Article posted to my yahoogroup in June 2002 – the Rs 4000 minimum that Ali Nawaz from Balochistan talked about now would be more like Rs 10,000 (right, economists?). Although little has changed for him and people like him, the ‘Balochistan package’ and the historic NFC award agreed upon on Dec 11 at least offer some hope in terms of more equitable resource distribution and opportunities. This is the difference between dictatorship (no matter how mild) and democracy (no matter how messed up)
The News on Sunday, Jun 16, 2002
A Peace Convention and the wisdom of Ali Nawaz
by Beena Sarwar
Ali Nawaz works at a motorcycle factory at Hub Chowki in Balochistan, near Somiani, the sun-baked coastal area from where Pakistan recently test-fired the nuclear-capable Abdali missile as a warning to a war-ready India. From here, it takes over two hours to get to Karachi, driving east along the coast of the Arabian Sea. On Saturday June 8, along with some two dozen of his fellow workers, Nawaz made this journey using the factory van headed to the noise and rush of Saddar in the heart of Karachi.
The motorcycle workers are not interested in the bazaar; besides the fact that they can’t afford the goods on sale, there are more important things on their mind — like the Peace Convention organized at the Karachi Press Club by the Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) and the National Trade Union Federation of Pakistan.
As many as twenty five out of the forty one workers at Nawaz’s factory attended the Convention of their own accord. Why?
At the end of the Convention, waiting for the call to prayer at the open air mosque at the Press Club before traveling back to Hub, the bearded Nawaz patiently and clearly explains in his Pashtu-accented Urdu.
“I earn Rs 6,034 a month. I live with my four brothers. There is a lot of unemployment; I am the only one of us who has a job.”
In 2001, the combined military expenditure of India and Pakistan was 18 billion dollars. Yet over 40 per cent of our people — 450 million — live below the poverty line. In these circumstances, six thousand rupees a month (about a hundred dollars) are relatively decent wages. The amount might even be enough to support five people who live in frugal conditions. But Ali Nawaz’s salary, it turns out, supports not only his four brothers, but also his family as well as their wives and children.
“I have to feed and clothe thirty five people. Things are very bad. We live in a mud hut that collapses when it rains. Our children often go hungry; there is no question of sending them to school. I have four daughters whom I can’t marry off because I don’t have enough money. If there is war, things will be even worse. We don’t want war. It will be devastation.”
He pauses and then adds, “To live a decent life, each person must have at least four thousand rupees a month. There are 35 of us. To achieve this basic standard we would need lakhs of rupees.”
Standing nearby, two of his fellow workers, similarly dressed in shalwar kurta, with Balochi caps on their heads nod. The azan sounds, and they head for the water taps to begin their ablutions and say their prayers.
Behind us, the hundreds who just attended the Convention – representatives of political parties, trade unions, professional organisations, poets, writers, students — are milling about. The resolution passed at the convention reiterated the demands that peace groups here and in India have been consistently making for several months now: a withdrawal of troops from both sides of the border, dialogue between the two countries, a restoration of the land, rail and air communication links and easing of the visa regimes.
As people catch up with old friends and acquaintances while making their way out, a lean, white haired figure of Sobho Gianchandani towers above the small group around him. In Karachi for a few weeks from his native Larkana, the respected lawyer and political activist, now 83 years old, in his brief speech at the Convention suggested leaving the issue of Kashmir in cold storage for the next 50 years and letting the people of Kashmir have access to each other on both sides of the border.
The real issue is that of basic rights for the people of our countries, he says. He notes that the term ‘national security’ is misleading and should be seen in the context of people’s security, of their right to food, education, shelter and clothing. The unlettered factory workers from Hub know this all too well.
Gianchandani is a rare commodity in Pakistan: belonging to the minority Hindu community here, he has stuck to his secular political convictions, refusing to join the exodus to other countries – an exodus participated in enthusiastically not just by those belonging to Pakistan’s religious minorities, but also by those from the majority community in search of greener pastures. “I am a son of the soil,” he said in an interview once, relating how he withstood the pressure from the government to leave Pakistan while in prison in the 1950s.
Recalling the attacks on religious minorities after the Babri Mosque was razed, he asks, “What mosque, what mandir? Who knows where Ram was really born?” He asked Gen. Ayub Khan after the 1965 war, about his famous statement that the Pakistani flag would be hoisted at the Red Fort of Delhi. “If that had happened,” replied the General candidly, “we would be in a minority again.”
Gianchandani also made the tremendously significant point that while the world is advocating peace between India and Pakistan, the leading players are still engaged in selling arms and ammunitions to both countries.
This hypocrisy is highlighted in Britain by the 9-11 Peace Campaign (www.MoveOn.org). In a recent email urging supporters to lobby against British involvement in Indian and Pakistani arms deals, the Campaign cites the website scotsman.com, according to which the military firm BAe has sold fighter jets to India and is also currently training Pakistani troops in air combat. “Providing such aid to both sides can only increase the damage that will occur if war breaks out.”
As Indian writer Arundhati Roy wrote recently, “Tony Blair’s ‘peace’ mission a few months ago was actually a business trip to discuss a one billion pound deal… to sell Hawk fighter-bombers to India. Roughly, for the price of a single Hawk bomber, the government could provide 1.5 million people with clean drinking water for life.”
Ordinary people like Ali Nawaz – the ‘masses’ that our governments claim to act on behalf of — may not know the exact mathematics and figures of these billion dollar deals, but they do know that they are being short-changed.