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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World Maritime Day 2017 – Connecting Ships, Ports and People

The World Maritime Day is being formally celebrated by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) on 28 September 2017. The IMO, for those who may not be aware, is the principal organ of the United Nations dealing with and coordinating all maritime related issues ranging from safety, security and environmental concerns to training standards of seafarers and even technical cooperation aspects. It is this organisation which, mindful of the massive contribution made by the international maritime industry in bolstering the global economy, instituted the World Maritime Day that has since become a regular annual feature in the calendar of all seafaring nations. The first time this day was celebrated was on 17 March 1978 to mark the 30th anniversary of the convention which created the IMOs parent organisation, the Intergovernmental Maritime Consultative Organisation. The member states have since swelled from 21 to 169 at present. While commemorating the day, the IMO keeps highlighting a different aspect of its work each year. This day also serves as a reminder to all and sundry that a vibrant and sustainable blue economy is a boon to all mankind.

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