Liberalization of Strategic Depth – II

Marvi Sirmed:

Part II of the article from 2011

Originally posted on Baaghi:

It originally appeared in Daily Times on Monday September 19, 2011 as my weekly column BAAGHI. Its first part, appeared on Monday September 12, 2011 in same paper, could be seen here.

The defenders of the report, launched jointly by the Jinnah Institute (JI) and the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) on a possible ‘Afghan endgame’, are irked by critics’ accusation of it protecting the ages-old worn-out ‘strategic depth’ notion. This ingenuous defence detracts from important issues while extenuating a faulty ‘strategic depth’ notion. The defenders present the report’s suggestion to include the Quetta Shura Taliban in the peace process as a globally accepted principle. One must concur that the report has triggered an interesting debate in the media. If taken personally, the criticism would not be able to serve the very purpose of the report: initiate an informed debate on the issue.

While the discussion process…

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Liberalisation of strategic depth — I

Marvi Sirmed:

Something that I wrote in 2011. Reminds of quite a few things about strategic depth doctrine

Originally posted on Baaghi:

Originally published in Daily Times on Monday September 12, 2011 as my weekly column BAAGHI

On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, all we have in our hands is 35,000 graves, no state writ in 40 percent of our territory and our flippant, time-tested policy of ‘strategic depth’. First connoted by General Ayub Khan, vague references to the idea could be found in the statements of Pakistani leaders earlier too. Despite the ‘Muslim’ card that Pakistan used for its origins, it could not attract an immediate recognition from a Muslim Afghanistan in 1947 (which became one of the earliest nations to establish diplomatic relations with Pakistan in 1948). The overused concept of strategic depth (SD) has proven to be not only counterproductive but also damaging to Pakistan’s own interests in the region.

The rhizome of Pakistan’s paranoia has been its irascible relations with neighbouring India. After breaking away from it in…

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Mind Your Language, Gentlemen

This is the unedited version of the article that appeared in The Nation on Tuesday July 8, 2014

“We are not wearing bangles”, “Be a man and face it”, “Have some balls and do it”, familiar language? Awfully so. Around us, at home, at workplace, on roads, in political rallies, in advertisements, in newspapers, on TV, on social media, where not?

Arsalan Iftikhar, the celebrated son of former Chief Justice of Pakistan, said it on TV and the anchorperson – a male – let it pass. Couple of months ago it was Khwaja Saad Rafique, the Federal Minister, who was demanding of Pervez Musharraf to ‘be a man’ and face the charges. Khwaja Asif, the Defence Minister, didn’t wait before raising similar ‘demand’ form the retired General. Federal Information Minister Pervez Rasheed was heard during those days mocking Musharraf’s ‘age-associated illness’, the nuanced way of alluding to the lost sexual drive that equals loss of ‘manhood’.

Not very long ago, Tehmina Daultana, a member of the parliament, was seen throwing bangles across the aisle in the National Assembly chamber as a gesture to describe them cowards. Ahsan Iqbal, another Federal Minister was recently heard on TV saying, “ہم نے چوڑیاں نہیں پہنی ہیں” (We’re not wearing bangles) while responding to Imran Khan’s announcement of long march. Even Tahir ul Qadri, the cleric prone to periodic fits of revolution, denied wearing bangles after police action on his Lahore residence last month.

What exactly is happening in the minds of these gentlemen and ladies? Poor guys are convinced of their perceived ‘strength’, which they invariably link to their reproductive organs. It is however quite funny that these reproductive organs would not survive a forceful knee-kick in many cases.

Sexist language is not limited to one culture or one era. We certainly don’t have copyright on it. During the primaries in 2008, Barack Obama had invited the feminist wrath when he said “I understand that Senator Clinton, periodically when she is feeling down, launches attacks as a way of trying to boost her appeal”. Well, really Mr. Obama? Periodically feeling down? PMS – Pre-Menstrual Syndrome – is a very familiar weapon to attack women. When a man raises his tone in a heated debate, he is just ‘a bit aggressive’. When a woman does it, she is PMS-ing. It takes just one strong argument on table from a woman, and they would hurriedly show their misogynist face.

The English language words like ‘mankind’ and ‘brotherhood’ or Urdu language ones like ‘bhai chara’ and ‘mardaana vaar” were not invented yesterday. Their unabashed usage today, however, is a blot on the face of 21st century man and woman in times best known for enlightenment and modernisation.

In a society bragging about ‘respect for women’ as their key distinguishing feature following their culture and / or religion, it is ironic that most men (and women too) would use sexual organs to describe bravery, courage and valor. Most of the words and phrases used to illustrate truthfulness, bravery, courage etc, describe (or imply) women as subservient, secondary or an inferior being.

The titles for the positions of power have ‘man’ as suffix. ‘Chairman’ was changed to ‘Chairperson’ only when Ms. Nusrat Bhutto and Ms. Benazir Bhutto became the Chairperson and Co-Chairperson of their party. That too ended with them. The next party heads reinstated the title to ‘Chairman’ as soon as they came in. The Senate and the parliamentary committees still have their chairMEN. Even that women chairing these Committees are called ChairMEN. At some instances I’ve even heard Lady ChairMAN from secretariat staff. It is probably very difficult to call her a chairWOMAN. Hurts badly no?

The Constitution includes she in he. Isn’t it other way round? Isn’t ‘he’ a part of sHe? So why call a president a he when you can write s/he? And when you mention this, there would be an avalanche of voices from all sides of the table who would educate you how a ‘he’ has the privilege of being used for both sexes in legal documents. Well, gentlemen, let me use ‘she’ as a neutral way to describe both sexes. Demeaning? I rest my case!

According to a 2009 paper by Marge Piercey, there are around 220 words to describe sexually ‘promiscuous’ women, while only 20 to describe such behavior among men. Slut-shaming is much more pronounced in south Asian cultures although. A woman is a ‘slut’ if she is non-conformist. At least that is the impression I get while facing criticism in every kind of media. Out of more than a dozen women that I spoke to, who were fiercely abused on social media, almost 99% admitted having been called sluts, whores and prostitutes just because they said politically controversial things.

My cigarettes have earned me many of such titles lately. A year ago, an otherwise progressive and self-proclaimed ‘secular’ blog used my enlarged picture with a cigarette as part of one of their posts. I was being castigated and disparaged in that post, for something I was presumed to have said. Subliminal message was: look she smokes; she is certainly a bad woman.

In 1911 Ambrose Bierce wrote The Devil’s Dictionary and expressed her surprise why there are titles like Miss and Missus for women describing their marital status while no such requirement for the Mister. Probably because it should be out and public when a woman still has ‘market appeal’ for the most popular game of all times, marriage hunt. ‘Marriagibility’ was and still is such a sought-after trait that determines a woman’s worth. Many factors, in turn, would determine your ‘marriagibility’ including being a Miss, being a virgin, being fair skinned, skinny, being a chaste woman, being a career-less, ambition-less, conformist and submissive woman having excellent skills to act as house maid.

On social media I experienced a new low in this trend. It is going to be shocking for many of my readers for which I apologise. But the fact is, a new qualification of a worthy woman appears to be how ‘rape-able’ she is. Not making it up. Couple of years ago when I was threatened for a rape and I made the threat public, I was told by the modern-day educated and forward-looking youngsters that I had such a ‘repulsive and ugly’ face that no one would ‘even rape you’. My shock and horror knew no bounds when a very progressive friend, a human rights defender (a male) expressed his anger for a woman politician who had said something offensive about other women. He while expressing his anger for her insensitive remarks about other women, casually said and I quote, “who will even rape this shapeless, unattractive cow’. He had also used the word ‘bitch’.

That reminds me of our college days when a popular badge-pin said: “Beautiful, Intelligent, Talented, Creative, Honest – I am a B.I.T.C.H.”. Apart from redefining or re-orienting sexist language, gentlemen and ladies have to embed in their minds, its what you have in your skull that determines your worth, not what you have between your legs.


Balochistan Assembly: a Critical View

 This article was originally published in weekly The Friday Times on October 11, 2013

Beyond the grand debate on mightier political issues, broad constitutional reforms and rights violations by state institutions, Balochistan’s development and its people’s well being could have partly been ensured by strengthening democratic governance and the way governance institutions work.

Amongst the wider debates on political rights of the people of Balochistan, an important point is often missed – the importance of the day-to-day governance that affects the people the most, and more often. Especially when a people continue to suffer marginalization and discrimination embedded in the entire polity and structure of the state.

An elected provincial assembly is the key democratic institution that carries most of the burden of responsibility for overseeing the decision-making process by governing institutions. A strong assembly would not only make laws, but also ensure an effective oversight of government actions, substantially debating the policies and seeking timely corrective measures.

The very purpose of a legislative body gets defeated when all dissent is dissolved through political tactics, and even a thin possibility of oversight is removed

Looking at the track record of the two previous tenures of Balochistan Assembly, one gets a glimpse of the viciousness of the cycle that bad governance is. The very purpose of a legislative body gets defeated when all dissent is dissolved through political tactics, and even a thin possibility of oversight is removed.

Dissent in a legislature is manifest in the face of effective and meaningful opposition as well as independence of the members from even the treasury benches. Members’ freedom to hold opinions based on their objective analysis is key for a meaningful oversight, which unfortunately is dangerously lacking in Pakistan’s political parties across the board. But Balochistan is a special case as far as democracy index and legislative performance is concerned.

For two consecutive terms, from 2002 to 2013, Balochistan Assembly has had almost no opposition benches. In 2002, the entire House was treasury, while in 2008 only three members constituted the opposition. Almost the entire House was the provincial cabinet. Contrary to the popular belief that the only opposition in the assembly was offered by a Rind sardar, his name did not appear on the official record of opposition. The assembly record reveals three members as opposition, whose names were Pir Abdul Qadir Gilani, Tariq Magsi and Zulfiqar Domki. Weak or no opposition ensures free playing field for the government. When almost every member is part of the government, there exists a vested interest in not raising various issues that the legislature is mandated to debate on.

But this was not the only problem that the Balochistan Assembly has had. Committees are considered the eyes and ears of the legislatures. They are responsible for carrying out legislative as well as oversight business for the House. It is a parliamentary committee that ensures legislative proposals under consideration are assessed in detail, analyzed and minutely scrutinized before presenting to the House for approval to become law. Committees also make the incumbent government accountable for its actions and decisions. One cannot imagine how a House could function without any committees. In Balochistan Assembly’s 2008-2013 tenure, no committees were constituted.

Not that the House missed the committees too much. The assembly carried out very little legislative business. The assembly passed only four bills and around 30 amendments in five years. Needless to say, they were passed without any debate. Individual members did not take part in legislative business, as there is no tradition of Private Members Bills in Balochistan Assembly. The entire legislative responsibilities are on the government’s shoulders. Whenever a bill is tabled, it is passed within moments with members present on the benches. All laws are passed using an obnoxious Rule 84 of the Rules of Business of the Provincial Assembly of Balochistan, which allows the government to avoid the committees stage and pass the law instantly. When some members were interviewed, they were clueless about the standard legislative procedures. Many of them didn’t even understand the concept of Private Members Bills and had little idea about their right (and duty) to generate legislative business through tabling bills responding to the needs of their constituents.

Ziaul Haq “transformed legislators into municipal workers”

Some members felt strongly about the development funds given to every one of them. A member from Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PMAP) said the trend started when late military dictator Ziaul Haq “transformed legislators into municipal workers”. Another member from the National Party said he felt increasingly frustrated about how a member was converted into an “ATM machine” [sic]. That is probably why the new government in Balochistan has decided to do away with these funds and instead go for block allocations, so that the money could be utilized for the benefit of people rather than to serve political agendas or land in private pockets.

This reminds me of at least two members from the previous mandate. There was something peculiar about the way they spent their development funds in the last year of their tenure. One of them established a grand Madrassa in his constituency, while the other ended up constructing a monument at a crossing in Quetta “as a tribute to the martyrs of Pakistan Army”. Asked what kind of research or constituency work was carried out before making these creative ideas their ‘development projects’, the legislators looked at me like I was from Mars.

Research is a foreign word to Balochistan Assembly. Members have no technical or research assistance by the state. There are no Constituency Offices established anywhere in Pakistan, let alone Balochistan, where voters could reach out to their representatives. Members’ homes are unofficial and undeclared constituency offices.

To my horror, I also discovered that there had not been any Public Accounts Committee reports in the Balochistan Assembly. Public Accounts Committees ensure scrutiny of government expenditure. Since 1973, only two ad hoc reports of the PAC have come out – during the dictatorial regimes of Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf. In the second report, which came out during Musharraf’s dictatorship, around 77 objections were raised by the ad hoc PAC that consisted of technocrats as opposed to elected members of the provincial assembly. None of these objections could ever be taken forward for corrective action by the executive branch.

After some good things happened following this year’s elections in Balochistan, hopes have escalated. But the fact that the province is going on without a cabinet indicates that parliamentary committees are not likely any time soon. If it is going to be business as has been in past two mandates, it is safe to say that the elections have brought no change. Any talk of development in Balochistan will remain cosmetic without basic mechanisms to ensure democratic governance.

– See more at:

Mrs. Salamanka

A poem by Noon Meem Rashid (Urdu), posting here specially for Faiza Sultan Khan, with a promise to post it in Persian transcript soon!

Noon Meem Rashid

Noon Meem Rashid

Khuda hashr mein ho madadgaar mera

Ke dekhi hein mein ne Mrs. Salamanka ki aankhein

Mrs. Salamanka ki ankhein

Ke jin ke ufaq hein janoobi samunder ki neeli rasaa’i se aagay

Janoobi samandur ki neeli rasaa’i

Ke jis ke jazeeray hajoom-e-sahar se darakhshaan

Darakhshaan jazeeron mein zartaab-o-annaab-o-qurmuz parindon ki jaulaan gahein

Aisay phaili hoi jesay jannat ke daamaan

Parinday azal aura bad ke mah-o-saal mein baan afshaan!

Khuda hashr mein ho madadgaar mera

Ke mein ne liye hein Mrs. Salamanka ke honton ke bosay

Who bosay ke jin ki halaawat ke chashmay

Shimaali zameenon ke zartaab-o-annaab-o-qurmuz darakhton

Ke madhosh baaghon se aagay

Jahaan zindagi ke raseeda shagoofon ke seenon

Se khwaabon ke rum deed azan-boor letay hein ras aur peetay hein who

Ke jis ke nashay ki jilaa se

Zamaanon ki naa-deeda mehraab ke do kinaaron ke neechay

Hein yak-baargi goonj uth-tay khalaa-o-malaa ke jalaa-jal

Jalaa-jal ke naghmay baham aisay pevast hotay hein jesay

Mrs. Salamanka ke lab meray lab se!

Khuda hashr mein ho madadgar mera

Ke dekha hay mein ne

Mrs. Salamanka ko bister mein shab bher barahna

Woh garden, woh baanhein, woh raanein, woh pistaan

Ke jin mein janoobi samunder ki lehron ke toofaan

Shimaali darakhton ke baaghon ke phoolon ki khushbu

Jahaan dam-ba-dam itr-o-toofaan baham aur gurezaan

Mrs. Salamanka ka jism-e-barahna

Ufaq ta ufaq jesay angoor ki bail jis ki

Ghizaa aasmaanon ka noor aur haasil

Woh lazzat ke jis ka nahin koi paayaan

Khuda ke siwaa kaun hay paak damaan!

Civil Society Gravely Concerned at Tuesday Turn of Events

Islamabad, 15 January 2013

We, the concerned citizens, human rights activists and civil society organizations, are watching with the gravest concern the fast-unfolding events in Islamabad today.

It is the first time that a democratic dispensation was nearing its natural completion.

We condemn the exploitation and the use of women and children as human shields in the expensive drama being staged by the Canadian parachute Tahir-ul-Qadri.  It turned into farcical melodrama when the Supreme Court’s order to arrest the Prime Minister of Pakistan and 16 others re: the rental power case was announced in the middle of his speech being relayed live on Tuesday afternoon.  The well-trained emissary lost not a moment in making the linkage between his unConstitutional demands, incitement to treason and emotional blackmail with the SC’s order, terming it 50% success of his “million man (sic) long march” within 12 hours of the Islamabad sit-in.  We condemn this in the strongest terms.

Likewise, without going into its merits at all, we express, with due respect, our gravest concern at the curiously bad timing of the Honourable Supreme Court judgement/short order in the rental power case, which has been ongoing for months and months now.  We were hoping for and fully expecting the SC to take suo moto notice AGAINST Qadri’s unConstitutional stand and actions, instead of the OPPOSITE, which has wittingly or unwittingly made an unworthy hero out of Qadri.  It is inexplicably strange that Islamabad, the besieged capital, and Pakistan, a country in extreme crisis, had to witness this double whammy today. But perhaps it is not so strange and not a coincidence either.

We firstly wish to request the Honourable Supreme Court, with the utmost respect, to take all possible measures NOT to derail the democratic dispensation at this extremely critical juncture, no matter how flawed and non-performing its governance has been – which we decry and have been pointing out continuously over the last 5 years.

We demand that Qadri come out of the closet and inform Pakistanis of his mentors, whether stationed in Ottawa, MI5/London, Langley/Virginia, or indeed not too far away in Rawalpindi, or closer still, in Aabpara/Islamabad.  We warn him in the sternest language not to exploit the masses in the name of religion or poverty or basic needs.

We urgently demand that the federal Government, all the provincial Governments and all political parties immediately make a consensus statement regarding the election schedule, and their utmost resolve to uphold democracy and democratic norms.

We warn the armed forces of Pakistan NOT to stage either a direct or indirect coup d’etat, by either marching boots down Constitution Avenue, or by installing their proxy, whether in the form of Qadri or Khan or any retired general – or ANYONE.  The new Pakistan may not yet be at Tahrir Square, but we are not too far behind.  We are very closely monitoring the unfolding situation and we will not allow Jinnah’s Pakistan to be hijacked or derailed.  We are alive and we are alert.

Endorsed by:

Human rights activists, citizens:

  1. Tahira Abdullah
  2. Marvi Sirmed
  3. Samar Minallah
  4. Dr. Rakhshanda Perveen
  5. Ambreen Ahmad
  6. Naseer Memon
  7. Sirmed Manzoor
  8. Saleem Malik


  1. Ethnomedia
  3. Creative Anger
  4. WAF
  5. PRHN
  6. PODA
  7. Aurat Foundation
  8. Bedari
  9. WORD
  10. Rozan
  11. Khyber Pakhtunlhwa Civil Society Network
  12. Amn Tehreek
  13. SDPI


Accountability of the Prime Accountability Institution: Parliament

With its triangular function of legislation, representation and oversight on the Executive Branch of the state, Parliament is normally considered to be the prime democratic institution to hold the governments and state institutions accountable, as well as articulate concerns on corrupt practices on behalf of citizens. In recent times, the same concern has been voiced about the parliaments, especially in South Asian societies. The integrity and accountability of parliament is as important as is that of the Executive Branch. General perception is that the accountability of parliament is ensured through the elections. But considering the long stretch of time between two elections, this seems insufficient mechanism of accountability. It is, this, incorporated within the constitutions and in rules of Business of the parliaments, whereby they (parliaments) present themselves for accountability. It was importance of this emerging concern that pressed me to explore the integrity & accountability mechanisms for the parliament, ingrained in Pakistan’s constitution and the Rules.

Following presentation was given on the request of Ms. Hina Jilani, Chair of South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), to one of their conferences in late August this year. I thought to post it here for the benefit of students of political science and the posterity. Hope you find this useful. Your feedback would be warmly welcomed and appreciated.

Marvi Sirmed