Mumbai and more

Photo: courtesy Soumik Kar

Photo: courtesy Soumik Kar

On the third anniversary of the Mumbai terror attacks of Nov 26, 2008, a NATO air strike in Pakistan killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. NATO says its helicopters were providing air cover to troops on the ground chasing insurgents; Pakistan says that the strike was a deliberate violation of its sovereignty (the question is, why?). The loss of human lives in any circumstances is tragic; sincere condolences to the families of the soldiers killed. Coming on the heels of ‘memogate’, this is not going to help US-Pakistan relations. Let’s hope that the political leadership is not swayed by the hysteria deliberately being whipped up by certain sections (as usual).

The Mumbai attacks lasted nearly three traumatic days and claimed over 160 precious lives, injured hundreds of others and emotionally scarred countless others. At that time, I wrote a couple of reports for IPS, Empathy, Grief in Pakistan at Mumbai Mayhem and Pleas For Sanity as Sabres Rattle Over Mumbai Mayhem. Continue reading

Once more for the Spinal Beetle and Southasia connectivity

Spinal Beetle with its Nepali eyes arrives in Pakistan

Here’s the latest report of the Southasian journey undertaken recently by my friend, civil rights activist, writer and journalist (editor Himal SouthasianKanak Mani Dixit, his wife Shanta (a teacher) and son Eelum (an actor, and yes, his name derives from ‘ilm’ which means knowledge, named by his dada, Kanak’s father who is a prominent writer).

Eelum, Kanak and Shanta Dixit: A great drive

The family started their 1100-mile odyssey in Kathmandu, Nepal, ending in Peshawar, Pakistan, to raise funds and awareness about the need for spinal injury rehabilitation. Those who have been following this issue would know that Kanak injured his spine in a trekking accident a decade ago. He survived, making a near miraculous recovery, and started the Spinal Centre Nepal in 2002, inaugurated by the late Sir Edmund Hillary. The coverage they’ve got on this journey has helped publicize their drive tremendously but the required funds have not arrived, and they are well short of their target. This is a personal appeal. Please donate what you can for this important cause. And do read this riveting account of their journey, includes important insights and information… Continue reading

As winter sets in, flood survivors in Sindh need more help

In all the excitement about ‘memogate’, let’s remember to spare a thought — and some cash and other items — for the flood survivors of Pakistan. As winter sets in and the cold winds start to blow, they need our help more than ever. Here’s a note I’ve been meaning to post out for some time, information provided by friend and music lover Siraj Khan who personally vouches for the Pathfinders Welfare Organisation, a volunteer group doing flood relief work primarily in the Badin area of Sindh. “PWO is unique in many ways. Its team is made almost entirely of students from local medical colleges. Many are girls. There was one who even used to ride her brother’s motorbike for work, if other transport wasn’t available,” says Siraj. “PWO needs more visibility for its work and, of course, funds.”

Continue reading

A Spinal Beetle update: striking a blow for Southasian land connectivity

Kanak collecting the earth from Fatehgarh Sahib outside Sialkot, the childhood village of 96-year-old Barkat Singh 'Pahalwan' of Jalandar, India at his special request.

I’m sure the Dixits – Kanak, Shanta and Eelum – have soon share photos, video and stories about their Spinal Beetle fundraising drive from Kathmandu to Peshawar but meanwhile, this brief update.

Many things about their journey were striking and moving. There’s the romance of driving from Kathmandu via Lucknow, Delhi, Agra, Amritsar, Lahore and Rawalpindi to Peshawar, much of it along the ancient Grand Trunk Road that dates back to the Maurya Empire (3rd century BC), later extended by Sher Shah Suri in the 16h century, from Calcutta to Kabul. Continue reading

Mumbai journalists visit Pakistan: a sign of hope; a warm welcome but no cellphone roaming

Mumbai for Peace: "SAY NO TO TERROR AND WAR! SAY NO TO VIOLENCE!"

Below, my comment in The News about the forthcoming visit of Indian journalists to Pakistan (The News also carried this report on their visit based on their press statement). As I wrote earlier, just one of these journalists has ever visited Pakistan before. A CORRECTION to my comment below: the Mumbaikars who formed the human chain on Dec 12, 2008 numbered not in the ‘hundreds’  but thousands. “Nearly 60,000 people including several celebrities… formed a 50 km long ‘human chain for peace’,” according to this report in The Indian Express (I found it after filing my story). One of the people behind this event, organised by ‘Mumbai for Peace’, was the journalist Jatin Desai, spokesman for the current delegation to Pakistan.

Situationer: Mumbai journalists’ visit: yet another sign of hope

 By Beena Sarwar

 The journalists from Mumbai landing in Karachi on Monday will arrive to a warm welcome – and no cell phone roaming. India and Pakistan both deny this facility that millions today take for granted, to each other, as foreign correspondents, businesspeople and others who travel in the region know all too well. Continue reading

US visa weirdness

Visa delayed was visa (virtually) denied, in the case of Dr Umar Saif, who missed the conference at MIT where he was being honoured as a TR35 winner

Not that other countries don’t have increasingly stringent visa laws, but as Jason Pontin said “I’m not looking to those countries for standards and openness but to the US”. The quote ended up not being used in the final version of the report I did for the new web publication Latitude NewsVisa void perplexes Pakistanis, which could have been titled ‘Visa delayed is visa (virtually) denied’, which is the case when you can’t make it to a meeting or a conference because of the delay, as in the case of Dr Umar Saif… Of course, there are security concerns, and things are getting better, thanks to the efforts of many organisations working with the State Department, but the uncertainty continues. Read more

Pakistan curriculum urgently needs change

The findings of the report “Connecting the Dots:  Education and Religious Discrimination in Pakistan” are dire, but not new (Summary at press release below, forwarded to me by The Mirror, a publication of the Pakistan National Commission for Justice and Peace). Pakistani academics have long been pressing for a reform of the curriculum, for example through reports like The Subtle Subversion (SDPI, 2003). The jihadisation of the curriculum includes inane prerequisites like religious studies for medical students – the Supreme Court recently provisionally allowed a Hindu student to sit for the medical college entry test. All this must change. But lest we forget, the idea of Jehad was incorporated into the Pakistani curriculum after the start of the Afghan war, because it suited Washington, and Pakistan to encourage and glorify the “Mujahideen” (holy warriors) in the war against the Soviets. An American institution of higher education was asked to formulate textbooks for Pakistani schools accordingly. “The institution was University of Nebraska at Omaha, which has a center for Afghan studies which was tasked by CIA in the early eighties to rewrite textbooks for Afghan refugee children. The new books included hate material even in arithmetic. For example, if a man has five bullets and two go into the heads of Russian soldiers, how many are left, kind of stuff. This was exposed in a research thesis from the New School, New York in about 2002,” says Dr A.H. Nayyar, one of the co-editors of the SDPI report, quoted in my article Jehad and the curriculum,’ 2004. Continue reading

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