Pakistani politics

Fontgate: Could a Microsoft typeface bring down Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan?

The prime minister’s daughter Maryam Nawaz is accused of falsifying documents, submitted for the Panama Papers enquiry, using the Calibri font.

A political scandal that has gripped Pakistan for over a year and threatens to bring down Nawaz Sharif’s government has come to be pivoted on an unassuming typeface.

Calibri, Microsoft’s default font for its WordPad and PowerPoint programmes, became a buzzword in the country this week after a Joint Investigation Team found that the prime minister’s daughter Maryam Nawaz had falsified documents. Apparently, the documents submitted to the team dated to 2006, but were written in Calibri, a font that was not commercially available before January 31, 2007.

The report marks the latest twist in the long-running saga of corruption involving the Sharifs. Questions first arose over the financial affairs of the family after the Panama Papers, leaked in 2016, revealed that three of the prime minister’s children owned, through an offshore company, properties in London that were not declared in their assets. Opposition groups led by Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf have accused the Sharifs of failing to explain where they got the money to buy the assets from.

In April, Nawaz Sharif narrowly survived an inconclusive ruling in the case by the Supreme Court, which found there was not enough evidence of corruption to remove him from office. Instead it ordered further investigation to determine the money trail. The resulting probe now threatens to unseat him, and Calibri sits at the heart of it.

Fontgate, as it has come to be dubbed, quickly trended on Twitter, with users eager to revel in the misfortunes of a political dynasty that is looked upon unsympathetically even at the best of times.

Some saw it as Pakistan’s ‘covfefe’ moment:

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Frederik Obermaier declared Fontgate the favourite part of the investigation team’s report.

Naturally, plenty of memes were involved.

Puns, too.

Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, made an appearance as well.

Away from the jokes, debate raged about whether the Joint Investigation Team’s claims were correct. Many of the prime minister’s supporters pointed out that the font had been around from earlier than suggested. According to Microsoft’s website, an initial version of the font was available for download in 2005 and beta versions are likely to have been around even earlier. The contention over Calibri’s exact origins spiraled so out of control that on Wednesday, Wikipedia temporarily suspended public editing to its Calibri article until July 18 because of a slew of edit requests. The previous day, there had been over 30 revisions to the article.

Even Nawaz Sharif’s lawyer Zafarullah Khan was compelled to address the controversy in a press conference. “Please Google and see that [the font] was released in August 2004,” he said. Pakistan’s leading English newspaper Dawn took him up on the challenge and went further by contacting Lucas de Groot, the designer recognised as the font’s creator. A representative of his company, LucasFonts, admitted that Calibri had been designed in 2004 but said, “Early Windows betas are intended for programmers and technology freaks to see what works and what doesn’t. As the file size of such operating systems is huge, it would have been a serious effort to get.”

De Groot himself wrote separately to the newspaper, questioning “why would anyone use a completely unknown font for an official document in 2006?”

The implausibility of his working theory was the least of Khan’s worries, however. In an audacious attempt to defend his client, the lawyer drew parallels between Sharif and Jesus Chris, earning the ire of the civil society group Christian Action Committee, which demanded that criminal proceedings be launched against him for blasphemy unless he apologises.

As for the prime minister, he may need much more than just apologies for his exoneration.

Usman Ahmad is a British writer and photographer currently based in Pakistan.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Relying on the power of habits to solve India’s mammoth sanitation problem

Adopting three simple habits can help maximise the benefits of existing sanitation infrastructure.

India’s sanitation problem is well documented – the country was recently declared as having the highest number of people living without basic sanitation facilities. Sanitation encompasses all conditions relating to public health - especially sewage disposal and access to clean drinking water. Due to associated losses in productivity caused by sickness, increased healthcare costs and increased mortality, India recorded a loss of 5.2% of its GDP to poor sanitation in 2015. As tremendous as the economic losses are, the on-ground, human consequences of poor sanitation are grim - about one in 10 deaths, according to the World Bank.

Poor sanitation contributes to about 10% of the world’s disease burden and is linked to even those diseases that may not present any correlation at first. For example, while lack of nutrition is a direct cause of anaemia, poor sanitation can contribute to the problem by causing intestinal diseases which prevent people from absorbing nutrition from their food. In fact, a study found a correlation between improved sanitation and reduced prevalence of anaemia in 14 Indian states. Diarrhoeal diseases, the most well-known consequence of poor sanitation, are the third largest cause of child mortality in India. They are also linked to undernutrition and stunting in children - 38% of Indian children exhibit stunted growth. Improved sanitation can also help reduce prevalence of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Though not a cause of high mortality rate, NTDs impair physical and cognitive development, contribute to mother and child illness and death and affect overall productivity. NTDs caused by parasitic worms - such as hookworms, whipworms etc. - infect millions every year and spread through open defecation. Improving toilet access and access to clean drinking water can significantly boost disease control programmes for diarrhoea, NTDs and other correlated conditions.

Unfortunately, with about 732 million people who have no access to toilets, India currently accounts for more than half of the world population that defecates in the open. India also accounts for the largest rural population living without access to clean water. Only 16% of India’s rural population is currently served by piped water.

However, there is cause for optimism. In the three years of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the country’s sanitation coverage has risen from 39% to 65% and eight states and Union Territories have been declared open defecation free. But lasting change cannot be ensured by the proliferation of sanitation infrastructure alone. Ensuring the usage of toilets is as important as building them, more so due to the cultural preference for open defecation in rural India.

According to the World Bank, hygiene promotion is essential to realise the potential of infrastructure investments in sanitation. Behavioural intervention is most successful when it targets few behaviours with the most potential for impact. An area of public health where behavioural training has made an impact is WASH - water, sanitation and hygiene - a key issue of UN Sustainable Development Goal 6. Compliance to WASH practices has the potential to reduce illness and death, poverty and improve overall socio-economic development. The UN has even marked observance days for each - World Water Day for water (22 March), World Toilet Day for sanitation (19 November) and Global Handwashing Day for hygiene (15 October).

At its simplest, the benefits of WASH can be availed through three simple habits that safeguard against disease - washing hands before eating, drinking clean water and using a clean toilet. Handwashing and use of toilets are some of the most important behavioural interventions that keep diarrhoeal diseases from spreading, while clean drinking water is essential to prevent water-borne diseases and adverse health effects of toxic contaminants. In India, Hindustan Unilever Limited launched the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, a WASH behaviour change programme, to complement the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Through its on-ground behaviour change model, SASB seeks to promote the three basic WASH habits to create long-lasting personal hygiene compliance among the populations it serves.

This touching film made as a part of SASB’s awareness campaign shows how lack of knowledge of basic hygiene practices means children miss out on developmental milestones due to preventable diseases.

Play

SASB created the Swachhata curriculum, a textbook to encourage adoption of personal hygiene among school going children. It makes use of conceptual learning to teach primary school students about cleanliness, germs and clean habits in an engaging manner. Swachh Basti is an extensive urban outreach programme for sensitising urban slum residents about WASH habits through demos, skits and etc. in partnership with key local stakeholders such as doctors, anganwadi workers and support groups. In Ghatkopar, Mumbai, HUL built the first-of-its-kind Suvidha Centre - an urban water, hygiene and sanitation community centre. It provides toilets, handwashing and shower facilities, safe drinking water and state-of-the-art laundry operations at an affordable cost to about 1,500 residents of the area.

HUL’s factory workers also act as Swachhata Doots, or messengers of change who teach the three habits of WASH in their own villages. This mobile-led rural behaviour change communication model also provides a volunteering opportunity to those who are busy but wish to make a difference. A toolkit especially designed for this purpose helps volunteers approach, explain and teach people in their immediate vicinity - their drivers, cooks, domestic helps etc. - about the three simple habits for better hygiene. This helps cast the net of awareness wider as regular interaction is conducive to habit formation. To learn more about their volunteering programme, click here. To learn more about the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hindustan Unilever and not by the Scroll editorial team.