of the Hunza Five
East London is home
to some of the most diverse and deprived boroughs of UK where a high
proportion of Pakistanis and Muslims reside. The place also has a reputation
for being a scruffy, post-industrial ethnic melting pot where alienated youth
live side by side with hippy artists, poor immigrants and where 101 languages
It is also home to the
rolling bandwagon of the London 2012 Olympics.
It is not widely known that
London won the bid in 2005 to host the games after convincing the
International Olympic Committee (IOC) that for them it would be about
breathing life into a huge neglected swath of East London — rather than
just glory. But after three failed bids, they managed to turn hearts and
narrowly beat Paris by 54 votes to 50 through an emotional video called
‘Inspiration’, which focused on the games inspiring a generation of young
What they said there was
completely right, East London was in need of regeneration and so much so that
life expectancy is seven years less than those who live in the swanky West
End. But the popular and pervasive view (before Danny Boyle’s spectacular
opening ceremony) was that this sporting event will be more about national
stature and international PR rather than East London getting its chance to
stand on the medal podium.
All six host boroughs have
had a non-stop flurry of construction and renovation projects since then, but
Newham the poorest of them all, in particular has had cranes dotting the
streets everywhere you look, but how much the former industrial areas is
likely lose its rugged edge is still unclear.
According to some
estimates, the Olympics have crammed 70 years of development into a mere
seven by imposing the 2012 deadline because, in effect, the goal was to build
a new city within a city in the East. But despite the minor uplift the games
have provided to the UK, which still technically is in a double dip
recession, the trouble remains that this is a one-shot wonder with no
guaranteed annuity in the shape of repeat customers.
Of the £9.3 billion price
tag of the entire summer only four of the Olympic sites — the velodrome,
the main arena, the handball court and the aquatics centre — will remain
after everybody packs their bags on August 13. The rest will be dismantled
and handed out to emergency relief organisations making way for housing,
recreational land and commercial developments. And the stadium will shrink in
size until it can house only 40,000 spectators which local football teams are
expected to vie for fundamentally changing the fortunes of the neighbourhood.
The last thing the mayor
wants is a replica of Sydney’s successful games who struggled to find
suitable uses for all the white elephant venues after every one packed their
The Olympic Park and
surrounding area has attracted more than £1.6bn of private investment
already, primarily from overseas investors of shopping centre Westfield —
the prime anchor so far, employing 10,000 local people. But sceptics warn
that it remains to be seen whether businesses can be convinced to move their
offices to Stratford for longer term benefits to the locality.
Another big development to
revamp the hinterland is from Inter Ikea, parent company of the Swedish
furniture giant, which is shelling out hundreds of millions of pounds on
“Strand East” a 26-acre mixed-use project that will create sustainable
family homes near the park and a 350-bed Marriott Hotel.
The hundreds of newly-built
flats in the area have already started to cause a demographic shift in East
London as they pull in first-time buyers and investors who recognise
they’ll get more bang for the buck if they buy a home in this part of the
Professor Mark Hardy of the
Institute of Community Cohesion, who advises the government on social issues,
has said that “we must remember that the Olympics coming to these boroughs
is not a golden ticket to solve all their problems. The arrival of better
housing and richer tenants could add to people’s sense of alienation if
mishandled and that local residents need to understand how they would benefit
from the new facilities and not just be left on the outside looking in.”
With the £6 billion sunk
cost into transportation, the biggest transformation which has really tested
the inhabitants’ patience but will benefit them in the long-term too is the
transformation of an ordinary tube station into a major transport hub.
Stratford International Station now provides services to both Paris and
Brussels via the Eurostar and fast Javelin trains that whisk passengers to
London’s St. Pancras station in seven minutes. All these projects
connecting the area to the rest of London including a much-needed new
connection across the Thames, were designed to rescue the site from oblivion
and make it an excellent option for tourist attraction.
But the one thing that the
East isn’t being gifted in lieu of the Olympics is a stunningly youthful
population: 40 per cent is aged 25 and younger, of whom many are struggling
to see how they will benefit from the regeneration.
Like all big cities world
over, London is no exception where the haves and have nots live cheek by
jowl. The millions of foreign visitors descending on the capital this month
may not notice, but within sight of the gleaming Olympic venues are some of
the city’s most troubled neighbourhoods where the unattainable glamour of
the games has only fuelled resentment.
Last year’s riots in the
worrying proximity to the Olympic sites were a bitter reminder of these
problems when gangs of masked teenagers went on the rampage, looting shops
and turning streets into battle zones prompting local residents to defend
their shops with baseball bats and truncheons after police failed to contain
“They are all talking
about how it’s going to have a knock-on effect on the local community but
despite the stadium being right next door I don’t see how it’s going to
change my life,” said Aqib Azam, a struggling actor who studies and works
On the bright side however,
cafes, shops and taxi firms in the vicinity have rushed to rebrand
themselves. There is now an Olympic Motors, Stratford Olympic Furniture and
Olympic Fish Bar and other numerous kebab shops, convenience stores and
hairdressers have made sure they celebrate the games in their own little way.
In spite of all the pros
and cons of the games taking place in a derelict area, for now this
celebration of world class athletes having a go at every sport mankind has
ever invented has effectively transformed even the most sneeringly cynical,
into Union Jack t-shirt wearing Team GB stalwarts, whose future happiness
hangs on whether Jessica Ennis wins a medal.
But whether East London is
awarded a gold, silver or bronze for its regeneration efforts after the
games, won’t be known until the greatest show on earth leaves the town.
The writer is an Editorial
Assistant at The News in London and can be reached at [email protected]
After years of
preparation, London Olympics opened to a largely positive acclaim. It is the
third time during the last hundred years that London is hosting the Olympics
— a record in itself.
When the London Olympics
were awarded to London, it represented a huge triumph for the then prime
minister, Tony Blair, who had staked a lot on getting the games back to
London. At the time, there were murmurs of dissents from some quarters that
saw the games as a sheer waste of money which did not earn any payback on the
colossal investment it entailed.
In the vanguard of
dissident voices was Simon Jenkins, a right of centre influential columnist
and ex-editor of various national dailies. In time, the dissenting band was
swelled by the likes of Andrew Rawnsley, columnist on the Sunday paper
Observer and an insightful writer of books on the Labour Party. What gave
these critics a big shot in the arm was the worsening economic situation in
However, in a sign of
closing ranks in the run-up to the Olympics, all critical voices put aside
their reservations and lent guarded welcome to the event as confirming the
national honour. Andrew’s last column before the Olympic ceremony said as
much and wished the city good in organising the games after having rubbished
the Prime Minister David Cameron’s claim of 13 billion pounds of money
flowing into the British economy.
There was a wide spread
sense abroad that it was going to be a different kind of ceremony involving a
huge cost of 27 million pounds.
In the event Danny Boyle
did not disappoint majority of viewers, except that a handful of mainstream
politicians were opposed to cultural diversity and political plurality as a
political creed. I shall return to it little later.
The opening ceremony was a
riotous affair, showcasing quiet, languidly traditional Britain soon
overwhelmed by the onset of industrial revolution. This was mediated by
Kenneth Branagh, an accomplished Shakespearean actor, who delivered memorable
lines from the Tempest which invoked the spirit of dreaming big dreams. This
bold shift was shown through green verdant inaugural scene uprooted by
smokestacks and an army of new industrial workers burst upon the scene in the
slipstream of industrialisation. And this crucible of industrialization
sprouted forces, which affected vast areas of social, political, economic and
cultural life in years to come.
Windrush boat, which
brought first batch of West Indian immigrants; suffragettes’ movement which
gave political voice to women, Chelsea pensioners, growing social media and
music industry were all outgrowth of this process. Out of this revolution
were also forged the five rings of the modern Olympics.
The journey from
traditional Britain to modern plural country as we know it today was
telescoped through changing landscape of the country which is at ease with
its growing heritage. All traditional and new was nicely melded — and to
great effect. Tradition represented through the Queen also fused seamlessly
with ever newish modern James Bondish trend. That the Queen consented to this
shows how Britain is capable of and ready to reshape her in line with
globally appealing modern products.
More politically, however,
the totemic National Health Service (under attack from unbridled
privatisation and deficit cutting under the conservative government) was
celebrated through thousands of volunteers and medical staff. This was a much
needed paean to William Beveridge’s vision of free National Health Service
put into operation by the post-war Labour government.
As I pointed out earlier,
some aspects of the ceremony did not go down well with the politically
supercharged right wing. No sooner had the ceremony ended than one
conservative MP, Aidan Burley, tweeted to the effect that this was the most
left wing opening ceremony he had ever seen. Tapping into his visceral hatred
for multiculturalism and pro-far right sympathies he called the whole
ceremony as a vast multicultural crap.
Some commentators on other
right wing magazine dubbed the ceremony as propaganda for Labour and
unreconstructed fascination for the welfare state which is being aggressively
dismantled by the political right. Although the reaction of the right was
largely ignored in the unanimous welcome of the ceremony, outburst by Aidan
Burley caused the biggest storm within the conservative party under David
Cameron keen to present its multicultural face to the world at the time of
multicultural and plural spirited Olympics. This led to a spirited chorus of
calls asking of David Cameron to withdraw whip from the offending MP.
It has to be borne in mind
that Aidan Burley has already been in bad odour with the Conservative party
over his alleged parading of the Nazi uniform at a stag party last year. The
uproar over the expose led to his sacking from the ministerial aide position
he was holding at the time. It may well be that no further action necessary
might become the preferred option due to the likely adverse and diversionary
impact it may have on the Olympics.
Yet it is also true that
the Conservative Party has harboured such characters in its fold during its
entire history. It was after all Enoch Powell, a towering Conservative
politician, who earned lasting notoriety for his rivers of blood speech,
which signified an important landmark in bigotry that shows no signs of
abating down the years.
There was nothing left or
right about the ceremony: it was just plain evolving confident, post-imperial
Britain. Far-right characterisation of it as a left-wing thing only shows
that the battle of ideas is being extended to sports as well which may
destroy the spirit of the games.
Dear Member of
Parliament, I am a registered voter in the constituency that elected you. I
believe in democracy. I have also come to believe that Pakistan khappay and
that democracy is the best revenge. What I can’t understand is, revenge
Living in the plains during
the summer is blistering enough, putting up with pompous piety that infests
TV during Ramzan like a seasonal affliction is painful enough, and enduring
murderers, fascists and scumbags as my leaders, in the name of reconciliation
is humiliating enough: I could have really done without loadshedding.
You see, I have learnt to
live with a lot but I can’t live without electricity. And why should I have
to? Electricity, by its very nature and its constitution, is something that
comes. In Pakistan it always goes. And it’s not like it goes from Lahore to
Lala Musa and then comes back; when it goes, it stays gone. Everywhere. And
meanwhile I have built my life around gadgets that run on this elusive power:
things like light bulbs, an iron, fan, water pump, computer, television,
refrigerator, phone charger … even my employment is dependant upon a
regular supply of electricity.
So tell me dear Member, why
do you let it go?
I have seen you on telly
deflect this question every other day. You blame it on army, you blame it on
judiciary, on previous governments, on electricity eating mafias, on the
hocus pocus that is circular debt, you blame … this is all you do. Do you
figure dear Member that I voted you into power so you could tell me ten
different reasons why you won’t even try to fix things?
Have the generals’
peak-caps fitted with solar panels, send khawaja saras to collect power bills
from judges, arrest mafia heads and former and present government
functionaries for all I care. Do whatever, but do something other than
insulting my intelligence by turning an issue of utter mismanagement and lack
of moral authority into one of resources. The only resource we need is a
hydrocarbon. You buy oil or gas or whatever, you have someone make
electricity with it, and you have someone else sell this electricity to me
and bill me for it. In the process I not only pay for the imported oil, I
also pay for the salaries of all the staff involved and even contribute
towards a healthy profit for the companies producing and distributing
What part of this process
you do not understand? And while fluctuation in power tariff based on
international oil prices is wholly understandable, where is the justification
for even one hour of loadshedding? I am a long-time customer of the utility.
I get a ten-day period to pay my bill, failing which I am slapped with a
hefty fine, and before the month ends my power supply is cut off. How then
has Wapda managed to amass a running deficit of more than 400 billion rupees?
Today, as I wake up bathed in sweat and carry on my routine of going without
cold drinking water, hot meals, charged batteries, pressed clothes, and a job
owing to frequent power outages, Wapda has just lost another billion rupees.
Where are these billions going my dear Member? And if you don’t know, who
does? Who should?
You see I could have taken
my complaint to Supreme Court as is the custom these days, or I could have
raised a Pak fauj zindabad slogan, as has always been the custom every time
politicians fail, but as I said in the introductory paragraph, I believe in
democracy. I expect you, the parliamentarian I elected with my vote, to fight
with whoever needs to be fought. I gave you all the power you can expect in a
democratic system. If power of my vote is not enough for you, quit pretending
to be my representative and join Bahria Town to learn from the venerable
Malik how to provide uninterrupted power to large residential areas. Wish you
a prosper life.
The present setup — in
the centre as well as in provinces — is not democracy; it’s only another
experiment in democracy. If it fails — many will argue it already has —
let’s make it very clear that it will not be because of army, judiciary,
mullah or America. The only reason will be you — the elected legislator —
using democracy as a stick to beat me with, and as a carrot to shove in my
mouth when I cry in pain.
It was once a
lively, colourful village. Now, Baji’s dhaba has no customers but all her
wares, the winding streets and the small houses with overhanging balconies,
are lifeless and children do not flit and frolic through the garden —
because red cheerful monster Elmo has returned to his far away home and his
Pakistani pals, Rani, Munna, Baily and others are locked up in a closet.
This was a little home
created for the cast of Pakistan Children Television (PCTV) programme Sim Sim
Hamara, a co-production of Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop (RPTW) and non-profit
Sesame Workshop, and funded by the United States Agency for International
With 10 million dollars as
obligated grant, formally launched in 2010, PCTV was aimed to educate about
65 million Pakistani children who are unable to attend school through Sesame
Street’s fun-style of learning. The initiative was originally to produce in
four years 78 episodes of Sim Sim Hamara in Urdu, 52 in four regional
languages of Pakistan, to be aired on TV, as many episodes for radio, with an
additional 11,000 interventions through trucks travelling to 107 districts of
Pakistan. So far 26 episodes have already been screened on PTV that catered
to the cultural and educational needs of the local children.
But, in early June this
year, life took a tragic turn in this house of playful puppets — the
grant-making agency cancelled funding for the local version of the
children’s education series Sesame Street on alleged charges of corruption
via an anti-fraud hotline.
“We deemed that the
allegations were serious enough that we wanted to suspend or cut off the
programme until we were able to complete this investigation because we take
misuse and misspending of US taxpayers dollars very seriously,” said Mark
Toner, as reported by Reuters on June 5, 2012. He also said a termination
letter had been sent to RPTW.
In December 2011, the USAID
Office of the Inspector General (OIG) opened a formal investigation in the
matter, which is still ongoing.
Some unnamed USAID sources
while talking to a local newspaper accused RPTW of misappropriating funds,
turning the project into a family affair, paying off debts and misusing the
provided SUVs (Sport Utility Vehicles). However, in a meeting with The News
on Sunday on July 31, the USAID officials, who do not want to be named, deny
such allegations and maintain that these never came out of their office.
The officials claim that
like any other USAID project that is contingent on the US Congress’
approval, this one too had a start, a middle and an end — that it was a
natural thing to close it out.
The officials say they are
in negotiations with RPTW to work out a financial sustainability plan and
find ways to continue the programme.
During the meeting, they
disclose that of the 10 million dollars USAID obligated, it has already
granted $5.3 million to RPTW and $1.7 million to its co-producer Sesame
Workshop for the fiscal year 2011-2012. The US aid agency’s team that TNS
spoke to iterate the closure of the project was mutually agreed upon.
“No, it was not,”
Faizaan Peerzada, chief operating officer, PCTV says. “We were taken
totally by surprise.”
He corroborates the granted
figure but adds that the US aid agency has closed the project before handing
over the obligated 10 million dollars. “USAID still owes us 1.6 million
dollars,” he says.
Looking obviously perturbed
while sitting in his RPTW office, surrounded by cutouts of characters from
Sim Sim Hamara, he substantiates his claim by referring to a letter issued by
USAID on May 24 (Letter of Notification – under Cooperative Agreement),
which states, “No future funding is available and USAID will not be liable
for any costs beyond the $10 per Section A.3 of the Agreement.”
“How can they randomly
snap the project? They have not paid us the obligated USD10 million yet. From
our end we have met all the deadlines, cooperated with the auditors, had two
meetings for the purposes of OIG investigation without being informed of the
hotline complaint. We were told it is routine investigation. We adjusted to
their financial constraints and what not,” Peerzada says, adding
categorically, “The termination of the project is illegal.”
Seemingly, RPTW is not
aware of the reasons why the funding has been stopped before reaching the USD
10 million limit.
He says anyone familiar
with the USAID funding mechanisms knows it is subject to stringent
week-to-week, month-to-month reporting, so much so that purchase of anything
valued over USD5000 has to be approved by them. “We met all the conditions,
all the requirement,” he says.
If the allegations are
proven it would be embarrassing for the RPTW troupers, to say the least. It
is after all a venerate puppetry company with over three decades of
experience in performing arts. Through its annual international music and art
festivals, it has brought to the entertainment-starved people some of the
best dance, puppetry, theatre, film and music performances. It has sustained
two terror attacks, one on its cultural village on Raiwind Road, the other at
the 2010 festival at the Alhamra Cultural Complex in Lahore.
Meanwhile, the onus is on
USAID for coming out with substantial proof in building a strong case against
RPTW — for things cannot be left where they are today.
The disclosures of
Malik Riaz were of tsunamic proportions. A tsunami that caused no fatalities
but left many sections injured, including the media.
Within days of the scandal
coming out in the open, a fake list of journalists was circulated on the
social media who had benefited from the largesse of Malik Riaz. The way the
media-people as well as the public at large reacted to that list is
indicative of everything that is wrong with the media. Most of us who were
not part of the ‘illustrious’ list felt no compunction in posting and
reposting it on the social media, without bothering to check its source and
authenticity, our first lesson in journalism. Everybody else took it at face
In less than a day,
perhaps, the source of the list was traced back to a pro-Pakistan website
from where it was later removed but not before it was picked by an
office-bearer of PTI who chose to post it on Facebook and Twitter. The PTI
too later apologised for having posted it but, by then, the damage was done.
The way people bought the
charges against the media practitioners shocked them no end. They felt they
needed to have their integrity restored individually in order to make the
media appear credible again. Thus, there is great commotion within the media;
channels are working on codes of ethics to guide them individually while some
individuals have knocked the doors of the Supreme Court to seek redressal of
respondents in the petitions (including Malik Riaz) have nothing to do with
the original list.
While doing so, the media
moved away from its stated position and demand that it cannot be regulated
from outside. Indeed, self-regulation is an internationally accepted and
honoured concept. And it has some logic too. The courts are not the right
forum and not in the least the foremost institution to lay down a policy
framework for another institution such as the media.
As for individual attempts
at carving out codes of ethics, they are all praiseworthy. But this should
have been a time for looking at examples from across the world and arriving
at a common mechanism for complaint redressal for the public, the politicians
and even the journalists themselves.
This may also be a time to
introspect why has the media not been able to evolve or adopt a functional
code of ethics so far. Is it linked to the weakening of the journalists’
unions or the weakening of the working journalist or both? Was it a matter of
finances alone, with the owners all too ready to put the buck before the
government? If the government is to take the initiative to form a press
council (which it already has in the shape of Pakistan Press Council), it is
bound to stay ineffective because of the mistrust and disdain that the
journalist body has for anything remotely linked with the government which,
it is convinced, is out to grab its freedom.
mechanism for journalists cannot be a static enterprise. It has to be a
constantly evolving exercise. With several initiatives underway in Pakistan,
with Geo and Dunya tv having drafted their own codes and Express Tribune
having appointed an Ombudsman, we are moving in the right direction, only if
all these are coordinated and integrated in some way. With the media
developing at the speed it is in this country, we might need to keep
improving it like they are doing it in the UK, where the scope of Leveson
Inquiry is extended to look also at the Press Complaints Commission that has
proved inadequate or “not strong enough, fast enough or powerful enough”.
There is India’s example
close to home where the Press Council of India is an extremely powerful body,
with constitutional protection, and is immensely effective. There are useful
lessons in it for us regarding its composition, funding and of course the
functioning. With some amendments, the print and electronic media could be
dealt with under one mechanism.
But will a perfect
accountability mechanism restore the credibility of the media? My fear is it
The electronic media needs
to cast a serious look at the content it is selling to the people. An open,
plural, law-abiding and rational society serves media’s own interest and
survival. On the contrary, the media has decided to subvert this ideal by
reinforcing religiosity, superstition, lack of logic, and keeping serious
discourse at bay. It deliberately shuns intellectual debate and academic
If there is one thing
positive that the media can claim credit for, it is showing to the people of
this country what they and their country look like. It has no answers for why
does it look like this and how to change it.
No accountability mechanism
or code of ethics is going to decide that the media must be professionally
equipped, bringing analyses and background to its stories. Nor can the courts
bring back the prestige of the profession. The media will have to come to its
In January 2010,
global climate change manifested itself in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) in the form
of a massive landslide that blocked the Hunza River in Gojal valley and
created the Attabad Lake. As village after village was submerged, more than a
thousand residents of the valley were displaced and over 25,000 people were
cut off from the rest of the country as the waters swallowed up the Karakoram
Highway. The plight of the Gojalis was ignored.
Baba Jan, an activist of
Progressive Youth Front (PYF), toured the country lobbying for the government
to drain the lake and create transport facilities for the affected. The
government acted too late and the lake is now a permanent feature of the
On August 11, 2011, around
200 people protested for the rights of the affected families to receive
compensation as the Chief Minister of GB was visiting Aliabad. The police,
instructed to remove the protesters by any means, opened fire on the crowd.
Their first victim was Sher Afzal Baig, a 22 year-old student. Then, when
Baig’s father tried to retrieve the body of his son, he too was shot. Both
died. The valley erupted in indignation and a police station was burnt down
by the protesters.
Baba Jan organised numerous
protests to demand an investigation and firm action against the police
officers responsible for the killing. The protesters waited for the
government to act.
It acted a week later.
Arrest warrants were issued for numerous protesters including Baba Jan. While
most of those arrested were later released on bail, Baba Jan and four other
activists, Iftikhar Hussain, Amir Ali, Rashid Minhas and Ameer Khan, known as
the Hunza Five, remained behind bars. Twice they have been picked up from
jail and tortured. Baba Jan was beaten with sticks, had his feet crushed
under boots, two fingers broken and was denied medical treatment, while
Iftikhar Hussain had molten wax dropped on his genitals. The purpose was to
extract confessions from the detainees, since the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA)
admits confessions as evidence.
During an interrogation,
the activists were also asked to stop struggling for the rights of the
oppressed and join any one of the mainstream parties, the PPP, the PML-N or
Meanwhile, a judicial
inquiry into the Aliabad Tragedy was conducted. Journalists who have seen it
claim it lays the blame on the police force and local bureaucracy for the
incident. The findings of the inquiry have, however, been suppressed.
The campaign against this
series of injustices took on first a national and then an international
dimension. Talks, seminars, protests and a hunger-strike camp were organised
across the country and then, as news spread via social media networks to
sympathisers abroad, protests were held in Tokyo, Colombo, Jakarta,
Melbourne, Frankfurt, Paris and Manila. Human rights organisations also
started to take up the issue and the HRCP issued a strong statement of
concern while the Pakistani Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Rights
demanded explanations from the GB authorities.
On June 26, 2012, the
Gilgit-Baltistan Supreme Appellate Court was about to accept the bail appeal
of Baba Jan, when new charges were filed against him under the ATA. These
charges relate to the incident of rioting in Gilgit Jail that happened on
April 26, 2012, i.e., two months prior to the filing of these fresh charges!
On July 2, 2012, their
legal defence team managed to secure the release on bail of two of the Hunza
Five, Amir Ali and Rashid Minhas. On July 23 and on July 29, massive public
meetings were held in Nasirabad (Hunza valley) where participants resolved to
step up their campaign for justice within GB.
The vested interests of the
ruling clique of GB and those of the federal government have succeeded in
making a mockery of justice and due process, so that people of conscience who
support the oppressed are persecuted as terrorists while policemen who kill
unarmed protestors receive official protection and promotions. In this whole
process, the draconian ATA has empowered the corrupt elite to deny the
detainees their basic rights simply on the strength of unsubstantiated
accusations of terrorism.
Rights activists across the
country question the very basis of the ATA that assumes the guilt of the
accused — in stark contrast to established norms of due process and the
basic rights of a citizen. In this, they find themselves in a situation
similar to that of the six members of the Labour Qaumi Movement, sentenced to
99 years each by an Anti-Terrorism Court in Faisalabad, for organising a
strike in June 2010.
Under the GB Empowerment
& Self-Governance Order 2009, judges are appointed to local courts on a
three-year contract, with extensions dependent on performance. Given the
interminable series of hearing postponements and the impunity with which
state agents have repeatedly tortured the PYF activists, the parameters for
their “performance appraisals” are open to some scathing criticism.
The powerful intelligence
agencies who have been supporting sectarian elements and various defunct
jihadi outfits want to eliminate Baba Jan because he is the only leader in
the region who has persistently tried to bring the people of various
communities living in GB to jointly struggle for their social and political
rights. Baba Jan is a major hurdle in the way of these agencies who want to
keep the population of GB divided on sectarian lines in order to secure the
unaccountable power they need to pursue their regional geo-political agenda.
Local members of the PPP
also consider Baba Jan and the PYF to be a potent threat to their new-found
authority, as he has become a folk hero, especially among the youth of the
entire region. Local members of all the mainstream parties have approached
Baba Jan with offers of pardon and high privilege, if only he apologized to
the authorities for his stubborn resistance — and joined their party.
The tenacious struggle of
these young activists has de-legitimised the conspirators in the eyes of the
people of the region, who are now shrugging off their fear and preparing to
struggle against the oppressive forces that seek to enslave them.