Wednesday, May 16, 2007

World Bank Reproductive Health Strategy

World Bank Reproductive Health Strategy

Serra Sippel, Center for Health and Gender Equity on May 8, 2007 - 8:45am

The Bush administration has gained notoriety for using women's health as a pawn in catering to its ultra-conservative political base. Particularly noticeable is its attempts to narrow the scope in which international agreements and agencies address sexual and reproductive health and rights, such as attempting to remove references to reproductive rights and access to reproductive health services in UN documents, cutting off U.S. funding for UNFPA, and trying to restrict WHO positions on abortion and generic drugs. To this administration, women are always dispensable.

Read the complete blog:


You can access the final HNP Strategy document here: . The report Annexes
can be accessed on the World Bank website .

The failure of Pakistani feminism by Rafia Zakaria

The failure of Pakistani feminism, by Rafia Zakaria

JH represents failure of Pakistani feminism — Rafia Zakaria The Jamia Hafsa women have made a conscious choice to be part of a violent and radical campaign. But this choice represents the failure of Pakistani feminism to formulate an equally compelling, competing discourse that could truly empower them

The pictures of burqa-clad, baton-wielding women of Jamia Hafsa have made it to the newspapers and TV channels across the globe. For those Pakistanis who do not support their militant brand of vigilante justice (and there are many), these women are a bold and taunting illustration of the increasing Talibanisation of Pakistani society.

Questions abound. But the most important one has not been asked: why would these women choose a militant and radical brand of Islam, one that ultimately preaches the subservience of women, as their vehicle to political action?

Answering this question, and analysing why these women have launched a campaign that so brazenly challenges the state reveals important truths about the state of Pakistani feminism and its failure to provide a political and ideological discourse that could avert this very scenario.

It is important to pay close attention to the extremist discourse that has attracted these women. According to newspaper reports, the women of Jamia Hafsa are not just from Islamabad; most belong to religiously conservative families from all over Pakistan. The fact that they have travelled and live without their families in the madrassah represents the legitimising power that religious conservatism has provided them.

By donning the burqa and adopting the radical and fundamentalist interpretations of Islam espoused by the Lal Masjid establishment, they have rid themselves of the shackles of familial restriction in a way previously unknown to them. While it is true that the power they wield with the burqa and the stick is ultimately designed to impose an order that would all but eliminate their power in the public sphere, it is nevertheless heady and intoxicating in its ability to transform these women from being the receivers to becoming the perpetrators of violence.

The association of women’s empowerment with wealth and moral laxity is a disease that has afflicted Pakistani feminism for decades, the founders of it being women from the elites, who needed a social cause to ease the boredom of long days spent in luxurious villas. In recent years, with the advent of the NGO boom, Pakistani feminism has to some extent redefined itself and expanded its denizens to include liberal, educated middle-class women in urban areas. Despite this, it still remains largely limited to those who can speak the language of women’s rights as a result of English-medium education and the freedom afforded by liberal middle-class families who do not frown on co-education or working outside the home.

But few within the liberal NGO cadres have attempted to challenge the virulent combination of Islamic literalism and traditional patriarchy or engage with women from religiously conservative families. Also, disturbingly absent from the NGO discourse are uneducated women; women who work as maids in urban homes, poor women, rural women and those who have to wear the burqa so they will be permitted to get an education.

When these poor, rural or religiously conservative women do appear in the discourse of Pakistani feminism they appear always as the victim, being defended or empowered by their more educated, liberal counterparts. Other categories of women are somehow never envisioned as the stalwarts of the struggle towards women’s empowerment. Indeed, many women who professionally champion feminist causes never seem to realise the relevance of issues of economic equality and human dignity when dealing with their own female domestic workers. This double standard of who defines Pakistani feminism was most evident in the wake of Mukhtar Mai’s ascendance to fame and popularity. Many “empowered” Pakistani women spoke publicly about how they were offended by the fact that Mukhtar Mai, a rural and uneducated woman, was representing Pakistan internationally.

This double standard and the resulting elitist and exclusionary concept of Pakistani feminism that emerges from it, is in many ways at the heart of the Jamia Hafsa issue. In narrowing in on women excluded from the discourse of the NGO-brand of Pakistani feminism, Maulana Abdur Rashid Ghazi and his brother Abdul Aziz have accomplished a number of things.

First they have, by manipulating the religion, provided these women with a moral vehicle through which they (women) can transcend familial objections and partake of social and political activism. Second, through the use of Islamic doctrine, the Lal Masjid agenda is making a compelling critique of the economic disparities in Pakistani society and capitalising on the belief that women’s empowerment is a cause only for the wealthy and irreligious.

What is often critiqued as “immoral” is the economic exploitation of those who are neither members of the feudal elite nor the political and military classes bestowed with favours. The recent fatwa against Nilofer Bakhtiar, federal minister, is an apt illustration of the strategy. While aimed at the immorality of hugging her French coach, it also makes a compelling statement about the disconnect between a minister for women’s affairs who can go paragliding in France while millions of women in her country cannot leave their houses without a black shroud covering their faces. (Lal Masjid authorities have since denied issuing any fatwa against Ms Bakhtiar.)

This analysis is not meant to illustrate the viability of radical Islam as a vehicle towards women’s empowerment. If anything, I have taken pains to show the tragedy of how the Lal Masjid clerics have manipulated the powerlessness of women to further a grotesquely extremist agenda whose ultimate goal is to subjugate these women even more. The purpose is to show how current discourses in Pakistan on women’s empowerment have to tread beyond the comfortable confines of hotel symposia and rallies; they need to develop strategies that engage the vast swathes of excluded women.

The Jamia Hafsa women have made a conscious choice to be part of a violent and radical campaign. But this choice represents the failure of Pakistani feminism to formulate an equally compelling, competing discourse that could truly empower them.

Rafia Zakaria is an attorney living in the United States where she teaches courses on Constitutional Law and Political Philosophy. She can be contacted at

full text is avialble on Daily times.

Pakistan - a state at war with itself, By Lal Khan in Lahore

It is a long scathing commentary on the state of affiars in Pakistan. Agree with most of the description (especially the history) and analysis....I don't think Pakistan can have a succssful socialist movement.

- a state at war with itself, By Lal Khan in Lahore
Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Pakistan - a state at war with itself The situation in Pakistan is marked by the ongoing war in Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan, the insurgency in Balochistan, the nationalist movement in Sindh, the rise of fundamentalist terror, suicidal attacks, bomb blasts, female Islamic fanatical vigilantes challenging the writ of the state, cross-border terrorism in Kashmir, serious suicidal attempts on Musharraf's own life, the crisis of the judiciary and now the beginning of the civil war in Karachi and elsewhere. This is to name just a few events in the ongoing turmoil in Pakistan. Yet these brutal forces of black reaction that are trying to blow society apart are mostly creations of elements deeply linked the Pakistani state.

After the derailment of the 1968-69 Revolution in Pakistan, the ruling classes brought the vicious Zia military dictatorship to power in 1977 as an act of vengeance against the challenge put up by the working classes to the exploitative rule of capitalism. They were eleven years of the most brutal nightmare in the 60 years of Pakistan's traumatic history. In his recent book, "Frontline Pakistan" Zahid Hussain writing about that period states "Afraid to face a free electorate and having no mandate to govern, the general turned to Allah."

Faced with a rising mass revolt Zia used religious fundamentalism to prolong his reign of terror. In this he was fully supported by the Americans. In this period the CIA was involved in the counter-revolutiona ry "Jihad" against the left wing PDPA government in Afghanistan. The Zia dictatorship was the main executioner of this operation, not just with American consent but with their full support. General Zia infiltrated Islamic fundamentalism within the State and throughout society. Zia-Ul-Haq moved to Islamise the Pakistani army, weaning it away from its secular British traditions. Islamic philosophy became part of the curriculum at the command and staff colleges. With billions of dollars from the US and Saudi Arabia pouring into its kitty, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) was turned into a parallel structure wielding enormous power over all aspects of government. Even after Zia's demise, and the so-called democratic interlude of the Benazir and Nawaz Sharif regimes, the stranglehold of the ISI never eased. There were still no significant changes in the control of ISI over foreign policy, the nuclear program and other vital aspects of the state when Musharraf took over through a bloodless military coup in October 1999. Even after 9/11 the ISI continued its logistical and other support for the Islamic fundamentalists' mercenaries in Afghanistan, Kashmir, Central Asia and Pakistan itself. Musharraf did try to rein in the intelligence organizations but with little success. Some of the more fanatical operatives were sidelined, but many more remained in important places from where they have continued to help their reactionary protégés.

In the 2002 elections the ISI had assured Musharraf of a friendly parliament and along with the newly fabricated Pakistan Muslim League (Q) they manufactured the Islamic Alliance MMA that was facilitated into getting into parliament. These mullahs later played a decisive role in getting the 17th amendment passed which legitimized Musharraf's presidency in military uniform. The military continued to patronize the religious right. This explains why veiled and armed women from the Jamia Hafsa can march into a children's library in Islamabad while they are still under their enforced occupation. This could also be why the regime backs down and watches helplessly as those vigilante women assume the role of morale patrons and policing and illegally abduct women and children in the heart of Pakistan's capital.

Apart from religious prejudices the Zia dictatorship and the ISI created other organizations along linguistic, ethnic and chauvinist lines to drive a wedge into the class unity of the proletariat. The most significant was the creation of the Muhajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) based upon the Urdu speaking immigrants who had moved to Karachi and other cities from UP, CP and other provinces of India. This transmigration was the result of the reactionary partition of the Subcontinent in 1947 on a religious basis. The British imperialists in connivance with the local Hindu and Muslim elite leaders committed this gruesome crime in which more than 2.7 million people were slaughtered in ethnic frenzy. The British and local ruling classes were terrified that the national liberation struggle would pass over into economic and social liberation through a Socialist Revolution. The rise of the MQM was also due to the ebbing of the revolutionary tide that had peaked in the late sixties and early seventies. But the whole process was guided by the agencies of the state. Karachi, which was also known as the Petrograd of Pakistan, has been in the throes of ethnic and sectarian conflicts for almost three decades. The leaders of other national, ethnic and linguistic communities also had a role to play in propping up their own financial interests by whipping up chauvinistic violence between different communities in Karachi.

The MQM and the Jamat-i-Islami are in the forefront of fomenting this reactionary frenzy. MQM is a coalition partner of the present Musharraf dictatorship, the governor of Sindh and other important functionaries of the government also belong to the MQM. Over the weekend of May 12-13 more than 40 people were killed and hundreds injured, one television office was ransacked and the city was under the control of an armed mob belonging to the MQM. This is not the first time that the MQM has been involved in brutal killings and genocide.

This ethnic chauvinist organization has neo-fascist tendencies like the Islamic fundamentalists, and has a history of involvement in extortion, robberies, crime, plunder and assassination in its power belts. Incidentally Musharraf is also a Muhajir (immigrant from India). On May 12 the suspended chief Justice of the Supreme Court was to visit Karachi and address the Sindh Bar. Various political parties had been trying to use this campaign of the lawyers to foist their own political agenda on the movement. Many rallies were planned to welcome the Chief Justice. But the MQM planned with its own government to crush this movement. Hence, the police and state forces stayed away when the MQM vigilantes went on a shooting spree in different areas of the city. The irony is that MQM also organised a huge rally to mourn those who had been killed in this violence!

But the problem for the state is that the Frankenstein monsters that it has created are now getting out of control. Not only is the orgy of violence carried out by the MQM creating a serious law and order problem, but the stooges of the state, the Islamic fundamentalists, MQM and other reactionary outfits are now involved in bloody clashes between each other. The Chief Justice and the Supreme Judiciary who endorsed Musharraf's rule and who have been acting as a safety valve for the regime, now have also fallen apart and the important pillars of the state are colliding with each other.

The campaign around the suspended Chief Justice has attained such significance because there is a burning resentment against the regime throughout society. The dominant political parties are not offering any alternative economic programme. Hence, the vacuum. But historically, due to the corrupt character of the Pakistani ruling classes, they have had to rely on the state more and more to cover up their crimes and corruption. In this process the state, and especially the army, interfered in the economy more and more. Now the largest business entrepreneurs and tycoons in the country are the army generals.

The black money made from the drug trade and arms smuggling, the operations during the Afghan Jihad of the 1980s and later, all brought in large sums of finance capital into different institutions of the state, especially the army and the ISI. These different sections of finance capital represented within the state's military and civilian bureaucracy are now in conflict with each other. These contradictions have now exploded with such intensity that they have brought the conflicts within the state out into the open.

The tragedy is that the PPP is not offering the masses a clear way out from this atrocious situation. It is ironic that while being the traditional party of the masses, its leadership is afraid of the mass movement and is avoiding coming out with the radical socialist programme that is enshrined in its founding documents. Hence the flux and stalemate.

Lenin once said "Politics is concentrated economics". The turmoil and convulsions that have gripped the Pakistani state, society and politics are in reality the reflection of the terrible conditions of the economy itself. The present regime has been able to amass the largest trade deficit and the biggest current account deficit in Pakistan's history. According to the latest World Bank survey 74% of the population lives below the poverty line. The rate of inflation for food products has crossed the 15 % barrier; 82% of the population is forced to use non-scientific medication; 52% of children never get enrolled in a proper primary school; half of those enrolled leave school before completing their primary education and the situation is much worse for girls. Three quarters of the population live below the minimum wage of Rs 4000 (48 euros) per month. The infant mortality rate in Pakistan is the highest in the Subcontinent (88 per thousand births). There is rampant unemployment and according to "The News", the main English language newspaper, a further 10,000 people fall below the poverty line every day. Amongst the 34 poorest economies Pakistan is ranked 17th in education and last, i.e. 34th in health in terms of allocation against total expenditure. During 1990-2005 the average share of health spending as a percentage of GNP was 0.68 % and that of education

1.99 percent.

In the last sixty years of Pakistan's existence spending on social welfare has been the most neglected. Between 1947 and 2005 the total budgetary allocations have been the following: Foreign Debt and interest repayment - 34.5%; Defence (Military expenditure) - 23%; Total Development - 20.5%. And these are the official figures. Most of the so-called development expenditure is siphoned off by the corrupt bureaucrats, the government and the private contractors and other go-between elements. The regime has been following so-called "trickle down economics" dictated by imperialist financial institutions with a ferocious zeal. The higher the growth rates the greater the social decline. Electricity shortages and load shedding create further problems. There is an energy shortage of 2,500 megawatts. This is not only creating hell for the people in this scorching heat but industry and agriculture are suffering. The policy of privatisation has resulted in a greater outflow of profits than the Direct Foreign Investment coming into the country. For every one dollar that comes into Pakistan 14 dollars are taken out. Now there is not much left to privatise and the total foreign reserves can only sustain 8 to 10 weeks of imports. With the micro and macro indicators showing a dismal and terminally sick economy the prospects of any social and political stability are very bleak to say the least. This economic decline will further aggravate the crisis resulting in greater conflagration and social convulsions. The Musharraf regime is hanging by a thread, one push and it will fall. The Islamic fundamentalists have been exposed, especially after the experiences of their governments in Baluchistan and Pakhtoonkhwaa (North West Frontier Province). The MQM's present violent acts are also the result of their desperation due to the rapid decline in their support especially in Karachi. Being in power at both federal and provincial levels they have totally failed to improve the lot of the impoverished masses.

The nationalists in Sindh, Baluchistan, Pakhtoonkhwaa and other areas are splintering and are being reduced to small sects due to their total adherence and compliance to capitalist economics and politics. Benazir Bhutto and the Musharraf regime have been involved in covert negotiations to reach a deal to form a pro-American, "liberal" regime. For the time being this deal has been buried by the explosive events in Karachi and elsewhere. If Benazir forces the PPP into a deal with the Musharraf dictatorship this will demoralize the party activists, but such a regime would be very short lived. The extreme right wing in the state and establishment will not accept her either. The overthrow of such a coalition government would be the beginning of the end for Benazir. Already there is resentment and dismay amongst the PPP ranks. This will explode if Benazir comes to power on the basis of such a conciliatory set up and as the economic crisis intensifies. The perspectives in Pakistan are complex. The state and society are riddled with all sorts of peculiar contradictions. Reactionary forces, albeit superficially, seem to dominate in certain spheres of society. A more vicious and reactionary dictatorial regime is not ruled out, but even if it should come to power it would be very short lived and crisis ridden. It would not last long. The underlying social resentment can explode in a proletarian upheaval as it did in 1968-69. But this time it would be on a much higher plane and with a greater intensity. The reaction of the masses in Karachi and throughout Pakistan in terms of spontaneous strikes shows the potential of the movement and the wrath of the masses that is building up against this regime and despotism in general. The picture of Pakistani society as portrayed by the western media is not only erroneous but also deceptive. The Pakistani proletariat can surprise the world.

When the working class moves it will be a decisive moment for the Marxists who have become a considerable force even at the present time. If the PPP leadership is forced to come to power through a movement that overthrows the Musharraf regime such a movement would be pushed radically to the left from its inception and the Marxists can become a major force during the course of such a movement. A PPP regime on a left basis would come into conflict with the state right from the beginning. And such a conflict could only be resolved through a revolution or a counter-revolution. Pakistan is a failed economy, a failed society and a failed state. Capitalism is dragging it ruthlessly towards barbarism. Now the very survival of society and even civilization depends on the success of a Socialist Revolution. If the Pakistani Marxists work with dedication, and correct strategy and tactics, a Socialist victory is entirely possible in the wake of a mass movement of the workers and poor peasants. A successful Socialist Revolution in Pakistan would open the floodgates of revolutionary upheavals throughout South Asia.

Lahore, May 14, 2007

Monday, May 07, 2007


the French election results to me were not a "clear victory" for Sarkozy and defeat of Royal. He got 52% votes, while still leaving a 48% voters who voted AGAINST him. Statistically that is a significant number... but the principles of democracy makes you a winner even if it is by one vote. But, is that fair? Why the definition of democracy can't be changed to some CLEAR win, like a at least a difference of 20% between the leading opponents...


An American women who embraced Islam and became a Pakistani writes about sufism...


Sunday, May 06, 2007

Online Matchmaking

Online matchmaking is a big thriving business, with clients from all over the world. With the rise in presence and usage of internet, it is not a surprise that people are choosing internet to help them find a potential partner.. But, to me, coming from a very traditional culture, where most people, 'still' have arranged marriages, this is old wine in a new bottle.