Dr Sarwar passes on – memorial meeting May 31st

200701-Sarwar-Banner image

Sarwar, Jan 2007. Photo: Anwar Sen Roy

He passed on peacefully in his sleep with his characteristic calm and dignity, shortly after we said goodnight… Here is the note we sent to the press that day (forgot to mention his role in the Medical Gazette, one of the founding members of a publication that provided a platform for progressive political views in dark times):

Dr M. Sarwar passes on

KARACHI, May 26: One of Karachi’s oldest general practitioners, well known physician and former student leader Dr Mohammad Sarwar passed away peacefully in his sleep at home early this morning, May 26 in Karachi, after a prolonged bout with cancer. He was 79.

A memorial meeting is scheduled at PMA House on Sunday, May 31 at 6.30 pm.

Dr Sarwar, Karachi, 2004

Dr Sarwar, Karachi, 2004

Brief bio:

Born in Allahabad, he came to Karachi for ‘sightseeing’ in 1948 and stayed on when he got admission in Dow Medical College. He was instrumental in forming Pakistan’s first student union, the Democratic Students Federation (DSF). He served as DSF’s President and Secretary General before the Mohammad Ali Bogra government banned it in 1954. He was also the driving force behind the Inter-Collegiate Body (ICB) comprising student unions in different colleges and the All Pakistan Students Organisation (APSO), established in 1953.

Sarwar spearheaded the January 8, 1953 ‘Demands Day’ that spelled out the needs of students, including the establishment of a full-fledged university campus (now Karachi University). He tried to prevent the students from surging forward in the face of the police threat when the procession reached Saddar. Sarwar was injured in the police firing that killed seven students that day, commemorated for years as a ‘Black Day’.

APSO brought together college students from all over the country to demand students’ rights regardless of their politics or ideology. The organisation’s influence was visible in the 1954 elections in former East Pakistan when a student leader defeated seasoned politician Noor-ul-Amin.

DSF also published the fortnightly award-winning journal Students’ Herald, edited by the well-known economist S.M. Naseem, then a student activist.

Dr Sarwar received his final medical college results in 1954 while he was in prison for a year — the McCarthy era in the United States impacted Pakistan as well and progressive elements here were rounded up and incarcerated. His elder brother, journalist Mohammad Akhtar (1926-58) was arrested shortly afterwards. Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim, then an upcoming lawyer, defended many of these political prisoners, including their friend Hasan Nasir who was tortured to death later.

After graduation, Dr Sarwar worked as a general physician with various health services until setting up his own clinic in Gulbahar (New Golimar) where he practiced for over forty years. He was also one of the pioneers of the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) where he was twice elected general secretary. PMA played a vital role in progressive politics during the 1980s. During the Zia years, the PMA was one of the important ‘civil society’ organisations that consistently stood for democratic politics.

Dr Sarwar will be remembered for his inspirational leadership, generosity of spirit, warmth of character and clear-headed political vision.

He is survived by his wife, well known educationist and teacher trainer Zakia Sarwar, and three children, Beena Sarwar, Sehba Sarwar, and Salman Sarwar and three granddaughters, Maha, Myah and Minal.

Some news reports:

In memory of Dr Mohammad Sarwar, Wednesday, May 27, 2009
By Shahid Husain – 

By Ahmed Reza, BBC Urdu, 26 may, 2009 – http://tinyurl.com/sarwar-bbc

Student politics pioneer Dr M Sarwar passes on, Dawn, Tuesday, 26 May, 2009 – http://tinyurl.com/sarwar-dawn

In memory of Dr Mohammad Sarwar Wednesday, May 27, 2009

By Shahid Husain


Ahmed Reza, BBC Urdu, 26 may, 2009


Thanks for your message. We’re grateful he passed on peacefully in his sleep with his characteristic calm and dignity, shortly after we said goodnight…

Here’s a link to a news report about him

Student politics pioneer Dr M Sarwar passes on, Tuesday, 26 May, 2009


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.”


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


(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

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

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


Some articles re ‘Talibanisation’, veiling, flogging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some other articles published at that time that I liked:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BELOW: Localised appeals for aid – besides Edhi – http://www.edhifoundation.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Web: http://www.pscpak.org

That’s it for now

Deconstructing `We, the Mothers of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba’

Ham Ma’en Lashkar-e-Taiba Ki (`We, the Mothers of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba’), a series of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba propaganda publications – very appropriate to post ahead of the whole commercial mother’s day hype.

“…the Lashkar-e-Taiba uses mothers’ grief to create an emotionally charged arena that, it hopes, will both justify its mission and help increase volunteers for its mission” writes Farhat Haq in her analysis, published in Economic & Political Weekly, India – See http://snurl.com/hlil7 for the link

C.M. Naim in Outlook weekly, India, gives a detailed commentary on the three volumes have(they all “have the same garish cover, showing a large pink rose, blood dripping from it, superimposed on a landscape of mountains and pine trees”), published between November 1998 and October 2003. See – http://snurl.com/hliu5

Women to Reclaim Public Spaces

    A Programme of Defiance & Resistance.

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

Dear  friend of humanity,

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

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

We invite you to a programme of defiance and resistance.

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

9,    Candle light vigil

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

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

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

Thanking you

Women’s Action Forum, Karachi.

Please bring a candle with you.

Justice Sabih’s legacy

Karachi, April 28:

Justice Sabih: Upholder of human rights

Justice Sabih: Upholder of human rights

The newspapers on the PIA flight back from New Delhi on April 20 reported the shocking news about Justice Sabihuddin Ahmed’s death. Various thoughts jostled with sadness at his untimely departure. I remembered him as a lawyer, one of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s founder members in 1986 and HRCP’s first Vice Chairperson for Sindh. My first term on the HRCP Council coincided with his last as he resigned in 1997, after being appointed as a judge of the Sindh High Court to the jubilation of human rights activists. Colleagues, activists and professionals revered him as a lawyer and later as a brilliant judge for his consistently compassionate and principled stands.

Twenty years ago, as a lawyer, he drafted a groundbreaking legislation regarding organ donations. His colleague and fellow advocate Syed Iqbal Haider twice presented the draft law as a private members’ bill before the Senate. The powerful vested interests of the commercial transplantation lobby kept getting it shelved. Eventually, years of hard work and lobbying by dedicated visionaries like Dr Adeebul Hasan Rizvi and his colleagues got the bill through as a presidential ordinance in October 2007. The commercial transplantation lobby appealed against it on the grounds that it was against Islam. On April 18, 2009, after extensive deliberations, the Federal Shariat Court ruled that organ donations are compatible with Islam, and outlawed commercial transplantations. That was also the day that Justice Sabih breathed his last.

His judgments strengthened human rights principles and gave relief to the aggrieved. His ruling of 1997 ordering the payment of monetary compensation to a detenu in a habeas corpus petition made judicial history in Pakistan. As chief justice of the Sindh High Court he encouraged out-of-the-box thinking, like allowing a judge of the Sindh High Court to take up appeals in interior Sindh as an experiment in 2007. Sitting at the Sukkur High Court, the judge (Justice Rehmat Shah Jafri) found that people had been in prison for 25-30 years on average. Refusing adjournments, he dealt with 300 appeals and disposed of 70 per cent of the murder cases in two months.

Women’s rights organisations always found Justice Sabih sympathetic. In one instance, he got the hearings of two rape cases transferred to Karachi from interior Sindh where the rape survivors felt threatened by the accused.

He was among the judges who refused to take oath under Musharraf’s PCO following the Emergency declaration of Nov 3, 2007. His steadfastness was an example to his brother judges. At one of the judge’s homes in Karachi, where civil society activists presented flowers to the dissenting judges, Justice Sabihuddin succinctly explained why they should be supported even if they had taken oath under an earlier PCO.

The military twice displaced civil power after the promulgation of the 1973 Constitution and took extra-constitutional judicial action through a PCO that required judges to take fresh oath: 1981 (under General Zia) and 2000 (under General Musharraf). After Musharraf seized power (Oct 1999) several judges refused to take oath under the PCO of 2000. The Supreme Court gave the military regime de facto recognition on condition that the judicial organ of the state remained uninterrupted. It also declared that independence of the judiciary was part of the basic structure of the Constitution, which the parliament could not amend. The self-styled chief executive was given power to amend, but not alter, the basic features of the Constitution. Also, extra-constitutional measures would be permissible only when the Constitution did not provide a remedy and the action taken was proportionate to the emergency situation.

In November 2007, an unprecedented 59 out of nearly 94 judges in the higher judiciary refused to take oath under the PCO. They stuck to their guns until after the elections. Over the past year, most ‘deposed’ judges returned to the courts, some like Justice Sabih in elevated positions. Many among civil society who had been active in the movement for the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry saw this as a great betrayal.

One of them was on the PIA flight from New Delhi with me, anguished at Justice Sabih’s death. We talked about the lawyers’ movement and the divergent strands within civil society.

An early division within ‘civil society’ was over the general elections. Dominant opinion in discussions over the Internet and on television talk shows advocated boycotting forthcoming polls, with no answer to the question ‘and then what?’ (One Islamabad-based activist told me that his organisation planned to stop people from voting, and he himself planned to pour ink into ballot boxes on election day. If he wanted to boycott the polls that was his right, I responded, but he had no right to spoil other people’s votes.)

Another dominant civil society stand was that the new government should straightaway restore the judges through executive order. The government’s waffling on the issue notwithstanding, those who thought that the judges’ restoration should not be the be-all and end-all of the movement and that it should be debated and decided in parliament were dismissed as government apologists.

When many judges went back into the fold, this dominant civil society opinion saw it as a betrayal of the cause for the restoration of the chief justice, even terming them as ‘PCO judges’. Given the track records of people like Justice Sabihuddin an attempt to understand their move would have been in order, even if people disagreed.

So great was the divide that some virtually ostracised them socially. “I last met him at the Boat Club some months ago,” said my grieving activist friend on the flight, who had known the late judge for over forty years. “He asked me to come and see him but I was too angry. He asked me a couple of times again through someone to see him … I didn’t. I will always regret that.”

When he finally did go, it was too late. Justice Sabihuddin was unconscious in an intensive care unit. I could feel his pain at not having made his peace in time. Many also felt similar ‘too late’ anguish when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, having pilloried and castigated her for making a ‘deal’ with a military dictator and then contesting elections.

“I have learnt a lesson from this. I will never take such a rigid position again,” he added.

Maybe somewhere, somehow, Justice Sabihuddin understands. Certainly he would forgive. This can be but of small comfort to those who wish they had given him a hearing, as he gave so many others.

Remembering Victor Kiernan

kiernanWhen Victor Gordon Kiernan passed away in February this year aged 95, the Pakistani media took surprisingly little notice (or perhaps not so surprising, given what we’re grappling with) of the death of the Scottish Marxist professor famous for his translations of Faiz and Iqbal, and whose “immense contributions to the post-war flowering of British Marxist historiography …transformed the understanding of social history,” as John Trumpbour (Jack) put it in his obituary for India’s Frontline magazine.


I remain grateful to Jack – one of the few relics of the ‘left’ left at Harvard – for his kindness to me while I was in Cambridge, MA (and to the documentary filmmaker B.J. Bullert in Seattle who introduced us – see http://www.fishermensterminal.net/). I was particularly thrilled when Jack gave me a copy of ‘America: The New Imperialism: From White Settlement to World Hegemony’ (Verso, 2005) when it was just hot off the press.

Jack mentioned at the time that Kiernan had got him to write the epilogue (which I read later and really liked). That, in fact, is how I learnt that V.G. Kiernan was in fact at that point very much alive and kicking in Edinburgh.

On hearing of his death, I wrote a note of condolence to Jack. He replied that Frontline magazine in India had given him 3000 words to discuss Victor Kiernan’s life and work. “So India came through. Both Tariq Ali and Eric Hobsbawm have done articles in the UK. Sadly that outpost of liberal humanitarian imperialism The New York Times seems determined to refuse to do an obituary.”

His article, ‘Ideological warrior against Empire’, is up at http://tinyurl.com/ddcvph

I responded commenting on the strange silence in Pakistan, thinking I’d take it up with someone. Never got around to it. So I was happy to see Hassan Gardezi’s belated but much needed profile of the great man in last week’s Books & Letters section of Dawn – “PROFILE: Remembering Victor Kiernan”, 03 May, 2009 – http://tinyurl.com/cen66z.

Prof Gardezi is co-editor, with Prof. Jamil Rashid of the seminal publication, ‘Pakistan, the roots of dictatorship : the political economy of a praetorian state’ (Zed Press, 1983). Both are based in Canada.

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

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 –

– 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 –

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.”

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