Truth amid lies
An Australian's view of Pakistan
By Simon Butler
Sadly, there are only two things most Australians would associate with Pakistan: cricket and terrorism. The fault for this lies mostly with the one-sided reporting by Australia's mainstream media, which fails to give a picture of the complex factors that govern Pakistani politics and culture.

Getting a 'mountain' high
A group of eight trekkers make their way to the Miranjani top to celebrate the 2010 snowfall
As told to Syrrina Ahsan Ali Haque
What pulls trekkers, rock climbers, and mountaineers to climb a mountain and arrive at its peak? Gao Xinjiag, a Nobel Laureate, in his acclaimed novel 'Soul Mountain', discusses how there is a strong affiliation between the metaphysical soul and the physical mountain. The height of the mountain provides the uplift that the soul needs, and during the course of climbing, mountaineers venture into an inward journey.

 

 

An Australian's view of Pakistan

By Simon Butler

Sadly, there are only two things most Australians would associate with Pakistan: cricket and terrorism. The fault for this lies mostly with the one-sided reporting by Australia's mainstream media, which fails to give a picture of the complex factors that govern Pakistani politics and culture.

Most Australians heard of the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in March last year. In May, they saw reports of the Taliban's insurgency in the Swat Valley. In October, they watched footage about the terror attack on the Pakistan army general headquarters.

At other times, the most they get to see is the occasional 15-second report on the evening news about yet another bomb blast in Lahore or Islamabad. Or they might read a pro-war newspaper columnist argue why the US-led war on Afghanistan must be extended across the Pakistani border.

The West tends to view the Muslim world as a hostile, homogenous entity, which somehow threatens the West. The media reinforces this view constantly. The differences between Muslim nations, and the tensions, debates and clashes within them, are almost never reported. Nor is the real history of western interference in the Muslim world told honestly. For instance, rarely will a western journalist remind readers that successive Australian and US governments supported Pakistani dictators such as Musharraf and Zia-ul-Haq, even though the Pakistani people wanted democracy.

Because of this relentless and skewed coverage, most Australians view Pakistan as an uninviting and dangerous place -- just another battleground in the West's so-called "war on terror".

Before I left to visit Pakistan for a week in late January, my own views about the country were already different. As a journalist for a left-wing Australian newspaper, I had long decided that the portrayal of Pakistan in the mainstream media was wrong and superficial. But it wasn't until I went to Pakistan myself that I gained a fuller understanding of just how much of the real story is simply not being told.

As a guest of the Labour Party Pakistan, I spent time in Lahore and Faisalabad in my all-too-brief visit. It was in Faisalabad I was exposed to the powerful workers organisation, the Labour Qaumi Movement (LQM), which held a huge rally in the city centre on January 29.

For years the LQM, led by Mian Quyyum, has waged a struggle for the rights of textile workers in Faisalabad. Amazingly, I learnt this movement has effectively closed down the city four times in the past two years. The January 29 rally was an impressive show of strength by the LQM. It made media headlines across Pakistan. But there is no coverage of Pakistan's growing labour movement in Australia.

The rally was jointly organised with the Anjuman Mazarin Punjab (AMP) -- an organisation of peasant farmers who have struggled for the right to own their land for a decade. The AMP has resisted attempts by their military landlords to sell their land to multinational corporations. Instead, they demand the government transfer ownership rights to the people who till the soil. Women have played a prominent role in this campaign. Again, news of this struggle for land rights, or other struggles like it, is absent from the Australian news.

I met the leader of the Women Workers Helpline (WWH), Bushra Khaliq, who also addressed the January 29 rally. She received one of the biggest cheers.

The WWH is one of the most important Pakistani feminist groups organising for the rights of women. Through its community development programmes and awareness campaigns, it aims to empower women, socially, politically and economically to build a just and gender-sensitised society.

In the West, we are uniformly told that women in Muslim countries live a kind of hell. This narrative compares the supposed freedoms women enjoy in the West with the supposed uniform repression women face in Muslim countries. George W. Bush even justified the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan on the grounds that the US soldiers would "liberate" Afghan women.

Few Australians would believe that organisations such as WWH are doing such impressive work. And most would be surprised to witness the stirring reception she received for her speech to a crowd of mostly male Pakistani workers. But my brief trip to Pakistan broke down this stereotype as well.

My visit also gave me a deeper awareness of the importance of Pakistan's various ethnic groups -- Punjabis, Sindhis, Pashtuns, Balochis and others -- in the country's political life.

Australian media reports usually rely solely on religious issues to explain Pakistan's internal problems. But the quest for full rights and equality between Pakistan's different national groups appears to be a far more decisive issue in daily politics than religion. This undermines one of the main reasons given for the bogus "war on terror" against the Muslim world -- i.e. that religious extremism is the number one issue everywhere.

Part of the reason for all the distortions is that Australia's media is highly monopolised and controlled by a very small group of media tycoons, including Rupert Murdoch. Like so much of the "free" western media, what gets reported reflects the interests of Australia's elites. Often the truth is lost amid the lies or is omitted altogether.

The worst thing is that the mainstream media reports about Pakistan without reporting on its people and their aspirations. In consequence, Pakistanis are dehumanised. This is typical of the West's media coverage of the entire third world.

For instance, the Australian investigative journalist John Pilger wrote recently of a 10-year study by the University of the West of England of BBC reporting on Venezuela. Pilger said: "Of 304 BBC reports, only three mentioned any of the historic reforms of Hugo Chavez's government (such as free health and education), while most denigrated his extraordinary democratic record, at one point comparing him to Hitler."

The western mainstream media, therefore, often plays a harmful political role. It warps the consciousness of citizens in the west, desensitises them to injustice, and helps garner public support for imperialist wars of aggression overseas, such as Iraq or Afghanistan.

Countless times throughout my visit, I was struck by the big gap between the Australian media coverage of Pakistan and the on-the-ground reality. Clearly, there are many differences between the two countries. But in their aspirations for a better life, for peace and equality, ordinary Australians and Pakistanis actually share much in common.

The myth that Pakistani society is homogenous was shattered by my visit. Pakistan's people face many problems and life for many is very difficult. But it is a dynamic country, with a proud history of struggle, and a future that will be crafted by the actions and ideas of the masses.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to address the huge LQM rally in Faisalabad. In my speech, I commented on the recent one-day cricket series between Pakistan and Australia. I said that while we may be opponents on the cricket field, when it comes to rights of workers to a living wage and dignified life, Australians and Pakistanis must stand united.

(Simon Butler is a journalist with the Australian newspaper Green Left Weekly www.greenleft.org.au.)

 

 

Getting a 'mountain' high

A group of eight trekkers make their way to the Miranjani top to celebrate the 2010 snowfall

As told to Syrrina Ahsan Ali Haque

What pulls trekkers, rock climbers, and mountaineers to climb a mountain and arrive at its peak? Gao Xinjiag, a Nobel Laureate, in his acclaimed novel 'Soul Mountain', discusses how there is a strong affiliation between the metaphysical soul and the physical mountain. The height of the mountain provides the uplift that the soul needs, and during the course of climbing, mountaineers venture into an inward journey.

It is this kind of uplift that the eight snow walkers yearn for when they venture out to surmount the summit of Miranjani.

Nathiagali welcomes them with the first dense snow. The entire region shines in its whiteness; the shimmer of the moonlight. It is difficult to discern whether the moon is the earth or the earth a mere reflection of the moon. The trees, huts and trellised rooftops are bed partners to the soft and supple snowflakes. Magical is too clichéd a word for the experience, however, magical it is. The colour of the snow brings brightness within to match the scenery around.

They are booked at a rest house to combat the below freezing temperatures, but they prefer to sleep in sleeping bags within the sheer confines of a measly parachute tent.

Next morning, the sunrise brings with it a new set of colours, shading the whiteness with tones of orange. This is the ambience that the travellers set about to explore, entering a spiritual world through their physical feat.

Miranjani regally erect, silent and stoic in its stature tacitly welcomes the venturers. The task is uphill needless to say. The travellers hire four horses to carry their amenities, along with the guides. These horses can be mounted upon if and when need arises.

Since Miranjani is the highest point in the region between Murree and Thandiani, it accords a multi-angular view of the surrounding terrain, even at its foot. The trail that starts behind the Governor House, is bordered by cedars, maples, oaks, pines and walnut trees, some leafless, whilst others standing in their coniferous glory. The multiple fragrances emitting from variant breeds of plantation greets the travellers.

Soon, the chattering sound of monkeys, high up on the trees, frolicking about, stuns the trekkers. The crows evolve into ravens, and their croaking echoes across, making it impossible to figure out the distance of their presence. In the same way, if a leopard is to roar it will be difficult to discern the vicinity of its existence. It may well be in the neighbouring mountain ranges. Mukshpuri has been wired for protection from these cats.

World Wildlife Fund had initially bred these feline creatures in this forest due to the conducive environment. In 2006, an alleged cat had been the source of havoc for cattle and wayfarers. However, the alleged cat without being proven guilty now resides in the Forest Museum, labelled as 'The Ghost of The Galiyat'. These trekkers are devoid of any fears, they have to reach the top.

The gradient is steep at the bottom, and makes the climb a breathless experience. As the body is tuned to the task, the slope becomes less cumbersome, and more of an adrenaline rush. This is the addictive quality of climbing. Why do mountaineers venture into hazardous conditions to climb Everest, K-2, or Nanga Parbat, and do so repeatedly? The physical explanation comes from the rising hormones, but the rise in the spirits comes from the quest for seeing beyond the physical. The multi-dimensional panorama of the mountainous range is in itself a feeling of 'high'.

Elated from within, the trekkers march their way through the less steep trail, each time turning to view a new scene, a new vista. The slippery snow makes it tricky for the spiky shoes to hold ground, but the horses' hooves seem to be in sync with the slate, snow, and the slushy earth. However, even the hooves are unnatural to the surrounding -- so the horses can mount only 30 percent of the way. Gripping the ground, at the same time, going against gravity is not an easy task. At times the knees tend to shift in their caps, the heartbeat out of its case, yet the climbers move on.

After a six-hour climb through oakwood, the climbers arrive at the meadows, and the steep climb slackens a little until finally they reach the top.

The horsemen free the horses of the load of the climbers. Liberated from this, the horses gallop off into the contrast of lush green and the glittering snow. Horses and the meadows, the multiple mountaintops, the distant sound of the kingfisher, and the monkeys become one. It is there at the top of the world, above the dense forest that the eight men from the city felt free.

They are a part of the landscape. They can see Kashmir on one side, Kaghan on the other, Murree from another angle, and the capital Islamabad from yet another. They gleam in the glory of the spectacle, and reverberate to face the soulless mountains of plazas and brick houses back home in the jungle called the city.

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