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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 December 2007, 17:39 GMT
One day in Pakistan: Views and news



OUR VILLAGE PANEL
Villagers

People in the village of Mehra Sharif near the Pakistani capital Islamabad are answering your e-mails about their lives and their country.

Pakistan has been going through great political turbulence. Last week President Musharraf lifted the state of emergency he declared in November. National and provincial elections are due in January.

The villagers are accompanied by the BBC's Syed Shoaib Hasan.

2105: 'Undaunted spirit'

Syed Shoaib Hasan: By the time we were done, and the darkness had fallen, one thing seemed most poignant. All the villagers - despite each having enough problems to make the city slickers run to the nearest psychoanalyst - were unbowed and resolute.

While putting some of the blame on the government, the undaunted spirit gives hope to an idea many are losing faith in. They all affirmed to us as we took our leave: "Pakistan is our identity and, no matter what, we are proud to be Pakistanis".

2030: Making ends meet

Most of the people working in rural areas seem to be making 1,000-3,000 rupees per month apart from the teacher. How can they survive on this amount when things such as vegetables, fruit and meats are almost 100-plus rupees a kilo. What is their daily diet and how do they make ends meet? Nasir Siddique, Toronto, Canada

Tazeem Akhtar
Tazeem Akhtar: Most women do additional work, like cooking and cleaning in nearby towns and villages. Some, who are skilled enough, sew clothes and other garments as well. Generally, we work 14 hours, but some may work more due to financial problems. It very hard to make two ends meet.

Our diet consists mainly of lentils and wheat, with some vegetables. We have meat or chicken once a month at most.

Food is cooked once a day, the main meal being in the afternoon. Whatever is leftover is eaten in the night.

Rising inflation

What have been the benefits or otherwise to you and your village as a result of Musharraf taking over the government of Pakistan in the past few years, in comparison with the previous civilian government? Frances Sinha, Gurgaon, India

Shahnaz Bibi: It was much better in the 1990s, especially during Nawaz Sharif's time. Benazir's wasn't too bad either.

But these last two years have been the worst. Although Musharraf was alright when starting out, inflation has risen steadily each year. Inflation is our main problem, it is outrageous these days. Plus all the things we hear happening about in the Punjab, all the development schemes, none has reached our area.

'Hospital needed'

If your village was given a large sum of money (say 5,000-100,000 in relative terms) what would your spending priorities be? Norman, Lechlade, England

Syed Tanvir Mohammad Shah
Syed Tanvir Mohammad Shah: The most important thing we need is a hospital. There is dire need for medical facilities in the area.

The next thing would be water facilities and a school to impart technical education to the young men and women. Then there are lots of things, like sewing machines to set-up a local cottage industry for women.

'Sanctity of life'

Does the general Pakistani populace really support al-Qaeda? Greg, Shreveport, LA, US

Ashfaq Hussain Shah:No they do not. Most Pakistanis do believe strongly in Islam, but not the type which espouses violence against fellow human beings. We believe in the sanctity of life, and that all beliefs should be respected.

Economy v democracy

Do think life will be easy if Pakistan has functioning democracy and rule of law? Or would you prefer economic security first then democracy and rule of law? Nadeem, Karachi, Pakistan

Syed Shaheryar Ahmed:The most important thing is economic security. Everything else follows that. Rule of law and democracy are also important, but what will we do with if we have nothing to eat?

2010: 'Educational needs'

What is your school like? What subject(s) do you teach, what age and to how many? What improvements do you think are needed for education where you are? Sandra, Loughborough, UK

Sumaira Hussain: It's a privately-run institution called Syed Ahmed Shah Ishaq academy.

Sumaira Hussain
I teach all subjects up to grade four, and Arabic only to grades eight, seven and six.

The medium of instruction is in English until grade four and in Urdu after that due to a lack of good teachers in the language. It's a co-educational institution.

The ages I teach stretch from 12 years to 16 years.

A lot can be done to improve the educational facilities in my area. We especially want technical schools (which train students in a given trade) and more computers.

'Bright students'

How are your students? Are they bright or has a lack of parental support stopped them from reaching their potential? If you could change one thing about the Pakistani school system, what would it be? Kate , Florida, US

Sumaira Hussain: Most are good at their studies, and some are very bright. They would go far if they get the proper support and are not hampered by financial circumstances. Better educational facilities will also be crucial in their development.

The one thing, and most important thing, is to implement and improve the teaching of English at all levels. That is essential, you cannot survive without it, however intelligent you are.

We ourselves have suffered as we need to understand English. If we had proper instruction in the language we would be so far ahead. It is of prime importance that the curriculum must be focused on the English language.

'No money for fees'

You work so hard for your children. Why is it so important to keep your children in school? What do you hope for them? Andrea, New York, US

Tazeem Akhtar: It is my passion and desire in life to get my children educated. I am illiterate myself, and so is my husband, and we understand that to give them a chance at a better future, we must get them educated.

I want to see them in a much better position than I am today.

It gets very hard at times. One of my daughters had to leave school recently because we could no longer pay her fees.

She cried a lot as she didn't want to leave. I cried too, but there was nothing we could do. But I am determined to get her to go back as soon as I can.

1800: 'Dowry is an issue'

How concerned are you about the marriage of your daughters. Will they be able (or will you be able) to find spouses who will have similar religious, educational and financial background to be their lifelong companions? Owais Bayunus, Minnesota, US

Tazeem Akhtar
Tazeem Akhtar: The times are hard, we hardly have money to survive. Our monthly income comes to 6,000 to 7,000 rupees. Most of it comes from my husband's salary.

I supplement the rest with some household work. We try and save what we can. The most important thing for us is our children's education and our daughters' marriage. I hope they can find educated spouses. But dowry is an issue.

1800: Class differences

Is there a wide gap between you and upper social or economic class of Pakistanis? What are your feelings about those more affluent groups and what is their attitude towards those from the lower classes? What does Islam have to say about class differences? Sofia, New York City, US

Syed Shaheryar Ahmed
Syed Shaheryar Ahmed: There is a big gap between the rural poor and the well-to-do in the cities. The farmers are still doing alright - we grow what we eat ourselves. If we work harder, we earn more and vice versa. The industrialists need to streamline their activities, but generally growth of industries are good for our country.

There are a lot of people who live on the subsistence level - we try and help them as much as we can. The dam we built as a fish farm is one example of community farming as it has raised the water level from 50 to 200 feet. There is no other supply of water in the area. There should be brotherhood and sharing of resources - Islam tells us to help our brother with whatever we can.

1800: 'No employment opportunities'

You said that there is a lack of jobs for educated people there, which makes people reluctant to return home. But education offers a world of difference to a community. Educated people should be much needed in a small village. What difficulties and barriers do they face in finding job there? Leequisach Panjaitan, Balikpapan, Indonesia

Syed Shaheryar Ahmed: There are no industries or factories here. There is a big problem of infrastructure. There are frequent power breakdowns, and lack of gas is an issue. There is a lack of knowledge about technology. Most people who are able to get good education move to Karachi or Balochistan. The pay in the village is very low. Most young men who stay spend their youth being idle. Some fall into bad habits such as drugs and crime. There is the possibility for the development of cottage industries, but the government needs to take interest.

1530: 'Above the law'

How effective do you think is this new concept of devolution of power introduced by President Musharraf? Yasir, Karachi, Pakistan

Syed Tanvir Mohammad Shah
Syed Tanvir Mohammad Shah: In some ways it has been effective. But there are some major problems. The law and order is a great issue.

The police now believe they are answerable to no-one. They have become uncontrollable. The revenue collectors are also growing increasingly above the law. Their corruption knows no bounds. The tax on the land, and illegal foreclosure is a growing issue.

1530: Lack of water

What are the solutions to your water problems? And why are these problems worst now than before? William Furniss, Hong Kong

Syed Tanvir Mohammad Shah: The water supply scheme is important. Currently the closest line is 5-6 km away. There is a lack of managerial skills here vis-a-vis the distribution of water. But this is probably a long-term problem as the government doesn't appear to be moving towards establishing a regular water supply soon. Right now we need 15 hand pumps to fulfil the needs of the village.

1530: 'Proud to be Pakistani'

If you could chose which country you could have been born in, which one would it be? And if that's Pakistan, why? Kama, Trinidad and Tobago

Ashfaq Shah: I love Pakistan and am proud to be a Pakistani. I wouldn't change it for anything in the world. Maybe, it is because of the fact that I was born in Pakistan. Someone else born somewhere else, would say the same thing. I do think, however, that Pakistan could do with an improvement in its facilities for the public. It would be good if we had the same facilities as the West.

1530: 'No discrimination'

Do rural women enjoy the same rights as men or are they simply treated as property belonging to their fathers and husbands? How common is the problem of religious extremism in the countryside? How are the religious minorities (Christians, Hindus and others) treated in the normal life settings in Pakistan? Asad Jan, Lausanne, Switzerland

Sumaira Hussain
Sumaira Hussain: Women don't have the same rights, although they have improved. Women are definitely not seen as property over here.

There are no extremist problems, we are free to move about and wear what we please, although we keep within the norms of decency and Islam. Most of the people are moderates, but extremists are growing. The minorities are treated just the same - there is no discrimination here.

1300: 'No-one to turn to'

We often hear that big land owners still dominate politics in Pakistan, especially in Punjab, but that the government doesn't do much to help the people in rural villages. Is this true? Do the people of your village think that the government will help them, or not? Who do they trust to make their lives better? Daniel Consolatore, Washington DC, US

Shahnaz Bibi
Shahnaz Bibi: This is absolutely true. The representatives only line their own pockets. Every time they come for votes, they say 'we will do this and we will do that'. But nothing is carried out. We still have no gas or water. We are still as poor as before.

They will not help us, they never listen to the poor. There is no-one really we can turn to. The union office is in Runiyal - it is too dangerous to go there, as a lot of thugs hang out there.

1300: 'Weak profession'

What do you think about the social status of teachers in your community? Is being a teacher seen as an important job? Is it seen as requiring high levels of professional skills? What do you think about the amount of spending on education in the national budget? Emma, Oulu, Finland

Ashfaq Hussain Shah
Ashfaq Hussain Shah: I don't think teachers are accorded the kind of stature they get in the West and in developed countries. It is a weak profession in Pakistan, both in terms of prestige and importance.

Teachers are looked down upon. The spending on education should be at least 8-10%. And a lot more needs to be invested in welfare schemes for teachers as well.

1300: 'No real learning'

I am a teacher myself. What facilities would you like to see in your school to help your students with their learning? Will Richards, Oxford, UK

Ashfaq Hussain Shah: There is a need to develop the curriculum. The standards should be higher and more up to date. Modern methods should be used more frequently. The current system does not encourage real learning. It just doles out certificates and degrees. The system is not built to encourage thinking. This is not what real learning is about.

0930: 'Freedom for women'

Shahnaz, as a woman alone do you have the freedom to mix with men and women alike? Are women treated with respect in your village? When I visited Lahore 24 years ago I could only go out with my husband. Is the situation still the same? Derry Tyrrell, Beniali, Spain

Shahnaz Bibi
Shahnaz Bibi: I have no problems in dealing with anybody in the village, men or women. Poor people understand each other. There would be a problem only if you stand out. I can move around when and where I please. My husband passed away recently, but anyway I have no problems.

0930: 'Only agriculture'

Is there any industry other than agriculture? What are the prospects for employment of young people who are receiving higher education? What can a person like me living in England do with his savings to start an industry in that village? Tariq Rawul, London, England

Syed Tanvir Mohammad Shah: There is only agriculture.
Syed Tanvir Mohammad Shah
The young people who get higher educated have to stick to farming or move to town. This is exactly what we have been asking the government's help for.

Local agriculture is conducive towards setting up food processing or packing industries.

0930: 'Not the right way'

How will the spreading instability caused by militant Islamists such as the Taleban in the tribal areas and Swat district affect life in the village of Mehra Sharif? Mark Kryzer, Eagon, Minnesota, USA

Syed Tanvir Mohammad Shah: In the sense that there is instability and uncertainty in the country, yes there is a problem. The real impact is in the cities. Plus we do not agree with the way they (the Taleban) interpret religion, the way they are spreading Islam. This is not the right way. Everybody should be able to think for themselves.

0930: 'The day's fuel'

Syed Shoaib Hasan: We arrived in Mehra Sharif at around 0830 local time. The village was wide awake with children rushing to school. One young man was leading a donkey with a huge pile of firewood on his back into the village, his family's fuel for the day.

As we neared our vantage point, cattle settled like silent sentries and small group of children, playing truant, stopped for a look.

In the nearby lanes, women in chadors hurried by, to the fields or back home with water in caskets of baked mud. The sky was overcast and the morning air chill.



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