My body is in exile but my soul is in Pakistan – Altaf Hussain
By Murtaza Ali Shah
Altaf Hussain, the supreme leader and founder of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), speaks candidly to The News on Sunday in an exclusive interview and maintains that only his party has the liberal and progressive agenda to make Pakistan a truly democratic and forward looking country as envisaged by its founder, Quadi-e-Azam Muhhamad Ali Jinnah. 

Taal Matol
Two gems for Lahoris
By Shoaib Hashmi
It's the silly season again. It happens every year and it gets us by surprise every year. After the long hot summer this year, aggravated by the incessant load shedding, finally the Monsoon makes its appearance, and all the hair-brained schemes you could possibly think of appear on the scene. I have only two pieces to offer but they are gems.

case
Vulnerable as ever
Another incident of violence ensued by alleged blasphemy. Another reason to believe the minorities need protection. Only this time the administration plays an actively positive role
By Waqar Gillani

Bahmani Wala village, 5 kilometres from the Kasur city, comprises around one thousand houses, at least one hundred of which are inhabited by Christians. The last day of June 2009 saw most of these 100 houses in a damaged condition, seemingly attacked. Although the houses were not dilapidated completely, broken doors and walls were visible. The next day, the nervous residents of these houses, stood scattered along their homes.

Man who spoke his mind
More than twenty years after his demise, Waris Mir's words are pertinent
By Sana Mir
Prof Waris Mir belonged to that era of Pakistan's history when speaking one's mind was a punishable offence. This age was of the appalling martial law regime of General Ziaul Haq who used to treat progressive minds, scholastic writers and philosophic thinkers as blasphemers. Speaking out, that too at the behest of the people of Pakistan, with a mission in mind -- 'to write for the posterity, to speak as the people's voice' -- was a task not many could take up in those oppressive days. Reverberating in those days as much as now is the voice of Waris Mir who had debated through writings the dire need we face as a nation for progressive thinking, the obligation we have to move forward and not just let elements of the rearward rot the country right from the core. Too late, cynics might scoff but to optimists like Waris Mir himself, it's still better than never.

RIPPLE EFFECT
Travelling in a train
By Omar R Quraishi
The last time I travelled on a train in Pakistan was in early 2006 when the Khokhrapar-Munabao rail link was being revived by the Indian and Pakistani governments. The train ride was not too bad, probably because it took place in February and the weather was quite cool. Plus, for a large part of the journey, the train travelled on apparently a narrow gauge track and had to travel at a very slow speed -- and this was in the early morning and the whole of Tharparkar was filled with fog that day and one could see a head every now so often of a Bheel or a Kohli women (the local Hindu tribes that inhabit the area) and an arm every now and then with bangles all the way from the wrist to a few inches above the elbow.

 

 

 

Taal Matol

Two gems for Lahoris

By Shoaib Hashmi

It's the silly season again. It happens every year and it gets us by surprise every year. After the long hot summer this year, aggravated by the incessant load shedding, finally the Monsoon makes its appearance, and all the hair-brained schemes you could possibly think of appear on the scene. I have only two pieces to offer but they are gems.

We are very proud of our town you see, and the one thing that has been bothering us lately is the proliferation of billboards. All over town there are these huge ads touting dozens of mobile phones, and ice creams and milks. We don't think we could do without the phones but there have been long editorials in the papers, from concerned citizens, saying there must be an end to these huge billboards.

Last week the city administration suddenly woke up to all the billboards, and issued instructions to the authorities that all billboards be removed. All. The rum thing about it is that the administration has long caught on to the trick of charging the advertisers huge sums for their ads. And there are a dozen or more phone companies with millions of clients.

And can you imagine Times Square without adverts? Or for that matter Piccadilly Circus? I believe during the World War II they kept the adverts in Piccadilly switched off. But that was a World War. And the bottom line is that we, too, are at war. And that shows up in different things.

The GOR Estate is a posh locality right in the centre of town which was created by the British to house their own provincial administration. It has stayed the same, housing the officers of the province. It has tree-lined streets criss-crossing it all over. The administration decided to close all the streets except those that could be patrolled, in the interest of security.

All officers who had offices anywhere in town also decided to close streets leading to them. The people of Lahore baulked and moved the High Court, which immediately decided that these officers were deputed to protect others and not themselves ordering all roads to be opened. Now walls are coming down all over town.

Personally I don't think the stuff about getting rid of the billboards is going anywhere. There are simply too many people with too many phones to take it lying down. And if they insist, there is always the High Court. And if that doesn't work, the administration will find out it has no money.


case

Vulnerable as ever

Another incident of violence ensued by alleged blasphemy. Another reason to believe the minorities need protection. Only this time the administration plays an actively positive role

By Waqar Gillani

Bahmani Wala village, 5 kilometres from the Kasur city, comprises around one thousand houses, at least one hundred of which are inhabited by Christians. The last day of June 2009 saw most of these 100 houses in a damaged condition, seemingly attacked. Although the houses were not dilapidated completely, broken doors and walls were visible. The next day, the nervous residents of these houses, stood scattered along their homes.

As we visited the village on July 2, we found the walls of some of these houses and shops on the road leading to the village had slogans chalked on them. The chalkings were from before the present incident, urging Muslims not to hesitate sacrificing their lives for the dignity of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and bore the name of Sunni Tehreek.

Muhammad Shafique, a member of the local Union Council, narrated the incident that, supposedly, started this tension leading to violence between the Muslim and Christian communities. According to him, 35-year-old Sardar Masih, who works on contract on the land of a Muslim elder, was coming back from the fields on his tractor on the unpaved narrow path leading to the village. "Chaudhry Riaz and another person from the Chaudhry clan were coming from the opposite direction on a motorbike. At the crossing, the Chaudhrys asked Sardar to let them pass first. Sardar refused to oblige and a quarrel ensued. Later, the Chaudhrys, who felt humiliated, went to Sardar's house and beat the entire family."

"When the Chaudhrys went to Sardar's house to beat the Christian family on the night between June 29 and 30, the Christians committed blasphemy against the Holy Prophet (PBUH)," said Shan, 22, a young Muslim man who is also related to the Chaudhrys.

The next day, June 30, saw protests in the village against the alleged blasphemy by the Christians. Shan was in the forefront of these protests against the Christians. "The angry protesters desecrated the small church of this underdeveloped Christian colony. They set ablaze and looted the Christians' houses. They beat our family members and tore the clothes of women. They did not even spare the animals," Babar Masih, a 27-year-old resident told TNS.

"A local mosque's khateeb, Maulvi Latif -- associated with Sunni Tehrik and famous for his fiery speeches -- started instigating the Muslims to unite and "teach a lesson" to Christians," said Chaudhry Ahmed Ali Tolu, the Pakistan People's Party MPA, who decided to visit this village in his constituency after the incident while talking to TNS. "We are unfortunate to have people like Maulvi Latif here who runs an organisation named Tanzeem-e-Uqab in the village. He rallied this mob with the help of the village youth."

Another witness, Mehar Muhammad Ashraf recalled: "I saw the Christian locality in flames that evening. I saw two Christian girls, from the adjacent street, jumping from the walls of their houses whom we gave shelter in our house." He added that many Christians, scared for their lives, spent the rest of the night in the fields.

"If the Chaudhrys had a problem with us, why vandalise the whole community?" questioned Channan Masih, father of Sardar. He showed the damaged house and Sardar's mother who was allegedly beaten up by the mob.

District Coordination Officer (DCO) Kasur, Abdul Jabbar Shaheen, has been working on efforts to control the situation and stop the boycott of Christians by Muslims. Shaheen has not only condemned this vandalism but also apologised to the Christians apart from forming a committee comprising elders from both the sides to negotiate. "This was a sensitive matter and we are focusing on the rehabilitation of the minority community," Shaheen told TNS.

It is pertinent to note here that no blasphemy case was registered against the Christians and the administration is believed to have played an important role in ensuring that. Even though an FIR was registered by the Chaudhrys the same evening about the quarrel on June 29 -- a criminal case vide FIR No. 460,under section 148/149, 337/379 A2, A1, L2, F1 of Pakistan penal code, with police station Sadar Kasur, against eight nominated and three unknown Christians of the village. Reportedly, on June 30, when the protestors attacked the Christians the police were also there to arrest the accused Christians under the above-mentioned case.

Cecil Chaudhry, noted educationist and human rights activist, who visited the village on Saturday July 5, 2009, along with federal minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, Father Mani and others including MPAs, wishing to set "certain records straight", notes in a widely circulated email: "Whereas the residents furniture was damaged/destroyed and the taken out into an open area and set on fire, no house was 'set ablaze.' All the damaged/destroyed electric meters and water pumps were replaced within 24 hours by the local authorities. The Muslims of the village have since apologized to the affected Christians and a peace committee has been set up to restore interfaith harmony. The total families affected were 57. The local authorities, specially the DCO; the DPO; the local Muslim MPA and the Tehsil Nazim fully cooperated with the affectees and did not allow an FIR to be registered against any Christian under Section 295 A or B. In fact they brought it to the notice of the Muslim Community in this and neighbouring villages that no blasphemy in any form had been committed.

"Compensation pledged is as follows:

a) Rs. 20,000 each family by the Tehsil Council

b) Rs.100,000 per family by the Punjab Government and

c) Rs.100,000 per family by the Federal Government

Presently total peace and harmony prevails amongst all the residents of this village. The instigators will be taken to task in accordance with law."

Little wonder that while talking to TNS Cecil Chaudhry sees some positive developments in the whole incident. "The local MPA handled it very sensibly. Also, the police did not arrest the Christians -- something that usually happens in such situations." He demanded the government to identify the culprits who had instigated violence in the name of blasphemy. Cecil believes the event is "a clear example of misuse of blasphemy laws and lack of education. All this would have never happened if the mosque had announced that no blasphemy was committed." What needs to be done, he believes, is a thorough investigation instead of just taking everything at face value.

Cecil Chaudhry proposes a solution that is not new -- repeal such controversial laws and not just make procedural changes. He sees these laws as the basic reason behind the 'collective punishment' to an entire community to settle personal scores.

(The writer went to Bahmani Wala village on July 2 along with the fact-finding mission of HRCP and Sharing Life Ministry. He conducted his own investigations into the incident.

Email: [email protected])

 

Man who spoke his mind

More than twenty years after his demise, Waris Mir's words are pertinent

By Sana Mir

Prof Waris Mir belonged to that era of Pakistan's history when speaking one's mind was a punishable offence. This age was of the appalling martial law regime of General Ziaul Haq who used to treat progressive minds, scholastic writers and philosophic thinkers as blasphemers. Speaking out, that too at the behest of the people of Pakistan, with a mission in mind -- 'to write for the posterity, to speak as the people's voice' -- was a task not many could take up in those oppressive days. Reverberating in those days as much as now is the voice of Waris Mir who had debated through writings the dire need we face as a nation for progressive thinking, the obligation we have to move forward and not just let elements of the rearward rot the country right from the core. Too late, cynics might scoff but to optimists like Waris Mir himself, it's still better than never.

"The Muslim history is replete with examples of such environs from which great thinkers emerged, who challenged the totalitarian rulers of those times with their intellect. Even in those days, people who thought progressively bore the brunt of authoritarianism not just on their ponderings but also on the commitment to their cause," Waris Mir wrote, recollecting those past heroes of brain power with hopes to find intellectual compatibility with them since his peers had failed him. Didactic as it may sound, Waris Mir wrote with a purpose in mind -- awareness.

Waris Mir wrote endlessly exposing those people who used religion to benefit their own needs, the clerics who used religion for social status and General Zia who abused his faith to stay in power. "It's not just Islam," he wrote, "when we take a look at the West, even there the intellectual elite had once been enchained by the Church during the age of monarchy but in any part of the world it is impossible to stifle such a voice that is raised for the sake of the common people." A writer's pen belongs to the people, he used to say. He wasn't writing for a certain generation, "I believe in putting together history for the posterity."

Strikingly, the most grasping facet of Mir's writings is that they have an 'audible' quality. One doesn't read the text; one seems to be hearing it. He questions, lays down the case, explains with numerous examples, reaches out to every member of the society and argues like a seasoned advocate whose advocacy can never be rendered obsolete. The reader absorbs, agrees and registers like a student on the bench. Sadly to say, Pakistan needs Mir's progressive thought now as much as it did during the Zia regime. It is pertinent to mention here though, that matchless is the courage he showed in those days when a rogue dictator was holding the reigns of power -- "A nation that is alive and kicking shows its strength via its writers who would despite enormous pressure and suppressing restraints let out an expression against such monstrosity." He wasn't just writing to satisfy himself by doing his 'part', he believed the future of the people depended upon the flow of his pen.

Waris Mir was a strong proponent of freedom of expression. Of course a scholar who would think of tomorrow and how the future of an entire nation should be planned, would need breathing space to express his ideas. That breathing space was not something a military dictator could allow. Yet, Waris Mir was not one of those people who would ask permission to think, express and write. He wrote his heart out. His words would become even more pinching, even more stinging when the dictator of the time would try to freak him out or put a price on his commitment.

"Freedom of press means being able to have your say and freedom of thought means having the liberty of thinking originally and individually," his writings would negate the frustratingly remote regulations of Ziaul Haq's autocratic rule and encourage the people to think on their own instead of relying on the pseudo clerics. He was discouraged in many heinous ways from speaking his mind, from encouraging the people to think progressively and for that purpose, his only mechanism was the print media -- "When a country's media would honestly and truthfully give its people the access to real information (and not disinformation) the society would itself reflect values of honesty and truthfulness. If the media is given freedom of expression then the political system of a country would always be held accountable and thus just like volcanic lava, the impurities of the political system could be excreted out bit by bit. That sounds easier and manageable when compared to a huge explosion that could destroy the people, the system and the country."

A day before his death, Waris Mir had dictated his last column to one of his sons. That column, titled, 'Is Progressive Thinking water logging and fungus?' was written as a rebuttal to General Zia's speech in which the dictator had labelled progressive thinkers as water logging and fungus. This last piece of writing can easily be named as the culmination of the great writer's skill of penning most complex ideas into the simplest words. It is also the epitome of his expression of progressive thought. Excerpts read as: "When Zia talks about the enemies of Pakistan, he actually refers to those intellectuals who plead progression and whose desire is to see Pakistan emerge on the globe as a country that houses enlightened citizens. These thinkers want their people to grow intellectually and potentially so that they can themselves fight off poverty, illiteracy and orthodoxy. They want to see such political and economic systems in Pakistan which are not dependant on cosmetic reliance and these systems allow the citizens to boost their creative abilities and shape up their cultural norms in an appropriate way so that majority of the nation as well as the minorities can live a respectable life. Let that be clear, that only such progressive thinkers are the real friends of Pakistan. While on the other hand, the administrators of the present system of governance (dictatorship) are not concerned about Pakistan as much as they are about securing their own power. They can digest or ignore any anti-Pakistan rhetoric but lose their minds once they listen to anything criticizing their self-formulated systems."

While many hearts would have been warmed and many brains churned up by all those ideas Professor Waris Mir had expressed in his numerous writings, the didactical writer himself had to pay a price for freethinking and free expression. But it was a price too dire, too tragic and too painful. Waris Mir saddened many around him on July 9, 1987 as he breathed his last at the young age of 48 due to cardiac arrest. Yet, he continues to live through his words.

Prof Waris Mir's death anniversary was on 9th July 2009.

 

RIPPLE EFFECT

Travelling in a train

 

By Omar R Quraishi

The last time I travelled on a train in Pakistan was in early 2006 when the Khokhrapar-Munabao rail link was being revived by the Indian and Pakistani governments. The train ride was not too bad, probably because it took place in February and the weather was quite cool. Plus, for a large part of the journey, the train travelled on apparently a narrow gauge track and had to travel at a very slow speed -- and this was in the early morning and the whole of Tharparkar was filled with fog that day and one could see a head every now so often of a Bheel or a Kohli women (the local Hindu tribes that inhabit the area) and an arm every now and then with bangles all the way from the wrist to a few inches above the elbow.

That particular train journey itself was interesting because the train was the first one that had plied that route in over 40 years and was a major news event. However, one major drawback was that a few hours into the journey the bathrooms ran out of water -- and by that I mean no water -- period. What in the world does the Pakistan Railways management expect passengers to do in such an eventuality? The result was that many of the passengers were trying their best to get hold of mineral water bottles so that they could use them for the latrines -- one professional colleague also travelling on the train wondered whether the train mineral water mafia was behind all of this.

Before that my last train ride in Pakistan, 1988, was right after my A levels and was from Karachi to Lahore on the once legendary Tezgam. We met several quite interesting characters on that journey including a farmer-cum-gentleman (whatever that means) who got on the train in Multan and proceeded to have an animated conversation with us (just out of high school) on the merits and demerits of democracy and military rule.

And now this past week, one had to travel to Lahore again -- and this time it was in the apparent jewel of the PR's crown, the recently-introduced Karakoram Express. Again, the train ride was not that bad -- and for whatever it's worth, the train did leave Karachi on time -- a mere five minutes past its scheduled departure of 4.00 pm and arrived in Lahore (via Hyderabad, Rohri, Khanewal and Faisalabad) half an hour late. At Toba Tek Singh it stopped for half an hour, and began reversing, many of the children in the bogey began to wonder whether we were going back to Karachi.

I asked the man who was in charge of renting out pillows and blankets (40 rupees apiece for the whole journey) and he said that the train had ran over a 'budda baba' and that they were reversing the train to recover whatever was left of him. The same afternoon, after we had arrived in the hotel, I saw a ticker on Geo saying that a 40 year old man had been run over by the Karakoram Express near Toba Tek Singh. I wondered -- as I did when the pillow-renter told me -- that how could they have managed to do the 'kaarvaee' so quickly. Would the train have moved on in just 30 minutes had it run over say an important man's motorcade killing him on the spot?

Again the one blemish -- and a big one at that -- was that an hour or so after leaving Karachi (and I am not exaggerating) the train's bathrooms ran out of water! Indeed, does the PR management expect full-fare paying passengers to bring their own water for use in the train's lavatories? Surely, something needs to be done about this because this is an important part of any journey. At the Rohri stop, I was told by a fellow traveller, the latrines were filled in one bogey after its male passengers said that they would not let the train leave the station until this was done. They said without water they could not do any 'wazoo' for their prayers. And lo and behold, they got water in their bathrooms. The fellow traveller said after he saw this and had gotten off on the platform to buy (you guessed it: mineral water!). He also told the station authorities the same thing and it worked. The water in our bogey's lavatories lasted till around Toba Tek Singh, running out around the same time that the train ran over that 'budda baba'.

Compared to this travelling in trains, overseas is quite a different experience. As a student in a university in New York City, I would often travel to Philadelphia (to visit friends in a university there) and would take two local trains. Also I would sometimes travel on Amtrak (the main American inter-city train service) to Boston or Washington and often the trains moved too fast and the region was too industrialised for the journey to be even remotely interesting. Plus, people used the local trains especially so much that all they did was read and/or sleep as they travelled. There was also this interesting train journey on a trip to Japan some years ago -- a bullet train from Tokyo to Hiroshima, some 600 kilometres away. The speed meant that the distance (around the distance between Karachi and Multan) was covered in a mere three hours but again the speed was so high that the only thing that one really managed to see with some degree of continuity was Mount Fuji in the far distance.

Perhaps the one train journey that I would definitely like to be on -- regardless of the state of the lavatories -- is this service that connects Lhasa to Beijing and other major Chinese cities. Called the Qingzang Railway, it is around 2000 kilometres in length and around 960 kms of the track is above 4,000 metres, and 550 of that is on permafrost. It reaches its highest point, the highest for a rail track in the world, at the Tangula Pass which is over 5,000 metres above sea level. That's the equivalent of having a rail service from Lahore to Kashgar in China -- across the Khunjerab pass!

The writer is Editorial Pages

Editor of The News.

Email: [email protected]


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