World Polio Day, Oct 24: ‘Any number more than zero is too much’

A slightly revised version of my article in The News on Sunday on Oct. 23… The world watches as the last three polio endemic countries strive to relegate the crippling virus to history


Polio survivors Ramesh Ferris and Minda Dentler share their experiences – and dreams about a polio-free world. Photos: Beena Sarwar

“In 1955 Dr Jonas Salk invented the preventive vaccine. It is outrageous that 25 years later I contracted polio,” says author and global health advocate Ramesh Ferris.

Standing on his good leg, a crutch compensating for the paralysed one in braces, eyes gleaming behind black-rimmed glasses, Ferris passionately addresses the audience of about a hundred physicians, scientists and international diplomats. They include representatives from the world’s three remaining polio endemic countries — Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria. Continue reading

Eradicating polio: one last push

jafarihamid20_db_photo_jpg_autocroppedMy oped for The News International, Pakistan, published March 29, 2016

Polio-free Pakistan: one last push

Beena Sarwar

“Not since the eradication of smallpox in 1980 has the world had a chance to wipe out an incurable, but preventable, human disease, “ says Dr Hamid Jafari, former director of the World Health Organization’s Global Polio Eradication Department. Continue reading

The ‘good’ Taliban strike again

Alamdar Road, Quetta: Shia Hazara protestors sitting with coffins in the freezing cold.

Alamdar Road, Quetta (file photo): Shia Hazara protestors with coffins of those killed in a 2012 attack sit in the freezing cold to demand government action. #NeverForget

Another attack at a Shia Imambargah in Peshawar. More loss of innocent lives as the “good” Taliban strike again. The Pakistan military machine goes after the “bad” ones, while those who kill Shias and Ahmadis are allowed to function as they further outdated foreign policy objectives re India / Kashmir and Afghanistan. (see Pakistan Must Discard its ‘Good Taliban, Bad Taliban’ Narrative)

Pakistanis will keep protesting, the perpetrators will keep attacking. Continue reading

Rabid dogs and Shia killings

Omar Ali blog screengrabSharing here a screen grab from one of the most horrific videos of cold-blooded killings I’ve come across, that was posted by Dr. Omar Ali to his blog today. The incident probably took place about nine months ago, and those killed were probably Shia Hazaras; the video has been shared on facebook. Here’s an excerpt from Dr. Omar Ali’s post:

It took a lot of work (partition, two nation theory,Punjab holocaust, madressas, CIA, ISI) to get to this level of cold blooded hatred. And of course, the roots go back much further, all the way into our species and its biological evolution (though like Ghataprabha, I too fantasize about the goodness of the folk versus the evil of the elite, but then..)…anyhow, whatever the cause, these particular dogs are now rabid. Continue reading

Music: Touching the soul, defying the Taliban

Asfand Yaar Mohmand performing - photo: Shiraz Hasan

Asfand and his Rubab! This lovely, moving post by Shiraz Hasan reminded me of another moving documentary film I saw over a decade ago, Amir: An Afghan Refugee Musician’s Life in Peshawar by Dr. John Baily (1985). It is tragic how musicians have been pushed around, forced to flee the fighting during the Afghan war of the 1980s and now, persecuted and punished for their art by the ‘taliban’.

Asfand Yaar Mohmand, as Shiraz Hasan writes, comes from a family of labourers. They initially opposed his decision to become a musician but realising he would “not step back” have came around. “I love playing the Rubab, this is such a beautiful instrument. Its strings touch your soul, literally,” says the 19-year old Afsand.

The only international organisation in the world advocating freedom of expression for musicians and composers is Freemuse, which I came across some months ago when Salman Ahmad of Junoon introduced me to its founder Ole Reitov. In an subsequent email Ole wrote that his own “deep interest and dedication to this issue started in Lahore in 1980 when – invited by Raza Kazim – I recorded Iqbal Bano (in Kazim’s studio) and talked to her about the reasons why she stopped performing in public”.

Acid survivors fight back: a story of hope amidst despair

'Saving Face' co-directors, Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy: American-Pakistani cooperation wins

My report for IPS, featuring an interview with Dr Mohammad Jawad, published before ‘Saving Face’ premiered on HBO on March 8, International Womens Day

Acid survivors fight back: a story of hope amidst despair

Beena Sarwar

BOSTON, March 8:  When the Oscar-nominated film ‘Saving Face’ won an Academy Award in Hollywood Best Documentary (Short Subject), it was the triumph of several ‘firsts’: the first time ever that a Pakistani filmmaker had won an Oscar; Pakistan’s first Oscar winner was a woman; and it was the first time that an American and a Pakistani had co-directed an Oscar-winning film. Continue reading

‘Pro-jihadi, anti-India’ policy #fail

“’Pro-jihadi, anti-India’ policy #fail” – my column Personal Political published in Hardnews, India, and in The News on Sunday. Many in Pakistan have been saying this for a long time, and been attacked and branded as traitors, Indian agents and kafirs for going against ‘the establishment’. Now, for the first time, this argument is in the public domain, being discussed on live television. Recently, Asma Jahangir Chairperson Emeritus of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and President of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan, lashed out at the Pakistan army’s self serving policies and demanded that they stay out of politics – in words that one would never have heard on television before. Her view reinforces what I wrote a few days earlier, below (predictably, efforts are afoot to portray her as ‘anti-national, pro-Hindu, pro-India’. These efforts too, will #fail). Continue reading

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