analysis
When politics becomes bitter

Wild accusations and unbelievable promises are invariably made during election campaigns in Pakistan but these are difficult times for the country
By Rahimullah Yusufzai
Asif Ali Zardari, the new co-chairperson of the PPP, could be blamed for triggering the ongoing war of words between his party and the former ruling party, PML-Q, by dubbing it as the "Qatil League," or the 'Killer League.' The implication was that the politicians allied to President General (R) Pervez Musharraf, were behind the assassination of the PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto.

review
Outsider's points of view

In her latest exhibition in Lahore, the tone of
Faiza Butt's comment, like any mature artist, is ambiguous, pleasant and intriguing
By Quddus Mirza
Faiza Butt enjoys a unique position -- of an outsider both in her place of origin and her country of residence. At present she is living in England where understandably she is considered a foreigner; in Pakistan too she is viewed as an outsider who has come back after a decade to display her solo exhibition -- currently on display at Rohtas 2, Lahore.

Early 'stage' of her life
Shaukat Kaifi's account of the world of theatre in India in the early days after independence
By Sarwat Ali
Shaukat Kaifi, although better known for her roles in the Bollywood films, was basically a stage actor and what she has written about her life in 'Yaad Ki Rehguzar' gives a good account of the world of theatre in India in the early days after independence.

Repetition overcomes truth?
Dear all,
I've always rather liked the school motto of Aitchison College: 'Perseverance Commands Success'.
It's a nice thought: don't give up, just keep carrying on... A variation on this theme is the strategy used by the quarters of Pakistan's erstwhile 'establishment' for the purposes of disinformation. The thinking is the same -- repetition commands success i.e. if you repeat a lie often enough, and get some of the people to reiterate the same lie, then soon all the people will begin to think it is true!


 

Asif Ali Zardari, the new co-chairperson of the PPP, could be blamed for triggering the ongoing war of words between his party and the former ruling party, PML-Q, by dubbing it as the "Qatil League," or the 'Killer League.' The implication was that the politicians allied to President General (R) Pervez Musharraf, were behind the assassination of the PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto.

Zardari made the remark in a fit of anger after the gruesome murder of his wife, who was the mother of their three young children. It is difficult to control emotions at times of such tragedies. In fact, he made amends in the same press conference at Naudero where he described the PML-Q as "Qatil League" by reposing his faith in the federation of Pakistan and praising Benazir Bhutto's Punjabi bodyguards for sacrificing their lives for her. It was a statesman-like approach from a man, who felt he and his family had been wronged by certain politicians and civil and military officials hailing from Punjab. Another emotional sentence or a slip of tongue could have further inflamed the anger of Sindhis in the volatile situation prevailing at that time and given vent to worrisome slogans such as 'Pakistan Na Khapay' being raised all over Sindh.

However, the Chaudhries of Gujrat are not in the habit of taking things lying down. It seems they needed an opportunity to pounce upon and snatch the initiative after having been pushed into the defensive due to Benazir Bhutto's assassination in Rawalpindi, the garrison city sited in Punjab.

The PML-Q president, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, not the most articulate person, found words to condemn Zardari for 'insulting' Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. His argument was that PML-Q stood for Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-i-Azam and dubbing it as "Qatil League" amounted to insulting Pakistan's revered founder.

The argument wasn't convincing. The PML-Q, cobbled together as the 'King's Party' to serve General Musharraf's interests and his partner in perpetuating military rule, controlling the judiciary and curbing the media's freedom, cannot claim to be the inheritor of the Quaid-i-Azam's legacy. Naming the faction after Quaid-i-Azam was wrong and misleading. In fact, there should be a ban on conferring such revered names on parties and organisations.

Certain figures and symbols are sacrosanct and should remain above board and beyond petty things. The Pakistan Muslim League has split and given birth to so many factions that its self-serving leaders and military patrons have run out of names. But they manage to coin a new name every time a military dictator decides that he needs a PML faction to provide a civilian fašade to his political ambitions. Therefore, the reference to PML-Q as the "Qatil League" wasn't meant to insult Quaid-i-Azam but was intended to ridicule the party leadership.

Once the first salvo was fired by the two sides, there was going to be no end to the verbal sparring. The PML-Q's Punjab-based leadership also seized upon another opportunity to pin down the PPP and harm its electoral prospects in Punjab.

The riots in Sindh, following Benazir Bhutto's assassination and the looting and burning of public and private property by mobs in rural parts of the province, prompted the PML-Q leaders to publish large advertisements in newspapers asking the affectees to approach the party for listing their losses and seeking compensation.

Provocatively and unwisely, the list of affectees in the advertisements carried the names of all ethnic groups affected by the violence except the Sindhis. The implication was that the Sindhis weren't affected but had rather caused the violence and harmed other people's property. The PML-Q announcement to set up a refugees' camp for the affectees from Sindh in Lahore also raised eyebrows.

The said advertisement had talked about large scale migration of people from Sindh. All this was clearly aimed at winning the sympathies of Punjabis and others affected by the violence in Sindh. It also meant that the PML-Q had given up on the Sindhis, as they were now effectively in the PPP camp and seeking their votes in the post-December 27 tragedy wasn't going to yield anything.

Punjab always mattered more than other provinces for those wanting to win national elections due to its size and population but recent events have pushed the province to become the real battleground in the Feb 18 polls.

As if all this wasn't enough, former Punjab chief minister and PML-Q's candidate for prime minister, Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, started issuing hard-hitting statements against not only Zardari but also the Sharif brothers. His aggressive tone at his public meetings, which were increasingly becoming lacklustre with shrinking number of participants, could be part of a gameplan to provoke PPP and PML-N to retaliate and in the process shift the focus from the grave issues confronting the country as a result of misrule by President Musharraf and his political allies. He named Shahbaz Sharif as Zardari Jr and accused him of sponsoring violence in Punjab. Nawaz Sharif and his PML-N were dubbed as the 'B' team of the PPP. The PPP was referred to as the Zardari League and its leaders and workers were accused of involvement in violence in Sindh. Pervez Elahi was heard on television talking bluntly and employing tough language while lambasting Zardari and Nawaz Sharif.

Wild accusations and unbelievable promises are invariably made during election campaigns in Pakistan but these are difficult times for the country due to the new challenges facing the unity of the federation and care ought to be taken not to further antagonize the already disaffected ethnic groups belonging to smaller provinces such as Sindh.

There were other worrying developments that could poison the election campaign in the run-up to the polling day. A media campaign was launched against Zardari when he recently left for Dubai to meet his aggrieved children and some of the sponsored news item claimed he would not return to Pakistan. He retorted in the same vein that his enemies must know that he wasn't running away and would be back soon. He is now back in Pakistan and holding fort in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh, Naudero, Larkana and Karachi, the places closely associated with Benazir Bhutto. Reports also appeared in the press that past cases of corruption and misuse of power against Zardari were being reopened. It is certainly easy to target Zardari because of his past deeds and misdeeds, but the PPP leader has become a tough man after suffering imprisonment for 11 years.

Advertisements belittling political opponents seem to have become the choicest method in the election campaign. Nawaz Sharif's past statements criticising the PPP and the Bhuttos were dug out and his fluctuating posture regarding boycotting the coming elections or deciding to contest were highlighted in paid advertisements published in the name of PML-Q office-bearers to ridicule his indecisive politics. And, in a manner reminiscent of the past when Benazir Bhutto and Imran Khan's Western life-style was publicised, pictures of the 19-year old Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, frolicking with girls in the United Kingdom, were emailed by unknown senders to journalists and other recipients. Only interested quarters seeking to damage PPP's electoral prospects would want to indulge in such a campaign. The pictures were accompanied by the remarks such as "Guess who?" and "New PPP head having fun."

It is not that the PPP and PML-N leaders and rank and file kept quiet and tolerated the PML-Q onslaught. They have been responding in kind and one could expect more of the same in the coming days. However, the PPP leadership would have to be patient and tolerant as a peaceful election campaign would benefit the party and enable it to reap the benefit of the sympathy vote coming its way in the aftermath of Benazir Bhutto's assassination.

On his part, Nawaz Sharif has done his bit to placate the Sindhis and other PPP supporters by publicly mourning Benazir Bhutto's loss and visiting Naudero at the hand of a large delegation of opposition politicians to offer condolences to Zardari. As an important political leader from Punjab, his efforts mean a lot in reassuring the Sindhis that the other federating units care for them and want them to remain a part of the federation of Pakistan. Sadly, the same cannot be said about certain other Punjabi politicians who deliberately or unwisely are further alienating the distraught Sindhis.

 The political temperature would certainly heat up with coining of new slogans derisive of opponents. The spineless Election Commission of Pakistan, which isn't trusted by the opposition political parties, has been a mere onlooker. It could end up earning even more criticism in case the polls are rigged. In any case, the elections under the present dispensation monopolised by the partisan president haven't generated much hope and the costly exercise could end up creating a bigger mess than the one presently haunting Pakistan.

With some Baloch, Sindh and Pashtun nationalist and Islamic parties boycotting the polls from the APDM platform because they have no confidence in the Election Commission and the Musharraf regime to hold free, fair and transparent elections, it is obvious that the polls would not be true indicator of the people's choice in parts of the country. And if the elections are postponed further or there is rigging and power isn't transferred to the winners as happened in the 1970 elections, one could imagine the threat to the uncertain, military-dominated federal set-up that we presently have in the shape of Pakistan.

 


review
Outsider's points of view
In her latest exhibition in Lahore, the tone of
Faiza Butt's comment, like any mature artist, is ambiguous, pleasant and intriguing

Faiza Butt enjoys a unique position -- of an outsider both in her place of origin and her country of residence. At present she is living in England where understandably she is considered a foreigner; in Pakistan too she is viewed as an outsider who has come back after a decade to display her solo exhibition -- currently on display at Rohtas 2, Lahore.

Rendered in pointillist technique, her mixed media pieces are created on transparent (Mylar) surfaces and papers. Works from 2003 to 2007 have been included in the exhibition, some of which were previously shown at other venues in Pakistan and UK.

This status of an outsider in two different contexts becomes a kind of privilege in the case of Butt, as she can look at the two surroundings with an eye not tainted by the routine views. Thus her work suggests a critique on her adopted culture that thrives on marketing -- either products made in the factory or images and idols from the entertainment industry.

A major part of her work in the present show at Rohtas deals with the popular imagery of media. Icons from film and music world are drawn with carefully placed coloured dots on transparent surfaces. These personalities, like Madonna and Eminem, pose against backdrops filled with consumer goods such as juice packets, candies and other edibles. In some works these celebrities are placed in front of patterns inspired from traditional Islamic manuscripts, in which letters are composed in the shapes of animals and birds.

It is obvious that for Faiza, the impact and power of a consumerist society was a handy subject when she arrived in London, because during her studies at NCA and later, she was trying to work on similar concerns. During those years, she focused on popular art and her early interest in Frida Kahlo led her to develop a vocabulary that was a blend of Mexican artist's aesthetics and the native imagery from the trucks and rickshaws of Lahore.

An intelligent painter, Butt was not satisfied with the combination of the two kinds of visuals. Instead she carved a private language out of the two -- related to the realm of love, longing and sexual fantasies and fears experienced by a young woman in a patriarchal society. Thus her paintings in tempera and other media revolved round ideas and images that suggested an intimate life in a certain cultural setting. This was both portrayed and connected through formal elements of popular art -- a choice in harmony with a number of other artists' method of appropriating transport (truck, rickshaw) art in the 1990s.

It was only after she moved to UK that the popular art from the streets of Lahore gave way to pop culture. Musicians and celebrities started to appear in her surfaces. This shift from the urban art of transport decoration to the world of glamour is a sign that there can be many categories of popular art/sensibility.

This division of popular art can be clearly noticed in the work of Faiza Butt. However the previous position of the artist -- of questioning the genealogy of certain pictorial elements and their ironic usage (visuals like lion and buraq) -- is not evident in her later works where the ingredients from the popular culture are put almost in a decorative manner (somehow like Naeem Rana who shared a joint exhibition with her at Cartwright Hall Art Gallery, Bradford 2005-2006). This attitude seems obvious in the scheme of putting layers of paint strokes on some of these images. Probably she is fascinated by the presence of these Pop idols but it does not lead to a further probe -- into the structure of merchandising of visual and other commodities.

It is only in her latest works that Faiza appears to be discovering her true tone -- voice of the mess and masses. In the two large scale works on paper with drawings in cross hatched technique especially, her concerns about the contemporary world come to surface. For a Pakistani living in the West, the issue of war [on terrorism] is of greater significance, in comparison with those who are 'safely' situated in their homelands. The question of conflict and battle is presented in these two works, with personal interpretation and symbols.

In these pieces, the figures of small children holding weapons like swords and guns dominate the picture plane. These characters are not unusual, as one finds kids playing with toy guns in our homes and outside. The system that introduces a child to arms seems to be the real concern for the artist. She expands these indulgences with images of warships, explosions, expulsions, resistance (Palestinian protestors throwing stones at their enemies, or carrying the injured). Tanks, rifles and other weapons serve as the background to the main imagery of a child, almost naked but holding a silver toy gun, in one painting. The nude child appears in the second large work, with a number of other kids aiming with different weapons. The artist's desire to portray these children in their natural state is perhaps a means to convey the instinctive attraction towards armoury and the acts of violence.

These images about violence are supported with the aggression of all sorts, i.e. cupid with arrows, children enjoying themselves with water guns. So in a way Butt is building a larger narrative of violence that is not specific to one incident or place, but reflects our inner self. However this position towards war or war on terrorism gives way to speculation too, as in two of her smaller works the soldiers are depicted in a rather humorous fashion. In one piece the bearded militant/soldier is kissing his mirror image, while in other work the face of an army man is hidden under a gas mask.

In both pieces Faiza seems to be addressing her primary concern -- that today war, in its essence, is a struggle to control the market or to market the goods. So the army fatigue of these two fighters is converted from the camouflage pattern to actual floral designs; their backgrounds are surrounded with products such as milk bottle, pastries, cigarettes, medicine wrappers and rotten parts of bananas. All these images serve to bring forth a world managed by the multinationals and protected by the armed division of superpowers. Yet the tone of Faiza's comment, like any mature artist, is ambiguous, pleasant and intriguing.

(The exhibition will remain open till January 18)



Early 'stage' of her life
Shaukat Kaifi's account of the world of theatre in India in the early days after independence

By Sarwat Ali

Shaukat Kaifi, although better known for her roles in the Bollywood films, was basically a stage actor and what she has written about her life in 'Yaad Ki Rehguzar' gives a good account of the world of theatre in India in the early days after independence.

Like so many others she was accidentally pushed into the world of acting, theatre and later films because she happened to be married to a budding and promising poet Kaifi Azmi. In India since the days of the Progressive Writers' Association and the Indian Peoples Theatre Association the leading writers played a significant role in the direction which cinema and theatre took. The great divide which had scarred the equity between serious writings and show business during the course of the 19th century seemed to be finding some meeting point in the endeavours of the Indian Peoples Theatre Association.

Her marriage to Kaifi Azmi introduced her to a totally new world. She initially wanted to be a singer and was, on the initiative of Prem Dhawan the lyricist, even coached by S.D Burman and took part in a chorus for which she was paid Rs.30. She also took part in dubbing for the films but on the advice of Mujji, the wife of Khawaja Ahmed Abbas she secured a role in Ismat Chugtai's play 'Dhani Baankain' directed by Bhisham Sahni. Zohra Saigol was also in the play. She then went on to act in another adaptation by Bhisham Sahni 'Bhoot Gari' in which Balraj Sahni played a role.

The performing arts especially theatre was looked down upon by the poets and writers during the classical period of our literature. Theatre and dance was seen to be an extension of the bhaands and poetry was seen to be respectable and gift of the gods. No serious poet or writer wrote for the stage and the poets/writers who wrote for the stage were not considered good enough to be taken seriously as poets. They were dismissed as being 'tuk bund'.

In our own culture especially during the Muslim rule performing arts were discriminated against and the performing artistes especially women were considered beyond the pale of redemption. This prejudice was perhaps fortified by the signals that were received during the 19th century from the mother country. The Victorian values merged with the values of the ahsraaf in India and created another tier of values. The theatre that was introduced in India by the European encounter was still an activity of the underclass, a baser form of entertainment and morally prohibitive. The 19th century theatre was a combination of play, dance, and gymnastics all rolled into a variety format strung together by wonderful music.

After a few years when Shaukat Kaifi had had two children, Zohra Saigol took her to Prithviraj Kapoor who had set up the Prithvi Theatres in Bombay and was running it as part-commitment-part-passion besides working in the films. The plays were staged at the Opera House and there Shaukat Kaifi, with her toddler Shabana playing in the wings, worked for many years. As part of the rehearsals the reading and understanding of Natsharatra, the first treatise on the performing arts, was compulsory and so was voice where allahhoo was chanted in the lower register and ram ram in the upper to train the voice. Every play started with a shalok (a couplet) in Sanskrit which was about the significance of theatre and the theatrical arts.

Prithviraj wanted to escape the overpowering influence of the Parsi Theatre by bringing it closer to realism. Like so many others he was inspired by Stanislavsky and wanted a complete identification of the self with the role. The plays that he staged were actually based on what was going round him and the social relevance made his theatre synch in with the times. Apparently Saigol sisters -- Uzra and Zohra -- played quite a few roles. Uzra designed the costumes and Zohra gave dance lessons and even choreographed them for performances besides giving suggestions on the set designing. In the fifteen years Prithviraj staged eight plays Shakuntala, Dewar, Pathan, Ghaddar, Ahooti, Kalakaar, Paisa and Kisan.

At the same time in Bombay Alec Padamsi was also doing theatre but those were mostly English plays The first play that Shaukat Kaifi acted in there 'Nokarani Ki Talaash' was directed by Amin Siyani of the Binaca Geetmala fame, followed by an adaptation of the 'Glass Managerie' by Riffat Shamim 'Shishoon ke Khilone'. Then as she was planning to play the role in 'All my Sons' she got an offer of an announcer in the newly set up Vivat Bharati. In 'Mun Chahe Geet' on her suggestion the name of the poet and the composer were also announced when a song was played. Previously only the name of the film was announced and later of the singer.

She then did a number of plays for Tarewani Rung Munj which was run by Sajjan. Her most famous play there was 'Pagli' where her ten year old daughter Shabana really thought that her mother had lost her sanity. Indian Peoples Theatre had become active again as its leadership was then in the hands of Hangal who had migrated from Pakistan and M. R Singh. Hangal directed a play 'Damro' which was very successful and critically acclaimed. During the course of the rehearsals she was impressed by a young man Hari Har Jariwala who took his work very seriously and was a good actor. Later he became famous as Sanjeev Kumar in the Bombay films.

She also acted in an adaptation of 'No Other Way' 'Africa Jawan Preshan' by Vishwa Mitr Adil and directed by M. R Singh. She also acted in 'Tanhai', 'Aakhari Sawal', 'Election Ka Ticket', 'Azar ka Khawab', and 'Enter a Freeman'. This happened to be her last play on stage.


Repetition overcomes truth?

Dear all,

I've always rather liked the school motto of Aitchison College: 'Perseverance Commands Success'.

It's a nice thought: don't give up, just keep carrying on... A variation on this theme is the strategy used by the quarters of Pakistan's erstwhile 'establishment' for the purposes of disinformation. The thinking is the same -- repetition commands success i.e. if you repeat a lie often enough, and get some of the people to reiterate the same lie, then soon all the people will begin to think it is true!

It sounds so clumsy, yet this technique is extremely effective in a society like Pakistan where few people ever question the feasibility or practicality of anything. It is very easy to spread rumours in our society because nobody ever stops to think about the logistics involved or to question the actual source of the information (the 'silsila' as it were). Plus there is no shortage of twits who will repeat the rumour as fact almost as if they witnessed everything first hand themselves. But even if nothing is proved, the rumour still becomes established (by repetition) and gains a sort of folkloric status.

This point is well illustrated by a decade old rumour that was recently pulled out of the cupboard (wherein reside so many of our state's skeletons) and re-circulated. This was the rumour that surfaced just after the killing of Benazir Bhutto's brother Mir Murtaza Bhutto in Karachi in 1996. According to this rumour Bhutto's husband Asif Zardari had wanted Murtaza dead because Murtaza had accosted Zardari at Karachi airport one mysterious evening and had held him down and publicly shaved off half of his moustache in order to humiliate him. So-called proof of this rumour was Zardari's new clean shaven look around this time.

I heard this rumour repeatedly with conviction, many times a decade ago, and it has now even started popping up in various foreign correspondents' copy (in 1997 Christina Lamb had recounted it in a Sunday Times article as if reporting fact).

But have we stopped to question the logistics of any such incident? How come Murtaza or his gunmen had a razor and foam handy at the airport to do the deed? Where in Karachi airport did the paths of the two men cross? Had they been on the same flight? Which flight? How was an opposition politician able to grab the spouse of the incumbent prime minister and manhandle him without any intervention from security personnel?

A questioning of these practicalities exposes how difficult it might have been for such an incident to occur. Perhaps the rumour did have some basis somewhere, but it seems unlikely that it anywhere resembled this shaved-moustache-at-airport folklore.

This one incident is a good example of the state's basic disinformation strategy, and it is obvious that some politicians are still trying to use it (watch Khabarnama and you'll get the general idea). But the changed media has made it much more difficult and this is why our 'establishment' hates the private electronic news media, because on television you can actually have people sit around and critique such accounts and attempt to sift the facts from the fiction. Plus, the media can use the government's own tool of repetition -- not just by showing discussions but by actually showing footage and images time and again.

These days as I sit in the UK, I like to keep tuning in to PTV Global to check out what the government wants us to believe (statements by one or the other of the Chaudhrys constitute a top story on PTV!). And about two weeks ago I was able to see president Musharraf's Aiwan-e-Sadar Say, TV show which had an audience made up mostly of the foreign press. And there again I saw the President using this same technique of 'repeating the statement whether true or not.'

Some foreign journalist asked why the President couldn't have called in Scotland Yard investigators after the 18 October blast as requested by BB, so he raved and ranted in reply that "when BB was in power she did not even call in foreign investigators to look into the death of her own brother". Now President Musharraf said this as it were fact whereas it was untrue -- the fact is that Benazir DID call in a team of Scotland Yard investigators, they DID begin work, they DID do analysis and forensic testing but their final report was buried because the PPP government was dismissed, and these detectives were politely asked to leave Pakistan. This can all be easily verified from newspaper archives of 1996 and perhaps the President might ask his media aides to brief him better for such sessions....

The thing is that these rulers like to make it all very personal. They repond to questions defensively as if the questioner has insulted them or their integrity when that is not the point. General Zia's persona was the 'humble-middle-class-good-Muslim-with-no-political-ambitions' which he used effectively to disarm all those who questioned or challenged him. This General (aka President Musharraf) is now aggressively pushing 'I-am a-non-feudal-from-an-educated-middle-class-family-and-i-am-a-straightforward-no-nonsense-sort-of-guy-who-knows-nothing-of-conspiracies-or-intrigues' image for himself. Yes, of course. And so the folklore continues to be spun...

Best Wishes,

 Umber Khairi

 


 

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