Reflections on fascism, autocracy, media and the democratic political process

fullsizeoutput_153PRINCETON BLOG: Something I wrote for my class blog at Princeton University where I taught a journalism seminar this past semester, based on a lecture soon after the US Presidential elections, by Egyptian journalist Yasmine El-Rashidi, a fellow visiting Ferris Professor of Journalism with the University’s Council of Humanities

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A Battle for the Soul of Pakistan

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Sehwan: Women and children in the courtyard. Photo: Beena Sarwar

Wrote this in one go about the suicide attack at Sehwan Sharif that claimed over 80 lives. Sick at heart but not giving up. Thanks to friends around the world, especially in India for their messages of solidarity, to the Wire for publishing it so fast and editor Siddharth Varadarajan for the photos used with the Wire piece. We had gone to Sehwan together, along with Nandini Sundar and Aslam Khwaja. Extracts from my article:

I wonder if the bangle sellers outside the shrine are alive. I still have some chunky glass bangles I bought, bargaining more for the sake of it than to save money.

Did the woman bouncing a little girl on her shoulders, chanting and dancing to an inner beat before the drums sounded, go back last Thursday? Did they survive the blast?  Continue reading

Women’s Action Forum letter to the Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Pakistan

recover-activistsReproducing below the letter sent by the Women’s Action Forum letter to the Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Pakistan about the “disappeared” activists and the deliberate and sustained campaign against them in the media and on social media. This campaign, with its accusations of blasphemy and treason being leveled against the missing activists and those campaigning for their safe recovery poses a danger to those missing, their families and the human rights campaigners.

WAF urges that the state, its institutions and agencies be held responsible for the recovery of the missing bloggers/activists and inform what the investigation has yielded, and that the federation be held answerable for non-compliance of SC orders on the issue of enforced disappearances.

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Ongoing worldwide protests against “missing” bloggers

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Lahore protest. Photo: Khalid Mahmood

January 15, 2017 marks just over two weeks since the professor, poet and activist Salman Haider was abducted from Islamabad, followed soon after by more such “disappearances”. Human rights activists around the world are demanding that Pakistan produce the missing bloggers and end the climate of fear being created. Disappearing activists is not a new tactic, as Pervez Hoodbhoy reminds us – been happening with alarming regularity in Balochistan. But these abductions happened in Punjab. Meanwhile, the propaganda machinery of the dirty tricks brigade (#DTBPk) is out in full force painting as ‘blasphemers’ and ‘traitors’ the missing bloggers and those supporting them – which in the context of Pakistan is a clear incitement to violence and vigilante action. Below: photographs from some of the protests – Peshawar, Toba Tek Singh, Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, Dallas TX and London, England.  Continue reading

#StandwithJNU… “But what about Pakistan?”

I wrote this piece a couple of days ago for Scroll.in on why I, as a Pakistani, am bothered about what’s happening in India – and also what people like me have to deal with from hyper-nationalists on both sides of the border. Also see this post from New Pakistan raising the question of whether the applause in Pakistan for political dissent in India means that such dissent is acceptable in Pakistan too – with reference to the young cricket enthusiast Umar Daraz in Pakistan, arrested for raising an Indian flag. Also see this excellent piece by Rubeena Mahato in Nepali Times raising alarm bells about South Asia’s constricted freedoms.
JNU crisis: But what about Pakistan?

JNU crisis: But what about Pakistan?

 

For the past few days, the row between those who stand for free speech and those who don’t has intensified in India. As a journalist from Pakistan, I stand unequivocally with the students and journalists in India who are being vilified and targeted by hyper-nationalists. In the process, I am getting more than my usual share of nasty comments from Indians – and Pakistanis – on social media. Continue reading

India/Pakistan: ‘Peace is a process, not an event’

My first monthly column for Himal Southasian (Feb 2016 issue), a Kathmandu-based magazine I’ve been associated with since its launch in 1997. The headline derives from something I remember a Naga woman from India saying at a conference I attended in Colombo, Sri Lanka many years ago. I focus my piece on what links the Pathankot and Bacha Khan University attacks, Modi’s Christmas Day visit to Pakistan and beyond – the issue may have died out from the headlines, but remains relevant. Article below with additional links and photos.vxtvfzk
By Beena Sarwar

If Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s stopover in Lahore to meet his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif on 25 December last year came as a surprise, the subsequent militant attack in India barely a week later on 2 January did not. Continue reading

In wake of Pakistan university attack, the voices grow louder – stop glorifying the dead

Screen Shot Hamid Mir-Geo TV

Screenshot from Hamid Mir’s Capital Talk, Geo TV, Jan 20, 2016

I wrote this piece on Jan 20, 2016 on the barbaric attack on Bacha Khan University in Charsadda. Published in Scroll.in on Jan 22, 2016.

As Pakistanis look for solutions, a consensus is emerging that people killed in such attacks should not be called ‘martyrs’ or ‘heroes’.

By Beena Sarwar

There is now a numbing familiarity to the kind of news that broke on Wednesday morning from Pakistan.

This time, heavily armed militants in suicide vests scaled the walls of a sprawling university campus near Charsadda, a picturesque town in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly known as North West Frontier) province near the Afghan border. Gunfire and explosions starting at about 9 am resounded through the dense fog enveloping Bacha Khan University, set idyllically amidst sugar cane fields some 13 km from Charsadda.

The four assailants killed at least 19 students and teachers before themselves being killed by the police and army in a three-hour long gun-battle.

The casualty rate was far lower than the attack on the Army Public School in nearby Peshawar just over a year ago on Dec 16, 2014 in which militants killed some 150 school children and teachers.

The relatively low casualties, pointed out Senator Rubina Khalid of the Pakistan People’s Party, is not a basis for self-congratulation.
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