Women’s cross-border solidarity

Screen Shot 2017-04-26 at 11.35.04 AMWrote a short piece last night for the Women’s Regional Network, published on their original content blog. Honoured to be in the company of women like Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal in India, Najla Ayoubi in Afghanistan and others Pakistan taking on issues like how Street Harrassment is Hurting Afghanistan’s Democracy and Development,  Young Pakistani Women Recognized for their Achievements, The Rise of Online Trolls in India, Countering Violent Extremism and more. My brief contribution Borderless Issues: Mothers in Conflict also copied below:  Continue reading

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For Insha Afsar… Ski is the limit

Ski is the limit

Insha Afsar: A champion skier from Muzaffarabad.

Thanks to the Association of Pakistani Physicians of New England (APPNE) for the opportunity to meet an inspiring young lady, 14-year old Insha Afsar of Muzaffarabad who lost a leg in the earthquake of 2005 but has risen to become a champion one-legged skier, enabled by her supportive host parents in the USA. My piece in The News on Sunday

Some weeks ago, I happened to sit at the same table as a bright-eyed, long-haired young girl with a wide smile. The only non-desis in the room were the white couple with her. I assumed they were doctors or medical representatives in that hall full of physicians and their families.

But a pair of crutches resting on the table indicated that the girl was Insha Afsar, the 14-year old from Muzaffarabad who lost a leg in the 2005 Kashmir earthquake but has become a skiing sensation as she dominates the slopes — on one leg. Continue reading

Thirty years after 1984 Sikh carnage, ‘Kultar’s Mime’ underscores truths about victimhood and violence

Cat with Rano ptg by Evanleigh Davis

“Rano” – painting by Evanleigh Davis

“Innocent victims are the same, regardless of how they worship God and what tongues they speak” – Sarbpreet Singh 

A dramatic production of Sarbpreet Singh’s poem ‘Kultar’s Mime’ is being performed to acclaim in the USA and Canada, and will be in India at the end of the month. Here’s the link to my article in Scroll.in; text below with photos, links and dates not included in the Scroll version. Continue reading

The North Waziristan military operation and appeal to help internal refugees

IDPs Bannu. Courtesy: Dawn

IDPs Bannu. Courtesy: Dawn

While supporting the much delayed military operation against the militants, we need to also support the democratic political process and strengthening accountability and the rule of law in Pakistan. See ‘Recapturing North Waziristan: A tragic necessity‘ – interview of Pervez Hoodbhoy in Viewpointonline. Meanwhile, the fighting is taking a toll on the people of North Waziristan, thousands of whom have fled the fighting and are now refugees in their own land – internally displaced people or IDPs in development jargon.

Here are links to three moving articles on the issue that highlight the humanitarian aspect and suffering, by Rashida Dohad, Owais Tohid and Taha Siddiqui. Rashida and Taha also make the point that militant organisations are reaping dividends in terms of goodwill “while the state fidgets or forsakes”; credible organisations are made to obtain non-objection certificates while religious and extremist organisations are allowed “to operate freely”. Continue reading

Urgent help needed for people of flood-destroyed Sibi, Balochistan

Flood affected villagers move to safer areas. Photo courtesy IDSP

On July 21, heavy rainfall in district Sibi and nearby mountains resulted in heavy floods in River Talli, destroying the safety dam of village Union Council Talli, District Sibi. Over 80 have died, and more than 150 are still missing. Over 57,000 people have been affected in Sibi, Lehri, Barkhan.The floods have damaged 90% of the houses, over 50% livestock and agriculture.
According to the district agriculture and revenue departments these floods have broken the past records of 1978 which also resulted in huge destruction.
A team from Dr. Quratulain Bakhteari’s well-regarded organisation in Balochistan, the Institute for Development Studies and Practices (IDSP) recently visited the affected villages and met with the people there. Dr Bakhteari has sent out an appeal urgently seeking the following items: Food    Water     Tents

Please contact: Alam Baloch / Safdar Hussain
IDSP – Sibi Campus,  Near Radio Station, Luni Road, Sibi, Balochistan.
Telephone: office +92-833-500192  Mobiles: +92-331-8392503, +92-333-7801886


IDSP-Pakistan, Pakistan [IDSP-PAKISTAN]. H.No. 7-A, Al-Mashraq Street, Arbab Karam Khan Road Quetta, Pakistan. T. +92.81.2471776, 2470243 F. +92.81.2447285. idsp@idsp.org.pk

Doc’s blog; Madrassas vs Pvt schools; Hoodbhoy on Pk; Cost of war and more

Condolences: Lourdes Joseph, longtime activist and office secretary of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) passed away today in Dubai of a heart attack. Funeral on June 10, 4 pm, at St Anthony’s Church in Karachi; burial at ‘gora qabristan’ 5 pm.

1. New blog – www.drsarwar.wordpress.com – with photos and remembrances, including by I.A. Rehman, Salima Hashmi, Dr Badar Siddiqui, S.M. Naseem, Ali Jafari, Mohsin Tejani and others

2. The Madrasa Myth op-ed co-authored by Tahir Andrabi, Jishnu Das, C. Christine Fair, and Asim Ijaz Khwaja, published June 3, 2009 –  http://www.foreignpolicy.com

Extract: `Rather than focusing on madrasas and public schools, the donor community should take note of a striking change in the Pakistani educational landscape: the emergence of mainstream and affordable private schools.’

Note from Tahir Andrabi (Professor of Economics, Pomona College, Claremont, CA):
“Trying to inject some sense in the mainstream of the Washington policy debate on Pakistan. Would like for once to having facts as a basis for conversation on Pakistan”. (The other Pakistani co-author Asim Ijaz Khwaja teaches at Harvard Kennedy School). http://tinyurl.com/lxlbrs

3. `Whither Pakistan? A five-year forecast’ by Pervez Hoodbhoy in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 3 June 2009. Article Highlights
• U.S. government officials and media outlets have exaggerated how close Pakistan is to collapse.
• That said, the speed of Pakistan’s societal decline has surprised many inside in the country who have long warned of the effects of religious extremism.
• The first step toward calming the situation–Pakistan’s political leadership and army must squarely face the extremist threat, something they’ve finally begun to do.
http://tinyurl.com/Pk-PH-5yr

4. The Women of Swat and `Mullah Radio’, Tuesday, 02 June 2009,
From a group of NWFP women, report published in http://khyberwatch.com
Extract: “Islam started as soon as we fled from Malakand. People outside Swat think we had Islam and Shariat. There is no Islam in Swat. The Taliban have finished it.’ -woman from Mingawera, Swat, in a Sawabai camp
Full report at – http://tinyurl.com/lrnvo4

5. HRCP report on the situation of the internally displaced, plus the Commission’s conclusions and recommendations at:  http://hrcpblog.wordpress.com
`A tragedy of errors and Cover-ups – The IDPs and outcome of military actions in FATA and Malakand Division’
The cost of the insurgency in the Malakand Division has been increased manifold by the shortsightedness and indecisiveness of the non-representative institutions and their policy of appeasing the militants and cohorting with them. While the ongoing military operation had become unavoidable, it was not adopted as a measure of the last resort. Further, the plight of the internally displaced people has been aggravated by lack of planning and coordination by the agencies concerned, and the methods of evacuation of towns/villages and the arrangements for the stranded people have left much to be desired….

Based on reports by HRCP activists in Malakand Division and other parts of NWFP/Pakhtunkhwa, visits to camps by its activists and senior board members, and talks with many displaced people and several Nazims and public figures
Direct link to report – http://tinyurl.com/mpy7et

6. From Isa Daudpota: Bill Moyers sits down with award-winning investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill to examine the human and financial costs of America’s wars.
http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/06052009/watch.html
Plus a new website he suggests checking out: www.whowhatwhy.com

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.”

2. WOMEN’S VOICES – REPORT FROM CAMPS IN MARDAN

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

www.muslimcanadiancongress.org

(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
camps.

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

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