Yeh Woh
Our Bermuda Triangle
By Masud Alam
Among all forms of transportation, air travel is considered the safest all over the world. The world minus Pakistan, that is.
This is one country where an airport has seen two major plane crashes in two years, and last Sunday while Islamabad was fending off suggestions of jinx, Karachi airport was closed down after a botched landing and Lahore saw an aircraft almost take off with a leaky tank. North, south and east … connect the dots and you have a perfect triangle. That is our own Bermuda Triangle. Anything that flies over it is cursed to fall down like a stone, or have its engine malfunction, or its wings wobble.

media
A course in crash reporting
The coverage of the recent Bhoja air crash once again showed how the media in
Pakistan ignores credibility and responsibility while reporting disaster
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
The media coverage of Bhoja aircraft crash on April 20 violated all journalistic ethics to the hilt. Once again one heard criticism of how media personnel shoved mikes into the mouths of grief-stricken relatives to get their comments, shot and relayed images of the belongings of the deceased and even showed blood-tainted bags carrying their body parts.

Scene unseen
How sometimes journalists destroy evidence at the scene of crime or disaster
All over the world, the crime scene is the most important and essential source of information of what really happened and what caused an incident, in this case an air crash. Untrained people, be they media persons, cause irrevocable harm to any evidence that may be present on the scene. Every aspect of the crime scene is important: footmarks, the angle at which metal or debris is laid out, the scope of the area over which debris is spread, the distance from one object to another. All of these are photographed and preserved all over the world.

targetkilling 
A complex amalgam
Why exactly have the Shias of Hazara community in Balochistan suddenly become enemies of choice?
By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
It is not as if target killings are a novelty in Pakistan. So why should what has transpired in Quetta over the past few months be considered anything but another spate of hate-inspired carnage? Precisely because it is in Balochistan that the Pakistani state faces as serious a threat to its authority as it has any time over the past four decades. It is in Balochistan — and in that province’s capital — that the state feels the need to reassert itself. 

Crucial lessons to learn
In his third book, Ahmed Rashid has more advice for the
Pakistani military which needs to change its strategic thinking
By Arif Jamal
The uncertainty about the future of Pakistan, and the region around it, is growing fast as the year 2014 draws closer.
Although the United States has reached a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan that commits the United States to support Afghanistan for [at least] another 10 years even after the troops’ withdrawal, the draft of the proposed agreement remains secret. The strategic partnership agreement shows that the Americans are not likely to walk away from Afghanistan, as they did in 1988, after a decade of military engagement there.

A voice for ‘ordinary people’
A tribute to Murtaza Razvi, who
never wore patriotism on his sleeve
By Beena Sarwar
It’s hard to write about Sunny, as friends knew Murtaza Razvi, in the past tense. Our association spanned over 25 years and although we didn’t meet or communicate very often, it was comforting to know he was there, part of our larger family of forward-thinking, progressive-minded, secular, humane, literature-loving and above all utterly decent human beings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yeh Woh
Our Bermuda Triangle
By Masud Alam

Among all forms of transportation, air travel is considered the safest all over the world. The world minus Pakistan, that is.

This is one country where an airport has seen two major plane crashes in two years, and last Sunday while Islamabad was fending off suggestions of jinx, Karachi airport was closed down after a botched landing and Lahore saw an aircraft almost take off with a leaky tank. North, south and east … connect the dots and you have a perfect triangle. That is our own Bermuda Triangle. Anything that flies over it is cursed to fall down like a stone, or have its engine malfunction, or its wings wobble.

The triangle does exclude Balochistan and the Tribal belt but air traffic in these parts consists largely of unmanned aircraft, and we are more concerned with civilian air transport, of which there isn’t much. Quetta does have a functioning airport and sometimes a plane does take off or land here but their number is insignificant.

For all practical purposes the Triangle covers all of Pakistan and makes it a dangerous country to fly into. Or out of. And to fly in. And it will remain so for the foreseeable future.

It’s not our weather that makes planes go down — they’ve made machines that are so safe in all-weather conditions you have to make an effort to crash them. It’s not our planes either that have mutated into self-destroying devices — we don’t make them, we just buy or lease them from legitimate manufacturers and operators. It’s not our pilots who take charge of a flight without learning to land it — in the history of aviation there are only 19 aspiring pilots who learnt to take off and not to land, and they were all Arabs who were killed the same day many years ago. It’s not our technical staff either that makes flying dangerous in this country.

The biggest and constant danger to life and property in Pakistan is the entity called Government of Pakistan. It is a messy, loutish, and very busy organisation that specialises in screwing up everything it undertakes. It doesn’t have a writ in ten square miles of contiguous land anywhere in this country, it fails to provide essential services, it fails to run commercial enterprise, it fails to protect life and property of citizens, it fails to run railways and postal service … and we let it run and regulate passenger airlines!

Between a defense minister who makes footwear in his day job and signs on the dotted line of everything put in front of him; a civil aviation authority that is run by people it is supposed to regulate; an airline that loses twice as much money as it makes every day, and yet finds tens of millions to pay staff inducted against parchi rather than a vacant position; and an interior minister who at best can crack a vulgar joke or two to explain his government’s response to a disaster, the air travellers in this country are hostage to a system that can neither protect lives nor the dignity of dead bodies that its operations frequently turn living passengers into.

What makes flying more disaster-prone in this country is precisely what makes it safe in the rest of the world — past crashes. Every time a plane goes down, or survives an emergency, there is a tedious process that follows to ascertain the cause of problem, to formulate procedures or change this design and that policy, and to diligently ensure a recurrence is avoided. Every crash, every emergency, makes flying that much safer. In Pakistan, what follows every crash is: one, speculation over the cause of accident; two, bickering over who is to pay compensation and how much; three, several ‘high-level’ enquiries are instituted; and four, everyone forgets about the incident like a bad dream.

It’s been nearly two years since the Air Blue crash in Islamabad. We still don’t know the cause, the families of those killed in it are yet to receive compensation, the enquiry reports have been dumped by the courts as mere cover-up, and none of us would remember Air Blue crash today if it were not for the Bhoja Air crash, and the repeat of the whole process mentioned above.

This is what makes it absolutely clear that Pakistani air space will continue to be deadlier than Bermuda Triangle, and every air passenger is just as likely to be greeted by friends at the destination, as to be picked up in a coffin, with bits of fellow passengers ‘flesh mixed up with theirs’.

[email protected]

 

media
A course in crash reporting
The coverage of the recent Bhoja air crash once again showed how the media in
Pakistan ignores credibility and responsibility while reporting disaster
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed

The media coverage of Bhoja aircraft crash on April 20 violated all journalistic ethics to the hilt. Once again one heard criticism of how media personnel shoved mikes into the mouths of grief-stricken relatives to get their comments, shot and relayed images of the belongings of the deceased and even showed blood-tainted bags carrying their body parts.

A channel went to the extent of carrying a clip from a Hollywood movie to draw similarities with what would have happened outside and inside the plane just before the crash. Yet to be shown were the images of the mother of a deceased airhostess who was being asked by a female anchor how she felt.

All this was widely condemned and rightly so but little was said about how the media should report such events. As the main fodder for TV channels are visuals, the question here is: what exactly should they shoot on such occasions to meet the requirements?

The print media, which gets a clean chit most of the times, also shows irresponsible behaviour and needs to be trained.

Adnan Rehmat, Executive Director Intermedia Pakistan, believes there is no respect for the natural order of events to report. “The professional thing would be to respect the chronology of a disaster — there is no need to start ruminating on the cause of a crash within minutes of it or even for the remainder of the day.”

He disapproves media’s selfish disregard for the right to privacy of victims and their families. To him it is cruel to seek their views on camera and on paper so early into a disaster when they are clearly not in a position to even properly absorb the tragedy themselves. He thinks the images of government representatives giving official statements should be enough for TV channels to air.

In a country where there is a culture of secrecy in officialdom, the resort to conspiracy theories is understandable, Rehmat says. He asserts most conspiracy theories are merely hearsay and the product of a single person’s personal opinion. The media, he says, fails to make a difference between a conspiracy theory and a conspiracy.

Rehmat’s claim is endorsed by media critics who say where were the journalists when a dubious deal was allegedly being signed between the airline and the government? Even though this too falls in the conspiracy theory definition, it would have been better if they had broken news about this criminal collusion beforehand, thanks to their investigative skills, and helped avoid the tragedy altogether? Why is it so that all floodgates of information open to them once the damage is done?

Rehmat suggests onsite coverage of disasters should be calm, not hysterical; methodical, not unplanned and haphazard; based on ‘news you can use’ principle such as appeals for clearance of roads and urging blood donation, and not stating the obvious; reporting and conjecturing constantly.

On visuals, Ahmed Waleed, Controller News (Central) Samaa TV, says channels have learnt to a certain extent though they still show graphic, mutilated visuals during live coverage. “On such occasions, they can show long shots and visuals of rescue work,” he suggests.

“It is only in Pakistan that the journalists have license to get closer to the blast spot and the police fail to keep them at a distance,” says Waleed.

He is generally dissatisfied with standards of reporting of crimes and disasters, saying, “Mostly journalists, both in print and electronic media, have been reporting what they have been told either through FIRs or persons at the helm of affairs. The facts are seldom verified. Since the launch of electronic media, we have seen thousands (it may seem exaggerated) of stories that were put on air without being verified or checked, relying on the reporters. No action has ever been taken against the reporters who filed concocted reports. This is partly because of the senior people at the respective channels or newspapers who want to be the first to report. If they try to get a particular story verified and in the meantime some other channel runs it, they are put under a lot of pressure from the owners/management to follow suit. This all creates confusion among the viewers. Credibility is second or maybe third priority.”

Waleed adds, “Other dos and don’ts of disaster reporting follow. First of all, announcement of names of victims should be made with full responsibility. A name should be announced in full and if possible accompanied with father’s name as well as address. Disclosing first names is bound to create confusion and panic.”

Similarly, the quoting of unnamed eyewitnesses in such cases does not do any good. Media should quote only those people who are willing to submit their identity details and are ready to cooperate with investigators during the course of investigations. The media is expected not to disclose the names of suspects till they are proved guilty and punished.

 

 

 

 

 

Scene unseen
How sometimes journalists destroy evidence at the scene of crime or disaster

All over the world, the crime scene is the most important and essential source of information of what really happened and what caused an incident, in this case an air crash. Untrained people, be they media persons, cause irrevocable harm to any evidence that may be present on the scene. Every aspect of the crime scene is important: footmarks, the angle at which metal or debris is laid out, the scope of the area over which debris is spread, the distance from one object to another. All of these are photographed and preserved all over the world.

It has been observed that many media personnel in our country, in efforts to take unique footage, unintentionally move objects or create footmarks that may be crucial in determining the causes of a crime. Just recall the scene in which a reporter lifts an object from the debris of Bhoja aircraft declaring that it was once part of the doomed plane.

“The most worrying aspect of a tampered and violated crime scene is that the investigators will rarely know what crucial evidence they have lost. Solving a crime becomes a puzzle in which crucial pieces have been lost forever and investigators will never know which pieces were lost,” says Barrister Salman Safdar, who specialises in criminal litigation and is currently the defence counsel in the Benazir Bhutto assassination case.

In cases that take place before open public, numerous and varied eye-witness accounts are both natural and expected because everyone witnesses a different aspect of the accident. This exactly happened in the case of Bhoja crash. There were witnesses saying the aircraft caught fire mid-air and exploded, others saw it hit the ground on its belly and bounce and there was yet another witness who doubted gunshots caused the tragedy. Who is to be believed in this situation?

Not all of them will be wrong, but there is a possibility that some people create versions of their own for reasons of self-importance and journalists must be aware and wary of such tactics.

“The neutrality of media reporting and distinguishing fact from fiction and fact from opinion are essential tenets of good journalism. Proving the guilt of a criminal in front of the TV is very different from proving the guilt before a court. Media personnel should ensure that their actions do not hamper or prejudice investigations and court proceedings,” believes Salman.

Some members of the legal fraternity share with TNS that while details of suspects in a crime are public information, the manner in which such information is released often serves to confirm guilt rather than provide information. Such guilt, they believe, is irrelevant before a court and only serves to create tension between the common public and the criminal justice system.

They site the example of Hidayatullah who was arrested from the scene in the Manawa Police Training School terrorist attack and was shown by the media to be guilty. However, he was acquitted by the courts because not enough evidence had been gathered against him by investigating authorities and everyone believed that footage of his arrest from the scene would be enough evidence to secure a conviction.

— Shahzada Irfan Ahmed

 

 


targetkilling 
A complex amalgam
Why exactly have the Shias of Hazara community in Balochistan suddenly become enemies of choice?
By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar

It is not as if target killings are a novelty in Pakistan. So why should what has transpired in Quetta over the past few months be considered anything but another spate of hate-inspired carnage? Precisely because it is in Balochistan that the Pakistani state faces as serious a threat to its authority as it has any time over the past four decades. It is in Balochistan — and in that province’s capital — that the state feels the need to reassert itself.

I am not suggesting necessarily that there is a grand design behind the dramatic reemergence of what are ostensibly sectarian killers in the form of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ). Sunni supremacists have been everpresent on the Pakistan’s social and political landscape for at least two decades, and they have waged terror across the length and breadth of the country. Yes they have been laid low by the sudden shifts forced upon the state due to the so-called ‘war on terror’, but dormancy does not always imply a withering away. It is perfectly plausible that the LJ has, in a rather perverse manner of speaking, risen from the ashes.

But in Balochistan? Where it has never had much of a substantive presence? If it is the case that the LJ is not simply a hoax fronted by the establishment then it should’ve resurfaced in Punjab where it originated and could be said to have maintained some organisational presence. And as vexing is why the Shias of the Hazara community have suddenly become enemies of choice. After all the supremacists believe that heavenly rewards are reaped by putting particularly assertive Shias to the sword, do they not? The Hazaras of Quetta are much more prone to minding their own business than trying to foment a Khomeini-inspired uprising.

Inasmuch as answers to all of these questions do exist, they are to be found in a thorough reading of the historical and contemporary posture of all of Balochistan’s ethnic communities, and not the Hazaras in isolation. What is Balochistan today is a complex amalgam of many ethno-linguistic communities with extremely varied genealogical claims. The Baloch and Pashtuns are easily the two biggest communities and effectively dominate the regions south and north of Quetta respectively. The Hazara community is found primarily in Quetta city and has its origins in neighbouring Afghanistan from where migrations took place progressively though the colonial period.

Quetta’s legacy of colonial garrison town that served as the administrative capital of British Balochistan made it home not only to Pashtuns, Baloch (which include Brahui-speakers) and Hazaras but also, after partition, a large number of settlers of mostly Punjabi origin (along with a healthy smattering of Urdu-speakers). Until the contemporary period, this diverse mix did not necessarily give rise to explosive conflict. The Baloch and Pashtun communities of the city in particular have historically demonstrated relative maturity in avoiding confrontations along ethnic lines. The Hazara community and Punjabi/Urdu-speaking settlers, much more coopted into the official patronage structure of the state, have also maintained a relatively low profile.

Over the past decade, two wars have cast their shadow over the city’s relatively stable ethnic balance. First, the ‘war on terror’ has intensified a number of trends, including weaponisation, influx of refugees, and strengthening of militant networks. For the most part this war has affected the Pashtun population of the city, while other communities have reacted in differing ways. Second, the Baloch insurgency and the increasingly brutal response of military and paramilitary forces has deeply radicalized the Baloch population of the city (and the province more generally). In this case, non-Baloch communities have upped their guard vis a vis an intensified Baloch nationalism.

There has been no comparable process of politicisation within the Hazaras of Quetta, or, for that matter, amongst Punjabi settlers. The initiation of violence targeting both communities has necessarily politicised segments of both populations, but what should be clear is that such targeted violence is a very recent phenomenon that does not suggest deep ethnic – or for that matter, sectarian – faultlines with substantial historical precedent.

It is true that the smaller communities in Quetta have historically lived in relative isolation, and that this distance from the majority communities has made more intense the conflict that has recently erupted. The conflict in turn is now furthering the distance between these communities, and here my sense is that this conflict is largely being perceived by the various actors as an ethnic one. The attempt to politicise religious sects is unambiguous but does this mean that this violence should be considered sectarian in nature? It is telling that the LJ representatives that have taken responsibility for virtually every attack on Hazaras have had Baloch (or Brahui) names, and that so much care has been taken to project this Baloch-Sunni identity into the public spotlight.

The reasons to be suspicious of this confluence of events are obvious. The military establishment has long used religious militancy as a tool to serve its own perceived interests, both within the country and in the region at large. The strategic logic at work has not always been clear because the social, economic and political costs that the country has had to bear have almost always exceeded the purported benefits. One can only conclude then that the military establishment maps the public interest (read: its own interests) not in terms of societal welfare but in terms of how successfully it is able to neutralise potential threats to its authority.

And this is why it is so necessary for Pakistan’s oppressed nationalities and classes to remain divided, along whatever parochial lines are possible. The emergence of a plural and democratic polity in spite of the establishment and its proxies will require not only recognition of the diverse ethno-linguistic and religious communities that live within the state’s boundaries, but also the ability of these diverse entities to respect one another and come together under the guise of a renewed social contract in which the right of the people of this country to be the makers of their own destiny is guaranteed.

caption

Quetta: Aftereffects.

 

 

Crucial lessons to learn
In his third book, Ahmed Rashid has more advice for the
Pakistani military which needs to change its strategic thinking
By Arif Jamal

The uncertainty about the future of Pakistan, and the region around it, is growing fast as the year 2014 draws closer.

Although the United States has reached a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan that commits the United States to support Afghanistan for [at least] another 10 years even after the troops’ withdrawal, the draft of the proposed agreement remains secret. The strategic partnership agreement shows that the Americans are not likely to walk away from Afghanistan, as they did in 1988, after a decade of military engagement there.

There is little, if any, doubt that the regional and international dynamics would change in the post-US withdrawal period. It is not certain if the regional countries are ready to meet the challenge. But what is certain is that Pakistan holds the key to the future of the region. In the last analysis, Pakistan’s India and Afghanistan policies will determine the shape of things to come.

Pakistan’s India and Afghanistan policies will determine its own future more than the future of its neighbours.

The Americans took several years to understand that the problem is not in Afghanistan but in Pakistan. With hindsight, it is safe to bet that Pakistan is unlikely to learn what it has failed to do in the last 65 years. But Pakistanis cannot make the mistake of repeating its past mistakes as the country is already on the brink.

Ahmed Rashid’s ‘Pakistan on the brink — the future of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the West’ is a successful effort to drive home the same idea.

The 234-page book is a brief description of the US policies and how the Karzai government in Afghanistan and the military in Pakistan messed up the region. Although the book is quite critical of the US and the Karzai policies, it comes quite hard on the Pakistani military. It rightly has more advice for the Pakistani military which needs to change its strategic thinking to save the country, as well as the region from further chaos.

As long as the Pakistan military continues to support the Taliban, and look for strategic depth in Afghanistan, it would keep sinking in the black hole it has created for itself.

The book identifies the issues and summarises the situation as follows: “The core issue is what happens in Pakistan. Its strategic location, its nuclear weapons, its large population, its terrorist camps and its enfeebled economy and polity make it more important — and more vulnerable — than even Afghanistan. And yet Pakistan’s plan for its national security still consists almost entirely of resisting Indian hegemony, protecting and developing its nuclear program, promoting the Kashmiri cause, and ensuring the presence of a pro-Pakistan government in Kabul. None of that has changed since 2001, despite U.S. pressure and money. As long as the ISI protects key Afghan insurgent groups, a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan is out of the question and deepening of democracy and economic reform in Pakistan has no chance.”

On one hand, Pakistan places undue stress on its own sovereignty while, on the other hand, Pakistani military does not want to give the Afghans the right to decide for themselves. Pakistan must accept Afghanistan as a sovereign country if it wants to be treated as a sovereign country.

Rashid exposes Pakistani military’s “love” for the Afghan Pashtuns in these words, “General Kayani has vigorously opposed the US buildup of a large Afghan Army, even as he complains that the Afghan Army is not strong enough to stop the Taliban.”

Pakistan under the military rules has emerged as a paranoid state and is still driven by the ISI. This must change. Rashid writes, “Pakistan must act as a normal state, rather than a paranoid, insecure, ISI-driven entity whose operational norms are to use extremists and diplomatic blackmail. The ISI has become a state within a state and must be put under civilian control. A normal state would put civilians in charge, it would employ diplomacy, nuance, and flexibility; it would view its own national security as interconnected with that of its neighbors and allies; and it would, as its first and primary task, de-radicalize its own society.”

Rashid believes that, like Pakistan, India also has legitimate interests in Afghanistan. Whereas Pakistan has tried to achieve its interests and goals in Afghanistan by supporting and arming extremists and insurgents, India has chosen to invest in the people of Afghanistan. For example, India invested $150 million in building a 180-miles road from Delaram (in Nimroz province) to Zaranj, on the Iranian border. This shortens the route to the Iranian port of Chabahar. This road was opened in January 2009 by which time 50 percent of the Afghan imports and exports were routed through Iran. The Afghans were tired of Pakistan’s policy of delaying and creating hurdles at the Karachi port. Like all other policies, this military-dictated policy has also finally backfired and caused huge losses to Pakistan.”

Rashid argues that China is not a replacement for the United States, as the Pakistani military and its clients in the media want us to believe, if the US-Pakistan relations break down. First, Pakistan-China relations are essentially military-to-military relations. Although the military has benefited from this relationship to an extent, there is no people-to-people interaction. The $9 billion trade between the two countries is heavily tilted in favour of China. On the other hand, there is $60 billion trade between China and India. It would be naïve to believe that China would abandon India in favour of Pakistan. Much before the India-China trade relations soared, China had been drifting away from supporting Pakistan on Kashmir unconditionally. In times of national tragedies such as the 2005 earthquake, China’s financial support to Pakistan was “negligible” while the United States provided hundreds of millions of dollars.

The book is readable and a must-read for everyone interested in the US policy in the Af-Pak region or in the regional political dynamics. It provides the some hitherto unknown details of how the United States and other western powers have shaped the recent Af-Pak history. It also reveals many details of how the dysfunctional political system works in the two countries.

At the same time, it is full of rich analyses. It shows to all the actors the path to take.

Unfortunately, neither the Karzai government nor the Pakistani military seem willing to save the region from total destruction.

 

 

 

A voice for ‘ordinary people’
A tribute to Murtaza Razvi, who
never wore patriotism on his sleeve
By Beena Sarwar

It’s hard to write about Sunny, as friends knew Murtaza Razvi, in the past tense. Our association spanned over 25 years and although we didn’t meet or communicate very often, it was comforting to know he was there, part of our larger family of forward-thinking, progressive-minded, secular, humane, literature-loving and above all utterly decent human beings.

The first time we met was when he visited Karachi in 1987 or 88, with the Government College Dramatics Club (GCDC) of Lahore — a lively group of youngsters directed by the brilliant Shoaib Hashmi, an Economics professor at the Government College. Alys Faiz played the lead role in the hilarious murder mystery ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’, the play GCDC put on at the PACC. Sunny good-humouredly played the corpse, complete with a wooden coffin.

After I moved to Lahore, I joined the founding team of The Frontier Post (FP), the Peshawar daily that launched its Lahore edition in 1989. I was in charge of bringing out a daily features page, which included ‘Towntalk’. Sunny, who had joined the magazine section, approached me with an idea he was passionate about: a column on ordinary people — the ayah, the tonga-walla, the labourer, the chai-walla, all those people who mill around in the city working from morning till night to make a living, feed, clothe and educate their children. What were their daily lives like, what were their aspirations, their dreams, and their insights?

That was where his heart lay, with these ‘Ordinary People’ as the column was titled. I don’t remember how long we ran it but I believe it was an important contribution to documenting the voices of those who normally go unheard — “history from below”, as Dr Mubarik Ali terms it. Sunny’s interviews, written in a features-style, found their way into his first book ‘Ordinary People’ (Progressive Publishers, Lahore, 1995).

Extremely well-read, particularly in history and literature (he held two Masters degrees, in Indian History from the Government College Lahore, and in Political Science from Villanova University, US), with a biting wit, our forthright, no-nonsense Sunny also had a great sense of fun — and a famous temper that mellowed down over the years.

After I left FP in 1993, we didn’t get to spend much time together but whenever we did meet, there was a closeness that came not just from a long association but a meeting of minds. There’d be serious discussions on various issues, but also a great deal of laughter. He was passionate about human rights and peace, particularly peace with India. His last published column in fact, was about this: “Indo-Pak time is now” — a solid, clear-headed piece of political analysis, published by The Indian Express the morning after his death (April 20, 2012).

“If there is an opportunity to move swiftly with improving relations with India all these years after the failed Musharraf-Vajpayee Agra summit, it is now,” he wrote.

“Both Zardari and Sharif are cognizant of this opportunity. It is only nascent entrants in politics like Imran Khan who opposed Zardari’s India visit, citing flimsy reasons such as army troops being buried alive under an avalanche at Siachen while the president undertook that visit. The criticism was wisely downplayed by the media even as Imran remains their darling, ostensibly because the public showed little appetite for such criticism.

“To be seen to be mending fences with India, showing to the electorate that it works for their own good and thus garnering popular support, can disarm the hawks within and outside the Pakistan army, and ensure the strengthening of the democratic process in Pakistan — especially when the ruling and a major opposition party are on the same page on India-Pakistan ties.”

Zubeida Mustafa in her recent column refers to Sunny’s mother, Zaheena Tahir, a writer who passed away in Lahore, January 2002.

“Zaheena’s prose and poetry, according to Habib Jalib writing in the preface to her book, were directed ‘at inequality and injustices that we see around us’ and some of her poems expressed ‘deep-felt pain’, which inspired ‘resistance against the age-old order’.”

“Murtaza inherited this sensitivity. His life and interests were rich and versatile and as a result his personality had multiple dimensions... Political, social and cultural analyst, literary critic and translator. Above all, he was a good human being and ever ready to help.

”His academic background… combined with his sensitivity and perception produced a fine intellect. That was his biggest asset.’ (‘Restless soul at rest’ <http://www.zubeidamustafa.com/restless-soul-at-rest>, Dawn, April 25, 2012).

I always enjoyed meeting him with his smiling wife Sherry, with whom he obviously shared a great camaraderie and loving bond. I never got to meet his young daughters, but he was clearly so proud of them. As one of those rare men who genuinely believe in women’s rights as human rights, I know he must have been a wonderful father. All of them have a lot to live up to, and I am sure he passed on his courage to them, which will help them to cope with this irreparable loss.

His professional career developed steadily, from a budding writer at The Frontier Post, Lahore, to Dawn in Karachi, a city that he fell in love with. He was posted as Resident Editor in Lahore from 2005-2007 but his heart was in Karachi where his family was. He hated being away from them.

One of Sunny’s pet peeves was the ‘Saudisation’ of Pakistan, symbolised by the endangered goodbye phrase ‘Khuda hafiz’ — which he took on in several well-argued columns.

In a moving tribute, Indian journalist Eshwar Sundaresan wrote about their first meeting.

“It was the morning of our first day at the Asia Journalism Fellowship in Singapore. Dressed in formals, I was waiting along with a few other Fellows for the bus to take us to the University when Murtaza — wearing cargo shorts, a collared T-shirt and glitzy sunglasses — walked up to me. He grinned and said:

“You must be the other Fellow from India. I was looking for you.’ I shook his hand. ‘Sutta peethe ho?’(Do you smoke?) I nodded. ‘Toh chalo, chaoon mein shauk farmathe hain.’ (Then let’s enjoy a cigarette in the shade.)

“Just like that, he had used his easy charm to win me over….

“…I suppose it was natural for us to strike a deep friendship — despite external appearances, we had so much in common. We had both spent longish spells in the US. More importantly, both of us were fond of Bollywood, Hindi music from the 60s and 70s, ghazals, filter “ciggys,” and sub-continental history. I discovered that he could talk knowledgeably for hours on any of these topics.” (‘He who could not be tamed,’ Dawn, April 20, 2012).

Quintessential Sunny.

He never wore his patriotism on his sleeve like the ‘ghairat brigade’, but his commitment to Pakistan, and to a just, humane and civilised Pakistan was evident in everything he said and did. Here’s a passage by former Editor Dawn Abbas Nasir, remembering their first meeting:

“Murtaza’s expression changed. Where he was smiling, laughing, he was suddenly serious, very serious: ‘I have three daughters, Abbas. I have neither the option to go abroad nor do I seek it. I’ll stay and fight these bigots. I have the same dream for my daughters as you have for yours. All of us can’t leave.”’ (‘When life is so beautiful’, Dawn, April 21, 2012)

Pakistan is poorer without Murtaza Razvi. I don’t want to dwell on his senseless murder, apparently a symptom of the lawlessness that pervades our country. We have lost too many artists and writers to it already. Please, let this be the last.

Rest in peace Sunny. You will live on in our hearts and through your work.

 

 

 



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