Soft power, woman power: Forging a new security paradigm

My article on the Amn-o-Nisa delegation’s visit to the USA, for Global Post, published  May 7, 2012: Soft power, woman power: Forging a new security paradigm in Pakistan

Women work to combat extremism by closing rift between Americans and Pakistanis.

Beena Sarwar

Peshawar, Dec 2011: Madrassah students and US embassy staff pose with one of the cards made by the students. Photo courtesy: PEAD

It was a unique Christmas party. Eight madrassah students in Peshawar, Pakistan took giant homemade cards, cake and flowers over to the US Consulate last year. The students and diplomats sat and talked for four hours, facilitated by teachers who provide English language and computer skills to the Islamic schools.

“This is the first time that these boys are connecting to and being exposed to a world outside the madrassah,” said Sameena Imtiaz, executive director of Peace Education and Development (PEAD), a non-profit foundation in Pakistan that has been working with madrassahs since 2005. “It wasn’t easy to build this relationship. It has taken a long time for them to trust us.” Continue reading

Pakistan army should butt out of politics: Asma Jahangir says it like it is


Clip from Crossfire in which Asma Jahangir, the indomitable Chairperson Emeritus of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and President of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan, says it like it about the Pakistan armed forces, in a talk show with the  ever sensationalist Meher Bokhari, on Dunya TV on May 26, 2011. View the full programme at the PkPolitics website. The clip posted here starts Continue reading

Pakistan flood victims export tomatoes, not terrorism

Must read. Pakistan flood victims ‘have no concept of terrorism’Mohammed Hanif on Pakistan’s 20 million flood victims – our “invisible slave army” that exports tomatoes, not terrorism, in BBC’s ‘From our own correspondent’. Includes link to listen to or download podcast.

Conversations 11: “There is more than truth”

I forgot to upload the last three Conversations published in The News on Sunday, Aman ki Asha page in Political Economy. The entire archives are also up at the Aman ki Asha website

“There is more than truth”

May 13, 2010

Dear Beena,

In your last letter, you said that “many Indians feel there’s no point talking to the Pakistan government, given the strength of the ‘establishment’ here.” I should tell you that there are plenty of Indians who feel there’s no point talking to the Indian government, for various reasons. At an extreme we have the Maoist insurgents, who long ago decided that talking to the Government is futile, and have taken to arms. Perhaps at another extreme, we have plenty of ordinary middle-class folks who will not exercise their most basic dialogue with the government — their vote. And somewhere in between are the rest of us, cynical about government’s every move. Continue reading

Conversations 10: The trust deficit

May 6 2010

Dear Beena,

I am heartened too by our PMs meeting in Thimphu. But let me say that I also have hope from such events as your Aman ki Asha seminar, where there’s discussion between folks from both sides who have less political pressures on them than ministers.

Still, while I don’t mean to second-guess what happened at the seminar, I wonder about the urge to build a “consensus” in discussions like these. Is that always necessary or useful, what do you think? I wonder if we end up watering down our own emotions and concerns in the search for consensus, and thus leave them essentially un-addressed. If that’s at all true, it’s not a good prescription for peace. Continue reading

Conversations 9: Perceptions, perceptions

Published in The News on Sunday, Political Economy section, Aman ki Asha page, May 2, 2010

April 22 2010
Dear Beena,

I know your Berlin adventure was stymied by, of all things, a volcano in Iceland. Who’d have thought it? Somebody more eloquent than I could probably find some kind of metaphor, for the prospects for peace between us, in those spewing ashes. Another time.

To get to your last missive. Yes, perhaps we are going round in circles to a degree; and yet I think we are indeed getting somewhere. For surely it’s when we come to grips with things we disagree on, whatever they are, that we will find what making peace really entails.

And there are things I disagree with in your last missive. Continue reading

Aman ki Asha Press release: Dialogue on ‘A Common Destiny’

LAHORE, Apr 22: Prominent academics, writers and analysts from India and Pakistan met today at a closed-door seminar titled “A Common Destiny”, the first of Aman ki Asha’s series of discussions on issues of strategic importance.

Delegates at the first of Aman ki Asha’s series of discussions on issues of strategic importance to India and Pakistan, titled “A Common Destiny”, agreed on the need for peace between the two countries, and the importance of a sustained dialogue to resolve bilateral issues including Jammu & Kashmir, terrorism, water-sharing, trade and investment. 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…

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)

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

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