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

“We Refuse to Be Held to Ransom By Terrorism”: Veena Masud, Pakistan Women’s Swimming Association

Mic announcing & diver2

Veena Masud announcing at a national swimming meet, Karachi, May 2009. Photo: Beena Sarwar

I’ve been wanting to do a report on Pakistan’ women swimmers since March 2009, when I first heard Veena Masud speak at a Szabist seminar in Karachi.

Q&A with Veena Masud below; don’t miss the Footnote at the end, includes reference to an old Shoaib Hashmi & Samina Ahmed skit.

“We Refuse to Be Held to Ransom By Terrorism”
Beena Sarwar interviews VEENA MASUD, Pakistan Women’s Swimming Association

KARACHI, Oct 29 (IPS) – Karachi-based, Trinidad-born and educated Veena Masud is a school principal who wants to see Pakistani women shine in the international sports arena.
Continue reading

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)

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”.”

`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

PAKISTAN’S INTERNALLY DISPLACED: Distribution is key. Plus: Women’s voices from camps in Mardan

In this post: Update by Naeem Sadiq,report from Mardan camps by Bushra Khaliq and an appeal by the Muslim Canadian Congress

1. Email from Naeem Sadiq:

There are numerous reports pouring in that highlight the scale  and the severity of the crisis and trauma being faced by the displaced persons of Malakand.  Just received a very frantic and moving phone call from a friend in Mardan.  He is a part of a team consisting of six outstanding  young engineers,  who took leave from their jobs, collected funds and rations and drove down to the camps in Mardan.  He was overwhelmed by  what he saw, and his version corroborates with the reports of  many other independent reporters, who have reported on similar lines.  If one can summarize the situation as it stands today.

  1. The scale of displacement  (any thing between 2 and 2.5 million people) is so large and its associated demands of  accommodation, food, health, and other basic needs so great in volume and spread that it is  simply beyond this government to handle.
  2. Some 80-90 percent of  the displaced persons are sheltered at places other than the formal camps set up by the government. These are those who received no support and are facing the greatest hardship.
  3. The few who are accommodated in camps have started to receive basic  support and services.
  4. The condition of the  large majority sheltered  in schools, hujras or accommodated by locals in their small homes is absolutely pathetic.  The focus of aid and attention needs to be urgently  shifted to this category.
  5. There is enough food and support material that is forthcoming.  Its distribution and management is inefficient and unfair.  Some of this stuff is already on sale in the local market.
  6. The visits of VIPs are unwelcome and a cause of great nuisance.  The VIPs are only interested in photographs and  media coverage.  They stop the traffic,  and the entire camp management shifts its focus from its basic job to showing the VIPs  a miniscule portion of the relief effort . (while the real problem lies elsewhere.)
  7. Unless we shift our attention to the 80% displaced persons who  have received no aid so far, we shall  not just loose this battle of hearts and minds but also breed anger and hostility amongst a very large population.
  8. The logistics of such a large scale requires very high professional management skills. Political speeches  and slogans run out of their shelf life in the first few days. We need to request  professors from places like LUMS and IBA to go down to Mardan and put into practice what they typically teach their students. The multinational companies could be requested to volunteer  their top managers for professional management of each location.

Pakistan has a challenge whose dimension is larger than what we have ever been exposed to. This challenge needs every citizen and group to come together.  If we fail, we would fail not because there was not enough food or blankets, but because we did not know how to manage a distribution system with efficiency, fairness and dignity.

Naeem’s response to my question about contact details to post out with his note, where people can donate or volunteer: “There are dozens , if not hundreds of agencies and groups who are collecting funds and other relief goods. SUNGI (Omar Asghar Khan’s foundation), Edhi, and almost all political parties, and religious groups are in the field.  Then there are indvidual groups (such as the team of six engineers I mentioned),  Dr. Awab and his team, Hissar Foundation and many others not known to me who are doing extremely good job.  Distribution is the key issue.”

Response to Naeem’s note by Imran Ali posted to the May 12th Group: “Your analysis is on the dot sir. I took a week off to be there. No preparation too many agencies and no coordination. Sir I also found that water and electricity are huge problems, as is the total disillusionment with Pakistan army and government. Taliban are condemned as villain no 2 but a very distant second. There are many heroic assistance efforts but they are not coordinated. Phones communication and coordination are the problem. The operation must finish in two months otherwise it will overwhelm us. The army is confident that it will.”

2. WOMEN’S VOICES – REPORT FROM CAMPS IN MARDAN

Bushra Khaliq, General Secretary, Women Workers Help Line, Lahore, who  visited three of camps set up in Mardan, housing some 32,725 persons, mostly from the working class.  Their findings in a nutshell, in their words:

  • Religious norms & oppressive tribal values lock women inside tents
  • More than 100 pregnant mothers in Sheikh Yasin camp at mercy of God
  • Filthy joint toilets may cause spread diseases among IDPs
  • Taliban, Army and US, all three adding woes to women of Swat

Most of the people they spoke to were against both Americans and Taliban. They believe that the army operation was launched under US pressure  and that the Army is not sincere in crushing the Taliban. They want some deadline regarding the end of the operation as they want to return home at the earliest.

Every family has been provided with a tent but life is miserable for them in the sizzling heat (over 40 degree Celsius) – a situation made worse by no electricity coupled with poor amenities. There were few dispensaries – Diarrhea, dysentery, skin diseases, eye sores, throat infection are widespread “due to the consumption of unsafe drinking water, smell from filthy toilets and inappropriate food, etc…. Every body has a story to tell but (most) pathetic are the stories of women inside these tents.”

“The good thing is that small children are duly engaged in educational activities. Unicef is providing primary educational service to these children, including school bags and books. Since government schools are closed in Mardan, and teachers were free so these govt school teachers have offered their services to teach children in tent schools.”

Full text of message plus pix at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/socialist_pakistan_news/message/15146

3. Note from Muslim Canadian Congress – Pls pass on to friends & family in Canada

May 19, 2009

MCC condemns Taliban onslaught in Pakistan;
Growing humanitarian crisis needs Canada’s attention

www.muslimcanadiancongress.org

(couldn’t find this note on their website but it was posted to me by someone in Canada)

TORONTO – The Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC) has expressed its deep concern with the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Pakistan where the country’s army is battling the Taliban insurgency. The MCC welcomes the long overdue initiative of the Pakistan Armed Forces to restore the writ of the
democratically elected government. However, the displacement of more than a million people as a result of the Taliban insurgency is becoming a humanitarian crisis, that needs to be tackled on an urgent basis by the international community before these camps become recruiting grounds for the next generation of the Taliban.

The MCC has urged the Canadian Government to take the lead in providing aid to the internally displaced persons (IDPs). If Western governments do not step in with humanitarian aid to these IDPs, the vacuum will be filled by Islamist groups who have already started setting up offices inside these
camps.

Regarding the current relief efforts, MCC president, Hasan Mahmud, has expressed reservations about some of the donations that are being contributed towards the relief efforts for the displaced citizens of Swat by Islamist groups in Canada.

“After the devastating effects of the 2005 earthquake in Northern Pakistan, Islamist charities like the Jamaat Dawa and others operated by Jamaat-e-Islami exploited a tragedy to collect funds which were then used to further their extremist ideology and provide more fodder to the vast network of militias operating under the Deobandi-Wahabi banner.”

A similar initiative by Pakistan’s right-wing political parties (Jamaat-e-Islami, Jamaat Dawa) is currently underway. These groups and individuals raise funds for humanitarian purposes in Pakistan and abroad, as well as seek to portray Taliban as a group that is redressing social and judicial grievances. Despite these portrayals, we have seen nothing but destruction of Pushtoon culture, barbaric massacres of opponents and the Pushtoon Shia population, destruction of educational institutions and imposition of medieval barbarism on hapless population in all areas where Taliban held sway.

Canadians should be wary that their humanitarian donations are strictly allocated to the Red Cross and UN and not to Islamist organizations and individuals like the above mentioned, whose subsidiaries are using it to fund militants that are attacking Canadian troops in the neighbouring country of Afghanistan.

For further information, please call Hasan Mahmud, President of the MCC at
(416) 742-5975

The humanitarian crisis of Swat’s Internally Displaced People – Omar Foundation

Further to my earlier note on how to help those forced to become refugees in their own land – the largest internal displacement ever in Pakistan as the army finally takes action against the Taliban – see appeal below sent by a journalist friend in Karachi. Rashida Dohad, also an old friend, works with OAK Foundation – http://www.oakdf.org.pk (‘Donate’ link  – http://www.oakdf.org.pk/links/donate.htm)
Also see IDP Wiki page at http://sarelief.com
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: sahar <sahar@panossouthasia.org>
Date: Mon, May 18, 2009 at 10:56 PM
Subject: The humanitarian crisis of the Internally Displaced People of Swat – please support Omar Foundation

Dear Friends and Family,

This evening I attended a briefing by Ali Asghar Khan, Chairman of the Omar Asghar Khan Development Foundation, at the Sindh Club. Ali had been invited by Karachi’s concerned citizens – concerned about the humanitarian crisis unfolding rapidly in the wake of the war to crush the Taliban uprising in Swat – to talk about what was happening, and how Karachi-ites could help.

Omar Foundation’s solid credentials as an organization working to create space for the poor to engage in the democratic process, were established in the wake of the 2005 earthquake, when alongside their systematic relief efforts, they organized earthquake survivors to articulate their needs and express them in the policy arena, in a bid to make earthquake rehabilitation policy responsive to people’s needs and priorities.

While Omar Foundation’s base is in Hazara, their experience of organizing the community – through village committees – to take responsibility of the task of distribution of relief supplies to people who most needed them – qualifies them to deliver similar services for the efficient distribution of relief supplies to the hundreds of thousands of families fleeing Swat to peaceful parts of NWFP.

This is a humanitarian crisis of immense magnitude, as confirmed by the UN. And the most alarming aspect, as Ali pointed out earlier this evening, is that the media is portraying just the tip of the iceberg. “Eight-five (85) percent of the displaced population is not in the camps,” revealed Ali. They are being hosted in people’s homes, as many as 15 to a small room. Schools are overflowing with between 200 to 1500 people, without adequate – often non-existent – facilities for housing these families.

Omar Foundation’s ‘adopt-a-school’ programme will seek to establish committees among the people living in schools to undertake the task of management, establishing services and distribution of relief goods. “All distribution will be through these committees, that will be made up of the people themselves,” Ali said.

Speaking on the occasion, Ishaq, who fled Swat some months ago after his name was announced on the Taliban radio channel with a death warrant, and will be working with Omar Foundation to organize the displaced populations, said: “Our people are worse-off than farm animals.” He added that the 100-year-old infrastructure of Swat had been destroyed. “We were against the provincial government’s deal with the Taliban,” he said. But he and others, who have fled the area with their families in the wake of the army operation, are now afraid to speak out against the provincial government, the army, or the Taliban. Ali explained that there is a palpable sense of insecurity among the people, which he sensed when he recently toured the schools in Mardan where the IDPs are languishing.

It is this insecurity that needs to be dealt with, after the immediate need of providing food, healthcare, sanitation, and education facilities to the IDPs has been addressed. “Our nation may not get this chance again. We have to be there for them [the IDPs],” said Ali. He added that model systems of justice, healthcare, education and other basic needs have to be created to ensure that the vacuum being currently created through the operation, will be filled and not allow the Taliban to re-group and re-surface. Ali said the common refrain is, “The Taliban are like water.” You flush them from one area, and they will simply flow to another. It is this feeling of insecurity that needs to be addressed if peace and the IDPs are to return to Swat.

For now, the need of the hour is to provide immediate relief for the disease and despair that is spreading rapidly. People need nutritious food, water for drinking and washing, toilets, bedding, utensils, medicines and medical services, clothing, sanitary goods, education, and sanitation.

Omar Foundation has taken on the responsibility of organizing these facilities and services for three schools in one of the poorest Union Councils in Mardan (where people who are hosting these families are so poor, that they can barely afford the hospitality now, let alone on a long term basis).

“Some schools need toilets, others need kitchens, a sewage system, fans,” explained Ali.

Please support the Omar Foundation’s efforts to provide immediate relief and more sustained basic services to the people of Swat who need our support. They have sacrificed their homes so that the rest of Pakistan may live without fear of the Taliban.

Donations can be sent to:
Omar Asghar Khan Development Foundation
Current Account # 0030445261000455
MCB Bank (1028)
Super Market, Islamabad
Pakistan
SWIFT Code MUCBPKKAMCC

Tax exemption # 6043/RTO/ATD/2008-09 dated 12 May 2009

Please email details including name, address and amount for acknowledgment to info@oakdf,org.pk

Tel +92 512611092 – 4
Mob +92 300 8565279

PLEASE CIRCULATE THIS WIDELY. THIS ISN’T A MATTER OF DAYS OR WEEKS. IT COULD TAKE MONTHS, EVEN YEARS. DONATE GENEROUSLY AND CONSISTENTLY.

The Taliban are coming….??? Myths and other realities

The Swat flogging video led to an alarmist, emotional, knee jerk response devoid of any political and historical context among the `bloggeratti’ (to borrow a term from Dr Omar Ali of Asiapeace), sms’ing crowd and TV talk shows. Those who are now calling for decisive action were not so long ago justifying the Taliban’s actions as an `anti-imperialist’ force.

Other `civil society’ attempts at countering Talibanisation include
demonstrations and even a signature campaign to the President against
Talibanisation initiated by a friend in Karachi and picked up all over the
country – a well meaning effort available at http://www.sacw.net (direct link
http://tinyurl.com/c6yj4d).

Women’s Action Forum is planning a broad-based meeting on May 8 at Karachi Press Club, 5 pm, on `Women to Reclaim Our Public Spaces’. WAF stands for:
- One constitution and one set of laws for all of Pakistan
- 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
- Urgent de-weaponisation of society
- No special accords compromising the rights of one group of citizens of
Pakistan over others

In the end, however, `Talibanisation’ is a political problem that has taken
decades to develop. It calls for long term political solutions. There are no
short cuts. Recognising this, I.A. Rehman advocates two immediate steps in
`Pakistan’s neo-Taliban’ (Dawn, Apr 30) – http://tinyurl.com/ctyl3l – the
government must reduce its trust deficit with the people, and people must see evidence that the army is able and willing to earn its keep.

Also see Dr Hassan Abbas’ report on police reforms in Pakistan as an urgent measure to counter terrorism.  A PDF is available at his excellent blog watandost.blogspot.com
Direct link to the pdf file – http://tinyurl.com/codh8d

Also, three other articles that provide another perspective:

- THE ROVING EYE, The myth of Talibanistan, By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, May 1, 2009 – http://tinyurl.com/cp8zdr
Sent by S.M. Naseem with the note: “To reassure you that Islamabad is not going to fall to the Talibans any time soon. The rumours are about as credible as those about the USA becoming a socialist state during Obama’s presidency.”

- How Pakistan Is Countering the Taliban – The pacification model that worked in Iraq can work in the Swat Valley, By Husain Haqqani, WSJ, April 30 2009 -
http://tinyurl.com/dmk6py

- Between two fundamentalists, By Dr Mubashir Hasan, The Nation (Pakistan) April 30, 2009 – http://tinyurl.com/da8syr

Finally, a widely circulated article `I want my country back’ by Sehar Tariq, a development studies student, published in The News on April 17 -
http://tinyurl.com/dg2nwn

Below, Seerat Hazir’s response to Sehar Tariq’s article (minus some distracting personal barbs):

“I am curious to find out which Pakistan she wants back. The one created by the British with the help of wealthy and influential feudals and nawabs as a gift to the Americans to serve as a pawn in the cold-war games after the 2nd world war? The one ruled successively by military dictators, aided and abetted by a conniving nexus of corrupt bureaucrats, politicians, industrialists, and devious feudals that many of us were privileged enough to be related to, getting our passports and driving licences made without standing in sweaty queues? The one that created a two-class system: the haves and the have-nots?

“…We are being over-simplistic by focusing just on the Taliban phenomenon, conveniently just mentioning in passing – almost as an after-thought, almost as something you pick up from a souvenir shop at the end of a trip to tell friends back home that you had been there – the real problem stemming from the imperialist greed – the fountain-head of all this violence and self-destructive frenzy which seems to have taken over the  dispossessed of the world. It doesn’t take much intelligence… to understand what’s happening here in Pakistan at the moment. Here is how it goes, more or less:

“The US and allies decide to cut the Pak army and ISI down to size (re-read
Washington Post, since Obama). Obama admin decides to deal directly with the civilian govt and bully the army into playing second fiddle. Aid is made
conditional. Transparency is demanded. Pak Army tells the US, well, then let the civi govt take care of the war on terror. Within weeks things begin to happen:
Taliban blow up 200 Nato trucks, and practically force the Nato command into looking for alternative supply routes into Afghanistan. They can’t be stopped for some mysterious reason. Taliban take over Swat and are seen patrolling cities and towns with impunity, and they can’t be stopped for some reason. FM radio stations start spewing out extremist propaganda and they can’t be jammed for some odd reason. Girl schools are burnt down, video of a young girl being flogged ruthlessly by frothing fanatics pops up to remind everyone what Taliban are capable of. Rumours are sown in diplomatic circles in Islamabad that Taliban are just behind the peaceful Margallas, a mere 100 km from the diplomatic enclave, and, more disturbingly, Kahuta. Nazam-e-adl is given the nod. All this is stage-managed by the Army in connivance with a puppet parliament, to remind
the Americans and their allies how things will look if the army is not supported and financed the way they want it. This was a trailer shown to the men on the Capitol Hill who already have their ears cocked for such news from Pakiland. Officials and generals scurry back and forth. A deal is struck. and Hallelujah! General Kayani appears on the front pages on April 25, reiterating his resolve to fight the war on terror to the bitter end. The Taliban Tide begins to ebb back to its mysterious origins. Thanks be to Allah, the All Merciful.

“Pakistan (read pak army) again points the gun to its head and gets its demands. Only someone with eyes misted over by April showers can fail to see that Taliban of Swat is the other side of the ruling elite led by the army: the side that will flip into broad view once the US decides to take on Pakistan a la Afghanistan and Iraq. I don’t know whether it’s misguided sincerity or plain escapist ideology that defines the activism of most of our more enlightened academics here and abroad. I only wish if all that painstakingly acquired scholarly wisdom were focused on unmasking the real culprits and their local and foreign cohorts, and identifying ways and means to move towards some kind of a  solution, rather than joining the popular chorus written and directed by the western media. and which is sure to bring the crowd to its feet. The only solution lies in paving the way, through word and deed, for greater provincial autonomy and breaking the colossus of a corrupt federation controlled and manipulated by a greedy, all-powerful army.
“You and I are a sorry, confused product of a somewhat privileged class which directly or indirectly benefitted from the elitist culture cultivated by the establishment in cahoots with their foreign masters; a product of the unjust system which gave us an unfair advantage over the marginalized masses. Time now, if there’s still any left, to look back at all the injustices we had partnered in silence; raising our voice only where and when it suited us, as long as we could scamper back to our privileged existence, to the 6 O’clock appointment with the dentist after the 4 sweaty hours spent in robust activism at Regal chowk. The real question is not what we should do about Talibanisation: it’s what we should be doing to challenge and change the system which serves as a nursery for such carnivorous flora. But, sadly, we can’t tear ourselves away from our `qatil’ (killer) that Faiz wrote about, because he is our ‘hamdam’, our benefactor, too: Better blame a bunch of misguided, bearded fanatics with their shalwars hitched up above the ankles, sporting a Gotcha jacket, and be done with it.

“Wake up and smell the shit in our own pyjamas, and don’t be fooled by the
Taliban Cafe smell that the western machinery and its vendors in Pakistan so eagerly want us to wake up to.”

‘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.

Arundhati ‘Pakistani’ and right-wingers ‘patriotic’

The FMP panel in Delhi, April 15, 2009

The FMP panel in Delhi, April 15, 2009. Photo: FMP

Panel members Arundhati Roy & Aniruddha Bahal. Photo: B. Sarwar

Panel members Arundhati Roy & Aniruddha Bahal. Photo: B. Sarwar

PERSONAL POLITICAL

Beena Sarwar

“Shouldn’t Arundhati Roy come from Pakistan?” sarcastically asked a Delhi freelance journalist, commenting on the Facebook posting about a panel discussion, ‘Does Media Jingoism Fan India Pakistan Tensions?’ The cynical remark stemmed from his annoyance, shared by many, at Roy’s consistent exposure of India’s ‘warts’.

The panel, organised by the recently formed Forum of Media Professionals (www.fmp.org.in ), included four journalists from India besides the celebrated writer and activist Arundhati Roy as well as four Pakistani journalists and The Hindu’s Islamabad correspondent Nirupama Subramanian.

Delhi is far cleaner and greener since I was last there nearly five years go, thanks to laws (that are actually implemented) banning diesel and making CNG compulsory. On a more intangible level, another kind of pollution remains, reminiscent of a phenomenon we face in Pakistan: right-wing jingoism fuelled by emotional appeals to religion and nationalism.

The jibe about Arundhati Roy, disguised under an urbane sarcasm, is just one aspect of bigoted nationalism. Going by that logic, those in Pakistan who fight for justice — a struggle that necessitates exposing wrongdoings, or ‘washing dirty linen in public’ according to our critics — should represent India. Another aspect of such thinking is evident in the comments back home when I show my documentary ‘Mukhtiar Mai: The Struggle for Justice’, in Pakistan: “Why don’t you make such films about violence against women in India? Women there have these problems too.”

I wonder at this competitiveness that makes us feel self-congratulatory when we can point out how much worse the other is in some way.

Thankfully, not everyone takes this myopic view. In Allahabad, at a crowded meeting of the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD), there was none of this one-upmanship or finger pointing. The audience immediately saw the commonalities of the issues raised in the films I showed, on Pakistan’s flawed and discriminatory Hudood Laws and Mukhtiar Mai. They understood that the phenomenon in Pakistan of Taliban ‘punishing’ women for alleged transgressions is not much different from those who rape, kill or lynch women and couples for the sake of ‘honour’ in India itself or indeed in traditional communities in Pakistan.

The difference is that most of these ‘honour crimes’ are committed by relatives of the women who ‘transgress’, as opposed to the Taliban who are taking it upon themselves to enact these punishments as part of the imposition of their own criminal justice system that flouts the writ of the state.

Another difference is that the family in Haryana who hanged their daughter and the man she eloped with (in their own home) will be charged, tried and probably punished. In Pakistan, the ostensibly Islamic Qisas and Diyat (retribution and blood money) laws imposed by a military dictator in the 1980s allow the murder victim’s family members to ‘forgive’ the perpetrators who are often their own relatives.

As for the Taliban and their sympathisers, none have ever been charged for their criminal transgressions, ranging from blackening women’s faces on billboards, to disrupting public events in that involve women (remember the Gujranwala marathon?), to blowing up schools, killing teachers and dragging women out of their homes and murdering them for alleged ‘immorality’.

At the Allahabad meeting, the tone was set by senior advocate Ravi Kiran Jain in his introduction when he stressed on the need for a stable government in Pakistan, and the desire to remove misunderstandings. His words reminded me of Nirupama Subramanian’s appeal at the panel discussion in Delhi urging Indians to “be sensitive to Pakistan as a country that has problems and show moderation in we respond to these problems.”

Many Indians already understand this, but we don’t hear their voices in the media very often. For instance, Utpala, a women’s rights activist during the discussion in Allahabad talked about the need for Indians and Pakistanis to be allowed to visit each other’s countries. Her own visit to Pakistan many years ago, she said had expanded her ‘angan’ (literally, courtyard). She ended by asking, “How can we in India be happy until there is a pro-people, pro-women government in Pakistan?”

The Delhi panel was disrupted for a minute or so by one man at the back of the auditorium who stood up and shouted anti-Pakistan, pro-war slogans. The organisers threw him out. He turned out to be from the Sri Ram Sene, one of the faces of India’s right-wing ‘Sangh Parivar’, who . Three or four others were outside, whom the organisers had refused to allow entry as they were not signing their names in the register. The SRS, which does not otherwise have much presence in Delhi, later claimed it had sent ‘thirty’ men to disrupt the meeting.

True to form, illustrating the very issues we had been discussing, most media hyped up the disruption which then overshadowed the discussion itself. Pakistani journalists were ‘roughed up’, ‘attacked’, the meeting disrupted for ’15-20 minutes’ and so on. The incident set off a chain reaction across the border, giving right-wing forces in Pakistan the opportunity to condemn the ‘anti-Pakistan feelings in India’. A ‘human rights’ organisation held a demonstration against the ‘attack’. Jamat-e-Islami’s recently elected chief Munawwar Hasan promptly issued a statement saying that it should serve as an eye-opener to those who talk of friendship with India and they should refrain from visiting India (‘ba’az ajana chahiye’).

For such people, obviously the anti-Pakistan slogans raised by one miscreant are paramount over the dozens of people in the IIC auditorium who listened respectfully to the discussion and engaged in a dialogue with the speakers later. The people in Allahabad and at the Delhi Press Club a few days later who came to hear a Pakistani journalist and express their support for a democratic order in Pakistan also don’t count, even if some of them were prepared for a rough time, like Zafar Bakht in Allahabad who had lent his school’s auditorium for the event. “After hearing of the Delhi incident, we rolled up our sleeves and were prepared,” he said later.

In the end, the anti-Pakistan slogans raised by one miscreant hogged the media limelight rather than those who filled the auditorium, heard the speakers respectfully and engaged in dialogue later. This is the nature of the media beast. Who is going to tame it?

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