Tenth Hamza Alavi Memorial Lecture, Dec 18, 2011, Karachi

Hamza Alavi: eminent sociologist, addressed issues of nationality, gender and fundamentalism

Ayesha Siddiqa: political analyst, author of Military Inc.

The Tenth Hamza Alavi Memorial Lecture (free and open to the public)
Keynote speaker: Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa - Bringing Change in Praetorian State (see her recent essay in EPW on Pakistan’s Modernity: Between the Military and MilitancySunday, Dec 18, 2011, at 4.00 pm
Venue: Dr. Zaki Hasan Auditorium, Jinnah Medical & Dental College, Shaheed-e-Millet Road, Karachi.
Chair: Dr. Jaffar Ahmed;  Introduction of Speaker: Dr. Mohd Ali Siddiqi
Followed by high tea (thanks to Dr. Tariq Sohail).
The lecture, published by the Irtiqa Institute of Social Sciences, will be available for just Rs.30 per copy. Donations to this cause are always welcome. Please make cheques out to the National Council of Academics, mailing address D 61, Blo0ck 2, Clifton, Karachi 75600

‘Life Goes on: Women Dead in Karachi Stampede’

Poverty and desperation coupled with private charity being distributed in a chaotic manner led to nearly 20 women and girls being killed in a stampede in Old Karachi on Sept 14. The Dawn aptly headlined its report ‘Crushed by poverty’. See also Shahid Husain’s report in The News ‘Food security is a fundamental human right’.
Free flour was being distributed in a busy neighbourhood when the stampede happened [AFP]
Free flour was being distributed in a busy neighbourhood when the stampede happened [AFP]

Below, temporal’s poem for the women who died, posted in Baithak:
‘Life Goes on: Women Dead in Karachi Stampede’
is nay kiya yeh
nahiN
oos nay kiya yeh
aisa nahiN kerna chahiyay thaa
waisa nahiN kerna chahiyay thaa

Continue reading

Three ’9/11′s…

9/11: Anis Mansoori of FM 103 in his live talk show today brought up the  significance of two 9/11s – Sept 11, 1948, when Mohammad Ali Jinnah breathed his last, and Sept 11, 2001 when two planes crashed into New York’s Twin Towers, catalysing a spiral of violence from which we have yet to emerge. My comment was that if successive Pakistani governments had not discarded Jinnah’s vision and headed down the ‘jihadi’ path at the behest of America in its fight against the USSR in Afghanistan, perhaps the second ’9/11′ would not have happened.

Another 9/11 to remember: Allende ousted

Another 9/11 to remember: Allende ousted

And Mohsin Sayeed reminds me about another 9/11, in 1973 – the US-backed military coup in Chile, that removed the world’s first elected Marxist government. “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its people,” said Henry Kissinger about the coup.

The deposed Dr Salvadore Allende was killed and Gen. Pinochet  unleashed a reign of terror and massacred between 32,000 to 80,000 people…

Asif Ali Zardari – another perspective

Image from Pak Teahouse where the post was also shared (and drew some thoughtful comments)

Image from Pak Teahouse where the post was also shared (and drew some thoughtful comments)

The confessions of Brig Imtiaz have forced other intelligence officers to admit their role in destroying democracy in Pakistan, and establishing that Zardari’s name has been trashed for about 20 years to force Benazir Bhutto out of politics and to destroy the credibility of Pakistan People’s Party, writes Bilal Qureshi in his article Asif Ali Zardari – President of Pakistan, posted at the blog he edits Pakistan Foreign Policy.

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)

‘Blasphemy laws’ – Stopping the rot

My recent article on the ‘blasphemy’ laws, slightly edited version published in Dawn, Aug 29, op-ed as  ‘A misguided mindset’ - http://tinyurl.com/lzx6ux

Karachi, Aug 26

Stopping the rot

Beena Sarwar

The introspection, debate and outrage generated a month ago by the attacks on two villages in Gojra on July 31 and Aug 1 may be out of public sight, as happened all too often in the past, but the nine people murdered and the homes and churches gutted are not out of mind. Neither is Najeeb Zafar, the young factory owner in Sheikhupura, Punjab, killed on August 4 for allegedly desecrating Quranic verses when he removed a calendar from a wall. The following day, police in Sanghar, Sindh, saved a similarly accused 60-year old woman, Akhtari Malkani by taking her in protective custody.

On the surface, these incidents were motivated by passions aroused by allegations of blasphemy or disrespect to the holy Quran. These criminal charges can be punishable by death – but this is a punishment for the state to administer, not private citizens. The real motivation remains settling scores, a pattern identified over twenty years ago when the first ‘blasphemy murder’ took place – that of the Punjabi poet and teacher Naiamat Ahmar in Faisalabad in 1992.

The pattern involves one party targeting another, alleging blasphemy while the real motives are personal enmity or economic rivalry as Zubeida Mustafa noted in a recent column. The accused tend to be poor people who have improved their lot in life, triggering jealousies. Accusations of blasphemy are used to justify the violence. Ms Mustafa also pointed to (mis) education as a factor that makes it easy, when such an allegation is levelled, to rabble-rouse a mob into violence.

The three recent cases bear out these observations. In Gojra, evidence points to a pre-meditated plan aimed at clearing out the village from the area, while the administration turned a deaf ear to the warnings and pleas of observers. A disgruntled employee accused Najeeb Zafar of disrespecting the Quran; the unarmed police sent to protect him could only watch as the mob set upon him. Akhtari Malkani had a monetary dispute with her accuser – he disappeared without registering an FIR. She says she threw a book of accounts on the floor, not the holy Quran.

Last April, there was the horrific case of Jagdish Kumar, the young Hindu factory worker in Karachi, lynched by co-workers for alleged blasphemy. The real reason appears to have been personal enmity based on Kumar’s reported association with a Muslim girl.

Such cases have been taking place since the option of life imprisonment under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (“Use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet”), the ‘blasphemy law’, introduced by Gen. Ziaul Haq in 1985 was amended by default in 1992 to make death the mandatory punishment for anyone convicted under this law. Certainly, the law does not provide for these extra-judicial murders. However, it is equally true no such murder took place until death was made the mandatory punishment for 295-C convictions.

People of all faiths, including Muslims (remember the Muslim religious scholar lynched in Gujranwala, 1994?), have been accused and attacked since then. Investigations into blasphemy accusations indicate pre-meditation rather than the heat of passion. Those who commit the violence may be arrested but none has ever been punished. Even the Inquiry Commission Tribunal headed by Justice Tanvir A. Khan of the Lahore High Court examining the destruction of Christian homes and churches in Shantinagar, 1997, was quashed (the Punjab Chief Minister then too was Shahbaz Sharif; will he rise to the occasion this time?).

The public defamation of blasphemy victims is a key tactic preceding such attacks – posters and mosque loudspeakers are routinely used for this.

Naimat Ahmar was killed after posters cropped up warning people that a Christian teacher (Ahmar) was leading their children astray. A hand-written copy in Urdu that I saw at the time warned Muslims that Ahmar was misleading students, telling them that the Prophet (pbuh) ‘stole’ goats – ‘bakriyaN charaya kartey thay’. Replace ‘churaya’ (stole) with ‘charaya’ (grazed) and it’s apparent what Ahmar probably said.

A youngster from the militant outfit Anjuman-e-Sipah-e-Sahaba (later changed to Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan) accosted Ahmar outside the Education Department in Faisalabad and knifed him to death. Investigations revealed that the murderer’s uncle wanted Ahmar’s job in the Education Department. The allegation of blasphemy alone was enough to ‘justify’ the murder. Policemen at the lockup housing the murderer, garlanded by his ASS (sic) mentors, embraced and kissed him. The ASS was, in fact, behind just about every ‘blasphemy case’ during the 1990s – the SSP, now banned, is believed to be behind the Gojra carnage as well.

Blasphemy accused are attacked and murdered even in prisons and police lock-ups, sometimes by the very people who are supposed to protect them. In 2004 a police constable attacked Samuel Masih, 27, an under-trial prisoner at Kot Lakhpat jail with a brick-cutter. Samuel had been charged with spitting at the wall of a mosque (Section 295, “defiling a place of worship with the intent of insulting the religion of any class”, maximum sentence up to two years). He succumbed to his injuries the following day. “I wanted to earn a place in heaven by killing him,” Ali reportedly confessed.

The fanatical and misguided mindset cultivated over the past few decades will not disappear by simply repealing 295-C, although this must be done. Embarking on a sensible education policy is also a long-term step that must be taken to stop the rot. What must be an immediate priority is the strict enforcement of law and order.

Those inciting violence and murder from mosque loudspeakers and public accusations, true or false, must be held culpable, charged, tried and punished according to law. This also goes for those who desecrate a holy book or symbol of any religion. There must be accountability for those who allow these murders to take place. The political leadership is responsible for providing police with the training, means and the orders to prevent such violence. Finally, religion cannot be used or allowed to justify murder.

The writer is a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker

(ends)

Target killing of doctors; my article of 2002; Dr Sarwar on censoring Jinnah, 1991

A press release from PMA condemning the ongoing target killing of doctors in Pakistan reminded me of a piece I had written in 2002, published in the Indian Express – googled the key words and found it. Ah, Internet.

There are also new uploads in the ‘Writings’ section of the blog Dr Sarwar blog – including ‘Censoring the Quaid’, a piece Dr M. Sarwar wrote in 1991 for his fortnightly column ‘Karachi calling’ in The Frontier Post, Lahore. Particularly relevant given the Jaswant Singh and Jinnah controversy.

In its press release of August 21, 2009, the Pakistan Medical Association, Karachi strongly condemns yet another murder of Dr.Sajjad Arain in Hyderabad, killed on his way to work at Civil Hospital, Hyderabad. A similar incident had also occurred a couple of days before in Quetta when Dr.Iqbal Zaidi was killed by unidentified miscreants. “By now this easy phenomena of killing doctors has become a routine, and right to life of those who are providing soles to humanity irrespective of sex, colors, religion or beliefs, is sadly no more available to them in the country,” says PMA, demanding the immediate arrest of culprits. If stern action is not taken with in 24 hrs the doctors community will be forced to stage country wide protest by calling total shut down of health services in the country. http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/pakistanmedicalassociation

Below, my article in Indian Express, April 2002: http://www.indianexpress.com/storyOld.php?storyId=1097

Targeted doctors ask what about us as Gen fights US war against terror

Apr 19, 2002

Beena Sarwar

For some days now, Karachi has thankfully not woken up to the news of yet another medical doctor shot dead in cold blood. But as an editorial in The News (April 16) cautions, ‘The current let-up in the assassinations does not mean that the issue should be allowed to quietly die down, or overshadowed by the controversial referendum. The question of who is behind the killings and why still begs to be answered, and must be answered sooner rather than later.’

Over the last decade, almost 90 doctors, mostly Shi’ite, have been assassinated, causing widespread fear and insecurity, and leading to a veritable exodus not just of medical practitioners but also their relatives in other professions. Dr Tipu Sultan, Karachi President of the nation-wide Pakistan Medical Association (PMA), knows of at least 28 doctors who left Karachi in one week in March.

Obviously, whoever is behind these murders wants to make an impact: a doctor killed demands media attention, and creates far-reaching ripples, given each doctor’s contact with hundreds of patients and their families; their very public dealing makes them vulnerable.

Assassins turn up at a targeted doctor’s clinic, and ask for him by name to identify him, as in the case of Dr Rashid Mehdi, 39 on February 12. He was shot dead, leaving behind a young wife, also a doctor, a little son, and a five-day-old daughter.

The pattern includes armed motorcyclists intercepting a doctor’s car and shooting him at point blank, as in the case of Kidney Centre nephrologist Dr Alay Safdar Zaidi, killed on his way to work on March 4. Dr Zaidi had returned to Pakistan a year and a half ago, leaving a thriving practice in the States to come back and make a difference here.

His daughter, aged six, and son, only three, are now among the dozens of other children whose fathers were similarly assassinated, despite not being affiliated with any religious or political party or even holding aggressively Shia views.

In one instance, the assailants used a car to force a doctor’s car to a stop. Dr Jafar Naqvi of the philanthropically run Kidney Centre was saved by his driver’s reflexes.

Dr Naqvi, saved by taking refuge in a private house, is now virtually confined to his own house, with round-the-clock police protection.

Most victims are Shi’ite, but they include some Sunnis too, like Dr Fayyaz Karim, 44, shot on Feb 4 as he left a mosque after offering his prayers. His wife, Dr Farahnaz Karim, says bitterly that it’s commendable that the Government is helping Americans wipe out terrorism. ‘‘But what of the terrorists in our midst who are killing our own countrymen?’’

The killings have forced an organised response from doctors, with the PMA calling several strikes (including a six-hour country-wide hunger strike) during which doctors at hospitals and clinics across the country provide only emergency cover. ‘‘This is not the answer,’’ concedes Dr Asghar Mirza, editor of the PMA’s Urdu journal Nabs. ‘‘But how else do we express our rage and fear?’’

When the PMA met the Sindh Governor last month, police officials suggested a ban on motorcycle pillion riding, and arms training and protection to threatened doctors. ‘‘This is not the answer either,’’ says prominent psychiatrist Dr Haroon Ahmed. ‘‘They are trying to use us to push through their own agenda.’’ He argues, like others, that administrative steps alone are not the answer.

‘‘The Government must restore civil and political liberties so that alternative opinions are given space, and tolerance and respect promoted,’’ demanded the Pakistan Peace Coalition (PPC) at a nation-wide protest on April 5 against violence in the name of religion. ‘‘This will likely provide a necessary challenge to extremism, as well as temper the urge for many frustrated elements to resort to reactionary violence.’’

Political parties in Karachi, including major players like the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), joined the protest on the invitation of the Joint Action Committee for Peace Karachi (JAC), an umbrella group for activist groups, and also a PPC member. A March 20 meeting agreed that ‘‘The killings of doctors, lawyers, judges and other sections of society are aimed at instigating fear and retaliation’’ and that the root cause of the problem must be addressed. This includes ‘‘the forces of reaction and regression’’, including the intelligence agencies, which have gained strength since Pakistan’s involvement in the Afghan war.

The point is reiterated by PPC: ‘‘It is time that the intelligence agencies start protecting citizens from extremist violence rather than harass citizens and activists for their political activities and agitation. The revamping and reorientation of the intelligences agencies is yet another promise that the Government has made and is failing to keep.’’

Meanwhile, ‘‘it is individuals and groups who are fighting for their basic rights that are being targeted by the state, often under the anti-terrorist legislation’’.

Gen Musharraf’s actions against religious extremists since 9/11 are criticised as tokenism. ‘‘Some have been arrested, but why have cases not been registered against them?’’ questions PPP Central Information Secretary Taj Haider. ‘‘Because the Pakistan army’s and the agencies’ role in the matter will be exposed. This permanent axis is dangerous for democracy in Pakistan.’’

Even the police privately acknowledge this axis. ‘‘These extremists have been very useful to the Government, which might need their services again,’’ says an official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

He acknowledges that at least some elements of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) still protect the militants they nurtured, trained and armed over the years.

It is significant that while the doctors’ killings are labeled as sectarian because those targeted mostly belong to a particular sect, there is no sectarianism or religious intolerance at the grassroots level.

‘‘The incidents of apparently religiously-motivated violence, like the attack on the Islamabad church or the murder of Daniel Pearl, are planned and executed by individual miscreants with no popular support or public sanction,’’ says The News editorial.

‘Except for one incident in Rahim Yar Khan (instigated by economic reasons), Hindus in Pakistan have not been attacked in retaliation for the carnage of Muslims in Gujarat, as opposed to 1992, when the razing of the Babri Masjid was countered by attacks on Hindu temples in Pakistan (then too, the nexus of vested interests like property developers and ‘‘religious’’ leaders had teamed up to reap the benefits).

Religious parties have never gained more than 3 per cent of the assembly seats in Pakistan, unlike in next door India, where a religious party has actually been voted in, with disastrous results for an avowedly secular polity.’

Former mayor of Karachi and MQM leader Farooq Sattar argues against calling these killings sectarian: ‘‘Let’s not play into the hands of vested interests by calling them that.’’

Dr Sattar urges the easing of regional tensions as a step towards resolving national problems. ‘‘Sixty per cent of India’s trade is with Islamic countries, as compared to only 5 per cent of Pakistan’s, the remaining 95 per cent of our trade is with Western countries.’’

‘‘These issues (violence in the name of religion) are not Pakistan’s alone, they also exist in India and Bangladesh, all of South Asia,’’ argues Sabihudin Ghausi, the outspoken President of the Karachi Press Club and a senior economic reporter.

‘‘We can’t remain isolated from the region, we have to have ties with India, with Bangladesh, and the other South Asian countries.’’

(Beena Sarwar is a senior journalist working with The News)

Neighbours in peace – or pieces?

My monthly column for Hardnews, India, August 2009 - http://www.hardnewsmedia.com/2009/07/3122. Also published in The News on Sunday, August 9, 2009

Karachi, July 26 2009

Personal Political

Neighbours in peace — or pieces?

Beena Sarwar

The auditorium was full of women from far-flung, poor localities of Karachi. One of them plonked herself next to me in the second row along with her daughters, a toddler and a six-year old. A gigantic banner featuring a photo of the late activist Nirmala Deshpande formed the backdrop to an array of speakers from India and Pakistan seated behind a long table on the platform. ‘PROMOTING PEACE IN SOUTH ASIA AND REMEMBERING NIRMALA DIDI DESHPANDE’ it read.

Mumtaz, the young Pahstun mother next to me, had studied up till the eighth grade, unlike most of the other women present. The toddler nuzzled against her to breastfeed from time to time.

The speakers included prominent Urdu writer Zahida Hina, peace activist and educationist from Lahore Syed Diep, parliamentarians from  the PPP and MQM and Indian activist Sandeep Pandey from Lucknow, journalist Jatin Desai from Mumbai, and Kavita Srivastava of the Peoples Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) from Jaipur. Two other Indians weren’t given ‘clearance’ from Islamabad in time for the visit, meant to further the aims of a joint signature campaign for peace launched earlier this year.

Mumtaz and the other women, mostly wives of daily wage labourers, had been brought there by various ‘bajis’, women activists working in their areas. “I don’t understand everything they’re saying,” Mumtaz told me, “But I know they are talking about the need for peace between India and Pakistan. That is what we all want.”

Her immediate concern was to feed her family. “Maybe if these two countries stop fighting, our lot will improve,” she said optimistically.

“Let the people meet, all other matters will sort out,” a cyclist told Sandeep Pandey and other peace marchers who went from Delhi to Multan in 2005, demanding that the governments of India and Pakistan resolve all matters of dispute through dialogue.

Such basic wisdom is at odds with the justifications for continued animosity presented by ‘intellectuals’ on either side of the border. “India/Pakistan wants to destroy us”; “Stop appeasing India/Pakistan”; “There is no point in talking to them”.

If we listen to this babble of voices whose sole aim seems to be to present their own country’s case as better than the other’s, we’ll never get anywhere. There is an old saying in our part of the world, ‘Taali donoN haathoN se bajti hai’ – it takes two hands to clap.

Let’s stop these blame games and accept that there are problems on either side – of varying degrees and natures, and try and understand the complexities of the problems.

Those with access to the Internet have increased the potential for such understanding. But because we’re not used to talking to each other, the un-moderated exchanges posted on blogs are often crass and offensive. Direct interaction involving basic civility and an open mind is more meaningful.

Some time back, a Mumbaikar emailed saying, “Frankly, with Pakistan itself is in such a mess (Lal Masjid, Swat valley, Taliban, regular suicide attacks and of course the numerous Muslim organisations ranting about Jehad), do you really feel safe in your own country? And the most amusing thing is when Pakistan tells that India is its enemy number one. Wait for a few more years, am sure the Taliban will take over Pakistan. And what pains us, is what did we do to Pakistan. Kargil was Musharaf’s misadventure.”

I replied, yes, Pakistan is in a mess, due largely to the continual disruption of the political process, with no democratically elected government being allowed to complete its terms. “This is the biggest difference between India and us, and what I most envy about your country”.

Still, women do get around here too, carry on with their work and their lives. And at least elements within Pakistan’s establishment no longer consider India as enemy number one.

Kargil was indeed Musharraf’s misadventure. Many of us spoke out against it (were labelled as Indian agents). Pakistan’s military must be accountable and answerable to elected civilian governments. This will only happen if the political process is allowed to continue.

Rocky as politics in Pakistan currently are, with a floundering democratic process, it is only more democracy on a sustained and continuous level that will in the long run yield positive results.

(ends)

See also:

‘HRCP urges Pakistan, India to resume prisoner swap, stop arrests for minor violations’, Aug 5, 2009 - http://hrcpblog.wordpress.com/2009/08/06/hrcp-urges-pakistan-india-to-resume-prisoner-swap-stop-arrests-for-minor-violations/

Why not hang Sarabjit Singh, March 2008

http://www.chowk.com/articles/why-not-hang-surabjit-singh-Beena-Sarwar.htm

Simply repealing 295-C will not stop the rot

Since it was introduced by Gen. Zia, the ‘blasphemy law’ 295-C has been used to settle scores, including financial rivalries, as umpteen fact-finding missions have recorded (included several I have participated in), much as the Zina laws have been used for revenge.

Now, simply repealing 295-C will not stop the rot. That must be done, but along with it we have to demand strict enforcement of law and order.

Those who incite violence and murder (eg mullahs who used loudspeakers) must be held culpable as well, charged, tried and punished in accordance with the law.

Ditto those who desecrate a holy book or symbol, no matter of what religion.

Below, links to some reports that provide a perspective on the issue:

PAKISTANI CHRISTIANS-THE VICTIMS OF HALF LAW IN GOJRA, byBrigadier Samson Simon Sharaf (Retired), Aug 5, 2009

http://chowk.com/ilogs/73055/47736

An Eyewitness Account from Gojra – Faris Kasim.  August 7, 2009

http://www.chowk.com/articles/an-eyewitness-account-from-gojra-faris-kasim.htm

Edited version in The News Op-Ed, Aug 8, 2009

http://www.thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=191978

HRCP press releases, Aug 4 & Aug 1
http://hrcpblog.wordpress.com/2009/08/06/gojra-admin-knew-about-pre-planned-attacks-hrcp/

http://hrcpblog.wordpress.com/2009/08/06/hrcp-press-release-on-gojra-and-korian-incident/

Lethal Law, Newsline Sept 2001
http://www.newsline.com.pk/NewsSept2001/newsbeat.htm

Urgent appeal for potable water in monsoon-affected areas of coastal Sindh

Appeal from A Ercelan, Pakistan Labour Trust

People in monsoon affected areas of coastal Sindh urgently need potable water.

Their dire condition is the direct result of decades of deprivation of fresh water, drainage of upstream pollution, and destruction of mangroves — with consequent depletion and degradation of ground water reserves specially through sea water intrusion. State policies of which many if not all of us are beneficiaries.

Please help by donating for Musaffa (brand name for water-filter bags developed by the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (PCSIR)). Musaffa bags contain mostly sand with some silver as the active steriliser, which kills e-coli about an hour after immersion.

Direct purchase of Musaffa bags for delivery to Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PPF) would be appreciated. You can collect money and go to Musaffa supplier directly, or have a PPF representative pick up the contribution and deliver a sale invoice from Musaffa supplier. An a/c payee check is preferred to cash. Pakistan Labour Trust

(PLT) has donated Rs 50,000 to deliver Musaffa filter bags to the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum. The Musaffa supplier has made an additional donation of about half this amount through a discount.

Please join this PLT-PFF effort to provide at least 1000 families in emergency need of potable drinking water.

Contacts:

Faiz Saheb at +92-21-4534356 (off Amir Khusro Road, Karachi) to purchase.

Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum M Ali Shah +92-21-5090543 in Ibrahim Hyderi, Karachi).

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