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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Pakistan’s Nobel Laureates – united by the tragedy of militancy

My article for Scroll.in today about how “Takfiri” thinking drove physicist Abdus Salam out of the country, and keeps Malala Yusufzai away from her home. 

Malala: "I decided that I would speak up. Through my story I want to tell other children all around the world they should stand up for their rights"

Malala: “I decided that I would speak up. Through my story I want to tell other children all around the world they should stand up for their rights”

There is no escaping the irony that the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize for 2014 has gone jointly to two child rights advocates from Pakistan and India – 17-year old Malala Yousafzai and 60-year old Kailash Satyarthi — while the armies of their countries trade bullets and kill innocents across the Line of Control in Kashmir. Continue reading

Call for short films: “Pakistan: How To Make A Better Future?”

Eqbal Ahmad video contest Pakistan better futureCalling all filmmakers: video contest organized by the Eqbal Ahmad Centre for Public Education: Produce and submit 8-minute videos on the theme: “Pakistan: How To Make A Better Future?” Details at this link (text below). Also check out these 8-min videos – impressive compilation.

The competition seeks to raise awareness and encourage activism on important social issues, and encourage the use of new media in Pakistan.

Submissions for 2014 may deal with any of the following:

  1. Citizenship: What are the rights and responsibilities of being a citizen of Pakistan?
  2. Minority Rights: Issues of Pakistan’s religious and ethnic minorities.
  3. Terrorism: Why is Pakistan afflicted and what’s to be done?
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The nightmare must end – my op-ed in Dawn, 2009

Zahoor: Taliban and the media, The Frontier Post, June 2008

Zahoor: Taliban and the media, in The Frontier Post, June 2008

Those who justify the Taliban uprising in Pakistan as an anti-imperialist movement forget that since the Taliban first swept into Afghanistan in 1996 (with the blessings of the Pakistani establishment), they have been a threat to women, pluralism and democracy in the region. Their oppressive order in Afghanistan pre-dates the American invasion of Iraq, bombing of Afghanistan, and drone attacks in Pakistan –– from an article I wrote in Dawn, 2009. Came across it again while searching for something else. Read it, and tell me, what has changed? 

By Beena Sarwar, Feb 7, 2009

OF the many challenges Pakistan’s elected government faces perhaps the most menacing and deep-rooted is Talibanisation — a phenomenon identified earlier on (as Talibanism) by the then exiled Afghan government’s acting foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah in his address to the United Nations General Assembly on Sept 21, 2000. Continue reading

The February 12 pledge, terrorism, and the Malala connection

Lahore, Feb 12, 1983: Police lathi charge demonstrators. Photo: Rahat Ali Dar

Lahore, Feb 12, 1983: Police lathi charge demonstrators. Photo: Rahat Ali Dar

The News published a slightly toned down version of my article, The Feb 12 pledge. Un-edited text below, followed by a postscript linking this struggle to Malala. More photos at this link.

Renewing the Feb 12 pledge

By Beena Sarwar

Every February 12 we commemorate Pakistan Women’s Day in honour of those who gathered at Lahore’s Regal Chowk on that day in 1983, defying the military order against public gatherings, to protest Gen. Zia’s ‘Law of Evidence’ that upheld the testimony of a male as equal to that of two females in a court of law. The police attacked the demonstrators with batons and arrested several, including the venerated poet Habib Jalib whom Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif is fond of quoting. Continue reading

Moving out of the downward spiral

@salmaantaseer: I was under huge pressure sure 2 cow down b4 rightest pressure on blasphemy. Refused. Even if I'm the last man standing

I wrote this on Jan 5, 2010 for Tehelka (published today as ‘Salmaan Taseer’s death is liberal Pakistan’s loss‘), the day after Salmaan Taseer was gunned down in cold blood by his own bodyguard whose cowardly action of firing at the Governor’s back has deprived us of a man of courage and conviction, wit and wisdom. ST, you are not “the last man standing”.

Moving out of the downward spiral

Beena Sarwar

“There are no less than 24 groups as of now supporting Qadri on FB and 1 against what he did, that says it all. #salmaantaseer”.

So went a tweet from a fellow Pakistani early morning on Jan 5, the day after the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab who took a courageous stand against religious extremists in Pakistan.

The facebook pages cropping up don’t quite say it all. Facebook is usually quite slow to take action against pages that users consider abusive (unless they have to do with Israel). In this case, many of those pages (mostly started by young men who like western shows like Sex and the City, support Pervez Musharraf and say they follow Islam – any contradictions here?) were taken down within 24 hours – which means that enough people reported them as abusive.

When it comes to religion, there is confusion in people’s minds in Pakistan. This confusion has been building up over the years, particularly since America, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and their allies took up cudgels against the Communist threat in Afghanistan and injected religion into the Afghans’ war of liberation against the Soviet invasion. Calling it a ‘jihad’ or a holy war enabled them to draw in Muslim fighters from around the world. The late Eqbal Ahmad warned against this long before the horrific events of 9/11 and US President Bush’s immature response sent the world into a downward spiral of violence, especially Pakistan, the frontline state in America’s war first against the Communists and then against extremist Islam.

The questions arising from Taseer’s assassination indicate that some forces in Pakistan are continuing along the old trajectory.  The assassin, 26-year old Malik Hussain Qadri, was assigned to the elite force guarding the Punjab Governor. It now emerges that he had been removed from the Special Branch because he was perceived as a security threat – so how did he end up on the security detail of a Governor who was already receiving death threats?

According to the post-mortem, he fired 41 bullets into Taseer’s back while the Governor was getting into his car. He then threw down his weapon and raised his arms in surrender.

Standard operating procedures in VIP guard duty require the other guards to immediately open fire even if the assailant is one of them, explains my military analyst friend Ejaz Haider. So why did the other guards not follow the SOP?

Chillingly, Qadri has revealed that he had told his colleagues what he was going to do and asked them not to open fire, as he would surrender. Which means that he was confident of getting away with it.

“Now the judicial process will take over,” predicts Haider. “The judge/prosecutors will be threatened, and the murderer will be declared a hero.”

This is of course already happening, as the facebook pages show. Some of them have referred to him as a ‘ghazi’ (conqueror) and are justifying and glorifying his murderous act – including several religious organisations. In fact, some have gone so far as to say that because he was ‘guilty’ of ‘blasphemy’, no Muslim should lead or attend his funeral prayers.

Qadri’s smiling face was flashed on television channels, along with his comments that “Salmaan Taseer is a blasphemer and this is the punishment for a blasphemer”. He is reported to have told interrogators that the Governor had called the blasphemy laws ‘black’ and had defended Aasia Noreen, the Christian woman sentenced to death for ‘blasphemy’.

Taseer’s role in highlighting the Aasia Bibi case, as it came to be known, was significant although some have criticised his high-profile visit to her jail cell and his promise to obtain a presidential pardon for her, which circumvented due process. According to due process, the President’s pardon would have been sought after the Supreme Court confirmed the death sentence following the High Court’s confirmation of it.

The Pakistani state has not executed any blasphemy convicts because so far, the High Courts or the Supreme Court have acquitted those accused under this law (295-C, imposed by Gen. Ziaul Haq to add to 295-A that existed since British times). Yet the mere allegation of ‘blasphemy’ has been enough to incite the murder of over 30 people so far. Taseer’s is the most high profile such murder.

Given the current climate, it is unlikely to be the last. For things to significantly change, ‘deep state’ will have to change its policies of support for ‘jihadis’ and jihadi mind-sets.

Meanwhile, those who have been opposing the blasphemy laws and other injustices perpetuated in the name of religion will continue to protest, as they have been doing for decades.

(ends)

Howard Zinn: from Pakistan with love and respect

The Zinn magic. Photo: Beena Sarwar

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of a cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness”

– Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn’s death on Jan 27 came as a shock to his friends and admirers around the world. The iconic historian, activist, and academic (Professor Emeritus, Boston University) was 87, frail, but in reasonable health. He had a heart attack while swimming, an activity he loved. As Arundhati Roy put it when she called his old friend David Barsamian of Alternative Radio: “Howard lived a glorious life and accomplished so much and to die swimming — what a way to go”.

Howard Zinn, Cambridge, Oct 2006 (photo: BJ Bullert)

David writes that Howard had rented a place with a swimming pool near the ocean for three weeks and “was thrilled to be escaping the dreaded Boston winter.”

A fluent Urdu/Hindi speaker, David sent this note to friends: “A light has gone out. There are new lights to be lit,” adding the following verse from Iqbal’s poetry:

Sitaron se aage jahan aur bhi hain
abhi ishq ke imtehan aur bhi
(Beyond these stars there are other galaxies
The real test of love is yet to come)

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