Pakistan steps forward in astronomy and space sciences

KARACHI: Pakistan’s Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco), which is often criticised by Pakistani scientific community for not being on par with its Indian or Chinese counterparts, sent two satellites in space from a launching facility in China this July.A surprise as it may be, one of the satellites launched the PakTES-1A, which was indigenously designed and developed by Pakistani engineers. Primarily aimed at remote sensing, the satellite is providing promising results, meeting or even exceeding expectations, a senior official of Suparco says.

Talking about the development phase of the satellite, the official says that it was a tough task to complete it on time because the launch date had already been fixed and a delay of not even a day could be afforded.

“The other satellite, PRSS-1, developed by China and Pakistan in collaboration, was due to launch on July 9, and PakTES-1A had to be co-launched, thus the Pakistani engineers worked day and night to have it ready by then,” he says.

Big players: China and India

Every year, developed and emerging nations such as the United States, European Union, Japan, China and India cumulatively spend trillions of dollars on technologies to send humans into the space, deploy sophisticated satellites for a variety of purposes, and to find new worlds through space and ground-based telescopes.

In recent times, China and India have emerged as next big players in the space industry.

Suparco sent two satellites in space in July

These countries provide logistical support and launching facilities to many nations who do not possess the necessary infrastructure to do that on their own.

Pakistan, too, has historically relied on China to get its satellites launched into space. Yet to come on par with India in space sciences, Pakistan also lags behind in research related to astronomy with no major astronomical breakthrough coming from indigenous institutions, however, Pakistanis associated with NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) are performing with excellence in their respective fields.

The official says that the non-availability of an indigenous launching facility was not an immediate area of concern. “Currently, we are focusing on developing satellites because we can nevertheless get them launched from another country. This satellite that we have developed is manufactured completely in Pakistan and is providing promising results. Once we are adept in development of satellite technology, we can venture out in other arenas as well,” he says.

Suparco faces hurdles

Conceding the fact that Suparco is behind many regional space agencies, the official said that Suparco had repeatedly faced bureaucratic hurdles to the point of questioning its purpose of existence.

“But we have continued working despite all the budgetary constraints and external red tape. We have scientists who could easily be hired by Nasa and ESA but they are working hard to serve the nation with whatever resources that they have,” he says.

Shift the focus from the public sector efforts in space technology and astronomy, and one sees that the country’s amateur astronomy scene is also vibrant and there are astronomy societies in all major cities, working at their best to spread awareness in masses about the universe with whatever resources and technical expertise that they have.

There are currently astronomy societies in Pakistan’s cities of Karachi, Hyderabad, Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar and Quetta. These societies were started and are being operated by amateur astronomers — enthusiasts who have little to no professional education in astronomy but are guided by their love for the universe.

Biggest telescope

Founded in 2008, the Karachi Astronomers Society is a society that is known for owning one of the biggest private telescopes in Pakistan. Chaired by a retired combat pilot of Pakistan Air Force Khalid Marwat, the society organises star parties for the public at different public places of the city, and sometimes the group also ventures out to dark skies for having a better view of the skies as compared to the massively light-polluted skies of the city of the lights.

The society has an 18-inch diameter telescope which is a prized possession of the society’s chairman Mr Marwat. Apart from that, Mehdi Hussain, former president of the society and an IT expert by profession, has built an astronomical observatory at his home’s rooftop. Named Kaastrodome (Karachi Astronomical Dome) the observatory is fitted with a 12-inch diameter telescope. The dome was built locally in Karachi and was supervised and funded privately by Mr Hussain and his brother Akbar Hussain, who also shares the same interest.

Karachi also is home to Pakistan’s biggest telescope, a 24-inch diameter telescope that is owned by astronomy enthusiast Naveed Merchant. This telescope is bigger than any other private or public telescope in Pakistan.

Moon’s photograph

Recently, the society gained much attention after a photograph of the Moon by one of its members, Talha Zia, made it to NASA’s website Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD).

Mr Zia’s photograph was the first from Pakistan to make it to the prestigious listing of carefully selected astrophotos from around the world. 150 kilometres to the north of Karachi, the city of Hyderabad has its own astronomy society, the Hyderabad Astronomical Society.

The now-dormant society was founded by a group of students of Isra University including Amjad Nizamani and Zeeshan Ahmed on the eve of World Space Week 2011. This was the first-ever session on astronomy in the city and gained much media attention. The society also collaborated with Suparco to organise observing sessions at the Mehran University of Engineering and Technology (MUET) in Jamshoro, a city next to Hyderabad for the World Space Week 2012.

The Lahore Astronomical Society (LAST) is also among the most well-equipped astronomy societies of the country. Headed by Umair Asim, an educator who is also a keen astrophotographer himself, the society regularly organises public lectures on a variety of scientific topics. Mr Asim, too, has an astronomical observatory at his home. Dubbed as Zeds Astronomical Observatory, this facility houses sophisticated tools of astrophotography through which Mr Asim regularly captures eye-catching views of the heavens.

Future of astronomy

Back in Karachi, Zain Ahmed, amateur astronomer, a member and former general secretary of KAS is optimistic about future of astronomy — amateur and professional — in Pakistan.

Highlighting the advancement of amateur astronomy societies over the years, he said that amateur astronomy had acquired a ‘critical mass’ in Pakistan, and now the momentum would only grow exponentially.

“In 2018, we have a lot more people who are enthusiastic about astronomy than in 2008 when KAS was founded,” he says, “we are also more equipped than before,” he adds.

But these efforts are not only limited to observational astronomy and space technology. Earlier this year, astronomy societies in Lahore and Karachi invited a group of experts from Netherlands for a series of workshops on astrolabe, a medieval scientific tool that was pioneered by Arab astronomers, who used it to catalog thousands of stars.

The Karachi series of workshops was hosted by Habib University in collaboration with the KAS, and was attended by a large number of people. Similarly, a Pakistani astrobiologist based in Germany, Dr Nozair Khawaja, has launched a group to promote astrobiology in Pakistan.

Khawaja, who hails from town of Wazirabad in Punjab, has recently led a study on one of Saturn’s moons, discovering large and complex molecules on Enceladus, which have astro-biological potential.

Khawaja’s group, the Astrobiology Network of Pakistan has many Pakistani youngsters as its members and office-bearers, aims to attract more people towards the branch of science that deals with finding components necessary for life outside the earth.

Originally published in Dawn, September 24th, 2018

The curious case of Christian men gone missing from a Karachi neighbourhood

On a hot and humid evening this May, a middle-aged man clad in shalwar kameez is standing in front of a group of people who are seated on the ground. He is leading a recitation of hymns from the Bible. He first reads out a verse and then explains its significance before others join him in a rhythmic recitation of it to the accompaniment of a dhol.The assembly is taking place at 10 pm in a dimly-lit street in Youhanabad, a low-income, Christian-majority settlement in Karachi. This neighbourhood, wedged between the Lyari Expressway and Gulshan-e-Iqbal area, comprises 50 houses and is located on a small strip of land criss-crossed by narrow streets.The recitation has become a regular feature of life in Youhanabad in recent times. Local residents believe it will provide them with divine protection from those who have stormed the area in the dead of the night multiple times since March this year. The raiders come in vehicles that have no number plates, break into various houses and take away young men who are later nominated in different criminal cases.

Khurram Shahzad, 30, was picked up from his house in Youhanabad in the same manner. His house was raided at dawn on May 8. Some of the raiders were in police uniforms; others wore black commando t-shirts; still others were in civilian clothes. After a thorough search of his house, they took him into custody. The same action was repeated at least at a dozen other houses.

Shahzad, a young man with a muscular built and neatly trimmed hair, says he and others picked up along with him that morning were taken to an unknown location. “They kept all of us in a room which did not look like a police station. They tortured us and pressured us into accepting that we were involved in street crimes,” he says. After seven days of continuous torture, he alleges, all the men in custody confessed to having committed various street crimes.

A First Information Report (FIR), registered at Karachi’s Shershah Police Station on May 15 and numbered 96/18, states that Shahzad and Kashif Robin, also held in detention alongside him, possessed illegal weapons – two 30-bore pistols and four loaded magazines – that police recovered from them during a patrol near Lyari Expressway at 2 pm on May 15. Others were nominated in various street crime cases in FIRs registered at different police stations in Karachi’s District West (whereas Youhanabad falls under the jurisdiction of Karachi East).

A few days later, Shahzad and Robin were produced at a district and sessions court which ordered their release on bail — provided they could deposit 50,000 rupees each as security. Shahzad’s younger brother, who works for a courier company, paid the money to have him released.

Kaleem Maseeh, 32, was also among the 14 people taken into custody on May 8. “Had we not opened the door for a few more minutes, they would have stormed through it,” his mother Zareena recalls the events of that morning.

According to her, four or five raiders came into her house with a young man whose face was covered with a black cloth. He was a local resident with a criminal record and was working as an informer for the raiders, Zareena alleges. “They turned our house upside down,” she says, and took her son Kaleem and son-in-law Faisal outside, beat them up and whisked them away.

Kaleem was working as a delivery boy for a pizza joint and, at 32 years of age, was the eldest among those arrested that day. The rest were aged between 15 and 30. He was later nominated for a mugging in an FIR also registered at Shershah Police Station and says his family paid 50,000 rupees for his bail.

Both Kaleem and Shahzad have now lost their jobs for being absent from work during their detention.

Armed men wearing black t-shirts knocked hard at the door of Shafqat Bibi’s house in Youhanabad on April 15, 2018. When the door did not open, they broke its latch and got in. They were looking for her 20-year-old son, Sadim Qamar, but he had not yet returned home from his job at an eatery. They stayed in the house for half an hour, waiting for Qamar. When he did not turn up, they left but not without warning her that that they will “come back and take him away”.

Since then, her son has moved out to another place to avoid arrest but his family is still “scared that they will come after him”. Sitting in the corner of a room in her small house, 50-something Shafqat Bibi says the raid shook her family so much that they are scared to even talk about it.

Fear, indeed, engulfs Youhanabad even though all, except one, of the 24 local men picked up in three different raids between March and May this year have come back home. Local residents are wary of strangers even weeks after the raids.

Nadeem John, a middle-aged community activist in the neighbourhood, cautiously looks around on a July afternoon in order to ensure that he is not being overheard by any suspicious looking outsider. “Every now and then, people and vehicles not belonging to our streets are seen here,” he says.

Just two weeks ago, he says, the raiders paid another visit to the neighbourhood – this time in a black double-cabin vehicle and some police vans at around 3 am – though they neither picked up anyone nor broke into any house. “We have not regained our peace of mind yet. Our women remain awake at night and keep a watch on the streets,” he says.

John claims most of the men arrested from Youhanabad were doing their jobs regularly and came back home from work as per a normal routine. There was nothing in their demeamour to suggest that they were involved in criminal activities, he claims. Some local residents gathered around him nod in agreement.

In late May 2018, the Sindh chapter of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) constituted a fact-finding committee to probe the detentions from Youhanabad. The committee interviewed several families in the neighbourhood as well as the police concerned and issued a report which quotes some police officers claiming that they did not have any knowledge of any raids in Youhanabad.

The report points out several discrepancies — the most glaring of them being that the six men taken into custody on April 15 are shown in FIRs to have been arrested on April 20 and the arrest of 14 men picked up on May 8 is recorded by the police to have taken place on May 15. There are two widely divergent explanations for this: residents of Youhanabad say the men picked up from the neighbourhood were kept in illegal confinement by some security agency for several days before they were handed over to the police; the police, on the other hand, claim those men were all arrested during routine patrols in various areas of the city.

The report tries to resolve the discrepancy by quoting “two [police] officers of District West” who, on the condition of anonymity, “told the HRCP team that this activity (in Youhanabad) was carried out by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the men who were picked up were given to different police stations after some days, where FIRs were registered on them.” The report does not include any evidence to substantiate this claim though the IB is yet to issue an official denial of it.

Omar Shahid Hamid, who at the time of the raids was working as Senior Superintendent of Police in Karachi West, the highest police post in that district, says the Youhanabad men were arrested because they were involved in street crimes, but he denies the police under him conducted any raids inside the neighbourhood.

It does not look odd to him that a large number of people from the same area would be arrested for similar crimes within a short period of time. “Sometimes, people living in one area start operating as one gang.”

This article was published in the Herald’s August 2018 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.

Why did JI fail to repeat its previous performance in Karachi?

KARACHI: Once a major stakeholder in Karachi’s politics, the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), a component of the five-party Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal alliance, has found itself reduced to only one provincial assembly seat in the 2018 general elections.

Arguably, its peak time in the electoral politics was in the 2002 elections when it fought elections from the platform of the MMA and won as many as five national assembly and seven seats of the Sindh Assembly. In later years, however, different factors played their role in the erosion of the JI’s support base.

In the recent polls, the only seat that the MMA was able to bag was PS-108 in Karachi’s Lyari area.

As many as 16 candidates of the MMA for 21 NA seats and 22 candidates for 44 PA seats belonged to the JI. All of them lost, except Syed Abdul Rasheed, a long-time JI activist and leader.

Those losing the elections include prominent names such as Asadullah Bhutto, Mohammad Hussain Mehanti, Hafiz Naeem ur Rehman, Mohammad Laeeq Khan, Meraj ul Huda Siddiqui, to name a few, who have been to the parliament before but failed this time.

One can see the JI’s activism on Karachi’s different civic issues including the shortage of electricity and overbilling, lack of Nadra centres, provision of water, hike in university fees and other issues. Apparently, the party’s efforts at portraying itself as an entity that fights for the rights of Karachi’s citizens have not been successful in gaining them any significant amount of votes.

The party got only one PA seat compared to TLP’s two in city

In contrast, the Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a recently-formed Barelvi organisation headed by firebrand Khadim Hussain Rizvi, has won more votes and seats in Karachi than the now 77-year-old JI.

In its initial years, the JI came out as an academically motivated organisation, which aimed at bringing a revolution without participating in elections. But in later years, amidst strong opposition from its own quarters, the party stepped in the electoral arena.

MQM and then PTI steal JI voters

Dr Syed Jafar Ahmed, former director of the Pakistan Study Centre at the University of Karachi, describes the evolution and devolution of the JI’s vote bank over the years.

He says the JI essentially drew its support from the Urdu-speaking middle-classes, which was wooed away by the MQM first, and then since 2013, it started to be attracted towards the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI).

“The emergence of the MQM in 1984 started eroding the JI vote by attracting the Urdu-speaking vote towards itself. It also took away the Barelvi vote of Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan (JUP). Although it couldn’t take away the hardcore voters of the Jamaat, it did manage to gather a significant number of lower-middle class Barelvi and other right-wing voters,” he says.

According to Dr Ahmed, when the MQM’s vote bank disintegrated due to post-August 2016 events and due to infighting within the party, the broken votes went to the TLP and the PTI.

“People who were tired of the MQM’s politics, wanted an alternative, which the JI failed to provide them. Although, the PTI too didn’t make any strong inroads in 2013, it’s narrative on the national-level appealed to the population of Karachi,” he says.

“The Memons and Katchi communities have voted for the TLP in large numbers, resulting in their success especially in Lyari”, he says.

Political analyst and journalist Zia ur Rehman thinks that the narrative presented by the TLP, which started from the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, was way stronger and relevant to the audiences than the JI’s narrative was.

“In 2002, the MMA was able to garner support for itself by playing on the public sentiments against US-led invasion of Afghanistan. The TLP on the other hand, has been able to gain votes due to its narrative that is ‘more current’,” he says.

Expensive media campaigns

Although the MMA, in its electoral flyers and banners, insisted on the ‘character’ and ‘competence’ of the candidates that it had fielded, it couldn’t be translated into more votes. But the reasons for them are manifolds, according to Hafiz Naeem, the city chief of the JI.

Talking to Dawn, Rehman conceded that some of the party’s votes had gone to the PTI this time, but he pins the reason for it on ‘expensive’ media campaigns by other major parties which the MMA ‘couldn’t afford’, a national trend that was in favour of the PTI, and late revival of the MMA.

He also thinks the JI voters which chose PTI over the MMA this time, were rational in their choice, and they would ‘test’ PTI’s performance, and may return in future if their expectations remain unfulfilled.

He maintains that if there was no alleged eviction of their polling agents from polling stations during the counting phase, the alliance would have won at least three NA seats and several PA seats.

“We fielded the most honest and competent candidates, we have a track record of serving in Karachi, what other reason could there be for people to not vote for us?” he questions.

Political analyst and senior journalist Mazhar Abbas, however, thinks that merely having ‘honest’ and ‘competent’ candidates, or lodging a protest for civic amenities was not enough for winning elections.

“The JI can and does perform better in the local bodies elections, but the dynamics of provincial and national elections are completely different,” he says.

He says there is a general sect-based outlook that is associated with every religious party in Pakistan, due to which they fail to get votes from across the board. “Religious parties will have to shun this impression if they want to perform any better in next elections,” he added.

Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2018

District profile: Mirpurkhas has interesting contests to offer

MIRPURKHAS has been a fort of the Pakistan Peoples Party since the country’s first general election in 1970. The party has won on all the seats in this district save one provincial assembly seat, PS-64 (now PS-47), which the MQM has won three times running since 2002.

Mirpurkhas has two National Assembly seats — NA-218 and NA-219 — and four provincial assembly seats — PS-47 to PS-50.

The PPP seems to have lost some ground in NA-218 with the desertion of Syed Ali Nawaz Shah, who has decided to contest as an independent candidate. Shah is up against PPP’s Pir Hassan Ali Shah, son of Pir Aftab Hussain Shah Jillani and nephew of Pir Shafqat Hussain Shah Jillani, former MNAs from the same constituency.

Take a look: The new old order: Elections 2018 in Sindh

The PPP faces an uphill battle because Nawaz Shah enjoys the support of the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) and the MQM-P.

Shah is not an unknown figure here as he has served as an MPA, MNA, Senator and a federal minister. Observers suggest he is no longer in the good books of Asif Ali Zardari and Faryal Talpur, citing his failure to clinch a PPP ticket. His fall from grace becomes all the more surprising when one recalls that he headed PPP’s Mirpurkhas division chapter until recently.

“Shah embarrassed Faryal Talpur by questioning her presence at a meeting of the party’s central executive committee as she was not a member,” a government official told Dawn.

“That put him on the wrong side of the PPP’s top leadership. It was decided then and there that he wouldn’t be given a ticket,” he recalled. “But Ali Nawaz Shah has support among the poor because he did a lot for them whenever he was in the assembly or served as a minister,” the government official added. “It doesn’t matter if the PPP did not favour him with a ticket.”

Ali Nawaz Shah is also contesting against his nephew, Zulfikar Ali Shah of PPP in PS-48. The constituency comprises Sindhri taluka, where the PML-Functional, too, has a significant vote bank.

So Ali Nawaz Shah is in a position to give a tough time to the PPP in NA-218 and PS-48 because of adjustment with the GDA, which has fielded no candidates against Shah and his son Shuja Mohammad Shah, a candidate for PS-49.

The GDA has fielded Arbab Inayatullah, son of Arbab Ghulam Rahim, from PS-50 against PPP’s Tariq Ali.

Seat adjustment

The MQM-P and the GDA have entered into a seat adjustment agreement under which MQM-P will support the latter’s Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim, a former chief minister of Sindh, on NA-219 and Arbab Inayatullah on PS-50. It will also support PPP leader Ali Nawaz Shah on NA-218 and PS-48.

Just a few days ago, leaders of MQM-P’s Mirpurkhas chapter met Mr Rahim and later declared that their party would withdraw its candidates Sanjay Perwani (NA-218), Mir Shah Mohammad Talpur (PS-48) and Rana Tarique (PS-49) in favour of Ali Nawaz Shah and his son Syed Shuja Mohammad Shah on PS-49. They were supported by GDA as well.

In return, MQM-P sought the support of GDA and Shah’s voters for PS-47, where it has fielded Mujibul Haq against a PPP stalwart, former senator Hari Ram Kishori Lal.

The PS-47 comprises urban areas of Mirpurkhas and a recently included area of Hussain Bux Mari Taluka. The seat, old PS-64 Mirpurkhas-I, was won by MQM in recent elections because urban Mirpurkhas has a significant Urdu-speaking presence. But the inclusion of Hussain Bux Mari in the new PS-47 may have tilted the balance in favour of Hari Ram because Hussain Bux Mari has a significant presence of the minority community.

That is where the MQM-P got much-needed support and the recent announcement of GDA and Shah’s support to MQM-P candidate has put Hari Ram in an odd position. He was previously thought to be the strongest candidate in PS-47. Hari Ram is also said to be facing opposition from religious quarters as well.

Analysts believe that the triangular anti-PPP alliance has a tough fight on its hands in all National Assembly and provincial seats in the district. The most hotly contested seat has turned out to be NA-219, where Mir Munawar Ali Khan Talpur, husband of Faryal Talpur, is in a one-on-one race against GDA’s Arbab Ghulam Rahim. But Talpur’s task has been made easy with the separation of the constituency (old NA-227) from Umerkot. “Arbab Rahim would have had a better chance if he had the support of local communities from Umerkot,” according to a local observer.

Published in Dawn, July 23rd, 2018

MQM at disadvantage at Karachi’s NA-252 after delimitation slashes Mohajir vote

KARACHI: Until the 2013 elections, Karachi had 20 national seats — from NA-239 Karachi West to NA-258 Malir-cum-Karachi West. But in the recent delimitations, the city has gained one more seat, raising the total count to 21. This new seat is NA-252 Karachi West-V, which comprises Manghopir subdivision and some parts of Mominabad subdivision.

Previously, Karachi West was allocated four seats — from NA-239 to NA-242 — whereas NA-243 was Karachi Central-cum-Karachi West, and then NA-258 was Malir-cum-Karachi West.

Therefore, a major part of the current NA-252 Karachi West-V (Manghopir) was included in then NA-243 Karachi Central-cum-Karachi West, whereas some villages of Gadap were included in NA-258 Malir-cum-Karachi West.

Mominabad was included in then NA-241 Karachi West-III, and some areas of the current NA-252, Gulshan-i-Zia, Ghaziabad and others, were also in NA-242 Karachi West-IV. Gulshan-i-Maymar, which is now included in NA-252, was part of NA-253 Karachi East-cum-Malir.

Previously, the constituency was overwhelmingly merged with the Orangi area of Karachi, which is mostly inhabited by the Urdu-speaking community. However, after the recent delimitation, the entire Manghopir subdivision is in the newly carved constituency, whose 60 per cent area is rural.

NA-252 Karachi West-V. Copyright DAWN GIS

The population in Manghopir is Baloch, Sindhis, and Pakhtuns, with Urdu- and Punjabi-speaking people in low numbers. The Mominabad area is a mix population of Mohajirs and Pakhtuns. NA-252’s Surjani Town area has two faces — the rural part is in Manghopir and the urban part is in Karachi Central. In this area, Urdu-speaking population is in large numbers, as it is in Gulshan-i-Maymar’s urban area.

Muttahida out of favour after fresh delimitations slash local Mohajir vote

In the previous arrangement of seats, the Sindhi and Baloch community was at disadvantage because of the Urdu-speaking population, whose vote decided results of the elections. It is evident from the results of the past three elections.

For example, in the 2002 elections, NA-241 Karachi-III was taken by Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) candidate Mohammad Laeeq Khan, who got 26,812 votes. His opponent, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) candidate Ferozuddin Rehmani lost by only 479 votes.

In 2008, MQM’s Syed Akhtar-ul-Iqbal Qadri beat Zarbali Syed of the Awami National Party (ANP) by 57,381 votes. PPPP candidate Dr Mohammad Shakir Alam came a distant third with 11,544 votes. Qadri won the seat again in the 2013 elections by securing 95,584 votes.

The second highest number of votes was polled by PTI candidate Dr Saeed Ahmed Afridi, who got 27,827 votes. However, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) candidates also succeeded in securing 11,697 and 11,438 votes, respectively, showing the presence of religious vote bank.

Also, parts of Manghopir, Gulzarabad, Sultanabad and Pakhtunabad are mostly Pakhtun-inhabited areas, whose population voted for the ANP in large numbers in 2008, but apparently opted to vote for religious parties and the PTI in the 2013 elections.

The old NA-242 has also been an MQM stronghold as it comprised the SITE and Orangi areas. The MQM has consistently won from here in the past three elections, with MQM’s Abdul Rauf Siddiqui, former home minister of Sindh, winning in the 2002 elections by securing 62,690 votes. MQM’s Abdul Qadir Khanzada won the seat in the 2008 elections, securing 147,892 votes, against Mohammad Afaque Khan of the PPPP, who managed to bag only 27,294 votes. Mehboob Alam of the MQM won from here in 2013. He had polled 166,836 votes. The runner-up, PTI’s Akram Khan, secured only 10,889 votes.

Same is the case with the old NA-243 constituency which was won by the MQM in the 2002, 2008, and 2013 elections, with Abdul Waseem of the MQM winning the constituency in 2008 and 2013.

The two census charges of Orangi’s Mominabad area that are included in this constituency have a combined population of 44,354 only, whereas the Manghopir subdivision, entirely in this constituency, has a population of 713,753, according to a recent election commission document on constituencies.

The number of registered voters here is 219,042 — 133,060 male and 85,982 female voters. According to analysts, this separation from Orangi has, therefore, essentially cut out the Urdu-speaking voters from here, leaving them with only a slight population, and the majority of voters here now belong to the Baloch and Sindhi communities, with pockets of Pakhtun areas.

Benefit to local communities

Political analyst and senior journalist Zia-ur-Rehman sees this as an advantage to the local population of Manghopir, which was previously unable to elect its own representative because of being merged with Orangi. “The PPPP seems to be at an advantage here as the Mohajir vote here is very less — almost negligible,” he says, adding that any election here now will be completely localised. According to him, the delimitation here has benefited the PPPP, which traditionally draws its vote from the Sindhi and Baloch villages here.

“Now that the rural areas of Karachi West have been merged to form their own constituency, we can see who will benefit from it the most,” he says.

This time, prominent candidates here are PTI’s Aftab Jehangir, PPPP’s Abdul Khaliq Mirza, PSP’s Iftikhar Akbar Randhawa, MQM-P’s Abdul Qadir Khanzada (winner of NA-242 in 2013), and Abdul Majeed of the MMA. Akram Khan (runner-up, NA-242, 2013) is contesting as an independent candidate.

MMA candidate Abdul Majeed had contested at PS-97 Karachi West (Karachi IX) in 2013 from JI’s platform and had polled 7,071 votes against 77,964 votes of MQM candidate Sheikh Abdullah.

PPPP’s Abdul Khalique Mirza is an old stalwart of the party in this area, and had secured 27,221 votes against MQM’s Mohammad Adil Khan’s 54,603 at PS-97 in 2008, signifying his local support that can help him in the upcoming elections because of the exclusion of Orangi areas.

Manghopir’s social activist Abdul Ghani says that now with the MQM out of the equation, the primary competition in Manghopir will be between the PPPP and the MMA. According to him, the PPPP may face a setback in Sultanabad, Pakhtunabad and Gulzarabad as these areas are mostly Pakhtun-inhabited, and may vote for the MMA.

He presents the case of the last local government elections where UC-6 Pakhtunabad Manghopir-2, comprising the previously-mentioned Pakhtun areas, was won by the JUI-F with the JI coming second only with margins of tens of votes.

“On the other hand, the MMA has virtually no support outside of these areas, which will give an edge to the PPPP,” he says.

Published in Dawn, July 19th, 2018

NA-253 — will boycott, PSP factor impede MQM-P’s win?

KARACHI: NA-253 Karachi Central-I is a new constituency and comprises the areas of New Karachi subdivision. Previously, some of its areas were included in then NA-243 Karachi Central-cum-Karachi West, which is now rebranded as NA-243 Karachi East-II, whereas some of the areas of new NA-253 were also in NA-244 and NA-245, both previously called Karachi Central but now known as Karachi East-III and Karachi East-IV, respectively.

Even when the constituency areas were divided among the three numbers, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan (MQM-P) would dominate the elections, with the party’s Abdul Waseem successful at NA-243, Sheikh Salahuddin at NA-244, and Mohammad Rehan Hashmi at NA-245 in 2013.

MQM’s electoral performance here has been extraordinary and it has conveniently defeated its opponents with huge margins. In the 2002 elections, NA-243 Karachi-V was won by MQM’s Sultan Ahmed Khan, who defeated the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) runner-up Advocate Mohammad Saleemuddin Qureshi by 49,105 votes.


PSP chief is the most prominent candidate to run from this constituency

In the 2008 elections, Abdul Waseem of the MQM defeated the PPPP’s Advocate Zafar Ahmed Siddiqui by 145,617 votes. In the 2013 elections, Abdul Waseem made it to the National Assembly once again by defeating Zahid Hussain Hashmi of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) by 162,763 votes. Hashmi had got 29,875 votes against Abdul Waseem, somewhat better than Siddiqui’s 22,147 votes (2008). Also, there was no PTI candidate from here in 2008, and PPPP’s Syed Sohail Abidi had bagged only 5,831 votes.

NA-244 Karachi-VI was won in 2002 by MQM strongman Syed Haider Abbas Rizvi, who defeated MMA’s Dr Mairajul Huda Siddiqui by 25,542 votes. It was won in 2008 by Sheikh Salahuddin of the MQM, who got 174,044 votes against 9,271 votes of PPPP’s Ghulam Qadir. The constituency was won again in 2013 by Sheikh Salahuddin of the MQM, who secured 133,885 votes against 26,495 votes of PTI’s candidate Khalid Masood Khan.

The NA-245 seat was won by Kanwar Khalid Younus of the MQM, who got 51,696 votes against 41,947 of MMA’s Syed Munawwar Hassan. In 2008, it was Farhat Mohammad Khan of the MQM, who took the seat with 149,157 votes against 15,392 of Qazi Mohammad Bashir of the PPPP. In 2013, Mohammad Rehan Hashmi of the MQM won the seat with 115,776 votes against PTI’s Mohammad Riaz Haider, who got 54,937 votes.

This time, perhaps the most prominent candidate to run from this constituency is Syed Mustafa Kamal, founder and leader of the Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP). Kamal, who had broken away from the MQM in 2016 to form his own party, is pitted against Usama Qadri of the MQM, Sarwat Aijaz Qadri of the Sunni Tehreek (ST) and Mohammad Ashraf Jabbar of the PTI. Qureshi, the PTI candidate, had contested the elections from here in 1997 when it was NA-189 Karachi Central-III as well, getting 1,434 votes. MQM’s Hasan Masna Alvi, fighting under Haq Parast Group’s banner, had won the elections by securing 105,323 votes.

More than 80 per cent of the population of NA-253 is Urdu-speaking and the rest of the population is Punjabis, Pakhtuns, Seraikis and Sindhis. This makes it a stronghold of the MQM where it has maintained its winning streak — although the winning margin was lower in the 2002 elections. This time, however, there are a number of factors that will have an impact on polling in NA-253.

Since it’s an MQM stronghold, it is to be seen if the boycott of elections by the MQM-L will have a significant effect on the polling, says political commentator and veteran journalist Ali Arqam.

According to Arqam, Kamal, whose political narrative revolves around Urdu-speaking identity but simultaneously denounces the MQM founder, has chosen such a constituency to fight that has remained loyal to the MQM and, therefore, the competition will essentially be between two factions of the Urdu-speaking community, with another faction abstaining from the polls altogether because of a boycott appeal by the MQM-L.

“Even the PTI will have to depend on appealing to the voters who have traditionally voted for the kite symbol. Add into it the MQM-L’s boycott appeal, and it is a difficult game altogether for all parties except the MQM-P,” he says, adding that the MQM had apparently played a smart move by fielding Usama Qadri, former MPA and town nazim against Kamal.

Political analyst and senior journalist Abdul Jabbar Nasir thinks that Kamal will put up a good competition against Qadri, but thinks the boycott factor will not weigh in much. “Even if the polls are boycotted by a chunk of MQM-L loyalists, there will still be a big number of MQM voters of the past who will find it better to elect a representative,” he says. Nasir thinks that Qadri will have benefit of the MQM’s traditional vote bank here.

The NA-253 constituency comprises mostly middle- and lower-middle class areas of New Karachi subdivision. It comprises New Karachi Town, except sectors 11-F, 11-G, 11-D and 11-J and Godhra areas of New Karachi. The total number of registered voters is 404,053 with 230,826 male voters and 173,227 female voters. There are 268 polling stations with 945 polling booths.

Correction: An earlier version of this story mentioned the total number of votes as 4,040,503 and 173,277 female voters. The figures have been updated to reflect correct figures. The error is regretted.

Published in Dawn, July 15th, 2018

3.8m more women added to electoral rolls due to registration drive, says ECP representative

KARACHI: An election commission representative has informed that the ECP’s aggressive registration drive in collaboration with Nadra and civil society had registered as many as 3.8 million women voters in recent months, compared to the initially identified 12 million women voters who were left out of the electoral rolls.

Nighat Siddique, ECP’s Additional Director General of Gender Affairs, was speaking at a dialogue, organised by Sindh Commission on Status of Women (SCSW) in association with the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) on political participation of women and electoral violence, here on Friday. The seminar was attended by women candidates — independent and those contesting elections from different party platforms — and civil society activists.

Ms Siddique shed light on the regulations that were meant to facilitate women, transgenders and the disabled so that their participation in polling process increased. “This is for the first time that facility of postal ballot has been introduced for the disabled, and by law, the presiding officers have been required to not make transgenders, disabled, senior citizens and women with medical conditions wait in queues if they come to vote,” she said adding that as many as 300 polling stations across the country were being tested for visually impaired voters, where the voters will have facility of ballots and instructions printed in Braille.

‘We need to educate women candidates about the technicalities of the electoral process’

Women’s participation

Ms Siddique told the audience about the usefulness of Section 9 of the Elections Act which empowers the ECP to declare a poll void if women voters’ turnout is less than 10 per cent.

“An election at PK-95 Lower Dir district was declared void because the local communities reached an agreement to not let their women vote. The commission, along with civil society, held negotiations with the community and informed them that this will keep happening if the women were kept out of the process,” she said, adding that the re-poll had significantly larger number of women coming to vote, crossing the 10pc threshold set by law.

She informed that as many as 26 polling stations in Karachi’s district West alone had zero turnout of women voters in 2013 due to cultural barriers, and hoped that subsequent legislation and measures taken by ECP will eventually bridge this gap.

Explore: How will the women from Mianwali who do not have CNICs vote in the upcoming election?

Nuzhat Shirin, chairperson of SCSW, highlighted the past incidents of women being barred from voting in different areas of the country. Recalling an incident of 1996, she regretted the fact that over 50,000 women in Sindh’s Thatta district didn’t vote because the family men didn’t let them participate in the political process.

“There are a number of reasons for [low] numbers of women’s participation. These [include] misogynistic practices deeply rooted in society, due to which men from opposing groups agree that no women will be [allowed] to vote”, she said, adding that the recent legislation empowering ECP to declare a poll void if less than 10pc registered women in the area didn’t come out to vote, was a positive step.

Highlighting another reason of lesser number of women contesting and winning as independent candidates, she was of the view that most women, even those contesting elections, didn’t know the technicalities behind polling agents and other relevant matters. “We need to not only educate the society about letting women vote, but also need to educate the women candidates about the technicalities of electoral process”, she said.

Nuzhat Shirin, Chairperson Sindh Commission on Status of Women speaks during a seminar on participation of women and electoral violence in General Elections 2018. — Photo: Bilal Karim Mughal

‘Pakistan a trendsetter’

Mahnaz Rahman, resident director of Aurat Foundation, said that Pakistan was a trendsetter in the Muslim world when it came to women’s participation in elections and the parliament. Under Section 206 of Elections Act 2017, political parties are required to issue at least 5pc of the general tickets to women. This means that every party needs to give at least 14 general tickets of the National Assembly to women.

“A lot more needs to be done, however, and this requires constant efforts by civil society and political parties”, she said, highlighting that the distribution of tickets was generally marred by issues of nepotism and bias.

Shahid Fiaz, CEO of Trust for Democratic Education and Accountability (TDA) said that the non-availability of toilets, seating arrangements and other amenities at polling stations was a major cause which discouraged women from coming to vote. “Apart from that, there’s a tendency in women to leave the polling station to not come back if any mishap occurs, whereas men either don’t leave the facility entirely, or come back shortly afterwards”, he said while quoting different studies.

Also read: ECP launches campaign to register 12m female voters

Citing another study by Fafen, Mr Fiaz informed that the largest deficit of unregistered women voters was in Karachi, Lahore, and Faisalabad, respectively. “These are the major urban centres of the country, whereas there’s a myth that this would be the case only in the rural areas”, he said.

Independent and party-affiliated women candidates are seen here discussing the problems faced by women candidates in electioneering due to their gender, religion. — Photo: Bilal Karim Mughal

Speaking to Dawn after the session, Ms Siddique conceded that a wide gap existed between the male and female unregistered voters, with as many as 12 million women who were initially identified as being out of electoral rolls. “We have been working with Nadra and different NGOs and due to aggressive efforts, we have registered about 3.8 million women, whereas approximately eight million still remain to be included in the rolls”, she said.

“We are in close collaboration with civil society and communities, whereby we coordinate with Nadra to send mobile registration vans (MRVs) to remote areas to facilitate registration of more women voters”, she said. “One Nadra centre can register as many as 60 women in a day, whereas one MRV can register as many as 65. We have asked Nadra to allocate at least two registration centres in every city for registering women only; hopefully, we will be able to bridge the gap by next elections”, she added.

She expressed hope that regulations facilitating the women voters will result in a higher turnout of women this time.

On the occasion, women candidates — both independent and contesting under the platform of different political parties — expressed their views and the hurdles they faced in electioneering because of their gender, religion, and due to lack of funds required for the campaigns in today’s highly expensive and competitive electoral arena.

Published in Dawn, July 14th, 2018

Bengalis of Karachi demand urgent resolution to identity problem

By Zehra Naqvi and Bilal Karim Mughal 

KARACHI: An overwhelming number of Karachi’s Bengali community remains out of the finalised electoral rolls for the general elections because they do not possess a CNIC, a prerequisite for being on the electoral rolls as per Elections Act 2017.

The community, whose strength in Karachi is estimated to be around two million, has a sizable number of people who either do not possess a government-issued ID or their CNICs have been revoked on suspicion of being illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Social and political activists belonging to the Bengali community of Karachi estimate this number to be around 1.2m.

Three sisters — Ameena, Rukhsana, and Zareena — are among those of the Bengali community who remain without a CNIC despite their claimed eligibility.

Residents of Zaman Town in Korangi, the sisters say that they have not been issued CNICs despite filing applications several times at the local Nadra centre in Korangi-4.

“The officers there tell us that Bengalis cannot get a CNIC. They ask us to prove that we were born here, and that our parents had been living in what was then West Pakistan before 1971,” says Zareena, who then shows their father’s employment cards and documents which demonstrate that the family has been living and working in Karachi prior to Dec 16, 1971.

“We have provided all these documents but our identity card requests remain at a standstill,” she adds.

The Pakistan Citizenship Act 1951 stipulates that people who were residing in territories that now comprise Pakistan prior to Dec 16, 1971, would continue to be citizens of Pakistan, and their children would be considered citizens of Pakistan by virtue of their descent.

Call for issuance of CNICs

Also, Nadra’s own guidelines on the process of verifying and revoking CNICs state that the authority would accept a person to be a Pakistani citizen if the person can prove he/she has been residing in Pakistan prior to 1978 — providing an approximately seven-year extension to the date set in the citizenship act.

Apparently, the cut-off year is kept at 1978 to differentiate between Bengalis who are legally entitled to residence in Pakistan and those who emigrated from Bangladesh in search of a livelihood.

Social activists, however, estimate that over the years, economic migrants have mostly moved out because it is no longer profitable to work and earn in Pakistan due to the rupee being weaker than the Bangladeshi taka.

Many of the Bengali-speaking residents of Karachi who have been unable to obtain CNICs possess identification and other kinds of documents issued by Nadra and different wings of the government, proving that they qualify for a CNIC. Baqir Hussain is one such person.

A resident of Machhar Colony in Karachi, Baqir was issued a CNIC by Nadra in 2002. Prior to that, he had a B-Form of his own. He subsequently married, was issued a nikah certificate by the government of Sindh and his children were issued B-Forms by Nadra. In 2013, however, his CNIC was blocked by Nadra on pretext of being an alien. Since then, he has not been able to get his name removed from the so-called ‘foreigners’ list.

He questions the entire episode which has stripped him of his nationality.

“If I were an alien, and now I have been found to have illegally arrived in Pakistan, how and why was I issued a CNIC earlier?” he says, adding that he has legal proofs of being born in Pakistan but Nadra officials do not pay heed to it.

Baqir, who now holds an alien registration card issued by the National Aliens Registration Authority (Nara, now merged with Nadra) lists the consequences that follow after revocation of a CNIC.

“I won’t be able to vote in the elections for my favourite political party because I don’t have a CNIC. My children will be deprived of their right to education because they also will not be classified as Pakistani citizens now,” he complains.

Bengali community activists allege that Baqir’s case is not isolated, saying that scores of people from their community have had their CNICs revoked and were ‘forcefully issued’ alien registration cards classifying them as non-citizens.

Read: The woes of Bengalis, Burmese and Iranians of Karachi

A senior official of the now-defunct Nara, who is presently associated with Nadra, explains the reasoning behind it.

“Our body was formed with the purpose of registering aliens, and we did just that. There might have been isolated incidents of misjudgements, but Nadra verification boards are there for settling these disputed claims,” he says while requesting anonymity.

Shaikh Mohammad Siraj, a community advocate and the chairman of the Action Committee for Pakistani Bengalis, believes that the citizenship issues his community faces can be resolved through legislation.

In July 1999, a special committee was formed in the National Assembly to probe into allegations of harassment and discrimination faced by Bengali citizens of Pakistan. In February 2018, Siraj along with other community leaders met with former federal minister for law and justice Bashir Mehmood Virk and former MNA Qaisar Ahmed Shaikh, both belonging to the PML-N, who assured the community that they would do their best to resolve the matter. No progress was however seen on the matter.

Siraj further says, “The parliament mainstreamed the Federally Administered Tribal Areas but the plight of Pakistani Bengalis gets no serious consideration. We will have to make renewed efforts to bring our case to attention when the next parliament is sworn in.”

Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan’s spokesman Aminul Haq says the parliament should take necessary steps to mainstream the Bengali community. “Our party supports the idea of granting them citizenship,” he says.

Jamaat-i-Islami’s Karachi chief Hafiz Naeemur Rahman echoes his views.

“Successive governments and all major political parties have not paid attention to the Bengali community’s problem. The citizenship act should be amended as it is very hard for applicants to produce the proofs dating back to 1971 or 1978,” he says.

However Ayaz Latif Palijo, president of the Qaumi Awami Tehreek (QAT), says that the government, while deciding the citizenship cases of a community or a group of people, must keep in view the Liaquat-Nehru Pact of 1950 which provided for the legal movement of migrants between India and Pakistan only up to 1956.

“There may be legitimate cases of Bengalis who were residing in Pakistan before that, but we want the government to make sure that no one is granted citizenship in violation of the 1950 pact,” he says, adding that arbitrary time limits like that of 1978 were unacceptable and have no legal basis, whereas application of Pakistan Citizenship Act 1951 should also be done in accordance with the Liaquat-Nehru Pact.

He is not alone in having these views. On May 16, the Sindh Action Committee, an alliance of 10 nationalist parties, staged a protest demonstration at the Karachi Press Club, calling for stopping the issuance of CNICs to ‘foreigners’.

Published in Dawn, June 16th, 2018

Taxi drivers lose their share of income with arrival of ride-hailing services

KARACHI: With the advent of Internet-based ride-hailing services, drivers of yellow/black and yellow cabs of Karachi are seen complaining of a severe decline in their business.

Old taxis, that were once a common sight in the city for decades, have seen themselves being effectively pushed out of today’s highly competitive transport market, leaving their drivers with only a fraction of the income they used to have in past.

Shahzad Muneer, a driver of a yellow/black cab, says that he started driving a taxi in Karachi back in the early 1990s. He says that it was a good time for being in this business as their taxis were relied upon by a huge number of population for their daily needs.

Hailing from Kasur in Punjab, Muneer, now in his late 40s, says that before the arrival of ride-hailing services, the taxi drivers could earn as much as Rs3,000 a day, which was sufficient for their families after taking out expenditures.

“Now it is a maximum of Rs1,000; on some days, we don’t get any rides at all,” he says.

He regrets the fact that thousands of taxi drivers across Pakistan have been left behind in a transport market that is increasingly technology-driven.

“The drivers [of old taxis] are now forced to look towards other options because they cannot run their households on the meagre sums that they make,” he says.

Mohammad Aurangzaib, a taxi driver who mostly waits for his passengers at the Cantonment Railway Station in Karachi, lists other problems that his brethren in the profession have been facing.

“Because our taxis are painted with specific colours identifying them as a taxi and have commercial number plates, our movement is restricted as compared to the drivers of ride-hailing services,” he says.

He, for example, says that the drivers of ride-hailing services were not subject to government taxes (twice a year for old taxis) and were not liable to regularly obtaining a route permit and a fitness certificate, both of which have their associated fee.

“We have faced a setback in terms of income, and at the same time we have to pay different fees, which the drivers of these services don’t pay,” he says, “is it not injustice?” he questions.

He thinks that ride-hailing services were at an advantage because they were treated as private vehicles and had no commercial fees to pay.

A common complaint of citizens against the old taxis is their decrepit condition. Lack of standardised fares is another matter of contention that turned their old customers away from them as soon as ride-hailing services arrived.

Naheed, a regular user of ride-hailing services, says that the services have given her freedom to travel anywhere at any time. She had been a user of the conventional taxis in past but gave them up in favour of ride-hailing services.

“You get a breakdown of the fare on your phone, you know what exactly are you paying for, even if its peak charges, they are not hidden,” she says.

“In absence of metres, the taxi driver could ask you for any arbitrary amount, and then either you had to haggle with them or end up paying excessively,” she says, adding that the ride-hailing services took her to same distances in a cost lower than a taxi or a rickshaw cost.

Hufsa, another user of ride-hailing services, seconds her views. As someone who scarcely used the old taxis but regularly uses ride-hailing services, she says that her parents would never let her use conventional taxis due to safety concerns, even if it meant cancelling the plans.

“For a city that has no proper public transport system, these services have filled a void that kept citizens hostage for many years,” she says.

Muneer doesn’t disagree with this but has a different take on it. “Yes, our taxis are not in good condition, but it is because we are not well-off enough to buy new cars,” he says.

“We are professional taxi drivers who have been in this field for decades while the drivers of ride-hailing services are mostly part-timers driving brand-new, expensive cars which we cannot afford,” he adds.

Mohammad Ishaq, who has been driving a taxi for 26 years, says that the yellow and yellow/black cabs never won the confidence of customers because the public did not trust the metres.

Sitting on the trunk of his sedan yellow cab outside Zainab Market in Saddar area of Karachi, Ishaq says that the public always viewed the metres with scepticism and insisted on negotiating a flat rate instead of per kilometre charges.

“Now these companies charge you extra in lieu of waiting time and peak factor but people are happy paying these additional charges,” he says.

“Our metres only charged on a per kilometre basis, but even then public complained that we tamper with the metres,” he adds.

Apart from the public doubt on metres, Ishaq says that the government did not revise their fares regularly due to which it was not economical for them to operate on government-approved rates.

Ishaq says that their customer base has rapidly shrunk in last two years, with now only people from lower-income areas of the city or those with extra luggage hailed the yellow cabs because of the luggage holder on their roofs, which is non-existent in cars of ride-hailing services.

Other taxi drivers agree with him, and add that the only lucrative spots left for them in the city were the railway stations, from where they could pick people coming from other parts of the country, often with lots of luggage.

“Even the airport is now out of option for us as we cannot enter the airport if we don’t have a passenger, and we cannot pick a passenger from the departure lane,” says Muneer, lamenting that the drivers of ride-hailing services could portray themselves as a private car.

“They can enter any government building but almost all of the government buildings have a restriction on a taxi entering the premises.”

Taxi drivers say that a government-sponsored scheme to replace their old cabs with new vehicles, introduction of uniform, updated fares, and bringing the ride-hailing services under same regulations as them could help them step back in the business, otherwise thousands of the taxi drivers would ultimately have to abandon their cars and sell them in scrap.

Dr Noman Ahmed, chairman of Architecture and Planning Department at the NED University of Engineering and Technology says that the private sector and microfinance banks should come forward to offer new vehicles to the taxi drivers so that they could stay in the competition.

He stresses the need of a collective action for ‘fleet replacement’ of these taxis. “Throughout the world, such an exercise is always possible through collective actions because it’s not economically viable for individuals to replace their taxis,” he says.

Dr Ahmed further says that with the advent of ride-hailing services, a clear demarcation between customers bases had been observed, with traditional taxis now only used by low-income citizens of the city because they are not able to fulfill the demands of clientele in other, more developed parts of the city, and adds that there is a need of regulating the ride-hailing services.

Sindh Transport Secretary Saeed Awan says that the government is working to bring the ride-hailing services under the umbrella of same laws and taxes as the traditional ones.

“The government [of Sindh] has recently signed a memorandum with Uber, and we are in process of bringing Careem under a regulatory framework too,” he says, adding that after such an understanding is reached, the cars of these services will have to display a mark classifying themselves as a commercial vehicle.

He concedes that the business model of these services is too innovative to classify them as traditional taxis, but says that the government is actively working to find a way.

He rules out the possibility of any programme to revamp the old taxi services, and says that the government can only act as a regulator among commercial services, but not support one over the other.

“Our first priority would be to provide a mass-transit system for the citizens which would be less expensive for the public, and more efficient in terms of capacity,” he says, “we are already working towards achieving that,” he adds.

Published in Dawn, May 7th, 2018

Closure of over a dozen Nadra centres in Karachi adds to citizens’ woes

KARACHI: Thousands in the city are at risk of losing their right to vote in the upcoming elections as the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) is making it difficult for them to obtain their computerised national identity cards.

In the last few months, Nadra has shut down more than a dozen of its swift and executive registration centres in Karachi, resulting in longer queues at mega registration centres, slowing down the whole process for the general public.

“If you need to get something done from a Nadra office, take leave for a day or two,” said an irate Rizwan uz Zaman, who wasted an entire day waiting outside a mega centre in North Nazimabad along with his brother as hundreds stood in the queue.

His brother, Qamar uz Zaman, claimed that they got a token at 6am but their turn came at 10am. It took them another two hours to get done with the process. “I should have been at work today, but here I am, dealing with this long queue.”

Poor arrangement, long queues at mega centres

The North Nazimabad mega centre stands next to an under-construction building with no sitting arrangement for the applicants. People can be seen sitting on the floor or leaning against whatever support they can find. The risk of anything heavy falling off the under-construction building is real.

Several Nadra centres have been closed in recent months in areas like Pak Colony, Taimuria, Soldier Bazaar, North Karachi, Keamari, Ittehad Commercial, Baldia Town and SITE.

Political parties say people may lose right to vote because of delay in issuance of CNICs

Mohammad Irfan, a resident of Orangi Town, came to the mega centre in North Nazimabad with his friends. He claimed that a massive neighbourhood like Orangi Town had only one swift centre; that too was not working well enough. “We chose to come here because of poor service at the local office,” he said.

Two of his friends have taken a day off from work. Even the queue for obtaining a token is moving at a snail’s pace. They have no idea how long the process will take.

Recently, a Nadra executive registration centre near Jauhar Chowrangi in Gulistan-i-Jauhar was shut down, forcing applicants to go to an old office which is tucked away behind a regional FBR building.

Another executive registration centre in Naseerabad, a neighbourhood in Federal B Area, closed down a few months ago and a restaurant has opened in the place since.

In Naseerabad, a restaurant operates at the place where once Nadra’s Executive Registration Center existed — Photo by Bilal Karim Mughal

At Ayesha Manzil, a registration centre is only handling cases of verification — CNICs that have been blocked or flagged.

Even though the board outside clearly reads: ‘registration centre’, it does not take any new CNIC requests, leaving thousands of people of nearby areas with no option but to suffer in queues at the mega centre in North Nazimabad.

A swift registration centre next to Nisar Shaheed Park in Karachi’s DHA locality has also been closed, and residents are now forced to visit the mega centre in DHA, off Korangi Road.

Swift centres shut to divert people to mega centres

Noman Ahmed, an applicant at Nadra registration centre in Gulistan-i-Jauhar, pointed out that since he lived in North Karachi, it would have been easier for him to apply at the mega centre in North Nazimabad, but he chose the Jauhar branch just to avoid the crowd.

“At the mega centre, you sometimes fail to enter the office after waiting for a whole day,” he said. “People who don’t know that their CNICs can be made from any centre across Karachi are bound to wait countless hours for their turn.”

The massive crowd outside the mega centre in North Nazimabad explains Noman’s point, whereas the crowds at the other two Nadra mega centres in DHA and SITE areas are no different.

Nadra Executive Center in Gulistan e Johar closed. — Photo by Bilal Karim Mughal

A senior Nadra official, on the request of anonymity, confirmed that over a dozen swift and executive centres were shut down in recent months to divert the public to the mega centres. “The move was aimed at streamlining the process; however, it did not go as planned.”

The decision, he said, had not eased things for the people who now had to travel long distances because their nearby centres were closed.

Last month, Nadra Chairman Usman Mobin paid surprise visits to Nadra centres in the city, including the mega centres in SITE and DHA, without revealing his identity. When his turn came, his papers were rejected by the staff on duty. Later, he suspended two staffers for “causing trouble” to the citizens.

Political parties, on the other hand, view the closure of these centres as detrimental to the democratic process and fear that a large number of their voters may not be able to vote because of the delays.

More centres needed for Karachi

Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan spokesman Aminul Haq said that merely creating mega centres was not a solution to the problem, and that Nadra should open more centres keeping in view the size of Karachi’s population instead of closing the existing ones.

“How will the people exercise their right to vote if they are facing so many difficulties in obtaining CNICs?”

He termed the Nadra chairman’s recent directive for the centres to operate from 9am to 9pm and suspending the staffers a cosmetic move with no far-reaching benefits.

“Instead of increasing staffers, the current staff is being forced to work for about 12 hours, which is detrimental to the well-being of the staffers as well,” he said.

Crowd outside Nadra Mega Center in North Nazimabad. — Photo by Bilal Karim Mughal

A Nadra source also confirmed this was the case with centres which were ordered to work for 12 hours after the chairman’s recent visit to Karachi.

Jamaat-i-Islami’s Karachi chapter chief Hafiz Naeemur Rehman also raised concerns about the delays in issuance of CNICs.

Rehman, whose party has recently been in news because of its protests against Nadra, said that the JI had held several meetings with Nadra high-ups in which it was assured that public complaints would be resolved, but concrete steps were yet to be seen.

The general secretary of the Pakistan Peoples Party’s Sindh chapter, Waqar Mehdi, also believed that as draft electoral rolls were already up for display, anyone who attained the legal age to vote during this period, but did not get a CNIC due to the delay would amount to a “loss of votes”.

He said that Nadra should speed up its process on a “war footing” basis to ensure that no potential voter was left out.

MPA Samar Ali Khan of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf said that more Nadra ‘satellite centres’ were needed. “NA-250 alone has over two dozen settlements. How can one Nadra mega centre cater to such a huge population?”

Dawn approached Nadra several times to get an official response to the complaints. However, their media relations department did not provide any explanation in more than two weeks.

Published in Dawn, April 5th, 2018