park for peace
The broken ice
Military conflict is not the only thing wrong with Siachen. The glacier is under a lot of ecological pressure due to a number of human and environmental factors
By Muhammad Badar Alam
After decades, Siachen Glacier is making news for all the right reasons. Not a bullet has been fired across the battle-lines there for more than three years and media is abuzz with speculation that India and Pakistan are quite close to reaching an agreement on closing the world's highest war-theatre.
Hopes of an early breakthrough on Siachen may be over-stated. Demilitarisation of the glacier as an option to resolve the dispute about it has been on the table since late 1980s. When the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had come to Pakistan to attend a summit meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) during the first government of Benazir Bhutto, an agreement for demilitarisation had been all but signed. The only thing that could have materialised -- that is, the willingness of the two militaries -- was never forthcoming.
Even now their stances seem to have changed a little, if at all. In a rare defiance to civilian authority, the Indian military chief recently went public with his anger over his government's reported plans to demilitarise the glacier. Though on Pakistani side, political changes have given the military total control and there is a little chance of any civilian resistance if and when it decides to withdraw from Siachen, there is a lot of confusion if it wants that to happen at all.
But between 1984 -- when the two countries sent their first men to the glacier - and 2007 -- when they are once again talking about demilitarising it, Siachen has seen enough. Setting up of base camps (read cantonments) by the two armies, establishment of advance posts as high as 6,700 metres and regular airlifting of material and men between the camps and the posts -- the flurry of activity on the glacier's icy heights has been unmatched in the millennia-old history of this patch of land.
Aamir Ali, a Geneva-based mountain climber and writer, claims that in the early days of military deployment at Siachen one Indian helicopter trip could lift only two soldiers from the base camp to the advance posts. Considering that at extremely cold temperatures that are a routine at the glaciers soldiers can stay at the advanced posts for weeks, not even months, the movement of soldiers must have involved hundreds of thousands of helicopter sorties since the dispute started.
Arming these men with munition and other equipment for survival in the extreme and harsh wintry conditions of the Glacier must have been an equally gigantic task. "All supplies are brought by helicopter or air-dropped: tents, food, fuel, heaters, cookers, equipment, arms, ammunition, weapons, and rocket launchers," writes Aamir, in an article originally published in a journal called Mountain Research and Development (MRD).
To accomplish their logistical feat and maintain it has been prohibitively costly and not just in terms of money. Everyday India spends $ 1 million on its Siachen operations and Pakistan about $ 600,000 a day. The difference in expenditure results not because one army is better than the other in running the icy war-front. It rather accrues from their respective positions. "The Indian base camp is at 3,700 (meters) and (the country has) about 100 posts at altitudes up to 6,700 (meters)...The Indian army can claim the highest helipad in the world, the highest dropping zone, and the highest public telephone booth...Pakistani base camp, more easily accessible, is at 2,700 (metres), whereas Pakistan's advanced posts are (also) at lower altitudes (than those of India)," says Aamir.
In human terms, dispute over Siachen has caused colossal losses to both sides. In meteorological conditions where "temperature dips well below 40 degree Celsius, blizzards can blow, and avalanches and crevasses regularly claim victims, weather and climate have taken bigger toll than bombs and bullets have ever done. Of more than 16,000 lives so far lost on the glacier, 97 per cent have resulted from non-military causes. Soldiers are falling victim to their own presence, rather than the presence of the enemy."
Another victim of this human presence is the extremely delicate ecology of the glacier and the biodiversity it was once known for. Aamir Ali quotes known Pakistani mountaineer Nazir Sabir to drive home this point: "Glaciers are not meant for men to live on," let alone have a war going on them.
A study done by an Italian environmentalist, Giuliano Tallone, warns that the glacier is "being quite catastrophically polluted by human waste (which does not quite easily decompose at those altitudes), by garbage, by chemical contamination from weapons and heavy equipment, and by oil and kerosene, essential for survival at high altitudes by both armies."
According to Aamir Ali, the "pollution and degradation of the environment, resulting from thousands of men living at these heights, is appalling. The cans, drums, fuel containers, oil and lubricants, tetrapacks for fruit juice, aluminum packaging, chemicals and medical waste can neither be burned nor destroyed, nor can any of them be removed. Human waste amounts to 1000 kg a day on the Indian side alone. It is packed in metal drums and dropped into crevasses at the rate of up to 4000 drums a year." Then, he says, there is the war material: "guns, arms, millions of rounds for small arms, ammunition, shells."
Aamir quotes a senior Indian army officer as remarking that "it is all flown in but nothing will ever be flown back." Another armyman quoted by Aamir in this regard is even more alarmist in his utterances. "The highest battleground in the world has created, in addition to the human suffering undergone by the troops on both sides, environmental devastation whose effects will only be known once the troops pull out," is how General Vinod Saighal has put it.
One of the world's highest places is also its dirtiest. But expecting all this pollution to have no impact on the environment of the glacier is to expect nothing short of a miracle. A number of environmentalists point out that snow leopard and ibex, two inhabitants of the icy heights of Soltoro Ridge that Siachen is a part of, have been forced out of the main conflict zone at the glacier.
If that is not sign enough of degraded environment at Siachen, some latest reports suggest that the glacier may be melting at a very alarming pace due to human activity there as well as global warming. A recent report posted on the website of the Pakistani section of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) claims that every year Siachen is losing 110 metres of its ice cover due mainly to military activity. (Some other reports put this loss to as low as 30 metres a year.)
The report on the WWF website says that the digging of ice for bunkers, helicopter sorties and other war-related activities are causing the glacier to melt which may have devastating consequences for not just India and Pakistan but also for Bangladesh. It predicts flashfloods followed by dried rivers, stronger monsoons and the rising of the sea level, all of which will force a number of costly changes to the life and economy of millions of people in the three countries.
Some other, mainly Western, environmentalists warn that global warming is also catching up with Siachen, even if military activity there is having no impact on the ecology of the glacier. Some research studies conducted at the glacier reveal that temperature there is rising by 0.2 degree centigrade annually. Siachen, 72 kilometres long and three kilometres wide, is the world's largest glacier outside the polar region but if temperature there keeps rising at the pace it is rising now, this distinction may be soon lost forever.
Some media reports from India quote some Indian experts to refute these claims. RK Pachauri, director-general of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) is said to have told a newspaper: 'I don't see why there would be melting as a result of military presence and activity.' MN Koul, convener of India's regional centre for field operations and research on Himalayan glaciology, recently told Hindustan Times that even if the temperatures rise to a considerable extent, it is not going to lead to immediate retreat of the glaciers.
Even if the evidence for the melting of Siachen Glacier is not as compelling as some environmental groups claim, there is certainly something seriously amiss at the icy heights of the Soltoro Ridge. The case for a demilitarisation of the place on purely environmental grounds may not appear quite convincing to the political and military elites of the two countries but the sheer magnitude of human and financial costs there is too high to keep paying for long.
Unaccompanied by any guarantees, both the militaries will take demilitarisation as a defeat. In Aamir Ali's words, "it is said, on both sides of LoC (line of control that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan), that to honour the blood of the brave soldiers that has been spilled, not an inch of territory should be given up."
But keeping soldiers at Siachen will increase the amount of blood spilled and thereby entrench the emotional impact it has on the two militaries as well as the people of the two countries. The status-quo will also increase the amount of pollution and the threat of ice-melting at the glacier, with likely effects on the quality and quantity of water in the rivers in the region and other forms and activities of life in the subcontinent.
No news is certainly not good news as far as Siachen is concerned.
Since the eruption of hostilities between India and Pakistan over Siachen in 1984, there have been many attempts at resolving the dispute. Initially, the dispute was about the extension of the Line of Control (LoC) that divides Kashmir between the two countries across the glacier. The two sides had opposing interpretation of a phrase in the agreement that gave birth to LoC and which read "thence north to the glaciers".
But after the two countries failed to sign on the dotted line despite an apparent agreement betweeen Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir, both respectively the then prime ministers of their countries, the dispute has taken on a new form. Between 1986 and 1998, the countries had met for seven times to find a solution for the problem. Since the resumption of biltaeral talks in 2004, another three rounds of talks have taken place but the resolution of the issue remains elusive.
Even when the two sides agree that they have to demilitarise the glacier, they differ sharply on how to do it. Also, there has been a lot of mixing of various disputes that the two countries have and the element of military pride that do not let the problem be solved easily. Since the eruption of an insurgency in Indian-administered Kashmir, Siachen's fate has become quite tangled with the resolution or otherwise of Kashmir issue. The two militaries, too, are quite reluctant to withdraw from a position which has cost them dearly, both in soldiers and money.
Though the two governments are in a state of denial over the environmental impacts of military activity at the glacier, the ecological aspects of the issue can become a part of the solution rather than being and remaining a part of the problem. This is what environmental scientists, activists and organisations have been advocating for since long.
"In 1998, various specialists under the umbrella of the Cooperative Monitoring Centre, Sandia National Laboratories (Albuquerque, Unites States) proposed a Siachen Science Centre for cooperation in the area and a military disengagement on the Siachen Glacier. With input from Indian and Pakistani technicians; the same organization also explored how cooperative aerial monitoring could be used in the demilitarisation of the India-Pakistan border," writes Giuliano Tallone, an Italian researcher, in a paper entitled Siachen Peace Park: A case study for the valorisation of high mountain ecosystem.
He lists various efforts by organisations like International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation and World Union of Conservationists which culminated in a meeting in Dhaka in 2003. The meeting urged India and Pakistan to "establish a Siachen Peace Park to protect and restore the spectacular landscapes" of the glacier.
Dr Saleem H Ali, who teaches environment at the University of Vermont in the United States, suggests that the creation of the peace park can provide the two militaries with a face-saving mechanism to withdraw without having to suffer the ignominy of defeat.
"Ideally, a peace park would be demilitarised zone where weapons of any sort should not be allowed," he writes in a paper entitled the K-2-Siachen Peace Park: Moving from concept to reality. He admits that this is not immediately possible in Siachen's case. So he suggests: "(T)he militaries would act as rangers to help in the management of the park... (this) would allay fears on both sides about border security (by allowing the militaries to stay)... (and it) would provide a means for militaries on both sides to work together for a constructive purpose - thereby building camaraderie and friendship".
This peace park will not be owned by any single country but will be run by a number of concerned international organisations through concerted efforts.
In another paper entitled 'A Siachen Peace Park: The solution to a half-century of international conflict?', Aamir Ali, a Switzerland-based climber writes that the peace park will "enable both armies to withdraw under conditions of honour and dignity".
According to Aamir, transboundary peace parks, like the one he proposes in Siachen, are not a new idea. "The first one, the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park between Canada and the United States, was established (more than) 70 years ago." He also points out the dramatic raise in their numbers of late. "(F)rom 59 such parks in 1998, the number has increased to 169 today, involving 113 countries."
The movement for a peace park at Siachen has stumbled on with apparently little success and so far no support from the two governments. If there can be no agreement on how to demilitarise the glacier, there is no harm in giving the idea a shot as a possible mechanism to resolve the costly - and deadly - dispute about who owns it.
An international stewardship of a highly sensitive ecological area, through innovative schemes like the peace park, is of course a better idea than a ceaseless battle for control between the two South Asian neighbours. And it may help alleviate all the different apprehensions being increasingly and loudly expressed about the environmental threat that Siachen is facing as a result of the dispute.
-- By Muhammad
Behind the headlines
By Dr Mehdi Hasan
The recent spate of suicide bombings in various city centres, including the much protected federal capital Islamabad, only confirms that Pakistan is on the verge of becoming a failed state. If one takes into account the war-like situation in Balochistan and the military action in South and North Waziristan, it amounts to a crisis of governance not unlike the war-torn Afghanistan and Iraq.
The country's rulers, meanwhile, are on foreign tours either to solve the Palestinian problem or to attract foreign investment or to enhance trade opportunities -- as if all is well in their own country and as if Pakistan is an attractive place for the foreign capital.
However the media -- both electronic and print -- tells a different story. After the suicide bomb attacks around Ashura, forty districts were put on red alert. Police commandos in full battle dress and army troops arranged flag-marches in various cities. Earlier, some religious elements from Islamabad, the seat of the federal government, challenged the writ of the government openly on the issue of demolition of mosques and seminaries built on encroached lands. The newspapers published large pictures of women armed with lathis protesting against the government's decisions.
2007 has been declared as 'The Visit Pakistan Year' by the government. But who would dare come to a country where even the five-star hotels are not safe from terrorist attacks. Even the supreme power of the world frequently charges its most important ally for being a safe haven for terrorists and claims that the government of Pakistan was not doing enough to root out terrorists. Afghan ruler Karzai's bitter charges against Musharraf administration are only a repetition of NATO and US policy. They even violate the country's border in total disregard of Pakistan's sovereignty and attack local check posts also.
The law and order breakdown, uncontrollable surge in corruption, unstoppable violence by the religious might, political opportunism, anti-people policies of the rulers and above all military takeover of political power are all a legacy of Bhutto's Frankenstein, Ziaul Haq. He left an imprint so deep on society that hasn't dimmed even eighteen years after his death. The most painful of his legacies is the presence of millions of Afghan immigrants with jihadi orientation, all contrived by US strategists to achieve their Cold War policy objectives.
General Ziaul Haq had mastered the art of public relationing to its best. After capturing power through a military coup, he used to describe himself a reluctant ruler -- an assertion directed at providing his ruthless acts a benign cover. He knew the US would need Pakistan's help in the containment of Soviet Union and that would result in legitimising his unconstitutional and immoral rule. The US strategists who had long ago decided that Muslims could be their natural allies against the Godless ideology of communism, accepted Zia's offer and decided to wage a holy war against the government of the communist infidels in Afghanistan. The rest is all history.
The Mujahideen and al-Qaeda warriors trained and armed by Pakistan and the US kept their interest alive in the Jihad movement. Since the warriors had been trained in Pakistan and Pakistani soil was used till the ultimate of all Jihadi actions, September eleven, took place, Pakistan has remained in the picture prominently. After the non-communist or Islamist Afghanistan was attacked vigorously by the US with the cooperation of the fourth military ruler of Pakistan, the Jihadis had no other option but to turn to their old safe haven to survive against the wrath of the US military might. Pakistan had to act to destroy its own creation. But this time they were asked to deal with the Jihadis alone.
Earlier, US money, strategic help and other resources of the Western world were available to them. Pakistan is the third most affected nation of the surge of religious fanaticism -- for which both US and military junta of Ziaul Haq are equally responsible. After Afghanistan and Iraq, two countries invaded and occupied by US forces, Pakistan has suffered the maximum damage. Not only has Pakistan's image as a civilised society been marred by scores of terrorist attacks, the silent majority of the country has become a hostage to obscurantists.
Gen. Musharraf's rhetoric about enlightenment and moderation alone are not enough to change the social system that has been adversely affected since Ziaul Haq decided to re-Islamise the society of Pakistan. Unless the developed world provides moral and material help with the same enthusiasm they had shown 25 years ago when they had decided to create holy warriors to serve their political interest, the world will not be safe from the frequent actions of obscurantists. The hate campaigns and discrimination against Muslims by the Western mass media and condemnation by the leaders will not help their cause either.
As for the Pakistani society, the problems it faces cannot be solved by rulers' rhetoric. Participation of people to bring about a positive change in the social and cultural system is necessary and that can be done through political parties and other democratic institutions. So far, no significant political organisation has declared it wants to have this important issue on its agenda.
At a critical stage
Statistics are scary and women most vulnerable... Country's seven tribal agencies may have built a few hospitals but there are no doctors to treat patients, especially women
By Javed Aziz Khan
Not many people know that North Waziristan Agency -- now in the news for its 'insurgency' and 'militants' -- has only one lady doctor to treat its women that run into hundreds of thousands. Nor would they like to believe that there are only 23 lady doctors for a population of over four million in the seven tribal agencies -- areas where it's out of question for women to get examined by male doctors. The situation is indeed critical for women living in these tribal areas who may never get a chance to travel to cities in the province to avail the medical facilities.
According to detailed statistics, only three lady doctors are presently posted in the entire Bajaur Agency, two are serving in Mohmand Agency, seven in Khyber Agency, five in Kurram, three in South Waziristan, two in Orakzai and only one lady doctor is posted in the whole of the now troubled North Waziristan Agency.
In the remotely located tribal areas, there are no sufficient road links nor are there basic education and health facilities. The mortality rate in general in these areas is much higher against that in the settled parts and so is the case with the death of infants. Although buildings have been constructed in most parts of these agencies, the government has almost failed in ensuring the availability of doctors, especially female doctors and paramedical staff. There is virtually no emergency treatment possible for people living in these far off agencies.
To encourage posting of female doctors in these far flung parts of the tribal belt, the government has introduced a salary package of Rs.30,000 for lady doctors while the sum has been raised to Rs.50,000 for doctors with specialised degrees. A summary has been put up before the Governor NWFP for giving special allowances to the already in-service lady doctors. But the step has not proved fruitful as, according to sources in the Department of Health FATA, only five girls having MBBS degrees have turned up to express their willingness to work in the remotest mountainous areas.
On the positive side, a nursing school has been set up at Bajaur Agency that will at least produce more female paramedics to look after women here in case of emergency.
"Besides, under a special programme, literate girls in the remotest areas would be given an 18-month training so they could deal with the complicated delivery cases as well as provide immediate treatment to the tribeswomen in case of emergency. A cluster of villages would also be provided an ambulance at a central point so women in these areas could be brought to hospitals for treatment in any emergency,"
Director Health of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Dr Mohammad Zubair, informed The News on Sunday about a few steps taken for the welfare of tribeswomen.
An official of the FATA Media Cell told TNS that over 600 paramedics have been recruited recently for postings in different parts of the FATA that include a reasonable number of female medical technicians as well. Apart from that, he continued, AIDS Control Program, Rollback Malaria, Mother and Child Health Project, Tuberculoses Control Program and certain other programmes have also been launched in the tribal parts of the country for the first time.
There are a number of places in the complicated mountainous ranges where people have no access to the health facilities set up in the central places of the seven agencies. They have to use the back of donkeys as ambulances and their own backs as stretchers while bringing a person to hospital in case of emergency. "We are holding mobile medical camps in the remotest parts of the tribal agencies and Frontier Regions to provide treatment as well as medicines to people in those areas. They are also being operated, as mobile hospitals for those areas are equipped with modern surgical instruments. In the last camp 8005 patients were treated, operated and given medicines," an official told TNS.
The mobile programme is being run by a project director with three additional directors where doctors specialising in different fields provide their services. A case has been forwarded to the NWFP Governor, Ali Mohammad Jan Aurakzai for hiring the services of specialist doctors of Lady Reading Hospital as visiting professors to different tribal hospitals where they would be given 5 to 7 thousand rupees/day as well as boarding and lodging facilities. The military also holds medical camps in remotest tribal areas for the purpose of providing treatment to women, children and elders in these areas.
A senior government official claims the Health Department has recently inducted a number of specialist doctors, raising the tally to 50. A total of 632 doctors are serving presently in the entire tribal belt, assisted by around 1700 paramedics. A sum of Rs.558 million would be spent during the current financial year on 94 schemes in the sector of health. These include 75 ongoing and 19 newly launched projects.
FATA is generally considered to be the most neglected part of the country in terms of health, education, communication and other facilities. Official statistics show that there are only two mother and child health centres in the entire South Waziristan and Khyber Agency while only one centre exists in Kurram. Bajaur, Mohmand and Orazkai are yet to have any such facility. Same is the case with six Frontier Regions (FRs) where only one centre is functioning in FR Kohat while the rest of five FRs, Peshawar, Bannu, Lakki Marwat, Tank and Dera Ismail Khan have no mother and child health centres.
Apart from women in FATA, health facilities in general are in shambles in the tribal belt. Bajaur has only two hospitals with 211 bed facilities, Mohmand Agency has only one 100-bed hospital, Orakzai has three hospitals with a total of 108 beds, Khyber Agency has 4 hospitals with 260 beds, Kurram has four hospitals with 302 beds, North Waziristan Agency has nine hospitals with 330 bed facility while South Waziristan has five hospitals with a capacity of 135 beds.
As stated earlier, the buildings have been constructed or earmarked as hospitals but problems remain -- since patients coming after hours of travel on the back of donkeys are told that the doctor is not present. "Action has been taken recently against many doctors, most of whom have now reported at their specific stations. We are pursuing cases against those who are yet to report," remarked Dr Zubair.
He did not agree that female doctors faced any security problem while serving in these parts, saying "it could not be a genuine excuse as lady doctors are being provided accommodation inside their hospitals."
"The government is constructing working women hostels in many of these agencies, some of which are ready. These doctors would be more secure in these hostels with other female government officials," said Dr Zubair.
S.No. Name Number of Number of
of facility Health Institutions beds
i) Agency Headquarter
Hospital 6 1536
ii) Tehsil Headquarters
Hospital 4 --
iii) Civil Hospital 23 --
iv) Basic Health Unites 169 ---
v) Rural Health Centres 8 100
vi) Community Health
Centres 84 --
vii) MCH 55 --
viii) SHC 4 --
ix) Civil Dispensaries 288 --
Total 664 1636
The controversy will continue to brew as government refuses to give in to the demand of religious lobbies to reconstruct the demolished mosques
By Muddassir Rizvi
The government's action to demolish the 'unauthorised mosques' in Islamabad comes at a time when religious forces in the country are already gathering strength -- amid a fluid geopolitical situation and imprudent official handling of security issues at home. It seems strange that the government undertakes such an action during the month of Moharram when sectarian fragmentation in society sharpens and security risks rise. While the rationale of demolition is debatable, its timing is certainly controversial and needs to be further probed.
Whatever the merit of razing the mosques, the action only provided a chance of political game-scoring to the issue-hungry religious lobbies against what they call the government of 'western stooges'. Street protests, threats of suicide bombing, noisy uproar in the Senate and continuing occupation of a children's library by female students of an Islamabad-based seminary followed the demolition of mosques, creating an undue stress for the government that is already overstretched in cleaning the mess it has created by taking rather an impulsive approach to deal with extremism and terrorism in the country. In the process, it is creating more issues of radicalisation than resolving the ones that it set out to sort.
While official quarters are giving contradictory statements to justify their action, what essentially transpired from their words is again the terror-paranoia that sat at the heart of yet again a knee-jerk operation of razing the two mosques that were tucked away in the green belt along the Islamabad Highway. Apparently, some wise officials in the intelligence apparatus thought that these mosques could be used to launch attacks on the very very important personalities who take the route quite often. Despite protests, these officials remain adamant on razing all mosques that are on VIP routes, considering them security threats.
However, officials in the Capital Development Authority (CDA) take a rather more simple explanation: The mosques were squatters and had been issued notices in advance to pack up and move. They say that there are more than 20 such mosques with allied seminaries that will be taken down on the same pretext. "We issue notices in advance. Demolition is carried out after non-compliance and due legal course," commented one official, who, however, could not explain the steps of the 'due legal course'.
"Amir Hamza mosque was constructed illegally by the inhabitants of the katchi abadi adjacent to then village, Sumbal Korak, in 1990. The mosque was again constructed and demolished in 1999-2000. It was constructed on the 'right of way' area of Murree Road, which is illegal," a statement issued by the CDA read.
Religious leaders, on the other hand, reject both views as baseless and irrational, saying the mosques were built even before the creation of Pakistan and were not engaged in any terrorism-related activity. Maulana Abdul Qudus, who managed Amir Hamza mosque, says that his mosque was duly approved by the CDA after Gen Ziaul Haq stopped by and prayed there in 1985. "The mosque was never used for any political activity, let alone be responsible for causing any hindrance to the VIP movements on the highway."
The controversy, however, will continue to brew as the government refuses to budge to the demand of religious lobbies to reconstruct the demolished mosques, which may simply be in the way of capital's multi-billion rupees beatification plan that includes dualisation of almost all roads. The action has already thwarted the official talks with the Ittehad-e-Tanzimat-e-Madaris-e-Deenia that were scheduled for the last week of January to initiate a discussion on reforming the five madrassah wafaqs into proper education boards.
"We cannot sit with the government when it has launched an operation against mosques and seminaries in Islamabad. There appear to be some lobbies within the government that sabotage any headway that is ever made on the issue of formalising religious education," says Qari Hanif Jalandhry, who is a key official of the Ittehad.
There is no doubt that unauthorised mosques and madrassahs have mushroomed over the past thirty or so years, making Pakistan an 'over-mosqued' country. But the way the government is dealing with them will certainly cause chaos and anarchy. Ad hoc actions such as the one taken in Islamabad only raise unnecessary tensions that can be avoided. The problem is in fact structural: the state seems to go soft on its writ when it suits its interest; it allowed illegal activities and operation as it did over the past thirty years of its romance with religion. Now that it apparently is falling out, it is taking a high-handed approach, disregarding the religious sensitivities and larger political context and in the process violating the country's laws that are firmly in place to deal with matters such as removal of illegal occupation on state or private land. A state that breaks its own laws loses moral authority to impose its legal writ on the masses.
Force tactics only breed extremism. The government must take a more participatory approach especially in matters that provoke anger. Mosques and madrassahs need reforms, but it can only be done as long as their managers are kept on board. Alienating them by imprudent actions such as the one taken in Islamabad will only cause religious frenzy and frustrate any positive moves that may be underway.
By Shoaib Hashmi
It is a matter of record that for many years the performance of Bette Davis as Queen Elizabeth the first, was a legend in Hollywood. That was probably in the film 'The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex' with Errol Flynn in the other role. Legend or not, the film was a disappointment for at least two kinds of vieqers.
First for fans of Flynn who went looking for the usual swashbuckling, there was none. And secondly for serious students of the art of acting Davis' performance was a concoction of twitches and tics, and a slightly forced attempt at creating a character which never really worked, except for the low-brow. In any case if you have ever seen 'Black Adder' with Miranda Richardson playing Elizabeth, I think she does a much better job!
More recently Dame Judy Dench created quite a stir playing the other Queen, Victoria in Mrs. Brown. That was always expected. After all one has admired Dame Judy for a long time, at least since the sixties when, in the first flush of her youth she brought her tremendous stage presence, and her husky voice to the stage in 'Cabaret'. And the forty years since have been a triumph.
Her performance as Victoria too was a triumph, publicly applauded and much lauded by critics too, and when she didn't get the Oscar for it there were quiet mutterings of chauvinism. The work was what one would expect of a great stage actress, a work of art created and sustained in a display of the actor's craft. And it was believable enough because the subject is really a caricature built on anecdotes, and there aren't any left who had a first hand view of the character or mannerism.
Our friend Shekhar Kapoor tried his own hand at the First Elizabeth with Kate Blanchett and did a pretty darn good job of it, getting a goodish performance out of her. But then one has known his talent for knocking a performance out of an actor since he made his debut with 'Bandit Queen'. I must admit there were moments when one felt a slight tinge of Bollywood. If you get to see the film watch out for the scene in which Walsingham is introduced with a gratuitous killing! Greta Garbo also got to play Queen Christina but that was a vehicle for the actress and the beauty, and she made much of it.
And that brings us to the brand new performance of Helen Mirren in 'The Queen'! If you haven't seen it yet, drop everything and do. It is the opportunity of a lifetime and the lady makes the most of it, giving us one of the great performances of our times. It is a tour de force of immense depth and sustained power and will stay with you for days.
The odd thing is that Ms. Mirren has been around for some time, and has even been made a Dame which I suspect is for her stage work, because one has seen a bit of her work in film, and never been much impressed. Perhaps that is why it is so stunning to see her plunge into what is a difficult assignment and make mincemeat of it!
We are living in the television age, and the face and manner and voice of her subject, Elizabeth the Second are familiar sights, and to take on the portrayal of a living person is fraught with pitfalls. It can easily become mere aping the mannerisms, or deliberately avoiding them turning everything trite. Instead we get an eminently believable performance which is not a caricature and very much a creation of the actor's own genius and virtuosity.
It is the sort of thing which has become rare with our penchant for action and the special effect when the masterpieces of our times are the 'performances' of the 'Terminator' and the deep philosophies of 'The Matrix'. You can rediscover the ancient pleasure of seeing a role created to perfection by a great actor. She has already won the Golden Globe for it along with a few other awards going, and is very much the front runner for the Oscar; and if she doesn't get it, it will only be because those silly members of the Academy are up to their old tricks, repaying some old debt or atoning for some folly of yesteryear. But don't let that prospect daunt you, I guarantee a wonderful experience. Happy viewing!