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)

`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

Doc’s blog; Madrassas vs Pvt schools; Hoodbhoy on Pk; Cost of war and more

Condolences: Lourdes Joseph, longtime activist and office secretary of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) passed away today in Dubai of a heart attack. Funeral on June 10, 4 pm, at St Anthony’s Church in Karachi; burial at ‘gora qabristan’ 5 pm.

1. New blog – www.drsarwar.wordpress.com – with photos and remembrances, including by I.A. Rehman, Salima Hashmi, Dr Badar Siddiqui, S.M. Naseem, Ali Jafari, Mohsin Tejani and others

2. The Madrasa Myth op-ed co-authored by Tahir Andrabi, Jishnu Das, C. Christine Fair, and Asim Ijaz Khwaja, published June 3, 2009 -  http://www.foreignpolicy.com

Extract: `Rather than focusing on madrasas and public schools, the donor community should take note of a striking change in the Pakistani educational landscape: the emergence of mainstream and affordable private schools.’

Note from Tahir Andrabi (Professor of Economics, Pomona College, Claremont, CA):
“Trying to inject some sense in the mainstream of the Washington policy debate on Pakistan. Would like for once to having facts as a basis for conversation on Pakistan”. (The other Pakistani co-author Asim Ijaz Khwaja teaches at Harvard Kennedy School). http://tinyurl.com/lxlbrs

3. `Whither Pakistan? A five-year forecast’ by Pervez Hoodbhoy in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 3 June 2009. Article Highlights
• U.S. government officials and media outlets have exaggerated how close Pakistan is to collapse.
• That said, the speed of Pakistan’s societal decline has surprised many inside in the country who have long warned of the effects of religious extremism.
• The first step toward calming the situation–Pakistan’s political leadership and army must squarely face the extremist threat, something they’ve finally begun to do.
http://tinyurl.com/Pk-PH-5yr

4. The Women of Swat and `Mullah Radio’, Tuesday, 02 June 2009,
From a group of NWFP women, report published in http://khyberwatch.com
Extract: “Islam started as soon as we fled from Malakand. People outside Swat think we had Islam and Shariat. There is no Islam in Swat. The Taliban have finished it.’ -woman from Mingawera, Swat, in a Sawabai camp
Full report at – http://tinyurl.com/lrnvo4

5. HRCP report on the situation of the internally displaced, plus the Commission’s conclusions and recommendations at:  http://hrcpblog.wordpress.com
`A tragedy of errors and Cover-ups – The IDPs and outcome of military actions in FATA and Malakand Division’
The cost of the insurgency in the Malakand Division has been increased manifold by the shortsightedness and indecisiveness of the non-representative institutions and their policy of appeasing the militants and cohorting with them. While the ongoing military operation had become unavoidable, it was not adopted as a measure of the last resort. Further, the plight of the internally displaced people has been aggravated by lack of planning and coordination by the agencies concerned, and the methods of evacuation of towns/villages and the arrangements for the stranded people have left much to be desired….

Based on reports by HRCP activists in Malakand Division and other parts of NWFP/Pakhtunkhwa, visits to camps by its activists and senior board members, and talks with many displaced people and several Nazims and public figures
Direct link to report – http://tinyurl.com/mpy7et

6. From Isa Daudpota: Bill Moyers sits down with award-winning investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill to examine the human and financial costs of America’s wars.
http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/06052009/watch.html
Plus a new website he suggests checking out: www.whowhatwhy.com

Some articles re ‘Talibanisation’, veiling, flogging

Two of my articles on `talibanisation’ and violence against women published April 12, 2009 that I didn’t get round to sharing here, reminded by Nadeem Farooq Paracha’s spot on article ‘Slap him or Slap yourself’ (Dawn, May 17, 2009) – http://tinyurl.com/pxrfjz

1. `Ongoing struggle’, in Special Report, ‘The News on Sunday’ about how Talibanisation is splitting our South Asian identity and leading to the existing schizophrenia and changing dress codes…

Extract: The trend (to veil) is also visible at the lower socio-economic level. Some years ago, Sughra, who cleans homes for a living, began wearing a burqa when going to work, motivated by weekly religious meetings. She feels it is “better”, both because it is ordained by religion and because it helps her to avoid the male gaze. Her cousin Ameena, a cook, shrugs off the suggestion to wear a burqa. Although deeply religious– she says her prayers regularly and fasts during Ramzan — she does not see the need to alter how she dresses, which is perfectly modest by any standards. “If a man harasses me, I beat him with his own shoe,” she says.

Complete article at  http://tinyurl.com/dmg4om

2. Op-ed in Dawn for which they changed original title “`Wicked’ NGOs and that flogging thing” to the more mundane `Swat flogging & public outrage’. They also changed the word `bottom’ to `back’ which doesn’t at all mean the same thing. `Buttocks’ would have worked but I guess that’s the prevailing `sensibility’.

Extract: The first casualty of war may be the truth but the first casualty of any `religious militancy’ is women’s rights…. The Taliban’s treatment of women, including their ban on female education while in power in Afghanistan (please note, before the American drone attacks) takes Zia’s obsession with controlling women’s morality and public behaviour further…. One reason for the Pakistani state’s apparent paralysis is that the armed forces and large sections of the population think of this as America’s war, compared to the previous Afghan war with its religious trappings. In fact, that was less `our war’ than the current one, which threatens the very existence of the Pakistani state. http://tinyurl.com/ccelax

A slightly longer, revised version was published in ‘The Hindu’ on April 14 – Vigilantes, the state and that flogging thing’ – The first casualty of war may be truth but the first casualty of any ‘religious militancy’ is women’s rights – http://tinyurl.com/qjs8da

Some other articles published at that time that I liked:

The high cost of surrender, Irfan Husain, Dawn 11 Apr, 2009 http://tinyurl.com/dxfmv8

Are we in denial about terrorism? Shafqat Mahmood, The News, April 10, 2009 http://tinyurl.com/cveryg

A state adrift, by Cyril Almeida, Dawn, 10 Apr, 2009 http://tinyurl.com/d9eoy8

A catalyst for change? By Zubeida Mustafa, 08 Apr, 2009 – WHY did civil society in Pakistan vociferously protest the flogging of a 17-year old girl in a public square in Swat and not when many other atrocities were committed against women in recent times? http://tinyurl.com/czofco

Swat aid appeals; Pk can defy odds; ‘WoT’ Myths; Binayak Sen; Ashram in Sindh

A lot going on but huge backlog (on the personal front, the ‘Old Fighter’ as his friend Eric Rahim called him still in hospital, fighting on). In this post:

1. Appeals for aid for thousands of Pakistanis displaced by the fighting in the
Swat region (I so dislike using ‘IDP’, the dehumanising but convenient acronym
used for internal refugees) & I.A. Rehman on the disaster brewing & Independent report (scroll below for details)

2. Pakistan Can Defy the Odds: How to Rescue a Failing State by Hassan Abbas - download the PDF document at
http://ispu.org/reports/articledetailpb-76.html
(outlines issues related to the Taliban, a vibrant civil society movement for
the rule of law, an independent judiciary, and the supremacy of the
constitution; a strong ‘independent’ (for the most part) media; writers,
artists, poets, and intellectuals standing up to religious bigotry; the results
of the 2008 elections in which religious political parties were trounced, and
American-Pakistani relations)

3. `A cobweb of myths’ – Prominent linguist and writer Dr Tariq Rahman
de-constructs myth, the realisation of which is essential if our children are to
have a better future – “that we have created our own Frankensteins and not
foreign countries; that most of the militants are our people and not foreigners
(though some are); that foreign countries may help militants but are not
powerful enough to keep them alive for ever; that we made mistakes in the past
of which we are reaping the harvest”
Dawn, May 14, 2009: http://tinyurl.com/p2fo95

4. The campaign to free Dr Binayak Sen – Chattisgarh paediatrician, health care
worker and democracy activist (general secretary of the People’s Union for Civil
Liberties, PUCL) has been imprisoned for two years without trial, without bail,
for allegedly helping Naxalite insurgents – see
Daily South Asian - http://tinyurl.com/padqzk
Countercurrents - http://tinyurl.com/rcqpf7
Indian Express - http://tinyurl.com/r7dpeq

5. Some good news in the middle of the bad – Report on a 100-year-old Ashram in Tharparkar, where hundreds of animals, children and jobless people find solace, by Shahid Husain in ‘The News on Sunday’, Kolachi section, May 10, 2009:
http://tinyurl.com/ov4j4u

OVER TO the burning issue of the military operation in Swat and the internally
displaced persons

‘Malakand priorities’ – Veteran journalist and human rights activist I.A. Rehman warns that with the expected fallout of the military operation in Malakand Division having exceeded official estimates, the whole effort at overcoming terrorism and militancy could miscarry.
Dawn, May 14, 2009 -http://tinyurl.com/par5b2

See also Truthout – <http://www.truthout.org/050909A>
Half a Million Flee Swat Valley as Pakistan Faces Months of Fighting
by Andrew Buncombe, The Independent, Saturday 09 May 2009

BELOW: Localised appeals for aid – besides Edhi - http://www.edhifoundation.com
-
From Fauzia Minallah <funkor.childart@gmail.com>
Summer Clothes for women and children (Please ensure that the shirts are not
be sleeveless ).  Toys will bring back smiles on Children’s faces.
Please drop them at 2 C, Naval Housing F 11/1 Islamabad -
Contact: Naila Zahid 0300 555 4303

From Dr Samrina Hashmi <samrina_hashmi@yahoo.com>
Pakistan Medical Association (PMA), Karachi – accepting Cash,Medicines, Flour, Powdered Milk, Biscuits,Water
Medical Camp for IDPs at Itehad Town, Karachi, Sunday May 17 2009.
Bus will leave from PMA House (Aga Khan 111 Road,Sadder, Karachi) at 9am sharp; Doctors, nurses ,paramedics invited. Need Antibiotics,plaster {Gypsona 4″,6″}, Paracetamols, anti-diarreals, anti-malarials 
Contact:
Amir Peter +92-21-2251159
Rehan   +92-333-2367020   

From Mohsin Sayeed <mohsinqs@hotmail.com>
Voice of the Civil Society-VOTCS donation camp at Carlton Hotel May 15-17, 10:00 a.m-5:00 p.m). Contact: hadiakhan@gmail.com
Collecting cash (esp for tents), dry food, hygenic items (soap etc), beddings &
candies for children, plus basic medicines (Pain Killers, Cough syrups,
Bandages, Antibiotic oral medicines and for external use e.g. Furecin
powder)

From Pakistan Peace and Solidarity Council <pscpak@gmail.com>
PPSC is providing food, drinking water and assist the displaced people in
registration in Shergarh, Takht Bhai, Mardan and Jalala.  

Dr. Nisar Ali Shah,  (Karachi)  Ph# +92-333-7157215

Mr. Pasha (Peshawar)   Ph# +92-300-9363403

Mr. Jamshed Khan  (Mardan)    Ph# +92-345-9386739

Mr. Hassan Zaman (Punjab)      Ph# +92-300-7192515 & +92-61-6014154

Dr. Muhammad Hafiz Ur Rehman (Islamabad)  Ph# +92-334-5038705

Web: http://www.pscpak.org

That’s it for now

Women to Reclaim Public Spaces

    A Programme of Defiance & Resistance.

Karachi Press Club, On 8th May, 2009, 5:30 – 7:30pm

Dear  friend of humanity,

We invite you to a programme highlighting the implications of Talibanisation for women, artists, and minorities in particular, and to our country in general. The Talibans have created terror through slaughtering of people, bomb blasts, kidnappings, and destruction of properties which has led to severe restrictions on women, and displacements of thousands of people from their homes. It seems their militancy has encouraged some men and women in some urban centers of Pakistan to admonish and threaten women on their mode of dress and their presence in public places. This is a deliberate strategy to purge public spaces of women’s presence.

WAF believe Talibanisation is a mind set which cuts across all ethnic lines and must be resisted by all, and in no uncertain terms. This mind-set abuses Islam by using it to control others. We believe religion is a private matter and all citizens of Pakistan are equal citizens We believe peace and justice must be the guiding light for Pakistan to become peaceful and just society. To achieve our goal we must discuss matters together and resolve to act collectively for greater public good, for this is what democracy is about.

We invite you to a programme of defiance and resistance.

  1. Welcome and introduction to WAF and theme of the programme.
  2. Habib Jalib’s poem written for WAF – We are not without friends and supporters in this land
  3. Art, music, dance, and drama, as statements of social freedom (Coordinator Sheema Kirmani)
  4. Youth speaks of the future she wants
  5. Speaker from minority
  6. Voices of the displaced (we are in touch with the families that have been displaced because of the Talibinsation related disturbances in their area, and hope to have some of them share their experiences)
  7. Representatives of political parties to be respondents to the concerns voiced in the programme.
  8. FAiz Ahmed Faiz’s poem : Hum dekhain gai.

9,    Candle light vigil

Following are the  key positions and we invite you to endorse them

  1. One constitution and one set of laws for all of Pakistan
  2. The writ of the government must prevail on the basis of moral authority premised on protection, health, education, livelihood and security of all persons equally
  3. Urgent de-weaponisation of society
  4. No special accords that compromise the rights of any group of citizens of Pakistan.

Please do attend and bring all your friends – women and men – to show solidarity with our cause which is also your cause.

Thanking you

Women’s Action Forum, Karachi.

Please bring a candle with you.

‘Talibanisation’: Backwards, forward, twisted around

A journalist’s notebook

By Beena Sarwar

In November 1999, like many others, I thought that the Taliban were the ‘last gasp of a dying order’. They were isolated in Afghanistan. The world largely turned a blind eye to their oppressive system imposed in the name of religion — public floggings, limb amputations and executions – for alleged moral transgressions that the Taliban saw as crimes, like adultery. Such punishments were not entirely an aberration in the last decade of the 20th century: USA’s most allied ally, oil-rich Saudi Arabia, routinely meted out similar punishments (and continues to do so). The Taliban in Afghanistan controlled an area across which America wanted to build an oil pipeline. Until they refused to allow this, their ‘barbarism’ received little notice in the West, particularly America.

The Taliban’s attitude towards women was an extreme version of attitudes generally prevalent in the context of this region. Women across South Asia are verbally and physically abused every minute of the day, every day of the year. ‘Honour killings’ in one form or other are common all over the Middle East as well as South Asia, in addition to the ‘dowry deaths’ and female foeticide prevalent in India. At least 1,210 women were killed in Pakistan during 2008, including at least 612 in so-called ‘honour killings’ and at least 185 over domestic issues, according to the recent annual report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

“The malaise is more widespread than we care to acknowledge,” wrote Jawed Naqvi in his column My fanatic versus your fanatic (Dawn, reproduced in www.hardnewsmedia.com), after the ‘Swat flogging video’ came to public notice. Highlighting gender violence in various societies including India, he comments, “What goes for religious fanaticism elsewhere can easily mutate into caste bigotry in a country like India. Although caste-based zealotry goes largely unnoticed because of its prevalence in under-televised rural areas, it works with the brutality associated elsewhere with honour killings and violence against women generally.”

In Pakistan, as well as in India and other societies where there is gender violence on the pretext of ‘honour’, the perpetrators tend to be family members. People often overlook or condone such violence as an internal, domestic matter. The culprits are rarely punished, particularly if they have acted against a daughter who eloped against their wishes with someone and that too from a different or ‘lesser’ community.

The difference is that the Taliban in Pakistan, in their role of extra-judicial vigilantes, punish women they are not related to, assuming the role of the State. Their Hindu counterparts may aspire to similar levels of vigilantism, judging by the Rightwing threats and attacks on women who transgress conservative norms in India – “Indian Taliban” as one Indian minister termed Hindu vigilantes who beat up women in a pub in Mangalore.

The comparison is not too far-fetched. Five years ago, I remember the US-based Indian filmmaker, Lalit Vachani, saying that many leaders of the Hindu Right “want a mirror image of Islam” – they want to manufacture, “a religion where a (spiritual) leader will give fatwas that the faithful will follow blindly.” He was speaking at a discussion after the screening of his documentary about the RSS, The Men in the Tree (2002) in Delhi.

Writing about the event that I happened to have attended, his words reminded me of an Australian PhD candidate working on a comparison of Hindu and Muslim Rightwing organisations some years ago, mainly in Mumbai and Lahore. She found that the Hindu organisation actually studied the tactics of the Islamic organisation, including pamphlets, literature, and video recordings of their rallies. (Having received various threats from their representatives in Australia when she returned, she preferred to remain anonymous).

In the same article, I quoted TV journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, who, during a live talk show on Geo TV during the Saarc summit in Islamabad in January 2004, had told the Jamaat-e-Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed during a heated debate on Kashmir and religious extremism, “Qazi sahib, mujhe lagta hai ke aap aur Bal Thackeray ek hi sikkey ki do sides hain” (it seems to me that you and Bal Thackeray are just two sides of the same coin). Qazi had no answer. (The commonality of ‘fundamentalisms, October 10, 2004). More from that article:

“Sardesai’s brief remark pinpoints a fundamental and universal truth: the commonality of ‘fundamentalisms’, no matter how much at odds they appear to be. Unfortunately, they tend not to stick to the actual ‘fundamentals’ that are common to all religions – truth, justice, and compassion. As a result, another commonality is how their respective ideologies contribute towards a culture that condones and engages in violence – a point underscored decisively in Vachani’s film…

“In general though, there is little acceptance in India for such homogenisation, that many oppose, because it leads to violence that, in turn, will isolate the country. Vachani’s The Men in the Tree, in fact, makes the case that this homogenisation also prepares the ground for incidents like the Babri Masjid demolition, and beyond, to the horrors of Gujarat (2002). This brings up another commonality between extremist groups: their attempts to construct and strengthen their own identity by demonising ‘the other’ even if this means distorting history.”

In Pakistan, the growth of the Religious Right and subsequently the Taliban’s revival has much to do with the military’s continuous meddling in politics. Impatient with bungling and corrupt politics, sections of the population welcome or at least wearily accept military takeovers instead of pushing for the political process to continue.

When the citizenry is allowed to have a voice, it blunts the edges of extremisms, as we have seen in America and India. Elected leaders can sometimes be disastrous, but being in the political mainstream forces them to compromise, dialogue, negotiate, and step down from hardline positions – except when they sound the drums of war, a situation that allows for the revival of extreme positions based in manufactured notions of nationalism. Even so, when the political process is allowed to continue, every few years the people have the power to vote out an elected representative who has exploited nationalist or religious sentiments. A military man who takes over is accountable to no one. He cannot be dislodged by elections and stays on until he is forced out – in Pakistan, after an average of ten years. The presence of a military strong man at the helm of affairs keeps the lid on simmering discontents, allowing extremism to grow.

If the law and order situation is simultaneously allowed to grow out of control, criminalisation feeds into this extremism. Citizens feel emasculated and powerless; aggression and violence is one way of self-assertion. In Pakistan, since September 2001, the focus on the ‘law on terror’ at the expense of the police force and the criminal justice system, has allowed ‘religious militancy’ and extremism, already strengthened in the name of ‘jihad’ since the Afghan war against the Soviets, to dig deeper into society. These trends were reinforced and institutionalised by discriminatory laws enacted in the name of religion by the previous military ruler, Gen Zia-ul-Haq, propped up by America for his role in that war.

“This has led not just to greater discrimination against religious minorities, it has caused sectarian confrontation within the Muslim population, conflict between the orthodoxy and liberals over observance of social mores, and a running polarisation between the political Right and Left. Today, we are faced with two stark choices: modernisation and development, or regression into tribalism,” this reporter wrote in a comment on November 1999 (The Democracy Debate). Here’s more from that article:

“The country Gen. Pervez Musharraf has taken upon himself to lead, faces a conflict between these two trends that is intensified by increasing exposure to the outside world, access to the satellite dish and the internet, and education, particularly of girls and women even in remote villages and rural areas. On the other hand is ‘Talibanisation’ – fed by thousands of religious seminaries across the country, functioning with government sanction and even money, besides covert funds from other Islamic countries. The last gasp of a dying order?

“… ‘Talibanisation’ is still a serious threat, but it needs to be addressed beyond the surface – deprivation and the denial of basics like health, education and employment opportunities are among the factors behind the increasing number of boys being sent into madrasas where they are at least guaranteed food, shelter, education and even employment later as fighters. “The sectarian nature of most of these madrasas has contributed to the increasing sectarian violence in the country. The only thing that they agree upon is that the others are infidels, along with Ahmedis and pro-democracy, pro-human rights workers; many consider it legitimate to wipe out these ‘ideological enemies of the State’. “…Lack of participatory decision-making, the lack of freedom of information and expression, combined with the State’s own tendency to use violent methods to crush dissent, has contributed to a culture of fear and aggression.

“It is a combination of all these factors that endangers democracy in Pakistan. Short-sighted policies implemented for political expediency will lead to the strengthening of a Taliban-like order, with long-term negative impacts not just for Pakistan but for the entire region and beyond. For Pakistan, it will spell economic disaster and isolate it as a pariah in the world community. A nuclear pariah, which the world cannot afford to ignore. “This is why the world must link demands for guarantees of democracy in Pakistan with economic cooperation, and this is why the people of Pakistan must demand a return to the democratic process.”

Last year, Pakistan again took a step towards the democratic process. But the forces that now hold the country hostage had gained in strength over the previous three decades of military rule (Gen Zia), followed by a decade of musical chairs in which four elected governments were dismissed, followed by yet another decade under military rule (Gen Musharraf). During this time, these forces have consolidated their hold on areas of Pakistan and extracted a heavy price for political short-sightedness and insistence on ‘strategic depth’: the life of Benazir Bhutto. Had it not been for her insistence on electoral politics, Musharraf was unlikely to have shed his uniform and eventually stepped aside – the first military ruler of Pakistan to ‘voluntarily’ relinquish his position.

Still, the results of the February 2008 elections gave room for optimism as, despite threats of violence, the electorate categorically voted against those playing the religious card and those propped up by the military. The events of the past year are eroding that optimism, now overshadowed by the all-too familiar impatience and frustration with the political process. But the last thing we now need is another military takeover or a change of government. Whoever is at the helm of affairs will face the same challenges as the present regime. The fanaticism in the name of religion, developed and cultivated for decades by the powers that be, will not disappear overnight with the restoration of democratic politics.

Whatever its weaknesses and faults, the present government is the first in Pakistan that is really committed to combating this menace, recognising that it will consume us if we do not end it. For the first time, the army chief has spoken out about the Swat deal, terming it an “operational pause”. The Taliban’s continuous reneging from agreements made with the government may yet turn the tide against them and enable the military to move decisively against them, which it has so far been unable, or unwilling, to do.

Meanwhile, for the bulk of the population, the primary concerns remain how to feed, clothe and house themselves and their families, educate their children, get clean drinking water and adequate medical help. This is unlikely to change for the better anytime soon, no matter which way the political winds blow. But a sustained political process, at least, offers a chance for positive change – eventually. The alternative is too grim to contemplate.

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