Why Don’t Men Cover Their Faces?

By Hind Aleryani for Your Middle East
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Yemeni blogger and journalist @HindAleryani tells her intimate story about what’s feminine and masculine in the Middle East.

 

We used to play at my aunt’s garden when we were younger…girls and boys, there was no difference… we grew up together… we used to race, play, laugh… sometimes we would fight playfully… we used to watch TV together… cry at the end of sad cartoons together… we grew a bit older… we began to study for our classes together… whenever we’d fight we used to threaten the other that we’d tell on them to the teacher… we used to play practical jokes on one another… we’d laugh with all our hearts…

And so the days went by…

My cousin and I are staring outside the window… we are looking at the garden where my male cousin and his friends are playing… this is the garden where we used to play together… they used to be our friends once upon a time… these are the boys we used to play with… what happened? Why are we prisoners at home, while they play ball outside with all freedom… what did we do? Did we grow older? Did our bodies change? Did we become an object of temptation that needs to be covered from people’s eyes? Aren’t those the boys we knew since we were children? What changed? Why are we strangers? Why do I run and hide whenever I hear one of their voices? Is it just because the pitch of his voice changed? Is that why we aren’t friends anymore? Are we supposed to act differently towards one another? Different to how we acted just yesterday? We started to act shy and anxious whenever we’d speak… we stopped playing with one another… My cousin and I began spending our spare time watching Mexican soap operas, as if we were in our 50s…

And so the days went by…

I am at school…we are learning about what a woman should cover… her hair is temptation… her eyebrows are temptation… I remembered my favorite male singer… his eyes were beautiful too… his hair is beautiful… why doesn’t he veil? I asked myself this question, however, I couldn’t find the answer… I remembered that I was banned from playing in the garden because I hit puberty… however, my male friends weren’t… didn’t they hit puberty too? Why weren’t they imprisoned at home? I also couldn’t find the answer…

And so the days went by…

I hear it all the time… “A woman is a jewel that needs to be protected (i.e. covered)”… and sometimes it is even said that a woman is like candy “if you remove the wrapper (i.e. the cover) the flies will swarm around her”… I turn on the TV and find that favorite male singer that I am so fond of brushing his soft silky hair and flaunting his handsomeness… his arms are bare… his chest is bare… why isn’t this object of temptation covered? Why isn’t he imprisoned at home? Why aren’t women tempted by him? Some might claim that a woman shouldn’t look at this… then shouldn’t men shield their gaze when looking at a tempting female “object”? I couldn’t find the answer…

And so the days went by…

I am at university… I see some people distributing a small religious book… “Temptations of a Woman”…Her hair… her feet… her eyes, and “thus, a woman must cover one of her eyes as both of them together are tempting”…I swear this is what I read in this book!… it’s as if there is nothing left in this world to talk about and scrutinize other than a woman and how she is a temptation…I decided to observe men’s looks…I wanted to know which women would attract men with her temptation… in front of me walks a woman wearing a tight Abaya (long black cover)… aha!.. I found her… she is an object of temptation… I continue watching… in front of me walks a woman with a baggy Abaya, however, with an uncovered face…the man stares at her… aha! So her face is also a temptation… a third woman walks in front of me… her face is covered and she is wearing a baggy Abaya from top to toe… the man is staring at her! Huh? I don’t understand… what is so tempting about a black Abaya? No eyes, no feet… What is this man staring at? At that moment I realized that clothing has nothing to do with it… men would stare on all occasions… however, he, with his broad shoulders and his hair, eyes and lips isn’t considered an object of temptation, even if all the women in the world started at him… he is a man…he shouldn’t hide in his home… no one calls him a jewel… at that moment I wished I wasn’t a jewel. I wished to be a free man…

And so the days went by…

I am in a Western country… women are walking around me…one is wearing pants… the other is wearing a short skirt…another wears shorts…men and women are walking side by side… it is strange… no one is staring… why don’t I see the looks of men I saw in my country? Those looks that made a woman feel naked… those looks that I hated… the ones that made me hate being on this earth, and hate being born a woman… those looks that deny me my humanity…why don’t I see those looks here? All the women are dressed up… why don’t I see those looks even though all the women are attractive here? I saw one women run and laugh… I remembered that I wasn’t allowed to run once I hit puberty… I remembered my aunt’s window… I remembered I was an object of temptation that must be covered… I remembered that a man in my country wears white, while I am covered in black… I asked myself, why don’t men wear black? Why don’t men cover their faces? And I couldn’t find the answer…

And so the days go by…

 

Pakistan No Country for Foreign Journalists

As reported by A REPORTER for DAWN

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His sin – he was an Indian and a journalist reporting on Pakistan. And one hot day in the middle of June he was informed that his presence was no longer acceptable to someone, somewhere – through a phone call and a letter.

But despite the unceremonious departure, his one regret – at least in recent days – is that he will not be able to get “some nihari from Kale Khan in Pindi before [he] leave[s].”

Perhaps he has more regrets too – about friends he could not say goodbye too or places he was not allowed to visit but such are the state of affairs between his country and Pakistan that he refuses to talk about the issue at all. The longing for nihari too was gleaned from his twitter account.

And this silence says far more than any lengthy interview he may have given. The few details that are available came from someone close to him who spoke on the basis of anonymity.

Hasan – as always – was waiting for a renewal of his visa when on June 13 he got a letter informing him that he should leave by June 23.

The journalist panicked as he had no valid visa by then, without which he could not even leave. Much effort, phone calls and visits later, he was given a ‘generous’ extension till June 29.

The valid visa came on June 25 – finally making him eligible to leave.

“Two thirds of his time in Pakistan was spent waiting for an extension of his lapsed visa,” says the someone.

So much so that twice at least when his wife’s father had a heart attack, her family kept the news from her – because neither she nor Hasan could visit India and the ailing father.

Nothing of Hasan’s stay is unusual for an Indian journalist in Pakistan but his departure surely is.

The tradition is that “the journalist is allowed a short overlap with his successor for a smooth transition”. But both Hasan and Anita Joshua, the second Indian journalist in Pakistan, who were scheduled to leave in any case and were only waiting for their successors to show up, were denied this in recent months.

Indeed, Hasan’s abrupt departure came hot on the heels of the return of his counterpart – Anita Joshua of The Hindu – who was asked to leave shortly after the elections (but before the new government took charge) while New York Times’ Declan Walsh was bundled out a day after May 11, his notice period even shorter than the Indians.

The story of these three proves that Pakistan is fast turning into not just one of the most dangerous countries for journalists but also one of the most inhospitable.

“What else would you call a place that so abruptly orders out those who have been living here for years on such a short notice,” says a senior journalist.

When Walsh was thrown out, Pakistani journalists whispered that it happened because there was no empowered political government in place and the spooks got a chance to avenge past grievances.

But Joshua and Hasan were told to leave after Nawaz Sharif – the statesman who wanted and wants peace with India – has taken over. Yet there is not a peep out of the new government.

As Mariana Babar, a senior journalist, puts it, “These cases show how powerful the security establishment is. Indian journalists were reluctantly issued visas for a few days on eve of elections. The process started during the caretaker government and continued as Sharif government was in the process of settling. Now as The Hindu and Press Trust of India (PTI) have requested visas for new representatives, we will wait and see how much authority Sharif asserts.”

Admittedly, the India-Pakistan journalist exchange is notoriously reflective of the poor bilateral relations – the feel-good rhetoric of the politicians notwithstanding.

Both countries only allow two journalists from the other side to be stationed in the host country – but while the Indians use these positions, the Pakistanis are so uninterested in understanding our ‘worst enemy’ that no Pakistani reporter is based in India.

The PTI and the Hindu have a correspondent each based in Islamabad and what a welcome they are extended.

They are not allowed to move outside of Islamabad without permission (even Rawalpindi is out of bounds) and they are constantly shadowed by those who cannot prevent terrorist attacks but are aware of every nook and corner visited by the two Indian hacks in the soap dish sized Islamabad.

Yet these two people never forget to remind the one billion people living next doors that there is more than Taliban and extremism to Pakistan. And for those who want proof of this, they need not google the stories that Hasan and Joshua did – they should read the blog, “the Life and Times of Two Indians in Pakistan”.

Written mostly by Hasan’s wife, the posts paint a warm and engaging picture of her former host country (by the time this story appears in print, the couple will be on their way back to Delhi). Beyond the suo motu notices and the Taliban, these posts are about the more colourful characters that inhabit Islamabad; Mehmal the Lahori journalist; Pakistani music (“Still, give me Pakistani music any day” she writes) and the not to be missed post – about the testosterone filled spooks who follow her around.

“Bhai, I feel so special and so cared for each time I step out of the house and you try and match footsteps with me. The other day when you followed me into the superstore and kept me company when I was shopping for groceries, I was so moved.

“… And you looked so cute making a mental note of which pulses I eat and which brand of flour I buy. Ah! I so wish I could tell you so.”

There has rarely been such a wry account of what the spooks’ victims suffer. And one that even the non-Indian victims/residents of Islamabad can connect with.

Such posts and the memories of those who met and laughed with these two Indians will do far more for Indo-Pak relations than all the track two meetings.

Anita Joshua was no different. Less intense than Hasan (who reminded one of Amitabh Bachchan in his heyday, minus the height), her cheerful presence was a constant in the small social circle that the capital city offers to its inhabitants.

She was also generous enough to speak of the pain of living and working as a single woman in a small and conservative city such as Islamabad – with rare references to what it meant to be an Indian woman living alone here.

She was a mandatory participant of all the civil society gatherings in town provided the cause was a worthy one – trotting off to the Super Market sit-in more than once after the Hazara killings in Quetta.

And lest someone accuse her of being a ‘civil society type’, she was the only Indian ever invited to visit the Pakistani side of the Siachen Glacier by the Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

It wasn’t because she had some special access – it was because she could get the message across to the Indian people and their government. She did.

Those who are continuously throwing journalists out of the country because they don’t approve of the stories should start seeing the glass as half empty instead of half full.

Each one of these journalists provided a glimpse of the Pakistan that many of us believe exists – where people struggle to make a living, where there are not just suicide bombers and militants but also their victims.

It is said that this is what got Walsh thrown out.

But does anyone remember Walsh’s human interest reporting?

Back in 2006, he reported on the media revolution in Pakistan by profiling Begum Nawazish Ali when Pakistanis were still far from aware of the change that television was about to bring to their lives.

And he reported on the missing people in 2007 before the superior judiciary became truly independent to discover the plight of the disappeared.

He endeared himself to many because long before the foreign corps discovered the “anti-Taliban fashion shows” in Pakistan, he had already found the Begum and written about her.

As a fellow journalist wrote in the New Yorker recently about Walsh, “The best Pakistani nonfiction writer was an Irishman”.

Such stories still need to be told – even if Walsh continues to also write on the drones and other ‘secrets’ that irritate some people. And Pakistan also needs the two lines of communications with the people of India.

Over a year ago when the military took Anita Joshua to Siachen, the former DG ISPR Athar Abbas said that it was “part of the Army’s campaign to open up,” adding that “May be we are more confident than the Indians about our case.”

Should one now assume that the Pakistanis are no longer confident about “their case”?

A Global Snapshot of Same-Sex Marriage

By  for The Pew Research Center

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Around the world and in the United States, the pace of same-sex marriage legalization has picked up in recent years. Of the 15 countries worldwide to permit gay men and lesbians to marry, eight have done so since 2010. In addition, same-sex marriage is legal in some parts of the United States and Mexico but not others; of the 12 U.S. states (plus the District of Columbia) where same-sex marriage is or soon will be permitted, nine have legalized it since 2010.

In the United States, the spread of same-sex marriage laws has coincided with rapidly shifting public attitudes toward homosexuality. Six-in-ten Americans now say homosexuality should be accepted by society, up from 49% in 2007; 33% say it should not be accepted, down from 41% six years ago. (Look here for details on Americans’ changing attitudes toward same-sex marriage itself.)

In most other countries, attitudes toward homosexuality have been fairly stable in recent years. Not surprisingly, same-sex marriage has advanced the most in countries and regions where acceptance of homosexuality is highest.

We’ve surveyed eight of the 17 nations that have legalized same-sex marriage in all or part of their territory; in all but one of them at least 60% of people say homosexuality should be accepted. (The exception is South Africa, where only 32% say it should be accepted versus 61% saying it should not be; still, that was the highest acceptance level among the six African countries surveyed.)

On the other hand, among all but one (Jordan) of the 13 countries in our survey where 80% or more of people said homosexuality should not be accepted by society, same-sex relations are illegal in all or part of their territory, according to a report from the International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Intersex Association.

- is a Senior Writer at the Pew Research Center.

 

Militants Kill Nine Foreign Climbers in Pakistan

By Haq Nawaz Khan and Tim Craig for The Boston Globe

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Gunmen stormed a camp on Pakistan’s second-largest mountain Sunday, killing nine foreign climbers, including a US citizen, in a brazen assault that could deal a blow to the country’s efforts to jump-start its tourism industry.

The Pakistani Taliban asserted responsibility for the attack, calling it retribution for a suspected US drone strike last month that killed Wali ur-Rehman, the second in command of the terrorist group.

‘‘Through this killing we gave a message to the international community to ask US to stop drone strikes,’’ said Ehsanullah Ehsan, a Taliban spokesman.

The attack in northern Pakistan at Nanga Parbat, the world’s ninth-tallest mountain, occurred around 1 a.m. as the climbers and their guides were at a camp about 4,000 feet above sea level. According to local and regional officials, about a dozen gunmen tied up the climbers’ Pakistani guides before shooting the climbers as they slept in tents.

The attackers reportedly wore police uniforms, an increasingly common tactic that Taliban militants have used to evade scrutiny.

In all, 10 people were killed, including five from Ukraine, two from China, and one from Russia, according to preliminary information from Pakistani authorities. At least one Pakistani guide also was killed. At least one Chinese tourist survived and was rescued from the area, known as Fairy Meadows, officials said.

Pakistan’s interior minister said a US citizen was killed in the assault. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said four bodies have been identified, including those of a Chinese-American, two Chinese, and one local guide who is thought to be a Nepali national.

Matthew Boland, acting spokesman for the US Embassy in Islamabad, said authorities were withholding the identification of the American until relatives could be notified.

‘‘The United States government strongly condemns the terrorist attack on tourists in the northern areas of Pakistan in which nine innocent tourists and a Pakistani guide were murdered,’’ Boland said. ‘‘The US Embassy Islamabad expresses its deepest condolences to the family and friends of the US citizen and the other innocent tourists who were killed.’’

Boland said the FBI was working closely with Pakistani authorities to gather more information on the attack.

The assault occurred in the picturesque Gilgit-Baltistan area, a popular tourist area in the Himalayas near the country’s border with China. Nanga Parbat rises to 26,660 feet. The world’s second-largest mountain, K2, with an elevation of 28,251 feet, straddles Gilgit-Baltistan’s border with China.

The slayings come as Pakistan’s military and government have been trying to combat a wave of terrorist bombings and sectarian attacks, including some aimed at Shi’ites in the northern part of the country.

Attacks on foreigners have been rare, and Sunday’s killings rattled Pakistan’s government.

Khan, the interior minister, spent part of Sunday fielding calls from worried ambassadors, including Chinese envoy Xu Feihong.

‘‘He asked whether Chinese tourists were the target, and I said Pakistan was the target,’’ he said. ‘‘The terrorists want to give a message to the world that Pakistan is an insecure place and insecure country.’’

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has vowed to rebuild Pakistan’s economy. He said such acts of ‘‘cruelty and inhumanity’’ wouldn’t deter the state from efforts ‘‘to make Pakistan a safe place for tourists.’’

But Syed Mehdi Shah, the chief minister in Gilgit-Baltistan, said he worries that the incident will hurt the local economy, which relies heavily on the summer climbing season.

‘‘It will have negative effects on tourism in the scenic northern areas, which is the sole source of revenue of the government as well [as] of the local population,’’ he said.

Shahjahan Khetran, managing director of the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation, said the ‘‘government tries its best to provide security cover to tourists’’ in that area, including making hikers and climbers register their whereabouts.

But until now, Khetran noted, the biggest threats for tourists in that remote area were not man-made.

‘‘I personally see the involvement of some foreign hand, some foreign agency in this incident as local people could not think of carrying out such a heinous crime,’’ Khetran said. ‘‘Some foreign element could have carried out this attack to destroy Pakistani tourism.’’

For weeks, Pakistan’s Taliban has been vowing that it would avenge the death of Rehman, who was killed May 29 when a suspected CIA-operated drone fired two missiles into a house in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region.

US officials have not confirmed that they carried out that strike, but they had issued a $5 million reward for Rehman’s capture after he was linked to a 2009 assault that killed seven Americans at a CIA training facility in Afghanistan.

At the time, the Pakistani Taliban partly blamed the Islamabad government for not doing more to stop suspected US drone strikes on Pakistani soil.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note- The tragic killing of these innocent foreign mountaineers in Pakistan goes to show that the Taliban one again can not be trusted and it is foolish to negotiate with them or even try. Pakistan must eradicate this menace from wiithin and only then will the citizens of Pakistan and other nations ever be safe.

Pakistan, Afghanistan trade accusations at U.N. over extremist havens

By Michelle Nichols for Reuters

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Afghanistan and Pakistan traded accusations in the U.N. Security Council on Thursday over the whereabouts of Islamist extremists on their porous border as the United Nations described increased tensions between the neighbors as “unfortunate and dangerous.”

Afghanistan’s U.N. envoy, Zahir Tanin, told a council debate on the situation in Afghanistan that “terrorist sanctuaries continue to exist on Pakistan’s soil and some elements continue to use terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy.”

Pakistan’s U.N. ambassador, Masood Khan, said “terrorists operate on both sides of the porous border” and many attacks against Pakistan were planned on Afghan soil. He said aggressive policing and border surveillance were needed.

“I reject most emphatically Ambassador Tanin’s argument – root, trunk and branch – that terrorist sanctuaries exist in Pakistan and some elements continue to use terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy,” Khan told the council.

He told Reuters in an interview afterward that Tanin had been “ill-advised” to raise the border issues at the Security Council as Kabul and Islamabad were already talking through other channels. Khan blamed Afghan President Hamid Karzai for stoking tensions.

“When President Karzai meets our leadership, he’s most gracious, engaging, he’s a statesman. But when he talks to the media, he says things which inflame sentiment and that’s most unhelpful and destabilizing,” Khan said. “We have given very restrained responses.”

Pakistan’s role in the 12-year-old war in Afghanistan has been ambiguous – it is a U.S. ally but has a long history of supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan in a bid to counter the influence of its regional rival India.

Pakistan’s military played a key role in convincing Afghan Taliban leaders to hold talks with the United States, U.S. and Pakistani officials said, but Afghan anger at fanfare over the opening of the Taliban’s Qatar office this week has since delayed preliminary discussions.

“We were talking to multiple interlocutors behind the scenes and we have been asking them to participate in these talks, (telling them) that we think the war should come to an end,” Khan told Reuters.

‘SUCCEED OR FAIL TOGETHER’

U.S.-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in late 2001 for refusing to hand over al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Pakistan helped the Taliban take power in Afghanistan in the 1990s and is facing a Taliban insurgency itself. The Pakistani Taliban, known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban, is a separate entity from the Afghan Taliban, though allied with them.

“Stability and sanctity of Pakistan-Afghanistan border is a shared responsibility. Robust deployment of Pakistani troops on our side is meant to interdict terrorists and criminals,” Khan told the council. “This must be matched from the other side.”

A spate of cross-border shelling incidents by the Pakistani military, who said they were targeting Taliban insurgents, has killed dozens of Afghan civilians in the past couple of years.

“We are very concerned with ongoing border shelling,” Tanin told the council. “This constitutes a serious threat to Afghan sovereignty and the prospect of friendly relations between the two countries.”

U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan, Jan Kubis, told the Security Council that the heightened tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan were a serious concern, especially at this stage of Afghanistan’s development.

“Such tensions are unfortunate and dangerous,” he said.

The NATO command in Kabul on Tuesday handed over lead security responsibility to Afghan government forces across the country and most foreign troops are due to withdraw from the country by the end of 2014.

“It is for the two countries to address these concerns and problems and their underlying reasons, to build trust and to refrain from any step that could contribute to an escalation of tensions and inflamed public sentiments,” Kubis said.

“They share common concerns and interests in fighting terrorism. They can succeed or fail together,” he said.

Militants blow up historic Pakistan building linked to Mohammad Ali Jinnah : officials

As Reported by The AP

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Separatist militants blew up a historic building linked to Pakistan’s founding father in the country’s violence-plagued southwest after shooting dead a guard in a predawn attack on Saturday, officials said.

The attackers, armed with automatic weapons entered the 19th century wooden Ziarat Residency after midnight and planted several bombs, senior administration official Nadeem Tahir told AFP.

Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the driving force behind the creation of the Pakistan, spent his last days in the building which was declared a national monument following his death, one year after the country’s independence in 1947.

The building is in Ziarat town, 80 kilometres southeast of Quetta, the capital of insurgency-hit Balochistan province. “They shot dead the guard who resisted the intruders,” Tahir said. Police official Asghar Ali said militants planted several bombs and detonated them by remote control. “The Ziarat Residency, which had its balcony, floor and front made of wood, has been totally gutted,” he said.

At least four blasts were heard in the town, he said. The building caught fire and it took five hours to bring the blaze under control as Ziarat, a small hill station, has no fire brigade. A separatist-group later claimed responsibility for the attack.

“We blew up the Ziarat Residency,” Meerak Baluch, a spokesman for the Balochistan Liberation Army said from undisclosed location. “We dont recognise any Pakistani monument.” No one has been arrested, officials said.

Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest but most undeveloped province on the Iranian and Afghan border, is racked by Islamist and sectarian violence as well as a long-running separatist insurgency, and attacks on official buildings and security forces are common. The attack came after the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) party of prime minister Nawaz Sharif won the May 11 elections in the country.

Sharif appointed Baloch nationalist leaders as governor and chief minister, raising hopes that a coalition between PML-N and nationalist parties could address some of the long-held grievances in the province about its treatment by the federal government.

Prime Minister Sharif and several political leaders strongly condemned the attack while Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar promised arrest of the attackers. Hundreds of people including, some party leaders and students staged a protest rally in the town demanding “exemplary punishment of culprits involved in the attack,” witnesses said.

Provincial Chief Secretary Babar Yaqoob told reporters that “people involved in the colossal destruction of our national monument will not be spared”. “The government has ordered immediate steps to rebuild the Ziarat Residency in its original form,” he said.

“It was an undisputed structure, it had never received any threat in the past. Local people had special love for this site because it had been attracting local and foreign tourists,” he said. Ziarat, located at more than 2,500 metres above sea level and surrounded by Juniper trees is a popular tourist site.

The two-storey structure was built in 1892 and was formerly used by officials from the British Colonial rule in India. The furniture used by Jinnah and kept at its original place as national heritage since his death in September 1948, has also been destroyed, officials said.

Pakistan _ Nuclear-Armed but Short of Electricity

By Gujar Khan for The Associated Press

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A woman named Rehana Yasmin struggles to keep her sick 2-year-old granddaughter cool in a sweltering hospital where working air conditioners are rare and electric fans are idle for much of the day.

Elsewhere, households can’t rely on their refrigerators, and at textile factories, factory workers say they can’t operate their machines for enough hours to earn their daily bread.

All are victims of Pakistan’s biggest problem, one that recently brought down a government — not the U.S. drone war in its backyard, not its permanent confrontation with India, but its inability to generate enough electricity. Pakistan, nuclear-armed, can’t deliver a reliable power supply to its 180 million citizens.

“Power, power, power is the problem. It’s power at home, in the workplace, on the streets,” said Rizwana Kauser, head nurse at the hospital in the city of Gujar Khan, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) from the capital, Islamabad.

Power can be out for up to 20 hours a day in the summer. TV coverage may be lost in the middle of a cliffhanger cricket match. Office meetings are scheduled around anticipated power cuts. Without electric fans, mosquitoes proliferate. People get stuck in elevators. Meat rots in refrigerators.

The shortfalls that became the top issue in the recent election are estimated at 3,500 to 6,000 megawatts — up to a third of total demand.

The problems result in part from bad bill-collecting, which leaves utility companies short of funds to pay for the oil that powers much of the production, which in turn means the state oil company can’t buy enough oil on international markets.

Power theft is rampant, often consisting of simply slinging a hook over a conveniently placed electricity wire. The infrastructure of the state-controlled utility companies around the country is outdated, the companies are inefficient, and power plants are heavily dependent on oil despite Pakistan’s abundant coal resources, experts say.

Fixing the problems is likely to take years, leaving Nawaz Sharif, the new prime minister, with a gargantuan task. But with Pakistanis impatient for action, the government has announced plans to pay off about $5 billion owed to companies throughout the supply chain within 60 days. It’s not a long-term solution but it would at least offer the government some breathing room.

And that’s just to keep the electricity flowing. Pakistan also has a problem with delivering natural gas to households and companies, and that too will need solving if the new government hopes to last.

For Rehana Yasmin, relief can’t come too soon. She has been at the public hospital in Gujar Khan for a week, tending to her granddaughter who has dysentery. She brings her own water because there’s no electricity to run the pump of the hospital well. She buys homemade straw fans hawked in the hospital’s hallways.

For the past week, Yasmin said, “during the night we hardly have two hours of electricity and during the day, it’s minimal. This lack of electricity is making children sick and making the elders sick as well.”

Public hospitals like the one in Gujar Khan, which care for the majority who can’t afford private hospitals, generally draw power from two grids, but nowadays, especially in the hot months, there’s sometimes no electricity coming from either grid.

The hospital uses a generator during operations, but sometimes has to resort to ice to keep medicines cool.

 

It is a struggle simply to maintain basic sanitation, said Kauser, the head nurse. Wounds take longer to heal. And “When there is no water, there is no cleaning,” she said. “How can you wash the sheets?”

In the past, power cuts (“load-shedding” in Pakistani bureaucratese) used to be much shorter and followed patterns that allowed people to plan such routine activities as scheduling an office meeting or taking a shower. But it was the newer phenomenon of “unscheduled load-shedding” and the much longer outages that raised tempers to the level of an election issue.

Dr. Ashraf Nizami of the Pakistan Medical Association said that doctors are seeing more psychological effects of load-shedding, such as stress and depression.

“It is a torture for the medical community and the patients,” he said.

It’s also bad for business.

The looms in one of Waheed Raamay’s workshops are silent and soon to be sold as scrap metal. This workshop, a graveyard as Raamay calls it, is a sign of how the electricity crisis hurts Pakistan’s economy.

“This is not just the story of this single factory. There are dozens of factories in this particular area, and there are hundreds of factories in this city that have closed down due to this power crisis,” said Raamay.

Faisalabad, the third-largest city in Pakistan with a population of about 2.6 million inhabitants, is known for its textiles. But from the low-end workshops that produce for the domestic market to the warehouse-sized factories that export sheets and pillowcases to international chains, that industry is hurting — badly — as a result of the electricity crisis, say workers and factory owners.

Analysts and government officials estimate that Pakistan loses about two percent of its GDP every year due to the electricity crisis. The Pakistan Textile Exporters Association estimates about 150,000 jobs lost in Faisalabad and surrounding Punjab province over the last five years.

In the part of the city where fabric is made for local consumption, the clicking and clacking of the machines rises and falls with the load-shedding.

Workers show up hoping for a day’s work, knowing they are hostages to power cuts. A show of hands indicates all the workers are deeply in debt to their grocery stores or the factory owners. Angry job-seekers have taken to the streets in protest.

“We don’t have money to bury our dead,” said Mohammed Haneef, who was missing part of one finger from a loom accident. “My mother died and I had no money so I had to borrow money from the owners. A year later my father died, and I had to borrow money. … The situation is bad.”

Kurram Mukhtar, head of Sadaqat Limited, one of Pakistan’s leading textile manufacturers, said that from 2006 to 2010 many companies in the city and surrounding area were bankrupted by the power crisis. Owners who survived decided they needed energy independence. Now, at Mukhtar’s factory, piles of coal sit next to a massive generator that keeps the workers stitching, cutting and dying fabrics through the load-shedding.

But Mukhtar said that the cost has cut deeply into his profits, leaving no money to invest in new technologies.

He doesn’t have the option chosen by Aurangzeb Khan in the northwestern town of Mathra when his power was cut off last year over unpaid bills: Khan resorted to the tactic Pakistanis call “kunda,” the hook slung over a convenient electricity pole.

He said he did it because it pained him to see his kids suffering through the August heat. “I am not stealing electricity just for fun or pleasure but I don’t have any other option,” he said.

Such non-payment is rampant. Even government agencies are known to default on bills. And customers can always go to court to obtain a “stay-order” that forces the power company to keep supplying electricity.

“There is no concept of paying the bill,” said Ashfaque Khan, the dean of the business school at the Islamabad-based National University of Sciences and Technology.

A report in March commissioned by the Planning Commission of Pakistan estimated that the delinquencies added up to about 86 billion rupees (about $870 million) in lost revenues.

The Peshawar Electric Supply Company, whose coverage area includes Khan’s home, was said to be one of the worst at bill-collecting, though it suffers the added problem of being a target for violence. In April, militants attacked a grid station outside of Peshawar, killing eight policemen and electric company officials.

The new government says it wants to increase bill collection but has given few specifics about how they’ll go about it. People like Aurangzeb Khan say they want to see improved service before they pay up.

“I know stealing is not good,” he said, “but if we get uninterrupted supply of electricity at a reasonable price we shall pay the bills.”

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