meaningless or what
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's confessions before the US military tribunal have only exposed the flawed judicial process under which he was heard
By Rahimullah Yusufzai
Four years after his capture, al-Qaeda operative Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had almost been forgotten. Like other terror suspects, he had vanished without trace and all one knew were speculations that he was being held in some secret American prison outside the US. His was a closed chapter keeping in view Washington's determination that dangerous men like him needed to be kept under lock and key to avoid harm to human-beings.
However, some fantastic reporting by sections of the US media blew the top over the existence of secret CIA prisons in countries friendly to America in Eastern Europe and Asia. The story embarrassed the US government and the rulers of the countries where those illegal jails existed. It became a hot political issue in certain European countries. Eventually it was revealed by President George W Bush some months ago that 13 high-value prisoners had been transferred to the detention centre at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay. The name of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, often referred to as KSM by those familiar with his deeds and misdeeds, was also mentioned as part of this group.
Others giving him company were Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Abu Zubaida, reported by the US authorities as top al-Qaeda figures. These two like KSM were also captured in Pakistan and promptly delivered to the US. Neither in this case nor in scores of other cases, President General Pervez Musharraf handed over the accused to the US military authorities without bothering to follow the law of the land. None of the arrested men was produced in a court to seek his extradition and the charges against them were never made public. The Pakistani rulers could care less about the niceties of law when the world's lone superpower had opted to use unusual and often illegal methods to fight its faceless and fearless al-Qaeda enemies.
It took the US authorities a while before setting up the controversial military tribunals where the al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects were to be tried. The tribunals, manned by US Army officers, have been roundly criticised and termed as a mockery of justice. But the criticism didn't stop the US government to go ahead with the hearings and trial of some of the detainees, almost all of whom have spent more than four years in captivity without any access to the world beyond their narrow prison cells.
Of all the accused, KSM figured prominently at these hearings because his confessions before the military tribunal as transcribed by the Pentagon were most interesting and dramatic. The sweeping confessions made good copy and predictably grabbed media headlines. Most of the confessions were unbelievable and even Pentagon officials and security and intelligence analysts expressed doubts about KSM's claims to have planned and executed some of those terrorist attacks.
The 31 terrorist strikes that KSM is claiming to have planned or executed included almost all the major such attacks that took place during the past decade and a half. From KSM's unlikely confessions, it emerges that he was "responsible for the 9/11 attack from A to Z." It means he alone did all the planning and execution of one the deadliest terrorist strikes in history and the most daring attack against fortress America after Pearl Harbour. He is also claiming to have beheaded the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl with "own blessed hand." The choice of flowery language by KSM is familiar as it has been a hallmark of the words and idioms often used by al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden, Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri and others in their video and audio tapes.
In fact, the existence of such wording in the KSM confessions could be intended to lend credibility to the transcribed statement by him before the military tribunal. Other KSM confessions also appear incredible. He is claiming to have made plans to blow up the Panama Canal and assassinate US presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and the Pope. He confesses his responsibility for the 2002 Bali bombings in Indonesia. He claims to have played a crucial role in the plot to bomb the World Trade Centre in New York in 1993. Until now, we were told his nephew Ramzi Yousef was the top conspirator for that attack. The latter too was caught in Pakistan. A friend from South Africa had given away his location in an Islamabad guesthouse to the US authorities in return for a hefty reward for his capture.
Who knows KSM too got apprehended after being betrayed by someone close to him? However, his arrest from the home of a Jamaat-i-Islami activist in Rawalpindi in early 2003 triggered controversy because reporters, both Pakistani and foreign, later claimed the wall seen in the background of the picture of KSM after his arrest didn't exist in that house. There is no end to controversies in such cases because access to information is often blocked by the secret services which want to convey a sanitized version of events to the media.
So sweeping were the KSM confessions that the judicial process under which he and other terror suspects are being heard and tried has become a target of insinuations. Sections of the Western media have criticised the process as flawed and arbitrary and demanded fair trials for the accused to make it credible. They have cautioned that the US war on terror would be further compromised and America's famed justice system would become permanently tainted if the military tribunals continued hearing wild confessions as happened in KSM's case or tried suspects in its highly biased manner.
Jurists, human rights activists and conscientious writers have even mentioned that KSM could have made the confessions with a purpose to expose the flawed judicial process under which he was heard and at the same time highlight the misdirected US war on terror. The hearings before the military tribunal was his only chance to make a statement and it seems he cleverly used the occasion to his own advantage. If that is true, KSM has shown that he indeed is an intelligent man. He may not be the terrorist mastermind that the Pentagon wants us to believe he is, but he surely is smart.
National Art Gallery is the fruit of endeavours of precursors of art in Pakistan and now everyone wants to have a piece of it. Just how true is the claim?
By Sarah Sikandar
Nothing comes without a price, they say, and the price that the artists and the people of Pakistan have paid for National Art Gallery is anticipation of 29 long years. However, instead of exultation at the imminent opening of first National Art Gallery of the country, there is discontentment and dejection.
The media is getting vibes that National Art Gallery is the fruit of endeavours of precursors of art in Pakistan and now everyone wants to have a piece of it, even those who least deserve.
Artists all over the country have united to protest against what they call the 'highjacking' of National Art Gallery which was "originally conceived as a visual arts gallery, preserving and exhibiting the visual art heritage of the country". The artists claim that a few days before the gallery was supposed to be inaugurated, they heard changes in the plan, foremost being the construction of a National Theatre Complex within the premises of the gallery. Moreover, a new name was being proposed for the place, Pakistan Centre of Creative Arts. These two demands are not acceptable to the artists.
Artist and Dean Fine Arts Department at Beaconhouse National University Salima Hashmi, while talking to TNS said: "The space has exclusively been designed for National Art Gallery. Yes there is an auditorium which could be used for other purposes. But there is space for National Theatre Complex next door. Firstly, by giving the gallery space for something else, you curtail the function of the building which already incorporates a photographic laboratory and children area. You can't stuff so much into a single space. Secondly, by doing that you would do injustice to the artists. Our stance is that by giving this space now means we would only be deprived of a National Theatre."
In an e-mail, requesting support for the cause, she remarked: "This isn't a battle between visual artists and performing artists. Rather it is a battle to save a dream of a cultural complex which was envisioned in 1973 by the Pakistan National Council of Arts." Commenting on the possibility of a new name she said: "We don't want the name to be changed to Pakistan Centre of Creative Arts... Are there any non-creative arts?"
Tanya Sohail, Curator Alhamra Art Gallery also forwarded her support for the visual artists. "I totally agree with the artists. I believe that the space for National Art Gallery should be for visual artists only and the rest of the 500 acres should be allocated to other art and cultural activities. Nowhere in Pakistan do we see the compliment of such names as Chughtai. The huge space of the gallery will be used for national exhibitions," she said.
If the original plan of a cultural complex is accomplished, incorporating a theatre and a gallery, it would be the first of its sort in Pakistan. "Throughout the world, wherever you go you see galleries or museums meant for visual arts strictly reserved for that purpose," remarked Mussarat Nahid Curator PNCA. "In any part of the world visual art cannot be combined with other forms of art. Visual art has a decorum which demands exclusiveness." She believes that the nature of the crowd that goes to performing arts functions is totally different from that of visual arts.
National Art Gallery is the outcome of collective endeavour of artists who feel deceived by the authorities. "We are dismayed and surprised at the turn of events. The thought process behind National Art Gallery is 26 years long and it ought to be carried through its final conclusion," said Naiza Khan, an artist. Naiza is amongst those artists who have been actively preparing for the inauguration of the gallery. She believes that once the gallery is open the sharing of resources is inevitable.
"I don't think that in order to arrive at a solution you need to create a conflict of interests that undermines the very purpose of art. The resources of such a momentous institution will be shared for other purposes but the basic purpose remains most important. National Art Gallery is a step forward to immortalise our heritage by honourably placing it before the world. The artists and their works are our prized possession and by honouring them you are honouring the people. Bricks and mortar have already defined the space and its purpose. You can't alter the purpose now," said Naiza.
While some sources assert that the name of the gallery has already been changed, Mian Ijaz ul Hassan Chairperson AAP (Artists Association of Pakistan) denies the claim. "The name of the gallery has not been changed. Being a member of the Board of Directors I would know if it was. The decision has already been taken by the committee and it can't be changed at someone's whims. No individual or a body of individuals has the right to tamper with it. Otherwise what's the point in having a board?"
"We have no problem with performing arts. If they want to use the auditorium for plays it is absolutely okay but the place can't be handed over to them. The premises belong to National Art Gallery and the money and the land has been sanctioned for the gallery. The division of space is not acceptable to the visual artist community. It is one of the greatest assets of our country. We will not allow any other cultural activity in the space of the gallery. No question of converting it into a 'general store' of crafts," said Ijaz ul Hassan.
While the issue has worried both artists and art lovers Naeem Tahir, PNCA Director General, believes there is no controversy in the first place. "The space of the gallery is not being given to performing arts. There is a separate section for performing arts. I don't know why they are creating so much confusion."
In Saleem-ur-Rahman's recent works, one can recognise a fondness for Abstract Expressionism
By Quddus Mirza
Saleem-ur-Rahman may not be a well-known artist, his paintings signify a familiar aspect of Pakistani art. His recent works, displayed at Alhamra Art Gallery Lahore, comprise of abstract surfaces -- paintings and computer-generated prints.
In order to understand Saleem-ur-Rahman's work, his medium or technique is not very important. It is the imagery and his approach to image-making that are crucial to know his mind as well as that of many others. In his paintings one could recognise the fondness for Abstract Expressionism, a movement that flourished in New York after 1945, with Jackson Pollack, Franz Kline, William de Kooning and Mark Rothko being the leading figures.
Logically, this movement which transposed the centre of art world from Europe (Paris) to the United States (NYC), influenced a large number of artists everywhere. Traces of this movement are found in our part of the world too, especially in Pakistan during the sixties when abstract painters were working and showing in the two parts of country. One comes across a list of abstract artists from Bengal, such as Hamidur Rahman, Aminul Islam, Syed Jahangir and Mohamad Kibria, joined by Ahmed Parvez, A. J. Shemza, Moyen Najmi, S. Safdar, Rumana Husain, Kutub Sheikh, Gulgee and Lubna Agha from West Pakistan. Their abstract paintings were exhibited, reviewed and collected.
The sheer volume of abstract art generated a reaction in our cultural world, where poets, writers and critics ridiculed abstract artists and considered non-figurative work as a hoax or an act of aping the West. Artists tried to defend their ideas and imagery but public was not prepared to accept an art form that, apparently, was devoid of meaning, any meaning.
Probably that period in the history of our art was crucial because that was when a rupture started to appear between the makers of art and the viewers. In the course of time artists turned more aloof, distanced and estranged with the public, which suspected the authenticity of abstract work. For the people at large, here was an art that was imported from the West, representing concepts and concerns that did not belong to this region.
To many, this kind of reaction to Abstract Art may even seem odd, because so many of styles of art in our midst are also borrowed from the West, for instance Realism, Impressionism and Cubism. But the response towards Abstract Art and other movements taken from the West has indeed been different.
Actually here abstract art has been conceived as a sign of 'modernity' associated with the West. In the history of our culture we have never had a tradition of 'meaningless' art (even the geometric patterns on the mosques and manuscripts had symbolic meanings), and our literature, visual arts and other forms of creative expression always offered something to identify with and understand. So for our public and intellectuals, only those forms of art borrowed from the West that had recognisable imagery and readable content were acceptable and were assimilated in local art and culture.
On the other hand, pure abstraction was equated with modernity and its linkage with Europe and West was a factor for its estrangement in our culture. It is no wonder that the manner in which we have dealt with modernity is reflected in the way abstract art is practiced and perceived here. Both modernity and abstract art were not 'invented' in our circumstances, so these are adopted as mere styles. This is in contrast to the West, where modernity and abstract art were created at a phase in its history when the two were inevitable phenomena.
Hence the work of Saleem-ur-Rahman truly represent our attitude towards modernity and abstract art. In his paintings and digital prints, the non recognisable forms floated in the fields of flat colours. Some works were constructed with geometrical shapes, while other had biomorphic forms and swirling lines. A similar kind of treatment was observed in the prints also. In a couple of paintings, Urdu text (lines of poems written by the painter, who has published three volumes of his poetry) was juxtaposed with the Islamic patterns and textile motifs.
Several of these, including the abstract surfaces, looked interesting in the exhibition catalogue, but once seen in the gallery, the impact of his works evaporated. Instead of being exercises or experiments in abstract art, these painting appeared as versions of some other, original works. Mainly because the art of Abstract Expressionism was about creating a sense of sublime and purity of expression through the vigorous application of paint as well as with the tactful composition/overlapping of various hues, which can convey a feeling of spiritual experience. All of this was possible with a large scale of works, since the size of the paintings was a crucial factor towards accentuating the desired effect on the viewers.
But after the success of that school, the works of those painters were reproduced in books, monographs and journals of art where huge canvases with painterly quality and intense tones were printed on a tiny scale and with bland shades. So for a majority of art viewing public and painters, Abstract Expressionism is no more then what one sees in the art books; tiny, smooth and finely rendered surfaces. Qualities which were evident in the works of Saleem-ur-Rahman, and a number of other practitioners of abstract art.
Their interpretation of abstract art and its re-creation is a manifestation of our response to modernity. At the same time, it reveals how an original art form is reduced to a style or method. And how its innumerable reproduction alters its original form and modifies it into something different, often contradictory. A process that can be witnessed in the present day production of miniature paintings too, which are prepared from the reproductions of actual works, printed in the books, thus appearing mechanical and lacking the vigorous nature of the historic genre.
But perhaps this phenomenon is not peculiar with the new miniatures or the abstract paintings of twenty first century, because we live in an age, where (according to Marx) everything happens twice -- second time as farce.
The main idea behind the recently concluded folk festival was to give to puppetry the much needed space
By Sarwat Ali
When Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop decided to build a puppet museum on the outskirts of the city in the middle of 1990s, most thought the plan was doomed from the start. Puppetry after all was a minor form of art; even the developed world did not boost of many puppet museums and the location of the museum was too far away from the centre of the city.
But seeing the number of people that attended the second National Folk Puppet Festival at the museum, all apprehensions and fears were laid to rest. People came in their thousands, both young and old, in the five days that the festival was in progress and thoroughly enjoyed themselves giving hope that the traditional art of puppetry may still survive. The main idea behind the entire initiative was to give to puppetry, especially our puppetry, the much needed space than to let it die by dismissing it as frivolous entertainment for children.
Sadaan, Faizaan and Imran Peerzada have been involved with the puppets for a very long time. As boys and then as young men they set up Puppet Company that performed in Karachi and when they moved to Lahore, besides their puppet performances, also launched the International Puppet Festival in 1992.
Folk Puppetry is an old and traditional form of marionette that can be traced back many centuries but its recent phase can be mapped more accurately in the last five centuries through the tales pertaining to the court of Mughal Emperor Akbar with some of the most important happenings like the revolt of Dullah Bhatti.
The folk puppeteers nearly all trace their ancestry to various areas of Rajasthan, in particular Bikaner. Called Pakhiwaas or gypsies, a nomadic lot who have roamed from place to place, taking part in puppetry or singing mostly the vast repertoire of folk songs in various dialects of the language spoken in the length and breadth of Rajasthan, they have been part of the history of this area since times immemorial. Probably they migrated to Bangla Fazil in district Ferozepur (now in Indian Punjab) some time in the past and from there migrated to the new country Pakistan in 1947. .
The folk puppeteers are also the traditional exponents of the craft. They acquired the art of both playing and making the puppet from their elders The oral transmission of knowledge had ensured a much closed door familial environment where the secrets of the profession had been passed on from generation to generation. Over the past few decades this art has been on the decline. The craft of making wooden puppets too is almost extinct as only the puppets made of yore are repaired, while the craft of manipulating the string puppets too is left with only a very few practitioners.
These puppets made of the wood of the mango tree are dressed up in colourful costumes which are made once a year. All the puppeteers said that they made new costumes once a year as if it was a kind of a ritual and not according to the wear and tear, depending on the usage of puppets, which then may vary from year to year. Probably it is the paucity of resources which makes them change the costume not more frequently than once a year.
The dialect in which the tales were narrated has been replaced by a more contemporary idiom and the traditional songs with rich musical input has been substituted by songs based on current film tunes. The old instruments too have been replaced by more recent gadgets and it is not long before computer generated sounds and electronic manipulations take over.
The families of these practitioners have lived a life of poverty on the outskirts of the city in temporary makeshift settlements, barely eking out an existence, and since their younger generation is not taking up this profession it is feared that very soon this old craft and form of entertainment will totally die out.
Folk puppetry has been an integral part in the International Puppet Festivals held under the aegis of the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop and in the year 2006, with the holding of a Folk Puppet Festival organised at the Puppet Museum attended by a large numbers of children and elders, raised hopes that the old traditional form could be revitalised.
The Museum of Puppetry was established to focus on the rich tradition of puppetry with particular emphasis on the puppets and art of puppetry in this part of the world. On most days of the week puppet shows are held and a large number of people attend these shows which has encouraged everyone that perhaps the old art of traditional puppetry has a chance not only to be saved but to be made more vibrant. The art of puppetry will only survive and survive well if the practitioners have regular income and that can only happen if the shows are held regularly.
A number of groups still perform and these are named after their chief puppeteer like Muhammed Abdullah, Bashir Dhamalli, Noor Din, Billo Mae, Lally, Bahadurrah, Muhammed Shafi, Khalid Hussain, Bahadur Ali, Muhammed Afzal, Muhammed Siddique and Muhammed Bashir. All these folk puppet groups participated in the festival and enthralled old and young alike with their skills of working the string puppets.
It seems they have found a home and it is hoped that they will get more opportunities to perform so that they can sustain themselves. The model that is being emulated is that of India's 'Putlinagar' where these traditional puppeteers were given land, bang in the middle of the Delhi. These puppeteers can engaged to perform at people's homes and other places. Our puppeteers should also have a home where they can be contacted for performances. Only then they can be firmly on their way to financial independence -- the first requisite of revival.