By Nadeem Iqbal
"I regard it as beyond the wit of any diplomat to attempt to forecast with any accuracy what may happen next. I have been using a crystal ball about events in this part of the world for nearly 20 years and it is more cloudy than at any time before. This is partly due to the fact that the president's own attitude is so extraordinarily flexible. He makes a very bad dictator because he finds it difficult to be dictatorial enough. It is further complicated by the sheer diversity of political parties and political interest which, although many of them are now formally linked together in the Democratic Action Committee, nevertheless represent a wide variety of views." Thus reads a letter sent to London by the British High Commission in Pakistan.
It may well seem like an analysis of the current political situation but the letter was written around forty years ago, in Feb 1969, a month before President Ayub Khan left his throne.
The similarities between the two situations are obvious. Even today, the diplomatic community led by the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan is holding meetings with a long list of important personalities -- from political parties' heads to ministers -- to re-think their country's policy in the new political climate of Pakistan.
President Musharraf, no doubt, continues to have his supporters in the U.S. and Europe. Only last week, visiting European Union's foreign and security policy chief Javier Solana suggested once again that Musharraf was an elected President and should complete his term. Solana was echoing the sentiments repeatedly emanating from Washington. It seems that western powers want Musharraf to continue at least till the time the new political government gains complete hold of power.
Broadly speaking, the West's support to Musharraf should be seen in the context of the fragile civil-military relations in Pakistan. During the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in the early 1990s, the then political government wanted to support the U.S. but the military leadership thought otherwise. Similarly during Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's visit to Lahore, during Nawaz Sharif's second tenure, no word of support was expressed by the military top brass. The Kargil episode, too, was a reminder of military's approach to proceed on crucial security issues without taking the political leadership into confidence.
Nawaz Sharif has all along been demanding an inquiry into the events of Kargil. While it is yet to be seen if this demand will be fulfilled, the fact of the matter is that the president continues to have the power to appoint army chief and remains the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The president is also head of the National Security Council and nuclear command and control authority. The federal government has yet to activate parallel structures such as cabinet committee on defence or undo the impact of president-controlled decision-making bodies on security.
Although, the Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has briefed leaders of the major political parties on security issues but it has yet to be developed into a formal mechanism that will stand the test of any crisis.
The present situation is, therefore, unique but not new. President Pervez Musharraf who seems to have resigned to his new role as a tamed dictator, still having a lot of power as a head of the state, cannot exercise it in the face of severe public reaction that will be effectively vented through the people's elected forums.
Currently, Musharraf's interests revolve around continuing as the president and taking advantage of political players' foul tactics or his honourable and safe exit from the political scene. Clearly, he is most comfortably placed to serve as a punching bag for politicians. And he may not be the happiest of men to see the anomalies he incorporated in the country's legal and administrative system as the army chief coming to a naught, one after the other.
One of these anomalies that has stayed and benefited politicians including Asif Zardari being the National Reconciliation Ordinance, an ad hoc law that would probably be set aside had there been an 'independent' judiciary. Similarly, it would be very difficult for the restored pre-Nov 3 judiciary to scrap the graduation condition for contesting general elections after such a brief hearing as this one. An earlier bench of the Supreme Court in July 2002 had upheld the 2002 Chief Executive Order of the Army Chief Pervez Musharraf of clamping the graduation condition on intending national and provincial legislators.
Most interesting was the support granted to the deletion by the Attorney General Malik Qayyum. Some differing voices, on the fact that the graduation condition was a part of the constitution and could not be scrapped through a court, have not stirred a huge controversy.
PPP's co-chairperson Asif Zardari is again a direct beneficiary of the court decision in the face of his ambiguous educational status.
It will be equally interesting to see if and when the move starts to undo other parts of Musharraf's 'draconian' laws including the one that restrict a person from becoming a prime minister for more than two times. Nawaz Sharif is the only affectee of this law.
Zardari is playing his cards well. By siding with PML-N and ANP he is playing to the popular anti-Musharraf perception and tacitly supporting Musharraf by not actively forcing his removal, he is getting the needed things done in his favour.
The ever-complying Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) seems in tune with the general reconciliatory mood. It has rescheduled the by-election to facilitate the ruling coalition's stalwarts to first get qualified to contest the elections. On April 14 the election commission announced the schedule of by-elections on 8 National Assembly seats and 30 provincial assemblies seats. As per the announcement the polling is to be held on June 3 while six days were given to file nomination papers -- between April 15-21. Only three days after the announcement, it rescheduled the by-elections to June 18 saying that due to ongoing sessions of the national and provincial assemblies, it was difficult for the political parties to pay proper attention to the issue of awarding tickets to contestants. Similarly, the deadline to file nomination papers was also extended up to May 6. Interestingly, on April 14, ECP also announced schedule of elections for the five senate seats to be held between June 3-6. But these were not rescheduled.
The overall scenario is helping the political players to comfortably settle in their newly defined roles. Despite the common perception that PPP, as part of some compromise, is bailing Musharraf out has, so far, not done anything to negate its democratic credentials.
The feet dragging on the issue of restoration of deposed judges primarily stems from the fact that no government would like to have a defiant judiciary. Though, historically, PPP claims to have been a victim of superior judiciary particularly in the cases of Zulfikar Bhutto's execution which was later recognised as 'judicial murder' and prolonged incarceration of Asif Zardari in jail without any relief. Nawaz Sharif, on the other hand, has not had it as rough as the Supreme Court overturned his dismissal by the then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan. As the two parties carry on the negotiations on the judges issue, the sticky point, till the filing of this report, remains the reduction in the tenure of the chief justices. When and what exactly do the parties agree on, only time will tell.
Quddus Mirza's recent works are paintings in a very traditional sense that speak a brutally direct language
By Sana Ghias Habib
With the number of art galleries growing, and international interest in local art rising, one never quite knows what to expect when visiting an art show anymore. Concepts, media, manifestos -- all are in a state of flux. Artists are intermingling across borders. Residencies, collaborations, collectives are quite the rage. Art is now a fairly serious business, and artists fairly serious business practitioners.
Within this milieu, Quddus Mirza's new works come almost as a surprise. They are paintings in a very traditional sense -- large, bright canvases, with names steeped in art history. At the same time they speak a language that is brutally direct. 'Manet's Shower' proclaims one title. Except that Manet isn't quite lunching on the grass, nor sitting at the Folies Bergeres. He -- in a very childlike rendition of him -- is standing under red droplets, bright yellow vigilantes holding rifles, amorphously standing guard behind him. Then there is 'Velazquez in Karachi'. No surprise that Velazquez isn't touring Kothari Parade, or the Quaid's Mausoleum (although there is a rather bright car suspended quite near to him, should the need arise). In fact, if you look closely, his head looks quite detached from his body. There is a dog too (not as grand and ferocious as one would expect to accompany a gentleman of his stature) but no Maids of Honour, unfortunately for us Karachiites.
It is clear that the artist enjoys painting and all things painterly. Quddus is well known in art circles, as curator, historian, teacher and critic. In fact, he has exhibited after a hiatus of almost eight years. He has been busy reading and writing and teaching students the importance of the historical context of the work people create.
One of his favourite books, he says, is 'The Story of Art' by Gombrich. And it is clear why. His works, much like the book, also tell stories. Humorous, fairly uncomplicated ones. They speak of him and the time and place in which he lives. And in their own rather vibrant, wry manner, they bring out the great dichotomy that we face everyday -- the search for the aesthetic in everything we see and feel. Much like the cameraman who films a riot perhaps or an airplane wreckage, but thinks mostly about light, distance, angle -- so too does Quddus see the violence that we experience in our day to day existence.
Whether as detached observers who view it on television, or more directly as those who inflict or are inflicted upon, violence has pervaded our lives in an insidious way. Quddus's works announce this, without much ado. But, they go on to insist, that fact does not prevent us from seeing the beauty that exists around us. There is colour, vitality, being in everything. A truck pauses next to us at a red light. We are aware that speed and bulk take innocent lives, without warning. But we remark at the intricate metal work that adorns the truck's exterior. Quddus' new works show decapitated heads, limbs and organs floating in a sea of red. Knives, with shadows, reminding us more of dragonflies than weapons of war and bloodshed. We see them, we feel the violence. But we enjoy them for their colours and the childlike drawings within. They speak to and of an innocence that is not completely lost. Not just yet. Else we wouldn't really be able to stroll through an art show, on a cool Karachi spring evening, and come out feeling just a little bit exhilarated.
(The exhibition remains open at Canvas Gallery Karachi till April 30,2008)
Jago Hua Savera, an insightful film, was finally shown to the Pakistani audiences at HRCP's Dorab Patel Auditorium
By Sarwat Ali
Ever since Jago Hua Savera was screened in Paris in the last week of November 2007, the film lovers of Pakistan were keen to view the film. They finally got this opportunity when it was screened at the Dorab Patel Auditorium at the HRCP in Lahore. It was last screened fifty years ago in the various cities of the country including Lahore but then it disappeared from the horizon and only a few people remembered having seen the actual film. Most had only heard about it.
Jago Hua Savera, released in 1958 was instantly acclaimed as a very good film.
In Pakistan it was considered by many to be the beginning of an era that was to oversee Pakistani cinema growth from a fledgling effort to an authentic voice of a struggling new nation. But it was not smooth sailing all the way as I.A Rehman, then a film critic, had more than a passing acquaintance with the making of the film, its casting, selection of locations and the personnel involved with it, reminded the audience. It was heavily criticised after its release and the criticism was on account of it depicting a negative image of the country. The location was a fishing village, the characters barely dressed as their entire lifestyle reeked of poverty. This was the general criticism of the art and literature produced by the Progressive Writers Movement as it was said repeatedly that it showed the darker and uglier side of life than the brighter and more cheerful one.
Satyajit Ray, who was making films across the border at about the same time, also showed the darker and uglier side of life but he was being acclaimed as one of the greatest directors of his age -- not because he presented the glamorous face of India but because he was able to capture the reality of life as it was in Bengal. The general conflict that resides within art of being viewed as entertainment or a reflection of reality has loyalists on both sides of the divide.
But what exactly was Jago Hua Savera and who were the people who made the film. The story based in the erstwhile East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, revolved around fishermen who lived in a very poor village by the sea. The film was more about the lives of such people than dramatic events. The fisherman's building of the boat was the symbolic success of earning his livelihood and providing sustenance for the entire family.
In 1958, East Pakistan had practically no film production tradition. Government sponsored film cooperation had just been initiated. A makeshift laboratory and a small floor were the only apparent signs of film production in the country.
Equipment had been ordered but most of it was in crates or under shipment from U.K. and the U.S.A. There was hardly a technician in the country with feature film experience.
The task of setting up camp at Shaitol, the fishing village was a major problem. Every single item necessary for the intricate requirement of a feature film had to be packed and taken to the location. Prefabricated hutments, tents and house boats were assembled to house the unit. The whole operation was planned and tackled with the precision of a military campaign. The three and a half month time schedule allowed no room for mistakes.
The unit that set to work was indeed strange by any normal standards. The director A.J Kardar was carrying out his first assignment. Trained as a merchant marine he had given up his love for the sea for the passion of filming. A young German cameraman Walter Lassally and an equally young British sound recordist J. Fletcher made up the team. A well known leading poet of Pakistan Faiz Ahmed Faiz threw in his lot to write the story, his very first brush with cinema. Only that the music was composed by Timir Baran, the great composer who had shot to fame in the 1930s with the release of K.L Saigal's Devdas. He belonged to the set of Bengali composers of the 1930s like R.C Boral. Pankhaj Mullick, Panna Lal Gosh and Anil Biswas who established the parameters of Indian film music.
Shot under the banner of Century Films Karachi and Films de Lite, London the entire film on location took a minimum of forty eight working days and with the barest of equipment .A hand-held camera had to take the place of a dolly. Throughout most of the shooting a blimp was not available. The artistes, many of whom were picked from the location itself, had to record each dialogue after the day's shooting for dubbing later.
Though cinema was more productive in the western wing with Lahore leading the charge, there was hardly any government support for the medium. No film corporation existed and, finally when it was set up after the country had been dismembered, NAFDEC was barely able to achieve much. The prints of Jago Hua Savera were finally located in London where the films from Russia, particularly those acclaimed in the prestigious Moscow Film Festival were kept as archives. Anjum Taseer, the son of the producer Nauman Taseer who now divides his time between Dubai and London running his business, agreed to foot the bill of making the copies and thus the film, after about four decades, was screened again in Paris. He now has visited Pakistan with the film and hopes to see greater film ties between the countries of the region.
Ken Loach, an English television and film director, stays close to the lives of ordinary people
By Arif Azad
For an unassuming, quiet-voiced and diffident Ken Loach, to have created an everlasting niche in the rather egocentric world of cinema, is an achievement worthy of comment. Ken's recent film, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, attracted denunciatory chorus from right-wing British tabloids, dubbing it unbalanced and laudatory of terrorism. Ken is no stranger to such calumny. But despite the slings and arrows of British establishment and rightwing press, Ken has ploughed on fearlessly in the furrow of socially meaningful cinema. This has earned him a devoted following worldwide.
In a period spanning over more than forty years with over sixty films to his credit, he has provided a critical lens on the social and political history of Britain. Consequently his films have brought about some significant changes in the areas of social policy he addressed in his films. One notable instance of this was the release of his BBC Wednesday play series drama titled Cathy Come Home (1966) on the issue of homelessness. The play provoked such an outrage in official and public realm that it led to the formation of the still functioning charity 'Shelter' which advocates for homeless people in Britain. The Wednesday plays flared up a range of social themes that were to burn through to all of his films.
Born in 1936 in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, Britain, he was taken on by the BBC as a trainee director. His stay at the BBC was productive where he teamed up with Tony Garnett on Wednesday play series; this creative partnership lasted till Tony headed for the footlights of Hollywood. Ken's Kes (1969) consolidated his reputation as a director of great skill and socially engaged filmmaker. The film charts the life of a poor family boy, who, finding his poor and hardscrabble life too hard to bear pours his passion into training a kestrel. Kes won the gushing praise of all critics, with the Guardian film critic, Derek Malcolm, including Kes in his one hundred best films of the century.
In the eighties the rise of Thatcherism deeply marked Ken films. Through his films (some of which were censored and never shown) -- he provided a powerful critique of onrushing Thatcherism on the lives of ordinary people. This did not, naturally, endear him with the political establishment which suppressed Questions of Leadership (1983) about the trade union movement in Britain; another film about the miners strike commissioned by the South Bank Show was also blocked and, later on shown, with heavy editing. Disillusioned by the British reaction to him films, Ken branched into film line dealing with international and European issue. By far the most impressive film of this trend was Land and Freedom (1995) which dealt with one of the most important epoch of recent European history: the Spanish civil war. Land and Freedom, based on George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, telescopes deep disillusionment which sectarian warfare between Trotskyite and Stalinist grouplets within International Brigade fighting caused in an idealist trade unionist from Liverpool.
More films with a touch of international socialist solidarity at their core were to follow. These include Bread and Roses (2000) about the struggle of immigrant workers for trade union rights in the US and Glasgow trilogy. Ae Fond Kiss (2004) -- part of Glasgow trilogy -- is a touching portrayal of heart-rending tensions a Pakistani immigrant family negotiates against the backdrop of collapsing traditional family structure, war on terror and pervasive racism in the society (reviewed in NOS in 2005) Carla' Song (1996), in the manner of Land and Freedom, takes a Glasgow bus driver to Nicaragua in search of revolutionary ideals after he meets a Nicaraguan refugee living in Glasgow.
The advent of New Labour government led by Tony Blair was equally disillusioning experience for Ken Loach. Under Blair-led Britain he did not confine himself to films alone, but extended to his candidacy at various elections from socialist platform.Navigators (2001) powerfully showed the erosion of security and working condition as a result of privatisation of the British rail. The sustained critique of Labour Party neo-liberal policies runs through his most recent film It Is a Free World (2007) which touches upon the issue of exploitation of the East European cheap labour flooding into Britain in the wake of expansion of EU.
His recent film The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006), though about the Irish freedom struggle, is also an expanded meditation on war on terror and the Britain's involvement in it. The film so impressed the critics that it won the most-sought after Palme D'Or award at the Cannes film festival. The ultimate prize, capping a whole host of lesser prizes over the last four decades, finally, acknowledged Ken's contribution to European cinema represented in a filmography of over sixty films.
Ken Loach, a socialist realist, stays close to the bone of lives of ordinary people. He makes uses of non-professional actors in most of his films, with dialogues improvised to reflect the lived experience of his actors. Like in real life, his non-professional cast fades out of the silver screen after playing their part. This is in total contrast to the culture of celebrity actors that requires sustained doses of publicity to keep them within frame of the viewing public. Domestically Ken is often compared with Mike Leigh whose films have addressed social issues with less emphasis on politics. The consistency of Ken's vision owes to relatively stable team of dedicated writers and producers he has worked with over the years. Despite his advancing years, Citizen Ken is pursuing his crusade of social change cinema with the productive collaboration of his writing and producing team.