Remembering two gems, stellar journalists and old friends

Two wonderful colleagues and friends departed this world rather suddenly within days of each other last month, leaving behind multitudes to mourn their loss — and celebrate their lives: Khalid Hameed Farooqui, Geo News correspondent in Brussels, 7 May, and Editor The News Talat Aslam, 25 May. We honoured both at the In Memoriam section of the Southasia Peace or Sapan event on the last Sunday of May, along with others.

Khalid Hameed Farooqui: A lifetime of politics, journalism, and activism in Europe and Pakistan.
Talat Aslam: His tweets @Titojourno gathered a fan following for his posts on politics, food, film, music and nocturnal wanderings in Karachi.

The tribute to Khalid by European Commission chief spokesperson Eric Mamer in a press briefing shortly after Khalid’s passing speaks for the respect he inspired amongst colleagues and political figures:

TNS page on Talat Aslam, online, TNS e-paper, 29 May 2022

Friend Saifullah Saify in Amsterdam organised a wonderful online tribute for Khalid, with tributes from personalities like Farhatullah Babar, and journalists Hamid Mir, Asma Shirazi, Munizae Jahangir, Amber Rahim Shamsi, Murtaza Solangi, Mazhar Abbas, Raza Rumi, Nazir Leghari – see video clips at this playlist on his YouTube channel.

Sharing below my piece on Tito, as friends and family called Talat, one of three articles carried by The News on Sunday in a full page tribute. The two other remembrances, by colleagues Zia ur Rehman and Gulraiz Khan, are online here. My piece includes a couple of my illustrations for Tito’s columns in The Star 1986-88.

: Remembering two gems, stellar journalists and old friends Continue reading

Pakistan Constitution upheld – for now

Rajdeep Sardesai: A stable Pakistan is in India’s interests. Screenshot by Tej Kaul from yesterday’s show.

Thanks to the Pakistan Supreme Court for the unanimous judgement upholding the opposition’s right to a no-confidence motion and declaring as void the ruling party’s attempt to dissolve the assembly and hold fresh elections. The situation had many of us on tenterhooks given its potential to disrupt the democratic political process that has only just begun taking hold in the country.

Since 2008, only two cycles of elected governments have completed their term and handed over power to the next one without the assemblies being dissolved. Imran Khan was the third political leader to grasp the baton of this relay. If he passed the baton on to the next elected government that would be a historic hat-trick in Pakistan’s history and hopefully strengthen the process and pave the way for it to continue. He can still redeem himself by doing that after losing the no-confidence move on Saturday and stepping into the opposition.

Of course elections aren’t the be-all and end-all of a democratic political process. But as the wise know, the process is crucial. As a sportsman, Imran Khan should know that the game is only an event that needs an ongoing, continuous process of rigorous, consistent training.

Unfortunately the former captain of the Pakistan cricket team has turned out to be a sore loser. My commiserations to his supporters, many of whom had placed their hopes in him to improve the system. They need to recognise that an individual can’t do this alone. He has to work with others, and needs to pick the right people for his team. And stay in the game.

I shared my views on Al Jazeera last Sunday, and yesterday on a panel discussion with Rajdeep Sardesai at India Today, both linked here.

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Sara Suleri bows out

Sharing personal memories of the brilliant Sara Suleri whose genre-defying book Meatless Days inspired generations of writers, feminists, memoirists and dislocated Southasians. Thanks Ailia Zehra at The Friday Times for asking me to write this piece. Published as a Sapan syndicated feature in TFT, The Wire, Geo TV blog, South Asia Monitor and The Print – shared here with additional pix and links.

February 2018: Sara Suleri pays tribute to Asma Jahangir. Photo: Beena Sarwar.

PERSONAL-POLITICAL

By Beena Sarwar

March 25, 2022, Sapan News Service:

Aur bataiye” – tell me more, a polite invitation to keep talking. I can hear her voice, perhaps naturally husky, made deeper with years of cigarette smoking and perhaps more recently with pain and other medications.

She’d send her love to Pakistan whenever I’d call before flying out from Boston, where we had both ended up around ten years ago – she after retiring as Professor Emeritus of English from Yale University. I had transplanted myself from my home city Karachi where I was editing Aman Ki Asha, hope for peace – between India and Pakistan.

“Dream on!” I hear Sara say. And yet, she agrees, it’s important to keep going. She’s also a hundred percent supportive of our push for a regional approach – the South Asia Peace Action Network, or Sapan, the more recent endeavour, launched last year with a wonderful group of inter-generational, cross-border peacemongers.

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Undaunted by temple attack, Pakistani Hindu stuck in India with three children yearns to return home

This is a followup report to a piece I did in May about a Pakistani Hindu family that migrated to India but wants to go home to Pakistan, made more desperate after a personal tragedy. This not about patriotism or religion but humanity. p.s. I sent this report to several media houses. It’s been published in The News, NayaDaur, South Asia Monitor, The Wire, Aman Ki Asha, Pakistan TodayVibes of India, and its Gujrati portal and others. Note the credit at the end — Sapan News. This report may be a soft launch for syndicated service I’ve long dreamt of. Sapan News is linked with the South Asia Peace Action Network, Sapan, recently initiated by some of us. Check it out! Grateful for your support.

A couple of weeks ago, Ajeet Kumar borrowed a car and took his children on a rare outing: Coping with bereavement and desperate to go home. Photo: Supplied.

A Pakistani Hindu stuck in India with three children after his wife died in April is pleading with the authorities to let him return to before Independence Day, August 14.

“Mein TooT gaya huN – I am broken,” says Ajeet Kumar Nagdev, 41, speaking on phone in Urdu from Balaghat, Madhya Pradesh. His wife Rekha Kumari, 38, died on April 22, a day before the last Attari-Wagah border opening. “What can I do? The children break me, but I have to get up and keep going.”

Struggling to look after them, fearful of what will happen if one of them gets sick or if something happens to him, Nagdev feels trapped. He worries about their schooling. They miss their mother.

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V for virus, V for vendetta… In ongoing case against media boss, calls to #FreeMirShakilurRehman fall on deaf ears

It is outrageous that for nearly a month now, chief editor and owner of the country’s largest media group has been behind bars. Mir Shakilur Rahman was arrested by Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau on March 12, in connection with a 34-year old land case. Leading lawyers agree that the case is baseless. They are among the many voices – journalists, international human rights organisations and media platforms, rival media groups, civil society organisations at home and abroad – outraged by this travesty of justice and urging MSR’s release #FreeMirShakilurRehman.

Leading international organisations have called for MSR’s release

The detention is widely seen as part of an ongoing attack on media freedom in Pakistan. The case, clearly motivated by vendetta, is particularly disturbing at a time when everyone needs to be on the same page in fighting the global COVID-19 pandemic. See my story in Naya Daur, also posted below with updates, about a maverick poet and intellectual with no affiliation to the Jang/Geo media group, on hunger strike since March 29 for MSR’s release.

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PERSONAL POLITICAL: Rest in peace, comrade Kutty. The struggle continues

I wrote this piece a few days back – the second of my occasional syndicated columns. Published in The Wire, Naya Daur, Mainstream, The Citizen among others.

kutty-smiling.jpg

Early Sunday morning in Karachi, a little over a month after his 89th birthday on 18 July 2019, B. M. Kutty slipped into the ever after. Lifelong activist, trade unionist, political worker, peacemonger, humanist. I like to remember him as I last saw him in Karachi – his big smile, deep voice with its powerful timbre, intense gaze behind the glasses, dapper as usual in bush-shirt and trousers.

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Remembering Doc: The importance of civil discourse and the art of listening

At a small gathering last year, our friend S. Ali Jafari read his essay in Urdu about my father, whom he called “Doc”. His son Salman videotaped the reading, which forms the basis of this 14-minute video I edited for 26 May 2019, ten years after Dr M. Sarwar passed away peacefully at home in Karachi, at age 79.

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#MeToo: Moving towards a cycle of healing

Something I wrote about sexual harassment and abuse, published in The News on Sunday. It was a difficult piece to write, took a lot of thought, time, and research, and forced me to introspect on uncomfortable ideas. I went through a learning process that I’ve have tried to share. One idea links to the concept of restorative justice. Another is that, regardless of whether or not guilt is proven, such cases are forcing society to re-evaluate acceptable behaviour. This, in fact, may be the #MeToo movement’s most enduring contribution. 

me2-tns

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Asma Jahangir: A meaningful life, an inspiring legacy

I wrote this piece for a web dossier produced by Heinrich Boell Foundation for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights‘ 70th anniversary 2018 – Asma Jahangir – ein bedeutungsvolles Leben, ein inspirierendes Erbe. Sharing now, a year after Asma Jahangir has passed on. This piece doesn’t include her role for peace in the region and in the UN system that I’ve written about earlier and also detailed in a longer essay to be printed in an anthology titled Voices of Freedom from Asia and the Middle East, co-edited by Mark Dennis and Rima Abunasser, TCU, is under publication by SUNY Press. Above: Asma Jahangir at her office; still from my documentary Mukhtiar Mai: The struggle for justice (2006)

By Beena Sarwar

The field on the outskirts of Lahore was full of workers waiting to hear the woman from the city speak. They squatted on their haunches with dull hopeless eyes, the drab greys and browns of their clothes at one with the earth they fashioned into bricks to bake in bhattas — kilns that dot the rural landscape of Punjab and upper Sindh. For their back-breaking labour they were paid in kind, leading to generations of indebtedness as the traditional informal economy transitioned into a cash-based system.

Brick kiln-Shehryar Warraich:News Lens-2015

Brick kiln workers, Pakistan. Photo: Shehryar Warraich/News Lens, 2015

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My take on Pakistan’s elections: Change, like democracy, is a process, not an event

AamirLiaquat-ImranKhan-Dawn

In March this year, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan welcomed Aamir Liaquat Hussain into his political party. Aamir Liaquat will now represent NA-245 Karachi-I East-IV in the National Assembly. Naya Pakistan?

Below, something I wrote for The Print, published 31 July 2018 under the title Those who vote for Imran Khan or Narendra Modi shouldn’t be dismissed as bigots or sexist. I began writing it last week but was too caught up in my nephew’s wedding festivities to complete it earlier. But the break was helpful in gaining a better perspective. Some of my conversations with other wedding guests who are staunch PTI supporters (and there were many) inform this piece on why Pakistan should learn a lesson from what not to do from USA and India, and why dismissing those who vote for Imran Khan or Narendra Modi (or Trump) as bigots or sexist avoids the real issues – something Ayesha Siddiqa takes up in her excellent piece, in The Wire, Pakistan’s Middle Class Awaits a Miracle. The only point I’d add to her article is that Imran Khan’s support comes not just from the youth but also plenty of middle-aged aunties and uncles who gained political consciousness during the Musharraf ‘benign dictator’ years. My unedited Print piece below with a couple of videos from my Al Jazeera interviews ahead of elections, and a post-election podcast in Himal Southasian

https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/477025080&color=%23ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true

Beena Sarwar

As dust from Pakistan’s general elections settles, this is a good time to look at the bigger picture and take stock of what has happened and what is likely to happen. It is also time to re-assert that democracy is messy business, that it is a process, not an event, and that controlled democracy, while not quite democracy, is better than dictatorship. In short, it’s complicated.

Despite the surface optics, this may well be the best of times for Pakistan. A time of despair, but also uplifting. The country is moving in the right direction politically, but the process is marred by interference from within and outside its borders.

Noteworthy within the larger picture is that Pakistan has recently completed an important cycle in the democratic political process: the peaceful transition of power from one elected government that completed its tenure, to the next — only the second time in the country’s history that this has happened.

The first time was when the government elected in 2008 (the late Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party, PPP) handed over power to the next elected government in 2013 (Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, PML-N). Both governments completed their tenures despite noisy, distracting opposition often seen to have military support.

Now, the PML-N is handing over power to cricket legend Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (“movement for justice”, PTI). Most political parties have rejected the election results but hopefully they will stay in the system. As Benazir Bhutto once said, “Boycott, and then what?”

There are many factors behind the election – or “selection” — results.

Firstly, there is Imran Khan’s charisma coupled with his emotive rhetoric that appeals to many who came to political consciousness during Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s military dictatorship (1999-2008). They include youth as well as adults who initially supported the “liberal” dictator seen as symbolising a change in ideology from his predecessor Gen. Ziaul Haq’s oppressive rule (1977-1988).

Coupled with this is disillusionment with the old political parties – “desperation” as one PTI supporter put it. PTI’s slogan “Tabdeeli” (change) and its anti-corruption rhetoric speaks to the desire for change among such people.

These factors together could well have made PTI to be the election frontrunner in any case. But the process was not allowed to take place on its own. Various other elements pushed the PTI past the finish line further and faster than it may have reached on its own.

These include massive, unprecedented censorship in the run up to the 2018 elections that helped forge a narrative loaded in favour of PTI. Journalists, particularly in the broadcast media, were forced to not only virtually black out PPP and PML-N, but also mention their leadership only in a negative light. Of course, the dominant narrative does not determine how people vote – party loyalists will vote for their party regardless — but it certainly can influence the undecided voter or one who is on the fence.

Additionally, the judiciary was deployed to disqualify candidates belonging to these parties. Further, candidates (especially from PML-N) were threatened, coerced or blackmailed into giving up their party tickets at the eleventh hour and either withdrawing from the race or contesting as independents.

Perhaps the most significant factor behind the electoral results is the lack of electoral transparency and post-polling manipulations. Polling agents in dozens of stations were not allowed to be present for the vote counting. Many also complained of not being provided copies of Form 45, a document containing data about each candidate, names as well as how many votes they received, to be signed by Returning Officers and polling staff after the vote count.

Results for some constituencies came in an unprecedented 72 hours after polling ended, causing further suspicions about this most “rigg-orous” election process as the columnist Nadeem Farooq Paracha sarcastically termed it.

Significantly, all the parties except for PTI have complained of these manipulations and irregularities. Imran Khan has magnanimously promised to look into all electoral complaints. Not a word about the censorship and other pre-poll manipulations.

But whatever the factors behind PTI’s electoral win, Pakistan must ride this wave. There are positives to focus on and strengthen, for example, the clear desire for change among the people – beyond the superficial “tabdeeli” promised by PTI. These aspirations have led to the emergence of some promising electoral candidates, including women and representatives of religious communities other than Muslim. Some have won provincial and national assembly seats against daunting odds. Others, even if like the lawyer Jibran Nasir in Karachi did not win, continue to challenge the dominant narrative, raising important questions about identity, inclusion and pluralism.

It is in fact such real changes taking place on the ground that are so threatening to the establishment and the politico-religious forces. Citizens are no longer satisfied with treading the path they are expected to follow because of where they were born and into which community. A groundswell of growing awareness about basic rights and human dignity is leading more and more individuals to reject the old order and to cross or aspire to cross socio-economic, class, caste and gender barriers.

This is the real “tabdeeli” that is taking place, regardless of Imran Khan’s rhetoric. Changes on the ground will continue to challenge the status quo in ways that only make news when there is violence.

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Indian PM Modi and US President Trump: elected leaders riding the waves of fear of change, much like Imran Khan. File photo.

As Pakistan braces for the next phase in its polity, there are lessons to be learnt from countries like India and USA where fear of change has led to the emergence of similar ‘strongman’ leadership.

Those who voted for Narendra Modi or Donald Trump are not all bigots, misogynists or racists. Many are just ordinary people desperate for “better days” and to make their country “great again”. This is not too dissimilar from Imran Khan’s supporters seeking “change”.

Change, like democracy, is a process, not an event. And so we continue to march along that road.

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