight-year-old brother, Abbas, who was also employed at the same house, they used to make Rs12,000 a month for their family.
    Sobia lets her mother tell her story. The abuse started off verbally and gradually became physical and more intense. One day, in a fit of rage, the baji of the household, smacked Sobia with a wooden ruler, and shoved her against a wall causing a head injury.
    Sobia’s mother rushed to the scene. “Even while her head wound was bleeding, baji didn’t flinch. Nor did she pay us. I had to take Sobia to the hospital to get stitches but baji was yelling even when we were leaving,” she bitterly recalls.
    Alina* was the same age as Sobia, when she experienced gruelling violence at the hands of her former employer, a school teacher at the other end of the city in Shahdara.
    Even four years later, she is cautious as she shares her story. “Another girl used to work there with me too. Once, she was making chapatis and they didn’t come out quite right. Baji liked her chapatis round and cooked to perfection. She would be out the entire day so she was very particular about her food,” she pauses as her voice trembles.
    What happened next is easy to guess. “She hit both of us with the tongs we used for chapatis.It stung more because they were still hot,” she reveals.
    Often, she would think of her life back at home with her younger brother who would play pakran pakrai with her. Here, in contrast, her routine allowed no time for her to just be a child. She would get up at 6am and sleep at 2am after massaging her baji’s feet for hours on end suffering through physical and verbal blows all the while.
    Baji, Urdu for elder sister, is normally used by domestic workers to address their female employers. Across the border, in India, Didi is more common. Stanford cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky’s work based on research conducted across cultures in the world, emphasises the causality between lexicon and the way reality is constructed and experienced. “Research shows us that the languages we speak not only reflect or express our thoughts, but also shape the very thoughts we wish to express. The structures that exist in our languages profoundly shape how we construct reality,” she emphasises.
    Addressing one’s employer as one would address an elder sister leverages the trust and sense of protection that serves as the basis of familial bonds to the relationship. The employer is seen as extended family. And inside most Pakistani homes, ‘light’ forms of physical abuse to children by elders is misguidedly considered normal, at times even necessary for effective disciplining. When it happens to child domestic workers at their workplaces, however, the trauma is amplified by dissonant cognitions: the employer is not related to them by blood, this is a professional relationship but baji is supposed to love them like family.
    In reality, the common practice is that the employers and employed do not share kitchen utensils and bathrooms. They do not get a seat at the same table. And even this flimsy façade crumbles unceremoniously at the mighty blow from the benefactor’s hand.
    I treated them like my own children. They would get my children’s [old] clothes and eat the same food as us. But these people are so thankless and disrespectful. They are literally starving at their homes, they leave this place [my home] fattened. I have trained young boys and girls so many times, but by the time I can finally put up my feet, they want to go back,” says a 33-year-old professional and a mother of two who is a recurring employer of children as domestic help.
    “I have never hit them but I think no one wants to work these days. They always want to leave for greener pastures,” she adds. Her 14-year-old maid quit recently and she has been struggling to hire new help. Her criterion remains the same: a teenage maid, between 12 to 18 years of age. “Those are easier to train because they haven’t fully matured yet,” she remarks.
    Addressing one’s employer as one would address an elder sister, baji, leverages the trust and sense of protection that serves as the basis of familial bonds to the relationship. The employer is seen as extended family.
    According to ILO Convention – Worst Forms of Child Labour, 1999 (No. 182) — and article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the term child applies to all individuals under 18 years of age. Having ratified core ILO Conventions related to child labour: the Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138) and the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182), the government of Pakistan is expected to pursue “a national policy designed to ensure the effective abolition of child labour and to raise progressively the minimum age for admission to employment or work to a level consistent with the fullest physical and mental development of young persons”. The minimum age specified by the ILO in pursuance of this goal is 15 years.
    However, Pakistan’s own law is largely inconsistent when it comes to the definition of a child – this holds true across federal and provincial legislation. Even within a province, the definition of ‘childhood’ is inconsistent for legislation pertaining to education and that for child labour.
    The state’s definition of what is viewed as ‘labour detrimental to the physical and psychological well-being of a child’ is also parochial. The law does not allow children to be working in an ‘establishment that is unsafe’ – the definition of which has not yet been expanded to reflect that in recent times, there has been a surge in reported cases of child workers being tortured to death by their employers in private households. In the most recent one that has come to the fore, Akhtar Ali, a 16-year-old domestic worker was allegedly tortured to death by his employer, Fauzia, the daughter of Shah Jahan, a PML-N member of Punjab assembly.
    Coincidentally, Shah Jahan is a member of the standing committee on labour and human resource in the assembly.
    From 2010 to 2017, more than 40 child domestic workers have died. What number of deaths will propel the government into action?” asks Rashida Qureshi, the provincial coordinator of the Child Rights Movement, a group of civil society organisations established for child rights advocacy.
    “Article 11(1) of Pakistan’s constitution bans slavery and all its forms. Article 25-A gives children the right to free and compulsory education. Then there is the Punjab Free and Compulsory Education Act 2014 which ensures that every child in the province will be in school. In the light of existing constitutional rights, child domestic labour is completely unjustifiable. It has to be banned,” she reiterates.
    While children can physically be seen if working at brick kilns and necessary action can be taken against employers under the Punjab Prohibition of Child Labour at Brick Kilns Ordinance 2016, safeguarding the rights of children behind closed doors of private homes poses a much greater challenge. Recently, it has become clear that most have to die for the prevailing modern form of slavery to even figure in the debate.
    “This is because child domestic workers are virtually invisible. They only become visible to the public eye in most cases, when they have been tortured beyond recognition. All these realities make such labour the worst form of child labour,” says Qureshi.
    Iftikhar Mubarak, spokesperson for the Child Rights Movement, brings out another complexity of the issue. “At the moment the only national level data is from the 1996 National Child Labour Survey conducted by the Federal Bureau of Statistics which reveals that there were an estimated 3.3 million child labourers in Pakistan. Without knowing where we currently stand, it is impossible for the government to draw legal and structural frameworks to help safeguard the rights of children.”
    Limited resources and capacity are often also given as excuses when justifying the state’s inaction but for Mubarak, the fact that the statistics are not up-to-date is representative of the state’s apathy. Concerns of lack of expediency and implementation of laws in the private sphere are often cited as reasons for not banning child domestic labour.
    “There is a hesitation about piercing through the private sphere but reported cases of violence against domestic child workers coming to the fore is a good development,” says Noor Ejaz, a law associate working at AGHS Legal Aid Cell.
    Reflecting on the state’s apparent hesitation regarding outlawing the practice for fear that it invades the private sphere, Ayesha Alam Malik, another law associate at AGHS talks about the state exercising checks and balances on content shared on social media. To draw yet another parallel, there is the law criminalising violence against women where the state overcame its hesitation and made the uncomfortable intervention into the private sphere.
    Though, the implementation of the recent violence against women law leaves much to be desired, there is at least a legal framework in place. Mubarak draws an analogy here. “Murder is punishable by law, but that does not mean that murders have stopped altogether,” he maintains. His argument is rooted in the belief that law is representative of the state’s narrative, of a higher value system or sensibility.
    “A law needs to be in place to protect children especially female children because as we have seen, they are at the brunt of violence against child domestic workers,” iterates Ejaz.
    A deeper look into the mechanisms and protocols employed by rescue institutions such as the Child Welfare and Protection Bureau reveals that the definitions of violence and torture are arbitrary and lacking in imagination. “We cannot apprehend people for the kinds of torture that does not leave a mark. There is no way for us to verify whether a child has been slapped for instance. But yes, if there are broken bones, then we can really take action,” says Waseem Ahmed, the PRO at Child Protection and Welfare Bureau.
    He goes on to explain that a medical examination of the child is conducted to check how recent the wounds or injury was and then the process of going to a district judge, getting custody and rehabilitation of the child starts. According to the bureau, in Lahore alone, as many as 82 cases of torture on child domestic workers have been reported since 2014.
    “For instance, in the Tayyabba case, the wounds were fresh. There was no doubt about what had happened. The child couldn’t have fallen and been that injured,” he elaborates. The case involved a 10-year-old child maid being tortured by her employer, a judge’s wife.
    “There is a need to respond to the violence and risks that child domestic workers face by categorising it as hazardous work determined by the age and gender of the child as well as the fact that the work is conducted outside parental supervision, which makes children more vulnerable to abuse,” opines Malik from AGHS.
    The only way that children can assert their agency is either by running away or changing employers if they can.
    “What other option did I have? I ran away when baji beat me up for breaking a vase. She threatened that she would not let me go home or meet my parents. My father is now looking for a new home for me where baji won’t beat me up,” says 10-year-old Bilal who was hired to run errands and look after children in a house in Gulberg.