Zardari: two articles and a comment

Meant to do this earlier but didn’t get around to it – two interesting articles about Zardari and a comment

July 12, 2009 ‘The advent of Asif Zardari’ by Kunwar Idris - http://tinyurl.com/ksbydc

Shaheryar Azhar posted this to his group The Forum with the comment: “A very good article. This moderator to the dismay of some forum members has not focused on the ‘governance’ issue in Pakistan ever since the departure of the Musharraf government. This, of course, was by design.

“We must first decisively emerge victorious in our civil war – as long as Zardari’s government is doing a credible job on this front they deserve our full support. There will, however, come a time when we will shift our complete focus on ‘governance’, ‘corruption, ‘efficiency’ etc.-type make-or-break issues. Here we must acknowledge that what is different from the 90′s is not just more maturity being shown by the politicians or the existence of the Charter of Democracy or the working coalitions in all the four provinces or much greater consensus amongst politicians of consequence on key national issues – all of which individually and collectively is the big and surprise story of 2008 and 2009 but the existence of two empowered institutions, which were conspicuously missing then – independent judiciary and media. So rest assured, there will be time (soon inshalla) when our focus will shift laser-like to the bread-and-butter issues.

“There is one big caveat: as always military dictatorship, including military manipulation from the background will always be fought against. In Pakistan what is true is the following: Corrupt democracy anytime over any kind of military dictatorship.”

A follow up article at – http://tinyurl.com/m6zuva

July 15, 2009, ‘Meeting the president’, by Sayed Naseer Ahmad, Dawn:

“Never before had a head of state invited so many retired bureaucrats and asked them to speak their mind on national issues. The mere fact that several dozen retired bureaucrats, who could no longer influence decision-making, were invited to the presidency for a frank discussion showed that the incumbent valued good counsel.

“…Zardari said he thought that the militants and extremists had emerged on the national scene not because the civil bureaucracy was weak. In fact, they had been deliberately created and nurtured with the help of the international community as an instrument of policy in the 1980s. He then went on to advise the former bureaucrats to be “truthful to ourselves and make a candid admission of the realities”.”

DR SARWAR: New photos and articles

DR SARWAR: New updates and uploads www.drsarwar.wordpress.com

- ‘Hasan Nasir’s case should also be reopened’ – article by Shafqat Tanvir Mirza

- a couple of writings by Dr Sarwar (paper on democracy & letter to Editor)

- article by women’s rights and health activist and friend Hilda Saeed

- photos from Dr Sarwar’s student activist days & during his days as a PMA office bearer – also up at http://tinyurl.com/sarwar-pix

- poetic invite by Dr Farrukh Gulzar who is the driving force behind the Reference for Dr Sarwar on Aug 8 at HRCP Lahore (5-8 pm)

Peace please, musically

No Saazish No Jung - Times of India, July14-09-

No Saazish No Jung - Times of India, July14-09-

Shahvar Ali Khan: “No Saazish, No Jung”

In January I posted out information to my  yahoogroup about a joint signature campaign between Indians and Pakistanis, and also a note from a Lahori who loves Mumbai, Shahvar Ali Khan

(A Lahori’s love for Mumbai; Pk-India joint signature campaign – http://groups.yahoo.com/group/beena-issues/message/1028)com/

Recently, Shahvar wrote, composed and sang a song “No Saazish, No Jung” (no conspiracy, no war) – which you can download at – http://www.shahvaralikhan.com/

I’m thrilled that it’s getting some media attention even without a video. There was a piece in Instep, The News on Sunday, Pakistan on July 06, 2009, and this piece in Times of India, July 14, 2009 – ‘Now a song for Indo-Pak peace’ -
http://tinyurl.com/TOI-Shahvar

Below, text of the Press Trust of India report of July 7, 2009 published in Indian papers:

Pak singer puts Gandhi, Jinnah together in appeal for peace

Islamabad (PTI): A Pakistani singer has combined the voices of Mahatma Gandhi, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Benazir Bhutto and US President Barack Obama in a new song that makes an impassioned plea for peace in the region.

Shahvaar Ali Khan’s “No Saazish, No Jung” is a peace anthem that tells “mullahs” and “foreigners” to leave his country alone.

Mullayae na kar tung, oo guraya na kar tung, meino rahen dae malang, mein nach nach kai larni yae jang de nal jang (Don’t bother me mullahs/Don’t bother me foreigners/Let me remain a free spirit/I will dance away and fight your war),” goes the song in Punjabi that combines a hard rock guitar riff with a folksy backing.

Khan, 25, said he plans to make a video based on the song. “I plan to shoot the video in Mumbai so that it will be an India-Pakistan peace initiative,” he said.

He is in touch with several Indian directors and is also looking for sponsors and TV channels to back the video so that it can be ready for release by the time Pakistan and India celebrate their independence days on August 14 and 15 respectively.

The song combines excerpts from speeches by Gandhi, Jinnah, Bhutto and Obama.

The voice of Gandhi can be heard intoning “…in the midst of death life persists, in the midst of untruth truth persists, in the midst of darkness light persists”.

Move on please, decisively

NOTE: Published in The Hindu op ed, July 14, 2009, as  ‘For the peace dividend’

http://www.hindu.com/2009/07/14/stories/2009071451040900.htm

A shorter, slightly edited version was first published in Dawn, July 13, 2009

http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/pakistan/16-move-on-please-decisively-hs-07

Karachi, Aug 14, 2002: Citizens' peace demonstration at 'Quaid-e-Azam' M.A. Jinnah's Mazar - in the midst of testosterone-charged young men roaring about on motorcycles waving huge Pakistan flags. On learning what it was about, some of them joined the demo...

Karachi, Aug 14, 2003: Citizens' peace demonstration at 'Quaid-e-Azam' M.A. Jinnah's Mazar - in the midst of testosterone-charged young men roaring about on motorcycles waving huge Pakistan flags. On learning what it was about, some of them joined the demo.

Beena Sarwar

The forthcoming meetings of the Pakistani and Indian foreign secretaries and prime ministers on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned summit in Egypt on Jul 14 and 15, again raise hopes for a revival of the composite dialogue process, suspended since the Nov 26 2008 attacks in Mumbai. India accuses Pakistan of not doing enough to contain terrorism. Pakistan counter-accuses India of not cooperating in terms of sharing evidence and translations.

The Mumbai attacks came barely four days after President Asif Ali Zardari’s ground-breaking address to The Hindustan Times Leadership Summit via satellite link from Islamabad on Nov 22. Zardari, Pakistan’s first head of state to promise a “no-first nuclear-strike” policy against India, talked of a common South Asian economic bloc, even a passport-free ‘flexible Indo-Pak visa regime’.

It’s an all-too familiar pattern – goodwill gestures followed by incidents of violence that are used to set back the peace process (Bus yatra – Kargil; talks – Samjhota Express blast; peace overtures – Mumbai). Who benefits? Certainly not the ordinary people but the right wing, the security apparatuses, military establishments and arms lobbies on either side.

Those who critique the push for peace as an obsession of the ‘liberal elite’ and the ‘Punjabi lobby’ ignore sentiments at the grassroots level: while aware of the problems, people on both sides are keen to live as neighbours in peace. This is what surfaces during interactions with ‘ordinary people’ across the ethnic and economic divide as the Indian delegates found when they met with fishermen’s families, workers and community-based organisations in low income localities of Karachi, Hyderabad and Lahore.

At a seminar in Karachi recently to honour Nirmala Deshpande (‘Didi’), the peace activist who passed away in May 2008, most audience members were poor women from far flung localities, brought over by community based workers. Prominent writers, political leaders and activists who addressed the seminar included three Indian delegates (the visas of the other two were ‘pending for clearance’).

Mumtaz, a young Pushtun mother distracted by a six-year old and a suckling toddler, said that her husband was a daily wage earner who was at work that day. To be honest, she said she had hoped to get something out of the seminar like food (which was served at the end). She had completed eight grades of schooling (it showed in her bright eyes) and had attended one such event in the past. What did she think of the event? “I don’t understand everything they are saying, but I do understand that they want peace between India and Pakistan,” she replied, adding, “We should live in peace with our neighbours. Maybe then our lot will improve. We all want that.”

Jaipur-based Kavita Srivastava of India’s People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), had come with a concrete agenda: to get 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 said. “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.”

Kavita spent an evening in Ranchore Lines with Silawat women, Rajasthanis with families on both sides of the border. Shakeel Silawat of the Youth Progressive Council who helped organise the meeting, says such visits are important to increase contacts. “After all, we are one region. We should be able to meet”.

I remember an engineering student I interviewed in 1995 for the Indian magazine Outlook’s launch issue. He hated India’s Kashmir policy and wouldn’t wear Indian-made jeans – but believed that India and Pakistan should cooperate economically even while maintaining separate identities.

A student from Calcutta, who visited Lahore with the Nirmala Deshpande-led women’s peace bus in 2000 following the Kargil conflict, had no Partition baggage or ties to Pakistan. Yet she was overcome with emotion on arriving here. She befriended an engineering student who was volunteering with the group “out of curiosity” (having never met an Indian but hated India and Indians). He told me that, despite disagreeing with official policies “now at least we can talk about our disagreements.” Young Pakistanis and Indians wept as they said goodbye three days later.

I am reminded of these encounters by Ashutosh Varshney’s essay ‘Founding Myths’ (in ‘The Great Divide’, Harper Collins, 2009) in which he suggests that India-Pakistan rivalry be re-imagined “as a thoroughgoing competition, not as a do-or-die conflict”.

“A distinction needs to be drawn between two terms: adversaries and enemies. Adversaries can be respected, even admired; enemies are killed. India and Pakistan must cease to be enemies; they need to become adversaries competing vigorously to become better than the other.”

The stakes are high for both nuclear-armed neighbours riddled by internal insurgencies and ‘religious’ militancy, endemic poverty and high military budgets that directly and negatively impact development.

Zardari’s talk of a South Asian bloc and easing visa restrictions did not emerge from a vacuum – peace activists have been presenting such out-of-the-box ideas for years. The visiting Indians added more to the previous talk, like twinning press clubs and even dual nationality for Indians and Pakistanis (“believe me, many would take it,” asserted award-winning social activist Sandeep Pandey from Lucknow).

These ideas may be ahead of their time – but so then was the Pakistan-India Forum for Peace and Democracy notion first articulated in 1994 that Kashmir is not just a territorial dispute between Pakistan and India, but a matter of the lives and aspirations of the Kashmiri people, who must be included in any dialogue about their future. This formulation has now permeated political discourse.

When Sandeep Pandey and others participated in a peace march in 2005 from Delhi to Multan, villagers enthusiastically welcomed them along the way (though the urban-based media largely ignored this rural activity) and endorsed their  demands: One, resolve all problems through dialogue; two, de-weaponise and remove armies from the borders; three, end visa restrictions.

“One cyclist stopped and said, ‘Make the third demand your first. Once that happens, the rest will sort out’,” recalls Pandey.

The Indian delegates have now left with a renewed sense of the urgency Pakistanis feel about the need for peace with India. They also realise the need to go against the tide back home and push the Indian government to go beyond pressurising the Pakistani government to ‘take action’.

There may be no immediate results to any of these initiatives. But the fact that the governments allow them to take place itself speaks for the realisation of the need to at least maintain such contacts. And in the long run, they create a pressure for peace from below, something for the political and bureaucratic establishments to bear in mind when they next meet.

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

‘This wonderful Doc…’

NOTE: A slightly longer version of this article was published in ‘The News on Sunday’, July 5 2009 – http://tinyurl.com/tns-doc – also uploaded at This wonderful doc (2) at the Dr Sarwar website . The title is borrowed from Ali Jafari’s tribute posted at the Dr Sarwar site which also contains contributions by I.A. Rehman, Dr Badar Siddiqi, S.M. Naseem, Eric Rahim, Salima Hashmi, Drs Anwar and Abdullah Mangi and Dr Asif Ali Hameedi and others.

PERSONAL POLITICAL

Beena Sarwar

Newly weds circa 1962: Zakia and Sarwar at Karachi beach

Newly weds circa 1962: Zakia and Sarwar at Karachi beach

She is not the grave-visiting sort. A white-haired dynamo with luminous eyes she pioneered teacher training and teaching English as a second language in large classrooms with limited resources. The activism she brought with her from Pratapgarh in UP, India, to Pakistan in the late 1950s has remained, nurtured and encouraged by the life partner she found.

Zakia met Sarwar after moving to Karachi from Lahore in 1961. The unconventional, dashing, long-limbed Allahabad-born doctor was known as the ‘hero of the January movement’. He came to Karachi after Partition and joined Dow Medical College. There, he started Pakistan’s first student union, catalysing the first nation-wide inter-collegiate students’ body. When the government ignored their demands related to fees, lab and hostel facilities, the students held a ‘Demands Day’ procession on January 8, 1953. Confronted by armed police, Sarwar tried to stop the students from surging ahead. Police opened fire. Seven students died on that ‘Black Day’. Several, including Sarwar, were injured.

Sarwar and his even taller older brother Akhtar were jailed (Sarwar received his final MBBS results in 1954 while in prison for a year) during the crackdown on progressive forces, after Pakistan and America signed a military pact.

Akhtar’s sudden death (pneumonia) in 1958 at the peak of his career devastated his circle of progressive writers, poets, activists and journalists. Sarwar, who had been particularly close to Akhtar, insisted that everyone get on with their work and not sit around mourning.

Zakia’s older brother Zawwar Hasan was also close to Akhtar. They had played field hockey for rival college teams in Allahabad, re-connecting as sports journalists in Karachi. Some years later, when Zawwar’s young children were ill, Zakia would take them to Sarwar’s clinic nearby.

1983 mushaira at PMA House: Dr Badar Siddiqi, Faiz, Dr Tipu Sultan & Dr M. Sarwar (then General Secretary PMA)

Defying the dictatorship: 1983 mushaira at PMA House – Dr Badar Siddiqi, Faiz, Dr Tipu Sultan & Dr M. Sarwar (then General Secretary PMA)

Their romance included outings like seeing off the poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz to receive the Lenin Peace Prize. “As a comrade, his relationship with Abba was an unspoken clear bond based on a shared understanding of the universal struggle for a just human order,” says Salima Hashmi, Faiz’s daughter.

Sarwar and Zakia married in September 1962, overcoming parental apprehensions about religious differences (Shi’a, Sunni). Neither was religious. Akhtar would have approved, as Zawwar did.

As their eldest child, one of my earliest memories is Zakia and other college teachers on hunger strike, demanding an end to the exploitation of teachers. Sarwar supported her against the muttered disapproval (‘women from good families out on the streets’), as always, giving her the space to develop her potential.

He practiced as a general physician for nearly fifty years from a modest clinic in a low-income area, treating struggling workers, journalists, artists and writers free. He was contemptuous of doctors who charged high fees, prescribing costly tests and medicines where less expensive ones would do. He helped launch the Pakistan Medical Association and its affiliated Medical Gazette – platforms that have played a significant role in Pakistan’s progressive politics.

Diagnosed with cancer in August 2007 (‘stage four’, pancreas, metastasis to the lungs), he remained characteristically calm and good humoured. “Look,” he reasoned, “everyone has to die. If this is how I have to go, so be it.”

He refused to give up drinking or smoking, reminding us of friends who died early despite giving up such habits. When a cousin’s mother-in-law was diagnosed with lung cancer, he asked wryly, “And does she also smoke?”

He defied doctors’ predictions of ‘maybe six months…’. “To look into the eyes of  a killer disease, and yet not roll over is something that the bravest could envy,” wrote Zawwar in October last year.

Friends flocked to ‘Doc’, hosting parties at his home when he was too weak to go out. Emerging from anaesthesia after getting a blocked bile duct cleared this April, one of his first questions was about the Indian elections. At home, when his breathing became dangerously obstructed, doctors suggested suctioning out excess fluid in intensive care, with the risk of lung collapse and life support if the procedure failed. He waved his hand and pronounced, ‘No point, no point’.

He died peacefully in his sleep that night, half an hour after I kissed him goodnight. “Sleep well Babba,” I said.

“Goodnight,” he replied, clasping my hand back. “Go to sleep.”

Zakia now takes time out from her work to sit by his last resting place. It gives her peace.

This article was first published in HardNews, New Delhi – http://www.hardnewsmedia.com/2009/07/3060

1983 mushaira at PMA House: Dr Badar Siddiqi, Faiz, Dr Tipu Sultan & Dr M. Sarwar (then General Secretary PMA)

1983 mushaira at PMA House: Dr Badar Siddiqi, Faiz, Dr Tipu Sultan & Dr M. Sarwar (then General Secretary PMA)

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)

`Pakistan: Chaos unto Order?’ and ‘syllabus of hate’

1. `Pakistan: Chaos unto Order?’ by Haris Gazdar in EPW (Economic & Political Weekly, June 6, 2009 vol XLIV no 23).

Extract: The Pakistani military finally appears to have embraced the war against jihadi militancy as its own. If so, an
important shift in perception and policy has taken place. Past experience, however, demands caution before coming to any hasty conclusions.
Comment by Shaheryar Azhar in the Forum: “this is an excellent article – cuts through the fog of confusion. Those who have denied it can perhaps now understand what the big deal was about the ‘deal’ bravely made by both parties -
PPP and General Musharraf, which is what put into motion where we are now. Million dollar question remains whether overtime there will remain the political will that will be crucially required on a sustained basis within the military, politicians and the general public to fight this to the bitter end?”

PakTeaHouse link: http://tinyurl.com/gazdar-epw

2. `Awaiting changes to a syllabus of hate’ by Nirupama Subramanian, Islamabad correspondent for The Hindu, June 09, 2009

Extract: In April, the federal Cabinet put off approving the draft indefinitely, …until the Education Ministry makes the policy “more comprehensive, covering every aspect of education sector which needs improvement along with an
implementable work plan.” But no urgency is visible in the Ministry to get cracking on this task. Another concern is that the Education Minister is not known for his progressive views, especially on gender issues.

http://tinyurl.com/syll-hate

Beating Back the Taliban

My column for HardNews, written May 24, 2009

PERSONAL POLITICAL

Beena Sarwar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://tinyurl.com/pp-taliban

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