Wednesday, January 8, 2020
PM Imran Khan extended by three years the tenure of 59-year-old Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, who was set to retire on 29 November 2019.
I seem to remember it clearly; as if it were only yesterday.
It was the fourth of January 2011, and for the three days since its much-awaited advent, the new year had managed to usher in a long-awaited bout of merriment for my family. A dear relative’s wedding festivities were about to start, and all of us were busily engrossed in the usual round of cumbersome pre-wedding clothing arrangements and shopping escapades; activities which always come across as abhorrent to me, on any day of the week.
On this particular (and, in retrospect, ominous) day, I accompanied my mother to Lahore’s acclaimed (and notoriously inexpensive) Aunty Market; a site strategically suited to all manner of clothing vendors and jewelry merchants for luring in the bulk of excited urban-class girls and women towards their exquisitely crafted produce.
The evening was about to set in, and while my mother industriously bargained with an adamant Pashtun salesman regarding the price of an embroidered length of chiffon, I munched nonchalantly on a packet of straight-out-of-the-oil french fries draped in ketchup; oblivious to the hustle and bustle of the busy marketplace.
The heart-rending sounds of police sirens and ambulances started to pervade through the air, as a flurry of wild panic and stark fear started to seep into our previously untroubled chests.
Legions of Punjab police troopers started flooding into the arena, and the merchants vigorously (and with almost Bollywood-like proficiency) scrambled to close down their shops in a fluster; as if in compliance to an unspoken signal issued from these sentinels of the law.
The people abandoned their transactions and started running in opposite directions; desperate to escape from whatever stroke of misfortune had caused this rude shift in the pace of ordinary Lahori life.
We too followed suite, and after climbing into our crookedly parked green Santro, hurried home. My mother and I debated incessantly over the cause of this disturbing spectacle whilst we sped over the cavalry bridge and concluded with the possibility of another terrorist attack having occurred in the city proper. A sudden news bulletin on the radio was soon to resolve our confusion, however; and in the grimmest possible way.
The governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, had been shot to death in the Capital, at the hands of a member of his own protection squad. I received this news with abject horror and pain, and not because I had been any devout supporter of the said dignitary.
Quite the contrary, I had never thought much about the Pakistan People’s Party government, its office-bearers, or their ill-conceived national policies. The nature of this clearly cold-blooded murder, however, was what grieved me; not only for its devastating implications for the innocent family of the ex-governor but also for its resounding consequences for the already beleaguered situation of law and order in the country.
Now even senior government officials were not safe from the exploits of the fundamentalist religious fringe in our society; to say nothing of the ordinary people. And as if this particular tragedy were not enough (and perhaps in order to drive the message further home), another grave incident was soon to cross-paths with the slain governor’s family.
On the 26th of August, only about seven months past the date of the murder, Mr. Taseer’s eldest son Shahbaz was unceremoniously abducted in the Gulberg area, whilst he was reportedly on his way to his office in the wee hours of the morning. Upon hearing of this latest chronicle from the ill-fated Taseer family saga, I felt my heart receding into the depths of depression. My mind was plagued by such demeaning questions as:
Who could have possibly done this?
How could someone’s hate for another extend to the other’s offspring; whatever the reasons being for such enmity to have arisen?
I have always maintained a clear distinction between the true and pacific adherents of Islam (my cherished faith) and the terrorists who purport to pervert its beautiful doctrines through their radical political misinterpretations of its core humanitarian messaging.
The whole drama reeked nothing but raw tragedy, and reality for once seemed stranger, and certainly far more harrowing, than fiction.
Instantly, tributes started to flood in from all corners of the country, from those deemed religious and secular-minded alike; for the aggrieved family of the victims. Newspapers and social media sites teemed with eulogies and commemorations for the father-son duo, and TV talk-show programs and university campuses buzzed with debates which lamented over the increasing fundamentalization of Pakistani society and deliberated on the shocking series of unfortunate events which now seemed to transpire on a daily basis.
During all this time, I marvelled at the profound grace exuded by the Taseer family in the face of these trials, and their blatant disregard for any rhetoric which bespoke of a desire for seeking personal vengeance; a course of action which many people might be tempted to resort to, under similarly trying circumstances.
I was struck with great admiration for the brave governor’s equally-tough wife (and the kidnapped youth’s mother), and her remarkable resilience in bearing the brunt of the tragedy’s emotional impact on the entire family.
I applauded for the missing Taseer’s newly-wed bride, and her solemn commitment to her largely fate-stricken marriage; a heartening love-affair to which her public twitter account still bears vivid testimony. Equally mesmerizing was the determination exhibited by Mr. Taseer’s other children, towards the causes of liberty and minorities-protection once defiantly championed by their cruelly snatched father, and kidnapped brother.
The news of the rediscovery, and return, of Shahbaz Taseer, greatly adds to the sense of joy and celebration which has infectiously gripped Pakistan these last few days; with Ms.Chinoy having had won her second Oscar (a national achievement), and Ms. Mavalvala having played an instrumental role in detecting Einstein’s gravitational waves, amongst other things.
I earnestly hope that the Taseer family is now given some respite from the mind-numbing ordeal that they had to go through these past 5 years, and are given the opportunity to revel in each other’s company as a family once again.
I pray for all such victims of kidnapping and long for their speedy reunion with their families. The pain and desperation experienced by such families are truly unimaginable; a tale of sorrows one would not wish for one’s bitterest enemies.
Theon Tuesday released its first report of the new year, retaining the Pakistani passport’s rank at 104 out of 107 for the third year running over the paltry 32 nations that holders can travel to without visas.
Powered by the International Air Transport Association, the Henley Passport Index measures global access on the basis of nationality. It’s ranking of 200 countries provides an in-depth picture of travel freedom, including the countries a given passport allows people access to and the types of visas required.
In its latest report, the Index found that only 32 nations allow visa-free access to Pakistan, tied with Somalia. The only countries with less travel freedom are Syria (with 29 visa-free options); Iraq (28); and Afghanistan (26). Neighboring India, meanwhile, ranks at 84 with 58 nations offering its nationals visa-free or visa-on-arrival access.
The strongest passport, meanwhile, was found to be that of Japan. According to the Index, the Japanese can avail visa-free, or visa-on-arrival, access to 191 destinations around the world. Singapore comes in second with 190; while South Korea and Germany are tied in third place with 189.
The report notes that the gap between the highest and lowest ranking states—Japan and Afghanistan—is the largest it has been since the Index launched in 2006. A Japanese passport holder can access 165 more destinations than a holder of Afghanistan’s, it noted.
The U.S. and the U.K., meanwhile, continued to slide down the rankings. They currently are tied in eighth place with 184 options for ease of travel—a dramatic drop from the number one spot they jointly held in 2015.
The report noted that the biggest success story of the past decade was the U.A.E., which has climbed 47 places in 10 years and is currently at 18th place, with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 171.
Dr. Christian H. Kaelin, chairman of Henley & Partners and the inventor of the passport index concept, says the rise of Asian nations proves the benefits of “open-door policies and the introduction of mutually beneficial trade agreements.” The Index also cited political science researchers Uğur Altundal and Ömer Zarpli, of Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh respectively, to have found a strongly positive correlation between travel freedom and other kinds of liberties—from the economic to the political, and even individual freedoms.
“There’s a distinct correlation between visa freedom and investment freedom, for instance. Similar to trade freedom, countries that rank highly in investment freedom generally have stronger passports. European states such as Austria, Malta, and Switzerland clearly show that countries with a business-friendly environment tend to score highly when it comes to passport power. Likewise, by using the Human Freedom Index, we found a strong correlation between personal freedom and travel freedom,” Henley quoted them as saying.
The countries* that Pakistanis can visit without going through grueling visa approvals are: Cambodia, Maldives, Nepal, Timor-Leste, Cape Verde Islands, Comores Islands, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritania, Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Cook Islands, Micronesia, Niue, Palau Islands, Samoa, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Dominica, Haiti, Montserrat, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, and Qatar. Of these, all but eight require travelers to obtain visa-on-arrival.