Archive for January, 2011

First published in the Islamabad Dateline (19.01.2010)

Pakistan is passing through challenging times” – a sentence we have all heard, ad nauseum growing up in Pakistan. Reality has not been much different; only to mention a few tribulations in the last decade, Pakistan has witnessed momentous humanitarian crisis, political intricacies, mass movement against dictatorship and on-going war in our backyard.

These multi dimensional problems have challenged the ideological, political, religious, social and economic ambiance of our country to a great extent.

However, some problems are temporary, but their effects penetrate deep into the society. War on terror, drone attacks, flood devastation and very recently, the murder of Governor Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, will leave deep impact on our society for time unknown.

Strong state institutions, working in their prescribed periphery form a stronger state which can mitigate the fall out caused by natural or man-made disasters. Sadly, state institutions of Pakistan, over time, due to continuous intervention of military were never provided with an opportunity to resurrect and are still not entirely capable to effectively challenge the nation’s lunge into confusion, hopelessness and despair when a tragic event takes the news room by storm.

I cannot relate to many countries that may have faced such multi-faced problems as we have in the last decade. But we managed to steer through some of the biggest humanitarian crisis in modern history, mainly due to the perseverance of the common man of Pakistan, who lends a helping hand whenever needed.

The power paradigm cannot shift overnight; neither can democracy in its infancy be held completely responsible for problems inherited by the military regimes short-sighted policies. State might have played a role in aggravating the situation, at times, but an optimist might be able to see light at the end of a tunnel.

Democracy never ends at the ballot, but then again, democratic norms evolve in the society where the system is allowed to prevail and it is not rocket science that bad representatives are in fact elected by the good people, who chose to remain apathetic. Persistence, not sudden burst of exuberance, makes great nations and we might just need to be persistent and then filtration will automatically start. So, things might not be as bleak and hopeless, as they might appear to be.

 It was never meant to be an idealistic perfect world; yes, our society still needs to introspect and build majority consensus on various socio-political and religion-political fronts but at the least we have something to begin with.

The atrocious murder of Butt brothers, in Sialkot, had thousands protesting against it. So what if only 2500 people showed up in Lahore to pay homage to the late Governor, denouncing the brutal and uncalled for murder, against 40000 on streets threatening not even to spark a debate on the very issue – we at least have a few vowing to voice out their opinion.

 How long can the silent majority remain apathetic? It will have to stand up to re-own the country it was supposed to have and like said, there is already something to start with.

 We still have a long way to go. Problems are many, but solutions have already been identified, they just need to find the greater voice. Here, collective wisdom of masses will play a defining role in defining the future of Pakistan.

The earlier we learn to own the ills within our ranks, the earlier we will be able to find cures. The problem is in us, not in just one or two offices.

An optimist like me, will always see hope for a tolerant, progressive and democratic Pakistan. The activist in me will always struggle to bring the change, instead of dreaming for it. It takes many a rubs to polish a gem, let’s see how many more rubs will end up polishing us.

Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi — An aeronautical engineer by force, an activist by mind, a lover by heart & a wanderer by soul. He is the founder of Pakistan Youth Alliance and can be reached at damanwiddaplan@hotmail.con

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My diary (log) was published in December issue of  Media Voice Magazine (Page 66-77)

Text version:

Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi and his friends took a journey from Islamabad to the flood-affected South Punjab with relief materials on October 23. From Nature’s fury and terrorism to snack stopovers, his log speaks of varied experiences.

1700hrs (October 23, 2010)
I was en-route Lahore with three volunteers to make a delivery of relief items to flood affected South Punjab. Hammid Ali, an MBA student, Shakeel Ahsan, an HR executive and Hammad Atta, a telecom engineer were with me on the trip started from Islamabad. We would meet more volunteers in Lahore where we will have to load three trucks with relief with relief items overnight and start our journey early morning the next day.

2000hrs (October 23, 2010)
Talking about the spot-fixing scandals of Pakistani cricketers on the Motorways we had a snack-break. Everyone had his own perception of what’s happening with Pakistan cricket, and same variation of perceptions existed about socio-political problems that we were facing. One wondered, if we will ever find common grounds to move forward.

2300hrs (October 23, 2010)
Markets and hang-out places remained open till late night in Lahore unlike Islamabad which closes down by 9pm. Lahori boys get hyper on weekends and horde the roads on their bikes. Driving through the haphazard traffic wasn’t an easy task. We finally reached the whole-sale bazaar near railway station in Mughalpura, where our trucks were ready to be loaded.

0200hrs (October 24, 2010)
Trucks were loaded. More volunteers arrived from Lahore. A US –based filmographer, Yasmin accompanied us to make a documentary. We had earlier asked for two trucks. One more truck had to be arranged, which demanded huge amount. Although I was angry at the truck-driver who was being unreasonable and cashing in on our emergency need, we had no other option but to hire him.

0500 (October 24, 2010)
Trucks were on their way to Daira Deen Panah, a town adversely affected by monstrous flood water. We had time to kill, and we decided to visit Data Sahib (mausoleum of Hazrat Ali Hajveri, the famous Sufi saint). This tomb recently faced the brunt of a terrorist attack killing many. Many malangs/wanderers were sitting around the tomb, and the atmosphere was simply ecstatic. After paying homage to Data Sahib, we then had to have sizzling breakfast of halva-puri in ‘andaroon’ Lahore (old Lahore which was a walled city).

0800 hrs [24th Oct, 2010]
We are on the way to South Punjab now. In the coaster with loud music playing ‘chal way Bulleya othay chaliyeh’ singing, chatting and some playing cards. We are total 12 relief workers. I and Maryam were talking about how after Ramadan, donations have dwindled and people are not donating open-heartedly. The initial phase of immediate relief did not require as much money as the rehabilitation phase. 
1500 hrs [24th Oct, 2010] 
After 10 hours journey, we reached Kot Addu, whose town Daira Din Panah we had to hit. We had been here twice before, but then it took 26 hours as roads were blocked and bridges dismantled. Situation had changed as now only traces of water and its destruction remained. Our trucks were still 2 hours behind and again, after having a delicious lunch we visited the shrine of Syed Abdul Wahab Bukhari, known as Deen Panah, on whom the town was named. Locals told us how flood waters could not drown one street in their town, that was, where the shrine was located. 
1600 hrs [24th Oct, 2010]
We started making lines of flood affectees, our one team was here yesterday to distribute coupons in affected families. Now we called all of them, and asked the head of families to stand in a line. This impossible process of filtering out genuine affectees, trying to make others, who did not have the coupons understand that we cannot accommodate them due to our limited capacity was tedious and heart wrenching. Female volunteers made females stand in a line, where as, male volunteers made males stand a triple line to ensure distribution without hassle. 
1700 hrs [24th Oct, 2010]
Now our trucks had arrived and we started the by-hand distribution process. Each victim had coupons signed and counter signed by us, along with his National ID card to ensure genuine-ness. This process continued till it was dark and after 3 hours of distribution, reaching out to 1000 families we called it a day.
2100 hrs [24th Oct, 2010]
We called this delivery, the mystical delivery as once again we decided to visit tombs of Shah Shams Tubrez and Shah Rukh ne Alam in Multan after having dinner at Pizza Hut. The driver and conductor with us strangely took interest in trying ‘how a pizza tastes like’. We went to the tombs, which are located adjacent to each other and had never seen such tight security ever before. Police officials told us, this area was under threat from terrorists, who had been on ‘blast a shrine’ spree. An old woman sat infront of Tubrez’s shrine, asked us to go back to Lahore and pay homage to Data Ali Hajveri on her behalf. 
2300 hrs [24th Oct, 2010]
Now we were on our way back to Lahore. On our minds, the sad faces of victims who had nothing left. Schools, hospitals, homes – all washed away. Another thing that continually became a topic of discussion was our nations reaction to national disasters which showed a ‘sudden burst of patriotism and then relative numbness’. Such was the case with Pakistan floods 2010. When the disaster struck, immediate emergency relief aide needed was nothing compared to what’s needed for rehabilitating 22 Million affected souls. Regular stops were made on juice corners, truck driver hotels and pan-shops on our way back as we had no deadline to meet. Most of us were so exhausted that we went to sleep in our coaster. Others continued to ‘fight’ on issues such as cricket, Zardari, US involvement in our internal affairs and what not.

Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi is an aeronautical engineer, a poet and a social activist who is the founding force & chairperson of Pakistan Youth Alliance(http://www.pya.org.pk/). He can be found tweeting @Ali_Abbas_Zaidi (http://twitter.com/#!/Ali_Abbas_Zaidi) & is available on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/aliabbaszaidi

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