politics
Democracy is the only option
By Raza Rumi
Much has been elaborated in the binding constraints on the Pakistani democracy. Conventional wisdom suggests that the civil-military imbalance has led to the limited space for democratic institutions to grow and flourish. There can hardly be any disagreement with this point of view. In fact, decades of centralised martial rule have resulted in the militarisation of the society to the extent that one can hardly discuss anything on Pakistan without a mention of the Pakistan Army and its role in the country.

Making the right choice
It is time to move beyond naïve binaries that are employed by those who seek to impose their project of material and ideological domination over everyone else
By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
Following the very public pronouncement by General David Petraeus that the United States recognises the Pakistani military’s quest for strategic depth, our ‘real government’ is probably feeling quite content. The elected government, however, is unlikely to be feeling as thrilled. At least some Pakistan People’s Party high-ups, along with many observers outside the government, believed the US might actually force the military establishment to once and for all sever links with the Islamists that it has supported for the best part of four decades. These hopes are now apparently in tatters.

campaign
In consumers’ interest
By Dr Arif Azad
World Consumer Rights Day is celebrated on every year on March 15 — the day when the US President, John F Kennedy, articulated a vision of four basic consumer rights in 1962. These four basic consumer rights, incorporated in the consumer bill of rights, included the right to be informed, the right to safety, the right to be heard, and the right to choose.

A life uncommon
The martyrdom of Arbab Sahib was apparently for the reason that he was not letting extremist groups enter into local mosques
By Arbab Daud
"Let me Die with honour," said Arbab Saaadat Ali Khan, a great Red Shirt leader, as he was offered medicine by an English Jailor at Hari Pur Prison in 1932.
A careful read of the words of Arbab Saadat Ali Khan, would give a lucid view of the family background of the Arbab Sikander Khan Khalil (Arbab Sahib), who proudly inherited valor, defiance and straightforwardness from his great and revolutionary father.

It’s about time
Dilip D’Souza and Beena Sarwar continue their correspondence, attempting to share thoughts honestly, without fear and
hostility, exploring what divides our countries, and seeking ways to bridge the divide
March 11, 2010
Dear Beena,
Again, so much to address! But since I asked what annoys you about Indians, and since you answered so frankly, let me make that the theme for this instalment of our exchange, and in two ways.

Imperatives of the peace process
The governments of both countries need to recognise each other’s legitimate interests if they are really interested in peace
By Rizwan Asghar
Human beings have a universal desire for peace – an essential ingredient for a happy and prosperous life. But the undisputable fact is that artificial distinctions on the basis of caste, creed and nationality have divided human beings throughout history, creating conflicts that prevent peace. The South Asian region is no exception, with its two largest countries (nuclear-armed to boot) constantly at loggerheads, to the extent of often being on the verge of war.

Forget 1947, it’s history If war is the answer, then the question is wrong
By Allen O’Brien
Did you know that walls, barbed wire fences and barricades stretch across almost the entire 1,800 miles of the defined Indo-Pak border?
Did you know that some Rs 1,201 crore is spent on fencing, floodlights, roads and border outposts across the Indo-Pak border?

From Aman ki Asha to Aman ki Bhasha
Both Indians and Pakistanis share the same helplessness
— a consequence of a long drawn war that neither side wants
By R Vasundara
Even as the Aman Ki Asha campaign is surging ahead, opening dialogues and cultural exchanges between India and Pakistan, a few others have been inspired by its success to do their bit in lessening bitterness and strife between the two countries.

firstperson
"We have the capacity to come together"
By Zaman Khan
Rita Manchanda is General Secretary, South Asia Forum for Human Rights (Delhi) and Research Director of SAFHR (Nepal) project. Earlier, she was Gender Expert, Commonwealth Technical Fund in Sri Lanka. At SAFHR, she founded and developed the programmes such as Women Conflict and Peace-building and Media and Conflict. For many years, Rita has worked as a professional journalist in both the print and electronic media. She has written extensively on security and human rights issues. Among her many publications is the book entitled, Women War and Peace in South Asia: beyond Victimhood to Agency. Her research study on Naga Women in the Peace Process is a benchmark contribution in the field studies of gendered war narratives. She has also written extensively on minority rights. Her professional experience in India’s Defence Ministry’s think tank, Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, has motivated her to explore alternate ways of looking at issues. Her writings on Nepal in Frontline Magazine and Economic and Political Weekly are widely commended for their insight and prescient value. Married to journalist and peace activist Tapan Bose, she has been a peace activist. Rita was in Pakistan for a week. Zaman Khan was able to talk to her in Lahore. Excerpts follow:

Other half
If Mumbai can have separate trains for ladies and Cairo can have women-exclusive taxis, why not Lahore and Karachi or some of our smaller cities?
By Ammara Ahmad
Pakistan celebrates the International Women’s Day with passion. Yet, most women in Pakistan live deplorable lives. Whatever ‘improvement’ has occurred in their lot, has been very insignificant and has been carried out at a snail’s pace. Let us just take a look at some of the problems confronting the vast majority of poor women in our country.

 

 

politics

Democracy is the only option

By Raza Rumi

Much has been elaborated in the binding constraints on the Pakistani democracy. Conventional wisdom suggests that the civil-military imbalance has led to the limited space for democratic institutions to grow and flourish. There can hardly be any disagreement with this point of view. In fact, decades of centralised martial rule have resulted in the militarisation of the society to the extent that one can hardly discuss anything on Pakistan without a mention of the Pakistan Army and its role in the country.

The counter narrative is also predominant in the mainstream discourse. This view holds the impatient and elitist Pakistani politicians responsible for the systemic crash each decade as the politicians are adept at undermining the democratic order and due to their petty differences and grab for power enter into alliances with the powerful establishment.

The year 2010 is no different when these competing narratives are yet again haunting us. The major breakthrough that was achieved with the signing of the Charter of Democracy (CoD) appears to have been diluted at best. In fact, all signs suggest that the mistrust and acrimony of the earlier eras is gradually returning thereby paving the way for another systemic breakdown.

The civilian space reclaimed by the political parties in the year 2008, backed by political mobilisation in the year 2008 was heralded as a new beginning. The elections of 2008 returned the banned parties and their leadership into the legislature, thus defeating a decade of political engineering by general Musharraf and his political and non-political cronies. What happened in two years is a question that needs to be addressed.

Shortly after the formation of the civilian governments, the judges’ issue became a bone of contention between the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and its ally Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). To begin with the issues of judges had been politicised beyond reasonable limits and PPP’s somersault on the issue led to the dissolution of an accord that had been reached after years of struggle. Ultimately, the threat of street power and the intervention of the Army Chief and the high powered US officials led to the restoration of the judges. This new found populism by a historically pliant Supreme Court became a new factor in Pakistani politics.

Thereafter, the intersection of judicial decisions and politicking became muddled, thanks to an overgrown but an untrained media that saw signs of a government dismissal in every verdict announced by the Honourable courts. We also saw that late night meetings of the opposition politicians with the Army Chief took place in full view of a sensational media. Thus a trite and beaten storyline remerged in the discourse.

The ruling PPP at the Centre, unfortunately, did not set good example of governance either. Its team of advisors was neither competent nor adept at facing the national crises. Thus an image of incompetence compounded by corruption scandals of yore became the excuse to derail the democratic system. This is the irony of our country, when thinkers and opinion makers despite the disasters of authoritarianism start asking the army to intervene. A good number of media commentators have now taken this line of warning all and sundry that GHQ will not sit quiet in the face of political deadlock as the country ‘burns’. Haven’t we heard this so many times in the past!

The skirmishes in the Sindh Assembly between the PPP and the MQM, the hot words and accusations in the National Assembly are all too familiar. The people of Pakistan know that this is how the political elites behave and squander the opportunities to build and strengthen institutions.

However, there is another side to this story which is less talked about and underreported for obvious reasons. The truth is that the current civilian rule in the centre is now all pomp and show signifying quite little. The policy initiatives in effect are not with the elected institutions but they lie elsewhere, i.e. the unelected institutions of the state.

First, the foreign policy and what is so fondly known here as the national security issue. President Zardari made some bold remarks on Indo-Pakistan relations in the year 2008. A few weeks down the road a militant outfit allegedly causes rumpus in India’s commercial nerve centre, Mumbai. Since that fateful November day, the relations have only been tense or outright acrimonious. The war on terror is more of a US-Pak Army relationship and whatever little input there was from the civilian authorities is all history. The US generals and officials pay courtesy visits to the Presidency and the Prime Minister’s House while policy and operational decision-making is handled by others.

Second, the bankrupt Pakistan of 2008 had to accept the tough conditions of IMF for a stabilisation phase. This government, like all governments of the past, cannot think of changing the structure of public expenditure. There is a war on terror and the army is engaged on several fronts. Therefore, a reduction in defence budget is out of question. On the other hand it cannot initiate administrative reforms as the sharper and more experience bureaucrats manage the ministries while the inept politicians only focus on the short-term patronage for their constituencies. This is a neat division but the result is more of status quo. Even the Prime Minister’s effort to make high level appointments and promotions is not subject to judicial review. What can a weak civilian government do in this climate other than think of surviving in office?

Third, the Army and the Judiciary have a complete autonomy over the appointments, extensions and personnel policy. In India and other regional countries this is not the case. The recent crisis over the appointment of judges to the Superior Courts was a testament to this reality. Exercise of elected executive resulted in a national crisis and ultimately the central government had to surrender. About the Army appointments we don’t even know as such discussions and parleys are conducted behind closed doors for reasons of national security, once again.

Finally, the ascendancy of media and all-powerful TV anchors further limit the arena for executive action. What can be done when the accountability mechanism of a government happen to be ill-informed debates by non-specialists on TV and in print? This is not to say that media freedoms are not important. They are vital for a democracy but they cannot undermine a democratic disorder while being in a hyperactive mode.

Thus encircled by a powerful troika of three unelected institutions, the democratic government’s fate should be obvious. It is sadly not all too different from what was the case in 1988 or when a civilian Prime Minister tried to change an Army chief in 1999. The only difference is that a President happens to be in office who cannot be fired as easily as was the case in the past. The constitutional niceties and legal twists prevent from a smooth dismissal. There is also a faint sign that the key opposition party does not want to rock the system as it knows that the consequences would not necessarily turn in its favour.

What shall we make of this mess? Are the politicians unable to govern or they are now allowed by the powers-that-be to govern? These questions are not simple as they are interlinked at some level and merge into the larger mess of Pakistan’s history.

The Constitutional amendments that are due to be announced by end March 2010 are key to this dilemma and perhaps to the future of democracy in Pakistan. If the ruling political elites can actually agree on the contours of the revised governance arrangements then perhaps there is a chance for a political consensus to emerge. After all, the parties have reached a compromise on the issue of National Finance Commission Award. Following that pattern, the issue of amendments can also be sorted out. The PPP must recognise that its own survival beyond the short term considerations of retaining a powerful Presidency is predicated on the evolution of a political consensus and a constitutional framework that holds the elected Parliament at its apex.

Similarly, the PML-N should also acknowledge that if the powers of the President are not trimmed this time around, an all powerful Presidency could be potential problem for its future government[s]. The regional parties also have the best solution to their long held grievances in a federal Constitution. Extra constitutional arrangements have not worked in the past and are unlikely to have any value in the future.

The central question is if the political elites have learnt their lessons. The evidence is sketchy and unclear. There is substantial evidence to suggest that an unwritten consensus exists on letting the system work and allowing the elected governments to complete their tenure. On the other hand, there are terrible signs that many among the ranks of the politicians are not averse to a doctored change, either through the judicial diktat or through a street agitation. We can only hope that the latter is a fabrication of some twisted minds.

Pakistan’s survival and stability requires a democratic framework within which its various provinces have a voice and that a transition to democratic rule is achieved through a regular, robust and transparent electoral process. Other solutions are non-options. This is why 2010 is an important year. It might surprise the sceptics or actually please the usual suspects. We can only hope that it proves the anti-democratic forces wrong by letting the political parties agree on a common governance framework in line with the consensus 1973 Constitution.

Raza Rumi is a policy expert based in Lahore. He blogs at www.razarumi.com and edits Pak Tea House and Lahore Nama. Email: [email protected]

 

Making the right choice

It is time to move beyond naïve binaries that are employed by those who seek to impose their project of material and ideological domination over everyone else

By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar

Following the very public pronouncement by General David Petraeus that the United States recognises the Pakistani military’s quest for strategic depth, our ‘real government’ is probably feeling quite content. The elected government, however, is unlikely to be feeling as thrilled. At least some Pakistan People’s Party high-ups, along with many observers outside the government, believed the US might actually force the military establishment to once and for all sever links with the Islamists that it has supported for the best part of four decades. These hopes are now apparently in tatters.

I suspect I was not the only one who was slightly more pessimistic about how things would actually unfold. In fact the writing was on the wall soon after February 2008 when a dramatic new TV personality appeared on our screens. In two years, a cult of personality has developed around Mr. Zaid Hamid; hundreds of thousands of urban, educated and mostly young people have taken to his ‘message’. On March 23, Mr. Hamid is organising a ‘Takmeel-e-Pakistan’ rally at the Minar-e-Pakistan. His ‘movement’ will not stop there.

Zaid Hamid has been given incredible amounts of air time over the past two years. Tellingly he appeared first on Pakistan Television (PTV) and then on TV One. He has secured dedicated time slots on many more channels. He spews out hateful rhetoric with hardly more sophistication than the neighbourhood mullah, but appeals to upper middle-class youth because he is concerned not with matters of personal dress and instead piques their ultra-nationalist sentiments.

Mr. Hamid has resuscitated the anti-India state narrative and tacked it onto a similarly old narrative about global Jewish conspiracy. It is clear that he was strategically cast into our cyber lives – particularly to jolt the nationalist imagination of upwardly mobile young people – at a time when the ideology of jihad was taking an almighty beating due to the contradictions created by the so-called ‘war on terror’. Mr. Hamid’s job has been to convince the TV-consuming public that the problem was not jihadi ideology, but instead our ‘corrupt’ rulers who are lapdogs of ‘infidels’. In short, the Pakistani military’s image as the guardian of the state – both territorially and its ‘ideological frontiers’ – has been rehabilitated.

Needless to say, this is no longer the Pakistan of the 1980s, and so a figure like Zaid Hamid will not be able to get away with the bloody murder that he seems to crave. For all of its obvious power, TV cannot paper over all of the cracks in Pakistan’s creaking power structure. Not all young people can be convinced that the military establishment has angelic credentials, particularly after its image was battered – and rightfully so – during the Musharraf dictatorship. Finally the cynical manner in which war has been imposed on Pakhtunkhwa has clarified in the minds of most Pakhtuns that the military establishment is the root of the problem (which is a fact that most Baloch and even Sindhis have known for a long time).

Nevertheless, the Zaid Hamid phenomenon has worked insofar, as the target group of those who have very carefully scripted his emergence, is middle and upper-middle class youth in urban centres, and particularly in Punjab. The ideological project of the Pakistani state has never hoodwinked a wide cross-section of the Pakistani people, but that has never been its purpose. In the establishment’s calculus, so long as an influential critical mass remains coopted, the game remains winnable.

The middle and upper-middle classes that the establishment wants on board are representatives of an increasingly globalised consumer culture in which simplistic binaries of ‘momineen’ and ‘kafirs’ have no place. Zaid Hamid’s disciples are usually English-educated; some have spent time abroad or have relatives permanently settled in western cities. This social group has aspirations not dissimilar to the burgeoning Indian middle class that harbours hopes of India becoming a superpower and is increasingly drawn to exclusive nationalist symbols and the xenophobic political parties that brandish them.

That there are glaring contradictions in the worldview of these middle classes should not be lost on those of us who seek to propagate a radically different vision of society. Indeed it is only in the realm of ideas that the hate-mongering of Zaid Hamid’s and Bal Thackeray’s of the world can be challenged. Pakistan’s military establishment cannot be forced to back down from its long-standing commitments to religious militancy; neither will it voluntarily relinquish the claim that it is the protector of Pakistan’s ‘Islamic’ identity. Progressives who want to fashion a new social contract that privileges people’s welfare and a multi-national identity must be able to present an alternative vision to the middle class and win it over.

Of course such a vision will not be given air time like Zaid Hamid and even if it does make inroads into the social and political mainstream, it is unlikely to be tolerated by the ‘real government’. But then all movements throughout history that have challenged status quo have had to contend with all kinds of repression. And as I noted earlier, we no longer live in the 1980s when draconian state actions were commonplace. There is space to propagate a different worldview to that of Zaid Hamid if the necessary political will is generated.

Sadly, a large number of progressives still see the ‘ultimate fight’ to be against ‘barbaric’ mullahs and have, at least till now, put their weight behind the US and its ‘civilisational war on terror’. In doing so, progressives have effectively ceded ground to hate-mongers like Zaid Hamid. It is time to move beyond naïve binaries that are employed by those who seek to impose their project of material and ideological domination over everyone else. If a binary is necessary then it should posit on the one side all retrogressive forces – including imperialism and our obsolete state – and on the other side genuinely liberationist forces. Then making a choice is not only simple but unavoidable.

 

campaign

In consumers’ interest

By Dr Arif Azad

World Consumer Rights Day is celebrated on every year on March 15 — the day when the US President, John F Kennedy, articulated a vision of four basic consumer rights in 1962. These four basic consumer rights, incorporated in the consumer bill of rights, included the right to be informed, the right to safety, the right to be heard, and the right to choose.

Since that year, consumer movement has taken off the world over. In the US, in particular, the achievements of consumer movements have been significant due to high-profile consumer activism by Ralph Nader whose name is indelibly linked to advancement of consumer agenda.

Ralph Nader’s singular achievement was to embed the notion of consumer power in political and policy discourse. As a result, consumer agenda has inched its way to governmental and international law. In 1985, the UN also got in on the consumer agenda by adopting guidelines on consumer protection.

The UN guideline on consumer protection, further fine tuned in 1999, obligate the signatory countries — Pakistan is among the signatories — to put in place mechanisms for enhanced consumer protection, consumer education and encouragement of consumer groups.

These guidelines stretch basic consumer right to eight which include: the right to basic needs; the right to safety; right to be informed; the right to choose; the right to be heard; the right to redress; the right to healthy environment and the right to consumer education.

With this, we have a whole panoply of precedents and guidelines to protect consumers from a wide spectrum of depredation which unrestrained capitalism reeks upon consumers. Cumulatively, these measures provided a constant fillip to the formation of Consumer International (CI) which has emerged as the leading international consumer organisation with membership drawn from consumer organisations world wide. It was CI that led the expansion of consumer rights from 4 to 8 which were later on adopted by the UN guidelines on consumer protection. This year CI also turns 50, signifying the coming of age of world consumer movement.

In Pakistan, the concept of consumer rights, though a new one, has been catching on. This is reflected in many consumer groups springing up with the Network for Consumer protection being the first NGO in the country set up in 1991. Over the years since then the consumer movement has made considerable gains. From 1990s consumer protection acts have been framed, with consumer courts functioning in 11 districts.

Though the case law on consumer issues is still puny as compared to other countries, yet judicial activism of some judges on consumer courts is already showing results. Further, in line with growing consumer awareness, many governmental organisations have set up consumer complaint and redressal system to address consumer demands. This so far has been the credit side.

On the debit side, a lot more remains to be done. Despite these baby steps, consumer voice has not cohesively attained to the critical mass where it can impact policy and political worlds. Consumer interest remains unorganised as compared to organised interests. Sugar crisis furnishes the best example where consumers remain hard done by organised sugar cartels.

In the sugar case, government has failed to encourage fair competition which allows greater consumer choice. Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) charged with staunching anti-competitive business practices which impinge on consumer choice is being further whittled down and kept under constant threat of being folded. This is singularly bad news for consumer choice.

As is the case of sugar, consumer-unfriendly tenor runs through other regulatory instruments that govern food and water safety, patient safety from harmful drugs and negligent doctors. To add insult to injury, not a day passes when sky-high increases in utilities or food bills are not sprung upon hapless consumers without any compensatory redressal or protection instruments in place.

From food to medicine — the list in between the two items is exhaustive — there is an open season on distressed consumers. Amidst all this, political parties have hardly articulated consumer aspirations either in their political manifestos or political platforms or in the parliament. This is all the more glaring since every consumer doubles up as a citizen; and citizenship and consumer rights are inextricably linked. Exercising one’s consumer rights is exercising citizenship rights at bottom. Political parties can deny this linkage to their own peril if democracy and good governance have to take root.

This year’s world consumer day is aptly themed as ‘our money, our rights’ which has assumed immense salience against the backdrop of global financial crisis. ‘Our money, our rights’ seeks to address the issue of consumer rights and protection from unrestrained operation of financial industry. The recent global financial crisis has spotlighted the vulnerability of consumer against rapacious banking system. Thousands of people in countries affected by financial crisis the most have lost their homes, bank deposits and defaulted on mortagages payments in the absence of robust consumer protection policies in place.

In the US, which has suffered grievously from the crisis, a strident chorus is forming for the need of consumer protection from financial industry. Responding to these deeply felt popular demands, the US president, Barrack Obama, has promised the introduction of consumer financial protection agency despite resistance from powerful financial institutions. Pakistani consumer too has long been the victim of financial scams. The big scandal of finance corporations of the 70s and 80 still rankles in the memory of ordinary people, who had deposited their saving in the hope of better returns, ending up in penury, with the government financial regularly regime fatally exposed.

Against this backdrop, with banking sector and financial services industry taking off in a big way in Pakistan, there has never been a rock-solid case for bringing in legislation to protect consumer from the rapaciousness of financial industry. Consumer organisations can play a vital role in educating consumer in reading between the lines of small print of banking contracts as a first step. ‘Our money, our rights’ is only the beginning of a long uphill struggle for consumer rights in relation to financial industry in today’s world.

The writer is the chief executive of the Network for Consumer Protection. [email protected]

 

 

A life uncommon

The martyrdom of Arbab Sahib was apparently for the reason that he was not letting extremist groups enter into local mosques

By Arbab Daud

"Let me Die with honour," said Arbab Saaadat Ali Khan, a great Red Shirt leader, as he was offered medicine by an English Jailor at Hari Pur Prison in 1932.

A careful read of the words of Arbab Saadat Ali Khan, would give a lucid view of the family background of the Arbab Sikander Khan Khalil (Arbab Sahib), who proudly inherited valor, defiance and straightforwardness from his great and revolutionary father.

Arbab Sahib, interestingly, was born on the same day when Haji Fazl-e-Wahid aka Haji Sahib Turangzai placed the foundation stone of Mosque of Islamia College Peshawar back in 1913. To Arbab Sahib, his father bequeathed the responsibility of playing a vital role in emancipating the nation from the colonial rule and like father the great son shouldered the responsibility diligently and unflinchingly to a conclusion, which seemed a vague dream to the hoi polloi until the last moment of its becoming a reality.

Arbab Sahib’s education process stopped as his father died in jail and he was imprisoned for two times at the age of 19 years within the same year of father’s death, for the only reason that his father was a revolutionary. His professional degree of LLB later came from famous Aligarh Muslim University of India in 1947.

As a Lawyer, Arbab Sahib started his practice immediately after the partition in 1947. In post-partition events the office of a renowned Hindu legal professional Mela Ram Advocate was allotted to Arbab Sahib by the evacuee trust. Arbab Sahib was a great civil lawyer and his practice was mostly based on humanitarian grounds than the commercial mindset.

As a Politician, Arbab Sahib started his career under the mentorship of Arbab Abdul Ghafoor Khan (AAGK), a first cousin of Arbab Sahib. The difference of Arbabs with Khudai Khidmatgaar movement arose when the stepdaughter of Doctor Khan Sahib married a non-Muslim. AAGK demanded from Doctor Khan Sahib to disown his stepdaughter publicly for this shameful act. Doctor Khan Sahib didn’t accept the suggestion and resultantly the Arbab family left the movement to join the Muslim League.

Another major reason for joining the Muslim League was that, Arbab Sahib and AAGK both were of the opinion that after the 1940’s Pakistan Resolution in Lahore, a united India in post-British scenario was like writing on the wall, hence they supported the idea of partition rather than simply following whatever the All India Congress dictated.

After Pakistan came into being, some vested interests hijacked Quaid-e-Azam MA Jinnah from the rest of Muslim League. For personal gains these vested interests curried the favour from MA Jinnah, who seemingly had a great love for the worldly vanities, through sugar-coated lip service.

Abdul Qayum Khan came to the power in NWFP through the same hypocrisy and nepotism. Appointment of Abdul Qayum Khan and other such acts of Jinnah disheartened the Arbabs and they had no other way out but to group with likeminded political activists to make Awami Muslim League at the outset and later convert its name to Awami League.

The dirty episode of the forceful capture of Suez Canal by the British Empire was fully supported by HS Soharwardy, who also pushed the country into deep-waters with his notorious one-unit formula, and that is where Arbab Sahib et al parted ways with Awami League. Arbab Sahib joined hands with other nationalists to make Pakistan National Party (PNP) in West Pakistan and the PNP was later joined by Gantantari Dal of East Pakistan, in 1950s, to shape up the National Awami Party (NAP).

In early 1960s Ayub Khan, the then dictator, was infuriated by NAP’s demand of abolishing the one-unit and restoration of 4 provinces of West Pakistan. As a result Arbab Sahib along with other 13 people from NWFP were arrested and tried by special military courts. They were all sentenced for 10 to 14 years of rigorous imprisonment, lashes, heavy fines and confiscation of movable and immovable properties.

Arbab Sahib also tried his level best to make a settlement between West and East Pakistan during the tense times and travelled several times to East Pakistan to meet Sheikh Mujeed ur Rehman, however the conniving of Punjabi intelligentsia, the anger of Pakistani military and power hunger of Bhutto caused the fall of Dacca and partition of Pakistan in December 1971. "The Pakistan of Jinnah is reduced to the Pakistan of Punjab" was the remarks of Arbab Sahib after the partition of Pakistan.

Arbab Sahib was always against the lines and borders dividing the Pukhtoons residing inside Pakistan. He vigorously fought for unification of Princely states of Dir, Chitral and Swat into NWFP. The dream of Arbab Sahib became reality during his lifetime and he himself actively participated in the amalgamation process of the aforementioned princely states in the NWFP.

When Arbab Sahib took oath as a Governor of NWFP in 1972, he ordered a water supply scheme for southern districts, ensured regular supply of food and common use items to Chitral district and started projects on roads, and small dams in northern areas of the province. Arbab Sahib also played an important role in finalizing the Simla Agreement between India and Pakistan and as a result almost 90,000 prisoners of war were released by India.

ZA Bhutto’s undemocratic dismissal of the government of Attaullah Mengal in Balochistan was the major cause Arbab Sahib’s resign from the governorship. Thereupon NAP along with other political parties formed United Democratic Front (UDF) against the government of PPP. The far-famed Liaqat Bagh incident also happened under the auspices of UDF. Arbab Sahib and the leadership of NAP was later imprisoned by ZA Bhutto through a frivolous and cooked up case named as "Hyderabad Conspiracy."

Despite all the differences with PPP government and being a member of UDF, the leadership of NAP keenly participated in the constitution making process in 1973. People regard ZA Bhutto as the one who gave Pakistan a proper Constitution; however, a major part of this credit goes to NAP and JUI leadership, because if these two parties had boycotted the procession in National Assembly, Baluchistan and NWFP, the numbers would have annulled the legal charter of the constitution.

Another aspect of the life of Arbab Sahib was his writing extraordinaire. Arbab Sahib never wrote any major published material until he met Hussain Bukhsh Kausar from Peshawar during his long imprisonment in the Ayub Khan era. Kausar Sahib was impressive in his knowledge regarding ‘Philosophy’ and that is why three out of the six books of Arbab Sahib focused on the same topic namely "Zara Falsafa (Conventional Philosophy)," "Nawey Falsafa (Modern Philosophical Thought)," and "Zhawar Fiqroona (Deep Thoughts)." In addition, Arbab Sahib wrote books like "Guloona ao Azghi (Flowers and Thorns)" about literature and fiction and "Da Eqtisadiato Khulase (Summary of Economic thoughts)" in Pashto language while his unpublished book in English language "The Other Side of the Picture" provides a critical analysis of the Pakistan Movement, its leadership and the subsequent development in Pakistan till 1977.

The martyrdom of Arbab Sahib on March 7, 1982 was apparently for the reason that he was not letting the Islamic extremist groups enter into the local mosques. It would, however, not be just to link his assassination to just a petty cause of mosques and jihadist groups. In actual, numerous national and international forces never wanted progressive and thinking minds in the area to influence the common people and stop the process of using Pakhtuns to kill Pakhtuns. On the year of Arbab Sahib’s martyrdom the "Human Rights Society of Pakistan" awarded a Peace Prize to Arbab Sahib.

Whether it is by a mere happenstance or by design, Pakhtun progressive minds and thinkers are once again feeling the lingering sword of death over their heads. This situation reminds of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, especially when he says "…To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub; For in that sleep of death what dreams may come…" and we truly have to move ourselves out of this downward spiral of never ending abyss and timely save our great minds from that dream-less sleep of Death.

May Allah Help us!

 

It’s about time

Dilip D’Souza and Beena Sarwar continue their correspondence, attempting to share thoughts honestly, without fear and

hostility, exploring what divides our countries, and seeking ways to bridge the divide

March 11, 2010

Dear Beena,

Again, so much to address! But since I asked what annoys you about Indians, and since you answered so frankly, let me make that the theme for this instalment of our exchange, and in two ways.

First, your beef is with "the hard-nosed nationalism and sense of superiority of many Indians, the refusal to introspect and see flaws within their own society." Personally, I’m bothered too by this reluctance to see flaws, by the sense of almost manifest destiny and even entitlement that a lot of us Indians nurse.

But let me say this: in at least two respects, I think we are indeed superior to Pakistan. One, we chose the superior ethos for our country in 1947: the secular as opposed to the religion-based. Two, we’ve had the better form of government: the essentially democratic as opposed to the frequently dictatorial.

Undoubtedly both our secularism and democracy have serious, even gaping, flaws. Yet I would choose the India of 1947 over the Pakistan of 1947 every time; just as I would choose the India of 2010 over the Pakistan of 2010 every time. Indeed, that would apply to every one of our 62 plus years. It’s hardly my intent to rub anyone’s nose in this, but it is fundamentally the way I feel.

Second, let me try to explain what annoys me about Pakistan and Pakistanis. The major thing is the apparent obsession of your leaders with Kashmir. It’s not my case that our quarrel over that beautiful state should not be resolved, or cannot be resolved. But I wonder what progress we will make towards peace if we have only this one bone to chew on. Why not see what else there is between us? Why not find other things that we can use to learn to trust each other, which will give us some kind of basis to then tackle Kashmir?

For now, there is no trust that I can see. Because Kashmir makes it impossible. Surely, I think, the ordinary Pakistani’s quality of life is not dependent on what happens to Kashmir. Why does that not find wider and louder expression in Pakistan?

There, we’ve both fired our first salvos of annoyance. What do you make of that?

All good wishes,

Dilip

March 12, 2010

Dear Dilip,

Thanks for your honesty. Lots to chew on there. First let me say that if I were in your shoes, I would probably feel superior too. We agree that it is better to keep religion out of politics and of course the better form of government is the democratic. As you and other Indian friends recognise, India’s secularism and democracy are far from perfect. I know you have fought long and hard against these flaws.

Similarly, many of us in Pakistan have fought, and continue to fight, for these values – secularism and democracy. Cynics will say it’s a lost cause. I refer them to the late respected journalist Aziz Siddiqui, who, confronted with my pessimism during earlier dark days, drew on his pipe, removed it and responded calmly: "Phir kiya karein, hathiyar daal dein?" (So what shall we do, throw down our weapons?).

You are, as you realise, fortunate that your country chose that path and enshrined those values into the Constitution. We were not as lucky.

The man who brought Pakistan into being (pushed by the intransigence of the Congress leadership which saw the benefits of having a buffer state between India and the ‘wild west’ (not something you’ll read in either of our history books) died barely a year later. His successors literally censored the guiding principles he had articulated.

These are historical circumstances that we cannot take blame or credit for. What I am saying is, instead of superiority, try understanding and empathy. We don’t want your pity but your support. We will fight on, with or without it.

Kashmir — yes, our politicians (some of them) are obsessed. Most people (including many Indians I know) agree that to deny the Kashmiris their right of self-determination was unjust, and that injustices continue to take place there. But it’s not as black and white as portrayed either in your media or ours.

Many Pakistanis realise that not all Kashmiris want to join Pakistan — and we don’t blame them. I remember seeing a banner some ten years ago at Lahore’s Regal Chowk: "Kashmir se pehle Sindh bachao" (before saving Kashmir, save Sindh). It didn’t remain there long.

Since 1995 the largest people-to-people group between our countries, Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy, has been reiterating that Kashmir should not be treated merely as a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan, but a matter concerning the lives and aspirations of the Kashmiri people. This principle has started to find its way into public discourse. The Kashmiri people’s diverse views are starting to be heard. One day, the matter will be resolved — but not anytime soon.

There are elements in Pakistan (and India) working hard to keep the tensions alive. Only a continuation of the democratic process will eventually prevail over those elements. That is why India should support the process in Pakistan, instead of undermining it by refusing to talk.

Meanwhile, certainly, let’s focus on our commonalities and shared heritage rather than our differences. There must be an acceptance of both. The process of learning to trust will only happen when people are allowed to meet and interact.

Very best,

Beena

Imperatives of the peace process

The governments of both countries need to recognise each other’s legitimate interests if they are really interested in peace

By Rizwan Asghar

Human beings have a universal desire for peace – an essential ingredient for a happy and prosperous life. But the undisputable fact is that artificial distinctions on the basis of caste, creed and nationality have divided human beings throughout history, creating conflicts that prevent peace. The South Asian region is no exception, with its two largest countries (nuclear-armed to boot) constantly at loggerheads, to the extent of often being on the verge of war.

The two main religious communities of the region — Hindus and Muslims — coexisted in the sub-continent for centuries until the British colonisers with their policy of divide-and-rule sowed the seeds of enmity.

Decades later, the trust deficit is so vast that the bilateral dialogue between Pakistan and India, which should resolve contentious issues and pave the way for enduring peace, is constantly undermined by a lack of sincerity on either side and the subversive activities of their non-state actors. Negotiations resumed recently after a two-year hiatus in dialogue, in the wake of laborious efforts by concerned people in both countries and elsewhere.

Given the long gap, it is hardly surprising that the foreign secretaries meeting at the first formal dialogue on February 25 were unable to make headway on a single issue. The result was only an ‘agreement’ to remain in touch with each other. This meeting clearly manifested the deep-seated mistrust between the two countries, created by their respective politicians’ and military establishments’ short-sighted decisions adopted during the last six decades. The mistrust remains a major impediment in the way of restoring cordial relations between Pakistan and India.

The governments of both countries need to recognise each other’s legitimate interests if they are really interested in peace. The water dispute which has become a major irritant between the two countries needs to be resolved as soon as possible. With nearly half of Pakistan’s labour force dependent on agricultural sector, the acute scarcity of water resources makes this question an issue of the country’s survival. The perception in Pakistan is that India is dilly-dallying and denying to Pakistan its due share of water resources.

The deadly bomb blast in Pune that left 11 people dead was a despicable incident, staged as it transpires, by rouge elements within India. But extremist organisations like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Shiv Sena were prompt to blame Pakistan, using the gory incident as a pretext to demand that the scheduled dialogue be called off. To its credit, the Indian government did not buckle under such pressure and proceeded with the talks. However, it will have to address the root causes which are giving rise to extremism on Indian soil. At such a critical juncture, it is of utmost importance that extremists should not be allowed to hijack the progress.

It must be appreciated that India itself took the initiative and asked Pakistan to resume dialogue. Unfortunately, New Delhi is bent upon focusing on the issue of terrorism, pushing for a single-item agenda during the talks. Pakistan on the other hand, sticks to its long-held stance that Kashmir is the core issue. Islamabad insists on discussing Kashmir, saying that without progress on that front, there can be no sustainable peace, and links the issues of terrorism and water to the Kashmir question.

It is only too apparent that the establishment of peace and restoration of friendly relations will be to the advantage of both sides. This cannot happen without an enabling environment. It is useless to continue pointing accusatory fingers at each other: neither country is blame-free when it comes to instigating hostile elements on the other side. We need to forget the past and start a new chapter in our mutual relations. The extremist organisations that are spewing hate on both sides of borders must be countered at any cost. It is high time to cast off the historical baggage and focus on areas amenable to our common interests.

The writer is a Lahore-based analyst. Email: [email protected]

caption

The road to peace: Dosti Bus crosses the Wagha Border.

 

Forget 1947, it’s history

If war is the answer, then the question is wrong

By Allen O’Brien

Did you know that walls, barbed wire fences and barricades stretch across almost the entire 1,800 miles of the defined Indo-Pak border?

Did you know that some Rs 1,201 crore is spent on fencing, floodlights, roads and border outposts across the Indo-Pak border?

And did you know that the barbed wire border is going to be made less formidable by a ‘Rope of Respect’ peace chain comprising some two lakh hankies! It’s how young India bridges the great Indo-Pak divide by laying down a new matrix for the bilateral relationship. With funky slogans on handkerchiefs from nine cities — Delhi, Lucknow, Chandigarh, Kolkata, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai — and 1,200 schools, this TOI peace initiative — Aman ki Asha, begins a new season of hope, a new Indo-Pak border, sans discord. This is one in which young Indians take on responsibility for shedding the baggage of history.

It is obvious that this is the need of the hour. The terrorists must be crushed; the fundamentalists must be hushed. As some of our students’ slogans rightly declare: If war is the answer, then the question is wrong; Nukes are flukes; Hand out free chocolates, not suicide vests; Put 1947 behind, it’s history! Look ahead, it’s 2010. Or more aptly: Love your enemies, it really kills them! Read on to find out why young India feels Munnabhai’s reworked Gandhian philosophy of love is the only real weapon of change.

"We need peace because we have seen enough of this mutual hatred. Economically and politically too, peace would do a lot of good to India and its neighbour," says Shivam Sharma, student, Chandigarh. And "by working together, we can become an even stronger force in the global community," believes Gayathree Devi of Hyderabad. More important, young India regards geographical borders as an irrelevance in a globalizing world. As Irene Kibria, a student in Kolkata, says: "Borders can be different, but hearts are the same."

"Interactive camps and forums should be initiated to create acceptance and understanding of differences," suggests Anam Vadgama, a Mumbai student. Schools can help as well. Harini G, student, Chennai says, "Both countries must have a common pledge which could be read across schools, both in India and Pakistan, during the morning assembly." On a larger scale, suggests Delhi student Ayesha Bhatt, "Both countries need to work on their misunderstandings by being more friendly."

Trisha Menon of Bangalore says, "Perhaps in the next five years when commonalities of culture play a vital role." Sudeep Vashistha of DPS, Gurgaon believes, "There is an urgent need for each country to set things right within its own system. Once the inner eroded structures are taken care of, peace shall prevail. And that could take anything from tomorrow to 10 years!"

Till then, our students are already shutting out the dustbin of history and looking towards a future of peace. It could be the Aman ki Asha ‘hanky campaign’ or the ‘If peace prevailed’ venture. The latter is a look into the future and how the two countries could progress if they came together.

For instance, an unbeatable combined cricket team, suggests Vrinda Duve of New Delhi:

Where the ball bounces free, and the bat rises to beat its bounce,
into that heaven of cricketing freedom, Oh Lord, let the two countries awake

Courtesy: The Times of India

caption

Youthful hope: Students of Delhi's Salwan Public School write peace slogans for the
Aman ki Asha 'Rope of Respect' campaign.

 

 

From Aman ki Asha to Aman ki Bhasha

Both Indians and Pakistanis share the same helplessness
— a consequence of a long drawn war that neither side wants

By R Vasundara

Even as the Aman Ki Asha campaign is surging ahead, opening dialogues and cultural exchanges between India and Pakistan, a few others have been inspired by its success to do their bit in lessening bitterness and strife between the two countries.

One such movement is the Aman ki Bhasha campaign, formed by a group of peace activists from both India and Pakistan.

"This concept was evolved during a 10-day meet between peace activists from the SAARC countries in Kathmandu," said Faizur Rehman, a Chennai-based peace activist who is one of the founders of this campaign.

"The Indian and Pakistani delegates got along like a house on fire. We’d often gather together for informal discussions and we realised that all the mistrust and conflict are really due to a lack of communication on both sides. That’s when we hit upon the idea of a cultural exchange programme. And the name Aman ki Bhasha or Language of Peace made perfect sense to us since Aman ki Asha has already given the peace process a big boost."

His counterpart in Pakistan, Shafqat Mehmood, a retired brigadier working in Waziristan in North-West Pakistan that border Afghanistan, and the chairperson of Paiman Alumni Trust, was equally enthusiastic about the idea. "All dealings between the two countries have hitherto been completely at governments’ level," he explained.

"As a result, even when peace processes and summits are initiated, the smallest hitch sets us back by two years. And bringing them up in international forums has only served to worsen it due to trans-national interventions," said Mehmood, adding, "We shall be initiating an exchange programme, where people of both countries visit each other, spend a few days together and get acquainted with the ground realities. I believe that both Indians and Pakistanis share the same helplessness –– a consequence of a long drawn war that neither side wants."

Reiterating Mehmood’s statement, Rehman felt that both countries share similar sentiments regarding the peace process. "It’s the same on both sides," he said. "Some people want to whole-heartedly extend their hand, some are hesitant to do that and some thoroughly mistrust the other side. We need to break down the ice."

However, both sides are well aware that any initiative turns into a deadlock when the Kashmir issue comes up. "If we can’t eliminate a problem, it’s better to just defuse it," declared Mehmood. "When it comes to the Kashmir issue, since we can’t resolve the situation, why not maintain status quo and let things take its own course. It will give both sides the opportunity to lessen the bitterness and tension and some much needed relief."

Courtesy: The Times of India

caption

The Indian and the Pakistani delegates who came together to form the Aman ki Bhasha campaign pose during a conference;

Faizur Rehman, a Chennai-based peace activist represented India.

 

firstperson

"We have the capacity to come together"

By Zaman Khan

Rita Manchanda is General Secretary, South Asia Forum for Human Rights (Delhi) and Research Director of SAFHR (Nepal) project. Earlier, she was Gender Expert, Commonwealth Technical Fund in Sri Lanka. At SAFHR, she founded and developed the programmes such as Women Conflict and Peace-building and Media and Conflict. For many years, Rita has worked as a professional journalist in both the print and electronic media. She has written extensively on security and human rights issues. Among her many publications is the book entitled, Women War and Peace in South Asia: beyond Victimhood to Agency. Her research study on Naga Women in the Peace Process is a benchmark contribution in the field studies of gendered war narratives. She has also written extensively on minority rights. Her professional experience in India’s Defence Ministry’s think tank, Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, has motivated her to explore alternate ways of looking at issues. Her writings on Nepal in Frontline Magazine and Economic and Political Weekly are widely commended for their insight and prescient value. Married to journalist and peace activist Tapan Bose, she has been a peace activist. Rita was in Pakistan for a week. Zaman Khan was able to talk to her in Lahore. Excerpts follow:

The News on Sunday: What brings you to Pakistan?

Rita Manchanda: There is a research project I am involved in. I am also looking at Pakistan and what kind of research is possible here. But I also came to take a stock of what is happening in Pakistan — the peace process between India and Pakistan. The need of the moment is to re-energise or to rethink some of our peace strategies.

TNS: How do you look at the peace process between India and Pakistan?

RM: I think one needs to see what is happening at the official level and what is desirable as far as peoples’ efforts are concerned to strengthen the peace process. As far as governments are concerned, it is quite evident that this is a process that is being driven reluctantly. Negotiators are being pushed to the table because of the third party and that is the US. It is the worst reason to move forward to make peace. If peace is driven by these considerations it cannot really achieve much. Nevertheless, any effort to start the dialogue is welcome.

TNS: But people to people contacts seem to have lost momentum, why?

RM: There have been many efforts and initiatives since the time it first took off — in the early nineties — and at that time too the circumstances were very difficult. We were talking about war clouds, nuclear war clouds. Even then the initiative was taken and an effort made. It is quite clear that governments on both sides seem to have a different attitude towards granting visas to people who are engaged with each other, especially in the cultural context. But when it comes to groups that are interested in talking politics that have people to people agenda the two governments seem to be very reluctant to grant visas. This certainly constrained the possibilities of development of the people-to-people contacts. And, certainly, I know we are waiting for a Pak-India Forum delegation to join us but I don’t think they are going to get visas. And yet you can see other groups that are getting visas, other groups that are more focused in the cultural context.

TNS: Don’t you think we should be more creative in looking for ways to keep the peace process moving?

RM: Certainly, that means we need to concentrate on within our countries. We have to do a great deal to change public opinion. Recently, the India chapter of Pak-India Forum launched a new chapter in Bhubashnaer in Orisa and it was in fact very heartening for me when I went there to participate in the launch of this new chapter because you could see the people who came from Eastern India. They have a very different perception of the dialogue. To me, the strength of Pak-India Forum is its capacity to develop linkages. Why is it that so many forums are part of Pak-India forum? It is because they can see the connections, something very direct. It is, in fact, the capacity of the forum to develop these kinds of linkages; to make people understand that confrontational relationship in India and Pakistan has actually undermined the basic issue of democracy. And other rights which are sacrificed because of the raise in the defence expenditure. This, in turn, keeps this hate and intolerance alive. Even if the governments are determined to keep us apart, text books, which have been a major agenda of the forum, can make a difference. We need to revive some of that work. There is no reason why we can’t work together, even if it means separately. We have the capacity to come together.

TNS: Pakistan government has been alleging that India is helping insurgents in Balochistan besides playing a negative role in Afghanistan. At the same time, India talks about non-state actors and accuses Pakistan of supporting them. In this milieu, how can the peace process achieve results?

RM: It is quite interesting that our home minister has said that there is no difference in state and non-state actors. A lot of this is played out for the media. I think many of these statements, speaking from India, raised the confrontational level. The statements are made because there is an active lobby against any movement towards the peace processes and that includes the section of the army to some extent and that also includes the BJP. Such an attitude has very little to do with the determination to resolve an issue. As I have already said these moves are US-driven. I have no idea what the Indian government is doing in Balochistan, or not doing in Balochistan. So far, we don’t have any evidence of the nature of India’s involvement. The issue of Balochistan was included in the Sharm al Sheikh statement and that came as a bit of a shock. It was for the first time you had the official acknowledgment that there was something to discuss. What is interesting is that no evidence has come forward. But if there are troubled waters, there would be many agencies fishing.

TNS: You must be aware of the view which says that India wants to turn Pakistan into a desert by denying the country its share of water?

RM: Yes. Today I read an editorial in a Pakistani newspaper which used the term ‘water terrorism’. It came as a bit of a shock. There are groups in both India and Pakistan that have been expressing concern at the Indus Water Treaty. In Kashmir, Farooq Abdullah is on record saying that the Indus Water Treaty has betrayed the Indian interests. On the other side of the border you also have people saying that Indus Water Treaty has betrayed their interests. World Bank brokered a treaty some time back. Now we know that there were very special circumstances that enabled the treaty to be finalized. I can quote Dr. Mubashir Hasan who is an expert in this area. He challenged the perception that there is such a thing as ‘water terrorism’. There is reason to see why this issue has cropped up at this particular point in time. Certainly, these are issues that need to be addressed seriously.

TNS: As a woman journalist, did you feel handicapped in India?

RM: I worked on security issues and I think I was the only woman at that point of time working on these issues. You have advantages of being a woman but you also have disadvantages of not being taken seriously. One of my first jobs was with the Telegraph. It had just started. We had a very dynamic editor, M. J Akbar, and practically an all-female bureau. Some of the names of those bureau people are some of the best journalists of our time. It was a very unusual experiment. It worked very well. Yes, because I was a woman I got a lot of doors opened to me. We had to work twice as hard to be taken seriously. I think we had an editor who believed that we could do the hard beat. All the women I am talking about in this bureau did the hard beat.

TNS: What about your research?

RM: We wanted to do something that was worth. While I also worked in NDTV I worked in Press Channel, a new channel at that point of time. I worked in Doordarshan which was a very exciting period. I also did business channels because that was the time of the economy opening up. I have been always sensitive to gender issues. I started looking at a different interpretation of security. I called it feminising security. And I started looking at women’s role in conflict and peace-building. It was an attempt to explore; to make visible what women did in conflict situations and what women did during peace time. The issue is the peoples’ struggle against land alienation caused by corporatisation of land by multi-nationals coming in a big way and taking over peoples’ land. You cannot have development policies that marginalise the majority of population. And that is what our both states are doing. This is a common agenda.

TNS: Pakistan is also giving land to foreigners?

RM: It is not only foreign multi-nationals. In India, we have huge multi-nationals like TATAs and Mitils. These are, in fact, global multi-nationals today. I went to Orisa in East India. PASCO, the South Korean giant, has already been given a contract. There are areas where the land is rich as cash crops are grown there. People grow three crops there. Why would they surrender their land? They also know that despite the promises that they make — that people will be absorbed in the industry — they know that they don’t have the skills. They have been marginalised by the new development policies. It is not that this is something new but there is much greater exploitation here.

TNS: India is developing very fast but at the same time the poverty level is increasing.

RM: The middle class in India is likely about 250 million people. It is a huge population. Of course, India is not silent and today the biggest internal security challenge, as the Indian government itself recognises, comes from Maoists in India. I think 30 percent of the land area of India is affected by Maoists. Maoists have, in fact, become the political force that has been able to channelise the disaffection. India believes that it can continue with growth which is 7-8 percent. The Maoists challenge is a reminder that you cannot ignore the majority of your population.

TNS: Briefly tell us about your books?

RM: I have been working on two areas — conflict and peace-building. In my current research I am looking at the peace processes in South Asia. I am also looking at Pakistan but that will be a research team that will look at Pakistan, the whole federal question. We are trying to explore what is often considered the panacea of society. We want to see what do they mean by democracy and what do they actually need from peoples’ rights for entitlement and inclusive politics. The other area I have been exploring is minority rights and there is a book which came out last year called ‘No-nonsense Guide to Minority Rights in South Asia’. We are looking at multiple ways at addressing the minority rights question. A community that is a minority in one country is a majority in another country. You cannot actually address these questions only within your own countries. You have to look at the framework which is also cross border framework.

TNS: Where do you place women in your studies?

RM: The gender dimension is always very much at the forefront of what I am doing. I argue that civil society is an important element in democratising the peace process and the core of the civil society are the women groups.

TNS: You have been monitoring violations of human rights in the Indian occupied Kashmir. How do you look at the Kashmir issue vis-a-vis women?

RM: As a journalist I have been covering Kashmir since 1990 and it is a conflict I have been involved in both as an activist as well as a researcher. I wrote a chapter in a book called, "Guns and Burqa". It is a gender narrative of women in the Kashmir conflict exploring the possibilities of women’s role in peace-building in Kashmir.

TNS: Do you hope we will be able to resolve the issue of Kashmir?

RM: I will have to be a realist about it. There are great many interests involved in keeping the Kashmir issue unresolved and there is a false sense that Kashmir issue has been contained. In India, we have a whole series of very good committees set up to explore certain dimensions of Kashmir issue. One of the committees was headed by our current vice-president. His report was on confidence-building measures, some of which might have taken us to a big step forward. But the report has been shelved. The recommendations have been ignored. There have to be other ways of addressing the Kashmir issue. We cannot actually leave it to the state. Peace is too important to be left to them.

 

Other half

If Mumbai can have separate trains for ladies and Cairo can have women-exclusive taxis, why not Lahore and Karachi or some of our smaller cities?

By Ammara Ahmad

Pakistan celebrates the International Women’s Day with passion. Yet, most women in Pakistan live deplorable lives. Whatever ‘improvement’ has occurred in their lot, has been very insignificant and has been carried out at a snail’s pace. Let us just take a look at some of the problems confronting the vast majority of poor women in our country.

The labour rooms of Pakistan’s major government hospitals are terrifying. Most are over-crowded and dirty. If the beds are full, women are made to stand or share beds. Hills of garbage are littered all over the wards, along with crowds of noisy relatives and cranky staff. The women who can actually avail of these wonderful ‘facilities’ are the lucky few as professional healthcare is rarely available to the bulk of the rural women. If one compares these healthcare standards to those in (say) the US or even China, the entire situation becomes very depressing. This comparison is deemed futile by our ‘planning babus’, on the basis that the US is a developed country, unlike Pakistan. But even then, our various governments have had over sixty years to ensure that women don’t die giving birth but with what results?

UNICEF reports state that the under-5 mortality rate here has dropped from 130 in 1990 to 89 in 2008, per 1000 live births. But according to a 2007 report by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child’s (SPARC), Pakistan had the highest infant and mother mortality rate in South Asia. This meant that we were behind India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, the Maldives and maybe even Afghanistan. One really doesn’t see much improvement since then, and one wonders where the UNICEF gets its figures from? According to most international indicators, Pakistan women and their children have been suffering and continue to suffer, the same as before.

Even everyday needs like good transportation facilities are absent for our women. Cities like Lahore and Karachi have plenty of middle class women car drivers. However, they are still very rare in smaller cities like Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Sukkur, Hyderabad and so on. The poorer you are the worst is your transportation problem. In over-crowded buses and vans, women are harassed and jostled. Seats supposedly ‘reserved’ for women are forcibly taken over by men. College and school girls can seldom go out alone. If Mumbai can have separate ladies trains and Cairo can have women exclusive taxis, why not Lahore and Karachi or some of our smaller cities?

A few days back, sitting in the Race Course Park, Lahore became an ordeal for some of my friends. Within minutes, they were accosted and harassed by hordes of frustrated young men, and, ultimately, forced out of the park. Expecting much government support against public place harassment is unrealistic. Even the PPP, Pakistan’s most liberal mainstream party has not been able to pass much significant pro-women legislation, except for the recent, very unsatisfactory Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act of 2009. Indeed, it has not even been able to implement previous acts with any real force or conviction. The Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act 2009 has, to all intents, simply collapsed. In 2008 alone, the Aurat Foundation reported that there were 7,733 reported cases of violence against women in the country, with perhaps five times that number going unreported. This was first time the Parliament had devised legal and practical measures to curtail home abuse but the Council of Islamic Ideology believed anti-violence laws might increase the divorce rates. Although even the most developed countries cannot completely wipe out domestic violence, yet the state fulfills its duty of formulating anti-violence laws, implementing them firmly and providing institutional support to victims.

The present, ongoing "war on terror" is also taking a big toll on our women. The areas bearing the brunt of the fighting are already poor; and to their existing misery, new dimensions have been now added. With the mass displacement of population from these tribal and frontier areas, women have had to pay a very heavy price. Many of them have previously never stepped out of their homes, kept strictly in ‘purdah’; they have little or no idea how to tackle the harsh realities of life in their camps. Their whole world has been turned topsy-turvy, they and their families are living hand to mouth and bearing up stoically with unbearable hardships. Almost 6000 of the women in various camps were due to give birth last June. WHO declared that the medicines became short within the first week of the displacement. Lady health workers were reluctant to approach the areas due to security threats. Due to "purdah", these women couldn’t go to male doctors. To top it all, the UN report on the women declared that 3 out of 5 of the pregnant women were anemic, with high risk of abortions, and other natal complications, and were in dire need of blood transfusions, surgery, medicines, vitamins and other dietary supplements etc. The report also stated that a number of children were delivered in tents, which was like "giving birth in an oven". The threats of epidemics in the summer months and the harshness of exposed winters are other factors they are contending with. Many of these women also lacked male family members or escorts and were consequently struggling for food and basic necessities as well as protection in strange new localities.

Why should all this be relevant over here? One of the chief feminist arguments against war is that wars are started, planned, financed and largely fought by men; yet take a disproportionate toll of women and children. The plight of the displaced women as stated above is typical of women trapped in violent conflicts; women who are poor, displaced, with missing husbands and with children to feed. The terror, crimes and humiliation the internally displaced Pakistani women have suffered and are suffering is still largely undocumented and frightening to contemplate. A lot of coverage is given to the war, daily, and the number of militants killed etc — but how many channels at home or abroad have given comprehensive coverage to the women in the camps?

On Women’s Day, an advertisement sponsored by the Ministry of Youth, Government of Pakistan appeared in the press. It stated: "We mothers, We sisters, We daughters, The honor of the nation is from us." How do we ‘honor’ our women — mothers, sisters, daughters, today, in the face of the above, select examples? This is worth contemplating at this time, instead of all the hypocrisy and cant that usually prevails. We women are not mere relatives to our male counterparts but also individuals, humans, citizens. It is high time we received what are our essential rights.

caption

Eyeing a better life.

 

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