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A sad place, indeed
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08 Jun 2010
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I have to start with the drama fast unfolding in the honourable Supreme Court, and the reaction to it that one meets on the street and on the Internet.

I wonder how conversant My Lords are with cyberspace, especially when one sees the utter abandon with which the Lahore High Court first ordered Facebook banned and a few days later restored.

In the interim Pakistan was made to look like a foolish country with foolish people who did not have any idea about what was good for them and what was not.

But surely, some of them will know what is going about on the Internet, particularly from bloggers from Sindh and Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa about the ethnic makeup of the Supreme Court.

I say what I am saying with extreme humility, and as a good friend and supporter, nay as a loyal servant of an independent judiciary. I merely point out what I do to caution My Lords that parallels are being drawn between the present court and the hanging bench that despatched another Sindhi, that time the brilliant Zulfikar Ali Bhutto via the hangman’s noose: the four Punjabis on the bench convicting and the three non-Punjabis acquitting.

A noose that should never have been used according to Nasim Hassan Shah, one of the hanging judges, in several interviews he has given over the last five or so years.

What is the parallel you might well ask? ZAB, an elected leader of great note within the country, and of world renown abroad on the one hand, and the much-maligned Asif Zardari on the other? But this is the whole point, is it not? When the smaller provinces feel badly done by — Bhutto’s judicial murder; Nawab Akbar Bugti’s cold-blooded and targeted killing; the disappearance of many Baloch and Sindhi activists — the seeming relentlessness of Asif Zardari’s pursuit does not enter the equation.

This is what people in positions of authority in this poor and fraying federation must understand, and the sooner the better. Incidentally, the whole argument about ethnicity is just that: ethnicity and not the province in which someone or other resides or is domiciled.

One more time might I suggest too, that in order to demonstrate that they are not only interested in the laying low of the federal government in particular, and politicians and parliament in general, that My Lords step back to give and take some respite, and call other weighty matters before them in suo motu actions as well? At the top of which very long list is the matter of the disappeared which is really attaining alarming proportions.

Critically, it seems an absolute exercise in futility to have a retired judge heading a tribunal of inquiry on the disappeared when a bench of the Supreme Court itself cannot (will not?) summon an army officer above the rank of colonel before it.

To revert to the terrible atrocity perpetrated on our Ahmadi brothers and sisters, first off, my deep gratitude to the Pakistan Army for burying with full military honours the well-considered Maj-Gen (retd) Nasir Ahmed Chaudhry, a 90-year old gentleman who was gunned down in cold blood with the worshippers. Well done, my army, and may this spirit of loyalty and fairness and rectitude guide the high command in other matters too. Today I am a proud former soldier.

My piece of last week was more a personal journey in time: remembering old friends and recalling a time when there was no distinction between Sunnis and Shias and Ahmadis and Bohris and Aga Khanis and what have you, each worshipping his God in his own way, but all equal citizens of the state. This week we must look at the reaction of the state to the killings of Ahmadis as compared to that which is put on display when others are similarly butchered by people who cannot abide those who do not subscribe to their own, narrow beliefs.

For, it is a sad fact that others, whether they be Shias or Sunnis of this or that sect and creed and belief, all have been targets of the obscurantist killers of humanity. Indeed, our Christian and Hindu and Sikh brothers and sisters have likewise been targeted by cruel murderers. But every time that some outrage has taken place, political leaders have bestirred themselves and visited the homes of those killed. Why not this time?

The Ahmadis might be considered non-Muslim by the state; surely they are still Pakistani? Surely, then, all of the protections and succour that a state should provide its citizens are to be extended to them too?

Far more than this, please note that the compensation which is announced immediately for those killed or injured as a result of such wanton acts in the case of others, was announced five days after the event in the case of the Ahmadis (Rs500,000 and 100,000 respectively for those killed and injured). Indeed, look at the language used while announcing compensation: “Jo maraygaey” for those who were killed. Surely there are kinder terms that could have been used, such as “Jo jaan bahak huay”; “Jo halaak huay”; even “Jo faut huay”!

Why are we so cruel towards the poor Ahmadis, can some one please tell me?

Let me add in passing that my Ahmadi friends tell me that the reply of their community to the offer of compensation is that the community is well placed to look after its own, thank you very much, and that the compensation which is to be paid should be transferred to the people of Hunza-Gojal for the relief work which is ongoing and which will surely increase as the disaster widens.

Pakistan is a sad, sad place my friends; a twisted and pitiless and heartless caricature of what our founding fathers had in mind. I am heartbroken. Kudos, however, to Nawaz Sharif for openly saying that the Ahmadis are our brothers. Of course, it is another matter that the obscurantist elements have jumped down his throat! More strength to him I say.

kshafi1@yahoo.co.uk

Dangerous portents
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20 Apr 2010
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Kamran Shafi
Tuesday, 20 Apr, 2010

I was horrified to see recently a private TV channel advertising one of their talk shows with the blurb ‘Chief teray jan nisar…’ and then the names A.H. Pirzada, Akram Sheikh and one other that I do not recall.

The host of the show is the same person who was appointed head of PTV at a whopping salary and even more whopping perks but was sacked for reasons never fully explained, turning fiercely anti-federal government and all who sail in it.

In the event I could not see the first part of the programme for I was entertaining guests at the time so I do not know if the two gentlemen named in the advertising ticker appeared on the show. But I did manage to catch Imran Khan and Qazi Anwar, in the closing minutes, fulminating wildly against the government, 18th Amendment and all.

Now then, whilst it is no business of mine what anyone says about any government or person or matter, it is my bounden duty to protest the use of the chief justice’s name to push a TV talk show. Remember that ‘Chief teray jan nisar, beshumar, beshumar’ was one of the slogans coined during the movement to restore the superior judiciary, and one that I myself have shouted until I went hoarse.

My Lord the Chief Justice was particularly mentioned in the slogan because he it was that took the brave step of facing down an army dictator and his boorish flunkeys. We must remember too that some of those who are now professing (or are alleged) to be My Lord’s jan nisars are the same who were Dogar’s jan nisars during the days he was the so-called chief justice. They appeared in Dogar’s court, when the restored judiciary was incarcerated along with their families and protesting lawyers had boycotted the higher courts. To add insult to injury, one of their number is Ahmad Raza Kasuri who was the Commando’s own lawyer when the dictator was at loggerheads with the CJ. Can you believe any of this, reader?

Let me say that whilst I continue to be a jan nisar of an independent judiciary, I also stand unequivocally on the side of the people’s will as expressed by their representatives in parliament, of the rule of law, of a kind and gentle state which looks after all of its people no matter of which religious denomination or creed.

Whilst I stand for complete freedom of expression, I will loudly object when media houses deliberately goad organs of the state onto a collision course as seems to be happening right now. It is time for all concerned to step back, take two deep breaths, and live and let live.

A word of appreciation for COAS Kayani’s apology for the loss of innocent life in the recent Khyber air raid. This is the way it ought to be: an organ of government sending a clear signal that it is not so high and mighty that it cannot take responsibility for a wrong committed. Mayhap the air chief should also apologise, as should the government in the ministry of defence. Well, come to think of it, why not the president and the prime minister too?

Which reminds me. What’s with the ludicrous new-fangled badges of rank that the Pakistan Air Force is wearing instead of the old ones — elegant stripes worn by air forces across the world? Apart from looking like an imitation of one of the Gulf states’ badges of rank, they are cluttered and busy to the point of making one’s eyes crossed! Talking of which reminds me again — what is this girlie brocade tassels-and-sash nonsense that has replaced the Sam Browne belt worn with the service dress by army officers?

The higher the rank the more girlie it gets. Looks absolutely absurd if you ask me. By the way, if anyone says the two changes have been made because the old uniform was a holdover from colonial days I shall scream. Get rid of the trouser too then; and of the beret and the peak-cap, and into shalwars and turbans….

A short excerpt from this newspaper of April 6. “Accusing the army and Rangers of being involved in ‘blatant water theft’, the Punjab irrigation department has urged the chief minister to ‘immediately take up the matter at appropriate level’.

“Water theft has become a serious issue over the past two decades and is seriously affecting canal operations and equitable distribution of water. Theft by influential people at the head-reaches results in water shortage and deprives the poor farmers at the tail of these channels. Against this backdrop, water theft by state agencies robs the department of any moral authority to go after small farmers.”

The summary goes on to cite specific cases and has named the formations/units involved, alleging that in Bahawalpur Zone alone, 356 cusecs of water is being stolen every day. Detailing instances of water theft in other divisions, the summary states that Okara and Sheikhupura are also affected with this theft going on there too.

It also gives details of an incident in which army soldiers first abused and then “took away” for a time a sub divisional officer, when a party of police and irrigation department officials came to close an unauthorised outlet in Bahawalpur. The summary points out that the stolen water irrigates encroached lands, and that because more land is encroached upon every year, more water is required resulting in a still higher incidence of water theft.

First, the secretary of the irrigation department of the Punjab should be congratulated, not only for authoring as clear a summary as this one, he should also be appreciated for having the plain guts to call a spade a spade.

Second, the case must be dealt with in the manner that any case is dealt with by the canal magistrate who should impose exact same penalties on the so-called contractors as he would on an ordinary farmer. I have farmed too and remember well how unthinkable it was to lay pipes and steal canal water!

Next, the army formations/units/Rangers involved should immediately desist from such commercial activity. It should be realised that the army particularly has earned itself a very bad name indeed due to other such ‘non-martial’ pursuits such as baking bread and pastries, and selling tikka-kababs out of officer’s messes, case in point: the artillery mess in Rawalpindi.

kshafi1@yahoo.co.uk

Come clean, there is still time
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13 Apr 2010
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Kamran Shafi
Tuesday, 13 Apr, 2010

IT’S official: according to none other than this journal of record, the 12-year old child “left outside a house in Karachi [on Sunday, April 4, 2008]

is the missing daughter of Dr Aafia Siddiqui, the neuroscientist who was convicted in a US court for shooting at her US interrogators in Afghanistan.”

The child was left at Dr Aafia Siddiqui’s house by an American the child referred to as ‘Uncle John’ and who has since disappeared into thin air.

I have long held that Dr Siddiqui’s case was/is a very curious one indeed. Let us recap from the time that she disappeared from Karachi in the company of her three children in March 2003 until the time (July 17, 2008) that she was found loitering outside the Ghazni governor’s compound in Afghanistan in the company of a young lad said to be her son and both were taken into custody by the Afghan police.

She was alleged to be carrying inflammable materials and maps of potential targets in the United States “in jars” in her handbag. How big these ‘jars’ were, and how many kilogrammes of explosives were being transported in them was not mentioned to astounded readers.

We were not told either what in the world Dr Siddiqui was doing in Ghazni, Afghanistan, right outside the governor’s compound and under the very noses of American and Afghan forces and police. I wrote at the time that mayhap she had gone to Ghazni to catch the United Airlines early evening flight to JFK.

We were also informed that the next day, Dr Siddiqui had been shot in the abdomen “at least once” by an American soldier in self-defence after coming under fire from Dr Siddiqui who had come rushing out from behind a curtain where she was being held “unrestrained” for questioning, and picking up an M4 service rifle that had been left “at his feet” by an American warrant officer, had fired at him. And that but for the timely deflection of her shot by an Afghan interpreter she should have killed the American.

Whilst her son was arrested with her in Ghazni we were also told in a letter penned to the press by the US ambassador to Pakistan H.E. Anne Patterson that the American authorities had absolutely no idea about what had happened to her three children who had disappeared with her in March 2003. And now this young child turns up at her grandparents home in Karachi in the company of ‘Uncle John’. Curiouser and curiouser.

This story was beyond belief then, it is beyond belief now. It defied credibility then, it defies credibility now. There are holes the size of the Titanic in this ‘official’ version of events and at the time that this seeming poppycock was being rolled out, I had written a riposte to the US ambassador’s letter on several aspects.

For example as someone who has handled small arms as a soldier in the infantry; has taught them, and therefore has fired thousands of rounds from all types of small arms, I couldn’t for the life of me imagine even a first-class shooter pick up a rifle he/she did not know, cock it, find the safety catch and flip it, and fire it in under the three seconds that it probably took the alleged Afghan translator to allegedly lunge at Siddiqui and allegedly deflect her alleged shot.

I also asked why Siddiqui had been shot at after she had been overpowered by the Afghan translator and had probably been well and truly subdued, for she is no Samson.

To prove the point that it was highly unlikely for this frail woman to do what she was alleged to have done, I suggested to the ambassador who seems to have the same dimensions as Dr Siddiqui to get one of her Marines at the embassy to place a loaded M4 service rifle (on ‘safe’ as is the standard operating procedure) on the ground near her. She should then pick it up, cock it, flip the safety catch and fire it. I had suggested that she may well fail to even cock the seven-pound heavy rifle in 10 seconds, let alone fire it in three.

I had reminded the ambassador of the embarrassment, nay disgrace, his handlers brought her former boss, the good Gen Colin Powell, when they made him tell white lies on live TV about Iraq’s so-called weapons of mass destruction.

I had said that whilst America had its Sarah ‘Barracuda’ Palins also, who can shoot and skin (and eat?) a moose in under 17 minutes, what we Pakistanis must do is to pray with all our might that Barack Obama and Joe Biden beat the living daylights out of McCain and the Barracuda. And that we are rid of the neocon madmen and women who not only hold America the Beautiful by the jugular, but the rest of the world by the throat too.

Well, friends, we are rid of the mindless ‘Dubya’ and his keepers; the intelligent and compassionate Barack Obama is now the president of the mightiest country on the face of the planet. Now then Excellency, who is this Maryam girl; and who is her Uncle John? And where is Dr Siddiqui’s third child please?

As I have said earlier, if some foolish official has messed up on the Afia Siddiqui case please do not exacerbate the matter by covering up for him/her and bringing America the Beautiful into more disrepute. Tell the whole truth even now; put the matter right even now. Dr Afia Siddiqui is accused of crimes ranging from buying blood diamonds to planning terrorist attacks to being the vilest person on earth. Yet, she was charged in court with what can only be called an impossible crime.

Please act now, if only for the reason that America is home to some of the kindest hearted and generous and warm and disarmingly simple people anywhere on this planet.

kshafi1@yahoo.co.uk

We must never forget Ziaul Haq
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30 Mar 2010
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Kamran Shafi
Tuesday, 30 Mar, 2010

We are told that Ziaul Haq, yes the very same Ziaul Haq at whose door the responsibility of unleashing the demons responsible for most of our present travails can and should be placed, is to be excised from the nation’s history by his name being struck off the list of Pakistani presidents.

One has to immediately ask if this act will also take away the spectre of religious extremism that the man gave birth to and nurtured until it became a scourge that we Pakistanis have to face every moment of our lives; or that the baradari (clan) politics he (re-)introduced will simply go away; or that it will automatically rid the country of his horrendous Hudood Ordinances under which tens of poor women have been horribly violated and hundreds of our minority brothers and sisters have been murdered and tortured and jailed?

No, a thousand times no. Instead of removing his name from the squalid history of our poor country, Ziaul Haq’s name must be kept alive so that succeeding generations are reminded of the tyrant and his doings that so completely destroyed Pakistan and its social fabric.

Statues of the dictator, resplendent in his general’s uniform gongs, ribbons, medals, sashes, toshdans and all, should be raised in all the major cities of Pakistan with his crimes against the people inscribed in large letters on marble plaques at the base of the statues.

Rather than forgetting the man, the government should periodically run paid advertisements in the newspapers and on television stations enumerating his acts that have brought the country to near ruin.

Indeed, these ads could be run immediately after another heartrending bombing carried out by the religious terrorists who can rightly be called ‘Zia’s grandchildren’; bombings that kill and maim and terrorise even women and children. No, friends, we must never forget the dictator and what he did to us.

On to other matters; first to the NRO. Enough already, as the Americans say. I was absolutely against the NRO when it was first mooted as a way that would facilitate Benazir’s return to the country, as also the return of others from her party who had been charged with wrongdoing by Musharraf’s dictatorship.

It was akin to throwing the dictator a lifeline I thought, when he was weakened by the lawyers movement against the dismissal of the superior judiciary. In hindsight I was wrong: if there hadn’t been an NRO, Musharraf would still have been sitting at the top of the heap; the political parties would still have been out in the cold, and let alone being restored, the judges would still have been under house arrest.

No NRO, no giving up his uniform (his ‘second skin’, remember?), no political parties; no political parties, no elections; no elections, no parliament; no parliament, no political manoeuvring; no political manoeuvring, no long march; no long march, no restoration of judges, and so on and on and on.

Seriously, does anyone think that Musharraf could have been dislodged by the lawyers backed by a handful of ‘civil society’? On deep reflection, I think not. So, enough already on the NRO. The point has been made that it was a bad law: can we just let go of it now; give elected people the chance to complete their terms and the people the chance to vote them out in the next election? As I have said before, if this government does not complete its term, neither will the next.

And another thing. Will everyone stop hounding the so-called ‘NRO beneficiaries’? Everyone and Charlie’s Aunt knows that in most cases trumped-up charges were made against their detractors by successive Pakistani governments, dictatorships and others.

However, if those who are demanding action now that the NRO has been declared null and void feel they must go on regardless, it is their moral duty to also demand that the armed forces and the judiciary be made accountable under the same accountability laws too. Let us have no holy cows.

Enough already on the Kerry-Lugar Bill, now law, too. Look at it this way: since the army high command which started it all (‘furious’ was a term used to describe the feelings of the brass hats), has just been to Washington D.C. and sued (as in beg for something) for this and that and the other, is it not time that others who thought that the Kerry-Lugar law took away Pakistan’s ‘sovereignty’ stopped criticising it? It is a perfectly worded law, may it live long.

A word on the judicial crisis. The slapping of a senior civil judge (in court, mark) by a lawyer in Faisalabad, and before that the thrashing of journalists and police officials by other lawyers in the Lahore courts, should make it very clear to My Lords of the superior judiciary that the sense of conquering all before them is turning very ugly indeed.

It ought to be realised that lawyers are not storm-troopers, ready to attack all comers, even judges sitting on the bench, at the slightest provocation. This will not happen unless it is realised that lawyers, as also the judiciary, are mortal too, that they are not all-powerful. And this will not happen unless the judiciary sets parameters for itself and says clearly that there are matters of governance that should be left to the elected parliament and the government that comes from parliament.

The judiciary should look back and see the trials and tribulations it has come through, the many ups and downs it has seen, mainly downs. It should look back and see the many episodes that did not exactly paint it in a kindly light, more than anything else the judicial murder of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto at the behest of the man we must never forget.

It needs to understand more than anything else that it was only a civilian dispensation that gave it back the freedom so cruelly taken from it by an army dictator. The very best start to this will be My Lord the Chief Justice immediately recusing himself and his office from any committee set up to appoint judges. If he sends the message that parliament, which embodies the peoples will is supreme, he will go down in history as a truly great man.

kshafi1@yahoo.co.uk

The chestnuts are our own
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23 Mar 2010
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Kamran Shafi
Tuesday, 23 Mar, 2010

And by golly are they in a raging fire, no matter what anyone says. So let us say it straight. Rather than cursing the Americans for being in Afghanistan and making us fight the war against terror, we should be grateful that they forced the Pakistani establishment, at that time under the command of the Commando, to turn on its own creation.

To prove the point let us see what would have happened if our establishment had not made a U-turn as a direct consequence of the 9/11 attacks on New York and had refused to join the Americans. Let us also suppose that the Americans would not have bombed us to smithereens (or into the Stone Age, take your pick) for fear of further destabilising Pakistan and only making their own fight in Afghanistan that much more difficult.

Would we have gone on supporting the medieval Taliban and their government as theretofore, despite the horrors they visited upon the Afghan people specially women? For one, and if I recall correctly, an edict issued by Mullah Omar was that women (doctors, nurses, teachers) could not leave their homes, i.e. could not work. Another was that women could not go to see male doctors. So what were they to do then? Die quietly?

Let’s take another tack. There is no question that, even if we had not joined them, the Americans would have assaulted Afghanistan just the way they did, first from the air, and then from the ground in coalition with the Northern Alliance to rid it of the Taliban who were, by their own admission, shielding Al Qaeda. How, pray would Pakistan have handled the fallout of that assault? How would this country have faced the influx of the Afghan Taliban escaping the massive bombardment and land assault, pursued as they would have been by American forces and air power into Pakistan?

There is no question that that mad enterprise, had it taken place, would have resulted in complete disaster for Pakistan. Which is why it defies the senses to see good people like Imran Khan go on saying ad nauseam that this is not our war. And further, that all it will take for the Taliban to stop their brutal attacks on Pakistan is the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan. How wrong is that, when there is every evidence that Taliban of every hue, and yes there are Punjabi Taliban too, are after only one prize: the takeover of the Pakistani state?

The evidence of this lies in the oft-repeated Taliban mantra of pan-Islamism à la organisations like the Hizbut Tahrir; the former al-Muhajiroun now called Islam4UK (who came up with the brilliantly stupid idea of protesting the respect given to fallen British servicemen and women by the city of Wootton Bassett in their adopted country, the UK, and from which they cravenly withdrew three days later), and other such crazies.

However, just to argue the demand made by people like Imran Khan, Gen Hamid Gul, Jamaat-i-Islami ameer Munawwar Hussain (Qazi Sahib come back) & Co, what if the Americans lost their mind and did leave Afghanistan tomorrow, festering wounds and all? How in heaven’s name will we survive the whirlwind that will come sweeping in then, marrying up with the storm brewing in the southern heartland of Punjab?

Which immediately reminds me: if we do not stand up and recognise that there is a deeply rooted and most brutal Taliban movement in Punjab itself how will we ever do anything about it? Reports from Bahawalpur and Jhang and environs suggest that the madressahs there are some of the most poisonous anywhere and that the local administration is petrified of the militant clerics and often covers up for them.

Let me add as an aside that there were many credible reports from credible and good people at the time that innocent men and women in poor, beautiful, ravaged Swat were being mercilessly slaughtered, that those from Punjab were the most brutal of the slaughterers.

I am a Punjabi, so it gives me no pleasure to say that some of my compatriots are mindlessly brutal: I say this because we have begun to think that all Taliban are Pakhtun; because we look at our Pakhtun brothers with suspicion and our police invariably target those who live in Punjab whenever something untoward takes place. We must remedy that by facing up to the fact that brutes can be found in any ethnic group: Punjabi, Pakhtun, Baloch, Sindhi, Mohajir, you name it.

We must also ensure that no government figure, be it Salman Taseer or Rana Sanaullah, ever again shares a podium with a member of a banned extremist organisation (they both did). Or that any plea is made to these brutes to spare one province or another: they only understand force and it is only with force that they will be subdued.

By the by, our too-clever-by-half security establishment ought to brace itself for certain disclosures soon to be made by Pakistani-American David Headley aka Daud Gillani, who has entered a plea bargain with US authorities for a reduced sentence and is reportedly singing like a canary. Let’s see which song he sings for the Indians when they grill him on Mumbai and other such ‘operations’. He has named certain names which are already public — we wait with bated breath for others.

I write this on World Water Day. The following is the laboratory report on water taken from the Wah springs, a once pristine source of fresh spring water from where the premier defence installation the Pakistan Ordnance Factories draws its drinking water. On Oct 23, 2007 the report had this to say: MPN (Most Probable Number) of coliforms: 18+/100ml; MPN of E. coli: 18+/100ml. On March 15, 2008: MPN of coliforms: 55/100ml; MPN of faecal coli-forms: 45/100ml; confirmed E. coli count: 45/100ml.

So there! We, the POFs and us who live in the area, are literally drinking human excreta! The huge jump in both readings (and the newest of these is fully two years old, mark) is due to the fact that houses and resultant soakage pits are coming up on the Wah hill from which flow the springs.

There is only one way to go about this. For the government through the POFs to acquire the portions of the Wah hill that house these springs and move the people who live on it to alternative accommodations. A very great contribution of the POFs would be to facilitate a fenced-in nature park on this hill containing a sanctuary for the once plentiful partridge, a bird that has been practically wiped out from the area.

k.shafi1@yahoo.co.uk

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