Commendable but not
I love TV
On July 23, the PPP, PML-N, ANP and JUI-F decided to resolve the conflict in FATA through negotiations and oppose the use of force because they feared it could harm the federation of Pakistan. Though belated, this move would give a direction to the nation and the armed forces. Once approved by the parliament where the policy is to be debated, it could become a consensus national document
By Rahimullah Yusufzai
The military operations in Hangu district in southern NWFP were halted on July 23 but the troops would remain deployed as long as the ANP-led provincial government wished. This could be a fairly long period much like Swat where more than 20,000 soldiers have been operating since November last year and no timeframe for their withdrawal has been given despite the signing of a peace agreement between the NWFP government and the Maulana Fazlullah-led Taliban militants on May 21.
The timing of ending the military operations in Hangu was significant. It coincided with the expiry of the five-day ultimatum given by Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) head Baitullah Mahsud to the ANP-PPP coalition government in the NWFP to resign or face the consequences. While giving the ultimatum, he had accused the provincial government of failure to implement the Swat peace accord and seeking the intervention of the security forces in both Swat and Hangu.
An end to the week-long military operations in Hangu was announced by the Pakistan Army spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas, who claimed the action achieved all its objectives. He said 20 militants were killed in action, 60 were captured and all their hideouts had been destroyed. He conceded the loss of 16 troops, all belonging to the Frontier Constabulary and killed in an ambush by the militants after they were tricked into leaving their fort in Shnawaray. The operation, in the words of the military spokesman, aimed at clearing the area of militants and destroying their strongholds.
Stopping the military operations in Hangu was clearly meant to send a signal to the TTP that the government had not given up the option of dialogue to resolve the conflict that first flared up in South Waziristan in 2003 and has now spread to most of the tribal areas and to some districts in the NWFP. The ANP, as the senior partner in the coalition government in the Frontier, was committed to peaceful solution of the problem as this was also its election campaign promise and the policy fitted with the non-violence creed of its founder, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, or Bacha Khan as his followers prefer to call him. One of the first moves that the ANP-led government did was to negotiate the Swat peace agreement with the militants.
The PPP-headed federal coalition government was also willing to try peaceful means for ending the conflict and heed the military's line in tackling the problems in the Frontier. After some initial indecision, it opted to pass on the responsibility for spearheading the efforts to restore peace and fight militancy in the tribal borderlands to the Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. On his part, the Army chief wanted the ruling political alliance to take ownership of the policy concerning the conflict in the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan. However, the PPP-led coalition wasn't willing to claim full ownership of a policy that had been decidedly pro-US until then and had polarised the nation and proved unpopular under General Pervez Musharraf. The politicians wanted a change in the policy and the stress in the post-February 18 elections period was on holding dialogue with the tribal elders and through them with the militants to peacefully resolve the conflict. This strategy was to be supplemented by a greater input of development funds to bring the tribal areas at par with rest of the country in terms of its socio-economic indicators. Use of force wasn't discounted but this was to happen as a last resort.
This three-pronged approach has now received approval of the four political parties that are part of the coalition government at the centre. On July 23, the PPP, PML-N, ANP and JUI-F decided to resolve the conflict in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) through negotiations and oppose the use of force because they feared it could harm the federation of Pakistan. Though belated, this move would give a direction to the nation and the armed forces. Once approved by the parliament where the policy is to be debated, it could become a consensus national document enjoying the backing of both the political parties and the military.
Mian Nawaz Sharif's PML-N, Asfandyar Wali Khan's ANP and Maulana Fazlur Rahman's JUI-F were clearly in favour of peaceful solution of the conflict in the NWFP and it seems the three parties prevailed upon all those in the PPP and in the bureaucracy having reservations about this approach to support their stand. Being more pro-US than its partners in the coalition government, the PPP had to go along with this policy as its reluctance to do so would have caused a split in the alliance. Already, the coalition is suffering due to differences on the issue of restoration of deposed judges, impeachment of President Musharraf and other matters.
The coming together of the four ruling parties and their consensus on the policy concerning the conflict in the NWFP must have pleased the army hierarchy. General Kayani has been pushing for such a consensus as he didn't want the army alone to run this policy and earn blame for its pitfalls. He attended the meeting of the ruling coalition along with some of his military commanders and briefed the politicians about the security situation in the areas bordering Afghanistan. The military is clearly stretched due to its continued deployment in the dangerous tribal borderlands. Opening of new frontlines such as the recent one in Hangu and before that in Swat and Darra Adamkhel have obviously increased the military's workload and exposed its troops to added risks. Having lost up to 1,100 soldiers since its intervention into the tribal areas in 2003, the army realises it is performing a thankless job due to lack of support by the nation and constant criticism by Pakistan's so-called allies including the US.
However, the new policy would definitely face hurdles in its implementation stage due to domestic and external compulsions. The friction in the ruling coalition would have its impact and there is possibility that the consensus achieved in the June 23 summit meeting of the alliance could fall apart in the near future. A bigger hurdle would be the attitude of the US, which has publicly opposed the policy of dialogue with the militants and has termed all previous peace accords in the tribal areas as a failure. Its Nato allies, all having troops in Afghanistan, and the government of President Hamid Karzai too would join the US in opposing Pakistan's policy of not using force against the militants in the tribal areas.
Confronted with the challenge of the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan, the Nato commanders are seeking additional troops from member countries because their 70,000 soldiers currently deployed there are unable to cope with the situation. The US and Nato military authorities would like the Pakistan Army to actively engage the militants instead of sitting idle after signing peace accords with them. Pakistan runs the risk of rising tension at its western borders with Afghanistan in case it pursues the policy of dialogue with the militants in the tribal areas. The US and its allies would see to it that this policy is terminated by resorting to even more air strikes against suspected hideouts of foreign and tribal militants in Pakistani territory on the pretext that these were staging post for fighters being infiltrated across the border into Afghanistan.
As witnessed in Hangu, incidents of a local nature quickly trigger a flare-up and lead to disturbances on a wider scale. The arrest of seven militants, including a Baitullah Mahsud confidant commander Rafiuddin, by the police in Hangu angered the Pakistani Taliban and prompted them to lay siege to the Doaba police station and seize 29 security forces personnel and government employees. The army was rushed in to save the besieged cops but militants elsewhere then struck and killed 16 Frontier Constabulary troops at the Taliban-infested Zargari area located close to the Orakzai tribal agency. The security forces had to launch operations then to flush out the militants from their strongholds in Hangu district and re-establish the government's writ. Gunship helicopters were also used to attack the militants' positions in parts of Hangu and the adjacent Kurram Agency, which has been suffering from sectarian strife of its own for the past several months.
Far away from the southern Hangu district, tension was growing in Swat in the northern part of the NWFP and there was uncertainty about the fate of the peace accord in the scenic valley. Maulana Fazlullah, who is leading his militants from hiding, convened a meeting of his commanders in the Matta area and advised them to be ready for attacks against the security forces in case military operations against them were relaunched. The future of the peace agreement depended on Baitullah Mahsud, who as the TTP head was able to influence events not only in his native Waziristan but also in Swat and elsewhere in the tribal and settled areas of the province.
The NWFP government had refused to heed his demand to quit but steps were taken to address some of his concerns by winding up the military operations in Hangu and reiterating that the Swat peace accord would be fully implemented. As a democratically elected government, it had the mandate to rule the province and not to bow to any unjust demand by non-state actors challenging the writ of the state. Everyone was now waiting for Baitullah Mahsud to make his next move. No doubt he is a feared man but any attempt by him to sponsor new attacks against security forces and ANP and PPP leaders or carry out suicide bombings would drain away whatever support he has among the people. The yearning for peace and the support for dialogue with the militants is huge and anyone going against the tide would end up as the loser.
The exhibition 'Four Side' not only brings forth the creative output of relatively new artists, it also invokes an important question: On what basis does a work qualify to be called a miniature?
By Quddus Mirza
Summers are not the ideal weather for art activity. Although artists continue to work, galleries are reluctant to hold exhibitions during the summer months -- for want of buyers in the harsh weather.
One presumes this has something to do with our colonial past, which was when the summer vacations for schools and courts of law were introduced here. In Europe, too, the gallery business -- like the educational institutions -- is on halt in the summers when people like to take a break and, mostly, travel.
As a matter of fact, summer break makes a lot more sense for the galleries here than in Europe where the weather is not half as harsh. For us, though, it seems a bit overdone because we have quite a few phases of inactivity in our art schedules -- like in the Islamic months of Moharram and Ramzan. There are also occasional bouts of political turmoil when it becomes impossible to conduct any sort of activity, let alone art.
So, in the hot days of summer, galleries do not have much of a choice except to stay closed, making it impossible for the reviewers to stay busy. Therefore, all artists who are unable to show their work in the peak season get a chance to do so in the lean months of June and July; likewise, the writers or critics pick up those ideas to write on which are delayed in the otherwise busy months.
The exhibition of four artists' miniatures at Nairang Art Gallery is an example of a similar phenomenon. The mix of four artists is odd because two of them were trained as miniature painters, while the other two studied textile design at the National College of Arts. All four artists -- with Fatima Ghufran being the most experienced and Akbar Ali being a recent graduate -- have displayed miniatures, ranging from figurative compositions to purely abstract surfaces.
The exhibition is a clear example of how our artists perceive the art of miniature painting: their works not only reflect a diversity of formal elements, these also communicate a variety of approaches. Fatima Ghufran paints the figures of kings, courtiers, portions of their attires and heads of elephants, yet fills their outlines with multiple patterns, such as dots, cubes and shapes of leaves from trees. These forms occupy the whole surface, thus camouflaging the male figures and females dancers (both inspired from old miniatures) and other images.
Ghufran's work does not remind one of the art from the Mughal court; instead one is reminded of Imran Qureshi and Aisha Khalid, two contemporary miniature artists. The foliage in Fatima's paintings seems influenced from Imran's technique, whereas the manner of covering human bodies with patterns echoes the art of Aisha. However, there is a marked difference between Aisha Khalid and Fatima Ghufran, as Aisha's scheme of covering women with various motifs refers to the condition of women in our society, whereas Fatima's method of doing the same -- mostly on male characters -- is no more than a pictorial device.
In a sense, the work of Akbar Ali is similar to that of Fatima Ghufran, even though both artists do not have much in common, apart from being graduates of NCA in different times. In his miniatures, Ali hides the human figures under a piece of cloth. Human bodies, next to patches of world map, are drawn with layers of fabrics -- of varied colours. In his work, faces, hands and feet, along with torsos are draped, like different continents and Turkey (inspired from the famous painting by Mansur from Jehangir's period).
In addition, Akbar has put coats of silver foil in a number of his works. The preference for metallic treatment is seen in the paintings of Irfan Gull also. He has spread the glittery stuff on his compositions with traces of figures and objects revealed through heavy textures of luminous substance. The careful rendering of portions of bodies and sections of various items demonstrates his skill and ability to record reality in a sensitive manner.
The fascination with texture is evident in the paintings of Rabia Ahmed, too. She tries to reconstruct the visuals of a bygone era, by blending figures from the past and surfaces that appear like time-worn papers/fabrics. In her work, the painted part of the dress is combined with actual pieces of tapestry. Through these assemblages, she in a way justifies her indulgences in miniature after studying textile design.
The exhibition 'Four Side' not only brings forth the creative output of relatively new artists, it also invokes an important question: On what basis does a work qualify to be called a miniature? There can be various parameters -- size, technique, material and imagery -- but the variety of paintings at Nairang Art Gallery indicates the desire to gain immediate recognition and commercial success. Hence most of our artists have chosen this genre which will be shown again and again till the cruel summer is over and calligraphy replaces it in Ramzan which is soon to follow.
('Four Side' is open from July 22-August 5 at Nairang Art Gallery, Lahore)
Mehdi Hassan surely deserves all the help, but there can be a more dignified manner of handling this whole question of support than treating it as charity
By Sarwat Ali
It was commendable that the prime minister paid a visit to the house of Mehdi Hassan and announced a sizeable monthly amount and employment/promotion for one of his sons, as a gesture on part of his government to acknowledge the services rendered to music.
One wonders whether there is a better way of doing the same thing -- recognising and rewarding artistes particularly when they are unwell or old and just do not have the energy or the will to rekindle the kind of magic that they once did in their prime.
It has been one of the driving forces of the powers that be, to be seen as very tough when circumstances demand and to be very considerate when faced with the problems confronting the poor. It serves them well to be photographed and reported on helping an outstanding talent or distressed humanity at large. It also focuses on the individual -- he or she is seen as being benevolent and kind to suffering riyot (subjects), directly boosting the image.
Usually in the past, the artistes had to fend for themselves, and if they did well, not only their future but also their next generations became secure. Since the musicians were mostly from hereditary stock, as the musical knowledge was transmitted in a close door environment to the kith and kin, the shooting to prominence of one musician meant the succeeding generations too were taken care of. The artistes in our environment were quite open to wazeefa -- a regular support from the feudal state which took care of their pressing financial problems. If a musician attained a status over and above that of the ordinary, then there was every chance of him being elevated as a nauratan or granted huge landed estates.
In our country, too, the various bodies particularly working under the aegis of the government have a fund to help and support artistes in times of distress. There is also provision for some kind of monthly stipends to be disbursed on a regular basis. But the problem is that the purse is too small and, as it gets distributed to a large number of deserving artistes, each gets an amount that is too small and in no way sufficient to meet even the most basic needs. The other flaw is that the artistes have to petition for help. Surely there can be a more dignified manner of treating this whole question of support than treating it as charity. The relevant departments do not really have the data on the condition of all the artistes in the country and have to rely on a news reports, some recommendation or outdated statistics from previous years.
This is being written in full awareness that in most cases the children, particularly the sons of famous people, just rely on their father's accessibility to the high and mighty of the land, expecting a smooth passage for support or jobs for which they are neither qualified nor temperamentally suited. They often make the father's life miserable by expecting him to be a recommendation machine for them and one has been witness to many a great artiste being subjected to this kind of pressure from the family which compromises their dignity.
The life of Mehdi Hassan, despite being from a family of musicians, has been of great struggle. As is the wont with hereditary musicians Mehdi Hassan started to perform at a young age and the first concert of dhrupad and kheyal with his elder brother is reported to have been held in Fazilka Bungla near Ferozepur. He then came to Lahore and shifted into a small room in Sheranwala Gate, and for a while took up employment with the Shori Film Company, but at partition with the fast deteriorating law and order situation went back to the ancestral village before formally migrating to Pakistan with his family and settling down in a village in Chichawatni near Montgomery (now Sahiwal) where one of his aunts resided.
Poverty and lack of opportunity to perform as a singer made him work in a small cycle shop where he was able to make two ends meet. After about a year, he handed this growing business to his brother and went in quest of establishing himself as a singer. He had continued with his riyaz and worked on building his stamina with breath exercises. He went to Sukkur and again failing to make a breakthrough became an apprentice motor mechanic in a workshop. He then shifted to Bahawalpur with a reputation of being a very competent motor mechanic and set up his own workshop.
But he wanted to be a singer and he again came back to Lahore seeking a breakthrough. Failing once again, he worked at an agricultural land in Sargodha which belonged to an acquaintance but continued with his riyaz relentlessly and was finally made an offer to sing for the film Shikaar (released 1956) at the Eastern Film Studio in Karachi. For the music directors of the film Asghar Ali and Muhammed Hussain, he sang the following composition Mere khawab o kheyal ki dunya liye hua. After Shikaar he sang in Kanwari Bewa for Qadir Fareedi which was directed by Najam Naqvi, and then for Maska Paalish and Insaan for music composer Deebo Bhatacharya.
His first ghazal Aik bus tu hi nahin by Farhat Shahzaad was sufficient for him to be noticed and as he was being recognised as a singer with immense potential, he was invited to perform for Lahore Radio where his first ghazal was Ghalib's Arze niaaz e ishq ke qabil nahi raha, followed by Jo thake thake se they hosele wo shabab bun ke machal gai. He also sang in Lahore for films for the first time and that too with Noor Jehan in Qaidi, Aik diwane ney is dil ka kaha maan liya in 1958, and then for Hassan Latif in Susraal, Jis ne mere dil so dard diya, Khurshid Anwer for Ghoonghat Mujh ko aawaz dey too kahan hai and in Jaag Utah Insaan for Lal Muhammed Iqbal Dunya kisi key piyaar main jannat sey kum nahin.
And in a private concert he sang Faiz's Gulon main rung bhare in 1959 his talent was fully recognised and when this ghazal was broadcast on the radio at some later date Mehdi Hassan became an instant star.
Mehdi Hassan was an exception and surely deserves all the help but others who are not that well-known should also be supported under an adequate institutional arrangement. Effort should be made to streamline the procedure and to increase the overall amount for it to have a decisive impact on the condition of the ailing and aging artistes.
A few years ago, I did a short stint with the BBC World Service's Arts Unit and one of the projects I worked on was a series of radio features called 'I love TV'.
We did four programmes: on Sports, Children's TV, Lifestyle programmes and chat shows. The project was great fun because a couch potato that I am, I actually do love TV.
Anyhow, the work brought me to the happy realisation that I am not alone in, for example, my love of cookery, cleaning or decluttering shows, but that lots of people all over the world enjoy watching such programmes too!
One of my great favourites used to be House Doctor in which a very bossy Californian woman called Ann Maurice would come and help people in England who were having trouble selling their houses. She would basically come and tell them how to declutter their space and 'stage' the property i.e. set it up to look its best and appear clean, soothing and tasteful to potential buyers. This involved various amusing situations, many of them involving animals: one couple kept a cage full of ferrets in their backyard and seemed unable to comprehend why this might put off potential buyers; another had eleven dogs living inside the house and was astonished to learn that 'doggie odour' was not appealing to people viewing the property.
So the House Doctor would breeze in, order the owners to pack up all their bric-a-brac, to depersonalise the space, to pick dirty underwear up off the floor, wash up the dishes and so on. Then she would paint all the rooms in soothing neutral colours and generally arrange the furniture and decor to make everything look quite beautiful. Along the way she would also berate the British for their love of lace curtains, (which she detests) and dogs.
The most exciting bit, of course, would be seeing the before-and-after scenes as that would make the transformation most evident and amazing. The before-and-after scenes are the highlight of many of these shows -- be it home improvement programmes or shows in which people are taught how to dress better (What not to Wear) or look more youthful (Ten Years younger). And, of course, these shows are exciting to us because they give us hope for ourselves -- show us the way to self-improvement in several easy steps.
But what I find a little bit disturbing about many TV shows these days is how so many of them -- especially the American ones -- encourage people to come and be humiliated on national television. Whether it is the weirdos on America's got Talent or the aspiring models in America's Next Top Model show or the home owners in House Doctor, they all have to listen to some very harsh words about themselves.
I'm not very keen on the public humiliation aspect of these shows and I do think this tendency needs to be curbed, because although it can generate much entertainment, it really is quite cruel. But what I love, and what I think also has real personal and social value, is the learning aspect of these shows. Top chefs show you how to prepare good fresh food and tell you all the dos and don'ts surrounding their cooking; they teach you skills and discuss the seasonal and nutritional aspect of ingredients. Style experts give you advice on home decor and personal appearance, and cleaning experts give you advice on how to clean properly.
Yes, I admit it: my new favourite show is called Houses Behaving Badly in which very messy, dirty houses are put right by a duo of a cleaner and a decorater. The precursor to this was a similar show called How Clean is Your House? in which two bossy women went in and cleaned up some very grubby properties. I find these shows fascinating because they show you how simple (and satisfying) cleaning can be, They give you a lot of very common-sensical and helpful advice -- for example they tell you you don't have to buy expensive commercial cleaners to do the work that is easily done using vinegar or bicarbonate of soda or lemon. They show you how best to maintain hygienic practices within the home and how to maximise your cleaning work (for example if you rub baby oil over just cleaned taps not only will they gleam in a quite five-star way, they will stay free of water spots for quite a long time; or you can rub shampoo onto stained collars before washing them to get rid of really bad stains).
Yes, the value of these shows is that they can teach you quite a lot. And in these days of spiralling costs and economic recession, we need to learn how to get best value for our money. We need to know that cleaner houses or a better diet are not necessarily the result of more money but of more knowledge.
On this positive note I think I should go and try to tidy up the house...