‘What good is a dead body if you can’t see the person alive?’

Published in Hardnews, India and The News on Sunday, Pakistan

PERSONAL POLITICAL

What good is a dead body if you can’t see the person alive?

Beena Sarwar

India-Pakistan relations have Nazo Reshi vacillating between hope and despair. Hailing from Srinagar, she is married to a Pakistani and lives in Islamabad. “Every time I apply for a visa for Jammu and Kashmir it is a marathon,” she wrote in an email to Aman ki Asha, the peace initiative of the Jang Group of Pakistan where I work and the Times of India Group.

“The intricacies of the visa application keep increasing. Nobody realises the plight of women like me who are divided from their families, often from villages all over India and Pakistan. Continue reading

A Peace Convention and the wisdom of Ali Nawaz

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? Continue reading

TED and Compassion, India-Pakistan joint defence, Zardari and conspiracies

Several links and news items I’ve been wanting to share and finally managed to compile – as well as a belated bit of good news and congratulations to Dr Hassan Abbas, a journalist and then police officer in Lahore before becoming an academic and blogger at Watandost. He has been selected for the QAU Chair at Columbia U, well deserved. He has for years been stressing the need to deal with many of the problems in Pakistan as regular law and order issues, rather than blanketed under the ‘war on terror’, and has suggested reforms to the police sector including better training, pay and equipment – see his recent police reforms paper at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU)

Meanwhile, conspiracy theorists are having a field day in Pakistan, with much unease at how some journalists are (mis) conducting themselves. I say let them fulminate and froth. We’ve had fighting words from Zardari in his latest speech, and he has come out swinging (to use Bilal Qureshi’s term) in his interview to Express TV, posted at Pkonweb

The bottom line is that Pakistan army does not want to be under civilian control – see report by Saeed Shah: ‘Pakistan’s military seen moving to undercut Zardari over his close U.S. ties

One of Zardari’s ‘faults’ in the ‘establishment’s’ eyes is his insistence that India is not the enemy. Continue reading

Jinnah revisited, thank you Jaswant Singh

Scan from PIA's 'Hamsafar', Aug 2009 issue with postage stamp featuring Azad

Scan from PIA's 'Hamsafar', Aug 2009 issue, with Azad's lyrics and a picture of the postage stamp featuring Hafeez Jullandari whose lyrics later became Pakistan's national anthem.

I first learnt about Pakistan’s original national anthem, especially commissioned by Mr Jinnah from the poet  Jaganath Azad of Lahore, in ‘Hamsafar‘, Pakistan International Airlines’ monthly magazine in its  August issue when flying back from Lahore on Aug 9. (Please note, no official literature would have carried this information a couple of years ago, enlightened moderation notwithstanding)

This national anthem lasted only until Mr Jinnah’s death – after which his successors commissioned a more Persianised one that Hafeez Jullandari wrote. A subsequent article in The Kashmir Times, confirmed this startling (for me) information, Jinnah’s Secularism: A Hindu wrote Pak’s first national anthem.

Note: Just learnt that Zaheer A. Kidvai talked about this in his blogpost of May 03, 2009,Windmills of my mind – ‘A Tale of Two Anthems’, thanks Zak)

Here’s my article on the Jaswant Singh-Jinnah controversy, published in Hardnews, New Delhi (Sept issue), and The News on Sunday,Pakistan.

Jinnah revisited, thank you Jaswant Singh

How did Mohammad Ali Jinnah — the ‘architect of Hindu-Muslim unity’ — end up founding a ‘Muslim country’?

By Beena Sarwar

Generations have grown up in India and in Pakistan fed on distorted versions of history. Attempts to counter these versions don’t go down too well at home, as Jaswant Singh found when he challenged the Indian version that lays the entire blame for the Partition on the shoulders of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, ignoring the parts played by Nehru, the Congress and the British.

Ironically, while eulogising the country’s founder as the Quaid-e-Azam or Great Leader, Pakistan has also censored him, sweeping aside his guiding principles, secularism and insistence on justice and constitutionalism. Similarly, in I

ndia Mahatma Gandhi is eulogised while his guiding principles and insistence on non-violence are made increasingly irrelevant.

Each side conveniently forgets the extremisms of its dominant faith. Hindu extremism existed well before 1947 (remember who killed Gandhi) as did Muslim extremism, particularly since 1857, when the British drove a wedge between the two religious communities. Both continue to feed off each other.

Official textbooks, policies or public discourse ignore the findings of scholars like Mubarik Ali, Ayesha Jalal and K.K. Aziz in Pakistan, and Romila Thapar, K.N. Panikkar and Sumit Sarkar in India whose work is based on solid research and facts rather than emotive myths. There is no official support for a joint history project.

Jaswant Singh’s latest work on Jinnah had not hit the Pakistani bookstalls at the time of writing. But from reported and televised statements and published extracts his thesis appears to be similar to Ayesha Jalal’s seminal work The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan (Cambridge University Press, 1985).

The controversy arises not from what Singh has written but from who he is: a founding member of the BJP, a party that has long attempted to communalise or saffronise India’s history. Given this agenda, what is surprising that not that the BJP sacked him or that the Gujarat government banned his book, but that Singh did not expect this. After all, he is not the first BJP leader to acknowledge Jinnah as secular — L.K. Advani did that during his groundbreaking June 2005 visit to his birthplace Karachi. The BJP didn’t go as far as expelling him, but he did have to resign as party head.

In Pakistan, this pettiness triggers off a puerile satisfaction that ‘their’ communal-mindedness has been exposed, for all ‘their’ posturing on democracy. But then, as some Pakistani newspaper columnists and editorials have commented, no one here (let alone from among ‘our’ right-wing nationalists, the BJP’s counterparts), is likely to embark on similar research on an Indian leader.

We know that Jinnah was an unlikely contender for a ‘Muslim leader’. But in Pakistan, there will be no public mention of his non-fasting during Ramzan or ignorance about the Muslim prayer. Jinnah’s marriage to the Zoroastrian Rati Petit is similarly glossed over. Jinnah joined Congress in 1906, remained a member after joining the All India Muslim League (AIML) in 1913, and brokered the Congress-League Lucknow Pact of 1916. Ever the constitutionalist, he played a key role in the formation of the All India Home Rule League pushing for India’s recognition as a British dominion, like Ireland or New Zealand. How did this ‘architect of Hindu-Muslim unity’, as Sarojini Naidu termed him, end up founding a ‘Muslim country’?

Jinnah’s differences with the Congress developed after the arrival on the scene of the populist M.K. Gandhi, coincidentally also a Guajarati lawyer. Jinnah, believing that independence could be achieved through constitutional means alone, opposed Congress adopting Gandhi’s non-violent civil disobedience movement to gain swaraj (self-rule) and the use of religious symbols to achieve this end — the Hindu symbols used by Gandhi or the Muslim slogans raised by Muhammad Ali and Shaukat Ali Jauhar. He was aghast when Congress, prompted by Gandhi, decided to join the Indian Khilafat Movement as a means to boost the anti-imperial, nationalist movement in India. Many saw this as a defining point of Hindu-Muslim unity. Jinnah disagreed. He termed the Khilafat as communal and religiously divisive, resigned from the Congress and turned his attention to the Muslim League and the political enfranchisement of Indian Muslims whom he increasingly saw as his constituency.

In The Sole Spokesman, Ayesha Jalal explains that Jinnah was not thinking of a ‘separate Muslim state’ when he argued for ‘weightage’ — giving Muslims representation on the basis of political significance rather than population. He demanded a disproportionate 33 percent representation for Muslims in each state or province where they formed a minority (averaging 15 per cent of the population) except where they formed over half and up to two thirds of the population — Kashmir, Hyderabad (Deccan), Bengal, NWFP, Balochistan, Sindh and the Punjab.

When the Nehru Report of 1928 (authored by Motilal Nehru) rejected this and other demands, Jinnah responded with his Fourteen Points of 1929, enunciating his conviction that Hindus and Muslims would eventually have to part ways politically if Indian Muslims were to obtain political representation. He turned to the idea of a separate state or states for Indian Muslims “within the Indian federation” — his vision right up to the months leading to Partition, according to Jalal. His demand for ‘Pakistan’ was basically a “bargaining counter” to gain leverage: he wanted to keep his options “open for a constitutional arrangement which would cover the whole of India” and steer a path between majority and minority while giving himself a role at the centre. The Muslim League’s famous resolution of Lahore, March 23, 1940, calling for the formation of Hindu and Muslim states in India as a condition of independence, makes no mention of ‘partition’ or ‘Pakistan’.

This is because Jinnah’s vision for ‘Pakistan’ did not entail the partition of India, writes Jalal, but “its regeneration into an union where Pakistan and Hindustan would join to stand together proudly against the hostile world without. This was no clarion call of pan-Islam; this was not pitting Muslim India against Hindustan; rather it was a secular vision of a polity where there was real political choice and safeguards, the India of Jinnah’s dreams.”

This strategy backfired firstly because the British, eager to cut their losses and leave, rushed ahead with Partition. Secondly, rather than agree to Jinnah proposal (an undivided Indian federation with a weak centre), the Congress saw the advantages of an India divided but with a strong centre and separation of the provinces outside its ken (keep those wild western tribes at bay) — even at the cost of dividing Punjab and Bengal. Jinnah found this division abhorrent, resulting in what he called a ‘truncated and moth-eaten’ nation.

Jinnah’s attempts to give Pakistan direction are reflected in the decision to commission a Hindu poet, Jaganath Azad of Lahore, to write Pakistan’s national anthem, in the provisional Assembly’s first constitution-making act — the appointment on August 10 of a Committee on Fundamental Rights and Matters relating to Minorities, headed by Jinnah himself — and in his first speech to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947, outlining his vision for the new nation.

This speech, meant to be his political will and testament according to his official biographer Hector Bolitho (Jinnah: Creator of Pakistan, John Murray, London, 1954), talks first about the inherited problems of the new country — the maintenance of law and order, with the State fully protecting “the life, property and religious beliefs of its subjects”, the “curse” of bribery and corruption, the “monster” of black-marketing, and the “great evil” of nepotism. He then discusses the issue of Partition (“the only solution of India’s constitutional problem”) — history would judge its merits or demerits but since it had happened, “we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well-being of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor.”

He urges the assembly members to “work in co-operation, forgetting the past, burying the hatchet…If you change your past and work together in a spirit that everyone of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges, and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make.

“I cannot emphasize it too much. We should begin to work in that spirit and in course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities, the Hindu community and the Muslim community, because even as regards Muslims you have Pathans, Punjabis, Shias, Sunnis and so on, and among the Hindus you have Brahmins, Vashnavas, Khatris, also Bengalis, Madrasis and so on, will vanish. Indeed if you ask me, this has been the biggest hindrance in the way of India to attain the freedom and independence…

“Therefore, we must learn a lesson from this. You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State… We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State…. Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”

The issues he outlined still haunt India and Pakistan today. His successors were quick to reject his vision. After Jinnah’s death on September 11, 1948, the assembly commissioned a new national anthem, consigning Jaganath Azad’s lyrics to history. Jinnah’s speech of Aug 11 was literally censored “by hidden hands”, as Zamir Niazi, the late chronicler of media freedoms details in his book ‘Press in Chains’ (Karachi Press Club, 1986). And a month after his death, his successors passed the Safety Act Ordinance of 1948, providing for detention without trial — that Jinnah had in March angrily dismissed as a “black law”. It is inconceivable that Jinnah would have agreed to the ‘Objectives Resolution’ that the Constituent Assembly passed in March 1949, laying the basis for formally recognising Pakistan as a state based on an ideology.

We are still paying the price for these follies. Thank you Jaswant Singh, for reminding us.

Also see: ‘Censoring the Quaid’ by Dr M. Sarwar, Aug 7, 1991 The Frontier Post)

PAKISTAN-INDIA: The deaf frog approach

Photo: Nicolas Reu/Caters News Agency

Photo: Nicolas Reu

PAKISTAN-INDIA: The deaf frog approach just might work…

The Indian media is gunning for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his stand regarding dialogue with Pakistan, just as the Pakistani media is gunning for the Pakistani leadership for their insistence on dialogue with India (going against long years of conditioning).

Reminds me of the little frog who made it to the top as the other frogs dropped out.

Unlike the others, he couldn’t hear the crowd below shouting that he would never make it.

He was deaf.

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

A moment of silence and a ‘dangerous’ choreographer

Beena Sarwar

Sonu Dangerous and Meera rehearse for a commercial. Photo courtesy: Sonu Dangerous

Sonu Dangerous and Meera rehearse for a commercial. Photo courtesy: Sonu Dangerous

KARACHI, Jun 28: One of the most unexpected tributes to Michael Jackson after the superstar’s sudden death in Los Angeles came at a session of the provincial assembly of Sindh, Pakistan’s southern-most province on Jun 27.

‘Sindh Assembly approves Rs327 billion budget’, ran a prominent headline in the Karachi edition of daily The News the following day, sub-headlined: ‘One-minute silence observed for Michael Jackson’.

The report detailed information about the budget, with a brief postscript on the ‘one-minute silence for Michael Jackson, the famous pop singer who died in Los Angeles, USA.’

Assembly sessions in this Muslim-majority South Asian nation routinely begin with a recitation from the holy Quran, followed by a dua, or prayer led by a Muslim priest. Here members can move a motion requesting the priest to include any deceased person in the dua.

On the morning of Jun 27, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) minority member Salim Qureshi Khokhar, a Christian, asked the house to “observe a minute of silence for the entertainer Michael Jackson, internationally acclaimed in Pakistan,” as Gibran Peshimam, City Editor of The News, Karachi, told IPS.

What followed was even more unexpected. The Minister for Local Government Agha Siraj Durrani got up to state that since Michael Jackson was a Muslim, he could be included in the prayer, related Peshimam, who regularly attends assembly sessions.

“Jackson’s brother may have been a Muslim but there’s no confirmation about Jackson having converted to Islam,” Sindh Minister of Information Shazia Marri interjected, said Peshimam.

“They then settled on minute of silence but it was probably just about 20 seconds. Five minutes later, the atmosphere became tense they began discussing  the finance bill.”

News about Jackson’s unexpected death hit Pakistan early morning on Jun 26, too late for the morning papers — the South Asian nation, currently observing daylight savings time, is 13 hours ahead of Western Pacific Time where news of Jackson’s death broke after 5 pm on Jun 25.

As elsewhere in the world, Pakistani blogs and tweets were soon abuzz with the information and expressions of shock and sadness. Many uploaded Jackson’s videos on Facebook profiles, weblogs and other internet sites or sent links through cell phones and emails.

Over the last decade, cell phone and internet usage has risen rapidly in this nation of over 160 million. Over fifty per cent of the population have their own cell phone, according to the World Bank’s booklet, “Bringing Finance to Pakistan’s Poor”. This includes women with access to a cell phone and rural areas (two-thirds in urban areas).

Internet access, available in Pakistan since the mid-1990s, while not as common is growing rapidly. The broadband internet subscriber base had crossed 170,000 by December 2008 and Pakistan is ranked fourth in terms of broadband Internet growth in the world.

While Michael Jackson’s music has rocked parties in urban Pakistan since the 1970s, his influence goes beyond the English-speaking elite.

“There was a time when – irrespective of your economic and social class – the way to be ‘tich’ was to be like Michael Jackson,” recalls Adil Najam, who grew up in Pakistan and teaches International Relations at Boston University

“From Saab ji’s son to Saab Ji’s driver’s son, if you were ‘in’ you had to be MJ: the hair, the walk, the white socks, the tight pants, the persona at large. And no stage show from Peshawar to Karachi would ever be complete without the ‘performance’ of a Michael Jackson clone,” Najam wrote recently in a tribute to Jackson on his popular website All Things Pakistani (www.pakistaniat.com).

The Jackson magic even made it to the television comedy series ‘Fifty Fifty’ which had huge mass appeal in Pakistan in the 1980s. One wordless skit, ‘Disco Chor’ (Disco Thief), features a thief (the popular comedian Ismail Tara).

The action is set to Jackson’s hit ‘Billie Jean’ as the masked thief sneaks in through a bedroom window and moves rhythmically through the room mimicking Jackson’s trademark dance moves. The music is clearly in his head as the room’s occupant sleeps through this foray.

Frustrated at finding nothing of value the thief wakes up the sleeping man and mimes his disgust before dishing out some money to his potential victim and exiting as Jackson’s Billie Jean fades out.

The video continues to have viewers in stitches through an online posting at YouTube

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0EF_Jo2A1I

“To those not familair with the Fifty-Fifty mystique or with the music of the time this may not seem all that funny,” commented Najam, who uploaded the video on his website in 2006, “but when these were first telecast the whole country – quite literally – were talking about them.”

Jackson’s influence in this part of the world is more widely evident in the slickly choreographed synchronised dance sequences that are a standard feature of ‘Bollywood’ films, as movies made in India’s film capital Bombay, now Mumbai, are called.

“Entire Bollywood, and then naturally Lollywood, dance sequences copied Jackson’s style,” commented Jaleel Akhtar, a television and producer in Karachi who managed Pakistan’s first rock band in the 1980s.

Bollywood openly copies Hollywood and is in turned copied by Pakistan’s film industry, ‘Lollywood’ in Lahore.

“That form of dance simply didn’t exist before,” said Akhtar. “Now we have our own version of Michael Jackson!”

He was referring to ‘Sonu Jackson’, a young choreographer who has shot up in Pakistan’s entertainment industry over the past few years. “He is phenomenal, does a lot of improvised stuff.”

“He is the first Pakistani artist who performs in Michael Jackson’s style,” the choreographer’s manager Lubna Ahmed told IPS.

Born Imnan Ahmed Shah, Sonu first came across a Michael Jackson video in 1999. “I was a normal student until then, but when I saw him, it was like something awoke inside me. I became obsessed. I started teaching myself by watching him,” he told IPS.

This self-taught dancer and singer from a humble background began calling himself Sonu ‘Jackson’, a surname that he changed to ‘Dangerous’ after releasing his first album ‘The Dangerous’ in 2007.

One of Pakistan’s most sought-after choreographers for music awards shows as well as film sequences, he is rehearsing for seven Michael Jackson numbers that will be shown next week on a private entertainment channel here.

He also plans to tour the USA in early July to perform in tributes to Michael Jackson at different shows.

(ends)

Edited version ‘PAKISTAN: An Unexpected Tribute to MJ’ http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=47414

Dr Sarwar blog; my ‘Media Matters’ chapter in new book on Pakistan India divide

Hello all, it’s been a while since I last posted anything to this list. Have been caught up in a bit of a backlog.

Have uploaded new material, including photos, to the Dr Sarwar website – www.drsarwar.wordpress.com

Please do check it out. Suggestions, comments and inputs welcome

Cover 'The Great Divide'

Cover 'The Great Divide'

Recently received a copy of the India International Center quarterly to which I contributed a chapter (excerpt below), published recently by Harper Collins, India. I dipped into it – loved the chapter by Sonia Jabbar & was happy to see that Mukul Kesavan, one of my favourite writers, also has a chapter, besides other luminaries like Urvashi Butalia, Amit Baruah (former The Hindu correspondent in Islamabad),and Pervez Hoodbhoy plus a short story by Danial Muinuddin.

‘The Great Divide: India and Pakistan’ (Hardback, 360  pages)
Edited by Ira Pande
ISBN: 9788172238360
Cover Price: Indian Rs. 495.00

http://www.harpercollins.co.in/BookDetail.asp?Book_Code=2313

BOOK SUMMARY
At a time when India and Pakistan are both reeling under terror attacks and hysterical talk of an impending war, it is important to take stock of where we have reached, individually and as part of the Indian subcontinent; sixty years after the two nations were carved out as two distinct entities.

This volume of essays by writers from both sides of the border attempts to do just that. As the editor, Ira Pande, says in her introduction, ‘There is a balance here between the ‘hard’ topics (politics, economy, diplomacy, religion et al) and ‘soft’ (music, crafts, language, cricket, cinema) to bring out the full range of our engagement with each other.’

Below: Excerpt from my chapter

‘Media Matters’

Beena Sarwar

(excerpt begins)
Ask anyone what they think the major problems in society are, and chances that the media will figure somewhere in the answer. Ask about possible solutions and the answer again will include the media in some way. So is the media part of the solution or part of the problem? Or is it, as some think, the problem itself? Do journalists simply mirror society – reflect the good and the bad — or do they actually shape perceptions and agendas? Equally crucially, do they act independently or do they ‘manufacture consent’ for their governments and corporate owners? Have the media contributed to rising tensions between South Asia’s nuclear-armed neighbours, or are hostilities between the countries contributing to tensions between their media? Has the media boom brought people closer, or is it driving a greater wedge between them?

The answer is ‘yes’, to all these questions.

The ‘media’ of course are not a monolithic entity. The news media includes print, television, radio and more recently the ‘new media’ – websites and web logs or ‘blogs’ posted on the Internet. The ‘popular’ or ‘entertainment’ media includes film and advertising. Crucial to the role of the media is the continual blurring of the line between the news and entertainment media.

The media boom has on the one hand brought the people of India and Pakistan closer together and contributed to shattering stereotypes. On the other hand, it has done just the opposite, reconfirming prejudices and old suspicions.

The 24/7 news media boom has also spawned a beast that thrives on 30-second sound bites and shrinking attention spans around the world. It is not big on in-depth analysis and prefers speculation. It tends to bypass contextualisation for quick updates. The race to be the first to ‘break’ the news often leads to misreporting and inaccuracy. Peace talks and negotiations which would be more effective away from the media spotlight are routinely sabotaged by leaks and overreactions to those leaks.

Broadcasting belligerent statements by one politician or other is damaging anyway, but worse when these are cross-border taunts and challenges. The media has a duty to report, but giving weight to negative statements and events contributes to the hardening of stances and reinforcing of negative stereotypes. Of course, it also exposes the belligerent nature of those making such statements for all to see.

(excerpt ends)

India trip, the ‘attack’ and some articles

Allahabad Chapter of PIPFPD: Comrade Kameshwar Prashad Agarwal

No disruptions at the Allahabad Chapter of PIPFPD, attended, among others, by Comrade Kameshwar Prashad Agarwal

Hello everyone, have been traveling with limited access to internet, hence the silence.

I was among the journalists at a panel discussion ‘Does media jingoism fan tensions between India and Pakistan?’ organised by Forum of Media Professionals at the India International Centre in New Delhi on April 15. The event got a lot of play because of misreporting.

The Indian media hyped up a minor disruption, reporting that the Pakistani journalists in the panel were ‘attacked’ or ‘roughed up’. The Pakistani media picked up on the photos and subsequently there were condemnations and even demonstrations in Pakistan about the ‘attack’.

To set the record straight, no one was roughed up or attacked. One man did disrupt the meeting – but very briefly, from the back of the auditorium. The organisers had turned away 3-4 men who refused to sign the register – he must have sneaked in. The discussion was half over when he stood up and started shouting anti-Pakistan, pro-war slogans (someone sitting near him said he’d just come in). The organisers pushed him out. TV cameramen and photographers followed.

Most papers and channels used photos and footage of the scuffle outside, rather than focusing on the discussion inside, which continued, despite the noise we could hear outside for a couple of minutes. The interruption lasted for maybe a minute or so. The discussion started at 10 am and continued till 1.30 pm. It turned out that he was from the Sri Ram Sene, the same group that tried to prevent Valentines Day celebrations in India, to whom thousands of people sent ‘pink chaddis’ in response.

The incident demonstrated what we had been talking about, that TV, being a visual medium, focuses on images rather than words. Hence their running after the scuffle rather than focusing on the discussion. This is the nature of the beast. Those keen to tame it might try organizing mass emails, letters and phone calls to demand meaningful change.

Here is Rahimullah Yusufzai’s article on the incident – `The good, the bad and the ugly’, The News, Apr 21, 2009 <http://tinyurl.com/dxtuo3>

Our visit also involved several other interactions with the media. Rahimullah Yusufzai, the veteran reporter from Peshawar was the most sought after for his views on Talibanisation, living as he does in the heart of the storm. Here is the link to a full page ‘idea exchange’ published April 19, a forum that The Indian Express regularly holds: “I don’t think we have reached a stage when the Taliban will take over Pakistan” – <http://tinyurl.com/dzeyc9>

I showed some of my documentaries at a meeting of the Allahabad chapter of the Pakistan-India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) and at the Delhi Press Club, organised by Youth4Peace. Here are links to a couple of reports on the Press Club screening:

‘In Pakistan, change has to come from within, says journalist’ -Indian Express, Apr 20, 2009 – <http://tinyurl.com/covts7>

`Pak journalist’s short take on women’s rights’, Mail Today, Apr 20, 2009 – <http://tinyurl.com/cmb7ey>

More later

A breath of fresh Kashmiri air

Column for Hardnews, Delhi, Feb 2009

PERSONAL POLITICAL

basharat-peer-t2f-6-w-mural

Basharat Peer at T2F. Photo: Jamal Ashiqain

Beena Sarwar

Basharat Peer’s ‘Curfewed Nights’ brings home the myriad nuances and human-ness of ‘the Kashmir issue’ – the main reason why, we are told, Pakistan and India can’t exist in peace.

Despite the hostilities, it speaks for the changing times that Peer was able to recently visit Pakistan, staying with Saad Haroon, a satirist he had met in New York (got the visa because a Pakistani diplomat liked his book). Friends hooked him up with Sabeen Mahmud who runs The Second Floor, T2F, the internet café-cum-community space in Karachi where you can hang out over music or a board game, browse the bookshelves or imbibe the art work and mural on the brick walls. Despite the short notice, the place was packed – with mostly young people, like Peer, Mahmud, and Haroon themselves. The event provided a rare opportunity for meaningful interaction without the public posturing, ‘national’ positions and one-upmanship that the mainstream media reflects and reinforces, overwhelming the shades of grey.

Waiting for the author, I got engrossed in the first chapter. The first few pages outlining his idyllic boyhood in a village in Anantnag reveal a culture steeped in religion, but gentle and tolerant. “Everything changed in 1990,” he explained, taking his seat in a corner of the room. “That was the turning point. It is the year against which we measure every subsequent moment.”

Ironically, Peer landed in Pakistan on Feb 5, designated ‘Kashmir Day’ by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. No subsequent government could remove this unnecessary national holiday that costs the exchequer millions of rupees annually. My daughter is happy that it’s a school holiday. Kashmiris remain in ignorant bliss about this magnanimity. “I didn’t even know there was such a day,” admitted Peer. “None of my friends know.”

He dispelled the myth nurtured by the Pakistani establishment that Kashmiris are grateful for the foreign intervention. The foreign fighters injected into the region have no affinity with the Kashmiris. “They have no language in common, they have different worldviews, and their approach to religion is very different. Villagers have an ambiguous approach to foreign militants. They bury their bodies out of respect for the dead, but don’t carry them on their shoulders in processions like they do for the local boys.”

Kashmiris most certainly “would not want a government like some people want Swat to have,” he added (nor would most of us in Pakistan).

Refreshingly honest and thoughtful, Peer is among the 74 per cent of Kashmiris who are under 40. His first visit to Pakistan, he said, has been an eye-opener. “For a long time, Pakistan for me was Imran Khan. It was an abstraction, a collection of images. I couldn’t have imagined it was like this, or that there were so many multiple worlds in Karachi. I had no real sense of what Pakistan was.”

In turn, many of us were stunned by the story he related about the reaction in Kashmir when Gen. Zia got Z.A. Bhutto hanged in 1979. “People were so angry they burnt the houses of 500 Jamat-e-Islami members all over Kashmir valley. They even burnt copies of (JI founder) Maulana Maududi’s book and copies of the Quran. When my grandfather tried to stop them, they said that it was the ‘Jamati Quran’.”

One of the passages he read out was a moving one about reuniting with Kashmiri Pundit friends at a refugee camp. Obviously something he feels strongly about, the issue figures prominently in his book. Keenly observed and vividly related, his writing made me literally ‘see’ Kashmir as never before.

Peer stresses the high premium placed on education in the Valley. “Even the poorest girls in my village go to school. Srinagar’s Lal Chowk is a sea of women from 1 to 3.30 pm, hundreds of women and girls from schools in the area, dominating the most significant public space in Kashmir.”

Some asked if he felt a greater need to prove his loyalty to India as an Indian Muslim? “I am a Kashmiri Muslim, not an Indian Muslim,” he responded. “I have a disputed status… I published this book in India. I’ve worked for several Indian publications, but never felt discriminated against because of religion. I could write about and publish anything. It may not always get the best display, but all reporters crib about that. Yes, there is a problem finding housing in Delhi if you are Muslim, but aren’t housing issues universal? Would a Pathan find it easy to get a house in a Mohajir area?”

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