What we have come to and why
For those who believe that one can effectively fight and defeat the Taliban by aligning with this destructive troika live in a fool's paradise
By Ammar Ali Jan
The issue of "Talibanisation" is dominating the imagination of the liberal intelligentsia in Pakistan with a relentless military operation presented as the only alternative to save us from these 'savages'.
However, what such a perspective fails to analyse is the role imperialism, its affiliates and its collaborators have played in propping up this phenomena. It is a "troika" of power that is primarily responsible for the rise of fundamentalism in Pakistan and only a weakening of its grip on our state and society can defeat the Taliban in the long run.
At first this thesis might seem naïve but a closer look at the historical context of extremism and its link to this troika makes it abundantly clear that it is part of the problem and not the solution. This "troika" of power includes US imperialism, International Financial Institutions and the Pakistan military.
In the Cold War context, as the US sought more allies in the region, it naturally colluded with extremist forces throughout the Muslim world. Imperialists hated the radical economic policies of these regimes while the fundamentalists hated their agenda of modernisation and the marginalisation of the religious clergy. The stage was set for a dangerous nexus. Islamic movements sympathetic to the puritan interpretation of Wahabism were supported in order to check this secular radicalism.
The greatest tragedy of this unholy alliance between imperialism and fundamentalism culminated in South Asia with Pakistan and Afghanistan suffering the most.
The populist regime of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was destabilised through covert support to extremist forces inside Pakistan, resulting in the coup by General Zia-ul-Huq. During the Afghan 'Jihad', Zia and the Pakistani agencies played the vanguard role for preserving US interests in the region. As General Zia consolidated his power through draconian suppression of dissent, virtually turning Pakistan into a national security state, billions of dollars in "aid" started flooding into Pakistan.
A major reason for the popularity of General Zia with the US establishment was his complete compliance with the diktats of the IFIs. The IMF and the World Bank had asked the Zia government to roll back social spending and privatise State institutions for multinationals to intervene. With a growing young population, even the radical policies of Bhutto seemed inadequate to meet the basic demands of health and education. This problem was even further compounded with the rollback on social spending on the directives of the IMF. For millions of people in need state resources for their education and health, the future seemed bleak.
A network of madrassas around Pakistan filled this vacuum. Not only would this relieve the State of the burden of having to take care of these children (as demanded by the IMF), but would also provide fodder for the glorious Afghan "Jihad" being fought by the troika. Hence, an entire generation of Pakistanis was trained to give their allegiance to wahabi Islam and to spend their lives waging "jihad" against the infidel forces (with US dollars, of course). Not only the schools, militant-run hospitals were also established all over Pakistan as General Zia delegated this responsibility to the holy warriors.
The army gained tremendous strength during this period as it cracked down on political dissent, increased its financial power and made itself virtually unaccountable to any civilian authority. Even the incident of Ojhri camp (which resulted in 1000 deaths in Islamabad) was erased from our collective memory.
Due to the Afghan Jihad, the US gave the Soviet Union their Vietnam in Afghanistan and forced them to pull out. The IFIs gained the upper hand in the Muslim countries and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union opened new markets for them. The power of the Pakistan military reached unprecedented levels with complete supremacy over civilian institutions.
That the power of these forces has steadily increased in Pakistan since 1980s is undeniable. The aggressive neo-liberal economic regime imposed upon the people of Pakistan by these IFIs has only meant more liberalisation, privatisation and cuts on social spending with the added burden of repaying loans of these institutions. While benefiting the elite, this policy has led to extreme misery for ordinary Pakistanis. Rising poverty has increased the relevance of Madrassas not only because they provide free education to these children, they are also able to give free shelter and clothing. This partly explains the mushrooming of madrassas during the 1990s and the 2000s as the State fails to give these children a viable alternative.
The US has controlled decision-making in Pakistan by operating military bases inside the country, abducting Pakistani citizens for interrogation and infringing upon Pakistan's sovereignty through its bombardment of the tribal belt, killing scores of civilians in the process. The latest revelation that these drone attacks are being carried out from bases within Pakistan goes on to show the influence of the US and the complete subservience of the Pakistani government.
The Pakistani military has gained a monopoly not only over political matters but also over the economic affairs with increased financial stakes. The agencies have shared little power with the civilian especially when it came to issues like Kashmir and Afghanistan, while regularly plotting against civilian governments.
In recent days, the ANP leaders have openly called the military operation a "sham" protesting that while the Taliban butcher ANP cadres in the Swat valley, the army jawans merely watch the spectacle. They also point out to the' failure of the agencies to close Maulana Fazullah's FM radio, the free movement of all Taliban leaders in the war zone, the systematic murder of Maliks in the area as well as an advance by the Taliban during this operation as proof of collusion between the Taliban and sections of the armed forces.
For those who believe that one can effectively fight and defeat the Taliban by aligning with this destructive troika live in a fool's paradise. If anything, its solution requires a clear break from it.
The problem of Talibanisation is partly linked to the various madrassas where children are taught bigotry from a young age. With almost thirty thousand madrassas catering to six percent of school going children, there is a vast potential for new recruits. These madrassas have to be nationalised and brought into the mainstream, not only because it will weaken the powerbase of the Taliban, but also because we need an educated and productive citizenry for the development of our nation.
Pakistan will also have to de-link itself from this global "war on terror" which has become an excuse for US expansionist policies, hurting the interests of the Third World. Not only has the US interference in the region led to more destruction, it has also demonstrated Washington's incapability of fighting extremism. The US-led government in occupied Afghanistan is being run by drug traffickers and warlords of the Mujahideen era, as law and order becomes a distant dream. America's poster boy, Hamid Karzai, has seen his power vanish from large parts of Afghanistan under the watchful eye of US soldiers while the misery of ordinary Afghans, contrary to the initial promises, has only increased. So much for the "need" of US assistance for "stability"!
A rejection of US expansionist policies in the region will not only protect our sovereignty, it will also reduce the space for the fanatics to manoeuvre as they have been thriving on US interference.
If the liberals continue to view the military option as the only one available without linking it with any progressive package, we might see ourselves getting caught in an endless cycle of violence, possibly paving the way for a NATO intervention!
As unpredictable as art
In their two person exhibition in Lahore, Huma Mulji and David Alesworth have dealt with how reality can be modified, preserved and offered as a work of imagination
By Quddus Mirza
Talking about the inspiration for his novel 'The Autumn of the Patriarch', Gabriel Garcia Marquez recounted the memory of looking at a photograph in a book, in which cows were chewing curtains inside a palace. This situation may very well exist in fiction; however what the Columbian writer saw was a photograph, probably a rare occasion, but a reality nonetheless!
This blend or bond between actuality and possibility seems to be one of the subtexts of Huma Mulji's work, part of the two person exhibition 'Half Life', currently on display at Zahoor ul Akhlaq Gallery, NCA Lahore. The other participant, David Alesworth, has also dealt with the same concept: of how reality can be modified, preserved and offered as a work of imagination.
In fact this is not just the experience of Mulji and Alesworth; the entire history of creativity is nothing more than a chronicle of numerous individuals' engagement in converting the real into idea (or art), or creating a bridge between the realm of fantasy and the world according to their observation. Artists often fabricate their works by altering the actuality of materials; the visuals created by them keep invoking diverse ideas and associations. Yet, in each work, one finds a special balance of reality and imagination. Hence, the work of Huma Mulji can be seen as another attempt to translate this tension -- or interaction -- between the two halves of our life.
As you enter the gallery, you see two buffalos, one stuck inside a drainage pipe and the other climbing on a tilted electricity supply tower. It is an unusual sight both in life and art, but such improbable scenarios are created in her other works too. In her photographs, buffalos are flying above the wheat fields, are placed upside down against a pond, and are perched on the roof of a residential building. In a few photos, buffalos are baffled to look at the construction of a large gate, to confront a white plaster horse in a lush field, or to look at the pair of these horses near a city roundabout.
In fact, buffalo is everywhere in Mulji's work, photographed or displayed after the taxidermist's touch. This fascination with animals in their stuffed state started with her camel in a bag, dispatched to and deported from Dubai last year, but the presence of buffalo leads to another narrative. In the West, the word cow is often used to imply a dumb woman. There is not much distinction between cows and buffalos here and both are usually believed to be species with small brains. In Punjabi, though, a lazy or clueless female is sometimes referred to as a buffalo.
Not necessarily subscribing to this metaphorical link between a buffalo and a woman in our society, a buffalo in Mulji's work may stand for the force of nature or an embodiment of innocence, in contrast with urban complexities. The animal is astonished when its neck is stretched inside the sewerage tunnel or is brought on the top of a steel tower. Although the buffalo fixed on a tilted electricity pole seems more like an artist's urge to stuff the creature in every possible posture, but by and large the work of Huma denotes her (perhaps unconscious) position of putting the alien creature in a familiar situation. So the stranger, suggested in the form of a buffalo, is placed in a gallery space or in a background where it does not belong. It is always treated as an outsider, yet due to its dramatic presence and intervention it enjoys a position not possible otherwise.
Arguably the artist is also operating on the same lines. A strong advocate of public art, Mulji was the motivating force in organising workshops and events that support and promote public (something like 'Aar Paar' and '13 satellite' etc, in contrast to commercial and collectable) art. Hence the image of a buffalo, in an unusual surrounding, regardless of what it means for the maker, can be understood as her personal stance of being an outsider in an art world dominated by buyers and businessmen.
This relation and contradiction between public and private art/space, and turning the normal into extraordinary can also be seen in the work of David Alesworth. He is showing a series of black and white photographs of files from an office along with a huge metal cube made of steel boxes (each 28"x14"x14"). The pictures of papers stacked in racks on an unlimited scale suggest (besides the theme of library by Jorge Luis Borges) the presence of a power that is responsible for recording every deed, action or even thought of a person. Much like the conditions created by Kafka in his fables, these pictures indicate the existence and control of an authority that subjugates human beings -- citizens of a state -- by reducing them into bearers of identity cards, national passports, or even possessors of roll numbers in academic institutions.
This act of demoting human flesh into 'file' is illustrated in the series of photographs depicting files stored in the archives. At first the repetitive nature of these pictures somehow exhausts or irritates a spectator, but it also communicates and transmits the experience of seeing so much information/knowledge/text cramped in one corner.
Alesworth has deliberately changed the colour of reality. The actual files on shelves are converted into black and white objects, a shift that not only reminds of the past but a sense of timelessness; because when one thinks in terms of terrible events in the history of mankind (or classics), one always visualises them in monochromatic schemes. Hence the series of pictures with black and white prints, not only negate the classification of time (managed through keeping the files for years), it also connects with the other work titled '12.2.42' due to its chromatic choice made of grey steel. But the link between his pictures and installation is not limited or based on colour only; one presumes that the boxes stacked for building this structure may contain these files, because putting 180 units on top of each other appears in harmony with the piling up of files in a record room.
Interestingly a small photograph 'The Garden of Babel', the only exhibit in several colours, holds the key to Alesworth's work. The picture is a mosaic of Latin, French and local names of plants in our area. On the surface, this piece seems disjointed and out of place in the whole show, but in reality it reveals the idea of the artist, who is keen on documenting this aspect of our life -- that we tend to categorise, thus domesticate everything. As buffalos are estranged in unfamiliar settings, human beings cast into 'data' on files that are supposed to be significant, lose importance with the passage of time.
The work of two contemporary artists (married to each other), shown at the same venue, in two rooms of the gallery, is related in a paradoxical manner. Both choose to display a number of digital prints along with their three dimensional pieces. But in the case of Mulji her sculptures are far more imposing than the prints, while Alesworth's work on paper appears more impressive than his installation.
Another testimony on the unpredictable nature of art!
(The exhibition is being held from Feb 16 to March 4, 2009)
Tina Sani's concert at Alhamra was an occasion to refresh the poetical images of Faiz through musical rendition
By Sarwat Ali
The birth anniversary of Faiz Ahmed Faiz was celebrated by holding a concert of Tina Sani at the Alhamra last week to an audience that had participated in raising funds for the newly set up Faiz Ghar in Lahore.
It was a philanthropic move on the part of Rafiq Jaffer, a former student of Humair Hashmi, an ardent Faiz lover involved in activities concerning intellectual and humanistic pursuits over and above that of earning a living has now created this opportunity of a venue to house the memorabilia of Faiz to be kept in proper conditions and also serve as a rendezvous for artistic and intellectual activity in the city of Lahore. Besides offering research facilities it will also be able to accommodate artists in residence.
Many an organisation and venue have been set up on the initiative of private individuals and forums and this one founding itself not only to remember the poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz but also to further his concerns is a welcome addition to the cultural and artistic life of the country. A few programmes have already been held at this Faiz Ghar in the past few months but now, with the Faiz Foundation getting fully involved, it is expected that the setting up of a proper institution and a forum will be expedited, and it will carry enough thrust to be able to make an impression on the activities that have been taking place in the country.
The concert at the Alhamra was as much about raising the funds for Faiz Ghar as it was to remember, recall and refresh the poetical images of Faiz through the musical rendition of his poetry.
A much improved Tina Sani sang for over an hour and a half some of the compositions which she has been singing in the past and some other famous compositions sung by some of the great singers of the land. She is a now a much better singer than when she started to sing Faiz about twenty years ago. Her sur is more in tune and she has the confidence to sing within oneself without stretching or wanting to do something terribly new and creative. In the concert she sang bahar aai, mere dil mere musafir, raat yoon dil mey teri khoi hue yaad aayi, wo butoon ney dale hain waswase keh diloon sey khofe khuda giya, gar mujhe is ka yaqeen ho merey humdum merey dost, aap ki yaad aati rahi raat phar, and the kalam in Punjabi raba shachiy too nee akhia see which she made part of her repertoire mori arz suno dastgir pir, a homage by Faiz to the great Amir Khusro.
Tina also sang the numbers which have become very famous like mujh say pehli si muhabbat mery mehboob na maang, dasht e tanhaye main and hum dekhain gey which carries with it a tinge of the nostalgic about it.
Faiz has been sung extensively by very well-known singers, not so good singers and by the very average. His stature is such that for a new-comer merely singing him can be a source of gaining popularity or seeking legitimacy, while for an established singer it is a challenge to musical creativity. Singing Faiz really can be an endeavour to break new ground in his or her musical quest.
As far as putting Faiz to music is concerned there have been three staging posts. The famous Noor Jehan number Mujh se pehli se mubabaat meri mehboob na mang, Mehdi Hasan's Guloon main rung bhare baad e nau bahaar chale and Iqbal Bano's dashte tanhai main aai jane jahan larzaan hain. Probably it was Noor Jehan that set the tradition of singing Faiz as an essential part of a singer's repertoire. Mujh se pehli se muhabaat meri mehboob na mang was an experiment that had already succeeded before it was used as a film number. Through cinema it reached the common man who also could savour the number according to the ambit of his own experience, both as music and as poetry. Her other compositions aa ke wabasta hain aus husn ki yadeen tujh se was of an equal merit as was her tum aai ho na shabe intezaar guzre hai.
Mehdi Hasan has sung many ghazals of Faiz and nearly all of them have met with the highest standards of music. Na ganwaoo nawike neem kush, is as superb as dil main ab yoon tere bhoole huwe gham aate hain. Iqbal Bano besides singing Mehdi Zaheer's composition dashte tanhaye main has sung many ghazals and nazms of Faiz. Fareeda Khanum too has sung Faiz's ghazals and her most famous numbers are: shamme firaaq aab na pooch, aai aur a ke tul gaai and na ganwaoo nawake neem kash. Malika Pukhraaj has sung nazms, tum mera paas raho and ye kaun sakhe hain jin ke lahoo ki ashrafian, chun chun chun chun.
The basic problem with singing poetry is how to save it from becoming illustrative. The musical structure should not land up in a collision course with the poetical structures. On one side there is an effort on part of the singer to avoid his rendition from merely becoming illustrative and on the other is the effort that the words should not become merely incidental as is the case with the higher musical forms.
After generations of working on the forms some sort of artistic synthesis has been arrived at in the ghazal and kaafi. The balance between the poetic line and raag structure is maintained in such a manner that it takes place at a higher level -- an area common and shared by all the arts. This synthesis has not yet been arrived at in the singing of the nazm and the effort continues with inconsistent results.
We just managed to sit through The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. This is a very tedious film. I know it has been getting good reviews and been mentioned as Oscar contender material but it really is quite an endurance test. It is very long. It is also very saccharine sweet.
The film is based on a story by F Scott Fitzgerald. This might well explain why all the female characters in the film are so annoying. Anyway, poor Benjamin is born as a baby who is old -- and then he ages backwards. His father abandons him and he is adopted by a black woman who works in an old people's home. Along the way he falls in Iove with a woman called Daisy, and lives life in a wise and wonderful way. Since he has grown up with old people, he is philosophical about life and the inevitability of death.
The annoying Daisy is played by the wonderful Cate Blanchett, the acting and cinematography is interesting and there are memorable bits to the film, but overall it is a bit of a bore. As an idea it is interesting, but it is all so sugary and soft focus…It all seems to build up to the wizened old man Benjamin turning into the beautiful Brad Pitt. The film makes him look very good: the camera lingers lovingly on the pictures of him riding a motorbike, sailing or just looking very fit and glamorous.
What is also annoying is the way the story is told in retrospect by Daisy who is on her deathbed in New Orleans in the midst of Hurricane Katrina. I don't know if the turmoil metaphor was much needed, also the geriatric Daisy is not at all appealing. And her daughter is played by Julia Ormond who also has a very irritating sort of a screen presence. This all adds to the feeling that the film is a slightly trying experience.
But I suppose, at the end of the day, the film does linger on in memory because of the issues it raises -- it is actually a meditation on life, death and love. A reflection on fate and courage, kindness and compassion. Its message is perhaps to cherish every moment of life and never give up on one's dreams or ambitions.
A googd message, I suppose. And of course, you should try and see the film, but be warned: It is slow, often painful…