India trip, the ‘attack’ and some articles

Allahabad Chapter of PIPFPD: Comrade Kameshwar Prashad Agarwal

No disruptions at the Allahabad Chapter of PIPFPD, attended, among others, by Comrade Kameshwar Prashad Agarwal

Hello everyone, have been traveling with limited access to internet, hence the silence.

I was among the journalists at a panel discussion ‘Does media jingoism fan tensions between India and Pakistan?’ organised by Forum of Media Professionals at the India International Centre in New Delhi on April 15. The event got a lot of play because of misreporting.

The Indian media hyped up a minor disruption, reporting that the Pakistani journalists in the panel were ‘attacked’ or ‘roughed up’. The Pakistani media picked up on the photos and subsequently there were condemnations and even demonstrations in Pakistan about the ‘attack’.

To set the record straight, no one was roughed up or attacked. One man did disrupt the meeting – but very briefly, from the back of the auditorium. The organisers had turned away 3-4 men who refused to sign the register – he must have sneaked in. The discussion was half over when he stood up and started shouting anti-Pakistan, pro-war slogans (someone sitting near him said he’d just come in). The organisers pushed him out. TV cameramen and photographers followed.

Most papers and channels used photos and footage of the scuffle outside, rather than focusing on the discussion inside, which continued, despite the noise we could hear outside for a couple of minutes. The interruption lasted for maybe a minute or so. The discussion started at 10 am and continued till 1.30 pm. It turned out that he was from the Sri Ram Sene, the same group that tried to prevent Valentines Day celebrations in India, to whom thousands of people sent ‘pink chaddis’ in response.

The incident demonstrated what we had been talking about, that TV, being a visual medium, focuses on images rather than words. Hence their running after the scuffle rather than focusing on the discussion. This is the nature of the beast. Those keen to tame it might try organizing mass emails, letters and phone calls to demand meaningful change.

Here is Rahimullah Yusufzai’s article on the incident – `The good, the bad and the ugly’, The News, Apr 21, 2009 <>

Our visit also involved several other interactions with the media. Rahimullah Yusufzai, the veteran reporter from Peshawar was the most sought after for his views on Talibanisation, living as he does in the heart of the storm. Here is the link to a full page ‘idea exchange’ published April 19, a forum that The Indian Express regularly holds: “I don’t think we have reached a stage when the Taliban will take over Pakistan” – <>

I showed some of my documentaries at a meeting of the Allahabad chapter of the Pakistan-India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) and at the Delhi Press Club, organised by Youth4Peace. Here are links to a couple of reports on the Press Club screening:

‘In Pakistan, change has to come from within, says journalist’ -Indian Express, Apr 20, 2009 – <>

`Pak journalist’s short take on women’s rights’, Mail Today, Apr 20, 2009 – <>

More later

“No Sazish, No Jang” (No Conspiracy, No War) – a peace song

A young friend, Shahvar Ali Khan in Lahore has composed a song for which he recently launched the audio.  The MP3 is downloadable. Video coming soon.

Download and listen to Mulla na kar tang…. (Mulla, stop bugging us!) at
\”No Sazish, No Jang\” (No Conspiracy, No War) by Shahvar Ali Khan

It is a worthy effort in the midst of total madness, as Asad Jamal in Lahore says.

Some thoughts on ‘Swat flogging video’

Girl being flogged: Still from the cell phone video circulated on the Internet and broadcast (repeatedly) on the private channels

Girl being flogged: Still from the cell phone video circulated on the Internet and broadcast (repeatedly) on the private channels

The ‘Swat flogging video’ has made headlines all over. Zubeida Mustafa in her excellent article in Dawn today, ‘A catalyst for change? analyses the reasons why

This para jumped out at me: “The Swat flogging video has brought people face to face with the reality of the emergence of extremism in the name of Islam. It has brought to the surface the paradoxes that had until now been swept under the carpet for expediency’s sake. The video has forced difficult choices on the people compelling them to at least think about issues that affect them very personally.”

Zia’s children, by Ayesha Siddiqa in The News, April 05, 2009 highlights the issue of ‘Islamic law’ or ‘Sharia’. She references the recent book by Tahir Wasti ‘Application of Islamic Criminal Law in Pakistan: Sharia in Practice’. Wasti, as she points out, has experience of both Islamic law and British common law. “This is the first detailed research enlisting the ramifications of the application of sharia law in Pakistan. tracing the historical roots of this phenomenon”.

For those who haven’t followed the issue or seen the video (warning, it’s graphic) check out Declan Walsh’s initial report on the issue in The Guardian, April 2, 2009 (two days before TV channels in Pakistan picked it up):

Re: my own take – I’ve been swamped with the final editing of another documentary I’m making, but wrote something on the issue the other day that I will share after publication.

Chicago, Shahidul and ‘Three Cups of Tea’

Three Cups of Tea_Mech.indd

Published in Hardnews, New Delhi,April 2, 2009


Beena Sarwar

I love how connections sometimes just ‘happen’, criss-crossing the world, spanning generations, borders and continents. This particular stream traverses Pakistan’s early progressive struggle to Chicago, an inspiring book by an American who recently received Pakistan’s highest civilian honour, and a Bangladeshi photographer who came to Pakistan to document that moment.

In Chicago for a seminar in May 2007, I stayed with Danial Noorani. He is active with Apna Ghar, a domestic violence shelter for immigrant, primarily South Asian women. His late parents Malik and Mumtaz Noorani were close friends of my parents, active in the Communist Party and city goings-on. Tall jovial Malik Uncle ran a publishing house. ‘Jan-e-Man Phuphi’ (as we called the bright-eyed Mumtaz Noorani because of the endearment she used for us children) was active with Anjuman Jamhooriat Pasand Khawateen (Democratic Women’s Association, headed by Tahira Mazhar Ali, still going strong in Lahore).

There is some symbolism about meeting their son in Chicago. I remembered hearing of Dr Eqbal Ahmad’s disappointment when he found a monument to a policeman rather than the Chicago workers demonstrating for the eight hour day were killed by police fire in 1886. Ironically, the US does not observe May 1 as Labour Day.

Before I left, Danial gave me a paperback titled ‘Three Cups of Tea’ by someone I had vaguely heard of, Greg Mortenson. I couldn’t put it down. It is mandatory reading for anyone interested in education, Pakistan and the ‘war on terror’.

Mortenson builds schools in Pakistan’s remotest areas. The book, co-authored by David Oliver Relin, is sub-titled One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time’– a mission as endangered by the ‘taliban’ as by the militaristic policies of the US and Pakistani governments operating without a political roadmap.

It started in 1993, when Mortenson was recuperating in atiny, unmapped village, Korphe, after being injured while climbing the world’s second highest mountain K2 in the Karakorams. Shocked that the village ‘school’ was a patch of land where children sat in the open scratching their lessons with sticks on the ground, he vowed to build them a school.

Back in the US, he saved rent by sleeping in his car and not taking his girlfriend out to dinner. Not surprisingly, they broke up. Mortenson kept trying to raise funds, manually typing letters to seek help. Two years later he was back at Korphe with a truck-load of building materials.

But he was in for a shock. The villagers told him that they first needed a bridge across the ravine that isolated them. Mortenson nearly went off in a huff. Then he thought about it and realised they were right. An important lesson for aid organizations: ask people what they want and need instead of giving them what you think they should have.

Besides making Korphe more accessible to the world, the bridge enabled the village women to make short trips to visit family on the other side rather than investing days as they used to. And yes, the school was also built. Mortenson has since helped to build some 78 schools in Pakistan (and Afghanistan), providing education to over 28,000 children, including 18,000 girls.

The second part of the book tells a grimmer story: the impact of the mushrooming Wahabi madrassahs and the ‘war on terror’ following ‘9-11’. Mortenson recalls an invitation to the Pentagon to talk about his work, only to realise that they’re not really interested. If they listened to him, perhaps the world would be in less of a mess.

Last August, the Pakistan government announced that Pakistan’s highest civil award, Sitara-e-Pakistan (“Star of Pakistan”) would go to Mortenson for his courage and humanitarian effort to promote education, and literacy in rural areas. The Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam mentioned it when we met last month in Kathmandu. He flew in from Bangladesh especially to record the moment. On March 23rd, 2009, he was in Islamabad with friends of Mortenson watching the awards ceremony live on television.

These are, as Salma Hasan Ali wrote on Shahidul’s blog, “kernels of hope that remind us that all will not be lost to violence and a distorted mindset.”


PAKISTAN: Another Terror Attack For TV Cameras


A Taliban militant, part of the group that attacked a police academy near Lahore, being led away by troops. Photo: Rahat Dar

KARACHI, Mar 31 (IPS) – The brazen armed attack on a police academy near Lahore on Monday underlines the danger that the Pakistani state faces from militancy linked to the ‘war on terror’, but with historic roots in the earlier Afghan war of liberation from Soviet occupation, that was converted into a ‘jihad’ against ‘God-less communists’.

The incident is also part of a chain of such attacks that highlight the need for out-of-the-box thinking to a regional, political approach and regional cooperation in this global, border-less conflict.

Eyewitnesses to Monday’s drama said that the gunmen scaled the six-foot high boundary walls of the academy soon after 7 am. They lobbed hand grenades at the 700 or so recruits on parade and ran at them, firing automatic weapons.

Police and paramilitary troops fired aerial bursts in jubilation and shouted ‘Allah-o-Akbar’ (God is great) after they re-gained control of the Academy premises a tense eight hours later.

The final death toll was far lower than the 28 or so initially reported by television channels: eight policemen, one civilian, and four militants who blew themselves up with suicide vests.

Television channels showed heart-rending scenes of distraught relatives at various hospitals where the dead and injured were taken.

The role of the electronic media while covering such incidents has come in for much criticism. In their rush to be first with the news, channels often provide incorrect information – or “lies”, as a press photographer who was at the scene of the Mar 30 drama put it more bluntly.

The al- Qaeda-linked Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, based in Waziristan Agency in Pakistan’s north-west tribal areas, claimed responsibility for the latest attack, the second this month in Lahore, capital of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous and powerful province.

On Mar. 3, some dozen gunmen ambushed the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team in uptown Lahore, injuring several cricketers and killing six policemen and a driver. The gunmen disappeared after the shooting spree and have yet to be apprehended.

On Mar. 27 a suicide bomber killed dozens of worshippers at a crowded mosque near the north-western town of Jamrud on the highway to Afghanistan. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the motive may have been related to money as criminal elements operate freely in the area.

However, the Lahore attacks, taking place in an urban metropolis with dozens of television channels, were far more spectacular and effective, as Asha’ar Rehman, Resident Editor of daily Dawn in Lahore commented.

“A suicide bombing, in the eye of the terrorist perhaps, is too fleeting a moment in the life of a people who have become so used to the occurrence,” said Rehman.

“It is obvious that the terrorist is looking for more than momentary fame. He now wants to stretch the harrowing experience for as long as he possibly can, to the chagrin of onlookers who cannot keep their eyes off the television.”

The attack on the three-storey police school on the outskirts of Lahore a few kilometres from the Wagah checkpoint on Pakistan’s eastern border with India also bore other similarities with the ambush on the cricketers.

Underlining huge security lapses and intelligence failures, both took place in the early morning hours, with well-equipped, well-trained militants attacking supposedly well-protected targets. The Sri Lankan cricketers should have been extended presidential level security while the police school was peopled with – well, policemen, under training though they were.

Their commonalities include the possibility of local support that must have existed in order to facilitate them.

Both attacks drew comparisons to the Nov 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India. Some commentators accused India of being behind them in retaliation for the Pakistani link that emerged in the Mumbai tragedy.

The Mumbai attacks were in turn compared with the suicide attack on Marriott Hotel in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad on Sept 20, 2008. The attack was heavily symbolic given its high-security status and proximity to the corridors of power.

Earlier, militants had eliminated a much more symbolic and high value target – former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, as she left an election rally in Rawalpindi on Dec 27, 2007.

Other high-profile attacks, in the recent past, include the suicide car bombing at a police checkpoint in Peshawar that kills 35 and injured about 80 people last September.

In August 2008 twin suicide bombings at the gates of a weapons factory in the town of Wah near Islamabad left 67 dead. Earlier in March 2008, suicide bombers targeted a police headquarters in Lahore, leaving some 24 dead.

But Monday’s attack was so far “the biggest and potentially the most dangerous attack on a state facility in Pakistan,” noted Asha’ar Rehman.

“There were hundreds of trainee policemen inside the compound – trainees among a police force that, according to adviser on interior Rehman Malik, lacks basic training to combat terrorism. They were ill-equipped to stop the advance of a handful of visibly skilled gunmen. It could have been far worse.”

The drama ended with an unexpected twist, again a throwback to Mumbai, when security forces captured some militants alive.

One of them, a bearded man with an expressionless face, was nabbed while heading towards the helipad in the fields behind the Police Academy. He was carrying hand-grenades apparently to attack the helicopters with.

News photographer Rahat Dar told IPS that he was perched along with other media persons on the rooftop of a nearby building watching events unfold at the academy in front of them. “We turned around towards the back when we heard shouts of ‘Got him, got him!’” he said.

Security personnel yanked off the man’s shalwar, baggy trousers to ensure that he was not armed. They also beat him up, prompting Islamabad-based journalist Mariana Baabar to question whether police are actually trained to capture a live terrorist.

“It was the Punjab police in action – doing what comes to them naturally. Obviously, they cannot differentiate between a rare live person who could give them tons of information and an ordinary criminal,” she wrote in a front page comment in daily The News. “Nothing amazing or new except that this was a rare chance to see it live on our screen”.

Police repeatedly kicked the man, apparently having “decided that they would keep kicking him with their boots till he was no more…,” wrote Baabar. “It took an army guy… to stop the angry and out of control police from this brutal kicking. At least someone realised that it was essential to get this suspect alive.”

Identified as an Afghan named Hijratullah, the encircled man presented a pathetic sight as he struggled to cover himself with his shirt.

The other three suspected militants in custody have not yet been identified. They were captured when trying to escape from the premises wearing police uniforms.

Political analysts have long been warning that there are no easy military solutions to the ‘war on terror’. The al- Qaeda and Taliban now appear to have converged with Pakistan’s ‘home-grown’ militancy that American and Saudi dollars cultivated during the Afghan war against Soviet occupation.

Analysts hope that the interactions between global leaders at the high-powered meetings in Europe this week will help initiate a change in the global approach to these issues.

The U.N.-backed conference at the Hague on Mar. 31 to discuss the future of Afghanistan, participated in by about 80 countries including Iran and the United States, is expected to also discuss a regional approach to the issue, says Marjan Lucas of the Dutch Peace Organisation (IKV).

“It is important that America understands what they’ve done to the region and develop partners with civil society and elected representatives rather than the army as they have been doing,” she told IPS in Karachi, having arrived from Lahore the day before the police academy was attacked.

The Hague conference will be followed by the G20 and NATO Summits where U.S. President Barrack Obama is expected to hold bilateral meetings with several world leaders.

What is certain is that there are no easy answers, and that there are likely to be more such links in the terrorist chain before things get any better.

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