Missed Calls and Corporate Answers

We live in a digital era, where technically speaking we have access to instant information. Fast Internet search engines can throw up thousands of answers at the click of the button and your mail can be electronically transmitted to their intended destination in a flash of a second. Personal calls can be placed instantaneously through multiple means and answers can be received immediately. It is quite another matter that at times your calls are neither answered nor returned or are deflected by other means. Welcome to the corporate world, where there are ready made answers for either not answering, answering late or feigning ignorance about your call. Sometimes you can give the recipient the benefit of doubt and attribute it to the following set of possibilities such as personal grief or trauma, particularly when a person is in mourning or a genuine overload of work. Many times, however, if the call is declined or not answered, it plainly means that the recipient is no mood to take your call for reasons best known to him or her. Perhaps it is to avoid an unpleasant or unsavory conversation; or the recipient does not want to be the bearer of the bad news, which may not be of his or her making; or because the recipient anticipates some favor that cannot be responded to.
This is what happens, when you make a call and fail to connect:
If you’re making a telephone call the old fashioned way on a landline, to get some issue resolved from the holder of a public office, your call will most likely be picked up by secretary or a junior official. Most of the time, you will be told that the boss is in a meeting and that you should call again in a while. If you make another call later in the day you may asked to call the next day. If it is Friday, you’ll be told to call next Monday. By that time the problem will not be there anymore. Sometimes, you may even be politely asked for your telephone so that the boss could be told about it. It would be very rare that your call would be returned. It is most likely that the ‘gatekeeper’ is filtering out the calls and it is unlikely that the boss will be informed about your call. So please don’t blame him or her.
If you’re making a complaint to the electricity or gas office in an emergency, you will find that the telephone has been placed off the hook to avoid an altercation with an irate or rude customer. Once the electricity is restored or gas flow is normal, the handset will be placed back on the set and someone may ask how to help you? This will happen, provided complaint taker is not taking a bathroom break or sipping the long deserved cup of tea before it goes cold.
If you are making a call on your mobile number, you may receive a recorded message that the telephone is powered off (the person you called may be taking a short nap) or that: “The person you have called is currently on another call. Please wait or call later.” Sometimes you’re even asked to leave a message in the voice recorder after the beep. Sometimes the bell rings a number of times and no one picks it up. The can be genuine reasons for missing the call: such as forgetting phone at home or that the phone is lying in another room or the battery has died or the person being called upon is in a meeting and has put the ringer on mute or is genuinely hard pressed at that time of your call. A person, who is not trying to avoid you will in the best case scenario send you an SMS telling you the reason, why the call can’t be taken at the moment. In such a case you will most likely receive a phone call once the person is free.
Now what kind of excuses you are offered if by any chance you’re able to buttonhole the person, who did not answer your call. The possibility of such an encounter is bleak but based on personal experience you will get a variety of responses, which I call corporate answers or in simple language lame excuses. You’ll listen to these explanations in mock disbelief, curse under your breath and hope to God that you are given a chance to get even. Trust me there is very little likelihood of that. But if you get the following answers, be sure that the other person was never keen to answer your call in the first place:
“Oh really you called? I have changed my telephone set and your number is not in my directory. I do not respond to unknown numbers.”
“Sorry I was busy and did not see your call. I would have certainly responded, if you had called later.”
“My telephone was on silent and my child accidentally deleted all incoming calls.”
“You should have texted me before calling.”
“It’s my busy season and I’m not taking any personal calls. Even my wife and children complain but these are job pressures and you can hardly do anything about it.”
If you had sent an email that was not answered. The response could be slightly different.
“Perhaps you sent your mail on the wrong ID.”
“Perhaps your mail went into the junk.”
“I receive so many mails during the day that I find it difficult to respond to all of these.”
“I do not respond to mails that I find suspicious.”
Well it happens to all of us all the time. Calls go unanswered that momentarily upset us. We take this as a snub and feel bad about it but there is a time and place for everything. Your time will surely come, when it is due. So smile and move on and be sure that your calls like your prayers will most certainly be answered.


The impact of extensions

Extensions can have meaningful effects on our lives. In February 2017, I got a pacemaker implanted in my body that gave me a new lease of life. My quality of life has improved and I feel more optimistic about things. I’ve had over two and half trouble free years, for which I’m grateful to Allah Almighty, doctors and modern technology.

Extension in service can be different from an extension in life. It can be a relief for those about to retire but not for those waiting in the wings. I can recount two occasions when an extension in a senior officer’s tenure indirectly impacted on my life. The first time it happened was when I was commanding a battalion on the Line of Control. My unit was being rotated out to a peace location and the new one had already moved in. Since relief and rotation on an active border is always a serious affair, we were following the SOPs diligently to avoid being surprised by the enemy. Some of our non-essential stores had already been sent to our new destination. I remember this included innocuous items like the first field dressings (this can be lifesaving stuff for a wounded soldier). More importantly we had handed over the heavy weapons in situ to the unit relieving us. Suddenly our move was put on hold and we were told to form part of our formation’s reserve. Intelligence had been received that the enemy was upto some mischief and that we should be ready to counterattack in an area where it was weak. We immediately began to reconnoiter our likely objectives and diligently rehearsed our attack procedures. We had been in the defenses for three long years and needed to get back into the offensive spirit. Soon word spread on the grapevine (langar gap) that this was merely ‘tension for extension.’ Our corps commander with a stellar professional career was about to retire and he wanted to keep his boots on, at this ‘sensitive’ time. Mercifully it never came to such a pass and our commanding general rode into the proverbial sunset without any extension. A foolish charge of the light brigade on an inconsequential hilltop would have certainly not brought us any tactical, operational or strategic gains but would have certainly cost some of us our lives. Posthumous gallantry awards would have been small comfort to the families of those killed in battle.

Next time it happened was when I was in the GHQ. The question was not about an extension because the chief being the president of the country was already giving himself new terms in office. It was about him shedding his uniform. As it happened, the chief had given a firm commitment to the nation that he would be doffing his uniform by the end of 2004 but he was now having second thoughts. One morning our DG, a major general, after the morning brief asked us about our views on the subject. We were an assorted assembly of officers with varying degrees of professional experience and lengths of services. This included grade twos (majors), grade ones (lieutenant colonels), deputy directors (colonels) and directors (brigadiers). Most of my colleagues who could sense more accurately, which way the wind was blowing said that the rank and file would be happy if the chief continued wearing the uniform. This would give him more strength to take decisions of national interest. There was need for continuity of command in these difficult times. I thought otherwise and said that this would ethically be incorrect for the chief to renege on his promise. In order to articulate my thoughts in a better fashion, back in my office, I drafted a long memo and sent it across to my superior officer. The thrust of my argument was that it would be bad for the image of the chief and the institution. Later in the evening I was assailed by more sobering thoughts.  I feebly joked with my wife that the chief may not give up his uniform (he would later say that uniform was his second skin) but I would surely lose mine. My hunch proved correct, I was considered for the next rank a few months later and was not approved. I’m sure there were good reasons for my not being promoted but it didn’t help matters with my unsolicited advice.

In hindsight this proved to be a blessing in disguise. An early retirement helped me pursue a second and more fulfilling career in the academia but that’s another story. In the unlikely event of having been elevated to the status of a four star general, I would have most fallen for the temptation to seek an extension to my service tenure.

Personally I feel in compelling circumstances, a chief may be given an extension but it should not be made a routine. Experience tells us that every army chief barring a few have asked for extensions. General Asif Nawaz died in office before completing his term. His successors Generals Abdul Waheed and Jahangir Karamat declined an extension. General Karamat actually resigned a few months early on principles because his remarks had irked the PM.

A better option could be to give the army chief a standard four years in office instead of three and there should be no extensions unless there is a genuine national emergency and not one based on petty personal or politics interests.

PS. Any similarity in the examples that I’ve quote to the present events is purely co-incidental.


Timing is critical

al-Baghdadi-crop-2Timing of an event can have strategic effects!

Consider this: On 28 October President Trump tweeted that Abu Bakar Al Bagdadi, the shadowy caliph of the so-called Islamic State (IS) has killed himself. In his gleeful Trump described Baghdadi running weeping and whining into a dead end tunnel before blowing himself up. Three of his children also died with him. Special Operation Forces and a dog of their unit were credited for the kill in the remote village of Barisa. A person close to Baghdadi had ratted upon him and is likely to receive a bounty of US dollars twenty five million and a relocation for him and his family to a safer location. Like Osama bin Laden (OBL), Baghdadi was quickly buried at sea. A few days later IS confirmed that their leader had been killed and announced his replacement – a person calling himself Abu Ibrahim Al Hashmi Qureishi.  At the height of his power Baghdadi had ruled wide swathes in Iraq and Syria. He controlled oilfields and generated enough revenues to issue his own currency. It is interesting to note that the killing of Baghdadi came at an important juncture. Trump is up for re-election and is also facing impeachment charges for influencing the President of Ukraine to open corruption proceedings against Hunter Biden, the son of his political rival former Vice President Joe Biden.

On May 2, 2011, OBL the chief of Al Qaeda was eliminated in the vicinity of Pakistan Military Academy in the town of Kakul in Abottabad. The bold special operations mission deep into Pakistani territory left the national authorities red faced. They were taken by surprise. Leon Panetta – the director CIA – gloated “Pakistanis were either incompetent or complacent.” Pakistanis may have been collaborating with the Americans but their strategic ally did not consider it necessary to share the timing of the raid. There was a reason for utmost secrecy for the Obama administration. The president was up for re-elections and failure was a risk he could ill afford. Arguably Carter had lost his re-election operation in the botched operation to rescue the hostages from their embassy in Tehran. Pictures were flashed of a somber looking Obama – the commander in chief – sitting in the command post in an unnamed location intently watching the live streaming feeds of the operation to kill the elusive OBL in far off Pakistan. Obama’s approval ratings soared and he was re-elected. Whether Trump can repeat Obama’s feat is yet to be seen.

Two killings of high value targets (HVT), as the American are won’t to call high profile objectives, have also adversely affected Pakistan. In the first case the Afghan peace talks were sabotaged and the next one indicated a clear Pakistani support for the Afghan Taliban. In July 2015, as serious negotiations were under way with the representatives of the Taliban in Murree, the hill resort near the Pakistani capital Islamabad, information was leaked that Mullah Omar, the head of the Afghan Taliban was dead. He had been dead since April 2013. The news was broken by Afghan intelligence agency – the National Directorate of Security (NDS). The aim was disrupt the talk and in this they were successful. The negotiations that were poised meaningfully were suspended and the Taliban delegation left immediately.

Mullah Omar was replaced by Mullah Akhtar Mansoor. Mansoor was killed in an American drone strike on 29 July 2015, while travelling through Ahmed Wal in the Pakistani province of Balochistan. Pakistan got a lot of bad press and Mansoor’s gory death was taken as smoking gun evidence against it.

Americans have also created situations leading to the executions of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. Mohamed Morsi, the first democratically elected president in Egypt was removed through street protests in 2013, most likely sponsored by agencies and governments opposed to the Muslim brotherhood. He had barely been in power for a little over a year. He died of a heart attack in  a court hearing in June this year. He had been prison ever since his removal nearly six years ago. These deaths have compounded unrest in the Middle East. Timing has been critical. ME has to be kept on the boil for those with vested interests.

 


Kashmir Post 370

The mandatory mourning over the repealing of Articles 370 and 35 A can last a few day, a week or may be a month depending on the degree of sympathy that one has with the Kashmir cause and the Kashmiris. It seems that ultimately become another scar on the much bruised national psyche. It will continue to remind the nation of its travails in times of despair and dismay but nothing more will come out of it. The show of domestic moral support may end by the 5th of September i.e. a month from the day that the announcement was made to absorb the disputed territory formally into the Indian Union. It may get a momentary boost on the 6th of September that being the defence day of Pakistan. Patriotic fervour thus generated may keep the feeling alive for a few more days. The state TV and radio will continue showing video and audio feeds of the sufferings of the Kashmiris forever but interest will certainly subside. The TV anchors will speak less of it over time and the government even lesser. People will become inured and will go about their businesses with numbed senses. The delayed diplomatic offensive will likely peter down, if efforts to host a special session of the OIC does not materialise and moving a motion at the UN Generally Assembly or the Security Council may also not take place because of lack of support. There will be no meaningful third party mediation or arbitration by an honest broker. The world will advise the two nations not to disturb the regional peace and find an amicable solution bilaterally, notwithstanding the fact that India is unwilling to engage in any kind of direct talks. The sad happening of Kashmir being forcibly made part of India will be relegated to the back pages of the newspapers and the headlines will be replaced by another crisis or tragedy. The national and international attention span in this digital age is very short indeed. As the breast beating subsides over what is considered another insult and perfidy by arch enemy India, it is time to ponder why it happened and what we need to do in the future.

The doing away with Articles 370 and 35 A has been on the card for a long time. The Indian leaders of all shapes and hues have been calling Kashmir their country’s atoot ang (unbreakable part) for ages. Modi hasn’t helped matters. When he got elected as the prime minister for the first time in 2015, he tried his level best to get 44 plus votes in the state assembly. Such a majority would have given the legal leverage to get the approval of the majority of the state legislature to repeal the irritating clauses of the Indian constitution that gave the only Muslim majority state a special status and flag and protection from others buying properties on the peace of land referred to as heaven on earth. What Modi couldn’t do after the last elections, was fairly simple to do after his re-election. Since the Assembly had been suspended and there was no chief minister, all he needed to was to sign a presidential order to be announced by his sidekick Amit Shah, ending the special status and carving up the state into two union territories, one of Ladakh without a legislature i.e. reporting directly and the other of Jammu and Kashmir, with a legislature. Without going into the actual disputed status of Kashmir, which is recognized by the United Nations, it is quite clear that India had made Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh with its substantial Muslim population in Kargil, their own territory. Therefore, this legal sleight of the hand will not much will change. The repression on those demanding azadi (liberation) and human rights violations will continue unabated. Modi had made his intentions quite clear, when he moved in 35000 more troops in the occupied territory and authorities cancelled the Amarnath Yatra and issued advisories to tourists and workers from outside Kashmir. From now on, he will suppress the calls for liberation ruthlessly. The world by and large hasn’t spoken against it and Pakistan seems hopelessly alone in this moment, when it needs help the most. Pakistan has itself to blame for its present state of affairs, it is heavily under debt and its economy shows no signs of improvement in the near future and the threat of FATF continues to hang over its neck like the sword of Damocles. The law and order situation is not as bad as it was a few years ago but an occasional bomb blast still breaks the peace. Soldiers fighting the terrorists still get killed by random IEDs in the erstwhile tribal areas and Balochistan and this usually happens in tandem with ceasefire violations along the LOC.

Things are bad but all is not lost. Current and future leaders need to put their house in order. The focus should be on long term objectives. There should be no knee jerk reactions. The policy should be to place national interest before party or personal interest. Pakistan has a host of domestic problems that need to be tackled on emergency basis. The galloping population needs to be controlled. Investment should be made on the increasingly young human resource. They should be provided an education commensurate with market requirements and jobs should be created for the young people. Brain drain should stop. Corruption must be eradicated with across the board accountability. The system of justice needs a massive overhaul. Police should be re-configured to provide protection to the people and not be tool for terror and extortion. The health system should be revamped. Polio program needs to be made more effective. The massive incidence of HIV AIDS in Sindh needs to be arrested. Safe water should be made available for drinking purposes and more for agriculture and producing electricity.

The list of domestic problems is endless but in all this Kashmir should also find a place.  There should be a long term plan for Kashmir. We should be very clear what do we want. A Kashmir that is part of Pakistan or an independent Kashmir or we are willing to live with the status quo? If there are any other choices they should be explored. No stone should be left unturned to build a national consensus on this plan. The hopes and aspirations of the Kashmiris (in occupied territories as well as those living in Pakistan and abroad) must be made part of this plan. Once a plan is in place, all resources of the state should be used to achieve this ultimate goal. Timelines must be set to monitor the progress of this strategy. A fulltime focal person with direct access to the head of the state should oversee this program and should be laterally in contact with all ministries for the fulfilment of this plan.

The mourning once it is over should be followed by real action. Good preparation, hard work and diligence will definitely yield positive results.

 


Prague: A quaint old European city

charles bridgePrag/Prague/Praha is a quaint old European city that can cast a spell on you. Urdu poet laureate Ibne Insha expressed his feeling of Prague enchantment in a poem of his: Ya shab ki siar Praha ho, jahan nazrain their thitki hoon, jahan dil ka kanta atka ho (allowing for a bit of artistic license it can loosely be translated as follows: “The evening walk in Prague can bewitch and captivate you”). Prague is now the capital of the Czech Republic. It has been the part of the Kingdom of Bohemia and the Austro Hungarian empire. In 1918, after the First World War, it became the Republic of Czechoslovakia. It was occupied by Germany during the Second World War and after the War it was in the the Soviet zone of influence. After the fall of Soviet Union, it broke into the Czech and Slovak republic. With its historic castles, churches, well laid out gardens and cobble stoned streets It is now a very sought after touristic destination. The term bohemian lifestyle comes from this place. The alternate life style that it symbolizes is from the Roma, who are said to have come from this place. Although I rather believe in the theory that the dark skinned migrated to Europe from Rajasthan in the hoary past.

It was dark by the time we reached Prague. The June day was hot. Our train from Berlin Hauptbahnhoff had been cancelled, a rare happening in clockwork perfect Germany. So we traveled by Regiojet bus. The travel was uneventful. The bus had good on board entertainment system. In the four hours journey, I saw a movie based on one of favorite TV programs Man from Uncle. The stewardess offered us cappuccino coffee and the good thing was that it was on the house. The internet was working so you can check up on the social media..

The bus stop at eleven was closed and so were the money exchange. The only place open was a convenience store being run by a young Bengali boy. He changed us money at a slightly unfavorable rate of 24 Czech Korunas for one Euros. For further help he asked a to the Sikh boy, who had just entered the store. I forgave him for making money off us because Gagan was really helpful and hailed us an uber taxi. It is going to cost you 177 korunas to your hotel, we were told. The driver wanted us to pay 200 korunas but we stuck our ground and paid according to the meter and won the first round. Tourist advice was that taxi drivers in Czech Republic can be highhanded. The hotel Jeleni Drivus (Jeleni means moat in Czech) was nice and the receptionist Rustam from Kazakhstan was helpful. He gave us two coupons for beer downtown cafe associated with their hotel. We were able to exchange the coupons for two cups of coffee. The first night that we spent was in a room looking out to the tram station just next to the hotel. Brussnice (it sounded like that) was a busy station and the wife had a hard time sleeping. Next day we got the room changed the one overlooking the castle. Better view and better sleep. The breakfast was good and plentiful and was enough for us for daylong tourism.

The Czech language is woefully short of vowels, so it is different to pronounce their words. Prague has a multi ethnic society. Until the Second World War, it had three distinct populations namely the Czech, the Germans and the Jews. Many Jews were sent to their deaths in the anti-Semitic purges made by Hitler. After the War Germans were forcibly evicted from Czechoslovakia. The Jews spoke German and even had their own variant the Yiddish language. One famous German speaking Jew from Prague was Franz Kafka. A troubled man Kafka had an unhappy childhood and youth. Like Urdu short story Manto (another troubled and misunderstood man), Kafka died in his early forties. I confess I’ve always found Kafka difficult to comprehend. Kafkaesque for me  is something dark and foreboding and Freudian. Sigmund Freud as we know was n Austrian Jew known to us for his method of psychoanalysis. There is a figure of Freud hanging from a pole in Prague. A visit to Kafka’s museum was on my bucket list. Kafka museum is one of the many small and large museums that dot Prague. Someone said that Prague has the most museum per square kilometer than any other city. I can’t vouch for the veracity of this statement but Prague is a small city and if you have time, you’ll be able to see most of the museums in the city. The average admission price to these museums is about koruna 290 per adult. Adult citizens (over 65 can claim some rebate) The only other museum that I saw was the museum of communism. Interesting but a canned version of history. A much bigger and grander one is the national museum at the end of the Wenselas square in the newer part of the city.

Prague is a city than can be enjoyed through leisurely strolls. One is bound to come across most of the important landmarks on the must see list. There are many castles and towers but the Prague castle has to be seen to make you genuine tourist. Old steps takes you the Vltvala River and over the 14th century Charles Bridge (German: Karl Bruecke, Czech: Karluv Most). It’s quite a coincidence that Bosnians also call their bridges Most. There is the Stari Most or old bridge in Moststar. The Charles bridge has eleven arches and there is a statue on each abutment. The bridge is a busy place. Trinkets are being sold and artists are making a quick buck drawing caricatures. Some are not willing to work for the koruna. Beggars prostrate themselves with hands folded in supplication. Their caps lying in front of them for alms. Their dogs are also lying with them, sorry for the fate befallen on their masters. Boats full of tourists float past on an idyllic summer day.

Through the winding streets one comes across vendors selling Prague’s trademark Trdelink confectionery with ice cream stuffing. This chimney shaped bakery item came from Hungary via Romania and is now presented as the original cuisine of Prague. There are open air theaters in the evening and lot of cultural activity for those inclined towards such activity. Mozart had quite a following in Prague, when Prague was part of the Austro Hungarian Empire. If you have interest in architecture, you can enjoy the famous barque style of construction. The astronomical clock is quite a sight and is full of tourists, when the clock strikes another hour and all the puppets come twirling out. Prague is also well-known for its puppets. A visit up the Petrin Tower is worth it. It was modelled after the Eifel Tower and was opened to public in 1891. A funicular tram brings you up to the hill. The original funicular had an interesting system of water balancing, in which the wagon on the top was filled with water to drag it down and pull up the wagon at the bottom. Water was released at the bottom, as the wagon on the top was filled with water to repeat he performance. A climb up the tower will again cost you at least three hundred korunas. The exhibition in the basement is for free. Prague has a very elaborate public transport system. The tickets can be bought from kiosks or machines at the bus/tram stops. Some trams have machines installed inside the wagons. Tram 22 takes you past all the historical sites or at least most of them.

We returned to Berlin by train by the fast ICE train. The top speed was 200 km. Our wagon was not hitched to the engine for operational reasons and the lady conductor accommodated us on the seats reserved for the invalid, expectant mothers or the really elderly. We had paid extra money for the seats and I guess we could have saved. The Internet was free and the trip was heavenly. To add more value to to the trip, there was a blonde German Sikh boy on the train with his girlfriend. He obviously didn’t have any reservation and was sitting on the floor next to the door. Gagan at the Prague bus stop had cut his hair. The only religious accouterments was his bangle. The German Sikh had long hair and a turban to cover his ‘kais.’ The bangle with Gurmukhi inscription was adorning his right wrist for good measure. Sat Sri Akal! Back in Berlin, there are more Turks than Germans. World has become a different place. More cosmopolitan and I hope a little more tolerant.


Pitfalls of the Social Media

There are always two sides of the coin. This is particularly true for technology. There are obvious uses and utilities of the social media. It has to a very large extent empowered the ordinary folks to send their messages across to a very large audience. This liberty in some cases is being used to spread hatred and disinformation.

I have been added by friends, relatives and colleagues to become a member of a number of Whatsapp groups. I thought these sites would provide like minded people to catch up on news about each other and be a support system, when one was down in the dumps or needed genuine help or sincere advice. Unfortunately this is not the case. Most of these places spread negativity at a lightning speed. The rumor mills works effortlessly to spread false information, once a message becomes viral on social media. Many if not most of these messages spread baseless and useless information through unwitting accomplices. The purpose of these messages is mostly to spread hatred and disharmony. Packaged in a subtle and convincing manner, these appeal to political, sectarian and moral senses to those on the social media. When these messages strike the sympathetic chord, sensible people do not even take a nanosecond to pass on second hand information without verifying the veracity or source of these messages. Most of this recycled information has been planted in the first instance with sinister motives and apparently sensible people become part of these campaigns.

I’ve tried my best to leave some of these groups but caring and sometimes concerned friends have very sympathetically added me right back thinking that I had accidentally left and did not do so on purpose. To be frank, I do not have the gumption to tell them real reason for my departure. In a final act of surrender I’ve become a silent spectator of the goings on in the morbid spaces of social media.  The most I do now is to clear chat, as soon as I find the thread become too large for the memory of my smartphone.

The Government in power is afraid of the propaganda launched on the social media to expose its wrongdoings. In desperation it threatens to prosecute those behind these campaigns under the Prevention of Cyber Crimes Act of 2015. Cyber rights activists have crusaded against the indiscriminate application of these laws and have been to a large extent been able to win some important concessions. Threats of incarceration hasn’t stopped trolling or harassment in cyberspace.

There is a need to sensitize the users of the social media to act as responsible citizens in cyberspace. The state, the people’s representatives. Opinion-makers, the clergy, the role models, teachers and parents all have a role to play. Everyone is a stakeholder. Sometimes the messages being uploaded are striking against the very vitals of the state and our family values and ethics. Rules of the game have to be defined and all concerned must be asked to abide by these. Group admins should not moderate the conversation and under no circumstances be allowed unsubstantiated information to be uploaded on groups that they’re managing.  If they are not careful in their responsibility they’re party to the crime and last but not least they should learn not to add anyone without his or her consent.

We need to act before it is too late!

 


Bank Accounts for Afghan Refugees

Sher Khan (not his real name) is an Afghan, who was born in Pakistan and has known no other country. He is in his late twenties and already has three children. These children are technically Afghans but like their father have never known any other country but Pakistan – the adopted homeland of their grandparents. Sher Khan is an honest and hardworking man and performs his job as a watchman with vigilance and rare commitment. I have found him to be thoroughly dependable and better than those holding genuine Pakistani CNICs. I want to keep him for the long term and would like to deposit his pay check directly into his bank account on a monthly basis. The online payment is hassle free and can save me a lot of botheration. I can’t do it because banks have very strict instructions about not opening accounts for aliens without proper documentation. Sher is registered with NADRA as a refugee and has an alien card. The card expired last year and the renewal is pending because Government is yet to decide how long they would be letting Afghans stay in Pakistan. As per instructions received by the local banks, an Afghan residing in Pakistan should have an Afghan passport and work visa to open an account. Even this is problematic because the account holder has to frequently get the visa renewed to let his account remain valid. A bank account is a good way of keeping track of a monetary trail and brings the grey economy into the fold of the mainstream. Not allowing the Afghans to open a bank account is to encourage them to make financial transactions outside the tax net. This by extension denies the authorities to check the money trail and prevent it being used in any illicit activity. In my opinion the approach of excluding the Afghans from opening bank accounts is extremely counterproductive. They should be allowed to open bank accounts and be made part of the normal economic activity. Most Afghan refugees, like most Pakistanis are honest, hardworking and decent people. They should be integrated and not segregated. Most of us are apprehensive about the perceived harsh immigration policies that become part of the Donald Trump Presidency. The why should we be adopting patently bad policies to marginalize and antagonize Afghan refugees. These people have been in Pakistan for a number of generations now and therefore we must be careful in crafting our Afghan refugee policies. Better sense and prudence should be our leitmotif.


Wollaton Park – the Manor of the Dark Knight

Nottingham is known for Robin Hood and his band of merry men, who lived in the Sherwood Forest and robbed the rich to pay the poor. No one knows if he was a real person or a fictional character but Nottingham proudly uses him as a brand name. Legend has it that he was a heroic outlaw in English folklore, who was a highly skilled archer and swordsman. Traditionally depicted as being dressed in Lincoln green, Robin Hood became a popular folk figure in the late-medieval period, and continues to be widely represented in literature, films and television.  References to Robin Hood are found in the ballads of the fourteenth century.

Another character made Nottingham his abode in the twenty first century. In 2011, key scenes from the Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises were filmed in Wollaton Park. Wollaton Hall was featured as the latest Wayne Manor. Movie was released in 2012. The location was well chosen by Christopher Nolan for the final instalment of his Batman film trilogy, and the sequel to Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008). The film grossed over $1 billion worldwide at the box office, making it the second film in the Batman film series to earn $1 billion. It is currently the 16th highest grossing film of all time, the third-highest-grossing film of 2012, and the fourth-highest-grossing superhero film of all time.

Wollaton Park is actually a deer park and home of Wollaton Hall, Nottingham Natural History Museum and Nottingham Industrial Museum in the heart of Nottingham. The Park is enclosed by a red brick wall at the start of the nineteenth century. Originally spread 790 acres (3.2 km2), land sales have reduced the park to 500 acres (2.0 km2). The park is home to a herd of red deer and fallow deer. At most times you can see them sitting in front of the Hall. You can go quite near without offending them. Other wildlife of note at the park includes a large corvid roost made up of rook, jackdaw, and carrion crow. Other notable species present at the site are populations of jay, nuthatch and sparrow hawk. Migrating wildfowl grace the lake in the winter and species of note include gadwall, northern shoveller, Eurasian wigeon and tufted duck. There is a good diversity of fungi present, especially in the winter months, mainly found near the wooded areas and the lake. A walk around the lake is most enjoyable.

In this park, during World War II American troops of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, part of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division, were billeted here, waiting to be parachuted into Europe, which they did in June 1944. A small plaque commemorates this event.  Subsequently German prisoners of war were billeted here for employment in the locality between 1945 and 1947.

Wollaton Park is often used for events such as cross country races and music festivals. The park is often visited by physical fitness buffs and I saw a military style boot camp in progress, while I was there.


What if the West had lost Cold War?

Berlin has the distinction of being the final battleground of two wars – the Second World War and the Cold War. National Socialism was defeated here in 1945 and communism in 1989. The Berlin Wall has been torn down and the only vestige of the terrible barrier that separated the two German nations is a symbolic line of stones etched on the floor of Berlin. It is discernible at a number of places and is quite visible if you visit Berlin’s iconic landmark, the Brandenberger Tor. As a visitor to reunified Berlin, I often wonder what if the West had lost the Cold War.  Whenever I wonder aloud, I’m told quite authoritatively that it wouldn’t have been possible. The reasons that are quoted are as follows: The communist system was too controlled. People were oppressed and wanted freedom. The capitalist system despite its flaws gives people more choices and a way of life according to one’s own liking. True, but what if the West had lost and the communists would have won? The counter narrative is missing because history is often written by the victors. I was particularly moved, when I saw two monuments each celebrating a different memory, one in Berlin and the other in Budapest. The memorial to the fallen Soviet soldiers of World War II at Treptower in Berlin is massive and is spread over acres of land. It is embellished by statutes and stones carrying patriotic slogans. The memorial to the fallen Hungarian patriots of the 1956 uprising against the Soviet intervention is smaller and is restricted to a house called the House of Terror in Budapest.

The Soviet War Memorial and military cemetery in Berlin’s Treptower Park commemorates 5,000 of the 80,000 Soviet soldiers who fell in the Battle of Berlin in April–May 1945. It was opened on May 8, 1949 and served as the central war memorial of East Germany. Three more Soviet memorials were built in Berlin. One in the Tiergarten memorial became part of West Berlin and the other is in Schönholzer Heide. The focus of the Treptower ensemble is a 12-m tall statue of a Soviet soldier with a sword holding a German child, standing over a broken swastika. It marks the deeds of Sergeant of Guards Nikolai Masalov, who during the final storming of the center of Berlin risked his life under heavy machine-gun fire to rescue a three-year-old German girl whose mother had apparently disappeared.

Before the monument is a central area lined on both sides by 16 stone sarcophagi, one for each of the 16 Soviet Republics with relief carvings of military scenes and quotations from Joseph Stalin, on one side in Russian, on the other side the same text in German: “Now all recognize that the Soviet people with their selfless fight saved the civilization of Europe from fascist thugs. This was a great achievement of the Soviet people to the history of mankind.” At the opposite end of the central area from the statue is a portal consisting of a pair of stylized Soviet flags built of red granite. These are flanked by two statues of kneeling soldiers. Beyond the flag monuments is a further sculpture, along the axis formed by the soldier monument, the main area, and the flags, is another figure, of the Motherland weeping at the loss of her sons. As a poignant reminder of their heroic deeds of their countrymen, the Russian citizens of Berlin still come to lay flowers and burn candles at the main sarcophagus and offer a silent prayer and wonder if the course of history would have been different.

House of Terror museum located at Andrássy út 60 in Budapest, Hungary contains exhibits related to in 20th century history of the country under the communist regimes. It also serves a memorial to those detained, interrogated, tortured or killed in the building. Built after the collapse of the Soviet Union and opening up of Eastern Europe to capitalist ideology it is meant to castigate communism and fascism and contains material on the nation’s relationships to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. On the roadside is a display of the fallen heroes of the 23 October 1956 uprising against the Russian intervention. Imre Nagy, the country’s prime minister’s defiant address in the face of the Soviet takeover is emblazoned in bold letters. The exhibit inside is related to Hungarian organisations such as the fascist Arrow Cross Party and the communist ÁVH (which was similar to the Soviet Union KGB secret police). Part of the exhibition takes visitors to the basement, where they can see examples of the torture chambers. There are of course critics to this exhibition, historians, journalists, and political scientists, who argue that the museum revolves plays too much upon the victim-hood of Hungary under foreign occupation and ignores the contribution of the Hungarians themselves towards the perpetuation of the communist rule.

For someone growing up in the Cold War era and experiencing it first-hand these memorials serve as important reference point and reinforce the question, what if the West had lost the Cold War?

 

 

 

 


Pakistani Street Vendors on Alexanderplatz

Alexanderplatz in the heart of Berlin is a very happening place. On a warm summer day it is thronged by dozens of tourists out to enjoy the square abuzz with a lot of bohemian music and art activity. Artists with chalk or coal are drawing masterpieces that may last only so long as the next rain or cleaning up by the municipal authorities. Budding musicians are playing conventional instruments or just creating music by banging at pots and pans. Punks with needles piercing their lips and nose and hair garishly colored laze around, while lovers cling to each other in varying degrees of passion. Shirtless men with tattoos and pet dogs on the leash have cardboard signs declaring that they are shelterless and would you please kindly spare a penny, so that they can no doubt meet their quota of booze. Kiosks sell ice cream, while men carrying trays around their waist do brisk business selling cheaply priced wurst. Among this riot of color, song and music, you can see vendors selling peak caps, leather tank men caps, fur hats and gas masks belonging to the Soviet and East German armies. The newness of the caps is a fair indicator that these are not relics of a bygone era but newly made to attract the fancy of the tourist or the curious collector. By their appearance, the men selling the trinkets of the communist era seem to be from South Asian descent.

I walk up to one of them to find who he is. Ali can be between somewhere between mid-thirties to early forties. He is dressed smartly and is wearing sandals. We make small talk. How is business doing? Not bad given that there is an economic crisis. He can’t really complain and can make upto a thousand euros but then how much is enough? He wonders philosophically. He has been in the business for the past 5 years. Previously the Germans would buy stuff from him but now it is mostly tourists looking for souvenirs or students wanting a fancy headgear for a party. On a good day he can sell upto ten caps and knows how to get their price worth. He is from Mundi Bahauddin in the Punjab and so are all the other ‘colleagues’ of his on the square. They come from Gujranwala, Rawalpindi and even one from Bhai Phero. He has been in Germany for seven years. He is married to a cousin, who has been in Germany before. One can only make out that he got his legal status by marrying her. He has children and they visit Pakistan every year. You can’t say anything to the children in this country because they can call the police and they can take them away and put them in the custody of the government. This is not his only grouse. People in Germany consider Pakistan very poorly. They even rank them below the Afghans. What a shame, after all we brought the Berlin Wall down. This place that is humming with activity wouldn’t have been there, if it hadn’t been for us. Our leaders are bad. They cannot stand up for their people and make a case for them. The Afghans are also an ungrateful lot. We did so much for them and now they speak ill of us. Isn’t this a case of the pot calling the kettle? Yes, the Germans are very hardworking people. They are very well organized. They can do their work quickly. They only keep the minimum staff to get their work done. They work for five days and for the remaining two days they party. But you work seven days? Our case is different, he says with a twinkle in his eyes. Of course you can take a photograph of my caps but please keep me out of the frame. Would I like a cup of coffee? No thanks I say. He smiles broadly and I move on wishing him and my other countrymen working on Alexanderplatz well.