good as the original
the line of tradition
Holes and more holes
A non-state actor's response to the 69 page Mumbai attacks dossier
By A. H Cemendtaur
It has been almost a month that the Indian Government handed over a Mumbai Attacks Dossier to Pakistan. It has been claimed that the dossier clearly implicates Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based organisation of religious leanings, in the Mumbai attacks that killed over 170 people. The dossier given to Pakistan, and to other countries, was made public by The Hindu. We thank that fine newspaper. If you go through the compilation superficially, you would be impressed by the details provided in the 69-page dossier. But do a more diligent reading, taking notes as you turn pages, and you would find that the document raises more questions than it answers.
Let's start with the biggest hole in the story the dossier tells us. The source of the Mumbai attack story, as narrated in the dossier, is one person, Ajmal Kasab, the only terrorist captured alive. The dossier does not name a single witness ready to corroborate the pre-attack part of the story -- the most important part that tells you the origin of the terrorists. And what do we know about the identity of the person in captivity?
It appears there is a consensus. Pakistan has accepted India's claim that the person in custody of the Indian police is indeed Ajamal Kasab, a resident of Faridkot, district Okara. But our credibility in this police investigation stops right there. How do we know if Kasab is indeed the narrator of the story being told in the dossier? And even if he is, why should we believe the confession was not extracted out of him under duress? The dossier does have photographs of 'material evidence' collected from various places -- this evidence would have been a powerful proof had we not seen cases of police-planted evidence.
But for the sake of argument, let's disregard the biggest hole in the story and keep reading the dossier. According to the dossier, "The terrorists started in a small boat from Karachi at approximately 0800 hrs on November 22, 2008. After traveling for about 40 minutes, they were shifted to a larger boat, Al-Husseini, which, according to the captured terrorist, belongs to Zaki-Ur-Rehman Lakhvi, Chief Commander of the LeT. There were already seven LeT members on boards."
Does Al-Husseini really exist? Why is there no news of this ship? Is the whole Pakistan collaborating with ISI and LeT to hide the facts from the international media?
"The terrorists spent the entire day on board the Al-Husseini. On November 23, 2008, at about 1500 hours, the captured terrorist noticed another boat docked next to the Al-Husseini. This was an Indian registered fishing vessel called MV Kuber, which had five crewmembers."
What does it mean that the terrorist noticed a boat docked next to Al-Husseini? We thought the terrorists were actively moving towards India. This sentence in the dossier makes it sound like the terrorists were on a fishing trip.
From media reports it appears that subsequent to the release of the dossier Kasab "provided" important details about how the terrorists got control of MV Kuber. But we are not told why the Kuber crew was not in communication with the Indian Coast Guard.
But let's keep reading the dossier. The ten terrorists are now aboard MV Kuber; Mr. Solanki, the captain of MV Kuber, is steering the ship towards Mumbai. Did any radio communication take place in that long journey: any communication with another ship, with Coast Guard? Is there any record of such communication?
"The ten terrorists performed watch duties on board MV Kuber. Log sheets maintained by them have been seized (Annexure-V).
"The MV Kuber reached a point four nautical miles off Mumbai at 1600 hours on November 26, 2008.
"As soon it was dark, the team leader, Ismail Khan, contacted their handler in Pakistan, who directed them to kill Amar Singh Solanki, the captain of MV Kuber."
Here is a crime scene we need more information about. The dossier does mention MV Kuber as material evidence but we don't get to see any photos of the ship, the position in which Solanki's body was found, etc. The next version of the dossier should include the autopsy report of Solanki indicating time and cause of death.
"After killing Solanki, the terrorists, along with their weapons and IEDs, boarded the inflatable dinghy. They traversed the last four nautical miles to Mumbai in about 1 hour and 15 minutes, reaching the locality of Badhwar Park (Cuffe Parade) in South Mumbai at about 2030 hours."
The maritime expertise demonstrated by the terrorists would make you believe that the terrorists not only got training from ISI, they were probably also trained by the Pakistan Navy.
From media reports the marina at Badhwar Park seems to be a busy place and the terrorists had to reach a bustling beach because they had to catch taxis. If Badhwar Park is such a busy place then we need testimonies of people who saw a thingy full of ten men and their bags reaching that marina. There have been news reports about one Anita Uddaiya who claims to have seen six (6) people landing at the beach in a rubber boat. But after Uddaiya's recent claim of being taken to the US by FBI and brought back to India within three days there are serious doubts about her mental stability. Furthermore, Uddaiya's statement about seeing six people reaching Mumbai contradicts with dossier's claim of ten terrorists reaching together.
"After alighting, the ten terrorists divided into five teams according to the pairing decided earlier. Mohammed Ajmal Kasab was paired with the group leader, Ismail Khan.
"They took taxis to different target destinations. IED devices were planted in two taxis and they later exploded -- one at Wadi Bunder and the other at Vile Parle -- killing the two taxi drivers."
How many taxis did the terrorists take? Two? Because of the visibility of the Mumbai terrorist attacks, other taxi drivers present at Badhwar Park must have remembered ten men with large bags getting into two taxis. Can we please have the testimonies of those taxi drivers or other people who were there at that time?
And how did ten terrorists with large bags fit into two taxis: it would be five terrorists and ten bags -- one bag for gun and ammunition, the other for IED (improvised explosive device), as mentioned in the dossier-- per taxi. Was there any argument about the fare? Do we have any witnesses of the situation? We can only imagine each team of terrorists putting its luggage in the trunk – fitting the bulky bags with some difficulty – and then three people sitting in the back seat, and two squeezing in the front passenger seat, with the front-sitting terrorist in the middle possibly placing his right leg on the driver side of the gear shaft. But then this tight squeeze in a taxi is not enough, one of the terrorist has to reach under the driver's seat and install an IED.
Apparently, the IEDs in the taxis exploded after some time, i.e., after the terrorists left the taxis. How did the terrorists pay the taxi fare? Did the terrorists have Indian currency? And which team was dropped off where? Is there any evidence of people seeing those drop-offs? The two taxis are crime scenes as well. The dossier must give more information about them.
"CST Railway Station. At about 21:20 hrs, two terrorists (Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab and Ismail Khan) entered the station and started firing indiscriminately from their Kalashnikov rifles and also lobbed grenades. The carnage resulted in 58 dead and 104 injured.
"They were challenged by a small number of policemen at the station. They left the station, crossed an over-bridge and fled into a lane towards Cam Hospital. Near Cama Hospital they were challenged by a police team and there was an exchange of fire. As they exited the lane, they fired on a police vehicle carrying three senior police officers and four policemen. Believing that all the occupants had been killed, they pulled out the bodies of the three police officers and hijacked the police vehicle.
How does it work that seven armed people in a vehicle are overpowered by two men fleeing on foot?
"However, only six were killed and one policeman survived the assault. He is Constable Arun Jadhav and is an eyewitness to the events."
Amazing how we only have a policeman who is eyewitness of this very important event. What about other people? Civilians walking by, vehicles that travelled on that road?
"After traveling some distance, the terrorists abandoned the police vehicle and hijacked another passenger car."
"The car came up against a police barricade at Girgaum Chowpatti and, in an exchange of fire with the police, Ismail Khan was killed and Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab was captured.
"An Assistant Sub-Inspector, Tukaram Ombale was killed while overpowering Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab. Two police officers were injured."
We need to know more detail of this 'police encounter.'
"The police recovered two Kalashnikov rifles, eight magazines, two pistols, ammunition, empty cases and five hand grenades from the two terrorists."
Eight magazines, ammunition, and five hand grenades is a lot of material to have in possession, after i) generously using ammunition at the railway station, ii) using ammunition in a police encounter that killed six policemen, and iii) using more ammunition in another police encounter in which the terrorists were finally maimed.
"Second Target: Leopold Cafe and Bar. At about 21:40 hrs, two terrorists (Hafiz Arshad and Naser) entered the Cafe and started firing indiscriminately using AK-47 assault rifles."
"One grenade was lobbed and it exploded. Ten persons were killed and many injured. After about five minutes, the two terrorists ran towards the Taj Mahal Hotel, situated about half a kilometer from the Café.
"Police later recovered from the scene of the attack five AK-47 magazines (of which three were empty and two contained 13 bullets), empty cases of ammunition, one metal butt of an AK-47 rifle and two mobile phones."
What happened to the other terrorist's AK-47?
"Taj Mahal Hotel. Four terrorists (Shoaib and Javed and the two terrorists who attacked the Leopold Café and Bar, namely, Hafiz Arshad and Nasir) targeted the Taj Mahal Hotel. The first pair entered the main lobby at 21:38 hrs and opened fire, killing 20 persons in the first few minutes. The second pair entered the hotel from the North Court entrance at 21:43 hrs and fired indiscriminately and hurled grenades."
What was the first pair of terrorists doing while the second pair took care of business at Leopold Cafe? Was the first pair already in the hotel killing people, when the second pair entered? How did the two pairs meet each other amid chaos, in a place totally unfamiliar to them?
The first picture purportedly shows "pickle made in Pakistan." The picture is fuzzy, but those who can differentiate between Urdu and Farsi scripts can clearly see that in picture is a detergent box from Iran -- in Farsi it reads, "Pak bara-e Pakeezgi."
In the same annexure, two later pictures do correctly identify the box of 'detergent' but the country of manufacture is not corrected. I believe the Indian officials are confused because of the brand name of the detergent, Pak ('clean' in Farsi).
"This is the point from where the militants switched on their GPS and started their journey, as well as planned to return to this very point after completion of work."
We thought they were suicide attackers and had no plans to go back.
Later the dossier again mentions the return path:
"It seems that T007 and MAP were the RV for their intended return after the attack. The route to be followed would have been T007 through T001." Annexure V
The dossier is discrepant in the names of the terrorists. Five names (Ajmal Kasab, Babar Imran, Hafiz Arshad, and Abdur Rehman) mentioned in the main document do not appear in the log of Kuber guards (Annexure V). Similarly names of four people (Saquib, Muheeb, Hijazi, and Mujahid) present in the Kuber log are not present in the main document.
In short, the devil is in the details; the more you scrutinise the individual parts of the Indian police narrative of the Mumbai attacks the more suspicious you become of the construct. The families of over 170 innocent people killed in Mumbai terrorist attacks deserve a more convincing document from the Indian Government.
Aasim Akhtar's exhibition entitled 'Hemisphere' in Photospace, Karachi shows us what we would never have seen
By Nafisa Rizvi
Robert Bresson, the French film director (not Henri-Cartier the photographer), speaking about the purpose of art once said, "Make visible what, without you, might never have been seen." Aasim Akhtar, though a prolific reader, may not have read these words but his new collection of photographs embodies the essence of Bresson's axiom on modern art. A recent show at Photospace, a marvellous photo gallery run by photographer Arif Mehmood and his wife Aesha, Aasim Akhtar's exhibition was entitled 'Hemisphere' and consisted of 17 images taken with a 135 mm camera and printed on Arches aquarelle paper requiring meticulous and patient rendering.
Akhtar's images consist of exacting photographs of grass, rocks, the sky, the lakeshore, taken in various parts of Pakistan, each picture titled by its specific location. Akhtar's range of pictures sweeps across the spatial spectrum -- from diminutive in the case of a smooth white rock peering out from the blades of ubiquitous prairie grass to the gargantuan rock formation metres away from a sandy bay. Some pictures are, however, unidentifiable in terms of scale and reflecting an almost mischievous trompe-l'oeil which is disarming and yet alluring. Snowy mountain ridges resemble sheets of ink-smeared crumpled paper. Is that a small strip of sandy beach strewn with pebbles or an aerial view of a shoreline extending many miles? If we consider that the view is of the immensity of the ocean, it becomes fascinating to experience the sensuous quality of light that plays upon the water and before we realise it, perspective, scale, time and distance momentarily become intangible and elusive and almost irrelevant.
This is Akhtar's way of showing his reverence for the enormity of the universe and the paradoxical smallness of man who believes that he is larger than life though in the scheme of things, he exists somewhere between a few grains of sand. Thus the visual artist gives us an opportunity to handle the sublime in the ordinariness of the elements that surround us by stripping away the non-essential and by using the post-modern process of reductionism to draw upon the glory that lies at the heart of all nature.
As much as Akhtar's photos lend themselves to being termed landscapes, they are not landscapes in conventional terms. These are not the "utterly spectacular" photos of Ansel Adams. A more encompassing term -- perhaps something like "geographical photography" would be more appropriate here. The pictures of the shoreline indicate Akhtar's interest in the thresholds that divide and connect the sea to land. In that way he creates homogeneity and universality between disparate elements of nature. The resultant image is an accretion of past and present. Each moment is layered over the moment immediately preceding it -- a single image that embodies the weight of cumulative time and unending metamorphosis.
The pictures of a swirling mass of red smoky clouds against a black sky, another of sepia toned sand dunes and yet another of an earth parched not necessarily by aridity but by a quick and temporary loss of water are abstractions of form that Akhtar has been able to contain within the frames of his universe. There is no effort on the part of the artist (we can safely interchange the professional tags in this instance as it would be too simplistic to call Akhtar either photographer or artist) to deceive the viewer into admiring what is not or to remove geographical or temporal specificity in order that the onlooker may admire an attractive image. On the contrary, what Akhtar only does is show us what, without him, we would never have seen.
Chicago, a commendable effort, would have been worthwhile if it had been adapted to our own artistic ethosBy Sarwat Ali
Chicago which was staged in Lahore last week and was earlier staged in Karachi was quite a commendable effort. In a country that is repeatedly bogged down in all kinds of controversies that work to detriment cultural activity, any artistic effort worth its salt should be appreciated. The team headed by Nida Butt deserves all the praise for the initiative that they took in mounting this production.
In the last few years several musicals have been produced and staged in the country. The most popular and oft played was the Phantom of the Opera and some others like Miss Saigon. Chicago too seems to be a production based on the same lines. Probably the number of musicals staged on Broadway and to a lesser extent on the West End too have become financially rewarding and many have been made into films which then have been released all over the world and people from very diverse backgrounds and cultures go to see and be influenced by them.
In Pakistan, many decades after independence, the more affluent used to visit England and the US, especially during the summer months, and the more cultured and the educated among them came back and regaled a ready audience with details of their trip which also included a visit or two to the theatres. These verbal accounts, more than the written word, kept the local enthusiasts abreast of the developments in the West and influenced many a potential theatre person to mount a production on similar lines. There were also guidebooks as how to mount a production and some directors actually faithfully followed those directions by the author on the script or the published version of the play itself.
But now it has all changed as some of these blockbuster musicals have been made into films, and the people for example in countries like Pakistan get to see them at home and a few are inspired to put up a production of the musical or the play in their own country and city. Usually, in most instances, the play made into a film and screened was imitated to be produced on stage. This is no mean achievement because the scale of these productions is quite big but it would be a more worthwhile effort if the play had been reinterpreted and directed according to the understanding of the director and the local artistic concerns.
It may be asking for a very indigenous production, for it means that the entire play has to be recast and then produced with the musical composition too being original and the entire movements including the choreography to be redone and conceived. At the same time, it would be far more authentic if the play or the production is given a local habitation and a name so that the production becomes one's own rather than exude the impression of being lifted from the film that one has seen only on the video.
Actually our own traditional theatre too is a musical with the unity of action, note and movement retained in full. The play is inconceivable with music and dance and that sensibility has travelled through centuries to inform us about the theatrical traditions that we admire the most. When the theatre was revived in the nineteenth century in places like Lucknow and the coastal cities like Bombay were actually replete with music and dance. The Musicals as known in the west, particularly the US, fit in well with our own artistic ethos of the performing arts and can be easily adapted without bothering too much about remaining pure to a form. This revived theatre too emulated the theatre of Europe particularly England but then localised it with situations, language, music and dance
The setting and theme of Chicago would have lent itself well to adaptation because it is about crime, its glorification and the state institutions that abet the violation of law rather than control it. All this is very familiar to the Pakistani audiences as this is the reality that they live in. Our newspapers are full of such misdeeds and there is also a secret admiration for those who violate the law and get away with it. The ingredients that make Chicago a success are as if pulled out of the briefcase of a successful man in Pakistan.
It has been seen that the sets are imitated as indeed are the costumes and the way the actors deliver their lines. The imitation is poorer not because of any artistic or creative reasons but for financial limitations. All the moves and the musical score is only an imitation of the real and many in the audience are only compelled to draw parallels with the production that they have seen on the video and judge it as to how close it was to the original. This is actually looking at the entire production from the wrong side of the telescope.
But one could spot talent and it can be exploited for better results in future. Sanam Saeed, in particular, was good as indeed were the musicians. It is hoped that the team will stay intact and move towards mounting productions that may be inspired by a viewing of a play or a film on screen or video but has enough local input to be counted as an original production.
An exhibition at NAG, showcasing artists from Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan reminds of aesthetic links and cultural connections in the region
By Quddus Mirza
At first the term "living traditions" seems superficial, since traditions have always been alive. It is only heritage that is no longer in practice and is safeguarded as the memory of the past, whereas tradition continues, though it keeps modifying its form, flavour and function. Actually the word tradition has been transformed with time. Etymologically, the English word Tradition was derived from French Tradicion, with its Latin root Traditionem, which means "delivery, surrender, a handing down". In its present meaning it is used in English since c 1600, along with another word trad coined in 1963, which implies the same concept.
Like the word tradition, the collection of concepts, customs and other elements of culture, which comprise tradition, are renewed with the passage of time. This transformation of traditions with time seems the main concern for the curator of 'Living Tradition', (initially organised in Kabul in October 2008), being held at the National Art Gallery in Islamabad from Feb 7 to March 22, 2009. The exhibition consists of works from three countries: Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It showcases artists who have been drawing their inspiration from visual traditions of this region and includes Y Z Kami, Aisha Khalid, Mohammed Imran Qureshi, Shezad Dawood, Nusra Latif Qureshi, Khadim Ali, Khosrow Hassanzadeh and a few others.
The exhibition, curated by Jemima Montague, is a project of Turquoise Mountain, a UK-based charity. It aims to bring contemporary art from the three countries closer, but more than that it documents how the tradition has been dealt with, and negotiated in these countries, which not only shared their past but their recent political situation, too.
The three countries that we now know as Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan did not have the same geographical boundaries in ancient times. Apart from the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the other two were the domain of a ruler or dynasty. Often boundaries of one country merged into the other, as one Emperor conquered Afghanistan as well as India, hence the two conformed into one kingdom – later either divided or extended by his heirs. So the idea of a nation state is recent; earlier on the frontiers were porous, from which tribes, individuals, norms, languages and beliefs travelled from one to the next territory, with an ease unimagined in this age of globalisation.
Like the currently popular English, Persian was the lingua franca for the region, today known as Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. This language was shared by people, both in court and public. Thus Persian became a uniting thread in the culture of three countries. So in the early twentieth century a poet from Sialkot wrote in the language that was not his mother tongue, yet was understood in the three countries. But, along with the language, people from three countries shared their art, metaphors, mythology, religion and fashion. So Shalwar Kameez, (a dress chosen by the curator from the 'Turquoise Mountain' for the seminar at NAG) happens to be popular in these countries, especially in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Along with shared heritage and cultural practices, visual arts also had identical patterns through centuries. Both calligraphy and miniature paintings were forms that moved from one place to the other. Scribes travelled from one state to the other, and the influence of one city/school/technique of miniature painting spread to other parts of this region. Thus Behzad of Herat (a city in present day Afghanistan) inspired many painters both in Iran and Mughal India; and Syed Mir Ali and Khawja Abdus Samad, two Iranian Maestros of miniature accompanied Humayun on his way back to reclaim his throne in Delhi. Here they established ateliers and worked with other painters from India, and were instrumental in formulating the unique style of Mughal Painting.
In the recent past there have been other links too that united three countries. One was the urge to Westernise and the resultant wave of religious sentiment (in fact, a reaction to hasty attempts in modernisation by King Zahir Shah of Afghanistan, Shah of Iran and Bhutto of Pakistan). Three countries are connected through a new-found religious fervour -- puritan and orthodox in Iran, and Talibanisation both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. One could easily dismiss or lament on this resurgence of faith -- in its fundamental version -- yet one cannot ignore that deep down it is a form of locating roots and tracking one's tradition, that has attracted many in our surroundings.
In that sense, tradition, unlike other parts of the world (especially in the West) holds a specific meaning in this region. Therefore it is logical that an exhibition, representing artists of the three nations is conceived on the concept of tradition, and how this notion has been understood and applied in the creative practices of artists. The show at NAG in Islamabad reflects the positions and choices of artists towards appropriating traditional aesthetics, particularly writing, geometric design and miniature painting.
Actually, there has hardly been any contact among the artists from the three countries, but due to common heritage, several similarities are visible in their works. For instance, Aisha Khalid and Y Z Kami (Iranian artist living in USA) have been using patterns in their works of different nature. Khalid continues with her image of curtain, which now becomes flat, over-powering and omnipresent (because only the edges of vast flat surfaces reveal the existence of curtain, otherwise it's a large pattern made of small repeated units), whereas Kami has concentrated on the experience of chanting in a sacred space. Lines of text and tiny designs composed in a circular shape remind of echoes inside a dome.
Similarly a number of artists from Iran and Afghanistan explore calligraphy. The only sample of calligraphy from Pakistan (a country, where the act of writing flourished in the Eighties, but no more enjoys that prestige and patronage) is the neon text by Shezad Dawood. With miniature of Imran Qureshi, Khadim Ali and Nusra Latif Qureshi, the miniature painting in Pakistan suggests its scope as well as its boundaries.
If the calligraphic pieces from Afghanistan convey conventional approaches, a segment of 40 typographic prints from Iran (work of graphic designers from the group '5th Colour') demonstrate how tradition can be extended without any limits. These prints display the skill, imagination, courage and creativity that can take a convention beyond its simplistic rendering or revival. Due to the range of solutions offered in this group of prints, this section of the show appears to be the most exciting part of the whole installation.
The exhibition, an attempt to prepare (or repair) the bridge between artists of three countries, is important in this time and place, since it reminds of aesthetic links and cultural connections; bonds that are more beautiful and stronger than the political designs and strategic necessities: A fact that is often neglected, both by us and outsiders, but which is reasserted and reassured through a project like 'Living Tradition', thankfully.