The February 12 pledge, terrorism, and the Malala connection

Lahore, Feb 12, 1983: Police lathi charge demonstrators. Photo: Rahat Ali Dar

Lahore, Feb 12, 1983: Police lathi charge demonstrators. Photo: Rahat Ali Dar

The News published a slightly toned down version of my article, The Feb 12 pledge. Un-edited text below, followed by a postscript linking this struggle to Malala. More photos at this link.

Renewing the Feb 12 pledge

By Beena Sarwar

Every February 12 we commemorate Pakistan Women’s Day in honour of those who gathered at Lahore’s Regal Chowk on that day in 1983, defying the military order against public gatherings, to protest Gen. Zia’s ‘Law of Evidence’ that upheld the testimony of a male as equal to that of two females in a court of law. The police attacked the demonstrators with batons and arrested several, including the venerated poet Habib Jalib whom Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif is fond of quoting. Continue reading

No, we won’t lay down our weapons…

Aziz Siddiqui_2When Nawaz Sharif was trying to impose his so-called Sharia Law in Pakistan during his last stint as Prime Minister in the late 1990s, I voiced my despair at this dangerous move to the respected journalist Aziz Siddiqui, who was co-director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Siddiqui sahib heard me out. He paused and removed the pipe from his mouth, then replied in his gentle way, with a half smile, “Phir kya karein, hathyar Dal deiN?” (So what shall we do, shall we lay down our weapons?). Continue reading

Keen to talk to the Taliban?

Swat, 2009: A reminder of the Taliban's brand of 'justice' - public floggings were the least of their punishments. Photo: European Pressphoto Agency

Swat, 2009: A reminder of the Taliban’s brand of ‘justice’ – public floggings were the least of their punishments. Photo: European Pressphoto Agency

Keen to ‘negotiate’ with the Taliban in Pakistan? Really? First read Nazish Brohi’s oped in Dawn, reproduced below. 

Failure of the war

By Nazish Brohi

IT is ‘APC’ season again. Karachi residents associate the acronym with armoured personnel carriers that contain and occasionally protect besieged policemen.

The political APCs on the other hand contain besieged politicians who are hoping for occasional protection. Take it from the Lyari cops in Karachi — if you underplay what you are up against, APCs don’t work. Continue reading

Rabid dogs and Shia killings

Omar Ali blog screengrabSharing here a screen grab from one of the most horrific videos of cold-blooded killings I’ve come across, that was posted by Dr. Omar Ali to his blog today. The incident probably took place about nine months ago, and those killed were probably Shia Hazaras; the video has been shared on facebook. Here’s an excerpt from Dr. Omar Ali’s post:

It took a lot of work (partition, two nation theory,Punjab holocaust, madressas, CIA, ISI) to get to this level of cold blooded hatred. And of course, the roots go back much further, all the way into our species and its biological evolution (though like Ghataprabha, I too fantasize about the goodness of the folk versus the evil of the elite, but then..)…anyhow, whatever the cause, these particular dogs are now rabid. Continue reading

Music: Touching the soul, defying the Taliban

Asfand Yaar Mohmand performing - photo: Shiraz Hasan

Asfand and his Rubab! This lovely, moving post by Shiraz Hasan reminded me of another moving documentary film I saw over a decade ago, Amir: An Afghan Refugee Musician’s Life in Peshawar by Dr. John Baily (1985). It is tragic how musicians have been pushed around, forced to flee the fighting during the Afghan war of the 1980s and now, persecuted and punished for their art by the ‘taliban’.

Asfand Yaar Mohmand, as Shiraz Hasan writes, comes from a family of labourers. They initially opposed his decision to become a musician but realising he would “not step back” have came around. “I love playing the Rubab, this is such a beautiful instrument. Its strings touch your soul, literally,” says the 19-year old Afsand.

The only international organisation in the world advocating freedom of expression for musicians and composers is Freemuse, which I came across some months ago when Salman Ahmad of Junoon introduced me to its founder Ole Reitov. In an subsequent email Ole wrote that his own “deep interest and dedication to this issue started in Lahore in 1980 when – invited by Raza Kazim – I recorded Iqbal Bano (in Kazim’s studio) and talked to her about the reasons why she stopped performing in public”.

Karachi launches campaign against TTP

KARACHI – An awareness campaign against atrocities by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has begun in Karachi, denouncing its inhumane and un-Islamic acts and declaring the militant group “fitna” (a sower of chaos and sedition). Posters and handbills denouncing suicide attacks and the slaughter of civilians by TTP miscreants have been plastered onto walls throughout the city – by Zia Ur Rehman in Karachi launches campaign against TTP

A Karachi resident reads a poster March 20 denouncing the acts of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) as inhumane and un-Islamic. An awareness campaign has been launched by the Karachi-based Anjuman-e-Muhibban Pakistan against TTP violence in Karachi. [Zia Ur Rehman]

Human rights activist Zarteef Khan Afridi killed

Photo: courtesy Idrees Kamal

Grieved beyond words to hear this news: “Renowned human rights activist and social worker Zarteef Khan Afridi is killed in Saparee area of Khyber Agency this morning while he was on his way to school where he has been teaching for more than two decades. Zarteef Afridi has been a committed human rights worker, member Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and active member of several peace groups working in FATA for last two decades. He has been receiving threats from local militants for his work on peace and rights in FATA. He was a bold and courageous worker and refused to bow down to the pressure of these militants. Till his last breath he was working for his mission and fighting for rights of tribal people. We are anguished on this brutal act and demand immediate action from law enforcing agencies against those involve in this murder. We also extend our words of condolence and to his family and all those friends that were part of his struggle. Our message shall also be conveyed to these extremists’ forces that the society will not deter from its resolve to bring peace and fight against extremism and all those forces harboring such elements in the country. Zarteef and his struggle will always be remembered and cherished.” — Email from Irfan Mufti, South Asia Partnership. For a detailed report on Zarteef Khan Afridi and his work see: In the eye of the storm. Also  see my earlier article: Pakistan’s ‘enlightenment’ martyrs

Google Faculty Award for Dr Umar Saif (but still no visa)

Dec 7 UPDATE: Just heard from Dr Umar Saif, he got a call today from the embassy that his visa has arrived…

Dec 5: Prominent Pakistani scientist Dr Umar Saif has received a prestigious award for research work funded by the US State Department for the last three years – but the State Department has yet to grant him a visa that he applied for in September.

The $ 100,000 USD Google Faculty Research Award jointly given to Dr Umar Saif makes him the first faculty member in a Pakistani university to receive the competitive grant, awarded for the low-cost rural telephony systems that he has been working on for the past three years along with colleagues at UC Berkeley — Eric Brewer, VP of Infrastructure at Google, currently on leave  Continue reading

Mumbai and more

Photo: courtesy Soumik Kar

Photo: courtesy Soumik Kar

On the third anniversary of the Mumbai terror attacks of Nov 26, 2008, a NATO air strike in Pakistan killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. NATO says its helicopters were providing air cover to troops on the ground chasing insurgents; Pakistan says that the strike was a deliberate violation of its sovereignty (the question is, why?). The loss of human lives in any circumstances is tragic; sincere condolences to the families of the soldiers killed. Coming on the heels of ‘memogate’, this is not going to help US-Pakistan relations. Let’s hope that the political leadership is not swayed by the hysteria deliberately being whipped up by certain sections (as usual).

The Mumbai attacks lasted nearly three traumatic days and claimed over 160 precious lives, injured hundreds of others and emotionally scarred countless others. At that time, I wrote a couple of reports for IPS, Empathy, Grief in Pakistan at Mumbai Mayhem and Pleas For Sanity as Sabres Rattle Over Mumbai Mayhem. Continue reading

US visa weirdness

Visa delayed was visa (virtually) denied, in the case of Dr Umar Saif, who missed the conference at MIT where he was being honoured as a TR35 winner

Not that other countries don’t have increasingly stringent visa laws, but as Jason Pontin said “I’m not looking to those countries for standards and openness but to the US”. The quote ended up not being used in the final version of the report I did for the new web publication Latitude NewsVisa void perplexes Pakistanis, which could have been titled ‘Visa delayed is visa (virtually) denied’, which is the case when you can’t make it to a meeting or a conference because of the delay, as in the case of Dr Umar Saif… Of course, there are security concerns, and things are getting better, thanks to the efforts of many organisations working with the State Department, but the uncertainty continues. Read more

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