specialreport
Logical conclusion
The people's court has triumphed over PCO justice and the verdict for Musharraf has arrived
By Adnan Rehmat
'Real democracy' means rejecting people's popular mandate. That's how Pervez Musharraf, who also happens to be a former army chief and controversially elected current head of state, defines it. Consider: he has pooh-poohed calls from the largest two parties in the new National Assembly, slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party led by Asif Zardari and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N, who between the two of them have been entrusted by the people to run the country for the next five years, to resign in respect of the unambiguous mandate for change from the people of Pakistan.

review
Bonding with earth

Mian Salahuddin's life seems to have been much like his pieces on show -- hard and cold to the touch, but organic and sublime in spirit
By Sana Ghias Habib
Born of Fire
By Noorjehan Bilgrami
Published by Indus Valley School of Art and
Architecture
Pages: 158
Price: Rs 3000/-
It is not often that one reads a book about an eminent personality, especially one related to the arts, from cover to cover in one sitting. It is even rarer, that one emerges from such a reading, with the sense that one has just walked with another as he lived, ate, breathed, created, shouted and vented, whether in agony or in ecstasy. 'Born of Fire', Noorjehan Bilgrami's book accompanying Mian Salahuddin's recent Retrospective at Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, Karachi allows you to do just that. It brings Mian Salahuddin to life.

Back to music
Do we want a puritanical society where no distinction is made between art, entertainment and vulgarity?
By Sarwat Ali
The victory of  Awami National Party and Pakistan Peoples Party in the North West Frontier Province may provide a relief to musicians and artists in the province as music had been under siege in the NWFP. Even in Islamabad shops selling CDs were either blown up or the owners threatened that if they did not stop doing business in music and CDs their outlets would be attacked. About six months ago in Islamabad music and film CDs were heaped and a huge bonfire lit, with people invited to see the triumph of an effective way of putting an end to evil.

Visual vocabulary
Along with usual names and predictable paintings, the Punjab Artists' Association exhibition presents a range of different works
By Quddus Mirza
In the spirit of the times, the exhibitions organised by Punjab Artists' Association are free, fair and transparent. Like every year, the 22nd exhibition of Artists' Association, being held at Alhamra Art Gallery Lahore (Feb 12-29, 2008), comprised works by artists, known and unknown.

Elections, the General and Jemima
Dear all,
Thank goodness for the Pakistani news channels, it would have been a lustreless election night without them. As it turns out, we sitting miles away here in the UK had a choice of three channels to surf in search of polling news and election results.
We flicked between Geo, ARY and PTV Global, and had a fine time sitting up till the early hours of the morning getting very excited, especially by news of defeats of Qaf League bigwigs and former ministers.

 

 

By Adnan Rehmat

'Real democracy' means rejecting people's popular mandate. That's how Pervez Musharraf, who also happens to be a former army chief and controversially elected current head of state, defines it. Consider: he has pooh-poohed calls from the largest two parties in the new National Assembly, slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party led by Asif Zardari and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N, who between the two of them have been entrusted by the people to run the country for the next five years, to resign in respect of the unambiguous mandate for change from the people of Pakistan.

When Musharraf says he sees no reason to resign as president in deference to a two-thirds majority vote of no-confidence against his favoured party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q led by the one-in-a-million Shujaat Hussain, and their allies, he probably sees the latest national exercise in parliamentary elections, to borrow a phrase from the Musharrafian lexicon, as 'sham democracy.'

'Sham democracy' is, indeed, how Musharraf has, ad nauseum, defined the politics of Bhutto and Sharif in the 1990s. Now he sees no irony in asserting that he is ready to work with any party or coalition of parties when he clearly can see that it will likely be Bhutto's PPP and Sharif's PML-N who, in various, combinations will be the new face of government in Pakistan. Displaying a measure of astonishing naivety, he ignores the fact that it is no longer an issue of him being ready to work with any winning coalition but whether any winning coalition is ready to work with him.

And therein lies the rub -- the Feb 18 election was clearly a referendum on Musharraf as the leader of Pakistan, a position he has, for better or worse and whether Pakistanis have liked it or not, exercised for nine years. And if he had his way, he would be around at least until 2012 if not beyond. By insisting that the national mandate emerging from the Feb 18 vote does not amount to a popular appeal for him to let a new leadership emerge, he can be perceived as insulting a whole nation's wishes.

'Real democracy' after all does not mean creating conditions in which the country's most popular leaders -- Bhutto and Sharif (the votes they got on Feb 18 were not in a one-horse referendum that Musharraf ran in and later himself conceded as flawed and a mistake) -- are either killed or prevented from contesting elections. And when the electorate returns their parties to power, he is ready to 'work with them.' He can't cast slurs against them and their parties and simultaneously agree to work with them. What kind of statesmanship and moral authority is that?

Elections are an exercise in national renewal. They facilitate course corrections and offer opportunities to end stalemates and stagnancy and carve a way forward. The Feb 18 vote proves that in stark terms. The drubbing that Musharraf-midwifed PML-Q and Musharraf-facilitated Islamist alliance MMA (which gave his military coup and dual offices constitutional cover through the 17th Amendment) was handed by the electorate was in response to his policy of high-handedness, politics of impunity and free license.

The new popular mandate is against Musharraf's policy of hunting with the hounds and running with the hares -- the mish-mash of exaggerated appeasement of and half-hearted crackdown on militancy in the tribal areas and NWFP and ceding territory for the first time since 1971 to militants and against either letting high-value targets escape or be handed to the United States instead of bringing them to justice at home. It is against an indefensible legacy: sacking and re-sacking the chief justice, kicking out 60 judges and detaining them with their families at home for months on end (and counting), injuring hundreds of lawyers and journalists and putting thousands in jail at one point and gagging the media. Letting police thugs attack educated protesting women in 'parha likha' Punjab. And most of all, for exceeding his quota of one coup per dictator. All in the name of 'real democracy.'

The referendum (of Feb 18, not the one Musharraf held that he himself trashed as unfair) that last week's general elections represents is an indictment of Pakistan under Musharraf's watch in the past 12 months. What transpired during this period were 'blunders' as PML-Q secretary Mushahid Hussain terms them, 'mistakes' as PML-Q chief Shujaat Hussain calls them and 'unwarranted' as PML-Q senior leader Sheikh Rashid Ahmed (he who was Musharraf's staunchest supporter and was humiliated on both his National Assembly seats in the 'GHQ' constituencies) concedes them to be.

And yet Musharraf wants people to understand that the polls were not about his policies but that of the government of PML-Q. Was the crackdown on Lal Masjid really ordered by Shaukat Aziz? And was it the 'escapee' former prime minister who came to the conclusion that the deposed chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, needed to be fixed through a reference to the Supreme Judicial Council for alleged abuse of office? When was the last time Aziz, not Musharraf, spoke against Chaudhry? And was it really Muhammad Ali Durrani and not Musharraf and his Military Intelligence that were manipulating Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to choose which programmes could watch on TV and which journalists could work for the channels? All in 'national interest'?

As calls grew for his resignation in respect of the referendum against his policies after the Feb 18 elections, Musharraf reiterated that he had been elected for five years. But then so have been the National Assembly and the four provincial assemblies, all of which have a new five-year mandate themselves to restore the independence of the judiciary (how can the judiciary be termed independent when 60 judges are under detention), something that Musharraf has expressly told the Wall Street Journal, cannot happen 'because the law disallows' it. Musharraf fails to reconcile the irony of this to his statement on record that the debilitating state of emergency he imposed on Nov 3, 2007 was 'unconstitutional.' How can 35 million (45 per cent turnout of 80 million voters) people's mandate not be 'legally' triumphant over an 'unconstitutional' action that an one person took (Musharraf signed the emergency proclamation in his capacity as army chief, not president), an action that the same law he refers to, doesn't support?

The bottom line is that both the parliament and president have been elected for five years. Which one embodies popular national will and has the power to formulate policies and implement them? If it is the parliament, then in the case of a conflict of interest, as is the case of restoration of the judges -- an objective represented by the Feb 18 mandate -- and Musharraf's obduracy to the contrary, the national will should prevail over personal will.

The nation had to decide if Musharraf's will amounts to national interest or that of an overwhelming majority of 35 million voters. A nation is not one person but millions. And they have spoken clearly by not bringing his proxy party back to power for more of the same that Musharraf's person represents. His adamant stance on the judicial issue, insistence on the primacy of the presidential over the parliament and over the supremacy of the establishment over the state is precisely why the political parties -- mainly PPP, PML-N and ANP, all of whom have been mandated by the people to resolve a certain nine-year old problem -- were insisting before the elections: that only a new parliament should elect a president, not a dying one.

The problem is that Musharraf wants his judges and his verdicts too. However, the solution is already upon us -- the rule of law must prevail. The people's court has triumphed over PCO justice and the verdict has arrived: Musharraf must go.


review
Bonding with earth
Mian Salahuddin's life seems to have been much like his pieces on show -- hard and cold to the touch, but organic and sublime in spirit

 

Born of Fire
By Noorjehan Bilgrami
Published by Indus Valley School of Art and
Architecture
Pages: 158
Price: Rs 3000/-

It is not often that one reads a book about an eminent personality, especially one related to the arts, from cover to cover in one sitting. It is even rarer, that one emerges from such a reading, with the sense that one has just walked with another as he lived, ate, breathed, created, shouted and vented, whether in agony or in ecstasy. 'Born of Fire', Noorjehan Bilgrami's book accompanying Mian Salahuddin's recent Retrospective at Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, Karachi allows you to do just that. It brings Mian Salahuddin to life.

It is not, as we discover, the happiest of lives. Many of the anecdotes recounted by the contributors recall Mian's fear of shadows, people, and doctors. Almost every piece touches upon his father's brutal murder as one of the main events shaping Mian's life and character. They discuss his estrangement from almost all of his nine siblings. They talk about his harsh attitude towards his students -- only those who had 'Herculean strength and the patience of Job' got through his courses. He is described variously as a complete contradiction -- modest yet arrogant, loving yet impatient and abrupt, scrupulously fussy yet given to impulse. Probably the most infamous story associated with Mian refers to the incident before he left NCA for the US on a Fulbright Scholarship, when he smashed several valuable pieces in a fit of rage, directed, it seems, at no one in particular.

But through the sadness and the severity emerges immense beauty: Of the man himself -- his immaculate office, the care he took over his personal appearance, his health and fitness; and his dedication to achieving perfect harmony between aesthetic balance and creative purpose, within his chosen medium -- the earth with which he played when he was a little boy in the village of Kasur. Mian grew up on a farm and clearly felt a strong connection with clay. His bond with the material is evident in the presence his pieces embody. It is not difficult to describe his pieces. They are, in their own particular ways, alive. They seem less like decorative or utilitarian items, and more like sprites -- watchful, guarded, willing to unfurl their secrets, but only to those who care to wait and wonder. Some are perfectly rounded, others perfectly gnarled. Some are dull with twirls that allow them to stretch and turn. Others are bright, electric blue on beige, or swirls of black on turquoise. Plates, perfectly asymmetrical, bowls, cones with wobbly, round bases, vases, teapots.

His signature vessels, tall and straight, bear the weight of Mian's mood as well as his aesthetic. Some stand simple and tall, a question mark stamped on them, while others have Urdu words running across. Some end in narrow mouths, while others morph wonderfully into organic shapes with lips wide open. The design element varies across their length and breadth. Some have strips of earth plastered along their length, and echo smooth, leathery warmth. Others are cool and grainy to the touch. There are also several amorphous pieces which look and feel like rocks in the sand, and yet, as you watch, morph into horses, fish, mountains, arms and limbs. And many more which seem to move and twirl with 'grotesque clay coils flowing out of them like tentacles.' Whether shiny blue and smooth, or deeply maroon and twisted with loopy, swirly edges, each piece bears the mark of the hand that moulded and loved the earth.

But while the earth nurtured him, the world it seems was cruel. Friends and family had to bear with an impatient, aloof aesthete. Students had to come up to the expectations of a sharp tongued perfectionist. Small wonder then that he was mostly left alone. One particularly poignant story is recounted about Mian's last day at NCA, where he studied and subsequently worked: 'For forty years Mian went to the National College of Arts without missing a day. Even on holidays he worked on campus and always arrived at the college before time. He was such an institution it was unimaginable to think of NCA without him, but regretfully the day came for his retirement. We witnessed him leaving his office which was his home away from home, and take his bicycle to the gate. It was April 1998 and sadly not one student, not one teacher, and not one colleague came to say goodbye, neither was there a farewell for him... Mian kept a brave face as we approached the arched gate, but he was terribly hurt.'

Mian Salahuddin's life seems to have been much like his pieces on show -- hard and cold to the touch, but organic and sublime in spirit. The pictures of Mian that we leaf through in Born of Fire are telling. They show him at his wheel, shaping and moulding his pieces, a smile playing on his lips.

Young and earnest in the earlier photos -- and then much older, more wary, more closed -- an evanescent sprite himself. But happy to sit amidst his pieces of earth. The very earth that gives us all life, and to which he managed, in some small measure, to return the favour.

(The exhibition is being held from Jan 29-March 01, 2008 at Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, Karachi)



Back to music
Do we want a puritanical society where no distinction is made between art, entertainment and vulgarity?

By Sarwat Ali

The victory of  Awami National Party and Pakistan Peoples Party in the North West Frontier Province may provide a relief to musicians and artists in the province as music had been under siege in the NWFP. Even in Islamabad shops selling CDs were either blown up or the owners threatened that if they did not stop doing business in music and CDs their outlets would be attacked. About six months ago in Islamabad music and film CDs were heaped and a huge bonfire lit, with people invited to see the triumph of an effective way of putting an end to evil.

During the last five years, as the drive to cleanse society of evil enforced by the provincial government got underway, besides the billboards and cable operators, armed holy warriors raided the balakhanas in Dabgari Bazaar in a crusade to rid society of obscenity and vulgarity. No distinction was made between art and obscenity as understood in the conventional sense -- both were considered synonymous, treated at par and targeted.

Actually it is the lack of acceptance of distinctions that lump the two together. A society that understands the distinction between art and base entertainment will be more encouraging towards those who, as artists, make an effort to keep their expression above that of appealing to the baser instincts.

The musicians in Dabgari Bazaar have been residents of that area for years now. They gave refuge to the Afghan musicians during the ultra puritanical regime of the Taliban and became the centre of the entire Afghan music industry. Ironically Afghan music with its musicians moved out of its natural habitat and lived in exile for years, feeding the hunger for music back in Afghanistan through cassettes and other forms of recordings which could be transported across the border from its base in Peshawar.

The Afghan musicians had moved back to Kabul in the early years after the fall of the Taliban as they had more freedom to indulge in singing. Sadly the haven which gave them refuge then came under attack. When such an environment is created, it encourages self-styled vigilantes to go on the rampage in the name of cleansing society. The government just sits back and watches while these private gangs do their hatchet job. It gives the government the caveat of distancing themselves from such activities, for if a finger is pointed in their direction they can lay the blame on these gangs for taking the law in their own hands.

The call to shut down Dabgari Bazaar and for the practitioners to move out to a location outside the city had to be taken seriously for the general notion that music is religiously disapproved prevails. Music is looked upon with a certain degree of suspicion and people who make music their profession are relegated to a low status in society. In view of the widespread practice of music, this may appear paradoxical. The differing traditions and practices have been reconciled by means of association, consequence and definition. The western notion of music emphasises the elements of sound while the Islamic sources and the interpretation of these sources speak of specific aspects, functions, consequences or other implications of these musical sounds.

The music culture of Afghanistan was dominated by the Persian traditional music as well as the Afghan folk music until a century ago the Amir of Kabul, Sher Ali Khan, invited Indian Muslim musicians to his court in Kabul. He gave them lands in Kabul -- the section of the old Kabul now known as Kharabaat (entertainment quarters), and they were transported back and forth from Kharabaat to the court in Kabul on elephants. These transplanted Indian musicians gained a prominent status among Afghan musicians and, from that time, the Indian classical music became established as the elite classical tradition of Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan as well as in Pakistan (at least in some sections of society) the formal basis of the term musiqi is similar to the western concept of music -- its distinguishing characteristic in most situations is a common notion of musicality, organisation of sound in time. At times, however, in the case of the call to prayer and the proper chanting of the Koran the notion of musicality does not suffice but another distinguishing feature -- that of function -- is used. The colloquial definition of music is more in keeping with the traditional Islamic view which emphasis theoretical aspects of music associated with professional musicians and instrumental music. Even in contemporary usage the traditional distinction between the native sciences and foreign sciences plays a great part in determining the incompatibility of sacred and secular music, of vocal and instrumental performances. The emphasis of scared chants and strict vocal performances is placed on the texts , which is related directly to the Koran or literature; the secular or instrumental music most often at the disposal of professional musician is considered musiqi.

Proper recitation forms the basis of musical aesthetics in Islamic cultures, yet these musical sounds are identified separately -- either as religious chants, recitations or secular music. Herein lies the ambiguous nature of music. The Taliban reduced the sharp theoretical distinction between religious chant and secular music into simple difference of good and evil.

The cultural environment and the definitions are changing all the time but the poignant question is what kind of society do we want Pakistan to be? A closed puritanical society where all forms of expression and manner of celebration is driven underground, where no distinction is made between art, entertainment and vulgarity? Such restricted environment discourages an open debate on what is being staged and this results in the loss of quality. An accepting environment will pay more attention to the process of creativity in the arts rather than sit on judgment on the moral ramifications of the end product.

 

Visual vocabulary

  By Quddus Mirza

In the spirit of the times, the exhibitions organised by Punjab Artists' Association are free, fair and transparent. Like every year, the 22nd exhibition of Artists' Association, being held at Alhamra Art Gallery Lahore (Feb 12-29, 2008), comprised works by artists, known and unknown.

Along with usual names and predictable paintings, the exhibition presents a range of different works by unknown artists. Or it depicts some unusual side of aesthetic of established painters.

For instance Ali Azmat's new canvas, of a eunuch standing against a red background and cactus, demonstrates his imaginative and formal capability. Preferring a realistic mode of expression, Azmat seems to be experimenting with difficult surfaces and subjects. Rough texture of red wall and prickly cactus are skillfully rendered on a small canvas along with the eunuch's flat clothes and smooth skin.

More than the technical aspects, the new work of Ali Azmat unfolds a deeper quest of the artist who is now keen to depict the spirit of his subjects, having already mastered the craft. The model in his painting is shown with a tear trickling down his cheek on a face that is far from being attractive, hinting perhaps to a hypocritical society that ridicules eunuchs on the streets but admires gays swarming the fashion world and electronic media.

After proving his ability in the realm of realistic rendering, Ali is now seeking a new kind of art-making: Of portraying emotions, feelings and sentiments. A difficult task that can easily take a painter to an illustrative mode, Azmat has avoided this risk. His painting does not look like the description of a person in mournful mood, but emits a sense of grief through an arrangements of visual elements -- such as rough background and thorny plant. Very intelligently Azmat has employed visuals that do not describe, but enhance the content.

Another artist who is moving away from her usual set of imagery for the sake of new content is Rahat Naveed Masud. Known for her figurative compositions, portraits, landscapes and still life paintings, she has displayed an abstract work. The painting comprises a cube contained in a round shape within the square of a paper. The variety of materials and shades applied in each shape differentiate these forms, since the central square is painted with gold leaf, while the surrounding red circle is made in pastels, all on handmade paper. Probably the artist is aiming to discover a language for herself that can convey inner and spiritual concerns, like meditation etc.

Whatever the intentions, her choice to digress from a well-trodden course and employ new imagery for her ideas suggests a confidence as well as craving for an individual vocabulary. 

A number of other participants have done some impressive, serious and mature work. The self portrait of Adnan Yunus portrays the artist's keen eye and creative ability to handle the subject in a subtle manner. Thin lines of paint on other marks are used to build tones and texture of the face which, besides conveying the likeness, suggests more than the surface appearance, bringing forth the personality of the painter.

Likewise, Aqib Sharif in his two cityscapes demonstrates his painterly quality. The canvases show streets of Lahore in full activity with heavy traffic and bustling crowd. Top views painted in a loose and lucid manner suggest artist's inclination/interest towards the act of putting paint on a surface, rather than denoting or transcribing the details of his subject. Rendered in Impressionistic style, these landscapes mark the presence of an exciting painter even at such an early stage.

The purpose of Punjab Artists' Association's annual exhibition is to give a chance and venue to artists who are unable to exhibit their work in any other commercial gallery. Their aim to house works from various parts of country, of artists with diverse backgrounds and trainings (Adnan Yunus is a doctor by profession) is commendable as it offers new ideas and fresh approaches. However, it is often observed that the exhibition includes works of varying standards (though the works of novices and painters from suburban cities are often not too bad).

Compromise on quality (both in the case of established painters and emerging artists) hampers the effort to collect, select and install works in the gallery, print them in a catalogue and invite art enthusiasts to the occasion. While doing all this, one tends to overlook issues of quality and the need of curating an exhibition, which are somehow associated with foreign exhibitions alone. This is just like we connect 'perfect' democracy with other nations and are ready to accept a lesser form in our surroundings.

 

Elections, the General and Jemima

Dear all,

Thank goodness for the Pakistani news channels, it would have been a lustreless election night without them. As it turns out, we sitting miles away here in the UK had a choice of three channels to surf in search of polling news and election results.

We flicked between Geo, ARY and PTV Global, and had a fine time sitting up till the early hours of the morning getting very excited, especially by news of defeats of Qaf League bigwigs and former ministers.

Being part of the media I feel rather proud that part of the reason these people (the likes of Wasi Zafar, Sheikh Rasheed, Chaudhry Shujaat, Ejazul Haq etc) have lost is because they exposed themselves so badly in the media, particularly on the TV screen. From their arrogant pronouncements to their offensive--almost abusive tone when talking about any opponent, they really alienated a great number of people and showed themselves up.

The election transmission was rather good. PTV Global had some very good experts on their panel and generally presented well. Geo was getting all the results but for some strange reason had some rather irritating in-flight type music playing in the background, and rather too much going on on-screen -- the ticker and tables across the bottom, the vertical table rolling on the side, it all made things a bit too busy. ARY was generally good too, especially when Mazhar Abbas was hosting, but they like the other channels perhaps did not present the results clearly enough. We sorely missed having very clear tables or boards being updated in a simple easy to understand and it is strange that this was actually better managed in past elections before all this graphic technology came along!

The electronic media seems to be carrying on commendably with their coverage, and we are really enjoying having access to them --even PTV. Incidentally I see that PTV's right wing presenter, the earnest Ahmed Quraishi has now started doing most of his show in Urdu, which is something new, even though most of the content seems to be on the same lines of foreign conspiracies and deluded people.

Incidentally, I am rather puzzled by Jemima Khan's strange interview with General Musharraf published in the Independent last Sunday. What was the need for her to do this interview? She identifies herself with a political party that is opposed to the General, participates in high profile protests against him, and then turns up in Pakistan at his camp office posing as an interviewer i.e. some kind of journalist. Then she produces a condescending article, in which she milks her time in Pakistan to the max and displays a rather unbecoming and vehement hatred for the Bhuttos and the PPP.

Jemima Khan may have played a useful role using her high class connections and celebrity profile to focus media attention in the UK on lawyer protests and anti Musharraf protests, but this interview really was unnecessary and quite foolish. I suspect although she thought 'it was a coup' to actually get the interview, President Musharraf may have granted it merely to be able to reproach her (telling her he was disappointed in her, because as she had lived in the country, she should have understood how things work), and thus put her on the defensive. Plus making her wait for her before the interview and then having her accept his hospitality (a bright yellow cake, patties, tea, anaar juice and warm roasted almonds) really makes her look quite desperate.

The elections are over; now let's see how things shape up. Depressingly, though all sorts of rumours and allegations have begun to circulate, and I suspect, not altogether spontaneously.... Let's see how the media deals with all this.

Best Wishes

 

Umber Khairi

 

 

 



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