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”.

Acid survivors fight back: a story of hope amidst despair

'Saving Face' co-directors, Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy: American-Pakistani cooperation wins

My report for IPS, featuring an interview with Dr Mohammad Jawad, published before ‘Saving Face’ premiered on HBO on March 8, International Womens Day

Acid survivors fight back: a story of hope amidst despair

Beena Sarwar

BOSTON, March 8:  When the Oscar-nominated film ‘Saving Face’ won an Academy Award in Hollywood Best Documentary (Short Subject), it was the triumph of several ‘firsts’: the first time ever that a Pakistani filmmaker had won an Oscar; Pakistan’s first Oscar winner was a woman; and it was the first time that an American and a Pakistani had co-directed an Oscar-winning film. Continue reading

‘Pro-jihadi, anti-India’ policy #fail

“’Pro-jihadi, anti-India’ policy #fail” – my column Personal Political published in Hardnews, India, and in The News on Sunday. Many in Pakistan have been saying this for a long time, and been attacked and branded as traitors, Indian agents and kafirs for going against ‘the establishment’. Now, for the first time, this argument is in the public domain, being discussed on live television. Recently, Asma Jahangir Chairperson Emeritus of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and President of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan, lashed out at the Pakistan army’s self serving policies and demanded that they stay out of politics – in words that one would never have heard on television before. Her view reinforces what I wrote a few days earlier, below (predictably, efforts are afoot to portray her as ‘anti-national, pro-Hindu, pro-India’. These efforts too, will #fail). Continue reading

DEVELOPMENT-SOUTH ASIA: Women’s Peace Offensive

Analysis by Beena Sarwar

A collective aspiration for peace brings together women from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Photo:Roshan Sirran

A collective aspiration for peace brings together women from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Photo:Roshan Sirran

KABUL, Oct 18 (IPS) – ‘Give peace a chance’ may just be another cliché for many, but for women who have suffered the ravages of war, endless strife and other forms of conflict, joining hands to find meaningful solutions to their collective aspiration lends it a whole new meaning.

Within the South Asian region, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan have for decades been torn by internal and external conflicts that have cried out for, but have not quite found, a lasting resolution.

“We waited for a long time to see what the men would do for peace,” Zahira Khattak, a member of the think-tank formed by Pakistan’s Awami National Party (ANP), told IPS.

Continue reading

Beating Back the Taliban

My column for HardNews, written May 24, 2009

PERSONAL POLITICAL

Beena Sarwar

“Is the threat of Talibanisation real or has it been hyped up by the media?” asked an Australian journalist friend calling a week before the Pakistan army began its belated operation against the militants in Swat region. With no independent reporting from the area, there’s only the army’s word about the situation. If rag-tag Taliban barely 4,000 strong are being trounced it is hardly surprising – they face the world’s fifth largest standing army.

A quarter have reportedly been killed in the operation. Many are deserting, shaving off their beards and melting back into the local population. Not all are hard core militants. Some joined the Taliban for money, were forced, or driven to avenge the casualties caused by American drone attacks. However, some still cause fear according to reports coming from refugee camps that house an estimated 20 per cent of the over two million persons internally displaced (IDPs in development jargon) since the fighting began. The rest are living with friends, family or strangers, some of whom house up to 4,000 people on their lands.

For the first time since 1971, a ‘war narrative’ is being developed by the media, government, army and politicians (many of whom until recently justified the Taliban’s actions; during Kargil, they denied the Pakistan army’s involvement). Now there are images ‘war hero funerals’ of army ‘shaheeds’ (martyrs) – not all from Pakistan’s dominant religion (Muslim) or ethnic group (Punjabi).

Even before the army action, wild bearded turbaned hordes were unlikely to take over Pakistan. This is not Afghanistan where decades of war destroyed all the systems and institutions. Nor is it Iran, where a huge urban-rural divide helped the mullahs to take over. Even conservative Pakistanis are uncomfortable with the Taliban’s brand of Islam – public beheadings, corpse mutilations and floggings. There is wide adherence to Sufi values and anger at the Taliban’s attacks on sufi shrines.

Pakistan has a 5,50,000 strong standing army (struggling to re-orient itself against its former allies the jihadis, countering its historic conditioning against India), a bureaucracy geared to maintaining the status quo, and an elected Parliament. Regular interruptions to the political process have made them somewhat dysfunctional but the only cure is to continue the process, break the pattern according to which no elected government in Pakistan has completed its tenure (not counting the one formed after the 2002 elections that took place during military rule without the participation of the political leadership).

I started writing this while my father was hospitalised  in the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT), a clean and well-equipped facility that treats rich and poor free of charge in this bustling megapolis of over 16 million. I described to my Australian friend the street scene I saw. The three-storey sandstone building is surrounded by decrepit British era and modern apartment blocks. Some ancient neem trees raise leafy green heads, sanctuaries for noisy crows in this concrete jungle. In the evenings, families including women and children, and groups of young men, bring roadside eateries to life.

For all the efforts homogenise Pakistani society, it remains diverse. That afternoon, a couple walked past the pushcart fruit, juice vendors and parked motorcycles, the woman in a brown burqa, the man in conventional shalwar kameez. Two young girls in colourful shalwar kameez, dupattas draped casually over their shoulders, walked the opposite direction. Another woman went alone, a black chaddar over her blue shalwar kurta. Several men lounged on the footpath, some squatting on their haunches, smoking, chatting, drinking tea.

Elsewhere, air-conditioned malls are full of young girls and women, some with girlfriends or dates, others with families or alone. Their attire ranges from burqas and headscarves over shalwar kurtas, to short shirts and jeans, to  high-slit tunics over calf-length trousers (‘capris’). Many are window shoppers escaping oppressive heat compounded by power breakdowns. Not all can afford the designer labels on display, but exposure to different lifestyles has changed old aspirations (not necessarily in a positive way).

Meanwhile, whether or not the Taliban are beaten back, a greater threat emanates from state systems that encourage conservative thinking — discriminatory laws against religious minorities and women, the encouragement of violence against religious minorities and women, vigilante justice, and anti-India, pro-jehadi values

http://tinyurl.com/pp-taliban

Focus on women – Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, a docu on Swat and more

Still from my film 'Mukhtiar Mai: The struggle for justice'

Still from my film 'Mukhtiar Mai: The struggle for justice'

A collection of articles published around March 8, including mine for IPS and The News, plus articles by Kalpana Sharma, Cassandra Balchin, Zofeen Ebrahim, Ayesha Khan (study on Lady Health Workers in Pakistan), link to a documentary on a Swat schoolgirl and more. Another post pending on issues around the attack on Rahman Baba’s shrine near Peshawar, will compile and post soon.

‘A new political context for Juliet’ – my article for The News on Sunday, about women speaking out all over the country, attempting to exercise their rights to personal autonomy – in a post-colonial age that harks back to medieval times when women were considered family property

Women Defy Militancy, Patriarchy – story for IPS outlining the twin threats of militancy and patriarchy that women face in Pakistan

http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=46024

In both articles, I refer to a documentary ‘Class Dismissed in Swat Valley’ (NYT) that focuses on Malala, an 11-year-old Pakistani girl on the last day before the Taliban close down her school. A must see – very moving and informative – profiling the great courage of ordinary people under adversity

http://tinyurl.com/avq4c9

I learnt of this film through an article that Shabbir Imam in Peshawar forwarded from the Anchorage Daily News by Shehla Anjum, a Pakistan-born writer based in Alaska, ‘Taliban wages war against girls’ education in Pakistan’. The writer followed up the story in the documentary by contacting Malala and her father.

http://tinyurl.com/dmxtld

The IPS website – http://www.ipsnews.net – contains a link to the other articles around Women’s Day -

http://www.ipsnews.net/new_focus/women/index.asp

This link includes other articles worth looking up, from Palestine and Afghanistan, and ZOFEEN EBRAHIM’S article about child marriage in Pakistan

http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=46022

KALPANA SHARMA in her column `The Other Half’ in The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, March 8, 2008, writes about the attacks women in India are facing – a chilling account of what looks like an Indian version of the Vice & Virtue dept of the Taliban that we are facing here in Pakistan…

http://tinyurl.com/bql9vg

CASSANDRA BALCHIN – a three-part series on the challenges faced by Muslim women around the globe and the debates within the Muslim world to deal with these challenges, the demand for equality within the family, and more, in Open Democracy – http://www.opendemocracy.net – I’ve shortened the three URLs for easy reference here:
Home truths in the Muslim family – The global pressure to reform Muslim family law is mounting

http://tinyurl.com/bxhf8v

Musawah: there cannot be justice without equality – Muslim scholars and activists from 48 countries launch a global initiative for justice with equality between men and women

http://tinyurl.com/akg2q8

Musawah: solidarity in diversity – a global initiative to reform Muslim Family Law finds solidarity in diversity and a growing convergence around human rights values.

http://tinyurl.com/bbvvhd

AYESHA KHAN’s recent study on LHWs and Women’s Empowerment in Pakistan can be accessed through the Collective for Social Science Research website
The study is at this link: http://tinyurl.com/cssr-lhv

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