Metaphors of music
What exactly was the compulsion to relaunch the Swat operation
By Rahimullah Yusufzai
Violence returned to Swat during the last days of July and its intensity increased as the Pakistan Army launched a full-fledged military operation to tackle the Taliban militants. Ironically, the May 21 peace accord that had helped calm down the situation was still in place as neither the NWFP government nor the Maulana Fazlullah-led faction of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had scrapped the agreement.
Such was the ferocity of the violence that the government clamped down curfew on the whole Swat district initially to facilitate the military operations and prevent the movement and activities of the militants. Curfew was then gradually relaxed to enable the people to stock up on supplies of food and other items of daily use and allow them to perform necessary chores. Matta and Kabal, Taliban strongholds in Swat, suffered the most due to the renewed violence and curfew restrictions were strictly enforced in those two tehsils compared to rest of the district.
There were some worrying aspects of the new round of violence in Swat. For the first time there were attacks by suspected militants on three girls' schools and on security checkpoints in Mingora, the twin town along with Saidu Sharif that served as the headquarters of Swat district and the erstwhile Malakand division. The attacks alarmed residents of the relatively peaceful Mingora-Saidu Sharif towns and prompted some families to consider moving to safer places away from Swat. Though there had been bomb explosions, including suicide bombings, in Mingora and Saidu Sharif earlier also but this was the first attack on girls' schools and checkpoints manned by security forces. The warning was obvious that the militants were capable of attacking targets in the heavily-guarded twin towns.
Another matter of concern for the government was the attack on policemen in the adjoining Buner district. Suspected militants struck near Pir Baba killing an assistant sub-inspector of police and causing injuries to four other cops. Though there had been two earlier attacks on police including one in which the district police officer Abdul Ghafoor Afridi survived, the fresh assault took place after the government's decision to launch the new military operation in Swat on July 30. It meant the militants wanted to expand their area of operations to Buner in a bid to put pressure on the government to accept their demands. If they can, the militants would also try to launch attacks on security forces in the other adjoining districts such as Shangla, Upper Dir, Lower Dir and Malakand Agency.
Already, militancy has spilled over to Upper Dir and Lower Dir. A number of girls' schools in Upper Dir were attacked and destroyed. In Lower Dir, a shadowy Taliban group through its spokesman, Waqas, sometime back claimed to have killed a cop after accusing him of working as an informer. Despite denials by government functionaries, it appears that Taliban have been trying to organise in the two Dir districts either by finding local recruits or by sending their members from other places to Upper Dir and Lower Dir. The attacks on girls' schools in Upper Dir was clearly evidence that Taliban militants had infiltrated the district and found some local supporters. Artillery shells fired by the military in Swat also reportedly fell in the mountains of Nihag Darra in Upper Dir district and fuelled concern among the people living there.
There is also a clear link between the happenings in Swat and Bajaur, which is one of the seven tribal agencies known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Parts of Bajaur have been under the influence of Pakistani Taliban, who have been sending fighters to reinforce the Swati militants whenever military operations take place there. In fact, Taliban are able to receive reinforcements from all over NWFP and even from other provinces in times of need. The military also resorted to the use of gunship helicopters in Loisam area of Bajaur to attack militants operating in the area and protect government installations and security posts. Taliban in Bajaur have been emboldened by their success in forcing the government to abandon some of security posts on the border with Afghanistan and elsewhere in the tribal agency. The government's writ has been reduced to some heavily-guarded offices in Bajaur's headquarters Khar and in Nawagai and tribal elders who have been supporting the state were killed or rendered inactive.
There were conflicting reports about the casualties during the new round of fighting in Swat. Both sides claimed inflicting heavy losses on each other. Brigadier Zia Anjum Bodla, one of the top commanders of the more than 25,000 troops deployed to Swat and parts of Shangla, claimed in a press briefing after one week of military operations that 94 militants had been killed. He conceded the loss of 14 soldiers. He also admitted that 28 civilians until then had lost their lives during the Swat fighting.
Muslim Khan, spokesman for the TTP in Swat, rejected Brigadier Bodla's claim and maintained that only 10 Taliban were killed and eight injured in the fighting. He insisted that the military's losses were more than those conceded by Brigadier Bodla. Earlier during the first few days of the fighting, he had claimed that a few dozen soldiers, militiamen and policemen had been killed in militants' attacks.
Subsequently, both sides suffered further losses. The militants lost Ali Bakht Rawan, an elderly man who led the Taliban negotiating team that held peace talks with the ANP-PPP coalition government and concluded the May 21 accord. He was killed fighting security forces in his village, Deolai. Earlier, another Taliban commander Hussain Ali alias Tor Mulla was killed in the Matta area.
The renewed violence started on July 28 when the militants ambushed a vehicle carrying three personnel of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in the Matta area and killed all of them. The next day, the militants attacked a police station in the Deolai area and abducted 33 policemen and servicemen. The abducted men remain untraced and their fate is a matter of concern for their families and the government. The two incidents forced the government and Pakistan Army's hand and military operations were ordered on July 30. The militants' retaliated by destroying 28 girls' schools in a week, dynamiting bridges to disrupt the troops' movements and attacking government offices. The number of girls' school destroyed to date by the militants in Swat has crossed 90. Such unexplained attacks have angered and saddened the people of Swat and even alienated those who were hitherto supporting the militants.
The fighting has displaced a large number of people. The civilian casualties in most cases earned criticism for the military because stray artillery shells falling on houses caused human and material losses. This issue was highlighted when an ANP MPA, Dr Waqar, threatened to resign if civilians continued to suffer "collateral damage." Taliban also hurled threats at assembly members from Swat and elsewhere in Malakand division by blaming them for failure to implement the peace accord and being unable to stop the military operations. It was obvious that the situation was deteriorating with no new peace initiative on the anvil. With the military pledging to continue its operations until Swat was cleared of militants and the militants threatening to retaliate with suicide bombings throughout Pakistan, there was danger that the violence in Swat would spillover to other places in NWFP and beyond.
It would be interesting to see how the media alters the nature, function and making of art and artists in the coming years
By Quddus Mirza
Various cameras move in different directions in a spot-lit room as people talk on microphones. No, it's not a film shooting scene or a political party convention. It is the opening of an art exhibition. Gone are the days when art shows were inaugurated in a quiet, low-key manner, with a few enthusiasts that included artists, students and their friends gathered for the occasion. The hype generated by the new media has turned an art exhibition into a grand affair.
This attention of media is a blessing. Compared to India, Pakistani art gets a lot of print space and air time. Not that Pakistani art is superior. Its good fortune lies in the downfall of Pakistani cinema. In India, Bollywood hogs all space and attention. So visual art figures insignificantly both in the print and electronic media. In contrast, Pakistani film is hardly mentioned in any serious discourse on culture, in entertainment programmes, or even on the social pages. So visual art enjoys a greater privilege, often more than it deserves.
The attention of electronic media is a new phenomenon; not just for the visual arts, but for several other spheres. Politicians, police officers, bureaucrats, economists, lawyers, businessmen and shopkeepers have all got a chance to perform in front of live camera, whether in the studios or in the field. Usually the outburst of media is aggressive, unpredictable and unpleasant. In most cases, the response too is quick, candid and often crude. With this latest boom, each production house needs to fill up its air space, and quality becomes the first casualty. Whatever is recorded is transmitted, assuming a short life span for each product.
But do people realise that this short life of media has a long-lasting impact? The short span of a programme inevitably leads to the idea of a short-lived truth. People who are accusing others or defending themselves in front of the camera are playing their role as actors; knowing unconsciously that their performance would invite applause or disdain, but it won't have permanent consequence.
Yet, media's intervention and influence has become so huge that political talkshows are watched with greater interest and eagerness than the hitherto popular sitcoms or soap operas. This bestows a power on the media personnel who can turn and twist the course of events according to their whims and agendas. One of the best examples is the way Lal Masjid issue was handled last year by a few anchorpersons till the last moment of the crisis. The power of persuasion was amply used instead of objective, impartial and balanced reporting of events.
This growing power and presence of 'sentimental' media has also influenced our artists. Normally, in an exhibition, artists are supposed to reply to questions of the general public, many of whom are not trained in the history or aesthetics of art or culture. The worrying aspect is that journalists and television reporters are equally clueless about their subject; for them, coverage of an art exhibition is like reporting on a riot, accident or a plain event.
However, artists like everybody else are aware of the privilege of being in media. So, with the passage of time, the creative individuals are transforming themselves and modifying their outlook in keeping with the needs of the media. Art is not being made for the sole purpose of self-expression or catharsis as in old times.
Usually the artists are familiar with the focus of media, both print and electronic, and they prepare themselves for it. Often they do it unconsciously by producing a work that can easily be understood and appreciated by a crowd that is keen on deciphering the literal meaning and narrative connection within the art work. Because, for media and its audience, every art piece must mean something or the other (a situation that can satisfy 'story' seeking producer and public).
Hence, it is not surprising that with the increasing number of exhibitions, one comes across a body of work fabricated with clear signs and obvious references. Similarly, when artists talk about their work, they tend to explain their images, rather than discussing their creative process as an art experience that has many unknown layers and unearthed folds.
The other impact of media is seen in the way artists present themselves to the world of images. Extremely smart, professional and articulate, they appear well-prepared and equipped to deal with the media, sometimes outsmarting the latter.
This, by all assumptions, is the age of the media -- after the stone, bronze and iron ages. Imagine the difference in consequence and impact if there was no live coverage of Twin Towers being hit by aeroplanes or if that image was not transmitted a trillion times across the globe. It would be interesting to see how the media alters the nature, function and making of art in the coming years -- as it has changed our artists.
The direct connection between nature and music -- the metaphoric implication of rain, fire and spring -- is looked at sceptically because our times do not allow such connections
By Sarwat Ali
Usually when a raag is sung or played, someone from the audience inquires, more out of derision, whether by the end of the performance the clouds will gather and it will begin to rain heavily or the concert area will catch fire during the recital. This reaction becomes overt during the seasons that are more pronounced like monsoon and spring.
This common perception about classical raags, usually based on a very literal level, is perceived in the context that the myths about the raags are actual acts themselves. Accepted more in letter than in spirit, the imposition of a realistic reading of myths and legends is also a reflection of the distancing that has occurred, over a period of time, from our classical heritage.
This connection, an obvious one, has also been promoted by cinema. The films have depicted the metaphors, as they occur in music and poetry, as literal. If fluttering of the heart is mentioned as a verbal image, a direct visual translation of fluttering birds, somehow, reduces the impact.
The metaphoric implication of rain, fire and spring are seen in direct terms by the people; this direct connection between nature and music is looked at sceptically because the times that we live in do not allow such connections and necessary relationships. This relationship is assessed and seen more in the context of a causal connection, where the singing or playing of the raag necessarily makes the heavens opening themselves out to pour.
It may be conceded that in the classical period the effects of the raags were quantified by the category of rasa. Each raag was supposed to evoke a certain rasa and, if done well, considered to be the aesthetic achievement of the artiste. The raags contained that rasa and it was up to the excellence of the artiste to make it so happen and realise. It was also said by thinkers and musicologists that not only each sur but each shruti too contained a certain quantum of aesthetic emotion, and it was left to the expertise of the artiste to weave the tapestry of aesthetic emotion and hence communicate with the audience which breathed the same air. But rasa, an aesthetic category, heavily mediated, should not be confused with its metaphoric implications.
The modern world is basically fragmented and divided into self-sufficient wholes but the classical period had a wholesome relationship with the world as well as nature. Man lived in an integrated universe where the forces of nature were not indifferent. They could be hostile but the aspirations and the wishes of man in the world resonated in nature. Nature with a capital 'N' was seen as an awesome force, a potential that commanded submission. It was in the best interest of man to respect Nature and to learn to live with its potentiality. Gradually as man started to alienate himself from nature in the post Renaissance Europe, he became an isolated figure and a lonely voice, a cry in the wilderness. This dichotomy was felt most severely during the Romantic period when Nature and civilisation were perceived to be two different poles. Civilisation took man away from Nature and the entire thrust of the movement was to bring back the true essence of life by discovering, once again, the primal bond with nature. But other than the artistic triumph, this distance continued to increase and in the 20th century man was totally isolated. He abandoned the cardinal value of abiding by the potential of nature, rather not only to conquer nature but to also design it and improve upon it.
He was no longer the inevitable voice of the collective, he did not represent a societal vision, and rather he was cut off from the society and pushed to a corner, delving into his subjectivity to come up with shattered pearls of wisdom. He remained the conscience of society but was not part of the crowd. He was an individual who found it increasingly hard to communicate with the larger mass of people.
The classical periods were but its very opposite. Nature and man were not moving in isolated spheres -- man lived in an integrated universe and the forces of Nature rallied to his cause. If he desired nature to respond, nature did respond.
In non-Western parts of the world where the tension between intellectual catching-up and ground realities conditions existence like in ours, the artistic fallout has been the unhinging of the raag from its emotional source. Now it can be sung as an independent entity not necessarily following the rules that had established its ambience. As a next step, the raag is treated as an independent entity, only as a sequence of notes which could be creatively tampered with to create a mood irrespective of its original laid down emotional framework. The dissociation of the composition from the aesthetic emotion of the raag is now complete.
There are a great many varieties of malhaars. The most celebrated, of course, being Mian ki Malhaar accredited to Mian Tansen, but then Megh and Malhaar, are sung together as one raag with tremendous appeal. Some of the greatest names in our music like Ramdas and Surdas have crafted their own malhaars and of Mirabai who sang it to douse the fire that scalded Tansen after he had sung Dipak to prove to Akbar that his music had the power to move Nature. There are other malhaars like Gaur Malhaar and many more which, in recent times, have been the creative innovations of musicians who wanted to enlarge the scope of their creative expression.
I was bemused to arrive in Karachi and find various privileged acquaintances here giving gloom-and-doom forecasts for the present government's future.
One year ago the country was being rocked by bomb blasts nearly every other day, protestors were being beaten up in the streets, the Chaudhries ruled Punjab, food prices were spiralling and crime in our big cities had not abated. Yet now -- when things are not half as turbulent -- our drawing room friends are sitting and telling us that "things have never been so bad".
I personally am not inclined to agree with them because I think things may be "bad" but they are better than last year, and better than any year under a rigged/managed assembly. My elite friends cite as proof of their thesis the fact that rich people are buying properties in Dubai and Malaysia and that many people are immigrating to other countries like Canada.
Actually this has been a constant trend for well over a decade. Rich Pakistanis, with a lot of money and not much interest in political reform, have always put their money in properties abroad, while educated and less rich people have consistently been moving to places like Canada and Australia in search of a more secure life.
But my drawing room friends make it seem like this is an overnight development that has occurred because of the terrible chaos and insecurity caused by a government that has been in charge for about half a year!
I enjoy listening to this sort of drawing room talk because it is often illustrative of what sort of things our shadowy hawks would like us to believe and propagate.
For example, when the Q league ruled the roost and Musharraf made arrogant speeches and took drastic decisions, when ministers like Wasi Zafar and Sheikh Rashid talked all sorts of nonsense, when the Lal Masjid militants terrorised Islamabad and when Musharraf sacked and incarcerated the Chief Justice, nobody ever used the word "governance". But now, this word governance is the buzzword and used solely in a negative sense (as in "no governance" or "lack of governance" and so on). This is really quite fascinating because for me it evokes the times when rumours were deliberately circulated about various elected governments. Over a period of time, such rumours and allegations were repeated again and again till they built up into a sort of a perceived reality which was enough to destabilise and topple a government...
Today we do have a relatively more independent media, but we still have a lot of disinformation in our midst. We need to be able to sift fact from fiction and to use our judgement and common sense to examine things that people repeat in their drawing rooms. This country has been through two pretty bad decades; after eleven years of Zia, twenty years of entrenched forces effectively working against against any kind of democratic development. To some extent, we have all helped this to happen by sitting in drawing rooms repeating our alarmist anecdotes without any demand for evidence or context...
As a journalist who has seen various governments thus toppled (with assistance from us in the media and the alarmists in their drawing rooms), I am deeply suspicious of this sort of talk and I link it to those rightist forces which want somehow to discredit the present setup and force an election by early next year. Several regressive, rightist loudmouths have already hinted at some such strategy.
But now enough about Karachi drawing rooms, and a little bit of youthful Lahori impressions of the city. My three young nieces who visited recently were enchanted by the energy of the city: the late hours and the fact that women and families were out and about enjoying themselves till quite late at night; they loved the fact that people were so sartorially relaxed and anybody could wear anything without it becoming a major social faux pas; and they were fascinated by the diversity of the people in the city.
And they loved the kebab rolls of Khadda Market (just as many decades ago people of my age enjoyed the kebab rolls of Silver Spoon, off Tariq Road).
And talking of food, food is one of the main features of this week in Karachi when many of us will be remembering our very dear journalist friend and colleague Saneeya Hussain. Saneeya died suddenly three years ago, and now her family has set up a trust in her name which will support many of the causes she devoted her career to. This week we will have seminar on Women in the Media at the Press Club, a special screening of Mehreen Jabbar's film Ramchand Pakistani, an evening of music and remembrance with Tina Sani and a 'Saneeya Hussain week' at the restaurant Okra.
As we remember Saneeya, we will also remember a particular period in our country's journalism and we will think of many who, though no longer with us, were there in those dark days and part of the media's struggle against oppression and censorship: Najma Babar, Razia Bhatti, Ameneh Azam Ali and cartoonist Vai Ell aka Yusuf Lodhi -- to name just a few.
Those were difficult days for journalists, but perhaps the challenge before us today is even more daunting than it was then, because now the 'enemy' is more amorphous, much less easy to define.