Inching towards a Blue Economy


Pakistan’s policy makers have often faced criticism for turning a blind eye to the bounties the sea has to offer. The emergence of the port of Gwadar has, to be sure, not only generated awareness about the potential of the maritime sector but has also resulted in governmental approvals for the setting up of a new shipyard and new ship recycling facilities in this remote western outpost. There are other hopeful signs too: a new deepwater container port off Karachi, a coal handling terminal at Bin Qasim and two regasification terminals at the same port are now all functional, while a more determined offshore oil exploration effort is also underway after a gap of nine years.

Ask any maritime practitioner, or policy maker for that matter, about what it takes to become a maritime power, and this is exactly the sort of medicine he would prescribe: build more ports, build more terminals, construct more ships, operate more cargo vessels, develop more shipyards, set up more ship recycling facilities, and so on, conveniently forgetting that all these activities are spurred by market forces. The seeming profitability of public sector enterprises like Pakistan National Shipping Corporation, Karachi Shipyard & Engineering Works, Karachi Port Trust and Port Qasim Authority blindsides us to the true reality behind this facade. It is not a worthwhile bargain if their gain is at the expense of the consumer or the public exchequer. Genuine progress can never occur unless outmoded concepts like right of first refusal, dependence on captive cargo, uncompetitive bids and ruthless labour exploitation (as in the case of our ship recycling yards at Gadani) are replaced with the universally accepted ones of innovation, client satisfaction, foresightedness, efficiency and competitiveness. Audit and analysis are the first tottering steps towards improvement, for unless we absorb the lessons of the past, we will never be wiser tomorrow than we are today. While taking understandable pride in the port of Gwadar, let us not sidestep hard questions like how much revenue its port authority has generated so far since the completion of its first phase in December 2005? Or why hasn’t its Industrial Zone taken off yet? Or for that matter, when will KPT finally recoup the investment made in the much-heralded Karachi Deepwater Container Terminal (now known as the South Asian Port Terminal Ltd)? Or how long will our fish stocks last if present trends of overfishing, pollution and use of illegal fishing methods persist? And while being thankful to the ship recycling yards at Gadani for their valued contribution to the national exchequer, let us not forget to shed a tear at the ruthless exploitation of labour (sans any regulatory framework) which has made this possible. ‘However beautiful the strategy,’ Churchill is reported to have observed, ‘you should occasionally look at the results.’ And the results, in our case, should not purely be restricted to monetary statistics.

It is clear that we have chosen not to profit from our own mistakes. But if we decide to seek inspiration from those that have excelled in one maritime field or another, there are models aplenty. The example of the post-WW2 Japanese ship-building industry, overshadowing all other competition, followed in due course by South Korea and China, is frequently quoted. A small country like Denmark hosts the largest shipping company in the world (Maersk). The largest number of cargo ships are Greek-owned, most of them being in private hands. The port of Rotterdam continues to retain its top position in Europe’s highly competitive environment, owing to its edge in innovation and its emphasis on client satisfaction. Philippines, with hardly 1% of the world’s population, provides 20% of its seafarers. Vietnamese fish exports, most of it obtained through aquaculture, are touching the ten billion dollar mark.

A word of caution though, which our policy makers may do well to heed: no model can be blindly followed without similar pre-conditions existing. The best course of action is thus to study all such success stories, but chart an independent trail in sync with our national priorities and levels of competence.

Our obsession with the twin goddesses of hype and profitability prevents us perhaps from noticing a relatively new buzzword, that of the ‘blue economy’, which the global maritime community is all agog about. This concept was formally unveiled at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 2012. Instead of focussing exclusively on economic growth, the ‘blue economy’ concept seeks to generate livelihoods and promote social inclusion, with the underlying premise, often ignored, that unless the health of the surrounding ocean and its fragile ecosystem is invested in, the social and economic benefits being derived will continue to decline. Apart from traditional coast and sea based activities, which forms our current area of interest, the blue economy continues to unfold and embrace multiple facets of the maritime economy. Its diverse components such as mariculture, offshore renewable energy, seabed extractive activities, marine biotechnology and marine bioprospecting possess the potential to offer dividends way beyond our wildest imagination.

In a blue economy, as mentioned earlier, the keyword is sustainability; this can however only be accomplished if the ocean and its fragile ecosystems are kept healthy and resilient enough to be able to support economic growth, not only to our benefit but also to that of our future generations.

The world in general has certainly not been kind to the oceans so far, with the shocking plunge in ocean health being directly linked to human activities. Sea warming, ocean acidity, mercury pollution and rise in seawater levels have been caused by the excessive amounts of anthropogenic carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that land processes have produced and that the oceans have been forced to absorb. The massive quantities of waste products being regularly spewed into the sea, with plastic products taking 450 years to degrade, has resulted in the creation of dead zones, with all this toxicity having combined to utterly devastate the marine habitat and coral reefs, which form the ocean’s, and in turn the land’s, life support system. A full one-fourth of the world’s mangrove cover has been wiped out during the past two decades.

Pakistan’s situation is even more dire than the global average. Tens of millions of tons of domestic waste, raw sewage, hospital discards, industrial effluents and agricultural nutrients are literally being generated in the country every day, all of which, in the absence of any safe disposal arrangements, finds its way to the rivers, creeks and canals, where they not only pollute the country’s limited sources of drinking water, but also bring innumerable diseases in its wake. The unchecked pollution of Sindh’s 1200 odd freshwater lakes is destroying the traditional livelihoods and way of life of the province’s fishing communities.

The unprecedented level of pollution in the mega city of Karachi, likewise, has resulted in unimaginable amounts of waste products being unceremoniously dumped into the sea, as if it was some kind of a giant garbage bin. Karachi harbour too, over time, has deteriorated to an extent that not even a single National Environmental Quality standard is being met. The extraordinary levels of toxic elements like chromium, lead, chlorides and sulphates, coupled with the low conductivity experienced, forms a corrosive mix that, apart from decimating all manner of marine life, whittles away at the submerged port infrastructure and causes extensive damage to ships berthed inside the harbour.

The Indus Delta used to be historically interspersed with natural river courses, which, braided with smaller tributaries formed a natural drainage system, permitting agricultural, fishing and trading communities to thrive.  Badly planned infrastructural developments, and severely curtailed water flows downstream, have devastated the traditional sources of livelihood, forcing people to relocate. Strident proponents of new dams in the country, who frequently cite the example of copious amounts of water being ‘wasted’ into the sea, may find it difficult to accept that freshwater scarcity in the delta in most months of the year has not only wiped out all the freshwater strains of mangroves, but also allowed the sea to intrude unhindered into the hinterland (more than 70 km in places) to the point where the breadbasket of Karachi, Malir, is under threat.

International regulations for environmental conservation are all in place. International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships 1973/78 prescribes strict anti-pollution standards for ships and all types of toxic cargo. Pollution of the sea from other sources is regulated by various regional treaties, most of which have been adopted under the UN Environmental Programme. The 2009 Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships (not yet entered in force though) deals with all aspects of the recycling process, from the design, construction, operation and preparation of ships to the use of such facilities. Guidelines on fisheries conservation and management of the EEZ are contained in the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries adopted in 1995 by the UN Food & Agriculture Organisation. Principle 21 of the Stockholm Declaration of 1972 seeks to strike a balance between a state’s sovereignty and its responsibility to ensure that its activities and the activities of its citizens do not cause environmental harm to other states or to areas beyond national jurisdiction. A useful lesson to absorb here is that sovereignty and responsibility go hand in hand.

The Ballast Water Management Convention, which came into force in September 2017, requires ships to manage their ballast water effectively, which in turn will prevent the spread of invasive aquatic species that possess the potential to cause havoc to the local ecosystems. The International Maritime Organisation has also enacted rules that aim to cap sulphur emissions at 0.5% of fuel content by January 2020, compared to 3.5% at present. As a flag state, Pakistan thus needs to take an immediate decision on whether to invest in costly scrubbers for its ships or rely on expensive low sulphur gas fuel from foreign refineries.

So though comprehensive international agreements are all there, the problem confronting Pakistan is whether it has the will and the wherewithal to enforce them in our waters and in our own ships, for which the necessary domestic legislation is a prerequisite. And domestic legislation is certainly not our forte.

Another concept that has escaped our notice is that of Integrated Coastal Zone Management. It was the Rio Earth Summit of 1992 that inter alia formalised the ICZM concept by according a special status of its own to the coastal arena. At its heart is a recognition that both terrestrial and oceanic processes are not only at work in the coastal region, but their activities and impacts are intricately interlinked. ICZM thus not only furnishes a viable land-sea  interface, but also serves as a built-in mechanism for conflict resolution and as an instrument for environmental conservation. Its policy, planning and management have accordingly to be suitably tailored. The development of Coastal and Marine Spatial Plans (CMSP) is an important step to guide decision making for the blue economy. Their purpose is not only to achieve integration between land and water segments alone, but also between the various levers of government and local stakeholders, and to encompass all spheres of activity.

The best example of a blue economy, if indeed we are looking for one, stems from the European Union. 90% of the world’s sea based wind turbines are currently in Europe. Netherlands and Denmark are deriving clean energy from ocean waves. France happens to host the largest tidal wave power plant. The number of jobs in Europe’s ocean renewable energy sector are expected to double by 2030. Norway has emerged as the world leader in curbing harmful emissions, by not only generating all its electricity through hydropower, but also in going ahead with plans to electrify as many as two-thirds of the ferries that ply along its long and jagged coastline within the next 10 years. The world’s first fully autonomous commercial vessel with zero emissions, Norway’s Yara Birkeland, will be operational for coastal use by 2020, while Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) that trade internationally are expected to be introduced in a further five years.

Europe’s focus on the much-desired aspects of a blue economy is indeed laudable. After all, it is only through a ‘green’ approach that the sustainability factor is incorporated. Both living and non-living resources in the ocean are indeed in abundance. It has been estimated that by 2030, two out of every three fish on our dinner table will have been farmed, most of it by sea. Oil and gas are amongst the most abundant of non-living resources, with almost one-fourth of current global needs being met from offshore fields. Extreme care needs to be exercised during such deep-drilling operations to prevent oil spills like that of the Deepwater Horizon, which ravaged the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. With spills like that, one can bid the blue economy goodbye. Besides fossil fuels, as much as 500 billion tons of manganese nodules, containing manganese, iron, copper, nickel, phosphate and cobalt, are estimated to lie on the ocean floor. Gas hydrates (methane encased within water molecules) are believed to hold much more methane than presently exists in the atmosphere and up to twice the amount of energy of all fossil carbon-based fuels combined. The downside again is that methane not only adds to the greenhouse effect, but the gas is highly unstable at depths shallower than 500 metres.

The UN Convention on Law of the Sea obliges all coastal states to avoid environmental degradation; this is of paramount importance, particularly when exploration and mining work is being carried out in individual Exclusive Economic Zones. The minerals on the ocean floor beneath the High Seas have been deemed to be the ‘common heritage of mankind’, with its exploitation being administered by the International Seabed Authority. Though many licenses have been applied for and issued, actual mining has not yet been carried out.

In Pakistan, surprisingly, all major maritime initiatives, be it the setting up of the National Maritime Affairs Coordination Committee (NMACC) for maritime policy coordination, setting up of the Maritime Security Agency for policing our Exclusive Economic Zone, constituting the Marine Pollution Control Board, preparation of a National Marine Disaster Contingency plan or setting up of a Joint Maritime Information coordination Centre, carry a prominent naval stamp. This may seem perplexing to many, and perhaps rightly so, because the Navy’s role is understood to be only limited to the protection of the country’s maritime interests. The simple answer to this is that all maritime activities in Pakistan are peculiarly compartmentalised and no other Ministry or Agency is able or willing to take on the much-needed national level policy and coordination responsibilities that are beyond individual mandates. The newly-named Ministry of Maritime Affairs can be a suitable candidate for playing a lead role provided it is endowed with the desired professional capacity. A name change alone is hardly the right substitute for professional competence.

To conclude, concept of a blue economy will remain alien to a country that remains blissfully unaware of its national and international obligations, or one that has a dysfunctional Environmental Control Authority, or one that considers an investment in wastewater treatment plants too much of a burden, or one that considers the river flows that help invigorate the mangroves, biodiversity, ecosystems, flora and fauna of the Indus Delta as ‘wasted’.

The ocean is indeed an endless source of energy, and living and non-living resources, if only we learn to tap it with care. The ocean is in addition a regulator of climate change and a recycler of the world’s harmful emissions, if only we learn not to stretch it beyond limits. ‘The oceans deserve our respect and care’, says oceanographer Sylvia Earle, ‘ but you have to know something before you can care about it’. And therein lies our dilemma!


Note:  This article was published in the February 2019 issue of the Global Village Space magazine.

World Maritime Day 2018


The World Maritime Day has an added significance this year (2018) as it marks the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention which established the organisation. The IMO had conceived it to promote and communicate its own achievements and objectives around a central theme. This theme is carefully chosen to reflect the flavour of the year. In 2011, the chosen theme was about piracy, but since Somali piracy at the time was already at its height, the focus was on ‘Orchestrating the Response’. The theme of Safety had been explored many times, but since the Year 2012 marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, it took stock of the safety measures enforced since that time.

The theme this year, as was the case two years earlier, centers around shipping. But while in 2016 it talked about its indispensability to the world, this time around it revolves around how better shipping shapes a better future. The most important aspect of this year’s theme, however, is that it refers to Shipping as our heritage. Not to be missed is the point that any heritage needs deft, and perhaps reverential, handling.

The IMO has since long explicitly recognised Shipping to be ‘perhaps the most international of all the world’s great industries and one of the most dangerous’. Its internationalisation can be gauged from the fact that it knits ports and continents together, carrying all types of cargo, by traversing through the 71% of the globe that constitutes water. And indeed, it constitutes the major means of commodity trading of raw materials and goods produced around the world. And with the advent of containers that are not only refrigerated or temperature controlled, but also optimised to slow down the ripening of fruits, the agricultural sector is also set to join the bandwagon.

A word of caution though: Shipping has to be responsive to demand. Almost all the packaged goods are carried in container carriers, and container trade at present, after a series of mergers, is dominated by four or five companies. Most of them are opting for huge container ships of up to 23000 TEUs capacity to enable economy of scale, and if the projected trade grows sluggish, freight rates drop to the extent of shutting down the smaller players. Even the 7th largest Shipping Company, Hanjin, went bust around two years ago.

These days, the high spot charter rates, relatively low newbuild prices and burgeoning LNG trade are making shipowners hitch themselves to the LNG bandwagon. As opposed to six ships in 2016, 33 new LNG ships are on order this year to reap the harvest of an unprecedented wave of new LNG supply projects coming on stream in a relatively short period. This has also enabled shipyards to tap into new technological advancements over the past year or two to make the packages more attractive. The boom in Shipping of all varieties has also spawned equally numerous problems of all types, and the IMO has not exactly been inactive either in reacting to these challenges. Ever since the advent of steamships in the mid-19th century, safety at sea has always been a prime concern. It was the well-known Titanic disaster of 1912, however, and the shock that it generated, that led to the formulation of a comprehensive treaty on safety measures. Noting the rapidity with which amendments were required and the procedural delays which held it back from keeping pace with them, the new IMO-sponsored version of 1974 incorporated a tacit acceptance clause which enabled any amendment to automatically enter into force provided sufficient number of objections were not received by that time. The current Safety of Life at Sea Convention is thus also referred to as SOLAS ‘74.

SOLAS essentially deals with the fixing of minimum safety standards for the construction, equipment and operation of ships. Detailed technical standards, wherever required, have been established through various international codes like International Code of Safety for High Speed Craft (HSC Code), Irradiated Nuclear Fuel (INF) Code, International Safety Management (ISM) Code and the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code.

It was however only in 1985, when armed militants not only took over a cruise ship, the Achille Lauro, but also killed an aged paraplegic passenger, that the issue of ship security came to the fore. The shock waves generated resulted in the formulation of a Convention on Suppression of Unlawful Acts of Violence against the Safety of Maritime Navigation, or SUA Convention 1988 in short. It made state parties responsible for establishing their jurisdiction over the offenders as well as the laid-down offences.

It was however the much bigger horror of 9/11 that forced the IMO to come up with a comprehensive maritime security code, appropriately titled the ‘International Ship and Port Facility Security Code’, whose implementation was hastened by tabling it as an amendment to the existing SOLAS Convention. Its first part lists the mandatory requirements for governments, port authorities and shipping companies, while the second part provides guidance for implementation. Each contracting government was required to prepare and implement port facility security plans based on security assessment and risk evaluation.

In order to regulate the movements of ships under both routine and hazardous conditions, the IMO achieved a major breakthrough in 1972, when it rationalised and consolidated all the regulations for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea in a single document commonly known to seafarers as the Rules of the Road.

While such regulations did lessen the probability of collisions, they couldn’t be eliminated altogether for the simple reason that a host of other factors like poor watch keeping practises, inadequate seamanship skills, watch-keeper fatigue, high stress levels and ill-adjustment to new technologies are also at play. Human factor has been found to be the most likely cause of a majority of accidents at sea, followed by technical and environmental factors.

The human factor is aggravated by the tough working conditions faced by seafarers – months at sea, isolation, cramped living conditions, refrigerated food, noise, heat, rough seas etc. No wonder then that 26% of them were found to suffer from depression, with nearly half this number not turning to anyone for help for fear of losing their jobs.

The International Labour Organisation is the specialised agency which not only remains concerned about worker rights, but is seen to be actually doing something about it. The ILOs Maritime Labour Convention, adopted in February 2006, has set minimum standards to ensure satisfactory conditions of employment for the world’s seafarers. It has not only updated over 65 other Maritime labour instruments, but has also introduced a system of certification and inspection to enforce it.

But for countering other related causes like slack watch-keeping, electro-mechanical breakdowns and hostile elements, good training is of the essence. It was in this context that the 1995 Convention on the Standards of Training, Competency and Watch-keeping came into being. It seeks to establish a baseline for the training and education of seafarers, with competence -based training, watch-keeping standards, quality control and certification being key areas of focus. This Convention, as amended in 2010, came into force on 1 January 2012. A five year transitional period given to all member states to ensure compliance also ended in 2017.

IMO is not unmindful either, of the potential the Shipping sector possesses to cause harm to the environment. The events surrounding the Torres Canyon, which ran aground off the Isles of Sicilly in March 1967, releasing its cargo of 120,000 tons of crude oil into the sea, probably had the largest impact on the drive to upgrade marine pollution regulations. The need for new preventive legislation to stem the tide of an ever-growing number of cases of marine pollution led to the adoption of the ‘International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships 1973, which superseded OILPOL ‘54.

Although accidental discharges such as the Torrey Canyon were often more visible to the public at large, it is actually operational discharges that result in a much more consistent and significant source of oil pollution. MARPOL 73/78, as it is presently known, not only seeks to address this issue, but has kept including in its Annexes other harmful substances capable of damaging the environment.

The Convention thus incorporates detailed instructions and guidelines for the prevention and control of pollution by noxious liquid substances carried in bulk, by harmful substances carried by sea in packaged form, by sewage and garbage from ships and lastly, by air pollution from ships.

As far as air pollution is concerned, the Convention sets limits on sulfur oxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from ship exhausts and prohibits deliberate emissions of ozone depleting substances. IMO has displayed foresight by enacting rules that aim to cap ships’ sulfur emissions at 0.5% of fuel content by January 2020, compared to 3.5% at present. The reason I mentioned foresight is because the percentage of such emissions at sea is barely 2-3 % of the total at the moment, but if left unchecked, is expected to rise up to 17% by 2050. The industry is understandably worried, as compliance is not only expensive but requires careful coordination. Shippers are reluctant to invest in ‘costly’ scrubbers ($ 5-10 M per vessel) to enable ships to keep using the existing cheaper HSDO. Refineries are equally cautious in undertaking the billion dollar plus upgrade to produce low sulfur gas oil for fear of not being able to recoup their investment. Though scrubbers are being installed in some new builds, more than 95% of the global fleet is likely to opt for cleaner fuel. The first LNG-fuelled bulk carrier got delivered in April this year and many more such vessels are on the way. An LNG bunker vessel has also been designed to supply gas to such ships.

The shipping industry however considers the development of automated processes and functions on board vessels to be the biggest driver of efficiency in shipping. The collection, analysis and management of huge volumes of unstructured data i.e. big data, such as data on voyage performance, ship structure, machinery, fuel consumption, traffic cargo and the weather, are expected to provide valuable insights into the operation of ships and uncover hidden patterns as well as market trends. Big analytics will also encourage the development of automated procedures and advanced technologies such as Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS).

The Yara Birkeland, a 3200 deadweight ton vessel, scheduled to enter into operation by 2020 for coastal use, will be the world’s first fully autonomous commercial vessel with zero emissions. MASS that trade internationally are expected to be introduced by 2035.

Innovation and attitudes are what matter most and for those that imbibe this principle, it will not be difficult to understand why a small country like Norway has become the world leader in curbing harmful emissions. Hydropower produces nearly all its electricity, the State Oil Company is expanding into offshore wind farming and people drive more electric cars per capita than any other country in the world. Its next target is to electrify as many as two-thirds of the boats that ply along its jagged and windy Atlantic coastline within the next 10 years.

Such technologies poses challenges to the IMO, which is not entirely unresponsive. In May this year, it has officially commenced work on looking into how safe, secure and environmentally sound MASS operations can be addressed in IMO instruments.

The International Windship Association, along with its 40 plus member countries and organisations, has also pitched in to provide alternate solutions to the Shipping industry to help meet the urgent and ambitious carbon reduction targets set by the IMO. A wide range of wind assist and primary wind propulsion technology solutions are currently available that offer between 10-30 % savings for retrofits and up to 50% on smaller new-build fully optimised vessels.

Ballast water discharges has been recognised as one of the greatest threats to the ecological and economic well-being of the planet. The Ballast Water Management Convention, which had been adopted in 2004 and came into force in Sep 2017, requires ships to manage their ballast water, which in turn will prevent the spread of invasive aquatic species that possesses the potential to cause havoc to local ecosystems.

We in Pakistan should remain ever mindful that along with our coast, our shipping, our ports and our ship building and ship recycling industries come huge responsibilities, which we can only abdicate, neglect or delegate to our peril. Apart from adhering to the given theme of the year on a specific day, the rest of the week should be spent in a stakeholders huddle to take stock of our failings and limitations, prior devoting the rest of the year towards addressing them.

It is only after we carry out the much-needed restructuring and capacity building of the Maritime industry, which taken as a whole, represents the largest slice of the global economy, that we can think of taking our rightful place in the comity of responsible Maritime states, capable of fulfilling our international obligations and harnessing our maritime potential in a sustainable manner.

Diffusion of Islamic Thought Part 2

The religion of Islam, hatched and nurtured in the crucibles of Makkah and Medina, had, soon after the end of prophecy, expanded beyond belief from Afghanistan to the East, Central Asia to the North and Morocco to the West. Scholarly movements thus sprang up in each region to address the theocratic and legal questions being posed by agile and inquisitive minds.

In the Kufa of 717 CE, a young Abu Hanifa had sought out a worthy master, Ibrahim Nakhai, who in turn could trace his scholarly heritage to a revered and knowledgeable companion, Abdullah bin Mas’ud RA. Abu Hanifa RE, when he came into his own, looked at the Quran as his foremost point of reference, followed by only those hadiths whose authenticity he felt certain about. In order to address the finer points of law, Abu Hanifa developed a systematic form of analytical reasoning called Qiyas to extend the ruling of one situation to another as based on a shared legal cause(illa) derived from the teachings of Allah and his Prophet. Imam Abu Hanifa realised that Qiyas needed to be handled delicately by always keeping the context in mind. The application of Qiyas did lead at times to a result deemed to be unjust and harmful. In order to counter this, he came up with the concept of Istihsan(seeking the best), an alternate analytical manoeuvre that yielded a beneficial result. Abu Hanifa always kept his eye on what he believed to be the public good, in the pursuit of which he was aided by his own gentle temperament as well as the cosmopolitan environment he grew up in. Although the methodology he employed became extremely influential in his own lifetime, he left it to his students to reduce it in writing. His leading students, Abu Yusuf and Shaybani, did not however see eye to eye with each other nor with their illustrious master, and since they also got integrated with the Abbasid court at Baghdad, the original teachings of the great Imam understandably got diluted along the way.

Imam Abu Hanifa’s younger colleague, Malik bin Anas, a lifelong resident of Medina, after studying under esteemed scholars like Nafi and Zehri, devised another approach to Islamic laws and beliefs. He based his teachings exclusively on the customs and practices endorsed by the scholars living in what he considered the bastion of pure Islam, the Prophet’s city. In his scholarly work Muwatta, the earliest surviving work of hadiths and Islamic law, Imam Malik showcased his topic-wise compilation in the form of hadiths(527), rulings made by companions(613), rulings by successors(285) and his own opinions(375. It may be safe to conclude that since he obtained his hadiths from teachers who had directly interacted with some of the companions, this work is arguably more authoritative and authentic than any other work. Imam Shafi’i said so as much, although his student Imam Hanbal,wasn’t impressed at all by the conclusions derived. Realising that he could not exclusively depend on the material that he collected for addressing all legal queries, Imam Malik simultaneously devised a technique of prohibiting things which appeared legal, simply because they tended to lead to a  prohibited result. The Caliph of the newly-established Abbasid dynasty was so enamoured by Imam Malik’s personality that he expressed his intention to make the Inam’s work the basis for an empire-wide code of Islamic law. Imam Malik, the scholar that he was, dissuaded him from doing so, for fear of disturbing the blossoming regional diversity, which he considered a blessing. Had the plan been implemented, the shape of Sunni Islam would be a lot different today.

A group of thinkers called the Mutazilites( lit. to separate, as their professed founder Wasil b. Ata did, from the circle of Hasan Basri) emerged in the cosmopolitan city of Basra( in the early 8th century CE), followed by the new Abbasid capital of Baghdad. In order to better respond to the queries raised by internal and external sceptics, they tried to base their understanding of Islam on things they could justify through logic. They took their cue in a way, without seemingly acknowledging it, from the principles of rational thinking espoused by Imam Ali. They came out strongly in favour of free will, without which they felt a just God would never have promised retribution or rewards.

Into this cauldron of conflicting opinions descended an intrepid scholar by the name of Muhammad b. Idris Shafii. While agreeing in principle with the concept of holding the Prophet’s precedence sacred, he disagreed with the manner in which it was being achieved, as well as virtually everything else the regional scholars had to offer. He not only faulted both Malikis and Hanfis for their limited exposure to hadiths, but was extremely critical of the notion of analogical reasoning, the principle of Istihsan, local customs and claims of Ijma(consensus). He came to the conclusion that gaps in the understanding of Sunnah can only be bridged by strictly obeying the actual words of the Prophet as transmitted in hadiths. He accordingly tried to build the edifice of a common body of hadiths, accessed from all corners of the Islamic dominion, so as to be universally acceptable.

To be sure, he was exceptionally cut out for the job: born in Gaza, he studied with Imam Malik in Medina for many years, served as the Abbasid Governor in Yemen, hobnobbed with the leading Hanafi scholar, Shaybani, and ended his days in Egypt. Imam Shafi’i not only professed that the Quran cannot be accessed without the Sunnah, but went a step further in declaring that the Sunnah rules over the Book of Allah rather than the other way round, He moreover did not hesitate to enter into debates with not only the students of Imam Malik and Imam Abu Hanifa, but also with the Mu’tazilites. He countered the Mu’tazilite distrust of Hadiths owing to rampant forgery by asserting that the isnad, or chain of transmission, would serve as a guarantee as to its authenticity. An unbroken chain thus came to constitute a sound (sahih) Hadith, widely known hadiths through multiple chains of transmission were considered well-known (mashur), while hadiths with some flaw in its chain were deemed weak (da’if). This still serves as the benchmark for ascertaining the authenticity levels of hadiths and any scholar who tries to examine their contents through logic is subjected to derision. Faced with the task of adapting hadiths to the problems of his day, he favoured an innovative method known as Negatively Implied Meaning (Mafhum al-Mukhalafa) which meant that if the Quran or Hadiths made a positive statement about a thing, then the negative held true for all else. He made a limited concession to the use of reason by devising a form of analogy known as Manifest Analogy, Qiyas jali or by the stronger reasoning, which ensures a uniform ruling regardless of whether a particular factor is present in moderate or extreme form. Shafi’i is also credited with introducing the novel concept of Darul Aman or Abode of Peace (for countries under the banner of Islam) and Darul Harb or Abode of War (for those beyond). Since he envisioned constant warfare between them, he propped up the idea of jihad as a constant duty enjoined on all believers. In support of this contention, he introduced the idea of abrogation, whereby he considered as many as 124 verses of the Quran dealing with pacific resolution of disputes and use of warfare as a defensive tactic only, as abrogated in favour of the few so-called ‘sword verses’. This would have been considered sacrilegious had the narrative been pushed by a lesser scholar.

Two definitive camps emerged during Imam Shafii’s time: one, spearheaded by him, called the Ahle Hadith and the other incorporating voices of reason, inclusive of the Hanafis and the Mu’tazilites, known as the Ahl al Ra’y. Imam Shafii was the most authoritative voice of his time and many of the concepts that he introduced and the methods that he employed in matters of jurisprudence are still in widespread use today. Though Islam is believed to have been introduced in South India during the Prophet’s lifetime, the waves of Arab traders during Imam Shafii’s time and later, exported his ideas to the littorals of the Indian Ocean. The Mughals, it is believed, nudged the official shift to the Hanafi fiqh, as they felt it to be more conducive to their aspirations of ruling over a majority Hindu population than the Darul Harb concept.

Diffusion of Islamic Thought Part 1

Ever since our Holy Prophet(PBUH), whose gentle demeanour and compelling presence had kept his community united, left this world, the monolithic faith that he preached was destined never to be the same again. The political ascendancy of the Makkan aristocracy over the Ansars, the Ridda wars, the rapid expansion of the physical frontiers of the nascent faith, the empowerment of the Bani Umayyah and the two fitnas, leading ultimately to the tragedy of Karbala, were all events that brought the foundational principles of Islam into question and triggered a debate that shows no sign of abating.

The foray of the Arabs into the vast territory controlled by the Byzantines and the Persians generated some expected though unfortunate side effects. It not only managed to gradually shift the centre of gravity of the Islamic world away from Makkah and Medina, but also succeeded in creating a class of neo-capitalists out of the simple and frugal followers of the early faith. As more and more inhabitants of the newly liberated areas flocked to the Islamic banner, it became increasingly difficult to discern whether the battles were being fought for the glory of the faith or for personal enrichment. The lure and lust for power increased proportionally to the ever rising stakes.

Though a broad section of the community of Islam came to embrace the concept of a Caliph acting as God’s temporal deputy on earth, either through an engendered belief in this being the most correct course of action or through a simple acceptance of the fait accomplii, the question of whether the actions of an unjust ruler can supersede the laws of God and His Prophet continues to be a vexing one. It’s corollary is that acceptance of such a leader translates automatically into condoning the methods employed, namely the use of force and dirty dealing, to secure and perpetuate his rule. A similar basic issue which still bedevils a consensus is whether allegiance should be given willingly or whether it can be extracted through force, something which defeats it’s very purpose.

Amidst all this turmoil in the hearts and minds of people appeared a group which appeared to be cocksure of the soundness of their beliefs, the precursor of all violent ‘Islamic’ fundamentalists, who earned the nomenclature Kharjis(the rejectionists) or ‘those who go out’. Though the Prophet had forewarned his followers about the appearance of just such a group, dubbing them the ‘dogs of hell’, the Khwarjis considered themselves the purest of the pure, the only true interpreters of the word of God. ‘Judgement belongs to God alone’ was their rallying cry but each time they said that, they ended up projecting their own radical beliefs as the voice of God. It was however only when they began to terrorise the countryside around Nahrawan by setting up an inquisition to dispense the most brutal of punishments to those whose answers failed to meet their standards of rigidity, that Ali RA felt compelled to act against them. The Kharijites were completely routed at the battle of Nahrawan, with the handful of survivors drifting off towards Oman and Yemen to bide their time.

Abdullah Ibn Abad of the Banu Tamim broke off from the wider Khawarij movement around two decades after their defeat at Nahrawan to found what is known as the Abadi school. Abadi theology, which became the basis of this sect and which distanced itself from the takfiri doctrine espoused by the Khwarjis, was nurtured at Basra. Jabir Ibn Zayd of Nizwa, who took over the reins of the Abadi community from Ibn Abad, established a toehold in Oman, where his hadiths as well as the hadiths of the early Ibadi scholars, provided a solid foundation for their faith. They felt strong enough in due course to stage a revolt in Makkah and Yemen, but this was brutally put down by the Umayyad Caliph Marwan the Second. Ibadis in Shibam(western Hadramaut), though surrounded, managed to extract a peace deal from the Umayyads. It was in Shibam then that they continued to retain a modest presence for the next four centuries or so, while still paying taxes to the Ibadi authorities in Oman. The Ibadi Imamate, established in the inner regions of Oman sometime during the 8th century, was not an inherited one, but one based on election. Once the coastal areas of Oman became rich and powerful through conquests in Eastern Africa, Sultan Taimur of the Al Busaidi dynasty, taking advantage of the warring Ibadi factions, united the Imamate with the Sultanate, and thus it has remained over the years in one form or another. The current Sultan of Oman, who seized power from his father in 1970, managed to extend his writ over all of Oman, thereby effectively unifying the posts of the Imam and the Sultan, and renaming the country from Muscat and Oman to the Sultanate of Oman. The Sultanate now happens to be the only Ibadi-majority country in the world, with around 75% of the populace professing the faith.

The horrific events surrounding Karbala created unease amongst a large segment of the inhabitants and in the course of a few years gave rise to the phenomenon of Mukhtar Al-Saqafi. Mukhtar first sought the patronage of Imam Hussain’s sole surviving son, Imam Zainul Abideen, in avenging the martyrs of Karbala, failing which he turned to Muhammad Ibn al Hanafiyyah, a step brother of Imam Hussain. After achieving his mission and then dying a martyr, his supporters, the Mukhtarriya, or the Kaysannia as they were more popularly called, attained the status of a cult, which considered Hazrat Ali RA and his three sons, Al-Hasan, Al-Hussain and Muhammad Ibn al-Hanafiyyah as successive divinely appointed imams and which also believed in the reappearance of the Mahdi, the occulting imam, for dispensing retribution and justice before the qiyamah.

As a counter reaction to the Kharji doctrine, and possibly in an endeavour to staunch the criticism levelled against the Umayyads because of their immoral and unjust ways, there emerged the Murji’ah, which shrank from judging human conduct, leaving this exclusively to God. This was again an extreme position, which left the field open to the rulers and their camp followers to indulge in unhindered exploitation and debauchery. The Umayyads understandably lent their weight to this philosophy.

Doubts regarding the morality or otherwise of human actions and individual or collective culpability still persisted. The al-Jabariyah or Mujabirah were quick to jump on the bandwagon of Qadar, also mentioned in the Quran as the decree of Allah, to absolve man of all culpability over their actions since everything, in their opinion, was dictated by God. The Qadriyyah or Mufawadah belief however falls at the other end of the spectrum in that humans have complete control of their destiny to the extent that God does not even know what we will choose to do. Majority of Sunni scholars have over time gravitated to a middle position wherein humans have freedom of choice, though God has knowledge of everything that will transpire.

When asked about the issue, Imam Jafar as-Sadiq, the 6th ordained Imam of the Shias, clarified that there is no compulsion from Allah’s side, nor is there absolute delegation of power (tafwid) from Allah to man, but the real position lies between the two extremes. He went on to elaborate that predetermination(qada) and Divine decree(qadar) are amongst the secrets of Allah. Regarding the doctrine of bada(change of man’s intention to undertake a particular action), he explained that this concept cannot be extended to Allah, as some are prone to do, since no believer can conceive of bada happening to Allah regarding some matter, causing Him to regret.

The worldliness of the Umayyad dynasty(661-749 CE) resulted in the creation of a large body of people who revelled in the materialism of the era, while a smaller number of pious men were equally repulsed by such profligacy. The latter group found a champion in the shape of a revered theologian named Hasan al-Basri(b.642 CE). Having spent time in the midst of companions like Hazrat Ali RA and Hazrat Anas bin Malik RA, he not only established a school of religious thought in Basra, but did not also hesitate to criticise the unjust policies of the governors in Iraq. Sufi thought encompassing asceticism, Quranic meditation, piety, humanism and a predilection for Zikr and night prayers first appeared in small pious circles like that of Hasan Basri, followed some four centuries later by another renowned mystic Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani(1078-1166 CE) in Baghdad. Jilani RE, whose lineage could be traced to the 8th Shiite Imam Ali ar-Raza, preached to a small select circle of followers about the importance of humility, piety, moderation and philanthropy. His sons however formed a formal order which has since spread to nearly all corners of the world. Other tariqas or silsilas like Shadhili, Chishtiya, Rifa’iyya, Suhrawardiyya and Naqshbandiyya soon followed. Hazrat Moinuddin Chishti, who is known as a mujaddid(reviver) of the Chishtiya order, brought the silsila to India at the turn of the 11th century. His shrine in Ajmer continues to be thronged with pilgrims of all denominations. Most of these orders claim to have received their esoteric knowledge from Hazrat Ali RA, but identify themselves as Sunni; Chishtiya and Naqshbandiyya are Hanafi, Shadhiliyya is Maliki, while Qadriyyah is Hanbali. They are however the polar opposite of other Sunni groupings in their beliefs and rituals.

The landscape of present day Pakistan is dotted with shrines of Sufi saints, who still continue to exercise a larger than life influence on their devotees: Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi, Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai in Hyderabad, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan, Shah Ruknuddin in Multan(which is also known as the city of saints), Baba Farid Ganjshakar in Pakpattan, Baba Bulleh Shah in Kasur, Data Ganj Bakhsh in Lahore, Bari Imam in Islamabad and Rahman Baba in Peshawar. Though their annual urs continue to attract millions of devotees, the impact of their humane teachings have witnessed a steady erosion since the 1980s by the influx into the country of a petrodollar fuelled intolerant version of Islam, which has even infected the Sufi-cum-Barelvi community in its own way.

The Ups and Downs of Nuclear Politics

‘War’ said Clausewitz, ‘is the continuation of politics by other means’. One would have thought that with the onset of the nuclear age, the politics of war should have taken a backseat, but it didn’t. The Allied and Axis powers were replaced by NATO and the Warsaw Pact, whose forces, though arrayed against each other along the East-West European divide, actually fought its ideological battles on the periphery. The stalemate didn’t prevent the two blocs from conjuring up weird deterrence and war-fighting theories. While the US emerged from the ruins of the Second World War as the sole nuclear power, others like the Soviet Union, Britain and France didn’t waste much time following suit. US President Truman viewed the Berlin blockade of 1948 and the Korean War of 1950-53 as an endorsement of the greater conventional might of communism within the Eurasian landmass and till the time the West managed to catch up, he displayed no qualms in using the US nuclear superiority card as leverage.

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Pakistan’s Coastal Pollution Dilemma

The subjects of Climate Change and Environmental Degradation continue to make headlines around the world, yet we in Pakistan remain blissfully unaware of its ramifications. To most of us Climate Change is an alien concept, while environmental pollution is limited to the heaps of garbage we see piled up in various nooks and crannies all over the city. It’s ironical that the city managers continue to grapple with such basic issues as the safe disposal of waste well into the 21st century. Candid discussions, leading to resolution of Pakistan’s festering coastal pollution nightmare, needs to be undertaken with the urgency it deserves. Any such dialogue has to perforce start off with the amazing stretch of intermeshing creeks fondly remembered as an ecological paradise, the Indus Delta, as well as the huge megacity of Karachi, which keeps intruding on its western periphery.

Though coastal pollution has its primary roots on land, it is so multi-faceted and wide-ranging in nature that it’s full implications are difficult to grasp and dangerous to ignore. There are literally tens of millions of tons of domestic waste, raw sewage, hospital discards, industrial effluents and agricultural nutrients being generated in the country every day, all of which, in the absence of any safe disposal arrangements, finds its way to the rivers, creeks and canals, where they not only pollute the country’s limited sources of drinking water, but also bring innumerable diseases in its wake.

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Pakistan in the Crosshairs


Beyond its shores, Pakistan’s fair name has unfortunately become synonymous with terrorism of the Islamic variety. Its reputation has, over the years, taken so much of a hit that even President Obama once referred to it as a ‘disastrously dysfunctional country’. Though most of us remain in defiant denial, the unpalatable fact is that the rising tide of radicalism and religious exclusivity that continues to envelop us in its embrace since the early nineteen eighties has forced its way unhindered into the national consciousness.

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CPEC – Opportunities for Karachi

CPEC – just four simple letters, letters on which an entire nation’s hopes and aspirations are pinned. This huge injection of Chinese investment is vital for jump-starting the Pakistani economy. Such a generous shot in the arm can also unfortunately have the opposite effect, that of dooming the country to perpetual servitude. A high level of preparedness, ability and capacity to exploit the opportunities on offer is a prerequisite for avoiding this setback. And as the term ‘Economic Corridor’ signifies, opportunities herein are indeed aplenty.

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Gloom and Boom in the City of Lights

Karachi is in many ways a microcosm of the country itself. One finds all religions, nationalities and ethnicities represented here. There is no dearth of good entrepreneurs, businessmen, traders, transporters, educationists, artisans and other professionals, and no shortage of skilled labour either. So why doesn’t the city click? An avid follower of the Karachi scene would perhaps frame the question differently: ‘How has the city managed to survive and thrive despite the adversities it is pitted against?’But prior addressing this question as well as the major issue of how to go about reinvigorating the socio-economic dynamism of Karachi, it is useful to understand what the city has gone through and is going through and what are the major impediments in its path to glory.

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Cracking the FATA Code

The Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan (better known by its acronym FATA) had been created in 1849 to serve as a buffer between British India and Afghanistan, while Afghanistan itself was being softened through invasions, coercion, subsidies and diplomacy to keep Czarist Russia at bay. Having entered into a joint agreement with the Afghan Emir for the demarcation of the international border, the British also managed to persuade Russia to follow suit, resulting thereby in bifurcating the Pashtun tribes on the British side and the Turkmen, Uzbek and Tajik Territories on the Russian side of the demarcated Afghan border.

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About Me

I am a retired Rear Admiral of the Pakistan Navy who has done a three-year post retirement stint as the Director General of the National Centre for Maritime Policy Resarch housed at the Bahria University Karachi Campus.

During my eventful 38-year long naval career, I had the good fortune to command two destroyers as well as the 25th Destroyer Squadron. I also served as the Flag Officer Sea Training. I did my Principal Warfare Officer’s course from SMOPS, HMS Dryad, UK in 1979, my staff course from the Royal Naval Staff College at Greenwich,UK, in 1983-84 and my war course from the National Defence College, Islamabad, in 1998-99.