PAKISTAN/INDIA: Citizens Push for Peace

By Beena Sarwar

India's Kavita Srivastava meets Pakistan's Rajasthani women. Also pictured Haris Gazdar (left) and Karamat Ali. Photo: YPC

India’s Kavita Srivastava meets Pakistan’s Rajasthani women. Also pictured Haris Gazdar (left) and Karamat Ali. Photo: YPC

KARACHI, Jul 8 (IPS) – The months following last year’s Mumbai terror attacks have seen a renewed sense of urgency among peace activists in Pakistan and India. Citizens are pushing their governments to resume the composite dialogue process between the two nuclear-rival nations.

India suspended the process after the Mumbai attacks, accusing Islamabad of not doing “enough” to contain terrorism. But activists argue that terrorism is not Pakistan’s problem alone.

“Both countries are going through a critical phase,” says Jatin Desai, a veteran Mumbai-based journalist.

A frequent visitor to Pakistan, he was in the country with two other Indians, meeting community-based organisations, political leaders and media persons in Karachi, Lahore and Hyderabad to take the push for peace to the people. His proposal to ‘twin’ the press clubs of Karachi and Mumbai was positively received.

“After the Mumbai terror attacks, Mumbai residents sent a clear message – No to war, No to violence, No to terror,” said Desai. “Thousands joined hands for a hundred kilometre long ‘human chain for peace’ on Dec. 10, 2008, to say this and urge a resumption of the peace process.”

Zahida Hina and Jatin Desai at the seminar for Nirmala Didi. Photo: beena sarwar

Zahida Hina and Jatin Desai at the seminar for Nirmala Didi. Photo: beena sarwar

He was speaking at a seminar in Karachi to underline the need for peace in South Asia and to honour Nirmala Deshpande, a prominent peace lobbyist, who passed away in May 2008.

A majority of participants in the seminar were women from low income localities whose husbands work as daily wage labourers. Mumtaz, a young woman suckling her toddler, told IPS that this was the second such event she had attended.

“I understand what it’s about,” she said. “They want peace between India and Pakistan. We should live in peace with our neighbours. Maybe then our lot will improve. We all want that.”

Breakthroughs between India and Pakistan are routinely subverted by violence like the Mumbai attacks.

The security establishments and military machines also have vested interests in keeping tensions simmering.

“There will be no peace until the arms race ends,” said Mohammad Ali Shah of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, representing a community severely impacted by the hostilities, with whom the Indian delegates spent an evening.

“There are currently over 500 Indian fishermen in Pakistani prisons, and over 150 Pakistani fishermen in Indian prisons,” Shah told IPS. “Fishermen on both sides caught violating the maritime borders are treated as prisoners of war.”

A consular access agreement of May 2008 – aimed at facilitating early release of prisoners – requires both sides to exchange updated lists of each other’s nationals in their custody every Jan. 1 and Jul. 1.

Pakistan handed over its list to the Indian government. “But India defaulted both times this year, and has been unable, for unspecified reasons, to provide Pakistan with a list of Pakistani prisoners in Indian jails,” reported The Hindu on Jul. 2.

The lists in any case are incomplete, with many prisoners unaccounted for.

Jaipur-based Kavita Srivastava of India’s People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), on her maiden visit to Pakistan, wanted information about five Indian prisoners incarcerated in Pakistani prisons since 1991.

“Only two are in touch with their families, we don’t even know if the other three are alive,” she told IPS. “When they heard that I got my visa, their families walked for a whole day to meet me. With tears in their eyes they begged me to bring any information I could.”

She was unable to ascertain their whereabouts but left with a promise from the provincial minister for prisons that “next time” she would be allowed to visit the prisons and verify for herself.

“Such visits are important to increase contacts. After all, we are one region. We should be able to meet,” Shakeel Silawat of the Youth Progressive Council told IPS, after arranging a visit for Srivastava with girls and women from his community. Silawats are Rajasthanis who often have families on both sides of the border.

“If there was dual citizenship for Indians and Pakistanis, believe me, many would take it,” asserts award-winning social activist Sandeep Pandey from Lucknow.

Pandey participated in the 2005 peace march from Delhi to Multan in the south of Pakistan’s Punjab province. The marchers had also received enthusiastic welcomes from Pakistani villagers along the way.

Karamat Ali from the Pakistan Peace Coalition which organised the visit said that the Indians left with “a sense of the urgency for peace with India which appears to be greater among Pakistanis”.

“They realise that they need to push the Indian government to change its attitude towards the elected government of Pakistan, go beyond pressurising the Pakistani government to ‘take action’, in order to break the grip of the establishment here,” he told IPS.

Such visits may not yield immediate results, but the fact that the governments allow them to take place is in itself a step, if not forward, then at least not backwards. And in the context of India and Pakistan, that can only be seen as positive.

(END/2009)

http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=47575

Five days that changed Pakistan

Analysis by Beena Sarwar

KARACHI, Mar 16 (IPS) – A late night meeting between Pakistan’s army chief, President and Prime Minister led to the dramatic announcement in the wee hours of Monday morning that Iftikhar Mohammed Choudhry would be restored as Chief Justice.

The announcement, made by Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani, has been widely welcomed for having broken the political impasse that was threatening to plunge the country into chaos and possible army intervention.

For the past few days, hectic efforts had been underway domestically and at the international level to break the impasse, including by United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and British foreign minister David Miliband.

Former president Gen. Pervez Musharraf initially suspended Choudhry from office in March 2007, sparking off a nation-wide lawyers’ movement joined by civil society and political activists. When a Supreme Court order restored Choudhry to office, Musharraf imposed Emergency rule on Nov 3, 2007 that many saw as imposition of martial law.

Superior court judges who refused to take oath under the Emergency orders were sent packing. For the first time in the country’s history, the majority of judges refused to take this oath, leading to hopes that the days of the judiciary’s connivance with the establishment were over.

The elections of Feb 18, 2008 brought in a democratically elected government. But lawyers were unhappy with the way it dealt with the judges’ issue.

The government restored the judges who took a new oath under the constitution.

Choudhry and a few other judges refused on the grounds that this legitimised Musharraf’s illegal executive order that had sent them packing in the first place and that the restoration should take place through another executive order.

Leaders of the lawyers’ movement announced a ‘long march’ starting on Mar.12 to converge on the capital Islamabad on Mar. 16 for a ‘dharna’ or sit-in until the Chief Justice was restored.

As the long march kicked off, the beleaguered government appeared to be at odds with itself. Prime Minister Gillani asserted that the marchers would be allowed to converge on Islamabad even as his Interior Minister Rehman Malik, known to be close to President Asif Ali Zardari, took measures to prevent this from happening.

The resulting scenes of police beating and arresting people, in many cases from their houses, drew comparison to Musharraf’s last months in power, particularly during the Emergency of 2007.

In his early morning announcement, Gillani said that Choudhry would be restored to office “according to my government’s promise” on Mar. 21 when the incumbent Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar, a Zardari appointee, is due to retire.

He confirmed the decision reported a day earlier, that his government would file a review petition in the Supreme Court against the disqualification from elected office of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Nawaz Sharif and his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif.

A controversial court decision of Feb 25 that dislodged the younger Sharif from office of chief minister of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province had led to the Sharifs coming out with no holds barred against the man they saw as behind the judgement, President Zardari.

Many felt the disqualification judgement was timed to remove the Sharifs from power ahead of the ‘long march’. Several city mayors loyal to the PPP whom the Sharifs had removed from office were brought back to aid the federal government in its attempts to block the long march.

Police arrested hundreds of activists across the country and commandeered buses and containers to barricade roads and prevent the protestors from marching – except in Balochistan province where the provincial government remained neutral and allowed the marchers to demonstrate.

However, people defied police barricades and tear gas to converge in large numbers at key points like the Lahore High Court.

Matters climaxed as Nawaz Sharif defied a detention order confining him to his estate at Raiwind near Lahore, and headed a motorcade towards the city centre where hundreds of charged up activists had already converged.

As the momentum gathered the police in some places avoided confrontation and watched from the sidelines, making no attempt to stop the marchers. In other places, protestors armed with sticks attacked the buses blocking the roads, smashing windshields and denting carriages.

Television footage showed a policeman fleeing from a group of protestors only to be caught by others and beaten up even as some demonstrators tried to prevent the mob action.

“The public is taking their revenge,” commented one viewer in Peshawar, glued like many others to his television set since early morning.

Some activists occupied the grand old colonial building of the General Post Office in Lahore, on the roof of which they planted a Jamat-e-Islami flag next to the Pakistan flag. Some hurled red bricks at policemen, severely injuring some who had to be rushed to hospital.

The government had already drawn sharp criticism for holding Islamabad-based women’s rights activist Tahira Abdullah in preventive detention on the day the long march started.

At 4 am on Mar. 15, Peshawar police without search or arrest warrants raided the home of prominent lawyer Musarrat Hilali, who is also vice-chairperson of the respected Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). As she tried to escape, she fell, fracturing her leg in three places.

“I did not want to be arrested,” Hilali told IPS from her bed in Peshawar. According to law, police cannot detain a woman between sunset and sunrise. Hilali said that the provincial Awami National Party (ANP) government had denied sending the police and that the orders had come from the federal level.

“After I fell and was injured, the police left, but they placed me under house arrest,” she said, recalling her ordeal.

Her house arrest is now over following Gillani’s speech, in which he announced that those arrested or placed under house arrest over the past few days would be immediately released. He also announced the lifting of prohibitory orders that barred public gatherings.

Gillani’s televised speech led to jubilation in city streets across Pakistan. Lawyers and activists danced to drum beats and distributed sweets as Sharif called off the long march.

However, some sound a word of caution.

Zahid Abdullah, programme manager, Transparency and Right to Information Programme, Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives, Pakistan suggests that Chaudhry now needs to ponder over “whether he should be joining the judiciary or remain a symbol of independent judiciary by working from the outside for a truly independent judiciary at its all levels.”

“He has won the moral victory through his tenacity and that of the lawyers. His personal restoration is not an end itself but a means to an end. If he joins the judiciary, he is likely to be bogged down by the practicalities and the compulsions of the judiciary as it stands today,” he wrote in an email circular.

“It would be better if he stays outside and helps political forces by exerting his pressure and influence to suggest and implement the modalities of putting in place independent judges in the courts and carrying out judicial reforms.”

Others are suspicious of the government’s move. Jamat-e-Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed expressed doubts about the move, complaining of not having been taking into confidence about it. “Who knows what pressures were placed on the Chief Justice and what he has been made to agree to,” he told a television anchor.

“Duped again by Mr Zee,” text-messaged a Karachi-based lawyer caustically, referring to Zardari whom he had been hoping the crisis would dislodge.

However, advocate Asad Jamal in Lahore sees the restoration as a success of civil society that has struggled for this cause for the past two years. “It shows the resilience of democracy and the ability of the present rulers to submit to the people’s demand, even if belatedly,” he told IPS.

“I think it would be unfortunate if my fellow citizens, who like to be part of progressive civil society, do not give Zardari credit for this retreat, howsoever belatedly it may have come.”

(END/2009)

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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