olympics
While the sun shines in the East
Whether London is awarded a gold, 
silver or bronze for its regeneration efforts won’t be known until the show leaves the town
By Anaam Raza
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 are spoken.
It is also home to the rolling bandwagon of the London 2012 Olympics.

Left-right London
Far right’s characterisation of London Olympics opening as a left-wing thing only shows that the battle of ideas extends to sports
By Dr Arif Azad
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. 

Yeh Woh
Current affairs
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 against whom?
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. 

grant
Sim Sim no more Hamara
USAID’s 
snapping of funds to Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop needs thorough probe as things cannot be left where they are today
By Alefia T. Hussain
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 Development (USAID).

Credibility at stake
Who will restore the prestige of the media — the courts, the journalists themselves or the content they sell to the public?
By Farah Zia
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 value.

Resistance of the Hunza Five
The tenacious struggle of young activists for Attabad Lake affectees has de-legitimised the conspirators
By Amanullah Kariapper
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 area. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

olympics
While the sun shines in the East
Whether London is awarded a gold, 
silver or bronze for its regeneration efforts won’t be known until the show leaves the town
By Anaam Raza

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 are spoken.

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 people.

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 bags.

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 capital.

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 the violence.

“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 in Stratford.

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]

 

Left-right London
Far right’s characterisation of London Olympics opening as a left-wing thing only shows that the battle of ideas extends to sports
By Dr Arif Azad

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 the UK.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yeh Woh
Current affairs

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 against whom?

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 electricity.

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.

 

[email protected]

 

 

 


grant
Sim Sim no more Hamara
USAID’s 
snapping of funds to Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop needs thorough probe as things cannot be left where they are today
By Alefia T. Hussain

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 Development (USAID).

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Credibility at stake
Who will restore the prestige of the media — the courts, the journalists themselves or the content they sell to the public?
By Farah Zia

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 value.

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 their grievance.

Interestingly, the 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.

Any accountability 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 won’t.

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 excellence.

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 own rescue.

 

 

 

 

Resistance of the Hunza Five
The tenacious struggle of young activists for Attabad Lake affectees has de-legitimised the conspirators
By Amanullah Kariapper

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 area.

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 the MQM!

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.

 

 



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