Scheduled castes in three districts of southern Punjab share their tales of socio-economic and political deprivation
By Zulfiqar Shah
Kanji Ram Menghwar, a young member of Sadiqabad district council, has good news to share with his scheduled caste community: the government has declared Hindu festivals like Holi and Dewali as official holidays. He came to know of this in his meeting with Ejazul Haq, minister for religious affairs. He held a copy of the notification provided by the minister like a sacred document.
For a community, which stands at the bottom in social and economic indicators and has been a victim of social exclusion on the basis of caste and religion, even this simple government gesture was like a dream come true.
Sadiqabad, Rahimyar Khan and Bahawalpur, three districts of southern Punjab, which also share borders with Sindh, have a sizeable population of scheduled castes -- Bheel, Kolhi, Menghwar, Balmaki and Jogi.
These castes, which are commonly considered minority within minority, rarely see people from majority faith around them interacting or discussing issues concerning their socio-economic and political deprivation. If and when such a rare opportunity is provided, they just burst out. This is what exactly happened last week at a day-long consultation on 'caste- based discrimination' held in in Rahimyar Khan that brought together about 50 men and women from scheduled castes.
They have so many stories to tell -- ranging from complaints of downplaying their number in population census to forced conversion. The worst comes in the shape of refusal of food and other services at common places or what's commonly known as 'untouchability'.
According to population census report of 1998, the only authentic government document on the population prepared a decade ago, scheduled caste population in Rahimyar Khan and Bahawalpur districts is 17459 and 876 respectively.
But quoting this data is like abusing the community, which is already marginalised. "These figures are totally wrong," comments Bhayya Ram Anjum, who has twice contested the election for provincial assembly. "There are more than 50,000 Hindu registered voters in Rahimyar Khan, ninety per cent of whom are scheduled castes," is his angry response to the official data.
Lala Mehar Lal Bheel, a former MPA, shares Ram's anger: "The population census data is absolutely incorrect. We have raised this issue time and again but nobody listened." In his view, this is the beginning of discrimination meted out to the scheduled caste population. "When our actual numbers in population are not accounted for, what else may we expect."
They agreed that a large portion of those described as scheduled castes have wrongly been included in Hindu (Jati) category. During census, people are usually asked about their caste and they reply by saying: 'Hindu'. This way those scheduled castes that did not specifically describe them as such are counted in the boarder category of Hindus.
According to census report total population of Hindus in Pakistan is 21,11,171. Of this only 332,343 are identified as scheduled castes and rest as Jatis (upper castes). But Lala Mehar says the fact is quite opposite. "More than 90 per cent of Hindus in Pakistan are scheduled castes. That means our population is around two million even according to government figures."
There are also chances that many of the scheduled castes are completely left out during the head-count due to their social invisibility. "In many cases we are even not considered humans; what difference does it make if we are not included in census," says Nathu Ram, a young participant of the consultation.
Scheduled castes in this part of the country, young and old and women and men, say they face discrimination and hatred in every walk of life with no one talking about this issue. "Every body hates us; often we are asked to sit on floor in hospitals and other places," says Kanya Lal, 30, from a basti near Rahimyar Khan. "We are told that we are Menghwar and deserve this treatment."
Kanya Lal gets emotionally charged when he shares how a nurse refused to treat his sister when they went to a local private hospital after a severe pain in her teeth. "She said she won't pollute her hands by touching my sister."
It's interesting to hear such stories despite tall claims by state and non-state actors that there is no question of caste-based discrimination in Pakistan. In reality exclusion on the basis of caste is present in its worst form. The scheduled caste Hindus particularly Kolhi, Bheel, Menghwar, Bagri, Balmaki face discrimination in the shape of untouchability. They are often termed achoot (untouchable) by faithful Muslims and also by upper caste Hindus.
This discrimination haunts them from Tharparker in the bottom of Sindh to Rahimyar Khan in southern Punjab. There is hardly any change in the pattern of social, economic and political exclusion and forms of discrimination against this group of citizens -- regardless of which part of the country they reside.
They are not welcome at hotels and restaurants to share utensils and barbers refuse to offer them services. In some instances they have been physically humiliated when eating in hotels when they dared to break this rule.
"My friend and me were literally beaten up in Khanpur when we attempted to eat in a hotel," says a young man who doesn't want to be quoted by name. He says he and his friend were eating in a hotel in Khanpur but were pushed out when some other clients pointed that we were non-Muslims.
Similarly, a young student of pre-medical shares how scheduled caste Hindu students are described as polluted. "The most frequent comment is that we do not take bath for months and emit a bad smell," says Shankar.
The day-long candid interaction with the group suggests that they face discrimination at both public and private spheres. Add to the injury is complete silence particularly on the part of so called intellectuals and liberals from majority religion.
It's actually the caste system coupled with class. Discussions with different groups suggest that there may be a little space for the highly educated which is a rare breed anyway; uneducated and poor Hindus are the worst victims. These are literally broken people and there would be no harm to describe them as Pakistani Dalits.
Scheduled caste women say they are easily identified from their dresses and face multiple discrimination. "When we go to bazaar, we are asked not to touch the things but ask the price from a distance," says a woman participant. "We also face discrimination in public transport and are treated like second class citizens." They also complain of sexual harassment.
A look at the demography of these communities reveals that both in Sindh and Punjab, they are residing in districts near the Indian border. The assumption is that upper caste Hindus left the country at the time of partition but these dalits couldn't because they did not have the means to do so. Ironically, scheduled castes in these two areas are in the same condition regardless of the development of the area.
For instance, the conditions of Kolhi, Bheel and Menghwar in district Rahimyar Khan is not different from that of the same castes in Tharparker and Umerkot, despite the difference in development indicators of the two areas -- district Rahimyar Khan is supposedly better-off.
"They live in pathetic conditions," says Bushra Khanum, a Multan based social scientist who has recently conducted a series of field visits to the area as part of a research study. "They live in literally inhuman conditions." She says of the 20 bastis (villages) visited by her, majority has no basic amenities including health facilities and sewerage. "Hardly two or three bastis had a primary school and that too in bad conditions."
She says, in Chak No 115, women had to walk a long way just to bring drinking water. "These communities are really poorest of the poor. Their biggest demand was a common toilet." Toilets and latrines are a frequent demand of excluded population groups including scheduled castes and bonded labour but the government development programmes have no provision for this basic facility.
Unfortunately, these Pakistani dalits are also not visible in donor-prescribed development programmes -- as reflected from their obviously pathetic conditions. Heavy funding by multilateral donors has also failed to target these communities.
Though the state of Pakistan has promised equal treatment to minorities and even the national flag carries a white portion, a symbol of minorities, that promise has yet to be fulfilled.
Obviously, there is widespread poverty in Pakistan and Muslims may make majority of the poor because of their size of population; social exclusion on the basis of caste, religion, work, ethnicity and gender is rampant.
There is an urgent need to break the culture of silence on the issue. The debate and discussion would need a follow-up strategy to bring in rapid change in the lives of those ignored for decades.
A faith issue
Lala Mehar Lal Bheel, a former minority MPA from Bahawalpur, has many documents which he has moved time and again drawing attention of authorities to the plight of scheduled castes in Pakistan, particularly in Southern Punjab.
From seeking land rights for scheduled castes residing in Cholistan to ban on forced conversion, he has suggested several remedies to bring in a change in the lives of Pakistani dalits.
In his unending struggle for rights, the 70-year-old Lala Bheel has a very few successes stories to tell. More recently he has been able to convince DIG police Bahawalpur division to send a letter to officers urging them to take due care while dealing with cases of kidnapping and forced conversion of girls and women belonging to minorities.
The letter issued on January 31, 2007 reveals that it's actually not a new instruction but reiteration of orders that were passed by the provincial government in 1981. According to the orders, a minority girl kidnapped should immediately be recovered and separated from captors. The claim of conversion should be independently verified and made without any pressure.
Ironically, these and other such instructions are frequently violated. Representatives of Bheel and Menghwar, two major scheduled castes from Rahimyar Khan and Bahawalpur, blame that their girls and women are kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam. They say police refuses to lodge an FIR due to their weaker social and political position; then they hear that the girl had converted to Islam and got married on her own. All this comes happens at the captors home or a madrasa. The girls' families are provided no chance to check the authenticity of the claim.
"We understand that we are poor and we may not have as many rights as Muslims but at least we should have the security of our honour," complains Peter Jan Bheel.
The constitution of Pakistan, the supreme law of the country, makes protection of property and honour of citizens an obligation of the state without any discrimination. It has failed to discharge this responsibility so far.
Lala Bheel suggests the formation of a commission to investigate and oversee the process of faith conversion. "This is a serious issue and should be verified by an official commission comprising members from all faiths and not a mullah," he added.
Participants of the consultation claim that the trend of kidnapping of girls from scheduled castes and then their conversion has increased in recent years where young girls have been kidnapped and forcibly converted. Usually a girl disappears with a Muslim man. Then comes an announcement of conversion at the place of a religious cleric followed by court marriage.
Many people particularly the Muslims in Rahimyar Khan say that girls leave their homes on their free will to convert to get married to Muslim men. It's also interesting to note that many Muslims believe that scheduled caste girls convert to get rid of extreme poverty and discrimination they face.
Lala Bheel and Bukhsha Ram, also a former MPA, say they been hearing this rhetoric for long time. "Our argument is that the girl should be provided independence to decide," says Lala. "Once she is kidnapped, police should recover her and she should be allowed to live with her parents for 15 days before asking for a statement in court."
They also complained that police is not willing to lodge FIR. Once a Muslim man kidnaps a Hindu girl, it becomes a religious issues. "We are told that we should forget her because she is Muslim now," says added Bheel.
-- Zulfiqar Shah
By Shoaib Hashmi
It is said that when the French finally took back the last bit of French territory the English had lorded over for long, the English Queen Mary Tudor sighed, "When I die they will find the word 'Calais' etched on my heart"! One could understand the sentiment. After all she was descended from Eleanor of Aquitaine, the mother of Lion Heart who had brought vast tracts of land on the continent in her inheritance and her dowry.
Also from Henry V who had claimed, and won a sizeable empire in France; and on her father's side she was descended from Katherine of Valois who was a French princess, married to Henry V as 'Inheriteure' of France, and as such had a personal claim to a stake in French territory. One can get emotionally attached to possessions, and lament their loss, and be willing to live and die to keep possession.
We in Pakistan, and especially our bureaucrats have picked up a very peculiar version of the sentiment. It is a tenet of their profession that whatever 'posting' they go to is for a limited period, and a few years later they go on to the next one. But somehow it is also built into their mind-set that they go to each with a preconceived and very strong sense of possession, they think of it as a personal fief and are again willing to live and die for it.
A current case in point is the Lahore Fort, and a few other crumbling pieces of real estate spread across the province. In case you have missed out on the fun and games till now, there is a cute little fight brewing between the Archaeology Departments of the Province, and the Centre. It has come down to personal invective, and promises to descend into brickbats in the near future.
It seems that for some time the provincial Archaeology Department had been pleading with the centre to transfer possession of all the protected historical monuments in the area to it, to enable them to properly look after them and conserve them. A few weeks ago the centre agreed and transferred possession to the Punjab. The ink on the notification was barely dry when the Central Department backtracked, cancelled the transfer and, for the heck of it, threw in accusations of incompetence at the province.
Understandably enough the province squawked. The DG asked how the centre could accuse anyone of incompetence in maintaining the monuments, when they are the ones who have been in charge for the last sixty years! He might as well save his breath. No one is going to reply.
As I said the whole shtick is about possession. After all transfer to the province does not mean the Punjab DG is going to wrap the bloody Fort in a ribbon with a cute bow and take it home! Nor can the centre take it home. It is only good if it stays where it is, and continues to be known as the legacy of the past.
But then our attitude to that too is very different from the rest of the world. A previous set of archaeology wallahs put in some effort getting the Badshahi Mosque repaired. Good job or not is not the point. The point it that then they went ahead and planted two humungous stone slates giving a list of their own names and lauding their own efforts in the repair. Each slate is a good three feet by six.
Sadly, for them, I met up with the then DG at a dinner, where he held forth on how their work deserved recognition. I couldn't resist it. I told him when he was very young a surgeon had also performed a very delicate service for him, which also deserved recognition. And supposing he had decided to hang a little plaque with his name at the site of his little operation? I haven't spoken to him since.
The whole exercise of declaration of assets is skewed against politicians, does not lead to prosecution in case of false declarations or ask for the source of income
By Adnan Rehmat
Accountability is the cornerstone of good governance and transparency in official and personal dealings by public office holders is a prerequisite of fairness. The litmus test for fairness is that when there is a conflict of interest the public office holders can demonstrably sacrifice either the public office or their personal interest.
How do public office holders in Pakistan measure up on these principles? It is hard to exercise confidence at the citizen's level on this count in the absence of a practiced mechanism for the public office holders to justify their increasing riches linked to their respective stations.
A case in point is the voluminous 1,334-page document released by the Election Commission of Pakistan outlining the declaration of assets and liabilities of the country's parliamentarians. The declaration is an annual requirement by not just the parliamentarians but also the bureaucracy, including the judiciary, the armed forces and the judges.
Unfair spread of blame
While making public of the declarations of the peoples representatives is very welcome -- providing as it does the opportunity to evaluate the financial status of parliamentarians -- in the absence of a likewise public unveiling of all those paid from the national exchequer, a comparative analysis of which sector is becoming more well off -- or otherwise -- remains skewed against politicians and thus smacks of unfairness. The blame -- or credit -- for good or bad governance is thus unfairly distributed.
It is not merely a coincidence that the traditional establishment -- comprising the military, bureaucracy and judiciary -- are not treated in the same vein of making public the annual declarations of assets and liabilities of their members. Technically the Freedom of Information law empowers the citizen to access these details, but it is an arduously designed access that ensures that even the bravest of the brave will fall by the wayside trying.
On the surface it all seems perfect: the parliamentarians are required to file annual declarations of assets and liabilities of their persons and their immediate family members. And they do just that. The idea is for all those interested to be able to verify for themselves if any public representative has been amassing wealth due to unfair means, perhaps by virtue of improved access to resources that their enhanced clout lends them -- that which is beyond the ordinary mortals.
However, that's where it stops. Institutionalisation of the concept of accountability in Pakistan is restricted, in practice, to drafting laws and information filing. There is no mechanism that enforces automatic evaluation of the difference between the current and preceding declarations. Or, the next stage: verification. Without this necessary corollary, there is no means to determine legitimacy of financial gains. Or determination of the authenticity of the claims. Without this how can you determine if a true or false claim has been filed?
The deterrent value
How many in Pakistan -- parliamentarians, judges, generals and bureaucrats -- have been prosecuted against false declaration of assets and liabilities and proven in a court of law? The process is implemented as an exception rather than a rule. Hence the absence of deterrence that the concept of accountability boasts. Because of a glaring lack of automatic enforcement and follow-through processes, the concept of accountability remains cosmetic.
Several parliamentarians have declared they do not own a car. Many claim they do not own a house. Others declare millions in assets but declare no sources of income. It all stretches incredulity. While you don't need to own a house, car or a business in your own name to be rich by virtue of familial bonds, where is the system that puts in place a conflict of interest regime that requires ongoing monitoring against personal gains while holding public office? Where is the transparent system that guards against ministers who own businesses from holding portfolios whose management of the business sector will benefit them?
No wonder there is a trust deficit between the rulers and the ruled in Pakistan. In many places across the world the public perceives politicians to be corrupt but in few places where transparent accountability systems are in place and where mechanisms exist that can catch any erring beneficiary do people lose faith and hope as they have in Pakistan.
Abuse of power
The traditionally low level of trust in governments is symptomatic of a larger malaise afflicting current-day Pakistan where corruption is not restricted to finances but also abuse of office. This is reflected in a survey by Transparency International titled: 'Corruption in South Asia: Insights & Benchmarks from Citizen Feedback Surveys in Five Countries [including Pakistan].'
Says the report: "In Pakistan the continuity of parliament is a key problem which results in a lack of accountability and increases the risk of corruption. The parliament acts as a very vibrant and active institution in India, while the parliamentary system in Pakistan has proved itself, on the whole, to be weak because the prime minister rules primarily by presidential guidance. The parliament's role in Pakistan has been fundamentally weakened by legislators with low integrity, reflecting the overall political culture where the desire for power at all costs has meant political expediency."
It adds: "The Pakistan political system is highly elitist, with candidates and political leaders largely drawn from the feudal classes and, in recent years, the affluent business classes. Most political parties are personality-driven, with virtually no alternative leadership. Political parties in Pakistan have suffered from a low-level of institutionalism and do not play an active role in a non-electoral context. Observers note that political parties have not only been a part of unfair and rigged elections, but they have also been a cause for the destabilization of politics and of the institution of democracy."
Facilitators of corruption
Strong words indeed against political parties, their leaders and parliament but other major actors do not escape blame: According to the 2006 Transparency International corruption perception index report, the weak performance of many countries, including Pakistan, indicates that the facilitators of corruption continue to assist political elites to launder, store and otherwise profit from unjustly acquired wealth, which often includes looted state assets. The 'facilitators' is probably an allusion to the establishment.
The Pakistani government may be making efforts to curb financial corruption and the higher judiciary taking up some public interest cases such as alleged impropriety in Steel Mills privatisation and unnecessary appointments of advisors and special assistants to the chief ministers but the success of any reform initiative requires strong political will and commitment that is beyond the current political dispensation. It is not a one-off thing. And it is certainly not limited to declaration of assets and liabilities.
Without developing a comprehensive strategy in the broader framework of governance to address corruption the public perception will remain poor. This is because corruption is not just misuse of public money; it is also abuse of power. The very fact that the military is in power in Pakistan -- the head of state and the army chief being the same person who disregards his own promises to step down -- is violation of the spirit of the constitution and its supremacy. Until misuse of public authority is pursued as vigorously as are cases of financial impropriety, Pakistan will have to continue declaring annually a shrinking list of assets and a lengthening list of liabilities.
Sohail Qalandar may have been recovered but threats to journalists and mediamen continue
By Javed Aziz Khan
Sohail Qalandar, resident editor of Daily Express, has been recently recovered from the captivity of kidnappers in the tribal Khyber Agency. Qalandar, who was picked up along with a friend on January 2 from Hayatabad apparently by professional kidnappers for the purpose of ransom, spent 51 days in captivity where they were frequently tortured. "I was asked to sign an affidavit that I won't write against the smugglers and kidnappers in future which I did not," remarked Qalandar after his release.
The credit of his safe and sound release goes to the journalist community that launched an aggressive campaign to put pressure on the federal and provincial governments to recover the newsman. The issue was taken up in the National Assembly and Senate and later the prime minister had to lead the hunt for the missing editor. Though the journalists' organisations were demanding action against the abductors, nothing has been done to nab any of the kidnappers.
"We join our Pakistani colleagues in expressing relief about the return of Sohail Qalandar and call on the government to investigate and explain who held these two men for 50 days," said Joel Simon, Executive Director Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
"Four journalists were murdered in Pakistan last year and some 20 media workers were abducted," said Christopher Warren, president of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), while talking to reporters at a news conference where he expressed dissatisfaction over the measures taken by the Pakistan government for the security of the newsmen
In view of the frequent attacks on the freedom of press, it appears that Pakistan has been rightly declared the third worst troubled country for media persons. Newsmen have been, and are, being killed, kidnapped, harassed and manhandled by criminal networks, law enforcing agencies, cabinet ministers as well as militant organisations.
The case of Hayatullah stands most prominent among the list. He had been missing for around six months when suddenly his body was found. Two journalists belonging to Waziristan were killed over a year back while a BBC correspondent, Dilawar Wazir, was kidnapped for a day when he was on his way from Islamabad to Dera Ismail Khan. Dilawar has now settled abroad after being tortured and hurled threats from different sides. A television cameraman was threatened in Swat when he was filming the activities of a newly emerging religious outfit while a journalist from Quetta, Sami, went mysteriously missing last month.
Apart from these incidents, a senior journalist based at Islamabad was thrashed by the armed guards of a federal minister a few months back while police beat up newsmen at a federal capital hotel where they were covering a bomb blast.
Adding to the misery of the media people, a previously unheard militant organisation, Islami Taliban, has issued a so-called decree to kill three Darra Adamkhel based journalists for what they call "spying against the militants". One of the three newsmen mentioned in the decree is Munawwar Afridi, correspondent of The News at the tribal town known for manufacturing guns, while the two others are Wazir Afridi of Daily Khabrain and Nisar Afridi of Daily Akhbar. Besides, the decree also directs the mujahideen to kill a local religious leader, a government official and six others.
"They are hypocrites who are spying against the militants. Those who have any contacts with these hypocrites are directed to stay away otherwise their murder would also be legitimate," reads the so-called decree circulated in different parts of Darra.
The Tribal Union of Journalists has dispatched a copy of the pamphlet along with a letter to the Governor NWFP Ali Mohammad Jan Aurakzai and its copies have been sent to the Corps Commander Hamid Khan and Secretary Security FATA, Arbab Mohammad Arif.
Darra Adamkhel is a mountainous pass between the provincial capital and southern Kohat district, some 35 kilometres from Peshawar. The town has become troubled only recently after a group threatened to bomb the local girls' schools if the students continued coming without typical shuttlecock burqas. Apart from that a number of video centres have been blown up in the area during the past many months and not a single person behind all these activities is yet to be arrested.
The fresh decree triggered fear waves among the entire population and four of the eleven mentioned people had to seek public apology. The authenticity of the pamphlet is yet to be known to realise whether it was a serious threat or some miscreants had circulated a few papers just to harass the people mentioned in the document. However, it has forced many of those mentioned in the death warrant to take shelter in safer places to avoid any attack by the fanatics and seek public apology.
"Four persons who were mentioned in the decree pasted posters at the entrance of mosques, stating they had never hindered the activities of militants nor were they spies of government," Munawwar Afridi told TNS. It should be noted that a local newsman and president of the local journalists' body, Naseer Afridi, had been killed in the town some months back.
Not a single office bearer of the Islami Taliban organisation has so far come in public but the issue of threats to certain people has continued for many months. "It is yet to be known as to who has done this. Once those responsible are traced, it would be decided whether it was something serious or not," said Arbab Arif, the chief of security for FATA.
By Omar R. Quraishi
A lot of people in this country, including journalists, tend to look up to the western media as some sort of example to follow, particularly in terms of ethical, investigative and objective journalism. Of course, there are many also who label the western media with one fell sweep as a Jewish-run conspiracy to suppress the Muslim. Pakistani newspapers can't match their western counterparts in terms of resources and/or manpower, but to say that the latter are by far more objective and investigate is to see the distinctions in a somewhat simplistic and naive fashion.
The US-based media watchdog FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) maintains an excellent website with many documented cases of apparently willful bias in the mainstream US media of manipulation and/or bias in its coverage. For instance, there is a material on FAIR's website detailing how the venerable New York Times has been exaggerating the threat posed by Iran.
Before quoting from FAIR, it is worth quoting from a recent interview that Noam Chomsky gave to Michael Shank for Foreign Policy in Focus ( www.fpif.org). America's leading intellectual pointed out that while the US media lapped up each and every word uttered by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad on the nuclear issue, US newspapers routinely overlooked more conciliatory and less hawkish statements made on the matter by the country's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei. In fact, it was only last month that while Ahmedinejad was proclaiming that Iran would not suspend enriching uranium, the spiritual leader of Iran and the chief of the all-powerful Guardian Council, hinted that Tehran may consider freezing enrichment. This was reported on some alternative websites on February 15 but did not make it to the radar of most of the mainstream western media, and for good reason because quoting Ayatollah Khamenei would have greatly devalued the importance of Ahmedinejad's remarks to the shaping and direction of US foreign policy in the Middle East.
Furthermore, FAIR talks about an article in the New York Times written by one of its reporters and printed on February 10 which made the rather explosive claim that Iran was actually supplying explosive devices to Iraqi insurgents. While newspapers in Pakistan also routinely run stories quoting anonymous or unnamed sources, and while that is something that should be avoided by credible newspapers (though sometimes sources insist on remaining anonymous out of fear of possible reprisals), to base such a serious allegation against a sovereign country on unidentified sources is not exactly very good or ethical journalism.
In fact, it seems that the mainstream media has not learnt much from its complicity in for instance the invasion of Iraq or in the damage caused by Washington's 9/11-dictated shift in its domestic and foreign policies. FAIR actually wrote to the NYT's public editor pointing out exactly this but was told that the story was okayed because in his (the public editor's) view, the report was okay because the reporter had shown an "an admirable search for those likely to have differing views", which FAIR assumed was a reference to the reporter's own claim that he interviewed "civilian and military officials from a broad range of [US] government agencies".
Coming from a senior editor of the NYT, this seems a bit startling because having a diverse range of sources implies that people other than those who work for the government have been contacted and interviewed for a particular story. FAIR also pointed out that the NYT had violated its own stated policy by running the story since anonymous sources are not to be used "to convey tainted information or special pleading". Further, "If the impetus for anonymity has originated with the source, further reporting is essential to satisfy the reporter and the reader that the paper has sought the whole story".
As FAIR quite cleverly pointed out to the NYT's public editor, one reason why sources wish to remain anonymous is that this allows them to make assertions and claims that would otherwise damage their credibility if they made them on record. The media watchdog correctly saw in this seemingly spurious report that a clear link was being made between the alleged shipments of weapons and a "deliberate, calibrated policy" of the Iranian government which was "approved by Supreme Leader [Ayatollah] Khamenei and carried out by the Quds Force". No substantiation other than the quotes of the anonymous sources was made in the NYT report. But it may well be one that George W. Bush uses as he ratchets up the heat on Congress and the Pentagon to go along with an attack on Iran.
And then there is Karachi's Kidney Hill, in the news of late because of that city's indefatigable crusader against the land mafia, Ardeshir Cowasjee. Hard facts seem hard to come by so far -- one would like to know who are the people behind the so-called Overseas Cooperative Housing Society and those who have been hurling threats at SHEHRI-Citizens for a Better Environment, one of a handful of NGOs willing to take on the builder's mafia in Karachi. One will revisit this issue again.
The writer is Op-ed Pages Editor of The News.