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!



Call me Bwana

call_me_bwanaRemember the movie Call me Bwana from the 1960s. It was a crazy mad cap adventure of Bob Hope masquerading as the great white hunter. NASA falls for Hope’s pretenses and recruits him to find a lost spacecraft in Africa before hostile forces could lay hands on it. Bwana in Swahili means master. It has its roots in Arabic word Abu’na (our master). The whites were Bwanas – the masters in Africa. In many ways they still are. Their legacy and influence is still very strong and visible. Take for instance the drive from Nairobi to Lake Naivasha. You drive on the left hand side on the narrow single road and all the signs that you find along the way are in English. You would find nary any sign in a local language and the odd one out in Swahili is written in English script. I could detect only three such signs in the two hour ride. One was for a brand of chapatti. Another showcased a trakta (tractor) and another was a campaign poster extolling the virtues of a candidate for the local elections. It was quite evident that the white masters have totally suppressed the African languages. The villages are shanty towns with small churches dotting the landscape. The Africans still believe in voodoo and black magic and other indigenous beliefs but subscribe largely to the white man’s faith. There is no wild life visible. Most of it is now restricted to safari parks and resorts. Most that you see in the countryside are cows, sheep, hens and ducks. You can also see donkeys grazing or pulling heavily laden carts. I’m told the Chinese are importing these animals for purposes other than as beasts of burden. So I suppose we are not alone in earning from this asinine business practice. Sacks of khat, a mildly narcotic weed, line the road to be exported to countries like Somalia. The Somalis are addicted to this niswar like intoxicant. Our famous addiction is the Kenyan tea. A substantial amount of our foreign exchange is spent on importing tea from Kenya. Tea was bequeathed to us by our colonial masters the way they gave opium to the Chinese.

In the 1950s and the 1960s as the age of colonialism was ending and countries in Asia and Africa were gaining their freedoms. There was a great deal of hope. Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kuanda and Jomo Kenyatta were being hailed as the new breed of African leaders set to lead their nations to a journey of prosperity. The great African dream did not materialize the way it was expected to unfold. Africa is still mired in poverty and is being thoroughly manipulated by former colonial masters. Resource cursed countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone of the “blood diamond” fame are experiencing civil wars, internal disturbances and bloodshed. Africa is hopelessly divided along the linguistic lines bequeathed by the colonial masters. Francophone and English speaking Africa look at each other with suspicion and hatred. Arbitrary lines drawn in the sand cut across ethnic and tribal lines creating wars which have no end in sight. Smaller colonial powers like Belgians exercise great influence over former colonies like Congo. Contemporary Africa has the largest number of conflict zones.

While individual Europeans own large plantations and their governments are indulging in a new kind of land grab in Africa. They are not only obtaining licenses for large blocks to prospect for oil but are also buying huge swathes of land to grow agricultural produce for their own national food security.  Ironically food for the Africans is in short supply and many African countries are experiencing famine. The Bwana in Africa is perpetuating a new age of colonialism.

Badli sha

“Badli sha” said the receptionist at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Nairobi to the bellboy. She was telling him that the room had been changed. This sounds familiar to the traveler from the South Asia. Badli means change. In Pakistan ‘change’ has a political context as well with Pakistani politician Imran Khan shouting hoarse about Tabdeeli or change for years now.

Kenya is a multilingual country. The most spoken languages are Bantu  Swahili and and English, the latter was inherited from the British colonial rule, are widely spoken as lingua franca. They serve as the two official working languages. Including second-language speakers, there are more speakers of Swahili than English in Kenya.

Swahili, also known as Kiswahili, is a Bantu language and the first language of the Swahili people. It is widely spoken in the African Great Lakes region and other parts of eastern and south eastern Africa, including Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The closely related Comorian language, spoken in the Comoros Islands, is sometimes considered a dialect.

Estimates of the total number of Swahili speakers vary widely, from 50 million to over 100 million. Swahili serves as a national language of three nations: Tanzania, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Shikomor, the official language in Comoros and also spoken in Mayotte (Shimaore), is related to Swahili. Swahili is also one of the working languages of the African Union and officially recognized as the commonly spoken language of the East African Community.

A significant fraction of Swahili vocabulary is derived from Arabic through contact with Arabic-speaking Muslim inhabitants of the Swahili Coast.  The word Swahili has its roots in the Arabic word Sahel or coast. Badli sha no doubt must have its etymological roots in Arabic. The Muslim influence in East Africa is pronounced. Somalia, one of the largest country on the coast of East Africa is almost hundred percent Muslim. Kenya also has a significant Muslim population. Barrak Hussein  Obama, the father of former President Barrak Obama was a Muslim hailing from Kenya. Obama visited his Kenyan family as a senator and later as President.

There are a number of mosques in Nairobi. The Jamia Masjid is located on Banda Street, Nairobi, in the Central Business District. It is one of the most prominent Islamic religious structures in the country. It was founded and first built by Syed Maulana Abdullah Shah between the year 1902 and 1906. The Mosque has since been extended since its original construction.

The word of greeting in Swahili is Hujambo or just Jambo. Another common greeting is Habari gani. If you want to be extra polite you can say Shikamo, which literally means “I hold your feet.” This greeting is for your elders. Young children will often mutter Shikamo under their breath when you walk by. The reply to Shikamo is Marahaba. Literally translated to something like “I am delighted, I don’t get that every day.” Marahaba, now doesn’t that sound familiar? Asnate is thank you. I think this was the title of a song sung by Nazia and Zohaib and before I sign off remember the Safari film Hatari. It means danger or snake. I don’t have a clue if it has its roots in Arabic or is it just a native African word.

Water Shortage in Islamabad

There is an acute shortage of water in Islamabad and hardly anybody is paying attention to this growing problem. In Sector G14/4 for instance there is no piped water and every house has sunk a well to draw this precious commodity from underground aquifers. The subsurface water is decreasing at a very fast rate. Underground water is not being recharged as fast as it is being depleted and often no water is found even at the depth of 300 feet. People constructing houses end up sinking more than one bore at exorbitant expense ranging from Rs. 750 to Rs. 1000 per foot. The cost of sinking a well can cost in excess of Rs one hundred thousand. Most of the people living in the fast expanding sprawl have already stopped drinking water supplied by the Capital Development Authority (CDA). Bottled water is the norm. Islamabad today has a population of roughly two million people – a fourfold increase in the last few decades. The civic authorities are supposed to provide the essential utilities like electricity, water and security to the denizens of Islamabad. Like many other cities of Pakistan this obligation to the citizens has been abdicated by the city managers. The shortage of electricity is covered through generators or inverters, most commonly known as Uninterrupted Power Suppliers (UPS), private security guards provide protection to those, who can afford and almost everyone tries to dig a well in his or her home because the municipal water supply is uncertain or too little.

Recently a protest launched by the common people to highlight the shortage of water to the Mayor of the city but no one knows if this led any fruitful solutions. According to water experts the designed capacity of the available water resources for Islamabad is around 107 million gallons per day (mg/d). The major source of surface water is Simly dam. Groundwater is obtained from tube wells installed in the National Park area. Spring water is diverted from springs located at Saidpur, Nurpur and Shahdra-hills. These calculations discount the wells that everyone is sinks in one’s home. Water shortage to urban households is also being made up by water tankers that sell water at their own price that vary from Rs 1000 to 1200. There is no regulation on this private supply of water.

Unregulated water tankers must be brought under the law and so should the practice of boring wells for households. This will dry up aquifers and ground will rapidly sink causing a huge ecological disaster. However, stopping this practice will not be the solution for those needing regular water supply. The growing population of Islamabad needs water and new and dependable sources need to be discovered to keep the citizens supplied of this urgent commodity. Hot weather and frequent droughts will only exacerbate this situation.

Close Encounters

Have you ever felt to be on the edge of life and death? Have you ever had a near death experience? It’s rare but it can happen.  On Thursday the 2nd of February I went out for my morning constitutional – a combination of walk and jog. It was slightly nippy and not very cold. By all accounts it was a good day for an exercise but I found it extremely difficult to move on the mild gradient in front of my house. I was out completely out of sorts and had to stop at least a couple of times twice or thrice, bending on my knees to catch my breath. It was too much of an effort. I was struggling and finding it very difficult to continue. After dragging myself for perhaps a kilometer or more I gave up. As I turned back and saw two policemen riding on a motorcycle. Should I stop them and seek their help? Before I could make up my mind they had already driven past me. I needed to get back home quickly. As labored my way back, I could experience it. Life was slowly ebbing out of me. Slowly I began to recite the kailma. There was no extraordinary sensation. No pain. No hallucinations. No out of body feeling. The morning was calm and fresh and there was a mild haze as I struggled up the stairs to our apartment floor. I have only a faint recollection of what happened after that. I probably removed my jacket, lay down on my bed and covered myself with the blanket and then I passed out. When I regained consciousness I found my wife gently shaking me and asking me if I needed breakfast. She told me later that I was sweating profusely and was very cold. After I had got ready my son took for an emergency medical check-up to a cousin, who is a doctor in the local hospital. The cardiologist found enough evidence of an Antioventricular or AV block. Next stop was the ER of the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology. The diagnosis was confirmed after a 24 hour holter monitor test. “There are no two opinions about it; you need a pacemaker” was the verdict of the electro-physician.

In layman’s terms the kind of malfunction my heart has been experiencing means a deficiency of electricity supply causing an irregular heartbeat. The pacemaker kicks in to regularize the heartbeat. A personal UPS of sorts. Technically an AV block is one in which the conduction between the atria and ventricles of the heart is impaired. Under normal conditions, the sinatorial node (SA node) in the atria sets the pace for the heart, and these impulses travel down to the ventricles. In an AV block, this message does not reach the ventricles or is impaired along the way. The ventricles of the heart have their own pacing mechanisms, which can maintain a lowered heart rate in the absence of SA stimulation.

The causes of an AV block can be varied and may include ischaemia, infarction, fibrosis or drugs, and the blocks may be complete or may only impair the signalling between the SA and AV nodes. Certain AV blocks can also be found as normal variants, such as in athletes or children, and are benign. The causes in my case can be any or a combination of these. I lead a disciplined life. I exercise regularly that includes occasional swimming and hiking and I eat moderately. I don’t smoke or drink but I’ve my vulnerabilities. I have a family history for heart disease. My father had a bypass surgery and had a defribulator implanted inside his body. My mother has a stent to widen one of her blood vessels. I had a minor electric circuit problem described as a Right Branch Bundle Block. In my forties I had suffered syncopic attacks and would pass out. At the age of 49, ten years ago after a series of fainting spells I underwent investigations and was taken to the operation theater for insertion of a pacemaker but at the last moment the doctor decided against it. I was a borderline case. Next year I was in the US and showed my papers to a Pakistani cardiologist. I was advised to keep my electrolyte level in check by drinking lots of gatorade, a drink popular among athletes. Many years thereafter limopani (lemonade) was the regular drink for me until this episode happened I was totally unprepared for it.

Through a surgical procedure a pocket has been created under my left shoulder blade and a permanent pacemaker or PPM has been placed next to my heart. Electric cables have been extended to the ventricles to solve the problem of conduction. The operation didn’t take more than two hours. I was under local anesthesia so that I could hear the doctors talk as they went through the motions. It was alarming to hear them say that the batteries of the temporary pacemaker weren’t working and they needed new ones or that the doctor was still searching for the sweet spot as he tried to insert the electric cables in my ventricles. After a week the dressing was removed from the stitches but it still hurts and it will take a few months before the PPM becomes a part of my body.  The batteries have a shelf life of 9 to 13 years. Hopefully they will last longer.

My life would certainly need some changes now. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to resume swimming or jogging. I definitely need to cut out stress. What is there to stress about at this point in life? Nothing from the worldly point of view, I guess.  Everything is pretty much as I wanted. The children are married and leading their own lives. I have a stable career in the University. I can continue if I want. The house that my wife and I had been planning for some time will be ready inshaAllah this year.  There is so much to thank Allah for. He gave me a good life. I hope He will grant me with good health, good humor and abundant courage to face life’s challenges and die a contented man. Ameen!

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.

In Search of Khawaja Wasiuddin

A few days back I received this message from my childhood friend Mujataba, now in Bangladesh: “Hey Tughral I want some information about late Lt Gen Khawaja Wasiuddin. He was a corps commander in the Pakistan Army in 1968 and was a colonel commandant of the Corps of Artillery in 1969.”

Mujtaba and I had spent our childhood together in Peshawar when our parents  both air force officers were posted in Peshawar. After the 1971 War, Mujtaba’s family was repatriated to Bangladesh. I had remembered Mujtaba as a nice young boy and was most happy to reconnect with him via linkedin. The message took me by surprise because I was invited to deliver a motivational talk to the recruits of Artillery Centre in Attock formerly Campbellpur. I then did what anybody would do in the digital age. Isearched about Gen Wasiuddin on the Internet. A blog titled Khawaja Wasiuddin Diplomat and Soldier provided me the following salient about Wasi Sahaab:

KHWAJA WASIUDDIN, second son of Khwaja Shahabuddin and Begum Farhat Bano, was born in Ahsan Manzil, Dhaka, on 20th March 1921. He had his early schooling at the Muslim Government High School, and in the year 1932, when he was only eleven years old, he was sent to the Prince of Wales Royal Indian Military College (R. I. M. C.), in Dehra Dun. Six years later, in 1938, he joined the Indian Military Academy Dehra Dun, and was commissioned as an officer in the Indian Army in 1940. He chose to be a Gunner, and was the first Indian Muslim to join the Royal Indian Artillery. He was posted with the 24th Mountain Regiment and served in various parts of Northern India, including Waziristan.

During the Second World War he saw active service in Burma, and when the Japanese Forces came into Burma and the British started retreating, Wasi, along with his fellow soldiers had to swim across the Sitang River to escape being caught by the Japanese. Later, when he was stationed in Imphal he met with an accident when the jeep he was driving up hill, overturned, and he broke his pelvis bones. He was moved to a hospital and, after recovery, sometime in 1945, he was appointed President of the Inter Services Selection Board in Bangalore with the acting rank of Lieut. Colonel. At the end of the war he re-joined his regiment, reverting to the rank of a Major and was posted at various stations. At the time of the partition of the Indian Sub-Continent in 1947, he opted to serve in Pakistan.

In November 1945 he married his cousin, Zafar Bano, daughter of Khwaja Nazimuddin, and had two children – Safi and Umbereen. Unfortunately, this union lasted for about ten years and they parted company. Later, he married Waheeda, daughter of Mir Karim Bakhsh and Begum Umtool Hafeez. They had four children – Lena, Adnan, Shahab and Omer.

He rose to the rank of Lieutenant General in the Pakistan Army, having held various senior appointments including that of Director of Artillery and Corps Commander, Multan.

At the time of the breakup of Pakistan and creation of Bangladesh, he opted to serve in Bangladesh, where, his seniority, vast experience and reputation were gainfully utilized in the Diplomatic service of the country. He served as Bangladesh Ambassador in Kuwait and France and later, as his country’s representative to the United Nations in New York.

Khwaja Wasiuddin was an all-round sportsman and an excellent swimmer having been a member of the swimming team of R. I. M. C. Later, he took up golf and was responsible for organizing the laying down of the Golf courses in Lahore and Rawalpindi.

He was happily leading a life of retirement with his family in Dhaka; playing golf, mixing socially and swimming with his grandchildren when, on the night of 22nd September 1992, while attending a dinner party, along with his wife, at the home of a friend of theirs, he was called upon by the Lord Almighty to return to his eternal heavenly home, to rest therein, in peace!

Condolence messages on the passing away of Khwaja Wasiuddin, courtesy of Major Khwaja Safi Wasiuddin:

‘Your father was in fact a member of our family, because he commanded this great unit in 1952-53. Indeed it is a very big loss to you and our regiment also.’  Commanding Officer, The First Light Air Defence Regiment.

‘We have lost a great gunner. We the Gunners are proud of his glorious past and splendid achievements. His name will always be remembered as a professional gunner in the history of Pakistan Artillery.’  Commandant Artillery Centre, Attock.

‘He was a renowned gunner and all gunners are rightly proud of his valuable contribution towards the sound foundation of the arm after partition.’ – Brigadier, Headquarters 12 Corps.

‘We in Artillery 15 Division are specially sad to learn this news, as the late General was the first Commander Artillery 15 division.’ Headquarters Artillery 15 Division.

‘Your father had spent a glorious career in the Army and earned great admiration from his subordinates, seniors and colleagues. I remember that I had invited him to attend the Artillery Reunion in Attock in 1988 when I was Director General Artillery. His prompt acceptance and subsequent attendance along with Mrs. Wasiuddin was indeed a matter of great pride for us.’ Major General A. K. M. Khalil-ur-Rahman (Retd.)

Source: [Khwaja Sayeed Shahabuddin]

Armed with this knowledge I asked my young conducting officer who had called me on the telephone to tie up the details about my visit to check up about Gen Wasiuddin before I reached Attock. So when I reached my destination I very eagerly asked the major if he had been able to dig up any information about Khawaja Wasiuddin. I was told that there was nothing in the records about a Colonel Commandant by the name of Gen Wasiuddin. A little disappointed I went into the officers’ mess in the Artillery Centre for a cup of tea and there lo and behold was hanging the portrait of a dapper Colonel Wasiuddin, Centre Commandant 1953-54.

The motivation talk to the recruits went very well. I spoke from the heart to 4000 recruits assembled in Hameedi stadium, who roared in approval and shouted slogans that warmed the cockles of my heart. In keeping with the spirit of times they took selfies with me after the talk and gave me their email addresses so that I could send them their photographs. What a change from our times, when the soldier was illiterate and had to be taught the cardinal directions in Urdu before an elementary lecture in map reading. The soldier of the 21st century uses GPS and owns not only a smartphone but also has a laptop. Almost all of them were on the Facebook.

Later on over a cup of coffee in the Commandant’s office, I once again broached the subject of Khawaja Wasiuddin and pointed towards the commandants’ board, which carried his name but wait a second, wasn’t there something amiss. There were only two stars in front of his name and one of the star had been rubbed out. There should have been three stars because Khawaja Wasiuddin retired as a lieutenant general. The commandant had no idea about the history of Khawaja Wasiuddin and didn’t have a clue why there was only one legible star in front of him. I was most intrigued and asked the brigadier about the likely story behind the enigma. I’ll certainly check up and let you know Sir, replied the brigadier and on that note I departed from the Artillery Centre.