MEDIA-PAKISTAN: Pondering Risks Covering Conflict, Crime, Corruption

Journalists in Lahore protest reporter's murder in Rawalpindi. Photo: Rahat Dar

Journalists in Lahore protest reporter's murder in Rawalpindi. Photo: Rahat Dar

By Beena Sarwar

KARACHI, Mar 28 (IPS) – The main issue before the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) meeting over the weekend in the central Punjab city of Faisalabad is the threat faced by journalists in this conflict-ridden South Asian country.

The cold-blooded murder of yet another journalist in Rawalpindi, twin city of the capital Islamabad, on Mar. 26, underlined the gravity of the situation.

Unknown assassins shot and killed Raja Asad Hameed, a reporter with the English-language daily ‘The Nation’ and its Urdu-language television channel Waqt, as he reached home that evening and was parking his car. His family rushed out on hearing the gunshots and found Hameed lying in a pool of blood.

The bullets, fired at close range, had pierced his neck and shoulder. Doctors pronounced him dead on arrival when he was rushed to the Benazir Bhutto Hospital, named for the late twice-elected prime minister who was herself assassinated in Rawalpindi on Dec. 27, 2007.

Hameed is the third journalist to be killed in Pakistan since the beginning of this year.

Days earlier, Tariq Malik, 30, a reporter with Dawn News TV, Lahore, died after being shot as well as stabbed in an apparent street crime while resisting a cell-phone robbery on Mar. 23.

In February, Musa Khan Khel, a correspondent for Geo TV and its affiliated English-language daily ‘The News,’ was kidnapped and killed in the restive Swat Valley just as the government concluded a peace deal with Sufi Mohammed, the elderly hardliner they hoped would influence the Pakistani Taliban.

“This is the main issue before us,” senior Islamabad-based journalist C.R. Shamsie told IPS on the phone from Faisalabad where he is attending PFUJ’s biannual delegates meeting.

“We are already facing economic murder because the media owners have not yet implemented the seventh wage board award. Now our lives are threatened because of our reporting.”

“We are provided no life insurance, no training on how to deal with conflict situations, and no defence kits or other life-saving materials like journalists in the international media, the European journalists,” added Shamsie, a member of PFUJ’s federal executive council, former PFUJ secretary-general, and editor of the Urdu daily Azkaar’s Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore editions.

Asked whether the prevailing lawlessness provides a cover for attacks on journalists, Shamsie said, “Tariq was apparently killed in a street crime. But the real reason is possibly something else.”

Since the explosion in the number of private television channels over the past few years, the media has, Shamsie noted, “become a party to the fight” between political players – an activist role that many observers have commented on.

In his recent column for Dawn, respected analyst Irfan Husain commented on “the extent to which our media has become an active player in Pakistani politics and society”.

He listed several examples to prove his point and concluded that far from being a liberating force as many had hoped, the private channels have “worked to serve the opposite end by reinforcing existing prejudices, rather than challenging them. Owners of channels have their own concealed agendas, and poorly educated producers and hosts do little to separate opinions from facts”.

His observations tie in with Shamsie’s contention that “it is the young journalists who are being targeted and killed perhaps to send a message to the big TV anchors who have become players in the political field, stepping beyond their role of journalists… There is a need for democracy in the media also.”

Pakistan ranks 10th on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) ‘Impunity Index 2009’ in its report ‘Getting Away with Murder,’ that provides a list of countries where governments fail to solve journalists’ murders.

Murders make up more than 70 percent of work-related deaths among journalists, says CPJ. The index does not include cases of journalists killed in combat or during dangerous assignments such as coverage of street protests.

The Index, for which the media watchdog “examined every nation in the world for the years 1999 through 2008,” calculates the number of unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of a country’s population. It includes only those nations with five or more unsolved cases. In 2008, 14 countries met these criteria.

Compiled for the second year running, this year’s Impunity Index report was launched Mar. 23, in Manila, “to mark the fourth anniversary of the murder of Marlene Garcia-Esperat, a Philippine columnist who reported on corruption in the government’s agriculture department’’.

She was gunned down in her home in front of her family “in a case that has become emblematic of the struggle against impunity,” says CPJ.

“Philippine journalists are clamouring for justice in at least two dozen unsolved cases, and they need government protection from the murderous thugs who are killing their colleagues year after year,” said Elisabeth Witchel, CPJ’s impunity campaign coordinator.

Iraq, Sierra Leone and Somalia top the Index in the first, second and third place respectively, but the report takes special notice of the worsening situation “in places such as Sri Lanka and Pakistan”.

Other countries on the list are Sri Lanka (4), Colombia (5), the Philippines (6), Afghanistan (7), Nepal (8) and Russia (9).

Last but not least, at number 14, is India, where Anil Majumdar, editor of daily newspaper ‘Aji,’ was shot dead in March in Guwahati, capital of the northeastern Indian state of Assam.

Last November, another Assamese journalist, Jagjit Saikia, was shot dead at point blank range. Saikia worked as a district correspondent for the vernacular daily ‘Amar Asom’ in Guwahati.

Daily newspapers in Imphal, capital of Assam’s neighbouring state of Manipur, ceased publication in protest after ‘Imphal Free Press’ sub-editor Konsam Rishikanta was shot dead on Nov. 17.

Journalists in Manipur are vulnerable to pressure from both local insurgent groups and state officials according to CPJ – a situation that journalists face in most conflict areas.

The failure to solve journalist murders perpetuates further violence against the press, noted Joel Simon, CPJ executive director in the report. “Countries can get off this list of shame only by committing themselves to seeking justice.”

South Asian journalists face particularly severe risks, with the region’s nations making up the bulk of CPJ’s Impunity Index: Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India.

There have been some particularly horrific high-profile murders in the region over the last few months, including the gunning down of Lasantha Wickrematunga, editor-in-chief of ‘The Sunday Leader’ on Jan. 8 in Colombo.

Three days later, some 15 assailants stabbed to death print and radio reporter Uma Singh, 27, at her home in Janakpur in the south of Nepal.

The CPJ index notes that “even in wartime, journalists are more likely to be targeted and murdered than killed in combat. In Iraq, for example, murders account for nearly two-thirds of all media fatalities.” Conditions in Iraq improved in 2008, but authorities there have yet to solve a single murder case involving a journalist, notes the media watchdog.

Worldwide, the vast majority of victims are local reporters covering sensitive topics such as crime, corruption, and national security in their home countries, says CPJ.

http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=46304

‘From Pakistan with Love: Saneeya Hussain’

‘Celebrating Saneeya’ – feminist, activist, environmentalist, my former editor, and dear friend. Made this 5-min documentary after she died in Brazil in 2005… Saneeya, we will always miss you and be inspired by you and your infectious laughter… See also Saneeya Hussain Trust
http://saneeyahussaintrust.com/

Smitu Kothari – rest in peace

Smitu Kothari
Smitu Kothari

Just heard the sad news from Rani (Khawar Mumtaz) in Lahore about Smitu Kothari’s sudden and unexpected departure from this world.

Last I met Smitu it was in 2004, when I interviewed him about his late friend, the Pakistani activist Omar Asghar Khan, for a documentary commissioned by Asia Foundation broadcast on Geo TV. During the same trip I interviewed his father Rajni Kothari, a meeting he facilitated, for another documentary in the Asia Foundation/Geo TV series, on Eqbal Ahmad.

Besides being an ardent environmental and freedom of information activist, Smitu was one of the earliest and most genuine advocates of Pakistan-India peace. May he rest in peace.

His cremation is at 4 pm today in Delhi. Deepest condolences to his aged father and his family, including a 12-year old daughter.

p.s. Found this news item which gives some details…
http://www.sindhtoday.net/south-asia/77983.htm

Environmentalist Smitu Kothari dies of cardiac arrest

New Delhi, March 23 (IANS) Smitu Kothari, 59, one of India’s leading
social and environmental activists, died of a cardiac arrest early
Monday at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

Kothari was editor of the Lokayan Bulletin published by the Lokayan
group which promotes dialogue between NGOs and the rest of the world.

He also co-edited Ecologist Asia with other environmentalists
including Vandana Shiva, Claude Alvares and Bittu Sahgal and has been
a visiting professor at Cornell and Princeton universities.

P.S. March 27: Amit Sengupta’s obituary on Smitu in Hard News – excerpt:
“Now, that he has become bark and sky and earth, and now that the saline waters are still soaked inside the eyes and hearts of his father, wife, brothers, friends, strangers and comrades, it’s the tree of life which must hold his eyes and his mind, like leaves, flowers and seeds, as his legacy of regeneration, retreat and resistance”
http://www.hardnewsmedia.com/2009/03/2772

A breath of fresh Kashmiri air

Column for Hardnews, Delhi, Feb 2009

PERSONAL POLITICAL

basharat-peer-t2f-6-w-mural

Basharat Peer at T2F. Photo: Jamal Ashiqain

Beena Sarwar

Basharat Peer’s ‘Curfewed Nights’ brings home the myriad nuances and human-ness of ‘the Kashmir issue’ – the main reason why, we are told, Pakistan and India can’t exist in peace.

Despite the hostilities, it speaks for the changing times that Peer was able to recently visit Pakistan, staying with Saad Haroon, a satirist he had met in New York (got the visa because a Pakistani diplomat liked his book). Friends hooked him up with Sabeen Mahmud who runs The Second Floor, T2F, the internet café-cum-community space in Karachi where you can hang out over music or a board game, browse the bookshelves or imbibe the art work and mural on the brick walls. Despite the short notice, the place was packed – with mostly young people, like Peer, Mahmud, and Haroon themselves. The event provided a rare opportunity for meaningful interaction without the public posturing, ‘national’ positions and one-upmanship that the mainstream media reflects and reinforces, overwhelming the shades of grey.

Waiting for the author, I got engrossed in the first chapter. The first few pages outlining his idyllic boyhood in a village in Anantnag reveal a culture steeped in religion, but gentle and tolerant. “Everything changed in 1990,” he explained, taking his seat in a corner of the room. “That was the turning point. It is the year against which we measure every subsequent moment.”

Ironically, Peer landed in Pakistan on Feb 5, designated ‘Kashmir Day’ by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. No subsequent government could remove this unnecessary national holiday that costs the exchequer millions of rupees annually. My daughter is happy that it’s a school holiday. Kashmiris remain in ignorant bliss about this magnanimity. “I didn’t even know there was such a day,” admitted Peer. “None of my friends know.”

He dispelled the myth nurtured by the Pakistani establishment that Kashmiris are grateful for the foreign intervention. The foreign fighters injected into the region have no affinity with the Kashmiris. “They have no language in common, they have different worldviews, and their approach to religion is very different. Villagers have an ambiguous approach to foreign militants. They bury their bodies out of respect for the dead, but don’t carry them on their shoulders in processions like they do for the local boys.”

Kashmiris most certainly “would not want a government like some people want Swat to have,” he added (nor would most of us in Pakistan).

Refreshingly honest and thoughtful, Peer is among the 74 per cent of Kashmiris who are under 40. His first visit to Pakistan, he said, has been an eye-opener. “For a long time, Pakistan for me was Imran Khan. It was an abstraction, a collection of images. I couldn’t have imagined it was like this, or that there were so many multiple worlds in Karachi. I had no real sense of what Pakistan was.”

In turn, many of us were stunned by the story he related about the reaction in Kashmir when Gen. Zia got Z.A. Bhutto hanged in 1979. “People were so angry they burnt the houses of 500 Jamat-e-Islami members all over Kashmir valley. They even burnt copies of (JI founder) Maulana Maududi’s book and copies of the Quran. When my grandfather tried to stop them, they said that it was the ‘Jamati Quran’.”

One of the passages he read out was a moving one about reuniting with Kashmiri Pundit friends at a refugee camp. Obviously something he feels strongly about, the issue figures prominently in his book. Keenly observed and vividly related, his writing made me literally ‘see’ Kashmir as never before.

Peer stresses the high premium placed on education in the Valley. “Even the poorest girls in my village go to school. Srinagar’s Lal Chowk is a sea of women from 1 to 3.30 pm, hundreds of women and girls from schools in the area, dominating the most significant public space in Kashmir.”

Some asked if he felt a greater need to prove his loyalty to India as an Indian Muslim? “I am a Kashmiri Muslim, not an Indian Muslim,” he responded. “I have a disputed status… I published this book in India. I’ve worked for several Indian publications, but never felt discriminated against because of religion. I could write about and publish anything. It may not always get the best display, but all reporters crib about that. Yes, there is a problem finding housing in Delhi if you are Muslim, but aren’t housing issues universal? Would a Pathan find it easy to get a house in a Mohajir area?”

Three cups of tea and hope in Pakistan

Three Cups of Tea_Mech.inddToday, March 23, Greg Mortenson will receive Pakistan’s highest civilian award, the Sitara-e-Pakistan (Star of Pakistan) for his work on education, especially for girls, in Pakistan’s northern areas.
His book, Three Cups of Tea, is a must read for anyone interested in the area.
Here’s a note I found on Shahidul Alam’s blog:
Pakistan: Hope amidst the chaos
Salma Hasan Ali
http://shahidul.wordpress.com/2009/03/07/pakistan-hope-amidst-the-chaos/

Compilation of responses, Laal, and the GPO 150

A compilation of responses to my last two articles on the `long march’ from
Hassan Gardezi, Chris Sinha, Zahid F. Ebrahim, Farooq Tariq, Fauzia Minallah,
Asad Jamal, Zaheer A. Kidvai.
Plus link to a music video by Laal to Faiz’s poetry that I’ve been wanting to
post for some time, and an eyewitness account by Ammar Ali Jan of how
demonstrators in Lahore stood their ground against the police (where the initial
resistance was made by PTI and JI workers according to various sources,
including Imran right at the end). It was such defiance that probably led to the
tide turning and pressurising the Presidency to accept the reinstatement demand.
Certainly a positive aspect of this entire movement was that it cut across
class, gender and political divides as I and many others have observed before.
My point in the Long View article was only to highlight a concern about the
politics of some of those engaged in this movement. I hope this is something
that can be discussed and debated without resorting to mud-slinging and
name-calling.
Beena Sarwar

Re: Five Days that Changed Pakistan
http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=46119

From Hassan Gardezi, Canada:
I do not know Beena, from whom your very last comment comes from. But I must say that the only credit I can give Zardari for his “retreat” is that he practically paralysed Pakistan’s ailing economy by commandeering transport trucks and containers with merchandise worth millions of rupees in order to build a protective wall around his seat of governance in Islamabad. He should be charged for this latest crime among other violations of human rights.
And allow me also to say that our progressive writers who were ready to bury the lawyers movement as an anti-democratic single person issue, should now hang their heads in shame.

[Dear Prof. Gardezi,
– Asad Jamal is an advocate of the Lahore High Court and has been active in the lawyers’ movement for the restoration of the CJ.
– The commandeering of the containers and other vehicles did indeed cause huge
losses to the economy. Zardari and his cronies can certainly be held accountable
for their over the top response. By the same token, other elements can
– With all due respect, I don’t think that questioning the methods and timing
employed by the lawyers’ movement and the motivations of some of the elements
involved comes under the ambit of burying it as an anti-democratic single person
issue.]

From Chris Sinha, educationist, UK:
Thank you for this very informative piece, which focuses on the internal, popular and democratic dynamics of Pakistan in contrast to the entirely US/UK “security” oriented semi-reporting that we in Britain have received. (Not that I deny either the international significance of these events, or the depth of the problems confronting democrats in Pakistan, but the news media here seem to view Pakistan as primarily a problem to be solved by Great Powers, rather than an agent in what we can at the very least hope will be progress to liberation and peace).

From Zahid F. Ebrahim, Advocate Supreme Court, Karachi:
My take `Did Zardari get the last laugh?’ – The News Op-Ed, March 17, 2009
http://www.thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=167581

[Zahid raises some pertinent points. Interestingly, his article on the bottom left of one page was juxtaposed by Farahnaz Ispahani’s article on the top right of the opposite page, `Jinnah & mob politics’. As a PPP MNA, she is obviously partisan, but her quote from the Stratfor commentary is still valid: Pakistan is becoming “increasingly polarised between idealists and realists…. It is ironic that a movement to establish rule of law in a country that has largely been under authoritarian military dominance for most of its existence could end up undermining the state itself.” (“Pakistan: Beyond a Showdown”)
http://www.thenews.com.pk/print1.asp?id=167583

Re: Long March – A Long View
http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=46083

Farooq Tariq, Spokesperson, Labour Party Pakistan, Lahore, to IPS:
Dear Editors,

I disagree with the analysis of our dear friend Beena Sarwar. The reinstatement of the deposed chief justice is not just a question of “one person”. It is a question of opposing the measures taken by a military dictator General Musharaf.

Pakistan Peoples Party is no more a left wing force, so no question of a right wing takes over by this long march. PPP and Muslim League Nawaz both are right wing political parties. A very significant part of civil society organisations
and all the Left wing political parties including Labour Party Pakistan are demanding the reinstatement of the top judges and are taking part in the long march.

The political parties that boycotted the February general elections played an important role in exerting pressure on Musharaf dictatorship for fair elections. President Zardari has become more like a civilian dictatorship. Banning GEO
television, arresting political activists in hundreds, closing all the roads to Islamabad and resorting to all sort of dictatorial measures is no tasks of civilian presidents.

I personally was jailed several times by Musharaf dictatorship and was in underground several times. I am again in underground to avoid an arrest for the only crime to support the lawyers’ movement.

Fraternally,
Farooq Tariq
Spokesperson Labour Party Pakistan

[Farooq Tariq is a committed rights activist and we have worked together in many pro-democracy struggles in Pakistan. However, our readings of the current situation differ significantly, not in the end goal of the judiciary’s restoration but the manner in which it is being done. Soon after the elections of Feb 2008, Farooq wrote saying
an article that the boycott had contributed to the transition from military to civilian government. I agree that they did contribute to the pressure against Musharraf, but if the boycott had been completely successful, it is unlikely that transition to civilian rule would have taken place at all.

He is correct in pointing out that left wing political parties are supporting the long march – but within that support there is a divergence as not everyone within those parties agrees with the method of protest that brought the country to the brink of chaos, ably aided by the government’s blunders and overreaction.

Farooq Tariq correctly accuses Zardari of behaving like a civilian dictator – they have goofed up badly in deploying force to stop the long march – but I wrote the piece before the showdown began and Geo was banned (for a few hours) and the information minister’s resignation. Even if PML-N and PPP are both ‘right-wing’ according to Farooq Tariq, it does not take away from the fact that the long march has the full support of the right-wing players whom I identified in my article – forces which tend to justify and sympathise with the Taliban seeing them as an ‘anti-imperialist’ force. There are many people who want to discuss the fear of a right-wing takeover or dominance rather than sweeping it under the carpet. Doing so in no way implies an acceptance of Zardari and co as ‘left-wing’ – something I never
suggested in this or any other article.]

Fauzia Minallah from Islamabad, sent out the following email to my editors at IPS besides circulating it on various lists (from where it got circulated further, thank you Fauzia):

In response to Beena Sarwar’s article ‘ Long March- A Long View’

Dear Beena, I regret the aspersions and doubts appearing in your article for the IPS about human rightist activist Tahira Abdullah’s left wing credentials. She has been the most committed activist in the lawyers’ movement. It is ironic when liberal, progressive secular activists like yourself join the chorus of RIGHT WING taking over, and it is shocking when you write the following:

`There is also irony in progressive, secular activists like Abdullah joining hands with the emerging right-wing coalition to achieve a shared goal – the restoration of Chaudhry Ifikhar’.

KINDLY STOP DISTORTING FACTS. It is not about THE PERSON OF CJ Iftikhar Chaudhary. It is about the symbolism he embodies. It is to reverse the legitimacy given to the illegal action of dictator Musharraf on 3, November 2007. It is against the continuation of the same ‘Prostitution of Constitution’, and continuation of the same messy policies of the Establishment.

So who is LEFT WING in Pakistan ? This PPP and ANP lot who:
Joined hands with ultra Islamist Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, gave his JUI(F) federal ministries
To get Fazl-ur-Rehman’s support, re-opened the extremist Madrassah Fareediya
Made jirga, Karo Kari, burying women alive notorious Bijrani and Zehri federal ministers
Bartered away Swat, Malakand, part of Hazara, Dir and Chitral to the Taliban
Enforced Shariah through Nizam-i- Adl.

The Right Wing was there when the lawyers movement started in 2007, so what was the leftist PPP doing supporting the lawyers then and why were you a part of it?
You know very well the lawyers have been supported not JUST by the PML(N) and the MMA parties, but also LARGELY by an assorted array of progressive, left-oriented political organizations and civil society groups, including the Anjuman Mazarain Pakistan, Awami Party, Awami Jamhuri Party, Awami Jamhuri Ittehad, Communist Party, Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party, Labour Party Pakistan, Insani Huqooq Ittehad, Khudai Khidmatgaar, People’s Rights Movement, Joint Action Committee for Citizens Rights, Women’s Action Forum , Human Rights
Commission of Pakistan, Aurat Foundation, ASR, AGHS, Christian Study Centre, Omar Asghar Khan Development Foundation, PIPFPD, PODA, Sungi Development Foundation, Strengthening Participatory Organisation, Simorgh, Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Shirkat Gah and most of all the miorities leader J.Salik.

Tahira has always stood for progressive values and principles. If she is there in the movement, she is fully aware of and committed to the principles involved. In this she is not alone; she is in good company with progressive and leftist
stalwarts like Kishwar Naheed, Asma Jehangir, Shehnaz Ahmad, Amina Piracha (a die-hard PPP member) and hosts of others.

This article presents an intentional distorted view of the reality of the lawyers’ movement. It would be sad if such distorted views were to undermine the lawyers’ movement at this critical juncture.And for what? Zardari led ‘PPP?’
Where Benazir’s closest allies Naheed Khan and Safdar Abbassi are actively taking part in the Long March, Raza Rabbani and Sherry Rehman have resigned, Aitezaz Ahsan and Enwar Baig have been side lined from the party.

The greatest Left Wing Coalition is un-elected Zardari-Salman Taseer- Farooq Naek sharing the same bed with Maulana Faz lu Rehman????

[Dear Fauzia

You have a right to your opinion but I take exception to your accusation that I cast any doubts or aspirations on Tahira Abdullah’s commitment or credentials. Neither have I anywhere suggested that Zardari and co represent the ‘left’ wing, or what’s left of it, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Since you’ve seen fit to copy your response to various addresses at IPS, I’m doing the same. I’m also copying a response to your reaction below that was sent on to me too – I wonder if you’ll circulate that to all those you sent your
email out to.

regards
beena]

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Zaheer Alam Kidvai
Date: Sun, Mar 15, 2009 at 7:27 PM
Subject: Re: In response to Beena Sarwar’s article : Long March – A Long View
To: Fauzia Minallah

Dear Ms Minallah

Since you asked for your piece to be circulated, it reached me, too.

Tahira is a dear friend and I’d take offense to anything wrongly said about her.
You’ve certainly gone a large step further and taken offense to something that
was not said about her. Beena’s sentence highlights a real irony – a word she
does clearly use at the beginning of the sentence which, btw, follows several
lines that show respect for Tahira’s principles. To jog your memory, here they
are:

`The irony is illustrated by the recent three-hour detention of the firebrand
women’s rights and political activist, Tahira Abdullah, who has been mobilising
the lawyers’ movement from her home in Islamabad.

`She faced police batons and tear gas in the Zia and Musharraf eras. A day
before the long march began, a police contingent arrived at her house and
virtually broke down her kitchen door.

`However, her arrest attracted media attention, embarrassing the government into
quickly ordering her release. An undeterred Abdullah immediately resumed
mobilising for the agitation.

`”It is sad and ironic that the PPP government has come to this,” she told IPS.
“They said it was preventive detention. They can’t catch people like (Taliban
leaders) Baitullah Mehsud and Maulvi Fazlullah but they send police after me, a
very ordinary person.”‘

This ironic situation is one we face in several forms everyday in a confused
political landscape, internationally and nationally. We all gathered, marched,
protested – around the world – against the Americans when they attacked Iraq in
the reign of Bush the First and that of Bush the Second. All! Jamaatis, PPP,
PML-N, Muslims, Christians. Hindus. Fundos. Atheists. Communists. Just because
the Right Wing (and the much worse PML-N) chooses to support a cause, those who
feel the cause per se to be right need not stay away. Tahira’s wish to support
the restoration of Choudhry for the reasons you state may be totally at odds
with that of PML-N’s opportunity-riddled desire to do the same, but what does
one do: Should Tahira & Co display banners that state ‘I am with Choudhry but
not with Nawaz’ or some such thing? That’d be comical.

All Beena thinks is that the situation is ironic, That’s all. IMHO it is not
more ironic than for a pacifist like me to occasionally (secretly) hope – driven
by the insanity around us – that someone would blow the terrorists up before
they do the same to us. I really am too old to believe that we could talk them
out of their warped beliefs.

Of course, by saying ‘joining hands’ if Beena meant to imply that Tahira was
doing so beyond the issue at hand and changing her political stance, I’d be
upset for I have seen no evidence. However, I don’t think that was the case.

Regards
Zaheer

From asad jamal asadjamal2006@gmail.com
Mon, Mar 16, 2009
Subject Re: In response to Beena Sarwar’s article : Long March – A Long View

Dear Fauzia,

First of all CONGRATULATIONS! The restoration, on the one hand, is a success of
the civil society members who have struggled hard in these two years; on the
other, this shows the resilience of democracy, and the ability of the present
rulers to submit to the peoples’ demand, even if belatedly. I think it would be
unfortuante if my fellow citizens who like to be part of the progressive civil
society, do not give Zardari credit for this retreat, howsoever belated it may
have come.

I think Beena in her article only pointed out the irony which indeed there was
and actually raised concerns of so many, like myself, who really feared a taking
over of the ‘situation’ by the right wing forces. History is full of such
incodents in not so distant past, Iran for instance has been cited by many as
one such example. What happened in 1977 when the progressive forces sitting in
opposition joined hands with Nizam-i-Mustafa Tehreek to derail the democratic
process is still fresh in our memories. Communist Party’s support for creation
of Pakistan and Muslim League’s parochial approach is another such chapter from
history which we in Pakistan are yet to discuss at length.

I think the difference of opinion is on the use of tactics. You may see the deal
with extremists in Swat as a submission to by the ANP-PPP government, but people
like Afrasiab Khattak and many others with unquestionable credentials may have
different view, who see it as mere tactic.

I don’t think Beena by any stretch of imagination cast aspersions on Tahira’s
credentials. I for instance was among the first ones to get Tahira’s message of
arrest around 6.30 am on March 9. and did whatever I could to at least register
my protest. While I was all for the march and protest, I never agreed with her
and other friends, to the call for ‘Dharna’, precisely for the fear which so
many of us found so real.

Equally disagreeable is the way how Zardari has been targetted and singled out
for all the mess. I have always found it confusing that while on the one hand my
civil society friends, save a few like Athar sb I believe, kept demanding for
the restoration, on the other they kept tagetting NRO and Asif Ali Zardari. I
think PPP is and will remain a major democratic force in Pakistan for a
considerable time to come. Targetting Zardari, as former Senator Farhatullah
Babar, said yesterday, can only be seen an effort to weaken the PPP. Such
tactics have not helped and will not.

You have pointed out Raza Rabbani and Sherry Rehman (and Aitzaz Ahsan whose case
is difefrent). I will add Farhatullah Babar to the list, all of who have reacted
gracefully without going public about the difference of opinion within the
party. This will strengthen the party and raise their own stature in the
estimation of the people. PPP, you will agree, is a force we need to strengthen
and further DEMOCRATISE rather than antagonise. and let’s, instead of getting
involved in arguments over difference of opinion on tactics, try to build upon
the gains we have made in the last two years. Let’s leave it to the future
historian who, in the ultimate analysis, may find people like me and Beena to
have been proved wrong on the issue of threat of dharna and coallition with
right wing forces. This is time to share fruits of success.

warmest regards,

asad jamal

Over to Laal, that wonderful musical band of young people active in the
Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party (their first song was Habib Jalib’s Mein Ne Uss
Se Yeh Kaha –
The video referred to May 12, 2007 –

Umeed-e-Sahar (Hope for the Dawn) – Poet: Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Last but not least, Ammar Ali Jan in Lahore, posted to the CRDP list on March
16:

Dear Imran,

I happened to be part of that “GPO 150” when the police started using tear-gas.
This is a picture of us throwing stones at the police
http://news.yahoo.com/nphotos/Pakistan/ss/events/wl/081401pakistan/im:/090315/id
s_photos_wl/r469008846.jpg/ (Im in a red shirt on the right)

We had left Zaman park where Aitzaz had been placed under house arrest. Lahore
gave the look of a deserted ghost town in the morning with the Mall road
completely blocked. I was with the Labour party pakistan, Student Action
Committee and civil society members. We decided to walk our way towards the High
court in pairs so that the police fails to notice us. Some of us succeeded while
others, like nauman Qaiser and jalees Hazir were arrested at the checkpoints.

I have been to many protests in the past but I have never seen anything like the
passion visible infront of the High Court. There was a consensus that if the
Lahore High Court falls, the movement will fizzle out. We also had feryal gauhar
and Hina jilani with us in the crowd and they also thought that resistance
infront of the High Court is the key for a victory. As the police started
shelling tear-gas indiscriminately, many started falling unconscious. All of us
panicked and started fleeing the scene to evade arrests. A man who must in his
70s, started yelling to the fleeing crowd (which included me as I could no
longer breath) that this was not a time to run but to fight. Eventually, the
baba ji fainted as well but he encouraged all of us to come back and continue
the fight.

We resisted the police for over two hours, pushing them back many a times.
Express News reported that 250 to 300 shells had been fired at the protestors.
Express news reporter Rabia Mehmood and AAG channel correspondent Mani almost
fainted and had to be taken away from the scene. Many were vomiting because of
chemicals in the tear-gas which were worse than anything I have witnessed.
However, this brought the best out of the Pakistani nation. Some people were
carrying salt and water for those getting injured in the fighting. Others were
helping carrying people to the diagnostic center in the High Court or onto Edhi
ambulances. When the police would charge protestors on one side, they would be
pelted by stones from the other side. This was the key to this street battle as
the police was being hit by stones from all sides which is why they could not
takeover the High Court. It didnt matter which political party or group one
beloned to. Everyone was looking out for each other.

By this time, alot of lawyers, political activists and civil society members had
gathered at the gates and those of us who had been there since almost 12 decided
to leave as we felt de-hydrated and coult not breathe properly. When we went in
the courtyard where all the activists had gathered (including Justice Tariq
Mehmood, Advocate Anwar kamal, Hina Jila, Tehmina Daultana etc), we had no idea
what this battle at the GPO really meant. We were just looking for water and a
place to sit. Infact, I was a little dissapointed that the numbers infront of
the GPO had not been big and that the Long March could be a failure.

It is here that we recieved the news that this battle had gripped the entire
country’s imagination. The news channels were constantly talking about the
police high-handedness and the resistance by many activists. I even recieved a
call from a friend in States who said that she had read about the crazy fighting
at the Lahore High Court. The tide was deifnitely turning.

After this, the people were in complete cotrol of the city. Thousands joined
Nawaz Sharif’s caravan as he defied detention orders to lead the procession from
his house in Model Town. The High Court courtyard went ecstatic when we heard
the news of the resignations of the IG,DIG, SP, DCO and deputy attorney general
of pakistan. Crowds cheered wildly as some of these gentlemen joined us at the
High Court. The most memorable part of the evening for me was to see Aitzaz
Ahsan defiantly enter the High Court building despite orders for his house
arrest and the police officers stood in line to salute him. This meant a
complete victory for the movement and from their onwards, it was just a matter
of time before the government would be forced to accept our demands.

I feel that the way Taseer’s goons were defeated at the GPO showed the weakness
of this state apparatus. It represented the best of pakistan. On one side, it
represented despair, state brutality and police repression. On the other, it
reflected hope, resistance, the passions and the dreams of many Pakistanis. We
had won not because of the generosity of the country’s leadership, but because
of the countless sacrifices of lawyers and activists for the past 2 years with
15th march 2009 becoming the grand finale in Lahore. Despite the success, our
post-colonial state is still full of problems and oppression and there will
inevitably be more resistance. In all of the future struggles, we shall remember
and take with us the spirit of March 15.

In solidarity,
Ammar Ali Jan

P.S. I had always been embarassed about bthe fact that Punjabis have shown the
least amount of resistance to the establishment. Our brothers and sisters from
the smaller provinces have been at the forefront of the anti-establishment
struggle and have rightly accused the Punjabi leadership of making compromises.
I hope our performance in Lahore and generally during the lawyers movement will
also help enhance the image of Punjabis as people who can take a stand and fight
the tyranny of an oppressor even if he is Punjabi (Salman Taseer).

________________________________________
From: reflectiveimran@gmail.com
Date: Mon, 16 Mar 2009 08:02:58 +0500
Subject: [CRDP] GPO-150, PTI and JI, Asma Jilani and Liaqat Baloch

Regardomg my email on the heroic GPO 150, Qaisar, who was there ( he has been
there for the whole struggle, and gave me courage to do my own little bit) has
just conveyed that the initial resistance there to police efforts to vacate GPO
chowk was done by PTI and JI workers.
Salute to PTI and JI. Qazi Sahib’s struggle has been heroic too. Shows when the
cause is true, Liaqat Baloch and Asma Jilani can stand shoulder to shoulder and
win.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crdp/

The marchers prevailed despite heavy police contingents. Photo: Rahat Dar

The marchers prevailed despite heavy police contingents. Photo: Rahat Dar

Five days that changed Pakistan

Analysis by Beena Sarwar

KARACHI, Mar 16 (IPS) – A late night meeting between Pakistan’s army chief, President and Prime Minister led to the dramatic announcement in the wee hours of Monday morning that Iftikhar Mohammed Choudhry would be restored as Chief Justice.

The announcement, made by Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani, has been widely welcomed for having broken the political impasse that was threatening to plunge the country into chaos and possible army intervention.

For the past few days, hectic efforts had been underway domestically and at the international level to break the impasse, including by United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and British foreign minister David Miliband.

Former president Gen. Pervez Musharraf initially suspended Choudhry from office in March 2007, sparking off a nation-wide lawyers’ movement joined by civil society and political activists. When a Supreme Court order restored Choudhry to office, Musharraf imposed Emergency rule on Nov 3, 2007 that many saw as imposition of martial law.

Superior court judges who refused to take oath under the Emergency orders were sent packing. For the first time in the country’s history, the majority of judges refused to take this oath, leading to hopes that the days of the judiciary’s connivance with the establishment were over.

The elections of Feb 18, 2008 brought in a democratically elected government. But lawyers were unhappy with the way it dealt with the judges’ issue.

The government restored the judges who took a new oath under the constitution.

Choudhry and a few other judges refused on the grounds that this legitimised Musharraf’s illegal executive order that had sent them packing in the first place and that the restoration should take place through another executive order.

Leaders of the lawyers’ movement announced a ‘long march’ starting on Mar.12 to converge on the capital Islamabad on Mar. 16 for a ‘dharna’ or sit-in until the Chief Justice was restored.

As the long march kicked off, the beleaguered government appeared to be at odds with itself. Prime Minister Gillani asserted that the marchers would be allowed to converge on Islamabad even as his Interior Minister Rehman Malik, known to be close to President Asif Ali Zardari, took measures to prevent this from happening.

The resulting scenes of police beating and arresting people, in many cases from their houses, drew comparison to Musharraf’s last months in power, particularly during the Emergency of 2007.

In his early morning announcement, Gillani said that Choudhry would be restored to office “according to my government’s promise” on Mar. 21 when the incumbent Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar, a Zardari appointee, is due to retire.

He confirmed the decision reported a day earlier, that his government would file a review petition in the Supreme Court against the disqualification from elected office of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Nawaz Sharif and his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif.

A controversial court decision of Feb 25 that dislodged the younger Sharif from office of chief minister of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province had led to the Sharifs coming out with no holds barred against the man they saw as behind the judgement, President Zardari.

Many felt the disqualification judgement was timed to remove the Sharifs from power ahead of the ‘long march’. Several city mayors loyal to the PPP whom the Sharifs had removed from office were brought back to aid the federal government in its attempts to block the long march.

Police arrested hundreds of activists across the country and commandeered buses and containers to barricade roads and prevent the protestors from marching – except in Balochistan province where the provincial government remained neutral and allowed the marchers to demonstrate.

However, people defied police barricades and tear gas to converge in large numbers at key points like the Lahore High Court.

Matters climaxed as Nawaz Sharif defied a detention order confining him to his estate at Raiwind near Lahore, and headed a motorcade towards the city centre where hundreds of charged up activists had already converged.

As the momentum gathered the police in some places avoided confrontation and watched from the sidelines, making no attempt to stop the marchers. In other places, protestors armed with sticks attacked the buses blocking the roads, smashing windshields and denting carriages.

Television footage showed a policeman fleeing from a group of protestors only to be caught by others and beaten up even as some demonstrators tried to prevent the mob action.

“The public is taking their revenge,” commented one viewer in Peshawar, glued like many others to his television set since early morning.

Some activists occupied the grand old colonial building of the General Post Office in Lahore, on the roof of which they planted a Jamat-e-Islami flag next to the Pakistan flag. Some hurled red bricks at policemen, severely injuring some who had to be rushed to hospital.

The government had already drawn sharp criticism for holding Islamabad-based women’s rights activist Tahira Abdullah in preventive detention on the day the long march started.

At 4 am on Mar. 15, Peshawar police without search or arrest warrants raided the home of prominent lawyer Musarrat Hilali, who is also vice-chairperson of the respected Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). As she tried to escape, she fell, fracturing her leg in three places.

“I did not want to be arrested,” Hilali told IPS from her bed in Peshawar. According to law, police cannot detain a woman between sunset and sunrise. Hilali said that the provincial Awami National Party (ANP) government had denied sending the police and that the orders had come from the federal level.

“After I fell and was injured, the police left, but they placed me under house arrest,” she said, recalling her ordeal.

Her house arrest is now over following Gillani’s speech, in which he announced that those arrested or placed under house arrest over the past few days would be immediately released. He also announced the lifting of prohibitory orders that barred public gatherings.

Gillani’s televised speech led to jubilation in city streets across Pakistan. Lawyers and activists danced to drum beats and distributed sweets as Sharif called off the long march.

However, some sound a word of caution.

Zahid Abdullah, programme manager, Transparency and Right to Information Programme, Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives, Pakistan suggests that Chaudhry now needs to ponder over “whether he should be joining the judiciary or remain a symbol of independent judiciary by working from the outside for a truly independent judiciary at its all levels.”

“He has won the moral victory through his tenacity and that of the lawyers. His personal restoration is not an end itself but a means to an end. If he joins the judiciary, he is likely to be bogged down by the practicalities and the compulsions of the judiciary as it stands today,” he wrote in an email circular.

“It would be better if he stays outside and helps political forces by exerting his pressure and influence to suggest and implement the modalities of putting in place independent judges in the courts and carrying out judicial reforms.”

Others are suspicious of the government’s move. Jamat-e-Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed expressed doubts about the move, complaining of not having been taking into confidence about it. “Who knows what pressures were placed on the Chief Justice and what he has been made to agree to,” he told a television anchor.

“Duped again by Mr Zee,” text-messaged a Karachi-based lawyer caustically, referring to Zardari whom he had been hoping the crisis would dislodge.

However, advocate Asad Jamal in Lahore sees the restoration as a success of civil society that has struggled for this cause for the past two years. “It shows the resilience of democracy and the ability of the present rulers to submit to the people’s demand, even if belatedly,” he told IPS.

“I think it would be unfortunate if my fellow citizens, who like to be part of progressive civil society, do not give Zardari credit for this retreat, howsoever belatedly it may have come.”

(END/2009)

POLITICS-PAKISTAN: Long March – A Long View

POLITICS-PAKISTAN: Long March – A Long View

Analysis by Beena Sarwar

Lawyers and police clash in Lahore - photo by Rahat Dar

Lawyers and police clash in Lahore - photo by Rahat Dar

KARACHI, Mar 12 (IPS) – Barely a year after being elected, the Pakistan government faces a political storm involving a street agitation spearheaded by lawyers and opposition political parties allied with religious parties.

Lurking on the sidelines is an army unused to civilian command even as religious militants create havoc around the country.

None of this is new to Pakistan but many find it all the more painful given the hopes built up by last year’s general elections. On Feb 18, 2009, Pakistani voters overwhelmingly supported non-religious parties and rejected those that had been propped up by the army.

The electorate’s rejection of the religious parties and the joining hands of the late Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and her former rival Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) raised expectations of an end to political confrontation and religion-based politics – and the army moving away from politics.

These expectations followed decades of misrule and exploitation of religion for political purposes. The Pakistani establishment, at Washington’s behest, strengthened armed militancy, exploiting religious sentiments to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan during the 1980s. In the process they created ‘Jihad International’, as the late scholar Dr Eqbal Ahmad termed it.

This may now be the biggest threat facing Pakistan – and the world – since the attack on the World Trade Center on Sep. 11 2001. Since then Washington has pushed Islamabad to fight the very forces of militant Islam that both together had fostered and strengthened.

Resultantly, this country has, as Pakistanis point out, suffered the most from militant attacks.

In this situation, political instability is distracting at best and dangerous at worst. The ‘long march’ demanding the reinstatement of chief justice Iftikhar Mohammed Choudhry, spearheaded by the legal fraternity and sections of civil society, has ready allies among the right-wing political opposition.

This includes Sharif’s PML-N and the Jamaat-e-Islami, a mainstream religious party sympathetic to militant Islam, as well as others sympathetic to the Taliban, like ex-chief Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and anti-India hawk Gen. (retd.) Hamid Gul, retired bureaucrat Roedad Khan who brutally quashed political opposition during the Zia years, and cricket hero-turned politician Imran Khan, chief of the Tehrik-e-Insaaf (Movement for Justice).

All these forces boycotted the 2008 polls, except Sharif who rescinded his boycott decision after Bhutto convinced him that elections were the only way forward.

Long-festering tensions between the PPP and PML-N came to a head with a Supreme Court ruling of Feb 25 barring Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif from holding elected office. Bhutto’s widower, President Asif Ali Zardari is widely believed to be behind this controversial ruling.

The disgruntled Sharifs, already pushing to restore Chief Justice Choudhry, have flung themselves wholeheartedly into the long march – a move that observers do not see as entirely altruistic since their stated aims include effecting regime change.

“Sharif’s attempts to paint himself as a radical, grassroots activist are at odds with his political origins,” commented former lawyer and Australia-based analyst Mustafa Qadri, writing about the opportunity Pakistan’s politicians of all hues have wasted in their “refusal to look beyond personal power games and provincialism to develop the nation’s still embryonic democracy”.

The Sharifs gained prominence as businessmen patronised by General Zia -ul-Haq who was behind Pakistan’s “transformation from majority-Muslim nation to Islamic state with more conservative religious seminaries per capita than any other country in the world,” as Qadri put it (‘Long march to nowhere’, The Guardian, Mar 10, 2009).

The current imbroglio comes on the heels of loaded statements by Gen. (retd) Pervez Musharraf who during a visit to India last week, gave several talks and interviews in which he hinted at a possible political comeback.

Curiously Musharraf, who stepped down as president in August 2008, urged New Delhi to stop ‘bashing’ the Pakistan army and the shadowy ISI since, according to him, they were the best defence against the growth of the Taliban and militancy in Pakistan.

President Zardari has invited comparisons to Musharraf because of his government’s use of police force and mass arrests to prevent the long march, as Musharraf did after suspending Choudhry in March 2007 and imposing Emergency rule in Nov 2007.

The irony is illustrated by the recent three-hour detention of the firebrand women’s rights and political activist, Tahira Abdullah, who has been mobilising the lawyers’ movement from her home in Islamabad.

She faced police batons and tear gas in the Zia and Musharraf eras. A day before the long march began, a police contingent arrived at her house and virtually broke down her kitchen door.

However, her arrest attracted media attention, embarrassing the government into quickly ordering her release. An undeterred Abdullah immediately resumed mobilising for the agitation.

“It is sad and ironic that the PPP government has come to this,” she told IPS. “They said it was preventive detention. They can’t catch people like (Taliban leaders) Baitullah Mehsud and Maulvi Fazlullah but they send police after me, a very ordinary person.”

There is also irony in progressive, secular activists like Abdullah joining hands with the emerging right-wing coalition to achieve a shared goal, the restoration of Choudhry.

Civil society activists privately admit that otherwise their numbers are too small to reach the critical mass needed to effect political change.

“There are only a handful of us,” one of them told IPS. “And there are no more than 100,000 lawyers in the country. So we have to join hands with political forces who agree with us on this matter even if we don’t agree on other matters. We know they are using us, but we are also using them.”

Observers like the political economist and former student activist S.M. Naseem fear that this kind of mutual ‘using’ could push Pakistan further towards right-wing forces.

Disappointed by the performance of the government as well as the opposition, he holds that the lawyers’ movement has missed the opportunity of creating a new polity in the country. “They should have broadened the agenda to create a new political system,” he told IPS. “Two years for the restoration of one person (Choudhry), however, honest and bold, is a bit too much.”

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani has said that he cannot, in all conscience, oppose the long march. “We have also participated in street agitations and long marches,” he said. “How can we stop anyone else from exercising their democratic right to do so?”

This stand appears to pit him against President Zardari, holding an office strengthened by past military dictators. The President’s powers include being able to dismiss the prime minister and dissolve government – as several presidents before him have done. This is unlikely to happen now. For Zardari to take such a step would mean dismissing his own government.

Having recently obtained a majority in the Senate, the PPP can conceivably push through the constitutional amendments it proposed in May 2008 for which a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly and the Senate is required. These amendments include the removal of the 17th amendment that allows the President to dismiss government.

Moves towards reconciliation between the PPP and the PML-N continue behind the scenes, even as the long march kicks off with lawyers and political activists from various cities heading towards Islamabad to converge by Mar. 6 for a dharna (or sit-in) ‘until the Chief Justice is restored’.

Observers fear a breakout of violence even though the long march leaders have promised to keep matters peaceful.

(END/2009)

http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=46083

More on women – and Rahman Baba

Sangota Girls Public School, Swat, destroyed by militants. Photo by Kamran Arif

Sangota Girls Public School, Swat, destroyed by militants. Photo by Kamran Arif

Forgot to include the following in my posting focusing on women

AMMU JOSEPH’s article ‘Our freedom is at stake’ is linked to the issues Kalpana Sharma identified in her article on the attacks women in India are facing, which as I wrote, looks like an Indian version of the Vice & Virtue dept of the Taliban that we are facing here in Pakistan. Ammu’s Bangalore Mirror article of Feb 12 (but still very relevant) at

http://tinyurl.com/clhdzy

And now to RAHMAN BABA: As the political confrontation heats up in Pakistan ahead of the lawyers’ long march, joined by the Sharifs who were disqualified from politics recently, before all this reaches a stage where it overtakes all other discourse (which it already seems to have, to an extent), wanted to post a few items related to the disturbing attack on Rahman Baba’s shrine near Peshawar on March 5. The attack caused widespread outrage and practically every paper took it up. The incident took place just two days after the March 3 attack on the Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore that led to a knee-jerk reaction among many Pakistanis blaming India for the attack.

Countering the culture of blame-counter blame, Siddharth Varadarajan, Associate Editor The Hindu, wrote on March 4 that finding ways to “encourage Pakistani cooperation and, more generally, to stabilise that country, are the most important challenges facing Indian diplomacy”. See his article ‘Lahore attack shows urgency of joint action on terror’ – Forget the conspiracies, the threat to Pakistan and India is the same – http://tinyurl.com/au8xhy

I thought he was spot on, on the whole and had a comment to add to his statement that “Cricket is the most visible icon of secular Pakistan, and perhaps the only competitor militant Islam faces in its struggle to tame the wayward Pakistani mind.”

I wrote: “There is another, even more deep-rooted competitor militant Islam faces – the widespread adherence to Sufi Islam and values, superstition, taweez dhaga (tying threads, getting amulets) etc. I fear (hope hope hope I am wrong) a major attack on any urs (birthday celebrations of Sufi saints) taking place at any of the major shrines any time soon…”

The following day, militants bombed the shrine of the 17th century Sufi poet Rahman Baba. An AP report in the Independent commented that the attack highlighted “the gulf between hard-line Muslims and many in the region who follow a traditional, mystical brand of Islam… A professor at Peshawar University told a local TV station that in many Pashtun homes, Baba’s poems are kept alongside the Islamic holy book, the Quran.” http://tinyurl.com/b45yo5

The caretaker of the shrine said he had got a letter three days before the attack warning against the perpetration of this “shrine culture” and objecting to the fact that women were coming to pray at the shrine. Militants used remote control bombs that destroyed the outer wall of the Mausoleum and partially damaged the building one month ahead of Baba’s urs, scheduled for April 5.

According to Pashtun Post <www.pashtunpost.com/>, Yousaf Ali Dilsoz, President of Rahman Baba Adabi Jirga says that Rahman Baba is the icon of Pashtuns spirituality and their love for peace and tolerance. “Saidu Baba, a revered saint from Swat valley, is known to have said that if the Pashtuns were ever asked to pray on a book other than the Koran, they would undoubtedly go for Rahman Baba’s work.”

Pashtun Post contains translations of some of Baba’s verses – http://tinyurl.com/c6neqy

Some excerpts:

Sow flowers so your surroundings become a garden
Don’t sow thorns; for they will prick your feet

If you shoot arrows at others,
Know that the same arrow will come back to hit you.

Humans are all one body,
Whoever tortures another, wounds himself.

(ends)

Focus on women – Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, a docu on Swat and more

Still from my film 'Mukhtiar Mai: The struggle for justice'

Still from my film 'Mukhtiar Mai: The struggle for justice'

A collection of articles published around March 8, including mine for IPS and The News, plus articles by Kalpana Sharma, Cassandra Balchin, Zofeen Ebrahim, Ayesha Khan (study on Lady Health Workers in Pakistan), link to a documentary on a Swat schoolgirl and more. Another post pending on issues around the attack on Rahman Baba’s shrine near Peshawar, will compile and post soon.

‘A new political context for Juliet’ – my article for The News on Sunday, about women speaking out all over the country, attempting to exercise their rights to personal autonomy – in a post-colonial age that harks back to medieval times when women were considered family property

Women Defy Militancy, Patriarchy – story for IPS outlining the twin threats of militancy and patriarchy that women face in Pakistan
http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=46024

In both articles, I refer to a documentary ‘Class Dismissed in Swat Valley’ (NYT) that focuses on Malala, an 11-year-old Pakistani girl on the last day before the Taliban close down her school. A must see – very moving and informative – profiling the great courage of ordinary people under adversity
http://tinyurl.com/avq4c9

I learnt of this film through an article that Shabbir Imam in Peshawar forwarded from the Anchorage Daily News by Shehla Anjum, a Pakistan-born writer based in Alaska, ‘Taliban wages war against girls’ education in Pakistan’. The writer followed up the story in the documentary by contacting Malala and her father.
http://tinyurl.com/dmxtld

The IPS website – http://www.ipsnews.net – contains a link to the other articles around Women’s Day –
http://www.ipsnews.net/new_focus/women/index.asp
This link includes other articles worth looking up, from Palestine and Afghanistan, and ZOFEEN EBRAHIM’S article about child marriage in Pakistan
http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=46022

KALPANA SHARMA in her column `The Other Half’ in The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, March 8, 2008, writes about the attacks women in India are facing – a chilling account of what looks like an Indian version of the Vice & Virtue dept of the Taliban that we are facing here in Pakistan…
http://tinyurl.com/bql9vg

CASSANDRA BALCHIN – a three-part series on the challenges faced by Muslim women around the globe and the debates within the Muslim world to deal with these challenges, the demand for equality within the family, and more, in Open Democracy – http://www.opendemocracy.net – I’ve shortened the three URLs for easy reference here:
Home truths in the Muslim family – The global pressure to reform Muslim family law is mounting
http://tinyurl.com/bxhf8v

Musawah: there cannot be justice without equality – Muslim scholars and activists from 48 countries launch a global initiative for justice with equality between men and women
http://tinyurl.com/akg2q8

Musawah: solidarity in diversity – a global initiative to reform Muslim Family Law finds solidarity in diversity and a growing convergence around human rights values.
http://tinyurl.com/bbvvhd

AYESHA KHAN’s recent study on LHWs and Women’s Empowerment in Pakistan can be accessed through the Collective for Social Science Research website
The study is at this link: http://tinyurl.com/cssr-lhv

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