Never forget… the day she arrived and the day she died

Oct 18, 2007: Benazir returns. Photo by Beena Sarwar

Benazir Bhutto’s assassination on this day two years ago was utterly devastating for many of us. Here is the link to a piece I wrote for IPS just before she returned to Pakistan. On Oct 18, 2007, Absar Alam and I were both at the Geo TV studios in Karachi. We hopped onto a motorbike and headed for the airport, a cameraman and assistant on another motorbike. Absar managed to get us onto the truck on which Benazir was riding. See photos taken with my cell phone at this¬†web album.¬†Absar scooped a brief interview of her – her first to a Pakistani journalist on home soil since her exile – broadcast on Geo shortly afterwards.

Even those who had been her sternest critics over the years were unable to stem the tide of grief that hit them on learning of her death. I wrote this article after her murder – I was in Lahore, on my own at a friend’s house and it was an incredibly difficult piece to write, in between breaking down, monitoring the television, and calling people for quotes and information.

To those who even on this day, her second death anniversary, focus on her alleged corruption and plundering: please read M. Hanif’s article ‘My Benazir murder fantasy’ posted in Jan 2008 that the Newsline blog just re-posted. Extracts: Even if all the allegations about her corruption and arrogance are true, one should keep in mind that she was active in politics for 30 years, out of which she was in power only for four and a half years. The rest of the time she struggled against two of the most well entrenched military dictators in the region…

“The reason we don‚Äôt see very many dossiers on the financial corruption during General Zia and General Musharraf‚Äôs regimes is that when Bhutto was in power the intelligence agencies went into over drive documenting or sometimes inventing her misdemeanours. When the generals or their cronies are in power all the intelligence leaks just dry up.”

This is not to suggest that corruption should be condoned or excused, but it is important to get some perspective on the issue.

 (ends)

IAR on NRO ruling

I.A. Rehman, one of the clearest, sanest voices in Pakistan analyses the NRO ruling in his op-ed today in Dawn, ‘Pause, sirs, and ponder

Extract: “…the issue before the Supreme Court was not an amendment to the constitution that would have attracted the basic features theory. The issue before it was an ordinary presidential ordinance. And for laws and ordinances that conflict with the constitution clear remedies are available.
“By invoking Article 227 in the present case the Supreme Court seems to have put Islamic injunctions in command of the whole constitution. Quite a few lawyers argue that this amounts to overruling the court’s judgments in the Hakim Khan (1992) and Kaneez Fatima (1993) cases.
“…The people of Pakistan have every right to ask whether Ziaul Haq’s agenda has been revived.”

Jan 1, 2010 – Aman Ittehad peace & solidarity day

JAN 1, 2010, ‘AMAN ITTEHAD’ – PEACE AND SOLIDARITY DAY
Please join us where ever in the world you are
Friday, January 1, 2010
2:30pm – 5:30pm
“Let’s stamp out injustice, light a candle each”

Rallies planned in Abbottabad, Haripur, Mardan, Karak, Swabi, D.I.Khan, Peshawar, Mingora, Lahore, Gujranwala, Multan, Bahawalpur, Faisalabad, Sialkot, Badin, Jamshoro, Larkana, Sukkur, Hyderabad, Karachi, Loralai, Quetta and Islamabad

Working together for an end to intolerance, violence, injustice. and equal¬†opportunities for all. Citizens across the nation come together on the first day¬†of 2010 to usher in a decade of peace, justice, equity and tolerance. More than¬†a hundred organisations across Pakistan including the youth, students, concerned¬†citizens, media, lawyers, labour, NGO’s and academics come together to express¬†their resolve to struggle for the right to ‘a life of dignity’.

Join us…. for neither can we afford the luxury of indifference nor a lack of expression of the values that we hold so close to our hearts. Let our resolve find expression. We are one and we are all equals.Solidarity Day marks the beginning of a journey of building trust between citizens and the strengthening¬†of democratic values and institutions.

For more details, contact Ali Asghar Khan

Not just hot air – Himal Southasian zindabad

This article was published in The News on Sunday (TNS) as Mountain magazine resort’, on the Footloose page, Dec 20, 2009 for a special issue on conference tourism

Not just hot air

Himal Southasian, Feb 1998

There are conferences and there are conferences. Some organisers lure participants with travel and daily allowances and fancy hotels at exotic locales. Others rely on goodwill and commitment. If it‚Äôs the latter, it helps to be located in an exotic place anyway — like Kathmandu. It also helps if the organisers are professional colleagues for whom you have the highest regard.

These last two factors contribute to my ‚Äėfavourite‚Äô conference being one that took place in Kathmandu in early 1996. The man behind it was Kanak Mani Dixit, whom I had met at an earlier South Asia conference about water resources organised by Panos some years ago. Kanak had decided to turn his ‚Äėmountain magazine‚Äô Himal into a Southasian venture (there is a reason Himalers write ‚ÄėSouthasian‚Äô as one word ‚Äď for an explanation see the published magazine or the Himal Southasian website.

So Kanak got together a few journalists from around Southasia to meet and brainstorm on this venture. He put Mitu Varma from New Delhi (who later became Country Representative in India for Panos South Asia) and myself up at the Third World Guest House in Pattan, one of the five ancient kingdoms around Kathmandu that are conserved as World Heritage sites. Continue reading

Pervez Hoodbhoy strikes back; More on the NRO ruling

More on the NRO ruling below – but this response by Pervez Hoodbhoy to the scurrilous attack on him by an expat¬†professor deserves mention (he doesn’t usually respond to personal attacks), ¬†published originally in Counterpunch on Dec 14 (later on Chowk on Dec 18) and is worth a read:¬†“Is The Cheque In The Mail? – The Confessions of a Pakistani Native Orientalist”

Below, more about the NRO short order and its implications, including the emphasis on morality and acceptance of the “Islamic provisions” of the Constitution:

1. Two comments on Dec 19 by Asma Jahangir on the NRO ruling, one in a¬†BBC Urdu interview, and¬†“Another aspect of the judgment” oped in Dawn –¬†Extract: “Witch-hunts, rather than the impartial administration of justice, will¬†keep the public amused. The norms of justice will be judged by the level of¬†humiliation meted out to the wrongdoers, rather than strengthening institutions¬†capable of protecting the rights of the people.”

2. Aasim Sajjad Akhtar argues against simplifying the NRO ruling in ‘After the verdict’ (The News on Sunday, Dec 20): “…the structures that produce one bad apple after another need to be interrogated and eventually replaced. There can be no shortcut to justice, and the ‘rule of law’ brigade would do well to bear this in mind.”

3. ‘Legal, moral, political‘ – in this oped (Dawn, Dec 20)¬†Asha’ar Rehman points out some inherent ironies and contradictions, eg “If the legal, political and moral must mingle, how can a lawyer, hailed as the author of the constitution, allow himself to defend a dictator who held the document in abeyance, and also defend his referendum ‚ÄĒ and then, a few years later, contest an ordinance fashioned by the same dictator?”

4. Letter to Chief Justice Ifitkhar Chaudhury from Bilal Qureshi at Foreign Policy Blogs, December 18, 2009, in which he calls upon the CJ to:

Continue reading

‘Bridging Partition: People’s Initiatives for Peace between India and Pakistan’

Cover art: K.B. Abro; design: Bindia Thapar

JUST PUBLISHED

BRIDGING PARTITION: People’s Intitiatives for Peace Between India and Pakistan

Edited by SMITU KOTHARI and ZIA MIAN

With Kamla Bhasin, A H Nayyar and Mohammad Tahseen
Essays by Shehryar Ahmad, Karamat Ali, Sumanta Banerjee, Kamla Bhasin, Nirupama Dutt, Madeeha Gauhar, Mubashir Hasan, Pervez Hoodboy, Asma Jehangir, Sheema Kirmani, Sanat Mohanty, Kuldip Nayar, Sandeep Pandey, Narendra Panjwani, Anand Patwardhan, Balraj Puri, Laxminarayan Ramdas, Lalita Ramdas, I A Rehman, Beena Sarwar, Jamila Verghese, Achin Vanaik

“Over the past three decades, in the shadow of hostile nationalisms fuelled¬†by radical Islamic and Hindu politics, military crises, a runaway arms race,¬†nuclear weapons and war, an amazing set of civil society initiatives has been taking root in India and Pakistan. A citizens diplomacy movement embracing thousands of activists, scholars, business people and retired government officials has emerged in an unprecedented effort to build national and cross-border networks for peace and cooperation between the two countries.

“In these essays, leading scholars, activists and writers from India and¬†Pakistan reflect on the political and personal impact of crossing the¬†border, and explore the possibilities and limits of this new movement in its¬†quest to chart a path to peace between the two countries.”

Cover design Bindia Thapar
Cover art 60 Years of India Pakistan by K. B. Abro

Published by Orient BlackSwan India

NRO ruling and its fallout

There must and should be accountability, but selective accountability, and cases filed motivated by political victimisation do not serve the cause of justice.

Text messages doing the rounds include the following questions:
– NRO is unconstitutional but the Oct 1999 military coup was constitutional because Supreme Court approved it, and so was the LFO (legal framework order) of 2002?
– The murder of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was constitutional because SC approved it?
Hudood Ordinances & 8th Amendment were constitutional?
Provisional Constitution Order (PCO) on which the current CJ took oath was constitutional?
– No larger bench discussed violation of Article 6 of Mehran Bank scandal (in which ISI allegedly gave funds to IJI for the 1990 elections).
– Why has there been no judicial inquiry into Rs 94 billion Mulk Sanwaro Qarz Utaro scheme?

(Re Mehran Bank case – see Foqia Sadiq Khan’s article in TNS in Sept 2009, ‘Far from over’)

Also doing the rounds is a clip of Benazir Bhutto on Youtube, on the Supreme Court and NRO, talking about political victimisation

The Sindh Assembly passed a unanimous resolution in support of Zardari – and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani just told the Punjab media they are ‘playing to the gallery’…

Ayesha Siddiqa in Dawn today, ‘After the NRO‘ points out that the ruling has weakened the civilian government in relation to the army, a point also made by the senior analyst C. Raja Mohan, in Indian Express, ‘Pakistan: Zardari falls, Kayani rises‘ in which he writes:

Lahore’s lawyers have surely won the point on the illegality of the¬†Musharraf-Bhutto deal, which gave special protection to Benazir and her husband¬†from the many previous charges of corruption. But they might be losing the¬†larger struggle for establishing the civilian¬†primacy over the military in Pakistan, as the nation’s latest experiment with¬†democracy begins to unravel.

(ends)

‘Students who set the tone’


Thanks to Zubeida Mustafa for her well-researched and timely article in Dawn today Students who set the tone. Just a small clarification re the comment that “Most of the founders gave up their activism ‚ÄĒ as daughter Beena confirms for Dr Sarwar”. This is only partly true. These students did not become “professional student activists” or go into active politics. As Zubeida Mustafa notes, many of them did carry on their work in other ways. Speaking of Dr Sarwar – besides supporting progressive causes in whatever way he could, he was involved with the professional body of doctors, the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA), was a member of the PMA delegation to then East Pakistan, wrote regularly for the Pakistan Medical Gazette (that he and other colleagues founded, at a meeting in Quetta), was twice elected PMA Secretary General and worked for a health policy along with his colleagues during the Zia years – a time when PMA was a significant platform for dissent against military rule (see Dr Badar Siddiqi’s citation) at the May 31st meeting at PMA House.

Details of the Jan 9, 2010 event mentioned in Zubeida Mustafa’s article are available the Dr Sarwar blog as well as at the Facebook Event. We particularly invite young people and students to attend the event in order learn about this little-known part of our history, at a time when student unions have been restored in principle.

‘Under the rubble’ – democracy

Extract from former Indian civil servant Harsh Mander’s recent article in The Hindu (he left government service after the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat), ‘Under the rubble’

Under the rubble of the fallen mosque lay the idea of India itself.

But in the end, ordinary people of India ‚Äď Hindu, Muslim and of other faiths – voted resolutely against the politics of hate and division, in general elections of 2004 and 2009. The most passionate votaries of the temple movement admit that it has today lost the power to mobilise voters any longer.

It is impoverished people of India who have picked the pieces of the idea of India from under the rubble of the medieval mosque razed by frenzied mobs in 1992. It is they who have reclaimed once again the inclusive pluralist traditions of this ancient teeming diverse land.

Bottom line: let democratic politics and the cycle of elections prevail, no matter how messy it seems. It will take a long time, but it will sort out. And it will is a continuing process.

A Peace Convention and the wisdom of Ali Nawaz

Article posted to my yahoogroup in June 2002 ¬†– the Rs 4000 minimum that Ali Nawaz from Balochistan talked about now would be more like Rs 10,000 (right, economists?). Although little has changed for him and people like him, the ‘Balochistan package’ and the historic NFC award agreed upon on Dec 11 at least offer some hope in terms of more equitable resource distribution and opportunities. This is the difference between dictatorship (no matter how mild) and democracy (no matter how messed up)

The News on Sunday, Jun 16, 2002

A Peace Convention and the wisdom of Ali Nawaz

by Beena Sarwar

Ali Nawaz works at a motorcycle factory at Hub Chowki in Balochistan, near Somiani, the sun-baked coastal area from where Pakistan recently test-fired the nuclear-capable Abdali missile as a warning to a war-ready India. From here, it takes over two hours to get to Karachi, driving east along the coast of the Arabian Sea. On Saturday June 8, along with some two dozen of his fellow workers, Nawaz made this journey using the factory van headed to the noise and rush of Saddar in the heart of Karachi.

The motorcycle workers are not interested in the bazaar; besides the fact that they can‚Äôt afford the goods on sale, there are more important things on their mind — like the Peace Convention organized at the Karachi Press Club by the Pakistan India People‚Äôs Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) and the National Trade Union Federation of Pakistan.

As many as twenty five out of the forty one workers at Nawaz’s factory attended the Convention of their own accord. Why? Continue reading

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